Thursday, September 7, 2017

#10- Onward 2017- Good Reading Posted Here!

#10- So with a lot of travel this summer-HHS67 50th Reunion, Slovak cousins in visiting, the ECLIPSE from Douglas WYO, trip to Missoula MT, grand-parenting, getting ready for Brad and Annie's wedding- it has been busy times. But a person must read as well as other more personal activities, so what have I been reading that might be worth your time and effort? Some economic history, Islamic studies,mysteries and James Sallis.

Unlike the empires of Rome, China, and Islam that expanded by force of arms, the United States expanded within its geographical boundaries and then looked and moved outwards via trade, invention and honoring the rights of law-sometimes. John Steele Gordon, a historian and editor at the "American Heritage" journal, presents this big story in "An Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power". Beginning with the purely financial settling of Jamestown and business colonies along the Atlantic coast, through the Revolution and establishment of the national bank and various failures, this book is a reader-friendly overview of the people and personalities who established the US business empire up to the birth of the personal computer and 9/11/2001.

Robert J. Gordon continues this exploration into American economic history in his magisterial, meaning huge, "The Rise and Fall of American Growth: the US Standard of Living Since the Civil War" that focuses by comparison, copious statistical coverage, anecdote and contemporary press coverage to illustrate why Living Standards rose monumentally after the Civil War through the turn of the Century and again, around and after World War ll. It is not hard to argue for the benefits of civic plumbing, fresh water inside the house, central heating, the local train, bus, automobile and airplane travel compared to the benefits of Facebook and Twitter. Gordon makes the case that the economic growth period from 1970 going forward will be hampered by inequality, public and private debt, demographics and international development and competition. This read, while consuming a lot of time, is worth it for the edifice Gordon builds about the compounding benefits of the Second Industrial Revolution.

Another author I have been reading for the past two years is Bernard Lewis, emeritus professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Princeton U, who at 101 years of age is still writing and building on his 70+ years of research and scholarship and 100+ publications. His book "What Went Wrong?", published about the time of 9/11/2001 but not written as an explanation or investigation, is probably his best-known book. Lewis uses original essays, criticisms, history from many languages and cultures to illustrate the decline of Islamic culture in the 15th century from its eminence in the preceding 700 years in science, arts, and warfare. The book reviews the rise of western civilization in warfare, invention, seamanship and the withdrawal of Islamic civilization leading to isolation, in-fighting and blaming. Lewis reviews the differences in Society and Culture, Secularism and Justice, Equality and Modernism to explain how we have gotten to 9/11 and where we must go.

A couple of mysteries well-worth your reading effort are Tom Bouman's debut, and EDGAR award winner, "Dry Bones in the Valley" and William Shaw's latest, "The Birdwatcher."  Bouman introduces Henry Farrell, a constable at the very lowest level of policing in his rural,northeast corner of Pennsylvania that is being heavily impacted by fracking and natural gas drilling. A reclusive,old man discovers a body minus an arm and eye hidden in the forest of his property. When Farrell's deputy is found murdered in his squad car, the forces of the county sheriff and state patrol intercede, driving Farrell to exhaustion and collapse as he investigates past entanglements, romances, meth cooking as neighbors no longer trust each other or the law.

William Shaw, creator of the Breen-Tozer novels set in the London of the Beatles, offers a stand-alone, "The Birdwatcher"that introduces William South, a policeman on the Kent coast whose real love is observing and noting bird behavior. This skill places him on a case as a neighbor and fellow birdwatcher is brutally murdered in a neighboring house. South is assigned to assist a new Detective Supervisor who has transferred from London and brings her teenage daughter with her. Both mother and daughter have issues that involve South who has his own history involving murder and his abusive father.

Any year that offers a new book by Phoenix author James Sallis is a good year and 2016 has "Willnot". this book is not a mystery though it starts off with a bang-- body parts are discovered in a shallow grave in an un-named rural, small town and local doctor Lamar Hale is called by the sheriff to assist in the investigation. The story then evolves into Hale's first person account of being a hospital doctor and surgeon in a very eccentric small town with many interesting medical patients, FBI investigators, possibly AWOL military snipers searching for each other and Hale's gay partner who is taken from the classroom and forced to become a principal. The language is beautiful and the characters are as well-drawn as any in literature. This book is to be enjoyed.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

#9--Winter 2017 Reads Worth My Time and Yours

What's worth your time to read? For me this past winter has been a collection of fiction and non-fiction books that have ranged from the Beatles' London through birds, lots of history, Vietnam and economics. William Shaw created two characters, Breen and Tozer, who populate swingin' London during 1968-1970 in three amazing mysteries/police procedurals. Breen is Detective Sergeant Cathal "Paddy" Breen introduced in "She's Leaving Home." He's a 30 something figure whose father , recently deceased with dementia, lived with him in a small flat after ending his career as an Irish construction worker. Breen, raised in the post-war London of hunger, rationing, and conservatism, is befuddled by the rise of the pop groups, drugs and sex in his London. When the body of a strangled girl is found covered by a mattress around the corner from the Beatles Abbey Road recording studio, Breen is assigned the case.

Tozer is Helen Tozer, a young woman constable trainee, from a family cow farm in coastal Devon who wants to be a police detective, so she is assigned to work with Breen. She also wants to enjoy everything about London and she can drive while Breen can't. The case illustrates the worlds in conflict between men and women, music and drug lovers and the traditional police, city livers and rural farmers.

The stage moves fluidly into the second book" The Kings of London" to 1969 with Breen and Tozer working on a murder, arson incident involving the son of an ambitious government figure who would like for the police to declare his son's death a suicide and close the case with as little publicity as possible. That doesn't work with Breen and his investigation leads to death threats, violence against him and a much closer relationship with Tozer. The third book in the series"A Song for the Broken-Hearted" has Breen recovering from injuries (gained in the second book) at Tozer's family farm in Devon. Tozer has left the police force to help her father run the farm but she is still driven to solve the horrible murder of her sister that happened a few years before the first book and led her to join the police.

Breen, on long term medical leave, is bored and begins an investigation into that cold case when a second murder occurs locally and has horrible similarities to Tozer's sister's murder. The investigation that draws Tozer in opens up British history in the 1950s in Kenya, Africa and the Mau-Mau uprising and an amazing conclusion.

Bernd Heinrich,emeritus professor of biology at the University of Vermont, has been writing about ravens, owls, trees, running and general biology for decades, so I decided to read his latest, "One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives" and this was a great introduction to a great science observer and writer. He presents his year-round life in a small retirement cabin in Maine as he observes many species interacting with fellow birds and other specie birds as they search for food, mates, nesting sites, housekeeping routines, battle and death. He also is an excellent illustrator of life around and inside his cabin.

"World, Chase Me Down" is the crackling debut novel based in fact by Andrew Hilleman that presents the case of Pat Crowe, who as a butcher living in 1900 Omaha, seeks justice and revenge by kidnapping the son of the largest meatpacking millionaire and holding the teen for $25,000 in gold.The story moves across country and oceans as Crowe is tracked by Pinkerton agents, the law, the British army in the Boer war until he has his day in court as the most wanted man in the world.

Several history books gave me a break from the novel and they are definitely worth the reading effort. John Halliday has one book to his credit, "Flying Through Midnight, and it is a real winner. An Air Force pilot, Halliday is shipped in for a year's tour to Thailand in 1970 but he notices his planes have no markings, his fellow pilots have no patches, badges, names, insignias on their uniforms.He discovers they are part of a secret group flying over Laos and the Ho Chi Minh Trail dropping lighted torches to mark the beginning and ending points of North Vietnamese transportation groups to be bombed and strafed by USAF fighters, bombers. The book is his one year diary of how he changed his life, mental stability and flying prowess in order to survive the "Church of the Air Force".

Nancy Isenberg's "White Trash: 400 Year Untold History of Class in America" was also a worthwhile read as she presents the history of the early settlements in Jamestown, Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts and the role of land and labor in distinguishing the classes of  white people from England, Scotland and the rest of Europe. She follows this thread through the Colonies, Revolution, Andrew Jackson, slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction to TV roles for Andy of Mayberry, The Beverly Hillbillies, Hee-Haw, Green Acres and the roles of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. More Later!