All posts tagged: Book Reviews

Finding Our Way

Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt’s powerful 2019 book Biased has been where I turned over the past week when I had wanted to read more than New Yorker cartoons or internet comment boards. And it has been worth the investment of time. As an African American scientist helping to teach and train groups as disparate as the Oakland Police Department, prisoners in the San Quentin penitentiary, and Silicon Valley tech companies, Dr. Eberhardt is helping us understand the way that prejudice hides below the surface of polite society yet shapes so much of what we see, think, and do. She calls on the latest neuroscience to track how our brains develop, react, and think. Then she lays out stories and studies that establish the pervasiveness of unconscious bias, even in those of us who work to fight tendencies toward prejudice. The widely-hailed book looks at bias against a range of individuals and communities, yet Dr. Eberhardt speaks most often about our prejudice towards African Americans. “In this country,” she writes, “blacks have become a reminder of the racial …

Nine Books for a Spring Without Baseball

If you are already missing baseball, you have company. To help you through the gloom, I’ve gone back into the More to Come archives to gather my personal “Best Books about Baseball” list. Here you’ll find my top nine books — one for each inning — to help you through this spring. And there might even be some “free” extra-inning baseball at the end! (NOTE: I’ve linked to my reviews, but they may be buried in a longer post containing information on multiple books. Look carefully and you’ll find the book in question.) Okay, let’s play ball! For the 1st and 2nd innings, we’ll have the top hitters from each team coming to the plate. So I’ll begin with some of the best: two baseball books which I included in the 2014 post Twelve Influential Books (And a Few More Thrown in for Fun).  How Life Imitates the World Series by Thomas Boswell – The longtime Washington Post sportswriter’s first book of baseball essays, published in 1982, is still his best. How can you not …

Geography and Imperialism

I picked up Robert D. Kaplan’s 2017 book Earning the Rockies: How Geography Shapes America’s Role in the World based on several high profile recommendations. In a short 178 pages, Kaplan — a card-carrying member of the East Coast elite that he proceeds to denigrate throughout the book —describes a cross-country trip taken in 2016 and mixes in his thoughts on how our geography led the U.S. to become a benevolent imperialist power. And calling on his impressive foreign policy experience and credentials, there are parts of this meditation on America’s rise and decline that are skillful and insightful. Kaplan argues that America became a great country not just because of our constitution and values, but because it occupies some of the best, most fertile land on the planet that is connected by a river system (running diagonally) that unites the heartland into a strong political unit. “America’s greatness,” in his words, “ultimately, is based on it being a nation, an empire, and a continent rolled into one.” And in taming the frontier, America — according to Kaplan’s analysis …

An Ongoing Conversation with the Past

At the very beginning of 2018’s American Dialogue: The Founders and Us, historian Joseph J. Ellis lays out his personal self-evident truth. This guide star that leads his work is simple yet important: “The study of history is an ongoing conversation between past and present from which we all have much to learn.” I couldn’t agree more. Especially in times of crisis such as we face now. Over the book’s 200+ pages, Ellis demonstrates how just such a dialogue takes place in the hands of a talented historian, biographer, writer, and thinker immersed in the study of our nation’s founding. Focusing on key issues of our day, he carries on a rich, thoughtful, and challenging conversation with four founders that helps us go back to the beginning and understand some of their controversial decisions, and how that differs from choices we are making today. The questions are well chosen given our highly polarized times. Ellis notes that we are “currently incapable of sustained argument” as our creedal convictions — formed during the revolutionary era — bump …

Babe Ruth and the Creation of the Modern Celebrity

In the coming weeks, if we are able as individuals to stay healthy, we may all be looking at books in our “to be read” pile to fill up this time of coronavirus. For very good reasons sports leagues and tournaments are shutting down. Opera houses and theatres are going dark. Schools are closing. Restaurants may be next on the list. Watching cable news is just too damn depressing (and not always very informative). As I was writing this, Major League Baseball cancelled the rest of spring training and has pushed back opening day at least two weeks. If you are looking for a good sports book to fill up your hours, I wish I could send you to Jane Leavy’s 2018 The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created with more enthusiasm. Those who know my reading habits are aware that I always read a baseball book as part of my personal spring training. (The other part of the regimen is watching Bull Durham, the best baseball movie ever.) In 2020, The Big Fella was the …

Saving the Past Has a Past

It is surprising that a field that has focused so much on the preservation of history has an unfortunate blind spot to its own history. Historic preservation is one of the longest-lasting examples of community development, land use reform, and public history in the United States. The stories of the past efforts of our fellow citizens to ensure that parts of our history are with us today and tomorrow are varied and fascinating. Yet many, both inside and outside preservation, tell themselves a simplistic and usually inaccurate story of how we came to value parts of our past in a country that too often only values the new and what’s over the horizon. The recently released second edition of Giving Preservation a History, edited by Randall Mason and Max Page, is a strong attempt to reverse our trend at historical amnesia in the preservation field. Through seven essays retained from the first edition, six new essays prepared for the 2020 book, and two concluding chapters to wrap both works together, the editors have endeavored to put forward …

The Flip Side of Ignorance

We seem to be wallowing in a great deal of ignorance these days. In Margaret Renkl’s wonderful debut book Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss, she makes the comment that “It takes a lot of nerve” for someone like herself, who is “so ignorant of true wilderness” to put herself forward as a nature writer. But then she adds, “the flip side of ignorance is astonishment, and I am good at astonishment.” So many today seem content to settle in the midst of their ignorance and not face life with astonishment, awe, and a sense of wonder. As Renkl shows, that approach is their loss, but also, in many ways, ours as well. We are all connected, humans and non-human. Those who choose to abandon a sense of astonishment and wonder and settle in their ignorance continue to make decisions—often with very harmful consequences—that affect every other thing on this planet. “Every day the world is teaching me what I need to know to be in the world,” Renkl writes in another passage …

Searching for Utopia

Americans have a long history of living with an eye on the horizon, seeking something shiny and new. The first religious communities of New England, founded to escape the tyranny of the established churches in Europe, led to Roger Williams and others leaving those new settlements for Rhode Island to escape the tyranny of the Puritans. The Jeffersonian search for freedom in land led to grid-and-garden patterns of development across much of the Midwest and West and, eventually, the push out of the city into the “land” of the suburb. Communitarian journeys to places like New Harmony, the Shaker villages, and (a personal favorite) the 19th century English town of Rugby, Tennessee are part of the story. Henry Ford noted that, “We shall solve the problem of the city by leaving the city,” so Ford, George Pullman and other industrialists, up to and including today’s Silicon Valley elites, have constructed company towns and “E-topias” to build something new in the land of opportunity. All of these examples and many more are part of Alex Krieger’s …

Towards A More Perfect Union

To a historian, the beginning of the Senate’s impeachment trial of Donald Trump seems to be an appropriate time to consider our nation’s history.. Trump has been impeached for his actions to involve a foreign country in undermining the 2020 election and—by extension—undercutting the right of U.S. citizens to choose their own leaders. We will certainly hear a great deal of fake history—both of the recent and founding fathers variety—this week. For the real deal, I turn instead to one of our country’s most prominent historians of the Civil War and Reconstruction era, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and scholar Eric Foner. The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution is Foner’s most recent book, bringing together a lifetime of scholarship around this most contentious era in our nation’s history. And in spite of its look at a period some 150 years in the past, this is work with great resonance for this day, this political climate, and the major questions of how we will advance as a nation. As Foner states in his preface, …

Resisting the Pressure of Reality

Labor Day is a time to refocus and rejuvenate. Facebook feeds are full of pictures of students heading off to the first day of school. Summer vacations are wrapped up and business activity picks up. After the news lull of the summer months . . . Wait . . there was no summer news lull? Unless you were disciplined enough to cut off your electronic devices and stop your newspaper deliveries, I suspect you know about Greenland and Denmark. The proposed nuclear (as in bomb) response to hurricanes. Our where-do-we-stand-this-hour trade war with China. Immigrant children dying in U.S. custody. Home-grown domestic terrorists killing men, women, and children in never-ending mass shootings. An unwillingness on the part of one of our political parties to protect our system of electing the country’s leaders. Dismantling of critical environmental protections. Selling off public land to the highest bidder. Disarray in the G-7. Staggering income inequality and a wildly fluctuating stock market. And that was just last week. I fear we are coming to a point where many will …