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review 2019-05-12 01:06
What's that awful smell?
The Gilded Age - Mark Twain,Charles Dudley Warner

Can conditions in the United States get any worse? Donald Trump has never achieved as high as a 45 percent approval rating, while except during the first days of his presidency, his disapproval rating has remained above 50 percent .

 

 Whatever your politics, numbers don’t lie. Too many are displeased. Something stinks in Washington. During the early 1870s, two writers also suffered offended nostrils and together wrote a novel about it. Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner called their era the Gilded Age. That’s gilded, not golden. Their era lacked the solidity of deep values, having instead only a golden coating upon an unworthy foundation.

 

The book begins before the Civil War but largely details the years that follow. Historically this period marked the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, and some of the book’s characters are among its unwitting victims. This period saw massive capital investment in railroads and machinery as well as massive displacement of small business men and landholders. While the book’s events occur at the beginning of the age, its title lent its name to the era itself.

 

There are parallels here to our own age. At its height, the Gilded Age brought about massive income inequality. Some grew enormously wealthy while masses of others suffered in dire poverty. Since the 1980s our own society has moved in this direction as well. While the incomes of the top ten percent have stayed even with the living costs, those of the bottom 89 percent have not. The incomes of the wealthiest among us have soared, yet unlike Icarus, they show no signs of falling toward Earth. The technology sector with its high salaries distributed among relatively few workers echoes the effect of industrialization, though some writers fear that this time workers won’t eventually share its benefits after robots and AI eliminate their jobs.

 

The book touches upon industrialization as several of its characters seek speculative wealth from a new railroad line. However the bulk of the action takes place in Washington DC. Laura and her brother, George Washington Hawkins, as well as the ever optimistic and ever impoverished, Colonel Beriah Sellers, enjoy the patronage of the pious Senator Dilworthy. Since the book contains much satire, the reader is not overly surprised when Laura approaches the good senator in his study as he reads from an upside down Bible.

 

Washington in 1873, just like today, is a place where corruption prospers. Unlike that of today, however, the corruption is almost quaintly innocent. This book was the first novel from two authors who would subsequently write a good few more. It’s not their best. That said, it’s not that bad. Twain at his worst is better than most and Warner also writes well. However, the work doesn’t flow as well as what one would expect from authors with email and modern equipment. I’m glad I read it though. Along with satire it packs plenty of drama and provides a taste of what life was like in earlier days.

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text 2017-06-14 22:15
Two for One and I Went Crazy
The Industrial Revolution - Patrick N. Allitt
Cycles of American Political Thought - Joseph F. Kobylka
History's Greatest Voyages of Exploration - Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius
The Mysterious Etruscans - Steven L. Tuck
Privacy, Property, and Free Speech: Law and the Constitution in the 21st Century - Jeffrey Rosen
An Economic History of the World since 1400 - Donald J. Harreld
Cultural Literacy for Religion: Everything the Well-Educated Person Should Know - Mark Berkson

The latest Audible sale is offering  2 for one credit on 250 of the Great Courses lectures and I went crazy. I spent every credit in my coffers. It will take me weeks to get through all that I bought because I will have to sprinkle some light-hearted romps in among the didactic discourse just to keep me going.

 

The banner should look a lot better once the cover art gets updated. (Thank you, Librarians).

 

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review 2015-08-29 18:25
Raising Steam (audiobook) by Terry Pratchett, read by Stephen Briggs
Raising Steam - Stephen Briggs,Terry Pratchett

This is the third Discworld novel to feature Moist von Lipwig as a protagonist. I've listened to the first, Going Postal, many times and fully expected to love Raising Steam. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work for me.

In this book, the Discworld gets its first locomotives. Dick Simnel, a self-taught engineer, invents and improves the things, spending a great deal of time on his pride and joy, Iron Girder (while listening, I thought it was spelled Iron Gerda). Sir Harry King, looking for something more respectable to attach his name to than waste and sanitation, agrees to finance Dick's project, and Vetinari assigns Moist von Lipwig to the project as a government representative. Moist's charm and quick thinking come in handy as he struggles to get the land agreements necessary for the locomotive project to be successful. Meanwhile, Vetinari is adamant that the train must go to Überwald, and his timetable may be tighter than even Moist can handle. Dwarfish fundamentalists in Überwald and Ankh-Morpork add another level of difficulty.

Raising Steam was just as quotable as any other Discworld book, and, once again, Stephen Briggs' narration was fabulous. Unfortunately, I haven't yet read Thud! and Snuff, both of which I think might have provided the background for the tensions between the dwarves and trolls and the status of the goblins. Also, the steam locomotive stuff didn't interest me much, in part because I'm just not a train enthusiast, but also because Moist didn't really have much to do with any of it.

In Going Postal, Moist was the driving force behind the resurrection and improvement of the Ankh-Morpork postal service. I loved seeing him think on his feet. He constantly raised the stakes and acted far more confident about his chances for success than he really was. In Raising Steam, most of the nitty gritty details of the trains and railway were worked out by other people. Moist was primarily on the sidelines. He was an important character – his negotiation skills were vital – but he felt more like one small part of the whole than like the driving force behind all of it. I missed seeing him have a more prominent role, and Dick Simnel and the others just weren't interesting enough to me to make up for that.

Before I wrap things up: this was the first Discworld book that prompted me to wonder where the same-sex couples were in the series. There was a moment that made me think a couple characters were going to turn out to be a secret gay couple, which made me realize I couldn't recall any gay or lesbian couples in the series, so it was all the  more disappointing when my suspicions about those two characters turned out to not be correct. It didn't really affect how I felt about the book, but I did see it as a missed opportunity.

All in all, Raising Steam was disappointing but not necessarily bad. I think I liked it more than the Rincewind books, but less than most every other Discworld book I've read. However, I do plan on giving it another go after I've read Thud! and Snuff, just to see if that improves my opinion of it.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2015-03-24 17:06
Bellman and Black: A Ghost Story - Diane Setterfield
Bellman and Black: A Ghost Story - Diane Setterfield

As a novel about a Victorian man who makes his fortune by clever planning in business, I liked it okay. The book dealt kindly with aging and grief and the trauma of grief on a large scale. But I thought it was supposed to be a ghost story, so I kept waiting for that aspect, and kept being disappointed. Fundamentally, I suppose I just didn't get it. Wonderfully moody though.

 

Personal copy

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review 2015-01-05 17:10
The Truth - Terry Pratchett
The Truth - Terry Pratchett

April 3 2004
Jan 1 2012

Having read it twice, I feel like I should remember it better.

***

December 16, 2014

The Industrial Revolution series-within-a-series are all devoted to bringing the Discworld out of medieval European fantasy and into the modern world. This is the development of the printing press and newspapers. It is a romp on the theme of great newspaper romantic comedies, with the clever aristocratic publisher solving a mystery, dealing with politics, and getting the girl despite a certain romantic obliviousness. Lots of jokes about people wanting things published in the paper (pictures of amusing vegetables), jokes about feeding the press, and rather more serious issues dealt with lightly: integration, new technology, old boys.

Satisfying but somehow hard to distinguish in memory from the movies it riffs on.

Personal copy.

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