Tag Archives: politics

** Twisted Prey by John Sandford

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.

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Filed under Mystery

** It’s Better Than It Looks by Gregg Easterbrook

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?

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Filed under Non fiction

** Promise Me, Dad by Joe Biden

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.

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Filed under True story

** The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein

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.

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Filed under Non fiction

** The Evangelicals by Frances Fitzgerald

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

 

 

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Filed under Non fiction

*** White Working Class by Joan C. Williams

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.

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Filed under Non fiction

* The Man Who Knew by Sebastian Mallaby

I suspect that most people who boast of  having read The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times of Alan Greenspan have not, in fact, persevered through 800 pages. (I did, but quickly…)  It’s too bad, since we should probably all know a little more about the Federal Reserve Bank and how financial policy is set but a book this long and this detailed will comfort us in the thought that all this stuff is just too complicated and too tedious.

My favorite part of the book, as is often the case, was Greenspan personal history, a math prodigy raised by a single mother who was utterly devoted to him, and who saw himself at a pure libertarian and statistician — quite at odds with his later political career as a regulator!

The book focuses on his not seeing the 2008 bubble coming, which is a little too easy to say in hindsight — but certainly it was no secret that the real-estate market was bubbling. And to fill the 800 pages we get abundant details about Ayn Rand’s lovers, White House parties, how Greenspan proposed to his second wife, and of course who said what to whom at various Oval Office meetings. Where are the Cliff Notes?

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Filed under True story