Book Reviews (2019) by Joseph M. Sherlock
Newer Book Reviews Are Posted Here.
'Mickey Thompson: The Untold Story of the Original Speed King' by Tom Madigan
When I was in high school and was dreaming of becoming an engineer, Mickey Thompson was my hero. In 1960, he developed and built the unconventional Challenger I streamliner, powered by four Pontiac V8 engines, and used it to set a one-way top speed of 406.6 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Thompson was the first American to break the 400-mph barrier and Challenger I remained the fastest piston-powered car. Photos of Mickey and his Challenger were on the cover of just about every car buff magazine of the period.
This book is a biography of the man, based on interviews done by the author (the late motorsports writer and former drag racer, Tom Madigan) in the early 1970s. The book covers Mickey's hardscrabble childhood, his early entrepreneurial endeavors, his ability to do more with less and his evolution from just another racer to a celebrity by cleverly promoting himself. It also discusses his many innovations from Indy racer design to the development of funny cars in drag racing.
Thompson was an amazing guy. In 1951 at age 23, he drove his flathead V8-powered 1936 Ford coupe at Bonneville, achieving speeds of over 141 mph. The next year, he returned with an Austin Bantam-based coupe, powered by two flathead Ford V8, mounted in-line. The car hit 197 mph, gaining the title of world's fastest coupe. He later turned to drag racing, developing innovative slingshot dragsters. In 1958, he returned to Bonneville with two hemi-Chrysler V8 engines mounted in a slingshot dragster frame and covered with an aerodynamic body. This homebuilt machine reached 294 mph.
In later years, Mickey Thompson was involved in numerous business enterprises, including his own brands of wheels and tires, a speed shop, and Baja off-road racing. In interviews, Thompson has always been coyly vague about his businesses but it is known that he made enough money to afford a lavish lifestyle. (For his second wedding, he chartered two large jets to ferry attendees from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.)
The manuscript's story stopped in the mid-1970s. At that point, Thompson and the author shelved the project for various reasons. Therefore, the book has no information about the 1988 murder of Mickey and his second wife, Trudy. It was a contract killing ordered by a disgruntled former business partner. The partner, Michael Frank Goodwin, wasn't convicted until 2007 and the two killers he hired have never been caught. Nevertheless, the book makes for a very interesting read and shows sides of the multifaceted Mr. Thompson that his publicity machine chose to ignore. Because the book covers his triumph and failures as well as his human flaws (stubbornness, anger issues, etc.), this tome is imbued with a clear sense of authenticity.
At the end of the book, there was a chapter detailing 66 year-old Danny Thompson's 2018 land speed record in his dad's 50 year-old Challenger 2 streamliner at Bonneville. Danny set a two-way average speed of 448.757 mph - a record for piston-powered, wheel-driven vehicles.
Verdict: Highly recommended - this is a can't-put-it-down book about a fascinating automotive racing legend. (Review copy supplied by Motorbooks.) (posted 12/18/19, permalink)
'Those Were The Days … Buick Riviera 1963-73' by Norm Mort
"Those Were The Days …" is a series of small (7.5 x 8 inches), 100 or so page, softcover books from Veloce Publishing about specialty automotive subjects. The books are moderately-priced ($25) and chock-full of photos, mostly in full color. Norm Mort's Buick Riviera book is knowledgeably-written and has many photos, some factory images, as well as color ones from members of the Riviera Owners Association.
Surprised by the success of the four-seater Thunderbird, General Motors decided that it needed a personal luxury car offering. A clay model was rendered and presented to Cadillac, to be called the LaSalle. Cadillac wasn't interested: "Let's not undermine the Eldorado, fellas."
Buick needed a boost in image. In 1955 and '56, Buick was the third-best selling car in the U.S. But its rank began to slip as Plymouth reclaimed third place in 1957 with its futuristic styling and tall fins. In 1958, Pontiac's new performance car image moved it up the ranks. In 1959, Buick fell to 7th place; its traditional customers were unhappy with its wild styling and unfamiliar model names. By 1960, the brand had dropped to 9th place among U.S. buyers.
So, Buick, who could always use a little sales help - especially in the area of trying to attract younger, hipper buyers, was offered the Cadillac LaSalle design. And it came to pass that the 1963 Buick Riviera Personal Luxury Coupe debuted on October 4, 1962. The car sold well (40,000 sales in the first year) and generated showroom traffic for Buick, which by 1964 had regained fifth place in U.S. sales. Riviera sales continued to grow and, by 1969, reached 52,872 coupes annually.
Ironically, as I was preparing this review, General Motors announced Buick will go sedan-free by killing the Regal after 2020 and all Buicks sold in North America will be SUVs or crossovers.
The book covers the first three generations of the Riviera, including the 1970-73 boat-tail models. The Riviera soldiered on in one form or another until 1999 - by that time, the coupe market was dying. The Ford Thunderbird disappeared after 1997 and the Lincoln Mark coupe ended with the 1998 model year.
The book also contains a section with color photos of owner-customized Rivieras. Beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder, but I would rank these custom efforts as hit or miss.
I'll end with a couple of personal experiences with Rivs. I have a particular fondness for the first generation Buick Riviera. My best friend at the time, Marty Hayes, was a psychiatrist's son He always had relatively cool family cars to drive including, his dad's new white 1963 Buick Riviera. It was a smooth-riding car and seemed wickedly fast to me. When I got married in 1966, Marty was the best man at my wedding and transported my new bride and me in his dad's dark green 1965 Riviera, which had replaced the 1963 model in the good doctor's stable. Dr. Hayes later acquired a 1967 Riviera, which was a fast and comfy machine.
In the mid-1980s, I frequently rented Lincoln Town Cars during my business travels. They were comfy cruisers even on beat-up urban streets and rented for as little as $119 per week from Budget Rent-A-Car. When Budget increased its prices, I started renting Buick Rivieras from Alamo. Those big, front-wheel drive rental Rivs were also smooth-riding and distinctive-looking.
Verdict: If you're a Buick Riviera fan, you'll love this book. For me, it brought back a lot of memories. (Review copy was supplied by Veloce Publishing.) (posted 12/12/19, permalink)
'Tracks Through Our Lives … Stories Told On Philly El Trains' by John A. McCabe
This is a 180-page softcover book, containing 17 short stories sort-of-built around various El stops on Philadelphia's Frankford-Market Street Elevated train line. Some may be true, some allegorical, others hyperbole, still others fictional. Some of the stories seemed cliched and boring, others poignant. Some were hard to follow, narrated in an almost stream-of-consciousness fashion.
I grew up in Frankford and Northeast Philadelphia; many times I rode the Frankford El, a rapid transit train which is elevated for much of the line and becomes a subway train in downtown Philly. I was a regular El patron from age 3 (when my mom would take me to a downtown department store to visit Santa Claus) until age 22 when I'd park my Corvette near the Bridge Street terminal and commute to evening post-grad classes at Drexel University. I had high expectations for this book - especially since the author was about my age - but had trouble relating to many of the author's tales.
The El tracks and support structures straddle and strangle Frankford Avenue and, later, Kensington Avenue, turning the street level into perpetual twilight and bringing with it the dark shadows of slums and decay. In that regard, it's much like it was in the 1940s and '50s, although the stores and neighborhoods used to be better and, back in those days, boarded-up buildings were almost unheard of along the Avenue.
McCabe is a Burholme native who now lives in Feasterville, PA - just outside of the northeastern city limits.
Verdict: Meh. I think I liked 'You Can't Get to Heaven on the Frankford El' better. (posted 12/4/19, permalink)
'The Last Shelby Cobra: My Times With Carroll Shelby' by Chris Theodore
I don't think anyone can write a true autobiography of Carroll Shelby. He was a multi-faceted, talented individual who was often mercurial, petty and changed the world of racing, performance cars and created an image which evolved into a legend.
The late auto editor David E. Davis sang Shelby's praises even though Shelby apparently cheated Davis out of money. When Shelby's last from-the-ground-up automotive venture, which produced the Oldsmobile-powered Shelby Series I sports car in 2000 or so, went belly-up it caused a lot of people to lose their deposit money, etc. Ol' Shel (his-own-self) apparently got away scot-free because he had good lawyers.
No one can deny the impact of the Shelby Cobra on Detroit iron. At a minimum, it inspired automakers to turn their ponycars into muscle cars with special-editions featuring high-performance options. But some of Carroll Shelby's later ventures were less than stellar. In later years, he would slap his name on almost anything from alloy wheels to those hideous '80s Dodge K-Car variants.
Shelby also loved to sue people - even his own fan club. His 1990s "resurrected" Cobras based on newly-found Cobra frames with original VINs were found to be fake. His charity for children was, at best, mismanaged, doling out only small amounts of what it took in. But his lasting legacy will be the original, rip-snortin', timeless Cobra.
The book recounts that, at a memorial tribute held at the Peterson Automotive Museum, legendary racer Dan Gurney said of Mr. Shelby, "It's a cliché to say they threw away the mold when they made him. In his case, that is a good thing, because whoever would try to make a new one would get sued by him for copyright infringement."
Chris Theodore's book makes no claim to be a bio of Carroll Shelby. It is more of a billet doux to a man whom Chris didn't meet until 1988 (when Chris was working on the V-10 engine which eventually was used in the Viper), well past Shelby's racing days and original Cobra-building glory days. Theodore was a Vice President at Chrysler and, later, Ford and he developed a close personal friendship with Carroll. The book goes into much detail about the vehicles they worked on together first-generation Dodge Viper, Ford GT, 2004 V-10-powered Shelby Cobra Concept, Shelby GR1, the rebirth of the Ford Mustang in 2005 along with its Shelby variants and more.
I learned much from this book, including lots of details about product development and the business-case methods used to decide the fate of auto vehicle proposals. And a great deal about larger-than-life Carroll Shelby.
Verdict: Highly recommended - an information-packed, eminently readable book. (Review copy was supplied by Veloce Publishing.) (posted 11/27/19, permalink)
Update: The 2004 V-10-powered Shelby Cobra Concept (codenamed: Daisy) was sold for $2.64 million at Mecum's Monterey Auction in 2021.
'Trains - The World's Most Scenic Routes' by Ian Feigle
Well-meaning friends sent me this coffee table-sized book as a gift. There are no unique photos to be found - all images in the book come from Shutterstock.com and Wikipedia Commons. The author, a 2015 college grad who writes about bands and music, seems to have no railroading background. It appears as if most of the facts are gathered from internet sources. There are no personal anecdotes and little in the way of railway and train specifications. The book is printed in China, where color separations are high quality and printing cheap. In other words, this book is built to a price.
This is an example of how many books are made these days, creating cheap eye-candy for those looking for a gift. I've seen car books done this way as well. Some of the chosen rail lines seemed arbitrary and odd. The book was OK and I learned about a few rail lines I hadn't seen before but otherwise, it was ... meh.
Verdict: Never look a gift book in the spine. (posted 11/25/19, permalink)
'GQ Drives: A Stylish Guide To The Greatest Cars Ever Made' by Paul Henderson
GQ dates back to 1931, when it was strictly a men's fashion magazine. In 1958, it was acquired by Esquire and renamed Gentlemen's Quarterly. Over the years, the magazine evolved beyond fashion, also covering food, drink, style, travel and, of course, cars. In 1967, it received a new moniker: GQ.
This 256-page book was compiled by GQ Associate Editor, Paul Henderson. He also wrote some of the articles. Many, if not most of these articles appeared in past issues of GQ.
It has been said that 'The Guinness Book of World Records' was conceived to settle arguments in pubs. I contend that 'GQ Drives' was designed to start arguments in pubs. And elsewhere. When you list "the greatest cars ever made," such a claim will undoubtedly spawn disagreements - verbal fights and, sometimes, the other kind.
Many years ago, I published 'Ten Cars That Changed Everything', listing those cars which had the most profound impact on the auto industry and society. In 2013, Paul Ingrassia published 'Engines Of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars', a book purporting to offer "a wondrous epic in fifteen automobiles."
Remember in 'Animal House' when John 'Bluto' Blutarsky gave a rousing, if inaccurate speech? ("Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? No!") Frat brother Boon waves away the historical error, noting "Forget it, he's rolling." Soon, the whole Delta House is yelling, "Let's do it! Let's do it!" Henderson's book begets the same kind of Blutoesque enthusiasm, despite its sometimes misguided choices. - such as the ugly and crude million-dollar Gumpert Apollo Sport.
Misguided, you say? Well, I think most of us would agree that the choice of an updated, modified Porsche 911, a gullwinged Mercedes 300SL and a 1960s E-Type Jaguar are appropriate choices for the 'Classic Cars' section of the book. Missing from this section were such classics as the 1940 Packard Darrin, the Jag XK 120, the Continental Mark II and the 1963-67 Corvette Sting Ray.
But the inclusion of a 1946 Oldsmobile 'derelict' street rod makes no sense. (If you're going to do street rods, why not do the '34 Pierson Brothers Ford coupe? Or 'Kookie' Edd Byrnes' hot rod, from the TV show '77 Sunset Strip’? Or the iconic flathead V8-powered 1929 Ford hot rod roadster (with a '32 Ford grille) that Elvis drove in the 1957 flick 'Loving You'? Or California customizer George Barris' Ala Kart show rod? Or the Atomic Punk? Or ZZ Top's Cadzilla or the group's '34 Ford coupe - Eliminator?)
There is a section called Concept Cars. Most were seldom-seen, relatively-obscure European ones from the last 20 years. The only older and significant one included was the 1969 Mercedes C111. What about the 1951 GM LeSabre? Or the 1955 Lincoln Futura? Or the GM Firebird III? Concept cars from the mid-1970s onward have been generally forgettable.
The author wrote that the styling of the fastback Rolls-Royce Wraith "expertly evokes the louche automotive excesses of the Twenties and early Thirties." Huh? As I've written before, the Wraith's styling evokes a 1965 Rambler Marlin to me.
Nevertheless, there is much to like in this book. The photography is stunning. And very-well done. The choice of cars made me think. And, whether I agree with all of them or not, the author made some effort to justify his selections and provided appropriate cultural references. I especially liked former Formula One driver Jenson Button's story about owning a Bugatti Veyron. He noted that if you damaged a tire, it required a new tire and wheel be fitted at a cost of almost $13,000. He only owned the Veyron for a couple of months. No wonder.
Verdict: Recommended. I enjoyed this book. Buy a copy and use it to start arguments with your car buddies. (posted 11/20/19, permalink)
'Land Of Hope - An Invitation To The Great American Story' by Wilfred M. McClay
I hate the current fad of revisionist history, which focuses on the feet of clay rather than the feats of valor of American heroes. Charles Krauthammer once wrote, "As part of a vast social project of social leveling, it is not enough for the deviant to be normalized. The normal must be found to be deviant." There is a campaign, in both academia and the elite media, to replace its art, literature, and religious traditions with what one author described as "a multicultural and post-racial republic" supportive of separate, always-flawed identities. Men, who were considered honorable by contemporaries and by 20th Century historians, are now being vilified by woke 21st Century femi-Nazis and soy boys.
Today's public schools teach politically-correct, inoffensive non-history in word-mush textbooks. 'Land Of Hope' offers a palatable alternative - an accurate, mostly positive view of American history. When I was educated more than a half-century ago, our founding fathers were portrayed as heroic men of character. McClay's book is more honest and doesn't leave out the warts of individual human failings but the author paints an accurate, yet positive, overview of historical events and the human reasoning and decisions that drove them.
Verdict: Highly recommended. This book is a celebration of the greatness of the United States. God bless America. (posted 11/18/19, permalink)
'Hemi Muscle - 70 Years Chrysler, Dodge & Plymouth High Performance' by Darwin Holmtsrom
At the end of World War II, there was such a shortage of automobiles that the Big Three Detroit manufacturers could get away with offering vehicles that were basically warmed-over, prewar models with slightly updated styling. By the time the 1949 model year rolled around, manufacturers needed to offer cars which created showroom excitement. That included new three-box styling and better powertrains.
Cadillac and Oldsmobile offered new, powerful overhead-valve V8 engines for the '49 model year. Chrysler took a slightly different turn, developing an overhead-valve engine with hemispherical combustion chambers. This domed-chamber design permitted more complete spark burn and offered extra horsepower as well as low-end torque for extra grunt. The engine had a distinctive look with very large valve covers and spark plugs concealed underneath and centered between intake and exhaust valves. This Fire-Power V8 engine first appeared in the 1951 Chrysler models, standard in the Imperial and New Yorker models, and optional in the Saratoga.
Chrysler's new engine brought "hemi" to street automotive lexicon. Variations of the engine soon spread to DeSoto and Dodge models as well. The Hemi became the showcase engine for the 1955 Chrysler C-300, arguably the first muscle car. Because it was expensive to build, the first-generation Hemi engine was discontinued, making its last appearance in the 1958 Chrysler 300D.
Hemi-powered '57 DeSoto Adventurer
One of my friends had a black '55 Dodge Lancer hardtop. Even though it was hindered by the 2-speed automatic tranny, its Hemi V8 engine made it pretty quick. And the distinctive Hemi throaty rumble was music to my ears. Another friend's parents had a 1956 Chrysler New Yorker which had the same sound from its bigger Hemi.
The Hemi engine made Chrysler famous in stock car racing, especially NASCAR. It soon became a favorite of drag racers such as Don Garlits, Sox and Martin, and hot rodders in general. Richard Petty later made his bones with Hemi-engined race cars.
Because the word Hemi had become iconic among car enthusiasts and because Chrysler needed an image boost after some tepid sales years, the Hemi was revived in 1963. This time it was available on certain Plymouths and Dodges, as a full-racing engine, not recommended for street use. Some people bought them for street vehicles anyway but the sales numbers were small because the Hemi was an expensive option and offered only a minimal performance advantage over Chrysler's wedge-head V8 motors. The Hem died a second death at the end of the 1971 model year, killed off by ever-tightening U.S. emissions regulations and the soon-to-be, EPA-mandated elimination of leaded gasoline.
The Hem got its third lease on life when an all-new version appeared on 2003 Dodge trucks. Use of the engine quickly spread to other Mopar models and the Hemi story continues to this day. Hemi is once again a household name in the enthusiast community.
This large (9 x 11.5 inch), well-written, photo-filled, 191-page book brought back many memories for me. It is accurate and thoroughly covers the engine's history, development and the legendary cars it has powered.
Verdict: Highly recommended. Any auto enthusiast will enjoy the stories and fine photos within the book's pages. (posted 11/14/19, permalink)
'Rockonomics: A Backstage Tour of What the Music Industry Can Teach Us about Economics and Life' by Alan B. Krueger
Krueger, a former chairman of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, uses the music industry as a way in to explain key principles of economics, and the forces shaping our economic lives.
In this 269 page (plus appendix, notes and index) book, some of the material is State-The-Obvious stuff. Unlike the author, I don't think you can apply the impact of technological changes in the music biz to all other industries. In that respect, Krueger failed to make his case.
Nevertheless, this is a good analysis of the music industry and how changes in technology is affecting it. I found several fascinating observations in this book:
• Only one out of ten records that a record label releases covers its costs.
• In 2017, Billy Joel earned $27.4 million from live performances and only $1.3 million from record sales and streaming and $0.6 million from publishing royalties.
• Paul McCartney, who has written and recorded more number one songs than anyone in music history, today, earns 80% of his income from live concerts.
• 1980s band U2 now earns 96% of its income from touring.
• Today, streaming accounts for 66% of recorded music revenue. Physical products and digital downloads account for 15% each.
I enjoyed the book and learned much from it, even though the lessons may have limited applicability outside of the music industry.
Verdict: Recommended. Interesting read. (posted 11/7/19, permalink)
'Jaguar: The Art Of The Automobile' by Zef Enault and Michael Levivier.
This large (10 x 12 inch), 240 page book contains the complete history of Jaguar and is packed with high quality photographs, many in color and many from Jaguar's historical archives.
This is much more than a picture book, it tells a great story - warts and all, surprising since the Jaguar Historic Trust was involved in creating the book. It is no mere puff piece. The story begins in 1919 at the dawn of Swallow Sidecars, a manufacturer of aluminum streamlined motorcycle sidecars and Bill Lyons' precursor company to Jaguar. It tells of the company's struggles as it moved to car production, surviving the 1930s depression, and ultimately, becoming a well-known worldwide brand due to its aggressive postwar export activities (as well as having stunning modern offerings such as the XK120).
It continues with the triumph of the E-Type, the woes and follies of the 1970s and '80s under British Leyland and other owners, product expansion under Ford ownership and additional product changes since the takeover by Tata.
Every Jaguar is covered up to the present F-Pace, i-Pace and retro-electric offerings. The book tries to honestly evaluate all Jags, including the ones that were less successful and less revered. In the end, the book is a celebration of 100 years of transport manufacture and a tribute to legendary, innovative and elegant Jaguar automobiles.
Verdict: Highly recommended. This Jaguar-centric, photo-packed and informative book will appeal to all fans of the marque. (Review copy supplied by Mitchell Beazley Publishers.) (posted 11/5/19, permalink)
'Where Today Meets Tomorrow: Eero Saarinen and the General Motors Technical Center' by Susan Skarsgard
During my business career, I visited numerous corporate technical showplaces, including the now-defunct, campus-like Uniroyal Rubber Research Center in a nicely-wooded area of Wayne, New Jersey. And I worked at a plastics technology showcase, Rohm & Haas' Plastic Engineering Laboratory, for several years. In the 1980s, I made visits to Apple's clean and rectilinear Cupertino site. But no corporate tech center compares with the awesome and ginormous General Motors Technical Center, located in Warren, Michigan - about 20 miles north of Detroit.
This delightful, photo-filled book documents the concept and construction of the mighty Tech Center. Planning began in 1945. 710 acres of rural farmland were acquired and the architectural firm of Eero Saarinen and his father were hired. Numerous design proposals and architectural models were constructed for GM management to approve. (You'll find photographs of these early proposals in the book.) Saarinen also designed the St Louis Gateway Arch, the TWA Flight Center at New York's JFK airport and Dulles International Airport's main terminal.
The Tech Center was important to General Motors; it was a physical manifestation of the company's power and might. In the years following World War II, GM was not only (by far) the largest car company in the world, it was also the world’s largest corporation. GM owned over 50% of the U.S. car market; it had over 100 manufacturing plants in the U.S. alone. In addition to cars, GM produced many of its own components including spark plugs, headlights, tail lights, speedometers, air cleaners, radiators, oil filters, shock absorbers, ignition systems, starters, batteries, ball bearings, car radios, steering wheels, fuel system components, heaters and air conditioners. General Motors manufactured trucks of all sizes, buses and earthmoving equipment. In addition, General Motors manufactured a full line of kitchen appliances under its Frigidaire brand and was the world’s largest producer of diesel-electric locomotives through its Electro-Motive Division.
The General Motors Technical Center has 11 miles of roads and over a mile of tunnels. It includes 25 main buildings and numerous additional structures including a polished metal water tower and 22-acre lake. The complex can accommodate 21,000 employees. The Tech Center pioneered the use of many new building concepts, including curtain-wall construction and the use of colorful, yet durable, glazed brickwork. Most of the furniture was custom-designed and built specifically for the facility. The staircases are unique and appear to be floating on air supported only by thin rods.
The complex was completed in 1955 and ceremonially dedicated in May 1956 by President Dwight Eisenhower, who appeared on closed-circuit television at multiple GM locations. Walter Cronkite was master of ceremonies. The facility cost GM approximately $100 million at the time. In 2000, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places; in 2014, the Tech Center complex was designated a National Historic Landmark, primarily for its architecture.
This large (9.5 x 12 inches, 236-page) spectacular book not only tells the story of this massive design and engineering endeavor but also contains a multitude of period photographs (90 color, 200 b/w). The book is important because few people have been inside the Tech Center and very few have experienced the totality of the site. (Visitors access is tightly-controlled because of the many secret projects being worked on within the site. Everyone I know who visited Warren was provided with a personal escort to supervise their visit.) Inside the pages, you'll get a tour of the many facets of this unique corporate installation. The author presents the history of the company, the Warren installation and the personalities involved. You’ll even get to see Harley Earl's impressive desk.
In the 1970s, I visited the Tech Center more than once and got to see preproduction models of cars two years before they hit the market. There were always exotic cars from foreign makers scattered around - GM would bring them in "for evaluation." Even though the Tech Center was almost 20 years old by then, it still looked knock-out futuristic to me and the look of it made quite an impression.
While some have described the Tech Center’s look as mid-century modern, I feel that the term does not do justice to this architectural masterpiece. (The staircases and furnishings reminded me of something out of a James Bond movie.) As I thumbed through the pages of author and longtime GM designer Susan Skarsgard's book, the buildings and interiors still offered a timeless, futuristic vibe - 63 years later.
General Motors is a much-changed company these days. It is no longer the corporate colossus of the 1950s and ‘60s. It filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009. The company now sells more Buicks in China than in the U.S. Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Hummer and Saturn are dead brands. Its European subsidiaries, Opel and Vauxhall, are now owned by French car manufacturer Groupe PSA. The locomotive division was sold off years ago and Frigidaire is now owned by Electrolux AB, a Swedish multinational home appliance manufacturer, which used to be just a vacuum cleaner company. The Delco Electronic Division, gigantic Guide Lamp Division (headlights and tail lamps) and many other subsidiaries have been spun off. But GM is still a huge company and the General Motors Technical Center lives on, focusing on tomorrow's transportation needs.
Verdict: Highly recommended. An engaging book, it is chock full of interesting information. I learned much from it. (Review copy supplied by Princeton Architectural Press.) (posted 10/30/19, permalink)
'Pub2Pub: From the Northernmost Pub on the Planet to the Southernmost ... 27,000 Miles in a Sports Car Named Kermit' by Ben Coombs
Part travelogue, part car adventure, this book provides a fascinating tour of three continents through the eyes of a British car - and beer - enthusiast, who seeks to travel from the northernmost pub at the top of the world (the abandoned Soviet mining settlement of Pyramiden - 700 miles from the North Pole) to the one at the bottom of the world (Puerto Williams on Navarino Island at Chile's southern tip).
This was not a posh Grand Tour - the author stayed in hostels, dumpy hotels or camped in a tent for most of the trip. The trip transport was a 1990s-era TVR Chimera, a fiberglass-bodied two-seater sports car powered by a Rover V8 engine. TVR is a British brand which is virtually forgotten in America; the TVR hasn't been imported to the U.S. in over 50 years, although the Ford V8-powered TVR Griffith made quite a splash in the mid-1960s. Blackpool-based TVR has had multiple owners and a host of financial crises throughout its life, and was once owned by a Russian oligarch.
Here are some observations:
• For part of the trip, the TVR was accompanied by a old Nissan Micra chase car. That made me chuckle, because you can't carry much in the way of parts or tools in that tiny microcar. I rented one during a 1995 trip to Great Britain. Inside were very tight quarters. I often felt that the car and I were one - like wearing a suit of armor. (And it was probably about as safe as one in any kind of crash - not very.)
• In Svalbard, an archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole, a hamburger with French fries costs $30.
• I enjoyed the chapter chronicling the author's adventures on the Nürburgring race track.
• Visiting Washington, DC, the author could not resist taking an obligatory swipe at President Trump. In my overseas travels, I always made a point of not commenting on national politics, figuring that I was a guest and should be well-behaved toward the host - just like at a diplomatic reception. But Donald Trump may get the last laugh here. As I write this, the Brexit deadline is looming and the president is already in talks for a zero-tariff trade deal with PM Boris Johnson. Such an agreement will make the two countries even tighter trading partners and will monetarily benefit both. Who knows? Mr. Trump may soon be Britain's new best friend.
• The corruption, red tape and bureaucratic nonsense encountered by the author in various countries in Central and South America was appalling. It was painful to read and I sympathized with Mr. Coombs.
• The car clubs encountered in various countries demonstrated that there are car guys everywhere - a good thing.
• The overall dependability of the TVR surprised the author. I was surprised as well. From what I've read, TVRs generally aren't very reliable.
Verdict: Recommended. The book is highly engaging and I learned much from Ben Coombs' various adventures and unique encounters. Some descriptions of the landscapes encountered are almost poetic. This small (6 x 8.5 inches), 240-page book contains many really good color photos taken during the 27,000 mile, 25-country excursion. I wish the pictures were larger but understand that the book had to be made to a price. (Review copy was supplied by Veloce Publishing.) (posted 10/24/19, permalink)
'My Father Left Me Ireland: An American Son's Search For Home' by Michael Brendan Dougherty
This is a small hardcover book (5 x 7.5 inches, 217 pages plus acknowledgements) and not just in size but in many other ways. I'm still trying to figure out how such a short book can seem so prolix. The author, born out of wedlock to an Irish-American mother and a mostly-absent Irish father who lived in Dublin, grew up in North Jersey and Southern Connecticut. His mother gave him a passion for All Things Irish, much of which was American faux-Gaelic, romanticized, sentimental dreck.
The book takes the form of letters he wrote to his father at various (unspecified) times. The letters are meandering, cloying, cliché-filled pieces which would, I think, embarrass most people. Eventually, Dougherty visits Emerald Isle, meeting his half-siblings and seeing his father with his 'other' family. As a tourist, Dougherty should have realized that the 'real' Irish and their culture are not easily revealed, for the same reasons that you never see Aussies ordering a Bloomin' Onion at an Outback Steakhouse.
This is a sad, maudlin book which should have come packaged with a tin penny-whistle so that readers could play sorrowful tunes while reading this dreary tome.
Verdict: Avoid this book, lads. It's nothing but blarney. Spend your money on Guinness and soda bread instead. (posted 10/16/19, permalink)
'The Real Deal: My Decade Fighting Battles and Winning Wars with Trump' by George A. Sorial and Damian Bates
Over the past few years, I've posted reviews on several books on the subject of Donald J. Trump. This one is quite different than the rest. Co-author George Sorial is a longtime employee of the Trump Organization and offered a unique insider's look at the man, the company and the family.
The portrait painted by the authors stands in stark contrast to the salacious stories and attacks promulgated by the news media. Trump emerges as a driven but caring boss who is loved by his many long-term employees. He simplifies problems to make them more solvable, gives major projects to promising neophyte employees, and is generous almost to a fault.
This 260-page book is well-written, easy to read and full of examples to back up the authors’ assertions. I admire Donald J. Trump even more after reading this book.
Verdict: Highly Recommended. (posted 10/10/19, permalink)
'The Complete Book Of Jaguar: Every Model Since 1935' by Nigel Thorley
At 10 inches by 14 inches, this book is almost large enough to be a coffee table book. It is an exceptional-quality work, is printed on heavy glossy stock, is full of facts and contains 350 gorgeous color and b/w photos. Author Nigel Thorley is a true Jaguar expert - he has owned multiple examples and is cofounder of the Jaguar Enthusiasts' Club, so this is much more than just a pretty book. The information in it is quite accurate, something often lacking in coffee-table books.
There is some discussion of product development but you won't find the drama about the ups and downs of Jaguar's business as it struggled through hard times financially during economic downturns, nor will you read about the soap-opera follies caused by a plethora of ownership and management changes. Content-wise, this 256-page book spotlights the cars themselves and that is just fine with most auto enthusiasts.
When it comes to Jags, author Thorley certainly knows his stuff and presents a narrative which is detailed but easy to follow. Jaguar has always offered sporting cars. Yes, posh saloons were produced for gentlemen who required extra doors/seating capacity or wealthy, portly lads who couldn't fit in a sports car, but Jaguar's flagship has always been a sports car.
After a brief recounting of the firm's humble beginnings, the book moves quickly to the 1935 SS Jaguar and SS 100 models, then to the early postwar sedans and the groundbreaking Jaguar XK120. When the XK120 burst on the automotive scene at the 1948 London Motor Show, the British sports car stunned the public. Its swoopy lines were quite a contrast with other British two-seaters - as well as older Jags - and made all of them look stodgy and ancient by comparison. The XK models were a big hit in the U.S. In fact, almost all early XKs were exported to North America. In 1952, Jaguar was exporting 96% of its annual output, mostly to the U.S. The two-seater Jag became the car of movie stars, wealthy enthusiasts and sporting, trust-fund cads.
The book continues forward, covering every Jaguar up to the present, including the revered E-Type in all its iterations. All older Jags possess a certain elegance; however, the latest models have, sadly, been decontented - less wood, far fewer fine leather touches, no leaper on the hood - to appeal to a younger, hipper, more lease-rate-conscious buyer in today's broadened, less soigné and more competitive luxury vehicle market. Things aren't what they used to be ... but then that's true for everything, isn't it? Sigh. Mundus senescit.
I've often said, "I think everyone should have a Jaguar at least once in their life." Mr. Thorley agrees and has owned 75 examples of the marque. I've written more about Jaguar here.
Verdict: Highly recommended. This wonderful, photo-packed and informative book will appeal to any car enthusiast who has ever admired a Jaguar. (Review copy supplied by Motorbooks.) (posted 10/2/19, permalink)
'Theodore Roosevelt For The Defense: The Courtroom Battle to Save His Legacy' by Dan Abrams and David Fisher
Here's the short version of the book: In 1915, after a five-week trial in the William Barnes vs. Theodore Roosevelt libel suit, the jury's verdict was in favor of the former president. Barnes, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, had sued Roosevelt for $50,000 for calling Barnes "a political boss of the most obnoxious type." Roosevelt won the case but had to pay almost $32,000 to defend himself; the jury did not award him legal damages.
The authors took almost 400 pages to tell this tale - and the story is a minor blip in the exciting life of Teddy Roosevelt. The subject just isn't that interesting and the tedious courtroom procedures and the back-and-forth between attorneys makes for a boring read.
Verdict: Don't bother. Too long and mind-numbing. (posted 9/26/19, permalink)
'Auto Racing In The Shadow Of The Great War: Streamlined Specials and a New Generation of Drivers on American Speedways, 1915-1922' by Robert Dick
In the first decade of the 20th Century, American race cars were crude and basic, as were regular automobiles of the period. European cars, especially those from Germany and France, offered technical innovations and more sophisticated powertrains and suspensions. Few European race cars made it to the U.S. prior to World War I. In Europe, the French Grand Prix, held one week after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, was the last Euro race of importance before the outbreak of the Great War. Continental race cars and some of their drivers soon came to the shores of America, since there was nowhere else to race. Peugeots, Mercedes, Delage and other well-known European racers were now competing against Duesenberg, Maxwell, Stutz and other American racing machines.
There's an old adage: Racing improves the breed. True, but it's the racing competition which improves the breed. The new European upstarts inspired American race car builders to replace modified stock cars with purpose-built racing machines with high-speed engines (overhead cams replacing low-revving side-valve engines), body streamlining, better steering and more-suitable suspensions. The result was faster and more thrilling races for spectators.
Robert Dick's book captures all the details of this period, providing race results, profiling the fearless and famous drivers - Barney Oldfield, Ralph De Palma, the Chevrolet brothers, Jimmy Murphy and their contemporaries, the tracks themselves (some photos of the crude wood tracks with their many split and broken boards are truly frightening), the moneymen behind the race teams and the engineers who designed and innovated the cars.
This 440-page book includes biographical information on the drivers, technical specifications on many of the race cars, chapter notes, bibliography and index. There are lots of period photographs included as well.
Verdict: Highly recommended. The book provides a thorough examination of this oft-neglected, critical period of American racing. (Review copy provided by McFarland & Co.) (posted 9/20/19, permalink)
'White' by Bret Easton Ellis
Remember the signs posted at the entrance of roller coasters at old amusement parks: "You must be this tall to ride this attraction."? This book should carry the warning: "You must be this gay to enjoy this book."
Ellis is a novelist with several successful books under his belt. This is his first nonfiction effort. It is an attempt to muse about the degradation of the culture, the general decline in civility, the ascent of extreme political correctness, the rise of the easily-offended class and the general disconnect of the populace. The book is a meandering, somewhat unfocused mix of numerous gay-centric tales, celebrity gossip, literary self aggrandizement and payback to those who have offended Mr. Ellis.
The author admits that he gets in trouble because he tweets too much. He acknowledged that one of his Twitter rants was caused by "a mix of insomnia and tequila." The book included a bitchy takedown of fellow novelist David Foster Wallace, who couldn't respond because he committed suicide in 2008, after struggling with depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicidal tendencies, with recurrent psychiatric hospitalizations for many of his 46 years. Jeeeez - pick on someone your own size, Bret.
I did enjoy Ellis' send-ups of his coastal liberal friends and acquaintances who had meltdowns over Donald Trump's election. Ellis, who claims to be a political agnostic, called them "snowflakes," which angered many of his friends and fans. He has little sympathy for anyone who believed that Trump "stole" the 2016 election and opined that Hillary Clinton was a weak candidate. But, overall, this is a shallow book by a self-absorbed writer and not worth your time.
Verdict: You must be this gay to enjoy this book. And, you still might not enjoy it even if you are gay. (posted 9/16/19, permalink)
'The Hill To Die On: The Battle for Congress and the Future of Trump's America' by Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer
The authors are writers for Politico, so one would expect a leftward bias. Yes, it's there but - all things considered - this seems to be a reasonably straightforward book, focusing less on The White House and more on the machinations on Capital Hill in the Senate and House of Representatives. The book provides the inside skinny about the power struggles and backstabbing that goes on behind the scenes.
No one comes off looking great in this book - Republican or Democrat. Paul Ryan seems hapless, while Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer are laser-focused on their own partisan interests. No wonder nothing seems to get done.
Verdict: Interesting and informative but the sausage-making nature of the political process may leave you sickened and disillusioned. (posted 9/12/19, permalink)
'Driven: An Elegy To Cars, Roads & Motorsport' by John Aston
Mr. Aston's motoring autobiography is about one man's love of cars, especially Caterham Sevens, which he used to race. While Aston is British and some of the cars, racing circuits and slang may be unfamiliar to American readers, his car obsession is familiar to all car guys, regardless of nationality. As a young man, he poured over various car mags (he remembers and identifies the first car magazine he bought - I still remember my first Road & Track purchase), looked longingly in auto showroom windows at four-wheeled eye-candy and was always on the alert for unusual and interesting vehicles on the road.
John is not afraid to share his opinions about cars and other matters, which may differ from yours or mine. He shared his adventures as a teenage race marshal in the late 1960s, as well as his personal racing experiences. On his first visit to the U.S., he headed straight to a NASCAR race and was amazed by American Southern hospitality, the power and speed of the cars as well as the fun of driving from place to place in his rented Mustang. It was fun - and uplifting - to read about NASCAR as seen through a Brit's eyes.
The author is a big fan of CAR magazine in the ’80 and early ’90s (me, too), of former car writers LJK Setright (Britain's best-known and most eloquent motoring journalist, who died in 2005 at age 74), Russell Bulgin (who died too soon) and the late, great Henry N. Manney III. He also enjoyed 'Thus Spake David E.' by David E. Davis Jr. - more so than me.
John also provided a guide to various race courses in Britain and recommended suitable music for long road trips.
Verdict: Recommended. This book is a must-read for British car enthusiasts, those who love the sport of racing as well as automotive-oriented Anglophiles. (Review copy provided by Veloce Publishing.) (posted 9/4/19, permalink)
'Still Winning: Why America Went All In on Donald Trump - And Why We Must Do It Again' by Charles Hurt
I've enjoyed seeing Charley Hurt on various Fox News political panels. He is a great antidote to the liberals and never-Trumpers who populate the futuristic glass-over-Plexiglas desks in the studio. Hurt was one of the first opinion writers to come out in favor of Trump. Hurt is an informed, pragmatic, big-government-hating columnist for the Washington Times and he offers a refreshing viewpoint.
While most of the book is about President Trump, I enjoyed reading about his getting banned from Obama's 2008 campaign plane because he wasn't drinking the Black Messiah's Kool-Aid like the rest of the press.
Charlie doesn't hold back his contempt for political icons such as stuck-up John Kerry, philandering John F. Kennedy, drunk murderer Teddy Kennedy, and wishy-washy RINO Mitt Romney.
Verdict: Recommended. An easy-to-read, witty travelogue through politics and the ways in which President Trump is turning things around while turning the establishment upside down. There's not a lot of new revelations here; it's just a very enjoyable read. (posted 8/30/19, permalink)
'F1 Mavericks: The Men and Machines that Revolutionized Formula 1 Racing' by Peter Biro and George Levy
Let me begin by stating that the photography in this coffee table-sized book is nothing short of spectacular. Much of it is from noted photographer, the late Peter Biro. The book mentioned Bernard Cahier and that brought back memories of reading the French photo-journalist's reports in Road & Track. Bernard's prose brought the races to life and his driver profiles and general racing gossip added a conversational note to his writings.
As most readers know, Formula One is the highest class of single-seat auto racing sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA). The FIA Formula One World Championship has been one of the premier forms of racing around the world since 1950. This book primarily covers the period from 1960-82 - a time of great technological change. Cars went from front-engined to rear-engined. Tire technology improvements saw the decline of skinny street tires and the rise of factory-sponsored wide-racing slicks with rubber compounds customized for different driving conditions. Modern wind tunnels equipped with conveyor belts to simulate on-road conditions resulted in performance-enhancing ground effects body designs which substantially improved lap times.
Here are several items that caught my eye while reading 'F1 Mavericks':
• Racing at Spa in 1966, Jackie Stewart crashed and was trapped by the steering wheel in his twisted BRM. "Only the brave intervention of Bob Bondurant and Graham Hill … and a wrench borrowed from a spectator to remove the wheel kept the incident from turning into a disaster. Stewart would keep a wrench taped to the inside of his cockpit for the rest of his career."
• The combination of larger, more powerful 3-liter engines, more rigid chassis and meatier tires, caused a significant drop in lap times. Best pole time at Monaco in 1965 was 1:325 minutes. By 1967, it had dropped to 1:27.6 minutes. Similar improvements were observed at other major F1 races.
• In 1968, many teams improved their cash situation by tie-ups with advertisers, especially cigarette makers who were increasingly banned from television advertising. It eventually led to the rolling billboards seen today in almost all motorsports.
• 1968 also saw the initial use of wings as aero devices in Formula One.
• It took this book to remind me of the odd-looking, six-wheel Tyrrell P34 race cars, first seen in 1976. Designed by Derek Gardner, they were certainly unique but, ultimately, unsuccessful.
• 1977 saw the first use of moveable side skirts - perfected by Team Lotus - to improve downforce in F1 racing. They worked so well, that - like the Jim Hall's 1970 Lexan-skirted vacuum cleaner Chapparal 2J in CanAm racing - they were soon banned.
• 1981 saw the first use of carbon fiber monocoque in the McLaren MP4/1. And, in those days, carbon fiber was an incredibly expensive material.
• In his interview at the end of the book, Peter Biro mentioned that one of his early photo gigs was shooting races for R&T. "Road & Track assigned me to cover the Pebble Beach races. I was excited and when I got to Pebble Beach, I picked up my pass and started taking pictures. All of a sudden I heard my name over the public address system. I reported to the office and it turned out John Bond, owner of the magazine, wanted my pass back because he had a guest he wanted to give it to. Following that, a couple of us got together and we decided to start our own magazine. That way, we could assign the photo passes and give them to ourselves and no one would be able to take them away."
Verdict: Highly recommended. Offering a poignant look back at some of the most exciting times in Formula One racing, this brilliantly-compiled book should be on every enthusiast's bookshelf. (Review copy provided by Motorbooks.) (posted 8/26/19, permalink)
'The American Steam Locomotive in the Twentieth Century' by Tom Morrison
This 624-page book thoroughly covers its subject. You'll find little mention of the early days of railroading, nor of 19th Century westward expansion. This book focuses on its subject, so there's not a lot of information about electric locomotives, nor are diesels covered in detail. This is about steam - from the small yard switchers to the powerful Mallets and articulateds. The various engineering efforts and 20th Century developments such as roller bearings, compounding and superheated steam are reviewed in depth. The level of detail is textbook-like.
Here are some interesting excerpts:
• Over the years the Americans exported 37,000 steam locomotives - 21% of U.S. production. "Steam locomotive building in the U.S. and Canada reached an all -time peak about 7,000 per year in 1906-7."
• In 1904, a typical freight locomotive developed one horsepower per 175 pounds of weight. By 1924, technology improved this to one horsepower per 100 pounds of weight.
• The number of locomotives in service peaked at 69,000 in 1923. By 1940, about 40,000 steam locos were in use.
• By 1916, railroads totaled 259,000 route miles, with 64,000 locomotives, 55,000 passenger cars and 2.5 million freight cars on the roster.
• In 1926, the Pennsylvania Railroad had 11,000 route-miles and did $710 million in annual revenues with 199,000 employees.
• PRR engineer V.I. Smith, "who was closely involved in the construction and testing of the 4-4-4-4s (PRR T-1 streamlined locomotive) pointed out that No. 6111, with a train of fourteen cars weighing 1,000 tons, bettered the schedule by 20 minutes over the 132 miles between Crestline and Fort Wayne." He commented, "In my opinion the T1s were the swiftest locomotives ever built. … It is irksome to me to read about the claims of LNER 4-6-2 locomotive Mallard (London & North Eastern Railway in Great Britain) setting a world's record for steam of 126 mph, and this for a distance of only 300 yards before complete failure occurred. I am certain that the T1s reached that speed on numerous occasions in the daily performance of their regular assignments and duties."
• Studies showed that streamlining of locomotives reduced power required by 35% at 80 mph, saving 2-300 horsepower.
This chart, contained in the book shows the diminishing role of steam power as superior diesel-electrics took over U.S. railroads during the 1944-54 period:
|Freight: gross ton-miles
|Passenger car miles
In their heyday, American steam locomotives were giants and supported an enormous industry. But the inefficiency of these locomotives caused their downfall, replaced by something better. But these huffing, puffing mechanical dinosaurs will not be soon forgotten.
Verdict: Highly recommended. 'The American Steam Locomotive' is chock-full of charts, graphs, tables and statistics (as well as a plethora of photographs) and contains enough information to settle almost any argument among steam train fans. Well done to Mr. Morrison. (Review copy provided by McFarland & Co.) (posted 8/22/19, permalink)
'Mostly Sunny: How I Learned to Keep Smiling Through the Rainiest Days' by Janice Dean
This is a breezy autobiography by one of the many blond Fox News ladies. Janice Dean is most frequently seen on 'Fox & Friends' and is a senior meteorologist at Fox News. In this book, she discusses her life and career, as well as her struggles with MS.
I first heard of Janice when she was in charge of The Scum Report, a celebrity gossip segment on 'Imus In The Morning'. She doesn't have kind words for Don Imus, whose cranky and angry old man act was apparently not an act at all.
In the 1970s, I listened to Imus whenever I was driving north of Princeton, NJ - that's how far north I had to be to pick up the AM signal broadcasting from New York City. I thought he was hilarious in those days. By the time I moved to my present home in 1989, Imus was syndicated and a Portland station carried his program. It was good to be able to hear him again after my 12 Imusless years in the wilderness. He still made me laugh. By the early 21st Century though, Imus had become a whiny, boring old fart and I stopped listening. He retired from radio last year at age 77. He looks 10 years older than he is - must have been all those drugs in the 1980s. Or those crazy diets his latest wife put him on.
Roger Ailes, King of Fox News, heard Ms. Dean on Imus' radio show and offered her a job. Janice writes a lot about Roger's alleged sexual harassment, which caused his eventual downfall. In her case, it's not clear to me whether he was just being flirtatious and suggestive or something more. In any case, Janice rebuffed his advances and still got the job.
There was some interesting inside information on the media business and fascinating trivia - example: Fox News White House correspondent John Roberts was once a Canadian VJ, rocking out with shoulder-length hair. There were some funny stories as well as touching ones but, at times, the book was boring and Janice sometimes came off as a professional victim - reliving all the perceived slights and resultant grudges in her life.
Verdict: Easy and lightweight read. (posted 8/16/19, permalink)
'The Case For Trump' by Victor Davis Hanson
Victor Davis Hanson is a conservative icon, award-winning historian and has a chair at the Hoover Foundation of Stanford University. His book, 'The Second World Wars’, was a masterpiece of dispassionate analysis.
Hanson applies the same analysis to Donald J. Trump. He views this president as the ultimate change agent. Hanson compares him to the Western gunslinger brought to town - as in 'Shane' and 'High Noon' - to restore order and drain the swamp of varmints. Americans were unhappy of the "managed decline" of post-Reagan presidencies, exemplified by 30 years of failure in dealing with North Korea, unfair job-killing trade deals negotiated by globalists, multiple quagmires in the Middle East and the ever-increasing problem with illegal immigration. Candidate Trump promised to look out for America as his top priority; that's why he got elected, helped along by the general unlikeability of his Democrat opponent. At the time the book was completed, President Trump has delivered, or is in the process of delivering on most of his campaign promises.
The author is no fawning acolyte of Trump. He spends much time on the man's shortcomings - the incessant tweeting, inflammatory rhetoric, insults thrown at those who offend him, etc. But in the end, Hanson judges the president on his accomplishments (improved economy, a reset with the Middle East, progress of sorts in relations with North Korea, stiffer sanctions on terrorist-sponsoring Iran and more). Hanson offers a clear-eyed evaluation of how Trump became President, and what the near- and long-term consequences of his presidency may be.
There are several worthwhile books about President Trump including Conrad Black's 'Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other', 'The Great Revolt' by Salena Zito and Brad Todd and Laura Ingraham's 'Billionaire At The Barricades'. But Hanson's book provides a more nuanced, less partisan slanted is one of the best books I've read about this president.
A prominent historian once said that you can't begin to write history for 40 to 50 years after an event - the details, consequences and context aren't really complete until that much time has passed. 'The Case For Trump' is not a history book but will be used by future historians as reference material. I think that 50 years out, they will view Donald Trump in a more appreciative light than today's biased Instahistorians.
Verdict: Highly recommended. (posted 8/12/19, permalink)
'The Electric Car in America, 18901922: A Social History' by Kerry Seagrave
In 1895, it would have been difficult to place bets on the choice of motive power for the new-fangled automobile. Steam was familiar from locomotives and could run on almost any kind of fuel. But it took a long time to get the boiler up to operating temperature and frequent water stops were necessary. Gasoline motors were temperamental, the crank could break one's arm if it snapped back, engines were noisy and emptied noxious smoke.
Electric power looked like a winner back in those days: no starting hassles, instant power, noiseless and odorless. Motors were relatively simple and reliable. While batteries were heavy, had limited range, were difficult to charge at home and wore out quickly, miracle improvements were just on the horizon, according to Thomas Edison and other experts. An electric ambulance made by F.R. Wood carried mortally-wounded President William McKinley from the Pan American Exposition's Temple of Music to the Exposition Hospital in Buffalo, NY on September 6, 1901.
The book mentions Thomas Edison on numerous occasions and paints him as a bit of a scoundrel. Edison was not the first or the only person to develop the incandescent light bulb. But he was the first to understand the context of the invention and successfully exploited its commercial possibilities. Electric light began as a rich man's toy - early bulbs required skilled labor and cost $1 each in 1881; 30 years later mass production had brought the price down to 17 cents. Edison, a shrewd but disorganized inventor, made his share of mistakes; he was on the wrong side of the DC vs. AC argument and failed to realize that AC current's greatest advantage was low line losses, even over long distances. Edison was not always a fair-dealer, just ask Frank Sprague, inventor and developer of the electric motor, electric railways and electric elevators, who was treated badly by Edison. Whenever Edison spoke favorably about electric automobiles it was purely for his self-interest. He wasn't alone in his excessive optimism.
As pointed out in the book, during the first eight months of 1902, U.S. production of automobiles included 10,120 gasoline cars, 6,180 steam cars and 1,835 electric cars. By 1914, 1.7 million new vehicles found buyers - only 4,700 were electric.
Power comes from 12 six-volt batteries; six in front, six in the rear.
The promised battery improvements didn't arrive. Steam was discarded as impractical, while gasoline-powered vehicles saw dramatic reductions in price as well as significant improvements in reliability. The use of electric starters solved the danger of cranking. During the same period, there was little improvement in battery vehicles. They remained heavy, slow and expensive. And their range of 20-50 miles on a charge became a major issue as roads improved and people traveled more.
It should be noted that even in the 1950s, lead-acid batteries, used to start cars, weren't very good. A six-volt battery of the period often had to be replaced every 2-3 years. In 1964, the six-volt battery on my Volkswagen Beetle died after 18 months of use. I was able to revive it for a few months with the help of 99¢ "battery booster pills" sold over the counter at auto stores.
Cranking power of those old batteries was substantially reduced during winter cold and the dream of a long-life lithium-ion battery (which also has limitations) was still far in the future.
This book is a very thorough study of early electric cars in America. It is full of illustrations and print ads, including ones making outrageous claims. Mr. Seagrave has done a fine job documenting his claims and conclusions.
Verdict: Recommended. I found this book to be an enjoyable and informative read. (Review copy provided by McFarland Books) (posted 8/8/19, permalink)
'Let Me Finish: Trump, the Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey, and the Power of In-Your-Face Politics' by Chris Christie
For many years, I've been a fan of Chris Christie. He is blunt, to-the-point and refreshingly honest. As U.S. Attorney for the State of New Jersey, Chris Christie was one of the principals involved in one of the largest-ever federal sting operations in U.S. history, chronicled in the book 'The Jersey Sting: A True Story of Crooked Pols, Money-Laundering Rabbis, Black Market Kidneys, and the Informant Who Brought It All Down'.
I've been waiting for this book to arrive and, once it did, I devoured it. The book begins with biographical stuff - about Christie's parents and grandparents, his childhood, education and marriage. Then it moves on to his career in law and politics. Reading about his long relationship with Donald Trump and his experiences during the 2016 campaign is eye-opening. The book is conversational in nature - almost like sitting across a table from Chris and listening to him recount his experiences and stories.
Christie doesn't hold back - the book is full of inside skinny on the political world, including lots of back-room deals and behind-the-scenes stuff from DC, NYC and NJ. You'll discover that Christie has no love for lying blowhard Steve Bannon, over-his-head Reince Priebus, shifty Paul Manafort, self-serving and deceptive Mike Flynn, self-absorbed Ohio Governor John Kasich, Mitt Romney's back-stabbing staff, do-nothing John Boehner (or, as I used to call him, the Orange Perry Como) and, most of all, Jared Kushner. As U.S. Attorney, Christie convicted Jared's father, sending Charles Kushner to jail. Jared has had it out for Chris ever since and caused him to get booted off the Trump transition team. Chris also provides the why and how of those Trump team members who have not served the president well.
Verdict: Highly recommended - a must read. Unlike some Trump books, this one isn't full of leftover news reports and blog and tweet scrapings. It is truly an insider's view of what went down in 2016 - the good, the bad and the ugly. (posted 8/6/19, permalink)
'Lotus Europa - Colin Chapman's Mid-engined Masterpiece' by Matthew Vale
Lotus Cars is a specialty British automaker that manufactures sports cars and racing cars. Lotus Engineering Ltd. was founded by engineers Colin Chapman and Colin Dare in 1952. Many Lotus models have become icons, including the very-basic Lotus Seven, the swoopy aero Lotus Eleven and the Espirit, made famous in a couple of James Bond films.
Vale's book thoroughly covers the Lotus Europa, the company's first mid-engined offering. When introduced in 1967, the Europa was the only mid-engined sports car being built in substantial quantities. During its 1967-75 production life, 9,884 examples were made.
In the U.S., Europa sightings are rare. I saw one at the All-British Field Meet in Portland Oregon over a decade ago. Several years ago, I spotted an example driving along a road not far from my rural home. Photos fail to capture how tiny these cars are; Chapman's passion for weight-saving usually resulted in vehicles which are quite shrunken compared with other sports cars. Because they're small and light, Lotuses are surprisingly quick. In June of 1991, I was driving on the M4 Motorway in a little rented Vauxhall Nova headed out of London towards Bath, when a then-new Lotus Elan blasted by us. We were doing 90 mph at the time (any slower and we'd have been run over by lorries); the Lotus must have been going 150 mph or so.
The body style of the Europa is quite distinctive. It has what enthusiasts refer to as 'bread van styling', an attempt to achieve a flat slightly sloping back in accordance with Dr. Wunibald Kamm's aerodynamic studies of the 1930s. This style is also found on the one-off 1962 Ferrari 250 GT SWB Breadvan and the 1966 Ford experimental race vehicle also known as the J-car. The Europa used side buttresses to achieve its bread van look. They were later cut down slightly to improve visibility, although rearward visibility in a Europa of any kind is quite limited.
This fine hardcover book includes technical descriptions of all the major versions of the model, from the Renault-powered Series 1 Europa to the Lotus Twin-Cam-powered Special. Racing variants are also covered. The book is nicely fleshed-out with interviews of owners and former Lotus employees. It also contains numerous high quality photographs and images.
Verdict: Highly recommended. An excellent history of the model and its variants, this book contains everything a Europa fan or owner would want. (Review copy supplied by Veloce Publishing.) (posted 8/1/19, permalink)
'Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service' by Gary Sinise
Let it be said that Gary Sinise is a great American. He has worked tirelessly on behalf of those who serve this country, entertaining more than a half million troops around the world. He has been advocating for America's military and its veterans for over 40 years. Mr. Sinise is also a successful actor - winner of an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and two Screen Actors Guild awards, and has been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Gary is also the recipient of the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second-highest civilian honor awarded by the President of the United States to citizens for "exemplary deeds performed in service of the nation."
That said, the book was a disappointment to me. It made for a tedious read and was boring in parts. His story does not flow smoothly and I found the oft-jumbled timelines to be confusing.
Verdict: Great guy, not-so-great book. (posted 7/30/19, permalink)
'TR's Last War: Theodore Roosevelt, the Great War, and a Journey of Triumph and Tragedy' by David Pietrusza
Anything author Pietrusza writes about political history goes on my must-read list. I have previously written favorable reviews about '1932 - The Rise of FDR & Hitler - Two Tales of Politics, Betrayal, and Unlikely Destiny', '1920: The Year of the Six Presidents', '1948: Harry Truman's Improbable Victory and the Year that Transformed America' and '1960 - LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon: The Epic Campaign That Forged Three Presidencies'.
This most recent book is 295 pages (plus notes, bibliography and index) in length and covers the final, post-presidential years of Roosevelt's life - his unsuccessful quest for the 1916 presidency, his crusade for military preparedness as America stumbled headlong into World War I, his pleas to get himself into front-line combat and his war of words with the sitting president, Woodrow Wilson. There's a thread throughout the book of Teddy's escalating health problems, exacerbated by heartbreak: His youngest and most loved son, Quentin, died in aerial combat and two of his other sons are wounded in the war. Roosevelt never fully recovered from the tropical diseases acquired during his two-year expedition after he left the presidency.
TR's final years are quite a contrast from his more active, younger years. Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th U.S. President, serving from 1901 to 1909. Teddy was an American statesman, sportsman, conservationist and prolific writer. He was a Colonel in the U.S. Army, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 and was an explorer, historian, naturalist as well as Police Commissioner of New York City and Governor of New York. Because of the book's end-of-life subject matter, it reminded me of 'Going Home To Glory: A Memoir of Life With Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961 to 1969' by David and Julie Eisenhower, although it is not nearly as dull.
By the time this book begins, TR's influence has waned and the stories about the 1916 election seemed to drag the book down and substantially lessened my interest.
In 1918 - at the conclusion of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson decided to travel to Europe to negotiate the peace. He traveled in the 700-foot-long ship, George Washington, escorted by the battleship Pennsylvania and a flotilla of ten destroyers. We complain mightily today about the extravagant cost of Presidential travel but it was no bargain in 1918 either.
Colonel Roosevelt died in early 1919 at age 60. He was buried in a simple grave with a modest headstone on a hillside overlooking Oyster Bay on the North Shore of Long Island. One hundred years later, Theodore Roosevelt is remembered for his many bold actions and has become a legend. Woodrow Wilson is considered by most historians one of the worst presidents of the 20th Century.
Verdict: Worth a read, if you skip over the boring parts. (posted 7/26/19, permalink)
'Never Stop Driving: A Better Life Behind the Wheel' by Larry Webster, Zach Bowman, Jack Baruth and Brett Berk
'Never Stop Driving' celebrates many segments of the car hobby told in personal terms: falling in love with a car (or cars), the search for the right vehicle, the joy or frustration of car repair, the personalities of fellow car enthusiasts, the fun of driving, the pleasure of discovering a fun escape road, the skill and excitement of racing, the restoration experience and much more. Each author is an expert in one or more facets of automobiles and each contributes a unique and compelling viewpoint.
This hardcover, 192-page book is full of gorgeous color photographs as well. Many are cleverly posed and/or artistic. I found the stories within the book most engaging. My only gripe was encountering light gray sidebars with medium gray text. Some moron graphic artist thought this was hip. It is not; it simply made the sidebar content very difficult to read.
As to the rest of the book, the title says it all - and Never Stop Driving should be a mantra. Sadly, I know of car guys who kept putting off having fun with their cars until it was too late. Henry was a personable fellow who had a non-running 1956 Continental Mark II in his car shed. He loved Mark IIs and hoped to get his running some day. But he was always pushing it back in favor of other priorities. Then Henry suffered a stroke, ended up in a wheelchair and died a couple of years later. His Continental was still in pieces in his barn.
My friend Ray has an '88 Corvette. It is not especially collectible but it holds many good memories for him. Almost a decade ago, this yellow convertible was badly damaged in a flood but Ray didn't give up on it and had it restored to like-new condition. Now, even though he is retired, Ray claims to be too busy with day-to-day chores to drive it. He hasn't driven his beloved Corvette in two years. When it's too late, he'll realize what he missed. I'm going to send this book to Ray, hoping that it will inspire him to get behind the wheel of that Vette and go someplace - soon.
Verdict: Highly recommended. A superb book for car guys, 'Never Stop Driving' offers diverse, yet compelling arguments for that "better life behind the wheel." (Review copy supplied by Motorbooks.) (posted 7/22/19, permalink)
'Breaking And Entering: The Extraordinary Story of a Hacker Called Alien' by Jeremy N. Smith
This may be one of my shortest book reviews. The only extraordinary thing about this book is the use of the word Extraordinary in the title. The book takes 289 pages to tell the story of Elizabeth (aka - Alien), who was a risk-taking MIT student and hacker, an employee of a White Hat hacking firm and, after she was fired, started her own cybersecurity business. It was mostly a dull read for me. Portions of her story were credibility-stretching, including some of the strategic mistakes she repeatedly made in her own business.
Verdict: Skip it. When I read that most of the reviews on Amazon were quite positive, I wondered if she hacked the site. (posted 7/18/19, permalink)
'The Hell Of Good Intentions: America's Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy' by Stephen M. Walt
Anyone remember the 1972 Life cereal commercial, featuring Mikey, who "hates everything"? I think Mikey grew up to become Stephen Walt because he hates everything, too. Walt begins by reviewing diplomatic mistakes of the past, particularly those of the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations. The author discusses The Blob, the diplomatic and foreign affairs division of The Swamp, and how various think tanks and foundations play a large role in American foreign policy.
He blames the United States' foreign policy disasters of the last 30 years on "liberal hegemony," an effort to remake the world in America's image by creating democracy where there has been none. Such thinking has led to the invasion of Iraq, failed efforts in Afghanistan, and misguided excursions in Somalia, Yemen, Libya (let's not forget Benghazi) and Syria.
Donald Trump has tried to change things but the author seems to despise Trump and gives him little credit for foreign affairs, even though President Trump got some NATO members to increase their promised funding commitments, became the first President to meet with Kim Jong Un (after four wasted years of six-party talks during the Bush administration), decimated ISIS (after Obama's infamous 'red line' accomplished nothing) and negotiated new trade agreements with many nations. The author calls Trump's policies and actions "haphazard" and "inept." Amazingly, Walt says that Trump's Syria policy is no different from Obama's; he seems to be an apologist for President Obama's disastrous policies in the Middle East (epic fails in Egypt and Libya, as well as that $1.7 billion bribe paid to Iran for the release of four sailors).
Walt wrote that Trump's America First policy is off-putting to allies. Really? What allies would that be? Certainly not Japan and South Korea - they are happy about the president's North Korea activities. Certainly not Israel; Trump is the most pro-Israel president in a long time. In February 2019, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party erected giant billboards around Tel Aviv and Jerusalem showing Donald Trump and Netanyahu shaking hands, indicating the degree of Trump's popularity among Israeli voters.
I suspect Mr. Walt means Western Europe, who have dodged their commitments when it suits them and sometimes act like sunny-day friends. Maybe those allies should shut up and step up. We won't know whether Trump's various foreign policies will be successful until the end of his administration but, two years in, things are looking pretty good.
Walt dismissed National Economic Council chair Larry Kudlow as a "conservative TV pundit with a checkered past." Mr. Kudlow has had a distinguished career; he was associate OMB director for economics and planning during Ronald Reagan's administration. He has an impressive resume which covers work in the public and private sector. Larry has authored several books.
Walt's proposed solution is called Offshore Balancing - meaning situational foreign policy, dictated by whatever is most crucial at the moment. That sounded haphazard to me but as I read along it seemed as if much of what was being proposed mirrored Trump's current positions. Walt has subheadings such as 'Emphasize Patriotism', 'Respect The Military' and 'No More Uncle Sucker'. That sounds like stuff lifted from Donald Trump's playbook.
Verdict: Don't bother. While the author offers some very good insights in the book, his political bias and Trump-hatred overwhelms a promising book. (posted 7/16/19, permalink)
'The Automobile And American Life, 2d ed.' by John Heitmann
This 7x10 paperback (238 pages, plus notes, bibliography and index) relates the story of how automobiles fundamentally transformed the way people lived shopped, worshipped, socialized as well as the country's infrastructure. The book contains 47 b&w photos.
Heitmann has filled the book with interesting statistics; here are three that caught my eye:
• By 1925, 65.5% of American bought cars on credit.
• The author pointed out that the change from open touring cars to closed car bodies happened during the 1920s. In 1919, 90% of all cars were open; by 1927, 65% were closed.
• In 1981, light trucks (pickups, SUVs and the like), "represented just 19% of the American market." By 2003, "they totaled more than 54% of what was once thought of as 'car makes'."
The book begins with the first autos - impractical curiosities - and proceeds quickly to early 20th century cars - playthings for the rich. Then came Henry Ford's low-priced Model T which put America on wheels. By 1927, a new Model T could be had for as little as $260. At its peak popularity, 1.25 million Model Ts were sold annually.
The author proceeds through the Roaring 20s, the 1930s Depression which killed off many auto makes The post-World War II-era of prosperity and auto style, the effect of the Interstate Highway system, the gas crisis of the 1970s, the growth of SUVs beginning in the 1990s and the resurgence and implications of electric vehicles in the 21st Century.
There are many ways to tell such a broad story. The author has chosen to do so dispassionately. He used statistics to make major points, which made it educational for me. When author Heitmann wandered into less quantifiable social/cultural implications (such as the relationship between cars and music and the effect of the car on religious practices), I sometimes disagreed with his viewpoints. Not that he's spouting falsehoods - it simply means that my experiences and observations are different, perhaps based on the circumstances of my upbringing versus his. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book and learned much from it.
Verdict: Recommended. An excellent starting point for anyone interested in the interaction of cars and culture over the last 120 years. (Review copy provided by McFarland & Company, Inc.) (posted 7/10/19, permalink)
'Game Of Thorns: The Inside Story of Hillary Clinton's Failed Campaign and Donald Trump's Winning Strategy' by Doug Wead
I've already read and reviewed several accounts of the 2016 election campaign but this book was recommended to me, so I decided to give it a try. I found it to be an easy read and somewhat informative. The author provides multiple reasons why Hillary lost, including that she was crooked and a liar, she was anti-Catholic and - by extension - anti-Christian, anti-Rust Belt and anti-Heartland. Everybody had figured out by 2016 that the Clintons were crooks and the e-mail scandal and the 'deplorable' comment became the tipping points for Hillary. In my view, people just didn't like her.
I did learn some new things - about why Ben Carson's poll numbers dropped so quickly and learned quite a bit about the Trump family history. I enjoyed the book until the last 50 pages or so, when it seemed to rush headlong to a weak finish. I felt that the book needed a post-game analysis focused on why/how Trump won.
Verdict: Recommended. A decent read although there are better books out there including 'The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics' by Salena Zito and Brad Todd, 'Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign' by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes and 'The Making Of The President 2016: How Donald Trump Orchestrated a Revolution' by Roger Stone. (posted 7/3/19, permalink)
'Ask the Man Who Owns One: An Illustrated History of Packard Advertising' by Arthur Einstein
Don't be fooled by the title. This is not just a bunch of reprinted ads with a bit of commentary. Rather, it is a well-presented history of the Packard marque, told in part through its advertising. Arthur W. Einstein, Jr. is an auto enthusiast and advertising executive and does an excellent job making Packard's history interesting.
This 7x10 paperback has 248 pages with additional pages of appendices, notes, bibliography and index. There are 117 b&w photos (mostly reprints of newspaper and magazine advertisements) with a 16 color photos in the center of the book. The book focuses on the business and the marketing of Packard from its inception to its demise. Don't expect to find tables of model specifications - if you want to find the rear axle ratio of the 1924 Twin-Six, you'll have to look elsewhere. I consider myself reasonably knowledgeable about the Packard marque, having previously written about it and of Packard's competitors, having published 'A Brief History of Luxury Cars' online. Despite this, I learned several things from this book. For example:
• In the 1920s and early '30s, 60% of Packard sales were to people who already owned a Packard. Such buyer loyalty is nowhere to be found today.
• "As the luxury-car market shrank, Packard production figures also fell." During the Great Depression, sales declined over 80% in a four-year period, according to some sources.
• In the mid-1930s, ex-Chevrolet sales executive William Packer, a brash fellow encouraged installment selling of Packard automobiles, "in which only one-third of Packard's business (against two-thirds of the industry's) has up to now been done."
• Prior to World War II, Packard had a strong international presence. With 280 dealers in 95 countries, by 1937 foreign sales "accounted for 8% of Packard's dollar sales."
Packard quickly became the most well-known of premium auto brands. The first Packard automobile was produced in 1899. From the very beginning, Packard featured innovations, including the modern steering wheel. The marque developed a following among wealthy purchasers both in the United States and abroad. Early in the 20th century, a Packard cost four times the price of an Oldsmobile Runabout. The iconic Packard slogan, 'Ask the Man Who Owns One', was first used in a Packard ad in October 1901.
In 1916, Packard sold 10,645 vehicles. In the 1920s, Packard exported more cars than any other in its price class. In 1927, Packard sold over 36,000 cars; the following year, over 50,000 were sold. By the end of the 1920s, Packard was outselling every other luxury car in the world.
During the Depression, surviving luxury car manufacturers lived on because they became less luxurious. The Depression of the 1930s, which didn't really end until the pre-war military build-up of 1940, changed the way wealthy Americans lived. Conspicuous consumption became muted. Household staffs were reduced - fewer gardeners, chauffeurs, maids and other servants. Cars were often piloted by owners themselves.
The first three years of the Great Depression slashed the number of U.S. automakers almost in half. Packard began introducing less-expensive versions of its offerings, including the very successful Packard 120, introduced in 1935. Cadillac promoted its LaSalle brand while Lincoln, introduced the Zephyr line in 1936. The Packard 120 saved Packard in the same way that the Zephyr saved the Lincoln brand. In 1935, the firm introduced the lower-cost 120 models; sales jumped to almost 32,000 vehicles. Packard introduced the Six, a 6-cylinder version of the 120, in 1937 and saw sales soar to over 122,000 cars that year. These lower-priced Packards looked very much like their large brothers.
Some critics have claimed that the introduction of the mid-priced 120 was the death knell for Packard. The author and I both believe this is nonsense. Edsel Ford said of the big and expensive Lincoln K-Series, which was discontinued after the 1939 model year, "We didn't stop building them; people stopped buying them." The era of big chauffeur-driven custom-bodied automobiles was over. Without the mid-priced Packards, the company would have gone out of business.
After World War II, all auto manufacturers could sell everything they could produce because pent-up consumer demand was so great. Almost everyone offered slightly warmed-over 1942 models for sale immediately after the war. Typically, conversion times from war production to passenger auto production and availability of raw materials and components dictated factories' outputs. Auto supply never really matched demand until 1950 or so.
In the luxury car market, Cadillac introduced an all-new body in 1948. In 1949, Cadillac offered the new and desirable two-door pillarless hardtop, the Coupe de Ville, and the first overhead-valve V8 engine in the luxury field. Lincoln introduced an all-new body in 1949 but was powered by a flathead V8, a modified Ford truck engine, until 1952 when it introduced an overhead-valve V8 motor. Packard stuck with its pre-war L-head straight eight - an obsolete design which wasn't discontinued until 1955 when Packard finally offered a modern, overhead-valve V8 engine. In mid-1948, Packard simply updated the prewar Clipper model, giving it a more bulbous look. These models were known as Bathtub Packards because they reminded people of upside-down bathtubs. Writing in Mechanix Illustrated, road test guru Tom McCahill referred to the newly designed Packard as "a goat" and "a dowager in a Queen Mary hat." Still, demand for any car was high in those days and Packard sold 92,000 vehicles for 1948 and 116,000 of its 1949 models. And the Fashion Academy of New York named the Bathtub Packard its Fashion Car of the Year. In 1951, Packard finally rebodied its line of cars - a pleasantly modern but undistinguished design.
One would expect that the lack of a modern powerplant combined with styling misfires would have sunk Packard. These shortcomings didn't seem to bother Packard's loyal cadre of aging customers in the early 1950s. What killed Packard was a near-decade of mismanagement and it caused a dramatic sales slide beginning in 1954. The author traced Packard's demise to two chief executives: George T. Christopher and his successor James J. Nance.
Christopher, a production whiz who modernized Packard's plant in the 1930s, was a tight-fisted president and refused to spend money on much-needed styling and engineering updates. He also ignored quality-control problems with incoming components, causing a drop in quality and reliability which angered customers and dealers.
Packard president Nance, a former Hotpoint appliance man - described as having "a wildly-exaggerated notion of his skills as an automotive leader," made several critical mistakes. He decided to produce more components in-house. This led to production problems, which reduced the supply of finished vehicles to dealers. He rejected a merger with Nash, then a relatively healthy auto company, in favor of a merger with Studebaker, a disaster of a car firm. Studebaker was losing money, although Packard's management failed to discover, during its due diligence, that the financial disclosures presented by Studebaker were essentially fraudulent.
The 1954 acquisition of Studebaker and resultant cash problems forced Packard to delay the introduction of its all-new models for a year, leaving 1954 as a year of stale Packard offerings - compared with Cadillac, which sported an all-new body for 1954 and an even more-powerful V8 than before - 230 horsepower. That year, Packard's longer-wheelbase Cavalier model had a 185 horsepower motor. Entry-level Clipper models were powered by engines with as little as 150 hp.
After the last 1954 Packard rolled off the line, the company relocated to a new assembly plant, which caused production difficulties and raised additional quality issues. The big changes in design of the all-new, good-looking '55 Packard exacerbated problems. Dealers were becoming fed up with Packard and begun deserting the firm, especially when the all-new 1955 models were fraught with quality, reliability and supply problems. In early 1955, there were 4,000 Studebaker-Packard dealers; by early 1956 there were only 3,000 remaining.
In July 1956, desperate for cash, Studebaker-Packard was effectively taken over by aircraft manufacturer Curtis-Wright. Nance left Studebaker Packard in 1956 when the company was on the verge of insolvency and, ironically, was soon named vice-president of Ford's new division in charge of producing Edsels.
The planned 1957 Packard models were scrapped, replaced by a smaller, Studebaker-based Clipper model. That was effectively the end of Packard, although models were offered for the 1958 model year. Only 2,622 '58 "Packardbakers" found buyers, while Cadillac sold 121,778 1958 examples.
'Ask the Man Who Owns One' offers much insight into the success and downfall of the Packard marque. The author's research included several first-hand interviews with the people who worked with or for Packard.
Verdict: Highly recommended. One of the best books about Packard I've read. (Review copy provided by McFarland & Company, Inc.) (posted 6/27/19, permalink)
'Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth' by Sarah Smarsh
Early in the book, the author discussed the famous July 1979 Jimmy Carter Oval Office speech when he scolded Americans for having a bad attitude and excessive expectations. "This is not a message of happiness or reassurance. But it is the truth and it is a warning," said Mr. Carter dourly.
Sarah Smarsh hadn't been born yet but opined that he spoke to people like her family who had it tough. I remember that speech quite differently. Of course, I was alive and almost 36 years old at the time. As a small business owner, I remember coming home from work exhausted after a 10-plus-hour, hot-as-hell, July 1979 day at my then-struggling manufacturing business, arriving just in time for the 6:00 pm Pacific time Oval Office lecture from a stern-faced Jimmy Carter - the one where he told us that everything was our fault (including the infamous 'Misery Index' - the sum of inflation rate and unemployment rate) because we had a Bad Attitude. At that moment, I became a Conservative. And Ronald Reagan subsequently got my vote. Ms. Smarsh doesn't have much time for President Reagan; she considers him and his Republican cohorts as the problem, rather than the solution.
President Reagan's pro-business, anti-tax attitudes probably saved my small company; we grew rapidly in sales (and profits) as the economy recovered. And hired a lot more people. I remember one of my liberal employees carping about Reagan in 1986 or thereabouts. I pointed out that, when she was hired two years previously, the wages from her prior job had been 70% less than she was presently making. She could, in no small part, thank Reagan's supply-side economics for the boost in our business and in her paycheck. Did she want to turn back time - put Jimmy back in the White House and go back to her minimum wage job elsewhere under the high-unemployment Carter administration? Her 'reply' was stony silence and a petulant glare. Some people never seem to get it. Sarah Smarsh seems to be her soulmate.
The author's story of her family plods along as generations marry young (at 16 or 17) and badly into unstable households and sometimes abusive relationships. Her family seems to be perpetually "broke" but somehow have money for cigarettes, booze, Lincolns and Corvettes. She points the finger at Republicans, government bureaucrats, big unfeeling corporations and steely-eyed bankers for her family's problems when she should be blaming their poor decisions. Part of the book is conversational, as this childless author talks to an imaginary daughter named August. I found this literary device to be quite off-putting.
There are two main reasons that American children are poor: Their parents don't work much and fathers are absent from the home. In good economic times or bad, the typical poor family with children is supported by only 800 hours of work during a year: That amounts to 16 hours of work per week. If work in each family were raised to 2,000 hours per year - the equivalent of one adult working 40 hours per week throughout the year - nearly 75% of poor children would be lifted out of official poverty.
Father absence is indeed a major cause of child poverty. Nearly two-thirds of poor children reside in single-parent homes; each year, an additional 1.5 million children are born out of wedlock. Former Clinton advisor William Galston wrote, "You need only do three things in this country to avoid poverty - finish high school, marry before having a child, and marry after the age of 20. Only 8% of the families who do this are poor; 79% of those who fail to do this are poor."
The author eventually pulled herself out of poverty (good for her) but still blames society for her family's ills. She offers no real solutions because she never properly identifies the causes of her family's problems.
Verdict: Skip this dull, whiny tale. Nothing to learn here. (posted 6/19/19, permalink)
'Mini: 60 Years' by Giles Chapman
Introduced in the Spring of 1959, the original Mini (sold as the Austin Se7en and the Morris Mini-Minor) was an exercise in clever packaging and minimalist design. It had sliding windows, and external door hinges to increase useable storage space and was powered by a small four-cylinder engine mounted transversely to save room and coupled to a front-wheel drive transaxle. Wheels were tiny (10 inches) to increase interior space. The car seated four passengers in relative comfort but rode on an 84-inch wheelbase and was only 120 inches long - more than three feet shorter than a VW Beetle.
The Mini came about because of the fuel shortages caused by the 1956 Suez Canal Crisis. There was fear and uncertainty about the cost and availability of fuel in Europe and the development of the Mini was a response - a small passenger vehicle which was more fuel-efficient than present offerings. Sales of the first-generation Mini were quite successful; between 1959 and 1967, 1.19 million were sold. 429,000 revised models found buyers between 1967-70. Mini production peaked in 1971. By 2000, when the 'old' Mini was retired, over 5.3 million had been sold worldwide.
The author does an excellent job explaining the phenomenon of the Mini - the original as well as the 21st Century version. Giles Chapman is a well-known, UK-based motoring writer, journalist and interviewer. He is considered a leading authority on automobiles and I've read his articles in several car buff magazines. Author of 40 books, Chapman knows how to infuse industry details and statistics with a dose of excitement; this Mini book is very readable and engaging.
The original Mini was never particularly popular in America - viewed by many as too small a car and having a weak dealer network. The 850 cc-engined car was also quite slow with 0-60 times of 33 seconds (compared with 21 seconds for the 40 horsepower VW Beetle) and struggled to cruise at freeway speeds for long periods. Beetles of the period could cruise at 70 mph all day. During my college years (1961-65), I saw a lot of foreign small cars in Villanova's big parking lot: dozens of Volkswagen Beetles, of course, some MGs, Fiats, Triumphs, a Nash Metropolitan, even a Citroen 2CV, but not a single Mini. Yes, Hollywood car buffs Steve McQueen and James Garner owned Minis but as novelties rather than daily transportation. The Mini was withdrawn from the American market because it could not meet the 1968 U.S. safety regulations.
Nevertheless, I placed the original Mini on my list of Most Significant Cars, noting that it "popularized front-wheel drive and set the standard for small car packaging. Every FWD American subcompact of the 1980s owes a great debt to Alec Issigonis" - the man who designed the Mini.
In Britain and elsewhere, the old Mini soldiered on until it was discontinued in Spring 2000. That's amazing when one considers that the brand was serially victimized by the execrable, long-running soap opera known as British Leyland. Manufacturing methods were not updated, engineering development was minimal and quality problems plagued the marque during BL's tenure. By 1990, Mini production had fallen to 46,000 vehicles - one-sixth of its 1971 peak. Almost 25% of late 1980s/early 1990s production went to Japan, where the car had acquired cult-like status.
The New Mini - launched in mid-2001 - by owner BMW (the firm acquired Mini in 1994) was a hit worldwide, including the U.S. That was surprising, since the first Mini had such a small following in America. But the new car was larger, more powerful and had distinctive contemporary/retro styling. My car buddy Ray Lukas and I saw our first new Mini - probably a press car - in late January, 2002 while driving down Santa Monica Boulevard during our Great California Adventure. The Mini wasn't in American dealer showrooms until mid-March of that year, so it was a lucky sighting. In April 2002, Ray was invited to a dealer unveiling party in Harrisburg, PA and told that, in addition to mandatory dealer installed options such as paint and upholstery protection, fog lamps, etc., the car carried a mandatory dealer gouge of $5,000 over sticker price, indicating the great demand for the new Mini in the U.S.
When first introduced, Mini was a gotta-have, one body-style, two-door car with long waiting lists. As the backlog of orders diminished, new variants of the Mini were offered (convertible, Clubman, Countryman, etc.) to extend the line and help increase sales. By 2018, Mini U.S. sales had fallen to 43,464 vehicles. In 2019, the Mini still sells decently in the U.S. - just under 3,000 vehicles per month - almost quadruple the rate of the Fiat brand and double the rate of the soon-to-be discontinued VW Beetle.
This 169-page (plus author bio, credits and index) book contains a plethora of period photographs and many interesting sidebars describing oddball variations of the car including a stretch-limo Mini with hot tub. It thoroughly covers the development and various design proposals for the 21st century Mini and explains how the car has evolved since then.
Verdict: Highly recommended. A must-have for any Mini enthusiast or admirer of the marque. (Review copy provided by Motorbooks) (posted 6/13/19, permalink)
'Trumponomics: Inside the America First Plan to Revive Our Economy' by Stephen Moore and Arthur B. Laffler
If you watch Fox Business, Stephen Moore is a familiar face. Formerly of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, he looks like Steve Martin's younger, egghead brother. Art Laffler, of Laffler Curve fame, was a member of President Reagan's Economic Policy Advisory Board. Both men have served as advisers to Donald Trump, starting in 2016.
Candidate Trump promised a substantial and a transformative change in economic policy - much needed after eight years of Barack Obama's anti-business, anti-growth agenda. The authors discuss how they, along with Larry Kudlow - who wrote the preface for this book, helped influence and refine Trump's ideas and proposals. All are currently members of the Trump Advisory Council and continue to meet with the President regularly. In the book, they offer an insider look at how this president's economic policies are formulated and refined.
One example is how the Trump Administration has eased the crippling over-regulation of small banks. Obama's Dodd-Frank bill, described by the authors as one of "the cruelest ironies of the financial regulation bill of 2009," caused many smaller financial institutions to disappear, making those "too big to fail" banks even bigger: "The top five largest banks now control 44% of U.S. banking assets."
Throughout his very public life, Donald Trump's behavior has been brash and combative but, to most of those who know him a bit, he is seen as likable and charismatic. During his campaign, many noted economic experts claimed that his policies would wreck the U.S. economy, causing another Great Recession. They scoffed at his belief that he could get the GDP above 3%. On November 9, 2016, Paul Krugman - the diminutive doomsayer and Nobel Prize-winning economist from the New York Times - predicted that the stock market would never recover from Donald Trump's victory. "We are very probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight. I suppose we could get lucky somehow. But on economics, as on everything else, a terrible thing has just happened." Two years into the Trump Presidency, things are going quite well, Paul. Unemployment is below 4%, the GDP has topped 3% on several occasions, a NAFTA replacement awaits Congressional approval, the stock market has soared and, while other major economies are slumping, America is chugging right along. These positive changes have occurred despite the fact that we live under the most partisan, polarized (and possibly most-corrupt) U.S. government I've ever observed in my lifetime.
The last words in this book are from a Wall Street Journal editorial: "The only good thing about Donald Trump is all his policies." That's faint praise … but praise nevertheless. President Trump is delivering on his promise to make America great again.
Verdict: Highly recommended. This fact-filled, very readable book is written so that non-economists can easily comprehend the policies discussed and the economic theories behind them. (posted 6/5/19, permalink)
'Charles Clifton of Pierce-Arrow: A Sure Hand and a Fine Automobile' by Roger J. Sherman
Now almost forgotten except by diehard antique auto enthusiasts, Pierce-Arrow was once a well-engineered, very desirable luxury auto marque. Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company was a bicycle company which began offering passenger automobiles, then trucks and, later, buses. In 1909, President William Howard Taft ordered two Pierce-Arrow automobiles to be used for state occasions. In 1914, Pierce-Arrow adopted its most distinctive styling hallmark when its headlights were moved from a traditional placement at the radiator's sides, into flared housings on the front fenders. For several years, the company could not keep up with sales demand.
|This 1916 Pierce-Arrow 38-C Series 4 Brougham Limousine has a six-cylinder, 415 cubic-inch engine which made 38 horsepower. Like many Pierce-Arrows of the period, this one features nickel trim.
The firm grew steadily and was quite profitable until the post-World War I depression, when it struggled. In 1921, Pierce-Arrow lost $4.4 million. During the Roaring Twenties, the firm had a mix of good years and bad years but lost money in 1927, when the luxury car market softened. In 1928, Studebaker gained control of the Buffalo-based firm. That's the same year that Charles Clifton died.
Charles Clifton is considered an automotive pioneer. In 1897, he became secretary and treasurer for the George N. Pierce Company. He remained the treasurer after a 1909 reorganization which saw the formation of the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company. In 1916, Colonel Clifton became president of Pierce-Arrow and, in 1919, he was named chairman of its board of directors. Apart from his duties with Pierce-Arrow, Colonel Clifton served as president of National Automobile Chamber of Commerce from its beginning in 1913 until 1927.
Clifton played an important role in the early years of the company but his influence waned after 1919 when new management was brought in and began replacing key employees. The 1920s were a crucial time for Pierce-Arrow and the company failed to step up and innovate as it had in the past. The lack of a broader automotive product line, a large factory which was underutilized, failure to innovate in style and engineering, and a unfocused marketing strategy caused Pierce-Arrow to stagnate and, eventually, die. The last Pierce-Arrow was produced in 1938.
By the end of the 1920s, competitor Packard had become the dominant luxury marque and outsold every other luxury car in the world.
This 274-page (plus notes & index) softcover, 7-inch x 10-inch book has 95 b&w photos and covers Pierce Arrow from its inception until the death of Charles Clifton. Clearly a great deal of research was done by author Sherman, editor of The Arrow, the quarterly magazine of the Pierce-Arrow Society, and a member of the Antique Automobile Club of America. The problem is that there is a dearth of personal information about Clifton, so it is difficult to flesh out a portrayal of the man. Unlike Henry Ford, Walter P. Chrysler or Harley Earl, Clifton was not a larger-than-life character. He quietly worked behind the scenes and, as a manager, delegated engineering tasks and developments to his staff.
Verdict: Recommended: The book offers an interesting glimpse into the early days of motor cars, detailing things such as the Selden Patent fight and is, therefore, of interest to auto enthusiasts seeking knowledge about the dawn of the American automobile age. For Pierce-Arrow enthusiasts, it is a must-read book with information not readily found elsewhere. (Review copy supplied by McFarland) (posted 5/30/19, permalink)
'Dare To Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.' by Brené Brown
There's good money in motivational business books. If successful, they lead to workshops and other side gigs as well as additional books. Brené Brown has figured this out and is the author of several, although this is the first one I've read. Here's a summary: To lead, stay curious, ask the right questions and take ownership of stuff, good and bad. Unfortunately, it took Ms. Brown 272 pages (plus acknowledgements, notes and index) to impart this sage advice.
Much time is spent discussing interactions with other employees. Everything sounded very much like 'I'm OK, You're OK', the 1969 transactional analysis self-help classic, by Thomas Anthony Harris. Of course, Brené has updated it with new, pop-culture whiz-bang buzzwords, such as Daring to Lean Into your team to Rumble and Living into Our Values. Or something like that.
Self-help books are nothing new. Dale Carnegie wrote 'How to Win Friends and Influence People' in 1936. And, Carnegie's self-help course has been around for over a century. Zig Ziglar's 'See You at the Top' was first published in 1975.
For me, 'Dare To Lead' didn't bring anything new to the table. It lacked conclusive recommendations. The author repeatedly made reference to her research, but none of the data are shared in this book. Early in the book, Brené implied that - as a speaker - you should not tailor your presentation to your audience. As someone who did a lot of speaking during my business career, I strongly disagree.
Verdict: Feel-good fluff for a new generation. (posted 5/22/19, permalink)
'The Apollo Missions: In The Astronauts' Own Words' by Rod Pyle
Almost 50 years ago (July 20, 1969), the Apollo 11 spaceflight put a man on the moon. Neil Armstrong's first step onto the lunar surface was broadcast on live TV to a worldwide audience. He described the event as "one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." Putting men on the moon fulfilled President Kennedy's 1961 goal: "… before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth."
Recently, Christopher Jacobs wrote, "Sure, the impending 50th anniversary of man's first footsteps on another world represents an epic moment in human achievement. But from a more practical perspective, events that transpired a century prior to the 1969 Apollo 11 mission likely had a bigger impact on America as we know it." He is referring to the transcontinental railroad.
But, unlike railroads, the reasons for going to the moon were not commercial - they were an exercise in patriotism and scientific achievement - and were the ultimate prize of the 'space race' with the USSR, which had put the first satellite in orbit in October 1957. The late Charles Krauthammer wrote, "America was shaken out of its technological lethargy by a beeping 180-pound aluminum ball orbiting overhead." The U.S. quickly followed up with Project Apollo. Its first mission ended in tragedy when three astronauts burned to death in its capsule's pure-oxygen atmosphere during a prelaunch test in 1967. But progress continued and, a little more than two years later, humans were exploring the moon on foot.
The Apollo story is very well told in this book. Author Rod Pyle is a consultant for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and has written extensively about the history of space exploration. This 181-page book (plus appendix, glossary and index) presents a detailed overview of the program and has over 100 photographs (mostly color). Even though I followed the program as an interested adult engineer, I had forgotten many details. This fine book brought them back to me and I really enjoyed seeing the many images of the crude-looking landing module, the moon surface photos and the lunar rover.
The moon landing will always be remembered as a significant event in the history of humankind. It was our first visit to another world. This book relates the amazing story quite well.
Verdict: Highly recommended. (Review copy supplied by Carlton Publishing Group) (posted 5/16/19, permalink)
'My Girls: A Lifetime with Carrie and Debbie' by Todd Fisher
This work is part-biography and part tribute by author Todd Fisher, brother of actress/writer Carrie Fisher and son of movie legend Debbie Reynolds. Her two children are a result of Debbie's first marriage to '50s singer and all-around-scumbag Eddie Fisher. Fisher didn't help his popularity by divorcing 'America's sweetheart' Debbie Reynolds (scandalous in the 1950s) and running off with town pump Elizabeth Taylor who later publicly dumped Eddie for Richard Burton.
Eddie was married a total of five times. As for Debbie, she married three times, all to scoundrels - a couple of whom took most of her money. There's a lot of messy stories about losing money on potential deals in the book. At one point, I wanted to travel back in time, whack the trio on back of their glamorous heads and yell, "Hey! Wise up!"
The book is sometimes hilarious, sometimes sad (particularly Carrie Fisher's drug use and mental illness) and sometimes boring (mostly about Todd's various business ventures). Todd met up with Mama Cass the night before she died and conversed with John Belush the night before he died. Man, if I ever bump into Todd Fisher, I'm walking away quickly.
We are presented with a celebrity family living high (in both a spendthrift and substance abuse sense), messily (many marriages, affairs and divorces) and seemingly drowning in debt. Yet they remain a family, help out - each in their own way - and have numerous Kodak Moments which are strangely touching. I enjoyed the book. I learned much about the Reynolds family and was entertained by the insider gossip and various machinations in the entertainment biz.
Verdict: An easy, palette-cleansing read, requiring little participation, thought or analysis on the part of the reader. Had some nice photos, too. (posted 5/8/19, permalink)
'Why We Fight: Defeating America's Enemies - With No Apologies' by Sebastian Gorka
Dr. Sebastian Gorka is the well-known military and intelligence analyst, former deputy assistant to President Trump and oft-seen pundit on FoxNews. His distinctive voice - British with a dab of Eastern European, Gorka could easily play a Bond villain - combined with a no-nonsense manner caused Greg Gutfeld to develop a humorous GPS parody commercial which featured the Gorka Positioning System, which doled out crisp driving directions along with blunt, stern life advice.
Television makes everyone seem the same height. Until I looked at the photo section of the book, I had no idea how tall Dr. Gorka is - he towers over Donald Trump. He must be 6-4 or 6-5. I had no idea that his dad was a prisoner of war and that his parents had to flee to Great Britain from Hungary after the failed anti-Soviet uprising. Gorka certainly knows about evil regimes; he learned all about it growing up.
This book was full of interesting information and well-considered arguments for Gorka's various positions. Gorka points out that most wars - increasingly so - are irregular wars, battles without rules or uniforms. It is critical to win the important ones because they determine our future.
The book is divided into five basic chapters, plus four stories about American heroes. Then there are chapters to fill out the book, including books to read and media to watch. As well as the transcript of a radio interview. While some of these were interesting to read, I felt their real purpose was to stretch out the number of pages - 201 plus notes and index.
Verdict: Recommended because it was informative and interesting. I wish the book had less page-padding. (posted 5/2/19, permalink)
'The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created' by Jane Leavy
The phrase Bigger Than Life is overused and much abused but it certainly applies to Babe Ruth. Six-foot two inches tall, in an era when the average fellow was about eight inches shorter, with giant, meaty hands, powerful arms, a large head and facial features so big, they seemed cartoonish, The Babe stood out in a crowd. In baseball, he swung the heaviest bat, broke baseball records and made the most money. His appetite - for food, cigars, drink, fun and women - was gargantuan.
The book covers his 1927 post-season Barnstorming of America, with flashbacks and flashforwards to provide a story of The Babe's life. It is an unusual technique but effective. It also paints a picture of America during the Roaring Twenties, showing Ruth's impact on society and the financial impact Ruth and his agent Christy Walsh had on professional sports.
Verdict: Recommended - a swell book. You don't need to be a baseball fanatic to enjoy it. (posted 4/24/19, permalink)
'Militant Normals: How Regular Americans Are Rebelling Against the Elite to Reclaim Our Democracy' by Kurt Schlichter
The author divides America into two types: Normals - people who live in places like Fontana, CA, fought for their country and now have trouble finding work because illegal immigrants will work for peanuts - and Elites - well-connected, properly-educated liberals who eat vegan, drive Priuses and are ashamed of their white privilege. It is a political variant of the ol' Morlocks and Eloi story but with Donald Trump cast as leader of the now-militant Morlocks.
Once he completes his biography of each type, Schlichter begins an inflammatory rant which carries on - with much repetition - throughout the entire book. The author offers dumbed-down arguments made far better by the likes of Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham. Schlichter's fans claim that he is the master of snark but either of the aforementioned ladies could teach Kurt a thing or two.
Verdict: I wanted to like this book. I generally agree with the premise of it. But Schlichter's work is irritating and boring. (posted 4/18/19, permalink)
'Jesus Is Risen: Paul and the Holy Church' by David Limbaugh
This book is an account of Christianity's early years, covering the period before 70 AD. In 320 pages (plus extensive notes and index), Limbaugh focuses on the ravels and travails of the Apostle Paul. Saint Paul was a key figure who expanded the church beyond a small circle of believers in and around Jerusalem to include many cities in the Mediterranean, including Rome. The story of Paul's conversion from a persecutor and killer of Christians to an evangelist, Apostle, powerful healer and miracle worker was quite educational. I continue to learn much from David Limbaugh's books despite having 20 years of Catholic education.
The book is sometimes tedious but so was Paul. In fact, reading the book changed my opinion of this Apostle. His letters always seemed to be self-justifying, argumentative and filled with woe-is-me, mixed with criticism and boasting. Limbaugh put the epistles in context; I now realize that Paul was often defending himself against various detractors, false prophets and addressing conflicts within the ranks of communities such as the Corinthians.
It is amazing to me that, through the work of a small number of dedicated followers, Christianity grew from a small cult to a formidable religion. The charisma of men such as Paul must have been unrivaled.
Verdict: A great read for any Christian. This is a practical, in-depth, scriptural journey. (posted 4/10/19, permalink)
'The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life' by David Quammen
This is a book about recent discoveries in molecular biology that can change our understanding of evolution and life's history. Unfortunately, the book couldn't keep my interest and I quit after 100 pages. This book promised exciting new ideas about "a radical history of life" contains so much filler that it made me want to take a nap. I dunno, maybe it was just me.
Verdict: As they say on pill bottles: "May cause drowsiness." (posted 4/4/19, permalink)
'The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture' by Heather MacDonald
This is a short book - 247 pages (plus notes and index) - which is well-organized and thoroughly researched. Nevertheless, I found it to be a difficult read, not because of any shortcomings on the author's part but because to read what is happening in American institutions is dispiriting.
Academia as well as the workplace has been infiltrated by the grievance industry - race-baiters, tyrannical ultra-feminists, jackbooted gender Nazis and professional victims. Students graduate and enter the working world with the belief that identity politics and prejudicial oppression are the American norm. Liberal agendas are force-fed to the naive and the ignorant by schools and other institutions.
The most minor of non-PC offenses is met with protests louder than a gang of howler monkeys that have been set on fire. Undoubtedly, you've seen some of these campus monkeys on the news.
Heather MacDonald exposes the abuses and calls for a return to open-mindedness of spirit and expression and the realization that we have much in common with our fellow humans and much of the so-called differences are manufactured by the Diversity Industry.
Verdict: Recommended. (posted 3/27/19, permalink)
'The Point Of It All: A Lifetime of Great Loves and Endeavors' by Charles Krauthammer
This is the final book from the author, who died in 2018 at age 68 after a battle with cancer of the small intestine. It is a collection of his writings, many from his Washington Post opinion columns. Most chapters are short - three pages are so - but are, as one would expect, intelligent, erudite and full of Charles' dry wit. Subjects range from the personal, to the political and to the philosophical. Readers may often want to put the book aside and ruminate on the ideas conveyed in Charles' deep, thought-provoking musings. I enjoyed his earlier book, 'Things That Matter' from 2013.
I particularly liked his essay on Sputnik, the first satellite. Launched by the Russians in October 1957, Charles wrote that "America was shaken out of its technological lethargy by a beeping 180-pound aluminum ball orbiting overhead." At the time, I was a high-school freshman. Sputnik's path eventually passed over our house; I remember standing in the driveway trying to see it. I saw something but it might have been an airplane. Prior to October 4th, school guidance counselors told students, "If you're planning to take science or engineering in college, you should study German." A week later it was "maybe Russian." The problem was, there was a dearth of Russian language teachers, so - for the science-minded, it remained Deutsch sprechen.
No matter, the Russians had launched its satellite using the brute force of giant rockets. The U.S. responded four months later with Explorer I launched from a less-powerful but more technically-elegant rocket design. Thanks, Wernher von Braun (American aerospace pioneering engineer and former Nazi rocket scientist); now I know why I needed to learn German. Ja wohl.
Charles Krauthammer had a flair for getting to the heart of things. The diversity of topics covered in the book demonstrates of his personal curiosity about a myriad of topics. This is an enjoyable and poignant read.
Verdict: Highly recommended. (posted 3/21/19, permalink)
'Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy' by George Gilder
Early in my business career, I had to give detailed technical presentations. Anytime I sensed that my audience wasn't understanding the subject, I'd stop, take a deep breath and say, "Now look, here's what all this REALLY means to YOU and here's how it's going to help you be more successful in your business." And I'd proceed to provide simplified, relevant context.
George Gilder failed to tell me what the information in his book means to me. And how it is going to improve my life. Google now offers free search capabilities for users and makes money from targeted advertising. Gilder writes that's all coming to an end. But he fails to explain what will replace Google and how that will happen. Instead, he lapses into discussions about fringe projects and seemingly unconnected start-ups. He also gets into highly technical discussions about Bitcoin and blockchain and, at one point, gives numerous reasons why Bitcoin is stable much like gold. I hope those suckers who lost 70+% of their money on Bitcoin in 2018 take comfort in George's currency prognostications.
Verdict: Skip it. Too random, incomprehensible and pointless for me. Much like his last book. (posted 3/13/19, permalink)
'The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself' by Sean Carroll
As a high school senior, I took a tour of Villanova University's Engineering Department. I remember asking some smart-ass question about religion and the college senior conducting the tour, replying, "God is everywhere. You can see God in an electron if you want." It was a memorable quote.
In this 433-page crapfest of pseudo-scientific philosophy, the author (who seems to be afraid of calling himself an atheist - he's a "naturalist"), begins by pointing out that "Core Theory immediately excludes the survival of the soul after death." I'm surprised he uses the word 'soul'. He is a materialist, so why admit that sounds exist? The soul cannot be measured scientifically. It is dimensionless and has neither weight, nor electrons.
Carroll also wrote about the difficulty of constructing "meaning and values in a cosmos without transcendent purpose." Pity about that but there is a market for Dr. Carroll's book. Since 1980, the number of Americans who believe in God has decreased by half and the number who pray has declined five-fold.
The author joined a select club: Russian mathematician Andrey Markov, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking and astronomer Carl Sagan were extremely smart and were unbelievers. Technical prophet and economist George Gilder wrote that "materialist superstition keeps the entire Google generation from understanding mind and creation. Consciousness depends on faith - the ability to act without full knowledge and thus the ability to surprise and be surprised. … Creation is an entropic product of a higher consciousness … God."
Science is always changing. The Core Theory, Higgs boson particle and other scientific 'givens' will be disputed/replaced as new discoveries are revealed. Faith is a constant. Pray, live a good life and help others. If you do, your soul will survive bodily death, continuing in the possession of an endless conscious existence with God in Heaven. Yes, there is a soul and I believe it is eternal.
An agnostic friend once asked me, "How can you be sure there's an afterlife?" I told him that I'm not sure. But, there's no downside to being a Believer. I mean, if it turns out that I'm wrong and there's Nothing - if everything just Fades to Black, it's not like a ghostly Nelson Muntz is going to appear and mockingly guffaw, "Haw Haw."
That said, any time someone tries to mix religion and science (as is awkwardly done in this book), controversy emerges, folks take sides and things usually end up with either people being locked up in the Vatican basement or in the box at the Scopes Monkey Trial. As Judge Roy Snyder decreed in a 1997 episode of 'The Simpsons'), "As for science vs. religion, I'm issuing a restraining order. Religion must stay 500 yards from Science at all times." Good idea.
Verdict: A waste of time. (posted 3/7/19, permalink)
'Rising Star, Setting Sun: Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and the Presidential Transition that Changed America' by John T. Shaw
Foreigners I've met are often amazed at America's system of peaceful presidential transition, despite what they see as angry, rancorous politics.
Author Shaw's 244-page work details the ten-week changeover from outgoing Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower to incoming Democrat John F. Kennedy. While these two men were of different generations and backgrounds (plain-spoken, career Army man Ike versus privileged, East Coast preppie JFK), their politics were remarkably similar. Eisenhower was a centrist Republican (disdainful of conservative Barry Goldwater); Kennedy a centrist Democrat (he probably would have considered all of today's Democrats far-left liberals).
The book offered lots of details and anecdotes. It rekindled many memories for me. 1960 was the first Presidential election I followed. It was my political awakening during high school; the campaign, personalities and issues were much discussed amongst my friends. I watched the Kennedy-Nixon debates on television and, on election night, sat in front of the set with a piece of graph paper, plotting the returns as they came in and trying to extrapolate and project a winner.
Verdict: Recommended. Readers may also enjoy '1960 - LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon: The Epic Campaign That Forged Three Presidencies' by David Pietrusza and ’Eisenhower - The White House Years' by Jim Newton. (posted 2/27/19, permalink)
'Railroading & The Automobile Industry' by Jeff Wilson
PLS, shorthand for Pack, Load and Ship, is a line-item on the financial statements of almost all manufacturers and many distributors. It refers to the actual expense of packaging products, loading them onto a delivery conveyance and the cost of shipping or delivering them. PLS adds nothing of value to the product or consumer's conception of the product and reduction of PLS expense is an ongoing quest for smart manufacturers. Doing so will either add to their profit or allow them to improve the actual product in some way to make it better or more competitive.
PLS varies greatly, depending on what business you're in. At Rohm and Haas Co. in the 1970s, injection-molding grade, bulk pelted Plexiglas - mostly sold in 300-pound fiberboard drums or 1200-pound cardboard totes mounted on wood pallets - averaged 3%. At my plastics display company - where customer orders were smaller and always varied: "Gimme three dozen of this and six of that and sixteen of the other thing." - our PLS averaged around 10% for products shipped in cardboard cartons partially-filled with protective foam peanuts.
This book is all about PLS as it relates to inbound auto components or outbound finished vehicles at automobile assembly plants. This 96-page, large format (8.2" x 10.8") paperback book contains about 200 photographs (a mix of b&w and color) and tells the history of rail shipping automobiles and component parts.
In the early days of the automobile, most were shipped in boxcars, in fully-assembled form or in knock-down semi-finished kits for dealers to finish. In 1920, railroads carried 70% of all new cars. In 1932, the Evans Autorack permitted boxcars to hold four cars using a hoist system to elevate automobiles. By the 1940s, improved roads and more powerful trucks, which could carry more cars, made over-the-road delivery more competitive. In 1946, only 40% of new cars were shipped by rail. The largest rail carriers were the New York Central and its subsidiary, Michigan Central Railroad.
|The first shipment of new 1946 Hudsons left the Detroit plant in September, 1945 and were loaded into New York Central Railroad boxcars. An Evans-style autorack can be seen lifting a Hudson to provide extra space.
Railroads were slow to respond to the competitive challenge of over-the-road trucking. Railroads were often tardy in delivering cars to end terminals, especially if multiple railroads were involved, and had inefficient and inadequate shipment tracking systems. By 1958, only 8% of new cars shipped by rail. The railroads responded by developing special bi- and tried-level open rack freight cars to carry automobiles. Faced with vandalism issues, these cars were modified with side panels. Eventually, fully-enclosed 89-foot cars were developed to protect the merchandise and carry it in a cost-effective manner. By 1969, 52% of new cars travelled by rail.
Today, there are about 50,000 auto carriers - most are fully-enclosed - used by railroads carrying 1.5 million carloads of finished vehicles annually. Generally, rail shipment is more cost-effective than truck shipment when distances of 350 miles or more are involved.
The author is quite knowledgeable and much else is covered in the book, including rail-traffic management, in-plant railroading (mostly switching, shifting and shuttling) shipping of components, the effect of just-in-time inventory management on rail freight service. At many plants, boxcars are brought inside and stationed at concrete platforms for component unloading near the actual assembly point. I've seen this set-up in operation at Ford's Chicago assembly plant as well as at several GM component manufacturing plants.
Verdict: Recommended. I found this book most informative and interesting as well. Both car guys and train guys will find much to enjoy. (Review copy provided by Kalmbach Publishing Company) (posted 2/21/19, permalink)
'Borrowed Time: Two Centuries of Booms, Busts, and Bailouts at Citi' by James Freeman and Vern McKinley
Founded in 1812 as City Bank of New York, it was renamed Citibank in 1976 by CEO Walter Wriston. It is now known as Citigroup. This 308-page book (plus notes and index) documents the fact that Citi was no stranger to bailouts of various types over its life. Financier John Jacob Astor rescued it in the 19th century. Citi seemed to get in trouble every 20 years or so. Over time, connections between government and Citi became closer and the government eventually became its enabler and bailout buddy.
The book contains an interesting story about Donald Trump, who was a large customer of Citi. In 1991, when The Donald was having lotsa financial woes with his casino operations, his dad, Fred Trump, bought $3.5 million in chips from the troubled Trump Castle and held them - as a first-in-line creditor, ahead of all banks, until Donald could get his financial house in order. Fred had cashed in all his chips by mid-1994 after his son was out of the woods. Citi breathed a sigh of relief.
As I read the book, I began to think of Citi as the Chrysler of Banking. In 2017, I wrote, "Over the past 40 years, Chrysler has been on the brink of disaster more times than sweet Nell has been tied up on railroad tracks." Chrysler was rescued in 2009, as was Citi. The new entity Chrysler-Fiat received $8 billion in government loans as seed capital. But Citigroup received a lot more - $517.3 billion in U.S. government support. The authors quote the Wall Street Journal from February 2009: "Former federal officials have dubbed Citigroup the "Death Star," comparing the bank's threat to the financial system with the planet-destroying super weapon in the 'Star Wars' movies."
Citi became the poster child for everything that was wrong with the U.S. banking system in 2006. And most of what was wrong involved bad loans, mostly home-loan related. When the Fed cut interest rates to 1% in 2003, it created an enormous credit bubble. Leverage-based strategies became so lucrative that many financial market players jumped to leverage up the most leveraged asset on Main Street housing.
Banks that should have known better made huge loans to people who had insufficient verified income, assets or collateral to purchase houses. These institutions were later shocked to learn these folks would not repay their obligations. Well, duh!
Crap mortgage loans were combined and bundled into cleverly decorated packages but - let's face it - they were still sacks of crap. These foil-wrapped stench bombs were marketed by investment houses as fixed income 'investments' which offered better returns than certificates of deposit. I've heard that many were sold to foreign buyers when the dollar was down: "Just think how much you'll make when the dollar goes back up!" Yes, think of it as a large, diversified container of feces with possible upside potential.
Hugely misguided government intervention made things worse, eventually causing a global recession. In June 2010, Sheila Bair, chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and who is oft quoted in this book, remarked, "The financial crisis was triggered by a reckless departure from tried and true, common-sense loan underwriting practices." If the mortgage finance industry hadn't been forced to abandon traditional underwriting standards on behalf of a government-imposed affordable housing policy, the mortgage meltdown and resulting financial crisis would not have occurred. In 1989, only 1 in 230 homebuyers bought a house with a down payment of 3% or less. In 2003, the ratio was 1 in 7. By 2007, it was 1 in 3.
For many years (30 that I know of), there was a rule in the real estate business: You can't buy a house priced at more than 2.5 times your annual income. Sometimes, if you had a really secure job, exceptionally good credit and/or a larger-than-normal down payment, lending institutions would go to 3.0. This changed in the late 1990s. The magic ratio grew every year, peaking at 5.0 nationally, an unbelievable number.
California was vulnerable to foreclosures because the median value of owner-occupied housing in 2007 was 8.3 times the median family income, while the 2007 national average was only 3.2 times higher than median family income. California had only 10% of the nation's housing units but it had 34% of foreclosures in 2008. Almost 90% of all troubled mortgages and foreclosures were concentrated in California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona.
5.0? 8.3?! No wonder the housing market crashed. And caused the banking system to collapse.
Citi and other too-big-to-fail institutions soon got their bailouts. No one - from crooked bankers, clueless Fed overseers, corrupt Congress critters who were enablers and participants, execs at Fannie Mae et al - went to jail. Lots of smaller banks closed though, including the Bank of Clark County - because they were deemed Too Small To Save - a phrase I learned from this book.
Verdict: Highly recommended. An interesting and eye-opening read and a worthy companion to 'Panic: The Betrayal of Capitalism' by Wall Street and Washington' by Andrew Redleaf and Richard Vigilante. (posted 2/13/19, permalink)
'Leadership In Turbulent Times' by Doris Kearns Goodwin
This book profiles four presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon Baines Johnson. Ms. Goodwin is a well-known LBJ apologist (she worked for him) and much of this book is recycled from her other works. Sadly, the book lacks much insight into leadership and how it is acquired.
Goodwin failed to make the case that these four presidents were great leaders. LBJ may have been a good arm-twister in the Senate but he was one of the worst presidents of the 20th Century. His conduct of the Vietnam War was a disaster and lead to his downfall. His Great Society programs created a vast, permanent welfare-dependent underclass. Despite the author's claims of his civil rights legislation (which probably would have been enacted sometime in the 1960s, regardless of who was president), LBJ was an overt racist: Robert Parker, LBJ's long-suffering manservant, said, "He especially liked to call me 'nigger', in front of Southerners and racists like Richard Russell (Senator, D-GA)." Johnson told Parker he'd never be called by his Christian name: "Let me tell you one thing, nigger, as long as you are black (and) you're gonna be black till the day you die, no one's gonna call you by your goddamn name ... you're just a piece of furniture."
As for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, it is fair to say that his advance preparation for World War II was somewhat prescient but his handling of the Depression was a motley collection of failed liberal, nanny-state schemes, including the draconian National Recovery Administration.
The material on Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln is already familiar to casual readers of history.
In researching the author, I was surprised to learn that she had consulted with novelist Steven King on the political aspects of his execrable book, '11/22/63'.
Verdict: Nothing new to learn from this 370-page paperweight. (posted 2/7/19, permalink)
'Every Man A King: A Short, Colorful History of American Populists' by Chris Stirewalt
If you watch FoxNews, you've probably seen politics editor Chris Stirewalt, the chubby guy with the soft, West Virginia drawl and the wry sense of humor.
In his book, Chris presents a selection of well-known American populists, although I felt that some of his choices were forced. I've always considered Pat Buchanan as a nationalist conservative campaigning loudly against a gaggle of globalists, rather than a populist.
Chris' humorous quips play better on television than in print, although the man does spin some good yarns. I could do without the oblique reference to Qzymandias, preferring the more-common name of Ramesses II, the Egyptian pharaoh. As well as to what folks "would say in Greenup," a small town of 1,200 or so souls in far eastern Kentucky. These two items alone produced dangerously high readings on my Obscure References Meter - values just above Ramesh Ponnuru.
One particular yarn really stuck with me: "It has been said that the secret to success in politics is like being the baton major at the head of a marching band. You're not really leading the parade, you just happen to be in front of it … The secret for any successful populist is to swing the baton like you mean it but never forget that the parade will go on without you." Well said, sir.
Verdict: Mildly recommended. A breezy, fast-paced, 190-page book but be aware, if this book was 100 pages longer, I would have written, "Skip it." (posted 2/1/19, permalink)
'Flight: The Evolution of Aviation' by Stephen Woolford and Carl Warner
Coffee table books can be chancy; some are just thrown together without much thought to flow of narrative or accuracy of content. Measuring roughly 10x12 inches, 'Flight' certainly qualifies as a coffee table book in size and has an attractive period photo of a Boeing 747 jet on the cover. Not to worry though, there's good stuff inside. The book is well-illustrated with about 180 color and b&w photos. The authors are knowledgeable experts; both are associates of the Imperial War Museum in England.
The book begins with early fight attempts, including hot air balloons, and quickly moves to the pioneer flight of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk. During WW!I, airplanes moved from the novelty phase to useful tools of battle. Aircraft development continued postwar, passenger planes became more common and the Second World War demonstrated the vital role of aircraft in winning in both the European and Pacific Theaters. One of the things I learned from the book was that the proliferation of military airfields across the civilized world during WWII allowed for easy conversion to municipal airports in the postwar period. This made for further popularization of commercial travel by air.
While jet-engined planes first appeared in the 1950s, there were still plenty of prop planes around when I began flying commercially in the late 1960s. I remember traveling from Chicago to Evansville, Indiana on a DC-6, a propeller-driven, four-engine relic which Douglas quit making in 1958. As we came in for a landing, I was shocked to see that one of the engines had died. Business associate and seat companion J. Franklin Moore, a more-experienced flyer who was a generation older than me, casually remarked, "Don't worry, Joe. There's still three more left." During a layover in Cleveland, I watched an ancient twin-prop DC-3 start up. One of its engines backfired and was soon engulfed in flames. A ground crew member ambled over with a fire extinguisher and put out the left engine fire. The pilot successfully restarted the engine and headed to the main takeoff runway without further incident.
It's hard to believe but it has been just over 50 years since the debuts of the 747 and the supersonic Concorde. After extensive flight testing, the Boeing 747 entered commercial service in early 1970; the Concorde in 1976. I still remember my first flight in a 747 in 1972 on a flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles. The plane dwarfed other passenger aircraft of the day.
The book also covers the Space Race as well as super-jumbo jets such as the Airbus A-380. Dedicated air historians won't find much in-depth drilling-down and shouldn't expect a lot of detail in a 155-page (plus notes and index) book with 30,000 words of text. But, for the casual reader such as myself, 'Flight' made for an entertaining, picture-filled read.
Verdict: Recommended. (Review copy provided by Carlton Publishing.) (posted 1/28/19, permalink)
'Ship Of Fools: How a Selfish Ruling Class Is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution' by Tucker Carlson
In 241 pages, Tucker Carlson exposes self-serving politicians and special interest groups. The jacket flap proclaims that the book is "the story of the new American elites, a group whose power and wealth has grown beyond imagination even as the rest of the country has withered. The people who run America now barely interact with it. They fly on their own planes, ski on their own mountains, watch sporting events from the stands in skyboxes. They have total contempt for you." That's an honest description of the contents.
The book is informative and fast-paced. It revealed some swamp stories I hadn't heard before. The one criticism I have is that, while Tucker enumerates the many problems caused by the political elite, his book doesn't offer solutions.
Verdict: Recommended. (posted 1/24/19, permalink)
'Ford Model T Coast to Coast: A Slow Drive Across A Fast Country' by Tom Cotter
Before the Model T came along , automobiles were mere playthings for the rich. Henry Ford's T didn't just put America on wheels, it put the world on wheels. The Model T was the first truly affordable car for the working man. Initially priced at $850 in 1908, the price dropped to $390 by 1914 due to production efficiencies. By 1927, a new Model T could be had for as little as $260. At its peak popularity, 1.25 million Model Ts were sold each year.
The Model T was effectively the first global car. By 1918, Ford's American market share was an astonishing 49%, while 40% of the cars on British roads were Ts. By 1921, the Model T commanded 60% of the new car market around the world. Over 15 million Model T Fords were eventually produced.
Auto scribe/engineer/philosopher L. J. K. Straight wrote, "So profound was the effect of the Model T Ford on America, so much did it change the nature of the nation … its art, its music, its social structure …, that Henry Ford, who was responsible for it all, must be seen as the most effective revolutionary." In 'Cannery Row', John Steinbeck wrote, "Someone should write an erudite essay on the moral, physical and esthetic effect of the Model T Ford on the American nation. Two generations of Americans knew more about the Ford ... planetary systems of gears than the solar system of stars." The Model T is on my list of '10 Cars That Changed Everything'.
The T also put the brakes on the proliferation of horsecrap. In his book, 'The Good Old Days, They Were Terrible', Otto Bettmann wrote of "streets caked with animal waste", noting that there were over three million horses in American cities at the turn of the Century, each producing 20-25 pounds of manure per day. During dry spells, the pounding of hooves refined the manure to dust which blew "from the pavement as a sharp, piercing powder to cover our clothes, ruin our furniture and blow up our nostrils."
Then there were the flies. Disease-carrying flies. And the smell. New York City of the period was described by a visitor as a "nasal disaster."
Bettmann noted that the 15,000 horses of Rochester NY produced enough manure in 1900 to cover an acre of ground with a layer 175 feet high. This steadily increasing production caused more pessimistic observers of the period to predict that American cities would disappear like Pompeii - but not under ashes.
Unfortunately, the Ford Model Ts time came and went. Henry Ford failed to realize this and had to play catch-up with the Model A successor. By the 1920s, the 20 horsepower Model T was underpowered and its simple planetary transmission and lack of adequate braking system rendered it unsuitable for modern roads. In the late 1980s, I belonged to a local historic auto club. When we did tours, members with stock Model Ts couldn't bring their flivvers along, because they couldn't keep up with traffic, even on a 50 mph road.
This book documents a cross-country trip along the Lincoln Highway in a modified Model T Ford. Yes, it did have the planetary transmission, but the engine had an Rajo overhead-valve conversion kit and other modifications which doubled the horsepower and allowed the car to cruise at speeds of 55 mph or so. This T, dubbed Something Special, had been modified as a speedster - a fenderless two-seat roadster with a chopped top and modern four-wheel hydraulic brakes.
The book is a diary of this driving adventure, mixed in with Lincoln Highway history, tales of local people and the small towns in which they live, the limitations of the 90+ year-old vehicle, nostalgic musings, visits to car museums and interesting historic sights along the way.
There are lots of pictures and sidebars to entertain in this 220-page book and it all makes for an easy read.
I had one problem with the book; the author has written about other cross-country trips before. After selling his company in 2000, Tom Cotter bought himself a 289 Cobra and drove across the United States with his writer pal Peter Egan. And wrote about it. Later, Tom authored 'Barn Find Road Trip' and 'Route 66 Barn Found Road Trip'. I didn't know this until he mentioned it in 'Coast to Coast'. Somehow, this knowledge took some of the magic out of the story. Imagine a traveling magician, telling his audience, "Hey, if you thought that was good, you shoulda seen the trick I did in Cleveland last week."
In 1978, my family and I drove from New Jersey to Oregon. We made many stops along the way, visiting friends and taking our kids to local attractions and points of interest. Both of them kept scrapbooks of that journey and still remember it with fondness. We've never done another cross-country driving trip; that first one couldn't be topped. That's just my opinion.
Verdict: Recommended. 'Coast To Coast' is eminently readable and the stories will make you feel you're along for the ride. While auto enthusiasts will find the book of particular interest, you don't have do be a gearhead or old Ford lover to enjoy it. (Review copy supplied by Motorbooks.) (posted 1/18/19, permalink)
'None Of My Business: P.J. Explains Money, Banking, Debt, Equity, Assets, Liabilities, and Why He's Not Rich and Neither Are You' by P.J. O'Rourke
This book is allegedly about banking and finance but is in reality a collection of O'Rourke's essays which are kinda, sort-of related to the subject at hand. This 244-page mini-tome was very disjointed, lacking flow between chapters.
Many years ago, Mr. O'Rourke wrote brilliantly-witty books on a variety of subjects. At his best, P.J. O'Rourke is a thoughtful Hunter S. Thompson, with considerably lower systemic drug levels. His trademark rapier wit was often seen on various on-air cable news gigs.
Entropy - the enemy of all of us aging geezers - is clearly at work here, although Mr. O'Rourke is three years younger than me. His last offering, 'How The Hell Did This Happen: The Election Of 2016', was particularly awful, full of Never-Trump vitriol.
This book is not as bad, although it is mostly devoid of even a laugh or a chuckle. I did enjoy his comparison of 'The Jetsons' versus what the future actually turned out to be. His musings about The Future offer the same cautions and warning about predictions about which I have previously written. O'Rourke also mused about Eloi and Morlocks, from H. G. Wells' 1895 novel 'The Time Machine', noting that most Trump voters were Morlocks. He meant that as an insult but I believe that it's mostly true.
I've been a Morlock - the worker class that keeps the economy going - during much of my life. I remember my days at the R&H Plastics Engineering Lab, when I worked in the processing group. We kept our fingernails dirty dealing with manufacturing solutions. I used to refer to the lab's Design and Testing Groups as Eloi because they had cleaner fingernails and were granted the leisure of dealing with more esoteric and theoretical subjects. Most of my fellow engineers had no idea what I was talking about because, like most engineers, they had a minimal literary exposure and had no idea who H.G. Wells was.
Several years later, I owned my own business and, in the early years, spent a lot of time running machinery to fulfill customer orders - sweat equity, I suppose.
Back to the book … it is unfortunate that it was so poorly-composed and lacking in humor. In early chapters, O'Rourke's anti-Trump shots were inferential; toward the end of the book they were out in the open and quite obvious. I guess P.J. just couldn't help himself.
Verdict: Not much to see (or learn) here. (posted 1/14/19, permalink)
'Jaguar XK: A Celebration of Jaguar's 1950s Classic' by Nigel Thorley
Since its founding in the 1920s, Jaguar has always offered sporting cars. Yes, saloons were produced for gentlemen who required extra doors or wealthy, portly lads who couldn't fit in a sports car, but Jaguar's flagship was always a sports car. When the Jaguar XK120 burst on the automotive scene at the 1948 London Motor Show, the British sports car stunned the public. Its swoopy lines were quite a contrast with other British two-seaters - as well as older Jags - and made all of them look stodgy and ancient by comparison.
The original Jaguar XK was to be a four-cylinder car called the XK100. Thankfully, that idea was scrapped. The 1948 Jaguar XK120 was powered by a new overhead-cam six-cylinder engine used by Jaguar until 1992. The XK 120 was wickedly fast for its time.
The XK120 became a big hit in the U.S., after the British government reduced the value of the pound by 30% against the dollar in September 1949. By 1952, Jaguar was exporting 96% of its annual output, much of it to the U.S. The XK series became the car of movie stars, wealthy enthusiasts and sporting, trust-fund cads. Its sleek body, tuned chassis and powerful engine made everyone want one. Or want to copy one. The XK120 was GM's 'bogey' for the 1953 Corvette, although the Chevy missed the target by a country mile. If there hadn't been a Jag XK120, there probably would have never been a Corvette of any kind. Or a two-seat Thunderbird, either.
Despite being far pricier than Volkswagen or MG, in the U.S., Jaguar was the third best-selling imported car in 1955. Not only were the XK series great cars but, as the author points out, the company was smart enough to establish a solid distribution system in America early on. In the book, Mr. Thorley provides tables comparing Jaguar with its "rivals," listing cars such as the AC Ace, Frazer Nash, Sunbeam Alpine, Jensen Interceptor and Bristol 403. These cars were either unknown or sold in relatively small quantities in the U.S. because they had limited distribution and support. In early postwar Britain, exports were a key to rebuilding the country's treasury. Auto exports, especially MG and Jaguar, played an important role in restoring the country's economy.
I still have a silver-colored XK150 catalog obtained at the 1960 Philadelphia Auto Show. The 150 was introduced in mid-1957 and was the evolutionary successor to the 120 and 140 models. It's the only catalog I've kept from that show because I was so taken with the exotic lines of that Jaguar. In 1998, I finally bought a Jag and thoroughly enjoyed owning it. I think everyone should have a Jaguar at least once in their lives.
Author Nigel Thorley is a true Jaguar expert - he's owned 70 of them and is co-founder of the Jaguar Enthusiasts' Club. This high-quality, informative book, printed on heavy glossy stock, is full of facts, stories from factory, race track tales and contains many gorgeous photos.
Verdict: Highly recommended for all auto enthusiasts, not just Jaguar fans. The author stressed the importance of the XK legacy, noting that "the range played a vital role in developing Jaguar's export business, proving its reputation for quality, longevity and performance in competition." (Review copy provided by Veloce Publishing.) (posted 1/10/19, permalink)
'The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World' by Simon Winchester
This 352-page book (plus acknowledgements, bibliography and index) traces the development of precision manufacturing from the very imprecise pre-Industrial Age to the digital world of the 21st Century. This is a not-very-technical work, although there are some interesting historical stories within its covers. And parts of the book are fascinating, such as the development of Johansson blocks (aka: gauge blocks), something I'm familiar with because they were used by the precision tool shop at the lab where I once worked.
The author mistakenly intermingles the terms precision, standardization, repeatability and quality. They are not the same thing, although they are cousins. The book suffers because of it. The author seems to have a bias toward English tech history, although American technical development had superseded the Brits by the 1870s. The author does point out that, in the early 19th century, inventor Thomas Blanchard developed methods for producing interchangeable, standardized components for guns produced at the Harpers Ferry Armory. These components were machine-made in their entirety, inspiring the American phrase "lock, stock and barrel."
I was frustrated by the lack of explanatory drawings/images in the early part of the book. Later on, the photos were too small and inferior in quality. There were no color photos in the book. At the end, the author inexplicably moved from the super-accuracy of jet engines, clean rooms and satellite components to the art of bamboo. It's as if he ran out of stuff to write about. Go figure.
Verdict: While I learned a few things from 'The Perfectionists', and the book's concept was intriguing, the delivery left much to be desired. Far from perfect, it wasn't awful but I'm hesitant to recommend it. (posted 1/2/19, permalink)
More book reviews are posted here.
Other Pages Of Interest
| blog: 'The View Through The Windshield' |
| greatest hits: index of essays & articles | blog archives | '39 Plymouth |
| model train layout | about me | about the blog | e-mail |
copyright 2019 - Joseph M. Sherlock - All applicable rights reserved
The facts presented in this blog are based on my best guesses and my substantially faulty geezer memory. The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and are protected by the U.S. Constitution. Probably.
If I have slandered any brands of automobiles, either expressly or inadvertently, they're most likely crap cars and deserve it. Automobile manufacturers should be aware that they always have the option of trying to change my mind by providing me with vehicles to test drive. I'll dutifully report my road test impressions on this car blog.
If I have slandered any people or corporations in this blog, either expressly or inadvertently, they should buy me strong drinks (and an expensive meal) and try to prove to me that they're not the jerks I've portrayed them to be. If you're buying, I'm willing to listen.