Monday, October 26, 2020

The Night Swim (Megan Goldin)

Because of the cover and description, I went into Megan Goldin's The Night Swim thinking that it was going to be a psychological thriller. Instead, it's more of a crime drama that you might see on television -- with some surprises, but mostly predictable twists.

Rachel Krall hosts a true crime podcast, with each series of the podcast covering a particular trial. This time, she is in Neopolis for a rape trial. Here, a star swimmer and Olympic hopeful is on trial for raping another high school student. In between covering the trial, she also begins receiving letters from Hannah Stills, whose sister Jenny was brutally raped and murdered in the same town twenty-five years ago. Hannah asks Rachel for help in finally bringing her sister's murderer to justice. While investigating, Rachel finds startling connections between the two cases. 

Goldin covers the topic of rape with sensitivity, however, I didn't find the writing very powerful. As I said, I expected more suspense. All in all, I found The Night Swim to be very average.



Saturday, October 3, 2020

The Best Presidential Writing: From 1789 to the Present (Edited by Craig Fehrman)

America’s near 250-year history as a nation has changed dramatically in how the presidency has been viewed and used by the men who have occupied the office. Their words, or words that have been written for them, reveal much about how they thought, why they acted the way they did, and their beliefs in governing and leadership.

Craig Fehrman has chronicled many of their speeches and excerpts from past books for a collection of The Best Presidential Writing.  While not every White House occupant was granted a seat at this table (sorry James Buchanan and Zachary Taylor, among two examples), many consequential speeches and excerpts from presidential writing were. Fehrman takes great care in showing the reader how the presidency evolved, not only in how they viewed themselves and wrote about themselves, but also in the manner and tone of speeches and addresses that they delivered.

I enjoyed reading The Best Presidential Writing, as it was a reflection of us as a nation, its continual evolution, and how we still have so far to go to become the “more perfect Union” that was outlined in the Constitution’s preamble. Fans of history and biographies will enjoy Fehrman’s curation of writing and speeches and how the story of our nation evolves and is shaped through these men's words.


Monday, September 28, 2020

The Compleat Victory: Saratoga and the American Revolution (Kevin Weddle)

Kevin Weddle’s account of the American Revolution’s Saratoga Campaign, The Compleat Victory, is a well-written chronicle of what is arguably the turning point of the American Revolution.

Weddle walks readers through the British and American perspectives of the battles, the early struggles the Americans had in fighting back British advances from Canada, and the series of strategic miscues made by British leadership and field commanders which paved the way for the surrender of British forces in October 1777. The author then discusses the subsequent turn of events after the American victory, which included not only France’s support of the American cause but also the potential power play to usurp George Washington’s command.

Most of us are aware that the Saratoga battles mark the point when America’s fight for independence went from fighting chance to legitimately possible. Weddle takes our basic knowledge of the campaign and adds the strategic moves and tactics throughout the events of the Saratoga campaign, tying them to create the inside information on how the Americans won in Upstate New York. The Compleat Victory is well worth your time if you have an interest in historical battles and the American Revolution.



Thursday, September 3, 2020

Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway (Michael Riedel)

In Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway, journalist and theatre critic Michael Riedel takes readers into one of the most transformative decades in Broadway history -- the 1990s. In addition to British musicals like Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera staying fan favorites, musicals like Rent, The Lion King, and The Producers made their wildly popular debuts.

But lest you think everything was covered in roses in the '90s, Riedel also takes us behind-the-scenes of Broadway's total flops, shocking downfalls, and bitter disputes. He also goes beyond the '90s to September 11, 2001, sharing how New York mayor Rudy Giuliani asked Broadway to reopen just two days later to allow people to come together and boost morale.

The weakness of The Truimph of Broadway? Many fans probably know some of these stories already. However, whether you know them or not, The Triumph of Broadway is still an enjoyable walk down memory lane.


Available November 10, 2020

Saturday, August 22, 2020

A World Without Work (David Susskind)

British economist David Susskind's A World Without Work tackles the future of work and jobs. Susskind argues that Artificial Intelligence and technology have fundamentally transformed everything about the role of work in the 21st Century and that policymakers and educators need to think of solutions to adapt to a world where jobs will likely be fewer in number and the skills needed for those jobs will be fundamentally different than those required today.

Susskind’s book traverses through the Industrial Revolution and into the technological revolution, showcasing various predictions that have not panned out while highlighting the increasing trends of wealth inequality and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a number of companies and individuals. Solutions include shorter work weeks to ensure more labor is distributed, reforms to the social safety net (including forms of basic income, skills and technical training) and tax reform.

In short, the book seems lofty on aspiration and light on pragmatism given the current political realities that both the US and Britain are experiencing. There are certainly some solutions that need to be discussed as part of decreasing wealth inequality and providing a stronger safety net. The author does acknowledge that the problems will be hard to solve but seems to breezily offer an optimism that these problems will be solved for the betterment of all. 


Saturday, August 15, 2020

A History of Solitude (David Vincent)

Author David Vincent tackles centuries of history of solitude with the aptly titled A History of Solitude. The book takes the reader on a journey through the idea of spending time alone - how it was seen as a rare treat given the circumstance of many people in cramped places combined with working long hours in various capacities. Today, given smaller family units and many others living together, the definition of solitude has evolved...and in some instances, taken on an alert status. An example would be the research and news about “loneliness epidemics," which prompted the United Kingdom to establish a Minister of Loneliness.

Vincent’s journey through the story of solitude weaves between religion and secularism, hobbies and abbots, and how increased education, wealth, and technology have helped adapt and evolve the pursuit of “me time." The author also looks briefly into the future and how technology may make the pursuit of authentic solitude harder to accomplish.

I thought the book had a slow start, but as I continued to read, I found the evolution of activities and how solitude has changed more and more fascinating. While the book is written with a highly British-oriented perspective, its common story in sharing how solitude has evolved thanks to technology, affluence, and societal norms is one that has common themes across much of Western culture. If you are one that appreciates reading as part of your solitude, you might appreciate this book.


Sunday, August 2, 2020

The Hour of Fate: Theodore Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan, and the Battle to Transform American Capitalism (Susan Berfield)

In The Hour of Fate: Theodore Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan, and the Battle to Transform American Capitalism, author Susan Berfield details the political fight between Theodore Roosevelt and J.P. Morgan during the early parts of the 20th Century. The book also discusses Roosevelt’s fights with and against Morgan over key political battles in the world of business and industry.

Berfield focuses on two major events: First, the Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902, a labor battle between the coal industry and miners over wages and hours worked. Second, the Northern Securities case regarding railroad trusts. These two moments were transformative for the role of government in regulating business and protecting workers. Both events also had Roosevelt and Morgan on opposite sides; although with the coal strike, Morgan’s direct involvement was not as minimal as it was with Northern Securities.

While these two events were the key “battles” waged between Roosevelt and Morgan, there were times when Morgan was helpful to American political interests. Both of these moments dealt with fiscal matters that involved either the American government, such as in the aftermath of the Panic of 1893, or Morgan’s strongarming of American banking in 1907. While the first of these was given more significant play, Morgan’s work in helping end the 1907 panic and subsequent work towards helping create the Federal Reserve were given much shorter mention. That aside, this book’s central argument of the importance of effective regulation and thoughtful checks on excessive corporate power is important to note in today’s times.