Monday, July 24, 2017

Climate Change and the Health of Nations (Anthony J. McMichael)

Climate Change and the Health of Nations was written by Anthony J. McMichael and published after he passed away in 2014.  McMichael was an epidemiologist at Australian National University and spent a significant amount of his career researching the impact of climate change on human health.  His work is a remarkable historical reflection of that but sadly doesn’t finish up what was started due to his death.

The author spends much of his book noting the historical ebb and flow of Earth’s climate, its significance on life, and the impact that disease and illness have had on populations over the era of human existence.  McMichael ties in natural fluctuations in climate to changes in agricultural productivity during human existence and how they impacted disease spread.  As an example, the spread of Bubonic Plague in the 6th and 14th centuries was tied directly to temperature changes that occurred in various parts of the world, spread by human migration and trade.  The author ties all of these points together with solid impact to deliver a very solid first 200+ pages.

In my opinion, more attention should have been given to potential impacts of future climate change on human health.  Whether the author’s passing lead to an abbreviated closure or whether it was an oversight is not important -- but it does fail to bring proper closure to the book given how much time was spent talking about human health and climate.  While some health impacts are discussed, more attention could have been given to future health and economic impact for Earth’s populations and less to politics to deliver a more powerful concluding impact. Climate change as a subject, whether we like to admit it or not, has become overtly politicized, and it would have been refreshing to see a less political ending

Monday, July 10, 2017

#Republic (Cass R. Sunstein)

#Republic by Cass R. Sunstein breaks down our fragmented ways of consuming news and information, showing how it has lead to increased partisanship and decreased respect for those whose views may not be our own.  Sunstein worked in both the Clinton and Obama administrations in different capacities but has his finger on the pulse of understanding how our consumption of information and news has become more partisan and increasingly crafted to our perceived views as time has progressed.  He places a chunk of the blame for this at the feet of Facebook, for crafting newsfeeds around what it thinks is our views.

The author is great at acknowledging the increasing divisions politically and socially but struggles to nail down strong arguments for how to fix it.  He lists a myriad of options but does not settle on a list of ideas that he feels are most effective to counter our divisive world, nor does he challenge us as a society to rise above the curation and handcrafted newsfeed to seek out views that dissent with our own.  He suggests some various options that Facebook and Twitter can try out but leaves little of the challenge at Americans themselves, who have largely grouped into various social media herds.

#Republic is an effective read at understanding the current environment and listing a number of suggestions that Sunstein argues may start fixing it.  Where he misses the mark is in not putting more onus on Americans to think critically and to seek views outside of their “herd” in helping shape their views, nor does he put more pressure on traditional media sources to adhere to a higher standard and avoid the sensationalism of BREAKING stories nonstop. 


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

See What I Have Done (Sarah Schmidt)

Lizzie Borden -- just hearing that name makes most people shiver.  What happened on that fateful day in 1892 continues to fascinate even in the year 2017.  But still to this day, no one is 100% sure exactly what happened, and Lizzie herself was never convicted of the brutal murder of her father, Andrew Borden, and his wife, Abby.

Sarah Schmidt's See What I Have Done attempts to make sense of the gruesome event in Fall River, Massachusetts.  The story goes back and forth in time and is told from four viewpoints: Lizzie's, her sister Emma's, housemaid Bridget's, and perceived stranger Benjamin's.  The strongest voice here is Bridget's, who offers a "fly on the wall" perspective that's the most interesting.  Schmidt strongly emphasizes the senses in her writing, which works in some instances but seems to bog down the novel in other ways.  For example, her obsession with minute details such as rotten mutton stew makes the book lose momentum, at least for me.

Schmidt is surely a talented writer, but I'm not understanding the rabidly high reviews for this one (as they say in books, to each his own).  It's a solid debut novel but not a slam dunk.


Friday, June 30, 2017

Whereas (Layli Long Soldier)

Whereas is a collection of poems by Layli Long Soldier, a Native American residing in New Mexico whose poetry has been published in numerous outlets in recent years.  Her work is a reflection of her Lakota heritage and the history of struggle her nation has endured throughout America’s existence as settlers steadily encroached on land the Lakota had lived on for thousands of years.  Her poems are uniquely about her life and her existence as she struggled to find her voice while growing up, using poetry as the way to express herself.

Reviewing poetry is something we have never done here at 1776 Books, and taking on a collection of modern poetry is definitely outside of our “norm” for reviewing. However, Long Soldier’s story and her expressive writing flow creatively, albeit not easily, throughout the book's 100 pages, 30 of which are appropriately titled Whereas statements that peel away at the first word of the apology offered by the United States to Native Americans in 2009.  These raw arguments make the official apology feel quite hollow by the time Long Soldier is done dissecting it.

Poetry readers may need to reflect slowly on Whereas -- it is not the easiest, breeziest poetry you will read but the message is powerful.  If you wish to be challenged and want to devour arguments that may challenge your thinking, Whereas is for you. 


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Woman in Cabin 10 (Ruth Ware)

It's the rare book that I read over a 24-hour time period.  I usually like to savor novels over a few days/weeks, especially the ones I'm particularly enjoying.  Ruth Ware's The Woman in Cabin 10 was the exception, as I couldn't put it down and raced to the end to see how Ware would finish it.

Travel journalist Lo Blacklock has just been burglarized at her home but doesn't want to cancel the major assignment she's been given at work: to write about her experience during a week on a new cruise boat.  At the beginning, everything seems wonderful -- luxurious accommodations, delicious food/drink, and pleasant travel companions.  This is a tiny vessel, with only ten cabins, but the last cabin is empty due to a cancellation.  But one night, Lo hears what sounds like someone being dumped overboard from that cabin; she can't get anyone to believe her though because that cabin is supposed to be empty.  Except it isn't -- Lo had previously knocked on that door and talked with the woman who she thought was the inhabitant.  So what's going on here?  Did Lo witness something horrible?  Is she going mad because of the burglary?  As readers, we're never quite sure.

With the mysterious premise and plenty of suspects to go around, The Woman in Cabin 10 reads like an Agatha Christie novel.  It's well written with tons of twists, and Ware succeeds in giving the reader the same sense of claustrophobia that Lo is going through.  I couldn't put it down.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

How to Find Love in a Bookshop (Veronica Henry)

When you pick up a novel titled How to Find Love in a Bookshop, you pretty much know you're not going to get elements like crime and suspense.  But that doesn't make Veronica Henry's book any less important than the Erik Larson and Stephen King titles out there.  Because in this day and age, sometimes all it takes to make you feel better is a few hours spent in an enchanting bookshop.

Julius Nightingale is the beloved owner of Nightingale Books, a place where one is always welcome to peruse for hours and the right book will almost certainly make it into your hands.  Julius passes away with a few secrets, including the fact that the bookshop is in trouble.  It's up to his daughter, Emilia, to save the store if she wishes.  In addition to this main arc, the reader is introduced to a whole other cast of characters, but all of them are tied nicely into Nightingale Books.

I simply loved this novel -- there, I said it.  You could almost say that Nightingale Books itself was the main character, and I know I'm not giving anything away (because why would you pick this book up if you didn't know this?) by saying that everyone's storyline comes to a lovely resolution.  How to Find Love in a Bookshop is the novel that people need right now...period.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Grave New World (Stephen D. King)

Stephen D. King’s Grave New World is a thorough discussion of the current global world, divided not as much between conservative and liberal thinking as between globalization and nationalism. The book tackles much of the current state of affairs in Britain with Brexit, America with the current political environment, and elsewhere around the world, neatly packaging a short history of how we got to where we are.

From there, the picture muddles.  While King’s book offers an excellent summary explaining why the world is in its current political state, there is not much concrete substance to promote sound solutions to appease either side of the debate, offering some arguments for continuing international partnerships like NATO and the UN but not more suggestions on how to strengthen those partnerships or how to adapt those that exist to fit a world that is evolving fast.  The instances where he does go into some level of substance on tackling the problems can come across a bit wonky, and King spends a fair amount of time challenging those who are against NATO, the UN, etc. to come up with reasons why nationalism makes sense given the challenges that are on the horizon politically in Russia and China.  He also challenges the global community to sell the deal better but doesn’t offer much in solutions on how to get those who have been burned by automation and free trade back on track.

If you’re into economics, history, and/or politics, and can approach those topics from a non-biased perspective, King provides a great backdrop on how we’ve arrived at the current place we're in and makes a broad argument for global partnerships based on history, economic impact, and overall prosperity that globalization has brought the world through time. The suggestions to improve our partnerships domestically and abroad, however, come up a bit light in my eyes, and it prevents a good read from being a great one