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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

thoughts on: Good Omens

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, WitchGood Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett

Entertaining and enjoyable and very, very nice. Nice as in nice, not precise, which Gaiman and Pratchett keep telling the reader is the original meaning of the word. That, to me, was the longest running joke in the book, but I will say no more for fear of spoiling someone else's fun.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

thoughts on: Destiny of the Republic

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a PresidentDestiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard


When you know perfectly well that the protagonist dies, and you still get teary eyed when it happens, that is a well told tale.  It's not only that James Garfield was thoroughly likable, but my heart ached for his devoted wife and children, two of whom were with him when he was shot.

Destiny of the Republic is more than a biography of James Garfield.  It is also an account of the life of his assassin, Charles Guiteau.  Candice Millard manages to portray Guiteau with neither sympathy nor antipathy.  Egotistical, and unlikable, he was clearly mentally ill.

However, it was not Guiteau's bullets that killed Garfield.  Lingering for months after being shot, Garfield was ultimately killed by infection caused by the aggressive and unsanitary medical care he received at the hands of the egotistical Dr. Bliss. 

Throughout, Millard places the story in the context of its day.  The relationships between Garfield and those around him, the political climate and intrigues, the state of medical knowledge and practice, the technology of the day.  She shows how Garfield's assassination and death led to changes in these various realms.

thoughts on: The Honest Truth About Dishonesty

The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone--Especially OurselvesThe Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone--Especially Ourselves by Dan Ariely

Dan Ariely's writing is engaging, so The Honest Truth About Dishonesty is a quick and enjoyable read about his research on cheating. I liked The Honest Truth most when Ariely was looking at real-life examples and the implications of his findings - in the pharmacy and medical communities, as well as banking. Those offered applications of a "buyer beware" nature.

I have read several similar books this year, and though I enjoyed the hours spent reading this one, I think I prefer books that look at the findings of multiple researchers.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

thoughts on: In Sheep's Clothing

In Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative PeopleIn Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People by George K. Simon Jr.

I wish someone had given me this book 25 years ago, so I would not have had to learn how to deal with manipulators the hard way.  I think I will put a copy in my kids' Christmas stockings this year. 

Simon addresses manipulators for what they are - aggressors who care more about having their own way than anything else.  He encourages people to recognize them, to trust your intuition when you feel like something is not right, and to stand up to them in an effective manner.  He also advocates knowing your own weaknesses, so you can guard against those people who will use them to their advantage.  Good advice. 

(There were a number of errors that should have been caught by a good proof-reader, but the advice within is worth the little extra effort in reading.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

thoughts on: Up From HIstory

Up from History: The Life of Booker T. WashingtonUp from History: The Life of Booker T. Washington by Robert J. Norrell

As his title implies, Up From History, seeks to restore our understanding of Booker T. Washington by placing him firmly in the context of the post-reconstruction South. The misrepresentation of Washington began even during his life, as he was under constant attacks from both white supremacists in the south and northern black men who sought to replace him as the perceived leader of his race. Sadly, it was the latter who were most effective in tarnishing Washington's reputation for much of the 20th century.

Washington was a very private man, so there are no revelations here, no newly discovered papers to reveal his inner life. What is here is a careful analysis of the events the day and how Washington responded to them. In an era of rampant lynchings and disfranchisement, Washington carefully advocated for increased education and opportunities for African Americans. He worked unceasingly to raise money for Tuskegee and other schools, believing that education and economic success would lead to better race relations. He advised President T. Roosevelt, advocating for fair minded men to receive federal appointments. He worked tirelessly to promote the ideal of unity and fight the stereotypical images of blacks in popular culture. He financially supported lawsuits to forward equality and lobbied against disfranchisement. Because his actions were liable to provoke more lynchings and riots, he often hid his involvement in political matters from public view, at least in the south.

In his concluding chapter, Norrell explores the reasons Washington's achievements and contributions were so maligned by later generations, and offers a fair assessment of his legacy.