Monday, August 28, 2017

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander HamiltonAlexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a great biography. Despite being 800 pages, Hamilton's life was so interesting, there was always something to keep the reader entertained. Chernow also sums up and explains Hamilton's contributions to the founding of America, such as defending the Constitution, establishing a national bank, creating a Coast Guard, etc. Since history is not my strong suit, I enjoyed putting all these elements in context and perspective. My only complaint is Chernow's point of view: he seems to have written Alexander Hamilton as a defense for Hamilton, as if we were already prejudiced against him and favored Jefferson and Madison. As a result, Jefferson and Madison come off as hypocritical cads and Hamilton as a brilliant, misunderstood prophet. Aaron Burr is painted as a true villain, complete with loose morals and sinister intents. This may all be true, but the adamancy with which Chernow writes, defending Hamilton's poor choices and focusing on his good qualities, while highlighting others' bad judgements and deceptions makes me question if I should read one of his nemesis' biographies to get their side of the story. Still, an incredible, gifted genus, Hamilton is definitely an inspiration.

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“Tis only to consult our own hearts to be convinced that nations like individuals revolt at the idea of being guided by external compulsion.”

  It seemed an inauspicious moment for the threatened colonies to declare independence, and yet that is exactly what they did. Faced with the military strength of the most colossal empire since ancient Rome, they decided to fight back.

  I give up my liberty to Miss Schuyler

bond formed between Hamilton and Washington during the Revolution was based less on personal intimacy than on shared experiences of danger and despair and common hopes for America’s future.

America could defeat the British in the bond market more readily than on the battlefield

A national debt, if it is not excessive, will be to us a national blessing. It will be powerful cement of our union.”

  “As too much power leads to despotism, too little leads to anarchy, and both eventually to the ruin of the people.”

  He was not a politician seeking popularity but a statesman determined to change minds.

One who knew his habits of study said of him that when he had a serious object to accomplish, his practice was to reflect on it previously. And when he had gone through this labor, he retired to sleep, without regard to the hour of the night, and, having slept six or seven hours, he rose and having taken strong coffee, seated himself at his table, where he would remain six, seven, or eight hours. And the product of his rapid pen required little correction for the press

He wanted to be a statesman who led courageously, not a politician who made compromises.

the human word machine,

no character, however upright, is a match for constantly reiterated attacks, however false.”

Washington had had enough. “If the laws are to be trampled upon with impunity,” he said, “and a minority is to dictate to the majority, there is an end put at one stroke to republican government.”

  if he fornicates with every female in the cities of New York and Philadelphia, he will rise again, for purity of character after a period of political existence is not necessary for public patronage.”

  1800 elections revealed, for the first time, the powerful centrist pull of American politics—the electorate’s tendency to rein in anything perceived as extreme.

  Fisher Ames observed of Hamilton that the common people don’t want leaders “whom they see elevated by nature and education so far above their heads.”

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Study in Charlotte

A Study in Charlotte (Charlotte Holmes, #1)A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This continuation of the Holmes' legacy finds us at a boarding school in Connecticut where Charlotte Holmes, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Sherlock has been banished after some unknown scandal and break with her family, and where Jamie Watson has improbably been granted a rugby scholarship. Holmes, besides being a natural observer, has been trained to heighten her perception, though she may not be as emotionally stunted as her predecessor, and in fact, may be emotionally scarred by her forced seclusion and withheld affection. Watson seems to have an inherited sense of protection and trust for the Holmes' clan, though Charlotte doesn't make it easy. After a tense first encounter, they bond quickly when they both become suspects in a murder. Cavallaro has fun with the original Sherlock stories, mining them for copy-cat murders and clues. Her teenage characters seem genuine, even if that means that Charlotte is a bit more of a mess than Sherlock ever was--she hasn't yet gotten a handle on her drug use or her emotions. It makes her less of a savant, less of a character to be shockingly dazzled with, but more of a relatable genius. Watson, who narrates the story, becomes more integral to the story as he works with Charlotte to save them from prison, and perhaps more importantly, save Charlotte from herself.

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Warmth of Other Suns

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great MigrationThe Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Loved this exposition on the Great Migration, an event I didn't even know about until a few years ago. Wilkerson does a masterful job of explaining what it was, why it happened, and the effects on the South and the cities in the North and West that African-Americans migrated to. The bulk of the history is told through the eyes of three different migrants, in different eras, with distinctly different experiences: Ida Mae Gladney who migrated from the cotton fields of Mississippi in 1937 to Chicago; George Starling who fled from the orange fields of Florida to New York in 1945; and Robert Foster who drove out to California in 1953. Grounding the narratives, Wilkerson fills us in with history, legislature, and public sentiment to give the reader an overall perspective. Not only is this history captivatingly recounted and scrupulously researched, but it also provides insights for our present race relations. Highly recommended to everyone.

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The Woman Who Lost Her Soul

The Woman Who Lost Her SoulThe Woman Who Lost Her Soul by Bob Shacochis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was listed as a best book of the year by several lists, but I couldn't agree. The story was full of murder, voo-doo, spies, revenge, international intrigue--all elements I enjoy, but the story just didn't coalesce for me. Maybe it was the length; I did take longer than usual to wade through it and connections may have escaped me. The writing included sentences that were long and convoluted; they often took a second read to unravel. The conversations seemed ludicrous at times (especially among the "spies"). The pacing seemed off to me, too. Shacochis would spend several pages leading up to a climax, only to have the climax be a sentence or a paragraph. And, in my opinion, there were still some unanswered questions and motivations, like how Dorothy reconciled with her father. I will have to agree with other reviewers that the story would benefit from some editorial tightening up.

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It is no secret that souls sometimes die in a person and are replaced by others.

when Americans pray, they pray first that history will step aside and leave them alone, they pray for the deafness that comes with a comfortable life. They pray for the soothing blindness of happiness, and why not? But history walks on all of us, lashed by time, and sometimes we feel its boot on our backs, and sometimes we are oblivious to its passing, the swing of sorrow and triumph through humanity, sorrow, and then, finally, crippling grief fading to obscurity, which is perhaps why Americans want little to do with history, why perhaps they hate it, why prayer comes easier than remembrance, which is how history knots its endless endings and measures the rise and fall of its breath.

he had caught something from her, some decay transmitted from soul to soul, but then he recollected contemptuously that by her own admittance she lacked a soul.

When we say someone has lost his soul, what are we saying? That somehow that person has been emptied, that a light has been extinguished at the center of his being.
What happens to people who lose their souls? They seem to die and be reborn in order to breed horror and misery in the world. Whether they are full of hatred or not, they seem to be without love, loveless, emptied of all love, the enemies of love.
  you can buy a new one, but where, and with what currency? Penance?
How many years are required of us on this earth before you can plunge yourself into serious moral complications and actually have a soul worth losing, or do we arrive afflicted by the original sin of our births?

He had come to understand that we choose the lies in which we participate and, in choosing, define ourselves and our actions for a very long time, perhaps forever--

However you go about explaining it, she thought, love was what diminished you when it was not there.