Tag Archives: books I’ve been reading

A Smattering of Quotes from: Last Call – the Rise and Fall of Prohibition

I have written a couple blog posts recently based on reflections inspired by Daniel Okrent’s wonderful book, Last Call. But there are so many wonderful tidbits from this book, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite quotes. First … Continue reading

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Great Writing, But Not by the Author of the New Thomas Jefferson Biography

Jon Meacham’s best-selling biography, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, is at best a solid read, presenting the basic facts of Jefferson’s life competently but with little grace and an almost invisible point of view. Perhaps I have been spoiled by Robert Caro’s amazing series of books on Lyndon Johnson, four volumes so far that not only make Johnson come to life (his ruthless genius as well as his fascinating contradictions) but also illuminate a whole era in U.S. history, all the while enveloping readers in gloriously rhythmic paragraphs. It is not fair, perhaps, to compare any biographer to Caro. Meacham’s book, after all, is just a single volume, so it cannot explore Jefferson in the same depth that Caro portrays Johnson. Meacham also had the disadvantage of writing about a man who lived a couple hundred years ago, whereas Caro could interview people who knew the subject of his biography firsthand. In addition, Meacham is a busy man, running a publishing company and appearing on television shows, whereas Caro lives the life of an obsessive, dedicating the better part of his adult life to understanding the ins and outs of Johnson’s life.

Nevertheless, if you are going to write a book about an American president and subtitle it “The Art of Power,” you better expect some Caro comparisons.

As it turns out, however, being compared to Caro is the least of Meacham’s writerly problems. Because there is another great writer that readers won’t be able to ignore when making their way through Meacham’s book. That writer, of course, is Thomas Jefferson.

I’m going to give you a sprinkling of Jefferson’s prose in a bit, and follow-up later this week with several other great Jefferson quotes. But first, a little bit more on Meacham’s book. I was really disappointed, because in Meacham’s hands, Jefferson rarely comes alive on the page. Time passes by and suddenly the reader realizes: “Jefferson just became governor of Virginia? Was that something he was trying to accomplish? Which of the arts of power did he employ to reach that position?” Meacham never provides answers to these kinds of questions. Continue reading

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Environmental Destruction Pre-Global Warming

Early in his book The Power Makers, Maury Klein does a fantastic job of explaining the importance that modern energy systems, like steam and electricity, played in human history: All the achievements of humanity down to about the eighteenth century … Continue reading

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Physicians, Psychopaths, and Reality T.V. Stars

Charlotte Scott had an eye for madness—for just the right amount of madness.  As a booker for The Springer Show, her job was to find—and forgive me if I’m getting too technical here—minor nut jobs, the kind of people who were … Continue reading

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