Category Archives: Books

Great Books!

Still looking for Christmas gifts for your high literate loved one?

The Guardian offers their list of the best books of the year —  selected by  publishers. This is a fun list!

And if your loved one is less lit oriented and more into tech, and innovation, here is a fun list by greg Satell. and no surprise, it contains his own book.

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Collusion by Luke Harding

Luke Harding is a Guardian investigative journalist who has specialized in reporting from Moscow for a long time. He has lots and lots of background about that setting, and he has written a book that uses his background to look into the evidence about Russian tampering with the 2106 US presidential election.

Charles Kaiser reviews the book and his review is worth a look.

To get a sense of the story, You just need to know that Trump has flatly denied that he has any financial dealings with Russia. Harding reports in the book

Russian efforts to form ties with Trump go back to the 1980s, when the new Russian ambassador to the United Nations began to cultivate him. Almost immediately Trump set about plans to build a large luxury hotel in Moscow, in partnership with the Soviet government. He wrote that his first visit to Moscow in 1987 was “an extraordinary experience”; just two months later, he was hinting for the first time that he might run for office and bought newspaper advertisements that said: “Let’s not let our great country be laughed at anymore.”

…  in 2008 Donald Trump Jr said in Moscow: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” A Reuters investigation revealed that individuals with Russian passports or addresses had bought property worth $98.4m in seven Trump-branded towers in Florida. And as late as January 2016, Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, was begging Putin’s press secretary for help to resuscitate a “Trump-Moscow project in Moscow City”.

And of course, there is the Trump/Deutsche Bank/Putin triangle

  • Putin allows Deutsche Bank to launder billions from Russia, and Deutsche Bank makes billions in the process over a period of years,
  • Deutsche Bank loans Trump over $300 million after Trump has screwed a whole array of American banks and boasted about it loudly enough that no American bank would go near him. Small change  in comparison with the billions that Deutsche Bank made in money laundering?
  • Trump defaults on the Deutsche Bank loan, and
  • Deutsche Bank — makes yet another huge loan to him!!!!!

So we have the gross out Trump lie. We have the amazing Deutsche Bank story. We have evidence of Russia trying to help the Trump campaign, and the Trump Campaign asking for it. We know the Russians did this to get sanctions removed – something Trump tried to arrange through Flynn.

So do we need to learn anything more except the details?

Mad! Mad! James Joyce! My Hero!

James Joyce set out to be difficult — both as an artist and a person. He did so because  being difficult was part of his rebellion. And of course, at the time when Joyce lived, lots of artists believed that rebellion was the key to  making inspired art.

It is often said that the first war brought this out. That the absurd tragedy of the war made it obvious that the status quo had gone violently mad. That rebelling was the only way to regain one’s sanity and self-respect. And it is true that the mad experimentation in modern art flourished after the war.

But there was a deeper cause of this rebellion. Victorian values had a great flaw. That flaw is found in their origins — the enlightenment. The enlightenment opened the door to the idea that mankind could figure out the mysteries of life without religion. All he or she needed was to use reason. Victorians took this a step farther Reason could be the basis not just for learning the laws of nature, but for ordering social norms – especially for controlling passions. And Victorians were great believers in controlling passion.

That might sound ok,  especially when you realize that the Victorian quest for order through reason was itself a reaction to the licentiousness of the prior regency period. But as I mentioned, there was a problem. We know now that mankind is not essentially a reasonable species. We live more by our emotions than our reason. And so attempts to squash emotion by use of reason were bound to produce a nasty backlash.

That backlash was already in the air before the first war and Joyce was part of that backlash.Born in 1882, his rebellious ways became evident well before the first war.  Just consider this story of his meeting with the great poet Yeats (around 1903). He claimed that his flight from Ireland was caused by rejection. Others claimed that it was he who needed that rejection to justify his escape from convention.

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And he is a hero. Why? because above all, Joyce championed the notion that as imperfect as we may be, we all deserve to be free in our personal lives. Freedom is for him an ultimate value. And in Ulysses you find characters all groping around trying to break loose , and become free in their own peculiar ways from their individual problems. Their efforts are flawed, and they are flawed and their flaws make them timeless comedic figures.

Sure the book is difficult. But so is life. Here is more — enjoy!

Books: A Time of Gifts, Patrick Leigh Fernor

Even if he had not become one of the most renowned travel writers of his day, Patrick Leigh Fermor would still be remembered as quite a character. Wikipedia offers the overview of his life, and it is worth a look.

Here he is

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Oddly, I have not had the chance to read any of his works. I will be on the look out for his best known work, “A Time of Gifts”, which chronicles his youthful jaunt across Europe in the inter-war period.

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Here is how the NYT Review of Books begins its review

“We shall never get to Constantinople like this.” This rueful aside, which comes toward the end of the first of the three books that the late Patrick Leigh Fermor devoted to his youthful travels on foot across Europe in the early 1930s, was to prove prophetic. “Like this” ostensibly refers to the author’s weakness for detours. By this point in A Time of Gifts—written some four decades after that remarkable journey and first published in 1977—it is late in 1933, and the high-spirited, precocious, poetry-spouting eighteen-year-old, long since expelled from school (“a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness,” a housemaster clucked), weary of England, and hungry for adventure, finds himself in Czechoslovakia, having walked from the Hook of Holland through the Low Countries, southern Germany, and Austria, his battered copies of The Oxford Book of English Verse and Horace’s Odes firmly, famously in hand.

Adventurous? I would say so.

The Sugar Blues

I was turned onto this a while ago

A growing body of evidence has revealed how industry groups have worked to suppress the scientific findings on the harmful effects of sugar for decades — either by promoting studies that downplay its negative effects or suppressing studies that reveal its harms.

The word “suppress” is too mild. John Yudkin first started writing about the dangers of sugar in our diets back in the 1960’s. The sugar industry blackballed him and ruined his career.  And if there is a villain in this story, it may be a Harvard researcher by the name of Ancel Keyes.

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It was Keyes who claimed that scientific research proved that saturated fat was causing heart disease in the US. History has shown that this conclusion is not supported by the evidence. When Yudkin challenged that conclusion, Keyes led the charge to discredit him. The sugar industry was glad to support him. And it worked. That led to decades of doping our processed foods with sugar, and the resulting health crisis that we are now in.

Lesson learned: beware of nutritionists and wonder diets. The reality is that digestion is still pretty much a mystery.  A related reality – the connection between digestion and the immune system is also mysterious. And beware of industry lobbying based on “science” that just happens to confirm what it wants the public to believe.

What do we know? Sugar, regularly introduced into the diet in large amounts has side effects that are not conducive to long life.

Films: A Wrinkle in Time

Back in 1962, Madeleine L’Engle tried to get her science fiction book entitled “A Wrinkle in Time” published. It was not easy. 26 publishers rejected it. Why?

… too complicated, too adult, and no one reads books with young female leads.

Ooops! Mr. Farrar of Farrar, Straus & Giroux liked the book and went with it. A Wrinkle in Time then went on to become a classic children’s book. BTW, I love the Farrar, Straus & Giroux house. They have done so many great things!

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In the late 1970’s it came out with illustrations by Diane and Leo Dillan

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And FINALLY it is being made int a feature film (there was an earlier TV version). That film will be released next spring, so mark your calendars. All we have now is a trailer — and if the film sustains the level that you find in the trailer, it might be worth watching.

If you live in a state where pot is legal, this film is for you! And BTW, this is the first book of a trilogy.