The Soong sisters, whose lives are told in Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China, managed to marry Chiang Kai-shek, his finance minister, and, for the “Red” one, a famous Mainland China revolutionary. The book tells of their privates lives, but embedded as they were in the politics of China, and along the way enjoyed tremendous wealth and privilege, and access to various foreign government leaders, in part thanks to their American educations. The corruption and political intrigue are breathtaking.
Tag Archives: politics
As I was reading Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation, I felt a little sorry for the author, an earnest New Yorker writer, who seems to struggle to think that our fellow humans are not always rational and restrained like, apparently, his colleagues and fellow Brooklyn dinner-party attendees. To his credit, he spent a lot of time following and interviewing alt-right extremists, who will not miss an opportunity to shock and attack, but that makes for pretty depressing stories, sadly not because of the venom that they spew but because of the extreme banality of their lives. Yes, they live for ratings and likes, and it’s the fault of the communication platforms. Maybe. Perhaps the real problem is that we have all been willfully ignoring the inconvenient truth of evil in our midst.
I wish I could say that I loved Becoming, and I did not. But I loved many aspects of it, in particular how direct she is sharing her family’s life (without ever giving details too private to be shared), how she details the many limitations of living life in the glare of media, unable to take a stroll or escape the White House unaccompanied, and how she was able to raise functioning children in a very un-child friendly environment.
What I did not like so much was the workaday prose, the sometimes stifling avoidance of political controversies, and the overall feeling of how much she sacrificed to her famous husband’s career. Still, I know you want to read the book, and you should!
We take it for granted that our milk contains milk, maple syrup something more than mere corn syrup, and that canned meat won’t kill us. The Poison Squad: One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century recalls a time when early food manufacturers felt free to sell pretty much anything, in the absence of any legislation. The book describes the difficult fight of a chemist, Dr. Wiley, to research safe products and push for regulations, the 1906 Food and Drug Act, against the strong objections of the food industry. That should make for a great, inspiring story, and there are indeed some delightful moments, as when roomfuls of young men are enlisted to eat their way through doubtful preservatives (well, maybe not so delightful for the young men!). But the pace is slow and the details somewhat mind-numbing.
I thoroughly enjoyed Twisted Prey, which stars a demonic female senator who will stop at nothing to annihilate her enemies in her quest to become president of the United States. The investigator, a calm Minnesotan, strategizes while his two wonderful sidekicks gleefully execute dangerous deeds. As the body count mounts, his final hint comes from her perfume, which I thought was perhaps the one weakness of the book, an awkward and old-fashioned concept of an otherwise perfectly terrifying woman.
It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear sagely notices the world is a pretty good place, and generally getting better. In the first part of the book the author organizes the discussion around standard catastrophe scenarios (“Why don’t we starve?”, “Will nature collapse?”, “Will the economy collapse?”), each smoothly feeding into the other as in a mystery novel. Using publicly available statistics, the author calmly demolishes each argument, weaving in the real reasons for the concerns: we like to worry, and politicians and others have a built-in interest to keep us worried. The second part I found less successful, because the author just rehashes the reasons that were already introduced in the first part of the book — and also, uncomfortably, argues time and again against regulations of any type, destroying his own argument. Perhaps the economy is not collapsing not solely because it just thrives on its own, but also because some amount of regulation make it work a bit better. Minimum wage anyone?
At its best, Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose is the very moving story of a family living through the last days of one of theirs, dying of a brain tumor. But it’s also a book about politics, since Joe Biden continued to serve as vice-president throughout the ordeal and was pressed to decide whether to run for the presidency to boot. And at times the narrative reminds us of how necessarily detached from regular folks’ lives privileged people can live — with private planes, round-the-clock security, and a certainty that access to care or specialists is always possible. I thought I would think solely of the private suffering, but I found myself uneasy with the privilege.
Ever wondered why city A (Richmond, say, in the San Francisco Bay Area, which the author uses abundantly as an example) is black while another (Milpitas) is not? The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America shows how many decades of zoning and building law boldly laid out cities where races were kept well separated. The federal government, through the Federal Housing Agency (FHA) for a long time would only guarantee mortgages to developments that excluded African Americans. Local zoning often prohibited apartment buildings in single-family home neighborhoods, at a time when non-white families could rarely afford single-family homes. Famously, during the Great Depression banks redlined entire neighborhoods and were supported by government agencies to do so. And the list goes on — to a scandalous length.
That said, I felt that the outraged tone of the book detracted somewhat from the message. Let the facts speak for themselves: they are appalling enough to persuade.
I’m not sure many readers of The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America have managed to read all 650 pages of it carefully. I certainly did not, and I found the detailed stories of the various political machinations and scandals very tedious.
That said, I found it most interesting to see the how some of the themes of the early start of the movement, during the Great Awakening, sound quite modern. The author also does a great job of showing how the thirst for political influence shapes the values that are put forth — abortion restrictions rather than anti-poverty campaigns, for instance. We are quite far from religious values and
The author of White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America has a mission: to educate the “elite” her word, which she defines as semi-rich people (the top 20%) with a college degree, about the working class, which she defines as non-poor (above the bottom 30%) without a college degree. (I’m still a little confused about how she classifies rich people without a degree, or middle-class folks with one.)
The book reminded me of Strangers in Their Own Land, but, unlike it and for the better, it starts from the perspective of working class people rather than trying to force ideas upon them and marvel at how they can vote, it seems, against their economic interests. Perhaps if the elite spent more time interacting with the working class it would understand better why working class women don’t care much about the glass ceiling or why it looks going to college as a gamble.
The author gives precious few suggestions on how to bridge the divide, beyond telling the elite to stop despising the working class (and a few well-chosen examples of how the Democratic Party could position issues better). So that was a little disappointing, but overall I recommend this short, well-organized book.