David Grann’s extraordinarily researched work of non-fiction, Killers of the Flower Moon, The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, details yet another contemptible and murderous abuse of Native Americas. The killing of many dozens of Osage Indians in Osage County, Oklahoma were conceived and carried out by the white establishment over a period of two murderous decades. The motive? A common theme of greed, in this case stealing from the Osage the mineral rights to the booming oil field discovered on their reservation in the early 1900s.
When J. Edgar Hoover was first named head of what was later to become the Federal Bureau of Investigation he prioritized the solving of the Osage Indian murders and turned to Texas Ranger Tom White to lead the investigation. The details of this tragedy are shocking. It was a conspiracy the specific purpose of which was to kill Osage and their descendants in order to steal the valuable mineral rights that had made the Osage among the wealthiest per capita people in America. Local law enforcement was major part of the conspiracy.
Grann spares no detail in uncovering the horror of this injustice. The accolades he has received from the literary community speak to the importance of this work. High praise from Jon Krakauer, Erik Larsen, John Grisham and S.C. Gwynne.
David Grann also authored The Lost City of Z and The Devil and Sherlock Holmes.
Hampton Sides, author of Ghost Soldier and Blood and Thunder has impeccably researched and brilliantly written the saga of the ill-fated North Pole quest of the USS Jeannette. In The Kingdom of Ice is an adventure narrative that keeps the reader gripped to the pages throughout the journey. If you have read the story of Ernest Shackleton’s expedition with the ship Endurance you will be astounded by the incredible story of George De Long and his ship the Jeannette.
Within these pages, author Sides unfolds the parallel story of James Gordon Bennett Jr , owner of the New York Herald, adding historical dimension to this work of non-fiction. Publisher Bennett, always seeking ways to dramatically promote his newspaper’s circulation , stepped forward to underwrite the entire cost of De Long’s quest for the North Pole. Bennett was the same publisher who sent Stanley to find Livingstone, thought to be lost in the depths of Africa. That story, as would coverage of the fate of the Jeannette, became a sensation as it unfolded in the pages of the Herald.
I recommend this read with great enthusiasm. You will be unable to leave these pages until the fate of every man who sailed aboard the Jeannette is known.
Hillbilly Elegy, a memoir written by J.D. Vance , is a brisk read that has established itself on the New York Times Best Seller List. The book is a captivating personal story with a broad reach into class distinctions within American society. Vance extends the hillbilly narrative beyond the hollers of his Kentucky heritage.
I am reminded of two similar memoirs, Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle and Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life. I would not attempt a ranking here but the status of Wall’s book as a best seller in this genre speaks for itself. Time will tell if Hillbilly Elegy has similar staying power.
J.D Vance’s personal story is a narrative of a culture that few American’s know or understand. It’s impact is broadened because it is contemporary and opens a greater understanding of the polemic in which the country finds itself today.
Narrated with shocking honesty, Vance’s story took great courage to tell. It is deserving of your summer reading list.
J.D. Vance is a graduate of Yale Law School and is an Investment Banker in San Francisco.
SHATTERED is certainly a read for enthusiasts of political intrigue. SHATTERED is not of the calibre of the late Richard Ben Cramer’s WHAT IT TAKES or political writers Caro, Goodwin or Meacham. However, Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes tell an insightful story of the disastrous 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign for the presidency. The book raises a fundamental question of whether Hillary lost the election at the hand of herself and her organization.
A fundamental paradox raised throughout the book is the modern campaign issue of analytics and algorithms versus street level political acumen and gut feeling. Just as the media projections of the 2016 election failed because of too much reliance on polling numbers, the direction of Clinton’s campaign fell upon the same sword.
The writing in SHATTERED casts a broader picture of the campaign than just the numbers. It tells of infighting, sycophants, personalities, favorites and internal power struggles.
Why did Hillary fail in what many considered an easy win against Donald Trump ? SHATTERED offers some answers.
This well researched work of non-fiction is an important read for those with a keen interest in the great Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce and the attendant story line of Native Americans and the Nez Perce War. Equally important, Daniel Sharfstein’s THUNDER in the MOUNTAINS places the story of the Nez Perce in an even broader historical context.
THUNDER in the MOUNTAINS carefully constructs the protracted efforts by Chief Joseph and U.S. Army General Oliver Otis Howard to avoid what became the last of the great Indian Wars of the 1870s. Following his participation in the Civil War, General Howard was named head of the Freedman’s Bureau and placed in charge of bringing the 4-million newly emancipated slaves under the protection of U.S. Citizenship. Howard, possessed of a substantial ego , was shattered when much of the blame of the failure of the Freedman’s Bureau was placed at his feet.
Upon his election, President Grant sent Howard to the Northwest to negotiate with Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce bands that as the last hold outs had refused to give up their native lands and move to government Indian Reservations.
The author brilliantly defines Chief Joseph’s character and intellect and the melancholy of chief’s arguments having no bearing on the outcome for the Nez Perce. “All I ask is that my people be treated as U.S. citizens and have the same rights under the laws to pursue our rightful ownership of our home lands.”
As is my custom in this space I will leave the details of the story and the saga’s tragic ending to the telling of the author and the absorption of his readers. ” I will fight no more forever.”
As you read THUNDER in the MOUNTAINS keep in mind the parallels between emancipation and the disposition of the Native Americans and how badly the U.S. Government failed on both counts. I applaud Sharfstein for the literary manner in which he has merged these monumental epics in American History.
Also by Daniel Sharfstein: The Invisible Line, A Secret History of Race in America
I also highly recommend THE NEZ PERCE INDIANS AND THE OPENING OF THE NORTHWEST by Alvin M. Josephy, Jr.
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.
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.