Book Reviews Number 58 – 66

Following are the books I have been reading since I last posted to the list:

58)  How the Other Half Banks: Exclusion, Exploitation, and the Threat to Democracy – Mehrsa Baradaran

The central theme of this book is that nearly half of the American population has been deprived of access to financial services at a fair price because of deregulation of the banking industry. The author presents the case that commercial banks have abandoned the poor and working classes. Their banking needs, which  are mostly for small loans and simple financial services, have been left to loan sharks; those institutions with little banking competition can and do charge exorbitant interest rates, often at annual rates of a few thousand percent. The author promotes the idea of reinstitution of postal banking in the US.

59)  At the Existentialist Cafe – Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails – Sarah Bakewell

The author explores existentialism and phenomenalism through the eyes of Simone de Beauvior, Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty ,and other philosophers from the 1920s through the ‘70s. She presents these individuals’ philosophical thinking and influences as well as inconsistencies within the context of their personal lives and relationships with each other.

60)  Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism – Anne Case & Angus Deaton

The authors raise the alarm about a decline in life expectance among white Americans and contrast that with the rates in people of color as well as the experience of other developed countries. They demonstrate through statistical analysis that alcohol, drugs, and suicide are a major source of the declining life expectancy among white Americans between 45 and 54. While loss of jobs security seems to be a key part of the problem the authors present the broader US version of capitalism as a major culprit. The US healthcare system, especially, appears to exacerbate a sense of hopelessness many white Americans feel toward their lives, economic stability, and future.

61)  This is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality – Peter Pomerantsev

The author explores the disinformation age and how autocrats have learned to manipulate the electorate; through social media they have become expert at blurring factuality and creating alternate realities. Such behavior confuses and misleads people into believing conspiracy theories and engage in destructive political activities. If you are confident that truth and democracy will ultimately win over lies and dictatorship this book is not for you. 

62)  This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom – Martin Hagglund

In the first part of his book the author conducts a comprehensive philosophical discussion of the concept of a finite secular life versus religious ideas of eternal life; he endorses and his arguments support the secular view as the only realistic one. In the second part he advances a strong philosophical argument that a capitalist economic model is exploitative of the people and undemocratic; he promotes “Democratic Socialism” as a superior model of economic fairness, freedom, and justice.

63)  Fallout: The Hiroshima Cover-up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World – Lesley M.M. Blume

The author discusses the US military’s unanticipated severity of radiation poisoning from use of the atomic bomb on the Japanese citizens of Hiroshima and its effort to cover up the truth. The central theme is how a journalist, John Hersey, was able to get the facts, publish the results, and change Americans’ attitude about the bomb.

64)  Huddle: How Women Unlock Their Collective Power – Brooke Baldwin

The author was until the end of April a senior news anchor at CNN. She resigned her position to promote women’s equality and empowerment full time. The central theme of her new book is how women can and are making progress in “a man’s world” when they support each other and work together rather than compete with each other. This should be required reading for every woman who wants more from life than to be a stay-at-home housewife. Of course that’s from a dad whose kids are mostly girls.

65)  Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop – Lee Drutman

The author makes the case for how a two party political system with clear and strong ideological differences is not compatible with the structure of America’s constitutional democracy. He argues with convincing statistical evidence how throughout most of our political history until the 1990s the US effectively had four parties: Conservative Republicans, Liberal Republicans, Conservative Democrats, and Liberal Democrats. Mr. Drutman shows that starting in the ‘90s the liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats effectively disappeared, leaving extreme ideological partisanship with an associated breakdown in governance.

66)  How to Avoid a Climate Disaster – Bill Gates

The author provides an educational and persuasive tome on the reality of the dangers to humanity of climate change caused by carbon pollution. He identifies what the major sources of carbon pollution are and what is needed to combat them. He also indicates what tools we already have to fight that pollution and what breakthroughs we need to push if we want to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.


Book Reviews 51 to 57

I am beginning to feel signs that I may be coming out of the ever deepening funk I have been feeling over the past four years. I don’t suddenly see sunshine everywhere. And after the chaos of the 2020 election and its aftermath I still fear for the future of our democracy. Nevertheless, with our new President’s efforts to recover a measure of our national sanity I am beginning to see some hope that over time America’s democratic experiment may survive.

Meanwhile over the past few months, to protect my own sanity I have shifted much of my personal literary focus toward history, philosophy, and recreational reading; to the extent that I read it I lump religion into the philosophy category.  I also decided not to write long commentaries on what I read anymore; going forward I just plan to identify the books I read with a very brief sentence or two on the central theme of the work. And I won’t report on fiction or other recreational reading. With that, following are the books I have finished since November:

51)  The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare : how Churchill’s secret warriors set Europe ablaze and gave birth to modern black ops – Damien Lewis

This book is the true story of the World War II exploits of members of the British SOE and SAS as they fought a hit and run guerrilla war against the Nazis. The characters are all the real people with a central focus on Anders Lassen, a Dane with a personal score to settle with the Nazi’s for overrunning his country.

52)  The Last Train From Hiroshima – Charles Pellegrino

This book documents the experiences of people who were residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki before, during, and after the atomic bombs were dropped on those two Japanese cities. It is well researched with scores of eye witness accounts.

53)  Churchill’s Shadow Raiders – Damien Lewis

This is the true story of a World War II behind the lines operation to capture Germany’s secret RADAR technology in an effort to find ways to defeat it.

54)  South To Freedom – Alice L. Baumgartner

This is the historical account of the slaves who chose to escape south to Mexico instead of going north to free states or to Canada. It is a little known or researched part of our history. This book describes why they chose that course and its associated results.

55)  The Bible With and Without Jesus:  How Jews and Christians read the same stories differently – Amy-Jill Levin and Marc Zvi Brettler

This is the study of how the meaning of the stories in the Jewish Talmud (Christians’ Old Testament) have evolved over the centuries from what the original writers probably meant. It especially focuses on how Christians and Jews interpret those scriptures differently today.

56)  Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man – Emmanuel Acho

This is an effort to help white people understand the black perspective and how to initiate respectful dialogue with black people to foster more understanding and mutual respect.

57)  The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Re-made the Constitution – Eric Foner

The author focuses on the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendment and how they fundamentally changed the relationship of citizens to their national government; he further discusses how in the following 4 or 5 decades the Supreme Court systematically dismantled the impact of those amendments.

Book Review Number 50

Which Country Has the Best Health Care – Ezekiel J. Emanuel

Ezekiel Emanuel is an American oncologist, bioethicist and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He is the current Vice Provost for Global Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania and chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy.

Dr, Emanuel sets out to profile the healthcare systems in 11 wealthy developed countries in an effort to identify the best, or at least where excellence exists. His assessment includes the United States, Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom. He evaluates each system on 22 different dimensions in 5 categories: Coverage; Financing; Payment; Delivery; Pharmacy Prices. The information is presented in substantial detail including graphical representations. And he discusses the challenges each country is going to face in the coming decade.

Once the author presented the individual analysis of each country’s system he then compared the systems with each other. He makes the point the each system has its strengths but also has its weaknesses. He chooses not to identify the best country because all have challenges. So he identifies those countries he calls “top tier”; they include Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and Taiwan. He also identifies the “best performing countries” in each of his 22 dimensions as well as those that are “notably poor performers”. Sadly, the US is identified as one of the poor performers in 12 of the 22 dimensions.

Finally, the author identifies 6 lessons for improving the US healthcare system, They are:

  • Ensure universal coverage with auto-enrollment and larger subsidies;
  • Cover children at no additional cost to their parents and families;
  • Simplify the American health care system;
  • Emphasize and increase the reimbursement for primary care;
  • Adopt and implement best practices for the care of patients with chronic and mental health conditions;
  • The United States needs to join the rest of the world in regulating drug prices.

I found this book vastly more authoritative and in depth on healthcare than I am qualified to address. Generally though I was pleased to find that it is mostly in agreement with a piece that I wrote some time ago on the subject of the US healthcare system. If you want to read what I wrote you can find it on my blog in the category “My Credo”.

Book Review Number 49

Rise of the Warrior Cop – Radley Balko

Radley Balko is an American journalist, author, blogger, and lecturer who writes about criminal justice, the drug war, and civil liberties. Balko has written other books on these same subjects. The central theme of this volume is a close look at the rapid militarization of domestic law enforcement agencies and its associated dangers to civil rights and freedom.

The author points out that American revolutionaries toward the end of the colonial period in America saw soldiers in the streets as bringing conflict and tyranny. As a result, from its founding our country has worked to keep the military out of domestic law enforcement. However, he traces the history of domestic law enforcement over the past several decades and how police forces have begun to resemble and behave like military ground assault troops.

Mr. Balko says the consequences of this transition has been dire: a citizen’s home is no longer a sanctuary; the Castle Doctrine is substantially dead for all intents and purposes. Today the Fourth Amendment is being ignored by law enforcement and has been gutted by conservative court decisions upholding abusive behavior by police. With this increased militarization police have been conditioned to see the citizens they are sworn to serve as the enemy.

The author demonstrates that today’s armed police forces are a far cry from peace officers of earlier decades walking the beat in local neighborhoods where they knew the people and were a part of the community. The unrest of the 1960s gave rise to the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team concept where a unit of officers were specially trained to handle violent criminal situations – bank robbers, hostage takers, snipers, and rioters. Then with Nixon’s War on Drugs followed by Reagan’s War on Poverty, and the post 9/11 security state, police powers were gradually expanded and empowered, always at the expense of civil liberties.

Federal grants to acquire military grade weapons as well as military training for local police forces have helped the number of SWAT teams to explode nationwide. Suddenly every city of 25,000 or more had to have a SWAT team. But there wasn’t enough violent crime to fight. Also as part of the War on Drugs the federal government initiated a policy of confiscating property in drug raids and then sharing the proceeds with participating local law enforcement agencies. That prompted local SWAT teams to shift their aggressive fear inducing tactics to serving arrest or search warrants on non-violent drug users, local poker games, and other non-violent but technically illegal activities. They typically use their aggressive tactics during the night dressed as assault troops with little regard for individual citizens’ rights. In most cases their tactics are unwarranted and the warrants could be better executed in the daytime with other safer non-confrontational approaches. Further because of inadequate investigation up front the error rate of raiding the wrong house is very high. While the author says we are not yet a police state, or close to it, the trend in policing is clearly going in the wrong direction.

The author sites multiple cases of abuse of power, mistakes, unnecessary deaths and destruction to prove his point. This is a sobering look at where we are in domestic policing. I think this book is worthwhile reading for every American. We should be alert for and recognize the signs of police abuse of power. When we see or suspect it we must challenge our elected leader to exercise more control and accountability in aggressive police tactics.

Book Review Number 48

Surrender, White People!

D L Hughley is an American actor, political commentator, radio host, author and stand-up comedian. This book is partly a look at the history of racism in America, mostly of the last 100 years. It is also an opinion piece about racism from a black person’s perspective. It is a humorous and entertaining approach to the subject, but be prepared for lots of crass street language.

The author presents the history, the issues, and potential solutions in a unique way. It is written as though he is negotiating a peace treaty with white people. He points out that white people have oppressed black people for 400 years but now he has a surprise for them; they are about to become a minority themselves. They have set all the rules by which black people and other people of color must live. But finally the rules are now going to be rebalanced.

Mr. Hughley writes that a reckoning is coming and black and brown people are not going to take a back seat anymore. Whites must give up their unjust privileges and sue for peace while they still can. He warns that the only way for America to move forward is for whites to face their history, abandon their vision of superiority, and open up the institutions to benefit everyone in the nation.

The author presents chapter after chapter as though they are articles of a peace treaty. Each “article” is dedicated to critical issues to be resolved to address past racial abuse as well as level the current social, political, and economic playing field. He addresses reparations in one article; in another he discusses the need for history books to more objectively reflect the story of racism and its long term impact on black people. He also discusses the need to work at understanding each other, defeat white supremacy, and recognize the reality that black and brown people are every bit as American as whites are, with equal rights, opportunities, and with equal access to justice. In the final chapter he assembles the elements of the “treaty” as he discussed them through the other chapters.

I think this book can be a valuable thought provoking treatise on racism for white people. It is humorous and entertaining in its approach to such a serious subject;  but its liberal use of offensive language will cause many people who might benefit from its message not to read it.

Book Review Number 47

Twilight of Democracy – Anne Applebaum

Ms. Applebaum is an American journalist and historian. She has written extensively about Marxism–Leninism and the development of civil society in Central and Eastern Europe. The focus of this book is the rise of authoritarianism around the world and the stress that is placing on liberal democracies.

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Book Review Number 46

For God and Country: The Christian Case for Trump – Ralph Reed

Ralph Reed is one of the founders of the Christian Coalition as well as the founder and chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. I chose to read this book because of its title and author.

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Book Review Number 45

Factfulness – Hans Rosling

The entire focus of this book is on demonstrating through publicly available statistical data that the condition of the world is much better than people think; further, that it is continuing to improve.

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Book Review Number 44

Surviving Autocracy – Masha Gessen

Masha Gessen, is a Russian-American journalist, author, and activist who is an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin as well as President Donald Trump. He holds dual citizenship and has lived the political reality in both countries under both presidents. He currently lives in New York.

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