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Archive for the ‘Books & Music’ Category

Book Review

There was only one topic I wanted to discuss in a blog post on Jimmy Carter, and that was how a Presidency could fail. It is as important, if not more so, to study failure as it is to study success. I scoured Amazon & Google for books on the Carter presidency, hoping to find a treatise on how it went so wrong.

Unfortunately, I found myself knee-deep in the right-wing hate machine. Boy, how conservatives use the failings of Jimmy Carter’s presidency as as a way to prop up their own agendas. Book after book after book is set up to just drag the 39th president through vitriol-laden mud, leaping to grandiose conclusions about “character” and “socialism”. Here’s a man, a guy who truly cares about people, whose character is almost above reproach (especially compared to most politicians), treated so harshly by such an abundance of writers, all to “prove” how right-wing ideals are just so great for this country …

Mattson Book

Anyway, before I get too high on my political soapbox, I eventually came across “What The Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?” by Kevin Mattson. His book isn’t an analysis of the entire Carter presidency, but it is an insightful piece on the infamous “malaise speech” of 1979. Through interviews and research, he assembles not just a narrative on the crafting of the speech, but a collage of the various bad decisions leading up to it. It’s not hateful, or condescending, or serving some personal agenda. It is a fair analysis, a decent read, and, in my opinion, helpful for anyone studying not just the Carter presidency, but leadership in general.

Unbiased, analytical approaches to contemporary political events are rare. They do exist, though. You just have to dig a little deeper to find them.

——————–

Kevin Mattson at Ohio University

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Book Review: DARK HORSE: The Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield

The last few years have been a bit rough. Between home improvement projects, a near-career meltdown, and some (albeit minor) health problems, I’ve not only been away from blogging, but I’ve been away from my favorite hobbies. I allowed other, less interesting facets of my life to distract me from the things I love doing: traveling the National Parks and reading books on American history.

Various physical and financial barriers are easing up, and I hope to resume traveling in earnest when spring comes. In the interim, I knew I needed something to rejuvenate my reading. Unfortunately, the next subject for my blog — the home of James Garfield, 20th President of the United States — didn’t seem too promising. I knew very little about the man, and few people discuss his life or presidency. He’s all but forgotten, like a pointless tchotchke in America’s attic. I feared I would be in for another dull read. I still haven’t finished my densely boring pick for the French & Indian War. I wasn’t looking forward to a repeat of that.

I surfed around the Amazon store, and found Ken Ackerman’s Dark Horse. It had decent reviews, but I still wasn’t too confident in my selection, simply because of the subject matter.

I aDark Horsem immensely thankful I was proven wrong. Dark Horse was an excellent selection.

What Ackerman did with Dark Horse is something I really enjoy. Instead of focusing on every trivial tidbit about Garfield’s days in some ramshackle schoolhouse, Ackerman tells the important story: the sequence of events that set Mr. Garfield, tragically, on a path to his own assassination. Ackerman tells the story of Garfield’s surprising nomination and eventual election to the highest office of the land, including all the backroom dealings of allies and foes, and how a delusional slob would use factional loyalty as an excuse to commit murder. Ackerman takes all the items important to the narrative, and to the development of the characters involved, and weaves the story as a story, not as a lecture. This makes a topic as seemingly banal as Garfield’s assassination and makes it actually riveting.

Sure, this is no John Grisham novel. This is history, and history rarely lives up to Hollywood panache. But Ackerman did a great job telling the tale as it truly occurred. I am very grateful I picked this book to rejuvenate my hobby, it was exactly what the doctor ordered. I already have my next selection for my next historically-themed post on my Kindle.

So thanks, Mr. Ackerman. You’ve helped a hobbyist regain his motivation.

 

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