You must read this book. Yes, you. Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me is, as Toni Morrison's cover endorsement states, "required reading." InYou must read this book. Yes, you. Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me is, as Toni Morrison's cover endorsement states, "required reading." In a country where there's a new Mike Brown, Freddie Gray, or Trayvon Martin - and countless others down the centuries before hashtags gave us #blacklivesmatter - with disturbing regularity, if you want to understand the despair, rage, helplessness, and frustrated hope that Ferguson or Baltimore represent, you must read this book. And then read it again.
Written as a letter to his fifteen year old son, Coates forces the reader, in a mere 176 pages, to consider and re-consider everything they know about America. As one of Coates' "Dreamers," one of "those who call themselves white," there was much here I had never faced before. I had considered myself well-read on American history, but Coates awoke me to the fact that I was woefully, laughably mistaken. There's an entire country here - a country dragged here in chains and kept down by fear of pain and death for centuries for the enrichment of people who look like me, but still here, NOW, today - that I didn't even realize I wasn't truly aware of. Not really. Not in any way that really mattered. It's easy to be a Dreamer. It's easy to keep dreaming. Too easy.
As a father myself, there are parts of Between the World and Me that I can completely understand. The pouring of hopes and dreams and treasure into your children, striving to give the world to them. But these parts only serve to bring into vivid contrast the parts I have the blind, unearned luck to not have experienced. When my children leave the house, for example, it never occurs to me that my precious children might be snuffed out by those sworn "to protect and to serve" for "resisting arrest" or "failure to comply." But that emotional burden grinds parents like Coates down, tears them apart, drains them, even if they don't articulate as well as he does.
And Coates does indeed articulate his message well. Between the World and Me seems at times to venture into poetry. It's the poetry of the hammer of truth, an alarm clock set to startle and awaken the Dreamers, a pulling back of the curtain and shining a light into places - in the world, in yourself - you didn't know or didn't want to know were there. There were countless times reading this book were I felt as if the sentence I just read had pried my eyes open, reached into me, shook loose a too-comfortable notion I didn't even realize I had, shown me the world from an angle I had never thought to consider.
Between the World and Me will be the most important book of the year. You - YOU - need to read it. Now. And then read it again. I know I will....more
I'm a major history buff. However, I'll freely admit to having done much more reading in American history than other topics. For example, I've read moI'm a major history buff. However, I'll freely admit to having done much more reading in American history than other topics. For example, I've read more biographies of George Washington than I have histories on Asia and the Middle East combined (unless maybe you give me partial credit for Japan and World War II). And, while such a trend is unlikely to change completely, I have started making some effort to branch out. An early pick for this effort was Tamim Ansary's 2009 Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes. Ansary's ambitious attempt to introduce the Islamic view of world history is fantastic, and well worth reading for any history fan, especially those like me who have been provincial in their previous reading.
Ansary, who was born of an Afghan father and American mother in Afghanistan and moved to the United States in high school, is very well-suited to act as a bridge for the two worlds for his readers. He is able to see Islamic culture from an insider's point of view while also recognizing its place in relation to the Western view of history, and explain all of that to a Western audience - no small task, that.
Ansary begins with a brief introduction the Middle East (itself a very Western-centric term, of course) before Muhammad's arrival on the scene. He then devotes a large segment of the book to Muhammad's time and that of the first four Caliph's to follow him. Since this was obviously such a major event in the formation of Islamic culture and outlook, the detailed look at this period is worth the space devoted to it, as it shapes everything that follows.
The book then moves into detailing the political, social, and religious changes in and challenges to Islam over the years, and how even dividing that into three themes as I did is an artificial external imposition, since from within Islam, the political, social, and religious are so often all one thread.
Ansary introduces all the major empires, religious schisms, and so on, until the Western narrative collides with Islam, at first with the minor - as far as Islam was concerned - detail of the Crusades - and then later in the 18th and 19th centuries as Western powers and greedy rulers slowly end up with foreigners calling the shots, openly or behind the scenes, in many major Islamic former powers. Ansary then details the natural response to that from Islam as it has sought to take back its own destiny.
Ansary does an amazing job of bringing all the historical figures to life and entertaining the reader. As he states in his introduction, his approach is less an academic tome and more a conversation about just what the heck is going on over there with Islam. For such a broad and sweeping attempt to introduce the Islamic view of the world to readers unfamiliar with it, it's a perfect approach to engage while educating.
I listened to Blackstone Audio's 2009 production of the book, narrated by Ansary himself. The production was very well done, and Ansary does a fantastic job. Author narration can be hit or miss, but Ansary really hits a great tone that's easy to listen to and indeed fits his conversational writing approach, and he nails all the pronunciation that another reader would trip over. The unabridged production runs approximately 17.5 hours.
I've become a fan of Ansary with Destiny Disrupted, and I definitely plan to read more from him - and if possible listen to him. His history of Afghanistan, Games Without Rules, also self-narrated, is high on my to read list. I also aim to read more about some of the topics Ansary introduces from other authors, so much has my curiosity been piqued. Ansary does an amazing job of making a vital part of world history accessible to the average Western reader. Given the modern state of the world, it's imperative we Americans understand how our two cultures ended up where we are. Ansary's Destiny Disrupted is an excellent place to start....more
I am a huge baseball fan, and really appreciate the history of the game. I've watched Ken Burns' Baseball probably a half-dozen times. As such, I'm thI am a huge baseball fan, and really appreciate the history of the game. I've watched Ken Burns' Baseball probably a half-dozen times. As such, I'm the exact target audience for Lawrence S. Ritter's book, The Glory of Their Times: The Story Of The Early Days Of Baseball Told By The Men Who Played It. This book was absolutely fantastic, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone with any interest at all in baseball. Even if you aren't currently interested in the game's history, you will be by the time you finish The Glory of Their Times.
Originally published in 1966 including interviews with 22 players from the early 20th century, and expanded in 1984 with an additional four player interviews, Ritter sets out to capture the memories of the earliest players of the game for the ages, and does so brilliantly. The book consists of a chapter for each player interviewed, and Ritter lets the player tell their own story in their own way. It's absolutely fascinating to hear these players echoing through the decades and describing the way they played the game, their careers, their teammates, their managers, the business of baseball, and even the fans of the day as seen from the player's view.
One of the aspects of the book that I enjoyed most is that many of the players discuss the same events or players, including each other, and it's great getting different takes on all of that. You'll hear all about what the players of the day, including his teammates, thought of Merkle's Boner, or what it was like to play with or against Ty Cobb, or what manager John McGraw was like to play for. By the time you finish the book, you'll feel like you've gotten to know all these other players just as well as the men interviewed, who range from Hall of Famers like Sam Crawford or Paul Waner to a career utility player like Specs Torporcer.
Baseball fans who, like me, have enjoyed Ken Burns' Baseball documentary should read this book. In fact, I re-watched Baseball (once again) only a couple months before reading The Glory of Their Times, and I recognized many of the stories and quotes from the early episodes of Baseball as having come straight from these interviews. So, if you enjoyed those, there's a lot more like that here for you.
Another part of the book that is well done is the inclusion of many, many photographs. Ritter gives the reader pictures of all the interviewees and many of the people they talk about, and the pictures are included in the text when relevant, instead of in a glossy insert in the middle of the book, so they're very effective in helping the reader visualize the events being described.
I highly recommend The Glory of Their Times. It's a magnificent book that does a wondrous job of drawing the reader into the early days of baseball....more
Okay, I'll admit it - I first heard of Robert Leckie and his 1957 memoir Helmet for My Pillow when I watched HBO's The Pacific. After watching the excOkay, I'll admit it - I first heard of Robert Leckie and his 1957 memoir Helmet for My Pillow when I watched HBO's The Pacific. After watching the excellent adaptation, I sought out the original, and am glad I did. Leckie's original description of what he and so many other World War II Marines went through was well worth reading.
Leckie starts out, as you'd guess from the memoirs subtitle "From Parris Island to the Pacific", describing his enlistment and his training in boot camp at Parris Island. The camaraderie Leckie and his fellow Marines is palpable. Leckie does a fantastic job of letting you get to know those who he grew so close to. The difficulty of becoming a Marine is also well-conveyed.
As a brief aside, I'll admit to having read more military science fiction than military memoirs, but I'm now convinced military SF writers start by grabbing the boot camp section of a WWII memoir and adding lasers, armored suits, or alien drill sergeants. Anyways...
After leaving Parris Island, Leckie is involved in many of the major actions in the Pacific. Following Leckie, you'll see the horrible shock of Guadalcanal, the delightful Australian shore leave, New Guinea, Cape Gloucester, and finally the brutal combat of Peleliu, where Leckie's war ends. Along the way, you'll meet many more Marines, each brought to life by Leckie's colorful descriptions, who you'll come to know as Leckie did, and you'll mourn many of them with Leckie.
Leckie, who was a journalist already before the war, writes with a breath-taking honesty and humanity. He doesn't shy away from difficult experiences or his own fear, and not only does he show sympathy for his comrades - even those he doesn't get along with - but with the enemy as well. Though he does his job the best he can, he doesn't revel in it, and he's well aware of his own vulnerability.
I highly recommend Helmet for My Pillow to anyone interested in World War II or who likes a good memoir or biography. Leckie's writing is simple but powerful, and the reader is allowed to see every facet of the author, both the admirable and the less so. After writing this memoir, Leckie wrote many books about American military history, and after reading Helmet for My Pillow I intend to explore those as well - a sure endorsement if ever there was one for any author....more
Flags of Our Fathers chronicles the stories of the six men, five U.S. Marines and one Navy Corpsman, who raised the flag at Iwo Jima in the iconic phoFlags of Our Fathers chronicles the stories of the six men, five U.S. Marines and one Navy Corpsman, who raised the flag at Iwo Jima in the iconic photograph from World War II. This has gotten a lot of public attention in recent years, thanks to Clint Eastwood's film adaptation of this book (I'll admit I saw the movie first and liked it, so much so I went and borrowed the audio book from the library).
Author James Bradley, the son of John Bradley, the Navy Corpsman in the photo, knew little about his father's experiences in World War II when his father died in 1994. His quest to learn about that experience, which started like that of so many soldiers, sailors, and marines, and turned into unwanted fame and publicity after being in the photograph, resulted in this book, which is part history, part biography of the six men, and - thanks to extensive interviews with veterans involved in the Pacific war - part second-hand memoir.
The book starts perhaps a bit overly sentimental, as the description of the youth of the six men is a bit too "Golly gee shucks, small town life is great!", especially given that these men all grew up in the Great Depression. Once they join the service, though, things pick up, and the grim, brutal attack on Iwo takes center stage. The battle would claim the lives of three of the flag raisers before it ended, and two of the survivors lives were ruined by the unwanted publicity in one case and unfulfilled promises of advancement in the other. Only Bradley went on to live a successful, full life, and even he was haunted by his experiences on Iwo Jima, suffering from what would now be diagnosed as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Flags is a powerful book. The story it tells is at once unique - the surviving flag raisers' fame - and common - the horrible combat experienced by so many servicemen in the Pacific. It deserves to be read.
I listened to the audio version read by Stephen Hoye. Hoye's delivery is solid. At times, he sounds a bit more sentimental than most audio book narrators, but when one remembers the words themselves were written by Bradley about his father's life, it becomes understandable.
As a final note, I have been inspired by Flags to try to learn more about my late grandfather's Navy service in World War II. Like Bradley's father, my grandfather didn't talk about the war with his children, but I'm hoping to at least get some information from the Navy's service records and go from there. For his alone, I'd have been glad to have read Flags of Our Fathers....more