Author: Tess Gerritsen
Title: The Bone Garden
Publication Info: New York : Ballantine Books, c2007.
Summary/Review: It’s 1830 in Boston, a young medical student of modest means is force to become a resurrection man to make ends meet. A young Irish woman is fiercely determined to care for her baby niece after her sister dies in labor. And a Jack the Ripper-type killer is gruesomely murdering people in the West End. This historical mystery/thriller is enjoyable despite its many flaws: characters who are just “too good,” coincidences, questionable historical accuracy and a modern-day counter-story that serves nothing more than exposition. I liked the medical school scenes and the body snatching for medical cadavers parts as well as the general historical feel of Boston in 1830.
Recommended books: The Alienist by Caleb Carr and The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl.
Author: Jill Lepore
Title: The Whites of Their Eyes: the Tea Party’s revolution and the battle over American history
Publication Info: Princeton : Princeton University Press, c2010.
Summary/Review: Harvard historian Jill Lepore investigates the rhetoric of the Tea Party particularly the claim by many right-wing politicians to speak to the original intent of the Revolutionary generation and the framers of the Constitution. Lepore meets with Tea Party activists in the Boston area and respectfully reports their views while not leaving them unchallenged. Lepore also writes about the historical figures of the Revolution and how their memory is claimed and interpreted throughout American political history (particularly by left-wing activists during the Bicentennial celebration). The book skips around a bit – especially distracting in the later pages – but it is a good, brief journalistic take on the politics of cultural memory.
The founders were not prophets. Nor did they hope to be worshiped. They believed that to defer without examination to what your forefathers believed is to become a slave to the tyranny of the past. – p. 113
Citizens and their elected officials have all sorts of reasons to support or oppose all sorts of legislation and government action, including constitutionality, precedence and the weight of history. But it’s possible to cherish the stability of the law and the durability of the Constitution, as amended over two and a half centuries of change and one civil war, and tested in the courts, without dragging the Founding Fathers from their graves. To point this out neither dishonors the past nor relieves anyone of the obligation to study it. The the contrary.
“What would the founders do?” is, from the point of view of historical analysis, an ill-considered and unanswerable question, and pointless, too. Jurists and legislators need to investigate what the framers meant, and some Christians make moral decisions by wondering what Jesus would do, but no NASA scientist decides what to do about the Hubble by asking what Isaac Newton would make of it. People who ask what the founders would do quite commonly declare that they know, they know, they just know what the founders would do and, mostly it comes to this: if only the could see us now, they would be rolling over in their graves. …
That’s not history. It’s not civil religion, the faith in democracy that binds Americans together. It’s not original ism or even constitutionalism. That’s fundamentalism. – p. 124-25
This, I guess, was the belly of the beast, the alarming left-wing lunacy, the godless irreverence, the socialist political indocrination taught in the public schools of the People’s Republic of Cambridge: an assignment that requires research, that raises questions about perspective, that demands distinctions between fact and opinion, that bears an audience in mind — an assignment that teaches the art of historical writing. – p. 161
Recommended books: Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America by Steven Waldman, The Purpose of the Past by Gordon S. Wood, Revolutionaries by Jack Rakove, and The Shoemaker and the Tea Party: Memory and the American Revolution by Alfred F. Young
Author: Suzanne Collins
Title: The Hunger Games
Publication Info: Scholastic Audio Books (2008)
Summary/Review: I heard a lot of hype about this book and when I saw it available for download as an audiobook from my library, I decided to give it a listen with no knowledge of the plot. The book is set in a future dystopia where the United States has been divided into 12 strictly controlled districts. Each year the authoritarian government holds a lottery for 1 boy and 1 girl from each district who are brought to a wilderness arena to battle until all but one is dead. The games are required tv viewing and serve as a cross between ancient gladiatorial combat and reality television. The premise is very familiar and reminiscent of works such as “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell, Stephen King’s The Long Walk and The Running Man and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale among others.
With the plot very familiar, Collins works on character development. The narrator and protagonist is Katniss, the tribute from the poorest of the districts who has to rely on her hunting and survival skills to compete against wealthier and better prepared opponents. One of the more interesting aspects of the book is that since the competitors know they’re being watched on tv, they can manipulate the audience in hopes of having them contribute gifts that can be parachuted into the arena. An added twist to the story is that the boy from Katniss’ district, Peeta, may or may not be in love with her and they use the star-crossed lovers’ story to appeal to the audience. Katniss is an interesting ambiguous character in that while knowing of the farce behind the tyrannical government she is also fully willing to participate in the competition. On the downside of the novel, there is far too much internal monologue that reads as expository filler.
The book is good enough although I’m not sure it’s worthy of the hype and I’m not certain I’d want to read the rest of the series. The completionist in me wants to know how the story ends but what I’ve read about the following book doesn’t sound like it would be all the interesting.
Recommended books: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Bachman Books: Four Early Novels by Stephen King and The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer.
Author: Jonathan Wilson
Title: Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics
Publication Info: Orion (2008)
Summary/Review: This book traces this history of tactics, formations and styles over 100 years of soccer. The title refers to the general trend toward defensive play moving players from the top of the formation to the bottom of the formation. I’m still a novice viewer so I have trouble recognizing formations since they don’t seem to look the same with human beings as they do in diagrams. The book required a great familiarity with tactics than I already have but was still very interesting and informative. Wilson writes about the changes made by various coaches from around the world who made innovations that changed the game. Often the typical coach would adhere to old tactics out of sense of conservatism and safety until someone took the risk. Tactics usually only succeed until they’re universally adopted and then someone has to come up with something else. Wilson raises the question of whether or not there are any innovations left in the game.
Recommended books: Beastly Fury: The Strange Birth of British Football by Richard Sanders, The Simplest Game: The Intelligent Fan’s Guide to the World of Soccer by Paul Gardner, Football Against the Enemy by Simon Kuper and Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football by David Winner.
Author: David Wangerin
Title: Soccer in a Football World
Publication Info: Philadelphia : Temple University Press, 2008.
Summary/Review: Following up on Beastly Fury, the story of the origin of the game of football in Britain, I wanted to know the history of soccer in my own country. Foreigners and Americans alike will claim that there isn’t any history to soccer in the United States, but the game does stretch back to 1863 when the Oneida Football Club played a pre-codified version of the game on Boston Common. The British version of Association Football arrived early but did not gain much acceptance at American universities who ended up taking to a modified version of Rugby instead. Soccer would find its adherents in patches across America especially around Kearny, NJ, St. Louis, MO, and Fall River, MA. From the 1910s to 1930s, a team sponsored by Bethlehem Steel would be known as being among the best in the country although attracted more attention when traveling than when playing in their somewhat remote industrial town.
Competition began to blossom with the National Challenge Cup (forerunner of the US Open Cup) in 1914 and the emergence of the first viable league in 1921, the American Soccer League (ASL). Wangerin illustrates that the ASL was a popular league, growing in success and attracting European players as well as developing local talent. But the ASL and soccer in general were done in by conflicts between the ASL and the United States Football Association and the economic crisis of the Great Depression. Soccer would be reduced to mostly pockets of amateur competitions played by immigrants for the coming three decades.
Investors in the 1960s decided to capitalize on the worldwide popularity of the game by creating two leagues that would eventually merge to form the North American Soccer League in 1968. The league grew slowly until the game changer of the New York Cosmos signing Pele preceded an unlikely surge in soccer’s popularity in the mid-to-late 70s. The NASL expanded way too fast and created an unsustainable model of signing expensive star players from Europe and South America that eventually lead to the league’s collapse. The best attempt to develop local talent in the NASL was in 1983 when the US national team actually played as a franchise, Team America, based in Washington, but sadly finished last. A more lasting legacy was children’s and youth soccer leagues resulting in many more Americans playing soccer than watching soccer.
After a brief fling with the hybrid sport of indoor soccer in the 80s & 90s, the outdoor game regained prominence with US men’s team qualifying for the World Cup in 1990 and hosting in 1994. Major League Soccer was born in 1996 and the US women’s team would gain sudden popularity in 1999 hosting the Women’s World Cup. By the 200os, the men’s national team were finding success and MLS was stabilizing if not a runaway success. Soccer may not be the most popular sport in the country but it has found its niche and left a lot of history behind.
Recommended books: The Grass of Another Country: A Journey Through the World of Soccer by Christopher Merrill, The Girls of Summer: The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team and How It Changed the World by Jere Longman, and Once in a Lifetime by Gavin Newsham.
Author: Richard Sanders
Title: Beastly fury : the strange birth of British football
Publication Info: London : Bantam, 2009.
Summary/Review: This is a concise history of the game of association football in Great Britain from its origins to World War I. Sanders makes it clear that he’s out to bust some popular misconceptions of football’s origins, but I didn’t know much football history coming into this book so it’s all new to me. Sanders traces the origins of the game not only to massive Shrove Tuesday games played in provincial towns but also to a smaller vernacular game played by farmers and laborers in their free time. These games were adopted by English public schools that were often crude and violent affairs. Alumni of public schools created the first football codes to standardize the rules of the games but working class players in the industrial North would also play a role in the organization of the game.
Sanders notes that class conflict was central in the early days of football. The wealthy elites stood for an amateur ideal that found it not only ungentlemanly to accept pay but even to practice as a team. The working class were more eager to professionalize the game and thus earn income from their well-honed skills. A middle class of industrialists who would organize clubs and competitions and eventually the Football League kept football from becoming an elite sport like cricket or from splitting into different codes like Rugby.
I was surprised to learn that football was most successful in the Midlands and North in the early days of the sport and not in London. It seems analogous to the Pacific Coast League being the premier baseball league in the United States a century ago instead of teams based in the Northeast and Midwest. I also had no previous knowledge that football was improved by Scottish players – who basically invented the passing game – and many of the best players in the early Football League came down from Scotland.
Recommended books: The Simplest Game: The Intelligent Fan’s Guide to the World of Soccer by Paul Gardner, Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics by Jonathan Wilson, and Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football by David Winner.