Monday, February 25, 2008

The Tipping Point

Malcolm Gladwell is a genius, pure and simple. Who would ever think that a book about fads and epidemics and children's TV shows could be so freaking entertaining. Lots of others have written much better reviews than I could ever hope to, so I won't even try. My goal right now is to get B to read it.

Monday, February 18, 2008

City of Glory

I'll start off by saying that I'm fascinated with the history of New York City. Whenever I run out of things to read, I pull down this huge book about NYC called Gotham, which traces the history of the city from its earliest days as a trading post through the turn of the century - 1900, that is.

So when I was at the bookstore and saw this book, by Beverly Swerling, I took a look at the blurb on the back cover. The reviewer for The Washington Post gave it a thumb's up, and since it was a historical novel about New York, I bought it.

Well, I'm not sure how accurate the history is. Swerling describes herself as an amateur historian, and she seems to have gotten her hands of a map of New York City from 1814, which is when the book is set, and used that to excess; she talks a lot about the locations of various buildings and homes. A few real people wander through - Jacob Astor, President Madison, Dolley Madison - and a few historical events are included - the sack of Washington by the British, the Battle of Lake Erie. But that's about it.

However, by the time I got disgusted with the lack of real history, I'd been sucked into the story, hook, line and sinker, and I found I couldn't put the book down. I read until after midnight Saturday night because I kept wanting to finish one more chapter.

Swerling has two more books in this "series," dealing with some of the same characters, and I think I may just have to get the books the next time I'm at the bookstore.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Plum Lovin'

My mom left this Janet Evanovich book here when she came for Lily's birthday. She had bought it for the plane ride, and boy is it the perfect airplane book. I've never read any of the Stephanie Plum series before, and I doubt I'll read any other of the books, unless mom leaves another one here.

Evanovich does a good job writing an entertaining tale, and the characters are funny, but it was just a touch too fluffy for me.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Imperial Life in the Emerald City

Of all the books and articles I've read about the war in Iraq, this book left me the most discouraged and depressed. The author, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, had amazing access to CPA, Department of Defense, and State Department employees who worked in the Green Zone after the war. And the stories they tell him are just so horrible. There were so many mistakes made, so many opportunities to do real good wasted.

What was most disheartening was how people who actually knew what they were doing were frequently replaced by Republican party loyalists, junior staffers from congressional offices, or staff from the Department of Defense - the White House didn't want folks from State Department working for the Coalition Provisional Authority, no matter their level of expertise.

Of the many stories Chandrasekaran relates, two really upset me. The first involved the Iraqi stock market. A former stock broker who had joined the Army was initially tapped to get the stock market back in operation. He talked to the employees and the stock brokers and realized that all they needed to get back in business was a few chalk boards and some cell phones. He pitched the idea to the powers that were and was overruled. Some Republican loyalist was put in charge, and he decided that what Iraq needed was a new, efficient, modern, and non-corrupt stock market. He talked about computer systems and online networks - in a city that gets 12 hours of electricity a day, max - but nothing ever happened. Within a week of the CPA's handing over control of the country, the stock market, which had been closed during the whole occupation, was back in operation, under Iraqi control - using white-erase boards and cell phones. Years were wasted.

The other story was about the medical system. One medic got put in charge of the hospitals. He met with the hospital directors and asked what their critical needs were. They said power and medicines. So the guy managed to get big generators to every major hospital in Iraq. The doctors viewed him as a hero. But then the CPA put another Republican loyalist in charge. This guy was a former health plan administrator. He decided that the country's most crucial need was a new formulary for prescription medicine. Nevermind that most hospitals couldn't even get their hands on any drugs, let alone ones on the new formulary. You have to wonder how many people died while administrators argued about what medicines to include in the new plan.

Chandrasekaran doesn't indict all the men and women who went to Iraq. Most of the people there were doing the best they could under the most difficult of circumstances. He blames the the people in DC who were making the big decisions. They went into the war without any idea of what would happen next, and their lack of preparation showed. So many lives were lost; so much money was wasted. And for what, exactly?

I finished the book even angrier about the war and the current occupant of the White House than I was when I started. This book should be required reading for every person who thinks the war has been a success.