Book Review | Travels with Charley: In Search of America

Travels with Charley
Travels with Charley

I may have said this before, and if so, it is still true as before.  You can’t go wrong with Steinbeck.  Maybe it is because I’m a California boy myself, but for practical damn good books, Steinbeck is the man!

I read Travels with Charley the best possible way.  While I was unable to recreate the journey that Steinbeck takes in the book, I was able to listen to the audiobook while traveling up the California coast.  The best part of my trip, aside from listening to some great writing was that I got to stop at the Steinbeck museum.  That’s right, he has his own museum.  He is the only American writer to have his own museum in America.

Rocinante
Rocinante

Rocinante is what Steinbeck named his truck that he traveled in.  It is also the name on Don Quixote’s horse.  The museum in Salinas has his truck on display even including a replica of his dog Charley in the front passenger seat.  You can also see the inside of the camper (shown below):

Rocinante Inside
Rocinante Inside

The book was marvelous.  I heartily give it a 5/5.  Again, it follows Steinbeck on a trip across America.  A trip he felt he needed to take to reacquaint himself with the American people.  He felt he had lost his relationship with the common man and the trip was a way to rekindle that relationship.

Book Review | The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra

The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra
The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra

I found The Romanov Sisters to be a little dry.  I know this is a very niche history book, I get it really.  At 381 pages it’s not that long, but it was just too much detail for me.  I did fear from the beginning that it might be a little slow for me, so I started “reading” this book via Overdrive a tool that my local library subscribes to which enables me to download an audiobook to my smartphone where I can listen to it.  I had I think 10 or 12 days to finish the audiobook.  But I just couldn’t do it.  I had to re-borrow this audiobook again after a forced period of absence.  It was on hold by other patrons, so I had to wait my turn in the queue again.

I’m glad I finished the book, but this would not be one that I keep in my personal library even if I had purchased it.  I’m glad for the free lend from the library in this case.  I gave the book 3 stars.  I was interested in the mystery of how the family was murdered, but the story was all about how they grew up and even quite a bit in the beginning about their parents.  If you have a deep interest in this family, you will probably appreciate the thoroughness of this author.  If like me you are just interested in the mystery around this family, this book will probably bore you.

Book Review | The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain

The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain
The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain from Flickr User: Wolf Gang

The first one was better.  Could I end my review there?  Maybe.  But I won’t.  I really love the image of this guy above, this is sometimes how I see Bryson in his traveling books.  Bryson is a local guy, an American, but he moved to England for some time and has written about different locales all over the world, my favorite still being A Walk in the Woods.

To me, The Road to Little Dribbling, sounds like it could be a book about a baby that drools.  I’ve never understood why the names are themselves funny in England, I guess we have a lot of those in America too though.

Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson by Flickr User: The National Churches Trust

Bryson is a funny and engaging travel writer and I have read many of his books.  There hasn’t been one that I disliked.  All of them have been entertaining enough.  This is the only book that I know if that is a sequel to one of his other books, Notes from a Small Island. I gave both of these books 3/5 star rating.  Not great, but in no way bad.  Still entertaining and I will keep them and re-read them at some point in the future as well.

The only reason they got a low’ish’ rating is that there are a lot of inside jokes that only Englishmen will get.  Not being one a lot of references to people and places went over my head.  Maybe this is why I liked A Walk in the Woods so much.  Since that book takes place in the Application Mountains it’s a little closer to this California boy than England is.

Book Review | The Stranger in the Woods

Stranger in the Woods
Stranger in the Woods

This may have been my favorite book I read in 2017.  I just let go of The Stranger in the Woods and gave it to my brother-in-law to read.  It is the fascinating story of a hermit who lived by himself outside year-round in all the weather of Maine.  It is a fascinating story!

I ate up this story!  Of course, it is all true and amazing.  Ther hermit is eventually busted for breaking an entering and hauled off to jail.  Feeling incredibly ashamed of his crimes he pleads guilty yo more than one-thousand break-ins.  After several months they released him to the custody of his family.

I found the writing style and the story engrossing. Have you ever taken a long time to read a book, not because you didn’t like it, but because you didn’t want it to end? This is how I read this book. I could have finished it in a sitting or two, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to savor the story. I wanted it to last.  It earned a 5/5 rating from me!

Book Review | Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

This book!  First, it was great!  I only gave it 4/5 stars probably because of the depressing nature of the discussion the authors start with the reader.  However, this is exactly what the book sets out to do and he doesn’t sugar coat things.  Everything is laid out here and it is much worse than anyone thinks.  There is a very large portion of our America that can’t make rent and are either provided with unsafe housing for partial rent or evicted.  Then you see they have a record of missing payments and have an impossible time finding a place.  If they can find a place the new landlord knows that they can take advantage of this person because they have very limited options.  The vicious circle starts and never ends for these people.  It is not a small group, but it is a group and a problem that is easy for many of us to ignore.

Matt does a great job bringing these problems to the forefront by interviewing many people and living in the same conditions as many of them.  You can see how it was difficult for him and you feel for the people in his stories.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (22.9K reviews, 4.47 avg rating) has won more awards than you can shake a stick at:

  • Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction (2017)
  • PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction (2017)
  • Los Angeles Times Book Prize Nominee for Current Interest (2016)
  • National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction (2016)
  • Andrew Carnegie Medal for Nonfiction (2017)
  • Kirkus Prize Nominee for Nonfiction (2016)
  • Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Nonfiction (2016)

Book Review | What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

What If?
What If?

This was a book that was recommended to me by a librarian.  That’s about as a  good a recommendation as you can get?  I mean who knows books better!  What If? is from the creator of xkcd.com.  There are always plenty of cool stick figure art, with witty snappy writing.

I read most of this on a plane.  It was extremely helpful it distracting me from a long horrible cross-country flight from sunny beautiful California to New Jersy.  …Yeah.  Anything that can make that flight better is a damn good book.

I especially liked the discussion on how to rid the world of the common cold.  Really fun topics and plenty of real science behind every little story in here.  This read earned its 4/5 star rating.

Book Review | When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation

When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation
When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation

A meticulously researched book with lots of details and stories and National Book Award Nominee for Nonfiction in 2014.  When Paris Went Dark was recommended to me by a friend who is very interested in Parisian history.  Of course I was somewhat familiar with this time in history, however, I didn’t know that Paris was occupied in such a way.  This is only 4 years, but as you read the book you feel that both sides of the war, the French and the Germans were uncertain and anxious about the occupation.  Ronald weaves the story well, incorporating anecdotes and facts seamlessly.

You get a wonderful feeling of the time, while also understanding that you will never know how the people on either side of the war really felt during this time period.  Having said that Ronald gets us very close.  History buffs and lovers of Paris (who isn’t) will equally enjoy this book.  This book gets 4/5 stars.  I’m including a video from C-SPAN book TV if you would like to hear more about this book.  I can’t embed it so just use the link.

 

Book Review | The Divide

The Divide
The Divide

The Divide by Matt Taibbi will make you think.  It will humble you.  It will open your eyes to the other side of America.  The side most of us hardly ever see and also the side that many of us won’t want to acknowledge.  Reading The Divide lead me to read other books like it that depict the other side of America.  Those people truly struggling to make ends meet every week.  The Divide made me feel lucky to have the life that was given to me.  My family had the money to give me an education and that education has to lead to a safe and happy life for myself and my family.

This book made me appreciate the things I have.  It also made me realize a lot of the things I have I don’t need, much like The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

After reading Tidying Up, I made some changes.  The Divide has helped me see that many of the changes I made could be much more profound.  I can give up a lot more than what I have.  In other words, I can do a lot more than re-organizing my shirt drawer.  I gave this book three stars because I think the point could have been driven home in a much shorter way.

Review: Unreasonable Men

I was lucky enough to have Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics sent to me for free from St. Martin’s Press as part of The History Book Club, of which I am a member.  The opinions expressed below are my own.

Mike and Ben
Mike and Ben

Michael Wolraich moves you ten detailed and fascinating chapters, through the progressive politics of Theodore Roosevelt’s era.  In the story you will get to know the players like “Fighting Bob” La Follette and Teddy himself as well as a larger cast of personalities.  This well researched history takes you through a time in American politics that has been largely forgotten.

I found the book riveting and the story fun and education as my understanding of this period and the players was limited.

If you are interested in this topic I encourage you to browse through the discussion forms at History Book Club and read all the great information that club moderators put together as well as many comments from the author himself!

Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics Book Cover Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics
Michael Wolraich
Non-Fiction, History, Biography
St. Martin's Press
July 22nd 2014
Hardcover
310
Publisher

At the turn of the twentieth century, the Republican Party stood at the brink of an internal civil war. After a devastating financial crisis, furious voters sent a new breed of politician to Washington. These young Republican firebrands, led by "Fighting Bob" La Follette of Wisconsin, vowed to overthrow the party leaders and purge Wall Street's corrupting influence from Washington. Their opponents called them "radicals," and "fanatics." They called themselves Progressives.

President Theodore Roosevelt disapproved of La Follette's confrontational methods. Fearful of splitting the party, he compromised with the conservative House Speaker, "Uncle Joe" Cannon, to pass modest reforms. But as La Follette's crusade gathered momentum, the country polarized, and the middle ground melted away. Three years after the end of his presidency, Roosevelt embraced La Follette's militant tactics and went to war against the Republican establishment, bringing him face to face with his handpicked successor, William Taft. Their epic battle shattered the Republican Party and permanently realigned the electorate, dividing the country into two camps: Progressive and Conservative.

Unreasonable Men takes us into the heart of the epic power struggle that created the progressive movement and defined modern American politics. Recounting the fateful clash between the pragmatic Roosevelt and the radical La Follette, Wolraich's riveting narrative reveals how a few Republican insurgents broke the conservative chokehold on Congress and initiated the greatest period of political change in America's history.