White Rose, Black Forest by Eoin Dempsey – Book

White Rose

White Rose, Black Forest by Eoin Dempsey starts with a real resistance movement inside Germany, the White Rose Society, and builds a novel around it. We can imagine that there were Germans living in Nazi Germany who did not buy into Hitler’s racism, his use of fear and instant retribution, the way he used his paranoia about what people said and did in privacy to justify invading everyone’s privacy, and setting neighbors to spy on neighbors.

In White Rose, Black Forest we meet a young German woman who was imprisoned for a short time because she had a boyfriend in the White Rose Society, the German resistance group which published underground news sheets called “The White Rose”. Franka Gerber, our young lady, a nurse in Munich, actually helped write that flyer and distribute it but was assumed to have been naively led astray by her boyfriend Hans. After serving time in prison she is now considered an outcast.

Now with all her family dead Franka lives alone in the family’s cabin in the Black Forest. She is devastated by the things that have happened to her family and the rumors of the terrible things happening to the Poles and the Jews. She sees no way forward for herself. She is planning to shoot herself out in the Black Forest with her father’s gun. It is the middle of winter and winter snows are deep on the ground, the cabin in a remote location, the roads closed due to the snow.

Her suicide is interrupted when she stumbles on a Luftwaffe officer attached to a parachute and unconscious, with two broken legs, who despite his extensive training speaks to her in English. This is where the story goes a bit off the rails. Some of the author’s explanations for what Franka does require a bit too much suspension of disbelief. Although the snow is a great device to buy her parachutist, John Lynch aka Werner Graf, time to heal.

What I did find relevant and worthy of attention were Franka’s interactions with her neighbors dished out in flashbacks to her years as a young girl when she joined the Hitler Youth movement, and with her earliest friends and her first boyfriend who shared these experiences with her. She eventually turned against Hitler and the Nazis, but her old beau, Daniel Berkel, became an agent of the Gestapo, became a loyal Nazi, and with promotions and power became quite a menacing figure.

Much is revealed about the role of women under Nazi rule which was defined by Hitler. Women were house frau’s and child bearers and kept an eye on their neighbors and reported their behavior when it seemed suspect. Women, unless single, did not work outside the home. However many German women became very good Nazi citizens and supported the regime in every way. Others obeyed because the penalties for not obeying were very steep, often even life-threatening.

White Rose, Black Forest by Eoin Dempsey is a very readable story, but not a polished literary novel. We do end up on the edge of our seats, and you might want to see if they are able to escape their very precarious situation.

From Wikipedia – “The White Rose (German: die Weiße Rose) was a non-violent, intellectual resistance group in the Third Reich led by a group of students and a professor at the University of Munich. The group conducted an anonymous leaflet and graffiti campaign that called for active opposition to the Nazi party regime.”

You can also find me at:

https://thearmchairobserver.com

www.tremr.com as brissioni

Goodreads.com as Nancy Brisson

 

Churchill on Brexit, the EU, Immigration, Diversity and more

United-States-of-Europe-672x372 Katy Jon Went

Winston Churchill was 90 by the mid-sixties, but he was born at the end of the 19 th century, the Victorian Age. Since he played such a prominent role on the world stage his positions on important issues affected decisions made in concert with other world leaders and set the world on pathways that reflected the closely-held positions of these leaders. Many issues trending in today’s conversations were addressed by Churchill and other world political and military figures, especially at the end of two wars that began in Europe and eventually affected nations on every continent. Some of those issues included: what should happen in Europe after two world wars, Churchill on isolationism, a Churchill design for a European union of sorts, what Churchill wished for the relationship between Great Britain and America, Churchill on immigration, and on diversity. I used Andrew Robert’s book Churchill: Walking with Destinyas my source because it is chock full of primary source material. (When Andrew Roberts is speaking you will find double quotes in use; when Churchill is quoted directly, single quotation marks will be found.)

Europe after the World Wars, Isolationism, and the Relationship between the UK and the US

Pg. 163

In 1911

‘It must always be a guiding star of British Statesmanship, not only to federate the Empire, but to draw nearer in bonds of friendship and association to the United States. The road to unity of the English-speaking races is no doubt a long one, and we cannot see the end of it.’

Andrew Roberts

“Churchill’s mind was starting to move along the lines that were to climax with his suggestion of joint Anglo-American citizenship at Harvard in 1943.

Pg. 793

‘Twice in my lifetime the long arm of destiny has reached across the oceans and involved the entire life and manhood of the United States in a deadly struggle.’ ‘There is no use in saying we don’t want it, we won’t have it, our forebears left Europe to avoid these quarrels; (America is speaking) “we have founded a new world which has no contact with the old.” There is no use in that. The long arm reaches out remorselessly and everyone’s existence, environment, and outlook undergo a swift and irresistible change.

There is no halting place at this point. We have now reached a stage in the journey where there can be no pause. We must go on. It must be world anarchy or world order.’

Roberts

“Churchill defined what connected the English-speaking peoples as ‘Law, language, literature – these are considerable factors. Common conceptions of what is right and decent, a marked regard for fair play, especially to the weak and poor, a stern sentiment of impartial justice, and above all the love of personal freedom.’

“To those isolationists who believed the United States should not have gone to war, he said,”

‘The price of greatness is responsibility. If the people of the United States had continued in a mediocre station, struggling with the wilderness, absorbed in their own affairs, and a factor of no consequence in the movement of the world, they might have remained forgotten and undisturbed beyond their protecting oceans: but one cannot rise to be in many ways the leading community in the civilized world without being convulsed by its agonies and inspired by its causes.’

Pg. 795

‘The gift of a common tongue is a priceless inheritance and it may well someday become the foundation of a common citizenship. I like to think of British and Americans moving about freely over each other’s wide estates with hardly a sense of being foreigners to one another.’

‘If we are together nothing is impossible. If we are divided all will fail. I therefore preach continually the doctrine of the fraternal association of our two peoples.’

Pg. 894

‘Neither the sure prevention of war nor the continuous rise of world organization will be gained without what I have called the fraternal association of English-speaking peoples. This means a special relationship between the British Commonwealth and Empire and the United States.’

Roberts

“He wanted this to go so far as to involve the joint use of all Naval and Air Force bases in the possession of either country all over the world.”

Pg. 959

On Socialism – 1959

‘Among our Socialist opponents there is great confusion. Some of them regard private enterprise as a tiger to be shot. Others look on it as a cow they can milk. Only a handful see it for what it really is – the strong and willing horse that pulls the whole cart along.’

Pg. 972

On Democracy

‘I was brought up in my father’s house to believe in democracy. “Trust the people” – that was his message. I used to see him cheered at meetings and in the streets by crowds of working men way back in those aristocratic Victorian day when, as Disraeli said, “The world was for the few, and the very few.”

Pg. 903

‘No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time; but there is broad feeling in our country that the people should rule, continuously rule, and that public opinion, expressed by all constitutional means, should shape, guide, and control the actions of ministers who are their servants and not their masters.’

How to Prevent Another War in Europe, ‘the United States of Europe’,  Britain and Europe – Churchill and Brexit

Why was Europe such a contentious area? How could we achieve long term peace in Europe and end that awful pattern of conflagration, high dungeon, and woeful destruction? Churchill, like his American counterparts had some ideas about government, how to quell German aggression, how to keep the peace in Europe, and how to stave off dissent in the coming iteration of the United Kingdom. Churchill believed that a united Europe, that worked to lower barriers among European nations would help keep the peace. He did not see this as one government over all of Europe. He saw this as a ‘United States of Europe’ where nations maintained their autonomy. Since he did not see this alliance as either military or economic it is difficult to see what he actually had in mind.

But what Churchill’s position was on whether Britain should be a part of this European alliance is quite telling. Churchill was opposed to a United Kingdom presence in the ‘United States of Europe’. Churchill was flexible and could change somewhat with the times. Would he ever have favored joining the EU? From all he said it seems unlikely. Since he would never have joined I assume he would favor Brexit once the UK made what he considered the mistake of joining in the first place. Interesting anyway to see the roots of the EU in the aftermath of WWII. Churchill did evolve, so he might have changed his mind on this. That we cannot know.

Pg. 624

On Allied post-war decisions

‘When the war is won by this nation, as it surely will be, it must be one of our aims to work to establish a state of society where the advantages and privileges which hitherto have been enjoyed only by the few shall be far more widely shared by the many and the youth of the nation as a whole.’

Pg. 632

“Once the war had been won, in about twenty months-time, he predicted,” ‘there would once more be those who wished to help Germany on to her feet. Only one thing in history is certain: that mankind is unteachable.’

Roberts

“After the peace had been won, Churchill believed the world would have a brief ‘opportunity to establish a few basic principles.’ “He thought future international relations could be based on Christian ethics, and the more closely we follow the Sermon on the Mount the more likely we are to succeed in our endeavor.”

On Britain and Europe – (Brexit)

Pg. 899

United States of Europe

“A speech on Sept. 19, 1946, picked up on a phrase from a speech of April, 1944 in which he had mentioned a future ‘United States of Europe’.”

Roberts

“Churchill recognized that the two greatest tragedies of his life time had both stemmed from Franco-German wars, and he pledged a new Franco-German amity that would be the essential first step along the road to European Unity, and which he hoped would be a counterpoise to Soviet Communism.”

“In Europe he said: ‘Let Europe arise!’

Roberts

“This was his Western Europe counterpart to the Fulton speech, a passionate statement in support of European unity which still reads very well today. In his peroration, he as usual made it perfectly clear – as he always did whenever he spoke in public or private on the subject – that he did not intend Britain to join the United Europe.”

‘In all this urgent work, France and Germany must take the lead together. Great Britain, the British Commonwealth of Nations, mighty America, and I trust Soviet Russia, for then indeed all would be well, must be the friends and sponsors of the new Europe and must champion its right to live and shine.’

Roberts

“Churchill made another emotional appeal for a united continent at an important meeting of the United Europe organization at the Albert Hall on 14 May 1947. Germany and France ‘would form a major regional entity in the new post-war world. There is the United States with all its dependencies; there is the Soviet Union; there is the British Empire and Commonwealth; and there is Europe, with which Great Britain is profoundly blended. Here are the four main pillars of the world Temple of Peace.’ “He intended Britain to be , as he put it a friend and sponsor and ‘profoundly blended with a United Europe, though not an integral part of it.’

“Why the European federalists should have apparently thought at one time that he was thinking of British membership of a federal Europe I have never understood. He always made it quite clear that Britain, if he had anything to do with it, would stand aloof.”

10 Dec. 1948 in a foreign policy debate

‘We are not seeking in the European movement…to usurp the functions of government. I have tried to make this plain again and again to the heads of government. We ask for a European assembly without executive power. We hope that sentiment and culture, the forgetting of old feuds, the lowering and melting down of barriers of all kinds between countries, the growing sense of being a good European – we hope that all these will be the final eventual and irresistible solvent of the difficulties which now condemn Europe to misery. The structure of constitutions, the settlement of economic problems, the military aspects, these belong to governments. We do not trespass on their sphere.

Pg. 936

Harriman, Acheson, General Walter Bedell Smith, and more on the question of a European Army

“They got nowhere with him over the opposition to fusing the European countries’ armed forces into one outside NATO, which therefore never happened.”

Of course Europe became more unified and less contentious before the advent of the EU probably through a combination of partition, the ‘iron curtain’ that divided Eastern Europe from Western Europe, the numerous American bases in Europe, and the democratic practices that pertained in Western Europe along with economic prosperity.

Churchill on Immigration and Diversity

Churchill’s Victorian roots in British aristocracy show up more when he speaks about diversity. After WWII immigrations to the UK started to bring people to England who did not fit Churchill’s love of uniting English-speaking nations. They came mainly from the West Indies at that time and were often neither white nor English-speaking. Would Churchill have liked the idea of remaining separate from the EU even more if he was still in charge of a nation flooded with 21 st century refugees. Andrew Roberts who wrote the book Churchill: Walking with Destinybelieves that Churchill’s views on race (skin color) were deeply embedded in his aristocratic soul and that they might have proven to be a thing he could not change. Churchill had a paternal interest in the nations that made up the British Empire, nations he saw as undeveloped. He thought it was the responsibility of leading nations to bring order to less developed nations. We understand this kind of arrogance but it is no longer in favor; this sort of noblesse oblige. Even the American leaders Churchill met with during the last years of WWII had little patience with his passions to include the needs of nations in England’s far-flung Empire in their military plans, although at the end of the war we added certain protectorates to our own empire, perhaps because the war in the Pacific tromped all over these island nations.

On Diversity

Pg. 943

‘Problems will arise if many coloured people settle here’ “Churchill told the Cabinet on 3 February 1954. ‘Are we to saddle ourselves with colour problems in the United Kingdom? They are attracted by the Welfare State? Public opinion in the United Kingdom won’t tolerate it once it gets beyond certain limits.’

“Although Churchill did not like the implosion of the Empire he had so loved and fought for, and denounced what he called ‘the magpie society’, he did not attempt to impose curbs on immigration, which were not introduced until the early 1960’s. On the issue of West Indian immigration, on another occasion he told the Cabinet that a good slogan was ‘Keep England white,’ indicating that his view on the matter of ethnicity had not materially changed since his adolescence.”

Churchill has been gone from this world for over 50 years now, which is why so many primary sources were available to his biographer, Andrew Roberts. But it was surprising to me to learn how contemporary his thoughts actually were and how once again he seemed to own a certain prescience about the future concerns of the modern world. Nations are grappling with all kinds of ways to form unions that boost their influence and power, in both military and economic spheres. We constantly go to war and obsess about how to stop having wars. We may agree that Churchill’s views were those of a modern white supremacist but we are all learning that living with immigration and mixing people of different nationalities and races in relatively safe nations with healthy economies is creating cultural difficulties for everyone that will require patience and tolerance to resolve. If we can’t cope with living in populations that are more global in scope then a world conflagration more deadly than any ever experienced could result. Churchill made me think about what the world needs to do to avoid WWIII. I am not the only one who wants to avoid that. People work for this outcome every day. Churchill was not a perfect man; but he was a great man. We could use another. (Autocrats need not apply).

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Katy Jon Went

 

Fear by Bob Woodward – Book

Fear Washington Times

Bob Woodward (of Watergate fame) recently published his exposé of the chaos in the early days of the Trump White House called simply, Fear: Trump in the White House.If you have been paying attention to the news (not Fox) then what you are reading in this book is hardly surprising. You see Steve Bannon come and go. The James Comey drama is in there. You see the contributions of people who played a role in those early days but are now gone, like Hope Hicks and Rob Porter. Tillerson and Trump disagree about foreign policy and Tillerson is replaced by Pompeo. Some of Trump’s fears about the Mueller investigation are covered.

There was a recent article in the NYT’s written by an anonymous source who told us that Trump’s West Wing staff are so worried about Trump’s orders telling them to design documents that will solidify bad policies, orders to place those documents on his desk to be signed, that they delay producing the papers and even remove the documents if they appear on Trump’s desk. They know that Trump’s mind jumps around from one idea to the next and that if the policy document is not placed in front of him he will forget about it (for a while). This is all covered in Woodward’s book. Woodward was there so it helps us feel like we are actually in the Oval Office, flies on the wall, experiencing staff fears in real time.

One of the greatest of all the fears is the one that shows us that someone who formed his policy ideas in some earlier decade, someone as inflexible as Trump, someone unwilling to learn about in-depth intelligence and to apply it to his fondly-held theories, someone unwilling to evolve, to revise old dogma, to encompass new data controls the nuclear codes. People in former administrations did not lightly make nuclear threats in hopes that going nuclear will turn enemies into friends. We don’t usually brag that our nuclear capabilities are greater than those of our enemies although we believe that it is basically understood. Nuclear boasting might backfire and the consequences could be devastating. Sometimes threatening documents, once produced, were removed from presidential proximity before he could sign them, but the fear that surrounds any casual treatment of nuclear weapons is always there.

Bob Woodward is not just making us aware that Trump’s staff lives in fear of Trump inadequacies and belligerent nature; he is telling us that we need to be fearful of a man who is filling a position he does not understand. We need to know that he is running America on ego, calcified opinions, and praise elicited by implied threats (fear). We need to follow Bob Woodward into those rooms in our nation’s White House and watch the slapdash way that business is now conducted daily in America. His account is very readable and the actual meat of the book ends well before the pages do. What follows is a section of photos, some pretty useful end notes, and a detailed index. If you have been paying attention to an in-depth news station like MSNBC it will all be very familiar. What will be different is that this time you are “in the room where it happens”.

The children in this Rainbow Room video offer revealing and very brief reviews of Bob Woodward’s book, reviews that sum things up very well.

https://mashable.com/video/stephen-colbert-reading-rainbow-woodward-trump/#FGlobArRcZqb

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Washington Times

Living Inside Donald’s Mind

living in Donald's mind BBC.com big

It is entirely possible that we Americans are guinea pigs for all the wacky ideas, revelations, and eureka moments that have been fixed for decades in Donald Trump’s mind. If he had never been elected President he would just be an old dude, who was once famous, pontificating about the state of America these days. He would be boring everyone by repeating over and over what he would do about the way America is treated if he could. All within hearing would have to listen to how he, Donald, would renegotiate all the bad deals that had been made on behalf of American. He would drone on and on about how none of those other presidents knew how to get a good deal. He would berate other nations about how badly they have treated America. He would project his sense of victimhood onto the world’s view and treatment of America. But his opinions would carry no weight.

But he is not just some obscure old man; not, as they say on Morning Joe, someone’s crazy uncle who ruins holidays. He is the president of the United States of America and every day we are living in Donald Trump’s brain.

Donald's royal brain big New Statesman

Some of Donald’s pronouncements seem to have been placed in his brain in 1960; some seem a bit more recent. Is this proof that he evolves? Not really. It is perhaps proof that he occasionally finds a new guru. He used to be pro-choice for example, and now is anti-abortion. (In the NYT this week there was an article about what the country will be like without legal abortion.) But once Donald gets something in his brain he is convinced that he has found the exact truth of that particular situation, that only his truth is the truth, and he repeats that “truth” like a parrot. And since he is a narcissist he cannot be convinced to change his mind until he has his next eureka moment (when someone he admires teaches him a new phrase.)

Trump seems to have formed some of his biases against immigrants fairly recently and some he has pontificated about for some time. His bias against Mexicans seems to have been around for a while. The belief that all Mexicans are members of the M-13 gang is perhaps more recent. And yet as a businessman he also swallowed his prejudices and hired the least expensive labor possible, so many Mexicans worked for him and many may have been in the country without having gone through proper channels. Since he often refused to pay his workers, most likely the Mexicans who worked for Donald (who were probably not all Mexicans) did not like him very much either.

Donald’s fear of Muslims is more recent. Those opinions were most likely formed sometime after 9/11. There is no nuance to Donald’s feelings. Once he passes his judgment he believes it absolutely until he doesn’t. Donald sees America as a white and Christian nation and he is setting out to make it so. He feels threatened by the current waves of immigration and his fear is obvious from his big asks for funds for military defense and his desire to buck up our nukes. If Donald is paranoid, America is paranoid, because we now live inside Donald’s head.

Donald's brain big NYT

How badly will we let Trump treat other human beings because Donald feels Mexicans (he calls everyone Mexican, even if they are from other South American countries) are takers. He is convinced that they have trampled all over Americans, stolen jobs (which few Americans want), refused to learn English, and that they are responsible for drug use in America (when it is actually a two-way street).

Perhaps because some poor immigrants are forced to take some pretty menial jobs to survive he forms the opinion that they are without value; they are animals. So, he sees no problem in separating children from parents as if they were kittens on a 1950’s farm. Families who are already running from trauma are being traumatized by a once welcoming nation in order to discourage refugees from seeking legal asylum in America. It is vile, and it puts America in some pretty bad company. America has never used children or women as pawns in either war or peace. When we resort to this kind of behavior we lose all the high ground and we damage the soul of American, once seen as a humane nation. A certain degree of meanness becomes commonplace and acceptable, making it less pleasant and less safe to live in these United States. We are not living in our usual state, the one where we decide American policy by compromise and governance. We are living out Donald Trump’s knee jerk set of principles and pronouncements.

Given his white supremacist leanings he would probably like to eject everyone who is not “white” from America, but he seems to almost understand that he can’t go there. Although when he told the athletes who “take a knee” to love America or leave it, I’m not sure where he thinks they would go. He must remember that they did not all come here by choice. Once I saw what happened inside a slave ship coming to America it made me physically ill. It made me think that reparations might not ever even be enough. And that wretched trip was not the end of the nightmare for once free people sold into slavery. Most slaves were treated like farm machines, possessions that could be kept in minimum comfort, fed because they needed energy to work hard, denied almost any little pleasure, abused sexually, and separated from their loved ones (denied family ties). We should be building a world where slavery is never allowed again but there are still pockets of slavery on our little world. Empathy does not seem to be one of Donald’s personality traits. Donald doesn’t like people who are captured. Still I don’t like to think about the lengths some people might be encouraged to go to in order to make America white again.

I’m not sure Trump ever cared two cents about health care because I doubt he offered it to his employees, but he is now convinced, as right-wingers are, that all government benefits are bad because they hurt business and the economy of America. What will American citizens do without healthcare? We did not have health care after World War II and before. Those were very different times though. Our population was smaller and there was no powerful coalition of doctors, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies (which, ironically was created when employers began offering health insurance. Capitalism deplores a vacuum.) Doctor’s fees were smaller, hospitals charged much less, emergency rooms did not exist. If your family was like mine, trips to the doctor were very rare. Folk remedies were more likely to be the order of the day for lower class Americans, and our life expectancies were much lower than they are now. There were no CAT scans or MRI, no robotic surgeries. Paying our hard-earned dollars into the system has brought some amazing changes to the field of medicine. Too bad we have to sell our futures to use them. Too bad our dollars were used to create drugs that have turned us into addicts. Meanwhile, inside Donald’s head it goes something like this – Me Donald, me think that all these government programs bad – they cost too much – me no like – cut them. Spend money on something like guns and nukes and a wall so Muslims can’t pour over our southern border to pillage and control us.

Donald was always a misogynist, although he would say, with a leer, that he loves women. But women are only useful to Donald as playmates and decoration, something beautiful to admire like a work of art in a museum. For Donald women with a brain, but who do not possess the ideal beauty that the world admires, might as well be men. However, they are not men. They are weaker than men. Donald does not admire people who are weak. Therefore women should stay home, exercise and avoid food, take care of the children, act as eye candy, but they should never involve themselves in men’s business, or govern nations. If they attempt to take over the roles of men they are to be humiliated or ignored, unless they are exceptionally beautiful, and then they should be ravished. In Donald’s simple brain, with its few and absolute rules, this is a man’s world.

Donald's brain burger big notello.com

Donald’s view of women affects his view (he has only the one) on foreign entities. He likes people who are strong. Women can’t be strong. Therefore, he like nations ruled by strong, ostensibly virile men; men like him. He made an assessment that our friends, our allies have been bad to us. They have abused American generosity, complained about our help (meddling) and they bad-mouth us too. What the world needs is a friendly coalition of nations ruled by men who will take no guff from anyone, who will protect their boundaries and throw out anyone who doesn’t belong, and then go off and feast and perform a manly sword dance. He probably plays that Saudi tape over and over while he scarfs down his cheeseburgers and smiles.

Donald's brain big Bigger Fatter POlitics

Some pundits are giving credit to Trump for the rise in Nationalism and xenophobia in Europe. Although his willingness to telegraph views similar to the populism in Europe perhaps gives other leaders permission to own attitudes that once were kept on the down low, the populism in Europe most likely is based on the flood of refugees arriving from the Middle East and especially Syria. Eastern European nations are barely recovered from their sojourn behind the Iron Curtain and they often merely tolerate the various groups within their rather unnatural post-war boundaries. Being flooded by people with no economic advantages to offer, who speak a different language and adhere to a different religion is a real problem they deal with every day. In Western Europe, where national identity is more secure, refugees are still creating many new problems for leaders to solve. Deportation is not really an option for these refugees because their own country has been devastated and is still at war. One could almost believe that Bashar Al Assad and Putin devised this war on purpose to throw the European Union into disarray. On the other hand Trump’s fears of being inundated with “others” is only imagined. He will not offer to have America share the dilemma of European nations that he labels as stingy. Besides, that would ruin any chance for a white, Christian America.

This is the guy who is running our country. We are just lackeys who act out the contents of his uncrowded mind. The rules are simple. You get no real prize if you obey Donald’s rules. You get his loyalty until it becomes inconvenient to offer it, or you no longer deserve it. You are a subject, nothing more, a contestant on the show called Donald Knows Best. We are all living in Donald Trump’s head, but his head has no use at all for most of us. We are here mainly so he can tell us how great his ideas are and so we can admire him when mighty observations he has concocted prove as accurate and effective as he tells us they are. We are Trump’s guinea pigs. We are living out any old thought or executive decision that happens to lodge itself in his psyche on any given day. Yikes!

May 2018 Book List

May 2018 Book List

Books with Glasses big

I did not include all the interesting lists from editors, publisher’s and readers for Summer Reading suggestions but you might want to Google them. Some people like to choose a long and meaty selection that will occupy them for most of the summer, some people like lighter fare, such as romances or stories that happen near beaches, some want thrillers or detective stories. We are so rich in writers and good books that it should not be difficult to find something engrossing to read while you soak up sun (or lounge in dappled shade).

Amazon

Literature and Fiction

A Shout in the Ruins by Kevin Powers

Alternative Remedies for Loss by Joanna Cantor

Pretend I’m Dead by Jen Beagin

My Ex-Life: A Novel by Stephen McCauley

Tomb of the Unknown Racist by Blanche McCrary Boyd

The Mars Room: A Novel by Rachel Kusher

Warlight: A Novel by Michael Ondaatje

The Cactus by Sarah Haywood

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

Mr. Flood’s Last Resort by Jess Kidd

Love and Ruin by Paula McClain

Mysteries and Thriller

The Mars Room: A Novel by Rachel Kushner

Star of the North by D B John

It Ends with Her by Brianna Labuskes

The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll

Wicked River: A Novel by Jenny Milchman

How it Happened by Michael Koryta

The Dark Angel (Ruth Galloway Mysteries) by Elly Griffiths

Cult X by Fuminori Nakamura, Kalau Almony

Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall

The Outsider by Stephen King

A Million Drops by Victor de Ánbol, Lisa Dillman

Biographies and Memoirs

Paul Simon: The Life by Robert Hilburn

From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia by Michael McFaul

The Electric Woman: A Memoir of Death-Defying Acts by Tessa Fontaine

Robin by Dave Itzkoff

Figures in a Landscape: People and Places by Paul Theroux

Spring by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Tip of the Iceberg: My 3,000-Mile Journey Around Wild Alaska, The Last Great American Frontier by Mark Adams

The Destiny Thief: Essays on Writing, Writers and Life by Richard Russo

Kickflip Boys: A Memoir of Freedom, Rebellion, and the Chaos of Fatherhood by Neal Thompson

The Last Cowboys: A Pioneer Family in the New West by John Branch

Nonfiction

Talking to my Daughter About the Economy or, How Capitalism Works – and How it Fails by Yanis Varoufakis

Bull Shit Jobs: A Theory by David Graebar

Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America by James Fellows, Deborah Fellows

Men in Blazers Present Encyclopedia Blazertannica: A Suboptimal Guide to Soccer, America’s Sport of the Future since 1972 by Roger Bennett, Michael Davies

Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics by Stephen Greenblatt PhD

The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli

The Vory: Russia’s Super Mafia by Mark Galeotti

The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World by Simon Winchester

Sex Money Murder: A Story of Crack, Blood, and Betrayal by Jonathan Green

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock by Steven Hyden

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence by Michael Pollan

Kickflip Boys by Neal Thompson

The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson

Into the Raging Sea: Thirty-Three Mariner’s, One Megastorm and the Sinking of El Faro by Rachel Slade

Science Fiction and Fantasy

Only Human (The Themis Files) by Sylvain Neuvel

The Plastic Magician (A Paper Magician Novel) by Charlie N. Holmberg

Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

Furyborn (The Empiricum Trilogy) by Claire Legrand

Medusa Uploaded (The Medusa Cycle) by Emily Devenport

In the Region of the Summer Stars (Eirlandia) by Stephen R. Lawhead

Dark Queen (Jane Yellowstone) by Faith Hunter

Artificial Condition: The Murderbot  Diaries by Martha Wells

The Poppy War: A Novel by R F Kuang

King of the Ashes: Book One of the Firemane Saga by Raymond E Feist

Time Was by Ian McDonald

 

NY Times Book Review

 

Apr. 8

Fiction

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

Gun Love by Jennifer Clement

Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen

Tangerine by Christine Mangan

Nonfiction

Russian Roulette by Michael Isikoff and David Corn

Educated by Tara Westover

Blue Dreams by Lauren Slater

Never Remember by Masha Gessen and Misha Friedman

Alt-Right by Mike Wendling

No Turning Back by Rania Abouzeid

I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O’Farrell

The Food Explorer by Daniel Stone

The Making of a Dream by Laura Wides-Muñoz

Watch One with the Gipper: An Aide Recalls Movie Nights with the Reagans by Mark Weinberg

Apr. 13

Fiction

Overstory by Richard Powers

The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman

Stray City by Chelsey Johnson

American Histories by John Edgar Wideman

The Sandman by Lars Kepler

The Ghost Notebooks by Ben Donick

Summer Hours at the Robbers Library by Sue Halpern

Crime Fiction

The Cutting Edge by Jeffrey Deaver

Twenty-One Days by Anne Perry

Black and White Ball by Loren D. Estleman

Greeks Bearing Gifts by Philip Kerr

Nonfiction

A Higher Loyalty by James Comey

Thinking Without a Banister by Hannah Arendt (essays)

The Marshall Plan by Benn Steil

The Art of Screen Time by Anya Kamenetz

Be the Parent, Please by Naomi Schaefer Riley

To Change the Church by Ross Douthat

A Dangerous Woman by Susan Ronald

Apr. 20

Fiction

Macbeth by Jo Nesbo

The Bible of Dirty Jokes by Eileen Pollack

The Life to Come by Michelle de Kretser

Happiness by Aminatta Forna

Paris Metro by Wendall Steavenson

Anatomy of a Miracle by Jonathan Miles

Science Fiction and Fantasy

The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Daniel Mallory Ortberg

The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

The Queens of Innishear by Tessa Gratton

Nonfiction

Who We Are and How We Got Here by David Reich

On Grand Strategy by John Lewis Gaddes

Picasso and the Painting that Shocked the World by Miles J Unger

The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison

Look Alive Out There (essays) by Sloane Crosley

Maker of Patterns by Freeman Dyson

Apr. 27

Fiction

Going for a Beer by Robert Coover

The Only Story by Julian Barnes

If We Had Known by Elise Juska

How to Be Safe by Tom McAllister

Census by Jesse Ball

Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff by Sean Penn

Nonfiction

God Save Texas by Lawrence Wright

State of Resistance by Manuel Pastor

The Promise and the Dream by David Margolick

Make Trouble (Memoir) by Cecile Roberts

The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos by Christian Davenport

Rocket Billionaires: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the New Space Race by Tim Fernholz

Sharp: The Women Who Make an Art of Having an Opinion by Michelle Dean

Wrestling with the Devil by Ngugiwa Thiong’o

The Beekeeper by Dunya Mikhail

 

Publisher’s Weekly

Apr. 6

Dictionary Stories by Jez Burrows (F)

Sharp: The Women Who Make an Art of Having an Opinion by Michelle Dean (NF)

The Cutting Edge: A Lincoln Rhyme Novel by Jeffrey Deaver (F)

The Dark Clouds Shining (last in a quartet) by David Downing

The Plant Messiah: Adventures in Search of the World’s Rarest Species by Carlos Magdalena (NF)

Circe by Madeline Miller (F)

Blackfish City by Sam J Miller (F)

A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee (F)

Demi-gods by Eliza Robertson (F)

Apr. 13

Beyond the Map: Unruly Enclaves, Ghostly Places, Emerging Lands and Our Search for New Utopias by Alastair Bonnett

The Little Art(Memoir) by Kate Briggs

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee (NF)

The Art of the Wasted Day by Patricia Hampl (F)

The Human Instinct: How we Evolvedto Have Reason,Consciousness, and Free Will by Kenneth Miller (NF)

Postcards from Auschwitz by Daniel P Reynolds (NF)

Foxby Dubravka Ugresic trans. From the Croatian by Elias-Bursac and David Williams (F)

Apr. 20

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World by Steve Brusatte (NF)

Companions by Christina Hesselholdt, trans from the Danish, by Paul Russell Garnett (NF)

The Pope Who Would Be King: The Exile of Pius IX and the Emergence of Modern Europe by David I Kertzer (NF)

Beneath the Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found by Gilbert King (NF)

Theory of the Bastards by Audrey Schulman (F)

Property by Lionel Shriver (F)

You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld (F)

The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History of the Century by Kirk W Johnson (F)

The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamarlya and Elizabeth Weil (F)

The Art of Reading (Essays) by Damon Young (NF)

Apr. 30

The Optimistic Decade by Heather Abel (F)

Slave Old Man by Patrick Chamoiseau, trans from the French and Creoleby Linda Coverdale (F)

Sorority by Genevieve Sly Crane (F)

The Electric Women: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts by Tessa Fontaine

Alter Ego: A Jonathan Stride Novel by Brian Freeman (F)

Motherhood by Sheila Heti (F)

Tradition by Brendan Kiely (F-YA)

Beauty in the Broken Places: A Memoir of Love, Faith, and Resilience(Memoir) by Allison Pataki

Exit Strategy by Charlton Pettus (F)

Asperger’s Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna by Edith Sheffer (NF)

Into the Raging Sea: Thirty-Three Mariners One Megastorm, and the Sinking of El Faro by Rachel Slade (NF)

Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto by Alan Stern and David Grinspoon (NF)

 

 

 

 

How Democracies Die by Levitsky and Ziblatt – Book

 

How democracies die big Chicago Humanities FestivalSteven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt wrote How Democracies Die. They were challenged to complete this book project by their agent Jill Kneerim. They did so with help from their student research assistants who are listed in the acknowledgments. It is a book that tries to analyze how much danger we are in of losing our democracy at this current moment in time. It begins with a story about Benito Mussolini and ends with references to the goings-on in the Trump/Republican administration, the 2016 primaries, and in the campaign of 2016. In the middle the authors look at a number of “political outsiders” who “came into power from the inside via elections or alliances with powerful political figures.” They take us through the rise of Adolf Hitler, Getúlio Vargas in Brazil, Alberto Fujimori in Peru and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. They say, “in each instance, elites believed the invitation to power would containthe outsider, leading to a restoration of control by mainstream politicians. But their plans backfired. A lethal mix of ambition, fear, and miscalculation conspired to lead them to the same fateful mistake: willingly handing over the keys of power to an autocrat-in-the-making.”

Although the authors remind us that America has had no shortage of authoritarian personalities in politics we also, they explain, have had “gatekeepers”, first in the form of powerful men in smoke-filled rooms and later in the form of political parties, conventions and the electoral college which kept authoritarianism in check, possibly with the sacrifice of some of the “will of the people”. They go on to explain that the primary system opened elections up to “outsiders” who had not come up from the ranks of government. Two factors weakened the gatekeepers, one being the availability of outside money (Citizen’s United) and two being the “explosion of alternative media”. “It was like a game of Russian roulette: The chances of an extremist outsider capturing the presidential nomination were higher than ever before in history.”

There were signs as early as the primaries that Trump might represent dangers for our democratic government.

  1. He would not say whether he would accept the results of the election
  2. He denied the legitimacy of his opponents
  3. He show a tolerance for and encouragement of violence
  4. He exhibited a readiness to curtail civil liberties of rivals and critics

The authors tell us that “No other major presidential candidate in modern U.S. history, including Nixon, has demonstrated such a weak public commitment to constitutional rights and democratic norms.” They offer evidence for each point they make. They also say that Republicans closed ranks behind Trump and normalized the election results.

Throughout their interesting and well-researched book we are shown examples of instances when outsiders have gradually and, sometimes, almost invisibly, sometimes rather violently taken the reins of power from the “referees” such as the courts, or the congresses of government, bought off their opponents, subverted the media, and have ended up with absolute control, thus ending a democracy. We can see where the authors are headed. They want to warn us that our democracy also could die such a death, just sliding into authoritarianism one baby step at a time. Here we look at Erdogan in Turkey and the Orbán government in Hungary and many more.

“Even well-designed constitutions cannot, by themselves, guarantee democracy,” say the authors. Successful democracies rely on informal rules, they add. “Two norms stand out as fundamental to a functioning democracy: mutual toleration and institutional forbearance.” The rest of the book shows us how these two norms are no longer functioning or are being eroded. In the end they explore our possible futures under Trump, but even if he is not the one who destroys our democracy it seems as if it has never been more threatened and it is good time to have a blueprint of what cues we should look for. Knowing when to put on the brakes or when the brakes will no longer functions could be very important either in the near or the more distant future.

Although this book seems scholarly and is constructed according to academic principles it is very readable. The language is not at all obscure and the examples of other nations who have lost their democratic government to a dictatorial government are interesting with easy-to-draw parallels. How Democracies Die should, perhaps, be required reading given where we find ourselves right now in America. It is the very best kind of thriller, the real kind.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – Book

There are not many family sagas that are non-European but Min Jin Lee has added Pachinko to the genre. Sunja Baek is the Korean woman that we follow to Japan. Hooni and Yongji are her parents, poor Koreans who carve out a viable economic space for themselves in the years just before the Japanese come to occupy the Korean Peninsula (in 1910, prior to Europe’s first world war). Hooni is born with a hair lip and does not expect to marry, but he has strength and personality. Yongji is old enough as a single woman to believe she will never marry. Sunja is their only living daughter. She is no great beauty but she has the allure of youth and she is pursued with some patient skill by Koh Hansu, who only visits Korea, but actually lives in Japan. When she tells him she is pregnant he offers to support her but tells her he cannot marry her.

Sunja and her mother run a boarding house for fishermen which is popular because her mother is a great cook. Izak Baek comes to their boarding house very ill, having just arrived in their village on the ferry. He is a Christian minister, going to Japan to take up a post in his brother’s congregation. He most likely has consumption (TB to us) and is not strong. When he learns of Sunja’s pregnancy he asks her to marry him and come to Japan with him. Sunja is reluctant to go because Koh Hansu lives in the very city where they will go to live but she has few options.

Sunja has a son, named Noah and another son named Mozasu (after Moses). Christians are outlawed in Japan and Koreans are looked upon as dogs so the family lives in what is basically the Korean ghetto. Sunja’s husband Isak is arrested and thrown in jail for preaching Christianity. His health problems make this particularly punitive for him. By the time he gets out of jail he is in very bad shape indeed. According to this author, the Japanese do not feel any foreign people are fine enough to be accepted by the Japanese people. This is the same attitude, seven decades later, that Sunja’s grandson Solomon encounters when he returns from school in America to work in Japan.

Noah, Sunja and Izak’s first child,  is actually the son of Koh Hansu. Hansu climbs the power ladder in Japan, but as a yakuza, so he is considered a criminal type, like a member of a mafia. Noah does not know this man is his father. Noah is very bright and longs to go to college in Japan. Hansu makes sure Noah is able to do as he wishes but there are repercussions and, in a sense, Sunja pays for her sins. The second son meets a Korean mentor who runs several Pachinko parlors. Pachinko is a game similar to pinball but it also involves gambling, so our equivalent of a Pachinko parlor is a casino. Many owners are criminals but Mozasu’s mentor runs his businesses cleanly. Eventually this second son owns three Pachinko parlors of his own and the family no longer has to worry about money.

This book covers the generations of this family growing up in Japan between 1910 and 1989. These Korean people never become Japanese citizens because, in fact, even if an immigrant from Korea does become a naturalized citizen, Koreans must carry passports from South Korea. The family may be fictional but the events they live through are not. This follows the form we are used to in most family sagas.

Sunja lives with Izak’s brother Joseph and his wife and it is the lives of the two couples and their offspring that we follow for seven decades and through two world wars. This novel requires an investment in time but the history covered is new to most of us and interesting because of it.

I listened to this book on Audible as I was able to use a credit to read it in that format without cost. The narrator had a clear voice but she was so sweet she did not always seem appropriate in times when life got bitter for the family. There is also some graphic sex in the last section of the book which seemed odd when read in the same tone as the rest. The sexual scenes were there for a reason but were quite jarring juxtaposed against the rest of the content. Even when Sunja had her illicit relationship with Koh Hansu the encounters were not at all graphic (of course Sunja’s experiences were in 1910 and Hannah’s experiences were in the 1980’s). Still I think if this was used as a book club selection readers would need to be forewarned about what to expect. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is a book that is growing on me now that I have finished reading it. It is vivid enough to be memorable but has a sort of sparseness that makes it better as history than as literature.