Sunday, February 19, 2012

Return of the Review of Book Reviews

After a hiatus forced almost completely by the NY Times starting its article quota policy, I decided to take a chance and enter, with some days left in the month, the NY Times Book Review. My review of book reviews now follows:

This review by Candice Millard, who wrote a smart and enlightening book about James Garfield, left me scratching my head. She wrote movingly about the American atrocities in the Philippines, but failed to mention that over 200,000 Filipinos died in less than three years (many from an outbreak from cholera that was the culmination of our activities there). And at the end, she makes it sound as if we lost the war to subdue and colonize that land of islands--when in fact we established a series of puppets who gave at best a fig leaf of democracy, and more often acted dictatorially over most of the 20th Century. Our nation still maintains troops and at least one military base against the will of the Filipino people.

Second, Douglas Brinkley read Jodi Kantor's breezy, gossipy book on the Obamas so we don't have to slog through it. Brinkley nicely sums up Michelle Obama, though, as having Jackie Kennedy's fashion sense (and beauty), Lady Bird's sense of community action and Nancy Reagan's mother-bear protection of her husband. These are all good qualities for a First Lady and Michelle Obama remains one of my favorites of all time. Still, I may be voting for Jill Stein of the Green Party this fall for president...

Third, we have a too short review of Wael Ghonim's memoir of becoming the Tom Paine of the Egyptian revolt of the past year. As the Egyptians start to find they are fooled again ("meet the new boss, same as the old boss..."), one realizes the whole late 60s ethos of "no leaders" usually leads to a leader that looks like the dictators they had pushed aside--except the new dictators are fresh and ready for more blood spilling.

Oh, and some "inside baseball" for historians and history buffs: The letters page contains two sharp retorts to Francis Fukuyama, one from Timothy Snyder, who has written a definitive book about the killing fields of Europe and Russia in the period of the 1920s through 1940s, and a fellow from Aspen, Colorado, who I doubt is very popular among the jet set skiiers...:-) I admit I was not initially a Tony Judt fan, when he began his career bashing French Marxists and leftists, as if that was something earth-shattering. I always though EP Thompson did it better than Judt ever did, but anyway, Judt turned out to be a much more original thinker as time went on.

Finally, some real inside baseball of things Jewish. Stacy Schiff, the biographer of Cleopatra, seems to like Nathan Englander's book of short stories, though I felt a cloying claustrophobia just reading about them. Still, I'd probably like the guy, and I'd get a kick out of inviting him to the synagogue where I remain president. He sends up the American-Jewish experience in ways that might actually penetrate the consciousness of those American Jews who have sacralized the Holocaust and Israel.

And that is enough for the day...though who knows if something else tickles my fancy...:-)


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