Weekend Book Report

Reader’s note:  I’ve promised myself to read at least one “real” book a week; so far I’ve succeeded!  I purchase the books locally or check them out from my local library, and add these short reports at the end of the week to generate interest and give my assessment.  This website is a personal blog, volunteered and non-monetized, and accept no advertising or donations.

For an archive of Weekend Book Reports, follow this link:  http://dennistownsend.org/weekend-book-report-archives/

Weekend Book Report (8/17/18):  A break from political matters was in order, so I found this interesting book about another favorite pastime – hiking.  “On Trails – An Exploration” by Robert Moor (Simon and Schuster, 2016) would seem, at first blush, a story of hiking in the woods.  But don’t look for recommendations on hiking boots or places to go here; the author, a Canadian environmental writer that has worked for the New York Times, Harpers and GQ, uses his subject matter in diverse ways – metaphorically and practically.  Humans do not have a monopoly on making paths, which may be obvious, as Moor dives into ancient extinct life forms, such as slime mold, as well as contemporary animals, like ants, to demonstrate that building paths and trails were just as important to those creatures as any other – even 500 million years ago.  Paths evolve in curious ways, he writes, as the original animal trail (be it an elephant or bison) are found to be just as efficient as any highway, and ironically, humans will build them inefficiently to protect from erosion and highlight scenery – an effort not necessarily shared by other humans worldwide.   Moor traveled to many parts of the world to explore how paths and trails evolve (or not), including Newfoundland, where, in a huge open area without trails or paths, he found himself lost, even with a GPS.  His hike on the Appalachian Trail generated his original interest in writing the book, and he also became involved in  earnest plans for an International Appalachian Trail” that would trace the ancestry of the prehistoric super-continent Panagea  from Costa Rica to Morocco.   He sought out and interviewed people (walking with them for days) that have been walking most of their lives, seen by them as an element of freedom (some would call them purposely homeless).  This is an insightful and interesting book for both study of the human element as well as nature in how we get from one point to another.

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

Weekend Book Report (8/9/18):  Inevitably while vacation, I end up at book stores, and this short jaunt was no different.  I picked up four books to read, and the first was this interesting work by Boston University Professor of Religion Stephen Prothero.  “Why Liberals Win – Even When They Lose Elections” (Harper Collins, paperback, 2016) is a fascinating and carefully reasoned study of America’s “culture wars” – and why, ultimately, they make us more inclusive as a nation.  The author starts way back in U.S. history with the Puritans (the original conservatives) and their rigid posture over keeping things controlled, up to the contentious election in 1800, where Thomas Jefferson was called an “atheist, a philanderer” and – get this – “a Muslim”, and the political fractures seemed to threaten the new nation.  Additional examples by chapter include the anti-Catholic, anti-Mormon, anti-immigrant movements of the 19th century, as well as the failures of prohibition and the war on drugs.  Prothero makes interesting points that have merit, although conservatives may bristle when reading them; the deployment of “warfare” analogies in their cause against the left, consistently portraying their plight as victims and as an insult to their way of life (i.e., usually Protestant, white and patriarchal).  Liberals win because conservatives take on the fight when their cause is already lost; which provides conservatives incentive to seek out, identify and fight another cause.  The result has been the end of slavery, women’s suffrage, equal rights for women, and same sex marriage.   The author points out an insightful angle; many of the conservative causes used liberal arguments, and much of the liberal push back was from trademark-conservative fear of the role of “big government”, and each chapter explores this.   Prothero’s summary is that once the polarization is displaced by actual conversation for the common good (which he says, always happens, but not without some pain) the country is put in a better place as a result.  Liberals may cheer this book, but conservatives should read it too (despite any immediate offense at the title) to gain insight to see what they’re fighting for – and more importantly, why.

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

Weekend Book Report (7/27/18):    While browsing my local book store, I came upon this short and easy read that almost feels like ancient history in light of the other developments that have happened since.  “The Bullies of Wall Street” by former FDIC chair Sheila Bair (Simon and Schuster, 2015), is a three-year old book about the traumatic “Great Recession” of ten years ago; but it’s points and information are more relevant than ever.  Bair, a Bush appointee that has worked in several administrations as a public servant, has divided her work in two sections; the first is in the form of stories (names and places changed) that show the damaging effects that the housing bubble and resulting recession had on a personal level (Main Street); the second half is about her involvement, the mechanics, policies and personalities behind what caused it, and describes even worse behavior (spoiler alert:  there are few kind words for Timothy Geithner, and everybody wanted to dump the bailout on the FDIC) by some in trying to get the economy back on it’s feet.  Competing and feuding agencies, and Congressional resistance didn’t help, either.  It’s a simple book; I found it almost too easy to read at first (especially the stories) , but noticed on the liner notes that it was for “12 and up.”  That’s ok with me; kids should read about this historical event as well, as the financial mechanics leading up to the collapse is made easily understandable.  Bair also makes a case for continued financial regulation – “too big to fail” and “too small to save” are not happy choices when Main Street is affected, and we may not have the competence in the current administration to get through another debacle like this.

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


Weekend Book Report (7/23/18):  I drove down the “left” lane with a book  bought at my local independent bookstore a few months ago, and finished it over the weekend.  “Global Discontents – Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy” by longtime linguist and activist Noam Chomsky (Metropolitan Books / Henry Holt Publishing – 2017) is actually a series of interviews with interlocutor (definition: someone engaged in a series of conversations) David Barsamian.  The twelve chapters are similar to a televised interview with a question and answer exchange, and is an easy read, even for the political novice.   Chomsky, now 87, discusses  imperialism, climate change, elections, fearmongering, the Middle East and Israel and a host of other topics, including memories of his childhood in New York City.   As expected from a former opponent of the Vietnam War, an advocate for the Occupy movement and other causes, his comments are highly critical of U.S. involvement in foreign affairs, as well as corporate infiltration and domination of the West’s power structure – at the expense of the environment and human rights.  Also, as expected, his comments are highly effective, simple and logical.  He refers to many of the challenges on the world stage as “dry kindling”, ready to be ignited at any moment and any place that can start a conflagration of human disaster – or lasting change.   Those on the right will bristle, those on the left will cheer, but at any rate the arguments put forth by this long time MIT professor are hard to refute.

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