Weekend Book Report Archives

Weekend Book Report (7/21/18):  Another “Lucky Day” book at the library filled this week’s reading; “Standoff – How American Became Ungovernable” by Bill Schneider (Simon and Schuster, 2018) is an interesting history on the political dynamics of presidential elections.  Schneider is a professor of Government and Public Policy at George Mason University and works at other universities, and has written columns for a host of major newspapers and magazines, as well as a political analyst for CNN for nineteen years (1990-2009).  His work, which after reading it,  has a more ominous sounding title than the actual content, starts with the 1964 election, with Barry Goldwater as the losing Republican candidate, as a watershed event in political history where cultural issues (anti-Communism) defined the debate – and lost.  Elections after that continued the polarization, and some elections, Schnieder muses, had the right guy but the wrong idea, and some initiatives that were thought to derail an incumbent (Bill Clinton’s Lewinsky affair) actually backfired.  He says our country is the most populous one in the world, and it’s a curious dive into the workings as to why Americans vote the way they do.  His summary into our current affairs is hopeful – our government was built to make it hard to do things on purpose to put the check on tyrants and megalomaniacs like the current occupant of the White House.  Short of a disaster or coup, Schneider says the guardrails are in place, but the people must be the ones to make sure they hold.  This is a good read for political science buffs, election watchers or those who just want to get a handle on what’s going on.

It’s available at your local public library or independent book store.

Weekend Book Report (7/16/18):  After a visit to the library on Friday, I found this “Lucky Day” book (you only get it for two weeks and can’t be renewed) that is somewhat of an antidote for the previous read below.  “Factfulness – 10 Reasons We’re Wrong About The World -and Why Things Are Better Than You Think” by Hans Rosling, in collaboration with his son and daughter-in-law (Flatiron Books, 2018) is an unabashedly optimistic (Hans calls it “being possibilistic”) look at the progress the world has made since 1800, when objectively viewed through the world of data.  He should know, Rosling (who unfortunately died of pancreatic cancer shortly after his book was released) was a medical doctor, public educator and adviser to UNICEF and the World Health Organization, and was a member of Doctors Without Borders.  His major work was using United Nations and other organization’s data to analyze, solve and propose better outcomes for societies and countries around the world.  Refusing to accept the terms “developed” and “developing” countries, the Swedish doctor uses four levels of income (1 being the poorest) to determine correlating conditions (child mortality, life expectancy).  He expands on the theme of using data in objective and analytical ways, cautioning the reader to avoid pitfalls that shape the popular perception that everything is awful – including blame, proportion, a sense of unneeded urgency and fear, among others.  He points out media, politicians and activists as culprits, but doesn’t blame them, they’re just a human as the rest of us with our perceptions, and lays out a simple guide to help sort it all out.  Rosling is no Pollyanna, he has sober comments on the real challenges the world faces, but when put in the perspective of historical data, we have come a long way.  The trio have also established two websites, gapminder.com and dollarstreet.com – both of which are fascinating – to help the reader understand their concepts and ultimately get a more real understanding of the world.  It’s an enjoyable read (I finished it in a weekend) and gives a more refreshing perspective than cable news or politicians jacking their jaws.

It’s available at your local public library or independent book store.

Weekend Book Report (7/14/18):   “Alternative Facts”, myths, superstitions and other boogeymen have always been a part of human history; this week’s book discusses how it has affected America, from the earliest white-settler times to the contemporary Internet era.  “Fantasyland – How America Went Haywire, a 500-year History” by Kurt Andersen (Random House, 2017) is an interesting take on how religion, superstition, disinformation, belief and disbelief has been part and parcel of the development of America and our United States.  Andersen is a prolific writer and Harvard grad (and was editor of the Harvard Lampoon while a student there), penning columns for the New York Times and Vanity Fair and is co-founder of Spy Magazine.   His lengthy work (440 pages) starts with the Puritans and Pilgrims, whose religious beliefs help bring about the Salem witch trials and other atrocities, and works it’s way through history, including the genocide of Native Americans, who were thought, through rumor, myth and belief, to be agents of the devil.  As technology progressed (the printing press, telegraph, telephone) the impressions and communication of beliefs, (founded or more than likely, not) became more sophisticated and complicated.  As the wide-open frontier was settled in the 18th and 19th centuries, the “rugged individualism” that was revered also made allowances for those to believe what they wanted, resulting in the expansion of various religious sects (Mormonism, Seventh-Day Adventist, the “Vineyard” churches) and other mindsets – setting the framework for, as Andersen says, the “Fantasy-Industrial Complex” that exists today.   Disneyland, the New Age Esalen Institute, manufactured political boogeymen, lies, damned lies, conspiracies and television are all modern-day manifestations of this historical framework, and Andersen nicely crafts his thesis into relevance with the age of the Internet.  We can truly believe what we want to believe, and the Internet will validate it.   He explains how Trump has mastered this by validating his “facts” by what he “reads on the internet” and won a base of voters who went along for the ride.  He holds out hope that the “Fantasy-Industrial complex” has or will reach it’s peak soon, says the author, and as an admitted optimist, our nation will survive, sober up and maybe even be smarter when it settles out.  It’s a lengthy read, but manageable, with short chapters and a linear progression, and those students of history, sociology, religion and political science – as well as those concerned with the direction of humanity and our country in general – will find it fulfilling.

It’s available at your local public library or independent book store.

Weekend Book Report (7/5/18):  Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright is no intellectual slouch and is an astute observer of history, with a Ph.D from Columbia University.   An experienced professor, she presents lessons that need to be learned – and that readers should take heed.  “Fascism – A Warning” (Harper Collins, 2018) delves into biographical summaries of fascists throughout history, including Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin, among others, with the purpose of comparing their common denominators and clarifying often conflicting definitions of the term.  She includes her personal history as a young girl in Czechoslovakia, where she saw the unraveling of democratic efforts in her own country through her own eyes and that of her father.   Using Mussolini’s often-used refrain “pluck the chicken one feather at a time”, Albright stresses that fascism (which she defines as obtaining power by legitimate means to eventually attempt to exert it’s permanence through force and to control the populace) is insidious, often disguised as populism at first and often with “buy-in” by those seeking certainty, which is occasionally not found in democratic institutions, which by their nature are deliberative, laborious and slow.   She says she would write this book even if Hillary Clinton was elected, since many countries are falling into the fascist trap (Hungary, Cambodia and others) and it needs to be recognized, but her focus and conclusion near the end of the book is the similarities of the current occupant of the White House to populism (which she says, is inherently not bad) at least, and authoritarian regimes (at worst), calling him the “most un-democratic President our nation has seen”).  While cheering the new-found civic engagement as a reactiion, she remains cautious and extols Americans to remain vigilant in preserving democratic principles in freedoms in this – as she puts it – “our indispensible country.”

It’s available at an independent book store or public library near you.

Weekend Book Report (6/30/18):   It took two weeks to read this one, because (1) I was reading while traveling and (2) it’s a comprehensive work.  My wife helped after taking and interest and started to read it, and instead of having her chase my bookmark, I finished “Sapiens, A Brief History of Mankind” (Harper / Perennial Books – 2015) by Yuval Noah Harari in a two-day flurry.  The book, a heavy, handsome paperback with glossy and heavy paper that must weigh five pounds, is a humorous, touching and ultimately thought-provoking work of the story of humankind throughout the ages.  Harari, who has a PhD. in world history from Oxford, starts with early man, with it’s five species of Homo,  and travels through time, whittling down to just Homo Sapiens, past the Agricultural Revolution, Industrial Revolution to the modern era, and provides different perspectives than conventional history and your school textbook, or even conventional wisdom (e.g., hunter-gatherers may have been the happiest historical group since agriculture bound humans to the earth, time, location and even more vulnerable to the mercy of the elements).   The author explores the relationship of religion, ignorance, war, the development of states and the market economy, the pursuit of resources and human ingenuity through short and enjoyable vignettes within chapters with differing historical paradigms, making a comprehensive story manageable.  Although “brief” is in the title, it’s still a lot of history and covers 450 pages, so it’s not a weekend book, but Harari covers historical ground efficiently and leaves the reader with a different, even expanded view of humankind’s impact on earth, as well as fascinating (and ominous) impacts for the future.

It’s available at your local public library or independent book store.

 

Weekend Book Report (6/9/18):  In what seems to be a streak of memoirs released by publishers lately, this week’s read was Senator John McCain’s “The Restless Wave” (Simon and Schuster, 2018).  The Senator, now fighting brain cancer that he admits will soon claim his life, had the help of one of his longtime aides, Mark Salter, in crafting his history, giving first-hand accounts of mostly political and wartime experiences, with some personal and philosophical comments included.   McCain recounts his experiences in Vietnam, as a Naval officer and his foray into politics. As expected, the political realm dominates, and the Senator readily admits that though he could be stubborn ,  and politics can seem personal and heated in the thick of the battle and often one can wind up making regrettable statements (which he also readily admits).  But at the end of the day, the common denominator, repeated throughout the book, is the transcendence of the infighting and the overall good relationships he garnered in his tenure, all because of being focused on the good of America.  It’s as if a paraphrase could be “we may have punched each other in the nose, but after it’s over, we buy each other a round.”  His political positions and statements are recounted and consistent as well; Vladimir Putin is an evil despot bent on undermining the West, and Donald Trump is either an unwitting or witting useful idiot or overt partner doing his bidding; civility and respect must return to political discourse; his famous “thumbs down” vote on repealing ACA, and reiterating the Republican mantra of a strong defense, fiscal accountability and personal responsibility.  He covers the presidential campaign with Sarah Palin with his running mate, but is somewhat oblique about the impact that her behavior had on the ticket.   McCain reveals a special respect for soldiers and dissidents fighting for freedom overseas, and features several vignettes on those he met; some with success and some who lost their lives.   Even if you didn’t agree with his political decisions, the book is an insightful self-reflection, one that will give a degree of respect for McCain’s remarkable political career.

It’s available at your local public library or independent book store.

Weekend Book Report (6/4/18):  I managed to read two books this week, and this one, albeit shorter (212 pages) was much deeper.  Barbara Ehrenreich has a dozen good works;  her critically acclaimed “Nickel and Dimed,” published in 2001, was a stinging critique on the way the economy treats the working poor.  Many may not know she holds a Ph.D. in cellular immunology from Rockefeller University in New York, and she uses some of that knowledge, as well as philosophy, economic and political criticism in her book “Natural Causes – an Epidemic of Wellness, The Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer” (Hachette Books, 2018).   The author, now at age 76, takes a hard look at aging and mortality (including her own), it’s effects on the body and mind, and our society’s seemingly incessant insistence that it must be something to combat, and the charlatans and businesses that are more than happy to help (at a fee).  Without totally  dismissing the need for a healthy lifestyle, she examines the health club craze, the doctor/patient relationship, the heroic efforts (and tremendous expense and often at the objection) of treating those who are seriously in decline, as a means of “victory” over death – even if it’s for a month.  Her field of study comes into play as she discusses the views of medical professionals regarding the causes of cancer, diabetes and other illnesses – and that many are caused irrespective of one’s fitness or adherence to regimented workouts and diets.  She cites studies that even the immune system and it’s “good guys” (macrophages, T-cells) can often collaborate in the causes and advancement of disease.  She wraps up with perspectives on mortality, philosophy and “how to rejoice” in a living world without thinking it will go on forever (yes, there are some Silicon Valley megalomaniacs that think they will, if technology permits).  It’s deep, but easily readable and worth it; something to think about while you’re on that Stairmaster in the gym, missing out on a beautiful, sunny day at the park with friends.

It’s available at your local public library or independent book store.

Weekend Book Report (6/2/18):  With the retirements, firings and turnover in this tumultuous political circus, there’s ample opportunity to read some of the memoirs and stories from some of the notable players involved.  “Facts and Fears – Hard Truths From a Life in Intelligence” by retired Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (Penguin/Random House, 2018) is one of several currently on the best-seller lists.  Clapper, who served over fifty years in the military and intelligence services, recounts his life as a young man growing up as an “Army brat” – moving from place to place, as his father was in a similar government position.  His epiphany to get into intelligence  happened when he discovered the radio transmissions of the Philadelphia police department by holding the knob on the television between channels.  (His father promptly praised his resourcefulness.)  After enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1961, Clapper entered various realms of intelligence gathering and methods, including the Vietnam War, and rose through the ranks to serve both the Bush and Obama administrations.  Clapper, who collaborated on the book with DNI colleague Trey Brown, has a timeline that uses a mix of  government acronyms, names and situations that can become quite wonky (after all, this is intelligence gather and government work – and he has a glossary of acronyms in the appendix) but pulls it together with the rationale for what’s happening, some depth into personalities involved, and the outcomes to keep it interesting.  Addressing Vietnam, 9/11, Benghazi, fights with Congress over funding and the crises created by Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning’s espionage, Clapper’s main theme is that intelligence gathering is just that; information obtained so executives can form policy, and members of the IC (intelligence community) are overall, hard-working, smart people with integrity – not those that will want to snoop on your emails to see if you partied too hard last weekend or cheat on your spouse.  His main indictment is at the end – that the Russians are currently our most dangerous enemy, and they influenced and shaped the outcome of the 2016 election, and, elated with their success, will do so in the future.  It is in their interests to see the U.S. fail, or at least become so acrimonious that governance and trust in our democracy are called into question.  Although not linking the current president directly (intelligence will never link items directly unless overwhelming evidence supports it), Clapper calls the “purposeful disinterest” by him and his administration in addressing the Russian attacks a monumental threat to our nation, as well as his continued denigration of government institutions, freedoms, the press and disdain for ethics and civility.  At 77 and retired from government service, Clapper, untethered by public service protocols, sounds a clarion call to citizens to recognize and take action on all of them – and in the meantime provides an interesting life story.

It’s available at your local independent bookstore or public library.

 

Weekend Book Report (5/25/18):  This week’s hardcover is one of the newer releases I’ve read (hot off the press, and currently #2 on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list), and it’s timeliness and theme ring quite true in this age.  “The Soul of America – The Battle for our Better Angels” by Jon Meacham (Random House, 2018) is a handsome work, viewed through the lens of some of the darker moments in American history, and placed in the context of the troubling times we have today.  Although he only mentions the current President by name in a few instances, Meacham, a biographer and visiting professor of history at Vanderbilt University, juxtaposes the populism, demagoguery and authoritarian tendencies of today to the similar crises of the earlier years of our nation, and yields hope that principled leadership and the involvement of the common citizen will prevail and preserve the republic, as it did then.  He chronicles, in easy but concise chapters, the  leadership and works of Lincoln, Grant, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson and Reagan, and a few other chief executives, as well as non-elected leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr.  In facing challenges such as the Civil War, Reconstruction, enacting turn-of-the-century progressivism, World Wars I and II, women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement, the author reminds us that the presidency may be a superhuman task, but it’s only humans that are called to master it – and those who have the sense of our “better angels” (Lincoln’s words) will succeed.  He wraps up the book with counsel on how a citizen can work to fight off the shadow of authoritarianism and corruption we face with the current occupant of the White House and to be a good, practiced citizen in any event.   We’ve had plenty of duds in the White House before (the late 1800’s comes to mind) and, with some work, we’ll survive this one, he says.  It’s telling that the author, in showcasing the masterful leaders we have had over history, doesn’t even have to gauge the caliber of the present one – he doesn’t even come close – but must be challenged, for the sake of preserving our republic.

It’s available at your local independent book store or public library.

Weekend Book Report (5/18/2018):  Despite the coarse title and irreverent language inside, this New York Times Bestseller (#1 a while back, selling three million copies) offers some really solid advice, especially for the younger set for which this book is targeted.  Boston blogger and author Mark Manson’s “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***,  A Counter-intuitive Approach to Living a Good Life” (HarperCollins, 2016)  starts out by turning “feel good” assumptions about how to live right on their head – that such expectations of having to be fit, successful, productive, handsome or beautiful and wealthy (he terms “mindless positivity”) creates a manifestation of inadequacy that causes a person to not feel good about themselves, precisely because they are always measuring themselves to that standard.  The “Subtle Art” and the verb that comes with the title (“giving a f***”) means that for self-improvement to really work, take all those expectations and toss them.  All the mass media marketing, material acquisition and social status efforts are meaningless, and a lot of what goes on in the human condition sucks anyway – so work your way up from there.  After engaging that, take what is really important (“giving a f***”) and choose carefully – with the emphasis on the word choose (an entire section is dedicated to “You are always choosing.”)  Each provocative chapter title (i.e., “You’re Wrong About Everything”, “Victimhood Chic”) provides keen, but rough-edged, nuggets of wisdom, much of it from Manson’s own experiences and not academic exercises (his degree is in finance from Boston University).   The book will stretch your mind and see things about yourself that you haven’t been aware of before – and, if you can get past the title term and the other coarsities, you may learn something in the value of the subtle art of giving a F***.”

It’s available at your local book store or public library.

 

Weekend Book Report (5/14/2018):   Interest in diplomatic and military intrigue drove my purchase of “War On Peace – The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence” by Ronan Farrow (W.W. Norton, 2018).  The author, with an interesting background in his own right (a Rhodes scholar, son of actress Mia Farrow and possibly Woody Allen or Frank Sinatra) launched into a career of diplomacy and journalism, including exposing Harvey Weinstein’s sexual improprieties (which, interestingly, NBC declined to broadcast, but The New Yorker did).  His book is broken into three parts; the first features vignettes about American diplomats, including Richard Holbrooke, Hillary Clinton, Robin Raphael and others, and examines diplomatic efforts that were handicapped by what Farrow terms as the “militarization” of foreign policy.  Farrow worked with many of them while working in the Obama administration’s State Department, so much of the narrative is first-hand experience or direct interview.  In some cases, diplomacy failed because it was too tedious, and in some cases it was unforced errors or coordination with other departments of government, but in many others, diplomacy was purposely undercut (including the arrest of Robin Raphael for espionage, charges that were later dropped) or ignored by the military-industrial complex that dominates decision making at the White House, dating back to the Reagan years.  The second part deals with some of the events and characters U.S. diplomats had to deal with, including General Dustom of Afghanistan, who is eyed as being complicit (as well as U.S. forces) for the mass grave of thousands of Taliban prisoners, executed by “Northern Alliance” regulars at the outset of the Afghan war.  This event, suppressed for a decade, has never really come to light in U.S. media or acknowledgement by Bush II, Obama, or Trump administrations.  The third part covers the misadventures of American foreign policy (again at the suppression of diplomacy) in Afghanistan and other countries; most recently, Syria, where U.S. CIA-backed rebels end up fighting U.S.-military backed rebels in a complicated cluster to attempt to remove Assad, ISIL, and who knows who else.  Farrow’s overarching theme is the unfortunate decline of the State Department and the work of Foreign Service Officers who are talented and difficult to replace, mostly by design with budget cuts, domination by the military in the White House and outright hostility from the Trump administration, but also due to dated technology and an embedded bureaucratic inertia, that many State Department employees agreed should be reconstituted.  Diplomacy takes time, and many times, it works – and he cites examples as well.   His interviews with the likes of Rex Tillerson, Condoleezza Rice and other top officials offer a broad swath of perspective of our recent history of diplomacy, and he makes a case that even if it’s slower, diplomacy is cheaper, less brutal and many times more effective than warfare (although he agrees force is the underlying hammer in achieving goals), and we should be enhancing, not handicapping it.   If unchecked, America’s image and stature will continue to decline abroad.

This book can be purchased at your local independent bookstore or local public library.

Weekend Book Report (5/7/2018):  Our bi-weekly trip to Costco for certain provisions, like cases or paper towels or five-pound sacks of frozen blueberries, also includes the obligatory look at their book table.  The decisions to stock the books can be somewhat unpredictable and sometimes seems to reflect the political leaning of that week’s floor manager – one visit it’s flooded with insipid right-wing pap from Dinesh D’Souza or Mark Levin, the next week can be noted with stacks of Hillary Clinton’s “What Happened” or even Noam Chomsky.  But I digress; at this visit they had a stack of pro football defensive end Michael Bennett’s “Things That Make White People Uncomfortable” (Haymarket Books, 2018), so I grabbed one.   The book is a quick read; Bennett, who worked with author Dave Zirin, writes like he speaks – with passion, and articulately, but with enough force to let you know he means business when it comes to issues dear to him.  Police shootings of unarmed blacks, racism, income disparities between races and gender, and “food deserts” where minorities find it difficult to find healthy food choices due to the lack of stores are among his action items.   He clearly explains how being a successful NFL player leveraged his activism to draw attention to these issues, as well as the occupational hazards he and others (i.e. Colin Kaepernick) faced in expressing them, such as taking a knee during the national anthem.  He juxtaposes this to being “just another black guy” on the street , where his experiences (facing overt racism at Texas A&M when not in a football uniform, and being slammed to the ground by police in Las Vegas) puts the issue of “walking while black” in a whole different light.  He calls out NFL and NBA owners and right-wing media who twisted his and the Black Lives Matter message, and offers a cautionary tale about the NCAA to those considering college football.   Bennett wraps up his activism with a call for inclusion, urging people of all colors to get together and understand each other’s issues and puts a plug in for a new organization, “Athletes for Impact” (AFI).   Although it may some white folks “uncomfortable”, it’s a worthy read, and offers perspective – from a well-spoken and tireless activist – to those who may just need it.

It’s available at your local independent book store or public library, and, last I looked, at Costco.

Weekend Book Report (5/3/18):   I gravitated to the philosophy and religion section of my local book store for reading during a pair of short vacations; this one turned out to be an interesting treatise on the counsel of human behavior.  “12 Rules for Life – An Antidote to Chaos” by Jordan B. Peterson (Random House /Canada, 2018) is a fascinating, although occasionally wandering, book of advice.  Peterson is a practicing clinical psychologist that has taught at Harvard, and more currently at the University of Toronto, and has served as adviser to numerous law firms and the Secretary General at the U.N.  His lectures and works have become increasingly popular across Canada and the U.S., especially among millennials looking for some common sense advice and rules to apply to life.   His book starts with a foreword by a colleague that sets the history and philosophical framework of the book; and Peterson follows up with twelve interesting chapters with the “rule” as each title.  Many chapters start with a puzzling non-sequitur, and the narrative can seem to go all over the map in observation, source and logic, but by the end, the author wraps it up and makes sense out of such rules – such as “don’t bother children when they are skateboarding” (#11), “pet a cat when you encounter one on the street” (#12) or more seriously, “compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today” (#4), or “tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie” (#8).  You may not agree with some of his fundamentals and conclusions (especially the recent controversy over his comments about male dominance), but their are a few gems, and the ride is certainly entertaining in getting to them.

It’s at your local independent book store or local public library.

 

Weekend Book Report (4/30/18):   A few weeks ago I bought some books to take along while traveling on a pair of short vacations; I gravitated to the philosophy and religion sections and picked up not one, but two!   The first, “Making Sense of God – An Invitation to the Skeptical” by Timothy Keller (Penguin, 2016) appears at first blush by the cover and liner to be a philosophical discussion covering the realms of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud. Keller, whose background includes studies at Bucknell University, the Gordon-Conwell and Westminster Theologicial Seminaries, is a well-known Christian intellectual who has worked to establish new churches in large cities and is head of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City.  But as a defender and advocate for the Christian faith, the book repeatedly steers the reader back into Christian church doctrine and discounts the skeptics, but not by sweltering in fire and brimstone or the hollow promise of prosperity-based faith of some suburban mega-churches.  Keller’s mission is to connect with the urban masses, and this work reflects the intellectual discussions of faith that are often found in that population.  It’s worthy reading for believer or non-believer alike.

It can be found at your local independent book store or local public library.

 

Weekend Book Report (4/5/18):  From the days of it being used as a medicine, to the craziness of “reefer madness”, the issue of marijuana usage and legal status is featured in my reading this week of “Grass Roots:  The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America” by Emily Dufton (Hachette Book Group, 2017).   Dufton, a Ph.D in American Studies at George Washington University, has presented a well-researched work in the history of the legal issues surrounding the drug (don’t be looking at this book for information about marijuana itself), focusing on the role that activists and others – hippies, suffering patients, moralizing politicians and concerned parents – have had over the years.   Two particularly interesting stories are of “Mary Jane” Rathbun, who baked thousands of marijuana brownies in San Francisco for AIDS patients during the height of the epidemic, becoming somewhat of a folk hero, to Robert Randall, an unassuming, quiet man who found, quite accidentally in his mid-20s, that smoking pot relieved his glaucoma, preserving his vision and as a result, and became the first person to beat government charges against him for possession since it was deemed medically necessary.  The author also recounts the history of the anti-pot groups, including suburban Atlanta parents who wanted to protect adolescents from drug use after finding them stoned at a party that evolved into the “Just Say No” movement, which First Lady Nancy Reagan co-opted for a time until the Reagan administration abandoned their effort by cutting off funds.  Legislation, at the state and federal level, also rides a roller coaster between anti and pro-pot forces, and many of the players, including NORML – (National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws) and it’s leader Keith Stroup,  as well as Stephen Kafoury and Umatilla Republican pig farmer Stafford Hansell, both Oregon State Representatives who introduced the first decriminalization legislation, provide interesting stories on the road to decriminalization.    Dufton wraps up her book without moralizing the issue either way, but provides advice on how to advocate (pro or con) for marijuana legislation, and concedes public opinion may continue to vacillate.  But with 28 states either legalizing recreational or medicinal pot, or both, she concedes that the tide may have turned, especially due to the futility of incarcerating people when so many other more weighty substances (heroin, meth) need to be addressed.   It a great history lesson and worth the read to get context, no matter how you feel about the use of marijuana.

It’s available at your local independent book store or public library.

Weekend Book Report (3/30/18):   My last report was a long read, but this selection was short (30 minutes) but stunningly more powerful, impressive and timely.  “On Tyranny – Twenty Lessons From The Twentieth Century” by Timothy Snyder (Tim Duggan Books, 2017) is a small pamphlet that could well be a “Common Sense” (by Tom Paine) manual for modern times.   With short reflections on history, Snyder, a professor of history at Yale,  states in plain terms the symptoms and danger of the rise of fascism and authoritarianism (from both the Nazi and Communist eras) and more ominously, the tacit approval of it’s growth made by public complacency.   He identifies similarities with modern-day U.S. politics and asserts that although history doesn’t necessarily repeat itself, it does instruct, but its patterns are often forgotten until the populace finds itself as accomplices, willing or not, in perpetrating horrible acts against fellow citizens, forfeiting freedom and destroying Western democracy.  Our Founding Fathers recognized this history and built safeguards in the documents they crafted, but they are only as effective as the defense of those safeguards by the citizenry. The book is in the form of “lessons”, and Snyder lays out, in succinct terms, how to recognize, resist and repel growing authoritarianism – especially as demonstrated since the 2016 election – to preserve our freedom and our democratic republic.  It’s a must read for anyone dedicated to preserving liberty, and fits in your shirt pocket for mobility – and to share.

It’s available at your local independent bookstore (you should buy one when possible and give one as a gift) or your local public library.

Weekend Book Report (3/29/18):  It’s been a while since my last report because my latest read, “Collapse” by Jared Diamond (Penguin Books, 2006), was nearly 600 pages and took a full two weeks of unhurried reading to get through.  Diamond, a professor of geography at UCLA, was the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Guns, Germs and Steel”, and this follow-up work is a comprehensive treatise about various societies in human history that failed, died off, or otherwise disappeared.  The book is divided in four sections; the first two includes the stories of Easter island, Polynesia, the Greenland Norse and societies of the Desert Southwest and Central America (i.e., the Mayans) and examines the actions of each that contributed to their demise, as well as adjacent or nearby societies and settlements that thrived and still do so today (i.e., Iceland).  In an interesting twist, he discusses the competing influences of development in his adopted and favorite home, the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, to frame his debate.    Fast forward to modern societies in the third section, and the author lays out similarities in failed societies actions of the past with those of the present; Rwanda, Haiti, and those who you wouldn’t necessarily think are in danger – China and Australia – whose actions, especially with the squandering of natural resources and introduction of invasive species, put their existence in peril.  It’s a lot of doom and gloom, especially in the last chapter, and the author indicts corporations who act in their own self-interest at the expense of ecological balance and sustainability to much of the blame, but Diamond points out a needed, new recognition that if a society is to exist, survive and thrive, its members need to understand and work toward sustainability, and lays the responsibility of doing so primarily on the general public. ( In other words, don’t count on governments and corporations to do it on their own, although some do).  It’s a long, thorough read, but the chapters and vignettes are easily taken in short segments, and, being written 12 years ago, misses some important developments that have happened since publication.  But it’s worth it to understand human and natural history with this thoughtful and deep work.

It’s available at your local independent bookstore or public library.

 

Weekend Book Report (3/10/18):  There are hundreds of books on relaxation, meditation and self-help, and all seem to have a different method or take on how to cope in a hyperactive, stressful world.  Dan Harris, an news reporter on ABC and a host on Good Morning America, in collaboration with meditation instructor Jeff Warren and writer Carlye Adler, has penned a work – “Meditation for Fidgety Skeptcis” (Penguin / Random House, 2017) – that is part road trip, part meditation practices and part personal story, that is as entertaining as it may be practical for many.  Harris is known (as he affectionately recounts in the book) as the guy who had a panic attack on live television while delivering a newscast (now a famouse You Tube video).  His experience, which he says was from being in overdrive in a competitive industry and probably some drug use to cope with it, drove him to try meditation.  His meditation work wasn’t formal, and it manifested itself in many different ways, but it worked, and his motive is to get folks to try it – in whatever form they can.   After seeing what it did for his life, Harris and met Warren, and together rented a tour bus (once used by musician George Clinton and the band Funkadelic) and toured around the country, encouraging anyone who would listen and visit to try meditation out (guaranteeing it would make them at least “10% happier” – which became the trademark of their tour).  The road trip story, intertwined with meditation methods, advice, benefits and other people’s personal stories of both skepticism and trying meditation out, is an entertaining read that draws in the humor of a Hollywood movie as well as practical advice, and drives home Harris’ point that it’s not a chore or a regimen, and whatever way it works for you will work – so just try it.

It’s available at your local independent book store or local public library.

Weekend Book Report (3/3/18):  At my wife’s recommendation, this week’s reading got away from politics and into history, but in some ways it was environmental politics and history.  “The Invention of Nature – Alexander Von Humbolt’s New World” (Vintage Books, 2015) by British writer Andrea Wulf is a lengthy, comprehensive work on an often-overlooked contributor to exploration and science.  Humboldt was born in Prussia to an entitled, wealthy family, but had an insatiable appetite for science, and was found to study and measure everything.   He was sequestered in Europe by a domineering mother, but after she passed, he took his inheritance and began to explore the world, including notable and consequential trips to the Amazon region of South America, Latin America, and Russia.  He was dutiful and diligent in taking measurements, notes and making drawings of his surroundings, sometimes at his peril; he climbed mountain peaks up to 19,000 feet and explored thick jungles wearing only early 1800’s gear, but always carrying the heavy and clumsy scientific instruments.  The book is rather lengthy, but successfully draws together the notion that Humboldt was the first to claim the intricate connectedness of nature, and mankind’s impact on it (“there are three detriments to the climate”, he says, “deforestation, aggressive irrigation, and the massive amount of steams and gases”).  Wulf also stresses the political impacts Humboldt had on others, he disdained the colonialism of the Spaniards in South America and inspired Simon Bolivar, who was studying in Europe at the time, as well as meetings and influences on Darwin, John Muir, Thoreau and George Perkins Marsh.  A comprehensive and worthy read on the world’s first natural scientist and environmental advocate.

It’s available at your local independent book store or public library.

Weekend Book Report (2/18/18):   Our rights and liberties, enshrined in the Constitution, have occasionally been threatened over the history of our country (Japanese internment, suspension of habeus corpus, among others) and to this day; each time citizens have fought back using our founding document to keep those forces in check.  “Engines of Liberty – How Citizen Movements Succeed” (Basic Books, 2016), by David Cole, the National Legal Director of the ACLU, explores and discusses three major citizen efforts and examines how they prevailed, and he uses these lessons as a cautionary tale on how to resist the propensity of authoritarianism demonstrated by the current administration.  Cole examines the issues of same-sex marriage, individual gun rights, and rights of due process for those detained and arrested without cause, especially at Guantanamo prison.  The author interviewed individuals who were integral contributors, and their methods differed in several ways due to the goals to be achieved.   Same-sex marriage was a right fought to be obtained, individual gun ownership was a 2nd Amendment right to be preserved, and the rendition and detainment of prisoners without process was a basic constitutional and human rights issue dating back to the Magna Carta.  Cole chronicles the work, with the first two finally being addressed by the Supreme Court after being petitioned state by state, and the last issue was resolved by public and media pressure, as well as other western democracies that saw those actions as illegal, and pressured the U.S. with diplomacy and  public statements.  The principles, passion and methods on the road to winning are telling – the stories of the NRA, GLAAD and tireless human rights lawyers are impressive –  and come with a warning; “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”, and Cole also cautions the reader (and by inference, the American people) that sitting and waiting for someone else to do it will not result in success.   Freedom is a contact sport and requires involvement, and his work is a good guidebook to shine light on the darkness of authoritarianism that now shadows our nation.

It’s available at your public library or independent book store.

 

Weekend Book Report (2/14/18):   The storied history of newsman Dan Rather is a book in itself; however this short and and to-the-point series of essays exemplifies his call for a renewed emphasis of American ideals.  “What Unites Us – Reflections on Patriotism” (Algonquin Books, 2017), written in collaboration with colleague Elliot Kirschner, has segments that  Rather says are elements of America that are our country’s signature – Freedom, Community, Exploration, Responsibility and Character.  Each of the themes have chapters that explore and celebrate those issues; and stresses that we haven’t really lost them, but need to rediscover them again, especially in light of the divisiveness that currently plagues our country.  His writing is direct and a compelling read; Rather, at 86, is an American journalistic institution with both dignity and warts, and he makes no illusions about that as well.   His craft reflects his own patriotism, which readers may pay heed and reflect as their own.

It’s available at your local public library or independent book store.

 

 

Weekend Book Report (2/3/18): This book struck me as interesting; since I was quite the “nerd” as a kid, the term “awkward” seemed to relate and drove the selection of this week’s read.  Ty Tashiro, a Ph.D. who received his doctorate in psychology from the University of Minnesota and appears on NPR and TED talks, manages to take all of those pejorative terms and wrap them up into a somewhat-clinical study in “Awkward – the Science of Why We’re Socially Awkward – And Why That’s Awesome” (Harper Collins, 2017).  Starting with his own experience – an uncomfortable meeting-up with an aggressive girl at a junior high dance – Tashiro expounds on those who “march to a different drummer”.  He explains the socially awkward as those who have a differing sense of focusing on what’s important at any given moment; for instance, one who walks into a room and zeroes in on the dog, or inanimate object such as a lamp, at the expense of exchanging greetings and introductions.  It’s a small example, but Tashiro touches on many other aspects of awkwardness in the book, especially with children (who can be taught out of it, taking advantage of the same awkwardness skills).  Awkwardness doesn’t grow out of adults, either, and several chapters are dedicated to defining the issue, as well as the skills to overcome it, whether it’s in the social graces, work, or, ahem, sex – and again, defining them as a strength to be used instead of a handicap.  It’s a fun read, as the Gen X perspective of Tashiro is entertaining for this boomer.  It’s not exactly a public health crisis – but it’s a good insight on why some of us “march to a different drummer” .

It’s available at your local independent book store or public library.

 

Weekend Book Report (1/25/18):  Having taken up writing, studying journalism, and crafting editorial cartoons, I found this time-honored reference book to be dry, occasionally boring, and dull – but inherently indispensable.  The “Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law – 2017” (Basic Books, 2017) is a handy, substantial book compiled and authored by the news co-op.  It is for those who want to not only write news and hone writing skills, but to help in understanding how news reporting, either in print or video, is crafted.  As the year notation implies, it is updated regularly to reflect changes in language, world events and people.  AP has been pretty much free of accusations of bias and scandal; the guidelines for reporter conduct are just as important as the constructs of the language.  The first half of the book is dictionary-like; many common phrases, acronyms and even slang are described as to what they are and how they should be used, and the other half of the book describes terms used in religion, business, sports and straight news with short definitions.  Included in the latter part of the book are important guides on privacy, sources (both confidential and upfront), access to government records and journalism law.  I found this copy at the library, ironically, it’s really one that should be bought and kept around the house, whether you write or not.  It’s got information that can be found useful – just peruse it once to gain familiarity, and you’ll be going back to it for reference many times – whether to enhance your knowledge or maybe even win a trivia game!

It’s available at your local public library or independent book store.

 

 

Weekend Book Report (1/20/18):  As a follow-up to last week’s book about reforming the NSA, I checked out this one about the person whose actions started the crisis.  “How America Lost Its Secrets – Edward Snowden, The Man and The Theft” by Edward Jay Epstein (Alfred Knopf, 2017) is part investigative journalism, part editorial comment and also a “whodunit” spy story about the American who pilfered thousands of top-secret files while working as a contractor for the National Security Agency, and landed in Russia.  Epstein is a noted investigative journalist and former political science professor at MIT, and this work is deep, detailed and rather lengthy.  He interviewed many of Snowden’s associates, acquaintances and others as well as members of U.S., British and Russian intelligence agencies.  He dismisses the popular theme that Snowden was a “whistle-blower”, with the purpose of exposing widespread surveillance and privacy invasion of Americans, and instead characterizes much of his actions as a defector / spy.  Snowden moved between several intelligence contractors, and the exposure afforded him all-too-easy access to top-secret “keys to the kingdom” files, and Epstein’s investigative manner  points out how damaging those exposures were, and also how Snowden received help.  It’s a rather long book, and some of the points are repeated for emphasis, but the chapters are short and concise – making for a good (but, unfortunately, real-life) spy story that critically handicapped the intelligence efforts of the Western democracies.

It’s available at your local public library or independent book store.

 

Weekend Book Report (1/13/18):  This book was as timely as it was informative; “Beyond Snowden – Privacy, Mass Surveillance, and the Struggle to Reform the NSA” (Brookings Institution Press, 2017) by Timothy H. Edgar.  The author is a senior fellow at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs and was an director for civil liberties on the Obama administration’s National Security Staff.  After the revelations of Edward Snowden, which shook public faith and confidence in intelligence gathering with exposing the methods of the NSA taking records on everybody, Edgar chronicles the work at the White House and elsewhere in the struggle to regain the balance of privacy, civil liberties and finding out what the bad guys are doing.  He was an integral part of the intelligence community, and (with some clearance and discretion admittedly issued to him due to national security concerns)  Edgar brings up the dynamic on how intelligence gathering policy is made and executed.  Some didn’t care who got caught up in the sweep (Dick Cheney, in particular)and how it was used; others really wanted to ratchet down the NSA’s capabilities.  Edgar also visited and speaks of other countries’ methods and policies; authoritarian states, as expected, make book on everybody with impunity, while Western democracies (in this case, Germany and Britain) struggle with scope and intent, just like the U.S.  This is not a spy novel, it’s a thoughtful work on intelligence policy based on first-hand experience, and makes an interesting read for those concerned about civil liberties in the world of electronic surveillance.

It’s available at your local public library or independent book store.

 

Weekend Book Report (1/4/17):  After a brief reading respite for the holidays, I dived into a book with a rather rude title, but is quite timely in dealing with the realm of immigration and migration.  “Go Back To Where You Came From” with the subtitle “The Backlash Against Immigration and the Fate of Western Democracy” by Sasha Polakow-Suransky (Nation Books, 2017) is an in-depth work, though some readers may be disappointed because it pivots on mostly European immigration issues, which have been acute in the past several years.  Europe has seen mass migrations before, and the latest wave, mostly from the Middle East and Africa, is different than the last one in the ’90s.  The author, who holds a doctorate in modern history from Oxford (as a Rhodes Scholar) and most recently was an editor for the New York Times and Foreign Affairs magazine, conducted lengthy interviews as well as political analysis as the migration crisis evolved, and found that the political upheavals that have occurred have some similarities the U.S. (although the U.S. immigration challenges seem pale in comparison).  He starts the book with a conclusion – that when one side says “immigration is good for diversity, compassion and labor” and the other says “they are criminals that take our jobs and will replace our way of life” – he finds them both wrong, primarily because of the dynamic and makeup of the immigrants and the ability of a nation to assimilate them – which are both challenges – varies.  The danger he presents is in the populist reactions – often visceral – where basic premises of democracy become imperiled as a result, but also addresses how that challenge can be met.  The book is a must-read for those who are firmly planted in one camp or the other regarding immigration, as it will open your eyes to each political side, as well as the variety of iterations of  human migration –  and the causes that create it, which will continue into the future.

It’s available at your local independent book store or public library.

 

Weekend Book Report (12/16/17):  A lot of talk has been made about a demographic segment of last year’s election; especially of the “working class” – those who voted for Trump and are often derided as bigots and racists.  Joan C. Williams is a Distinguished Professor of Law at UC-California Hastings School of Law, and she dispels these notions (in part) and bridges the gaps in understanding the class conflict in “White Working Class – Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America” (Harvard Business Review Press, 2017).  In short, concise chapters titled with a question (Are they racists?  Why do they hate the poor?) Williams works on understanding the viewpoint from which the white working class operates, as well as the other socioeconomic classes in America.  She spreads blame (but not totally) on all of them for our polarization, and as a result puts forth solutions to enable understanding between them (hint:  one of the first steps is understanding what the different classes are).   It is a short, very easy read, and immensely valuable for any American to help understand what polarizes our nation today – and to fix it.

If available at your local independent book store or local public library.

Weekend Book Report (12/3/17):  Normally, biographies are written about just one person, but this one breaks the rules. “Churchill and Orwell – The Fight for Freedom” by Thomas E. Ricks (Penguin / Random House – 2017) is an intriguing work that follows both men through their lives.  The author, a Pulitzer-prize winner specializing in military history, begins the timeline with both at an early age, and then interweaves the stories of the two throughout their separate experiences – World War I, the Spanish Civil War and World War II.  He does this quite deftly, aligning their common denominators as well as the disparities (Churchill gained notoriety early in his career, and  Orwell was rather obscure and not acclaimed as an author until after his death in 1950).  Both suffered health issues, fought in wars, and both distrusted the exercise of power; but their paths diverge between engagement in the political arena (Churchill) and the circumspect observation of it (Orwell).  Ricks is successful in creating an intriguing read that provides insights into both men, their works and  their influence on both military and political history.

It’s available at your local independent book store or public library.

Churchill and Orwell – T Ricks (Penguin/RandomHouse)

Weekend Book Report (11/26/17):  The provocative title and sale price at the local book store made this an irresistible and interesting read.  The title:  “The End of White Christian America” (Simon and Schuster, 2016) by Robert P. Jones sounds like a poke in the eye, but not intentionally so.  The CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) appears in many religion-news magazines and national media, and in this work he dissects, in detail, the decline of church attendance by whites (but modest rises by blacks and Latinos) and the subsequent convulsing political climate that has emerged.  His work his historical and thorough, addressing the early mixing of religious organizations with politics, and chronicles the rise of the “prosperity doctrine” and the capital that followed, creating exorbitant, luxurious and high-priced churches, and their decline, such as The “Crystal Cathedral” (which was sold in a bankruptcy).   The book is abundant with enough statistics to be in danger of becoming dry; but Jones brings the reader back with the political and cultural implications of a declining, but fiercely dedicated voting bloc, and insights on how it will affect our political future.  It’s an insightful read for those of any political leanings.

It’s available at your local independent book store or public library.

Weekend Book Report (11/17/17):  My local library, in it’s non-fiction section (if you haven’t gathered, that’s where I spend most of my time), occasionally puts books together of a certain “theme”.  In this latest effort, it revolves around political reconciliation – the effort to get bipartisanship back into our political machinations and discourse.  As a result, I tried out “The Parties Vs. The People” by former Congressman Mickey Edwards (2012, Yale University Press).  Edwards, a Republican, served sixteen years in the U.S. House as a representative from Oklahoma, and now serves on the faculty at Harvard and Princeton and writes for The Atlantic magazine.  His message is quite succinct; hyper-partisan politics, driven by party machinery, is part and parcel of the dysfunction of the U.S. political system, and without reform or change, imperils our form of government.  The book is prophetic, as it was written 5 years ago, but still relevant; although it may seem intractable, Edwards proposes several efforts and reforms that will mitigate this dysfunction and put our country’s governance on the right path, but the solution lies with voters.   Getting 50 votes +1, declaring victory and crushing the other 49 isn’t working, so he may be on to something here.  Read it (easily read within a week) and see if you agree.

It’s at your local independent bookstore or public library.

Weekend Book Report (11/10/17):  This is my first Neil deGrasse Tyson book – and I’ve wondered why I haven’t caught his earlier works, as “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (W.W.Norton, 2017) is a fun, short work that makes the subject matter accessible to just about everyone.   It’s a small book and at 221 pages, you’ll easily cover ground in a week as Tyson takes you through the creation of the universe (the first chapter and easily the most steep, but it gets easier after that), why things are round, how planets were formed and gravity.   A few humorous anecdotes and stories are thrown in for good measure.  A pleasurable read, and you might just learn something about this formidable subject matter that Tyson makes easy.

It’s available at your local independent book store or at your public library.

Weekend Book Report (11/3/17):  Social media has been a polarizing influence on politics and relationships, and both have suffered.  What to do?  Brene Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston and also author of the recent best-seller “Rising Strong”,  and has followed up with this book.  “Braving The Wilderness” is a how-to, on a personal level, to address differences of opinion, both on one-on-one and with groups, and create a summation of better understanding as a result, in hope of repairing relationships with our various factions.  With cyberspace becoming a place where words have become weapons and increased politicization, Brown presents strategies and methods in simple forms to combat them, which her book says is indicative of the lack of belonging and a spiritual crisis.  The solution means communication should be in person and adopt the following when engaging it:  people are hard to hate, move in; speak truth to bullshit, be civil; hold hands with strangers; have a strong back, soft front and wild heart.    You may have dissenters, critics and some may belittle and be mean, but to stand your ground (with the metaphoric feeling like you’re “in the wilderness”) in this manner will make you feel better about it, and gain the respect of your opponents as well.  An easy read, and this a book that you should hand off to that person is on the other side of the political fence – so you can both practice it’s recommendations.  We may all get somewhere as a result.

Weekend Book Report (10/29/17):  I missed a week’s worth of reading during a hiking vacation in Canada, but a happy by-product of the trip was stopping in an independent book store in Campbell River and getting this book by renowned Canadian environmental writer, David Suzuki.  The author is well-known in Canada, and in environmental circles in the U.S.  He has written many books and was host of a long-running CBC program, “Nature”.  “Sacred Balance” was originally written in 1997, but Suzuki has annotated the book with updates on recent events and expanding on them.  Whatever version you get, this book is a good read, as Suzuki ties together the mandate of recognizing the environmental damage we create with consumerism and the wasting of natural resources, but reserves the ingenuity of the human race as a strength in resolving them.  Along with chapters on air, water, soil, fire, and plants and animals, Suzuki ties in to other less tangible, but just as important elements – love and spirit – to put the pieces together to have a more wholesome, balanced and sustainable relationship with our planet and all the species who inhabit it.

It’s available at your local independent book store or your public library.

Weekend Book Report (10/5/17):  I set my smartphone down long enough to read this book about the pervasive influence of technology.  “Irresistible” by Adam Alter (Penguin, 2017) is a persuasive work into the why we can’t look away from social media, video games and smartphones – it’s all there by design to keep you hooked – and keep you looking.  Alter, an associate professor at NYU who specializes in psychology and marketing, starts off his book with an interesting anecdote; that Steve Jobs wouldn’t allow his children access to iPads and other devices.  He then enters an “every-man’s” discussion about the causes of addiction, separating the physical addictions of drugs with the behavioral addictions of technology use.  It is a helpful introduction; Alter then gives real-life accounts about real-life addictions of humans to games (especially World of Warcraft) and those who cannot sleep, eat or go to the bathroom without their smartphone nearby; and also talks about “rehab” centers for those whose lives have become unmanageable as a result.  Game and social media designers use behavioral addiction as a scheme, and Alter shows case after case of the methods (“cliffhangers”; “rewards”, etc.) of how they work. The effect on children is presented; since social media cannot discern facial cues and body language, those, especially the young, who have immersed themselves in social media (especially texting) struggle with face-to-face communication.   Although it is frank and brutal on the effects of technology, the author also praises the use of technology in the advancement of our common good; however, it will be wise to “sober up” and learn how the beast can be tamed, or it will tame us.  A good read, then look in the mirror (instead of your smartphone) and see how it affects you.

It’s available at your local independent book store or public library.

Weekend Book Report (9/24/17):  An obsession with safety and protecting ourselves from ourselves to the point of absurdity is the subject matter of this weeks’ read, “Playing By The Rules”, by Tracey Brown and Michael Hanlon (Sourcebooks, 2016).  The duo’s theme throughout the book is the growth of safety regulations, and they point many of them out, including the fact that although you can’t take nail clippers on a plane, but an axe is conveniently attached to  the cockpit door.  Throw in a few more, like an airline pilot who wasn’t allowed to take his fountain pen on board due to the sharp point (his response: “dude, I’m flying the plane”) and a study, a commission and an entire set of regulations to inspect and modify gravestones in England because one fell over and killed a toddler (because he was crawling on top of it).   (The authors seem to pick on England a lot in the book).  The pair do not necessarily think that the addition of onerous rules originate from a nefarious “big brother” mentality, that many come from a political need to react to tragedy;  and that some are justified, especially when well-crafted.  But between the growing safety consultation and implementation industry and someone justifying their existence in the regulation mechanisms created as a result, they become embedded.   They also point out that many regulations emphasize issues that may make one feel safer, but also jeopardize safety since attention that should be made to other more pressing items (yes, you were told to throw away that 12 oz. bottle of shampoo, but do you know where the nearest exit row is?).  Their advice – challenge regulations that seem absurd by “asking for evidence” – not just accepting statements like “it’s the rules”- and things can possibly change (they cite several successful examples in the book).  Wise advice for making some sense in a world strangled by red tape.

It’s available at your local independent book store or public library.

Weekend Book Report (9/15/17):     I was unaware that this week’s book was the part of a trilogy, but nonetheless “Half-Earth – Our Planet’s Fight for Life” by Edward O. Wilson (Liveright Publishing, 2016) is an informative and compelling argument for strategies to save the endangered ecosystems on our planet.  Wilson, the Harvard professor emeritus in biology, winner of two Pulitzer prizes and author of over twenty other respected works, makes an audacious but concrete proposal to save the planet and it’s species – including our own – by dedicating at least half of our planet to ecosystem preservation.  It’s not impossible, he asserts, since so much of the populated areas in the world are urban in nature , and advances in agriculture and energy can support it, as well as an anticipated leveling-off and even decline in human population in the remaining century.   What’s interesting in the book is his detail on the microcosms of ecosystems – stuff we don’t see but affects us when we affect it, and also citing the studies (his own as well as others) of previously unknown relationships between different species.  This aspect of the book is fascinating in it’s own right, but reinforces the argument of preserving ecosystems.  It’s not too deep, and rather enjoyable; and Wilson gives his advocacy good cause and rationale.  He will be on my list for other reading (and there’s plenty of it).

It’s available at your local, independent book store or public library.

Weekend Book Report (9/6/17):  Don’t step on a sidewalk crack, or you’ll break your momma’s back.   Counting the number of letters when someone speaks a sentence.  The stories of hoarders and collectors.  Coming back home to see if you’ve left the coffee pot on – twice.   All these and more are examined in this fascinating book by Sharon Begley, called “Can’t.  Just. Stop. – An investigation of Compulsions”   (Simon & Schuster, 2017). The author, a science editor at the Boston Globe, isn’t a psychologist or behavioral specialist, but her book is a deep and well-researched guide into the quirks that we all have, and examines whether they are really mental illness or just that – human quirks.  Each chapter is centered around a particular compulsion, including OCD, video games and the champion of compulsive behavior – smartphones and social media.  The discipline of studying these issues has been both historically neglected and subject to much debate (although much of it revolves around anxiety); researchers and academics have argued over whether the “addiction of the month” really warrants it’s categorization.  Begley relates tales of other folks crippling OCD and compulsions and how they found relief (completely or at least in part), as well as studies of the brain that tries to identify where those compulsions come from.  It’s an easy and fascinating read, but a little heavy on metaphor in some places; but I think you’ll find places in the book that you can relate.  I know I did (especially about bibliomania – the love of books).

It’s available at your local public library or independent book store.