Wednesday, November 30, 2022

America's Philosopher: John Locke in American Intellectual Life (Claire Rydell Arcenas)

John Locke is considered by many historians as one of the leading philosophical voices of The Enlightenment and early thinkers of classical liberalism. His insight and philosophy into politics and social thinking has had strong resonance to Americans throughout the nation’s history, although those ties to the country have occasionally ebbed and have often morphed. Claire Rydell Arcenas discusses America’s relationship to John Locke in America's Philosopher: John Locke in American Intellectual Life.

America’s Philosopher tracks the history of Locke’s influence through American political and philosophical thought. Locke helped shape the first constitution of the Carolina colony in the 17th Century, and his views held sway in print journalism throughout the 18th Century as America gradually developed its independent streak. Locke’s thinking shaped much of 19th and 20th Century academia as well before present day historians looked to the past in a different light based on Locke’s views on colonialism and equality. Despite those views, Lockean thought still runs strong in America’s general appetite for individual liberty, property rights, and limited government. While Locke was often a champion of liberal values based on his time, his views now often are championed by those of the libertarian right.

The author does a good job in the brief pages of this text to highlight Locke’s guiding role in America. Her argument that Locke’s story reveals how Americans have gradually nurtured and maintained a functioning democratic society is important to note in light of today’s attempts by some to paint democracy as being in peril or at risk of doom because of our political enemies. While Locke may not agree with the current state of political heat in America, he would strongly advocate for our elected government to consent to the governed, and not the other way around, no matter the branch of government. This was a point that I felt was left hanging at the end of the book and could have strengthened a pretty strong account of Locke’s relationship to our nation and how his thinking should help us in the years to come, even if the man behind them was rather imperfect.


Monday, November 28, 2022

The Other Passenger (Louise Candlish)

Louise Candlish's books are no stranger to this blog -- I reviewed Our House and Those People a few years ago. While I really enjoyed Our House, Those People started off strong and then petered out. The Other Passenger has the same issue.

Jamie is our narrator -- he lives in an expensive home owned by his girlfriend, Clare. Even though Clare tries to get him career counseling, Jamie is content to work every day as a barista in a coffee shop. After meeting his new neighbors, Kit and Melia, Jamie decides to join Kit in commuting to his job via riverboat. But one day, Kit isn't aboard the boat and goes missing. After Melia reports Kit missing, two detectives interview Jamie since another passenger witnessed them arguing. 

After the "big twist" (which Candlish is known for) was revealed, The Other Passenger took me a long time to finish. Most of the book was exciting, but the ending was predictable. I would put this square in the middle of enjoyment between Our House and Those People


Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Napoleon: The Decline and Fall of an Empire: 1811-1821 (Michael Broers)

In a few short years, a man that had fought for France’s legitimacy on Europe’s stage and then the rest of Europe to stand shoulder to shoulder with England as one of the premier global powers of the time, lost his global standing and title as Emperor of the French and spent his last days in secluded exile in a remote part of the Atlantic Ocean. Napoleon’s rise was as sudden and dramatic as his downfall, and Michael Broers captures the final ten years of Napoleon’s life in the well-researched Napoleon: The Decline and Fall of an Empire: 1811-1821.

Broers, who has written two other books on Napoleon, starts by covering the run-up to Napoleon’s march on Russia and subsequent retreat, the loss of his title after an invasion of France by Russia and her allies in 1814, and Napoleon’s subsequent exile to Elba. From there, Napoleon’s escape and attempts to rebuild his army and his empire are beautifully detailed by as we see how Napoleon worked himself to the point of exhaustion before the infamous battle at Waterloo. The former Emperor was then exiled to a remote island in the South Atlantic to spend his last days in gradually worsening health.

Napoleon covers the battles fought by the book’s namesake in great detail, including personal correspondence from the Emperor to his supporters and French military leaders throughout his final years in charge of France. For historians who study and read up on Napoleon, this book is a great addition given the inclusion of Napoleon’s personal correspondence.


Monday, November 14, 2022

Path Hit by Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe (David Maraniss)

Author David Maraniss has written a number of biographies throughout his career, including When Pride Still Mattered, about football coach Vince Lombardi. Jim Thorpe has had a number of biographies written about him but not one that captures the modern historical perspective. In Path Hit By Lightning, Maraniss covers the turbulent and, at times, troubled life of Jim Thorpe.

Thorpe is known by many for his athletic prowess, winning gold medals in the 1912 Olympics that were stripped from him for several decades because of his summer stints playing minor league baseball. He was a multi-sport star that excelled at football and track but also played professional baseball for over a decade, including several years in the National League with the Giants, Reds, and Braves. Thorpe, a member of the Sac and Fox tribe, also dealt with discrimination, forced assimilation into broader American society, and alcoholism that developed late in his athletic career but continued for much of the rest of his life. Thorpe died in 1953, ultimately buried in a town he never spent time in thanks to the efforts of his third wife. Thorpe’s legend on the athletic field, captured largely without film and television, took on mythic proportions thanks to a number of champions in the press.

Maraniss does a good job of covering the struggle Thorpe faced throughout his life. The struggle to get his gold medals back. The struggle of being a Native American in a white-dominant society. The struggle with alcohol. All in all, his coverage of Thorpe is powerful and persuasive.


Saturday, November 5, 2022

Mad Honey (Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan)

I've been reading Jodi Picoult for over 20 years, and up until recently, have absolutely devoured her books. The past few have been very disappointing however, so I went into Mad Honey quite tentatively. I'm happy to say that I again devoured this one.

Let's give credit where it's due though -- this book really came about because of co-author Jennifer Finney Boylan, who one night dreamt that she wrote a book with Jodi Picoult. She tweeted this exact fact, to which Picoult responded asking what the book was about. The rest is a match made in heaven.

In Mad Honey, Olivia McAfee escapes her husband's abuse and moves with her son, Asher, to New Hampshire to take over her deceased father's beekeeping business. Lily Campanello also moves to the same town with her mother, Ava. Upon meeting, Asher and Lily fall head over heels for each other, but soon, Lily is dead and Asher is arrested for her murder.

From the beginning, Picoult has written about issues in the headlines, and Mad Honey is crammed with them. I was worried about this because her books sometimes don't work if they focus on too many. But for some reason, this one does, and I actually feel that the book wouldn't be the same without all of them. This books is both heartbreaking and suspenseful -- Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan are a great team.