Saturday, July 23, 2022

Tracy Flick Can't Win (Tom Perrotta)

Having read Tom Perrotta's Election and seen Reese Witherspoon's iconic performance of Tracy Flick in the movie, I had high hopes for Perrotta's novel Tracy Flick Can't Win. But after I read it, I was left wondering -- what was the point?

Fast forward decades later, Tracy is a hardworking assistant principal and single mother. When longtime principal, Jack Weede, announces his retirement, Tracy assumes that she has the principal job on lock. Tracy is also asked to serve on the selection committee for the school's brand new Hall of Fame. Among the proposed inductees is Vito Corleone, the high school's star quarterback back in the day who had a short career in the NFL. As the ceremony comes up, Tracy wonders if the principal job will really be hers or if people are plotting against her. 

All of this makes for a really implausible storyline with multiple characters providing points of view (most of whom seem meaningless). A plot point is brought up (like Vito possible having CTE) and then just disappears. And the ending is so out-of-the-blue it's laughable. The worst of this for me though is that, besides the ambition, there doesn't seem to be much of the Tracy Flick we know from Election. Which again brings me to -- what was the point of it all?


Sunday, July 17, 2022

The Man Who Understood Democracy: The Life of Alexis de Tocqueville (Olivier Zunz)

In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville traveled from his home in France to America to observe how our democracy operated. From that voyage on, Tocqueville became a public servant and writer who was dedicated to reforming French politics and encouraging the development of a democratic style of government. Tocqueville’s Democracy in America is a classic 19th Century political book that is often studied to this day, written to educate the French about America’s model of government. The Man Who Understood Democracy: The Life of Alexis de Tocqueville is Olivier Zunz’s account of a philosophical thinker who advocated for better government and governance for his countrymen.

Zunz tracks Tocqueville’s early years as part of French aristocratic wealth, his travels to England and eventually to North America, as well as his evolution into a passionate student and supporter of democratic institutions. While Tocqueville was somewhat blind to the failings of America’s political system to address slavery and the role of the states versus federal government, his beliefs that democratic ideals would help improve France and the world were views he passionately promoted for the balance of his life as a writer and politician in France’s National Assembly. Tocqueville, who died from tuberculosis in 1859, spent his final years fearing that the democratic experiment might be failing due to slavery-driven sectionalism in America, as well as authoritarianism in France.

The Man Who Understood Democracy ties Tocqueville’s beliefs and thinking with other classical liberals of his time such as John Stuart Mill, both of whom advocated for liberty and the empowerment of a country’s populace to provide effective self-government for themselves. This book provides a solid foundation to understand Tocqueville’s passion and how it impacted his life after his journey to America.


Thursday, July 7, 2022

At the Gates of Rome: The Rise and Fall of the Eternal City, AD 410 (Don Hollway)

The gradual and occasionally spastic decline of the Roman Empire occured over a couple of centuries and involved a combination of events. One of them was the sacking of Rome in AD 410 by the Goths, who were led by Alaric. Alaric was a former Roman soldier and ally of the empire before being dismissed from the Roman Army late in the 4th Century. Eventually, Alaric directed an army of Goth supporters on a rampage from the historic and symbolic capital of Rome.

At the Gates of Rome: The Fall of the Eternal City, AD 410 is Don Hollway’s detailed, historic account of this event and the decades-long lead-up to it. While Rome was no longer the capital of the Roman Empire, which by the 5th Century had been split into two parts, it was still a large, symbolic, major city with over 100,000 inhabitants. It also housed the Roman Senate and many political institutions, even though emperors were now based in Ravenna. Hollway’s account details the story of imperial incompetence, political backstabbing, murder, religion, and a former army leader turning against his former employer after they dismissed him. The Goths had rampaged through Italy on two prior occasions, including two sieges where the city’s supply of grain was cut off until a ransom was paid. On the third siege, Alaric ultimately burned much of the city and killed numerous Roman residents.

At the Gates of Rome does not just describe the sacking of Rome in technical detail, but shares intriguing stories involving Gothic treatment of religious relics and some individuals (many others were not spared such kindness). Hollway’s book closes with explaining his reasons for the Fall of Rome, quoting Patrick Henry’s remarks from the late 18th Century regarding division and unity. Rome’s inability to remain united nor welcoming to foreign groups seeking refuge within the Roman Empire is the author’s chief reason why he believes Rome was ultimately sacked and why the Western Roman Empire eventually ceased to exist. 


Tuesday, July 5, 2022

What Happened to the Bennetts (Lisa Scottoline)

Bestselling author Lisa Scottoline's What Happened to the Bennetts is told in two parts -- one far more interesting than the other.

Jason Bennett and his family are driving home from a lacrosse game when a truck starts tailing them. Two men then draw guns on the family and want the car. What happens next changes their lives forever. Because of who these two men are, the family have 15 minutes to grab what they want to save from their home and enter the witness protection program. They of course are having trouble adjusting to leaving behind everything they know, but leaving the program would be far too dangerous. 

After a big twist that I never saw coming, Jason decides to take matters into his own hands. Part two is where we get "Superman" Jason, and things just get more unbelievable on every page, with Jason going after Mob bosses, crooked lawyers and politicians, and even the FBI. There are too many unrealistic events that take place in part two, but part one is riveting. So I'm going to average my rating out to a 3.