Matt's latest and greatest reads!
American Dialogue: the Founders and Us by Joseph Ellis is a very current, important, and easy to read and digest history. The book is constructed as a series of paired essays or dialogues on 4 of the most important issues of today: race, equality, law, and foreign entanglements. The first essay in each pair focuses on one of the founders, and on what he said, wrote and did: Jefferson on race, John Adams on equality (think income inequality), Madison on the law (the Constitution) and Washington on foreign policy, especially foreign entanglements. The second essay of each chapter looks at how the theme has developed since the founders' day. For example, the second essay in the third section, on the Law, focuses on the emergence of the doctrine of so-called “originalism" in interpreting the Constitution.
Using extremely interesting examples, we find that the founders were brilliant but fallible human beings, and the Constitution a series of compromises, often driven by the political pressures of the day. Ellis skillfully illuminates the past, but more importantly shines a bright light on where we are now.
Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America by Nancy Maclean is National Book Award finalist that details the ongoing effort by the followers of the now deceased economist James Buchanan with the help of the Koch brothers and others to do such things as eliminate environmental, financial and other regulations, privatize social security and medicare, privatize public education, hollow out federal bureaucracies, and give tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy. How? By not only supporting think tanks and candidates financially but by voter suppression, gerrymandering, controlling state houses and appointing conservative ideologues as judges to back them up. This book is very well written and quite surprising because mush of this has gone on below the awareness of the media.
The Body: A Guide for Occupants is a fascinating look at our amazing anatomy with a great many interesting facts and medical anecdotes. One good example is the recent discovery that the bones manufacture a hormone called osteocalsin that affects glucose levels, male fertility, moods, and memory. No one even knew the bones manufactured hormones at all until this discovery! Just another gem from Bill Bryson.
"Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads"... What would it be like if the heaven under our feet were destroyed, and the forests that Thoreau sauntered through for inspiration no longer existed? Suppose that the heavens above were somehow shrouded from us by a dust-filled gray haze and all we had left were a few precious sparks inside us. Could we maintain hope under such extreme duress?
Cormac McCarthy's masterful novel The Road is the simple story of a father and his son, about 10, traveling on foot in search of warmer climes, food, and safety, trying to survive the effects of an unexplained catastrophe that had scorched the entire earth just before the boy was born, killing billions, leaving the land barren of plant and animal life, coating everything exposed and permeating the atmosphere with gray ash that is now blocking the sun and chilling the land. To make matters even worse, the other survivors they briefly encounter and try to avoid have devolved into squalor, brutality and cannibalism.
The story is told with poetic cadence using figurative language and description to great effect. The poetry serves a twofold purpose: as a vehicle that gently propels the reader through the otherwise depressing and tragic scenario but also as a constant reminder that there is beauty in our own world - in nature, music, art, love and, indeed, poetry.... and though there is precious little heaven on earth in the story itself, we are fed bits and pieces, especially in the relationship between the boy and father. However tired and desperate and suffering, they manage to maintain a fragile but real love... the story is about death and dying but it's also about the bravery of maintaining a sense of spirit and decency even under the most trying circumstances - a poignant message in our both endangered and dangerous world.
This incredibly interesting and informative book is written with great clarity and style. It is appropriate and highly recommended for both novices and aficionados of history, anyone interested in some of the major reasons why it has taken China until recent times to develop into the power it is today. We learn about the trade for tea and silk as well as the terrible role of opium and the England/China Opium War of the 1840s. Dolin, as environmentalist as well as historian, also explains how the trade led to the decimation of fur seals, sea otters and sandalwood. This is a history that truly reverberates to the present.
Like many others, I have loved Beethoven's 9th Symphony for many years. After reading the historical and musical context and a breakdown of the components of the score, I listened to several different versions on CD and DVD and found myself listening and watching with heightened awareness and greater pleasure than before. Sachs also gives some background to the other monumental work by Beethoven that was completed towards the end of his life, the wonderful and dynamic Missa Solemnis. Together, these two works catapulted classical music into what became the Romantic Era which is characterized by more freedom of form and greater emotional expression. Sach's book is informative and inspirational and is highly recommended.
This volume is much more than a wonderful biography, but is a history of the extremely interesting early politics and Revolutionary War events that involved the territory that was to become Vermont, including the campaign to take Canada with Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold, the tug of war between the rich New York planters along the Hudson and the powerful interests in New Hampshire for control of the lands that became Vermont, and the book, still in print, that Ethan Allen wrote about his horrific experiences as a prisoner of war. Randall's book is a pleasure to read.
Attached is a wonderful, well-written and easy-to-grasp new book based on the latest scientific evidence given to us by attachment theory.
The authors explain three distinct attachment styles (anxious, avoidant and secure) and help readers to identify their own. They offer valuable advice on how to better navigate relationships, noting for example,that the need to be in one or more close relationships is genetic. They also offer such surprising observations that some of the most interesting people turn out to be among those most likely to avoid intimacy. I highly recommend this useful book to better understand adult relationships.
This is an enormously engaging account full of interesting facts told with a clarity and intelligence that make the book accessible to both casual historians and history bluffs. Boston grew into much of what it is today with such amazing feats as the building if America's first subway at Tremont St. and the filling in of the highly polluted salt-water mudflats that became Back Bay. We also learn about such interesting topics as the role Boston had in the abolitionist movement and the important contributions of Irish immigrants.
This is a wonderful read and is highly recommended to everyone.
This is the next series to read after Stieg Larsson's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. "Redbreast" is the first book in the series by Norwegian author Jo Nesbo (the 6th is coming out this year) and Detective Harry Hole is our hero. Each book can be read as a stand alone but the richness comes through in a continuous understory concerning both Harry's professional and personal life as he fights not only various criminals but internal corruption and inner demons. You care about Harry in a personal way and this is one of the factors that makes this series special.
"Redbreast" shifts back and forth between the final days of WWII on the Eastern Front and modern day Oslo until the two stories final collide. What we get is a fascinating and intricate story concerning Nazi collaboration and how it echoes to this day. Ultimately what we get is an beautifully written thriller that I would recommend highly to not only those who love detective fiction but to those who appreciate a well-written novel.
That Old Cape Magic is a wonderful, often comedic tale of a 55 year old professor questioning his life after the loss of his father and the impending marriage of his daughter. During the year in which the story takes place, we get two weddings, several very humorous incidents, and lots of soul searching. This book is lighter fare than Empire Falls and Bridge of Sighs, depending more on witty dialogue than incredible character development. Lighter, yes, but still very interesting and enjoyable. That Old Cape Magic is highly recommended.
"Amy and Isabelle" is a must read earlier novel by Elizabeth Strout, especially for all those who enjoyed her brilliant psychological insights and skillful writing in "Olive Kitteridge". The author weaves her story around two characters that we learn to care deeply about, Isabelle, a 33 year old single mother, and Amy, her 16 year old daughter. As with Olive Kitteridge, this is an intense study of resilience and the search for happiness in lives stressed by difficult circumstances and the struggle of our characters to understand and communicate. And despite their dysfunction, we continue to cheer our characters on hoping that somehow they will find the insights and support they need. I found the story both engrossing and meaningful, and highly recommend this book.
Cod, A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, is a timely and captivating book full of interesting anecdotes and surprises. For example, cod is revered for helping early American settlers survive, but we were probably not taught that cod was a major basis for the development of the New England merchant class without which the American revolution would not have taken place or that feeding the slaves on the Caribbean sugar plantations- part of the notorious triangle trade- was an important source of their profits. Kurlansky takes us from the early explorers such as the Vikings to the present-day Gloucester fishermen struggling to survive in the face of overfishing, always keeping his writing clear, interesting and insightful. In addition, he includes many recipes for cod gleaned from old cookbooks which adds authenticity to this excellent book which I highly recommend.
Tony Horwitz's A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World is a fascinating and wonderfully written combination of history and travel literature masterfully interwoven. The ideation for writing the book took place when Horwitz was visiting Plymouth and realized how little he actually knew about the age of exploration in America and realized that most other Americans were in the very same boat. From the Vikings to the Pilgrims he first lays out the most current historical information and then actually travels the route taken by the explorer describing the monuments and archaology and seeking out local history buffs whenever possible. The writing is conversational and full of interesting facts and descriptions. This book is very highly recommended.
"The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem" is both illuminating and profound. It is important to note that this is meant to be neither a complete look at every aspect of Jesus nor in any way a negation of any religious practices. Instead it is a detailed account of the last 8 days of Jesus using Mark's Gospel as a framework along with sociological and historical evidence in a attempt to understand what the events and words in the Gospel are most likely to have truly meant and why. The book was written with tremendous scholarship and full respect for religious beliefs and practices by 2 highly respected Biblical scholars, one a Lutheran and one a Catholic, who have spent their lives focusing on Jesus. A person cannot come away from this book without a clearer and more thoughtful understanding of an enormously important subject to Christians and non-Christians alike.
The River of Doubt is the totally engrossing true adventure of one of our greatest presidents. According to a C-Span poll of historians he is ranked #4 as the greatest of presidents. It is not a mistake that he appears on Mount Rushmore. River of Doubt is about what he did after losing a bid for a third term as a cure for the blues.
During a 1914 trip to South America he decides to accept an invitation to explore an uncharted tributary of the Amazon. They are poorly prepared and what follows is a fascinating and extremely well-written description of both the beauty and the dangers of the rain forest and how Roosevelt barely survives. River of Doubt wonderfully illuminates one the most interesting and least known episodes in his life.
Another fact worth pondering is that Theodore Roosevelt died in 1919 at the age of 60 and was considered a likely choice for the Republican nomination for president in 1920; thus, this ill-fated adventure, which undoubtedly contributed to his poor health and early death, is likely to have altered American history.