The face of Justice Sonia Sotomayor has been beckoning me from the library shelves for a while now, but what finally prompted me to read her book wasThe face of Justice Sonia Sotomayor has been beckoning me from the library shelves for a while now, but what finally prompted me to read her book was Random Family, an in-depth study of the lives of another Latino family in the South Bronx. Nobody in that book even made it out of the middle class, much less to national prominence, so I wanted to know the secret of the Justice’s success. Apparently, she wrote the book to share it – not to boast, of course, but to educate and inspire.
For the writing of a Supreme Court Justice, the book is surprisingly open. She doesn’t just tell you about her education and career; she delves into personal issues, like her divorce and her struggle with diabetes. The result is that you end up not just admiring Justice Sotomayor, but liking her as a person, too.
So what is the secret of her success? Why didn’t she end up like the women in Random Family? First, unlike them, her family life was more stable. Her mother did not set the poor example of having children with multiple fathers. Also, she was able to turn the disadvantages in her life into advantages, a phenomenon described in David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. Her father’s death when she was nine (a specific theme in David and Goliath) forced her into early self-reliance, as did her diabetes. Because she did not consider herself pretty, she didn’t make the mistake of Jessica in Random Family: “Love is the most interesting place to go, and beauty is the ticket.” Believing herself to be lacking the ticket, she concentrated on her schoolwork instead, and that earned her a ticket to Princeton. But perhaps most admirable of all is that of all the lucrative doors Princeton could have opened for her, she chose the pursuit of justice over wealth, never forgetting where she came from and how she might make this world a better place for others. What an awesome woman! May G-d bless her with continued success. ...more
I recently watched the movie adaptation of We Need to Talk About Kevin, and I was sufficiently intrigued to look up the book here on Goodreads, onlyI recently watched the movie adaptation of We Need to Talk About Kevin, and I was sufficiently intrigued to look up the book here on Goodreads, only to discover the author's most recent book, which is about a personal topic relevant to so many of our lives: obesity.
The main character is Pandora, a successful businesswoman living in Iowa. She lives a solid, normal, middle class life, and that is something she has striven for. Because she was raised in Hollywood, the daughter of the star of a 1970's sitcom, she eschews the life in the spotlight the majority of us dream of. But her older brother has always longed to outshine his father. In his youth, he became a somewhat successful jazz pianist. But now in his 40's, he's down on his luck and has become a compulsive overeater.
Pandora makes an incredible choice. She dedicates a full year of her life to helping her brother lose weight. She even moves out of her home and sets up an apartment with him for this endeavor. Her husband sees this as a betrayal, but from Pandora's perspective, she's saving her brother's life. Because the characters are so real, you see everyone's point: Pandora's, her husband's, the kids', and of course, Big Brother Edison's.
The book has everything that makes novel-reading such a pleasure. The characters and their conversations immediately draw you in, and the insights that come through them are brilliant. The book doesn't just address the question of why we overeat; it's about the craving for recognition and the failure to be satisfied with the ordinary. In short, it's a brilliant social commentary told through the lives of really compelling characters.
Knowing the dark themes of We Need to Talk About Kevin, I was pleasantly surprised at how much humor and happiness there is in this book. That said, I must warn you: Lionel Shriver is one author who really likes to mess with her readers' minds. ...more
This book was the perfect antidote to all my griping about the narrow and occasionally judgmental Orthodox Jewish world in which I live. For all the eThis book was the perfect antidote to all my griping about the narrow and occasionally judgmental Orthodox Jewish world in which I live. For all the extremes the community sometimes goes to in order to protect its insularity, the overwhelming majority of kids it produces never experiment with drugs or get into trouble with the law. Boys and girls alike are virgins until their wedding night. But not so in the South Bronx. After reading the painstaking detail of the struggle to grow up there, I’d be amazed that anyone breaks free and joins the middle class.
The book focuses mainly on four people: Jessica, her boyfriend George, her younger brother Cesar, and his girlfriend Coco. Jessica’s story comes first. As a teenager, she made the common mistake of women regardless of socio-economic class. She decided that “love is the most interesting place to go, and beauty is the ticket.” She dressed herself up and began hanging around the neighborhood. The first boy she attracted was Puma, a low level drug dealer. He fathered her first child when she was sixteen.
But relationships are a merry-go-round in this book, so both Puma and Jessica were involved with other people simultaneously. After all, why should Jessica differ from her mother? Of her three siblings, she only shares a father with Cesar.
Jessica’s life changed when she begins to attract the notice of “Boy George,” the richest and most successful drug dealer in the neighborhood. To become George’s main girl was a status symbol, and Jessica pursued that ambition with determination, usurping several other girls in the process. Soon, like George, she became a local legend.
The story of George’s rise is one of the most interesting parts of the book. He was a disciplined entrepreneur, never partaking of the drugs he dealt. He had numerous underlings, and he knew how to manage them. He also knew when to seize on opportunities to expand his business. It reminded me of the point made in Freakonomics - the crack business was structured and organized much the same way as the McDonald’s franchises are. George dealt in heroin, not crack, but I’d imagine the business model is not all that different.
At its height, George’s business was making half a million dollars a week. That’s $26 million a year – and this was the late 1980’s! If his business had been legal, where would that have placed him on Forbes’ list?
Though George invested some of his profits back into the business, he also spent lavishly on himself and his friends, Jessica and her family included. He bought Jessica clothing and jewelry. He made sure her mother never lacked for food (or cocaine). He took trips to Puerto Rico and Disneyworld. And once a year, he would rent a yacht and throw a party for his staff, customers, and friends.
To return to the McDonald’s parallel, I could not help but think of No Shame in My Game, another book about the inner city poor, set at about the same time as this one, but focusing specifically on fast food workers. The fast food industry probably supplies more legal jobs in the inner city than any other, but no fast food worker will ever earn enough to live like George or his immediate underlings. Heck, most middle class people don’t either. So anyone who’s living in poverty in the inner city and chooses an honest, low wage job over a much more lucrative, albeit dangerous, life of crime deserves tremendous honor. Think of that next time you’re being served in Starbucks.
One day, on a lark, George splurged and took Jessica, Cesar, and Coco to a hotel in the Poconos. Though Cesar and Coco were only fifteen at the time, they went at it in their hotel suite like a couple of honeymooners. But they were small time compared to George and Jessica. Coco was amazed that Jessica would even deign to hang out with her. She was a “girl with all that.” But as it turns out, she and Cesar had a much better relationship than Jessica and George.
Of course, the law eventually caught up with George and Jessica. George is still serving his life sentence; Jessica got ten years. Eventually, Cesar was imprisoned for an unrelated violent crime. And from that point on, Coco is the main focus of the book. If George was the most interesting “character,” Coco is definitely the most likable. She ultimately had five children, two of whom are Cesar’s. Cesar often complained about his lot in his letters from prison, but the book makes clear that Coco has it harder, raising the kids on the outside on her own. Cesar got counseling and GED classes; Coco tried, but barely had time with the kids underfoot. She was hardly the ideal mother (and who is?), but her heart was almost always in the right place. Unlike Jessica, whose kids were raised by her friend Milagros even after her release, Coco always put her kids first. Though she was a welfare mother, Coco is like those fast food workers. She struggled against the odds with meager results, but she just kept going because she’d rather “live right” than wrong.
Other reviewers said this book made them judgmental. I hope I don’t come across that way. What I got out of it was just how difficult it is to break out of poverty. Coco’s and even Jessica’s kids deserve every bit of help society can provide them. How else can we ever hope to close the gaping hole of inequality in this country? ...more
When I began this book on the JFK assassination, I leaned more toward the conspiracy theories than the lone gunman theory. It’s not that I’m all thatWhen I began this book on the JFK assassination, I leaned more toward the conspiracy theories than the lone gunman theory. It’s not that I’m all that informed on any of the particular theories, but my reasoning was two-fold. First, revenge never struck me as a strong enough motive for Jack Ruby to have killed Oswald. Shutting him up seemed much more likely. Second – and I came to this conclusion in part from Swanson's previous book, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer – since John Wilkes Booth killed Lincoln as part of a larger conspiracy, it’s not so outlandish to think that something similar could have happened to Kennedy. But as Swanson states several times in this book, Lee Harvey Oswald was not John Wilkes Booth. He didn’t even plan an escape route.
So after reading this book, I am almost completely convinced that Oswald was a lone gunman. Swanson paints the picture of a psychopath, and in this day and age of school shootings, it’s naïve to think that one man couldn’t have done it alone. The assassins of Garfield and McKinley were also lone gunmen, as was John Hinckley Jr. A single individual can wreak a tremendous amount of damage.
On that same note, my conclusion that “revenge is not a strong enough motive” was similarly naïve. The public cries for revenge all the time. The way Swanson portrays it, the hatred for Oswald was about equal to the hatred of Osama bin Ladden after 9/11. The police station holding him got plenty of death threats.
So all in all, the book was excellent. Just like Manhunt, it was page-turning history. The Oswald sections were the most interesting, but the sections about Jackie gave me a new appreciation for her, too. “Camelot” may have been her invention, but one thing is clear, JFK’s assassination was a terrible blow to the country, and we never will know how different the world might have been had he lived. ...more
2013 was the fiftieth anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainright, which determined that attorney representation in criminal ca2013 was the fiftieth anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainright, which determined that attorney representation in criminal cases is a Constitutional right. (For details, see my review of Gideon's Trumpet.) This book examines how the country has been delivering on that decision for these fifty years, and unfortunately, the answer is: very poorly. Following a few specific cases of terrible miscarriages of justice, Karen Houppert paints a human picture of indigent defendants and their attorneys. Public defenders are so overworked and underfunded that they cannot possibly represent their clients adequately, and when appeals get filed on those grounds, it ends up costing the justice system even more. It’s a terrible catch-22 because there is hardly any political will to fund indigent defense in the first place. But failure to do so is a danger to safety and democracy.
In spite of all that, the book is still a call to action. Anyone interested in a career in law should definitely read it, and really, its message is relevant to all Americans. I, for one, will be checking out the book’s website to see what I can do next. And I hope that by publicizing the book with this review, I’ve also made one small step toward public justice. ...more
After I finished The Jewel in the Crown, my mother, who adores the Raj Quartet, was amazed that I didn’t immediately ask to borrow the next in the serAfter I finished The Jewel in the Crown, my mother, who adores the Raj Quartet, was amazed that I didn’t immediately ask to borrow the next in the series. “Aren’t you curious about the characters?” she asked. She doesn’t understand the allure of a group read. I was perfectly content to postpone the pleasure of the next book until I’d get the even greater pleasure of dozens if not hundreds of Goodreaders to read and discuss the book with me.
But aside from that, The Jewel in the Crown works very well as a stand-alone novel. By the end, Daphne’s story has been completely told. What more was there to say? As it turns out, plenty. Hari gets his say in this book, as does Captain Merrick. There’s also a brand new character in this book: Sarah Layton. Her quiet strength and integrity remind me of my mother. She’s not beautiful, she’s not vivacious, but she’s the rock who holds her family together. I think part of why my mother loves the series so much is that Sarah is the kind of protagonist she can relate to. But if you would ask her, she would say it’s the subtle, unpredictable way that the lives of the diverse cast of characters come together. That’s even more true for this book than the last because all those characters lived in the town of Mayapore. This book is set in different parts of India, yet by the end, all the threads come together.
The most brilliant characterization by far is that of Captain Merrick. Hari’s story comes smack dab in the middle of the book, but surrounding it like book ends is Captain Merrick’s account for himself as he gets to know Sarah many miles away from Mayapore. The contrast is incredible. Hari paints him as a brutal villain, and as readers, we believe him, yet on his own, Captain Merrick shows that he can act like a gentleman and even a hero. I’ve come across some morally ambiguous characters in literature before – Gwendolen in Daniel Deronda, M. Paul in Villette, Snape in the Harry Potter series – but none of them hold a candle to Captain Merrick. He’s a genuine villain with detestable racial prejudices, yet at some level, he’s a decent human being, too.
Though I’m looking forward to more of Sarah’s story and rooting for resolution in Hari’s, once again, though I’ve finished the book, I’m not rushing to the next in the series. What an ending, though. Pow! What an ending. ...more
Richard Goodwin served as speechwriter for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, but he has other claims to fame. He was also the attorney who exposed the gRichard Goodwin served as speechwriter for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, but he has other claims to fame. He was also the attorney who exposed the game show “Twenty One” in the late fifties (Chapter 3 of this book and plot for the movie “Quiz Show,”) and he’s married to historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Talk about a power couple! He’s served two presidents, she’s a presidential scholar, and both of their writings have been adapted into Oscar-winning movies.
Having recently read about the Kennedy assassination, I turned to this book to learn more about his life, but the most vivid portrayal in the book is Johnson’s. The Great Society and Civil Rights chapters are the most exhilarating parts of the book, and the Vietnam chapters the most damning. Goodwin stresses that Johnson was much more willing to stick his neck out for civil rights than Kennedy, and though he clearly states we cannot know what Kennedy would have done in Vietnam, he also makes it clear that the Bay of Pigs fiasco made him highly cautious of listening to a small cabal of advisors. Johnson’s self-justification, also reflected in The Presidents Club, was that if he appeared weak on communism, he wouldn’t get re-elected, and his Great Society programs would go to rot. Ironically, though, because of Vietnam, he couldn’t get re-elected, and his Great Society programs went to rot. “The Great Society did not fail,” Goodwin argues. “It was abandoned.”
My main impression from this book is that Johnson was in some ways one of our best presidents, and in others one of the worst. It’s the same with the man himself. You can’t help but admire a man who grew up in the Deep South detesting the racism that surrounded him, even if his manners sometimes were brazen. But Goodwin also makes some serious accusations about Johnson’s mental stability, and I’m in no position to agree or disagree.
I’d read several 1960’s memoirs before this one, but those were from hippies and rebels. This was the first memoir I’d ever read from a member of “the establishment.” But Goodwin’s views seem to line up perfectly with most protestors’. He was pro-civil rights and anti-Vietnam. When he split with Johnson and began working with the youth movements, he found them immensely invigorating. So he concludes his memoir with a nostalgia for that the sixties ideal of “doing for your country,” reminding us that the attitude didn’t just belong to the sixties. It goes back to the founding of America. So while the book is a personal memoir with plenty of history lessons, it is also a call to action. You don’t have to agree with everything Goodwin says to learn from him. I, for one, learned plenty....more
Any mother of teenagers who brings this book into her house is opening herself up for comment. The comment I got was, “What is this? A how-to book?” TAny mother of teenagers who brings this book into her house is opening herself up for comment. The comment I got was, “What is this? A how-to book?” That’s because my son was reading the title as the Yiddishism “noodge,” which means “to nag.” But a “nudge” is something else, as the book clarifies on page three. A “nudge” is a gentle hint that directs a person to make the decision that will best benefit him or her. Since I was hoping to learn to stop noodging and start nudging, I suppose my son was right. I was hoping for a how-to book. Unfortunately, it turned out not to be one.
Part One of the book laid out psychological principles of how nudges work and why people need them. This was the most interesting part of the book, and it rang true to my experience, but most of the ideas weren’t new to me. I read and listen to quite a bit of behavioral economics, particularly on Freakonomics Radio, which has used many of Professor Thaler’s ideas. They’re good ideas, but the book went downhill for me in Part II.
Part II is about money, and its first chapter focuses on saving for retirement and a nudge of its own. It reminded readers of a certain age, of which I am one, that if we hadn’t done anything about setting up a retirement account yet, we had more important things to do than read the book. So I put the book down, promising myself I’d talk to my boss in the morning, and of course, never did it. But because of the wording of the nudge, I couldn’t pick the book back up again either, and finished not one but two in its place. It was only because of the Goodreads nudge of the 2015 Reading Challenge that I picked the book up again. That little graphic telling me that I’m one book behind in my goal got to me. Why does the reading goal matter more to me than a comfortable old age? I suppose it’s because it feels more immediate. MUST FIX.
From that point on, getting through the book felt like a chore. There were some interesting parts here and there, particularly about school choice, but mostly, I was bored and couldn’t wait to be done with it. So in that sense, it was the backfiring of yet another nudge. Does that happen often? I suspect so. But is it a flaw in the concept of nudges or is it just weak human psychology? I suspect both. It’s hard to craft a good nudge. The book itself demonstrates it. ...more