Al Franken: Giant of the Senate by Al Franken

alfranken  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry…..  *****

With a sharp wit and a refreshing honesty, Al Franken reflects on his journey from comedian/writer to United States Senator. In the telling of his story, he also pulls back the curtain on the inner workings of our government. While his satire made me smile and occasionally laugh out loud, reading about our dysfunctional government was sad.

In the current political climate we all (or most of us) realize our government does not function as well as it could, one might say it is a disaster. The gap between Democrats and Republicans seems too large to bridge. But, Franken does offer a ray of hope. He purports that 64% of the things that have to be decided, both parties actually agree on. So if politicians focus on those, things can get better. I am not so sure I agree, but Franken is on the inside and I am not.

Franken does an excellent job of explaining the Republicans’ unwillingness to work with Obama when he was in office. He also has insight into why Republicans are so against climate change, whether they believe it or not. Hint: Koch brothers. He also has no qualms about dissing Ted Cruz or Trump.

This is a book that needs to be read more than once, marked up, and used to remind all of us that there is hope, as long as more politicians are willing to be as open as Al Franken.

This one gets five stars. Regardless of your politics, read it.

 

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

NeildeGrasse   Close is only good in horseshoes and hand grenades…..   ***

The intent of this book is to give a simple and quick understanding of the universe. Maybe that in itself says why this didn’t quite meet expectations. The stated intent is to be able to read a chapter, “While you wait for your morning coffee to brew, for the bus, the train, or a plane to arrive…”  This works if your coffee pot takes a while, or your bus is late, or the train is late, or you get to the airport two hours early.

The book is full of interesting information and is a good starting point for understanding our universe and its makeup. The problem is that it is not simple to absorb. DeGrasse suffers from the problem of knowing something so well, he has a hard time explaining things as simply as they could be.

On the positive side, deGrasse writes with wit and does pack a lot of information in just over two hundred pages. His passion for the subject comes through and is infectious. The last chapter, “Reflections on the Cosmic Perspective”, is worth the price of the book.

I am giving this one three stars only because it is marketed incorrectly. This is a book that should be read, read several times. But does take time to understand and digest. It is worth missing a flight over.

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

ontyranny The second book every American should read…..   *****

The first “book” every American should read is the Constitution of the United States, the second would be Snyder’s On Tyranny. Fortunately, they both come in pocket size so are easy to carry around. Under the current political climate, this isn’t a bad idea.

The book begins with a quote from Leszek Kolakowski, “In politics, being deceived is no excuse.” With the current flood of “fake news”, that quote alone is worth the price of the book. But that is just the beginning of the lessons this treatise offers.

Snyder sets the tone in the prologue with these statements: “Americans today are no wiser than Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism in the twentieth century. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.” He then proceeds to give twenty lessons on just how to accomplish this.

Each lesson has an action item, an example of how it applies to the past, and what each of us can now do to prevent our future from becoming something other than democratic.

There is so much meat in this little book it needs to be read several times. Passages should be marked and committed to memory. The lessons here should be filters through which we view what is happening around us today.

Perhaps one of the best quotes comes at the end of lesson nineteen: “A nationalist will say that ‘it can’t happen here’, which is the first step toward disaster. A patriot says that it could happen here, but that we will stop it.”

Regardless of one’s political stance, this is a book for all Americans to read and digest.

This one gets a strong five stars.

 

Tears We Cannot Stop (A Sermon to White America) by Michael Eric Dyson

tears   Unnerving, unsettling, a message we all need to hear…   *****

What does it mean to be black in America? Dyson answers this question in dramatic fashion. Using the clever setup of a sermon, complete with all the parts of a good Baptist message, he relentlessly lays out the harsh reality of being black in this country.

This is a hard book to read, at least if you are white. It made me realize how little I know of the black experience, even though I thought I had a fair amount of knowledge. It made me want to argue with the author on several points, only to find as I read more, I was wrong. I felt, at first, Dyson was too angry in his writing, only to come to realize justifiably so.

At times the message seems repetitious, but then maybe it needs to be for the reader to fully grasp the severity of it. There is a quote from Stephen King on the cover that says, “If you’re white, Dyson tells you what you need to know – what this white man needed to know at least.” I would add my name to that list.

As I read, I kept asking myself, “Okay, if this is the problem, what am I supposed to do about it?” Dyson answers that question in the section labeled Benediction. Giving the reader concrete steps any of us can follow, which takes this from being just a rant on white privilege to a call to erase the divide between black and white.

What does it mean to be black in America? The question alone makes this a must read.

This one gets five stars.

Letters To A Young Muslim by Omar Saif Ghobash

letters  A book by any other name would still be a must read….   *****

This book could as easily have been titled, with a few adjustments, “Letters To A Young Christian”, or even “Letters To A Young Person”.  While the focus is on what it means to be a Muslim, the advice given is advice all of us should listen to.

Ghobash documents his coming of age, and how he began to question the things around him. Rather than succumbing to what he was hearing from “the establishment”, he opened himself to other ideas and took on a larger world view of not only Islam, but of life.

The letters help to correct the misconceptions many have of the Muslim community.  The stereotypical Muslim is no more accurate than fundamentalist Christians representing Christianity. Ghobash’s discussion on the role of women in society is a good example of this. His thoughts on how Muslims view the divisions within their community, and how they view the West, are eye opening.

While promoting education, discussion, sharing ideas, listening to others, respecting others, questioning, as ideals for a young Muslim, these are the things all of us could aspire to. I did find it interesting that Ghobash states the reason Muslims do not honor the Bible is because of the inaccuracies in it. For him, the Quran is the sacred, infallible text. Scholarship  questions that bias.

This book was a surprise in that it contains so much great advice on life, not just religion. I am going to reread it, more slowly the second time, and ruminate over the thoughts presented.

This one gets five stars, and is a must read.

 

Audacity by Jonathan Chait

audacityRegardless of one’s political views, this is a must read….     ****

Yes, Jonathan Chait writes about the Obama presidency and his successes. But he also writes about Obama’s failures. Whether the successes are failures may be a matter of debate, but Chait gives a balanced account for his reasoning. Setting politics aside, for me, there are two reasons everyone should read this book.

The first is admittedly about exactly what Obama accomplished in eight years as President. Even I, as a fan, was not aware of all the things Obama was able to do, some of which, as Chait states, will prevail. I do disagree with the author in that some of what he feels will last, may not under the current political state.

The second reason is more important, in my mind at least. Chait pulls back the curtain on just how bogged down our political system is and how party lines have made progress virtually impossible.  I know Democrats and Republicans are at odds but to see just how bad it has become is truly sad. Chait shows how division is not new but how wide the gap has become. It wasn’t that long ago that if a proposal was good for the country, a compromise could be reached between parties to see it implemented. Now, regardless of the benefit of an idea, if it is put forward by one party, the other is automatically against it. This applies to both sides. The Republicans acted this way under Obama, and now the Democrats are doing the same thing.

This is a book that hopefully will make people think, discuss, and act.

This one gets four stars.

 

 

 

Born A Crime by Trevor Noah

bornacrime

Hoping for a sequel…..  ****

Trevor Noah has been a great replacement for Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. He is intelligent, quick, funny, and talented. This book gives a look into the incredible story of Noah growing up in South Africa.

The stories are an eye opener as to what it was like living under Apartheid, having a black mother and a white father, and having one amazing mother.  Using humor, Trevor documents the hardships, struggles, and prejudice that forged him into who he is today.

Some of the stories are described in lengthy detail, some are too long, and some details are repeated unnecessarily. My only objection is that I was hoping to read more of how he became the comedian he is today. Maybe that will be in the next book.

At a time when this nation is facing a resurgence of racism, bigotry, and hatred, this story is even more important for everyone to read. It shows just what can happen when those attitudes are carried to the extreme.

This one gets four stars, and is a must read.