SURRENDER, NEW YORK/ CALEB CARR

I have two favorite mystery/ crime thriller authors, C.J. Sansom and Caleb Carr.  I had not caught up with Carr since reading  The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness. I just finished his latest, Surrender, New York.  While Sansom, a Brit, sets his novels of the Shardlake Series in England during the period of Henry VIII, Caleb Carr is very much American and very much New York. The setting for Surrender, New York is upstate in, of course, a town named Surrender.

Carr’s ingredients for Surrender, New York are a potpourri : a psychological profiler, a trace evidence expert, throwaway children,  corrupt politicians, a discarded vintage airplane used as high-tech office, horrific crime scenes, Death’s Head Hollow, an 80 pound cheetah named Marciana rescued from a petting zoo, love when there was none thought possible and of course plenty of bad guys and bad girls.

I will not attempt to put together a story line for you. That would be a disservice to Carr. You will quickly be captured by the pages of Surrender, New York and if you have not already done so will rush back to his earlier novels.

Want to know more about Sansom?  Since  you are already on the site, search here at gordonsgood reads.com The entire Shardlake Series, plus Winter in Madrid is here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BARKSKINS/ANNIE PROULK

The cast in Annie Proulx’s new novel, Barkskins, is enormous. It rapidly grows as each chapter follows generations of fur traders, adventurers and would be entrepreneurs  from the old world to the new. The family tree ( no pun intended) expands and the blood line grows to encompasses Native Americans and Native Canadians.  The story landscape ranges from Europe to the Canadian Maritimes, China, New Zealand and the Pacific Northwest.

Barkskins  makes a profound environmental statement as the perceived good folks along with lots of bad guys begin their devastation of the American colonial landscape long before mechanization and 19th Century greed. It is the era of wood,  white pine,  New England ship building ,the axe, logging, spring river runs and hard men who live harder lives in the deep woods.

“A thousand men could not cut all this in a thousand years.”  But they did.  ” He hated the American clear-cut despoliation, the insane waste of sound valuable wood, the destruction of the soil, the gullying and erosion, the ruin of the forest world, with no thought for the future.”   A strong woman  inherits a modest lumber enterprise  and converts it into a family fortune by developing a mechanized deforestation machine.

The book is not just about the forests but of the devastation brought upon the native people of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Maine.  It is the sad saga so often heard of American expansion, this time telling the story of the Mi’Kmaq.

“Now when the forest were gone there had never been so few Mi’Kmaq since the beginning of time, less than fifteen hundred, the remains of a people who had numbered more than one hundred thousand in the time before the white-man came.”

A fortune created by destroying the forests and an entire Indian culture. In the end a desperate search for an heir to the ill-gotten gains, and it comes full circle. Who is the family?

You may work at this read in the beginning but you will quickly be captured. Such  brilliant writing.

Annie Proulx is famous for The Shipping News and Brokeback Mountain.

 

MICHAEL LEWIS/THE UNDOING PROJECT/ NOT MONEYBALL/A DIFFERENT READ!

If you are looking for Michael Lewis’ new book  THE UNDOING PROJECT to be another MONEYBALL, THE BIG SHORT or THE BLIND SIDE, you won’t find it.

THE UNDOING PROJECT, published this year, is a cerebral look that undoes common wisdom about how we form opinions and make up our minds.  The subtitle of the book, A Friendship That Changed  Our Minds,  uncovers the relationship between two Israeli psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, who together broke the mold into investigating the human decision-making process.

Most appropriately, Lewis sets the scene for this work of non-fiction by explaining how  the non conventional statistical analysis of the potential of baseball players as  detailed  in his book  MONEYBALL was later used by the Houston Rockets basketball team.  The narrative quickly transforms into an  examination of exactly how psychologists Tversky and Kahneman through extensive scientific research in academia  both in Israel and the United States discovered exactly how the mind works when forming judgements  about  people and their performance potential in specific situations.  The book  advances its own unique theory of a person’s ability to think objectively.

Interspersed with the science is the personal story of two unlikely collaborators who formed an extraordinary  friendship and dramatically advanced a greater understanding of how initial perceptions can overwhelm reality.  The ” Halo effect.”  How do we examine specific individual qualities separately from the whole? Deep but fascinating.

THE RISE AND FALL OF AMERICAN GROWTH-AN IMPORTANT READ FOR TODAY

I have not read a more thorough analysis of the American economy and its resulting social implications. THE RISE AND FALL OF AMERICAN GROWTH takes a microscopic look at the U.S. standard of living since the Civil War. From beginning to end, this 666 page work of extraordinary research sets forth a clear understanding of expectations for the economic future of American capitalism.

Robert J. Gordon has the unique ability to treat a complicated subject in a manner that is readable, compelling and enjoyable.   Time and again in reading THE RISE AND FALL OF AMERICAN GROWTH I said, ” I get that.” Not a common response when reading about  GDP, and TFP and the exponential impact of forever life changing one time inventions. Gordon takes complicated subject matter and brings it home to the reader in a straightforward fashion. Even the layout of many dozens of trend graphs are easy to read and understandable.

So much for form.  The importance of the subject matter relates to anyone trying to figure out exactly where the U.S. economy is headed. What is the prognosis for the dwindling middle class, income inequality, immigration, wages  innovation and most important the human condition?  THE RISE AND FALL OF AMERICAN GROWTH places the period of 1870 to 1970 under a  microscope dramatically raising one’s understanding of the impact of the first and second industrial revolutions on the economic well-being of America and in particular the evolution of the middle class following World War II.   Gordon calls 1870-1940 ,” The period of the great inventions, that will likely never be duplicated.” Gordon’s  research carries through to today with a stark comparison of exactly why economic growth has stalled even with the rapid expansion of technology since 1970.

The headwinds against replicating the growth of the American economy that were experienced in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century are formidable.  Gordon sites income in-equality, a broken educational system, stagnant wages and a misplaced understanding of the importance of immigration to bolster the productivity of an aging labor force as key elements that will create further stagnation.

This is an important book for our time and place in America.

Other interesting books on this subject include Thomas Piketty’s  Capital in the 21st Century and Tom Friedman’s most recent book Thank You For Being Late. 

 

BERNIE SANDER’S “OUR REVOLUTION” ALIVE AND WELL!

” Let’s be clear!”  This familiar quote from Bernie Sanders is the perfect introduction to his recently published book detailing his campaign for the presidency. Perhaps more  important it is a detailed description of his progressive platform

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 Bernie Sanders, Our Revolution is divided into two sections. Part one reviews the origins and the execution of his campaign for the presidency.  It is an insightful glimpse of how the improbable became reality. For Bernie supporters the read is a pleasant and reinforcing journey.

The second part of the book is an excellent and detailed a count on the Sander’s progressive platform. The narrative extends far beyond the sound bites that are dictated by media coverage of campaigns. Fact based examinations of policies and programs lend substance to his ideas regarding income in-equality, climate change, corporate concentration, greed, education and health care. The reader comes away with a far greater understanding  of the depth and the rational for his ideas.  His explanations pattern his familiar straightforward and blunt style.

Having  just read Tom Friedman’s   Thank You For Being Late ( see gordonsgoodreads.com) it is interesting to discover the similarity of ideas and policy shared by Sanders and Friedman. Of particular interest is their common ground on education, climate change and income inequality.

Do not look for a lament on a lost cause because you will not find that narrative in these pages.  Bernie’s  Our Revolution, appears alive and well. I thought it appropriate to quote this battle cry from the final chapter.

” We will not be able to accomplish those goals if we look at democracy as a spectator sport, assuming others will do it for us. They won’t. The  future is in your hands. Let’s go to work.”

Let’s be clear!

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Friedman’s ” Thank You For Being Late.”

In the world of incredible  acceleration of technology, information, globalization and climate change, Thomas Friedman’s latest book takes a momentary pause to reflect. Thus the title,  Thank You For Being Late.   In reality, Friedman details a world-changing so quickly that civilization itself is now in fact very late, falling far behind Moore’s Law where exponential information changes driven by technology  literally double every two years!  ” Every society and every community  must compound the rate at which it re-imagines and adapts its social technologies, because our physical technologies will not be slowing down anytime soon, ” says Friedman.  Moore’s Law will win out and societal changes will have no choice but to try to keep pace.

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Friedman’s work is not a treatise only on technology. Quite to the contrary, it is a study of the current state of humankind. ” Warning ” writes Friedman. ” In  the age of accelerations, if a society doesn’t build floors under people, many will reach for a wall-no matter how self-defeating that would be.”

Much of this work deals with the impact of climate change as Friedman documents the globe’s movement out of the Holocene period of a more perfect  natural equilibrium into the present where the climate is on the edge of changing life as we have known it to exist on the planet. Friedman writes, ” I have said it before and I will keep saying it as long as I  have the breath: We are the first generation  for whom “later”  will be the time when all of Mother Nature’s buffers, spare tires, tricks of the trade, and tools for adapting and bouncing back will be exhausted or breached. If we don’t act quickly to mitigate these trends we will be the first generation of  humans for whom later will be too late.”

Just like his books  The World is Flat, The  Lexus And  The Olive Tree,  Hot Flat and Crowded and That Used To Be Us ( written with Michael Mandelbaum) Friedman’s work is readable, understandable and written for the layman even though the subject matter can become highly technical. That is very much his literary genius. He educates.  Search gordonsgoodreads for overviews of all of Friedman’s titles.

In today’s climate both political and technical,  Thank You For Being Late could not be more timely. Become  informed, painlessly!

 

THE HASTINGS OF BOYLSTON, MASSACHUSETTS

This writing is by no account an attempt to glorify the Hastings family name. My New England ancestors would have none of that. Quite to the contrary, it is born of the desire to commit to writing an answer to an often-asked question: Where did I come from?

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I am fortunate that some of what you will read in this narrative comes from oral history around the family supper table and what I remember from listening to my brother and sister and aunts and uncles and neighbors reminisce. Most of this story is derived from hours of research into deeds and land records dating back to the 1600s. Many hours were spent with old books, newspaper articles, and interviews.

A humble mildewed cardboard box that stayed in our basement for countless years was filled with treasure. The water-stained documents and faded pages contained therein stimulated my imagination. The box of old photos of people I didn’t know was kept in my parents’ bedroom dresser drawer where the winter woolens were stored. The pictures of grandfathers, grandmothers, and those who came before them still smell of the mothballs.

Fortunately, many of the old buildings I write about here remained standing during my sister’s, brother’s and my young adulthood. The descriptions of old roads, streams, and ponds derived from my memories add further texture to this writing. During my childhood Boylston remained a rural community to the extent that many of the old roads were dirt cart paths with grass sprouting in the center. Rusted horse-drawn farm implements were scattered in overgrown fields. An ancient, giant Fordson iron-wheeled tractor lay abandoned where it belched its last breath. Small trees, more like brush, penetrated the metal driver’s seat. Old decaying and weathered barns still stood.

My early ancestors were not diary keepers or writers of letters. They were farmers, men and women working from sun up to sun down, leaving little time for leisure. Details of their personalities are sketchy and anecdotal, but crafting this narrative allowed me to differentiate among them and to learn how they lived, who they married, and about their offspring.

Many of the old photographs included here are cause for both joy and concern. The joy derives from the thoughtfulness of those who placed these old and earlier studio portraits in safekeeping. The concern comes that in our digitized world, family photographs may disappear with a discarded cell phone or an accidental deletion. Who in today’s digital world is a designated keeper of the sacrosanct cardboard box?

If you are a casual reader of this narrative, I hope that you take from this family history urgency to write yours. Don’t rely on “File Save,” but rather click “Print” and gather the pages. Download selected family photos from your cell phone, have them professionally printed and do not forget the captions. Find a large box with a fitted top, and fill it with these treasures. Over the years the mildew will only add to the thrill and authenticity of someone someday discovering your family history.

I encourage you to embark on this endeavor for your family.

GORDON HASTINGS

THE HASTINGS OF BOYLSTON, MASSACHUSETTS IS AVAILABLE AT AMAZON.COM