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Recent Reviews | More Review Fun

Some Recent Hot Reviews

"Hot" is a compromise between recency and thumbs-up votes.

The much-admired Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (b.1938) has been on my radar for quite a while because this novel Petals of Blood was listed in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die and contributor Andrew Blades from Oxford describes it as
… a fiery and impassioned epic that is an outstanding modern example of politically committed fiction. (1001 Books to Read Before You Die, ABC Books, 2006, p.666)

So Petals of Blood was on my wishlist/TBR long before I knew that Ngũgĩ has been touted as a possible winner of the Nobel Prize. But when I read The River Between a few weeks ago, I was a bit startled to find that there were aspects of that novel which irked my feminist sensibilities (see my review). I was dubious about Ngũgĩ presenting the right to undertake FGM (female genital mutilation) as an assertion of traditional Kenyan identity over colonialist Christian determination to stamp it out. I thought that the barbaric practice of FGM was an odd symbol for Ngũgĩ to choose – somewhat analogous to championing Aztec human sacrifice as a legitimate symbol of traditional rites that Spanish colonisers had no right to change. Well, as it turns out, I have reservations about Petals of Blood too…

To summarise a book of 400+ pages briefly, the plot, such as it is, revolves around four characters, Munira, Abdulla, Kagera and Wanja. At the beginning of the book, the first three are arrested in connection with the murder of three powerful businessmen, and Wanja is in hospital fighting for her life. The recollections and reflections of Munira the evangelical schoolteacher form the basis of the narrative: he tells the story of Abdulla – a one-legged former freedom fighter turned merchant now reduced to beggary; Kagera the promising student turned activist-revolutionary; and Wanja, a woman victimised because of her sexuality who then exploits it herself to become a prostitute and a hard-hearted brothel madam.

1001 Books has this to say:
In differing ways [these four characters] embody the difficulties of resisting the decadence, corruption and self-aggrandisement at the core of the new political regimes. Munira acts out of a sense of religion and sexual jealousy and this blunts his political efficacy. Abdulla is an ex-revolutionary fighter maimed in the 1950s rebellion and able in the end to transform only his own circumstances. Wanja, a prostitute, fails to overcome the creed of “eat or be eaten” that is the moral law in the new Kenya. Finally, Karega, a revolutionary figure, is the character seemingly favoured by Ngũgĩ as the only possible salvation for the hopes of the Kenyan people. (1001 Books to Read Before You Die, ABC Books, 2006, p.666)

The acknowledgements at the front of the book include the Soviet Writers Union who lent Ngũgĩ the use of a house at Yalta to finish writing the MS, so perhaps I should not have been surprised to see elements promoting communist ideology as Kenya’s salvation. Still, I was taken aback to see Cambodia listed among people’s revolutions where workers and peasants have liberated their countries – but it was a salutary reminder that this book was first published in 1977. Ngũgĩ could not have known then about Pol Pot’s murderous regime when he listed China, Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Angola, Guinea, Mozambique>/I> as places that Munira’s young acolyte Joseph admires. Still, the critique of capitalism is hardly nuanced...

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2018/05/13/petals-of-blood-by-ngugi-wa-thiongo-bookrevi...
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2 vote anzlitlovers | 14 other reviews | May 13, 2018 |
Tom Jones, an astronaut with a background in planetary science, joined NASA in the first wave of recruitment after the Challenger accident and flew four shuttle flights between 1994 and 2001. He covers those flights, and his other astronaut activities, in considerable detail here. His writing isn't flowery or thrilling, but, despite the usual NASA fondness for acronyms, it is very readable, and includes moment-by-moment accounts of takeoffs and landings, which I always find deeply interesting. One thing I am very much struck by in this account is the way that small mishaps -- which occur in space, as they do everywhere else -- can loom very large. Sometimes if you miss throwing the right switch at the right time, the consequences are minor and you figure it out and go on with things. But sometimes a small mistake in putting your space suit on causes you hours of misery. Sometimes you don't get to make a spacewalk you've been training to do for the last year of your life because a door gets stuck and you can't get out of the spacecraft. And sometimes, as the fates of Challenger and Columbia remind us, the results can be tragic and deadly.

I don't know, maybe it makes me feel a bit better about the problems that crop up with my own job.
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1 vote bragan | 1 other review | May 30, 2020 |
Parable of the Talents is the second and final book in Octavia E. Butler’s Earthseed duology. I have learned this was initially intended to be a longer series. Each of the two published books end with relatively satisfying conclusions though, providing a sense of both closure and of more possibilities ahead. It didn’t feel unfinished, although I do think I would have enjoyed the direction further books would have taken.

I don’t think I can say what this book is about without spoiling the first one, so I’m going to put that in spoiler tags. I tried not to go into enough detail to spoil this book. The group that decided to settle on Bankole’s land at the end of the previous book makes a home for themselves there and their group continues to grow. Meanwhile, a growing religious faction that refers to itself as “Christian America” takes extreme measures against people who don’t share their beliefs, ranging from petty criminals to annoying homeless people, and most especially cults. Of course, as we saw in the previous book, Lauren is starting a fledgling cult of her own, so you can imagine where the story might go from there.

I liked the first book better than this one, mainly because the story went in a direction I found less interesting. I think Butler was a great writer. Her writing consistently draws me into her stories quickly, holds my attention, and has depth and usually gives me things to think about. She has a way of writing challenging sorts of characters who I care about but whose choices I don’t always agree with. The main problem I had with the story was that it continues in a big way with one of the themes I particularly didn’t care for in the first book. So it’s more clear now where the author was going with that, but it led to a lot of content that I tend not to enjoy very much in stories in general and which I occasionally got tired of in this book. Despite that, there were still several aspects of the story I found more interesting and my desire to find out what would happen to the characters helped hold my interest.

I’m rating this at 3.5 stars but rounding down to 3 on Goodreads.
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1 vote YouKneeK | 53 other reviews | May 30, 2020 |
Deep reflection on the roots of hate and participation of the catholic church in the crimes during the Second World War. Great analysis done by a Holocaust Survivor. Shocking and opening the eyes. Absolute must-read.
1 vote Katie1981. | May 30, 2020 |
This was a lovely book. I was enthralled from page 1 - I loved the characters, their relationships and how their trials shaped them, and of course the descriptions of the nature and how tough the land was. Bonus points for portraying multiple multi-faceted women who weren't afraid of going for what they wanted, were unapologetic, and actually achieved their goals.
1 vote j_tuffi | 249 other reviews | May 30, 2020 |
Written over 50 years ago, yet still shockingly relevant.
1 vote j_tuffi | 62 other reviews | May 30, 2020 |
There's a feeling you get in your chest, and the bottom of your belly, when you see something beautiful, something excruciating in its loveliness. When you read the last line of a poem or novel, and you know it is something special, meaningful, and devastating. It doesn't happen often, which probably makes it that much more powerful. This book does that.
1 vote carlypancakes | 196 other reviews | May 28, 2020 |
[Grumpy reader alert - Sorry this is so negative! I'm feeling really PMS'ed today and that may have something to do with it.]

Summary: A boring story about a dull character that reads like an encyclopedia. I felt like the author explored nothing interesting and actually concentrated on the most boring of details, including urinating in buckets. I kept waiting for a villain, for a juicy secret about the priest, for a revelation about her work visa being for deviant sexual slavery... and got nothing.

Three words to sum up this novel: vanilla, vanilla, vanilla.
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1 vote gakgakg | 257 other reviews | May 28, 2020 |
An uneven but enlightening book -- part one relates the history of gift exchange, as contrasted against market exchange. The second looks at two significant American poets -- Whitman and Pound, and how their virtues and flaws can be filtered though the lends of the Gift. This is not a practical book for the working artist, Hyde says as much himself in the afterword, but rather a meditation on boundary -- because so often, it is the creation and demolition of boundaries that defines how we see art, commerce, and the social world in general. For anyone with a gut feeling that there are certain things whose value is poorly measured by market value, and who seeks language to define this ex-market value, Hyde's language of gift exchange could be a framework to investigate, and this book is recommended.… (more)
1 vote Aaron.Cohen | 5 other reviews | May 28, 2020 |
Extremely meh.

I'll give David Baldacci another chance, but I was not impressed. The first half of the book could have been much shorter and the climax of the book could have been much longer. Seems like he realized how long the book was getting and just decided to end it with abruptly.

Still ended up getting this book for a $1, which I do not regret. I wouldn't pay much more than that though.… (more)
1 vote cgfaulknerog | 115 other reviews | May 28, 2020 |
Hate is a very strong word...but that is the only thing that comes to mind with this book. This book was absolute garbage.

As a matter of fact, this book is inspiring me to make a new bookshelf called my "bottom 5". This book will likely take up 4 of those slots.

The first part of the book wasn't bad (read: it wasn't good either), but then it spins off on a crazy narrative that made no sense whatsoever. How this book became Sci-fi cannon is beyond me.

I feel sorry for anyone that reads this book.
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1 vote cgfaulknerog | 132 other reviews | May 28, 2020 |
I'm not sure what to say about this book, really! I dashed through it in the time it took to listen to 2.5 albums. The writing is tense – short sentences, all action, no detail. The central message of the book is, or seemed to me to be, that working life sucks and life is pointless. It's the protagonist's hatred for his life that spawns his alter ego Tyler, and thus instigates all the events of the book. The thrill of violence, of cruelty, appeals to the men who fight because it's the only escape their have from their monotonous and deeply pointless existence. Of course, the reality is that most working class people's lives are monotonous and miserable, and the book is reasonably class conscious, with for instance this amazing paragraph:

The people you're trying to step on, we're everyone you depend on. We're the people who do your laundry and cook your food and serve your dinner. We make your bed. We guard you while you're asleep. We drive the ambulances. We direct your call. We are the cooks and the taxi drivers and we know everything about you. We process your insurance claims and credit card charges. We control every part of your life.

The book is really depressing. Marla's philosophy is that no one should get old, and Tyler clearly has no objection to thrill-seeking in violence and cruelty. The protagonist actually does react against this to a certain extent and claims that Tyler's gone too far, but this is purely out of self-interest - he doesn't want to lose his body to his alter ego Tyler, he doesn't want to be castrated, and he doesn't want Marla (who he's developed some affection for) to die. I guess there's a reason why this book gets called nihilist.

The other complaint I could make is that it's a book all about machismo, with only one female character, but it didn't really bother me that much; machismo is just the topic of the book. Books can't just explore everything ever - that's why we read a range of books - and this one was self-consciously about machismo and the masculine, so it didn't bother me the way it would have in a book that wasn't about that. And having said that, I'm unsure why I bothered writing this entire paragraph. Because it's something that crossed my mind while reading, I guess.

Overall, it was quite the page-turner and I enjoyed it, with its appropriately climactic ending and all. I recommend it, especially since it's short! (Jan 2013)… (more)
1 vote Jayeless | 263 other reviews | May 27, 2020 |
Admiral Lord Cochrane’s Memoirs of a Fighting Captain, from the Folio Society, collects excerpts from three different sources: Cochrane’s The Autobiography of a Seaman (1859-1860), his Narrative of Services in the Liberation of Chile, Peru, and Brazil from Spanish and Portuguese Domination (1859), and his son’s Life of Lord Cochrane (1869). Those interested in naval history or the works of C.S. Forrester and Patrick O’Brian will find this an enjoyable volume, particularly as Cochrane inspired both Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey. This Folio Society edition includes an introduction from Brian Vale offering historical context and helping to explain where Cochrane got his facts wrong or omitted certain details. Further, it includes maps from Reginald Piggott for the reader to use to follow the geography of Cochrane’s adventures as well as historical paintings chosen to help illustrate certain parts of the narrative. In this, the book closely resembles the Folio Society’s editions of O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series as well as its recent publication of the Horatio Hornblower novels. Those familiar with O’Brian’s Captain Aubrey will note that he adapted Cochrane’s life nearly beat-for-beat, with the fictional Sophie replacing the real-life Speedy, Aubrey attaining a parliamentary seat much like Cochrane only to find himself in disgrace over the Stock Exchange Fraud of 1814, leaving him seeking new opportunities aiding the independence movement in South America. O’Brian used his distinctive voice to narrate and embellish these events, but Cochrane’s own account is fascinating, if at times deliberately misremembered. A good addition to the book case of any O’Brian enthusiast.… (more)
1 vote DarthDeverell | 1 other review | May 27, 2020 |
This mainstream novel from Iain (no-'M') Banks rather divides opinion. A significant number of reviewers had a low opinion of the book; and indeed, looking at the (badly-written) blurb on my copy, I did wonder what I was getting myself into. Another Scottish family saga, with a business empire - in more ways than one - at stake, seen from the point of view of one of the black sheep of the family. For such a fervent socialist, Banks spent a lot of time writing about capitalists, and not (always) painting them in lurid tones, though the family matriarch, Win, is given an acid tongue; I kept hearing the voice of veteran British actor Stephanie Cole, and knowing Banks I suspect that this was deliberate. (It wouldn't be the first time this sort of thing has cropped up in Banks' books, and I correctly identified the actor Iain had in mind then, so I'll go with my hunch here, too.)

So I had low expectations when I started the book - which Banks proceeded to blow away. At the outset, we are treated to an excursion into 'Trainspotting' territory - that's Irvine Welsh, not Ian Allan - through the point of view being shared with two subsidiary characters, one a suited exec from the family firm, the other a small-time hustler who is only identified as 'Tango'. The suited exec is the central character's cousin; he plays a supporting role in the rest of the novel. Tango is another matter: he surfaces from time to time in the course of the novel, commenting on events from a total outsider's perspective. The central character, Alban McGill, is a drop-out from the family and has been in retreat from the business for a while, sofa-surfing and working as an itinerant forester with his first love, trees.

Well, not his first actual love; for that, we get flashbacks to his teenage years and his relationship with another of his cousins. That relationship has repercussions throughout the book, as McGill comes back to the family seat, the Gormenghastly Victorian pile of Garbadale, in the far north-west of Scotland, for a family reunion which will decide the future of the firm.

In between, we get to do a lot of globe-trotting. McGill travels a lot, both in his gap year and later, when he is working for the firm. This often involves far-flung family members, on whose hospitality he sometimes forces himself and on others he is sometimes forced, when running company errands. We begin to piece together McGill's own history, and to pick at one particular scab that has been concerning him for a long time. Eventually, all the strings come together; personal and corporate crises come to a head, and the air is cleared in many ways.

Throughout we have Banks' robust Scots wit, together with a eye for detail which is likely drawn from real life. (His account of a mathematicians' conference sounds very much like some of the science fiction conventions Banks attended - I know, 'coz I was there.) Some reviewers felt that McGill was not a convincing character; but he is a man in search of himself, driven by events in his teenage years that skewed his character and outlook right up until the end of the novel. I found him quite convincing; I suspect he, too, was drawn from life in many ways.

Others have complained about Banks' political diatribes. (Including one of the other characters.) Well, this is an Iain Banks novel. The politics is a part of the package, and if the message is a bit in yer face, well, there are plenty of other writers who ignore or acquiesce with the state of the world as they see it (if they see it). To take the politics out of an Iain Banks novel would be to stifle the voice of the man. Perhaps those who saw Alban McGill as one-dimensional have not spoken to enough Scots people.

As with other Banks novels, the sense of place is quite palpable. It is possible to take a good map of the north-west of Scotland and make a fair guess as to where Garbadale supposedly is. (There are a few geographical red herrings in the text, though.) The "steep approach" of the title does make an appearance, though there is metaphor here as well.

Perhaps i didn't have the moments of sheer delight I've had in other Banks novels. Nothing I read in here made me burst out loud with cries of "You naughty, naughty author!" (which has happened with other Banks novels); but this is far from the disaster some have painted it as. A solid four stars from me.
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1 vote RobertDay | 36 other reviews | May 27, 2020 |
2.5/5, a solid book with an overall good message. Short and digestible in a single reading session, this book accomplishes it's goal well, however I didn't get quite as much out of it as I thought I would.

Timothy Snyder clearly knows his stuff, but I also clearly don't agree with him on some contemporary issues. His book makes a LOT of arguments. The key one is a good one: that studying history is as good way to notice troubling trends in present politics, and that being active and observant as a citizen is essential. Not only is this a good point to make, he does it very well.

However, underneath that there's tons of other points. Some of them are understandable but not well made, some seem misplaced. Overall there was an occasional air of "old man yelling at clouds" throughout multiple chapters. There's plenty of reasons to be concerned about the internet, but to treat it as an inherent evil is woefully outdated and unhelpful. As a disabled activist, I also couldn't help but notice him give very concrete blanket statements that aren't very accommodating to disabled people, such as calling for universal paper ballots, asking that people make complete eye contact, and saying that true political involvement must take people out of their homes.

Another thing that started to grate on me was the consistent focus on the evils of Donald Trump (who, I believe, is not referred to by name in this book, which is both very valid and also will probably date the book as a product of this specific historical moment). A book on modern risks of authoritarianism does well to focus on Trump as a horrifying figure, but sometimes I think Snyder was a bit too on the nose. His chapter on patriotism is largely just a list of unpatriotic things that Trump has done, it got kind of heavy-handed. Also, he said that it isn't patriotic to draft dodge, and while I don't think Trump did it out of patriotism I think that it is not an inherently unpatriotic act.

All in all, painting this book in broad strokes it's very good. It's a nice read, a reassuring text from a guy who knows its stuff. It sets out to make an important point and does so successfully. However, when you zoom in on it and look between the lines, it starts to falter on multiple fronts, from delivery and packaging to the frustrated ramblings of an author from a different generation than I. Not a bad book, but one that I have conflicting views on. Hence the 2.5.

It's at it's best, by far, when providing specific and concrete things that you can do to positively contribute to society: support print journalism, read long news articles, read books, support a multi party system, contribute to civic society through charity donations when possible, be watchful for leaders who seek to use tragedy as a political springboard, look out for misuse of terms like extremist and terrorist, and just generally be an active and empathetic citizen. These tips make sense, seem accomplish-able, and help perform the duty of the book.
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1 vote MaxAndBradley | 65 other reviews | May 27, 2020 |
What is there to say? It's Maus. It's a masterpiece.

I honestly didn't think it would live up to the hype when I first picked it up, especially because I know somebody who swears it's incredible and lent me their copy. "We'll see about that", I thought. Well here I am, eating crow. It's as good as people say.

You would do yourself a service to read this book a second or third time. Read each page two times before you move on, maybe. Each decision is made so thoughtfully, it's almost hard to grasp at first glance how good the book is that you're reading. It's the perfect use of visual art to compliment a piece of literature- the writing is the core component of the story to me, but it would be nothing without the drawings.

Jews and Nazis are called just that- the metaphors generally only exist in the visual medium. It's a disconnect that can feel jarring, and is rightfully controversial, but it's also a wonderful representation of fascism. What is fascist ideology if not the creation of artificial hierarchies? The goal is for one group to predate another, to instill the fear of the hunt into your own citizens. It's not just barbaric, it's primal. It's one of the most fundamental evils of our species, and reducing it to animal components brings that out in a way that is as uncomfortable as it is breathtaking.

The cover is misleading. There is no Hitler, it's not full of surreal imagery (although there is some), and it doesn't take place entirely in Nazi Germany. It's much more of a grounded biography, the story of a young man writing about his father's experience in 1940s Poland, including time in Auschwitz. There's been plenty debate about whether to consider this fiction or non-fiction, history or biography, popular art or high art. Truthfully, they are all true, as this book defies genre and is just as pure of a story as you can get. And you should get it.
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1 vote MaxAndBradley | 198 other reviews | May 27, 2020 |
What a strange, strange book. It's huge, but with no page numbers or text. It can be read in a day, but deserves to be poured over for weeks. It's the trip of a new immigrant to a foreign world, escaping a looming threat that has grown dull and predictable. This new world is strange and confusing, with unrecognizable language and customs, crazy looking creatures and technology. By putting the reader into a completely unfamiliar and alien world, we are shown the isolation of immigrants that have to pretend they know what's going on around them.

It's special. It's worth checking out. Especially if you can rent it or just check it out in a library or bookstore, it's a phenomenal way to spend an hour.
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1 vote MaxAndBradley | 320 other reviews | May 27, 2020 |
I’ve hired a number of professional locksmiths over the years in an institutional setting. Commercial locksmithing has gone digital so it’s a different world than the one discussed in Locks and Keys. I brought in an antique padlock that needed to be opened and have a key made. The master locksmith had a great time taking it apart and showing the junior locksmiths how to do it. This work is great for reference and fun for anyone who enjoys mechanical things.… (more)
1 vote varielle | 10 other reviews | May 27, 2020 |
Back in my doula and childbearing days, I read a lot by Penny Simkin. I received this as an ARC and hoped to see what newer childbirth books by my favorite authors had to offer, thinking maybe I would pass it along to my sister or sisters-in-law when I was finished. This was a decent book but I didn't find that it replaced any of my favorites, and it turns out that my sister and sisters-in-law are much more likely to look online for birth information than in a book (which makes me feel old, but that's another story).… (more)
1 vote ImperfectCJ | 5 other reviews | May 27, 2020 |
I got this ARC back in 2018 before I admitted to myself that I'm not great at keeping up with ARCs. Although it took me a while to finally read it, this sweet little middle-grade novel hit the spot today. It's a story of identity, trust, disappointment, and unwanted independence that reads like a short story.

Louisiana is tough and scared and clever and so very much wants to love and be loved. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with her.… (more)
1 vote ImperfectCJ | 27 other reviews | May 27, 2020 |
Numerous visitors to the USA have noted that far from being free, Americans seem to be the most insecure and fearful people on Earth. Zephyr Teachout can explain that. In her relentless Break ‘Em Up, she shows with total clarity that all symptoms lead back to the same root cause: monopoly. She demonstrates that the stunning concentration of power in the USA is not just economic. It is political too, and the direct, visible result is literally no choice for Americans, even for the government. It’s why wages are low, why interest rates are low and why choice is a laughable concept. Everything is managed and manipulated for profit and power.

In every domain, from journalism to retail to defense, education and justice, Americans have no choice any more. To get a job, they have to sign away their rights to sue, unionize or talk politics (other than the politics the company wants to promote). Despite Justice Antonin Scalia’s absurd decisions, this is not “freedom of choice” – all monopolies are doing it, and adding non-disclosure and non-compete agreements on top of it, even for the lowliest jobs. All disputes go to arbitration, not a US court. Arbitration is paid for by the company, with company-paid arbitrators: secret, unappealable and final. If an American quits a bad job, it could take years to find an equivalent position without all the restrictions. This is because there is unspoken collusion, born of the fact that giant monopolies buy up smaller companies and impose their codes on them. It is so appealing, they all do it now. The same applies to hours: low-pay workers get double jeopardy as giant monopolies make sure they work less than full time, keeping their incomes low while also denying them benefits like paid sick days that are only available to FTs (fulltimers).There is no freedom to choose among employers when they all offer the same bad deal – because they all belong to the same monopoly.

For all those in the gig economy, good luck finding a new gig without all the restrictions, conditions, expenses and lousy pay. They won’t find one, because all the Ubers and Doordashes and Amazons offer the same miserable conditions. The employee takes all the risk and gets no real reward. That’s the freedom to choose in America. In other eras it was called serfdom. In America, it is called freedom.

Similarly, consumers have no choice, as every ecommerce site provides an unreadable but totally enforceable contract whereby the purchaser gives up all right to anything. Going elsewhere with hard-earned cash results in the same thing. There is no choice but to agree to everything and move on.

Beyond the local craft brewpub, all beers are made by two companies. There are only four major airlines, three carmakers, a clutch of banks. Banks arrange things so switching among them is pointless when not unnecessarily difficult. Freedom of choice - taking your business elsewhere - is Welcome to Dystopia. In every sector of the economy, three to five companies dominate. They tolerate a handful of tiny firms, if only so they can bleat there is healthy competition and no monopoly situation after all.

Amazon didn’t like a successful diaper company competing with it, right on the Amazon platform. So it bought the company just to shut it down. Less choice for Americans and freedom to price at will for Amazon. Not to put too fine a point on it, Teachout says the closest analog to what the tech monopolies have done to the economy is the Mafia.

Teachout found studies showing hospital mergers always result in higher prices, as competition is eliminated. Drugmakers, as every American knows by now, simply raise prices as they wish, sometimes thousands of percent, because drugmakers don’t compete, and patent rules have been twisted out of all proportion to accommodate them. They actually pay generic makers not to enter a market so they can milk it a few years longer before there is a competing pill. The generic makers get revenue without the bother of actually manufacturing and distributing a product. Everybody’s happy. Except the American consumer, who has no choice. S/he can take the prescription to another pharmacy, but guess what? Same deal. Because there are really just three PBMs (pharma benefits managers) running the whole industry behind the scenes. The American freedom to take its business elsewhere is empty.

Farmers are trapped by a tiny handful of giants who unspokenly agree not to poach or enter each other’s territory. They trap farmers into taking on huge debt, pay them ever less for their produce, and force them to buy all their supplies, seeds, fertilizers, chemicals and machinery from company-specified vendors. They regulate air circulation and lighting, and in general, make farmers into sharecroppers. Or they will lose their contract, and their farm. There is no choice to go with anyone else. If they stay outside the stranglehold, there is no one to sell to. Teachout calls this the Chickenization of America, and it applies not just to farmers, but franchise “owners” and other small businesses.

Even the farm tractor is beyond choice. John Deere says owners cannot tamper with their own machinery. They are required to wait for an official service agent, and pay the outrageous fees, even though they bought the equipment outright. And are used to making their own repairs and modifications. Tyson, Perdue, Monsanto and the like can experiment on farmers, giving them untested seed or prescribing untried chemical compounds. If that results in a poorer crop, too bad. And farmers are forbidden from talking to each other. Company reps will find out if one knows more than s/he should, and will destroy them all. Sharing is off the table. Leaving the firm means leaving fields fallow for years, lest any stray company seed remain. Surveillance is total. Suicides among farmers are at epic highs. They are trapped, both financially and physically, with no hope of escape from the American Dream.

Possibly more frightening is the political takeover. The obvious one is the PAC (political action committee), in which firms freely outspend actual candidates in the runup to elections. And lobbying, where a billion dollars is spread over Washington and state Capitols to grease the way for monopolies. They heavily fund ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), which prepares actual legislation they want lawmakers to pass. And they do, giving many states surprisingly identical statutes that magically cater to the whims of giant corporations, while restricting voting, unions, strikes, lawsuits, liability and capping minimum wages. They even prevent towns from providing internet services when none of the monopolists will. But that’s just on the outside. On the inside, they talk directly to the president, become cabinet secretaries or head up agencies to effect their own bidding, ridding themselves of safety regulations and ignoring laws they were put there to enforce.

With unemployment at near record lows, economists were expecting wages to go up. Companies need to keep their good people and hire more, so wages and benefits should have risen in such a tight market. But they didn’t. Monopolies have the power to set the rates, avoid bidding wars, and by definition avoid competition. So even economists were surprised at the extent of the power of monopolies. “They own the market,” Teachout says. “They don’t actually participate in it.” It’s why interest rates remain at rock bottom. The monopolies set the rates, or they walk. Another headscratcher for economists solved.

Even the government is hamstrung. It used to be that DoD (Defense Department) contract bids came from 65 different companies. Today the number is five. Five giant monopolies. So $600 hammers and multibillion dollar ripoffs are common. It is so bad the department must still award contracts to these five, even right after they have been convicted of massive fraud against the DoD and have paid out billions in fines (using taxpayer money). The government cannot take its business elsewhere; it has no choice either.

Facebook, Google and Amazon rate their own discussions in Break ‘Em Up. Teachout accuses Google and Facebook of destroying journalism, by simply stealing their content and selling ads that would normally have gone to the newspaper or magazine it was stolen from. The result is billions to Facebook, and bankruptcy for newspapers: “In less than a decade, we have shifted from a democracy with reporters in most courtrooms to one with a national elite press and a big void filled with unchecked gossip and propaganda. Facebook and Google have deliberately, radically poisoned the way we read and the way we relate to each other. They have devalued the very idea of news. “ Teachout is nothing if not direct.

For me, Teachout’s biggest point is that consumers and voters can no longer affect corporate actions. Boycotts not only don’t work any more, but companies come out stronger for simply ignoring them. Trying to personally boycott say, Google, is no longer even possible. She says a quarter of the messages threatening Google with a boycott came in over Android phones. Google even tracks pedestrians in the streets of New York – it is unavoidable.

The only effective workaround tool left to the American populous is antitrust laws. Only enforcement of the existing laws can get monopolists to change. The pressure needs to be on government, not on the companies themselves. She says ‘It should be as easy to unionize or create a co-operative, as it is hard to merge goliaths.” And “Democratic governance is messy and will lead to mistakes, but corporate government will lead to tyranny.” Monopolies need to be broken up, separated into component firms, and forbidden from merging with any other firm with say a 5% market share. No mergers should be allowed where their market share tops 20%. Smaller market share means more competitors, more options for customers, and more success in effecting change among them.

The book is a well-organized, clearly thought out and a laser-focused attack on monopolies. Teachout is forceful. She uses only simple, direct language, making the book a fast and penetrating read. She wants everyone to understand the jig is up. Americans should now know the game and its scoring, and they have to stop it. Government is the last hope. It has happened before, when trusts dominated the country, labor was slavery and rights were none. Popular movements pounded away, until Teddy Roosevelt broke the trusts, followed by Wilson and FDR who restructured the laws to prevent this ever happening again. Unfortunately, the Reagan administration preferred it the other way, and dismantled most of what had been set up and very successfully executed over most of the century. Teachout is hopeful the pendulum is swinging the other way again, but everyone needs to help give it a push. If America is just going to allow its hard fought laws to be totally ignored, then rights and freedoms are meaningless. Americans should not have to hear from its electeds that “Corporations are people too, my friend.”

Teachout says that in the same letter where he proposed freedom of speech for the new constitution, Thomas Jefferson also wanted anti-monopoly as a foundational principle. How very different the country would be today had he succeeded.

David Wineberg
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1 vote DavidWineberg | May 27, 2020 |
Part novel, part scrapbook, part field guide, Bats of the Republic uses prose interspersed with letters, newspaper clippings, maps, and illustrations to create an immersive experience for the reader. The novel contains two stories, separated by 300 years but united by a mysterious letter (enclosed in an envelope at the very end). Due to its unique format, Bats of the Republic can feel unwieldy at times and there is a bit of a learning curve to following both parallel storylines. However, I give kudos to Zachary Thomas Dodson for creating one of the most innovative (and beautiful) works of fiction.… (more)
1 vote hianbai | 18 other reviews | May 27, 2020 |
My first book by WCS and may not be my last. At first I wasn't into it. Charlotte, our heroine, is a sop and she got on my last nerve. When the plot got underway she grew a bone structure and was less irritating. There isn't a whole lot of gore, violence or cruelty so I didn't have to skip or skim. I knew I was being set up for something, but I fell for some authorial misdirection and so even though it seemed contrived and almost out of nowhere, it worked.… (more)
1 vote Bookmarque | May 27, 2020 |
I went in thinking this was going to be a bunch of women being catty to each other, and/or a funny-but-mournful study of how oppressive women's lives were—kind of a mid-century Aussie Dawn Powell. But it was actually none of that. Rather, it was sweet and funny and quite charming, lightweight but not dumb. And just the thing to read after four fairly serious nonfiction books in a row. This was unexpected (I can't even remember where I got the recommendation) and fun.… (more)
1 vote lisapeet | 19 other reviews | May 26, 2020 |

Recent Firsts

"First" are first reviews for previously-unreviewed works.

"Martin Luther loved the Psalter. It was his daily prayer book as a monk, the topic of his initial lectures as a professor, and an important part of his piety...In all his writings, however, Luther prepared only one work that commented on all 150 Psalms...With his short introductions to the psalms, Luther allows us a glimpse into his theology and into his prayer life. He shows that he understood the Psalter as a Christ-centered book and shows how he prayed each psalm as a Christian prayer."… (more)
  salem.colorado | May 30, 2020 |
Solid, brief overview of wayfinding. Good for a design student needing a primer on the industry, perhaps; I, however, was hoping for a little bit more the psychology and sociology behind the decisions people make when getting around. What directions or heights do people look at? What about that area of design that subconsciously steers people, like a patterned floor that angles towards the route most people need? That sort of thing.

The book starts with a little historical context for this niche industry and some notes on education and training to work in this field. The middle chunk looks at colors and typography and such considerations, providing numerous photographic examples, though not often with the amount of explanation I would have liked. The last fourth of the book really drifted away from my interests, getting fabrication concepts and materials, notes on supervising construction of signage, etc.

Ironically, for a book on wayfinding that even starts with a comparison to the legibility and meaning of written language, some pages could stand to be reworked for better flow. The worst was a page that discusses Shea Stadium signage: I missed the first 5 lines of text on that page because they were tucked away at the bottom-left column under 2 large photographs! Others were just placed distractingly, and not all images are captioned.
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  elam11 | May 30, 2020 |
The things one reads for laughs in a book club... this would have been better if it was just straight-up smut instead of a sad attempt to include an actual plot.
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  j_tuffi | May 30, 2020 |
Incredibly helpful system for keeping any family, but especially a large family, and/or a homeschooling family on track with chores, without having to nag all day long. Clearly laid out and explained, and easy to implement.
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  ArrowStead | May 30, 2020 |
(1) The ultimate function of the law (179)
(2) The goal of theology and ethics (183)
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  jamesrrouse | May 29, 2020 |
This book was amazing. So much to think about. Seven ways to interpret one verse of the Torah. Each requiring time and thought. I found this to be a wonderful meditation. I am sure that I will return to it frequently to wake again to a new way to see my relationship with God. I think each rereading will bring new insights. Really well done. Very readable. Lots of breaks to make it possible to stop, ponder and find one's place when returning.… (more)
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  njcur | May 29, 2020 |
views of alternative medicine, placebo effect, role of mind, etc.
  ritaer | May 30, 2020 |
Nicely readable, illustrated story of African-American inventor Jan Matzeliger, who designed an important machine for making shoes, thus making them more affordable for virtually all Americans and changing the industry forever (Michelle Howard).
  pisgah13 | May 30, 2020 |
The dyeing of textiles and other materials is a rewarding and delightful way to bring the colors of nature to daily living. In our technological age, dyes from plants offer subtle and diverse hues unavailable from synthetic dyestuffs. They connect practitioners to the environment as well as to the crafts and history of our ancestors. Dyes from native plants offer a special source of satisfaction and beauty.In this fascinating book, the authors have compiled extensive information to bring the techniques, plants, and lore of natural dyeing within every reader's reach. In the first part of the volume, they emphasize the science, history, and practical aspects of dyeing. Chapters include discussions of color theory, dye equipment, dye processes, mordants, and easy-to-follow instructions for processing plants and dyeing fabrics.The core of the book is an exhaustive reference to the hundreds of colors that can be obtained from 158 commonly encountered North American plant species. The authors include detailed records of the various plant parts needed to produce different colors, cross-referencing each color to the Munsell color system, an internationally accepted standard for describing color.Finally, the book offers a practical botanical field guide that allows readers to locate and identify each plant in the book. Beautiful color photographs round out the volume.… (more)
  Shiseida.Aponte | May 31, 2020 |
As someone who didn't grow up a Christian, his practical guide of how to use a discipline was extremely helpful. The chapters on meditation and prayer were especially meaningful to me. However, there were several parts that were just plain rambling. Some sections could have even been cut. Still a good book though.
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  cgfaulknerog | May 28, 2020 |
The Matchmakers/
Troubled Waters/
By the Silvery Moon***
Healing Voyage
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  fancifulgirl | May 30, 2020 |
Covers the ground in a fairly general way and is a good introduction. This is definitely aimed at people who collect books as objects, rather than those who simply buy lots of books because they want to read them.
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  ponsonby | May 30, 2020 |
Excelente instrumento de aproximación a las diferentes tendencias críticas que han pensado la literatura, es una primera entrada para perder el miedo a la teoría sobre el texto literario, los discursos, el ejercicio de la escritura y la lectura en su más alta complejidad. Todo maestrillo pretende ocultar el "manual" en que se ampara, esta enciclopedia es el manual de ingreso para todos los estudiantes universitarios y sobre todo para los que procuran alcanzar estudios graduados. La enciclopedia reúne las aproximaciones más contemporáneas y facilita el camino teórico a quienes noo han realizado estudios en filosofía, hermenéutica o epistemología.… (more)
  amanomanaba | May 28, 2020 |
Nice little writer's journal. Nothing much more, but doesn't need to be.
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  Aaron.Cohen | May 28, 2020 |
  abdiel91 | May 30, 2020 |
This book was very readable. And, it brought out details that I'd forgotten as well as bringing new light to parts of church history that I was previously unaware. This would likely make a good bible study book for those interested in church history. Two notes that struck in particular were:
"Expecting people to unite by understanding it [the Bible] alike will simply ensure continued division in the Christian ranks.
In claiming to take the Bible alone... many believers fail to distinguish between the Bible and the Gospel.... The Gospel... consisted of the simple facts of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection."
C. Leonard Allen discussing Robert Richardson's thought on denominations. Richardson was Alexander Campbell's main biographer and family physician for 30 years. (Distant Voices, p 72)

Barton W. Stone spoke of 4 kinds of union among Christians. 1) Book Union - Union based upon creeds. Accept our creed and we'll be united. Only more division results though from this. 2) Head Union - Reject creeds and rely on the Bible alone. "Each one believes his opinion of the certain texts to be the very spirit and meaning of the texts-and that this opinion was absolutely essential to salvation." 3) Water Union - Unity based upon the doctrine of immersion of believers in water. He claims this to be easily dissolved. 4) Fire Union - The fire of the Holy Spirit by which hard and unloving hearts were sorted and filled with a supernatural love.
Stone put forth the claim that only Fire Union "will stand, no other union is worth the name." (C. Leonard Allen, Distant Voices)
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  aevaughn | May 28, 2020 |
Traducida por Ma. Antonia Menini de la 1a. Edición de William Morrow and Company, Inc.Ediciones Grijalbo,S.A. Barcelona, Impreso en España.
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  vonFeigenblatt | May 29, 2020 |
Cute, charming poems. Almost a little too cute at times, spoiled as I am to modern cynicism and antique fear of the fae. I expect a bit more fairy gold that melts away at dawn and fairy wishes calculated to be literal and cruel when granted. These are only occasionally mildly eerie, but if you adjust your expectations that way, you won't be disappointed by this little collection.

Found a Project Gutenberg copy of this to load onto my Kindle -- it never fails to piss me off to see public domain works costing money on Amazon. UPenn.edu hosts a good copy(illustrations included); the one I tried from Archive.org showed up with lots of OCR gibberish.… (more)
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  elam11 | May 30, 2020 |
  abdiel91 | May 30, 2020 |
computers and telecom
  ritaer | May 29, 2020 |
purchased at Powells - it lived on round garden table between the two library chairs in my unit at the Met - ref R
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  Overgaard | May 30, 2020 |
Adquirido na Temos Livros
  Nagib | May 30, 2020 |
  abdiel91 | May 30, 2020 |
Pamuk's writing is beautiful but, at times, can be verbose and painfully phrased (but that could be because of the translation into English). The other thing I was not a fan of, as far as writing style is concerned, is blatant foreshadowing, which had been utilized several times. I had read that Pamuk was a fan of Dostoevsky, and even if l had not read that, that admiration is clearly exemplified in this nihilistic story of unsatisfied, idealistic yearning and uncompromising choices that have ramifications for a life time.… (more)
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  EvaJanczaruk | May 31, 2020 |
dumb woman doing dumb things around murderers
  ritaer | May 29, 2020 |
  abdiel91 | May 31, 2020 |
A young Jewish girl looking to escape the clutches of the Third Reich after seeing her parents and sister brutally slain while attempting to make their way to England is sheltered by an old friend whose status as a member of the "third" sex soon leads the Gestapo pounding on his door as well. Betrayed by a smuggler who sat idly by as her family was casually slaughtered by the SS, terrified Sara flees into the comforting care of childhood summer-vacation chum Jean and his faithful lover Philippe. Though safe for the moment thanks to Jean's quick-thinking plan to pass her off as a Gallic employee of his family's laundry business, Sara watches in horror as her homosexual protector is forced into a Nazi labor camp as a tragic result of a bad decision made by Jean's troublesome brother Jacques. (fonte: imdb)… (more)
  MemorialeSardoShoah | May 29, 2020 |
  abdiel91 | May 29, 2020 |
Quando cento anni fa sessanta famiglie ebraiche che abitavano a Giaffa decisero di trasferirsi qualche chilometro più a nord, di Tel Aviv non esisteva ancora nulla, anche se alle spalle di questa sottile striscia di sabbia c'erano migliaia di anni di storia. (fonte: Google Books)
  MemorialeSardoShoah | May 31, 2020 |
This book imagines what the future of Tomorrowland will look like at Disney World. Actually, the book is more of a "Day in the life..."-type read, which does well in capturing the narrative established.

Many of the ideas are ingenious. I particularly enjoyed the part about the new concession stand and the story behind the Grand Prix.

Still, I felt this book lacked polish. There were several times political statements were intertwined with the narrative that felt out of place. There is nothing wrong with doing this, but normally they are a bit more subtle. Additionally, I'm not sure how realistic some of the attractions would be in the future, as Disney World's focus is to attract kids and some of the rides had (potentially) scary content.

With that being said, I think it's obvious the author is onto something here. I think if I hadn't recently gone to Disney World I might have been a little lost, but nonetheless, the story definitely makes you think.

*Full Disclosure: I received this book free from the author.
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  cgfaulknerog | May 28, 2020 |
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