the brief version; you can look to my online reading journal here for more.
First, thanks so very much to Doubleday for my copy. Having no idea who ththe brief version; you can look to my online reading journal here for more.
First, thanks so very much to Doubleday for my copy. Having no idea who the hell was Iceberg Slim, I was in no great hurry to read it, but I'm so glad I picked it up.
It took author Justin Gifford over ten years to research and put together this book, and right up front he says that at "first glance" writing about a guy who'd been a pimp for twenty-five years might seem to be "an appalling choice for a biography," since we're talking about someone who "abused hundreds of women throughout his lifetime;" he also describes him as "one of the most influential renegades" of the past century. On the other hand, even though "he is practically unknown to the American mainstream," Beck went on to write a number of novels as well as his autobiography, Pimp: The Story of My Life. Robin D.G. Kelley, an historian whose work I respect, also notes in the New Yorker that it's not just in the mainstream where Iceberg Slim's work remains relatively unknown -- he states that he's "amazed" that "well-read people" are unfamiliar with Beck's writing as well.
As Gifford notes, Beck is a "mess of contradictions," --
"student at Tuskegee Institute, Chicago pimp with connections to the black mafia, amateur scholar of psychoanalysis, pulp paperback writer, family man, Black Panther Party sympathizer, Hollywood darling of the blaxploitation era, and godfather of hip-hop...all these things and more..."
and that this book "attempts to make sense of these seemingly incongruent identities."
Gifford moves chronologically through Beck's life, using Beck's writings as well as other primary sources to present his readers with a picture of this man, at times testing what Beck writes about himself "against the historical record." Readers also get a view of the huge number of challenges faced by African-Americans in America's cities from the time of the Great Migration up through 1992 and the Rodney King Riots; the author also takes his readers into the growth of African-American activism and politics in general, but more importantly, directly into how events shaped Beck's politics and his writing.
If you want nice-nice and sugar-coated life story, you are NOT going to get it here. Nor is it exactly "true crime," as I see that some people are regarding it. It is downright gritty, mean and in a lot of places, just plain ugly -- not solely in terms of the abuse of women, but also in white America's racist policies and tactics that kept segregation and the realities of Jim Crow an ongoing reality. Highly highly recommended; this is the sort of book I just love. ...more
A long, more fleshed-out look at this book can be found at my online reading journal here -- otherwise, carry on.
Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes focuseA long, more fleshed-out look at this book can be found at my online reading journal here -- otherwise, carry on.
Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes focuses on the lives of women in the UK from both working-class and privileged backgrounds during the 1950s. Using a number of different sources -- diaries, interviews, memoirs, archives, newspapers, periodicals, the web etc., -- Virginia Nicholson offers her readers a very up-close and personal look at how women dealt with "some of the conflicting pressures and strains under which they lived" during this decade. For some women, it was a time of "ambitions, dreams and fulfillment," while for others, their stories combine to present a "narrative of fears, frustrations and deep unhappiness." It is a spellbinding read; I hated having to put this book down for any reason.
Nicholson examines the "tug of war" that was the "daily reality" of life for women during this decade. As she notes, it was
"between society and the individual, prohibition and permissiveness, conformity and independence, passivity and ambition. Between identity -- and the empty shell."
It is through most of these stories of "fears, frustrations and deep unhappiness" that the author skillfully finds a connection between these women -- from factory workers to debutantes presented at court to Princess Margaret -- that of being hemmed in by their family backgrounds or the expectations of society. These women faced a number of "conflicting pressures and strains," encountered through sexism, class pressures, the reality of married life based mainly on the expectations of their spouses, and in the case of an immigrant from Jamaica, the realities of racial prejudice.
One of the most interesting sections in this book is on education: since "society had determined that woman's place was in the home," and that "getting your man" was mattered most, a great deal of emphasis in a young woman's education went into preparing them in skills appropriate to their married futures. For example, many girls had to take classes in such useful courses as "dairying, horticulture, cookery, dressmaking, mothercraft, and housecraft." Some girls from "segregated working-class communities" such as mining villages in the northeast, were lucky if they could overcome their parents' ideas that education was wasted on girls, since "They only get married." As the author notes, for these families,
"Educational deprivation was cyclical; stay-at-home mums lacked the vision or understanding to see how better schooling might advantage daughters otherwise fated to follow in their footsteps."
Yet, even for those who managed to make their way through university, the prevailing point of view was that educated women were "NOT sexy," or even perhaps "spinsters or (whisper it) lesbians."
And speaking of gay women, Nicholson also touches on these women who had to fly "under the radar" because of the "almost pathological fear of lesbianism" that existed during these times. In one case, a woman was committed to an "insane asylum" where after having confessed that she "had feelings for women," was sent for "aversion therapy," that "wrecked her for months."
Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes also reveals a decade full of women's angst and emotional turmoil from the highest echelons of British society on down the ladder. The author quotes widely from several women she interviewed (and from other sources, many of these interviews and diaries) and adds in her own commentary to build a picture of the decade. She makes it clear that while some women seemed happy with their marriages and their lives, there were plenty of others who were not. She also manages to incorporate how communities were built among women for friendship and for support. But, as Nicholson also reminds us, the sixties were right around the corner, and things were on the verge of looking up -- and many of these same women laid the groundwork for a better life ahead for the next generation.
Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes is a captivating read. There are parts of this book where the author sort of rambles, and I felt several times that it could have been pared down quite a bit, but overall, it's a really good, well-written social/cultural history that I couldn't put down. I'm not from the UK, but the book certainly held my undivided attention and kept me turning pages. ...more
a longer post at my online reading journal is here; read on for the condensed version.
Just briefly, Irrepressible is written by Emily Bingham, a greaa longer post at my online reading journal is here; read on for the condensed version.
Just briefly, Irrepressible is written by Emily Bingham, a great-niece of Henrietta Bingham's, and she literally tries to "unpack" Henrietta's story as the book moves along. She'd always known about her great-aunt, the one the family called "an invert" (read "lesbian") but in an attic of the family home, Emily Bingham discovered quite a treasure trove of Henrietta's belongings (including letters) that set her on the path to discovering for herself just who this woman actually was.
A pivotal event in this story was the death of Henrietta's mother when Henrietta was only twelve; Henrietta was there when it happened. Since that horrible and traumatic event, her father (often referred to as "The Judge") came to depend on Henrietta for emotional support even after he married a second and third time. As the author notes,
"Her mother's death before her eyes left an open wound -- an an opening for an unusually close partnership with her father that both empowered her and made her weak."
This strange sort of interdependence between father and daughter had a beyond-huge effect on Henrietta's life, a point that the author returns to time and again throughout the book. As one reviewer puts it, she became "an emotional surrogate" for the Judge's "adored dead wife" even through his two marriages, right up to the time of his death.
Henrietta's story is compelling and Emily Bingham has done an amazing amount of research about her great-aunt; sadly, information about her later life is rather lacking in terms of documentation. The author takes us slowly through Henrietta's life as she charmed and romanced members of the Bloomsbury set in 1920s London, started a long-term course of psychoanalysis with Ernest Jones at the behest of her then-lover (and her former English professor at Smith) Mina Kirstein who herself wanted to be "cured" of her homosexual tendencies. As it turned out, Jones became someone in whom Henrietta could confide about the "seductive ambivalence" toward the Judge, even though the psychoanalysis "did not banish the anxiety and depression that stalked her." We are privy to her various affairs with both men and women while in London during the 1920s, her desire not to constantly be at her father's beck and call so that she could have some measure of freedom, her unflagging support of her father when he became FDR's Ambassador to Britain just prior to the beginning of World War II and then her life, at least what's known about it, through the Judge's death and beyond. One of the key ideas in this book is that while Henrietta had a large measure of freedom in terms of same-sex affairs as a young woman as long as she didn't flaunt things (her father even gave his tacit approval to her lesbian relationship with a tennis star with whom she lived while he served as ambassador), but as times changed, shifting morals, homophobia, and Henrietta's status vis a vis her family's prominence in Kentucky added to her already-overburdened mental state and ultimately contributed to her mental deterioration.
While I loved the subject and while I was cliche-ingly glued to this book, there were times when I kind of did the odd eyeroll or two over the author's writing -- very minor quibbles, to be sure, but still a bit annoying. I will say however that the things that make this such an intense and compelling novel -- Henrietta herself, her family's history, her ongoing desire for the freedom to be who she wanted to be and the obstacles that so often got in the way, as well as her later tragedies -- far outweigh my niggles with the occasional writing issues, making for one hell of a good book.
this is the short version...you can find the longer one here.
Kovály's memoir covers a span of time from 1941 to 1968, from when the Nazis began to depthis is the short version...you can find the longer one here.
Kovály's memoir covers a span of time from 1941 to 1968, from when the Nazis began to deport Jews from Prague (and the author found herself first in the Lodz ghetto and then Auschwitz) until just prior to arrival of Soviet troops in Czechoslovakia, after a very brief Prague Spring. She was lucky -- when the Nazis evacuated the camp she was in and made all of the remaining prisoners walk from Poland to Germany under heavy guard, she and a few other women managed to escape and make it back to Czechoslovakia.
The author goes on to describe how, when the war was over and Jews, partisans and returning political prisoners came home, they were greeted less than enthusiastically; she also (something very important to understand) reveals how people came to choose Communism over democracy after the war. Very briefly, several factors came into play -- including the failure of prewar democratic ideals, the forsaking of the country by Western Allies, the liberation of Prague by the USSR, and false glorification of Communism by people who'd spent the war in Russia. But the major belief was that building socialism in Czechoslovakia would result in "peace, in an industrially-advanced country, with an intelligent, well-educated population." But, as she goes on to explain, by the early 1950s these ideals had been largely forgotten and things had decidely turned for the worse.
The bulk of this book is in how Heda survived after her husband's arrest, his official ouster from the Party, and his death. She describes an all-encompassing life under the Communists -- the regime reached down into every aspect of life, controlling seemingly ordinary people through brutality and fear.Her account ends with a brief Prague Spring under 1968 before the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia; she herself left the country shortly afterwards.
I started reading this because of my interest in the author after having read her Innocence; or, Murder on Steep Street; before that, I'd never heard of her. While Under a Cruel Star is a very personal story, it can also be read as an exploration of human nature under the most arduous and extreme conditions. You can read it as an understanding of how the best of idealistic intentions can often result in a nightmare, and it is also reveals how totalitarianism affected everyday, average people who, because of the need to survive in an atmosphere of complete fear, often felt compelled to choose self-interest over the welfare of fellow human beings. I don't often read memoirs but as difficult as this one was to get through at times, I'm very happy I did. Recommended. ...more
Ahhhh -- a most satisfying book that may have been tailor made just for me. I know it wasn't, but it's right up my alley.
After having read a couple ofAhhhh -- a most satisfying book that may have been tailor made just for me. I know it wasn't, but it's right up my alley.
After having read a couple of novels fictionalizing the true story of Madeleine Smith, I was doing a little side reading and came up with a reference to this nonfiction book which I bought. It's definitely what I call a "niche read," meaning it's probably not a book of interest to the general public but more for people like myself who are fascinated with this stuff. This book contains accounts of four most infamous murders (for the time) which occurred within in the space of just one square mile of Glascow between 1857 and 1909. While he offers readers detailed information about each case, the people involved, the trials and the outcomes, the author's main idea in this book is that "the one thread that links all these cases is respectability." The first three murders he writes about took place during the Victorian era, during which time Glasgow was "an intensely respectable city," a place where "respectability ruled the roost." The fourth crime took place in 1909, but the author includes it because "the spirit of his case is also Victorian." Before even getting into the book then, the reader is clued that much of what he or she is going to read is going to deal with class, status, money and contemporary morality, and exactly how these elements all figured into and affected the outcomes of the four cases that happened within this "square mile of murder."
It is a wonderful, informative book and the author's writing style is such that often I felt as if he was engaged in a conversation here. For example, in the case of Oscar Slater, he relates the first description given to police by a witness, and says in the next paragraph
"Will you please put a book-marker in this page? As this strange case unfolds, it would be a good idea if you now and then turned to this original description of the man in the lobby."
His commentary is also quite witty at times, and he definitely makes his point stick about respectability and its role in all four of these cases. It is just a stunning book - one I can easily and most highly recommend.
for details about the cases and other links to these crimes, you can click here. ...more
When I started reading this book, I had absolutely no idea just how timely my choice of books was. While starting the section about the 197like a 3.8.
When I started reading this book, I had absolutely no idea just how timely my choice of books was. While starting the section about the 1975 evacuation of Phnom Penh, I did a google search to find photos and discovered that tomorrow, April 17, marks the 40th anniversary of this event, which also marked "Day One" of the new regime headed by Pol Pot under the Khmer Rouge. It also marked day one of roughly three and a half years of starvation, disease, and executions that in total took the lives of 1.5 million people -- about twenty percent of Cambodia's population.
Very briefly, the focus of this book is to reveal how Cambodia's history, its politics, its inner workings at the highest levels and its place in the international scheme of things (the Sino-Soviet split, the Vietnam War, French colonialism, American foreign policy, Cambodian nationalism and its corrupt and repressive government, the divisions of class and society in the country, etc.) all combined to make it possible for someone like Pol Pot and those who followed him to take absolute control of the country and to implement their horrific policies afterward. Short then examines those policies established by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in their efforts to make Cambodia a truly independent nation (which they never did), and “a precious model for humanity." He looks at Pol Pot's paranoia, his failure to take the measure of conditions before putting his revolutionary practices to work, his constant flip-flopping back and forth over his own policies, his insistence that everything done at the top levels should be done in complete secrecy; in short -- the author examines an experiment that ended in not only failure, but also in the senseless deaths of over one million people. While everyone should be familiar with Cambodia's killing fields, Short's book doesn't really dwell there. So if you're looking for books that go into detail about the victims of Pol Pot's ruthless practices, you should really look elsewhere.
I do not agree with the author's ideas about how Pol Pot's Buddhist education served as the basis of some of his programs; there is absolutely no proof that there's any basis for that notion offered here, and to me it's just ridiculous to even say so. Another thing: the title may be slightly misleading in that as I noted earlier, it's much more about historical and other factors in Cambodia than a straightforward biography of Pol Pot. However, putting aside my complaints, it is a very well written, very in-depth and informative approach to understanding the conditions under which something so horrific could have been allowed to happen.
I didn't find it dry at all -- I couldn't stop reading this book. ...more
a much longer version of what I think about this book can be found here. Here's the uber-short version:
Ms. Leovy reveals in her book that African-Amea much longer version of what I think about this book can be found here. Here's the uber-short version:
Ms. Leovy reveals in her book that African-American men have been "the nation's number one crime victims," only six percent of the population, but a staggering "40 percent of those murdered." Her book focuses on the area of Los Angeles formerly known as South Central; more specifically, she zooms in on the Watts area, and part of her thesis is that more often than not, "the idea that murders of blacks somehow didn't count." "Black-on-black" murders in Watts are rarely reported since the media prefers to focus on "the spectacles" -- "mass shootings, celebrity murders" etc.; in the recent past, the police would even report these kinds of killings as "NHI - No Human Involved." Ms. Leovy's book reveals that despite popular opinion, the victims in this neighborhood weren't just druggies, gang members or people from dysfunctional families -- a number of innocent people from good families, with no history of breaking the law or gang membership also found themselves too often caught up in the violence that plagues this area. She believes that for the most part, the LAPD failed in its job to keep these people safe; she cites a number of factors that underscore her idea that the scarcity of resources (including policemen that actually care about the people in the community they're supposed to watch over) that should be afforded to these neighborhoods and to the law-abiding people who live there is, in fact, one of the factors that actually helped to perpetuate the violence, leading to the rise in gang-administered "justice." As she notes, "The system's failure to catch killers effectively made black lives cheap," and the failure of the system to "respond vigorously to violent injury and death" paved the way for homicide to become "endemic."
Ghettoside has indeed been an eye-opener of a book, and while I don't agree with everything Ms. Leovy says here (most especially the idea of more policing,especially after recent events) the biggest idea that every reader of this book ought to come away with is that discounting or ignoring the violent deaths of African-Americans -- just because they're living in troubled communities and because they're not white -- under any circumstances is just wrong and should absolutely not be tolerated. Discounting or ignoring the problems that affect lives in these communities is even worse. Obviously, this is not a new problem that is limited to the neighborhoods in South Central in modern times; this attitude of black lives having less value than white lives has been perpetuated (especially in the context of the criminal justice system) from the beginning of our nation's history. That's the real problem -- an even bigger one is how to solve it.
I first read about this book in The New Yorker. After reading just a brief blurb, I knew I had to have it. After reading the book itself, I couldn't eI first read about this book in The New Yorker. After reading just a brief blurb, I knew I had to have it. After reading the book itself, I couldn't even talk for a while.
The longer version of my thoughts about this book is here.
David and Liza Kurtz returned from a six-week European vacation in 1938. Seventy-one years later, their grandson Glenn discovered some old film cans in his parents' closet. Luckily, some of those films had been transferred to video, and Glenn starts to watch one labeled "Our Trip to Holland Belgium Poland Switzerland France and England." He discovered three minutes of footage shot during the grandparents' time in Poland, a place that his father and his aunt named as Berezne, where David's grandmother was born. The original film, badly deteriorated, was handed over to the Holocaust Memorial Museum where it was sent out for restoration. Eventually the author came to realize that the film was more likely shot in Nasielsk, his grandfather's home town thirty five miles northwest of Warsaw. This sends Kurtz on a thorough search for any information about the people who had lived there.
While he is spending time in libraries, museums, archives etc., someone else who is digging through historical records comes across Kurtz's film online. He sends a link to family members and one of them, while watching the footage, recognizes her grandfather as a boy. From there Kurtz meets Morris Chandler, who became invaluable to Kurtz. Not only does Chandler have his memories, but Chandler provides Kurtz with connections to survivors who are still living. From that meeting on, Three Minutes in Poland becomes a story of how Kurtz begins to piece together people's lives in Nasielsk, his grandparents' visit in 1938, and what ultimately happened to the Jews who lived there, as their last days approached starting in 1939. It is also a story about relationships -- as some of the survivors begin to come together because of Kurtz and the film.
It is a stunning, beautiful book, to be sure, and I am already thinking of a number of people to whom I'm going to give a copy. It is a detective story of sorts, one that takes its readers back to a time of great loss, but also into the vibrant lives of real people both individually and as a community. The author's passion shines through on every page, and it is so well written that even without the photos that are scattered throughout the book, I could visualize things in my head very clearly. When you read a book like this one, you will never forget it.
On May 7th, 1915 at 2:10 pm GMT, a single torpedo fired from a German U-boat slammed into the passenger liner RMS Lusitania; by 2:28, the ship was completely gone. Okay, so that's old news -- everyone who's ever taken US history in school has at least been introduced to this information, normally related as one of the events leading up to neutral America's entry into World War I. [That's not quite the case, as it turns out -- America wouldn't start sending ships and troops over to Britain until two years later.] So -- what makes this new book worth reading? The answer is that it is absolutely one of Larson's best works ever.
There's just something about the word "Lusitania" that has stirred the public imagination for years. It's been widely written about, and its sinking has sparked long-standing controversy over what was in its hold or whether or not the British purposefully failed to protect it as a means to force America into the war. Larson has picked a great topic here and he makes it very easy for anyone to understand not only the sequence of events both before, during and after the Lusitania went down, but also the significance of this event on the wider world stage. He has done a tremendous amount of research for this project as revealed by his sources both primary and secondary, and provides notes in the back of the book for easy reference. No knowledge of the Lusitania or of the time period is required -- everything that is necessary to know has been provided by the author making it accessible to everyone.
Seriously -- this might be his best book yet.
My biggest issue with this book is that I don't understand why he felt the need to include Woodrow Wilson's ongoing courtship of second wife Edith, a topic that took up way too much space and almost made Wilson's role as president superfluous until the events of 1917 that ended American neutrality.
I am so happy to have read this book -- and it certainly was an eye-opener for me. There is so much going on here, but as always, Larson keeps tight control over the material, making it flow like a novel. I am also happy to recommend it to anyone who is a regular Larson reader or anyone even remotely interested in the topic. To use an old cliché, I could not put this book down -- it's that good....more
Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found caught my eye while I was reading the "Briefly Noted" book section of The New Yorker sometime back. TSevered: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found caught my eye while I was reading the "Briefly Noted" book section of The New Yorker sometime back. The idea that someone would write about the severed head's significance in the history of "the civilized West" appealed to my fascination with the strange so I knew I had to read it. After finishing the prologue about the history and fate of the head of Oliver Cromwell, I knew I'd found something deliciously different here -- and that I had to finish this book in one go.
Sadly, the spectacle of beheadings has come back into our lives full force with the public executions by radical terrorists in the Middle East after 9/11. In her chapter titled "Deposed Heads," the author notes that only a month after the beheading of Daniel Pearl in 2002, the video made by his captors started circulating on the internet, and four months later the Boston Phoenix published a link on their website. When in May, 2004, engineer Nick Berg met the same fate, it only took days for the "unedited" video to be made available -- this time by Reuters, then picked up by US news networks. The online footage of the actual beheading
"remained the most popular internet search in the United States for a week, and the second most popular throughout the month of May, runner up only to 'American Idol.' "
Even worse, the Dallas Morning News printed a photo of one of the terrorists holding Berg's severed head (although thankfully with face not visible), saying that their decision followed "interest generated in the blogosphere," and that "not one of the 87 letters" they'd received about it "called for these images not to be printed."
And now with the advent of ISIS, beheadings are once again in the public sphere, "a piece of theatre designed to create power and cause fear" with "maximum visibility, maximum resonance" as well as its power to encourage "maximum fear." The author notes that
"by searching Google for the latest execution video, the people watching also have their part to play."
As someone who didn't follow that herd, while it's hard for me to believe that in this day and age there are people who freely choose to watch someone's murder online, it is a known fact that audiences have been drawn to executions for centuries, "ready to enjoy the spectacle."
But even outside the sphere of public beheadings and executions, the author uses her book to draw the reader's attention to the very human fascination with human heads. Over the course of several chapters, she chronicles the history of shrunken heads, of heads taken as trophies, of severed heads as objects of power, about the fascination of heads used in art, the heads (and other body parts) of saints used as relics, of the study of heads and pseudoscience (phrenology, etc) and in real science (as tools for medical students), and finally, in a chapter called "Living Heads," which in part, explores the scientific (and other) attempts to determine how long the head lives after being severed, as well as the fascination people have with keeping their head alive so a body can be reattached when science has advanced beyond its current capabilities.
Ms. Larson writes very well and immerses the reader right away. Sometimes it's obvious that she's adopting a sort of tongue-in-cheek, funny attitude toward her subject, but most of the time she's quite serious. The book is easily accessible, very reader friendly and each chapter includes not just facts, but strong analysis as well. I think a chapter on "literary decapitations" to go with her chapter about art would have been a strong addition. My only complaint is that the first time she made a statement and I went to look for endnotes, there weren't any. I'm one of those readers who enjoy noting down sources as they appear -- and even though she has a sizable bibliography at the end of the book, it was incredibly frustrating not to know an exact source of information as it was given in the text. I was also a little disappointed at her disclaimer at the beginning of her section on sources where she writes that she intended the book as a "popular account" so did not cite names in the text. She also notes that "detailed notes" are available at her website, but jeez -- stopping my reading to go look online (even with Ipad next to me) is a lot to ask a person to do. Other than that not-so-minor quibble, it's definitely a book worth reading on what is to me a fascinating and sadly now relevant topic....more
If anyone in the US would like my arc of this book, just leave a comment and I'll send it to you.
[my thanks to LibraryThing a3.5 stars out in February
If anyone in the US would like my arc of this book, just leave a comment and I'll send it to you.
[my thanks to LibraryThing and to the publisher for my copy]
Mimi Baird was just a little girl of six when her father, Dr. Perry Baird, a successful physician with a thriving practice, was taken away by two state troopers while having lunch at a country club one day in 1944. He wasn't under arrest, but rather the police were there to escort him to Westborough State Hospital in Westbourough Massachusetts. Dr. Baird was no stranger to "mental institutions," having already "been held" at three others before Westborough, and he suffered what was then called "manic breaks," now recognized as serious bipolar disorder. Using a combination of hospital/medical records, statements from Baird's friends, her own recollections and a treasure trove belonging to Dr. Baird, including his own manuscript that he wrote while hospitalized, Mimi Baird has put together a book about her father and his illness, relating how it affected her and her family especially since 1944 was the year he stopped coming home. Her father had always meant to publish someday, and now Ms. Baird has been able to fulfill his wishes some decades later.
Since this book hasn't even been released yet, I won't be going into any great detail here about its contents, leaving that for interested readers to discover. I will say that the very best parts of this book come from Dr. Baird's own writings while hospitalized at Westborough and later Baldpate, a private hospital in Georgetown, MA. In many ways, what he describes while in Westborough begs a comparison to some of the action in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (complete with his own Nurse Ratched) both in terms of "treatment" and in the idea that the most important priority of those in charge is to get the patients to conform. He writes about being bound in straitjackets (from which he constantly attempted to escape), wrapped in cold wet sheets, and other standard regimens for the mentally ill that were extant at the time. Even more interesting though is how the reader can actually witness Dr. Baird's deterioration, not just in his worsening handwriting as described by his daughter, but in how his accounts of what's going on with him do not even come close to matching what his medical records say. As his conditioned worsens, he becomes delusional, and just how much so becomes quite clear while reading through his writings. But the book goes well beyond the medical aspects to reveal just how much stigma mental illness in the 1940s carried in normal society, and even in the personal sphere, where in this case, Dr. Baird's wife Gretta was told to "try to forget him", and in so doing, would never talk about her husband's condition, not even to her children.
As much as I enjoyed reading Dr. Baird's personal account, considering that this book is in part a daughter's "quest to piece together the memoir and the man," her narration can sometimes come off as kind of cold and detached. There's a particular line in here where Ms. Baird talks about her mother naming her "the ice queen," and sometimes that iciness comes through onto the page. While there are a few moments of pure admiration and love that come shining through, sometimes I think the tone is much more matter-of-fact than one would expect from the feelings of a daughter devoted to her recovering her father's life story.
All in all, I enjoyed reading this book. I can't actually speak to being in Ms. Baird's shoes, but I appreciate the fact that it must have been extremely tough for her to have to relive what her father suffered. On the flip side, I'd say that having people who remembered him so positively and with such affection must have been a blessing to her. I do have to comment about the fact that Ms. Baird is very open and honest about the editing of her father's work to make it more readable and concise. First of all, perhaps it might have been a more honest and gutwrenching account if even small portions could have been left unreadable, so that readers might have a better feel for Dr. Baird as his mental state eroded at times; second, I am always a little uncomfortable when I read that editors mess with primary documents like Dr. Baird's manuscript, since I'm of the opinion that these types of sources should always stand on their own with no alteration whatsoever.
Definitely recommended -- this book is already garnering some pretty high ratings and readers seem to be loving it. ...more
Of all possible fields of history from which to choose, polar exploration in its heyday is my favorite subject. When I was a kid I waa 4.5 rounded up.
Of all possible fields of history from which to choose, polar exploration in its heyday is my favorite subject. When I was a kid I was fascinated with explorers and would spend hours upon hours reading about them. In the realm of polar expeditions, I got my start reading Roland Huntford's The Last Place on Earth, a true account of about the rush to the South Pole, and what turned out to be a race between Amundsen and Scott to plant their respective country's flag. It was in that book where I first heard about the Fram and about Fridtjov Nansen, and I remember being quite impressed that Nansen had such foresight in building the perfect ship. In this current book, author Charles W. Johnson provides not only a look at Amundsen's expedition in the Fram, but also at the two other epic expeditions of the ship, its creation, the men who called it home for years on end, and its eventual fate.
Regular readers engaged in histories of polar exploration who are already familiar with Fram's voyages will still find plenty to like about this book. The author picks up on some things Nansen glossed over in his Farthest North, the record of his voyage on the Fram. There are a number of original photographs as well as maps that the reader can reference. Interestingly, it was an article about a few remnants of the USS Jeannette expedition (the subject of Hampton Sides' current book In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette and a great read, by the way) that somehow ended up in a place far, far away from where they should have been that got things going for Nansen. An article written about the finds prompted another article by a Norwegian scientist studying polar currents. His article in turn caught Nansen's eye and after much scientific study, Nansen decided to build a "special ship" that could weather being frozen into pack ice. The idea was that the ship and its crew would be "carried by the same currents that carried the Jeanette's remains over the pole." As the author notes, the ship was to be a sort of "driftwood, of an extraordinary kind." With much careful planning, the Fram was born -- and she was to see two more major expeditions in her lifetime. Not only does the author detail these expeditions and the people who were involved, he also examines what else was going on in the field of polar exploration, north and south, at the time. So the reader ends up with a kind of general but not overwhelming or overdetailed history, also making it perfect for anyone with even just an interest in the field of polar exploration during the period which the author calls "the height of polar fever."
Granted, there are probably people who will take a look at this title and think that a book about a ship has just got to be duller than dishwater, but there's way more than just the ship under discussion here. It's a wonderful book, and by the way, the hardcover copy is beautiful and would make a great gift to someone who is interested in the subject.
Thank you to the publisher, and thank you to Librarything's ER program! ...more