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.


Saturday, August 1, 2020

Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions (Jeffrey Selingo)

I've always been fascinated by the whole world of college admissions. Why is it so difficult to get into Harvard? Stanford? Yale? In Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions, author Jeffrey Selingo explains exactly what goes on behind the scenes in secretive college admissions offices and explains what exactly students can do to better the odds of getting in to their chosen school.

The key word in the previous paragraph was "secretive." Rarely does someone get the chance to ingrain themselves inside three different admissons offices as decisions are made that will affect the rest of a student's life. Selingo writes that getting in doesn't have as much to do with a student's test scores and extracurricular activities (although they aren't unimportant) as it does with what a particular school's "needs" are that year. He also argues that students should try to understand that there are plenty of great schools out there that "aren't" Ivy League or top-ranked and that broadening their choices may result in a wonderful experience at a place they never thought of.

My favorite book about college admissions will always be Jacques Steinberg's The Gatekeepers. However, this is a close second. It's meticulously reported and offers assistance to students and parents as they go through what many consider a very stressful time.


Available September 15, 2020

Saturday, July 18, 2020

The Daily Thomas Paine: A Year of Common Sense Quotes for a Nonsensical Age (Edited by Edward G. Gray)

Thomas Paine, one of America’s political philosophers whose prose helped shape the spirit of the movement of American colonies towards independence from Britain, had no shortage of thoughts on government, religion, and power. His 1776 pamphlet, Common Sense, is oftem cited as one of the inspirations that drove the independence movement. Edward G. Gray, a historian and professor, has compiled many of Paine’s quotes on politics, power, wealth, and religion and summarized them in The Daily Thomas Paine: A Year of Common Sense Quotes for a Nonsensical Age.

Gray’s editorial contributions to the collection include the context of Paine, an argument that he is relevant in today’s era, a brief biographical sketch, and a collection of quotes allocated by date. While there is little tie between the date and the quote assigned to it, it makes for the possibility of a reader being able to apply a number of approaches to the book - one quote per day or more quotes in a shorter period of time.

A collection of quotes in an editorialized format doesn’t often capture the essence of a writer. However, Gray does an effective job in offering insights into a man who had very strong opinions about monarchy, religion, and the pursuit of democratic and republican (not the parties but the political concepts) government.


Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Beauty and the Terror (Catherine Fletcher)

Most of us likely know at least a little about the Italian Renaissance from textbooks and have read about Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. But underneath the surface, there is much more to Italy in the late 15th and 16th centuries and the role the Catholic church played in guiding Italian politics than just what is in textbooks. Catherine Fletcher’s The Beauty and the Terror provides a very comprehensive, chronological look into what is now Italy during the Renaissance.

You may not remember that Italy wasn’t an actual country in that timeframe - the “boot” of Italy was made up of several city-states, areas under the control of the Catholic church, and kingdoms based in Naples and Sicily. Fletcher covers the political, artistic, religious, and even love lives of the leaders and some of the lesser known individuals of the Renaissance, focusing roughly on a period that coincides with the Italian Wars from 1494 to 1559. Although there are mentions of the artistic and scientific advances of the time, more focus is in the politics and conflicts that flared through Italy then.

I found Fletcher’s book enjoyable, educational, and hard to put down. If you love history and intrigue, The Beauty and the Terror will be very much worth your time.