Nov/Dec 2020 ~ Which non-fiction books are attracting . . .

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Nov/Dec 2020 ~ Which non-fiction books are attracting . . .

Out 31, 2020, 6:22 pm

. . . your interest these two final months of 2020?

Nov 1, 2020, 10:14 am

I've just reached the halfway mark of Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow by Leon F. Litwack. This is a long, detailed, infuriating, depressing and essential history of life in the American south from the end of the Reconstruction Era to the Great Migration to the north in the middle of the 20th century. Learning how how cruel, unremitting and effective wee the efforts to keep blacks as individuals and as a group from improving their lives is horrifying. I'll have more to say when I finish the book.

Editado: Nov 1, 2020, 10:58 pm

I'm almost finished with That Wild Country by Mark Kenyon. I'm not as big a fan of Edward Abbey as he is, but the discussion of public lands is always on the agenda here in the West.

Nov 2, 2020, 7:46 am

Just started Complications by Atul Gawande. I got a lot out of his other book Being Mortal so decided to try more. So far I've cringed several times.

Nov 2, 2020, 10:45 pm

History of Reading, Alberto Manguel

Nov 3, 2020, 7:39 am

I finished the LTER book, The Language of Liberty. It was an extremely informative book, presenting in encyclopedic format much information on the history of the government's formation and how it works. In my opinion, however, when the author expressed his own opinions and concerns, he did so from a traditional conservative view point.

Nov 4, 2020, 3:07 am

I'm reading Work by James Suzman and it's a bit confusing as he rambles all over the place around the topic and spends a lot of time on the evolution of humans from protozoa onwards. I'd be interested to hear others' thoughts on it if you've read it!

Nov 7, 2020, 2:01 pm

When Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny People
Jeannie Gaffigan
4/5 stars
In 2017 Jeannie Gaffigan loses the hearing in her one ear. Putting it off because of just being too busy, she finally goes to the doctor and finds out that she has a brain tumor and must undergo brain surgery. Her husband Jim cancels all his concerts, takes over the household and gathers up all her family and friends to help out. Very heartwarming and at times very funny!

Nov 8, 2020, 7:30 am

Title: A Woman of Firsts
Author: Edna Adan Ismail
Rating: ****

This is a life story of an amazing woman, who probably doesn't think she is all that amazing. The daughter of a doctor, in what was then the British protectorate of Somaliland, he seems to be remarkably forward thinking; she gains an education and a scholarship to train in Britain. And so begins a life of dedication to nursing. It is not an easy life - for herself or others. She had 3 failed marriages - but then I imagine that most agents of change are impossible to live with. Along the way she serves as first lady of Somalia, for the WHO and UN in a variety of positions. And still has the time and energy to build a hospital and train hundreds of nurses and midwives.
The subtitle may initially appear overblown, but having read this extrodinary life, I can't disagree - this is one woman who you have probably never heard of and should.

Nov 8, 2020, 11:46 am

Tim and Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White
Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen
4/5 stars
Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen talk about their lives as stand up comics and as the first comedy duo who were interracial. This was a fascinating look at their lives growing up, how they met and started to perform together, how audiences responded to them and how they ended up eventually parting ways. Tom remained a comedian and was the opener to Frank Sinatra concerts while Tim moved on to TV in WKRP in Cincinnati and Frank's Place. Written in 2008, this book is still relevant today.

Nov 9, 2020, 1:36 pm

I finished Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow by Leon F. Litwack. It took me more than two weeks to read this horrifying, depressing, infuriating and absolutely essential history. Trouble in Mind is a follow-up to Litwack's Been in the Storm So Long, which I read earlier. The first book, Storm, covers the period from the days of slavery through the beginning of Reconstruction. Trouble in Mind covers the period from the end of Reconstruction, when the brief period of black enfranchisement ended as southern states moved to brutally and emphatically reassert White Supremacy throughout the American south, through what is known as the Great Migration, when blacks in great numbers moved north to fill factory jobs that came available during and just after World War I. The facts are much more appalling than I ever knew.

I had thought I had an idea of what the term "Jim Crow" represented to the people who lived under the weight of that oppressive system, but it turns out I had only a relatively shallow understanding. It wasn't just a question of separate railroad cars and exclusion from restaurants and stores. It wasn't just being prevented from voting, although many of the problems stemmed from that. It was about vicious, all-pervasive, horrendous oppression and murder.

Editado: Nov 9, 2020, 4:27 pm

I'm midway through The Sacred Canopy, a sociology of religion theory book that I should have read many years ago when it might have done me some good in academic work. But I'm enjoying it now.

Nov 10, 2020, 4:08 am

I'm part-way through Ian Dunt's How To Be A Liberal, another read from Sheffield's "Off the Shelf" series of talks. It's an exploration of the history of liberal thought and ideas, basically starting with Descartes and proceeding on to the present day. Very interesting.

Nov 12, 2020, 1:41 pm

I'm reading Without my Mother: A Daughter's Search for the Mother Who Abandoned Her by Melissa Cistaro.

Nov 13, 2020, 11:17 am

When Breath Becomes Air
Paul Kalanithi
5/5 stars
This is the wonderfully written autobiographical book by and about Paul Kalanithi’s life and his struggle with cancer which ends his life at the age of 36. The epilogue written by his wife lets the readers know what occurred at the end of his life. I am probably one of the last to have read this book but it was so inspirational and thought provoking that I had to praise this to all of you have not read it.

Nov 15, 2020, 1:24 pm

I finished The Rare Metals War which was a frightening look at the rare metal needs for our digital and green advances; the polluting and energy costs of mining and refining them; the nationalistic commandeering of them particularly by China, and their eminent depletion. Especially now, being a bit numb to impending disasters, it seemed just another way the human race it heading towards disaster.

Nov 16, 2020, 10:54 am

Finished On Tyranny which was a crucial book for our present times, reminding us that the collapse of a democracy including ours can happen and that it takes complicity for that to happen. The 20 lessons suggest ways that we, the ordinary persons, can counter that possibility. Not real detailed but easily digested.

Editado: Nov 17, 2020, 2:58 am

>18 snash: Thank you for letting me know about this book.

It does look a bit USA-centred, but broad enough to be applicable in Europe, whose democracies are definitely in as much danger as the one in the USA, just in a different way. And it is practical and empowering, so it is not, as >17 snash: says, about "just another way the human race is heading towards disaster".

Nov 17, 2020, 4:46 am

I'm reading the Festschrift written on Gilbert Murray's seventieth birthday. Although best known for his work in Classics, the man was much bigger than that. Reading Essays in honour of Gilbert Murray (George Allen & Unwin (1936)) makes me realise that in the present political climate we would do with a man of his calibre today. Even in the 1930s Murray was a great internationalist.

A fascinating look into the life of a great mind, put together by his peers. Highly recommended even eighty or so years after first publication.

Nov 17, 2020, 11:16 am

I am slowly making my way through How to be an Antiracist. The author introduces a new vocabulary which is challenging but ultimately helpful in creating a framework to think about racism, overt and implicit. By weaving his own life story in the narrative, he provides concrete examples of how we all can know better and do better.

Nov 18, 2020, 10:51 am

I'm reading The Answer Is....Reflections on my Life by the much-missed Alex Trebek. I admire his love of learning, his obvious pride in being Canadian, and the way he made learning and intelligence cool. RIP, Alex.

Nov 19, 2020, 9:49 am

I'm sticking with Jeopardy-related stuff, and reading Planet Funny: How Comedy Ruined Everything by Ken Jennings.

Nov 19, 2020, 12:30 pm

>23 LynnB: Added the Jennings book to my TBR list!

Nov 23, 2020, 12:15 am

Hi, all! I finished The Brontes and Their World by Phyllis Bentley. This was an excellent biography of all 5 Bronte siblings (and their father). I also read 57 Hours about the Chechens taking 850 theatre goers hostages in Moscow in 2002. Heartbreaking, on all sides. I have a couple works of fiction to finish, but I'm dedicating December to non-fiction so I'm going to start trolling my shelves now. I think I will read Sapiens, for sure.

Nov 23, 2020, 9:26 am

Problem with 'non-fiction': one can't say one's 'reading a book', as one is always delving. The Murray 'Festschrift' is still on the go, but today I had to dig out Hurd's 'Disraeli' and a Siddur...

Nov 23, 2020, 10:06 am

Given that we've been struggling through another traitorous patch in this country's history, I've been reading Traitor: A History Of American Betrayal From Benedict Arnold To Donald Trump by David Rothkopf.

Nov 24, 2020, 11:57 am

Los of tempting titles in this thread. Had to stop by and give multiple stars to Masha Gessen’s Surviving Autocracy. She focuses on the importance of language and it’s use and misuse.

Nov 27, 2020, 2:37 pm

I finished Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin. This is a fascinating and comprehensive history of the Black Panther Party, which rose quickly to assume a place at the vanguard of the Revolutionary/New Left movement in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The authors provide a very readable and detailed account of the cultural/historic factors and personalities, both inside and outside the party itself, that created the Panthers' philosophy, quick rise, widespread influence, and steady disintegration. This book illuminates a crucial period in African American history and American history more generally. Highly recommended.

Editado: Nov 27, 2020, 3:10 pm

I finished my read of The Sacred Canopy, and I've pivoted to Baudrillard's Transparency of Evil. The latter was certainly focused on what it considered to be very contemporary cultural issues of the 1990s, but it has aged startlingly well--at least in the first few essays. I've also started in on Asherah and the Cult of Yahweh in Israel, which is a relatively early monograph on the topic, and probably won't add anything I haven't read in more recent syntheses. Still, it's short and a welcome return to the subject matter for me.

Nov 28, 2020, 7:30 am

Finished Luke Harding's Shadow State, a chilling look at the lying, corruption, avarice, and downright treason of some Western politicians and business leaders under the influence of Putin’s spies, hackers and thugs. Thoroughly dispiriting. Makes me all the more determined that I will check and double-check anything these mendacious hyenas say.

Nov 28, 2020, 12:59 pm

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory
Caitlin Doughty
4/5 stars
Doughty writes about her life and how she came to work in a crematory and eventually earning her degree in mortuary science. She also talks about the history and science of cremation and much more. I thought this so interesting and hard to put down. This may not be for everyone but if you are open to unusual experiences this may be the book for you.

Nov 30, 2020, 3:11 pm

I finished A Fistful of Shells. I think it could have been interesting had I had a greater familiarity with the geography of the area, there had been a few more maps and I knew anything at all about economics.
As it was there were patches of interest amidst a fog of vague understanding.

Dez 1, 2020, 3:31 pm

All About All About Eve: The Complete Behind-the-Scenes Story of the Bitchiest Film Ever Made!
Sam Staggs
4/5 stars
This was an interesting look at the movie and eventually a play called All About Eve. The movie stars Bette Davis and Anne Baxter as rivals in the theater, one is on her way up and one is on her way down in their careers. Sam Staggs does a thorough job detailing the behind the scenes story of the movie, the actors and the drama on the set and off the set. He also discusses the musical stage version that starred Lauren Bacall years later after the original movie came out. This is definitely for movie buffs. I don’t think I have ever read such a detailed account of the story of a movie!

Dez 4, 2020, 2:07 am

I've just finished Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race which I read with my best friend over a month or so of weekly long-distance reading sessions. I'm really glad we did it that way, as we could take it in and discuss things. A powerful book that happily includes some notes of what people can do positively as well as what has been happening in the past and present.

Dez 7, 2020, 11:40 am

>38 LynnB: Going to add this to my reading list. It sounds interesting!

Dez 7, 2020, 1:36 pm

Having finished and reviewed Asherah and the Cult of Yahweh in Israel, I'm now about to start in on Richard Kieckhefer's Repression of Heresy in Medieval Germany.

Dez 9, 2020, 8:55 am

I'm on to Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez. Sadly, this book was written last year, not in the 1970s.

Dez 9, 2020, 9:32 am

>41 LynnB: I bought that this month. I'm expecting to be appalled.

Dez 11, 2020, 4:12 am

>42 Helenliz: It's so good, although appalling.

Dez 11, 2020, 11:33 pm

Trips: Following in the Footsteps of Fame, a revisit of places made famous by various authors.

Dez 12, 2020, 1:23 pm

Dez 13, 2020, 5:11 am

Just finished Pandora's Jar, an investigation of women in Greek mythology. For those of us who read Greek myths and wondered why all the women were duplicitous sluts, crazed murderers, or voiceless victims Natalie Haynes has the answer. They Weren’t! By piecing together versions of the stories created by many ancient writers and artists we discover that Helen, Pandora, Medea and others were more multifaceted than the standard images of them we experience today. With wit and humour she shows how these mythological figures have been used in more recent historic times to put women in their place, to titillate the male gaze, and even to express feminist wrath. This is an excellent book, highly recommended.

Dez 13, 2020, 1:32 pm

I finished The Pittsburgh Pirates by Frederick G. Lieb. In the late 1940s, G.P. Putnam's Sons commissioned individual histories of 15 of the then existing 16 major league baseball teams (or maybe the commissioned 16, but at any rate, no history of the Philadelphia Athletics appeared). This history of the Pirates was first published in 1948. In 2002, the Southern Illinois University Press republished several of these team histories as part of their "Writing Baseball" series. Several of the authors hired to write these books eventually made it into the journalists' wing of the MLB Hall of Fame. Frederick G. Lieb is one of those. The historic perspective is certainly interesting, given that, writing in 1948, to Lieb 1918 was only as distant in the past as 1990 is to us now.

Editado: Dez 13, 2020, 2:07 pm

1959: The Year Everything Changed
Fred M. Kaplan
4/5 stars
Kaplan takes a look at the events of 1959 and the history behind them. Topics include the space race, Castro’s rise to power, the loosening of censorship, the advance of birth control, civil rights, Motown and much more. One of the most interesting sections to me was that the President Eisenhower sent jazz ambassadors around the world on a good will tour. Dizzy Gillespie and his 18 piece band toured for ten weeks going to Iran, Pakistan, Turkey and more. It was a major hit and other groups with multi-cultural members were then sent out to perform.

Dez 13, 2020, 1:58 pm

>45 LynnB: I read that and thought she did a great job.

Editado: Dez 14, 2020, 5:39 am

Reading The Remarkable Life of the Skin by Monty Lyman. I picked it up because it was on the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize shortlist in 2019, but to be honest there's too much biology for my tastes. I much prefer physics or genetics to something so specific.

Dez 14, 2020, 12:26 pm

I'm just getting started on Sapiens. I think I will only be able to read in short sittings, so should not finish before the new year.

Editado: Dez 21, 2020, 7:59 am

About to start Black Spartacus, an examination of the life of Haitian freedom-fighter Toussaint Louverture. It's got some great reviews so I'm realy looking forward to getting into it.

Editado: Dez 21, 2020, 12:18 pm

>52 SChant:
I know this group is for non-fiction, but Madison Smartt Bell's historical novels about the Haitian revolution were terrific. I'd certainly be interested to read Black Spartacus having read those.

Edited to add: Evidently, MSB also wrote Toussaint Louverture: A Biography.

Dez 21, 2020, 2:44 pm

I finished What I Think by Adlai Stevenson. This is a collection of speeches and print articles delivered/written by Stevenson between his two runs for president in 1952 and 1956, both of which he lost to Dwight Eisenhower. Stevenson was an intellectual and a proud liberal, the former quality perhaps serving as an impediment to winning over the American electorate. His writing was certainly thought-provoking and offers a very interesting window into Democratic thought circa 1955. For one thing, we learn that the negative tactics of the Republican Party are older than we might today suppose. In the mid-1950s, Stevenson was of course concerned greatly with the Cold War and the campaign of ideas against Communist Russia and China for the friendship of newly independent countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Also, the possibilities for atomic warfare weigh heavily in his thinking. He is at his most impressive when he speaks of the changes being wrought on society by technology:

"Indeed, it seems that at mid-twentieth century, mass manipulation is a greater danger to the individual than was economic exploitation in the nineteenth center; that we are in greater danger of becoming robots than slaves. Surely it is part of the challenge of this next quarter-century that industry and government and the society they both support must find new and better ways of restoring scope to that strange eccentric, the individual. . . . But we shall have to learn the art of coexistence with many strange things in the future, some of them perhaps even stranger than Communism. Technology, while adding daily to our physical ease, throws daily another loop of fine wire around our souls. It contributes hugely to our mobility, which we must not confuse with freedom. The extensions of our senses, which we find so fascinating, are not adding to the discrimination of our minds."

Overall I found this collection a very interesting look into the issues and concerns of the day as seen by one the country's leading liberal Democrats. It has made me think about going in search of an Stevenson biography.

Dez 22, 2020, 4:19 am

>53 paradoxosalpha: Thanks for the info - I'll certainly look them up next year.

Dez 26, 2020, 12:44 pm

I finished Women, Race & Class by Angela Y. Davis. Davis provides a very effective history of the first half century of the Womens' Movement. Its earliest days, the movement's strongest activists often made common cause with, and in fact intersected with, the Abolitionist Movement. But after Emancipation, the movements diverged, especially when Reconstruction collapsed and Blacks became disenfranchised. Many leaders of the Women's Movement were not in favor of the 15th Amendment, for example, which assured Blacks the legal right to vote. These leaders felt that Blacks as a group should not receive the vote before women did. Soon, strains of racist ideology were creeping into the rhetoric of important Women's Suffrage leaders.

Davis also describes the early Women's Voting Rights movement as essentially middle- and upper-class. Not only did they shy away from supporting Black rights, they also made relatively little common cause with immigrant and other working class women crowded into tenements and sweatshops, much less with poor Black women toiling in Southern cotton fields and sugar plantations. Davis also examines the rise and pervasiveness of lynching and rape in the Jim Crow South, and the ways in which anti-lynching laws became a core goal of Black Women's groups in the North. Most white organizers, on the other hand, kept such issues at arms' length.

Davis' writing is clear and well-organized. I learned a lot, and I do recommend the book.

Jan 1, 2021, 3:00 pm

I finished The Invention of the White Race: Vol 2 which was a very thoroughly researched analysis of the origins of racism in the US as an answer to the need for social control of the bonded and slave population. The particular situation in Virginia was contrasted with the Caribbean, South America, and Ireland. The author could have left out the last couple of pages trying to comment on more recent events.

Jan 2, 2021, 9:59 am

>57 snash:. Thanks for mentioning that book. The thesis is mentioned briefly in Heather Cox Richardson's latest book How the South Won the Civil War. She mentions the idea as the basis of her central theme that in the USA the proposition that "all men are created equal" was only possible if some people were not equal. I found this to be a puzzling concept, and the book that you mention may clarity it.