Absolutely fantastic. Equal parts travel guide, history book, and memoir. Hamill takes his readers along on a walk uptown from the battery to Times SqAbsolutely fantastic. Equal parts travel guide, history book, and memoir. Hamill takes his readers along on a walk uptown from the battery to Times Square, recounting historical notes on places he passes and sharing personal attachments to each place, spinning off into memories of a writer's life in New York. A New Yorker to the bone, Hamill never loses his sense of wonder at the beat and pulse of the city....more
American history is known for certain signature triumphs. Anna Deavere Smith's Twilight is a crucial exploration of what is arguably American culture'American history is known for certain signature triumphs. Anna Deavere Smith's Twilight is a crucial exploration of what is arguably American culture's signature tragedy: that whatever it is that one thinks makes the United States "great", that thing exists side by side and in constant tension with our ongoing failure to address social injustice, economic inequality, and the clash of race, power, and privilege.
For those who may not be familiar with Anna Deavere Smith's work, she has pioneered her own style of drama, creating one-woman shows based on one-on-one interviews conducted with literally hundreds of real people. Onstage, she takes on the voices of the interviewees, using their own words, pacing, verbal tics, and gestures, transitioning seamlessly from one character to another, creating a mosaic of monologues all centered on a particular theme. In Twilight, the subject is the aftermath of the riots in Los Angeles in late April-early May, 1992, following the acquittal of four white LAPD officers in the videotaped beating of African-American Rodney King.
What makes Twilight extraordinary is that it is at once an immensely valuable artifact of a particular moment in time, and a thought-provoking challenge to any complacency on the state of the US today. Smith gives us the stories of an incredible range of people touched by those events -- from Rodney King's aunt, to community leaders, affected shopowners, politicians, police officials, victims of random violence, fearful neighbors, to Reginald Denny, the white truck driver whose beating during the riots was also captured on video. What comes through most is the fear and the pain and the bewilderment of ordinary people caught up in or witnessing the riots, a repeated sense of not understanding how all these things happened -- while at the same time understanding, consciously or not, why they did. Sometimes the characters in Twilight express optimism about the future, but again and again, we see them grappling with questions of race, inequality, and privilege. Why, in the "land of opportunity" that the US claims to be, are opportunities so often closed off to some people, and so much more accessible to others? Why is race the most persistent dividing line in American society? How can it be that white residents of a city like L.A. can live their entire lives without ever having been to a black neighborhood like South Central? What is it that keeps people so far apart? And why do we continue to accept it?
Twilight doesn't presume to find answers to these difficult problems; instead, the main lesson to be learned from it is that 20 years later, the questions it raises largely remain the same. As such, Twilight should be considered required reading for just about everyone: the view from its stories is moving, powerful, and essential.
In the summer of 2014, my partner and I took what ended up being a 2 and a half month road trip through the US, starting in PhiladelphiaRoad Trip USA
In the summer of 2014, my partner and I took what ended up being a 2 and a half month road trip through the US, starting in Philadelphia and heading down to Atlanta, west through the deep South and Southwest to California then up the coast and winding around the Mountain West before working our way back East to Philadelphia. I hadn’t bothered to look at any guidebooks, figuring I would be able to find whatever information I needed online along the way. While that was somewhat true -- there’s no beating the internet for lodging reservations and the most up-to-date restaurant information -- I felt completely at a loss as we were driving across states and through cities, with no real easy way to get a quick, definitive overview of where we were and what there was to see there.
In hopes of finding something like the guidebooks that have been my talismans on previous trips abroad, we stopped off at a big chain bookstore in Houston, where, alas, I didn’t really find what I was looking for, but did stumble across this one, which proved to be an absolutely invaluable resource for local knowledge and finding offbeat gems in the places it covers. While it is not a general guidebook -- it only covers 11 select routes either East-to-West or North-to-South across the U.S. -- if your itinerary covers any part of those roads, Road Trip USA is an especially useful source to have at hand.
We used it most for the old Route 66, and the information it provided on the history and the current state of towns and sites along the route was always interesting and often helpful in encouraging us to spend more time off the beaten path. Without this book, for example, we would have missed quirky Jerome, Arizona, with its soaring mountainside views just beyond Sedona, and the incomparable Oatman, Arizona, a dusty three-block or so stretch of faded personality at the peak of a treacherous switchback road outside Kingman.
We also relied on it for the Pacific Coast Highway, thanks to which we took a tiny side hike to a view of an amazing waterfall we would otherwise have missed altogether. Unfortunately our timeline kept us from going too far off the boring old interstate for other parts of our trip (leaving me regretting the Bavarian-style hamlet we missed in Washington State, for instance) but I’m certain this book will be the source of more than one mini road trip in years to come. ...more
By now, Donald Norman's Design of Everyday Things is a classic text on what we have learned to call user-friendly design. Twenty-first century readersBy now, Donald Norman's Design of Everyday Things is a classic text on what we have learned to call user-friendly design. Twenty-first century readers will no doubt find it dated (see references to"computer mail"), but it is truly a must-read none the less. By exploring fundamental design principles through human interactions with everyday things -- doors, telephones, light and power switches, even cars -- Norman demolishes the notion of "user error" and lays down a roadmap for achieving truly user-centered design.
Long before I ever knew of this book, I already had a sense of how the way a product, an object, or a system is designed can have an impact on how well or badly people use it, or how much they enjoy or avoid using it. I am constantly redesigning things in my head: bad design drives me batty, and I have been known to kvetch to anyone in earshot, you know, if they just put this here instead..., or something to that effect. (In fact, I complain about this sort of thing so often, my partner has picked it up from me -- now, when something doesn't work right, he'll just throw a glance my way and say, "Bad design!") Good design, on the other hand, always grabs my attention. By and large, though, my responses were emotional. Reading this book not only confirmed my impulses, but more importantly, helped me understand just why bad design is annoying and even dangerous. In lucid, easy to follow prose, Norman breaks down the elements of functional design into crucial component parts: Good design is not good by accident; rather, design is good when a few key principles are honored. By contrast, when something is hard to operate, look for a violation of one or more of these principles. And, significantly, much of what has historically been attributed to "user error" is really a problem of bad design.
When this book was first published in 1998, it was titled The Psychology of Everyday Things. In the introduction to the 2002 edition, Norman explains that the "Psychology" in the title threw readers and booksellers off (it was often filed in the "psychology" section of bookstores, rather than with design books), and he re-titled it to better reflect its focus on design. However, it bears mentioning that psychology is not irrelevant here. A unifying theme in the principles of good, user-focused design is that they take into account the psychology of the human beings who will use the objects in question. Norman demonstrates the human tendency to create one's own explanations for processes and purposes that are unclear, and that often, people come up with the wrong explanation. Following the internal logic of a wrong explanation, or, to put it more academically, operating under a misguided conceptual model, can cause people to have trouble with what ought to be a simple, everyday object.
In describing how people undertake any action, Norman outlines several stages, divided into two basic phases: execution and evaluation. We start with an idea in our head of an outcome we want, and how to make it happen. In the execution phase, we do the things we understand we need to do to create that outcome. In the evaluation stage, we consider whatever feedback that is available to us to determine whether we've successfully created the outcome. Good design invisibly addresses all the stages within those two phases. The key principles to observe include visibility (the user should be able to tell by looking what a thing is doing at any particular moment, and what options there are), a clear conceptual model (the user's idea of how a thing works actually is how the thing works), intuitive mapping (controls are consonant with the actions they perform -- for example, something that should be pushed should not have a handle that looks like it should be grasped), and feedback (the user should be able to tell clearly and quickly what effect any action they've taken has had).
Obviously, the book explores all these points in far more detail, and it is chock full of commonplace examples and anecdotes to illustrate the points. And once you start looking, you'll find that examples abound in everyday life. Plugs that are oddly shaped so that they can only be inserted one way (or that are symmetrical, so they can be inserted either way without damage) -- these are examples of physical constraints that demand no thought on the part of the user to be used correctly. The dial on gas stove that must be pushed in and turned simultaneously to light the the burner is a forcing function that prevents the gas from being turned on inadvertently. A whistling teakettle is using sound for visibility: you know that you've achieved your desired outcome -- the water has boiled -- without looking, in fact, you know from across the room.
The Design of Everyday Things is a excellent read that will continue to stand the test of time. I would recommend it not just for designers of objects and programmers of software and websites, but for anyone who spends any part of their time creating things, even something as simple as an event calendar or a filing system, that other people will have to use. Frankly, I think it's worthwhile reading for anyone who's called themselves inept for continually making mistakes using any kind of technology. Most times, it's not you, it's the design.
As a final comment on my review, I'll share a real world story of the kind of problems good design can solve. The first time I remember thinking consciously about design and safety was when I saw a magazine article about an innovative new design for prescription medicine bottles. A design grad student embarking on her Master's project was motivated by an incident when her grandmother accidentally mistook her husband's medication for her own. Fortunately, the grandmother suffered no serious effects, but it led the design student, Deborah Adler, to seriously reconsider the problems inherent in the design of the standard prescription bottle. As her thesis project, Adler redesigned it. Her new prescription bottle was flat-sided instead of round, so no more having to twist it around to read all the instructions on the label. The caps of the bottles would be color-coded with a different bright color ring for every person in a household, to make it a lot harder to mistake someone else's medicine for your own. The flat-sided design created more space for print on the label, so that the drug name and instructions could be printed more readably. Adler's student project was a runaway success. It was adopted by the Target chain as their "Clear Rx" prescription bottle, and won design awards. Check out the photo essay on Adler's website and see if you don't agree: http://www.deborahadlerdesign.com/cas... ...more
If you were to judge by the existing scholarship on the U.S. civil rights movement, you could be excused for thinking that not much of any interest haIf you were to judge by the existing scholarship on the U.S. civil rights movement, you could be excused for thinking that not much of any interest happened in Arkansas beyond the desegregation of Central High School in 1957. While that signature struggle is obviously well known, it is also true that the biggest swath of scholarship on the civil rights movement is focused on other places. That is a grand shame, because as important as the headline events in those places are, they still represent only the tip of the iceberg of the massive social change happening in the South in the 1960s. The great bulk of the iceberg – that which, so far, has remained largely under the surface – is the demanding and often perilous day-to-day work of committed activists and local people in lesser-known but equally challenging locales.
Until now, this important era in Arkansas and civil rights movement history has been woefully underexplored. But that is all about to change with the publication of Arsnick: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Arkansas. This much-needed volume, a remarkable collection of academic articles, first-person accounts, and primary sources on the critical work undertaken by the activists of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Arkansas in the 1960s, is sure to become a milestone zero in scholarship on the civil rights movement in Arkansas, the point from which many future roads will emanate. It is hard to imagine that from this point onward any serious scholarship on movement history in Arkansas will not include early reference to this one-of-a-kind book.
Arsnick is as notable for the organization of its contents as it is for its subject matter, and the editors are to be commended for their especially well thought out approach to the material. Part I collects the (regrettably few) scholarly articles currently available on Arkansas SNCC all in one place. These provide a basic survey of notable names and events that serves as the background for the more detailed portrait of the era that emerges through the personal stories and recollections of participants in SNCC work in Arkansas, presented in Part II. For this reader, these individual narratives and interview transcripts are the high point of the book, providing a wonderfully multifaceted view of the history, as different details and perspectives on some significant actions – such as the risky attempt to desegregate a local McDonalds restaurant – and people – including a certain memorably-named FBI agent, Agent Smart – appear in multiple retellings. Lastly, following this section is an excellent compilation of primary-source materials in Part III, which illustrates events as they happened through contemporary field reports, personal correspondence, and local news articles.
In telling the story of SNCC in Arkansas, Arsnick’s focus is not limited to the student organizers, white and black, northern and southern, who came from outside Arkansas to advocate for change. It also tells the story of local leaders and ordinary people moved to action, people who, unlike many of the SNCC workers, would have to spend their lives among the whites they were confronting, and who had the audacity to step out of line and challenge the system at great risk to themselves and their families. While this focus reflects SNCC’s emphatically grassroots vision, it also speaks to the care taken by the book’s editors, who have not fallen into the easy (and, sadly, far too common) trap of framing the history of the civil rights movement as essentially one of a few influential leaders.
In short, Arsnick represents a meaningful step forward in Arkansas and movement history, and should inspire much new investigation and writing in the future. The primary sources used here indicate just how much more is there to be discovered in the available archives. And the personal narratives of movement participants capture vitally important perspectives. At the very least, the book ought serve as a timely reminder to historians that the recollections of these veterans themselves are a significant resource simply waiting to be explored.
One final note: Readers of Arsnick have access to a special additional resource. The book’s 2011 publication was celebrated with a symposium at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, timed to coincide with the city’s commemoration of the first Freedom Riders bus to arrive in Little Rock on July 10, 1961. To our great good fortune, parts of this symposium were filmed by C-SPAN and are available for viewing on the C-SPAN website here (Panel 1) and here (Panel 2). These feature panel presentations by many of the book's contributors and participants of the movement in Arkansas. To see and hear them tell their own stories is a unique opportunity that should not be missed.
This book is absolutely indispensable. Cohen guides the reader through the pitfalls of the US health system, and demonstrates convincingly how crucialThis book is absolutely indispensable. Cohen guides the reader through the pitfalls of the US health system, and demonstrates convincingly how crucial it is for patients to learn to be their own best advocates in a medical system that is largely stacked against them.
Cohen covers topics as extreme as careless misdiagnosis and grievous medical errors, as maddening as the disproportionate and harmful influence of pharmaceutical and medical equipment companies driven only by their bottom line, and as mundane as the typical long waits and rushed appointments of the everyday doctor's appointment.
And it's all done in a casual, easy-to-understand, supportive tone. Cohen uses a lot of real examples, from the many people she has come across in her role as CNN medical correspondent, as well as from her own personal experience. She also arms the reader with a collection of important tools, including a worksheet to use to prepare for medical appointments, a guide to reliable and unbiased web resources for learning about your diagnosis, suggestions for reaching out to relevant experts, and even approaches to finding and reading medical literature about conditions and treatments.
After reading this book, anyone should be able to stride confidently into their next encounter with the health care system. It's absolutely essential reading, and I recommend it to everyone....more
Well, this is one I should have read years ago. Clear, direct, to-the-point presentation of fundamentals of usability that can improve any website. AnWell, this is one I should have read years ago. Clear, direct, to-the-point presentation of fundamentals of usability that can improve any website. And it doesn't hurt that the book itself demonstrates the principles it aims to teach. I read an old edition that I picked up at a used book store this spring, but apart from a few outdated examples (and the fact that it predates mobile web browsing), the key elements are such essential building-blocks of design and usability, that it is all still critical reading for anyone doing any kind of web development work. Plus, it reads like an absolute breeze. ...more
Halberstam’s October 1964 gives readers an exhilarating ride through a pivotal season in baseball. I began the book expecting a play by play of a landHalberstam’s October 1964 gives readers an exhilarating ride through a pivotal season in baseball. I began the book expecting a play by play of a landmark World Series, and the games leading up to it. In the end, the details of the games themselves are actually the lesser part of the story. What you get instead is so much more: a detailed, humanizing, and illuminating portrait of many of the faces of baseball, from background actors like scouts and coaches, to the big name managers and owners, to superstar players themselves. Halberstam not only captures the personalities of all these players (in the theatre sense of the word) but also creates a detailed picture of an era of change and challenge, both in the world of baseball, and in the country itself.
I came to this book with barely more than a beginner’s knowledge of baseball. Until this year, I knew just the basics – there’s a pitcher, an infield and an outfield, a team at bat, strikes, outs, and home runs. But as fate would have it, I returned to the US after several years away just in time to catch the 2010 pennant chase by the hometown heroes of my current city, the Philadelphia Phillies. I began watching the games solely to keep my sports-fan boyfriend company, and at first, I mostly just tolerated the games. Within a week or two, though, he began to hear me reminding him, hey, isn’t there a baseball game on tonight? By the end of the month, it was me saying, OK, we’ve gotta get home, there’s a Phillies game tonight! In this short span I seem to have fallen in love with baseball, and I can just about begin to talk about ground rule doubles and sacrifice plays, and I know what it means when I hear a pitcher is behind in the count, or a batter strikes out looking.
It was in this frame of mind, excitedly cheering on October baseball behind “my” new-found Phillies, that I reached for my boyfriend’s copy of October 1964. In a word, I was captivated. Halberstam’s exhaustive treatment – he interviewed close to one hundred people for the book – excels in weaving together countless essential moments in the history of baseball: the rise and decline of individual players, the motives and missteps of some of the powerful owners, the insights and commitment of legions of scouts, coaches and managers. Before this season, I could have told you that Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were big names in baseball, but that’s about it. After reading this book, I have a vivid mental picture of not only the marquee names that even a non-baseball-fan would know, but also of other notables like Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Elston Howard, and Pete Mikkelsen, and dozens more.
One of the things that struck me most in Halberstam’s book is the feeling I got of an element of almost Greek tragedy in baseball, where fortunes can turn on an instant, and nothing can be taken for granted. Take, for example, the intersecting fates of pitchers Tom Metcalf and Pete Mikkelsen. Metcalf was an up and coming pitching star, seemingly poised for his best season yet, with a strong and consistently improving record, and a well-rounded arsenal of pitches. Mikkelsen was a struggling minor-league pitcher, sure he was on his way out, with sagging stats, and an injury to start the season. But then, Mikkelsen’s injury forces him to alter his pitching style, limiting his range of pitches, but ironically resulting in a wildly effective sinking pitch. Now, pitching star Metcalf is unexpectedly eclipsed by the sudden, peculiar consistency of the erstwhile loser’s spot-on sinker. Mikkelsen makes the cut on the Yankees roster; Metcalf does not. Sent back down to the minors, the former pitching star tries to compensate by throwing all his work into his sinker – and is rewarded for his trouble by a season-ending injury, and never plays major league ball again.
The other standout element of Halberstam’s book is his masterful treatment of the racial dynamics of the era. The book covers the critical early period of integration in baseball, and Halberstam’s insight into the tensions at play is clear-eyed and frank. He does not dress up blatant racism where he sees it, nor does he oversentimentalize the real achievements of racial integration when they occurred. His presentation of the inner and outer struggles of black players such as Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, and Elston Howard is nuanced and careful, and I came away awed by the fierce sense of presence of Bob Gibson, inspired by the unwavering determination of Lou Brock, and heartsore over the slings and arrows endured by Elston Howard, and the resulting effects on his health and on his psyche.
The book was excellent, and I enjoyed it completely. My only quibbles with it are partly a result of my lack of knowledge about the subject, but still important to mention. One, with the encyclopedic scope of the narrative, I feel the book suffers for lack of an index. Especially for a baseball-novice reader like me, at times it was difficult to keep everything straight, and I often lamented not being able to easily flip back to a previous section to refresh my memory on a particular story. Two, a schematic of how the key personalities relate to each other or to the game – even just a roster of Yankee and Cardinal staff – would have been immensely helpful in locating each of the individual characters in the greater narrative. Still, these are quibbles, and some will hopefully be remedied simply by me expanding my knowledge of baseball before going back for my inevitable re-read of October 1964. ...more
In trying to describe this book and the work of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the first thing that came to my mind was the words of poet DylaIn trying to describe this book and the work of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the first thing that came to my mind was the words of poet Dylan Thomas. Watching Russia’s barely-worthy-of-the-term democracy steadily crumble, Politkovskaya stubbornly refused to let it go gentle into that good night. A Russian Diary is a rage against the dying of the light. It is a brilliant and sobering piece of work that should be required reading for anyone with an interest in current world politics, and for anyone who believes in the critical role of a free press in keeping governments honest. Politkovskaya takes your breath away with her unblinking look at the many, many wrongs of Russian politics and society, and with her determination to continue to expose all she can, albeit at tremendous risk to herself.
For those who don’t follow world politics or who don't know much about Russia, a brief introduction may be in order. Former President and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin enjoys support within Russia and stature amongst leaders internationally, but it is also well known that the life-long KGB man (who later headed the Federal Security Bureau, successor to the KGB) rules in a way that echoes darker times in Russia’s past. The country is governed through strongman tactics and corruption abounds. Journalists and human rights defenders face pressure and intimidation, and several – including Politkovskaya herself – have been assassinated. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia waged two wars against the breakaway region of Chechnya (located at the southern edge of Russia, near Georgia and Turkey), and other regions in the area have been the site of violent conflict in recent years. Numerous terrorist attacks have occurred in Russia during this time as well, in connection with those conflicts.
No matter how much you know about Russia and its recent history, though, A Russian Diary is sure to be an eye-opener. The book, covering the period from the Russian parliamentary elections in late 2003 until the end of 2005, is Politkovskaya’s diary-style reflection on contemporary events in Russia as they happened. (She also includes additional commentary for context or when later events clarify earlier events.) This period sees the solidification of Vladimir Putin’s strong-armed rule; ongoing human rights abuses in Chechnya and other southern territories; the stifling and gradual cooptation of human rights activists by the Putin government; the continuing impoverishment of the population throughout Russia, and especially in the smaller villages and peripheral provinces; and a devastating number of deadly terrorist attacks, including, most tragically, the September 2004 siege of an elementary school in the town of Beslan in North Ossetia.
To put it bluntly, Politkovskaya’s Russia is one scary place. The first part of the book is entitled “The Death of Russian Parliamentary Democracy,” an ominous title that is shown to be only too true. From the outset, when the pro-Putin United Russia party sweeps to power in the Duma (the Russian parliament), it seems Putin is fated to win re-election to a second term as president, and the parties of Russia’s “democrats” seem completely unable – and/or unwilling – to do anything other than squabble amongst themselves. In the end they are totally unable to raise any realistic opposition against the Putin machine. Eventually, first one then another and another democrat crosses over to Putin’s party. Soon it is patently clear that the choice is to join forces with Putin, or watch your political career disappear. One presidential candidate does actually disappear, his whereabouts unknown until he resurfaces with a stranger-than-fiction tale of being kidnapped, smuggled by government forces over the border to a secret service site in Ukraine, and drugged to extract information. After the incident he withdraws his candidacy and travels to London, from whence he announces he will not return to Russia: a defection by a presidential candidate from a democratic country.
The book is replete with these and many other jaw-dropping details of life in contemporary Russia. It becomes incontrovertibly clear that the notion of “democracy” in Russia is a pathetic sham. Politkovskaya paints a portrait of Russia as a place where only power and influence and money speak – and money only sometimes. Reading A Russian Diary, one is struck by a sense of gaping disbelief at the parade of calamities that occur day by day, which Politkovskaya recounts with a quiet, steely outrage. In most other places in the world, just one out of the litany of crises she documents would be considered a disaster or an atrocity. In Russia, they are received with a sort of numbed horror at best, or with numb acceptance at worst. Sometimes a few brave souls rise up to fight against whatever new indignity Russia has heaped upon them but their efforts seem doomed. The politicians are no help. Putin and his men keep a stranglehold on the country, through the media, through manipulation, through influence peddling. In the face of this level of control, the ability of ordinary people to get redress is practically non-existent.
And this is a society where almost no ordinary person gets off easy. Soldiers are haphazardly sacrificed by feuding commanders in Chechnya. That is, if they make it that far: scores of young recruits die just from the unbelievably harsh treatment they receive in basic training. Veterans are so abandoned to poverty, unemployment, alcoholism, drug addiction, and post-traumatic stress that in one town alone, a 200-member Association of Servicemen of the Chechen Wars has been established – inside the prison. Pensioners can barely survive on their paltry pensions, and face losing in-kind benefits in place of laughably inadequate monetary “replacement” payments. Orphanages struggle with dwindling resources – especially after charitable donations from the wealthy dry up when tax credits for them are abolished. Ordinary workers are routinely underpaid, or paid in goods only. And, in a country where the threat of terrorism is a true constant, investigations are stonewalled in order to protect government officials.
Politkovskaya tells heartbreaking stories of the families of Beslan. Not just about the loss of their children in the 2004 school attack, but of the horrors those in the school suffered during both the siege and the criminally botched assault on the school by government forces, as well as of the ongoing suffering of the survivors as they are ignored and misled by the authorities and forgotten by the pubic at large in the months after the attack. (On December 11, 2004, four months after the attack, Politkovskaya writes, “As for Beslan, the town is quietly going out of its mind." And she means it. )
Given all that Politkovskaya so unflinchingly reveals in this book, two questions must inevitably stand out in the reader’s mind. One, in light of what ultimately happened to her, how did Anna Politkovskaya manage to stay alive and publish all that she did as long as she did? She could not but have been one of the worst thorns in the side of Russia’s powerful. Knowing her final end, reading what she wrote, it seems so tragically inevitable that someone would try to silence her permanently.
The second question is, what are the democratic governments of the West doing, carrying on relations with Putin’s Russia as if it were a normal country? Perhaps it is no more than the idea that in its current state, it’s safer to keep Russia within the fold, rather than outside it.
There is no reason to suspect anything has changed since the book’s publication. Putin has managed to keep himself in power, while formally leaving the office of President in the proper way, by anointing a loyal protégé as his successor as president and becoming prime minister himself. Human rights forces continue to face pressure and opposition (a few years ago, the Moscow office of the international organization I worked for had to go through a confounding process of “re-registration” suddenly required for all human rights organizations operating in Russia). And terrorism remains a constant in Russia, with the most recent examples, as I write this, of a bombing at a theatre in Stavropol on May 26, 2010, and two subway bombings in Moscow in March 2010.
As I mentioned at the outset, A Russian Diary should be required reading for anyone with an interest in current world politics. However, last and absolutely not least, the book is a critical statement of the indispensability of a free press in any society. It is a powerful testimony to the fierce heroism of tenacious and committed journalists around the world, who never cease to amaze me with their unwillingness to let go of the story of abuse of power, even at the cost of extreme risk to themselves. The lack of an adequate press in Russia has to be included among the reasons for its current condition, and Politkovskaya’s book shows how desperately a strong, free press is needed. While successive waves of formerly “opposition” politicians – erstwhile champions of democracy – gave in to political pressure to join the pro-Putin choir, and other journalists and news outlets self-censored and shrank away from reporting facts uncomfortable to the Putin administration, Anna Politkovskaya relentlessly continued to pull back the curtain on the Great and Powerful Oz every chance she got. A Russian Diary shows her to be uncompromising and unstoppable – until, that is, someone found a way to stop her forever, with an assassin’s bullet, on October 7, 2006. Her work and life demonstrate the power of the pen to strike fear in to the hearts of dictators and tyrants of all stripes.
A year before his defection to the West in 1951, the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz wrote, “Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.” In this case, it's the journalist.
As long as this review is, I can't help making it even longer by including some quotes. There are so many I didn't know where to begin -- or where to stop, evidently...
"This whole system of thieving judges, rigged elections, presidents who have only contempt for the needs of their people can operate only if nobody protests."
[Politkovskaya published frames a from a video made by a Russian soldier in Chechnya in 2000, showing Russian soldiers tormenting a group of prisoners of war they had already beaten horribly.:]
"What happened when the frames from this record of our own Abu Ghraib were published? Nothing. Nobody turned a hair, neither the public, nor the media, nor the Procurator’s Office. Many foreign journalists borrowed the video from me, and in Poland the headline over the pictures was “The Russian Abu Ghraib.” In Russia there was silence."
"What is emerging in Russia is not a stabilizing middle class, but a new class consisting of parents whose children have died in terrorist acts."
"People didn’t elect Yeltsin in 1996 because they believed in his prescription for taking the country forward, but because they feared what might happen if the Communists got back in. Government resources were shamelessly exploited, national television stations broadcast only in favor of Yeltsin and were in effect his campaign cheerleaders. People turned away in disgust when they saw how the ‘democratic’ parties kept silent about this travesty of democracy. A number of democrats even stated openly that it was reasonable to sacrifice the truth in order to save democracy.
This enthusiasm for sacrificing the truth caught on, and became the main force propelling Putin to power after Yeltsin proclaimed him is successor. The Kremlin took control of all television news coverage, with independent stations allowed only to provide entertainment, even when hundreds were being killed in Chechnya.
And that was the end of that. The election was based on trickery, fraudulence, and state coercion. The democrats kept mum, trying to cling to their vestiges of power in the Duma and locally. They forfeited whatever was left of their authority, and the Russian people are now profoundly indifferent to all things political. That is the terrible legacy of 13 years of Russian democracy.
[In June 2005, the trial begins a group of young pro-democracy activists arrested after a demonstration in December 2004. The are charged with "organizing mass disorder." They are led into the courtroom chained together, and placed into barred “cages” for the accused.:]
"It has to be said that putting as-yet-unconvicted people in chains and cages seems something of an overreaction; not even terrorists and serial rapists are brought to court in chains. As we can see, those whom the state authorities really fear today are dissidents."
"Officially, 58 percent of those surveyed approve of the slogan ‘Russia for the Russians.’ Another 58 percent, when asked what they would do if they earned a decent salary, said they would immediately buy property abroad and emigrate."
Bottom line: laugh out loud funny. I can't remember the last time I laughed this much through a book. I first heard Bill Santiago on an episode of LatBottom line: laugh out loud funny. I can't remember the last time I laughed this much through a book. I first heard Bill Santiago on an episode of Latino USA, and I was hooked from his first riff about riding the A-train through the oprima-el-dos corridor. Alerta a todos mis Spanglishistas out there: go pick up this book. If you've ever let slip a ¿Qué what?, read a bedtime story when it's time for mimí, or lived in dread of the pow pow, rest assured you will recognize yourself and your family in this book, and you'll laugh your way from beginning to fin.
But this is not really just a funny book. There's way more than that going on here. For one thing, hiding beneath that comic exterior is a serious cultural milestone. Pardon My Spanglish is a consciousness-raising call to all of us closet Spanglish practitioners, who have labored under and seriously internalized all the anti-Spanlish bias and hostility we've heard from parents, teachers, and pedantic followers of The Book -- by which Bill Santiago and I mean, of course, el diccionario de la Real Academia Española. At the heart of Santiago's very funny primer is a mighty revolutionary notion: Spanglish is not "bad" or "lazy" Spanish. It is a cultural marker born out of the deep well of creativity of a very distinct social identity, a bi-cultural community equally at home in Latina/o and American culture, and never fully of either one individually. And, as such, Santiago's call to all us closeted Spanglishistas is powerful and unambiguous: it's time to wave your freak bandera high. Own your Spanglish as proudly as you own your Latina/o heritage, and practice it to your heart's delight.
And there's even more in there. While the comedian may make light of the the Santiago Spanglish Institute for World Peace, the truth is you can't write a book this good without actually knowing something about what you're playing with. To a semi-professional linguist like me, Santiago's dirty little secret is pretty clear to see. He's really done his research. Yes, he does collect real world Spanglish specimens like birdwatchers log rare sightings. But he also knows a thing or two about grammar and linguistics. Don't worry, all the eggheady stuff is very well hidden and will not get in the way of the abundant laughter the book will produce, but it's there, and it makes his effort all the richer.
This book is an absolute treat -- funny, smart, and full of love for the Latin culture. And if all I've written doesn't convince you why you should read this book, the best I can do is leave you with the most beautiful words ever spoken in the Spanglish language: ¿Cómo que why? ¡Porque because!
Bonus feature: To see some vintage Spanglish, beautifully executed by none other than that august founding papucho of Spanglish, Ricky Ricardo, check out this video. And if for some reason that link doesn't work, nada más googléelo. :)...more
This just popped up on my "recommendations" page, and I'm shocked to see I hadn't added it among my books, because it's just about one of the funniestThis just popped up on my "recommendations" page, and I'm shocked to see I hadn't added it among my books, because it's just about one of the funniest things I've ever read. "Anguished English" has become a known catchphrase in my home. It's a little book chock-a-block with grammar bloopers, malapropisms, and not-quite-right translations that leaves you rolling. :)...more
After finishing our tour of Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. in the summer of 2013, my sister and I characteristically lingered in the museum bookstAfter finishing our tour of Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. in the summer of 2013, my sister and I characteristically lingered in the museum bookstore. The clerk there, seeing us pause over a stack of autographed copies of Swanson’s Manhunt, launched into the most emphatic endorsement of the book, telling us how excellent it was and how it read like a fast-moving fiction mystery. Intrigued, my sister and I each bought a copy.
The store clerk’s endorsement was no exaggeration: Manhunt is a very thorough, well written, exceptionally well paced account of Booth (& Co.’s) escape from the city and attempt to evade capture after Lincoln’s assassination. Also, it is always surprising to read a history that you thought you knew -- or at least learned in school -- and realize that your education (or what you remember of it) is missing huge, critical, chunks of information. For example, I had no recollection that Lincoln’s assassination was part of a much larger plot to assassinate several important leaders, which itself was also an updated version of an earlier plot to kidnap and ransom those same leaders. As it turned out, Lincoln’s actual assassination was as much a crime of opportunity as it was the product of this longer plot. Also, I have no memory of ever learning about the attempted assassination of Secretary of State William H. Seward that same night. Swanson gives full time to the Seward attempt, documenting in riveting detail a night of jaw-dropping violence that came shockingly close to success.
Swanson cogently sets the context of the assassination plot -- recent military victories on the part of the North, the impact of the war on the President and his popularity -- and does an especially excellent job of sketching the character of Booth himself. Relying on Booth’s own writings, contemporary interviews with people who knew him, trial records of the assassin and his co-conspirators, as well as on letters and a memoir by Booth’s sister, Swanson builds a portrait of a man who was deeply convinced of the rightness of his actions, shocked by the lack of support for him in the aftermath, and frequently undone by his own often-inflated sense of self. One memorable incident recalls Booth, wounded and weakened after more than a week on the run, with Union soldiers swiftly closing in, stopping to take the time to write a snide letter to an erstwhile sympathizer who -- exceedingly rudely, in Booth’s view -- failed to offer him appropriate food and shelter. Booth even made a point of including several dollars with the note, an indignant expression of his refusal to accept as charity such feeble and grudging assistance as that which the man had provided.
Manhunt is indeed a fast-moving, thoroughly absorbing read, hard to put down and easy to finish. My sister read it in little more than a weekend right after our visit to D.C. I didn’t get around to reading until a year later, finishing it up, as it happens, 2 days before my annual trip to Washington, D.C. As my partner and I were planning to drive South from D.C. after our stay there, I insisted that we follow the same route out of the city that John Wilkes Booth and David Herold had taken. We started off at the Surratt Tavern in present-day Clinton, MD, where we took the excellent tour of the house offered by the museum staff, who were dressed in period costumes and answered every one of our many questions in detail. After that it was on to Samuel Mudd’s farm (open for tours only one day a week, so we missed that) and onward to sites of other farms where Booth and Herold sought help and support. There are historical markers at all of these sites, including at the edge of the pine thicket within which Booth and Herold hid for a week from soldiers and police hunting them down, and at the approximate site where they crossed the Potomac. Apart from the Surratt Tavern site in Clinton, all of these places are still in fairly rural locales, so it’s possible to stand in relative silence on the edge of the pine thicket, for instance, close your eyes, take a deep breath of the damp piney air, and imagine what it looked and smelled and felt like to be hunkered down in these woods in 1865. The Potomac crossing site is conveniently located near a couple eateries offering fresh Maryland crab, which also makes for a nice pause. The site of the search’s climax, the Garrett farm in Virginia, has long been an empty patch of land, so there’s little more than an intellectual reward in getting to the final marker, but the other main associated site, Port Royal, VA, is worth a longer stay as well. Now just a sleepy hamlet of cottages and town buildings, all with historical plaques, laid out on a tiny, tidy grid, it’s hard to imagine it was once a key port on the Rappahannock River.
[Postscript: Should anyone be interested in following this route, I found the following sources (and a GPS unit that can handle longitude/latitude coordinates) extremely helpful: -- Booth escape route marked on map. Descriptions are limited, but coordinates are exact, and some clickable location names link you to state historical marker pages: http://www.communitywalk.com/john_wil... -- Narrative overview of the stops on the route by a travel blogger. Excellent written summary of stops, but less detailed location help: http://myamericanodyssey.com/manhunt-... ] ...more
Will write a longer review sooner, but I loved this. Actually useful economics, what a shocker. :o) Got it from the public library but I liked it enouWill write a longer review sooner, but I loved this. Actually useful economics, what a shocker. :o) Got it from the public library but I liked it enough that I plan to buy my own copy at a certain point to have on my own shelves....more
I read this book when it first came out -- I actually bought it as a Christmas gift for my dad (right up his alley) and ended up reading it entire, muI read this book when it first came out -- I actually bought it as a Christmas gift for my dad (right up his alley) and ended up reading it entire, much to my surprise, before putting it under the tree!
I never would have thought I would have gotten into this book, as I was not too into non-fiction in general at the time, and certainly not navy or submarine history! But, as a Russian/East European Area Studies kinda gal, I started leafing through it, and before I knew it, I was completely hooked.
First off, this is one of those great non-fiction books that is so compellingly written it soon gets you turning pages like it's a Grisham novel. :o) Second, some of the stories and facts it reveals are practically jawdropping -- you'll find yourself thinking again and again, I can't believe that actually happened.
It's a really fascinating book - I highly recommend it....more
When it comes to celebrities we admire from afar, there's nothing quite like the feeling of discovering that that person who seems so cool on TV turnsWhen it comes to celebrities we admire from afar, there's nothing quite like the feeling of discovering that that person who seems so cool on TV turns out to be a vapid, self-centered asshole in real life. Now imagine that feeling, and flip it entirely on its head. That's what reading Bossypants is like. If you're a Tina Fey fan, reading this means discovering that the person you've always been sure was amazingly sharp and cool is actually about a hundred times sharper and cooler than you even imagined.
I've always enjoyed Tina Fey's wickedly intelligent, woman-affirming humor, and the most delightful thing about this book was finding out just how deep her feminism runs. Critiques of all the demeaning, paternalistic messages that women must contend with from childhood on appear throughout her narrative. She never fails to mine it for humor, but she does not hesitate to call bullshit when she sees it.
I had so many favorite lines from this book, I realize I need to go out and buy my own copy (I listed to the audiobook borrowed from the library). Here's one great tidbit, for instance:
“So, my unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism, or ageism, or lookism, or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: “Is this person in between me and what I want to do?” If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way. Then, when you’re in charge, don’t hire the people who were jerky to you.”
This one also goes on my list of books you must listen to, not read, because the author's own reading of the work is something that should not be missed. I don't read a lot of audiobooks, so as I write this, the only other book on that list is Angela's Ashes, because having Frank McCourt's voice telling his own story (and giving melody to his father's rebel songs) adds something utterly incalculable to the experience. I noticed a few complaints in Goodreads reviews that Fey's book was "not as funny as expected". The thing is, Bossypants is a book of humor by a comedy writer, and no one understands pace, timing, and rhythm in comedy like an improv-trained comedian. Comedy is all in the delivery. So if you really want the the full flavor of the book, then hearing it in Tina Fey's own voice is really indispensable....more