John Adams, from the collection of the New York Public Library
If you haven’t heard from me on this site in a while, it is not because I haven’t been reading about the Presidents! I started writing this post after reading McCullough’s “John Adams” in January. Alas, many, many things prevented me from completing this post until now. Enjoy!
Poor John Adams! Reading David McCullough‘s remarkable John Adams, you feel a little sorry for the guy. He was a hard-working, diligent public servant, a man of humble beginnings and humble means. Frugal, industrious, and dutifully loving towards his soul-mate Abigail, he really had few faults as a man. Yet, he never seemed to measure up in the eyes of the public.
He served as a delegate to the First and Second Continental Congress, esteemed by his peers for his eloquence in the cause of liberty. He risked his life crossing the Atlantic to serve as an ambassador in France. On his second trip to France aboard the Sensible, the ship sprung a leak. Passengers and crew worked hand pumps night and day to keep the ill-fated vessel afloat as it limped to port in Spain. Undaunted by this detour, Adams and his entourage scaled the Pyrenees in winter by mule train. After a thousand mile journey, they arrived in Paris late, but unharmed. To say that this goes above and beyond the normal call of duty seriously understates his commitment to service.
In Paris, Benjamin Franklin, the famous and flamboyant American diplomat, ostracized Adams. At that time, Franklin was a somewhat doddering old man well past his prime. If his fractious relationship with Franklin hurt him, his pain was soothed by his growing friendship and affection for Thomas Jefferson. The two forged a life-long bond that would eventually be torn asunder over politics, but in their older years rekindled via a series of remarkable letters between the two founders. Adams went on to secure financial backing for the American cause from the Dutch government and financiers in Holland, bolstering the war effort financially.
Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged book reviews, books, history, John Adams, non-fiction, the presidents | Leave a Comment »
George Washington, from the digital collection of the New York Public Library
When I had this idea to read a book about every President of the United States, I came up with a few personal ground rules. First, I would read a book by or about each President. Second, I would read them in chronological order, according to the electoral succession of power. Third, when pinning down which book to read, I would limit myself to one-volume works. Many notable presidential biographies are multi-volume epics, such as Edmund Morris three-volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt. Finally, I would search for works of distinction, choosing books that are award-winning and recognized as authoritative.
Keeping those ground rules in mind, I knew that we’ve only had forty-four Presidents. Over the last few years, I’ve been reading fifty or more books per year, and thus imagined that with only forty-four presidential books to read, completing this quest in a year would be achievable. Of course, I didn’t realize the magnitude of the task before me.
Back in November, Barnes & Noble sent me a pre-holiday enticement, a 20% discount coupon for one item in their store, in addition to my B&N member discount. I can’t resist a bargain, so I searched online for an authoritative single volume biography of our first President, George Washington. After some research, I set my sites on Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow, a well-regarded bestseller and Pulitzer Prize winner.
Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged books, British Empire, George Washington, history, presidents, Ron Chernow, Virginia | Leave a Comment »
Books, Books, Books! (Photo credit: Palmerston North City Library)
I’ve completed updating my 2012 List-o-Books, an enumeration of all fifty-five books I read last year. As per my usual practice, the list is a hodge-podge of books with no particular theme, a preponderance of non-fiction, and a few by some of my favorite authors. The list includes one classic, 1984, a book I had somehow managed to escape reading until now. A number of books about food – particularly seafood - appear, but also a book about olive oil that knocked my socks off, and one about frozen food, or rather frozen food’s iconoclastic inventor, Clarence “Bob” Birdseye. Throw into the blender one delightful road book about the Weinermobile, and it all added up to a fun, if scattered, year of reading.
There are two books I read that were a cut above the rest, absolute must-read books that I highly recommend. Both books are profoundly distressing, sobering windows into the darkest areas of man’s inhumanity to men. These aren’t light reading, but worthwhile and engaging nonetheless.
Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged books, Politics, postaweek2013 | 2 Comments »
Still life of fish (Photo credit: mckibillo)
If you were searching for themes in the books I read, you would probably first notice the string of authors whose works I love : Bill Bryson, Mary Roach, and Simon Winchester to name a few. You would also find that I read Harper-Collins‘ Best American Science Writing and Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt‘s The Best American Science and Nature Writing series every year, reflecting my passion for well-written non-fiction.
And you might notice, as I recently realized, that I read a lot of books about fish. I got hooked (pun intended) on this topic after reading a number of newspaper and magazine articles about the decline of fisheries worldwide, another looming environmental disaster that generations to come will need to reckon with. Non-fiction writing about fish deals with ecology, biology, gastronomy, evolution, economics, politics, and a host of other topics that are of interest to me. And I love to eat fish.
Image from GRID-Arendal, an organization established to support the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in the field of environment.
But, you say, “I don’t eat fish, at least not much. Why should I care about global fisheries?” And, if like most of my site visitors, you live in these United States where beef is king, you are probably right. But for a millions around the world, particularly in Asia and a large swath of central Africa, fish is a primary source of animal protein (see map). These are some of the most populous, and politically unstable, countries on earth. A threat to their food supply should be taken seriously. Without a healthy global fishery, famine would become widespread across the already impoverished continent of Africa, and Asian nations just emerging from decades of poverty would could face political turmoil from a hungry populous.
- Read on…
Posted in Books & Reading | Tagged books, Environment, Food, global fisheries, postaweek2012 | Leave a Comment »
A silly historical re-enactment of an actual event in my daughter’s life, with assistance from Xtranormal.
Posted in Personal | Tagged humor, postaweek2012, xtranormal | Leave a Comment »
A dumb food product, Hellmann’s Dijonnaise – But Hellmann’s Mayonnaise isn’t bad!
Many months ago, I made the mistake of titling a post Dumbest Food Product of the Month, which of course implied that I would deliver a post about a dumb food product every month. That implied promise mostly reveals my lack of self-awareness, as I should have known from past promises broken that I wouldn’t be delivering on said monthly post. A better title might have been An Occasional Dumb Food Find - in the spirit of the election season, I’ll restrain myself from anything but vague promises.
My Dumb Food Find this time around is Hellmannn’s Dijonnaise. In principal, there is nothing exactly wrong with the idea of Dijonnaise. In fact, I like the combination of a good Dijon mustard with mayonnaise on a ham sandwich or burger. It just is that pre-combining them at the factory saves very little time or money.
Posted in Hmmm... | Tagged dijonnaise, Food, humor, postaweek2012, rants | 2 Comments »
Quail Ridge Books & Music,
with owner Nancy Olson
(Photo credit: Independent We Stand)
For Triangle area readers, Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books is an institution. For the many fans of the store, it was sad surprise to see the News & Observer‘s cover story today, announcing that the store’s owner, Nancy Olson, is retiring and looking for a buyer. According to the article, Olson isn’t interested in just cashing out and retiring. She wants to find a suitable, new owner to keep the store in operation, for the sake of her employees and the community.
Living on the West side of the Triangle, I rarely get to visit this gem of a bookstore. Nonetheless, I sincerely hope the store finds a new owner that will preserve the reputation and good will Quail Ridge has built up over the years. As noted in a previous post, the store has an amazing record of success and longevity, in business almost 30 years in the same nondescript location since 1984. Kudos to Nancy Olson and her staff, and let’s all hope the story will continue.
Posted in Around the Triangle, Books & Reading | Tagged books, bookstores, postaweek2012, Raleigh, triangle area |