'The Great American Railroad War: How Ambrose Bierce and Frank Norris Took On the Notorious Central Pacific Railroad' by Dennis Drabelle
Don't judge a book by its cover, we are told. But this book, about the 19th Century battle in the West between the Central Pacific, Southern Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads, carries a photo of a 20th Century Pennsylvania RR steam locomotive on the cover. A bad omen and not a good start for a book.
So, what does a 19th Century loco look like? Here's one from 1866:
'Railroad War' relates the story of two authors, Ambrose Bierce - a nasty piece of work himself - and Frank Norris, who took on the Central Railroad monopoly and exposed its misdeeds in print.
Unfortunately, the book falls well below the standards of popular history. And it's boring.
Verdict: don't bother. (posted 5/23/13, permalink)
'The Age Of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America' by Ernest Freeberg
The little egotist in all of us believes that before we were born there was nothing. We watched the rise of computers, followed by the internet, followed by the web and decided that it was The Most World-Changing Event Ever. Have no fear, little ego, Ernest Freeburg's book will set you straight.
The electric light profoundly changed everything, providing cultural and societal changes in the late 19th and early 20 Century that may equal or even dwarf those shifts brought about by the internet revolution. The book is a historical overview which focuses more on the social impact of electric light rather than technical details. It's full of stories about popular culture of the time and the changes, both large and small, caused by the lighting of America, mostly during the 1880-1920 period.
The era's foibles are captured too: there were many sociologists who fought against the proliferation of electric lamps in the belief that such light was "unnatural" and that it endangered the family togetherness fostered by gathering around a single oil lamp at night. Some physicians said the new invention caused "ocular exhaustion, discomfort and congestion." Other foes included the gas lobby, correctly perceiving electricity as a threat. The Vatican temporarily banned the use of electric light in Catholic churches in 1889, finding it "both dangerous and theologically suspect."
Supporters included numerous doctors, some claiming that they had successfully used electric light to treat syphilis, pneumonia, lead poisoning, diabetes, rheumatism and "morbid conditions of the blood." Police were enthusiastic about lighting up the night as a way to prevent crime.
Thomas 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 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.
When asked why America produced so many electrical inventors compared with Great Britain, Edison suggested that the English "did not eat enough pies."
The Japanese quickly embraced electric lighting and one 19th Century American news editor warned readers prophetically, "The Japanese can make anything we can. They can produce what we need at less cost than we can make it ourselves and, unless a high protective tariff is raised against Asia, that country will become the factory for America."
The era produced many electric shows and exhibits throughout the civilized world. In 1884, Philadelphia's Franklin Institute held its International Electrical Exhibition. It dazzled adults and children alike. Some exhibits were damaged because of the enthusiasm of kids. Still, by 1910, less than 15% of American homes were wired for electricity. But, by 1930, the number had risen to 70%.
Overall, this was a very "illuminating" book. Recommended. (posted 5/15/13, permalink)
'The Tinkerers: The Amateurs, DIYers, and Inventors Who Make America Great' by Alec Foege
I wanted to like this book and found the first chapter enticing. But the story quickly devolved into a mixed study of quirkiness and selected stories of inventors and their inventions tossed in for good measure.
'The Tinkerers' is devoid of how-tos and recommendations, although author Foege is dismayed that tinkering is becoming a lost art. At the end, he writes, "I deliberately have avoided filling this book with prescriptions for educational reform or remedies for reordering America's priorities and values, because I think such assessments tend to be wildly subjective and scolding." Why write the book then? If tinkering made America great, maybe it did so because of a bit of scolding, mixed with encouragement and a push in the right direction.
I'm a fan of tinkering and learning to make stuff. But Foege seems to have difficulty separating tinkering from inventing. Karl Benz may have 'invented' the first modern automobile in 1886 but it was a diverse army of tinkerers and minor inventors who produced the continuous improvements that resulted in the modern, efficient, safe and convenience-laden vehicles we drive today.
Not every improvement gets patented; minor, sometimes unseen changes - tweaks or tinkering - in design, structure or formulation often make a big difference in functionality. This issue is not discussed.
I found this to be a book without purpose. If you're interested in the subject, 'Makers: The New Industrial Revolution' is a better choice. (posted 5/3/13, permalink)
'Stalin's Secret Agents: The Subversion of Roosevelt's Government' by M. Stanton Evans and Herbert Romerstein
Joe McCarthy was right, you know. Communists infiltrated the Roosevelt administration and prolonged World War II. In 1964, when 'None Dare Call It Treason' was published, my college profs mocked me. And anyone else caught reading John Stormer's shocking book, which detailed the damaging undercurrent of Commie influence in the U.S. Despite the howls of leftists, over seven million copies were sold. The book posited that the United States had been betrayed by its elite, blaming Communists, their enablers and their sympathizers.
In 'Stalin's Secret Agents', the authors focus on the sinister events which transpired during the Roosevelt era, especially during World War II. Both are certainly well-qualified to tell this story. Romerstein is one of the nation's leading experts on the Cold War. He was on the staff of the House Intelligence Committee for many years and also was the head of the Office to Counter Soviet Disinformation at USIA. Evans is a veteran journalist and the author of 'Blacklisted By History' about the oft-vilified Senator Joseph McCarthy.
Franklin Roosevelt was a sick man in 1943 and, during the wartime conferences at Teheran and Yalta, his addled (and probably cancer-ridden) brain was likely unable to comprehend the pro-Soviet giveaways he made at the behest of his socialist, pro-Stalin advisors. By that time, there was widespread infiltration of the federal government by Stalin's "agents of influence" who caused havoc for America, Poland and pre-Communist China.
Evans and Romerstein support their assertions with substantial documentation. The book is an alarming but educational read. Recommended. (posted 4/23/13, permalink)
'Rollback: Repealing Big Government Before the Coming Fiscal Collapse' by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.
The author's interview on BookTV was interesting enough that I wanted to read his latest book. The work's premise is that government is not the answer to our problems. Rather, too much government is the problem. Woods is a senior fellow at the Ludwig Von Mises Institute, an Austrian School of economics think tank.
Unfortunately, the book simply puts forth the tired but true argument that America has set itself on an almost certain course toward bankruptcy and financial collapse.
It's not a bad book but it seemed like I've read all this before and found nothing new or provocative within the pages. (posted 4/11/13, permalink)
'The Soundtrack of My Life' by Clive Davis with Anthony DeCurtis
Born in 1932, Clive Davis seemed to have little interest in popular music in his teens and twenties, despite the fact that many of the largest changes in music occurred during those periods: the decline of big bands, the rise of top 40 radio, the development of 45 and LP records, the birth of rock and roll and the increasing influence of television on star-making. He wrote that he didn't like the sound of '50s rock and roll.
A lawyer by training, Clive got a reputation for picking hit music and artists in the mid-1960s. The book never really explained how this talent came about - was it a head injury, a Clive-developed scoring system or an epiphany of sorts? There is no doubt that Davis was incredibly successful at talent-picking and remains so even though he is now in his 80s. He has worked with a wide array of artists: Whitney Houston, Janis Joplin, Simon and Garfunkel, Barry Manilow, Dionne Warwick, Carlos Santana, Aretha Franklin and many more, including numerous hip-hop and rap artists.
In this tome, there was little about the 'business' of the music business nor much about the effects of recent technology or the internet (iTunes, YouTube) on the business. There was - in my view - way much too much name-dropping of famous locales, hotels and restaurants. You won't find any 'how-to' advice within the pages; Clive's secret skills remain a secret.
There was almost no mention of family and personal events in the book until the last chapter, making such things seem like an afterthought.
This autobiography presented a portrait of a single-issue driven man, seemingly oblivious to events outside the music business. Sadly, 'The Soundtrack of My Life' was an unsatisfying read. I finished the book with the feeling that I wanted more of the blanks filled in. (posted 4/5/13, permalink)
'The Panther' by Nelson DeMille
I'm a big fan of DeMille's novels and especially like his wise-cracking character - New York Anti-Terrorist Task Force agent John Corey.
In this book, Corey and his wife, FBI agent Kate Mayfield, are posted to Yemen and are working with a small team to track down one of the masterminds behind the USS Cole bombing, an al Qaeda operative known as the Panther.
This is a fast-paced, oft-funny novel. Recommended. (posted 3/28/13, permalink)
'Heads In Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality' by Jacob Tomsky
This quick read was sometimes humorous and contained some interesting stories. Ultimately, it disappointed. The writer's 'experience' in the hospitality industry consisted of working in low to mid-level positions at two upper-end hotels. The promised "insider tips" are few, far-between and unhelpful.
The author's whiny, self-indulgent and profane rants demonstrated that he had become an unhappy, bitter employee with substance-abuse issues. Oh, I forgot to mention his cynicism: "Service is not about being up-front and honest. Service is about minimizing negatives and creating the illusion of perfection. Here's how it's done: Lie. Smile. Finesse. Barter. Convince. Lie again. Smile again."
Verdict: Skip this one. (posted 3/18/13, permalink)
'Coolidge' by Amity Shlaes
The intro to that venerable television series, 'All In The Family' had Archie and Edith singing, "Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again." After reading this book, I have concluded that the man we could use again is Calvin Coolidge.
Amity Shlaes has produced a thoughtful, detailed reexamination of America's thirtieth president, Calvin Coolidge, and the decade of unparalleled national growth under his leadership. Shlaes traces Coolidge's improbable rise from a tiny town in New England to the White House. In the midst of government excess and corruption, Coolidge rose to restore the national trust in Washington and left office with a federal budget smaller than the one he inherited.
As Governor of Massachusetts, Coolidge gained national fame during Boston Police Strike of 1919 by firing every striking policeman, a move not unlike of the action taken by President Reagan against air traffic controllers in 1981. The strike gave momentum to Coolidge's political career.
Calvin Coolidge served for sixty-seven months, finishing out Warren Harding's term after Harding died in early August 1923 and remaining until early March 1929. Under Coolidge, the federal debt fell. Under Coolidge, the top income tax rate came down by half, to 25% and the federal budget was always in surplus. Under Coolidge, unemployment was 5% or less. During his presidency, Americans wired their homes for electricity, bought their first cars or household appliances on credit and the economy grew strongly, even as the federal government shrank.
Shlaes wrote, "Somehow, the extent of the Coolidge achievement is not known. Coolidge figures infrequently in the great national conversation about presidents; when he does win mention, it is often as a caricature of Puritanism, Silent Cal, or as a placeholder between Roosevelts. ... Perhaps the deepest reason for Coolidge's recent obscurity is that the thirtieth president spoke a different economic language from ours. He did not say 'money supply'; he said 'credit.' He did not say 'the federal government'; he said 'the national government'. He did not say 'private sector'; he said 'commerce'. He did not say 'savings'; he said 'thrift' or 'economy.' Indeed, he especially cherished the word 'economy' because it came from the Greek for 'household'. To Coolidge the national household resembled the family household, and to her displeasure he monitored the White House housekeeper with the same vigilance that he monitored the departments of the federal government. Our modern economic lexicon and the theories behind it cannot capture Coolidge's achievements."
Coolidge's friend, J.P. Morgan partner Dwight Morrow once said, "Calvin is one of the fellows who is real. He really wants to make things better not pretend to make them better." The term 'silent majority', attributed to Richard Nixon, was first used by ad exec Bruce Barton during his praise of Calvin Coolidge campaign in a 1919 Collier's article: "It sometimes seems as if this great silent majority had no spokesman. But Coolidge belongs with that crowd, he lives like them, he works like them, and understands." Perhaps that's why President Reagan had Coolidge's portrait dusted off and rehung in the White House.
Four years ago, I wrote a favorable review of the author's previous work, 'The Forgotten Man'. This latest Shlaes' work is also a book worth reading. (posted 3/12/13, permalink)
'1775: A Good Year for Revolution' by Kevin Phillips
Contrarian and historian Kevin Phillips asserts that 1776 shouldn't have been appointed as the watershed year of the American Revolution. 1775 is a better fit, says he. Unfortunately, he never gets around to proving it.
The more one reads 1775, the more it becomes obvious that there were many outrages - big and small - over many years, that contributed to the colonists finally getting fed up enough to declare their independence. Each colony had reasons of its own but some common threads include various Acts which resulted in more taxation, attempts to restrain and tax trade between colonies, British efforts to disrupt Colonial trade with other countries and the boorish behavior of British troops and officials.
This book is certainly thorough which makes for a difficult read if your interest in history is casual rather than professorial. The author wanders a lot, looking at Indian issues, Catholic hatred, press-ganged sailors, competing revolutionary ideologies, the naval stores business and the like. After long-winded introductory chapters, much of the book concentrates on the escalation of armed conflict starting in the Spring of 1775.
Does a single year ever define history? I doubt that historians sit around debating the importance of one year against another. While this book contained many facts that were new to me, I struggled to finish this dense, unfocused, difficult-to-follow work. (posted 3/4/13, permalink)
'John Quincy Adams' by Harlow Giles Unger
Born in 1767, John Quincy Adams, the oldest son of John Adams, witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill. Throughout his life, Adams continued not only as a witness to history but as a maker of history. At age 14, he acted as secretary and interpreter for the first American ambassador to Russia. As I read this, I reflected upon how little I had accomplished at such an age and was humbled by Adams' prowess and drive. As a teenager, he spoke six languages fluently and had read many classic books, Latin and otherwise. In my weak defense, I can only point out that they didn't have comic books - or TV - back then.
His accomplishments were many - Adams fought for George Washington, served with newly-elected House member Lincoln, negotiated an end to the War of 1812 and engineered the annexation of Florida. He served his nation as minister to six different countries and held the offices of secretary of state, senator, congressman, and president. His speech before the Supreme Court won the decision that freed the African captives of The Amistad. He was a staunch abolitionist and died in Congress while fighting for it and his other causes in 1848.
The author uses Adams' 68 years of diaries to tell the story and express Adams' contemporaneous feelings and opinions. There is much detail about the infancy of the fragile Republic, as well as its struggles to survive and find its footing amidst the turmoil across the Atlantic. The concept of a dysfunctional Congress is not a new one and the chronicled follies of the senators and representatives during Adams' lifetime are at least as woeful as the misrepresentations, pettiness, skirmishes and power-grabbing seen today.
Not always popular and a one-term president, John Quincy Adams was an learned, principled and stubborn man who eschewed politics in his quest for a better America. As a casual student of history, I found Unger's book fascinating and interesting to read. Recommended. (posted 2/26/13, permalink)
'Back To Blood' by Tom Wolfe
Let us all acknowledge that Tom Wolf is an American Treasure. He has produced many thoughtful, thought-provoking, funny works. He has revived the use of exclamation points!!!!!! In past works - fiction and nonfiction - he has conducted archaeological digs at the fringes of our culture and has unearthed treasure troves of interesting artifacts, fetishes and characters.
'Back to Blood' is a novel ::::: the stream of colons is Wolf's latest style of punctuation, sort of like a throat-clearing, brain-straightening pause ::::: the front cover tells you so!!!!! In discrete type, of course!!!!! The aging, white-suited satirist wants you to know he's still in the game. But should he be?
This 720-page snorer is long on descriptive quippy verbiage but short on plot. The reader develops neither sympathy for nor connections with the characters, who seem like poorly-sketched cartoons. One of them is full of herpes pustules!!!!!!! And, though the novel is set in the present, all the cars have fanciful, phony names. Finally, the story has neither a moral or a satisfying conclusion.
Plod along with Tom through the neighborhoods of Miami, if you must. I predict you'll regret it. Not recommended!!!!! (posted 2/20/13, permalink)
'The Joy of Hate: How to Triumph over Whiners in the Age of Phony Outrage' by Greg Gutfeld
Greg Gutfeld is a brilliantly funny social commentator. His middle-of-the-night cult show, 'Red Eye', is fast-paced and interesting. Greg is also a regular on 'The Five', another Fox News show. Some of the mini-chapters in this easy-to-read book were former 'Gregalogues', the awesome ranting editorials delivered on 'Red Eye.' I reviewed his last book in 2011.
In this book, Greg tackles liberal tolerance - which is a bizarre form of intolerance - and the phony outrage over perceived societal slights - a favorite staple of liberal pundits. We've all met people who seem quite calm and reasonable until they find out you disagree with them. Then they become red-faced, their voices get louder and their comments turn sarcastic and spittle-flecked. Are you now picturing someone you know? Or just Keith Olbermann?
William F. Buckley once opined, "Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended when they learn that there are other views." Exactly.
Gutfeld is far funnier than Buckley and doesn't make you run frantically to your Thesaurus the way ol' Bill used to.
Take Hollywood, for instance. On television, Greg has previously discussed the sanctimonious, preachy, aging celebrity Robert Redford, claiming that he "looks like an unlubricated catcher's mitt" or "an elderly woman." Redford disdains the U.S. and had particularly venomous words for Mitt Romney, probably because Mr. Romney has aged better than Mr. Redford. In the book, Gutfeld refers to Redford as "bloomin-onion-faced." As to Redford's political thinking, which - according to the actor - evolved when he was a student in Europe, Greg wrote, "I've cracked open fortune cookies with deeper thinking than this. And anyone who thinks a guy like Redford spent his early 'European years' doing anything more than drinking wine and bending costars over the radiator, knows nothing about young men."
Greg devotes a chapter to the story of the proposed Muslim mosque and cultural center located near the Ground Zero in New York. When Muslims whined - there's a reason it's called the Whiniest Religion on Earth - about objections from an rightly offended general public and called for "tolerance" - this from the Most Intolerant Religion on Earth, Greg responded by trying to buy the property next door and open "a Muslim-friendly gay bar." Greg proposed a name for the establishment: 'Suspicious Packages'. The Muslims were not amused. They never are. But I was and, if you were too, you'll probably enjoy 'The Joy of Hate'.
This rollicking, slightly-twisted, politically-incorrect book offers a big dose of common sense. And chuckles. Highly recommended. (posted 1/28/13, permalink)
'Life Is A Gift: The Zen of Bennett' by Tony Bennett
A dozen or so years ago, my wife and I attended a most-enjoyable Tony Bennett concert. At the end, we left by a side door because we thought it would put us closer to where we had parked. As we walked down an unfamiliar alley, we found that it intersected with a blind alley. At the end - 30 feet away - was Tony Bennett, catching some fresh air. Alone - no guards, no entourage. We were speechless; the best we could muster was a little wave. Tony gave us a big friendly smile and waved back. No diva he.
This legendary, happy 86 year-old has just written a book. In simple prose, he tells of his life, relating lessons and making suggestions. It is a relaxed, breezy work that provides serious advice - about making music, living life and fulfilling dreams.
Bennett shares stories of friends and family and the fundamental philosophy taught him - dedication to excellence, perseverance in pursuit of timeless music, humility and gratitude.
'Life Is A Gift' is an easy read which provides an uplifting, inspiring message. Recommended. (posted 1/22/13, permalink)
'I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High' by Tony Danza
I know little of actor Tony Danza and his work, except for watching the sitcom 'Taxi' in the late 1970s. I selected this book, not because of Danza, but because of the captivating title.
Northeast High School is located near Cottman & Castor Avenues in the Rawnhurst Section of Northeast Philadelphia. Cottman, the nationwide chain of transmission repair shops, was named after this very same avenue where the first Cottman Transmission was located - not far from the school.
The neighborhood used to be solidly middle-class, white and heavily Jewish with a sprinkling of Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Catholics. When I was growing up, my uncle's family home was two blocks from this school. Some of my wife's friends graduated from NE. The five places where I lived during my years in Philadelphia were all within a few miles of Northeast High School.
These days, Rawnhurst is a lower income neighborhood and has a significant black, Russian, Middle Eastern and Latino presence.
The book is a poignant account of Danza's year as a part-time English teacher at Northeast High. It provides a vivid insight into the daily challenges for a teacher in an urban school setting. Many of the students want to learn and succeed but are held back because of dysfunctional family life outside school. Others are smart and clever but are influenced too much by gangsta peers. Students often come from broken homes and, either because of work or disinterest, parents have little interaction with teachers and administrators regarding the promise/problems of their offspring.
Part of the problem is changing morals. In 1950, 85% of black children were born to their two married parents. Today, 70% of black children are born to single mothers. "In some neighborhoods, two-parent families have vanished. In parts of Newark and Philadelphia, for example, it is common to find children who are not only growing up without their fathers but don't know anyone who is living with his or her biological father."
There are enough discipline problems that Northeast actually has a police station inside the school itself.
Danza has dramatically portrayed the frustration that urban educators experience in an impossible system where they are expected to be teachers, disciplinarians and substitute parents.
At the end of the book, he offers observations and recommendations based on his worm's eye view as an on-the-ground teacher. Unfortunately, the larger picture he fails to capture is a top-loaded education infrastructure, burdened with costly administrative overhead that has done nothing to improve test scores or outcomes over the last 50 years, despite massive improvements in communication and learning technology. I have written about education issues on numerous occasions.
When my wife and I visited Philadelphia in 2011, we happened to drive past NE High and were stuck in a traffic jam because it was the last day of the school year and numerous students (or probably their parents) had hired obscenely long stretch limousines (we saw at least 25 of them) to pick up their kids. What the hell kind of parenting is this? And the kids popping up through the padded top sunroofs of these limos were mostly black, perhaps the same ones who Tony agonized about because their families couldn't afford computers or school supplies. Welcome to 21st Century ghetto parenting priorities.
'I'd Like to Apologize' is an interesting and eye-opening book. Recommended. (posted 1/16/13, permalink)
'Makers: The New Industrial Revolution' by Chris Anderson
I'll start with the bottom line: I recommend this book highly. Now, let's talk about me. I'm a crotchety old retired guy who has been in manufacturing most of my life. I became successful in my plastics business by being creative - in design, manufacturing and marketing. But I was limited to tools/technologies available during the era.
In this book, Wired magazine editor, entrepreneur and bestselling author Chris Anderson has provided a tour of the front lines of a new industrial revolution being created by today's entrepreneurs. As I read along, my emotions ranged from old-man-angry: "Hey, you can't do it that way!" To amazement: "But people already are!" To wonder/envy/longing: "Gee, I wish we had these tools 30 years ago!" To wizened skepticism: "Yeah ... but the way you're doing it leads to new difficulties which you must overcome." And Anderson presents marketing/selling/promotion in a cheerfully Panglossian universe, ignorant of the power and realities of old-line but still-effective distribution systems.
In Anderson's age of custom-fabricated, do-it-yourself product design and creation, the collective potential of a million garage tinkerers and enthusiasts is about to be unleashed, driving a resurgence of American manufacturing. I hope that's true but the concept is so new that there are not yet enough success stories to provide validation. Chris posits that these new Makers, using the innovation of the web will help drive the next big wave in the global economy, as the new technologies of digital design and rapid prototyping gives everyone the power to invent and create.
It could happen. Consider how software, CAD-CAM, desktop publishing and e-commerce has already helped disrupt industry after industry. Those are things all of us have witnessed.
When I sold my manufacturing business in 1989, one of my largest display customers said to me, "Feel good about what you've accomplished - your business model changed an entire industry." I think it's happening again and again, although this time I won't be the change agent because I'm out of the game. Nevertheless, big changes are a-comin'.
Thank you, Chris, for lifting the veil of the future for a brief look at what's ahead. Astounding. (posted 1/10/13, permalink)
'The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy' by David Nasaw
Joe Kennedy was a weasel - an adulterer, stock manipulator, trader of inside information and self-promoter. He was also a great market timer getting out of the stock market before the 1929 crash. Throughout his career, he drifted from career-to-career but always made money.
He was a smooth talker, trusted by few and with good reason - he screwed over many people during his lifetime. When it came to being a father, Joe Kennedy was a control freak. He and wife Rose spent 300 or so days apart each year - they basically lived separate lives. Nevertheless, he genuinely cared about his children, although he spent little time with them compared to most dads.
Joseph P. Kennedy was a World War II defeatist and served Roosevelt poorly as Ambassador to Great Britain. Kennedy once predicted that by 1941, the Nazis would be taking up residence in Buckingham Palace. The book devotes much time to the events leading up to the War in Europe and the author does a fine job presenting the details. It is interesting, as one reads, to try and determine whether Roosevelt or Kennedy was the more devious character.
The book is full of tidbits:
• In 1914, fifty-year-old Honey Fitz, Kennedy's soon-to-be father-in-law and mayor of Boston, withdrew from the mayoral reelection race after his opponent "threatened to expose his relationship with a cigarette girl named Toodles, who was his daughter's age."
• Joe Kennedy made an effective SEC Chairman because he knew all the underhanded tricks and where the bodies were buried.
• There is a photo in the book of a 3/4 rear view of an automobile purported to be Joe Kennedy's 1919 Model T Ford. The body looks like nothing I've seen on a T. The vehicle is much longer and rides on a lengthier wheelbase than a normal Ford. I believe that it a different make of car. As his wealth grew, Rolls Royce became Joe's vehicle of choice.
• Kennedy has often been demonized for lobotomizing his retarded daughter, Rosemary. The author makes a sympathetic case for Joe's actions. Kennedy sought advice by the best medical experts of that era, and consented to the surgery only after other efforts (gland injections, etc.) had no lasting effects. Medicine was still pretty crude in those days.
• John F. Kennedy suffered from such a serious variety of ailments throughout his life that his parents never thought JFK would live to adulthood. This subject has been covered elsewhere but the author provides additional details.
Nasaw presents a well-written, warts-and-all story of a complex, mostly unlikable man who exerted a major influence in 20th Century politics. It makes for an informative read. Recommended. (posted 1/4/13, permalink)