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review 2017-05-19 06:56
Bobby Kennedy's blossoming
The Revolution of Robert Kennedy: From Power to Protest After JFK - John R. Bohrer

Until John F. Kennedy's assassination in November 1963 Robert Kennedy's political career had been subsumed into that of his brother. As manager for John's 1952 Senate and 1960 presidential campaigns, Robert was the one who did the disagreeable work, serving as the bad cop so as to avoid accruing any personal enmity towards his older brother. As Attorney General Bobby played a similar role, and acted as Jack's closest adviser throughout all of the major crises of his presidency. Jack's assassination left his brother politically adrift, suddenly deprived of the focus that had defined his public career. How Robert Kennedy regained his political footing and emerged as a politician in his own right is the subject of John Bohrer's book, which details his career from the aftermath of his brother's murder to the delivery of his "Ripple of Hope" speech in South Africa in 1966.

 

The significance of these years, as Bohrer demonstrates, lay in Robert's emergence as a politician in his own right. This was a role almost thrust on him from the moment of his brother's death, as it made him the next in line for his family's political aspirations. Many people openly campaigned for Kennedy to be selected as Lyndon Johnson's running mate in the 1964 presidential election, but the personal animosity between the two men, coupled with Johnson's need to establish his victory as the result of his own appeal and not that of the Kennedy mystique, forced Robert to run instead for the Senate in New York, which he won by defeating the popular Republican incumbent Kenneth Keating. Though possessing no seniority, Kennedy entered with an outsized stature, which he used to address he issues of poverty, civil rights, and America's growing involvement in the Vietnam War

 

Over the course of his book Bohrer develops a picture of a man who gradually found his voice as a politician in his own right. Though Kennedy's celebrity status undoubtedly played a role in this, Bohrer also credits the hard work both he and his aides put into making it possible. Though the author stops short of Kennedy's ill-fated 1968 presidential run, his book makes it clear how that trajectory towards the presidency was almost irresistible considering his status and the hopes so many invested in him. It makes for a book that offers a readably persuasive narrative explaining how Robert Kennedy emerged from his brother's shadow to become a national leader for his times.

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review 2017-05-12 23:12
The Awakening, and selected stories (Chopin)
The Awakening and Selected Stories - Kate Chopin

I read this in the edition that's free from Kindle, which unfortunately omitted the scholarly introduction advertised on the cover, probably for copyright reasons. Though I would have read it afterwards, it would have been nice to have a single essay to situate the importance of "The Awakening" instead of my inevitable after the fact googling.

 

The fact that I was unaware of this novel suggests either that my degrees in literature were deficient in American and feminist works (possible) or, more likely, that Chopin's work has been "found" and celebrated as proto-feminist since I ceased my active studies. That said, I found it both well-written and enjoyable in a sad sort of way. I did feel the unhappy ending - I should hope I am not spoiling anyone by mentioning that a nineteenth century story about an adulterous woman doesn't have a happy ending - was in some way imposed upon the novel by an author who saw no hope of its critical survival with any other outcome. Adulterous women pretty much had to be doomed in the 19th century, just like their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters a few decades later. Even so, the samples of contemporary critical reaction I found are rife with phrases like "not a healthy book" and "sad and mad and bad." It's really the only false step in an otherwise very well-depicted psychological journey: from an adolescent crush on a performer to a loveless marriage, to an attraction that "awakens" her romantically/sensually during a Louisiana beach summer, to a sexual liaison (the contemporary critics, used to decoding 19th century language, found this unambiguous, and so did I) with a substitute love object, and finally to a feeling of despair in the face of indubitable responsibility to her children after her romantic lover returns and pushes her away. But this last, the despair, was the least convincing and least fleshed-out aspect of the progression.

 

The little group of short stories added in with the novel are fairly insubstantial but interesting in their depiction of race and gender issues in that place (Louisiana) and time (the Civil War and just after). There's one story that was clearly picked just because it depicts - not in nearly so much detail of course - a woman making the opposite choice to Edna's in The Awakening, namely deciding to preserve her marriage rather than give in to a romantic attraction to another man. Another one that sticks in the mind is a rather nasty tale of a marriage between an aristocrat and a woman of unknown origin; he throws her out when her baby's skin tone appears to demonstrate that she is part Black, which he cannot under any circumstances accept. The last sentence of the story (it's a revelation about him and his own parentage) is quite a telling twist.

 

Reading fiction about "the woman question" in other centuries never fails to put me in a grateful frame of mind for the freedom of action and thought I enjoy.

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review 2017-05-11 22:35
Born to Run written and narrated by Bruce Springsteen
Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen

This is the best damn autobiography I've ever read or listened to, and I'm not even a Springsteen fan.

 

I am now, but not because of his music; it's because of his writing- his honesty, his humor, and his work ethic. His battles with depression and mental illness in his family must have been painful for him to admit, but it all rang true to me.

 

Don't get me wrong-I did have a few issues with him-most especially his reputation as a working man, or a rock and roller that represents the working man-and his not having worked a real job, (other than cutting lawns and carrying groceries to make the money for his second guitar), a day in his life! I guess I feel like he made up for that by doggedly pursuing his dreams and desires.

 

If you like Bruce Springsteen, or even if you don't, I highly recommend you read this book.

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review 2017-05-10 17:32
Paeans to my favorite books - VI: The Wars of Watergate
The Wars Of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon - Stanley I. Kutler

Donald Trump decision to fire James Comey has triggered a firestorm of controversy, one that will likely only grow in the days to come. As pundits and commentators are attempting to come to terms with it, many of them are reaching out to the only comparable example of presidential action under similar circumstances, the "Saturday Night Massacre" that provided one of the most dramatic moments of the Watergate crisis.

 

Hearing the analogies (valid or strained) makes me grateful for having read Stanley Kutler's book so many years ago. At the time I was preparing to teach U.S. history for the first time, and while I had a decent overall grasp of the subject I needed a better understanding of some of the knottier topics. Kutler's book gave me that understanding and more, as he unpacks the events of Watergate in a detailed account that provides clarity to the events he chronicles. He traces the genesis of the scandal that destroyed Nixon's presidency to his reaction to Daniel Ellsberg's leaking of the Pentagon Papers. Determined to hunt down leakers yet frustrated by J. Edgar Hoover's foot-dragging response to his request for help (as Hoover hadn't survived four and a half decades as FBI director by going along with politically disastrous ideas), he had his staff create their own in-house team to stop leaks (hence their nickname "Plumbers"). Having such a tool at hand proved too much of a temptation, and they were soon employed in a number of "black bag" operations culminating in the effort to tap the phones of the head of teh Democratic National Committee.

 

The heart of Kutler's book, however, is in his explanation of the investigations that followed. This required him to chart the inquiries undertaken by all three branches of government, as well as the administration's response (both public and private) to them. Though Kutler gives short shrift to the famous labors of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, given his background as a constitutional historian his decision to focus on the legal and political dimensions is understandable enough, especially as it is these areas which ultimately were key to Nixon's downfall.  Reading it gave me a real appreciation for both the scope of the Nixon administration's faults and the principled, even heroic, efforts by many to uncover the truth and uphold the law. I can only hope that people that brave serve our country today.

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review 2017-05-10 12:32
American Gods
American Gods - Neil Gaiman

by Neil Gaiman

 

I kept hearing how good this book is, so when a buddy read came up, I had to join in. I had even bought the book without my usual vetting through reading a sample.

 

The beginning surprised me. It wasn't at all like I expected and although there were hints of weirdness to come, I found myself firmly in uncharted waters. It does take a little while to get going to where it starts to make sense.

 

I'll admit I found it slow at times and struggled to keep my attention on it. The subtle infiltration of gods was a brilliant idea, but it took an age to get to the revelations and if it hadn't been Gaiman, I might have given up.

 

A lot of diversions into side stories kept the continuity from grabbing hold, though they fleshed out the overall situation. A linear story does unravel before the end, but along the way I found myself caring less and less about the characters and looking forward to getting to the end so I could read something more engrossing.

 

A lot of people love this book, but for me it isn't one of Gaiman's best.

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