Monday, October 12, 2009

Darwin's Finches

I've been reading The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner.  It's quite compelling.  A Pulitzer Prize winner.


I read Iceman, by Philip DiCarlo.  It's about Richard Kuklinski, a killer who worked for organized crime, but who also killed people on his own.  The book needed editing.  The book had duplicative  passages and there was padding in some places.  However, the material is so chilling, that I read it avidly.  It was hard to put down.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Driving a VW suggests you're smart, he says

Geoffrey Miller is an evolutionary psychologist at University of New Mexico. Click here for biography. David Brooks' column today was inspired by Geoffrey Miller's book called Spent: Sex Evolution and Consumer Behavior. Apparently Brooks thinks the ideas in Spent are too biological and not focused enough on "nurture." Miller's book was ranked #1,750 on Amazon, well behind Michael Jackson.

This is the sort of topic that Brooks should have well-developed ideas about, because of Brooks' book called Bobos in Paradise.

I don't understand how people can be so passionate about whether it's nature or nurture that dominates. I don't really understand how anyone knows or why we think that people generally are more governed by nature or by nurture. Maybe you could tell for some individuals, but I think we're a long way off when it comes to deciding whether humans generally are dominated by nature or nurture or whether a majority of humans are dominated by one or the other. The limits of human understanding matter.

Human motivation and cause and effect are huge mysteries, insofar as I can tell.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Political Upheavals

Conservative David Frum noted these five books in the WSJ March 28, 2009. These are all controversial books, but maybe that was the point. Former Bush speechwriter David Frum admonishes the Republican party to stop using gimmicks. Frum appeared on The Daily Show in January 2008. He wrote Comeback:Conservativism that Can Win Again.

The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788–1800, by
Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick (1993) Publisher's Summary Abebooks has it.

Abraham Lincoln, Redeemer President, by Allan C. Guelzo, 1999: Out of Print
Guelzo has a religious tinge to his work. He wrote Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President. His current book on Lincoln is Lincoln: Man of Ideas. Dr. Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era, Director of Civil War Era Studies, and Associate Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He holds a Ph.D. in History from the University of Pennsylvania. Abebooks has it.

The Winning of the Midwest: Social and Political Conflict, by Richard J. Jensen, 1971: Out of Print See this site for for this book priced at $135 for a copy.
No wonder Amazon suggests that it is hard to get. Abebooks has it.

Richard J. Jensen, professor emeritus of history at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is the author of several books, including Grass Roots Politics: Parties, Issues, and Voters, 1854-1983.

Our Country: The Shaping of America from Roosevelt to Reagan, by Michael Barone.
Free Press. 805 pp. $29.95, 1990. Abebooks has it.

This comes from a review in Commentary magazine: "This book is mislabeled. The title promises that it will do for 1932-88 what Mark Sullivan's Our Times did for 1900-25 and Frederick Lewis Allen's Only Yesterday did for 1920-30. Barone's book is even longer than theirs, but his focus is much narrower: it is essentially an electoral history, an account of the presidential and congressional campaigns and elections from the launching of the New Deal to the end of Reagan's second term." Barone works for American Enterprise Institute, US News & World Report and Fox News.

Canarsie: The Jews and Italians of Brooklyn against Liberalism by Jonathan Rieder (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985) From a review: "The product of Rieder's time in this neighborhood is an ethnographic study of the residents that attempts to explain why a once liberal community turned its back on the Democratic Party in favor of staunch conservatism." The review says, " Rieder fills his book with interviews with the angriest residents of Canarsie." Canarsie is a part of Brooklyn. Here's the reproduction of this book. Rieder is apparently a professor at Barnard College. Abebooks has it.

Frum picked these books because they're about upheavals, he said. Interesting choices.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

William O. Douglas

Now appearing in paperback:

Here's a link to the paperback version:

This is from the Wikipedia entry on Douglas:

Douglas was a self-professed outdoorsman, so much so that according to The Thru-Hiker's Companion, a guide published by the Appalachian Trail Club, Douglas hiked the entire 2,000-mile trail from Georgia to Maine. His love for the environment carried through to his judicial reasoning.

He loved nature, but his legal work was not always conducted in a traditional way. Here's an account at the Arlington Cemetery site:

There's a William O. Douglas Wilderness in Central Washington:

I F Stone

The new biography of IF Stone is gathering comment: On Slate for example:
The Village Voice reviewed it.

Although he's long dead, he has his own web site.

"Guttenplan’s admiring but not uncritical biography has been nearly 20 years in the making." The NYTimes reviewed it here.

Here's another review of Guttenplan's book.

American Radical: The Life and Times of I. F. Stone by D.D. Guttenplan, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 570 pages, $35.00; the new biography is (the graphics are copied straight from Amazon):
American Radical: The Life and Times of I. F. Stone

American Radical: The Life and Times of I. F. Stone

Author is D. D. Guttenplan.

Here's a reference to the Myra McPherson biography of IF Stone:
Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America

by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev Yale University Press, 650 pages, $35.00

Some say IF Stone spied for the Soviets. I don't know what he knew that the Russians could not have figured out for themselves. Here's a wikipedia entry regarding the Venona project. There obviously were some spies. It is not obvious that Stone was among them.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Lots of Books of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld are appearing.

WaPo Magazine will feature exclusive excerpts from the book "Decline and Fall: The final days of Donald Rumsfeld's troubled reign" by Pentagon correspondent Bradley Graham.

He reveals Rumsfeld was ready to leave President Bush's administration in 2006:

Around September 2006, Rumsfeld and his wife, Joyce, had discussed the prospect of his stepping down as Secretary of Defense. "We said there's no way he would stay if either the House or the Senate went Democratic because he would be the issue," Joyce recounted months later. The criticism "would have been relentless until he was gone."

Link to excerpts:

Scribd also gives publishers 80 percent of revenue. Amazon reportedly gives publishers about half of the list price of books sold for the Kindle, but also discounts many titles and in some cases chooses to make no revenue itself from those sales.

Interesting blog entry from Charles Nesson, Harvard Law School professor:

Henry Fairlie

BITE THE HAND THAT FEEDS YOU: Essays and Provocations (New Republic/Yale University, $30)

Here's what Christopher Hitchens wrote about Fairlie:

Quote from Fairlie:

The foundation of humility is truth. The humble man sees himself as he is. If his depreciation of himself were untrue,... it would not be praiseworthy, and would be a form of hypocrisy, which is one of the evils of Pride. The man who is falsely humble, we know from our own experience, is one who is falsely proud.

Amazon has a Henry Fairlie page:

Hapsburgs and Ottomans

THE ENEMY AT THE GATE:Habsburgs, Ottomans and the Battle for Europe

By Andrew Wheatcroft (Illustrated. 339 pp. Basic Books. $27.50) (

Here's the Times Review:

The book was reviewed in September 2008 in the UK's The Telegraph:

Here's a review of his book Infidels.

Four Titans


How Four Titans Won the War in the West, 1941-1945

By Andrew Roberts (Illustrated. 674 pp. Harper/­HarperCollins Publishers. $35)

Here's the author's web site:

Here's the Times' review:

Rebirth of Nation

Jackson Lears wrote Rebirth of a Nation to show why our guns culture leads to debacles and failures like Iraq. Here's the review from the Times last Sunday. (

Bear Stearns' fall - House of Cards


A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street
By William D. Cohan (468 pp. Doubleday. $27.95) (

Cohan is a graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Graduate School of Business. He spoke at a recent Columbia alumni event. He had recently published this:

James Stewart was the interviewer at the event (

These fellows who get along in the business generally accept things, even when they don't agree with them. Charm is important. Cohan was more dyspeptic than the others on the stage. I liked him.

I'm reminded of three lessons we learned in the S&L debacle of the early 199o's.
First, when Congress changes the rules, the outcome is hard to predict and likely to be hurtful to many.
Second, the fellows running major financial institutions don't really know what they are doing.
Third, don't borrow short and lend long. That is, in essence, what Bear Stearns was doing by borrowing overnight and owning securities. People criticize the high amount of leverage at places like Bear Stearns, but you don't hear much criticism of the practice of lending long while borrowing short.

Kate Kelly also has a book on the fall of Bear Stearns, called Street Fighters.

Here's a comment inspired by her book: AND

Fools's Gold


How the Bold Dream of a Small Tribe at J. P. Morgan Was Corrupted by Wall Street Greed and Unleashed a Catastrophe By Gillian Tett (293 pages. Free Press. $26.)

Reviewer Paul M. BARRET wrote, "The Morganites sold the notion that financial gravity had been overcome---that risk had been vanquished and that lending could proliferate endlessly."

Gillian Tett is an assistant editor of the Financial Times and oversees the global coverage of the financial markets. In March 2009 she was named Journalist of the Year at the British Press Awards. In 2007 she was awarded the Wincott prize, the premier British award for financial journalism, for her capital markets coverage. She was named British Business Journalist of the Year in 2008.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

John Brown

The book is JOHN BROWN'S WAR AGAINST SLAVERY, by Robert E. McGlone.

Here's a link to the author, who has published repeatedly on John Brown:

The Influence of Communists

I note two books. SPIES: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassilev. ALGER HISS AND THE BATTLE FOR HISTORY, by Susan Jacoby.

Here's a link to Jacoby's page:

"Much of the enduring passion surrounding the Hiss case can be traced to the split in the thirties between pro-Soviet and anti-Soviet American leftists, and an astonishing number on both sides (indeed, nearly everyone capable of beginning a sentence with a capital letter and ending it with a period) have left exhaustive and sometimes exhausting memoirs repudiating or justifying their youthful selves. The sheer volume and intensity of these memoirs, many of which touch on the Hiss case in one way or another, have certainly had the effect of exaggerating the influence of communism on American cultural life — and that is true whether one is talking about the actual importance of communism in the thirties, the retrospective importance attached to communism during the anti-Red crusades of the late forties and fifties, or the more distant, though not necessarily more dispassionate, historical evaluations offered today."

Haynes has been studying this period and has found remarkable information in Soviet archives. Here's a link to follow:

Today, Haynes' book is #836, which is pretty successful, considering that the Jacoby book is #172,701.

Judge Posner

What has gotten into Judge Posner? Look at A FAILURE OF CAPITALISM: /The Crisis of '08 and the Descent into Depression.

He's so prolific; he turns out books faster than I turn out blog posts.

I celebrate him for identifying our situation as a "depression." Expressing distressing thoughts is not that common.

What should we make of these conservatives like Posner and Greenspan who now say that the market lacks some of the self-correcting mechanisms that they used to say it had?

Part of what they missed was the corruption that infected the last administration. It's my theory (I didn't really think of it) that the last administration failed to be honest and screwed up the market. I think they kept interest rates too low too long, presumably because of the need to finance the war in Iraq. By leaving rates too low too long, the Bush Administration allowed home prices to become inflated. People like Posner and Greenspan aren't likely to say that the failure of the Bush Administration to allow the market to work or to be truthful with the public about the real costs of the war allowed the circumstances that led to the current state of the economy. They are more likely to fall back on the idea that the ideology was flawed in some way.

I cannot really prove this idea, but it certainly seem plausible to me. Anyway, I salute Posner for grappling with this. He's a lot more intellectually honest than many. Here's Posner's blog:; here's where he deals with his book: It's called a "Failure of Capitalism." His Atlantic blog comments are quite thoughtful (not surprisingly) and reasonable.

Posner's book is #250 on the Amazon list today.

Supreme Court in the News

The book is THE SUPREME COURT AND THE AMERICAN ELITE, 1789-2008, by Lucas A. Powe.

Here's a link to the author:

Here's a link to his prior book:

Here's what Powe was quoted as saying on a blog:
"Everyone will note that he was one of the four members of the liberal bloc and that his replacement will vote as Justice Souter has voted. But he wasn’t always a liberal; indeed, only in the context of the Supreme Court of his era could he be classified as a liberal."

Amazon shows Powe's book as #53,33 today.

John Mitchell - The Big Enchilada

John Mitchell in the Nixon Administration was THE STRONG MAN, a recent book by James Rosen.

Here's what this web site says:

Chosen by the Wall Street Journal as a "Best Book of 2008" The Strong ManTHE STRONG MAN is the first full-scale biography of John Mitchell. Over a decade in the making, THE STRONG MAN examines the central figure in the rise and ruin of Richard Nixon, and the highest-ranking American official ever convicted on criminal charges.

Amazon lists this book at #265,142; I guess the public wasn't looking to remember this man.

Colfax Massacre

The book is THE DAY FREEDOM DIED: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of Reconstruction. Author is Charles Lane. Publisher is Henry Holt and Co.

Here is the Wikipedia entry for the Colfax massacre:

The book is available for Kindle at Amazon:

The book is now out in paperback:

Here's a link to a review in the New York Times last year:

Here's a review from New Orleans

We Dissent

The book is called We Dissent: Talking Back to the Rehnquist Court, Eight Cases that Subverted Civil Liberties and Civil Rights. Editor is Michael Avery, a Constitutional Law teacher at Suffolk University Law School. NYU Press published the book.

Reviewed in the New York Law Journal.,M1

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Spook news

The US Intelligence Community

by Jeffrey T Richelson (Author)

A Century of Spies: Intelligence in the Twentieth Century by Jeffery T. Richelson

Amazon lists this book at #167,304 on May 27, 2009.

Life Science news

Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life (Hardcover)

by Carl Zimmer (Author)

Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins
Carl Zimmer

Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World
Jessica Snyder Sachs

Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body
Neil Shubin