Book Reviews (2018) by Joseph M. Sherlock
'Liars, Leakers And Liberals: The Case Against the Anti-Trump Conspiracy' by Judge Jeanine Pirro
As a retired geezer, I have to limit my FoxNews viewing time or I'll go nuts. So, I'm not a regular viewer of 'Justice With Judge Jeanine', although I have watched it a few times and did enjoy her style. If you like the Judge, you'll like her book. It is written in her 'voice' with listings of facts, legal opinions and her trademark quips.
It seems like every FoxNews personality has a book about Fake News The Evil Media Doesn't Want You To Hear (as do many other non-Fox authors) and the Judge's book fits the genre. It's not that the facts presented are false or overstated. There is indeed a liberal sabotage of the Trump presidency - vicious attacks I've never before witnessed in my lifetime. I believe there is a Deep State, Swamp or whatever you want to call it - a cabal whose corrupt members obstruct real change and want to continue the globalist status quo.
Judge Jeanine documents all of her assertions. But the book comes off as an unevenly written tome. The early part of the book is full of facts and outrage - mirroring the Opening Statement of her weekly television show. As the book progresses, it becomes more conversational in tone with the Judge revealing some personal experiences (including a 2012 bout with cancer) as well as personal anecdotes about the Trump family - she has known them for over 25 years and they come off well in her telling.
Verdict: Recommended. 257 pages (plus endnotes) of convincing facts and relevant stories. Overall, it's a good read. (posted 12/10/18, permalink)
'Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History' by Keith O'Brien
This story is about five women who raced and set flying records in the 1920s and '30s. Planes, navigation and weather forecasting were primitive in those days, which made airplane racing especially dangerous. The women decided that they were more than capable to compete in a man's world and overcame many challenges to score victories.
Their many adventures, which were often triumphant or tragic - sometimes deathly so, make for a great potential read - but the author managed to make some of the story boring. And confusing. There were so many women introduced so rapidly that I couldn't keep track of them. The author chose to write chronologically, which jumped back and forth between people and locations, causing disorientation. And somehow, he failed to bring out the fire and passion that drove these brave women, leaving them as two-dimensional figures in a big, broad 3D sky.
I know a good book can be constructed despite multiple characters and multiple flying machines. In his book, 'Atlantic Fever: Lindbergh, His Competitors, and the Race to Cross the Atlantic', author Joe Jackson created excitement as well as intrigue. He painted interesting portraits of the personalities and their compelling stories while immersing the reader in the era's public excitement about flying. The story of the Fly Girls had equal potential but the author never got the excitement off the ground.
Verdict: A near miss. (posted 12/6/18, permalink)
'Hot Rod Empire: Robert E. Petersen and the Creation of the World's Most Popular Car and Motorcycle Magazines' by Matt Stone and Gigi Carleton
This book chronicles Robert E. Petersen's rise from a MGM publicist to a man who created a publishing empire based on his interests, mostly cars. While Petersen was responsible for many magazines, including Hot Rod, Motor Trend, Motor Life, Car Craft, Rod and Custom, Teen, Cycle Guns and Ammo, as well as other periodicals and even books, the focus of this book is on Hot Rod, his first publication launched in 1948, despite the fact that Motor Trend, which debuted in September 1949, was a more successful publication. That's OK with me because I purchased many issues of both over the years.
I bought my first car magazine in 1954; it was Motor Trend. I have now realized that, if I had taken all the money I've spent on pulpy car magazines over the past 60-plus years and invested it in a good no-load mutual fund, I'd probably have enough money to buy a couple of new Bentley Continentals. But, without Petersen's magazines, would I have been knowledgeable enough to select a Bentley?
Aside from Motor Trend, I also used to purchase Motor Life. Petersen discontinued it in 1961 because it didn't have the sales growth of its sister publication. I could never figure out what Motor Life's identity was ... MT seemed to do a better job. I used to love Motor Trend's spy shots of future cars. Or photos of the latest concept cars from various auto shows.
MT's first editor, Walt Woron, didn't get much coverage in the book but he was an enthusiastic hot-rodder and former racer at SCTA dry-lakes events was also a connoisseur of fine machinery. Walt once owned a concours-winning 1948 Lincoln Continental cabriolet. To distinguish MT from Hot Rod, the only other Petersen auto publication at that time, Walt sought to shape it in the image of Motor, a British car mag, with a broad editorial menu that included testing of new automobiles. Woron noted, "We started with just a stopwatch and a clipboard, using the car's speedometer as our primary instrument. It wasn't very scientific."
Petersen Publishing Company would grow to become the most influential enthusiast publisher in America. Petersen's various magazines covered most aspects of the car, truck, and motorcycle hobbies, as well as nurturing and promoting all segments from car building to racing to show events. Despite the Southern California influence, his magazines quickly found a national market. Petersen's 75 or so enthusiast titles dominated newsstands and provided substantial influence over transportation and numerous other hobbies.
The growth of auto magazine sales in the 1950s and '60s was over 16% annually, and Robert Peterson and his wife, Margie, became quite wealthy. Nevertheless, the pair became well known for their various charitable efforts, including the foundation which created the iconic Peterson Automotive Museum in LA. The museum is well-covered in the book.
I thoroughly enjoyed 'Hot Rod Empire'. It is loaded with period photographs and brought back many memories. I wish that the book were larger in size, so that the detailed sidebars didn't interrupt so many pages of the main story. I also wish that the photo captions were larger in type size and were in black rather than eye-straining gray. The photo quality was excellent and there were lots of charming little touches such as the embossed hot rod image on the front cover behind the book's jacket.
Verdict: I highly recommend this book; auto enthusiasts will find it engaging and it will evoke many memories of automotive times gone by. 'Hot Rod Empire' is an excellent history, covering 80 years of ever-evolving American car culture. (Review copy provided by Motorbooks.) (posted 11/28/18, permalink)
'West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express' by Jim DeFelice
The Pony Express was a service delivering messages, newspapers, and mail. It was founded in 1859. During its 18 months of operation, it reduced the time for messages to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to about 10 days. In 1860, there were about 186 Pony Express stations that were about 10 miles apart along the Pony Express route. While its demise was primarily brought about by the transcontinental telegraph (established in 1861), the Civil War, various Indian Wars and the Utah Mormon Wars contributed to the firm's financial problems. While the Pony Express had a short life, it lived on in romanticized fiction (novels, movies) and drama as practiced in shows such as Wild Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. Cody claimed to have been a Pony Express rider; it cannot be confirmed because of the paucity of records from the defunct firm.
That lack of factual material about the Pony Express makes it difficult to put together a definitive history of the firm. Author DeFelice has chosen to write what he is able to find and then, flesh his story out with tangential tales, such as the early days of the Mormon Church, political implications of the abolition movement and the development of the Colt revolver. Some of these are interesting; others are boring. The book is 270 pages bulked up with an additional 89 pages of appendix, notes, bibliography and index.
Verdict: This book contained some compelling stories but veered off the main trail too often for my taste. (posted 11/21/18, permalink)
'The Russia Hoax: The Illicit Scheme to Clear Hillary Clinton and Frame Donald Trump' by Gregg Jarrett
The title of this book says it all - the Mueller investigation of President Trump is indeed a hoax. David Catron at the American Spectator wrote, "The primary target isn't really the President. Mueller and his apologists know Trump is the voice of a nationwide rebellion against their authority, and realize that the threat can't be neutralized until he is silenced. The end game is to crush what they see as a peasant's revolt. Mueller's function is to provide a legal pretext for removing the President from office."
He added that the Mueller probe "is an obvious attempt to restore the old order that the electorate rejected in 2016. It seeks to annul the will of the voters and return us to the incipient authoritarianism that germinated during the Obama era, and which the ruling class expected to blossom under Clinton. The bureaucrats who support the restoration of Beltway despotism call themselves public servants, yet despise the public. The politicians who support it call themselves Democrats, yet despise democracy."
Author Gregg Jarrett, a lawyer himself, proves that the special prosecutor appointment has no legal basis in this instance. His 286 page book (plus notes) is written in clear and precise language. Gregg offers step-by-step proof that Hillary Clinton, the DNC and Barack Obama conspired to overturn an American presidential election, colluding with Russia to obtain/create a damaging fake dossier. Were Mr. Rogers still alive, he might have asked, "Can you say 'malfeasance'?"
Recently, Scott Johnson posted an article on Powerline, which quoted Seth Lipsky's observations on the Mueller 'Get Trump' investigation: "This is part of an effort by the Democrats and their collaborators to overturn a presidential election that they thought they would win." A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial, which noted that "all of this is about squeezing, delegitimizing, and, if possible, ultimately removing Donald Trump from office. Neither of these cases (against Paul Manafort or Michael Cohen), and none of the case being built with the president as target, so far as we know, are about Russian interference in our elections, or political corruption. They are not about justice. They are about politics. They are about 'getting' Mr. Trump. … The voters elected Donald Trump. Why not trust them to decide if he should have majorities in Congress in 2018 or be removed from office in 2020?" The editorial concluded, "If a special counsel or special prosecutor can negate a presidential election, we really are a banana republic and the republic is truly dead."
A visitor from another planet would look at the evidence presented by Mr. Jarrett and leave convinced that he was reading about an attempted coup. He'd be correct.
Verdict: Recommended - an excellent ... and damning read. (posted 11/15/18, permalink)
'Ultimate Speed: The Fast Life and Extreme Cars of Racing Legend Craig Breedlove' by Samuel Hawley
If you're an Indianapolis 500 enthusiast, there's a nice museum at the Speedway. On some days, you can even arrange to be ferried around the oval. If you like drag cars, there's the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, Florida. If you're a fan of Land Speed Record Cars, you're mostly out of luck. You won't find a dedicated museum in Bonneville, Utah or anywhere else. Various museums have one or two cars but that's about it. The Beaulieu Motoring Museum in Southern England has a couple of the Campbell's Land Speed Record cars.
If you read car magazines in the 1960s, Craig Breedlove is a familiar name. Craig was always interested in cars and motorcycles. Born in 1937, he was part of the postwar LA hot rod scene in the early 1950s. He had a high school education but had good seat-of-the-pants engineering skills and built several hot rods, eventually running one at Bonneville. Hooked on speed, awestruck by Mickey Thompson's four-engined Challenger LSR machine and the various Arfon Brothers vehicles, he decided to design and build his own LSR vehicle, the Spirit of America. The story of his quest for speed records what this biography is mainly about.
Breedlove lived a tumultuous life. He learned business via the school of hard knocks. He got rich, then lost nearly everything many times in his life. He got jerked around by Goodyear - not surprising, since most American rubber companies are lowlifes have morals darker than the carbon black they use in their tires. Carroll Shelby screwed Craig on a business deal, a familiar tale which repeated many times during ol' Shel's life. Breedlove was married seven times and had an on-and-off again affair with Linda Vaughn, well-known as Miss Hurst Shifter. (I can't wait to tell my car buddy Ray about this; he always had a thing for Ms. Vaughn.)
Nevertheless, Craig Breedlove is an underappreciated American hero. In 1963, he set a new LSR of 407 mph in his jet-powered three-wheeled streamliner and inspired the Beach Boys to record a tribute song, 'Spirit of America'. He was the first person to drive 500 and 600 mph, breaking the land speed record five times. In the early 1970s, he set an acceleration record at Bonneville that stands to this day using a rocket-powered streamliner. He survived many crashes, including one at 675 mph.
This is an excellent biography, 269 pages (plus sources, notes and index) full of details but never boring. Craig met many obstacles and suffered many setbacks throughout his life. The physical danger, the injuries, the engineering, logistical and monetary hardships of the quest to set a land speed record are spelled out in this book. Today at age 81, Craig Breedlove remains a driven man, planning a 1,000 mph version of the Spirit of America. Even after a career of breaking speed records, he remains a man still chasing his next dream.
Verdict: Highly recommended. (Review copy provided by Chicago Review Press) (posted 11/9/18, permalink)
'The Capitalist Comeback: The Trump Boom and the Left's Plot to Stop It' by Andrew F. Puzder
Andy Puzder is the former CEO of Carl's Jr.'s parent company and grew the firm to 2,700 restaurants globally. He is a knowledgeable businessman and ardent capitalist. In 2016, President-elect Donald Trump nominated Puzder to serve as Secretary of Labor, but Andy later withdrew due to possible lack of confirming votes in the Senate as well as threats to and harassment of his family.
In 280 pages (plus acknowledgements, endnotes and index), the author presents a well-written and documented moral, philosophical, and economic defense of free-market capitalism. He recounts the history of capitalism, the results when socialism replaces it and the tactics of the American Left to attempt to destroy the free market. I found this to be one of the better books about street-level, practical capitalism.
Verdict: Recommended. (posted 11/5/18, permalink)
'Mustang By Design: Gale Halderman and the Creation of Ford's Iconic Pony Car' by Ames Dinsmore and James Halderman
The Mustang is one of the most significant cars of the second half of the 20th Century. Earlier this year, the 10 millionth example rolled off the assembly line. For all its mistakes, Ford has resisted the temptation to make the Mustang something else. No four-door sedans or station wagons (both discussed in this book), no SUV version, no foreign editions made outside America - nothing to sully the purity of this American sporty coupe.
There have been many books written about the marque, this is the first one to focus on the designer behind the first pony car, Gale Halderman. It is a 178-page (plus appendix and index), large-format (9 x 11) book with hundreds of photos and sketches, many of them in color. It covers four major subjects:
• The design and development of the Mustang automobile, the first pony car
• The career of Gale Halderman, the designer behind the Mustang
• The ups and downs of various Mustang iterations
• Stories of corporate intrigue and company politics observed by Halderman during his time at Ford Motor Company
Each of these subjects is interesting in its own right and the four combined in one book make for a relative bargain for all the stories inside.
There is no car quite like the Ford Mustang. Once introduced, it has never gone out of production. Fifty-four years later, you can still buy a brand-new Mustang. Other 'hot' cars have come and gone: the Pontiac GTO, the Trans Am, even the Chevrolet Camaro went out of production for a while. 1983 was a year when there was no Corvette. But the Mustang soldiered on, despite changing markets, onerous federal regulations, years of high inflation, fierce competition and design compromises. During good times and bad, the Mustang always found buyers. Introduced as a pony car, it quickly developed muscle car variants. This book reveals some of the reasons behind its success.
When conceived, the Mustang was targeted at the emerging youth market. The American economy was prosperous in the 1960s and a large group of young-uns were entering the workforce at wages providing sufficient disposable income for them to buy new cars. Ford's demographics confirmed that and there were enough seat-of-the-pants, gut-feel indications that they didn't want stolid, dull compact cars such as the Falcon or Corvair.
Lee Iacocca was vice-president and general manager of the Ford Division at the time and, as an ex-field rep who called on dealers, he liked to keep his finger on the pulse of things at the retail showroom level. He knew the market needed a sexed-up Falcon and championed the Mustang as an answer to that market. He liked the design proposals Gale Halderman had made and brought them to fruition, convincing a recalcitrant Henry Ford II to sign off on the sporty car. Essentially, the Falcon's passenger compartment was shoved back about eight inches, then a uniquely-styled, low-slung body with fake side scoops was created with a prominent, distinctive snout, mildly reminiscent of a Ferrari Testa Rosa (especially on cars painted red), added to the front end. The Mustang was fast-tracked and the budget was tight. The book details the demanding and multifaceted process of quickly taking the car from sketch to clay model to prototype to preproduction and fully-finished model.
The Ford Mustang was a great success, selling over 417,800 units in the first year. By 1968, two million had found buyers. The authors note that the Mustang was unveiled at the New York World's Fair in April, 1964. I was surprised that there was no reference to the fact that Lee Iacocca and the Mustang made the covers of both Time and Newsweek magazines during the same month. Supposedly, Iacocca's face on both covers (rather than that of Henry Ford II), was the beginning of Lee's eventual downfall at Ford Motor Company.
My soon-to-be wife enjoyed sitting in a gold Mustang at the New York Auto Show.
I would mention that, just as the Mustang's design was cobbled together from many other cars (for example, the kick-up aft of the door was reminiscent of the 1956-57 Continental Mark II and 1961-64 slabsided Lincoln Continentals), Iacocca's next big success, the pricey and very profitable 1969 Lincoln Continental Mark III, was a car made up of parts and ideas taken from somewhere else. The engine, chassis and front cowl came from the Ford Thunderbird, the massive upright grille was "inspired" by Rolls Royce, the Continental "tire hump" on the trunk lid was from the 1956-57 Mark II and the long nose/short deck styling was derived from a '61 Plymouth (or the Mustang, for that matter). The name was stolen from the 1958 Continental Mark III, which Ford Motor Company had conveniently forgotten. But it worked, and like the Mustang, it was introduced several months earlier than the traditional model year debuts. Iacocca was named president of the Ford Motor Company at age 46.
Gale Haldeman was promoted to design director, moved on to other projects (he created the opera window used in the Lincoln Continental Mark IV and other Lincoln models and was part of the group responsible for the 1990 Lincoln Town Car). Gale retired in 1994.
This is a very good book, full of new and interesting information. But I did notice some errors and omissions:
• The real reason behind the Mustang Mark I was not discussed. The mid-engined, V4-powered Mustang I concept sports car of 1962 was fully functional and originally designed to help promote the V4-engined Ford Cardinal sub-compact car. The front-wheel drive, VW Beetle-sized, Cardinal was rejected by Lee Iacocca as too small for the American market and instead became a German Ford model, the Taunus 12M.
• Ford World Headquarters in Dearborn is nicknamed Glass House, not Glass Box.
• The Edsel was manufactured for the '58-60 model years. The last example rolled off the assembly line in late November, 1959. There was no 1961 Edsel, as the book claims.
• Reference is made to "the late '50s Falcon." The Ford Falcon debuted as a 1960 model.
• The iconic and prestigious Mark II was a Continental, not a Lincoln as the book states. Even the Mark II's factory battery had a unique Continental star molded on the case. The only place the word 'Lincoln' appeared was on the glass jar used as the windshield washer reservoir.
• Ford's Whiz Kids began their work at the company in 1946, not "the late 1950s" as stated on page 128.
• The authors briefly mention the Mustang Bertone, noting that Italian design house Bertone "hired a man named Giorgetto Giugiaro to design an Italian Mustang." Actually, Giugiaro was a Bertone employee from 1960-65, became quite famous in his own right, founded his own firm, Italdesign in 1968, and was named Car Designer of the Century in 1999. He designed a wide variety of iconic automobiles, including the De Tomaso Mangusta, DeLorean DMC-12, Lotus Espirit S1, BMW M1, the original VW Passat, Golf and Scirocco.
In 1965, Automobile Quarterly publisher L. Scott Bailey commissioned this coachbuilt Mustang. The unique and handsome car was unveiled in April of 1965 at the New York International Automobile Show.
Striking in a light, almost silvery metallic turquoise, the AQ Mustang carried the magazine's Quatrefoil logo as well as the Bertone badge on its flanks. The gorgeous one-off was used to promote Automobile Quarterly and increase awareness of this unique publication.
• On page 152, there is a discussion of federal bumper regulations "in the 1980s" which caused a design crisis at Ford. Actually, the bumper design crisis was a result of the 'no damage at 5 mph' federal regulation which began with the 1973 model year and affected all manufacturers. (Auto companies truly freaked when the feds hinted that they would soon be raising the stakes to 10 miles-per-hour. The feds eventually relented on the 10 mph zero-damage proposal.) Most bumpers became big and ugly after 1972 and it took several years before materials technology improvements allowed a return to well-integrated bumpers on cars.
• The book references Chase Morsey who "provided key demographic information (about the Mustang's potential market)." Chase is quite famous in his own right at Ford: He's the man who saved Ford's V8 engine.
• There are portions of the book which are repetitious, including discussions about the use of Falcon interiors in the Mustang as well as Falcon gauge clusters and fit problems at the headlight/grille intersection.
These minor nitpicks should not stop you from buying this book. It tells the Mustang story from a fresh perspective, that of designer and Ford insider Gale Halderman. Enjoy it - just as you would your favorite Mustang. I never owned one but always liked the lines of the 1967-68 Mustangs, enjoyed Steve McQueen's Highland Green GT fastback in 'Bullitt' and have fond memories of a couple of rental Mustang convertibles. One was an '87 with the 5.0 V8. I still remember the burble of the exhaust with top-down and windows open as I traveled the wooded roads of Northern California on the way to the coast.
Today, U.S. sales of the Mustang are dropping, but they are accelerating overseas in markets such as China and Germany. In 2018, the Mustang was the best-selling coupe in China. The Pony Car has become a World Car - who knew?
Verdict: Recommended. Even if you're only mildly interested in Mustangs, this will an informative and fun read for you. (Review copy provided by CarTech. Copies of this book personally signed by Gale Halderman can be ordered directly from CarTech.) (posted 11/1/18, permalink)
'Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other' by Conrad Black
Mr. Black is an author, entrepreneur and former newspaper owner. He has known Donald Trump for many years and once sold him a building. A talented writer and shrewd political observer, Black provides an interesting and insightful analysis of what made The Donald successful.
He doesn't hold back, recounting Trump's successes as well as the near collapse of his real estate empire in the early 1990s. Black was one of the first to take Trump's presidential campaign seriously and, while he is friendly with President Trump, he presents a balanced picture of our current commander-in-chief. Conrad is appalled by how partisan the press has become, taking particular aim at Wolf Blitzer, a former employee, noting that Blitzer "scrambled like an asphyxiated cockroach between electoral maps in the CNN newsroom, desperately trying to unearth a thread of plausible data that would conduct Hillary Clinton to the White House." He described Wolf as "the greediest employee I ever had." Black also has no time for the never-Trumpers, especially Bill Kristol as well of most of the gang at National Review.
Highly recommended. At just over 200 pages, this book is a fast-paced witty, yet worthy read. It's one of the best books about Donald Trump I've ever read. (posted 10/26/18, permalink)
'Frenemies: The Epic Disruption of the Ad Business (and Everything Else)' by Ken Auletta
The first 'real' use of advertising was in newspapers. Advertisements in colonial America were most frequently announcements of goods on hand but, even in this early period, some were well-crafted appeals and product descriptions. Benjamin Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette reached out to readers with new devices like headlines, illustrations, and advertising placed next to editorial material. Those newspapers which were built on an ad-revenue supported model grew. Patent medicine ads vied for consumer attention with large, often outrageous, promises and colorful, dramatic advertisements and were arguably the first 'persuasive' ads.
Advertising agencies, once in the business of peddling advertising space in local newspapers and a limited range of magazines, began servicing new national advertisers, designing copy and artwork and placing advertisements in the places most likely to attract buyer attention. This was done on a by-guess-and-by-golly basis. There was no science involved and little data available for guidance. Ad agencies made their money on the 15% commissions paid by publications. Over time, advertising gravitated to newer forms of media - radio, then television, then desktop internet, now mobile devices.
Over a century ago, legendary department store retailer John Wanamaker said, "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half." And that's the problem with advertising. It has no science, its rules are flexible and there is no rock-solid core foundation. It is an industry built on horseshit.
The question, "Does advertising work?", has been asked for centuries. My answer is yes, but it doesn't do miracles. The best ad agencies have been excellent at developing a compelling message and delivering it to a correctly-targeted, if imperfect audience.
If the product is bad, the best advertising in the world won't save it. Whoever got the 1957 Nash account, for instance, was doomed before a single tag line was set to type. The bulbous, uncompetitive car couldn't match its flashy mid-priced rivals. Modernista's Hummer ads - print and television, especially the Happy Jack spot - were entertaining, clever and engaging but couldn't save the dead-end brand. The iconic 'Somewhere West of Laramie' didn't rescue Jordan; the advertising was more intriguing than the car.
When a manufacturer mis-targets the audience (such as the Honda Element, perceived as a college car, rather than the empty-nester/haul-gardening-stuff geezermobile it turned out to be), the ad agency can't be blamed for inappropriate ads and/or improper placement of same. Marketing people and product planners employed by automakers dictate the identity of target audiences based on research. Or the reading of chicken entrails.
When given a decent and appealing product, ad agencies can showcase it and, occasionally, turn it into a legend. The Doyle Dane Bernbach VW Beetle campaign - exemplified by 'Think Small', 'Lemon' print ads and 'Funeral' television spot - is one example. The memorable Hal Riney campaign for the newly introduced Saturn - 'A Different Kind of Car Company' is another example. Packard's 'Ask The Man Who Owns One' (created by the Austin Bement agency in 1901) is still another. The iconic 1975 'Ultimate Driving Machine' created by Ammirati & Puris, helped propel BMW from an also-ran brand to a serious challenger to Mercedes in the U.S. luxury car market.
Then there's 'branding' or as Autoextremist Peter De Lorenzo calls it, "image wrangling."
Consider a simple thing such as water. Before 1977, most Americans drank tap water. Then Perrier launched a $5 million U.S. marketing campaign for its imported bottled water. Perrier's timing was perfect; it took advantage of growing pollution concerns and the emergence of brand-conscious Yuppie consumers who loved expensive, ordinary things with European (or European-sounding) names. By openly carrying Perrier bottles around, Yuppies could demonstrate their sophistication and elevated status. Saturated advertising by Perrier's various bottled water competitors made consumers aware of and fearful about the dangers of "not being properly hydrated."
And now, the ad biz is being turned on its head by new platforms, new competitors and new technologies. And few know what to make of it and where it will be a decade or two from now. That's what Ken Auletta's new book is all about. 'Frenemies' is a readable, engaging tour through the ever-shifting topography altering the landscape of the marketing and advertising industries. Here are a few nuggets gleaned from its pages:
• A 2015 study by Distilled Networks "concluded that one out of every three digital ad dollars as wasted by ad fraud, meaning ads are clicked and paid for but are not viewed by desired consumers." Bob Liodice of the Association of National Advertisers said, "Roughly at least 12% of digital ads are going to non humans (bots) and 23% of digital ads are going to criminals."
• Conventional ad agencies are under attack: "Today, up to three-quarters of the $2 trillion or so spent on advertising and marketing is not funneled through the creative ad agencies featured in 'Mad Men'." Publishers (newsprint, magazine, online) are set up to function as creative agencies. Many large companies have taken the creative function in-house. Online platforms offer targeted, creative ads of their own.
• Gary Vanerchuk of VaynerMedia is profiled positively in the book. He is the poster boy for rah-rah vagueness in the social media world. And, to me, is a good example of the horseshit part of the business. Reviewing his book, 'The Thank You Economy', I wrote about Gary's strange marketing philosophy: "Numbers are irrelevant. Return on Investment? Who cares. There is enormous ROI in social media. It's like my famous saying though, "What's the ROI of your mother?" The data isn't as black and white like it has been in the past. I firmly believe that the brands that have a soul and a heart and understand how to scale this will win." Hmmmm. If you're reporting 'heart and soul' rather than financial results, maybe the whole idea is bogus. Sounds like unicorn flatulence and rainbows. How this charlatan stays in business is a mystery to me.
• Facebook and Google have turned the ad industry on its head and are a major threat to ad agencies, since they encourage producers to work with them directly. By the end of 2016, Facebook collected $27 billion from ads. Mary Meeker of Kleiner Perkins Caulfield Byers reported that, "of every new digital ad dollar, 85¢ went to Google and Facebook." Facebook declines to share their vast array of first-person user data with anyone, which cripples ad and media agencies. These days, digital ads are number one in dollars, television is #2.
• The mesmerizing power of Facebook cannot be underestimated - the average user clicked on the site 150 times each day.
• Part of Lexus' launch of their small crossover, the Lexus NX, was creating 1,000 different online ads targeted at various categories of Facebook users, in order to tailor the pitch to meet the interests of individual consumers. Of course, the horseshit factor is still there because Lexus didn't pay $100 for each NX sold by this campaign. Instead, Lexus apparently paid by the click. How many clicks came from Russian hackers or bots is not known.
I'll end this review with another car story from 'Frenemies', related by longtime advertising sage, Jeremy Bullmore. He met a friend for lunch outside London. When they stepped from the restaurant, the friend pointed to his shiny new Aston Martin. "Well done," Bullmore said. "I bought it because of an advertisement," the friend replied. "Good to know that what we do works," Bullmore said. "I saw the advertisement when I was 14 years-old," the friend responded.
Bullmore mused, "How do you attribute that seventy-five thousand pound purchase to an ad that ran 52 years earlier?" Even with digital ads, whose clicks are more easily measured, if his friend had clicked on the Aston Martin website, Bullmore said, "The click would get the credit for the purchase. But nobody would know and could possibly calculate what led to the click in the first place." Good point.
Verdict: Recommended. A timely and educational dive into an industry gone haywire by fast-moving technology and new players. (posted 10/22/18, permalink)
'The V12 Engine: The Technology, Evolution And Impact Of V12-Engined Cars' by Karl Ludvigsen
We live in an age where many manufacturers are killing-off their legendary V8 engines in favor of fewer cylinders. It is therefore a great time to visit the times and siren song of the V12 motors of yore.
There is something special about a V12 motor. In his memoirs, Enzo Ferrari wrote, "I had always liked the song of 12 cylinders." This spurred him to develop many 12-cylinder Ferraris - for racing and touring - over the years.
'The V-12 Engine' is a big, heavy tome - 579 pages with 580 photos, drawings, diagrams and appendices. Mr. Ludvigsen's work is thoroughly researched and profusely illustrated. Here are just some of the tidbits I learned from this book:
• Gabriel Voisin was extravagantly obsessed with details on his V12 engine. An example: "The inside of the water jackets was enameled under pressure and stoved to prevent porosity." Only two prototype Voisins with 7.2-liter V12 powerplants were constructed.
• Sunbeam was not a fan of chain drives; its 15.4-liter V12 aviation engine had its twin overhead camshafts as well as accessories driven by an elaborate train of gears. I counted 18 of them.
• W12 engines are nothing new, even though Volkswagen and Bentley might want you to believe so. In the 1920s and '30s, the gigantic Napier Lion W12 was used in aircraft as well as land speed record cars, including Malcolm Campbell's and John Cobb's.
• American automaker Franklin offered an air-cooled, 6.5-liter V12 with individually-cast, finned nickel-iron cylinders and finned aluminum heads in 1932. Unfortunately, the Depression killed off Franklin, along with many other luxury and near-luxury marques.
• Just after World War II, Enzo Ferrari engaged Gioacchino Colombo to design the marque's first V12 engine - a 1.5-liter motor.
All the greats, near-greats and technical misses are here: the 11.3-litre Hispano-Suiza of the 1930s, Packard's Twin-Six of the teens and its successors, the mighty Pierce-Arrow, the troubled Lagonda, the complex, money-losing Rolls Royce Phantom III, the stillborn Cadillac V12 of the early-1960s, the miniature V12s of Formula race cars and the modern V12s of 1990s luxury cars.
I especially enjoyed the Lamborghini development story. Even Art Arfon's V12 Allison motors used in his Green Monster dragsters and record cars are covered in this book.
One chapter is devoted to the smaller Lincoln V12 - the smaller-displacement (compared with the big and expensive Lincoln K-series) flathead V12 which debuted in the 1936 Lincoln Zephyr and was used in various Lincolns - Zephyrs and Continentals - through 1948. Over 220,000 were produced - more than any other V12 engine discussed in this book. Because this engine was 'made to a price', in order to work in an entry-level luxury car, it had shortcomings, some of which were never completely overcome (vapor lock, overheating and oil consumption), the Zephyr and its decendents/siblings allowed a lot of Americans to enjoy the V12 experience.
While not mentioned in Ludvigsen's book, the running model of the 1996 Lincoln Sentinel concept car was powered by a V12 - an engine made by combining two Ford Taurus V6s into a single motor. Sadly, it never went into production. Today, Lincoln struggles to gain an identity - to separate itself from other luxury competitors and to shed its reputation as a gussied-up Ford. One wonders what a V12 engine might do to change perceptions.
Verdict: A must-read for V12 fans; a delightful and educational experience for other car enthusiasts. (Review copy of this book provided by Bentley Publishers.) (posted 10/18/18, permalink)
'The Mirage Factory: Illusion, Imagination, and the Invention of Los Angeles' by Gary Krist
In 300 pages (plus bibliography, extensive notes and index), author Krist weaves together the true stories of three people - water engineer William Mulholland, filmmaker D.W. Griffith and charismatic evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson - who helped transform Los Angeles from a dusty, sleepy farm town to a modern city over a thirty year period. In 1900, Los Angeles had only of 102,000 residents. By 1930, the population had soared to 1,238,000.
Mulholland provided the water needed to support such growth. Moviemakers such as Griffith provided employment for a variety of talented people. McPherson greatly enhanced the city's reputation as a center for spiritual exploration. All three became mythical icons and, like many overhyped symbols, found their dreams and successes shattered by events of their own making. Krist is a great storyteller and provides the reader with a well-researched, engaging tale of triumphs and tragedies.
Verdict: Highly recommended. (posted 10/12/18, permalink)
'Fins: Harley Earl, the Rise of General Motors, and the Glory Days of Detroit' by William Knoedelseder
It is difficult to imagine what the automobile world would have been like without a Harley Earl. Yes, there were other talented stylists: Gordon Buehrig (Duesenberg Model J, 1935 Auburn 851 boattail speedster, coffin-nosed 1936 Cord 810/812), E.T. Gregorie (1936 Lincoln Zephyr, 1939 Mercury, 1940 Lincoln Continental, 1940 Ford), Frank Hershey, Virgil Exner - but all were trained by Mister Earl, as he was known. Edsel Ford was a talented guy who recognized good taste enough to hire some of these designers but he was browbeaten so badly by his father, crazy Henry Ford, that most of his Ford styling ideas never came to fruition.
Many good designers left General Motors because, while Earl had a good style sense and could squeeze the best out of designers, he was also a tough taskmaster - a hard-charging workaholic who expected all of his employees to work as many hours as he did. He bullied his subordinates and gave them little or no individual credit for their styling breakthroughs.
Harley Earl brought style to Detroit; the automobile was never the same after his arrival in the Motor City. Earl partnered with Alfred Sloan, General Motors president, to develop car lines with separate identities, each appealing to a different segment of the auto market. Under Sloan's auspices, General Motors engaged in aspirational marketing - start out with a little Chevrolet then move up to a nicer Pontiac and later, a big, comfy Buick. Or a stylish, posh LaSalle. The strategy worked and was eventually copied by other auto manufacturers.
Earl was inspired by the coachbuilt projects he had carried out at his dad's Los Angeles shop (it later became part of Don Lee Cadillac) for the rich and famous. Earl designed silent film star Fatty Arbuckle's custom, purple 1919 Pierce Arrow 66 A-4 touring car. The vehicle had inboard headlights rather than Pierce-Arrow's signature fender-mounted units as well as all-white tires. In 2013, the Pierce Arrow fetched $1.1. million at the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction.
Noted auto writer Michael Lamm once wrote, "Harley grew up fast and tall in Hollywood at a time when the hometown economy was shifting from citrus to cinema. Earl learned showmanship and flair from the best in the business."
Harley brought the rakish styling and attractive color combinations usually found in pricey coach built cars to production automobiles. His first styling job was the 1927 LaSalle; Earl borrowed the grille design and other style elements from the European Hispano-Suiza. The stylish LaSalle marque became an overnight success.
This book is primarily about Harley Earl, although author Knoedelseder blends automotive trends, competition, other stylists, history and popular culture into the mix, making for a far more engaging read. I have read other books about Harley Earl but it was mostly about the cars associated with him. Earlier this year, I reviewed 'The Cars Of Harley Earl' by David W. Temple. That 192-page book tried to cover Harley Earl the man as well as many of his influential cars. It was bipolar in that it covered neither the man nor his cars in complete detail, due to page limitations.
Knoedelseder's book has far more pages and focuses on the man, selecting only a handful of Earl's automotive creations to illustrate his career, including the 1938 Buick Y-Job (the first concept car), the 1948 Cadillac (the first American production car with tailfins), the over-the-top Le Sabre show car (Earl's daily driver as well), the 1953 Chevrolet Corvette (the first American sports car), and the highly successful 1955 Chevrolet (which sported a Ferrari-inspired egg crate grille per Earl's instructions). The 1955 Chevrolet was incredibly successful - 1,704,667 were produced - a gain of 49% over the '54 models - giving Chevy a 44% market share among Detroit's low-priced three.
Every story has an arc, and Earl's Detroit rise began slowly. At first, he had trouble gaining the respect of GM's divisional chief engineers but began to be respected when his Art & Colour Department's inspiring and clever designs increased sales, saving brands like Pontiac and LaSalle. Earl's arc probably peaked in 1955; all GM brands enjoyed spectacular sales that year. Chevrolet sales also peaked that year, dropping each year afterwards until only 1,142,460 found buyers in recession-plagued 1958 - an alarming drop of 33% from Chevy's salad days of '55.
Clouds were on the horizon. Earl's former employee Frank Hershey, the man who brought tailfins to Cadillac, was now working at Ford Motor Co. and developed the two-seat Thunderbird which was a much bigger seller than Harley's Corvette. For the 1955 model year, the Thunderbird outsold the Corvette by more than 23-to-1 - 16,155 Thunderbirds sold against 700 Corvettes.
Chrysler Corp. styling head Virgil Exner, another Harley protégé, developed the Forward Look on Chrysler products, beginning in 1955. The line-up's fins got more prominent every year. When General Motors found out about Exner's new 'Suddenly It's 1960' '57 Chrysler Corp. line-up (with wedge-shape bodies, floating roofs and fins which seemed tall as the car), Earl's styling department was aghast - suddenly realizing that Harley Earl's age of high 'power dome' hoods and chrome applied by the bucketful with a trowel was over. It was too late to do anything about the 1958 models (the '58 Buicks and Oldsmobiles are case studies in high hoods and excess brightwork), but a crash program was initiated to make GM's 1959 models as wild as Chrysler's. The result was the soaring-finned '59 Cadillac and the bat-winged '59 Chevy.
Earl retired in 1958 and had little to do with conceptualizing the 1959 GM model line, leaving the task to his soon-to-be successor, Bill Mitchell. Harley's time had come and gone.
I enjoyed this book; it was chock-full of wonderful automotive tidbits which I had never heard before. I did find several mistakes, which were minor in nature and did not detract from my overall enjoyment of 'Fins':
• The Packard Twin-Six - a V12 engine - had a displacement of 424 cubic inches and initially produced 85 horsepower - not 400 horsepower as was stated in the book.
• The author wrote that neither Norman Bel Geddes nor Raymond Loewy - both top industrial designers in the 1930s - "had yet designed a commercially successful automobile." You'll get no argument from me about Bel Geddes, who never designed any complete automobile, but Raymond Loewy styled the 1932 Hupmobile, a handsome car which kept the company from going under during the depths of The Depression.
• GM's proposed postwar small car, the Chevrolet Cadet, was deemed unsuitable for U.S. markets, although the prototypes were not scrapped, nor was the work product "simply locked away and forgotten" as the author claimed. Instead, GM handed off the development drawings and prototypes to its Holden Division. The result was the 1948 215 (FX), Holden's first all-Australian automobile, a very successful model.
• The 1958 Volkswagen had 36 horsepower not 57 horsepower that the author claimed. But he's correct when he wrote that, in 1958, "as Detroit struggled to sell its big cars in the midst of an economic downturn, more than 430,000 small, inexpensive foreign cars were shipped into the United States, nearly a quarter of them Volkswagens."
• The author's Edsel Failure Tale is the same one offered by many but differs from my interpretation. During the 1958 model year, 63,110 Edsels were produced. Edsel outsold DeSoto, Chrysler, and Studebaker. For every two Mercurys sold, one Edsel was sold. Not bad for a car in its first year of life, especially when you consider that Mercury was a well-established brand that had almost 20 years of brand loyalty and product history behind it. The Edsel died not because of its name, unusual styling or quality issues but because Ford Group Vice-President Robert McNamara didn't like it and cut funding for the marque, choking it to death.
• The author wrote that the '56 Motorama show "turned out to be the last of Harley Earl's traveling extravaganzas." That's technically true, but after Earl retired, there was a GM Motorama held in 1959. Dubbed 'Imagination In Motion', it was limited to two locales - New York and Boston. But, like the old Motoramas, it featured wild concept cars and musical production numbers. The final Motorama was held in 1961.
Verdict: Highly recommended. Except for minor errors, this book offers a peek at the automobile industry from the 1920s through the late 1950s and provides a very complete look at the life of Harley Earl and significant milestones in his styling and management career. (Review copy of this book provided by HarperBusiness) (posted 10/8/18, permalink)
'The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics' by Salena Zito and Brad Todd
The 2016 presidential election was indeed a revolt by the common people against the elites - Republicans, Democrats, Uncaring Bureaucrats with cushy, protected government jobs (Lois Lerner, for instance), Corrupt Corporate Insiders, Too-Big-To-Fail Banks, the IRS and others - who, over the years, have betrayed the people's trust.
In 266-plus pages, this book succinctly explains how and why Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election in key swing counties. Salena Zito is a reporter who provides compelling stories based on interviews of Trump supporters in key voting districts. Brad Todd is partner at an opinion research firm and provides data and statistics about the election results in the counties discussed. Blended together, the result is a truly insightful tome which doesn't rely on typical and trite adjectives such those served up in so many false media narratives.
Donald Trump's electoral coalition turned both American political parties upside-down. His tweets have changed once-unassailable news media. The usual gang Beltway television pundits went into various states of apoplexy when the subject of the Trump candidacy was brought up. These Washington Insiders never understood the Trump phenomenon and their predictions were proven totally wrong. For example, Karl Rove said in early 2016, "If Mr. Trump is its standard-bearer, the GOP will lose the White House and the Senate, and its majority in the House will fall dramatically."
Anti-Trumpers such as George Will, Ben Stein, Bill Kristol, Hugh Hewitt, Mitt Romney, Pope Francis, Steve Hayes, Jonah Goldberg, George Will, the entire National Review staff (the magazine devoted a full issue to 'The Case Against Trump') and most of the generally spineless Republican Congress dissed The Donald as the muffin stump of their cloistered political world. But real people liked his "can-do" attitude. 'The Great Revolt' tells readers what real people were thinking. They saw Trump as an outsider who could change things. Donald Trump led a political revolution that was long overdue.
There were clues (which few picked up): During the final three months of the campaign, Donald Trump had twelve times as many attendees as Hillary at rallies. Hillary's speech on November 4th drew only 126 live participants, while Trump's same-day rally garnered over 12,000 people. Trump always drew large, enthusiastic crowds but no one had ever correlated crowds with votes before.
Zito and Todd found seven distinct categories of Trump voters in swing counties including Perot-istas (populist conservative independents whose views mirrored those of 1992 Ross Perot supporters), Rough Rebounders (people who have endured tough times, clawed their way back and admire Trump for doing same), Rotary Reliables (small business owners and managers who are active in their communities - Chambers of Commerce, Rotary Clubs, etc. - and who dislike overregulation and the social decay caused by large employers leaving town), King Cyrus Christians (religious folks who overlook Trump's rough talk and lack of churchgoing because, like King Cyrus of Old Testament fame, he's looking out for their interests).
While acknowledging that the future is difficult to predict, the authors are optimistic that Trump supporters will remain loyal and possibly grow in number by 2020 because - so far - he is delivering the results he promised. Three key results important to those people interviewed: more jobs, protection of Second Amendment rights and conservative Supreme Court picks. So far, President Trump is successful in all three areas.
Verdict: Highly recommended. This is one of the best political analysis books I've read. (posted 10/4/18, permalink)
'Classic Racing Engines: Design, Development and Performance of the World's Top Motorsport Power Units' by Karl Ludvigsen
Karl Ludvigsen is an MIT engineer and industrial designer. As a General Motors employee in 1956, Ludvigsen planned experimental front-drive prototypes. He worked in the auto industry for most of his life. Over the years, he has written for many popular car magazines and has authored over four dozen books. I've read his articles in the past and have always been impressed with his depth of subject knowledge.
In this 215-page book (plus a comparison spec table, glossary and index), Ludvigsen reviews 50 different racing engines, covering the period from 1913 to 1994. Some, like the Offenhauser (later Drake-Offenhauser) enjoyed decades of success. Others, like the BRM H16 engine (two horizontally opposed eight-cylinder engines pancaked together), were dismal failures. Karl noted that "flaws of design and execution ... endowed (the H16) with a formidable capacity for self-destruction." What all of these engines have in common is a unique approach to design and performance.
Several of the engines had exotic, desmodromic valves. I always thought that the Pegasos of the 1950s were the first to use them. It turns out that early engines, such as the 1914 Grand Prix Delage used a desmodromic valve system. Incidentally, a desmodromic valve is a reciprocating engine poppet valve that is positively closed by a cam and leverage system, rather than by a more conventional spring. The main benefit of the desmodromic system is the prevention of harmonic valve float at high rpm.
Ludvigsen's book contains substantial technical information, combined with period photos and engine cutaway drawings (plus a whole body/chassis cutaway of the Birdcage Maserati Type 61). He also offers his expert opinions on each powerplant, such as Auto Union's six-liter V16 of 1936: "Sublime engineering created an exceptional engine for a radical rear-engined car." Engines analyzed include offerings from Duesenberg, Bugatti, Mercedes-Benz Alfa Romeo, Ford, Porsche, Honda and many more.
I was surprised to learn that Coventry Climax Engines Ltd., supplier of racing engines to such British racing icons as Lister, Lotus and Cooper, traced its roots back to 1903 and was a supplier of lightweight, four-cylinder engines for portable fire pumps. It was from an 1,100 cc. fire-pump engine that Coventry racing engines were derived. Mr. Ludvigsen remarked that the Coventry Climax 2.5-liter PFP was "one of the simplest engines ever to win a World Championship."
Verdict: A great reference work for car enthusiasts. (Review copy of this book provided by Bentley Publishers.) (posted 9/26/18, permalink)
'Everybody Is Awful (Except You)' by Jim Florentine
I saw the author on The Greg Gutfeld Show two months ago. He seemed funny, so I ordered his book. It turned out to be 250 pages of vile, profanity-laced garbage. Much of the content was a rant about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the mindless things people write on these social media platforms. The juvenile, filthy and pathetic attempts at humor were more atrocious than the worst episode of 'Bevis and Butthead'. I didn't laugh once. Florentine's book was a disgusting waste of time and I had to slather myself with Purell after reading it.
Verdict: Actively avoid this book at all costs. (posted 9/20/18, permalink)
'Volkswagen Beetle: A Celebration of the World's Most Popular Car' by Richard Copping
The Volkswagen story is so unlikely that it sounds like the script for a Mel Brooks movie: Adolph Hitler orders a car for the German masses. The Nazi high command has it designed and prototyped. Hitler calls it the People's Car. Only a few examples are made before World War II begins. Germany loses the war. The tooling for the car is offered to Henry Ford II who laughs and turns it down, believing the car has no commercial future. Other auto manufacturers are similarly disdainful. Germans begin to assemble the car in the ruins of its bombed-out factory.
From that same factory, the People's Car, Volkswagen, is slowly resurrected. For several years, there was a three-month waiting list to buy the little German Beetle. The strange design remained basically unchanged for over five decades. Many of the quirks were still there 50 years later. Shortcomings in the Beetle took forever to correct. Detroit changed over to 12-volt electrical systems in 1955. The VW remained on a six-volt system until 12 years later. The pre-1967 Beetle's glass-covered headlights had the most complex and maddening attachment system ever seen. Auto journalist Tom McCahill once wrote that if a German had created the Mona Lisa, he would have painted on a mustache just for complexity's sake. Even in the 1960s, red factory taillights sometimes faded due to bad colorant in the acrylic plastic, a problem Detroit had solved 15 years previously.
People loved the car anyway. The Beetle looked strange and ugly by modern postwar standards. It was underpowered and, until 1962, didn't even have a gas gauge. It had lots of other little quirks including an ineffective heater. Even the name wasn't changed - it was still called the People's Car. The world fell in love with it anyway.
I have owned three Beetles - one for 28 years - and this wonderful book hit a righteous note with me. When I first thumbed through the fairly large (10-inch by 10-inch) format book and saw all the studio portraiture, historical photos, colorful ad and literature reprints as well as the heavy glossy paper, I feared that this might be a vacuous coffee-table book. Was I surprised - it is also full of well-written, informative text. Mr. Copping obviously knows his subject well and has done his research. In 173 pages (plus index), he relates the history of the Volkswagen Beetle, beginning with the early 1930s small car prototypes designed by Ferdinand Porsche, the 1938 VW303 preproduction models, the war years, the early postwar challenges and the growth of the Beetle to icon status.
While the author presents a worldview of the car, the statistics for the United States were of particular interest to me. In 1949, only two Beetles were exported from the Wolfsburg factory to the U.S. In 1951, 390 Beetles were sold here. As stand-alone dealerships were established, sales grew: 1952- 601 Beetles, 1953-1,013, 1954 - 6,344, 1955 - 30,928, 1956 - 55,690, 1957 - almost 80,000, 1959 - 150,601. In the mid-1950s, Volkswagen was the top-selling foreign marque in the U.S., with Renault second (mostly Dauphines), while Ford of England and Mercedes duked it out for third place. During the summer of 1960, Volkswagen imported the 500,000th Beetle to the U.S. By 1961, Volkswagen had 87% of the imported vehicle market in America. In 1967, 32% of all Beetle production (925,787) went to the U.S. VW's U.S. sales peaked in 1970, with 569,696 vehicles finding buyers. Volkswagen had captured 7% of the U.S. car market and had over a thousand American dealerships. Worldwide Beetle production peaked in 1971, when 1,292,612 were produced.
Overwhelmingly successful in over 150 countries across the world, the air-cooled Beetle lived on until July 2003, when the last one rolled off the line at VW's Mexico plant. In total, 21,529,464 were produced, easily topping the 15 million record set by the Ford Model T in the 1920s.
Verdict: I enthusiastically recommend this lively, thoroughly-researched, enjoyable book. (Review copy supplied by Veloce Publishing) (posted 9/12/18, permalink)
'Trump's America: The Truth about Our Nation's Great Comeback' by Newt Gingrich
This is a short (256 pages, plus appendix and endnotes) book which enumerates the many accomplishments of President Donald Trump during his first 14 or so months in office. If you are reader of conservative blogs or watch Fox News, you are already aware of many of them. But Newt, because of his long political career, puts them in proper context, demonstrating how differently this president operates compared to Business As Usual in the Beltway swamp.
In addition to his experiences in Congress and as a pundit, Newt has developed a writing style which explains and clarifies the president's actions in clear, easily-understood language.
We live under the most partisan, polarized (and possibly most-corrupt) U.S. government I've ever observed in my lifetime. It will take a political outsider like Donald Trump to begin to repair the way government works. No one can say how this will end, but this book shows that the President is off to a good start.
Verdict: Highly recommended. (posted 9/6/18, permalink)
'The Fisherman's Tomb: The True Story of the Vatican's Secret Search' by John O'Neill
This is an amazing, easy-to-read true story, told in less than 205 pages (including appendices, notes and acknowledgements). It describes the search for the remains of St. Peter the Apostle, whom Catholics consider to be the first pope.
The story involves several popes, Nero, Mussolini, Hitler (who wanted to kidnap Pope Pius XII and destroy the Vatican and its many historical treasures), petty rivalries, brave priests, a wealthy secretive financier, a dedicated and brilliant female archaeologist and the secret world inside and underneath the Vatican.
Born in 1946, author John O'Neill is a successful Texas lawyer, specializing in oil and gas litigation, a Vietnam Veteran and co-author of 'Unfit For Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry'. In the forward of his second book, O'Neill notes that several years ago, he was diagnosed with multiple forms of cancer and was given a less than 5% chance of survival. He wanted his St. Peter story to be told before he died. O'Neill has done a remarkable job of storytelling; his share of book's proceeds are being donated to help persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
Verdict: Highly recommended - an enlightening and entertaining page-turner. (posted 8/30/18, permalink)
'Titanium Camshaft' by Charles S. Clark
Last month, I favorably reviewed 'The Bootlegger '40 Ford' by this author. 'Titanium Camshaft' is the prequel to that book. This paperback is short (66 pages) and priced accordingly - less than three bucks from Amazon. Once again, the star of the book is a 1940 Ford standard coupe.
The plot is about the quest to improve camshaft performance and strength on a hopped up flathead Ford V8. Most stock factory camshafts are like Ray Charles' Lucky Ol' Sun - they just roll around all day. Keep them true, keep them lubed, keep the revs reasonable and camshafts will outlast most engines. When the lobes wear, they can be filled and reground to get another 100,000 miles out of them. Racing camshafts encounter far higher loads and stresses (due to the use of stiffer valve springs for racing and more frequent occurrences of high RPM valve float - where the valve springs actually resonate, leaving the valve floating before crashing into the cam on closure) and the book reveals the consequences and one man's solution.
This short story is an interesting, easy read and a fun one for car guys.
Verdict: Recommended. As Amazon's Online Overlords always implore - buy both of Mr. Clark's books together. They pair up well. (Review copy supplied by Flathead Press LLC) (posted 8/22/18, permalink)
'Suicide Of The West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics Is Destroying American Democracy' by Jonah Goldberg
"Oh, mercy mercy me, aaaahhh, things ain't what they used to be, no, no," was the plaintive, musical cry of Marvin Gaye in his 1971 hit song. And, it has become the mantra of every aging writer who laments change - social, cultural, technological and/or political. Jonah Goldberg has jumped on the bandwagon and blames much of America's problems on Donald Trump. This is unsurprising; Goldberg is a well-known Never-Trumper and a senior editor at National Review, a coven of Never-Trump intellectuals.
Jonah attempts to convince readers that America is now in great peril because it has lost the desire to defend traditional values and institutions. Instead, we are surrendering to populism, nationalism and other forms of tribalism - all of which will cause us to lose our freedom and prosperity. Mr. Goldberg finished this book in late 2017 and predicted that President Trump's popularity will collapse when he fails to fulfill "his grandiose promises." Well, Jonah, we're already past the halfway point in 2018 and America hasn't collapsed. Trump is delivering on many of those "grandiose" promises and lots of Americans are feeling good.
Goldberg also noted that Donald Trump's ideological commitments are "similarly inchoate." I disagree. I find Trump's ideology neither incoherent nor incipient. His tactics are, however, flexible - he bops and weaves in various directions to get the job done. As Saleno Zito said, "His supporters take him seriously but not literally."
I reviewed Jonah's earlier book, 'Liberal Fascism' here and found it enjoyable although it was a slow read. Goldberg admitted that he had to edit half the pages from 'Suicide of The West' prior to publication. Thank God.
Verdict: Sadly, I cannot recommend this book. I found it to be boring, too detailed and too full of anti-Trump nonsense. (posted 8/16/18, permalink)
'Discrimination And Disparities' by Thomas Sowell
This short book (127 pages plus notes and index) is an empirical look of how certain economic and other disparities arise. Dr. Sowell challenges the idea that differing outcomes for individuals or groups is due to some nefarious cause, such as discrimination. Unfortunately, the drive to politicize history has left logic in the dust.
In his book, Sowell noted that slavery "existed on every inhabited continent for thousands of years, as far back as the human species goes. … Europeans enslaved other Europeans for centuries before Europeans bought the first African slaves - purchased from other Africans who had enslaved them - to the Western Hemisphere. Nor was it unknown for Europeans to be enslaved by non-Europeans. Just one example were the European slaves brought to the coast of North Africa by pirates. These European slaves were more numerous than the African slaves brought to the United States and to the American colonies from which it was formed. But the politicization of history has shrunk the public perception of slavery to whatever is most expedient for promoting politically correct agendas today."
Sowell suggests no universal fix for social and economic problems but he argues that many, if not most, policy fixes result in no improvement at great expense. A good example is Head Start. After over 50 years of existence (thank you LBJ and your atrocious Great Society monster), this $7 billion-per-year program has apparently done nothing for the children it was supposed to help. Yet the program soldiers on at taxpayer expense.
Verdict: Recommended. (posted 8/8/18, permalink)
'Dagger John: Archbishop John Hughes and the Making of Irish America' by John Loughery
Ireland-born John Hughes rose to become the first Archbishop of New York. He founded the college which became Fordham University and began construction of Manhattan's St. Patrick's Cathedral where he is now buried. He acquired the moniker Dagger John, because he preceded his signature with a dagger-like cross and because of his pugnacious style.
While the writing is ponderous at times, I learned a great deal about the primitive status of the Catholic Church in early-to-mid 19th Century America (underfunded, understaffed, disorganized) as well as the many social problems which afflicted New York and the U.S. during that time period. Hughes had to deal with anti-Irish sentiment as well as the anti-Catholic Know Nothings in the 1840s, the racial uprisings caused by competition for jobs between unskilled immigrants (mostly Irish) and blacks, the question of abolition (which divided both clergy and congregations) as well as the dismal conditions in overcrowded unhealthy New York, especially after it was almost overrun with poor Irish families fleeing the famine.
Verdict: Recommended - a thorough examination of an obscure but transformational American Catholic and the times in which he lived. (posted 8/2/18, permalink)
'Death By China' by Peter Navarro and Greg Autry
This is a chronicle of China's threat to the U.S. in the areas of economics, currency manipulation, intellectual property theft, protectionism and military posturing. One of the authors, Peter Navarro, currently serves as the Assistant to the President, Director of Trade and Industrial Policy for President Trump.
The book has the ring of truth to it, based on things I've read about China. Unscrupulous Chinese entrepreneurs flood world markets with lethal products, including vitamins, drugs, and foodstuffs. China sponsors cyberhacking to obtain military secrets and engage in industrial espionage. Be warned - this is no professorial dissertation. The tone is alarmist and shrill - a wake-up call for consumers and politicians.
The end of the book makes recommendations for America and Americans to deal with the China threat.
Verdict: Recommended - food for thought. (posted 7/25/18, permalink)
'The Bootlegger '40 Ford' by Charles S. Clark
This car-centric novel reminds me of a cross between the 1953 book 'Street Rod' and the 1964 movie 'The Yellow Rolls Royce' with a little bit of Robert Mitchum's 1958 'Thunder Road' thrown for good measure.
'Street Rod' is the classic Henry Gregor Felsen novel about a teen and his mildly hopped-up '39 Ford coupe. But Clark's '40 Ford novel is a nitro-burning, supercharged version with far more adventurous and outrageous tales with none of Felsen's drive-safely preachiness.
There is one similarity between the two books. When car guys think of a '40 Ford, they're usually picturing the fancy, prow-nosed DeLuxe model with its distinctive front end. That's the one most '40 Ford street rods are based on. Ford's chief designer E.T. 'Bob' Gregorie oversaw the styling of the DeLuxe. It remains one of the handsomest of mass-produced low-priced prewar American cars. I've listed it as among the Ten Best-Looking American Production Cars. I have a 1:24 scale model of a red 1940 DeLuxe coupe made by Danbury Mint, pictured here.
But Ford also offered an entry-level Standard model which inherited the grille of the 1939 DeLuxe model with blackout on each side of a heavy chrome center. (I have one example of a '40 Ford Standard - a small Tootsietoy diecast.) The Standard models were reasonably popular because of their low price - $619 for a base coupe with the small 60 horsepower V8 versus $875 for the DeLuxe coupe with a larger, 85 horsepower V8. The '40 Ford Standard with its '39 grille is the vehicle on which Clark's novel is based. Clark is the owner of a 1940 Ford Standard five-window coupe and a car guy, so he gets the technical and automotive details correct.
The 450-page paperback relates six connected adventures; the connecting factor is the used black '40 Ford Standard coupe, which is repainted (eventually ending up in an electric-blue color with wild flames), modified and updated as it begins each new adventure. Rumrunning, a 150 mph grudge match against a V12-powered Mercedes on the Autobahn, a daring escape from the KGB - all can be found in this book. There are also drawings scattered throughout the book from noted hot rod illustrator Darrell Mayabb.
Verdict: Highly recommended. This is a fun, easy-to-read book which cleverly mixes fact with fantasy. (posted 7/19/18, permalink)
'The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook' by Niall Ferguson
It is claimed that the 21st Century is the Age of Networks. In this book, the author points out, through a plethora of examples that networks have been influencing humankind for millennia, despite the more apparent towering structures of hierarchy.
The book makes for a formidable read - 431 dense pages plus another 100 pages of an appendix, extensive bibliography and index. Yes, it is thought-provoking as Ferguson recasts selected historical turning points as clashes between traditional hierarchical and street-level social networks (often abetted by technological change, such as the printing press). The author wrote, "Without Gutenberg, Luther might well have become just another heretic whom the Church burned at the stake, like Jan Hus." Ferguson also notes that the Reformation "led to a large-scale reallocation of resources from religious to secular activities." During this period, "Protestant states began to show signs of greater economic dynamism." Money was used to build ships - or printing presses - rather than churches.
Ferguson related a humorous story about bad predictions (during the portion of the book where he discusses how small interconnected networks helped bring down the Soviet Union). "In the 1961 edition of his best-selling textbook, Paul Samuelson predicted that the Soviet Economy would overtake the U.S. economy sometime between 1984 and 1997." In the book's 1989, edition, Samuelson wrote, "The Soviet economy is proof that, contrary to what many skeptics had earlier believed, a socialist command economy can function and even thrive." The Soviet Union ceased to exist on December 31, 1991. I've added this story to my Bad Predictions page. Incidentally, Dr. Samuelson was the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1970.
Unfortunately, there seems to be much bloviating in the book and the author's thesis could have been successfully argued with far fewer pages. I also get a sense that history is sometimes being cherry-picked to fit Ferguson's narrative.
Verdict: I'm not certain that 'The Square and the Tower' is worth your time. (posted 7/11/18, permalink)
'Jaguar From The Shop Floor: Foleshill Road and Browns Lane 1949 to 1978' by Brian James Martin
This is Mr. Martin's memoir of his time as a Jaguar employee. He began working there in 1949, during the early days of the XK120 sports car and left for good in 1978, after the execrable British Leyland took over the firm and the XJS touring car had been introduced as a replacement for the iconic E-Type sports car (much to the chagrin of sports car types). Even after leaving, Brian has stayed connected through his active membership in several Jaguar clubs.
Martin's stories provide a glimpse of the difficult overall conditions in early postwar Britain and the crude state of the Jaguar factory in those days, compared with auto plants in America, which were larger, better organized and more automated. Some of his stories made me wonder how Jaguar managed to produce cars at all.
Brian worked in the development department, the competition department as well as production during his tenure at Jaguar. He provides an insider's view of Jaguar's racing efforts, the development of new Jag models in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, the problems of producing several models on the same line, especially since many components were outside-sourced and vendor quality and delivery was hit-and-miss as was Jaguar's own incoming component quality control efforts.
The 182-page book is printed on heavy gloss paper with almost 100 photographs, both color and black & white.
As I've often said, "I think everyone should have a Jaguar at least once in their life." Mr. Martin agrees and currently has a 2001 XJ8 in his garage. I've written more about Jaguar here.
Verdict: This is an excellent book for Jaguar enthusiasts. (Review copy provided by Veloce Publishing) (posted 7/5/18, permalink)
'The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation' by Rod Dreher
In today's increasingly vulgar, secular world, how should Christians respond to a faith that is becoming increasingly marginalized? In this book, author and conservative columnist Rod Dreher proposes an answer: a return to the example of St. Benedict of Nursia, a sixth-century monk who created a monastic, simple way of life in response to the Dark Ages initiated by the collapse of the Roman empire.
Dreher encourages readers to isolate themselves as much as possible and live a life of Christian prayer and simplicity. He believes that organized religion will soon be on the rocks because of liberal societal pressures and popular disinterest. He writes as if there is an actual War on Christianity on the horizon - not ISIS, but secular humanism. He wants Christian students to attend "classic Christian schools" (as opposed to trendy, upscale ones) or, better yet, home-schooled - the dream of every isolationist.
Dreher doesn't think much of President Trump either, despite all of the pro-Christian things he has accomplished so far. Dreher says that Donald Trump "is not a solution to the problem of America's cultural decline, but a symptom of it."
I disagree with the premise of the book. Christianity, which has successfully survived brutal attacks over the last two millennia is not going to disappear. Christians should not simply throw in the towel and retreat to some wilderness ghetto, as Dreher suggests. Even in the darkest of times, St. Benedict maintained a connection between monastic communities and the secular world. By spreading the Christian Gospel and by founding multiple monastic communities through Italy, Benedict helped Europe to emerge from the Dark Ages. He didn't make this happen by withdrawing from the world.
Verdict: A waste of time - those who run away from challenges will never prevail. Or survive. (posted 6/27/18, permalink)
'Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life' by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
The premise of this book is fairly straightforward: If you expect a desired outcome in any venture - business, war, money-lending - you must share in the risks/rewards of said venture. Hence the book's title.
Do you really need 236 pages to teach this simple concept? I surely don't think so. Nassim Taleb comes off as a spiteful blowhard within these pages. He describes himself as a flaneur - variously defined as an idle man-about-town, a wanderer with no purpose, or a boring old fart.
He doesn't like Bob Rubin, Secretary of the Treasury during the Clinton Administration, former chairman of Citigroup during the time the failing bank was bailed out by the U.S. Treasury. (The bank's failure didn't cost Rubin anything because there was no downside risk for him - no skin in the game.) He also dislikes former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke - aka: the Father of Quantitative Easing and enabler of Bailouts during the Great Recession as well as all book reviewers. (I guess that would include me.)
Verdict: Don't bother. This book is worthless because this mean-spirited, arrogant author is only interested in presenting himself as the smartest man on the planet and in enumerating his many grudges and perceived slights. (posted 6/21/18, permalink)
'12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos' by Jordan Peterson
Jordan B. Peterson is a Canadian clinical psychologist, cultural critic, and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. He has become a You-Tube sensation based on videos of his self-help lectures.
In this rambling but insightful book of almost 400 pages, Peterson expounds upon his twelve rules using stories about his patients, lobster behavior, Egyptians and the Bible. He implores readers to use a set of rules in order to focus on goals, find meaningful and fulfilling work and do things to make our (nearby) world a better place. There are numerous Biblical references in the book and Dr. Peterson constantly reminds readers that earthly life is full of suffering.
I enjoyed the book but, for me, it was too long, with too many details and some repetition. '12 Rules for Life' seemed to be a heavy-duty version of M. Scott Peck's classic self-help book from 1978, 'The Road Less Traveled'.
Verdict: Recommended, as long as you're prepared for a lengthy read. (posted 6/13/18, permalink)
'To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism' by Ross Douthat
Conservative columnist (and Catholic convert) Ross Douthat relates the turmoil in the Church caused by Pope Francis' actions, writings and interviews. Douthat explains how this Pope has turned the papacy of John-Paul II and Benedict upside down and the danger he has created over giving sacraments to divorced & remarried Catholics and his prevarication over seemingly-settled issues such as homosexuality and abortion. Francis and his supporters seem to think, as the author writes, that people "struggling with the tensions between their personal lives and their Catholicism become neurotics in need of reassurance, not sinners wrestling with grace."
The book is interesting to read, well-written. Douthat believes that the reign of Francis may cause a schism within the Roman church. He notes: "Record numbers of Italian Catholics "took steps to disaffiliate from the Church" in 2015. In Brazil, the decline of Catholic numbers steepened in the Francis era, with nine million fewer Brazilians identifying as Catholics in 2016 than just two years before. Likewise Australia: What had been a gentle decline in Catholic identification under John Paul and Benedict has accelerated in the 2010s." I'm not sure that schism is a certainty but it is worth noting that, as Provincial Superior of the Jesuits in Argentina from 1973 to '79, Francis left quite a mess. According to one Argentine Jesuit, "He left the Society of Jesus in Argentina destroyed with Jesuits divided and institutions destroyed and financially broken. We have spent two decades trying to fix the chaos that the man left us."
On the other hand, this book went to print before Pope Francis forced two legitimate Chinese bishops to step down in favor of Beijing's seven Communist Party-approved bishops. This may be Catholicism's biggest moral crisis since the 16th Century selling of indulgences, which begat the Reformation, a major schism.
Verdict: A recommended read for Catholics concerned about the future and direction of the Church. It is a fact-packed, 208-page book. (posted 6/7/18, permalink)
'Kingdom Of Speech' by Tom Wolfe
Sigh ... the best thing I can say about Tom Wolfe's latest book is that it is mercifully brief - 169 pages, not including notes and index.
Yes, I know and I've written it before: Tom Wolfe is an American Treasure. He has produced many thoughtful, thought-provoking, funny works. In past books - fiction and nonfiction - he has conducted archaeological digs at the fringes of our culture and has unearthed treasure troves of interesting artifacts, fetishes and characters. I enjoyed many of Tom's earlier books, including 'The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby' in which Wolfe explored car culture and profiled customizers such as Ed 'Big Daddy' Roth and George Barris, 'Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers', 'Bonfire of the Vanities' and 'From Bauhaus To Our House'.
Lately .... not so much. 'Kingdom of Speech' is primarily a skewering of Charles Darwin, Noam Chomsky and others regarding their various theories about how speech evolved. I got two takeaways from reading Wolfe's latest book:
• Wolfe further confirmed my belief that Noam Chomsky is an arrogant lefty jerk.
• The Pirana, a numerically small Amazon tribe - extensively studied by modern-day anthropologist Daniel Everett, are the dumbest and most-gullible rubes on earth.
Sadly, the book never answers the question: How did language develop?
Verdict: Move along. Nothing to see here. (posted 5/30/18, permalink)
'Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends' by Peter Schweizer
This 225-page book (with almost 100 additional pages of notes and index), opens with a quote from Harry Truman: "Public service is a privilege, not a right, and people who accept the privilege of holding public office in the government must of necessity accept that their entire conduct should be open to inspection by the people they are serving." Too few of today's politicians and bureaucrats abide by Harry's admonition.
Schweizer's eye-opening book offers insight into the corruption found in the swamp of D.C. The players are from both parties and are familiar names to most: Joe Biden. Barack Obama, John Kerry, Mitch McConnell and his current wife, Elaine Chao (now U.S. Secretary of Transportation), Dick Durbin, Orrin Hatch, Dennis Hastert, Donald Trump's relatives, the Bushes and, of course, the Clintons.
This book reveals how the children (and relatives) of powerful political figures go into business and profit handsomely, not necessarily because they are good at it, but because people want to curry favor with their influential parents. It amazed me how many relatives of powerful politicians are lobbyists and have made millions for themselves and the politicians, too. In a different book, I read that "in 1974, just 3% of retiring (congressional) members became lobbyists. Now 50% of senators and 42% of congressmen do."
Recently, Thomas Kreutzer wrote that people like himself (and me, for that matter) "haven't been represented by the political elite for a long time and nothing made that clearer than the last presidential election. Early in the campaign, the Democratic candidate wrote off entire states as lost and, as a result, made zero effort to engage the people that live and work there."
Verdict: A must-read if you're interested in learning how corrupt, elected politicians make millions while in office. Highly recommended. (posted 5/24/18, permalink)
'Movie Nights With The Reagans: A Memoir' by Mark Weinberg
This 237-page sentimental book by President Ronald Reagan's former special advisor and press secretary makes for an easy read. The chapters are built around various movies screened by the Reagans at Camp David.
There is nothing earthshaking here but the author provides unique insight into the Reagans' life away from political settings.
Verdict: Recommended - a nostalgic journey back to the 1980s. The book is a light but enjoyable read. (posted 5/16/18, permalink)
'The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won' by Victor Davis Hanson
Unlike most books about World War II, Hanson's offers dispassionate, strategic look at the multiple conflicts which coalesced into a two gigantic wars - the most lethal conflicts in recorded history. Hanson's book offers a 40,000-foot level overview of the wars.
Victor Davis Hanson is a conservative icon and has a chair at the Hoover Foundation of Stanford University. In his book, he carefully assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the various combatants, comparing equipment, technological improvements, productivity, military strategy and the shortcomings of various leaders. He concludes that America prevailed because of geography - two oceans prevented a large scale invasion, raw material access (Germany, Japan and Italy suffered shortages of fuel and raw materials), massive production capacity, combined with the willingness to improve military designs based on field experience, and well-trained manpower. England prevailed because they had determination and Churchill successfully persuaded Roosevelt to help in the European theater. Russia prevailed because of brute strength and numbers of soldiers who were willing to fight under terrible battle conditions. Hanson also thoroughly debunks the myth of organized Nazi technical and tactical superiority.
In reviewing the book, John Dale Dunn wrote, "Hanson titled the book for the fact that there were at least two major wars going on in World War II, and it is a mistake to think of the Axis Powers and the European and Pacific wars as a one big theater of war."
Hanson also sets up the thesis that the Axis Powers succeeded initially only because of the hesitance and even fecklessness of the Allies during the late 1930s, "when the Nazis and the Bushido Empire expanded without resistance to take regional control and acquire influence, and even more while the major Allied powers pretended not to see the threat or, in some cases, refused to do anything to stop the aggression.
For the French, English, and Americans, the problem was a collective memory of the carnage of WWI and the commitment to pacifism, or at least weak responses to evil and aggression that resulted."
This book is comprehensive, well-documented and packed with facts - so many that it makes for a slow read because the reader must take time to absorb it all. This is not a book that can be skimmed.
Verdict: Highly recommended. (posted 5/10/18, permalink)
'The Cars Of Harley Earl' by David W. Temple
This 192-page book covers Harley Earl the man as well as many of his influential cars. It is bipolar in that it covers neither the man nor his cars in complete detail, due to page limitations. I wish the photos were larger but the smaller photos are also a result of the book being designed to a price. Nevertheless, it is a very good read and provided me with information I hadn't known about before.
In early 2016, I favorably reviewed Mr. Temple's earlier work, 'Motorama: GM's Legendary Show & Concept Cars'.
I never met Harley Earl - he was before my time - but heard a lot of stories about him from Mort Blumenfeld, who was manager of industrial design at Rohm and Haas' plastics marketing development group from 1952-69. Mort was a renowned industrial designer and knew many of the people who worked for Earl. He related stories of Harley visiting various styling studios late at night and pasting notes on clay models ordering subordinates to move trim from one model to the another, put more horizontal strips on a grille or make taillamps larger.
Mort was quite a raconteur with a large stable of jokes and funny stories. I loved talking about car design with him. He was later inducted into the Academy of Fellows of the Industrial Designers Society of America, joining such luminaries as Gene Bordinat (former Ford VP of Design), Henry Drefuss, Raymond Loewy, Brooks Stevens and Norman Bel Geddes.
During his tenure at Rohm and Haas, Mr. Blumenfeld spearheaded Concepts In Plexiglas, a 1966 program and traveling exhibit, designed to promote wider use of acrylic plastic in the appliance market.
You might complain that Mort's story has little to do with the book review and is, therefore, a distraction. Yes, but the book itself is full of such distractions ... interesting and information-filled sidebars which are so lengthy that they become much more than mere sidebars and make one - me, at least - lose one's place in the book. But they're good sidebars.
Harley Earl was nothing like other automotive designers of the 1920s. Most of them worked for staid carriage builders in the industrial eastern U.S., designed yachts, or went to art schools. Harley Earl designed and built flashy cars for movie stars in his dad's Los Angeles body-building firm. Noted auto writer Michael Lamm once wrote, "Harley grew up fast and tall in Hollywood at a time when the hometown economy was shifting from citrus to cinema. Earl learned showmanship and flair from the best in the business." Impressed with his sleek custom designs, GM hired him and tasked him with designing the new 1927 LaSalle which - with its Hispano-Suiza looks - became an overnight success.
General Motors surpassed Ford Motor Company in sales during the 1920s - thanks to the leadership of Alfred Sloan and the styling of Mr. Earl. While Ford continued to refine its manufacturing process to reduce costs, Sloan paid special attention to consumer desires. GM offered style and a variety of colors - at a more expensive price, of course. Its focus was on comfort and product improvement - a contrast to Ford's penny-pinching on the now-dated T design which old Henry deemed 'good enough'.
The General served up lines of cars in different price ranges from the entry-level Chevrolet, to the mid-priced Pontiac and Oldsmobile ranges, to the near-luxury Buick and LaSalle topping out with the legendary Cadillac brand. General Motors engaged in aspirational marketing - start out with our little Chevrolet then move up to our nicer Pontiac and later, our big, comfy Buick. Or our stylish, posh LaSalle. It worked.
By the 1950s, GM was the largest automobile producer and largest manufacturer in the world, with operations all over the globe. It had over 100 manufacturing plants in the U.S. alone. GM was one of the largest employers in the world only Soviet state-run industries had more workers. In 1955, General Motors became the first American corporation to pay taxes of over $1 billion. Harley Earl ran the group that styled very attractive cars which attracted lots of customers and made GM a world leader.
Many well-known auto designers were former Earl employees. Frank Hershey who designed the 1955 Ford Thunderbird, also worked with Earl and was responsible for the tailfins on the 1948 Cadillac. Richard Arbib, who styled the Packard Pan Am show car and once dated legendary pin-up Bettie Page, worked for Earl. Even Ford styling head George Walker - the Cellini of Chrome - worked for Harley Earl at one time.
But the magic which had worked so well for decades, eventually failed. When General Motors found out about Chrysler Corporation's new 1957 designs, the styling department almost soiled its corporate trousers. Suddenly, The General realized that Harley Earl's age of high 'power dome' hoods and chrome applied by the bucketful with a trowel was over. It was too late to do anything about the '58 models (the '58 Buicks and Oldsmobiles are case studies in high hoods and excess brightwork), but a crash program was initiated to make GM's 1959 models as wild as Chrysler's. The result were creations such as the soaring-finned '59 Caddy and the bat-winged '59 Chevy. Those designs were overseen by Bill Mitchell, Earl's successor. Harley Earl retired from General Motors in 1958.
Ironically, Chrysler's Forward Look 1957 cars, which shook up the other Detroit automakers - including Ford, were styled by Virgil Exner, who once worked for Harley Earl in the 1930s, where he rose to head of Pontiac styling.
Verdict: Highly recommended. (posted 5/2/18, permalink)
'Passing Parade: Obituaries & Appreciations' by Mark Steyn
This is a 326-page collection of 50 obituaries for celebrities or near-celebrities as well as Frank Sinatra's piano player and the man who invented Cool Whip. Post-mortem profiles included Bob Hope, the Queen Mum, Prince Rainier, Ray Charles, Rosemary Woods, JFK, Jr., Idi Amin and more. Each obit is interesting in itself. Many are irreverent and witty; all are chock full of information about the deceased.
Mark also wrote 'America Alone' and 'After America', both of which I favorably reviewed.
This book contains lots of fun stories including a few involving sexual peccadilloes of the famous. Here are some tidbits I enjoyed:
• Andrew Cavendish, the 11th Duke of Devonshire, was known for his "prodigious philandering," he testified in a court case. "English girls are the best in the world. As for a dalliance, well, the French have their strengths and the Italians are very agreeable. But, if you want my advice, stick to English women." Spoken like a true patriot.
• Centenarian Senator Strom Thurmond had wandering hands and once "made an ill-advised attempt at bipartisan outreach and groped Senator Patty Murray." This doesn't speak well of the man's taste in women or, perhaps, it simply demonstrates what a horndog the orange-haired geezer was. He once had sex in the back seat of his car with a condemned murderess during her transfer from the women's prison to death row. Strom was said to have "a soft spot for (the murderous) Mrs. Logue, whom he'd hired as a teacher back when he was School Superintendent. She didn't meet the minimum qualifications for the post but was said to have had unusual 'vaginal muscular dexterity'." She probably was hotter in the sack than Patty Murray, though. Here's a quote attributed to Senator John Tower: "When ol' Strom dies, they'll have to beat his pecker down with a baseball bat in order to get that coffin lid closed."
• Mark wrote about Englishman Jess 'The Bishop' Yates, "the organ-playing host of a top-rated religious show called 'Stars on Sunday'. The Bishop's career had come to a sudden end when he was discovered also to be playing his organ with a 16 year-old girl." Oops.
• Katherine Graham was proprietress of the Washington Post and was famous for her D.C. A-list-only parties. When she died in 2001, Steyn remarked that "judging from the tome of the drooling eulogies," some people were assuming that ol' Kay would be "continuing her salons in the unseen world and that, come their own demise, they want to make sure they're at the top table with Kay, the Kennedys, Pam Harriman and not down at the déclassé end near the powder room with God, Christ, St. Peter and other losers."
• In his Tupac Shakur obit, Mark mentioned that he never knew that thug/record magnate Suge Knight lived next door to Wayne Newton in Las Vegas. "What did Wayne do to deserve that? It's like discovering Saddam Hussein lives next door to Angela Landsbury. What do they talk about over the fence?"
Verdict: Recommended. A fun and informative read. (posted 4/26/18, permalink)
'The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies' by Ben Fritz
As we've all seen many times before, the knockout punches of technology, globalism and culture shifts have put many industries on the ropes. Or turned them upside-down. Twenty-first-century Hollywood is no exception.
Stars have seen their power diminished. Productions are more often than not lifted from old television series and action comic books. Films are positioned to provide a platform for toy sales and to be re-edited to suit foreign markets, especially China. Animation films are popular because they can easily be dubbed into many languages. In addition, subscription services such as Amazon and Netflix are now commissioning films of their own. (The book doesn't cover this but, as I write this review, Netflix is proposing a venture with Comcast to broaden its audience and better compete with Amazon in the longer term.) Market strategies seem to change by the minute.
The author also points out that the old business model no longer works. In the 1980s and ’90s, losses from unexpectedly-low U.S. movie theater losses could be made up with a combination of foreign theater distribution and worldwide video sales. But video sales began drying up as internet streaming (Netflix) and short-term DVD rentals (Redbox) became popular.
Author Ben Fritz has skillfully chronicled the dramatic industry shake-up of the past 15 years with emphasis on both the financial and entertainment aspects of movie making. The downfall of Sony Pictures and the rise of Disney and Marvel are analyzed in detail, revealing the effects of emerging entertainment trends.
Stories are told in the breezy, fast-paced style of a knowledgeable insider. I learned much, including why the film business is such a crap shoot, why everything made is subject to remake and why action movies are a better bet financially than dramatic films. The author also provided expert guesses about where the industry is headed.
Verdict: Highly recommended for anyone interested in films and/or the movie biz. (Review copy provided by Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt) (posted 4/20/18, permalink)
'Why We Sleep: Unlocking The Power Of Sleep And Dreams' by Matthew Walker, Ph.D.
This book is a New York Times bestseller probably because people are attracted by the title and by thumbing through the first chapter or so. In fact, the first few chapters were quite interesting, then the style lurched into Research Paper Mode and became dreadfully boring. I shouldn't be surprised; Walker is a professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley.
He is also master of the In My Field overstatement, positing that we are in the midst of a "silent sleep loss epidemic" that poses "the greatest public health challenge we face in the 21st century." Funny, I would have thought it was North Korea. Or Iran. Or global warming. Silly me.
I did learn a few tips for better sleep but I had to trudge through a lot of wordy, scientific mumbo sprinkled with jumbo to find them.
Verdict: A real snoozer. (posted 4/18/18, permalink)
'The Life Steve McQueen' by Dwight Jon Zimmerman
Done in a lotsa-pictures, coffee-table-book style (but too-small in size) and containing biographical information (but lacking the drilled-down details found in most biographies), this book is more of a celebration of Steve McQueen - the person, the movie star, the racer and, ultimately, the legend - the King of Cool.
Each chapter is a stand-alone vignette about a particular aspect of McQueen. Naturally, there's a chapter for each of his films, including his first starring role in the 1958 horror flick, 'The Blob'. The title song became a minor hit that year; it was written by another unknown, Burt Bacharach. Naturally, there's a chapter on 'Bullitt', McQueen's most iconic movie.
In addition to films, there are chapters devoted to his early days, his television years, his motorcycles, cars, racing endeavors, his Don Quixote-like quest for the ultimate racing movie: 'Le Mans', the 1971 film which bankrupted his production company and reportedly cost him his first marriage.
There are also chapters about McQueen's possessions, his love of jazz and his street cars - including his Jaguar XK-SS Roadster (Steve called it The Green Rat) which the book reveals he sold in 1969, "but missed it so much that he bought it back in 1977." I stood beside that very Jaguar at 'Allure of the Automobile' exhibit at the Portland Art Museum in 2011:
There are also chapters about his watches, favorite alcoholic beverages (Old Milwaukee beer) his love of jazz - as exemplified by Bullitt's jazz-inspired score, arranged for brass and percussion by legendary Lalo Schriffrin. In the same movie, the jazz quartet performing in the Coffee Cantata scene was Meridian West - chosen by McQueen when he heard them play at a gig in Sausalito.
This book is an easy and informative read for anyone who enjoyed Steve McQueen - the man, the racer or the actor.
Verdict: Strongly recommended. (Review copy provided by Motorbooks, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group) (posted 4/12/18, permalink)
'China's Great Wall of Debt: Shadow Banks, Ghost Cities, Massive Loans, and the End of the Chinese Miracle' by Dinny McMahon
This book is part-way between China-Cheerleader Tom Friedman ('That Used To Be Us') and China-Is-Killing-Us John Bassett III ('Factory Man').
Author McMahon, who spent a decade in China as a journalist covering the Chinese economy and financial system for the Wall Street Journal and for Dow Jones Newswires, provides an inside look at the unsteady foundations of China's 'miracle' economy, which is built on mountains of debt combined with corrupt and unprofitable state-owned industries. Solid data are hard to come by and the numbers are often fudged. The state still controls the actions of independent companies which makes them uncompetitive or are forced to abandon markets because the state suddenly deems products as "not profitable enough."
I have previously related the story of price increases by Chinese manufacturers of diecast model cars caused by the Chinese government deciding that major industries such as mobile phones, computers, and iPads get priority for land space and other less-clean, lower-margin industries such as diecasting must relocate - sometimes to a low-labor-cost country like Bangladesh or Vietnam. Or go out of business.
The book is filled with individual stories and I learned much: Bobbies, the lavender-stuffed teddy bears which are so popular in China that they have severely tested Australia's lavender-growing capacity. Or the personal shoppers (daigou): There are forty thousand of them in Australia alone, who purchase foreign-made products (milk powder, vitamins, shampoo, painkillers, etc.) for Chinese citizens who are wary of consumables manufactured in their home country.
Verdict: Recommended. An eye-opener of a book. (Review copy provided by Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt) (posted 4/10/18, permalink)
'The Last 100 Days: FDR at War and at Peace' by David B. Woolner
Seventy-three years after his death, historians are still debating the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Regardless of how you feel about his legacy, there is no doubt that, in his 12 years as president, FDR changed America forever.
This book is about the 100 days preceding Roosevelt's death. Significant events happened during this period including the Yalta Conference and FDR's visit to Egypt for a meeting with King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia, when Roosevelt unsuccessfully lobbied for support Jewish homeland in Palestine. Author David B. Woolner presents a favorable impression of FDR during this period, nor surprising , since the Woolner is a Senior Fellow and Resident Historian of the Roosevelt Institute.
Woolner discusses Roosevelt's cardiac and circulatory problems in a less harsh manner than in Stanley Weintraub's 'Final Victory'. Contemporary physicians have speculated that the president had melanoma that started with a lesion above FDR's left eye - removed in 1940 or so - but eventually spread to his brain and abdomen. This is an explanation for the serious weight loss observed in period photographs, which were not widely published at the time. He had suffered at least one major heart attack hours before a speech in California. FDR was a very sick man and had been so for some time. He died at a relatively young age 63 and looked at least 10 years older in the days before his passing.
The book 'Stalin's Secret Agents' suggested that FDR's ill health caused him to give away too much to Russia at the wartime conferences at Teheran and Yalta, speculating that his addled (and probably cancer-ridden) brain was likely unable to comprehend the extent of his actions.
Woolner's book contains a lot of minutiae, some of it revealing, some boring.
Verdict: OK, but there are better books available which cover much of the same ground. (posted 4/4/18, permalink)
'Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don't Matter' by Scott Adams
I enjoy Adams' 'Dilbert' cartoon and his blog posts abut politics, so I thought I would enjoy the book. I did somewhat. But it felt like a lot of his old blog posts stitched together in a less-than-organized way. The book contained some valid observations and good insight into Donald Trump's campaign tactics. But, about the third time I read "I am a trained hypnotist ...", I began to scream. And Scott kept using that phrase over and over to my dismay. Unfortunately, the book so is stuffed with the author's self-praise, I'm surprised he didn't dislocate his shoulder from patting himself on the back.
Like his other book, 'How To Fail At Almost Everything And Still Win Big', as 'Win Bigly' progresses, the amount of filler and nonsense increases exponentially.
Verdict: This is a short book and is a relatively fast read, so - if you don't like it - you won't spend a lot of painful evenings with it. (posted 3/29/18, permalink)
'Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World' by Eric Metaxas
In this nearly 450-page book, author Metaxas produces a thorough biography of Martin Luther, the once-Catholic priest who spearheaded the Reformation and probably saved the Catholic Church from collapsing due to the weight of its own corruption. I favorably reviewed the author's earlier work, 'Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy', and was not disappointed by 'Martin Luther'.
This book is full of details, some interesting, some tedious. The tales of indulgence-selling (the primary cause of Luther's break from the Roman church) were well-told. I especially enjoyed reading about Pope Leo X, one of four Medici popes. Leo was a money-grubbing buffoon and was not even ordained when elected pontiff. He ramped-up the sale of indulgences - get-out-of-jail cards for those whose sins would or did send them to purgatory - in order to build the magnificent St. Peter's Basilica and care for his pet elephant. Leo employed grifters, such as the Dominican priest Johannes Tetzel to drum up business for these buy-your-way-into-Heaven schemes.
The book ends with Luther's death. I would have appreciated a additional chapter summarizing the spread of the Reformation and the growth of the Lutheran religion beyond Germany.
Verdict: Recommended. (posted 3/21/18, permalink)
'Republican Like Me: How I Left the Liberal Bubble and Learned to Love the Right' by Ken Stern
I watched Tucker Carlson interview the author and was inspired to read his 350-page book. Unfortunately, Stern - a former CEO of NPR - offers a plodding, dry work. The reality is that the author was never converted. Throughout the book, he described his encounters with Republicans as if he were observing the strange rites of a primitive tribe - a mixture of awe and disdain. His subtext is to present pro & con comparisons - many factual - but he always comes down on the side of the liberals or, when presented with a strong case for a conservative viewpoint, wonders why we can't all just get along.
As I read the book, I kept waiting for the epiphany promised in the book's title. It never happened.
Verdict: Disappointing ... a con job. (posted 3/14/18, permalink)
'Kennedy Babylon: A Century of Scandal and Depravity - Volume I' by Howie Carr
The Kennedy balloon known as Camelot has been leaking air for years as multi-generational scandals have poked holes in the inflated legend. Now Howie Carr comes along and stomps the myth flat with his fun, informative, 268-page paperback book. I particularly liked the cartoon caricatures of the players on the book's cover.
Carr is a sharp-tongued, witty columnist for the Boston Herald and a well-known radio talk-show host. The book is chock full of juicy Kennedy family scandals, including many I didn't know about. Blatant corruption, blackmail, payoffs, cheating, etc. are sprinkled throughout this book like Reese's Pieces in a Dairy Queen Blizzard. Howie peels away Jackie's carefully groomed sainted image; I learned that other Kennedys referred to her as The Widder. Teddy gets some well-deserved takedowns. The family has a multi-generational belief that they are above the law and better than the rest of us. Good hair and toothy grins will get one pretty far in gullible America.
Verdict: I can hardly wait for Volume II. (posted 3/7/18, permalink)
'Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House' by Donna Brazile
Ms. Brazile has been active in political campaigns since the 1970s. She was Al Gore's campaign manager in the 2000 election. In this 240-page book, she looks at the 2016 election via her role as DNC chairperson - a role she unexpectedly inherited after U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign at the start of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
The DNC was a mess when she inherited it. The party was beset by infighting, scandal, hubris and the embarrassing revelations courtesy of WikiLeaks.
Donna thought she was going to be running the party but found out that she was really just a figurehead with little money or power. President Obama drained the DNC coffers in the 2012 campaign and after. Unlike other presidents Barry O. had little interest in raising money to pay off debt. DNC chair Wasserman Schultz was more interested in perks and partying than fiscal responsibility. Some congresswoman, eh?
The cash-rich Clintons stepped in and bailed-out the DNC in 2015 in exchange for a legal agreement giving Hillary control of money disbursement and senior appointments within DNC. This agreement helped screw Bernie Sanders during the primaries. As Mr. Dooley opined some 123 years ago, "Politics ain't beanbag."
A frustrated Brazile tried to fight back but was undercut when a WikiLeaks document showed that, as a CNN insider, Donna leaked a debate question to Hillary before a primary debate. Donna became a non-person in the Clinton's eyes and never even got a post-election Thank You from Hillary. Ms. Brazile got her revenge with this book, trashing Hillary's operatives with great fervor as well as Donald Trump, whom she despises.
This short book drags in spots, especially in the prolonged tales of hacking, especially by Russia. Brazile seems to believe that the Russians threw the election to the "despicable" Trump, glossing over Hillary's health issues, strategic campaigning mistakes, her infamous 'deplorables' speech and Hillary's general unlikeability. Her claims that Hillary won all the debates with candidate Trump are contradicted by contemporaneous polls. Brazile's charges that Trump inspired his supporters to violence are nonsense; she conveniently forgets the overwhelming violence incited by paid Democrat agitators in many places - Chicago, San Diego and Phoenix come to mind. The Democratic Party has always been the violent party - going back to the election of 1968.
Brazile has nothing but contempt for WikiLeaks yet neither she nor any other embarrassed Democrat has disproven the accuracy of Julian Assange's leaked info. Assange has denied that he got DNC information from the Russians, implying that it may have come from Brazile's friend, DNC staffer Seth Rich, whose 2016 murder remains unsolved. While Donna was spending much time and money trying to insulate the DNC servers from hacks, Hillary was busy Bleachbitting her own personal server while blithely sending classified info to Huma Mahmood Abedin who would transfer documents to her perverted husband Anthony Weiner's laptop - when he wasn't using it to troll adolescent girls, that is - so that she could print out hard copies.
I laughed out loud when I reached page 205 and read "I knew Hillary was an honest person ..." As the late Mr. Rogers might say, "Can you say 'delusional'?"
Verdict: An angry book by another bitter woman who was tossed overboard by the Clintons when she was no longer useful to their interests. Even though she claims to be a political expert, Donna Brazile still hasn't figured out why Donald Trump won and Queen Hillary lost. (posted 3/1/18, permalink)
'All Out War: The Plot to Destroy Trump' by Edward Klein
I don't want to be a Deep State conspiracy guy, but sometimes there is a compelling narrative with the ring of truth. It is believable that the Deep State screwed up the Bay of Pigs and, when Kennedy threatened to eviscerate the CIA, he was assassinated and replaced with war-monger, get-along-guy Lyndon Johnson. When Bobby Kennedy threatened to make Big Changes, he was done away-with. When MLK became too powerful, he was disposed of. When George Wallace threatened the establishment, he was taken out. And so on.
Now there's Donald Trump who threatens to "drain the swamp," and is suddenly the target of the media, Never-Trump cuckservatives, lefty Democrats and George Soros-backed radical groups. As well as those Deep State alphabet government agencies and quasi-government organizations (CIA, NSA, DOJ, FBI, OIC, NRO, State Dept., etc.) whose middle management is solidly entrenched and unaffected by political shifts in the Executive branch.
The jacket blurb for this book states: "With ferocity not seen since the Civil War, the Washington establishment and the radical Left are joining forces in an attempted coup d'état to overturn the will of the people and return power to the political and media elites who have never been more unhinged." Indeed.
Written by former New York Times Magazine editor-in-chief Edward Klein and published in October 2017, this fast-paced, easy-to-read 243-page book (excluding appendices and index) will wake you up and engage you. Despite President Trump's impressive accomplishments so far, Klein's book documents in detail the efforts of the left and Hillary supporters who will stop at absolutely nothing to try to derail Trump's presidency.
I have favorably reviewed Ed Klein's previous works, 'The Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House' as well as 'Blood Feud: The Clintons Vs. The Obamas'. Mr. Klein has once again written an insightful, interesting, timely and well-researched political book in 'All Out War'.
Recently, at American Thinker, Clarice Feldman wrote, "I stopped in for a late-night coffee with my friend, a fiction novelist who was depressed. 'I spent a year writing about a coup attempt against an outsider who by strategic brilliance defeated the handpicked candidate of a cabal of establishment powerhouses. It involved the highest officials of the FBI and Department of Justice. They manipulated a FISA Court into letting them electronically surveil the candidate and all who worked with him, unmasked their names, leaked what they found, and they still couldn't beat him. Then they engineered the recusal of the attorney general, got his deputy to appoint their bestest pal to be special counsel.
Given free rein, he (the special counsel) hired fierce partisans of the defeated candidate, used the ill-gotten information against her opponents to prosecute three people with minimal connection to the campaign - one for a dubious process crime dependent on the notes of an FBI agent who had earlier orchestrated lies about Benghazi, covered up for the misuse of classified information by the losing candidate, and oversaw the investigation into the president.'
'Sounds great,' I said, so why are you depressed?
'Every publisher I sent it to rejected it as being too implausible to sell to readers.'"
Verdict: I highly recommend Mr. Klein's book. Be afraid, be very afraid. (posted 2/21/18, permalink)
'God: A Human History' by Reza Aslan
In 171 pages (with many more pages of footnotes at the end), Aslan explores the history of worship, demonstrating that humans seem to be hardwired to believe in a supreme being (or many of them) and that even early humans ceremoniously buried their dead with the expectation of an afterlife.
The author was raised as a Muslim converted to Catholicism and later became a Sufi, so he has an interestingly broad viewpoint. Born in Iran, he currently lives in California. Aslan presents religious history for the lay reader in an engaging manner. Even the earliest religions assigned human characteristics to gods: "Whether we are aware of it or not, and regardless of whether we're believers or not, what the vast majority of us think about when we think about God is a divine version of ourselves."
Reza Aslan notes that early religions had multiple gods - one for crops, another for fertility, still another for war, etc. Israel went from many gods to one and started a trend which endures.
This book will neither make you a believer nor change your brand of religion. But it will make you think - a good thing.
Verdict: Recommended. (posted 2/15/18, permalink)
'The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote' by Sharyl Attkisson
If you're interested in the inside skinny on political dirty tricks, this is the book for you. Smear tactics have been in use for ages but, in today's world, the process has been organized, optimized, streamlined and supercharged. It helps that many of today's journalists are lazy, careless and have a liberal bias. The result: easily-implanted Fake News delivered to content-hungry journalists by professional sleazeballs hiding behind political PACs and LLCs.
In this 285-page book, Attkisson exposes the opposition researchers, spin doctors and pundits who attempt to shape the viewpoints of potential voters.
Speaking of pundits, the book included a quote Karl Rove made in early 2016 about the presidential election: "If Mr. Trump is its standard-bearer, the GOP will lose the White House and the Senate, and its majority in the House will fall dramatically." So ... how'd that work out, Karl? Why is Rove still on television?
Recently, Michael Walsh wrote, "Ever since postwar American journalism sacrificed its soul on the altar of celebrity sometime in the mid-'80s, a terrible day of reckoning for the craft has been in the works. The "gets" and the gotchas, the "how do you respond to" questions, the how-do-you-feels; the unseemly scrums, the willingness to endure any humiliation from their betters in the hopes of basking, however fleetingly, in reflected glory - that day finally arrived," stripping bare "the profession's pretenses to objectivity and truth-seeking, and exposed them for the tawdry, politicized whores they really are." Indeed.
Much of the book focuses on the devious attempts to derail the Trump campaign by both Republican and Democratic operatives. Ms. Attkisson documents, in great detail, many of the behind-the-scenes conniving and dirty tricks. While a slow read at times, much of the book was a real eye-opener, although I thought Sharyl's 2015 book, 'Stonewalled', was more interesting.
Verdict: Recommended. (posted 2/7/18, permalink)
'Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans: The Battle That Shaped America's Destiny' by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger
Most people think that the War of 1812 concerned battles in DC and around the Chesapeake Bay. Not so. In fact, the Battle of New Orleans was a vital part of the campaign to drive the British military out of America. This 232-page book sets the record straight and relates the efforts of Major General Andrew Jackson to protect New Orleans, a major U.S. port, at the mouth of the commercially-vital Mississippi River.
The authors also wrote, 'George Washington's Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution', which I reviewed favorably in 2014.
As expected, they present the compelling story, interesting personalities and various locations in a readable manner making for an enjoyable history lesson.
Verdict: As a casual student of history, I found this book fascinating and interesting. Recommended. (posted 2/1/18, permalink)
'Billionaire At The Barricades: The Populist Revolution from Reagan to Trump' by Laura Ingraham
In a world full of RINO consultants and Never Trumpers, Laura Ingraham was an early supporter of Donald Trump. A self-described political junkie, she began working as a speechwriter during the Reagan administration. In her latest book, she recounts the beginnings of the conservative movement with Barry Goldwater's unsuccessful 1964 presidential run. Recounting the foibles and accomplishments of various presidencies since then, Ingraham posits that Ronald Reagan was the first conservative/populist president. And that Donald Trump may be the second.
In this insightful, fast-paced 275-page book, Laura soon gets to the political rise of Donald Trump. As a well-connected pundit and political insider, Laura Ingraham shares a lot of behind-the-scenes information I hadn't heard before. She also analyzes political history, showing how the populist movement grew - not just from the frustration with the liberal overreaching policies of the Obama administration, but also the despair over big-government, globalist policies of the Bushes and the dismal candidacies of McCain and Mitt Romney.
Nascent populism fueled the campaigns of Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot, when conservatives were dismayed by the global ambitions of George H.W. Bush. Populism rose again with the birth of the Tea Party, which helped create a Republican House and later, a Republican senate.
The ever-growing populist movement held-its-nose at the Republican establishment's offering of 2016 presidential candidates, rejecting those who spouted the same old tired Party line (Bush, Kasich, Rubio, Pataki, Gilmore, Graham) and those purists who don't play well with others (Ted Cruz, Rand Paul), in favor of a shake-em-up populist/pragmatist and sometimes-conservative Donald Trump.
Trump appeared in all full-on brashness - the first candidate to announce by descending from above on a gold escalator. He is a rare breed - a candidate with enough fuck-you money that he doesn't have to be nice to lobbyists - a big selling point with unhappy voters, who feel that their representatives are being co-opted by influence peddling.
On a personal note, I enjoyed watching the usual gang Beltway television pundits go into various states of apoplexy when the subject of the Trump candidacy was brought up. These Washington Insiders never understood the Trump phenomenon. At 2015 Iowa State Fair, The Donald even gave kiddie rides on his Trump-branded helicopter, while - across the field - frightening Men-in-Black kept children away from the Hillary Bus, which had the joyless air of a prison transporter about it. How appropriate.
Laura reports on Trump's unconventional but successful campaign, warts and all. And post-election, his struggle to fulfill his promises to the people, despite resistance from his own party in Congress and having to battle a spiteful, biased press (who are still in mourning because the expected coronation of Queen Hillary never materialized and consider President Trump the Devil Incarnate).
The easy-to-read book is full of facts, humorous tidbits and has the ring of authenticity. I enjoyed every page.
Verdict: Highly recommended. (posted 1/24/18, permalink)
'Leonardo Da Vinci' by Walter Isaacson
The author demonstrates his usual impressive thoroughness in this 600+ page biography. Isaacson also wrote 'The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution' and 'Steve Jobs' - both of which I reviewed favorably.
The da Vinci book has two problems. First, since the subject died almost 500 years ago, it is difficult to obtain reliable biographical details about Leonardo Da Vinci. Second, the author mixes biographical information with lessons in art history and appreciation. While it was informative, there was waaay too much art analysis for my liking.
My takeaway from reading the book was that, while Leonardo was brilliant, he was easily distracted by his many simultaneous projects and failed to deliver works to his patrons on time - sometimes not at all. Mona Lisa apparently began as a commission for a patron but da Vinci kept screwing around with it and took almost 40 years to complete the painting. His lifetime of procrastination left a legacy of unfinished works and ideas which never got beyond the sketch or model stage.
It should be noted that this book is printed on thick, high-quality paper with numerous photographs of relevant artwork and sketches.
Verdict: This massive book will probably impress Renaissance historians but casual readers will likely skip through some parts which they find tedious. (posted 1/18/18, permalink)
'Printer's Error: Irreverent Stories from Book History' by J.P. Romney and Rebecca Romney
This 280-page book contains some interesting stories. The one on Ben Franklin was especially enjoyable. In this tome about the history of printed books, each chapter stands on its own. Some chapters are very educational; others are boring.
I picked this book up because it was on display at my local library and the cover attracted me. I knew nothing about the authors. I found out later that Rebecca Romney is a regular on 'Pawn Stars' - a program I have never watched - and has a following as a knowledgeable hottie. Which meant nothing to me.
The problem with 'Printer's Error' is that each chapter is littered with sarcasm, snide remarks, snark, filppancy, stupid pop culture references and pointless profanity. The authors' lame attempts at humor fell flat, making it difficult to take them as serious as historians.
Verdict: Too bad. It could have been a contender. (posted 1/10/18, permalink)
'The Great Quake: How the Biggest Earthquake in North America Changed Our Understanding of the Planet' by Henry Fountain
On Good Friday, March 27, 1964, a massive 9.2 magnitude earthquake struck Alaska. It was the biggest earthquake in North American recorded history and the shaking and the huge tsunamis that followed killed more than 130 people. It demolished the city of Valdez and swept away the island village of Chenega. Portions of the Alaska Railroad were destroyed, buildings and people were devoured by large fissures, large commercial buildings in Anchorage crumbled. People in Crescent City, California and near Newport, Oregon were killed by surprise waves. Well-water tables surged as far away as Florida.
This book is about the quake, its devastating effects and about the people who were affected by it. Human interest stories are sprinkled throughout and, at under 250 pages, the book makes for an easy read.
Verdict: Recommended ... very informative. (posted 1/4/18, permalink)
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