Thursday, October 20, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Writing 01

Act One. Moss Hart. The making of a popular playwright.

Autobiography of Mark Twain. Written at a time when America was young and optimistic. But Twain’s autobiography reflects his cynicism and, in the end, a preoccupation with Death, the Deliverer.

 Booknotes. Brian Lamb, Ed. On C-Span, Brian Lamb interviewed authors of nonfiction. He would have nothing to do with fiction. Question that Brian Lamb asked the authors: Where do you write? Do you use a computer? How did you research this? What first got you interested in writing about this? How did you get a publisher’s attention? How long did it take you to write it?

The Writer’s Book. Helen Hull, Ed. An anthology of thoughts on writing—and reading—by a variety of writers.

The Writer’s Chapbook. George Plimpton, Ed. A chapbook is a short book with short entries. The Writer’s Chapbook is a book by writers on writing.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Society 03

The Great Crash: 1929. John Kenneth Galbraith. If bankers and financiers had read this book, the great housing bubble of the 1990s and 2000s might not have happened.

The True Believer. Eric Hoffer. Hoffer, a well-read longshoreman, among other skid-row professions, has thought deeply about mass movements and seems to put those thoughts on paper in a random fashion. What’s missing is transitions from one paragraph to another. However, the ideas are connected. The reader has to make the connections. In his opinion, “True Believers” are frustrated people who seek to lose their personalities in a cause, any cause, for which they are willing to do anything, even give their lives. Hoffer explores the many implications of this type of personality.

V Was for Victory: Politics and American Culture During WWII John Morton Blum. Politics did not disappear in World War II. Blum discusses how war was sold to Americans. Propaganda was used to produce positive popular images of our own fighting men, our allies and the enemy.

Bring Out Your Dead. J.H. Powell. The anatomy of a crisis. How this particular crisis—the yellow-fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793—was dealt with. It was not resolved by human effort, but by nature’s change of seasons, the frost, that killed the real culprit, the mosquito. But to some degree the crisis was dealt with by human beings, especially the mayor of Philadelphia, Matthew Clarkson, who faced urgent problems and made decisions.

Three Cups of Tea. Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Do you think every Muslim is a potential terrorist? Do you agree with the bumper sticker that says, “Nuke ‘em All—Let Allah Sort them Out”? Then you need to read this book. You need to become familiar with the moderate Muslims, the Muslims who live in the mountains of Pakistan, impoverished illiterate people who don’t have any chance for an education, except for the schools for boys, the madrassas, schools that teach terrorism. This book changed my attitude toward Muslims.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Society 02

Minority Report: HL Mencken's Notebooks. If you have not read something by H.L. Mencken, you have missed one of the truly memorable misanthropes in civilization, who wrote in a style that infuriated most of his readers. He is a wall-to-wall critic of almost everything to be encountered in American society in his own day and today, and each of his shafts brings from readers the response, “Damn it, he’s right!” Well, half-right anyway.

 Selling Sickness. Ray Monihan and Alan Cassels. Ordinary people with common complaints are being turned into patients by pharmaceutical companies who market drugs through doctors and directly to consumers.

 The Road Ahead. William H Gates, III. Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, predicts the changes in the world that will happen because of the computer and the Internet—in 1995. He is almost dead right. “ There will be a day, not far distant, when you will be able to conduct business, study, explore the world and its cultures, call up any great entertainment, make friends, attend neighborhood markets and show pictures to distant relatives—without leaving your desk or armchair.”

Solitude: A Return to Self. Anthony Storr. An in-depth analysis of the nature and uses of solitude. Interesting anecdotes. However, the author concludes that happiness comes from both personal interrelationships as well as  solitude. Took a whole book to arrive at what appears to be plain common sense.

 Some Good in the World: A Life of Purpose. Edward J. Pyszek with Jake Morgan.  This book, little known, perhaps, outside of the Philadelphia, Pa, area and possibly in Poland, is the great American success story. Emphasis on “life of purpose.”

Monday, October 17, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Society 01

Walden Two. BF Skinner. The message of the book: organize society using positive reinforcement.

Eros and Civilization. Herbert Marcuse. This book offers an alternative view of society in which instincts are not repressed, in which the energy from the instincts is not sublimated to labor but spreads to the full development of the individual’s potentialities.

Future Shock. Alvin Toffler. People are overwhelmed by change and acceleration of change. Future shock: Too much change into short a time.

A Left-Hand Turn Around the World. David Wolman. If you’re not left-handed, you have probably not given the topic of left-handedness much thought. “Gauche,” “sinister,” “left-handed compliment,” “maladroit”: The English language has not been very kind to left-handers. So our author, a left-hander, decided to explore the phenomenon of left-handedness.

Karl Marx: His Life and Environment. Isaiah Berlin. We can learn some things from Karl Marx. “Denunciation of Communist doctrine has become commonplace in America, but thoughtful examination of Communist philosophy is rare.”

 On Aggression. Konrad Lorenz. The author claims to have studied aggressive behavior in animals and to have drawn conclusions from their behavior that might help humans to control the aggressive instinct.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Science 02

The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher. Lewis Thomas. This book by Lewis Thomas, a physician, is a series of essays consisting of ideas and reflections about medicine and a range of other topics. An idea from this book I have never forgotten: After death, where do all the consciousnesses go?

Microbe Hunters. Paul DeKruif. The stories in this book are about known and unknown scientific heroes of humanity. They are distinct personalities. Sometimes they doggedly worked to achieve their goals and sometimes they achieved them by accident. Paul DeKruif, the author of these biographies of scientists, has an engaging style of writing. Your eyes will fly over the pages of this book.

 Out of Chaos. Louis J. Halle. Explains the apparent contradiction between accident in the foundations of matter and order in its developed form, between molecules bounding from one to another like pin-balls and a full-gown human being. A work that unites the two cultures, science and art. In science, history and contemporary affairs, the closer our perspective, the more chaotic things appear to be; the wider and broader our perspective, the more ordered things appear to be.

The Schweitzer Album: A Portrait in Words and Pictures. Erica Anderson. Schweitzer was a remarkable person. The essence of Dr. Schweitzer’s life and thought was respect and reverence for all life. He believed that the idea of reverence for life is spread from person to person not through the mass media. All life is one. The good preserves and supports life; evil destroys or injures life.  Everything that lives is related to us.

A Random Walk in Science: An Anthology. Compiled by RI Weber. Ed. By E. Mendoza. Despite the humorous items, there is a fairly serious intent to this book. The 133 selections record some changing attitudes within science and mirror the interactions of science with society.  There are anecdotes about noted scientists, items of historical interest, and articles showing the often bizarre ways in which scientific theories are brought into being. Before you take science too seriously, you need to read this anthology. Parts of it are very, very funny.

 The Universe and Dr. Einstein. Lincoln Barnett. Haven’t you always wondered about what Einstein said concerning the universe? Well, after reading this book, you probably  won’t be able to talk about it at cocktail parties, but Barnett does shed light on Einstein’s ideas. And after you have read even these highlights, you will be struck again with the wonder of the universe in which we live and the intelligence of the One who created it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Science 01

The Double Helix. James D. Watson. “Crick and Watson merged data from chemistry, physics and biology to solve the structure of DNA, building a hypothetical model….” From the dust jacket.

 Day One: Before Hiroshima and After. Peter Wyden. Vivid account of the problems in communication that occurred on America’s way to developing the atomic bomb and of the effects of the bomb on the people of Hiroshima.

The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity. Roy Porter. A history of medicine from the clearly defined conviction of the Hippocratic oath to the muddy ethical dilemmas of modern-day medicine.

The Immense Journey. Loren Eiseley. Series of essays concerned with the meaning of evolution. Eiseley views evolution as a continuing process, continuing to change to become—who knows what? Men and women as they are now will not be the men and women of the far future. We are working out what we are going to be. JW Krutch: “We think of ourselves as the climax of evolution, but we may be hardly more than its beginning.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Religion

Crossing the Threshold of Hope. Pope John Paul II. Pope John Paul II confronts the most persistent questions about religion, including, “Why does God permit suffering?”

 Penséees. Blaise Pascal. The first half of Pascal’s Pensées is profound. At one point, I considered Pascal’s Pensées to be the counterpoint to Islam’s Koran, “the only book needed in the world.” The second half of the book, arguing that the Catholic Church is the answer to the conundrums and dilemmas of humanity, is interesting, but less profound.

Under the Banner of Heaven. Jon Krakauer. A study in extremism. While this book is primarily about Mormon fundamentalists (read, believers in polygamy, which mainstream Mormons do not accept today), it is also a history of Mormonism. Hard to believe that people would be credulous enough to accept Joseph Smith’s account of the Angel Moroni and the golden plates which he translated from Egyptian hieroglyphics by means of magic glasses and a magic stone. But, along with Islam, Mormonism is one of the fastest growing world religions. Mormon fundamentalists believe that God gives his orders directly to  individuals and this leads to often bizarre behavior.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Politics and Govt. 05

Harry S. Truman by Margaret Truman. Some of the highlight events of Truman’s Presidency were his sudden assumption to the Presidency, negotiations with Churchill and Stalin, dropping of the atomic bomb, the shift from a war-time to a peace-time economy, the Marshall Plan, the Berlin blockade, Palestine, the Korean War and the dismissal of MacArthur, thus reinforcing civilian control of the military. While these facts are carefully documented in his own memoirs, Margaret Truman, his daughter, shows the human side of the President, his feelings under the pressure of events during his Presidency. They also provide a good summary of the events and the principal people involved in them, She shows his sense of humor, his pride in his family, and his knowledge of history that often served to guide his actions.

 Yankee from Olympus: Oliver Wendell Holmes. Catherine Drinker Bowen. Although this book concerns primarily Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., i.e., Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, the author, Catherine Drinker Bowen, spends time in the first quarter of the book describing in colorful detail, the grandfather, called Abiel, and Junior’s father, called Oliver or Dr. Holmes. The grandfather, Abiel, was a lawyer and Junior’s father, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, a physician and a writer of note.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Politics and Govt. 04

A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. When one member of his staff said he had had no training for the office that JFK was appointing him to, JFK replied that he, too, had had no education in how to be a President. They would both have to learn on the job. This book, together with Theodore Sorenson’s Kennedy tells the reader what JFK learned about being President.

Time Present, Time Past. Bill Bradley. Bradley wrote this book and others in order to become a Presidential candidate in the year 2000 election. Of course, he didn’t achieve his goal of becoming President, but his book offers a view of some of the issues other Presidential candidates need to consider: renewing people’s faith in the government, the problems of racism, uniting the many cultures in our society, urban education, the use of downsizing to increase corporate profits, and the nature of politics in the 21st century. Bradley  wants to use Presidential power to alter the national self-perception.

The Uncommon Wisdom of JFK. Eds. Bill Adler and Tom Folsom. John Kennedy was a prolific reader. He thought deeply about government and life. He fully appreciated that America was a model for free societies. If America failed, society based on freedom would also fail. He appreciated the transience of life and was fully conscious that the atomic age could obliterate the earth. They were the times in which he lived and governed.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Politics and Govt. 03

Memoirs by Harry S. Truman. Vol. One. Read to understand the magnitude of Harry S. Truman’s achievement, the flexibility of his personality, the sophistication of his political skills and the application of his fundamental principles. Deep down, he was an angry politician who rarely showed his anger. This memoir belies his image of a small-town hayseed who somehow managed to stumble through his Presidency.

Memoirs by Harry S. Truman. Vol. Two. The second volume of Truman’s Memoirs concerns the major issues with which he had to deal after WWII: Russia and the Cold War; the Berlin Blockade; labor, management and the Taft-Hartley Law; Korea, Communist China; MacArthur’s revolt; the unbelievable Marshall Plan and, of course, his upset re-election to the Presidency.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Politics and Govt. 02

Ask Not (JFK’s Inauguration Speech). Clarke. A good summary of the character of JFK and the politicians with whom he had to deal.

Best and the Brightest. Halberstam. The contrast between the Kennedy and LBJ style of leadership.

The Making of the President, 1960. Theodore H. White. Gives insights into the personalities and strategies of the Presidential candidates in 1960, won by John F. Kennedy.

Kennedy. Theodore Sorenson. Sorenson presents a comprehensive view of Kennedy’s ideas and methods of leadership.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Politics and Government 01

Abraham Lincoln. Prairie Years. Sandburg. A vivid re-creation of the youth and the times of Abraham Lincoln’s growing up.

Abraham Lincoln. War Years. Sandburg. An understanding of Lincoln’s principles of leadership in the Civil War and the profound change in the future of America because he was assassinated.

All Too Human: A Political Education. George Stephanopoulos. Behind–the-scenes view of Bill Clinton’s Presidency.

American Presidency. Clinton Rossiter. Thoughtful view of the powers and limitations of the American Presidency.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Novels 14

From Time to Time. Jack Finney. Novel. While time travel is fantasy, the issue raised by both Time and Again and From Time to time, could become a serious problem. If we could travel back in time, what would happen if we tried to alter what actually happened in history?

A Handful of Dust. Evelyn Waugh. Novel. A portrait of the decadent British aristocratic world of the 1930s.

Decline and Fall. Evelyn Waugh. Novel. Paul Pennyfeather becomes a member of a dysfunctional faculty in a public school in England.

I, Claudius. Robert Graves. Novel. My research presented Claudius as far from the benign, scholarly narrator of Graves’ I, Claudius. He was as cruel as his predecessors and the emperors who followed him. The time of Augustus, Tiberius and Caligula, and, following Claudius, Nero.

All the King’s Men. Robert Penn Warren. Novel. The complexity of a politician’s motivation.

Anthem. Ayn Rand. Novel. An antidote to the culture of melding the individual into the group.

As I Lay Dying. William Faulkner. Novel. Faulkner uses words to help the reader visualize the character, mood and even the weather in the South after the Civil War.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Novels 13

The DaVinci Code. Dan Brown. Novel. Some people were afraid to read this novel because they thought it would destroy their faith. It is actually just an ordinary mystery/detective novel.

Poland. James A. Michener. Novel. Most of Michener’s “novels” are really loaded with information about his topics, almost an encyclopedia, but told in story form. Michener is Polish and he wrote this novel to help people in the rest of the world understand the peculiar circumstances that make Poland what it is—a country beset by large nations  that have torn it apart, brutalized it, yet produced people of courage who never give up trying to live productive lives.

The Passions of the Mind: A Novel of Sigmund Freud... Irving Stone. Novel. A fictionalized biography of Freud, and not one of Stone’s best. It often reads more like a textbooks than a novel. But it does explain Freud’s thought in readable prose so that ordinary people like me can understand his ideas.