7th Decade Thoughts
Thoughts about books, politics and history (personal and otherwise), pictures I've taken and pictures I've edited.
- Name: Susan Helgeson
Sunday, May 05, 2013
Monday, March 04, 2013
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham
One of Jefferson's greatest fears was that the new United States would give up the democratic ideal and have a "president for life" or even a younger son of the British king as its king.
His relationship with John Adams was also interesting. The two were close when they were both abroad as diplomats but politics separated them as Adams became the head of the Federalist Party and Jefferson of the Republicans. Only in old age did they reconcile (as a result of a push by Abigail Adams) and carry on a correspondence after Jefferson had retired. Then, they both died on the 4th of July of 1826, Jefferson have struggled to stay alive until July 4th.
Interesting to me that I've always liked Jefferson and felt closer to his main ideas but never read very much about him. Lately though I've read biographies of Adams, Hamilton (Jefferson's Nemesis) and Washington so have understand the Federalist POV much better, but reading this book reminded me that Jefferson, IMHO, is the closest to the way I think.
The book was interesting on the Jefferson controversy (slavery--he didn't free his slaves at death as did Washington, Sally Hemmings--Jefferson promised his wife not to remarry/sleeping with a slave, who was in fact a half sister of his wife, was not unusual at the time).
I was also reminded that it was Jefferson who commissioned the Voyage of Discovery of Lewis and Clark and who made the purchase of the Louisiana Territory on his own without consulting Congress (thought he at first wanted a constitutional amendment to allow it). It would probably not have happened had he not acted quickly. Those two acts set the scene for American expansion into the west and were therefore far-seeing and critical decisions.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
In Sunlight and in Shadow by Mark Helprin
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Tim Egan
Thursday, July 05, 2012
Master of the Senate by Robert A. Caro
Johnson understood power all his life and knew how to go about getting it. He became Russell's protégée, even his toady and everything he did focused on increasing his power. He learned how to pass legislation. He already knew how to influence people. He did a lot of unsavory things, one of the worst of which was to engineer a negative confirmation vote for Leland Olds as head of the Federal Power Commission. It was Olds' third confirmation. Johnson had even benefitted from Olds' policies when he was helping the Texas Hill Country get power when he first entered the House. But the Texas oil men wanted Olds gone because they didn't want natural gas prices regulated like electricity had been. Johnson went to extreme lengths to bring out Olds' early liberal ideas and writings (we're talking about Communism here, this was the McCarthy era after all). Despite the fact that Olds had always rejected the Communist Party and written about it early on, Johnson assembled a book of everything he'd ever written and Olds was quizzed on sentences taken out of context from his own writings of 20 years before. Unprepared (because he'd been lead to believe his reconfirmation was only a formality), Olds stumbled because he'd forgotten. Johnson led him down the path to destruction. He was not confirmed because of his "Communist leanings". His life work was not only interrupted but over. But Johnson won the support of the Texas oilmen that he needed to sustain his own power base.
But Johnson was not your typical Southern senator. His family was poor, had fallen on hard times , farming on inhospitable land in a remote and relatively poor area. He'd started his working life teaching school in a small town of Mexican immigrants who were dreadfully discriminated against. He helped them when he could and remembered their plight.
He also wanted to be President and knew as things stood that a Southerner could never be elected.
Needless to say, the book is fascinating, partly because Johnson is fascinating and full of contradictions, but also because Caro has researched not only Johnson's life and work, but the entire milieu in which he operated. He devoted 2 of 43 chapters to the Leland Olds story, for instance, to hit the reader over this head with Johnson's energy, thoroughness, and ruthlessness. And feel the great injustice done to Olds. And that same energy, thoroughness,and ruthlessness eventually gets directed toward causes that LBJ really believed in, like Civil Rights.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Sunday, March 18, 2012
11/22/63 by Stephen King
So I'm more than pleasantly surprised at this one. It's long (nearly 900 pages) but I'm listening to the audible version where the reader is very good, especially with the various regional accents--even manages the Kennedy accent pretty well. (I'd forgotten how completely regional accents have smoothed out since 1963--forgotten a lot of things about that period that King revives in this book.) I've spent HOURS this week listening pretty compulsively as I knit (finishing a boring project) or spin (once you get going it's pretty routine--plenty of attention left over for something else).
Definitely NOT a rehash of the assassination or the conspiracy theories--and in fact what there is of that is the least interesting part of the book.
Some blood and gore--though NOT Kennedy's.
The locales of the story are very well done: Maine where the main character comes from and a small Texas town where he ends up in particular.
The plot is the thing here. King is very very good at that--maybe even reminds me of Dickens in that regard--there's a similar sentimental ethos as well as a dependence on detail which echoes through the novel. There's a love story--and a pretty good one. There's a self-effacing, self-analyzing narrator/main character who's appealing and great with the hints not only of what's to come but about details that will recur.
The mechanics of time travel--not the scientific possibility thereof which King wisely doesn't tackle, but the practical rules--are well thought out and connect well with the plot and the themes of the novel. King is different from many time travel writers in tackling the issue of changing the past head on rather than avoiding it if at all possible. In Jake/George's world a trip to the past does allow you to change things--though as he says "the past doesn't like to be changed", but if you go back and come again there's a complete reset--everything goes back to the way it was. Not sure how that works as a theory of real possibilities, but it works very effectively in the novel.
I admit there are a couple of reasons I may be more addicted to this novel than you will be.
1. I LOVE time travel stories.
2. I was not only alive but an adult (in the first year of grad school) in 1963 and not surprisingly Nov 22 1963 left a huge impression.
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John LeCarré
He is duly recruited as a defector, promised money, and meets his contact in Holland to spill the beans. But his contact soon lures him into the East where the contact is accused of treachery and Leamus finally realizes his real role in the mission. And when the girl turns up--having been "given a trip east a reward" by her local Communist party--Leamus.
LeCarre's message is that human treachery is human treachery whether out of personal cussedness or in the name of the State. And one side is no better than the other. Leamas, about as far away from an idealistic character as one can imagine, rebels.
George Smiley is a more important character in this one than I remembered and not as likable as he becomes later. He's clearly the brains behind the London plot. (Very interesting in these early novels by LeCarre to see how Smiley must have grown on his creator.)
Now I've got to watch the film again--I love Richard Burton in the part. Couldn't resist uploading the movie cover, not the book cover.