What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

October 2nd, 2017 — 11:29pm

Category: AM - Autobiography or Memoir, P - Political

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

“History is written by the victor” is a quote by Machiavelli. In this case, it is a loser who tells what happened. Actually, this book is more than an accounting of what happened in the 2016 presidential election in which Hillary Clinton had 2.9 million more votes than did Donald Trump but lost the Electoral College and thus lost the presidential race. This book provides an insight into the persona, personal development and most important, the hopes and aspirations that Hillary Clinton has for this country. She also shares her shock, surprise, disappointment and, devastation that she experienced in losing this election.

Hillary does deliver what the title of the book promises. She explains the story or should we say the non-story of her, “emails. ” and essentially states that FBI Director Comey’s suggestion that she was being investigated for criminal activity concerning her emails which in fact was a very minor situation and that he did not mention that Trump’s campaign was being investigated for the serious activity of colluding with the Russians was quite harmful to her. The suggestion that she was participating in criminal activity that really had no basis but nevertheless gained the news initiative and allowed her opposition to use it against her essentially changed the outcome which all the polls were projecting as a win for her. Clinton also discussed the role of the Soviet Union in cyber attacks on the United States election which are now being developed in the current news stories.

Although she is fairly confident that she would have won the election if it had not been for the timing of Comey’s ill-stated unfair public statements, she also makes an effort to examine how her opponent had tapped into a segment of the U.S. population that was hurting and believed that they were not understood. It’s quite apparent that Hillary Clinton was unambivalent as to her opinion of the character of her opponent. She felt that Trump was a narcissist and a liar. A couple of years ago, I read an interesting book titled The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy. It tells how ex-presidents of the United States get together from time to time to share experiences and engage in discussions and activities which are usually quite cordial and constructive. I could not help but wonder how Hillary might interact with Trump should she be accompanying her husband, former President Bill Clinton, to such a gathering in the future.

I have a photo of Hillary with my then 10-year-old granddaughter which was taken during the 2016 campaign which I titled, “Two future presidents”. Clinton does share her sadness that she has disappointed so many women, young and old, who were expecting her to break through the glass ceiling. In fact, her planned victory speech was going to be in a room with lighting that would give the illusion of a shattered glass ceiling. Hillary shares with the readers how painful it has been to disappoint so many people who pinned their hopes on her for changes and opportunities that would have been related to her accomplishment in being the first woman president of the United States. However, she does appear to be coming around to recognizing that she has set the stage for another woman to accomplish this feat which she hopes will happen in her lifetime. She plans to continue to be active in many ways and I am sure that she will continue to make a difference.

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Behold The Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

September 19th, 2017 — 5:11pm

Category: FG - Fiction General, P - Political

Behold the Dreamers

By: Imbolo Mbue

 

There could not be a more pertinent book to read during the time period that I read this book. The immigration issue, DACA and related subjects are front and center in the current political discussions.

Imbolo Mbue has obviously had some very personal experiences depicted in this book about immigrants struggling to be able to stay in the United States and not be deported. This is the plight of the two main characters, Jende and Neni, a married couple from Cameroon in Africa now living in New York City and having two children. He works as a chauffeur for a wealthy businessman and Neni, his wife, takes care of the children and works, and is studying to be a pharmacist. They have a flimsy story as to why they should be allowed to stay in the United States and they are living from court date to court date with tremendous anxiety whether or not they will be deported.

There is a very engrossing storyline that makes a great drama as well as informing us of the nature of the relationship between these struggling immigrants. We come to understand the legal intrigues as well as the most personal feelings that may be experienced by people going through this situation.

The writing is excellent, although I had one complaint with the author’s style and format. During several points in the story, I was totally engrossed and on the edge of my seat swiping page after page on my iPad when the author adds a chapter that goes back in time in order to help develop the character or provide background information. I personally found that a distraction and wish she could have found another method to achieve her goal of enlightening the reader with more background.

I came away from this book with a new and deeper appreciation of the current immigration crisis. But really, as moving as this story, it is obviously a tale of only one couple and their individual story struggling for the right to stay in the United States. There must be thousands of other scenarios and I feel we have only scratched the surface but nevertheless it was a worthwhile experience.

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Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood With Britain In their Darkest Hour by Lynne Olson

September 7th, 2017 — 5:54pm

Category: P - Political

Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood With Britain In Their Darkest Hour by Lynne Olson

I thought that I had a pretty good understanding of the famous cast of characters behind the scenes of World War II. Growing up in the post-war years, I read many books and followed radio, television and movies on this subject. I certainly heard the previous generation talk about FDR and the New Deal. Also, Edward R. Murrow was one of my heroes and I collected his I Can Hear It Now record albums and as a youngster, I followed his TV shows Person To Person and other productions, and even tried in a small way to emulate him during college as I had a radio program called Face the Mike. But I must admit after reading Citizens of London, I realized that I  “didn’t know squat” which really means I didn’t appreciate what was really going on during this fascinating time in history.

This book puts the spotlight mainly on three people:

Gil Winant who was Ambassador to England from the United States during World War II.

Averell Harriman, who was in charge of Lend-Lease and a confidant of Roosevelt and Churchill.

Edward R. Murrow, who was the iconic radio newsman who made memorable broadcast from England back to the United States.

In addition, this book provided an amazing insight into the thinking of Winston Churchill and FD Roosevelt, as well as Dwight Eisenhower and the people around these great men.

This book also captures, in depth, the atmosphere in Britain from the late 1930s to the post-war years. The author provides insight into the thinking and feelings of the citizens of London, as well as the Americans who, for various reasons, spent much of his period in this very special city. We come to see and understand the contrast between England as they battled the Nazis, who eventually took over Europe, and the Americans on the other side of the pond who were very reluctant to get involved in the war. In Britain, they were rationing food while America was coming out of a depression and beginning to enjoy prosperity.

It took the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to get the United States to finally join the British in the war against Germany. This book gives us an inside view of the bustling City of London as hundreds of thousands, if not more, of the allied soldiers gathered to await for D-Day. We see this city become a vibrant place, despite having been heavily bombed by the Germans,  that would endure even more severe V2 rocket attacks later in the war.

I also had no idea of the disputes and infighting between the British generals and their American  counterparts, as well as the jostling between FDR and Winston Churchill. It was especially interesting to see the behind-the-scene interactions when these great leaders held their secret meetings during the war  or as they communicated back and forth through their emissaries.  We are also given the sense of the complicated post-war planning or should I say the serious lack of such planning that created many difficulties when the war finally ended. It was an amazing disparity between the jubilant United States at the end of the war that was looking forward to an expanding economy, an equally jubilant, liberated and unscared Paris, filled with victorious soldiers and grateful citizens, whereas London was still climbing out of the devastating damage from the bombing, rationing and the scourge of war  as the Americans found their way home.

This book couldn’t cover everything in depth and it is a little light in discussing the extent of the holocaust. It did describe perhaps Edward R. Murrow’s most dramatic radio broadcast back to the United States (even more memorable than the broadcast from a US bomber over Germany that was nearly blasted from the sky) and that was the broadcast of Murrow’s description after he entered the Buchenwald concentration camps with the US troops. As he witnessed the unspeakable horrendous sights  he nevertheless did find the words to describe them, despite his tears.

Lynne Olson has tapped many historical resources, published diaries, as well as archives about the war to provide a vivid and sometimes a very personal behind-the-scenes account of World War II. She has framed this story by focusing on a handful of participants, one of which is the City of London itself. The author also pulled aside the curtain that  usually covers the personal lives of these famous participants. The wind and heat of war apparently led to various romantic liaisons in the three major subjects of this book, Winant, Harriman and Murrow and even involved trysts with women of the Churchill Family. There was even an unexpected very sad suicide by one very important character in this book.

This is a very well done, informative and interesting book that well deserves your attention.

 

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How It All Began by Penelope Lively

August 19th, 2017 — 10:55am

Category: FG - Fiction General

How It All Began   by Penelope Lively

I must confess that circumstances led me to read this book over a more prolonged period of time than usual. I believe my appreciation for the story suffered because of this. The premise of this book is that events that occur in one person’s life will influence and even change the course of the life of another person which will impact and change the course of still another individual and so on and so on. The seminal event from the author’s point of view in this story was the mugging of an elderly woman which caused her to have a broken hip which led her to move in with her daughter and son-in-law which caused her daughter to take off from work and then brought about changes in the trajectory of other people. Needless to say there were events which led the woman and her mugger to cross paths which were not explained in this book

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t quite get with the flow of the story but I did appreciate the engaging style of writing of Ms. Lively. The story of each person might very well have been developed into an interesting novel itself. However, from my point of view, the overall experience of this novel was not a satisfying one.

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Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

July 13th, 2017 — 9:44pm

Category: HI - History, P - Political, Social

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Much to my chagrin, I thought that I was reading a fiction novel until I concluded the book and read some notes by the author. It was then that I understood that the book is a true account of specific real people living in Annawanda, a slum on the outskirts of Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) India. The author kept detailed notes about her interviews and discussion with the people described in this book. Everything in the book is purported to be true!

I come away from this experience with insight into the life of living in a slum in India. It is most depressing to realize the demeaning life that so many people are living there. It is especially disheartening to appreciate how so many children are deprived of an education and instead have to accept their role of hard labor at a young age. If something can even be worse than this, it is the type of work that these youngsters must pursue. Of course any type of child labor is deplorable but for the children of Annawanda and other such areas, a major work endeavor is scavenging garbage on a daily basis in order to come up with anything of value which might include used paper cups, uneaten food, scraps of metal and whatever. At times these children would seem to be from age 10 upward. They would find their lives endangered from security guards or dealing with risky physical hazards. Other times we learn how such children suffer the health consequences by incurring diseases and infected skin lesions by their daily submersion in garbage. The fact that their parents and other elders tolerate these activities by their children, have encouraged it as well or even joined them in some aspect of this work, only demonstrates the degenerate nature of their life.

It is ironic that these things are happening in a democratic country, which appears to have free elections. However, this book gives us a close look at the level of corruption among politicians at all levels, police and seemingly among just about any person who has any authority or advantage over another person. Paying bribes is an acceptable way of life even if these payments may be diminishing the food from their families.

Certainly this book is well written. The subject matter is riveting, if for no other reason that it is unbelievable. Does a woman with one leg being set on fire by herself or perhaps assisted by someone close to her, provide a dramatic scenario? Imagine a prolonged trial for this incident in which one of the defendants is a child being tried in juvenile court, all fraught with corruption and bribery.

Katherine Boo is a first time author who worked as a writer for New Yorker Magazine for many years and has spent a great deal of time reporting from poor countries. She is the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award. It must have been an emotionally painful experience to have been so close to the depravity and misery that she reported in this story.

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The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

June 29th, 2017 — 11:44pm

Category: FG - Fiction General

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

This book as the title suggests is about books and people who love them and love each other.

The story takes place mostly on Alice Island, a small island off the coast of New England. In reality there is no such place but it reminds me of Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket. On this island there is a book store owned and run by a middle-aged man A.J. Fikry who had suffered the premature death of his wife. He also has had the unusual experience of having a woman who he did not know, leave her two year old in his bookstore before she ended her own life by walking into the ocean. Unexpectedly, he decided to adopt this infant and raise her. There is one more event necessary to set the scene for this novel and that is the appearance of Amelia, the new representative from a publishing company whose job would be to periodically a few times a year take the ferry to Alice Island where she would interact with the owner of the bookstore about new book releases. There is chemistry between A.J. and Amelia but there doesn’t seem to be an easy way for them to blend their lives.

There are other important characters in this book including Ismay, the sister of A.J.’s departed wife and Lambiase, a local police officer who falls under the spell of books and this bookstore.

There is an important concept in psychiatry called psychic determinism, meaning that all things are determined by events that occurred in the past. Our lives are altered by our interactions with various people, places and events. There are obviously an infinite number of examples how the existence of one element might change many lives. In this case we come to appreciate how this one bookstore and many of the people who came through its doors were altered and determined.

While I did enjoy this novel I also felt that I missed a good deal of appreciating the depth of it because there were many references to books that I have not read. In fact, each chapter started off with a reference to a classic story, which I am sure added to the enjoyment by those who read and remembered that book.

Finally, this novel also provided a reminder of how modern technology may be changing the bookstores of the world forever. At one point in the novel, A.J.’s mother appeared with gifts for adults and the child which consisted of E-readers. A.J. understandably didn’t like the idea of such a gift. We read this novel on an E-reader and we are little sad to say that we don’t know if we will find a reason to set foot in a bookstore again. Unlike the situation in this novel where book clubs were held in the bookstore, our own book club takes place in our members’ homes. This novel may very well end up belonging to the category of historical novels.

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Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer

June 20th, 2017 — 1:27pm

Category: FG - Fiction General, HI - History, P - Political

 

Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer

A successful, happily-married jeweler, father of two children, is in his store in Tehran, Iran, when he finds a man pointing a rifle at him and saying, “We’re here by orders of the Revolutionary Guard.” The year is 1979 and the Shah and monarchy of this country has been toppled.

As we get into this well-written historical novel, we find it very easy to identify with the members of this family, as well as with their hopes and aspirations. We can put ourselves in their shoes and relate to the father, Isaac, his wife, Farnaz, and their two children. It was only when their world was turned upside-down by Isaac being led away for interrogation and stay in prison of which his release was possible but so was execution, that we were entering into an unimaginable set of circumstances. The difference between his life and death while in captivity might be whether he would reveal information about “questionable” relatives or friends who may have supported the toppled shah or his government in any way. What would we have done?

From time to time we meet people who were born in Iran or their parents were born there, but we never imagined what they may have experienced. We probably know more about the Holocaust having spoken with or heard accounts by survivors in real life or from books and movies. There was one account in this book describing an Iranian man who had escaped to the United States and was a successful florist. It was revealed that the man had been a well-known university cardiologist in Iran before he was forced to leave in order to survive. Once in the United States, he couldn’t imagine going back to school and trying to get credentials and certifications to become a doctor again. So, he put his energy and creativity to becoming a successful florist. Once again, we think, what would we have done? Or perhaps the lingering question is could we have done what most of the characters in this book have done?

This book is apparently inspired by some actual experiences by the author as well as some understanding into what members of her family have gone through. The book is well-written. It serves not only as an insight of the history, but also as a solid description of family relationships and family psychodynamics. I highly recommend this it.

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Thank You for Being Late; An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Acceleration by Thomas L. Friedman

April 5th, 2017 — 10:23pm

Category: E- Economic, HI - History, P - Political

Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Acceleration by Thomas L. Friedman

This by far is one of the most interesting, enlightening, and engrossing books that I have read in a long time and I have been reading some pretty good books.

Thomas Friedman has been a reporter, New York Times columnist and author who has been awarded Pulitzer Prize three times for his work. He has the uncanny ability to describe and provide insight into our modern society and where we are going from a historical, political, scientific, and humanistic viewpoint. He draws his experience and insight from his decades of reporting in the Middle East, Washington, DC, growing up in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, having met world renowned people in all walks of life including a parking lot attendant who he met who also writes a blog read in 30 different countries.

I know that the world in which my grandchildren are growing up is vastly different than my childhood experiences but Friedman with a simple explanation demonstrates how different it really is especially driven by technology. He cites “Moore’s Law” which is “the observation at the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years” (which reflects the accelerating scientific advancements in the world). Friedman then asks the reader to imagine the magnitude of change by visualizing a chessboard and putting the grain of sand on the one square and then doubling the amount of sand on each of the successive squares (64 in total on a chessboard). I googled the amount of sand that would be on the last box. It would be 18,446,744,073,709,551,600 grains of sand. It is this projection which illustrates how much scientific advancement is available to neutralize the statistics that show potential climate change, famine, unemployment, population growth, etc. etc.

Friedman wades into so many problems that our changing world is facing but emerges with an optimistic view that we can adapt as Mother Nature has been adapting since the birth of our planet (with the help of Moore’s Law). He concludes his book by turning inward and trying to understand himself and the community from where he came. He reviews his years growing up and reviews some recent visits to time visiting St. Louis Park, Minnesota which is a small suburban town where he attended public school and Hebrew school. He examines the values he extracted from his childhood experiences and also optimistically observes how this town is changing today with the new generation of immigrants but yet adapting and solving problems the way he hopes the rest of the country and the world will adapt. While he briefly mentioned his own parents and how they influenced him, I believe he underestimates the impact of the nuclear family and early childhood experiences.

Despite the above, this is not a simple homey book. Friedman deals with most subjects in great depth. He not only shares his own opinion but he cites statistics and conversations with wide variety of experts in every aspect of the subject matter. He reviews statistical trends, history, and in-depth discussions with many people. The hard copy version of this book is a solid 496 pages. You will come away from reading this book invigorated, knowledgeable and perhaps some of Friedman’s optimism will rub off on you.

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The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs

February 28th, 2017 — 4:49pm

Category: B - Biography

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs

As is often the case, 30-year-old Jeff Hobbs had drifted apart from his college roommate when he learned that Robert Peace had tragically been killed. (No spoiler here as the title suggested it all). They had occasionally been in contact in the seven or eight years since they graduated from Yale. Hobbs was a budding writer with a novel under his belt. It must have been a combination of his knowing that his old roommate’s life was a story worth telling and his own grieving process that made him embark upon this project.

Once Hobbs decided to write a full book about Rob’s life, he spent about three and a half years talking to Rob’s family, especially Jackie, his mother, close friends, classmates and even some drug dealers. Hobbs basically reconstructed Rob’s life with a vivid description of events and circumstances including meaningful conversations that Rob had with various people in his life. The reader gets an insight into this young man’s intelligence and his feelings about other people. The story gives us a painting of how Rob grew up and how hard his mother worked to support him and motivate him. She worked numerous hours while also caring for her own sick mother. Rob’s close relationship with his father was very important to him. He visited his father in prison frequently for many years until his father died in prison while Rob was in college. Rob also worked even as a teenager, studying legal books to try to help his father appeal his conviction for murder for which he may have been wrongly convicted.

The reader understands Rob as a poor, very bright African-American young man who learned to navigate the streets of his New Jersey neighborhood Orange near Newark, as well as a Catholic High School and then Yale We appreciate how Rob handled the drug environment where he grew up and the mostly marijuana use that he saw at college and even became a trafficker in it. We viewed Rob at times as a scientist who studied molecular biology as a student and a researcher. We viewed him as an outstanding water polo player in high school and college and even after college, we see him struggling to find himself and plan for a possible future career at the same time that he was supporting himself by selling marijuana. He was a sensitive, empathic friend to many who was always ready to be very supportive in any way that he could.

The reader has to ask the question, did Rob’s life have to end the way that it did? It wasn’t just bad luck. There obviously were things that he could not overcome. Since this has become a popular book, it will be read by many young people including some poor bright kids like Rob, probably many African-American young men. Most will probably ask this same question, did his life have to end the way that it did? At one point while in college, he was called on the carpet by the school dean for selling marijuana. He could have been expelled but he was given a slap on the wrist and told not to do it again. We know that you can’t force people to enter therapy but I can’t help wondering if Rob had ever found his way into psychotherapy and had a meaningful relationship with a therapist, maybe he could have made the connections that might have derailed him from the bad decisions and indecision that occurred in the last year of his life.

This man obviously impacted many men and women as a teacher, coach and friend. In that way, he made a positive difference in people’s lives. This well-written book will also allow his life story to continue to influence others so the short life of Robert Peace won’t be so short after all.

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Just Mercy -A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

February 20th, 2017 — 2:56pm

Category: AM - Autobiography or Memoir, O - Other - Specify, P - Political

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

I must admit that when I started this book, I was not in favor of the death penalty, mainly because I felt there might be some isolated cases where someone might be executed when they were innocent and actually did not commit premeditated murder. Now after having read this eye-opening excellent book. I am strongly against the death penalty for many reasons. I have a much more enlightened view of the criminal justice system in the United States and the tremendous injustices brought about by mass incarceration particularly in the south, to blacks and also to children who are often tried and sentenced as if they were grown adults. I had no idea of the miscarriages of justice that occur in this country.

The person I have to thank for this new valuable insight is the author of this book, Bryan Stevenson. Through his writing, I learned how as a Harvard law student, he volunteered to assist a small group working in Alabama to appeal death sentences of of prisoners on death row. His interest in this work led him to devote his career to working in this area and ultimately founding the Equal Justice Institute in Alabama. He has won relief for dozens of condemned prisoners, argued five times before the Supreme Court and won national acclaim for his work challenging bias against the poor and people of color. He has received numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” grant.

In this book, Stevenson allows the reader to understand in great detail how in many cases, clearly innocent people were railroaded through the criminal justice system to a guilty and death penalty sentence. Improper jury selection, failure of defense lawyers to bring in witnesses or important exculpatory evidence, prosecutors who hid important evidence from the defense and judges making improper rulings were just some of the factors which put innocent people on death row. There also were numerous examples of people being sentenced to death in prison (meaning a life sentence) often for non-homicidal crimes. There also was a description of the treatment of children to the same fate. Many of these teenage kids, sometimes 13 years old, were clearly innocent or were only peripherally involved in a non-homicidal crime but nevertheless were sentenced to death in prison via a life sentence. The predominance of these injustices occurred in southern states mainly to blacks which revealed this phenomenon as an extension of slavery in this country. Speaking of slavery, I could not believe the forced coercion that occurred in many prisons which was clearly cruel and unfair. Any failure of these prisoners to participate in such activities which might be picking cotton or operating sometimes dangerous machinery for long hours could lead to very uncomfortable solitary confinement as well as beatings and other violent attacks.

It is one thing to discuss all this issues with statistics and general statements which were then documented. In fact, seven and a half percent of this book was made up of documented lawyer-like references or citations to substantiate the terrible injustices described. However, it is even more effective when the author goes into great detail describing the history of real people whose lives are destroyed by unfair imprisonment and horrendous treatment. Mr. Stevenson’s personal interaction with many of these prisoners brings them to life in the pages of this book and makes a need to improve our justice system all the more imperative. It is also easy to empathize with his feelings not only for the innocent unfairly treated adults and children, but even those who were guilty of crimes and may deserve some punishment but also deserve our mercy.

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