A study of the important - and long-neglected - aspect of British imperial politics which ultimately led to the revolt of the American colonies. BunkeA study of the important - and long-neglected - aspect of British imperial politics which ultimately led to the revolt of the American colonies. Bunker focuses on the governance of the British empire by Lord North and his cabinet, and how Britain ultimately lost America because North and most other British leaders of the time were distracted by other important economic and political issues such as the near-collapse of the East India company, and were unable to understand the difference between the passively loyal Scots they had previously dealt with and the American colonists, who were openly hostile to British rule decades before the American Revolution and whom the British Empire was spread far too thin to effectively monitor. It's a very pragmatic, realistic, and heavily sourced 21st century view of the British leadership that covers a lot of ground that has been overlooked until now.
If I have one problem with this book it's that it's so packed with good information as to be a very slow read. Bunker has really done an impressive level of research using sources on both sides of the Atlantic, and he doesn't want to leave any of that work out. As a result, he discusses mundane events in incredible detail in ways that often bog down the narrative. He's not a stuffy, pretentious, or otherwise bothersome historian like generations past tended to be, but this is still far from a light read. On the other hand, summarizing this work in 15-20 pages and comparing it to others would be a great term paper for the aspiring graduate history major. It's a shame it's not just a little bit more accessible, but overall this book is still worth reading if you're interested in the subject matter. ...more
Eh. It's okay, but not the literary masterpiece that all of the editorial reviews are saying it is.
Israel isn't a bad writer, but there are a lot ofEh. It's okay, but not the literary masterpiece that all of the editorial reviews are saying it is.
Israel isn't a bad writer, but there are a lot of visible "first novely" issues, including the rushed resolution (which takes place four years after the first 7/8s of the book); too many underdeveloped characters; and the setting being a town conveniently in Israel's congressional district ("I wonder what his margins will be in Great Neck in 2016?" was my snarky reaction before I learned he was retiring that cycle). These issues didn't make it unreadable, but they were noticeable and mildly distracting.
More to the point is that the comparisons to Catch-22 are overstated in a way that makes it obvious that anyone doing such a comparison doesn't understand bureaucratic satire. Primarily at issue is the fact that Israel, as a member of the Democratic leadership, benefits from such characterizations of his political opponents in ways that Heller did not, so there is an issue of ulterior motive for his day job. Also, the fact that he has a security clearance is distracting, because another author skewering Bush circa 2004 would have written a book that was similar, so the reader wastes time wondering how much of it is actually semi-true. Third, this book was written in 2015. Bush had been out of office for nearly two presidential terms, and satire about his administration became ridiculously passe long before then. If this book had come out in 2009, it would have been more effective, but by then, everyone else had moved on, so it just seems like Israel trying to score cheap political points against an opponent who left the ring a long time ago. Moreover, as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during the disastrous 2014 election cycle, you'd think Israel would have been doing his job instead of writing this piece of self-indulgent fluff. Even if he's just incredibly good at multitasking, it still makes the Democratic leadership look bad because, taking media oversimplification of complex issues into account, it makes them look like nearly a decade later they'd still rather sit around whining about Bush than actually win elections.
Ultimately, this review is merely a laundry list of reasons why sitting politicians should not attempt contemporary political fiction. You can't write a biting anti-establishment satire if you're actively part of the establishment. ...more
The series of coincidences that led to this book is fairly farfetched when you think about it. A guy had to knock up two women in two different statesThe series of coincidences that led to this book is fairly farfetched when you think about it. A guy had to knock up two women in two different states, who were both his wife at the time, leading to the child of one of those women spending his entire life wanting to escape from his parents' psychologically unhealthy and often abusive relationship. He finally had the opportunity after college. He ended up disappearing into the wilderness to find himself, got stuck in a bus in Alaska, and died after very nearly pulling it off. This then became the subject of a popular article which launched the reputation of a now nationally prominent nature journalist, who wrote a book about it, which is now taught in high schools all over the country, and which Sean Penn adapted into a movie. Meanwhile, the late hiker's sister still had a fraught relationship with her parents, and had to cope with all of these weird circumstances herself, which finally resulted in this book coming out some 22 years after her brother died.
I'm glad to have read this book for the simple reason that I'm at a point in my life, as I write this, where I'm coping with the death of my father, who experienced parental abuse as a child and consequently had a very messed-up relationship with the other people in his life, including me. This book made me realize that, much as we may love them, having screwed-up parents sometimes means we don't get to have the closure we need, except through being better parents to our own children. It also presents a few important details about Chris McCandless that I was unaware of that refute the dominant detractor narrative that "he was some dumb liberal college kid": first, Chris was a Republican, and second, he had saved $300 cash in his wallet, so he obviously intended to come back out again. Other than the whole "abusive family" background, these are valuable insights in understanding his motivations that were omitted from earlier sources.
With that said, there's one thing that bothers me about this book, and it's the fact that Chris McCandless hated the acquisition of wealth for its own sake, so the worldwide commercial success of Krakauer's book, Penn's movie, and now this book seems a bit hypocritical, especially because none of it would have happened at all if one guy out in the wilderness who obviously didn't want to stay there forever had crossed the river a couple of weeks earlier or not been randomly struck ill by some improbable, invisible mold...and I'm fairly certain that Chris himself would've been pretty horrified by the fact that what was intended to just be a short stage of a longer journey has been misinterpreted as THE journey by the media and literally tens of thousands of people worldwide who have sought to imitate him in the worst way possible. Also, the fact that this book is mostly about Carine kind of bothers me, because there's no way she would have gotten this book deal if her brother hadn't died in the wilderness in the first place. Even if her intentions are good, and even if she were to donate every cent of the royalties to charity, it's still not quite kosher for her to be profiting off of her own version of events to counteract her parents profiting from theirs. The irony that being memorialized worldwide by (now) two books and a movie because he made a couple of bad decisions in the wilderness and wound up dead doesn't seem like at all what Chris himself would have wanted, and that seems to be lost on everyone involved here, Carine included. Nevertheless, this is an interesting companion volume to the earlier works, and makes me want to go reread Krakauer's book and/or watch the movie again. I just really wish, after this, that everyone involved in producing new works about Chris McCandless would stop thinking of themselves for a minute and let the guy rest in peace. It's been nearly a quarter century now, and the production of any new media covering this story is just getting kind of ridiculous. ...more
I don't usually read political memoirs because they're too often sanitized works of self-delusion by the sort of pathological narcissists and other asI don't usually read political memoirs because they're too often sanitized works of self-delusion by the sort of pathological narcissists and other assorted dingbats who generally run for office and then write a book about it. I made an exception for this one because Barney Frank is that rare species of a congressman who both had the privilege to be able to speak his mind for his entire electoral career and is educated enough to be able to speak intelligently when he does. In that respect, I was not disappointed, for this is (as political memoirs go) an uncompromisingly honest work filled with the same wry, intelligent, often self-deprecating humor Frank was known for as an elected official.
It's also an extremely tightly-written and well-edited work. Almost every book by a real "journalist" that I've read recently has been weaker technically than Frank's, and that is no small feat. In particular, Frank, unlike many politicians, is accomplished at delivering information in succinct paragraphs that pretty much anyone can understand. The chapters are still about 40 pages each, but they never get bogged down in excessive detail, and there's remarkably little bloviation for someone who was in Congress for 32 years. The first sentence sets the tone for the entire book, and for Frank's life as he presents it: that he discovered early on while growing up in New Jersey that he was attracted to politics, and to men. Most of the rest of the book covers these twin themes of using political power to benefit the economically disadvantaged and to advance the cause of gay rights. Regardless of how well-covered certain events were in the media, Frank only discusses something if he personally finds it to be important, which is admirable in the post-1994 era of Democrats refusing to lead on any issue until the media and the opposition have defined it for them. One particularly illustrative instance: Dick Armey's high-profile homophobic bullying of Frank while Armey was majority whip in the late 90's and other similar events is not mentioned at all, despite being a major media non-story at the time. It's a very honest work in that respect.
One other thing struck me, and this is Frank's approach toward opposing political points of view. He in particular laments repeatedly the many opportunities that liberals have missed that would advance the cause of middle and working-class white men, and advances the view that the complete lack of impact of gay rights issues on voting returns and the now-widespread public acceptance for gay marriage despite the total hostility to such things earlier in Frank's lifetime indicates that the public favors economic security more than superficial social distractions. He also makes it very clear that he believes coastal affluent liberals' attacks on other potentially Democratic-voting Americans for being too blandly homogenous (e.g. the Pete Seeger song "Little Boxes", or general denunciations of the Midwest) are electorally foolish, and serve only to alienate mainstream voters for the sake of temporary neuroticism because having the option to be anything other than blandly homogenous requires an education and family background that most people simply don't have access to, even in America. Interestingly, Frank also advances a spirit of cooperation that one as outspoken as he is might not be expected to advance, even going as far as to speak of collaborating with the occasional Tea Party congressman during his last term if they happened to share his view on a particular issue; strange bedfellows, indeed. Rather, Frank's harshest criticism in the entire book is reserved for Ralph Nader's Republican-enabling spoiler campaign during the 2000 presidential election, and Frank's deepest political regrets for the subsequent loss of the progressive policies of the Gore administration that never was (which would have had the ability to be way more progressive than Obama was able to be after eight years of Bush fundamentally altered the national calculus.) There's also the element that it's just interesting to hear about these nationally prominent issues and personalities (Monica Lewinsky, Dodd-Frank, Bill Clinton generally, etc.), from someone who was intimately involved on a political level and has no self-serving reason not to be honest about his experience.
Ultimately, this is a high-quality memoir that offers valuable insight into the political reality of the last 40 years, on both a national and personal level. For this reason, though it is not an absolute must-read, it's still an interesting and impressive work and deserving of a read for those interested in the man or his causes. ...more
This is a book about the cultural influences that girls (and their mothers) have to face growing up in society today, with a focus on omniprescent corThis is a book about the cultural influences that girls (and their mothers) have to face growing up in society today, with a focus on omniprescent corporate cultural influences such as the Disney Princesses, Facebook, Miley Cyrus and other "wholesome to whoresome" female role models (all of whom were originally Disney creations), beauty pageants, etc. Throughout, she explores the question of how she can raise her daughter to be self-confident and independent in the face of all of these negative and superficial images.
While Orenstein's motives are laudable, I'd say that the main issue I had with this book is that she's not really able to consistently stick to what she wants the book to be: is it cultural anthropology about girls growing up in 21st century America, or is it a dull navel-gazing personal narrative about her own insecurities as a mother? Unfortunately, Orenstein tries to pull off both at the same time, and as a result I don't believe she does justice to either approach. Her anti-Disney Princess research is interesting, but she essentially phones in most of the middle chapters of the book by covering issues that she freely admits have already been covered better by other writers, such as spray-tanned five year olds competing in beauty pageants and exploitation of girls in social media. The rest is largely melodramatic hyperventilating about how every. little. cultural. detail. in her daughter's life is basically guaranteed to turn her daughter into a hooker literally tomorrow unless she stops it within five minutes. Damn, this woman overthinks everything, and it makes her writing a chore to read.
I also had some problems with Orenstein's inconsistency of message. For example, in the social networking chapter, she spends pages profiling a woman who is developing an alternate "safe" social networking site for girls, and then immediately interjects her own opinion that it won't work. She spends pages complaining about right-wing partisans in 2008 attacking Hillary Clinton because of her gender, and then makes it clear to her daughter that her support for Hillary Clinton is apparently based entirely on the fact that Clinton is a woman. She spends almost the entire book fighting Disney Princesses with zero-tolerance, and then halfheartedly flip-flops in the last chapter by suggesting that you have to tolerate it in moderation to get it to go away (which is accurate, but negates half of the previous chapters almost in their entirety).
Just as importantly, Orenstein calls herself a post-feminist feminist who rejects 1970's black and white labeling, but seems unable to conceive of her relationship towards men as anything but us vs. them. Case in point, in the social networking chapter she blindly encourages more women to pursue careers in computer science but misses the HUGE and well-documented elsewhere fact that IT culture and especially gamer culture is way, way, WAY more sexist than any of the issues Orenstein actually documents. This could have been an opportunity to seek to understand the challenges facing women because of the interplay with men in real life fields, but she misses it for the sake of the very 1970's feminist "women are the alpha and omega and men don't deserve any thought at all" worldview that she claims not to have.
Ultimately, unless you're of the same muddled 1970's feminist school of thought as Orenstein, this book doesn't have a lot of value in understanding actual gender issues as they exist in the real world as opposed to according to some disproven academic theory 40 years ago. Her research on Disney Princess issues is important and I appreciate that this book at least contributes to the pushback against our blindly embracing an unabashedly misogynistic culture of corporate indoctrination for little girls simply because of coincidences in the free market that led to Disney basically owning everything in that sector of the economy. However, the rest of the book is poorly constructed and not worth reading it its entirety. Get it from the library if you're interested in the issue, but don't buy it unless you're a person like Orenstein who would prefer to complain about the media's own reality bubble while operating within it, because ultimately with this book there's no "there" there. ...more
An irreverent exploration of the Nordic countries written by a British journalist who married a Dane and has been complaining about having to live inAn irreverent exploration of the Nordic countries written by a British journalist who married a Dane and has been complaining about having to live in Copenhagen ever since, inspired by the widespread usage of Scandinavia by Anglo-American social critics as a perfect promised land that their own countries need to better live up to. Consequently, Booth engages in a Brysonesque romp revealing each Nordic country's sociology, history, and culture. For someone who knew next to nothing about Scandinavia it's fascinating; moreso because I have enjoyed Finnish heavy metal for a while and also currently live in a part of the United States with a strong Scandinavian Lutheran influence that occasionally shows up in the local culture. Especially interesting to me was the portrayal of each country's tension between a high-tax socialist culture and a free-market capitalist one, as well as the very virulent strains of racist nationalism alive and well in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. It was also especially interesting to learn more about Finnish culture, which is odd, but not necessarily in a bad way (Booth confesses he has a soft spot for the Finns and I can understand why).
Booth's writing is easily readable and I appreciate that, unlike most journalists, he is able to blend his own angst with a factual analysis without allowing his ego to overwhelm the fact, again, much like Bill Bryson at his best. He also goes out of his way to interview a variety of experts and other people of influential opinion in each country, and these sections are integrated flawlessly into the rest of the book. If the book has one fault, it's that it's slightly too long for the irreverent tone not to grate slightly by the end; he could have been a bit more efficient in his coverage of Sweden in particular (though there is quite a lot to be said about Sweden, little of it flattering). I also wonder how much of my opinion should be based on what is ultimately one guy's opinion supported by varying degrees of fact: this book tells me that the Danes are kind of silly in a boring way; the Swedes are boring in a silly way and no one else likes them very much because of history; the Finns all act like they have Asperger's but are decent people once you understand them even though the rest of the world thinks they're crazy; the Icelanders are actually crazy (though more in a US pirate capitalist sort of way); and the Norwegians are flush with oil money, affable, but complacent and weirdly Orwellian. As with Bryson, I believe most of what Booth has to tell me, but I'd really like to read more about the countries in question from another source before I'm sold. Nevertheless, this is a fun, fast, and enjoyable read - not earth shattering, but enjoyable all the same. ...more
A collection of eccentric stories about Vermont's eccentric population of eccentrics throughout history, written in the stultifyingly dry, decidedly uA collection of eccentric stories about Vermont's eccentric population of eccentrics throughout history, written in the stultifyingly dry, decidedly un-eccentric prose typical of Vermont historians.
The stories are largely local-interest anecdotes, few of which really are relevant if you don't know the towns they're referring to intimately; I grew up in Vermont, but as I didn't grow up in any of the towns mentioned, I didn't really care past a vague sense of "that's neat...I guess". For me, the best part was the chapter about the diversity of European immigration that came to Vermont throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries; it certainly explains a lot of the European diversity in that state before the New Yorkers showed up.
Ultimately, I think this book would have been more enjoyable if it had had a more engaging author. It feels like there are all sorts of neat stories crying out to be told in a way that feels gripping, but this book will not give you those stories without putting you to sleep first. ...more
A collection of essays on the subject of education in American society by Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College and, later, founder of the BardA collection of essays on the subject of education in American society by Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College and, later, founder of the Bard High School Early College movement. The essays aren't really linked together directly, but are all on similar themes of cultural analysis, the reform of the American high school, the purpose of college, and what parents can do to encourage lifelong learning in their children.
Let me begin by saying that this is an intellectually stunning and multifaceted achievement on many levels, particularly on the subjects that Botstein knows best: college and raising intellectually gifted children. Much of his cultural and especially generational criticism is also spot-on, especially the assertion that my generation had a much rougher time in school than we should have because of the Baby Boomers' neurotic pessimism about the future (and blaming us for being consumers of "youth" culture created by adults) setting such a bad example for us. It's also completely ineffective, because Botstein is an erudite European intellectual who didn't grow up in America and really doesn't understand the social elements of working and middle-class American culture.
To begin Botstein is not economical with his prose. His writing shows great intellectual skill, but he takes so long to make his points that he's very difficult to quote, and that makes his ideas basically irrelevant as far as America is concerned. Next, like most intellectuals, Botstein apparently has difficulty comprehending that cost of education and cost of living are very real factors that determine the quality of education one receives and what one can do with it after getting the diploma itself. This makes many of his reform solutions unfeasible in practice (see below).
However, the most problematic aspect of this book is that everyone who summarizes its content, from Wikipedia to the author himself, only focuses on the high school reform aspect. This is unfortunate, because the high school reform aspect is easily the weakest part of the book. Botstein never attended an American high school, and therefore seems unaware of how deeply rooted in American work and life culture the institution of high school is, especially in the working class....or maybe, given that he's only seen fit to open branches of Bard High School Early College in large cities with a conveniently high level of racial diversity, he knows that all too well and doesn't care. But as it is, the high school diploma is the minimum credential in the workplace to be even seriously looked at, and giving kids the burden of explaining that an AA really is a high school diploma....really! to an HR person who is the product of the very same broken and regressive system that Botstein decries is an unfortunate reality of his ideology that I as a graduate of Bard College at Simon's Rock can bear quite a bit of personal testament to.
My final criticism is similarly personal, because Simon's Rock, the original early college experiment, has been administered ex officio by Botstein since 1979 and for all of his advocacy for early college he does not mention it once. Moreover, his criticisms of traditional college pedagogy apply to my Simon's Rock experience in spades, from the serious (bad advising) to the pedantic (an over-reliance on Foucault in social science curricula). I still got enough of an education at Simon's Rock that I have been able to arrive, 11 years later, at most of the conclusions about American education that Botstein wrote about a few years before I went there, most of which apply to Simon's Rock in spades but clearly do not apply to Botstein's other enterprises. Therefore, I can't help but be a teensy bit angry that Botstein couldn't be bothered to apply this knowledge to Simon's Rock, which in my experience seems to be largely because he didn't come up with the idea of early college before they did but wants to pretend it was all him. Considering that Bard High School Early College has since poached several Simon's Rock faculty and lets its students attend Simon's Rock, one of the most expensive colleges in the country, for free, it really seems that Botstein would rather undermine Simon's Rock than sustain it. So much for early college, unless it's something that Botstein himself came up with first.
For a book written in 1997, this is still a surprisingly relevant work - in some ways more relevant than ever. The high school stuff is problematic and, for me, especially frustrating, but this book is otherwise so packed with good ideas that it will likely take me multiple read-throughs to see them all. The sort of citizens that Botstein seeks to create are never going to be created in large numbers in a country run by passively anti-intellectual business majors. Nevertheless, any intellectually curious person who is truly interested in an erudite structural critique of American education should read this book. It's just a shame that the best parts of the work have not been promoted by anyone, even the author himself. ...more
A book about what social media and online dating sites reveal about us, written by the OkCupid guy.
To begin with, I think this is a really great starA book about what social media and online dating sites reveal about us, written by the OkCupid guy.
To begin with, I think this is a really great start to a field of study that we're not really going to be able to talk about for another 20 years or so. The author seems to view it the same way, arguing that having access to social media data for the first time reveals what people are really thinking - not just what they tell surveys - and what it reveals about human behavior in general. In so doing, he touches on a lot of interdisciplinary social science in ways that are fascinating. The chapters covering the way that race, gender, and sexual orientation shape online identity are particularly interesting to me - and I'm someone who, like Rudder, has been extremely skeptical of the academic left's overthinking-into-oblivion of these exact labels. It's interesting because it reveals a deeper side of 40 years of discourse about these things, so much of which is now obviously hot air (he singles out "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus") but so much of which may actually be valid. It also made me go back and watch "Dr. Horrible" again, and realize just how incredibly white it is.
With that said, I did also find this book to be somewhat shallow, both because Rudder necessarily covers a lot of topics with minimal detail instead of one topic in depth and more because it's a book about the data we reveal through social media and online dating sites - not exactly the most intellectual of venues. Rudder's key limitation is that he seems to be writing to an audience that is primarily like himself: young, urban, white, coastal, upper middle class, techie, and educated at a private residential college in the Northeast. In so doing, but for a couple of lip-service infographics, he is a product of "visible" younger tech peoples' subconscious bias against older people and rural people ("the past", inclusive), and total ignorance of the "invisible" Millennial majority that went to a state college and had to get a job after graduation. As such, he doesn't really seem to comprehend that his background is fairly exceptional compared to the normal American college graduate: for every reasonably well-adjusted (and above all, lucky) Millennial like Rudder, around a hundred of us have crashed and burned, or ended up in crappy customer service jobs despite our best efforts. Thus, his worldview has a gaping hole in it that limits his approach. A case in point: when talking about the rate at which gay people are "out" in various states and the correlation with whether the state has legalized gay marriage, he neglects to consider the major reason why there are still plenty of gay people in red states: it's not just family ties or self-denial; it's often as much or more to do with cost of living, a variable that Rudder obviously doesn't fully understand because things worked out for him to the point that he can afford to live in NYC with a child. There are more gay adopted parents per capita in Memphis and other red-state cities than there are in New York or San Francisco because most people, gay or straight, can't afford to live in New York and San Francisco. Finally, though this is a minor and widespread error, it bugged me because of Rudder's tone as an educated, WASPy hipster: shouldn't anyone who went to Harvard know that the word "data" is plural?
Ultimately, while I think Rudder's heart is in the right place and I have to give him points for both ambition and honesty, I have some issues with his methodology, and his own individual life experience is too limited to really allow for the "big picture" he's trying to draw, past the homogenized generalities and some, admittedly awesome, things that he does with textual analysis. It's a really fun book to read to look at a lot of personal characteristics of human behavior that could be studied by social scientists in the future, and thinking about factoids from this book in the month after reading it makes me want to buy it and read it again. However, I also don't believe that it's nearly as conclusive as the author believes it to be, or would like it to be, and I think the fact that all of the testimonials on the back cover are from people very much like him really says something in and of itself. ...more
An account of an old-time rancher growing up on the frontier which reminded me a bit of Charles Siringo's A Texas Cow Boy, only with a personality. UnAn account of an old-time rancher growing up on the frontier which reminded me a bit of Charles Siringo's A Texas Cow Boy, only with a personality. Unlike Siringo's work of bland, barely-literate 19th century individualism, Potter's tale of growing up on a ranch in North Dakota in the early 20th century is positively lively and communitarian. As the title shows, he is completely indifferent to censoring himself with regard to things like profanity, and he writes his dialogue the way people actually talked, resulting in a work of nostalgia that, refreshingly, is making every effort to be honest, and is often even entertaining. Potter writes like an unrefined old grandfather figure telling the younguns tales by the fire; some of his stories are more engaging than others, but you have to love the guy's personality no matter what he's saying. The interesting thing about this work as compared to Siringo's is that while Siringo's life was hard, boring, directionless, and punctuated only by the occasional excitement of some event such as capturing Billy the Kid (with 50 other random guys), Potter's family works their tails off and seems to be enjoying every minute of it. They get along well with all of their neighbors, including various Indians, and occasionally host people from "back East" and even, once, a member of the European aristocracy. It's a good example of North Dakotans' general good humor and relative lack of strife between neighbors compared to other places. Now, this could just be one nostalgic old timer's affable recollections of old times that he's remembering wrong - I don't know - but it's a lot more fun than Siringo all the same.
Based on reading this book and others combined with living in North Dakota for a few years now, I think the best takeaway is that frontier North Dakotans in those days didn't used to be as uptight as a lot of older North Dakotans in the towns are now; it seems that the region was libertarian long before it followed those repressive German social conventions that came later, and that libertarian past still peeks out occasionally and is being brought out again by the younger generations, much to the irritation of the Baby Boomers with the more bureaucratic personalities. Potter's zest for life is comparatively refreshing, and something that you still see occasionally if you talk to the right people in the Bismarck/Mandan area. ...more
I give the author credit for his maps, which are mostly lovely, and for a handful of interesting "local knowlA poor book about a fascinating subject.
I give the author credit for his maps, which are mostly lovely, and for a handful of interesting "local knowledge" facts; I had no idea, for example, that Chicago and downstate Illinois were joined together on purpose by Congress to keep downstate from seceding during the Civil War. This makes the book worth checking out of the library once.
Unfortunately, the writing is otherwise awful, thanks to the author's lack of objectivity, flippant attitude toward his presentation, and lazy approach to both history and proofreading. Trinkelin is a standard-issue smug liberal Baby Boomer of the "I have a two-page bibliography and a bachelor's degree from the 70's and my books get publicity, ergo I am an Infallible Expert" school. As a result, most of the text is a mix of glibly inappropriate opinions, unfunny jokes, and general condescension. The number of insufferable asides about "students of history know x" is especially grating because Trinkelin makes it obvious early on that he has no actual understanding of historical methodology or objective tone, and his fact-checking is sloppy and riddled with errors. Proofreading errors include referring to President William McKinley as "James McKinley", referring to Sioux Falls, South Dakota as "Sioux City" (which is in Iowa); and misspelling Decatur, Illinois with an "o". A more obscure historical mistake is constantly referring to Theodore Roosevelt as "Teddy", despite the well-documented fact that TR hated that name, and so forth. Nearly every page contains an error of one of these two types, and I can't respect the lack of effort Trinkelin put into the text - he obviously just dashed something off off of the top of his head and submitted it for publication without even bothering to proofread it first.
There's also the issue that Trinkelin shares with pretty much every other insecure liberal of his generation who ever wrote a nonfiction book on an unrelated topic, and that's the very likely pathological need to insert his political opinions where they don't belong. In this case, it's his opinion that George W. Bush was an awful president, which he beats to death on every third page despite the fact that this is supposed to be an objective work of historical fact and, in this case, is neither a unique nor relevant opinion given the circumstances. It just makes Trinkelin look like an undisciplined, unprofessional hack, as much as the lazy proofing does.
Ultimately, this is a book that should have been a lot better than it was, had they gotten someone with a more professional attitude to write it. Instead, it comes off more as "somebody's clueless dad's version of history". It's a book I'd recommend checking out of the library once if you're into esoteric US history, but don't expect to get more than a couple of factoids out of it, and don't waste money on it yourself. ...more
I was already familiar with the circumstances surrounding the United 232 crash, having seen it dramatized on shows such as Seconds From Disaster and MI was already familiar with the circumstances surrounding the United 232 crash, having seen it dramatized on shows such as Seconds From Disaster and Mayday, as well as some documentary interviewing Denny Fitch that I can't remember the title of. However, Gonzales really goes beyond the surface of a 40 minute docudrama and extensively covers all of the little details of the crash from the perspective of every survivor he could find; the first responders; the air traffic controllers; the NTSB investigators; etc. In so doing, he plays the crash over and over again in every chapter in a stylistic choice that really captures the trauma of being in a plane crash. Unlike the more sanitized TV sources, he also isn't afraid to depict gruesome fatalities as they occurred; I didn't know, for example, that as the plane hit the tarmac and broke apart it ejected banks of seats with the passengers still strapped into them hundreds of feet up into the air, and I'll never forget the graphic depiction of the one woman who was literally scalped by the fuselage on impact. The takeaway is that whether a person lived, died on impact, died of smoke inhalation, or escaped from the wreckage with permanent physical and emotional scars was entirely the whim of fate.
I do think a few of the sections of this book are a little bit emotionally heavy-handed, which is why I only gave it 3 stars instead of 4. This is particularly noticeable near the beginning and in the epilogue. Gonzales, for whatever reason, also embellishes the facts in a couple of places to make a more harrowing narrative, such as when, early on, he describes the last minute or so of interactions between the flight crew before the plane crashed. The recording from the cockpit voice recorder of that part of the conversation is available on Youtube and has been for years, yet Gonzales' version strays from what's on the tape slightly in the order of what occurred when, apparently for the sake of dramatic embellishment. It's not a major bother, but it still annoyed me if the idea was to record events accurately.
Nevertheless, this is probably the best comprehensive source ever written about the United 232 crash, and is recommended for anyone who is interested in that incident or in aviation safety in general. ...more
It's a book "by" a Hollywood star, so of course it's going to be light. Elwes (by way of his ghostwriter) has some amusing ancedotes and some fascinatIt's a book "by" a Hollywood star, so of course it's going to be light. Elwes (by way of his ghostwriter) has some amusing ancedotes and some fascinating insights into the making of the film in general, and into the late Andre the Giant's personality in particular. The number of times he describes everyone he worked with on the film as "great" or "wonderful" does become a little bit grating - how does he really feel? - but overall, if you're a fan of the movie this is an easy, and decently entertaining, read for some lazy afternoon. ...more