Transaction Man: The Rise of the Deal and the Decline of the American Dream is an awkwardly constructed story of the economic history of the US from the New Deal to the Great Recession. Awkward because the author tries to tie it to a particular neighborhood in Chicago but it never quite fits and I, for one, thought it would illustrate only the strange relationship between car manufacturers and their dealers, when in fact the author had much grander ambitions. Still , there is merit int he description of how power moved from government institutions to large manufacturers and now (the author says) financial institutions.
Also, Foothill College is not in Sunnyvale, CA. Proofreaders, please proofread.
The author of The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity has a mother who, having full control of the family’s finances, failed to pay important bills, stole her daughters’ identity to obtain credit, and spent a small fortune on herself. All that was perhaps discoverable during her mother’s lifetime (although her father did not really want to know, it seems), and came to light, disastrously, after her death. Since the author had since become an expert on identity theft, of which she knew she had been a victim, albeit not by her own mother, she was able to untangle most of the tangled web. Sad and scary family story.
Martha Ballard, of A Midwife’s Tale likely hand idea that her diary would one day be the object of learned discovery. She wrote it as a cross between a weather almanac, a recitation of the house chores she accomplished every day, the babies she delivered and patients she helped, complete with an accounting of payments, and a list of house guests. And a mass murder or two (really!) But patiently analyzed, the diary also revealed wedding customs (lots of very early babies!), her difficult relationship with her husband, her wayward son, the peril of the frozen river that separated her from half of her patients, the complicated relationships between midwives and doctors, and how overwhelming women’s chores could be, with lots of children and no appliances or read-bought anything. Highly recommended for a glimpse at the lives of everyday women in the late 18th century.
Alexandra Fuller, although quite young, has written several memoirs (Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight, my favorite, and others here and here) borrowing heavily from per parents’ lives to be sure, and the latest, Travel Light, Move Fast, follows the same formula of plentiful flashbacks to her childhood and even before, this time to talk about the death of her father, and how difficult it was for her, her sister and her mother. She tells of her father’s restlessness, the strong partnership he had with her mother, and their ability to create homes throughout southern Africa. It’s a wonderful mix of grief, battles with airlines, and crocodiles that eat farmed fish.
Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes makes the great point that fashion, and especially the low-cost kind pioneered by Zara and H&M, creates lots of waste, exploits garment-industry workers, and has severe environmental impact. There has to be a better way, and the author has many inspiring stories in the second half of the book that showcase ideas such as using natural dies, recycling polyester, or using robots.
But most of the examples she gives are pretty much unattainable, at least now, for regular people. $400 T-shirts? $500 jeans? Come on! And the very high-fashion that she so admires, which, it’s true, is sometimes leading the remarkable developments she chronicles, is the very industry that is busy making the masses believe that we need an entirely new wardrobe every season, if not every month. It all seems quite hypocritical.
A Life of My Own is a memoir by a writer who specializes in biographies, so it’s an opportunity to observe a professional at work. She includes plenty of personal commentary on her own life, from her fractured childhood between divorced parents, at a time when it was a matter of shame, and during WWII to boot, to her own difficult marriage, and moving accounts of her children, living and dead, and an especially poignant portrait of a son who was born with spina bifida. Her professional life, although very successful in the end, was tough at first, when she could not find a professional job despite her Cambridge degrees. Society has made some progress since then, it seems.
Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church reminded me of Educated, which also stars a young woman brought up in a fanatical family, but with a very big difference: here, while fed a dizzying diet of one-sided Bible stories, the author is also encouraged to read the entire book, go to school and college, and not only browse the internet, but also be the voice of the Westboro Baptist Church online.
I found the story of how she slowly realized that the church, founded by her dictatorial and intolerant grandfather, was based on a lie, and that the coercive methods he employed were unacceptable, fascinating because of two things. One, she manages to talk kindly about the people involved, especially her mother, even as she details the errors of their ways. And two, she describes very clearly how painful it is to leave a church that is also her family, since it means that she will literally never see many of her relatives again.
The Testaments is the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, although it stands on its own, and, coming twenty years after it, it further highlights the eerie intuitions of the author about men-led dictatorships, not to mention the MeToo movement. Written cleverly and seamlessly by three women, one with considerable power and two who can only be described as rebels, it describes how the bleakest of oppressive powers can be brought down by apparently powerless agents. Chilling, but inspiring. I almost gave it four stars.
Written as a memoir, mostly by the scientist of the title, The Perfect Predator: A Scientist’s Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug tells a spellbinding story of a very sick man, her husband and co-author, who endured months of severe illness, much of it in ICU, while fighting antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. In the end, an extremely experimental procedure involving a customized bacteriophage (the unlikely shape on the cover of the book) won the battle, propelled by a formidable phalanx of scientists with FDA connections, led or at least inspired by the first author. From a scientific perspective, it’s an amazing tale. From a societal perspective, it feels a little strange to see the deployment of such formidable tools being engineered solely through the connections of the principals–but reviving bacteriophage therapy may well serve many other patients in the future.
The heroine of A Girl Returned is suddenly thrust into a new family, which turns out to be the biological family from which she had been adopted, but she did not even know she was adopted. From one day to the next, she move from a comfortable life to a life scrabble existence, sharing a bed with a younger sister since there is literally no place for her, and scrounging for information about her adoptive mother, who seems to have disappeared entirely, and the reasons why her biological parents allowed her (entirely informal) adoption. The mood of the book reminded me strongly of the Ellena Ferrante series (perhaps because it has the same translator), but I liked it much more in that it focused on the emotions of the two girls (the adopted one and her sister) more than the events of their life.