Enlightening. Read This Book Before Voting. In this book, the most recent former Chairman of the Export-Import Bank of the United States of America – the person who led the organization prior to the current Acting President – explains what trade is and why it is good for America in a mostly objective fashion. In his recommendations for future action, particularly in the last couple of chapters, he gets a bit blatantly partisan and thus lost a star (and arguably could have lost another one – it gets that blatant at times). But beyond that particular part of the book this is a genuinely amazing and even shocking look at just how prevalent trade is in the modern American marketplace and just how much so many of our various – and not always obvious – systems and towns rely on it. For example, apparently 100% of US Penicillin – the main base component of all antibiotics I am personally aware of – comes from… China. Pretty well the entire US higher education system is dependent upon… foreign students paying full tuition. And despite being a “Chinese product”, the Apple iPhone is only… 8% Chinese. So take the recommendations for future action with at least a fair amount of salt, but read the dang book – you need to know the basics here so that you can no longer be manipulated on this issue. Very much recommended.
This book publishes in January 2020 and I am writing this review on December 16, 2019. Obviously this is an Advance Review Copy. And while I hate having to say this because I treat *all* book reviews exactly the same, just so no one gets in trouble with any agencies let us be clear that this review is both freely given and my own uncoerced thoughts on the book.
This review of Trade Is Not A Four Letter Word by Fred P Hochberg was originally written on December 16, 2019.
Intriguing But Incomplete. The central premise of this book is that “Under God” and “In God We Trust” were created by a cabal of corporate and religious interests opposed to the New Deal in the 1930s, and indeed the roughly 30 year period from the mid 1930s through the mid 1960s is where the bulk of the text concentrates. For example, the 30 year period from 1980 – 2010 is encompassed only in the epilogue, the 2nd shortest of the chapters of this book, and the period before the mid 1930s is barely mentioned at all. And therein lies where the book is incomplete. It should have built the case that pre-New Deal, religious references were scant in American politics. I believe that case can be made, based on my own knowledge of the history, but I’d like to see the efforts of a more trained historian on the matter. Instead, Kruse zeroes in on the New Deal opponents. But within the framework that he creates, he actually does do a solid job of showing how their efforts led to the increased religiosity of the Eisenhower Administration and from there directly to the Culture Wars as we know them now – though Kruse never uses the term “Culture Wars”. Even with my own better than average knowledge of the relevant events, I learned quite a bit here and had at least a few attitudes shifted. Highly recommended reading for anyone actually interested in the subject from any side of the issue.
This review of One Nation Under God by Kevin Kruse was originally published on October 14, 2018.
Solid Application of Statistics. I’m a math geek who has casually followed Silver’s work since he came on the national radar after the 2008 Presidential election. In this book, he uses his own mathematical background and many interviews to show how probabilistic statistics (vs more deterministic statistics) gives us great insight into a wide range of issues, from the mundane yet popular topics of poker and baseball – things he has personal experience with using statistics on – to the seemingly more substantial issues including weather forecasting, political polling, climate change and even terrorism. And overall, he is very careful to stick to his central point: follow the numbers, no matter where they lead – which he calls the “signal”. Very highly recommended for anyone trying to have a genuine discussion on really almost any topic.
This review of The Signal and The Noise by Nate Silver was originally published on September 26, 2018.
Left-Central Elite Doesn’t Get Movies. I wanted to like this one, I *really* did. The title and description sounded *awesome*. Unfortunately, the book itself was a gold mine – the single *worst* description of a book I’ve ever used. Meaning you have to sift through a LOT of detritus to find even a single good flake, and an actual nugget worth of goodness is even more rare. Biskind looks at movies as old as WWII and as recent as Black Panther, all in service of a central premise that is so fatally flawed as to be laughable. This subject could have been handled very differently and a compelling case could have been made, but Biskind failed to really even make an attempt to make it. That said, his publisher has their stated goal of “sparking conversations”, and in *that* regard, this book may be at least somewhat successful… though maybe in the “any press is better than no press” kind of way.
This review of The Sky Is Falling by Peter Biskind was originally published on September 11, 2018.
Very Thorough Research. This book both predates and succeeds (and even cites) Radley Balko’s stronger work RISE OF THE WARRIOR COP: THE MILITARIZATION OF AMERICA’S POLICE FORCES. While it cites *volumes* more incidents than Balko’s work, and is thus very illuminating because of it, this book has a fatal flaw that is lacking in Balko’s work – namely, that it constantly comes at the issue of police brutality as a form of racial and/ or class warfare/ oppression. Its discussions of Anarchism and the optimal state of having no police force whatsoever is great (and lacking in Balko’s work), but that strength isn’t enough to overcome the flaw of being so hyper-biased throughout. Still, like Michelle Alexander’s THE NEW JIM CROW (which this book also cites), this book – initially written roughly 8 yrs before Balko’s, and updated 3 yrs after Balko’s – is a GREAT read for any who seek the truth that in America, police truly are the enemy of us all.
This review of Our Enemies In Blue by Kristian Williams was originally published on May 13, 2018.
Great Premise, Fatally Flawed Execution. This is the hardest review I’ve had to write this year, because I completely concur with the premise of this book, and on an emotional level the case presented is appealing. But I have no doubt that this book will only appeal to those who are either already in favor of abolishing the death penalty or are at minimum leaning over the fence. Anyone who is on the fence leaning the other direction will be a tough sell with the arguments presented here, and these arguments stand no chance against someone ardently in favor of capital punishment – an environment both Claiborne and I grew up in and know very well. (Note: I have no connection to the author at all, simply grew up around the same time around the same general region of the globe.)
The Fatal Flaws: First, as I said, this is a book grounded on emotional appeal and indeed the author even outright says in later chapters that he himself was convinced not by the facts, but by the emotional appeals of talking to the people involved on every side of this issue. Secondly, on page 71 Claiborne specifically decries “proof texting”, or citing a Bible verse out of context to support one’s arguments. Yet he does this very thing repeatedly, even as soon as just a couple of pages away from decrying the practice! He even goes so far as to use a version of the Bible other than the one he uses predominantly throughout the book when he wants to use a particular verse which in some translations allows inferences which Claiborne is clearly uncomfortable with. (It is never clear which is Claiborne’s predominant translation in this book.) Thirdly, Claiborne routinely cites “societal” violence, particularly in the chapter dealing with the Early Church, even though the very quotes he cites are more often predominantly concerned with opposing the entire Government, not just its capital punishment systems. It becomes quite clear that Claiborne finds State violence outside of the explicit capital punishment system to be perfectly acceptable, particularly since he never once mentions “street executions”, where cops administer capital punishment without so much as a trial or in many cases even a warrant.
There are exactly two redeeming factors about this book that warrant a 1 star rating (rather than noting that I wish I could give it zero stars): First, that the book is conversationally written in a manner that is very easy to read. You’re not sitting through dry academic prose here, and that at least helps make the read enjoyable. Second, at the end of the book he lists quite a few suggested readings and organizations that are active in this cause, and the organizations in particular are good to at least be aware of.
So while the initial premise of the book is amazing, the book is simply too flawed to recommend to anyone who doesn’t already agree with the premise, unfortunately.
This review of Executing Grace by Shane Claiborne was originally published on March 6, 2018.
Fundamentally Flawed, But With Some Good Points And Multitudinous Evidence. Overall, Alexander’s work has some good points – mostly when it concerns examining the United States’ mass incarceration system as a whole. Its fundamental fatal flaw however its its central tenet- that this mass incarceration system is a system of *racial*, rather than class, control. But at least Alexander documents her case well, even when only citing evidence from a particular strain of thought that happens to agree with her own. Worth reading – highly recommended even – for the examination of the mass incarceration system and its effects as a whole , but severely hampered in its attempts to portray the system as “just another way to keep the black man down”. In that central tenet, it does its greatest disservice to showing the full monstrosity that is the US mass incarceration system.
This review of The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander was originally published on February 18, 2018.
This first week of 2019, we examine a book that sheds light on the fight to secure a crucial, if often underappreciated, Constitutional right in the United States: the right of the press and the public to attend jury selection and pre-trial hearings in criminal cases in the United States. This week, we look at Justice In Plain Sight by Dan Bernstein.
This was a well researched and documented look at two pivotal Supreme Court cases from the mid 1980s that established a Constitutional Right of the public and the press to attend jury selection (the first case) and pre-trial hearings (the second case). The last 17% of the version of the book I read was nothing but footnote references, and that didn’t even include an index! Yet for all its research, it still presented a very readable, very well structured look at the entire environment surrounding these cases. What were the specific facts of the cases themselves? What had the Supreme Court been doing recently relative to the issues being asked of it in these cases? Who were the humans involved – from the accused criminals to the lawyers representing them to the prosecutors and the newspapermen and the newspapermens’ lawyers and the various judges at ever level? We get brief biographies of them all, and yet it all works together to show how these people met at this particular moment in history to fight this particular battle that produced this particular result. Even the epilogue, showing just how important these two cases have been in just the last decade or so, was eye opening.
Seriously, read this book. Read it this year, the 35th anniversary of when the first case was decided. Because it has only been within this reader’s lifetime that these cases have been decided at the Supreme Court level, and that in and of itself is simply astounding.
And as always, we end with the Goodreads review:
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