Tamara Draut's argument is that 30-somethings, Gen Xers, have the financial deck stacked against them. Education, the key to the middle class, will dr...moreTamara Draut's argument is that 30-somethings, Gen Xers, have the financial deck stacked against them. Education, the key to the middle class, will drive them into crippling debt. Starting a family will saddle them with medical costs, daycare costs, etc. Buying a house puts them at the mercy of a predatory financial industry (see also student loans). And a serious injury or a cancer diagnosis will very likely drive them into bankruptcy. Basically, unless they're trust fund babies, they're screwed.
I'm mostly in agreement with Draut on all of this. The problem with the book is a lot of other people have written similar books. If you've read much of anything by Paul Krugman, et al, none of Draut's contentions will seem particularly shocking. Draut's methodology is to outline the problems facing young adults and support these with a series of anecdotes about the financial hardships her subjects face as a result of trying to achieve the American dream. While the stories are compelling, the book is weak on statistics or other objective evidence.
Draut limits her examination to middle and working class in their 30s, people finished with college and maybe grad school and ready to embark on adult lives. She does not deal with the dilemmas of the poor, nor does she look at the way these same problems are faced by many people in middle age. She justifies not examining the poor as that would have made her book unwieldy. Also, rightly, she argues that those in poverty face a completely different set of problems.
This book came out prior to the economic crisis that began in 2008. The financial crisis, the housing crisis, the recession, the pernicious concentration of wealth, and the growing lack of opportunity for most Americans have certainly affected 30-somethings, but people in the next age cohorts have been even harder hit. Unemployment has hit men in their 50s as hard as 20-something liberal arts grads. Careers have foundered a decade out from retirement. Retirement savings have evaporated. The suicide rate amongst baby boom-era men has gone up.
Draut can't be faulted for not seeing what was coming a few years out from her book's publication date. However, the roots of the dilemma of the middle class 50-somethings were developing well before 2008. If Draut had looked outside of the box to which she limited her study, she might have had something remarkable.(less)
Readers of this book probably fall into two main groups. One group is made up of those who are already in agreement with its argument: that the second...moreReaders of this book probably fall into two main groups. One group is made up of those who are already in agreement with its argument: that the second Bush administration pushed the country into a war based on faulty intelligence that was, itself, based on lies. Further, key members of that administration came into office already determined to invade Iraq. The other group of readers will throw the book aside in disgust because they still believe the invasion of Iraq was a necessary decision.
At the time, I didn't really believe the administration's shifting rationales for war, or for its timing. But I did think that the overthrow of Saddam was desirable. While I still think Saddam's overthrow was, on balance, a good thing, I recognize that it brought about several undesirable outcomes - instability, a strengthening of Iran's position, and ironically an erosion of rights for sectors of Iraqi society (women, homosexuals, ethnic and religious minorities). I also see the Iraq war as one of the biggest blunders of American foreign policy since Vietnam, marked by corruption and incompetence.
The conduct of the war is not the concern of this book, however; instead, Michael Isikoff focuses on the run-up to the war. He looks at the decision-making process, the desire for war on the part of many officials, the use of 9-11 to manipulate public opinion and highly skewed intelligence to link Saddam to al-Qaeda. Isikoff also examines the way the news media was manipulated by the administration and the way the media allowed itself, even eagerly became a mouthpiece for administration propaganda.
This is an exhaustive account, well-argued and well-written. It's only problem is that the impact has dulled a bit over time. (less)
If you follow Krugman at all, nothing in this book will be especially new. It lays out Krugman's case for a Keynesian approach to economic stimulus, a...moreIf you follow Krugman at all, nothing in this book will be especially new. It lays out Krugman's case for a Keynesian approach to economic stimulus, as well as his argument that the emphasis on austerity amongst political decision-makers is guaranteed to stagnate the economy and make people's lives worse. The book is a readable economic and political argument from a Nobel-winning economist.(less)
Reading this quickly became more chore than pleasure. Very dry. Rather than the work of a single author, this book's chapters were written by differen...moreReading this quickly became more chore than pleasure. Very dry. Rather than the work of a single author, this book's chapters were written by different scholars with expertise in different areas of Mexican history. I had a couple of problems with this. First, it made for a disjointed narrative, which failed to develop overarching themes within that country's history. Second, most of the authors chose to narrowly focus their chapters on fairly specific aspects of the time periods they covered, which left out a lot.
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....moreGood 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.(less)
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 toda...moreDavid 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).(less)