Watching and listening to today’s celebration of the Lyndon Johnson Presidency and the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts urges me to remind you of the great Robert Caro book The Passage of Power. Every detail of these great accomplishments are presented in Caro’s incomparable fashion. See a brief overview at gordonsgoodreads.com. This book is so extraordinary you too will have sat in a room with LBJ.
British historical novelist Philippa Gregory in her foreword to Anya Seton’s Katherine is correct in identifying Seton among those writers who ” Dominated historical fiction following World War II.” In the opinion of Gordon’s Good Reads, Seton’s historical novel Katherine , a huge best seller in the 1950s , is perhaps her very best. Katherine is without doubt a love story, a romantic novel indeed, but the attention to the detailed setting in Medieval England in the 1300s , gives this book high marks as a classic historical novel. Just as she did with Winthrop Women, Seton traveled to the novel’s setting and has marvelously recreated a world that only a novelist of her calibre could bring to life.
Katherine , from rags to riches , Knights in shining armor ( John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster), serfs, England’s feudal system, bastard children, the Black Death, kept woman, love triumphs! All of the elements of a great romantic novel are here but with page after page the reader is placed in a time and place of Fourteenth Century squalor, chivalry and treachery amid riches , castles and jeweled crowns beyond imagination. Arranged marriages enthroned Kings an Queens including 12-year-old King Richard, while the lower classes begin an epoch march to freedom, long before Cromwell and Henry the Eighth dashed all hopes of equality. Seton gets the history right and delivers the lesson within the framework of a wonderful love story well outside the confining lines of a text-book. Add to this novel the poetry and presence of Geoffrey Chaucer!
Put Katherine on your reading list. Anya Seton ( 1906-1990), through all of the years will, never disappoint. See my previous reviews here at gordonsgoodreads of Seton’s Winthrop Women and Dragonwick. Also by Anya Seton: Avalon, Devil Water, Foxfire, Green Darkness and My. Theodosia.
Readers of this blog know of my personal love of history. That perspective led me to look for the precedent of a major national event that changed history in favor of an issue popular with the citizenry but blocked by special interests. Few would argue that special interests, mainly the National Rifle Association, derailed widely publicly supported legislation to introduce background checks into the process of gun purchasing. The Senate defeat, coming on the heels of the tragedy in Newtown, has resulted in a public outcry with President Obama leading the charge. While the examples I will reference ( Newtown and The Big Burn) differ in many ways, both issues rose to the level of acute public passion.
Just over a century ago in 1910, America witnessed a devastating national disaster that many historians have compared with the force of an atomic bomb. In August of that year a wind-driven forest fire raged through the states of Washington, Idaho and Montana destroying 3 million acres of drought stricken timber lands, wildlife, dozens of frontier communities, and killing 78 firefighters, many of them young college students volunteering on behalf of their belief in the newly created National Forest Service. No one alive in 1910 had seen anything like what author Timothy Egan describes in his book The Big Burn.
It is the back story here that begs for comparison with the fight for stricter gun legislation. There existed prior to the fire a bitter fight between President Theodore Roosevelt and his Chief Forrester Gifford Pinchot and the special interests of the timber and mining industries. As Egan describes it, ” The Robber Barons fought Roosevelt and Pinchot to the bitter end, time and again derailing progressive legislation to protect the forests from the timber barons and the open lands from the copper mining interests.” Senator Weldon B. Heyburn of Idaho, the leader of the anti-conservationists was a strident foe of any legislation to protect the land and it was his own law-firm ( no conflict of interest here) that was the chief paid lobbyist for the timber and mining interests. Quoting again from The Big Burn, Heyburn called federal forest reserves, ” an expensive, useless burden to the public.”
Following the fire, Roosevelt , now out of office, seized the disaster as an opportunity to try again to pass legislation creating national forests in the West. In his effort to block the creation of any additional public land Heyburn used arcane Senate rules to keep the executive branch from designating new federal forest land without congressional approval. Two years later, in 1912 , Heyburn was dead after suffering a stroke while ironically delivering a filibuster on the Senate floor. ( No 60-vote rule in 1910 a, just hours of talking to prevent a vote)
The Idaho, Montana, Washington inferno of 1910 became the tipping point on the public lands issue, what Egan calls, “The Fire That Saved America.” Out of this disaster came forth the enormous support for “public lands,” a National Parks System and the conservation programs that are in place in America today. Heyburn, his senate co-conspirator Montana’s Senator William Clark and the timber and mining lobby were in their day comparable to the Senate opposition in today’s fight over gun legislation. As a political lobby, Heyburn’s law firm was the equivalent of the NRA.
If history repeats itself the hell-fire and public out cry created by this weeks defeat of gun legislation in the U.S.Senate may be the Big Burn of public indignation that results in the final passage of even stronger gun legislation. Following the fire of 1910 , even though out of office, Roosevelt used his power to rally public support for public lands . Doris Kerns Goodwin’s forthcoming book on Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Robert Taft will further detail the enormous impact of the Bully Pulpit on public policy.
After hearing President Obama and the father of one of the children killed at Newtown speak on Wednesday evening at the White House, there is little doubt that dedication, passion and leadership weigh heavily upon the likelihood that the public tipping point of public indignation has been reached on gun legislation and like the Big Burn, will likely to be grasped from the jaws of defeat.
I opened Tom Wolfe’s Back To Blood on Thursday afternoon! It is now Saturday afternoon and every word on each of the 704 pages has been digested! I guess I could simply end my overview with that! However, it can not go unsaid that Tom Wolfe engages the reader from the first page whether it be Bonfire of the Vanities or my favorite Wolfe novel, I am Charlotte Simmons.
Back to Blood catapults the reader into the political and social structure of Miami. There is little left out of this vivid painting. A WASP publisher of the Miami Herald seeks to avoid controversy at all costs. Add to the mix a young aspiring reporter, A black chief of police, a Cuban mayor, and a police officer, also Cuban, who with great consistency finds himself in the middle of two huge stories that threaten the delicate balance between all of the competing constituencies within this cosmopolitan melting pot. There is also plenty of humor, bringing back images of Lucky You by Carl Hiaasen, another Miami based novel.
With great skill, Wolfe introduces the ethnic beauty of the women of Miami who play a major role adding to the complexity of relationships as played out by the protagonist police officer Nestor Camacho. There are dozens of contemporary themes as a video of a police drug take down goes viral, a local psychiatrist specializing in pornographic addiction becomes a high-profile TV Doctor, a stunning light-skinned Haitian woman of French heritage is a love interest. Miami Art Basel and a new Miami Art Museum become a focal point in a fake painting fraud perpetuated by a Russian Oligarch and his entourage. Wolfe carefully and with great creativity brings all of these factions together in a tumultuous conclusion.
Place Back to Blood on the Christmas gift list for friends who enjoy a good read. Pick up the hard cover as any Tom Wolfe novel is worth a permanent place in a book lovers library. Luckily, Back to Blood arrived when the family was traveling and I only had my dog to offend with my face in a book for two days. What pleasure great writing can bring and the new Tom Clancy novel Threat Vector is on the way December 4th!
The Ken Burns PBS special Dust Bowl could well have been based upon Tim Egan’s book The Worst Hard Time. Although Egan appeared in the television special, his book takes the reader on an even more vivid journey. Of course it is also in the Dust Bowl that begins Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.
The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan dramatizes remarkable similarities between the Great Depression of the 1920s and the 1930s and the Great Recession of 2008-2011. The land grab in the High Plains, the breaking of the virgin sod, and the rampant speculation in wheat by homesteaders and suitcase farmers alike all fueled by easy money. Sounds a lot like no income check mortgages home equity loans!
If you interchange a few names: Housing Bubble for High Plains land, wheat speculation for Mortgage Backed Securities and suitcase farmers for real estate and Wall Street speculators Tim Egan could have very well been describing today’s financial crisis.
Egan wrote The Worst Hard Time in 2005 and uncannily described exactly what was coming in the next Worst Hard Time!
Another fine Tim Egan book is The Big Burn which includes many additional lessons on what happens when financial speculation and politics trumps common sense. It is all about Teddy Roosevelt, the environment and our National Parks.
Both books are timely reads.
I worked with Dave Donelson years ago, long before he wrote his first novel, Heart of Diamonds. His connection with the media business is apparent in the development of the story and principal characters in his book. This is the type of novel that you may pick up now knowing what to expect, with no national reviews and no best seller listing. Had the author not handed me this book on a chance meeting, it would likely have not come to my attention. I am glad that it did!
Here is the list of ingredients for this extremely fast paced thriller! A beautiful female network reporter who is passed over for the coveted anchor chair, complicated by the fact that she is the girl friend of the network’s Washington News Bureau Chief. A war-torn African Republic of the Congo ruled by your typical despot. A young and handsome doctor who has eschewed a prestigious NYC hospital assignment for a clinic serving the malnourished who are also victims of the violence among the warring Congo factions. A diamond mine in the Congo owned by a famous television evangelist who is a public supporter of the President of the United States, and who through an elaborate scheme, is skimming the diamond mine’s profits without the knowledge of his partner, the despotic president of the Congo Republic!
You guessed correctly if you placed Valeria Grey, seeking a big story to offset her disappointment over losing the anchor chair to a male talking head, literally in the middle of this complex mix of violence, subterfuge, death, and high stakes potential political fall-out. Could the President of the United States be so foolish as to become involved in the scheme? It certainly becomes a life and death struggle for Valerie Grey and those who seek to support her exposing this incredible blockbuster story!
As I referenced earlier, Heart of Diamonds was a surprise which I opened and completed in a day and a half. Alarmingly insightful and an enjoyable page turner indeed!
Everywhere you look, the discourse is about the nation becoming anxious, depressed and FAT! New York Times columnist Mark Bittman has this recent report. ( June 27, 2012 Op-Ed)
“One of the challenges of arguing that hyperprocessed carbohydrates are largely responsible for the obesity pandemic (“epidemic” is no longer a strong enough word, say many experts) is the notion that “a calorie is a calorie.”
Accept that, and you buy into the contention that consuming 100 calories’ worth of sugar-water (like Coke or Gatorade), white bread or French fries is the same as eating 100 calories of broccoli or beans. And Big Food — which has little interest in selling broccoli or beans — would have you believe that if you expend enough energy to work off those 100 calories, it simply doesn’t matter.
There’s an increasing body of evidence, however, that calories from highly processed carbohydrates like white flour (and of course sugar) provide calories that the body treats differently, spiking both blood sugar and insulin and causing us to retain fat instead of burning it off.
In other words, all calories are not alike.”
FromGordon’s Good Reads:
There is much more to the story than calories and obesity. If you wish to read an outstanding overview and “work book” on how eating the wrong foods in almost any combination can raise havoc with your life, your brain and your body, get a copy of Mark Hyman M.D.’s book The UltraMindSolution. The book is about “functional medicine,” treating the root cause of illnesses and disorders rather than just the symptoms.
Dr. Hyman details how eating the wrong foods combined with food allergies can have health implications far beyond the obesity epidemic including autism, cancer, diabetes, and the short circuiting of the brain! Hyman cites many culprits including sugar, highly processed foods, yeast, gluten and mercury. Conversely, he concludes and documents that eliminating toxic elements from the diet can erase not only the symptoms but the disease itself! The Ultra Mind Solution concludes that by fixing the body first by carefully examining what people ingest, individuals can also fix their brains and free themselves from anxiety and depression.
This is a self-help book of the finest order. Whether you adopt Hyman’s philosophy is an open question but I predict that after reading the UltraMindSolution you will change your diet and carefully consider almost everything you eat. You may even adopt the program! Proponents of Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on super size sugar drinks should place this volume in their arsenal!
Also by Mark Hyman, M.D. : The Detox Box, Ultraprevention, UltraMetabolism, The UltraSimple Diet, The UltraMetabolism Cook-Book.