Book Reviews (2021)

The following are the books I have completed in 2021. Included is a brief review of each book.

Backman, Fredrik; Anxious People, (novel): This novel reminds us that what we see is not usually the whole story. As Backman’s story unfolds, we find ourselves tricked by our own stereotypes into thinking things about the characters… and about the plot, that are simply not true. The book includes humor, insight into human nature, grace, pathos, riddles, epiphanies that cause us to “recalibrate” where the plot is going, and complexity. Plus, it has Backman’s usual weirdness.  (5 stars)

Edgerton, Clyde; The Bible Salesman, (novel): A well written, engaging novel about a young Bible salesman who gets a chance to earn some extra money by a criminal posing as an FBI agent. At times funny, at times sad… Edgerton tells a good story and evokes our empathy as we read about a young man’s limited past… and his awakening. Edgerton is one of those writers I have also loved in the past: Raney, Walking Across Egypt, and Killer Diller (all novels of his) were all great reads.

Obama, Barak; A Promised Land, (memoir):

I’ve always been partial to Barak Obama. I’m also a reader of presidential history and biographies. It is too early to get a good historical read on the Obama presidency, but Mr. Obama makes a good contribution toward our understanding of his presidency in this book. 

The style of writing is easy and personable. It is a credible apologetic for the decisions he made and his opportunity to reflect a little on what he might have done differently. Mr. Obama is a deep thinker and he only gives us his surface thoughts about the many domestic and international situations that required decisions from him. I look forward to a deeper look into some of his understandings.

The book is also a public thank you note to many of the people who supported and worked for him. And it is an affirmation of his family, something he felt was needed after needing to divert his attentions away from them in order to do his job. These kind words about so many people are not as valuable to the general reader… and the reason I only gave a “4” on the rating. I look forward to the sequel. 

Christie, Agatha; The Man in the Brown Suit; (mystery novel): A nice change of pace from non-fiction and literary novels I usually read. Along with the normal twists and turns of plot (essential in any good mystery) the book also employs a delightful use of both language and humor laced throughout. 

Morone, James A.; Republic of Wrath; (political science, culture) A nice step back from the rancor of the daily news…without escaping my commitment as a citizen of the country. This book reminded me of the bigger issues and undercurrents roiling politics today. Filled with apt historical anecdotes, the theories set forth are not so much original…as freshly stated. The author describes how historical shifts in areas of race, gender, immigration, and labor have realigned the political parties to the point that “patriotism” now seems the sole possession of Republicans and “social justice” the sole possession of Democrats. With the 2020 election now over (theoretically) it is a good time for some of us to take a deep breath, step back and get a view of the bigger picture. After an attack on the capitol, a deadly pandemic, growing choruses against racial and gender oppression… this book didn’t let me escape or walk away. But it did take me to a place where I can regroup and get intellectual revitalization.

Smith, Ali; Autumn; (novel): First book I have read by this author. Her writing is erudite, poetic, witty, insightful… Between her British background and her enormous intelligence, I felt that I had missed some of what she was offering. But with all that, I still enjoyed the novel, its insights, and its humor. Would try some of her other writings.

Perlstein, Rick; Reaganland: America’s Right Turn, 1976-1980; (history); This was a depressing book for me. I listened on Audible and could only take bits of it at a time. (Since it takes 30 hours of oral reading, you can imagine how long it took me to get through it!) But I stayed with it because it gives proof beyond any doubt about the effective campaign to destroy Jimmy Carter with well crafted and well funded lies. While Carter made numerous strategic mistakes as a politician, he was uncannily prescient in responding to a number of crises… and looming crises. While one wing of the Republican party proved their patriotism by working with him, another wing of the party: led by Ronald Reagan and the Christian Right, tapped into America’s anger and fear and managed to destroy both Carter and the centrist elements of their own party. Perlstein’s material is exhaustive… and exhausting. But the immorality of Ronald Reagan and the Christian Right… and the damage they did to the country is beyond doubt. We will see whether future historians uncover more information to either reinforce Perlstein’s revelations… or refute them. But for now, it looks like the Age of Reagan was more than a political revolution, it was also a death knell for common sense and political courage. The problems didn’t start with Reagan. And things have gotten much worse since then. But we can see Reagan’s role in accelerating our current problems.

Pérez, Caroline Criado; Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men; (culture); I picked this book up on the recommendation of my daughters. Perez draws on a vast body of research to show how everything in our world seems to be designed FOR men, even if women are the primary users: public transportation, the front passenger seats of cars, public housing, etc. While I would have liked to examine some of her statistics a little closer, she more than sufficiently makes her point. A condensed version of this book would be very enlightening.