Hedrick Smith is to a vital growing middle class what Michael Pollan is to healthy sustainable food. It is first a long form journalistic study of what happened to the middle class and the dream of a stable, improving, and optimistic life in America.
He begins in the early 1970s, and chronicles the key events and characters who broke the virtuous cycle started by Henry Ford, who invested in good wages for workers so there would be demand for products. Being honest, one can't chronicle the pillaging of the middle class without becoming an advocate for legislation and action, and Smith does just that.
His discourse is high on principle, and low on ideology; he offers practical, logical, and do-able solutions that should be advocated by anyone who wishes to maintain a stable large middle class, and avoid the extreme concentration of wealth that we are seeing.
- you can have extreme concentration of wealth or you can have a democracy, not both.
You can find this story in documentaries, articles, etc., and by reading the book. The author brings life and energy to the story - not just documenting, but making the story compelling. The narrator's voice completes the effect. I listen to audiobooks while exercising; it got more exercise because of it. I could not stop listening. Of the 300 or so audiobooks I've listened to, this was the most compelling by far.
After reading reviews, I was expecting a Garrison Keillor storyteller or a Dave Barry humorist. Wry style, but doesn't quite reach humor. I bailed.
I am a fan of Bazelon and Slates "gabfests". Her book is clearly an extension of her diligence and compassion, and the drive to find out why kids bully each other the the point of suicide in some cases. She looks at the standards for managing bullying and clearly has questions (zero tolerance) and hope (methods adapted from a Scandanavian expert). The case studies she uses are told in careful depth, so you understand the source and nuance of the bullied and well as the bullies. The frequent absent grace is empathy, of course, as is demonstrated each episode.
For my taste, I would rather have the thesis and logic presented up front, so I could better understand where the narrative is going. Rather, you have to follow her through each case and understand her conclusion inductively.
I am also acutely aware of how this is framed, as a lawyer would. I think an alternative framing more as a sociologist or anthropologist would. Social dominance is frequent in many species, including our own. Dominance-based aggression is normal in peer groups, particularly adolescents. Normally, things sort themselves out by people forming into groups and the groups lining up on some social hierarchy.The story might be about situations in which the amount of aggression is abnormal or dangerous. People who wish to belong to a group, but no group will have? People who appear to be socially climbing without going through expected loyalty rituals?
It would have been clearer in that frame - to acknowledge that some amount of bullying is part of the norm - like it or not - and that we learn life lessons from it. There is abnormal bullying which leaves permanent scars - how do we predict that and prevent it?
Though I was involved in the book, I did occasionally bark that it would be so much better if I had a roadmap of where this is going, and perhaps a little less inductive framing.
Stories of rising from poverty to the world stage are often mythic. This is real, authentic, showing the unfolding of awareness and discovery of the world and himself. Not heroic, but the world through the eyes of a person born into war, disease, and poverty, who grew up in very provincial Sweden, and learned to compete on the global stage.
The simple honesty of the continual rediscovery of himself, his capability, and the moral principles needed to be balanced and focused.
Oh, yeah, and the story is about food.
If you liked Anthony Bordain's down and dirty view of the restaurant world, this is a counterbalance. Yes, there are jerks, racists, and blowhards, but as told by Samuelsson, it's one that allows for good souls to emerge, too.
Authentic, personal, a bit struggled
I learned of Samuelsson through the book, Aquavit. An Ethiopian Swede presents a global fusion style that is simple, elegant, inspired. Honoring and extending the cuisines. Not a celebrity book or an instant fad cuisine, but something very honest. The opportunity to hear his story in his own voice was not to be passed up. The story transcends food, surely, but uses cooking as the expression of his discovery of the world and himself.
I'm not a fan of inspirational books as a genre, or of fad food books and stories. This is different, a must-listen if you're a foodie or not.
His reading is not as fluent as a professional voice, and there are passages where there is a bit of a struggle in his reading, but it also lends to the authenticity of his story.
The snippets of life with cranky dad were hilarious as tweets, but as a sequence of stories they lose their pop. If you know these people, they are likely very funny, but otherwise, they occasionally evoke a mild smile at best.
The end, however, where Dad reveals personal history, is well-written, poignant, and compelling.
The Author has a compelling delivery of information and decision making from the inside. This is a view and data that would otherwise not be available to the public. For this, he has done us a major service. In the flow of events, there are always missed opportunities and inadequate actions. What seems to spark controversy is not the litany of sins of omission - the missed opportunities, but the singularly consequential sin of comission, the invasion of Iraq, that has large and foreseeable negative consequences on the security of the U.S.
This book is a must-read and a must-listen, even if you don't like the obvious implications on the capability and interests of the administration.
Franken's ultra dry wit and sarcasm is just the packaging for this series of fact-checking projects that expose the Bush administration and its support crew of talk show flacks for the frauds they are. Franken's Harvard fact checking team make their points and he delivers the results in an informative and hilarious style.
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