Ardent Audible listener with a long commute!
Until I listened to Doris Kearns Goodwin's "The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism" (2013) it didn't occur to me that anyone - other than George Washington - had been 'drafted' into the presidency. I'd assumed that people who become president have a burning desire for the office, and plan and maneuver over many years to get there.
Theodore Roosevelt, the brilliant, adventurous and beloved scion of a wealthy New York family, positioned himself his whole life to be president. Throughout his life, he was also a prolific and influential conservation and naturalist author. Roosevelt was such a maverick that the Republican Party tried to derail "that cowboy" by making him William McKinley's Vice Presidential running mate for the 1900 election. McKinley was assassinated in 1901, and secretly gleeful, Roosevelt became president.
William Taft, Roosevelt's long time friend and politically progressive ally, had one life long ambition: the Supreme Court. Taft's judicial decisions in the lower courts and later, the Supreme Court, were well reasoned and supported and are still used today. On the way to becoming Chief Justice in 1921, he was inveigled into the presidency by Roosevelt, and elected in 1908.
Four years later, Roosevelt wanted the presidency back. His long friendship with Taft had fractured, and Roosevelt's ego split the Republican Party in two. In the 1912 election, Taft, Roosevelt and Democrat Woodrow Wilson ran. With Republican votes split, Wilson won.
Roosevelt's close relationship with journalists, including Ray Stannard Baker, who wrote "What the United States Steel Corporation Is" (1901) for McClure's Magazine (1893-1929). That lengthy piece, along with Ida Tarbell's groundbreaking "The Standard Oil Company" (1902), described trusts that ruthlessly snuffed out competition and endangered the country's resources. Roosevelt instituted such strong trust-busting reforms, he'd more aptly be a Democrat today. Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" (1906) lead to the "Pure Food and Drug Act" (1906) and what eventually became the FDA. Taft, while much more reserved with the press than Roosevelt, relied on journalists to investigate and publicize one of his main goals as president: tariff reform. Taft didn't get everything he wanted, but he got a lot.
Taft was a genuinely nice man who hard to make people comfortable, build consensus, and as appointed Governor General of the Philippines, showed an unparalleled empathy and understanding of that culture that enabled him to ensure that country's transition to peace. Roosevelt, however - well, he was dominating, extremely aggressive, pro-war, and hurt people that got in his way. The "Speak softly" part of his motto was aspirational. "The Bully Pulpit" disillusioned me about Roosevelt, whose lionization is even stronger than it was a century ago.
I listened to Goodwin's "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" (2005) and had trouble with that as an Audible. There were so many people that it was hard to remember who was who, and there's no Audio index. I had a much easier time with the Audible of "The Bully Pulpit". Goodwin 'reintroduced' people that had been mentioned much earlier in her book, and that was enough to remember who they were. I got a little mired in the chapter on Taft and tariffs, and had to listen to it twice to understand the problem and what Taft wanted, but I didn't mind.
"The Bully Pulpit" is fascinating and accidentally-drive-by-your-freeway exit absorbing. I got so into the book and the vivid descriptions of the people and places, I actually misdated a check "1914" instead of "2014". And Edward Herrmann as a narrator - let's just say that I heard a bushy mustache, waistcoat with a watch fob, and a Panama Straw Boater.
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Malala Yousafzai is on a crucial, well publicized and lauded mission to educate children. I expected "I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot By the Taliban" (2013) would be An Alarming Book with lots of Depressing Statistics that would make me feel Somewhat Superior in a Privileged Western Way, but Inspired to Help. What I didn't expect was that I would gain respect for a very different culture and enjoy a fascinating, but tragic story.
The inhabitants of the Swat Valley of northwest Pakistan often use rope-pulley bridges to cross dangerous raging rivers and deep chasms quickly. "I Am Malala" is a fast ride across what has been, for me, an uncrossable gulf.
Pashtuns have lived in the stunningly beautiful Swat Valley for more than 2300 years. Malala is a proud member of the Pashtun tribe, who are fierce fighters, culturally bound to welcome guests, and have traditions of marriage handed down for centuries. When Malala was born in Mingora, her father Ziauddin, was delighted - although tribal custom means only the birth of a boy is celebrated. Ziauddin was determined to give Malala and the other girls in Swat an education.
Swat is almost entirely conservative, traditional Muslims. Men and women are kept separated after puberty, people pray five times a day, and work outside the home is not encouraged for women. That doesn't mean that the Koran says that women shouldn't be educated - in fact, it says the exact opposite. (And let's not forget that jobs weren't encouraged for women in the Western World until 60 or so years ago.)
After 9/11, the Taliban arrived in Swat and took effective control of the area from an impotent and absentee Pakistani government. In their fundamentalist interpretation of the Koran, there is no dancing, no television, no song, and women are to be illiterate. When I read this book, I realized that the Taliban is to Islam what Westboro Baptist Church is to Christians - really out there, aching for jihad or crusade, and not actually representative of either religion.
Malala learned to love learning, and to love school - especially when the Taliban took it from her. She became the voice of girls who wanted to learn by blogging, and then by appearing as an education advocate on television. She was prominently featured by the New York Times in a documentary "Class Dismissed" (2009). I remember that well - it was the first NY Times documentary I watched.
Malala and her family never thought, as a child, that she was in danger. "Who would shoot a child?" everyone said. They underestimated the desperation of fundamentalists who find their beliefs - and therefore, their power - challenged. The Taliban shot her in the head on October 9, 2012. On October 9, 2013, she answered the question she'd been asked right before the assassination attempt: "Who is Malala Yousafzai?" with this book.
I will leave the political analysis and sociological critique to other reviewers who have handled that so adeptly already. To me, this is a really good book. I'm sure Christina Lamb, the co-author, contributed greatly to that. Malala has been attending school and has had multiple surgeries in the last year, and she could not have had the time to do everything.
I am sure this book will end up on school reading lists, alongside "The Diary of a Young Girl" (Anne Frank, 1947, posthumous). Teachers, please don't mar a wonderful story by making your students find only 'One True Meaning.' For Marie Arana, writing a reverent review of "I Am Malala" for the Washington Post on October 11, 2013, this book meant something more global and less personal. We both found profound meaning in this book - but the meanings, while complementary, were different.
Finally, this book worked better for me as an Audible than in text. Mentally, reading excerpts, I tripped over Pashto and Urdu pronunciations - which would have distracted me from the book. Archie Panjabi sounds young, and her narrative as a 16 year old works.
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Universal free education. Widespread literacy. Secular government. Freedom of religion. Ambassadors from other countries. Translators and interpreters. Diplomatic immunity. A consumer-driven economy. Free trade agreements. Huge technological advances in communications. Paper money based on precious metals and gem reserves. Pensions for military veterans, and lifelong benefits for survivors of those killed in action. Support for scholars. Doctors and lawyers. Laws that applied equally to the rulers as well as the ruled. A Supreme Court. Meticulous record keeping, using complex mathematics and calculators. Multiculturalism. An empire bigger than North and Central America, combined.
The Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan and his grandson, Kubla Khan - and lesser known Great Khans - was astonishingly advanced, especially in contrast to Europe, which at the time, was mired in futile attempts - The Crusades - to 'free' the Holy Lands from Muslims.
I knew that Genghis Khan was an innovative military leader who both invented and eschewed conventional warfare. Genghis Khan created the "decimal" system of soldiers of 10 soldiers to a 'squad', which is still used in modern military. A 'company' was 10 squads; a battalion was 10 'companies' . . . and so on. The term "decimal" is author Jack Weatherford's term; the other terms are mine, analogizing to modern military organizational structure. At the same time, Genghis Khan used innovative military weapons - including gun powder - and improved on existing weapons. His tactics - like waging war on multiple fronts, feinting defeat, and skilled infiltrators - are common today, but unique 900 years ago. Psychological warfare was a key part of Genghis Khan's military success - he encouraged stories of Mongol brutality and ruthlessness to encourage surrender.
Until I listened to Weatherford's "Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World" (2004), I had no idea who Genghis Khan was, beyond his military skill. I spent a good part of the book wondering why, with advanced courses in European, Chinese and Russian history, I had essentially missed a crucial empire. In the Afterward, I found out: I am too old.
During China's Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) a Chinese/Mongolian version of "The Secret History of the Mongols" (~1240, author unknown) was used to teach Chinese scholars the Mongolian language. It gradually stopped being used, and by the 19th century, there were very few copies. The first definitive English translation was Harvard-Yenching Institute's translation (Francis Woodman Cleaves, 1982). Urgunge Onon's 2001 translation is much more readable. Both are scholarly, often cited works. From 1924 to 1990, the Soviet Union controlled Mongolia and did its best to eradicate evidence of other civilizations, and kept the rest of the world from the country. Exactly who Genghis Khan was, how the Mongol Empire started, and how it thrived was hidden for almost 700 years.
Weatherford's "Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World" opened a new civilization and a new perspective for me. Definitely worth the listen.
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