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. (less)
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)
I didn't read Oscar Wao but I really liked this one. I listened to it read by the author who's voice was pleasing, Much better than the average author...moreI didn't read Oscar Wao but I really liked this one. I listened to it read by the author who's voice was pleasing, Much better than the average author reading his or her own work . It's the story of a father and two sons who are inveterate womanizers. It didn't anger me particularly because the narrator at least seems to really love women, even though he just did't get how to sustain a relationship. And that's basically what the book is a out, how he learns, or begins to learn that lesson. Yunior,the main character, came from Santa Domingo at a pretty young age, speaking no English, in the winter. The father had no clue how to help his family assimilate, and advised the mother to just stay inside with the kids, even once in a snowstorm when he called to say he was stuck in the storm (clearly with another woman) and left them home alone with their fears. What's charming (probably the wrong word; maybe "arresting" is better) is the nonstop vernacular with more than a little Spanish coloring the English. Fast talking. I'm tempted to get Oscar Wao from audible because it's not narrated by the author, but by two people with Anglo names.... I'm not quite sure how much Diaz' reading performance influences my high opinion of this one. Great performance. Good book.(less)