Daniel James Brown’s  THE BOYS IN THE BOAT ranks  among my top non-fiction reads of 2014.  It is a captivating human story made even more compelling by Brown’s remarkable story telling.  This book is much more than its brilliant depiction of the sport of crew with nine men acting as one in an eight pared shell.  Brown wraps their journey to victory in the 1936 Berlin Olympics  in the history of the times.  The culture of young men growing up in the lumber and mining towns of the Pacific Northwest with few prospects beyond a life of hardship and physical labor.  The author brilliantly captures the darkness of the depression  of the 1930s and its impact on families and family life. He incorporates the drumbeat of the Nazi’s, preceding the outbreak of  WW II, and the elaborate deception of Hitler surrounding the 1936 Olympic Games.


Out of this era of despair appear nine young working class men, eight oarsmen and a coxswain , who literally by chance  come together under a brilliant coach and an iconic boat builder at the University of Washington.  Among these young men is teenager Joe Rantz, a boy with few prospects in life after being abandoned at age ten by his father an step-mother.  His true story of grit and determination swells the heart of the reader right through the exciting climax of this great American drama.  The Washington eight-oared shell captured the imagination of the country much as did the underdog racehorse Seabiscuit, as so beautifully chronicled in Laura Hillenbrand’s book of the same name.

Could there ever again be nine young men more deserving of ultimate triumph ?  Could a nation in a great depression be uplifted by a sport so obscure as crew, which was  formerly dominated only by the eastern elite.  Shades of Seabiscuit versus Man O’ War!  Could Hitler’s propaganda machine receive a huge setback by nine determined young American’s in eight-oared-shell ?   It all happens because of  THE BOYS IN THE BOAT!

The legendary boat-builder and philosopher of human nature George Pocock, provides a narrative for each chapter of  THE BOYS IN THE  BOAT :  ” He came to understand how those almost mystical bonds of trust and affection, if nurtured correctly, might lift a crew above the ordinary sphere, transport it to a place where nine boys somehow become one thing-a thing that could not quite be defined, a thing that was so in tune with the water and the earth and the sky above that, as they rowed, effort was replaced by ecstasy. ”


Daniel James Brown: ” It occurred to me that when Hitler watched Joe and the boys fight their way back from the rear of the field to sweep ahead of Italy and Germany seventy-five years ago, he saw, but did not recognize, heralds of his own doom. He could not have known that one day hundreds of thousands of boys just like them, boys who shared their essential natures-decent and unassuming, not privileged or favored by anything in particular, just loyal, committed and perseverant- would return to Germany dressed in olive drab, hunting him down.”

I commend  THE BOYS IN THE BOAT to the very top of your summer reading list. Buy it in hardcover because it belongs in your library for future generations.  Also by Daniel James Brown, The Indifferent Stars Above and Under a Flaming Sky.









It is somewhat astonishing that Thomas Piketty’s  CAPITAL in the 21st Century remains at the very top of the New York Times Best Seller List! Not intending to be condescending, this is not an easy read even for the most ardent observers of the national and world economy.  The first 250 pages, filled with exhaustive research over a 250 year period, complete with charts and graphs, is a test of anyone’s concentration.  You may need to read many pages more than once! The good news is that once through this sophisticated and advanced course in economics, the reader will come to an understanding of the inexorable march of an economic matrix that appears to be leading to a dysfunctional environment for the capitalistic system as  we have known in America for over 300 years.  Ironically, there is  currently a billboard on the south bound FDR Drive  in New York City that reads,” The French Aristocracy Didn’t See It Coming Either! ”  images Piketty does not set out to be an alarmist but rather to lay out what he believes is the most definitive research ever completed on the subject of inequality and the distribution of wealth in America and Europe, dating back to the seventeenth century.  Admittedly, Piketty qualifies some of the early collection of data as anecdotal but at the same time has sought out all-available recorded records to track the distribution of wealth over three centuries. What is most troubling in the Piketty thesis is his substantiation of a mathematical paradigm that left unchecked , places  the concentration of wealth worldwide and particularly in the United States on an unstoppable course of disastrous inequality.  Not an exciting prospect. Piketty: ” If the growing concentration of income from labor that has been observed in the United States over the last few decades were to continue, the bottom 50% could earn just half as much in total compensation as the top 10% by 2030.”  In the United States, the most recent survey by the Federal Reserve, indicates that the top decile own 72 percent of America’s wealth,  of which the bottom half claim just 2% .  These figures clearly delineate the plight of the dwindling  middle class.  If the top ten percent  and the bottom 2 percent control 74 percent of all wealth in America, that leaves only 26% for everyone else! Fundamental to Piketty’s  thesis is that a predicted economic annual growth rate in America of 1.5 percent or less will force a greater concentration of wealth among the top decile because based upon a rate of return there will be no incentive to invest risk capital back into the economy.  The top ten percent can comfortably continue to invest capital at 4-5% ( with some hedge funds at 10-30%) and in essence keep these capital resources off the table in the hands of the super wealthy, further shrinking the middle class and decimating the lower class.  He also predicts that as future generations  of the wealthy mature, inherited wealth will be exclusively bequeathed, removing it from the general capitalistic economy, in the same manner as did the old European aristocracies.  Thus, a new American Aristocracy fueled by inherited wealth? Piketty: ” In my view, there is absolutely no doubt that the increase of inequality in the United States  prior to 2007 contributed to the nation’s financial instability. The reason is simple:  One consequence of increasing inequality was virtual stagnation of the purchasing power of the lower and middle classes in the United States , which inevitably  made it more likely that modest households would take on debt, especially since unscrupulous banks  and financial intermediaries, freed from regulation and eager to earn good yields on the enormous savings injected into the system by the well-to-do, offered  credit on increasingly generous terms.” ” If we consider the total growth of the U.S. economy in the thirty years prior to the crisis, we find that the richest appropriated three-quarters of the growth.The richest 1-percent absorbed 60 percent of the total increase of U.S. national income in this period.  It is hard to imagine an economy and society that can continue functioning indefinitely with such extreme divergence between social groups.” Capital In The Twenty First Century has raised considerably debate and the outright questioning of Piketty’s research and formulas ( r>g ). However, if you take him for his word, the forecast is not comforting and for sure,  don’t look for many rave reviews from the financial establishment! Unfortunately, if you have sensed something wrong with the economy, Piketty offers great insight but little comfort! Capital in The 21st Century  is well worth a major investment of time.


I have not completed Tom Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. I will hasten to add that  after completing the first 250 pages  I may apply for an advanced Economics Degree.   The reward for wading through research and formulas going back 200 years does however come after the academics but in the early reading the news is not good regarding income inequality  globally and in America in particular.  More on that in a future posting with another 500 pages still to complete.


There is breaking news today that may require an additional chapter in Piketty’s book!

Please indulge my own interpretative headline.


I was not shocked at the U.S. Federal Appeals Court decision overturning Judge Jed S. Rakoff’s rejection of the settlement deal with Citigroup, claiming that the bank had got off with a mere slap on the wrist.  The three-judge panel yesterday said Rakoff got it wrong by applying an “ incorrect legal standard.” Citigroup now pays a fine and its business as usual.

The decision becomes even more frightening, at least to the layperson, when you peel back the details of the ruling! It seems to me that the three judges were searching for a rationale to support a foregone conclusion, much like Elmer Gantry could always find a passage in the Bible to support a point of view!

Judges Rosemary S. Pooler, Raymond J. Lohier Jr. and Susan L. Carney — concluded that it “is not within the district court’s purview to demand ‘cold, hard, solid facts. ”

The appellate court instead outlined a checklist for judges to follow when weighing enforcement cases, saying they must “determine whether the proposed consent decree is fair and reasonable, with the additional requirement that the public interest would not be dis-served.” 

What a stretch!  That the public interest would not be dis-served!  How is that for a parsing of words to avoid saying that the greater public interest should be served!  Your honors, please!

The final affront comes in this quote from the appellate decision.“ Trials are primarily about truth. Consent decrees are primarily about pragmatism.”

The bottom line is that three federal judges ruling deemed Judge Rakoff the “ skunk” at the Citigroup, S.E.C. party.

A final irony in this sordid affair is that the appellate court, in closing, questioned its own judgment!

“On remand, if the district court ( Rakoff)  finds it necessary, it may ask the S.E.C. and Citigroup to provide additional information ( the truth) sufficient to allay any concerns the district court may have regarding improper collusion” between Citigroup and the S.E.C.”  I think that Judge Rakoff made it quite clear that he had MANY CONCERNS!

This disingenuous decision may require an additional 50 pages in Tom Piketty’s already voluminous   Capital in the Twenty-First Century!











The 70th Anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944, has obviously peaked interested in this monumental, historic event. There are two  books I would like to recommend to those who wish to pursue the historic details of this epic event and a third which offers important insight into the citizen soldiers so critical to the ultimate Allied Victory.  Two of these books are by the same author, historian Stephen E. Ambrose.
One of the most definitive and detailed histories of D-Day:  OVERLORD D-DAY AND THE BATTLE FOR NORMANDY by  British Historian Max Hastings, first published in Great Britain  in 1984. Wrote the Englishman, ” Not the least remarkable aspect of the Second World War was the manner in which the United States, which might have been expected to regard the campaign in Europe as a diversion from the struggle against her principal aggressor, Japan, was persuaded to commit her chief strength in the west.  Not only that, but from December 1941 until June, 1944 it was the Americans who were passionately impatient to confront the German Army on the continent while the British, right up until the eve of D-Day, were haunted by the misgivings about doing do.”  “Why are we trying to do this? cried Winston Churchill.”



The author of Eisenhower, Stephen Ambrose,  wrote the quintessential  D-Day history:  D-DAY, JUNE 6, 1944, THE CLIMATIC BATTLE OF WORLD WAR II. First published in 1994 on the 50th anniversary of D-Day.  Dwight Eisenhower, ” The Fury of an aroused democracy.” Eisenhower on Omaha Beach in 1964 on the D-Day 20th Anniversary.  ” But it’s a wonderful thing to remember what those fellows twenty years ago were fighting for and sacrificing for, what they did to preserve  our way of life. Not to conquer any territory, not for any ambitions of our own. But to make sure that Hitler could not destroy freedom in the world.”







imagesHow ordinary enlisted men’s ability to assume leadership turned the tide for the Allies:  Stephen E. Ambrose, CITIZEN SOLDIERS.  First published in 1997.  From the memoir of  Bruce Eggert who rose from private to staff sergeant: ” Not a man among us would want to go through it again, but were all proud of having been so severely tested and found adequate. The only regret is for those of our friends who never returned.”

Any of these volumes would make a wonderful Fathers Day gift for lovers of history. All are still available in hard cover and paperback editions.