Sunday, November 2, 2014

Book Review: In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson


     Narrative non-fiction.  I really enjoyed this book.  I ended up finding it as a part of my continuing quest to learn more about Chicago and Illinois history.  It is about William E. Dodd, a professor of history at the University of Chicago, and how he becomes the U.S. ambassador to Germany during the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich.  There are so many WWII stories out there that it can be quite daunting when trying to tackle the subject.  This one is a little different, in that it shows you how an american family living abroad felt when arriving in 1933, and how their opinions adapt and change as things in the country do as well.  Since Dodd took his family with him (wife, son, and daughter) and they wrote letters and diary entries religiously, we get multiple perspectives on the time, place, and changing attitudes.  His daughter Martha was very amorous and had relationships with prominent members of the Nazi party (Diels), socialist radicals, and even a Russian spy.  At first she felt positive about the new changes for the German people, but then she slowly became more aware of what was happening around her, and finally changed her tune.  


     It seems that Dodd was one of the few voices bold enough to see what was coming, and to talk about it, even though he was shunned by other ambassadors and the american public for doing so.  If you are one of those people who say "How didn't people see it coming?" well he certainly did.  This book is well worth a read if you are interested in what Germany was like as an outsider during the building up of the Nazi regime and how Hitler and his inside men were constantly bickering, paranoid, chasing gossip, and vying for control of each other and the country.  This is a great story of a prominent Chicagoan and of the climate in Germany leading up to WWII from the perspective an american family.

And so it goes...

Monday, October 27, 2014

Book Review: All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu


It was O.K., not exciting, but not terrible.  I think the author gets you to hang on by not telling you the real name of "Isaac," so I will save you the suspense, he never does.  The characters seemed shallow to me, as in not fully realized.  If you are dying to read a novel about Africa that is short and not very challenging go for it, otherwise, meh.

And so it goes...

Friday, October 24, 2014

Book Review: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson


I was a little afraid when I saw the description of this book that it was going to be an all gore account of a serial killer, and it definitely is not.  It does include things that the self-styled H.H. Holmes planned, did, and how things ended up, but it is interspersed with the main story of the city hosting the World Columbian Exposition in 1893, and the men who made it happen, primarily Burnham.  I found out all sorts of fun things I did not know about the fair and the men who made it happen, Olmsted was the grounds planner or "landscape architect" and was furious when people did not treat it as an art form (the man who planned Central Park in NYC), Ferris created his first wheel for the fair, the designer of the Women's Pavilion Sophia Hayden went mad, literally, after so many people told her to muck up her design and throw stuff on it as if it were only a patchwork quilt and not a building.  It was totally worth the read, I highly enjoyed it, one of the better books about the history of Chicago/IL I have read so far, it definitely helps that the author used the narrative non-fiction style to make it feel more like a story.  My only disappointment is that, at least in the eBook version, there are very few pictures in it, a few of the "White City" and one who I believe was supposed to be H.H. Holmes but it was poorly labeled.  I would have liked to have seen images of the people who made these events happen, in addition to the images of their buildings.  I would recommend this to those who like narrative non-fiction, those interested in the history of Chicago,those who love architecture, and those who want to know about H.H. Holmes, considered one of the first known serial killers in the U.S. (he wrote several items, so we have his direct words, creepy man).

And so it goes...

Monday, October 20, 2014

Book Review: The Price of Justice by Laurence Leamer


Narrative non-fiction.  I read this for my local library's non-fiction book club (October 2014).  This is an excellent book and very heartbreaking too.  My best friend's stepfather died in a coal mining accident in the 1990s, but to my knowledge I do not think it had anything to do with Don Blankenship (or Massey) or the evils he has done to people.  I know most of the bigger cities and some of the smaller towns mentioned in this work, I have been to many of them, and as I said I am friends with the daughter of a coal miner, so it was very easy for me to picture these places and the people discussed in the book.  Regardless, even if you are not familiar with any of that, I do believe it would be an interesting book for those who want to know what people go through in coal mining, what it is like for the little businesses going against big operations, and also for anybody interested in law cases, the courts, and corruption.  Apparently a John Grisham book called The Appeal was based off of the real life events explained in this non-fiction work.  If you remember the Upper Big Branch mine explosion, these are the people and events leading up to that event (it is also discussed), through a fight of over 15 years, one which led all the way to the Supreme Court due to corruption in electing judges in the state supreme court of West Virginia.  I highly recommend this one, definitely a good read!

And so it goes...

Friday, October 17, 2014

Book Review: The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean


Non-fiction.  I read this for the non-fiction book club at my local library (February 2014).  Let me start by saying this is nothing like the movie "Adaptation" which was supposedly based on this book.  The book is nothing like "Adaptation," I did not like "Adaptation," and this book was great fun.  I never knew there were so many kinds of orchids out there, the laws related to them, or how really funny and obsessed plant people can be, it was a great read!  The main person she followed is definitely a character, he is weird, shady, and definitely obsessive (and insults everybody he meets).  I now feel much better about my tiny love for gardening.  I also now see what obsession really is, and I now have a much greater appreciation for orchids.  After reading this book, when I see them in the store for $20 or less, it does not seem like that much to pay.  The orchid collecting wars that happened earlier in history blew my mind, I had absolutely no knowledge of that before reading this book.  They really are fascinating, and I can see how people become so engaged with collecting them.  Not enough that I am going to start harvesting them and keeping them my bathroom shower like some of these people in the book, but enough that I definitely take the time to look at them and wish that I had a few of my own.

And so it goes...

Book Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt


Fiction.  This one I picked up because I read a review of it in the New York Times by Stephen King.  He seemed pretty enthusiastic about it, and I do like his books, so why not.  It was an excellent read, but the length is not for the feint of heart at over 700 pages.  It is a complex story with many layers, but it primarily focuses on relationships between people and what it means to be human, like most great books do.  There is an explosion at a museum, a stolen painting, the loss of a parent, an unlikely mentor relationship, furniture restoration, deceit, and all sorts of goodies.  If you are looking for a worthwhile book to spend time with, this is it.  And yes, it did win the Pulitzer for Fiction in 2014, and this time I actually agree with them.

And so it goes...

Book Review: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell


Non-fiction.  From the title and description I thought this one sounded interesting, and it is in parts, but loads of it feels like the author is stretching it a bit.  I think it can provide some historical and mythological inspiration if you feel like and underdog yourself.  It was worth my time to read it, but I would not go around recommending it to the whole world as something they had to read.

And so it goes...

Blog Awards

Here are a few awards this blog has received thanks to some kind folks!

Friends and Favorites Award

Friends and Favorites Award
given 05/20/2009 by SquirrelQueen (http://squirrelqueen2.blogspot.com/)

One Lovely Blog Award

One Lovely Blog Award
given on 07/23/2009 by Juanita (http://juanitaharris.blogspot.com/)