This is a currently somewhat dated but still relevant account of how the admissions committee at Wesleyan University operated during 1999-2000 in ordeThis is a currently somewhat dated but still relevant account of how the admissions committee at Wesleyan University operated during 1999-2000 in order to admit students for the Class of 2004. The years between 2000 and around 2006/2007 represented the largest college admissions boom in US history up until that time, so in some ways this book is very relevant even today. Higher education has also been very slow to change in light of the economic and technological changes to society since then, so it is likely that this book will still be relevant 5 years from the date of its review, but may not be by the time the Class of 2004's own children, mine included, get to college age themselves.
With that said, this book is written in an accessible style and was one of the first to demystify the way that college admissions officers at highly selective schools made decisions about applicants. Steinberg follows around a recruitment officer named Ralph and several of his colleagues, and reveals committee deliberations centering around variables such as SAT scores, extracurriculars, class rank, and especially race, gender, and past activities, no matter how minor, considered unsavory by the power elite. It is written with a high degree of documentary restraint showing no obvious bias on the part of the author beyond making the factual statement that the committee was overwhelmed by the number of applications that year and did not have the staff to process them all fairly.
At the same time, Steinberg also follows six students from "elite" high schools who were recruited by Ralph, and the paths they take into college as a direct result of their interactions with Ralph and with the admissions officers at other schools, and how they each cope with the degree of rejection they experience as a result of that process. Tying it all together is each student's experience of Wesleyan, all very different, and how this affects their decision to attend.
Without giving too many spoilers (for this is a work of nonfiction), it ultimately plays out the way anyone cynical about "selective" institutions would have expected: the biggest catch, a girl who was admitted to all sixteen schools she applied to including Yale, Harvard, and Stanford, goes to Yale. The two kids in the middle both went to Wesleyan. One was a guy who really wanted to go to Brown or Amherst but was rejected by both and came to the realization that Wesleyan was the better place for him in part in spite of and in part because it was the only elite school that would take him. The other was a Native kid from Minnesota who had become Wesleyan's first Native American student after intense lobbying from Ralph - a "diversity" coup; he ultimately ended up failing out after his second term when the cultural issues became overwhelming, but he didn't quit for long - he did those classes at Bemidji State and came back a semester later. More interesting was the story of the three girls who were "waitlisted", none of whom attended Wesleyan in the end. Especially damning was the story of a white Jewish girl who was almost unanimously rejected for confessing to eating a pot brownie, but who then later became student body president. Her experience as a result of that snap-judgment from "elite" admissions commitees was that she was waitlisted at Wesleyan and Cornell and unanimously rejected from everywhere else on the excuse of her demographics, the pot thing, and a mediocre SAT score. It is clear that this young woman had much more to offer than the committees were willing to consider based on the formula (and Ralph argued as much), but she ended up angry and disillusioned with the whole process because she didn't happen to
What this book does is take a peek into a world that was manically obsessed with students as pieces of paper more than students as human beings, in the first year that the higher education bubble really began to inflate. It shows admissions officers as well-meaning but jaundiced and incredibly sheltered people who are slaves to "selectivity" largely in order to please the arbitrary rankings of US News. It shows most of the students as literally playing a crapshoot lottery. And it makes both sides sympathetic. I ding this book slightly because the personal stories he tells in the first two chapters are largely irrelevant to the book's focus and go on for too long. But otherwise, this is a valuable read for anyone who wants to understand how the current mess in "highly selective" higher education got to where it is, and in large part how it still operates today. ...more
This is the story of the early World War II episode in which the British fleet chased down and killed the powerful new German battleship Bismarck befoThis is the story of the early World War II episode in which the British fleet chased down and killed the powerful new German battleship Bismarck before it could be used as a commerce raider; a saga that only lasted a week, but during which both the British flagship HMS Hood and the Bismarck were destroyed. It is a story that has been told many times in many ways since the events occurred in May of 1941. This is a book that presents something that no previous account had: copious interviews with British sailors and aviators serving in the bulk of the fleet sent to take Bismarck down, from the often-overlooked battleship HMS Prince of Wales, badly damaged during the Hood sinking, to crew members of the surviving battleships, destroyers, and aircrews that engaged and sank the Bismarck. Most past survivors' stories, especially those from before the 2000s, had been framed in either a British or German nationalistic context parallel to their government's over-arching narrative of the incident and in a way that sought to play up glory over carnage.
In publishing this book, Ballantyne tells a much more complete and multidimensional story. The most effective theme pervasive throughout is that war creates cognitive dissonance between that which is needed to accomplish an objective and that which is needed to be a functional human. The British sailors all firmly believed that Bismarck had to be sunk because she was a symbol of the Nazi war machine, and because many of them wanted to avenge friends on the Hood. But they also respected the gallantry and dedication of the German sailors who resisted their bombardment against impossible odds, even as they fired the shells that killed many of them. The otherwise extremely militant captain of the ship credited with the final "kill", HMS Dorsetshire even sent out a cable saluting this gallantry afterward, which was suppressed by the Admiralty.
The other theme is that there aren't really winners in war: people just die. After chronicling what happened with the Bismarck episode, Ballantyne goes where most other authors telling this story do not: to highlight the horrible casualties inflicted to most of the victorious British ships that participated in the episode.
Those points aside, this book also makes clear several details potentially considered contentious or embarrassing that were missing from earlier accounts. There is the revelation that Winston Churchill believed the new King George V class battleships lacked critical firepower and was largely proven correct (Bismarck was largely brought down by the then-sixteen year old battleship HMS Rodney, which had much larger guns). There is also the revelation that in order to pretend to comply with international treaties, Bismarck, supposedly the mightiest battleship in the world, had been built to an even older design which resulted in her being a very ineffective ship when put into a situation when she could take damage, and contributing to its crew's extremely high death toll in the final action. He also speculates that the ship was almost certainly sunk by torpedoes, and that the common story that the Germans had successfully scuttled it first was fabricated by German survivors to protect nationalistic pride. Additionally, some long-simmering controversies, such as exactly who fired the torpedo that crippled the Bismarck's rudder, are finally explored in detail. Many of these points are not original (although they largely reference newer sources I had not read), but they are certainly intruiging compared to older accounts.
Ultimately, this is arguably the best book ever written on the Bismarck affair, at least from the British perspective. It replaces the excitement of some earlier accounts with more mature emotions of pride, remorse, horror, and human brotherhood, and its sourcing is exhaustive. Considering that almost every eyewitness involved in this action had passed away as of the 2014 revised edition, it is unlikely that a better book on the subject will ever be written. Therefore, I believe it is fair to consider it the last word on the subject. A must-buy for WWII naval history fans, and seriously worth a look if you have any interest whatsoever in the more mature and human aspects of the subject of war. ...more
Phil Collins wrote a book. Its title will be sadly ironic when he is actually dead.
This is a so-so memoir about a so-so pop star, which mainly standsPhil Collins wrote a book. Its title will be sadly ironic when he is actually dead.
This is a so-so memoir about a so-so pop star, which mainly stands out from other such memoirs because Collins, for all of his faults, is at least honest. He writes with that insufferable poor-turned-affluent Baby Boomer self-importance that he has long been known for, and his decision to write almost the entire memoir in present tense is irritating and can be hard to follow. He also only discusses the individual songs he can remember writing, which if you've seen a recording one of his shows is approximately 20-odd for his entire 30 year career. He doesn't talk about a lot of his (in my view) best work: the songs that were written as filler but that have greater longevity than his hits because they weren't so overplayed and overthought.
However, with that said, he also is relatively candid and humble for a celebrity. He admits honestly that being constantly on tour between the early 70's to mid-90's resulted in 3 failed marriages and a half-dozen children he couldn't properly be a father to (though his decision to stupidly cheat on his second wife didn't help matters). He seems to whine a bit about media persecution, but given how ridiculously far overboard the British media went in trying to ruin him in the 90's, that's understandable. And he takes a little bit too much pride in Tarzan, but since Phil Collins is what made that movie weird, that's also understandable. Unsurprisingly for anyone who has followed his work, he also has that characteristically obnoxious air of self-pity despite being a multimillionaire living in a first-world country; what makes this book readable is that he's mellowed enough with age that this element, while still as omniprescent as ever, has faded to a dull roar. Or maybe it's just that we have the Kardashians and Justin Bieber now, so Phil Collins doesn't seem so bad by comparison.
Overall, this is a decent, if somewhat boring, memoir about an ultimately decent, if somewhat boring and occasionally irritating, celebrity. I picked up this book at the library because I grew up listening to Phil Collins because my dad liked him, but it's probably a compliment to say that I've read many worse memoirs than this one. I just wish he hadn't done the present-tense thing and had written more about the creative process of each song on his albums vs. just the handful that became megahits or were personally meaningful to him. ...more
At its face, this is a book worth reading. It makes some good suggestions about how to approach choosing a college major and planning the rest of yourAt its face, this is a book worth reading. It makes some good suggestions about how to approach choosing a college major and planning the rest of your life. The village analogy is good, as is the observation that kids need to go into this process with both eyes open because a lot of people will be trying to take advantage of them, and the older generations really are mostly useless at providing meaningful advice about this sort of thing because the rules were different for them. It's also good to think about the contribution you can actually make to society (in a job that actually exists) once you filter out all of the politically correct crap that you get from most college campuses, and to understand how to read the labor market, take supply and demand into consideration, and understand how a particular major may affect your earning potential and career options for the rest of your life.
However, the overall premise that "do this not that" is kind of self-defeating. If, as Clarey recommends, everyone majored in STEM, those degrees would become "worthless" thanks to the very same laws of supply and demand....and this is exactly what is happening now. True, a biochemist can contribute tangibly to society in a way that a lit major cannot, but that doesn't necessarily mean that a lit major is a worthless degree for the right person. Clarey says on more than one occasion that instead of being a lit major you should just go to the library and read. That's a fair point....but what did the librarian major in? Libraries are tremendously important to having a functional, literate society, and Clarey ignores the profession entirely. Similarly, even though Clarey doesn't like lawyers, we do need a certain number of them for our government and business to be able to function properly. The problem is that the humanities side does attract a lot more freeloaders because it's easier, but not everyone who majors in the humanities is a freeloader the way Clarey seems to think. I think a better argument would not be "never major in the humanities" but "if you do major in the humanities know exactly what you're getting into and what you want to do with the degree; don't pay sticker price; and don't be stupid enough to major in a field ending in -studies. Then stop worrying, keep on track with your plan, and enjoy college." There is a tremendous amount of good information available to kids these days that my generation didn't get to have; they just need someone to help them filter through it.
I also don't think Clarey really understands what the term "liberal arts" means. At an institution run by a cynical bureaucracy, such as most state or Catholic schools, it does indeed mean "cynical cash grab". At a teaching college, it can still mean "actually understands how to write, think, and be a productive member of society". I live and work in a place now where I'm the only person I know who went to a fancy liberal arts college, and everyone else went to state or Catholic schools. This allows me to provide a perspective in my life and work that is sometimes actually valuable, because I'm the only product of that educational background at the table. I think the main issue is that liberal arts schools are horrendously overpriced for as dated as their business model is, and that most of them don't understand how to market liberal arts skills in a 21st century economy because liberal arts schools are typically a reality bubble. There are still plenty of studies showing that liberal arts majors ultimately make more than regular old business or vocational majors in the long term, because liberal arts majors are better at thinking outside of the box and we can write better and manage projects better than a lot of business majors. So "How to think" is absolutely a marketable skill, and Clarey is wrong to dismiss it. There's also the issue of what people who have only studied one thing can contribute to society vs. someone who actually is "well rounded". This is not just cynical pablum....unless it has been corrupted by a giant bureaucracy into "more money for us".
The bottom line is that Clarey is right about a lot of things, but he's not right about everything. Kids going to college need a hell of a lot more guidance than they've been getting. But they ultimately need to learn how to be effective consumers of information and learn how to put together a patchwork of what works for them, not just take any "advice" out of whole cloth from anybody. I appreciate what Clarey is trying to do here, but at the same time....how much money has he made off of this book? ...more
Contrived, melodramatic, pretentious, and frankly not very good. The ending in particular is quite stilted and unoriginal. Reminds me of the same genrContrived, melodramatic, pretentious, and frankly not very good. The ending in particular is quite stilted and unoriginal. Reminds me of the same genre as Jay Parini's work: historical fiction by smug nineties intellectuals that are not quite half as good or intelligent as they seem to think they are. Props for the research on Portuguese exploration and cartography, but it hasn't really been incorporated into the main plot except by "telling rather than showing", so it largely just seems to be padding an unrelated narrative. I inherited this book from an estate for free, read it in one sitting on an airplane, and I'm not sad to say it didn't make the return trip with me - a good time killer for a few hours, but I wouldn't read it again and don't recommend it unless you really like overhyped 90's pseudo-intellectual melodramas with more ego than content. ...more
Let's get one thing out of the way first: this book is horribly out of date.
With that said, it's still a good resource if you can get it for free andLet's get one thing out of the way first: this book is horribly out of date.
With that said, it's still a good resource if you can get it for free and understand its limitations.
First is the issue of personal bias. Pope, who died in 2008, was a notorious romantic when it came to progressive higher education. He was an advocate of learning for its own sake and exploring your options, which is great, but which also fails to take into consideration the social, political and especially economic factors of college in the 21st century. In particular, the idea that my generation can afford to experiment with higher education when college now costs as much as a house would be spectacularly offensive if it wasn't so quaint. The reality is that colleges are businesses, despite their nonprofit status, and their administrators also under social and political pressure to conform to a particular way of thinking about higher education, and students are under pressure to pay more for less under this model, often walking away with a life-altering amount of debt and no job prospects.
Anything Pope says about public universities is especially outdated, as those budgets were all raided by state legislatures to plug individual state budget deficits caused by the 2008 recession, and most of them will never come back from that. And his coverage of private universities, tuition issues aside, is very jaundiced because he expects the best from many second and third tier colleges that are not going to provide that.
With that said, however, this book offers an extremely good road map for what higher education used to look like, and Pope's encyclopedic knowledge of college names and one-sentence profiles, by itself, still dwarfs that of pretty much all college counselors and most college presidents. For this reason, this book is still a great place to start if you are researching colleges and simply want to know what's out there. You will just want to supplement that basic information with a LOT of extra research that is more up to date. ...more
This is somewhere between an autobiography and a meta-analysis of large quantities of studies on child development. The author is a Ph.D who, as of thThis is somewhere between an autobiography and a meta-analysis of large quantities of studies on child development. The author is a Ph.D who, as of the publication date, was the chair of the children and youth section of the American Sociological Association. After seeing scores of parenting books written by random soccer moms who literally know nothing, I wanted to read one that actually attempted to apply peer-reviewed science. Unfortunately, while Conley raises many good points throughout, if I could summarize this book in one sentence it would be "This book is about Dalton Conley not being as smart as he thinks he is, and probably having ADHD".
The premise of this book is that Conley based his parenting style on peer-reviewed science. Unfortunately, he can't really sustain this approach because he's an extremely aggravating writer who often gets tripped up by his own ego. Every chapter starts strong by focusing on an issue and quoting some studies, but then quickly goes downhill with long and often barely relevant personal tangents about his kids in which he is the Sisyphean protagonist indolently feeding his ego on comic parenting misadventures and expecting us to be having as much fun as he is (we're not), and then often ending with a disclaimer in the last paragraph saying that the study he spent the entire chapter explaining to you before the tangent was BS anyway because _____ actually happened. Very typical of research, perhaps, but not enjoyable to read in the least. More frustrating is his tendency to make his kids' character the subject of every chapter, at the expense of the actual science he's supposed to be quoting - he often lazily tosses out a conclusion that needs to be developed further so that he can rush off to a story about his kids, instead of first discussing that conclusion for a couple of pages to justify his reasoning. For example, his declaration that school funding doesn't matter is indelicate, because it does not account for the poor education outcomes of jurisdictions where funding just doesn't exist; he should have instead said that it doesn't matter beyond a certain threshold. Such mistakes are common for him, especially when discussing education, an area that he clearly knows less about than he thinks he does, and it could have been fixed easily with a little more care.
With that said, Conley comes up with a lot of thought-provoking points as well, especially those related to early child development (genetics aside, you can still really screw up a kid in the womb) and teaching reading and math. His bribery-based approach to math instruction is especially interesting. I also appreciated the depth of nuance in the chapter where he talks about how he parents his kids day-to-day. However, I really wish he'd do a better job of summarizing and editing his points, cutting tangents down to a minimum, and more clearly admitting when a study is wrong and then not discussing it again. It would have been a much better book if he could do that. ...more
A fun historical novel about the early life of Julius Caesar. I tried reading the second book and found it to be dull by comparison, so I gave up on tA fun historical novel about the early life of Julius Caesar. I tried reading the second book and found it to be dull by comparison, so I gave up on the series because I'm impatient and fickle and don't really enjoy reading most fiction. Nevertheless, I'd recommend this first book if you enjoy action-packed historical novels that don't require too much brainpower - kind of like Gladiator, only mostly historically accurate and with a less contrived premise. Iggulden really did do his homework with the historical details, and this really shows in comparison to other novels of this type. ...more
This is a biography of Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso, one of the most influential figures in the 20th century Italian Mafia, written by some random guy whoThis is a biography of Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso, one of the most influential figures in the 20th century Italian Mafia, written by some random guy who grew up next door to him.
I will start by saying that Carlo was far from a good writer. Very far. It's obvious that this book was written piecemeal with minimal editing and then combined. He alternates calling Casso "Anthony", "Casso", or "Gaspipe" repeatedly, often in the same paragraph, and often awkwardly calls him "Anthony Gaspipe Casso" at inappropriate moments. Repetition of key facts is frequent, and most of the chapters are just a few pages long and jarringly interleaved. It's a book that doesn't flow well, and was obviously written in fragments that were then combined. Also, Carlo's writing is too superficial, strictly written from the outside. You never really get the sense of being in Casso's head until the last third of the book, after Casso is arrested. And, of course, the book was also written a few years too soon, before the "current" events surrounding Casso at the federal level had concluded and he was transferred out of ADX; this is forgivable, because that didn't happen until after Carlo had died, but it still feels like this book is unfinished.
I gave this book 3 stars instead of 2 because in spite of the author's generally poor writing, Anthony Casso's life story is at the very least interesting, and at most a real-life Shakespearean tragedy. I equivocate here because Carlo is far from an unbiased recorder of events. There is no denying that Casso's case became very political very quickly. However, Carlo really seems to have a double standard in his portrayal because of his anger at the US government for how they treated Casso. For example, he bemoans the fact that Casso was incarcerated at ADX with a variety of terrorists, but he conveniently ignores the fact that Casso once blew a guy up with a car bomb on a public street. He describes the FBI agents who took Casso's testimony as a bunch of bullies and thugs, and I don't doubt that they were, but it's not as though the Mafia in general was remotely innocent of the same thing. Carlo quotes an article in full in the appendix about how the government has a track record of abusing the rights of government witnesses, and that article makes some good points. However, it was also written by a lawyer whose business is defending terrorism suspects.
Overall, this is a marginal book. I appreciate that Carlo tries to focus on Casso's humanity and honor throughout, but it's a shame that his writing isn't good enough or unbiased enough to fully accomplish the task of making a Mafia boss like Casso, who sometimes comes off as an interesting character when quoted, into a fully sympathetic human figure whose story is effectively told. ...more
Elinor Smith was probably the most accomplished female airplane pilot in history. At a time when flight was a new technology, she became the youngestElinor Smith was probably the most accomplished female airplane pilot in history. At a time when flight was a new technology, she became the youngest licensed pilot in the world at age 16; broke more records at the age of 18 than most male pilots of that era did in their lifetimes; and managed to remain very down to earth and professional while doing it. She later took 30 years off from flying to raise a family, then returned to the field in her 50's, and became the oldest pilot to land the space shuttle simulator in her 80's. She died in 2010, aged 98.
In short, Elinor Smith was really awesome. This book is somewhat less so. While the first chapter is certainly thrilling and I appreciate her down-to-earth tone, Smith's writing style is relatively dull and the chapters really start to run together as a series of flat "this is what I did at this time with these people" recitations. There are a few really interesting nuggets in here - most especially the revelation that, despite conventional wisdom, Amelia Earhart couldn't actually fly a plane until about a decade AFTER she was famous and her reputation was concocted entirely by her husband, promoter G.P. Putnam, whom Smith, despite her affection for Earhart, also reveals to have been a horrible human being. Most of the reason Smith is not a household name today despite having been worthy of the hype is entirely due to Putnam going out of his way to sabotage her career in any way that he could. However, in spite of some historically interesting details such as these, much of the book is still a litany of names, dates, and places that have no meaning to a casual reader in the 21st century. More disappointingly, despite having lived a thoroughly awesome life, Smith only covers two years of it in this book - her early flying triumphs as a teenager. I would've liked to read about the rest as well. Although one of the best things about her as a person, Smith's humility really resulted in her selling herself short when it came time to tell her own story to the world.
With that said, if you have an interest in aviation history or in stories about women succeeding in a largely male field, this is a must-read. However, there's also a reason why I was able to get an autographed copy secondhand on Amazon for just $4. Elinor Smith was the real Amelia Earhart. It's just a shame that she didn't embrace that a little more and put more effort into telling the world about it. ...more