Well-researched, but a bit dry and hardly a fast read. I grew up halfway between Fort Ti and Hubbardton and have been immersed in the region's historyWell-researched, but a bit dry and hardly a fast read. I grew up halfway between Fort Ti and Hubbardton and have been immersed in the region's history to some degree for my whole life, but I still learned new things. If I had one critique other than the fact that the individual chapters require a great deal of time and attention to get through, it would be that the author occasionally puts too much of his worldview as a former Bush Administration employee into his work. It's not really noticeable unless you look for it, but it's not an unbiased narrative, and you can see a very subtle undercurrent of jingoism in his work if you look for it. The author also never quite fully makes the connection between his accounts of historical campaigns in the "Great Warpath" and how it "made the American way of war"; he mentions it briefly in a few of the opening chapters and occasionally brings it up again for a paragraph here and there, but seems to forget about that theme later, and there's not really a summary at the end to discuss that part. I didn't mind it myself because I care more about the historical details, but from a structural perspective it did slightly annoy me.
Overall, this is a good source for fans of the military history of the Lake Champlain corridor, and nicely summarizes some of the more obscure battles in the region that happened before and after Ethan Allen's famous capture of Ticonderoga in 1776. It's not perfect, and it's very dense, but at the end of the day I'd consider it good enough to cite. ...more
A decent, though not extraordinary, biography of arguably one of the biggest historical scapegoats of modern times which, refreshingly, clarifies a loA decent, though not extraordinary, biography of arguably one of the biggest historical scapegoats of modern times which, refreshingly, clarifies a lot of the politically correct myths about Custer that have become popular canon, especially among liberal revisionists, since the 1970's. The reality is that Custer, far from being the thuggish nincompoop he is often portrayed as, was an intelligent and articulate man and a loving husband who was ideally suited for battle and had difficulty adjusting to the post-Civil War world. Ironically, he may have sympathized more with the Indians than with the government he worked for. He was the "goat" of his class at West Point not because he was unintelligent but simply because that was his personality. He didn't loot Wilmer McLean's parlor: he paid good money for that end table. He was often the scapegoat for politically-minded but less daring superiors who resented his courage and his quick rise through the ranks. And he failed at Little Bighorn not because he himself was incompetent but because he was incautious and somewhat reckless due to his political situation at the time, resulting in his entrusting his life to less-than-stellar subordinates who failed to reinforce him when he needed it. Most of these claims probably are all or mostly true, but the fact of the matter is, all of these things lend complex and multifaceted detail to a surprisingly interesting historical figure too long portrayed as a two-dimensional barbarian.
With that said, the book stops short of greatness because Robbins is a very haphazard writer at times. He doesn't cover Custer's expedition to the Black Hills at all but mentions it later, which is a little weird - especially because that expedition is a big part of the reason why Custer is reviled by American Indians to this day. And his extensive coverage of Custer's individual battles during the Civil War is very disorienting because he doesn't describe geography well, so one is given little sense of what Custer was actually doing relative to other units in the battle without looking up a map of the battlefield (not generally included). His use of the names of forts instead of their locations is also confusing; I live in North Dakota and have been to Fort Lincoln, but it took me several pages for me to register that he meant Fort Lincoln in Mandan, as opposed to some other Fort Lincoln, etc., and the transition was always abrupt. I also felt that, as with most of these biographies, the coverage was uneven: Robbins covers Custer's West Point years very well because that's his research interest (he also wrote a book on the "goats" of that period), skips through the Civil War in the manner just described, summarizes Custer's personal life without much additional detail (focusing almost exclusively on his relationship with Libbie), and his coverage of Custer in the West is hit or miss.
The key point that this book hints that it is trying to make but stops just short of making is phrased succinctly by Matthew White, author of ...more
This was my first foray into books on human services issues, and I'm glad it crossed my path. Beam lays out a both poignant and deeply discouraging piThis was my first foray into books on human services issues, and I'm glad it crossed my path. Beam lays out a both poignant and deeply discouraging picture of our safety net for foster children. Interestingly, though Beam is obviously very liberal and very compassionate (as well as being heavily involved in LGBT issues, according to her bio), she makes what 30 or 40 years ago would have been considered a very conservative argument: that, essentially, the only way to guarantee that kids in general will grow up well-adjusted is to provide them with a loving nuclear family from a very young age, and if a kid is in foster care for more than a couple of years after that the system is pretty much guaranteed to fail them, both because it is ineffectively run and because even those rare foster parents who try to take good care of a teenager will be unable to shape their personality. What's more, she presents enough empirical and well-grounded data and firsthand qualitative experiences with various foster kids that her case is convincing.
The reality is that governments in the United States have never been good at taking care of their neediest citizens, and probably never will be. Like the public school system, the foster care system is ineffectively run by top-down political mandates that have had questionable consequences in reality; is administered mostly by idiots; and is staffed by a combination of well-meaning burnouts and people who genuinely couldn't care less. Unlike the public school system, it usually only affects poor kids, so the politicians care less about the results. I usually find books like this that focus exclusively on New York City to be irritating, but in this case I appreciated that Beam referenced what some other states are doing and made some effort to get past the traditional New York worldview. Realistically, for the purposes of this book, her in-depth exploration of one foster care system while saying "the others are all pretty much the same, or at least very similar" is probably more effective in this case than a longitudinal approach, and believable given that it's a system borne out of questionable federal standards.
I'd have rated this book higher if not for my own personal bias against "active journalism"-style writing. I thought it was effective for Beam's purposes for much of the book, but went on for a little bit too long; the last couple of chapters were entirely first-person accounts of how some of the kids she traced ended up in spite of having at one point lived in the Greens' stable foster home, and I'd have liked to see a little more empirical data in those chapters to balance the individual stories. Nevertheless, if you want to have some idea about the foster care system in this country, this is a very good place to start. ...more
Eh. It's an extended commercial for Monopoly written by a senior executive at Hasbro (nee Parker Brothers) who ended up as "Monopoly historian" as a sEh. It's an extended commercial for Monopoly written by a senior executive at Hasbro (nee Parker Brothers) who ended up as "Monopoly historian" as a side project. I don't doubt the author's passion for the game, but the book itself is uneven and its structure is questionable. The author's grasp of American and world history other than that directly pertaining to Monopoly is often lacking, and he seems to be going out of his way to distort various small incidents that the game played throughout history (such as serving as a way to send coded messages to Allied POWs during WWII) in a way that makes a mountain out of a molehill for the sake of good PR. Additionally, the first half of the book, concerning the various different Monopoly-like games that occurred before the war, is very dull and could have been about half as long. Other than the author's jarring use of the first person in places to talk about his own experience working for Parker Brothers (in a way that doesn't quite fit with the rest of the narrative), I feel as though most of this "history" would be more accurate, balanced, and fun to read if you just looked up the game on Wikipedia....plus, Wikipedia doesn't have those awful alliterative chapter titles. I did learn a little bit about the game that I didn't already know, as well as becoming slightly more aware of Mid-Atlantic history in the process, but this isn't a book that most people with an internet connection who are capable of typing in the URL for Wikipedia should need to read in and of itself. ...more
This book exemplifies Chinese scholarship in English: technically flawless, but very dry and often lacking in personality. Chen's research is highly iThis book exemplifies Chinese scholarship in English: technically flawless, but very dry and often lacking in personality. Chen's research is highly impressive, but he often gets bogged down in details that obstruct the flow of the story he's trying to tell, and the book itself is not nearly as focused as the title makes it sound. Still, unlike many books in this category, Chen's personal interest in his research area and his lack of concern for white intellectual conventions makes for a much better presentation than similar works in this mold. While I did learn some things about the history of Chinese restaurants in America, I think Chen's most valuable commentaries are based in his underlying thesis that America is a consumption-driven culture based in the ready availability of food. It wasn't supposed to be the focus of the book, but I found this thesis a lot more interesting - and true - than most of the actual history that Chen digs up. Despite his excellent research, I felt that a lot of the history itself lacked depth; I didn't come away knowing much more than I'd already learned via Wikipedia many years ago. There's also one brief diversion late in the book in which Chen attempts to talk about fast food that should not have been included at all, which seems more to like the product of trying to fit into academia's clueless social agenda (with poor, unscientific sources ranging from Eric Schlosser to PETA). It's only for a couple of pages, but clashes dramatically with the tone and high-quality research of the rest of the book and is really out of place.
The bottom line is that this is a well-researched book with several interesting ideas on a subject that has been long overlooked. However, the writing is dense and very academic, so if you're looking for a casual read rather than a scholarly study based on a theory of American society advanced by an outsider that most Americans might consider heretical, you might be disappointed. ...more
This isn't nearly as good as Bageant's other books, probably because it was never really intended to be one. Rather, it's a collection of blog posts BThis isn't nearly as good as Bageant's other books, probably because it was never really intended to be one. Rather, it's a collection of blog posts Bageant wrote between 2004 and 2010 compiled in book form. As such, it's kind of more of a supplement to Bageant's "real" books than it is a standalone work. I appreciated Deer Hunting With Jesus and especially Rainbow Pie , but those were serious works that Bageant put serious effort into. This isn't, and I wonder how Bageant would've felt to learn that some publisher wanted to posthumously bang a bunch of his free blog posts into a paperback that retailed for slightly north of $17. I appreciate that the editor was a friend who believed that Bageant's daily rantings should be brought to the sort of people who don't read blog posts, but it's still quite the commercial exercise. Also, the title is inaccurate: it should be "the best of Joe Bageant's blog posts", which wouldn't sell as well, but is also the truth. Bageant's other books are the best of Joe Bageant. This is the B-roll.
With that said, these are largely rantings. Each "essay" is very stream-of-consciousness with no third-party editing and GUM errors have been preserved, so it really is like reading something off the internet....in a book. What I found disappointing is that there's very little of Bageant's practically unique "leftneck" insight on display here and more "daily liberal Baby Boomer depression". A few of the essays break this trend, and "A Feral Dog Howls In Harvard Yard", about the ineffectiveness of the intellectual class, is especially good. However, I'd say that only about a third of this book is really Bageant at his "best". The second third is largely repeated in more depth in Deer Hunting With Jesus and the last third is mostly "generic depressed liberal Baby Boomer rants about the awfulness of American culture" in the Morris Berman mold. It's obvious that as Bageant's health failed and he fell into depression he internalized Berman's critiques more and more because the last few essays (anything from mid-2009 and later) are almost exactly identical to something Berman would write. I personally have my issues with Berman, so I found this, the end of Bageant's life and his writing career, to be disappointing.
I'd only really recommend this book if you're such a die-hard fan of Joe Bageant that you absolutely have to have everything he ever wrote. Joe Bageant's greatest legacy as a writer is his two "book" books, which I believe every American who didn't grow up rural, and many who did, should have to read at some point. However, there's really no reason to spend upwards of $18 on a handful of misanthropic blog posts that were probably never intended for "proper" publication when his other books are the legacy he should be remembered by. ...more
A valuable book containing valuable research that goes a long way toward proving that humans are a lot more fallible than we in our so-called enlighteA valuable book containing valuable research that goes a long way toward proving that humans are a lot more fallible than we in our so-called enlightened postmodern society would like to believe when it comes to stereotype constructions. His premise is basically that groups that are historically stereotyped as doing something poorly (blacks are less intelligent, whites are less athletic, women are bad at math, etc.) often overcompensate for that stereotype and ultimately end up affirming it, what the author refers to as "stereotype threat". It's a compelling, and plausible, hypothesis for which there is plenty of evidence, much of which is provided by Steele's own research, which he shares copiously throughout. This research, and Steele's deductive process in general, is the "heart" of the book.
This is both good and bad. On one hand, it's quality original research, with damning implications. On the other, because this research is basically the entire point of the book, it ends up becoming a bit repetitive and goes on for too long; Steele cites study after study after study to the point that my eyes were glazing over by the end, and I feel as though often the points he's trying to make aren't worth the amount of words he uses to make them. Ironically, I think this is mainly the fault of the author working under a "stereotype threat" of his own: that of the "Ivory Tower intellectual" attempting to appeal to a non-intellectual audience. Accordingly, it really feels as though the entire substance of his argument is only about 30-40 pages long, inefficiently interspersed with semi-related anecdotes (some of which are effective, some not) and forced attempts to "introduce" us to his colleagues, which fall flat both because it's no substitute for actually meeting someone and because there are so many of them I couldn't keep them straight anyway. This entire book could be condensed into a 40 minute keynote, and would probably be more effective in that format than it is as a book.
Ultimately, this is a boring book with interesting conclusions. I'd like to see Steele speak, and have no doubt that he's a perfectly fine academic writer - plus, as he has noted, his achievements as a social psychologist in spite of being a black man in a sea of white people are really pretty impressive given the social pressures he faced in the 1960's. However, this really isn't the sort of book you can read from start to finish without being bored unless you're an activist in this area or have pretty much unlimited patience. It's a book that deserves to be cited repeatedly, but as a work for popular consumption it's pretty hit or miss and the "Cliff Notes" version would be just as effective. ...more
There's only one reason to read this book: to prove that the 20th century "Old West" mythos starring John Wayne & co. was completely full of it. TThere's only one reason to read this book: to prove that the 20th century "Old West" mythos starring John Wayne & co. was completely full of it. The reality is that the West was dull. So is this book.
This is the late 19th century memoir of an actual cowboy, a frontiersman with dubious morals and something equivalent to a 4th grade education. It is an invaluable portrait of what life in the West was actually like: hard, dull, and dusty, filled with great opportunity for a few people to get rich on the backs of others and the rest to be taken advantage of.
The only thing I really appreciated about this book was its honesty. Siringo has absolutely no problem with telling the reader, "for posterity", exactly how things were, including talking at length, and with little remorse and less pride, about the people that he cheated himself. From that perspective, it's fascinating to compare these sorts of accounts with the mythologizing of the "Old West", from Buffalo Bill shows and John Wayne movies on one hand to more realistic intermediate works such as A.B. Guthrie's on the other. Ultimately, this book is a testament to the business savvy of Buffalo Bill and his Hollywood successors, who managed to turn the dull, hard world actually described in this book into the exact opposite and made a load of money doing it. ...more