Good fun. A breezy, wry account of various people who made London the great metropolis it has become.
Most of the people covered are pretty familiar.Good fun. A breezy, wry account of various people who made London the great metropolis it has become.
Most of the people covered are pretty familiar. (Shakespeare, Chaucer), some less so (Mary Seacole, for example, a contemporary of Florence Nightingale, and a rival for her fame). Some of the best chapters are on the figures who might not be household names. The complementary chapters dealing with tory Samuel Johnson and radical John Wilkes are particularly fine.
Some chapters are better than others. The chapter on Keith Richards seems a little too awestruck in tone. Also, the lack of a chapter on Charles Dickens seems a largish omission.
Overall, an enjoyable read. Nice capsules of history, entertainingly put forth....more
David Maraniss is one of those people who reminds his readers of what good journalism looks like. He's also one of the better biographers working todaDavid Maraniss is one of those people who reminds his readers of what good journalism looks like. He's also one of the better biographers working today. In this book, Maraniss has produced a solid, informative account of the events that shaped the character of Barack Obama. Overall, this is a critical but positive assessment of Obama's youth. While some of the more irresponsible pundits have combed the book for out-of-context "gotcha" nuggets, anyone who actually reads this book will quickly see through the b.s. spewed out by many of Obama's critics. (This means you, Dinesh D'Souza!)
Maraniss goes back through three generations of Obama's family and carries his story through his subject's formative years, up to the time Obama decides to leave community organizing in Chicago for law school at Harvard. Anyone wanting an account of the future president's political life will be disappointed, given the scope of the book. This isn't to say there is nothing to interest the political junky. Maraniss examines how Obama's development, his Bildung, impacts on how he has approached the presidency.
Although the narrative feels a little exhaustively detailed at times, but overall it is a fascinating examination of a one man's personal and intellectual development. The portrait that emerges is of an intensely cerebral, well-balanced personality.
One fascinating aspect of this book is the way the differences between autobiography and memoir (i.e. "Dreams from my Father) play out. Maraniss analyzes and corrects the narrative set out by Obama in his memoir. He shows how memoir, as a genre, is more concerned with subjectively exploring themes within a life, rather than setting forth a factual and objective account (relatively ojective, within the unavoidable scope of personal bias)....more
Back when I still thought of myself as a (moderate) Republican, I was for Feingold. Like many Wisconsinites, I found him to be an unfortunately rare tBack when I still thought of myself as a (moderate) Republican, I was for Feingold. Like many Wisconsinites, I found him to be an unfortunately rare type of politician who was forthcoming, morally brave, and principled. I like Russ Feinfold, so I enjoyed reading this book. That said, it is a book with flaws.
Pretty quickly, it's apparent that this is more a work of political promotion than an objective biography. The author is obviously a fan and the Feinfold presented in this book is firmly in the Mr. Smith Goes to Washington mode. We hear about the young Feingold in high school, popular with students and teachers alike, a young Wisconsin progressive, a true son of the Heartland. This is all true, as far as it goes, but it is presented in breathless tone as though Feinfold's upbringing was somehow unique in its goodness, even though none of this seems beyond the experience of any above-average young man.
The book hits its stride when it gets into Feinfold's political life, which was fairly remarkable.
The first part of David M. Kennedy's Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945, from the Oxford U.S. history series. ThThe first part of David M. Kennedy's Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945, from the Oxford U.S. history series. The advantage of splitting the book into two volumes for the author and publisher is that they get to sell two books instead of one. For the reader, it's just easier to lug around than the original tome....more
This is a nice little glimpse of Depression-era popular culture. Rather than standing as a thorough cultural history of the 1930s, this book tries toThis is a nice little glimpse of Depression-era popular culture. Rather than standing as a thorough cultural history of the 1930s, this book tries to get at the flavor of the time through some of its celebrities. The main narrative is Count Basie and his band's progression to the big time in New York City. To this, the author ties in Joe Louis, Eleanor Roosevelt, radio programs, swing bands, the tension between Gene Krupa and Bennie Goodman, and so on. Like a swing number, it introduces it's themes (celebrities) and develops them in counterpoint with one another until it comes to a big finish. In this case, the author ties the greatness of black musicians like Basie to Joe Louis's triumph over the German fighter Max Schmelling to put forward the theme of African-American advancement.
I liked this book for the most part. It was written in a punchy, engaging style and gave a lot of interesting information. Anyone who would like a quick introduction to the big bands of the swing era would do well to take a look at this book....more
A detailed overview of labor history in the United States. Good information, but I found it a little slow going at times. Still, given the lack of knoA detailed overview of labor history in the United States. Good information, but I found it a little slow going at times. Still, given the lack of knowledge most people have on the subject, it's probably a must-read for anyone desiring a rounded knowledge of U.S. history....more
A memoir and extended essay on the main themes of his writing life, this is a good reminder of just how important Christopher Hitchens was to intellecA memoir and extended essay on the main themes of his writing life, this is a good reminder of just how important Christopher Hitchens was to intellectual life, both in the States and in Britain. I first read this shortly prior to the author's death and re-read it after. It only improved on the second reading.
As much as anything else, this is a story of Hitchens's ideological development: the role his parents' lives played in it, the experience of the Trotskyist Left of the 1960s, the influence of the various Amises (Martin, Kingsley), Robert Conquest's anti-Stalinism, and so on. Although a man of the Left, Hitchens doesn't fit comfortably in with some of his ideological peers. He supported both Thatcher's Falklands war and the second Bush administration's invasion of Iraq, which made him anathema to some of his erstwhile friends. However, one can argue that these positions were taken in absolute consistency with his principles. In both cases he was supporting conflicts against brutal military dictatorships. Although his insistence on the WMD rationale for the Iraqi war is a little cringeworthy, his support of Kurdish rights is commendable.
Hitchens was disturbed by the reflexively anti-Western stance prevalent within the post-1960s Left. He championed the Western literary and artistic canons, though not uncritically, as can be seen in his writings on the King James Bible. Hitchens extolled the King James translation for its literary merit, even as he argued that "religion ruins everything."
Strangely (but perhaps not unsurprisingly in the context of George W. Bush's "with us or agin' us" America), Hitchens was cast as a conservative. He was certainly proud of his US citizenship and saw America as an expression of Western ideals, to the point that he advocated a sort of American exceptionalism. That said, Hitchens was not an uncritical apologist. Though he supported Bush's toppling of Saddam Hussein, he accused the Bush administration of criminal incompetence. He excoriated the US role in overthrowing the democratic socialist Allende government and advocated that Henry Kissinger be indicted for war crimes.
One of the photos included in the book shows a smiling Hitchens at the tomb of Karl Marx, "the great man." So much for Hitchens the conservative. All of this labeling and mislabeling speaks to the looseness over terms in American political discourse, where liberalism and socialism are conflated and everything is subjected to Nazi analogies. Hitchens was an antidote to this sloppiness. Through his writings and in his life, Hitchens stood as an example of conceptual complexity and intellectual nuance. What's more, the man who emerges from this book is one of good humor and human compassion....more
The first and last parts of this book were very good. In the first section of the book, Amis looks at the way European and American intellectuals hadThe first and last parts of this book were very good. In the first section of the book, Amis looks at the way European and American intellectuals had a crush on the Bolsheviks and the way that these intellectuals either ignored or rationalized the bloodiness and terror practiced by the Reds from the very beginning. There are other, better accounts of this moral-political lunacy, but Amis's account is worthwhile as his father began as a Bolshie fellow-traveller and migrated to the right.
The last part of the book is a poignant letter from Amis to his further-left friend Christopher Hitchens. Worth reading, even if one ignores the rest of the book.
The main body of the book is an account of Stalinism. If you're unfamiliar with the subject read it. If you've read other accounts, skip it....more