Excellent book. Heavy emotional overtones, but the author never promised a straight-forward history. I've been fascinated by Israel for a long time bu...moreExcellent book. Heavy emotional overtones, but the author never promised a straight-forward history. I've been fascinated by Israel for a long time but lately been more and more critical. The Wall is horrifying ( we're building a wall--even here in Texas--to keep the Mexicans out, but I don't like that either and believe both will go the way of the Berlin Wall). Shavit calls Israel now a colonizing power in a age when colonialism's light has gone out.
The book begins with Shavit's Great Grandfather, a well-to-do English Jew, arrives in Palestine to "scope out" the land as a homeland for the Jews, for the Zionist movement. He and many others recognized that Jews were unwelcome in Europe and though he and many like him had done well in England, the only way to thrive going forward would be to assimilate as many Jews were doing all over Europe already. He foresaw that in a few generations they would intermarry and lose their Jewishness. A Jewish homeland was the answer. The problem was, the problem which started way back there in the 19th century, was that the visiting Jews did not "see" that the land was already occupied, any more than the Conquistadors did not "see" that Peru was already occupied.
It's a powerful image which Shavit comes back to again and again as he both celebrates what the Zionists made of Israel and recognizes that they will not survive unless they deal with the current problems. One is that huge numbers of residents don't contribute to the society. The ultra orthodox Jews who won't even serve in the military and maybe don't pay taxes either (I may be wrong about that). And the Arabs who are a subjugated people in their homeland but who with a different social and governmental structure, would have much to contribute.
What it seemed to me (perhaps naively) was that he seems to think (as any thinking person must) that Israel would work best if all its citizens were equal and contributed to the whole. No walls. No occupied and occupier classes. But at the same time, he can't quite give up the "Jewish state" idea, even as he recognizes that Arabs will outnumber Jews in a few years. I've always thought there was no hope for a two-state solution but one state without walls is another story. Not that Israeli political elite are likely to go in that direction.... Shavit writes this book partly out of frustration because he too sees that.
The Zionists didn't explicitly see The Third Reich coming, but they did feel at a crossroads. And while WWII gave their dream a reality, that reality was not a well-thought-out plan and only because of the utter chaos in Europe at the end of WWII, with millions homeless, and no one ready to step in with the solution, did it become a solution for the displaced Jews of Europe, most of whom would rather have gone somewhere else more urban, more "civilized" had they only been welcome.
First of all I read it in English, The Infatuations, but could not find the translation in English. As contemporary novels go this one is excellent, p...moreFirst of all I read it in English, The Infatuations, but could not find the translation in English. As contemporary novels go this one is excellent, primarily because it's different. It' said thoughtful, even philosophical novel, not that it's propounding a philosophy but that it encourages the reader to do consider doing so.
First of all I read it in English, The Infatuations, but could not find the translation in English. As contemporary novels go this one is excellent, primarily because it's different. It' said thoughtful, even philosophical novel, not that it's propounding a philosophy but that it encourages the reader to do consider doing so.
At first I thought this was a stupid book, maybe one more love story.
Aside: I must say that I'm not into fiction that much these days, especially fiction by Anglo women. Clearly a prejudice. I used to think there couldn't be enough books by women. Now I think there are too many and too many alike. I find myself drawn these days, if to fiction, then to fiction of writers who are not Anglo (meaning from the US, Canada, UK or Australia/NZ though I recognize many of those are not Anglo-) A clever plot. Well written. So what?
Back to The Infatuations. Written by a man with a female narrator. A Spanish man. Maria, the main character, begins by talking about the "perfect couple" she sees every morning as she sits in the coffee shop before going to work. They are both good looking and seem genuinely wrapped up in each other. Well dressed, the kind of people she knows. She doesn't really know anything about them but she envies them.
Then she finds out that the man (Miguel and his wife is Luisa) was killed in a terrible attack where he was stabbed many times and must have suffered considerably.
A scene in Luisa's house where they go after they've introduced themselves in the coffee shop and Maria wants to be helpful to Luisa: While Maria is there some friends stop by, a professor and another man, Javier, to whom she is instantly attracted. He's introduced as Miguel's best friend and clearly he's trying to help Luisa recover and take care of her home and children.
Then Maria starts an affair with Javier who makes it clear he's always been in love with Luisa and intends to marry her when she gets over the death of her husband. Maria really cares about him but tries to remain detached because she's convinced he's "taken".
Up to this point I don't see much hope for this novel. Where can it go from here? Some domestic, romantic tale? I hope not. It's a book group book and I already feel guilty because I refused to read the selection before (and I'm supposed to the the group leader).
Back to the plot: Maria is at Javier's apartment and they've fallen asleep after lovemaking. The doorbell rings and Javier gets up, assuming she's still asleep. He closes the bedroom door but she's curious so, without letting him know she's awake, she overhears some of the conversation. Enough to assume that Javier instituted the murder of his best friend whose wife he adores.
From this point on the story becomes a philosophical one, focusing on love and friendship and guilt and honor and loyalty. At this point I realize that we've moved from a plot driven novel to one that has another dimension, And at first I don't know what to make of it. Maria finds it hard to believe that Javier can actually have committed murder, or hired someone to do it, let alone such a vicious murder. But she doesn't know him that well....
So I'm hooked. At least it's not another so sincere but boring romantic tale. I recommend it. Not a long book. You'll enjoy it.
Harder to explain is this aversion I seem to have to most fiction these days. Maybe it's my age. I've heard so many readers say that they read less and less fiction as they grow older, even though they still read a lot. That seems to be happening to me. Mostly I want to read history and let one book lead me to another, not read what the book groups want me to read.
The best novels I've read lately (Chimamanda Ngozi's Americanah and Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son) take me into worlds I don't know, haven't experienced. I love the romance in each of them though romance is not the point of either. So I'm not down on romance per se and none of the novels I don't want to read would be classified as romance novels anyway....
My only complaint about Doris Kearns Goodwin's new book, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism, i...moreMy only complaint about Doris Kearns Goodwin's new book, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism, is that it ends too soon. That's saying a lot for a 900 page book! But I'd have been happy for it to go on in great detail instead of wrapping up the lives of the major figures relatively quickly after the election of 1912
Goodwin has made a career about writing about American Presidents in the context of the people and ideas of their own time: FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt and the homefront in WWII, Lincoln and his “team of rivals” and now the earlier Roosevelt and William Howard Taft as well as S. S. McClure, his magazine and the journalists who would become known as the “muckrackers” (originally a perjorative term used by Roosevelt himself but later a badge of honor for the first and maybe the greatest investigative journalists: Ida Tarbell, Ray Stannard Baker, Lincoln Steffens and William Allen White).
I was completely engaged by this book which is not a full biography of either President, though at the beginning Goodwin reviews their early lives and that of their wives, but by the end—which is really when the two ex-Presidents made up their quarrel after the explosive and nasty presidential campaign of 1912 where Taft, the sitting President ran for the Republicans, the progressive Wilson (maybe the next President I want to read a bit about) ran for the Democrats, and Teddy Roosevelt ran for a new Progressive Party which he founded—I wanted more. The “bully pulpit” story was over but I'd have listened to more than a single chapter wrapping up the lives of all the characters. (Indeed a whole other book has been written about Roosevelt's trip to The River of Doubt in search of the source of the Amazon.)
The title is significant because Roosevelt was the President who first used his office as a pulpit to raise and “preach” about issues of fairness and concern for all citizens. And “bully” of course was his signature comment on anything he liked. He wanted to break the power of the party bosses and institute popular primaries in all states and to control the power of monopolies like Standard Oil which were controlling their own costs by deals which left small business and the general public at a distinct disadvantage. Enter Ida Tarbell, a remarkable woman, now remembered primarily for her exhaustive study of how Standard Oil controlled the railroads and of course the price of oil. Born in Pittsburgh, with a father who worked in the industry, she made it her life's work to investigate and write about how big corporations used their power and influence to disadvantage everyone else. She was a talented writer who could tackle any subject, including a biography of Napoleon which McClure wanted. She and her colleagues became allies of Roosevelt, first as governor of New York and later as President as he worked to control the power of corporations, even at the considerable risk of alienating fellow Republicans.
The Republican Party was the source of “progressive-ism” (which I theorize got passed to the Democrats maybe about the time of Wilson who defeated both Roosevelt and Taft in 1912 with a pretty progressive platform).
Taft was a president I knew practically nothing about: he was so fat he wouldn’t fit into the White House bathtub and his son, Robert Taft, was a presidential contender when I was a child and first paid attention to politics. In reality, Taft, who grew up in Cincinnati, was a very interesting man, likeable, hardworking, effective, and congenial. He trained as a lawyer and was 100% dedicated to the law, including how to use the law to benefit the people and predatory corporations. He had a successful legal career, was appointed to the Federal Bench for his district and eventually came to Washington to work in the Attorney General's office. That's when he met and became very close friends with Theodore Roosevelt who had similar political beliefs and aspirations.
Taft was an exceedingly nice person probably too nice Goodwin and many others before her have concluded, to be President. And he never wanted to become President. He was smart and ambitious, but his goal was the Supreme Court, not the White House and in the end that's where he ended up as a very successful Chief Justice, after a rather unsuccessful presidency. And he quarreled seriously with Roosevelt, or rather Roosevelt quarreled with him. Taft was not a contentious person.
Roosevelt and Taft and SS McClure and the journalists on his magazine shared a set of common beliefs: the need to provide protection and benefits for all citizens, including the working people and the concomitant need to control corporations on behalf of all the people. Goodwin tells their story brilliantly. The book is a biography of all seven, the two presidents and McClure and his four main investigative journalists, how they worked for each other and sometimes against each other, how the journalists communicated with and aided the President on significant issues that paved the way for important legislation in their own time and later: lowering tariffs, controlling corporations, instituting an income tax and eventually providing what we call today a safety net for all citizens.
It's a timely subject with the Republican party, at least its progressive wing, supporting many of the issues we associate with the Democratic party today and with the progressive Republicans working against their conservative wing, even to the extent of splitting the party and creating a third party. Had it been anyone other than Teddy Roosevelt who was not really interested in a party per se but in getting elected so he could continue his work, that third party might have been successful. It was joined by many of those who felt disaffected by the current establishment, including among others those agitating for women's sufferage.... But Roosevelt was virtually out of control and though his causes were worthy ones and he attracted many followers, he was, in this compaign, mostly bombast and rhetoric (his slogan was “We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord.”) He did nothing but use the “bully pulpit” and when he failed, the party did. But that's another story....(less)
I enjoyed it far more than I expected. It goes over territories from other books (eg, the Lewis and Clark book by Ambrose, the Jefferson biog, an Edis...moreI enjoyed it far more than I expected. It goes over territories from other books (eg, the Lewis and Clark book by Ambrose, the Jefferson biog, an Edison biog, even the first vol. of Caro's LBJ biog on electrification in the 30ie) but I like that. It makes me feel much more knowledgeable about Am history to have multiple perspectives.
Also Winchester is the only author I know of who does a really good job narrating his own book. Usually I dread when the author reads hit or her own book.
I must say too that I'm impressed with Winchester's attempts to organize the whole ( by the elements) probably because the last book I read, A Cruel and Shocking Act (about the JFK assassination and the Warren Commission) was full of interesting detail that was only organized chronologically and by place (the latter pretty useless as an organizing principal in that case). That author's ability to move between details and the bigger picture was sadly lacking compared to Winchester's.(less)
I'm not sure chronology was the wisest organizing principle for this one. It was hard to remember the details and sort out the people this way. That,...moreI'm not sure chronology was the wisest organizing principle for this one. It was hard to remember the details and sort out the people this way. That, said it was definitely worth reading and while, the general conclusion, that Oswald shot Kennedy and worked along, may seem disappointing, the details surrounding the Warren Commission were extremely interesting. Even more interesting were the conclusions about what the Commission never got to evaluate, who lied (like J Edgar Hoover and James Jesus Angleton) what the FBI and CIA withheld to protect their own organizations. (less)
I loved this one, though to begin with I thought it highly unlikely that I would like it. After all how could an American who'd been to North Korea on...moreI loved this one, though to begin with I thought it highly unlikely that I would like it. After all how could an American who'd been to North Korea once (were he like other visitors saw North Korean live very selectively) know enough to right a novel, not only set in North Korea but will Korean characters. I soon came to realize though that it wasn't so much a book about life in North Korea but a book about life in a place where human beings have no right to their own inner life. The radio every morning gives them the news (propoganda) but also tells them how to think and feel about everything from the food they eat to the ideas they consider right so that relationships between people are scared by the fear of revealing to someone else that inner life, those human values, hopes and dreams which the State may not approve.(less)
At first I was dismissive of this one because the author, while she obviously did some research, got lots of stuff wrong about how the UK government w...moreAt first I was dismissive of this one because the author, while she obviously did some research, got lots of stuff wrong about how the UK government works. But I did get into it and finally finished it quickling, staying up late to do so. I was still not completely happy with it. I didn't mind the quick switches back and forth between different characters and events, but I did find it improbably. Odd that I require verisimilitude in mystery novels more than the novel novels. But two characters who are considered dead and later turn out to be alive is a little much. Still it's a period of history that I like very much so read anything about.(less)
Jo Nesbo has take the place of Ian Rankin. Both have a rebellious, sometimes drunken and difficult detective who is nevertheless "the best". This one...moreJo Nesbo has take the place of Ian Rankin. Both have a rebellious, sometimes drunken and difficult detective who is nevertheless "the best". This one took me awhile to get into but by the middle of the book, I stayed up till I finished it.(less)
I loved the TV drama of this one but I think I loved the book even more because there's more detail about the effects of poverty on East Enders in the...moreI loved the TV drama of this one but I think I loved the book even more because there's more detail about the effects of poverty on East Enders in the 1950ies, harsh detail that's sort of skirted over or romanticized in the TV show.(less)
Suttree is the best novel I've read in a long time. I've had it on my shelf for awhile and after seeing the film MUD (which was a terrible disappointm...moreSuttree is the best novel I've read in a long time. I've had it on my shelf for awhile and after seeing the film MUD (which was a terrible disappointment) I thought Suttree might be a much better portrayal of a man who drops out. It was. I loved the novel because I loved the character whose background we get only in glimpses and never really understand, but we see him a "good man" in his dealings with others, seeings what's good in the odd characters he meets on the river and encouraging them rather than judging them. The key is his refusal to give up on people, as obviously his family has given up on him. The writing is lush, elevating the subject matter above what most people would think appropriate for a book about bums living on the riverside and surviving any way they can. it's Faulknerian in style and in subject matter, but doesn't feel just derivative. McCarthy is no fake Faulkner.(less)
When I was reading The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (which I admit I haven't finished), I was struck by the fact that before Christianity, the...moreWhen I was reading The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (which I admit I haven't finished), I was struck by the fact that before Christianity, the Romans were completely tolerant of different religions. Every area (city) had its own religion and no one tried to "convert" anyone. And no one claimed that their god ( but there were usually gods—plural) was the one and only and that you'd go to hell if you didn't believe. Freeman shows how Christian leaders in the early centuries fought over doctrinal issues and more or less invented heresy to the extent that the Emperor Theodosius in 381AD made church doctrine into state law for which those who disagreed could be punished, paving the way for religious wars, heresy trials, the Inquisition, etc. the doctrinal issues themselves often seem like hiw-many-angels-can-dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin issues, issues that were passed on through the centuries, led to the dark ages (where scholarly inquiry and freedom of expression were gone)' and weren't even questioned much by Protestant revolutions.
I think I want to read Freeman's The Closing of the Western Mind.(less)