Friday, January 27, 2023

Review: The Catcher Was A Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg

The Catcher Was A Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe BergThe Catcher Was A Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg by Nicholas Dawidoff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A biography of a fascinating man. Moe Berg was a unique figure; a quirky and weird guy in many ways. Brilliant and talented in many other ways. His life seemed rich and mysterious, but also quite sad and lonely. He seemed to be in the center of things but at the same time, no where at all.

The covers Berg's who life from his youth until death. It gets into more detailed than I expected into his family and the various friends and relations whose lives Berg drifted in and out of. His years as a spy during WW2 are of course covered, but they are not the focus. The mystery here is not this perennially backup major league catcher working as an OSS spy assigned to kill, if necessary, the renowned Germany physicist Werner Heisenberg. The mystery is Berg himself.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Review: Lonely on the Mountain: The Sacketts

Lonely on the Mountain: The SackettsLonely on the Mountain: The Sacketts by Louis L'Amour
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Though the plot is similar to many other Sackett novels (one or more of the brothers gets into some kind of trouble, the other brothers come to help out, more trouble is had, and brothers come out victorious), there are some new elements here. There are a few twists. The landscape is different taking place mostly in the northern plains and Canada. There are some dicey moments for the brothers as well. I love living in the Sackett world even for just a few moments -- though I wouldn't last long if I had to for real!

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Saturday, January 14, 2023

Review: The Promise

The Promise (Elvis Cole, #16; Joe Pike, #5; Scott James & Maggie, #2)The Promise by Robert Crais
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are a few twists and turns in this mystery. For the most part, this delivers what Cole fans will expect: Pike and Stone help him out. Cole gets into some trouble with the police. But the world's greatest detective eventually figures out what is going on. One of the most interesting elements of the novel is Crais's use of Maggie's point of view. Maggie is a former Marine dog now working with LAPD K-9 unit. Crais switches from Cole's first person of view to the third person point of view of other characters, and this includes Maggie. I didn't realize that Scott, Maggie's handler, have their own Crais standalone. I'll have to check that out.

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Friday, January 13, 2023

Review: Tempest Runner

Tempest Runner (Star Wars: The High Republic)Tempest Runner by Cavan Scott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoy the Star Wars audio dramas, though this was not as good as the Doctor Aphra or Dooku ones. It was a fun listen, and gives much more context and background to Lourna Dee's character. In the Light of the Jedi series and the High Republic comics, she is just a villain. Here, we get more about who she is and where she comes from. She's still a villain, but a more interesting villain because she's not just a monster.

I did have some trouble distinguishing the characters in the audio drama, particularly at first. Also, the fights scenes tended to be just a lot of grunting and moaning.

I'm still not entirely sold on the High Republic era. I enjoy the books, the comics, etc., but I've not (yet) connected with any of the characters in the way I have with the Skywalker Saga characters.

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Sunday, January 08, 2023

Review: The Right: The Hundred-Year War for American Conservatism

The Right: The Hundred-Year War for American ConservatismThe Right: The Hundred-Year War for American Conservatism by Matthew Continetti
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Continetti’s sweeping history of American conservatism from the 1920’s up through the 2020 election offers important perspective and context for much of contemporary politics. Starting with President Harding and covering the political and intellectual figures of the Right and the conservative moment up through Trump. It’s well-research, balanced, and comprehensive. It is worth a read by anyone interested in the political and intellectual history of the US. Conservatives will find much to learn about the history of the movement they seem themselves apart of. Liberals will find a more nuanced and richer intellectual opponent than they are familiar with.

There are three criticisms I have. First is that the Continetti’s focus is really only on political and intellectual figures. What is missing is a sense of the conservative movement on the street level; how the common person might have understood conservativism and the Right. But that’s a different kind of history so it’s less a criticism than a caveat for readers who might be looking for that perspective. Second, and more substantive, is that Continetti doesn’t do enough to define the differences between conservatism and the Right. He acknowledges that these are not the same thing, but the contours are not always clear and at Continetti slides too easily between these. And this leads to my third criticism that Continetti does not do a good enough job with libertarianism. He treats it largely as just one more thread in the right, but that doesn’t do justice to the intellectual history of libertarianism and its stark differences with much of the rest of the conservative movement.

While this history is not written as guide to trying to understand Trump and the Trump phenomenon, it does have that as kind of sub-theme running through background until the last chapter that focus directly on Trump and the aftermath.

Much of what we might call the content of “Trumpism”: antipathy for immigration; ambivalence, sometimes hostility, about free markets and free trade; isolationism/disengagement; and populism; has always been an element of the Right. It coexisted with the pro-immigration, pro-market, pro-trade, elitist, and projection of American power kinds of conservativism. Continetti traces out the various threads and streams of American conservatism and the American right. These disparate elements are only united by its opposition. Continetti’s starts his history with the Right’s opposition to Wilsonian progressivism. This early conservative movement, highlighted by President’s Harding and Coolidge, saw itself as preserving the principles and ideals of the founding that Wilson and the progressives were looking to reform. The next generation of the Right was united by its opposition to Roosevelt and the New Deal. The Right was then united in the post-war by anti-communism and turning back the New Deal. Things get messy with Nixon for a while, but with Reagan, the Right returns: united again by anti-communism, rejection of big government liberalism, and social issues. The end of the Cold War then leads to the fraying of the broad coalition of the Right. The divergent elements all vie to have their vision be the controlling vision. We are still in this period; as evidenced by the turmoil in the GOP exposed by Trump’s candidacy and presidency.

What Continetti shows is that behind he superficial unified front of the Right, there were also always deep tensions and divisions. So Trump is in many ways just the latest iteration of the line of figures from Lindberg to McCarthy to Wallace to Buchanan that tapped into populist and outsider anger. The MAGA movement often sounds a lot like a contemporary reboot of the Birchers. One optimistic message of Continetti’s book is that the Right survived those and it will survive Trump. The pessimistic undertone is that these elements will also remain a part of the right, since they have always been a part of it.

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Friday, January 06, 2023

Review: Men Without Work: Post-Pandemic Edition

Men Without Work: Post-Pandemic Edition (2022)Men Without Work: Post-Pandemic Edition by Nicholas Eberstadt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An in-depth exploration of one of the major issues in labor economics: the large and growing percentage of prime-age men opting out of work. Eberstadt describes this growing phenomenon with lots and lots of graphs and data. He first gives the evidence for growing numbers of "un-working" men. He then describes the demographics of this group. He looks at what these men do and how they are able to do it without working. He also looks at some of the possible causes. Lastly, he briefly suggests some prescriptions to help reduce this problem.

One of the more interesting aspects of the book is that after the last chapter, there are two additional chapters by critics of book, and then a response by Eberstadt to the critics. The critics dispute aspects of Eberstadt's description of the problem, his explanation of the possible causes, and his prescriptions. This added a lot to my understanding of the ideas of the book.

It's a bit wonky and data-heavy for most readers; Eberstadt has appeared on any number of podcasts discussing the ideas in the book (that's how I heard about it). And unless you really want to dig into the data, those are probably sufficient to get the idea and the book is not necessary.

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