Monday, April 16, 2018

The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives


The Displaced is a collection of short essays written by refugees, who share their experience of leaving their home nation for another country (whether by choice or necessity), in order to seek a better life. Pulitzer Prize winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen edits and provides the foreword on a grippingly effective book in light of current events.

The short essays range from 1950’s escapes from communist countries to leaving brutish despots in Africa. Each of the essays shares the challenges, the struggles, and the perception of being “the other” that many faced when they made their trek in search of a better life. Nguyen provides his own story of leaving Vietnam in the 1970’s to frame the subsequent essays. Each essay is powerful on its own, making the case that nearly all who escape the struggle and oppression in their home country will go on to achieve and contribute to their new home country if only given the opportunity to do so.

When most think of refugees, the images of what is going on in Syria at present readily come to mind. Or you may think of the migration of Vietnamese by boat in the 1970’s to the United States. Nguyen will challenge most conventional wisdom in this book, first by reminding readers that there are over 65 million displaced individuals globally, which would be one of the twenty five largest countries on earth when ranked in population. Secondly, he reminds us that the remainder of the refugees that were not profiled are not voiceless but have their own stories and struggles that are waiting to be heard...if only we give them that opportunity.

MY RATING - 4

Sunday, April 15, 2018

In Conclusion, Don't Worry About it (Lauren Graham)

Even if you're a fan of Lauren Graham's work in Parenthood or the incomparable Gilmore Girls, you might not realize that she is also an accomplished author. In fact, both of her books so far (Someday, Someday, Maybe and Talking as Fast as I Can) have been reviewed here. Her latest, In Conclusion, Don't Worry About it, is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it read, but it still has the heart Graham infuses into any work she does.

Unbenownst to her, Graham's father volunteered her to give the graduation speech at a school in her hometown. In Conclusion, Don't Worry About it is the speech itself, pumped up a little to get it in book form. She reminds graduates (and readers) that the lead of a play is just as important as the tiniest bit player, and tells them not to worry if they don't achieve all they want right away.

I found this book lacking in cohesion, and the short chapters were all over the place. However, if you picture Lorelai Gilmore giving this speech, that makes perfect sense (in a good way).

MY RATING - 3

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Death of Mrs. Westaway (Ruth Ware)


Ruth Ware’s novels are incredible addictive. I consider myself a fairly slow reader, but I read The Woman in Cabin 10 very quickly. The Death of Mrs. Westaway is no different, and when it is released in May, it will most likely be Ware's latest bestseller.

Hal has certainly not had the easiest life. Her mother was run down right in front of their house, and now Hal is all alone, trying to make ends meet by reading tarot cards. One day, she receives an intriguing letter, telling her that her grandmother (Harriet Westaway) has passed away and she will receive part of a large inheritance. Since Hal doesn’t have a grandmother, she believes that the letter was mistakenly sent. However, she knows that she will not be able to last much longer with no money. Hal is a good person; however, in desperation she tries to pull off a ruse, meeting Mrs. Westaway’s large family and attempting to get some money out of the deal. Thus begins a novel of deception and deep secrets, all culminating in a heart-stopping climax.

Ware has often been called the modern day Agatha Christie. Just like her other novels, The Death of Mrs. Westaway drips with suspense, and it is very difficult to stop reading, even in the dead of night.

MY RATING - 4

Monday, April 9, 2018

A History of Future Cities (Daniel Brook)


While not a new book (it was released in 2013), Daniel Brook's A History of Future Cities looked like a worthwhile read when I stumbled across it in a used bookstore. My thought was proven correct. If you're into history, geography, politics and/or economics, you should find Brook's study of four major global cities enlightening. It also shows the trends that tend to overlap most of these cities' histories.
Shanghai, Mumbai, St. Petersburg, and Dubai are all "boom" global cities, fixed on a battle between cosmopolitan and national, west versus east, capitalist versus statist. Each city has its own unique tale, but those consistent battles weave through the history of each. Brook chronologically bounces between the cities beginning with the creation of St. Petersburg through the modern dramas taking shape, effectively sharing the common storylines but with unique tales from each community as the book progresses.
For those curious about city evolution, A History of Future Cities is well researched and effective. It's a smart historical book that will help give you a sense of understanding the role of the West (and the tug of each nation's traditions) in creating these 21st Century metropolises.
MY RATING - 4

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Windfall (Meghan L. O'Sullivan)

Meghan L. O'Sullivan's Windfall is an overview of modern politics from the perspective of energy. It discusses how the oil and gas boom that’s been driven by technological advancement in extraction of energy resources is shaping modern politics in America, Russia, China, Europe, and the Middle East.  Windfall focuses on the relationship between energy and foreign policy and the success (or failure) of nations around the world through the ebb and flow of energy supply and revenues that come from it.

Ten years before her book was written, scarcity in energy drove high energy prices. Those prices in turn made it possible for technological innovation to take hold and drive America, Canada, and a few other nations to utilize new techniques to bring new supplies of oil to the market. The subsequent drop in oil prices helped spur economic recovery in much of the West but drove many of the traditional oil-producing nations to make reforms or political hay in the name of maintaining relevance.  O’Sullivan effectively argues the case of how much of the current global economic boom was brought about by technological innovation in oil and gas extraction, which lowered price and helped fuel growth.

O’Sullivan tackles traditional energy sources like oil, gas, and coal with remarkable effect and argues future political and policy paths based on an oil and gas future. The lack of coverage in renewable energy beyond passing references throughout the book did provide me some pause given the likely increase in renewable energy production in the coming years. However, for a current sense of the political and economic landscape and the ramifications that oil and gas have had on it in recent decades, this book is a very knowledgeable and well-researched account of what is going on.

MY RATING - 3.5