I finished listening to this audible book with tears in my eyes. I suffered from the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and I gloried in the prose of CaI finished listening to this audible book with tears in my eyes. I suffered from the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and I gloried in the prose of Carl Sandburg. Sandburg noted that when Lincoln died he became a legend surrounded by mythology. And so this book did not seem so much to be a compilation of historical truth as a collection of homegrown stories. The reading was superb with the inflection of the people of the times. And yet I would like to think the stories and the anecdotes captured the truth of the man and the times. There is the historical struggle about the truth of whether the Civil War was to free the slaves or preserve the union. It is fair to say that the book captures Lincoln as both a hero and a villain. ...more
Andrew Jackson believed in democracy that meant for him the rule of the people and in maintaining the union of all the states. He had very little formAndrew Jackson believed in democracy that meant for him the rule of the people and in maintaining the union of all the states. He had very little formal education and I thought the book failed to explain how he rose to such Heights in spite of a lack of education. He became a lawyer and a judge and most notably a military general and then threw his heroism and notoriety the president of United States. Although he lived into his 70s he suffered from poor health for much of his life. In some ways I would judge him to be the Donald Trump of the 1850s. He represented the era of the westward expansion of the United States and the democratization of the electorate has so many men achieve the right to vote by becoming property owners the requirement of that day.
The plight of Native Americans is dealt with significantly throughout the book. Jackson fought the Indians and as president but they should be moved west of the Mississippi into their own territories. The infamous trail of tears occurred on his watch as the Seminoles were forced to move west. Jackson is another of the presidents who was a slave owner owning about 150 slaves at the end of his life.
I experienced this book in the audible format. It was well presented. An aspect of history that was included in some detail was Jackson's opposition to the national bank and his effort to replace it with state banks. Jackson remained active in national politics after his two terms as president. The next President Martin Van Buren was essentially handpicked by Jackson and a carbon copy. John Quincy Adams who defeated Jackson with the aid of some political shenanigans in their first contest remained a lifetime political enemy.
This is a very long book and I'm sure the fact that I experienced it in the audible format is a main reason that I got through to the end. The author notes at the conclusion that the spelling throughout the book has been converted to a modern format to save the reader from having to struggle with the very personalized and invented spelling that dominated Jackson's efforts....more
The initial portion of this book which covers the Wright brothers initial work and testing on the North Carolina Outer Banks is very interesting sinceThe initial portion of this book which covers the Wright brothers initial work and testing on the North Carolina Outer Banks is very interesting since it puts you in the period of 1901 1902 and 1903. After the initial success in Kitty Hawk much of the testing and development was done in the field near their home in Dayton Ohio. The last half of the book is less interesting since it covers the period of time after their success when they spent a lot of effort with patent lawsuits. The brothers spent a lot of time in Europe especially Paris showing off their airplane. Wilbur Wright the most dynamic of the brothers died young. After the success of their airplane they wanted to get credit for their achievement something that did not come easily initially....more
Bayard Rustin was black, a Quaker, a pacifist, a nonviolent activist, a socialist, a homosexual, a follower of Gandhi, a teacher of and advisor to MarBayard Rustin was black, a Quaker, a pacifist, a nonviolent activist, a socialist, a homosexual, a follower of Gandhi, a teacher of and advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr., an accomplished singer and a primary organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. He was active with the War Resisters League, the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference among many other social change organizations. His controversial life as a gay man and a pre1941 communist relegated him to a less public role in many of the causes he championed. In August 2013, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Bayard Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Since this is a children’s book all the details of Rustin’s life are not fully explicated in the text. In some ways this is disturbing to me since the fact that he was a gay man and a radical in many ways are key parts of his story. However, I want to say that the Author’s Note at the end of the book is several pages long and deals with the “controversial” topics in a forthright manner. His refusal to serve in the military is covered in the text. And, of course, much of his activism is about nonviolent civil disobedience so the author makes a good effort to meet him more than halfway!
The back cover flap of this 2007 book notes that Brimmer has written “almost 150 fiction and nonfiction books for children” so it would be fascinating to talk with him about how he goes about selecting material to include in a book meant for young people. I do want to say that, whatever the target audience, I found this book most interesting to read with the addition of many historic photographs.
I ordered this book online from www.alibris.com as a part of my effort to recognize the fiftieth anniversary of the August 28, 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, an event that moved me emotionally as I watched it on television from my suburban Detroit home when I was sixteen. I did not realize that it was a “children’s book” and am glad of that ignorance as I might not have bought this wonderful book if I had known.
My long participation in the War Resisters League (celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2013) and other pacifist organizations makes this a special book for me. I look forward to reading this five star book one day soon with my ten year old daughter. ...more
This book is the 1918 diary of Army Lt. William Sirmon. It begins on January 1st with Sirmon training soldiers at Ft. Gordon, Georgia. Sirmon takes usThis book is the 1918 diary of Army Lt. William Sirmon. It begins on January 1st with Sirmon training soldiers at Ft. Gordon, Georgia. Sirmon takes us to France for his personal view of the war to end all wars, and on to Armistice Day. That’s War is a view of war by a proud patriot who recorded his thoughts as he experienced the war.
March 11. …the call of duty got me out to work. Took the detachment in bayonet work and close order. It is tedious, but interesting work, training the detachment. The Sergeant Major is the only Regular Army man among them. The others are boys who were ribbon clerks, farmers, mechanics and what have you, only a few months ago Some of them seem so helpless. They have not developed any aggressiveness, no fighting spirit. They are just good-natured boys. Now we are putting every weapon of slaughter we have into their hands. Grinding the evenness of their temper away. Teaching them to hate, to fight and KILL!
April 12 is “The Day” that “marks the beginning of a great adventure for the cause of Freedom.”
I want to go over. Not for the possible glory of it, but to give my life humbly for the only thing on God’s green earth that feels near and dear to me – My Country. All that I love is here.
The previous days had been filled with many goodbye parties.
Saw Cathryn G- at Agnes Scott College, and took Hattie A- for a ride. Both girls sent me away with a smile, all right, and I’ll get ten Huns for each of them.
Our freedom loving Sirmon is evidently, in the manner of the South at that time, a racist.
Some of the negroes insist on being saluted. They took one colored captain to the hospital this afternoon. He stopped one of our Alabama corporals and demanded a salute. He got it – right smack in the eye. … General Bell says we can’t go overseas if there is any more trouble. Foolish old man. You cannot change a Southerner. We will NOT salute your negroes! War or no war, army discipline or else, it just cannot be done. Better get those colored shavetails away from this place, General, if you want peace.
On April 26th the S.S. Karmala is at sea with 2000 soldiers. Twelve days from New York to Liverpool, England that remind us that travel across the Atlantic takes time in 1918. Much seasickness and several submarines.
Arrival in France on May 14th. Sure there is a war, but, when in doubt, party!
Last night’s party left me with a terrible head, I felt like I was a total loss to the army. My introduction to the Vin sisters, Rouge and Blanc, has been accomplished. Ouch!
June 7th: The Front. Having spent several weeks in France near the line of battle, Sirmon and his troops have witnessed air skirmishes, heard the roar of battle on occasion and continued a heavy regime of training. He has been ordered to the front three times only to have the orders cancelled.
But this time I was not disappointed. I left in the early morning and in the afternoon the heavy artillery was belching all around me. Being unused to the routine of the front, I could not know that I had arrived on a quiet day. I did not know that every deafening explosion near me sent a giant shell into the trenches of the Hun, so I spent my first hours jumping and ducking shells that never arrived.
He was at the British Front and since he was an officer,
I spent the greater part of the day in the office of the Brigade Major. I examined all of his operation orders and defense schemes. The living apartments are twenty feet underground. The dugout is like a real house, rooms are partitioned off and a hallway runs down between them. The mess is quite formal. General Kennedy requires his staff to dress for dinner. The courses are accompanied by the appropriate cocktails, wines and liquors. After dinner the phonograph is brought out and all enjoy a few sentimental records.
By his own writing, Lieutenant Sirmon acknowledges regular fraternization with wine, women and song. It is a strange read since none of his descriptions are graphic with much tongue in cheek. It seems like behind the words he could have been having an R rated time though most of what is divulged is PG at best. It is hard to know exactly how much of his experience is colored by the fact that he is an officer and how his life might have been different as a mere doughboy who rarely had the occasion to “dress for dinner.” He does have occasion to go to the front saying, “It is a hard life up there, but such a pleasure to know that it’s worth it.” The living of Sirmon was merged with French women and children and older folks not directly in the war.
July 17th. Minorville. Having spent last night inspecting the front line trenches I did a great bit of sleeping today. I slept just a little too long, however, and it was after twelve o’clock before I got my report on the General’s desk. This caused him to take a balloon trip upward, and he jumped out without a parachute, coming down most ponderously on my neck. It is rather strange that he should change about in his saddle so much. It seems to be my time to be ridden now, so I’m just gliding along as nicely as possible. In addition to the other difficult and heart-breaking services I am called upon to render my country, I was informed today that I must appreciate the fact that I am merely a secondary personality around here; that I must see that the General has “La Vie Parisienne” and chocolate candy regularly. He wanted to know what I was getting my extra $12.50 a month for as his Aide, anyway. I was told that I must observe and anticipate his wants, and supply them first, then think of my own welfare. All right, General, Sir, if I must I will.
In his initial diary entries life at the front is not what I had imagined from the gory stories I have heard about World War One.
The continual artillery boom and the buzz of wasp-like airplanes overhead are the only signs of war we have had today. To drive the war still further into oblivion, our 325th band came over and played for us in the afternoon.
He tells of about the artillery and the gas but he almost never mentions the impact on individual human bodies – the blood and guts. Initially that was not his experience in writing his daily diary. His does tire of his cocoon of Headquarters and makes a written request for a transfer to the line, a request that is finally granted so he can punish the Boche hands “that have strangled women and children."
Within days of his assignment to the line, Sirmon goes on a night patrol into No Man’s Land where he is involved with close fighting of the Germans that earned him a Distinguished Service Cross with the following citation:
For extraordinary heroism in action near Clemery, France, 16 August, 1918. At the imminent risk of his own life, Captain Sirmon rescued another officer by carrying him at night through enemy wire, and under heavy machine gun fire, for 300 yards to a place of safety, where he dressed the wounds of the disabled officer.
His desire to be in the fight had finally been fulfilled and his diary entries reflect the danger of regular battle. Note that by the time the Distinguished Service Cross was awarded in December 1918, Sirmon had been promoted to Captain.
Falling victim to a mustard gas attack in the early morning of September 16th, Sirmon is transferred to a hospital and temporarily separated from his diary. The format of the diary changes to a lengthy narrative from that September night until he returned to the front line on October 21st. He devotes two interesting chapters to his hospitalization and recovery. The war seemed to be approaching an end with Germany on the brink of defeat. Sirmon was afraid to be sent back to the front to be killed as the war drew to a conclusion.
There is one notable interaction with the Commanding Officer of the Medical Corps who decided Sirmon, now recovered significantly from his mustard gas acid burns, was guilty of drunkenness, arson and insubordination. Sirmon wrote, “He seemed to be a combination prohibitionist and fool, a frequent combination.” The response of the CO doctor was “Infantry officers are a disgrace to the army. You are unkempt, ungentlemanly woman chasers and drunkards.” I would say it was possible that both viewpoints had some credence.
After a month of recovery, he was reassigned to the supply unit, a safe unit away from the fighting. However, he felt good enough to go back on active duty so asked that his assignment be changed to take him back to his unit. His return to the front included a two day pass in Paris. He writes, “A book would not suffice for the complete record of those two days’ events.” He evidently reverts back to wine, women and song in Gay Paree. He takes a moment out of his trip to his unit to denigrate a negro unit that “had been taken out of the fighting line and converted into temporary labor battalions.” He rejoins his unit at the Argonne. He writes that “some fifteen days before, Company “G” had come in with 328 men. It now had 41.”
The formal diary resumes on October 21st at The Front. The last battles are fought for the time being. And on November 12th Sirmon writes in his diary:
We have won the victory; I wonder how our statesmen will use it? Is the world safe for democracy? Will there be another war? Damned if I know! I am going to leave that for statesmen and Father Time to worry with. For my part I am going out and celebrate. Paris? Yes! Wine? Yes! Women? Yes! Song? Professor, pitch the key!
We have here a book in the private words of an army officer about how he experienced The War to End All Wars from January 1, 1918 to November 12, 1918. He shows himself to be a complex man. He is awarded battle ribbons for bravery in combat. He overcomes his fear of death to return to the front line after he had been disabled by mustard gas. He is a patriot who is willing to die for his country and comes very close to doing just that.
This is a book that would benefit from explanatory paragraphs and pages to set the scenes and events. My understanding and enjoyment suffered because of my limited knowledge of WWI. I did learn some things about the war but I wanted to know more about submarine and aerial warfare in 1918 as well as the battles Lieutenant Sirmon fought in and writes about. The man was portrayed in his own words very well with real positive and negative attributes. His early twentieth century beliefs and uncertainties are there to be seen in the real human being who is introduced to us.
I always struggle with characters who actually want to go to war and have a strong belief in the war they are fighting. I work to hold back my negative judgments about people who eagerly go off to war. The contrast between the soldiers fighting “in the mud” and the officers “dressing for dinner” was hard for me to take. Our diarist was a hands on officer who crossed over into German territory through No Man’s Land with his men and bridled as a cog in the Headquarters’ gears. He succumbed to the numbing routine of a 5:30 a.m. Reveille and daily military schedule. He liked the company of women and liked singing and partying. I wonder which of his many characteristics would have stood out at a first meeting.
I thought I was going to give this book three stars for most of the time I was reading it. But I am impressed with the book that I have discovered by writing this review and thinking about the man. This book is not as visceral as most of the Vietnam books that I read and I had to overcome my negative gut reaction due to that. I am bumping That’s War up to four stars and recognizing that it is not my usual war book.
I have a thing for J.D. Salinger and even I am not quite sure what that means. I wrote a paper about him in college that has little to recommend itselI have a thing for J.D. Salinger and even I am not quite sure what that means. I wrote a paper about him in college that has little to recommend itself. I did append to the paper several short stories by Salinger that were published in The Saturday Evening Post in the 1940s. I painstakingly typed them out on my manual portable Hermes typewriter, probably on corraseable paper so I wouldn’t have to use white-out. The professor was not impressed. It did not jumpstart my writing or literary career.
I was also one of the millions of teenage boys who read The Catcher in the Rye. Let’s be clear, I was one of the boys wondering what it meant anyway. I have 65 GR friends and 40 of them have rated The Catcher in the Rye . Most everybody knows Holden Caulfield and many would like to know more about the author. But Salinger is not having any of it. In Search of J.D. Salinger is one of the many efforts to fill that information gap.
Hamilton wedged himself into Salinger’s private world by finding five years worth of letters that Salinger wrote to Whit Burnett, the editor of Story magazine , a well respected publication that first published one of Salinger’s early short stories. The letters were in the Whit Burnett/Story magazine files. Salinger took Hamilton to court to prevent him from using those and other similar unpublished letters in the biography. Salinger had a lot of money and had the best lawyers. The result of the court trial was that the book was substantially revised, removing any of Salinger’s own words found in private documents from the text. The chapter at the end of the book on the legal process is interesting and readable without much legalize. The author’s successful search for letters that Salinger had sent to others is impressive. He used them as best he could given his court-ordered silence on the exact wording of Salinger.
One interesting thing about the legal matter is that it was well publicized and Salinger got more presumably unwanted publicity than he had in the previous twenty years. He had to give an in person deposition, his first public appearance in some time.
With very limited direct Salinger material, Hamilton resorts to the common technique of reading the author’s work as autobiographical, trying to make connections between Salinger’s life and his stories. At times the analysis of Salinger’s famous families, first the Caulfields and then the Glasses, takes over, overwhelming any potential biographic value. However, as someone who has not yet comprehended much of Salinger’s work, I find the plot summaries and analyses to be quite interesting. And personally, I do believe that all writing is autobiographical to some extent. But there is a lot of assuming and conjecturing and inferring that must happen to turn books into biographies.
This is a relatively short book of just over two hundred pages. Although it seems to cover every observed incident of Salinger leaving his rural home to go to the grocery store or the post office, our picture of the author remains fuzzy. Salinger married twice. The first lasted only briefly and the second produced a son and a daughter. The daughter Margaret Salinger wrote a book in 2000 that is rated 3.27 on GR.
I found this book readable both in writing style and in interesting content. It talked about the process of researching and writing the book since it was prohibited by a court decision from being published in its original form with excerpts from unpublished letters from Salinger to various people. The letters allowed the author to reach some conclusions about Salinger’s life and work but the supporting material could not be included. There are footnotes.
With some regret I am giving In Search of J.D. Salinger three stars. It might deserve better but when I compare it with J.D. Salinger, A Life, it does not come close. I would have to read other biographies of Salinger to know better where this one fits in the pack. ...more
This book is about New Orleans and Katrina. But even more it is about how people and the government dealt with the aftermath of that category 5 hurricThis book is about New Orleans and Katrina. But even more it is about how people and the government dealt with the aftermath of that category 5 hurricane, in the days that followed Monday, August 29, 2005, the day that Katrina made landfall in Louisiana and Mississippi.
After I started Zeitoun, I didn’t want to put it down. Occasionally it slowed but it never stopped. The protagonist had a unique view of New Orleans, post-Katrina, as he moved around by canoe while staying on the second floor of his half-submerged home. Then he had a unique view of the justice system as well. Not to make it seem simply interesting, there is plenty of suspense. In developing the characters a good deal of family history and other background is included. This is not distracting from the main story at all as far as I am concerned. I enjoyed just about everything about the book.
The ending was a bit too they-lived-happily-ever-after as far as I was concerned. But it is a true story so I guess you can’t do much else at the end. I could have stood more muckraking. I wish there were more popular books about people being crushed by the system. But there has been a lot written about the mishandling of Katrina. But much of it has been technical and dry and doesn’t get as much attention as this one book.
For me this is a four star book. I think the story flowed well and kept my interest. This is the first book that I have read in 24 hours in some time. ...more
Pete Seeger does not wear the mantle of ‘famous person’ very well. There have been times he has said that he would rather you sing his songs than buyPete Seeger does not wear the mantle of ‘famous person’ very well. There have been times he has said that he would rather you sing his songs than buy his records. And a lot of us know quite a few of his song by heart.
The Protest Singer is a short book, one the author thinks you can read in one sitting. It was published in 2009.
Here is a paragraph from the book jacket that introduces the man and the author:
A true American original is brought to life in this rich and lively portrait of Pete Seeger, who, with his musical grace and inextinguishable passion for social justice, transformed folk singing into a high form of peaceful protest in the second half of the twentieth century. Drawing on his extensive talks with Seeger, New Yorker writer Alec Wilkinson lets us experience the man’s unique blend of independence and commitment, charm, courage, energy, and belief in human equality and American democracy.
Pete Seeger was born in 1919 so is in his 90s. He was born in Manhattan and lived in Greenwich Village after WWII. In 1949 he bought 17 acres of land on the side of a mountain in Beacon, NY, sixty miles north of NYC, and moved there with his wife and two young children. They lived in a twelve foot trailer while he built a log cabin for their home.
Born into musical family, he started singing in 1925 when he was six years old. Singing was a part of normal life for him. So he has been singing for almost nine decades and has written songs that we all know: Where Have All the Flowers Gone?; Turn, Turn, Turn; If I Had a Hammer; Waist Deep in the Big Muddy. He also sings some well known standards: We Shall Overcome; Guantanamera; Michael Row the Boat Ashore and a list longer than your arm. Way longer.
When he moved from NYC to Beacon in Duchess County, he was becoming fairly well known as a singer and musician but he wasn’t making much money. Seeger appeared with Paul Robeson, a well known black singer, in a concert in Peekskill, NY to raise funds for a civil rights organization. They had been threatened by the KKK and expected trouble. When they were driving away from the concert, the cars were attacked by people throwing rocks that broke car windows. This was not the last time Pete would have trouble because of his political views and associates.
Some pages in the book are devoted to Seeger’s story about his ancestry and youth.
“I come from a family of doctors and shopkeepers and intellectuals,” he[Seeger] said. A great-uncle, Franklin Edson, was mayor of New York. He was a well-to-do lawyer, and he came in as a kind of compromise candidate served only one term. He christened the Brooklyn Bridge.
Seeger had a privileged childhood growing up in Nyack, NY. He started a weekly newsletter at the boy’s boarding school he attended, selling at five cents a copy. His mother wanted him training in classical music but he “couldn’t keep from tapping his foot.” With the experience of doing his newsletter, he decided that he wanted to be a journalist.
Seeger was admitted to Harvard on a scholarship but left in 1938 before the end of his second year. In 1939 Seeger meets up with Woody Guthrie and spends some time with him in Washington, DC recording songs for the Library of Congress. He went with Guthrie to Texas to see Guthrie’s family and they go separate ways for a while. Seeger spent some time riding railroad box cards and earning money playing the banjo. Later Guthrie and Seeger got together informally with a variety of other musicians and performed as the Almanac Singers. Seeger thought they were pretty good for a group with a lot of member turn over that never practiced except when they were performing.
In that time, Seeger wrote to Toshi, his future wife:
“There have been so many failures. You don’t know. Every song I started to write and gave up was a failure. I started to paint because I failed to get a job as a journalist. I started singing and playing more because I was a failure as a painter. I went into the army as willingly as I did because I was having more and more failure musically.”
When he was in army training Military Intelligence questioned him because they doubted his opinions. He and Toshi married and finally he was sent to a small island in the Pacific. He had been drafted in 1942 and was in the army until 1945. Fresh out of the army he started singing with three others calling themselves the Weavers. They got a job in NYC and were not having much success – no one was coming to see them – when Carl Sandburg heard them, said some positive things and suddenly they had an audience. They released their first record in 1950 and shortly after that had their best seller hit “Goodnight, Irene” Then all of a sudden they were famous and went on the road touring.
The Weavers sold a lot of records during 1950 but Pete didn’t enjoy himself. He was happier playing the clubs and didn’t like being such a public figure. But because of him teenagers were first hearing what was called folk music. The Weavers had a contract for a television show but when an organization Counterattack put out a pamphlet “Red Channels” with 151 names of men and women in radio and television who were involved with suspicious (communist) organizations. The contract was cancelled. The Weavers continued to perform until 1952 when they disbanded and then started singing again in 1955. Pete left the group in 1957 when the group voted (3 to 1) to do a cigarette commercial.
In the early 1950s if you thought, as Pete did, all human beings are created equal and have equal rights, it was evidence that you were a socialist. Pete, who had been a member of the Communist Party in the late 1940s, withdrew from the party in 1949 after he moved to Beacon.
I realized I could sing the same songs I sang whether I belonged to the Communist Party or not, and I never liked the idea anyway of belonging to a secret organization.
Shortly after the Weavers resumed their singing, Seeger was summoned to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee of the US Congress. Pete’s decision was to agree to talk about himself but not testify against others. His father had been forced out of his job in 1952 when he also refused to testify against others. He appeared before HUAC and in spite of lengthy questioning refused to testify against any group or person. Eventually he was found in contempt and sentenced to one year in jail, a sentence that was overturned in 1962, seven years after it all started.
In answer to the question, Have you seen any pattern to your life?” Seeger answered in part:
“I always hated the word career,” he said. “It implies that fame and fortune are what you’re trying to get. I have a life’s purpose. In the old days I felt it should be helping the meek to inherit the earth, whether you call the working class the meek or not. . . . “These days my purpose is trying to get people to realize that there may be no human race by the end of the century unless we find ways to talk to people we deeply disagree with,” he said. “Whether we cooperate from love or from tolerance, it doesn’t much matter, lut we must treat each other nonviolently.”
John Cronin, the director of the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries, tells this story about Pete Seeger:
About two winters ago, here on Route 9 outside Beacon, one winter day it was freezing – the war in Iraq is heating up, and the country’s in a poor mood. I’m driving south and on the other side of the road I see from the back a tall, slim figure in a hood and coat. I can tell it’s Pete. He’s standing there all by himself, and he’s holding up a big sign of cardboard that clearly has something written on it. Cars and trucks are going by him. He’s getting wet. He’s holding the homemade sign above his head – he’s very tall, and his chin is raised the way he does when he signs – and he’s turning the sign in a semicircle, so that the drivers can see it as they pass, and some people are honking and waving at him, and some people are giving him the finger. He’s eighty-four years old.
I know he’s got some purpose, of course, but I don’t know what it is. What struck me is that, whatever his intentions are, and obviously he wants people to notice what he’s doing. He wants to make an impression, anyway, whatever they are, he doesn’t call the newspapers and say, “Here’s what I am going to do, I’m Pete Seeger.” He doesn’t cultivate publicity. That isn’t what he does. He’s far more modest than that. He would never make a fuss. He’s just standing out there in the cold and sleet like a scarecrow getting drenched. I go a little bit down the road, so that I can turn around and come back, and when I get him in view again, this solitary and elderly figure, I see that what he’s written on the sign is “Peace.”
The appendix of the book includes the ten points of “The Purpose of Music,” by Charles Seeger, Pete’s dad. It also includes the transcript of Pete’s testimony before the HUAC in August 1955.
There are also several dozen black and white photos included in the book. And let me say straight out that I hate it when there are photos and the captions for all of them are on a separate page at the back of the book. Like in this book!
This is easily a four star book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading although going back several generations of family history was a bit much in a short book. The book does have a ring of authenticity and had the cooperation of Pete. The author talks about it being, at Pete’s suggestion, a book you can read in one sitting. I had to take some breaks but I did read it in one day when I could devote myself to reading.
Dominique Green was on Death Row in Texas until his execution in 2004. (This book was published in 2009.) During his time there he taught himself andDominique Green was on Death Row in Texas until his execution in 2004. (This book was published in 2009.) During his time there he taught himself and learned the skills of life that no one had ever taught him. He had to decide the purpose of his life when his execution seemed to be a certainty. The evident turn around in his life has been obvious to people who had contact with him. If rehabilitation is the goal, he was a success story by most accounts. Green said:
I didn’t know, after being condemned, if I should prove to the jury that sentenced me to die that I was not a monster. . . I never had anyone in my life to teach me how to be me. That was something I had to take the time to discover on my own, and it was one hell of an experience.
In military training recruits are taught to dehumanize the enemy to make it more easily possible to kill. Some might think of a person (over 98% of the time it's a man) on death row as inhuman, a monster, not worthy of life. The debate about the justification for the death penalty is often an emotional one.
One of the goals of most books opposing the death penalty is to humanize the people on death row. That is a primary goal of this book in addition to showing the absence of justice in this particular case. This book takes place in Texas, the state that executes far more people than any other state.
The title of the book including “Saint” suggests a religious bent. I read the book in spite of that because of my long interest in abolishing the death penalty. There is some religious language and references. So, while religion did play a role in the book, it did not seem overblown to me. Clearly religion plays a significant role for some people in dealing with the death penalty and other social issues. A Saint on Death Row is very focused on the possibility of Dominique Green’s innocence. In one of the more well known anti-death penalty books Dead Man Walking maintains some distance from the issue of guilt or innocence. The position there is that the death penalty is wrong even if the person is guilty.
In recent years there has been an increasing emphasis on mistaken convictions. As more and more erroneous convictions (including those on death row) have become known, a strong argument is made that the death penalty should be eliminated because it cannot be reversed if innocence is determined after the execution. Some cases where that critical mistake may have been made have been discovered and publicized. DNA evidence is playing a role in conviction reversals. In the book after the execution author Tom Cahill has several pages where he gives consideration to the innocence or guilt of Green and makes no firm determination.
I am glad that I read this book as I continue to seek out books about the death penalty. I am “the choir” as in “preaching to the choir” in this instance. Like lots of people, I like things that reinforce what I think. We are recalcitrant about changing our opinions. But somehow we do change collectively and that seems to be what is happening with the death penalty as abolishment is picking up support and state legislatures are acting.
I wasn’t energized by this book and I wonder how much pro or con books like this actually affect public opinion. I was happy to see the various resources listed at the end of the book so people can be better informed and maybe support an anti-death penalty organization. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty NCADP at http://ncadp.org/ is a good one that works nationally and supports the many local and state abolition organizations. And I think Dead Man Walking is still one of the best books on the subject.
A Saint on Death Row is a three star book for me. I have read enough death penalty books to think this one could have been much better. It didn’t get me pumped up. Maybe part of that was the religious aspect of the book. Glad I read it. It didn’t take much time. I hope it catches the interest of the more religiously inclined. But judging from the relatively small number of ratings it doesn’t seem to have caught on with GR readers. ...more
I have struggled to understand Eudora Welty. Since I live in the South, I have tried to read some well known southern authors including Ms. Welty. ButI have struggled to understand Eudora Welty. Since I live in the South, I have tried to read some well known southern authors including Ms. Welty. But I don’t get her so I am hoping that this biography will help me understand her somewhat better. Having said that, here is what Ms. Welty herself thought about biographies:
” I’ve always been tenacious in my feeling that we don’t need to know a writer’s life in order to understand his work and I have really felt very opposed to a lot of biographies that have been written these days, of which the reviewers say they’re not any good unless they reveal all sorts of other things about the writer . . . . . It’s brought out my inherent feeling that it’s good to know something about a writer’s background, but only what pertains.” Source: Introduction xii
The author of this book, biographer Suzanne Marrs, says:
I attempt to present Eudora Welty’s life as fully as possible by allowing many voices to guide me – the voices in her fiction; the voices in her letters to friends, editors, colleagues; the voices of individuals who knew her not as a marble statue, but as a living, breathing, changing, developing, witty, sensitive, and complicated personality. Over the course of her ninety-two years, Eudora engaged the world with all her powers and never retreated into a single, narrowly defined role. Openness to experience complemented her creative genius and helped her to produce some of the most memorable fiction of the twentieth century. She was not the contentedly cloistered “Miss Eudora” in whom so many believed or wanted to believe, but was someone far more compassionate and compelling: a woman and a writer with a “triumphant vulnerability . . . to this mortal world.” Source: Introduction xix
Oh dear, from this, one might anticipate a non-critical effort from the author. Are we star struck yet?
I have not read that many biographies of writers, but I think that this one does not find the right balance between thoughtful analysis and mundane life events. Much in the book is based on the author’s access to letters, interviews with people who knew Ms. Welty and her own experience of being very closely associated with the author as a helping person and friend. Welty was interviewed and quoted extensively, especially during the last twenty years of her life (1980 – 2001). She also received many awards and nearly forty honorary degrees from colleges and universities. The book enumerates these events without going into much depth.
This book is like a travelogue. It takes you to a lot of places and shows them off but less often suggests why this or that event or fact is especially relevant. Not that Ms. Marr doesn’t try. Tying Ms. W’s life to the stories she was writing at the time is an especially interested aspect of the book. But it was only theoretically interesting to me since, for the most part, I did not know or could not remember the content of the story. I will admit that that is more my problem than the biographers. It made we want to follow along with my copy of Welty’s collected stories so I could read each one as it came up and make the connection. But at that rate I would never finish the biography! So, the bottom line is, if you have a lot of the short stories in your memory banks, it seems like this biography would be that much more interesting to read.
Maybe the biography has to be used as a reference book that you come back to regularly as you do your Welty reading. It is nicely linear with chapter titles that give the years covered. For me, I just don’t have the time or interest in making Eudora Welty that much of a project.
Ms. Welty worked and lived through the end of segregation in Mississippi. The 1960s was a violent period in the South and especially in Mississippi. Her contribution to bringing integration to her home state was meaningful and it is effectively chronicled here. I was impressed by the things she did as a writer and a speaker as well as an individual to further integration. She worked in the background through her fiction.
Suzanne Marr’s biography is detailed and readable. I was able to experience Ms. Welty as a real person who had a talent as well as living a life. Some think that she must have been a quiet old maid who lived in the family home all her life. That couldn’t be further from the truth. She was in a relationship for many years that at times seemed to be leading to marriage but ended unfulfilled. After that she had a very close relationship (but apparently not sexual) with a married man, Ken Millar, a writer who lived on the west coast. A good deal in the book is based on letters between Eudora and these two important men in her life. She never did marry but had a full life of close friends and professional associates. She did a lot of travelling and spent a good deal of time in New York City. Her interest in cultural and artistic endeavors kept her busy attending a whole variety of entertainment.
She was famous and sought after as a speaker. Most of the book covers time when she was well known since that was most of her life. She was successful selling her short stories to periodicals fairly early in her career. She nursed her mother through many years, sometimes having a hard time balancing her responsibilities to family and the requirements of her career. There were times when she had a dry spell writing; a notable period was for several years after her longtime agent died. She published no new fiction in the last two decades of her life.
The biography is full of trips that are listed continuously, probably since all the dates and places were easily located in her papers. This is an example of how closely her life is chronicled:
After Cornell, Eudora spent three days in New York, read at Barry college in Georgia, went to Washington for a National Council meeting, regrouped for four days at home, traveled to receive two honorary degrees – from Washington University and Kent State University – paused for two weeks at home (attending family parties and New Stage meetings), then went to Harvard for another honorary degree before flying directly to Santa Barbara.
Often the people she visited at each stop are included. Probably a little too much detail for most of us! You are certain you do not want to know who was at her house for dinner when she dropped the crab casserole on the kitchen floor?
This is a long and detailed look at Eudora Welty’s life from birth to death. There are references to what book or story she was working on at any given time. Her dry spells, especially toward the end of her life, and what she did to try to get back into fiction is interesting. In her 70s and 80s she was busy getting awards and doing readings and conferences, but she still tried regularly to go back to fiction. Her book The Collected Stories was published in 1980 during her writer’s block period. She did some autobiographical essays that became a book One Writer s Beginnings that was very popular book in 1983 and also wrote many book reviews. There is good coverage throughout the book that deals with Ms. Welty’s feelings when important people in her life died. Since she lived to be ninety-two years old, many of her close friends and associates preceded her in death.
This is a long book and it read it gradually as I read several other books, mostly less demanding than this one. The author writes about moments of great joy and great sorrow in Eudora Welty’s life but those events rarely come alive off the page. For me this is a three star book. I see it more as a reference book rather than a book to read straight through. It took some determination to get through it entirely. My ability to put down a book that does not capture me is limited. What I start, I most often finish. I am interested to see if the book accomplishes the goal of making Welty’s fiction more understandable to me. I need to go back to her short stories and see if it makes a difference. ...more
I am in the process of deciding how much I want to devote myself to reading more Joyce Carol Oates. Reading Invisible Writer has helped me tentativelyI am in the process of deciding how much I want to devote myself to reading more Joyce Carol Oates. Reading Invisible Writer has helped me tentatively decide that more JCO is in my future. I do have to find something for JCO post-1998. (Ending in mid life of a prolific writer is the major disability of this book.) I am giving it four stars. I enjoyed reading it and think it will be a good reference as I cast into the JCO Novel and Short Story Pond for future reads.
Joyce Carol Oates extensively uses her own life and her observations of the lives of others to construct her fiction. What the book portrays as it moves through her life in tandem with her abundance of writing is that she does not alter characters to give some privacy to the specific people written about. This may be one thing if the person is a serial killer or the work is historical fiction but quite another if s/he is an ordinary person who is living her/his own private life.
JCO has no scruples about using real people and situations without any evident regard to any possible negative impact on a person. You can see that by using her real-life experiences of the world, she can achieve psychological and sociological realism. While this is a skill, calling it art is questionable. It is one thing to expose yourself and quite another to expose an innocent human being through satire or unkind references to another’s private life. She has taken some flack in her career for this invasion of privacy but never changed her ways. Her books often found their genesis from a sensational newspaper headline.
I have read several of Joyce Carol Oates’ books and expect to read more. I was curious about this author who writes about strange people and violence so I thought I would look at a biography. Invisible Writer is the first biography I found. It is a friendly, authorized biography. While there are no damning revelations, there are some negative characteristics that are presented as what others think about JCO. Her books got some bad reviews and some people don’t like her and even may be considered as enemies. While everyone has a right to their opinion, biographer Greg Johnson mostly tries to give you the facts rather than his opinions so you can draw your own conclusions. Maybe it does not need to be said, but JCO is a very complex person.
It does a good job winding together her life and how much of her work is autobiographical. We move with her from her young days as a bright student in a one-room rural school to her days as a financially well off and famous adult, a professor at Princeton University. For me, it helped connect the dots of JCO’s life and work.
This is a linear book that takes JCO’s life several years at a time in order. It tells about the events of her life and the books she wrote. It does include the “how” of her writing, interesting to see that change over the years not to mention how she had a hard time being rich and famous. It is possible that she has thrown away more manuscripts than many authors have published in their lifetimes. And all of this with a typewriter and not a computer. She did try word processing briefly but found it did not fit her style of writing so she went back to a typewriter.
In her teaching Ms. Oates typically use the name J.C. Smith, her married name. She has written books under several pseudonyms. She tried identifying herself as J.C. Oates as well as J. Oates Smith to disguise about her gender. Women writers faced discrimination in the literary world. She found this was true in publishing and in academic studies throughout the period that this book covers. She comes to consider herself a feminist although, like most things about her and her work, there is some disagreement about that self identification.
The most notable problem with this biography is that it was published in April, 1998 and JCO continues being a prolific writer. So the book, with its good coverage from 1938 to 1998, just ends fairly unceremoniously. You have to find another book for the years after 1998. I suppose that this is always a problem with biographies of living people: they just keep on having a life even after the publication date. JCO has probably written another 40-50 books. Anyone got a recommendation for a post-1968 book or are we going to have to wait until she dies?
Invisible Writer is not quite a leisurely stroll through JCO’s life. JCO was a jogger and did not slow down or take a break from writing. I do not know if she is still a jogger at her current age of 73 but she was “obsessive” about it when she was sixty. That is probably a good word for a lot of things about JCO. If you have read or plan to read a lot of JCO, you will find this biography interesting as well as instructive for your reading. We go through her writing almost book by book. The biography will give you some ideas about which books you might want to read. You have a lot of choices and she does move through her social cause period and her mystical period and her realist period. You might pick a few books at random when you start as I did but you will very likely want to know about your choices before you get into the deep water. (Actually, there may only be deep water, no shallows.)
Invisible Writer is very interesting since it relates so much to the author’s books. It has significant notes, a bibliography and an index so it can be used as a reference book. It also has a list of JCO’s published works as the 1998. The book covers the first sixty years of the life of a prolific writer who has kept churning her words right up until this very moment. Whatever big events in writing or living that have happened since 1998 are not to be found here.
In many ways, psychological, physiological and in work habits, Oates swung like the pendulum. Think bipolar. For quite some time she never read newspapers and at other times she found her ideas for novels in the newspaper. She would be outgoing and then shy, high energy then depressed. One thing that has been a constant in her writing career is her significant output of words. At one point she wrote a finished product start to finish with minimal revisions. At another point she laboriously revised and reworked as the major aspect of the completion of the novel. She once withdrew one novel at the publisher to replace it with another. She even modified one novel after it has already been published.
What is it about Joyce Carol Oates? Is she psychologically differently abled, protected by her wealth and status? She does specialize in writing about some pretty quirky, weird, disturbed people. And they are in many ways evidently based on her view of herself and her life. ...more