Book Review: The Detonators by Chad Millman


Author: Chad Millman
TitleThe Detonators: The Secret Plot to Destroy America and an Epic Hunt for Justice
Narrator: Lloyd James
Publication Info: Tantor Audio (2006)
Summary/Review:

This work of history unravels an overlooked incident in American history: the Black Tom explosion.  This munitions depot on a spit of land on the New Jersey side of New York Harbor was detonated by German saboteurs on July 30, 1916, before the United States had entered the World War.  Debris from the explosion damaged the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge and shattered windows in Manhattan, so it is surprising that it is not a more well-known event. Millman traces the actions of the network of German spies who caused the explosion.  But the better part of the book is dedicated to the legal efforts to hold Germany responsible for the explosion and the series of legal proceedings that occurred over decades until Germany was forced to pay legal damages in 1939, just before another war was about to begin.  The book is plodding at times, and the explosion occurring so early in the book makes the rest feel anticlimactic, but it is a fascinating incident in American history that deserves greater awareness
Recommended booksThe Day Wall Street Exploded by Beverly Gage
Rating: ***

Photopost: Thanksgiving Day Parade


Some photo highlights from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Central Park West this morning.

Book Review: The Clancys of Queens by Tara Clancy


Author: Tara Clancy
TitleThe Clancys of Queens
Publication Info: New York : Crown Publishers, 2016.
Summary/Review:

Tara Clancy is one of my favorite storytellers from shows like The Moth, Risk, and Snap Judgment, so I was delighted to receive a free advanced review copy of her memoir through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

Clancy describes her childhood in New York City in the 1980s and 1990s moving around to live with her cop father in a repurposed boat shed in Broad Channel, a virtual commune of elderly relatives at her Grandparent’s house in Brooklyn, and weekends at her mother’s wealthy boyfriend’s estate in the Hamptons.  Young Tara navigates these three different worlds with aplomb and even with the tough challenges of poor kid in the city manages to maintain a sense of humor and adventure.  This is an inspired memoir and a joy to read.
Favorite Passages:

“By then, age ten, I was already a tried-and-true child chameleon, a real-life little Zelig who knew how to go from being barfly at a Queens local hangout to a summertime Bridgehamptonite to an honorary septuagenarian at the drop of a dime.  Despite all that (or maybe  because of it), there was one role I didn’t always like to play: kid.  More specifically, rule-abiding kid.”  – p. 111-112

Recommended books:

Talking to Girls About Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield, Lost In Place by Mark Salzman, and All Souls by Michael Patrick MacDondald

Rating: ****1/2

Book Review: What Were the Twin Towers? by Jim O’Connor


Author: Jim O’Connor
TitleWhat Were the Twin Towers
Publication Info: New York : Grosset & Dunlap, an imprint of Penguin Random House, [2016]
Summary/Review:

Following on the Hurricane Katrina book, my son and I read this history of the World Trade Center in New York City.  The book is a full history of the Twin Towers dating back to its conception by David Rockefeller in the 1960s and deals with controversies such as the removal of Radio Row by eminent domain.  There’s a lot of detail about the design and construction of the buildings, and fun stories such as Philipe Petit’s walk on the wire.  The book also dedicates a chapter to the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.  The September 11 attacks are of course a major subject of the book, and again done in a clear manner appropriate to the age of the reader.  There is also a chapter on the memorial, museum, and new One World Trade Center building.  On the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, this was a good way to remember the events of that day with someone to young to remember it himself.
Rating: ***1/2

Photopost: Bronx Park


My family and I finished up the summer with an extended long weekend visiting my mother in the Bronx.  We took the time to explore New York and have a lot of fun.

On our final day, we visited the New York Botanical Gardens and the Bronx Zoo, both in Bronx Park.

Photopost: Circle Line Cruise


My family and I finished up the summer with an extended long weekend visiting my mother in the Bronx. We took the time to explore New York and have a lot of fun.

We continued our second day with a cruise around Manhattan on the Circle Line with a knowledgeable narrator teaching us about the history of New York.

Photopost: Empire State


My family and I finished up the summer with an extended long weekend visiting my mother in the Bronx. We took the time to explore New York and have a lot of fun.

On the second day, we visited the observation deck on the Empire State Building, a first for everyone in the family except for me.

Photopost: Meet the Mets


My family and I finished up the summer with an extended long weekend visiting my mother in the Bronx.  We took the time to explore New York and have a lot of fun.

Here are photos from the first night when my son and I went to see the Mets take on the Washington Nationals, followed by a fireworks display.

Related posts:

Book Review: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker


Author: Helene Wecker
TitleThe Golem and the Jinni
Narrator: George Guidall
Publication Info: Blackstone Audiobooks (2014)
Summary/Review:

This engaging novel is set in the immigrant communities of lower Manhattan circa 1900. A woman made of clay – a golem named Chava – finds herself stranded alone in the Lower East Side after the man who would’ve been her master dies on the passage across the Atlantic.  A jinni named Ahmad is freed from a metal flask after 1000 years of captivity to fin himself at a tinsmith in Little Syria.  Both Chava and Ahmad have to find ways to fit in with their human society, but it’s interesting that Chava, created to be a slave, has trouble adjusting to having free will, while Ahmad, once a powerful king, has to adjust to his more humble circumstances.  That they meet and befriend one another is no surprise, and it’s a relationship that proves mutually beneficial.  In many ways this is an immigrant tale within a magical realism setting.  Eventually, an old antagonist arrives, and the golem and the jinni need to fight to save themselves, which I understand is necessary to create conflict and resolution, but ultimately I enjoy the earlier parts of the novel where they are establishing themselves and finding their place better. There is a host of endearing supporting characters including Rabbi Meyer who recognizes Chava as a golem and takes her under his wing and Boutros Arbeely who forms a partnership with Ahmad in tinsmithing.  Guidall does some incredible voicework bringing all the characters to life in the audiobook.

Recommended booksThe Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon and The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

Rating: ****

Book Review: Blizzard of the Blue Moon by Mary Pope Osbourne


Author: Mary Pope Osbourne
TitleBlizzard of the Blue Moon   
Publication Info: New York : Random House, c2006.
Summary/Review:

This may be my favorite Magic Tree House book yet.  Jack and Annie are sent to Depression-era New York City to find a unicorn (SPOILER: If you didn’t guess, it’s in the Cloisters museum, although there’s a great diversion where Jack & Annie try to go to the Bronx Zoo).  Jack & Annie take a subway and a cab on their quest as they have to fight against a blizzard and a pair of dark wizards en route to their goal.  What’s great about this book is that the fantasy and adventure elements are blended so well with an honest portrayal of the poverty and desperation of the Depression.
Rating: ****

Photopost: Baked Big Apple Crisp


My daughter and I visited with my mother in New York this weekend and it was blazing hot. Nevertheless, we spent a lot of time outdoors at Bryant Park, Summer Streets, an Upper West Side street fair, and inevitably at playgrounds in Central Park.  Here are some of my more arty photos from the weekend.

Book Review: The Great Bridge by David McCullough


Author:  David McCullough
TitleThe Great Bridge 
Narrator: Nelson Runger
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2006)
Previously Read by the Same AuthorJohn Adams1776, and The Wright Brothers
Summary/Review:

What’s the longest period that a book has been on your “to read” list before you actually read it?  For me, it may be 33 years as I got a copy of this book around the time of the Brooklyn Bridge centennial in 1983, looked at the pictures a lot, but never got around to reading.  Since my copy of the book is falling apart, I listened to it as an audiobook.  It’s a straightforward history of the planning, construction, and aftermath of Brooklyn Bridge and it’s effect on the cities of New York and Brooklyn.  Central to the story are three people: John Roebling – the great bridge builder who designed Brooklyn Bridge but died as construction was beginning in 1869, Washington Roebling – who emerged from his father’s shadow as chief engineer but suffered greatly from illness and injury that kept him away from the job site, and Emily Roebling – who stepped in to manage the chief engineer responsibilities when her husband was indisposed.  The construction of Brooklyn Bridge faced many challenges including the physical demanding work of the laborers leading to injury and death (particularly the notorious caisson’s disease), a rivalry with James Eads – then constructing a bridge across the Mississippi at St. Louis, and the revelations of corruption of the Tweed Ring that were tied up in the bridge project.  All three of these things lead to efforts to remove Washington Roebling that would be defeated.  If there’s one flaw to this book it’s that McCullough tends to pile on the details and repeat himself in ways that make this a less engaging read than it could be, but otherwise it’s a fascinating story of a significant monument in American history.

Recommended booksBoss Tweed: The Rise and Fall of the Corrupt Pol Who Conceived the Soul of Modern New York by Kenneth D. Ackerman, 722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York by Clifton Hood, A Clearing In The Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the 19th Century by Witold Rybczy, and Five Points by Tyler Anbinder
Rating: ****

Photopost: Hall of Fame for Great Americans


The Hall of Fame for Great Americans is the nation’s first hall of fame opened in 1900 to honor prominent Americans and located on the campus of the Bronx Community College in New York.  It was originally part of New York University’s Bronx campus (NYU sold the campus to BCC in 1973) and for many years was a major New York City attraction.  Today it is off the beaten path – and there have been no inductions since 1976 – but it is nevertheless a well-maintained outdoor sculpture park in a 630-foot colonnade designed by Stanford White.  I’m aware of it because my mother grew up in the adjacent neighborhood and it was one of her favorite places, partially due to the panoramic views of the Harlem River which are now obstructed by taller trees and new construction.  Yesterday I paid a return visit with my mother and son.

 

 

As you might expect from a grouping selected primarily in the first half of the 20th-century, the Americans represented here are almost all white men, broken down into the following groups: Statesmen, Scientists, Jurists, Teachers, Musicians, Artists and Writers (I may have forgotten a category). There are more women than I expected (although still a small number) and only two African-Americans I think it would be fascinating to see who would be inducted if they continued adding to the current 102 inductees.

Off the top of my head, I put together a list of people I’d consider for induction following the rules that they be United States born or naturalized and deceased for at least 25 years.  A lot of these are no-brainers, some may make you scratch your head, and others may even be controversial.  Let me know what you think, and add your own nominees in the comments.

Pocahontas  1596 1617
Anne Hutchinson 1591 1643
Metacomet  1638 1676
Phillis Wheatley 1753 1784
Merriwether Lewis 1774 1809
Sacagawea  1788 1812
Abigail Adams 1744 1818
Nat Turner 1800 1831
William Clark 1770 1838
Sequoyah 1770 1843
Charles Bulfinch 1763 1844
John Brown 1800 1859
John Roebling 1806 1869
Crazy Horse 1842 1877
William Lloyd Garrison 1805 1879
Sojourner Truth 1797 1883
Dorothea Dix 1802 1887
Sitting Bull 1831 1890
P.T. Barnum 1810 1891
Frederick Douglass 1818 1895
Elizabeth Cady Stanton 1815 1902
Frederick Law Olmsted 1822 1903
Geronimo  1829 1909
Mary Baker Eddy 1821 1910
Harriet Tubman  1822 1913
John Muir 1838 1914
Isabella Stewart Gardner 1840 1924
Samuel Gompers 1850 1924
John Singer Sargent 1856 1925
Eugene Debs 1855 1926
Victoria Woodhull 1838 1927
Stephen Mather 1867 1930
Will Rogers 1879 1935
Huey Long 1893 1935
Bessie Smith 1894 1937
George Gershwin 1898 1937
Amelia Earhart 1897 1937
Nikola Tesla 1856 1943
Ida Tarbell 1857 1944
Fiorello LaGuardia 1882 1947
Babe Ruth 1895 1948
Edwin Hubble 1889 1953
Jim Thorpe 1887 1953
Charlie Parker 1920 1955
Mary McLeod Bethune 1875 1955
Jackson Pollock 1912 1956
Buddy Holly 1936 1959
Frank Lloyd Wright 1867 1959
Ernest Hemingway  1899 1961
William Faulkner 1897 1962
Eleanor Roosevelt  1884 1962
W.E.B. Du Bois 1868 1963
Rachel Carson 1907 1964
Flannery O’Connor 1925 1964
Malik el-Shabazz (Malcolm X) 1925 1965
Walt Disney 1901 1966
Margaret Sanger 1879 1966
Gus Grissom 1926 1967
Edward Hopper 1882 1967
Woody Guthrie  1912 1967
Martin Luther King, Jr. 1929 1968
Thomas Merton 1915 1968
John Steinbeck 1902 1968
Helen Keller  1880 1968
Jimi Hendrix 1942 1970
Louis Armstrong  1901 1971
Jackie Robinson  1919 1972
Roberto Clemente  1934 1972
Jeanette Rankin 1880 1973
Duke Ellington  1899 1974
Paul Robeson 1898 1976
Groucho Marx 1890 1977
Fannie Lou Hamer  1917 1977
Elvis Presley 1935 1977
Harvey Milk 1930 1978
Charles Mingus 1922 1979
A. Phillip Randolph 1889 1979
Dorothy Day  1897 1980
Alfred Hitchcock 1899 1980
Jesse Owens 1913 1980
Muddy Waters 1913 1983
Georgia O’Keeffe 1887 1986
Christa McAuliffe 1948 1986
Lucille Ball 1911 1986
Benny Goodman 1909 1986
Andy Warhol 1928 1987
James Baldwin 1924 1987
Bayard Rustin 1912 1987
Richard Feynman 1918 1988
Jim Henson 1936 1990
Frank Capra 1897 1991

Book Review: Stuart Little by E.B. White


Author: E.B. White
TitleStuart Little
Narrator: Julie Harris
Publication Info: New York : Bantam Audio, p1965.
Books Read By Same Author: Charlotte’s Web and Trumpet of the Swan
Summary/Review:

Listened to this audiobook on a road trip to New York City, appropriately enough.  The titular character is born in New York, surprising his human family by actually being a mouse.  The novel is mostly episodic adventures where Stuart escapes a cat, sails on model boats in the Central Park ponds, and gets caught in the trash.  There’s also an oddly philosophical chapter in which Stuart serves as a substitute teacher.  The book is full of humor and adventure that makes it a classic.

My son believes that the ending is unsatisfactory, and he does have a point.
Favorite Passages:

I’ll make the work interesting and the discipline will take care of itself. – Stuart discusses his teaching strategy.

Recommended books: The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden, The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Rating: ***1/2

Photopost: Harlem Meer


It was supposed to rain on Memorial Day, so we were heading to a museum.  Walking through Central Park, we noticed the sun was shining, and we just decided to stay.  It helped that this northeastern part of the park surrounds the beautiful Harlem Meer and has two excellent playgrounds and the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center.  The kids had fun on the playgrounds and borrowing discovery kits with two sets of binoculars.  There were lots of fish in the Meer, my friend says they’re deadly.  We also learned about the area’s geological history and how it was fortified for the War of 1812.

Photopost: Bronx Zoo Redux


Since my mother’s recent move back to New York, we’ve become Bronx Zoo members and now will be visiting one of our favorite places frequently.  On a crowded Memorial Day weekend, I went to the zoo with my mother, my kids, and for the first time ever, my wife.  We visited the World of Birds, Tiger Mountain, the Bengali Express, Jungle World, and the new Children’s Zoo.  We also waited a long time for the Zoo Shuttle to ride from one side of the zoo to the other.  It was a good day.  

Book Review: Wild lives by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld


Author: Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld
TitleWild lives : a history of the people & animals of the Bronx Zoo
Publication Info: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, c2006.
Summary/Review:

This is a children’s book history of the Bronx Zoo, a place I visited since childhood and have always been fascinated about it’s background.  The book focuses mostly on the early days when the zoo was designed by William Temple Hornaday.  Hornaday was concerned with conservation, breeding animals, and creating naturalistic settings for the exhibits.  In some areas he was successful, such as donating animals to the American Bison Society to repopulate the herds on the great plains, or opening the first veterinary hospital in a zoo in 1916 (which sadly came after many animals died in captivity).  Natural habitats and breeding would come later (most notably with the opening of the African Plains in 1941) although the author makes a point of these developments being built on what was learned from studying the animals in the early days of the zoo.  The book makes no mention of the darker moments in the zoos history such as the leadership of Madison Grant, a notorious racial eugenicist, or the time in 1906 when Ota Benga, a man of the Mbuti people of Congo, was put on display in the zoo.

The book also focuses on the efforts of the New York Zoological Society, later the Wildlife Conservation Society, in the area of field research.  This originated with William Beebe, who traveled the world observing wildlife in nature, his discoveries informing how to design exhibits and care for animals at the zoo.  Later the zoo would expand to work with wildlife parks and reserves on various continents both for research and conservation.  Later chapters bring updates at the zoo itself up to the end of the 20th century.  The book makes a good case for why zoos remain relevant and necessary in the 21st century.

Recommended booksThrough a Window by Jane Goodall , Where the Wild Things Were by William Stolzenburg, and Central Park in the Darkby Marie Winn
Rating: ***

Book Review: Amazin’ Again: How the 2015 New York Mets Brought the Magic Back to Queens by Greg W. Prince


Author: Greg W. Prince
TitleAmazin’ Again: How the 2015 New York Mets Brought the Magic Back to Queens
Publication Info: Sports Publishing (2016)
Previously Read By Same Author: Faith and Fear in Flushing 
Summary/Review:

2015 was a special season for the New York Mets and Mets’ fans, not just because they won the National League pennant, but because of so many unique aspects and players that made it unlike any season in the team’s history.  Prince, one-half of the team at the magnificent Faith and Fear in Flushing blog, relives the 2015 season month-by-month, game-by-game, and sometimes even inning-by-inning and pitch-by-pitch, offering his wizened and humorous perspective.  While a regular blogger writing about the Mets, make no mistake that this is a book by a journalist or a sports writer, this is a fan’s book.  Prince writes about watching games from his seat at Citi Field or on tv and offers many great tidbits of Mets history and the fan’s zeitgeist to embellish the narrative.  If there’s anything wrong with this book it’s that it has the same sad ending as the Met’s 2015 season (Prince wisely does not dwell on the World Series).  Let’s hope that Prince will have reason to write another book with a happier ending in the near future.
Favorite Passages:

Some combination of appreciation for the Met who wanted to be a Met so bad he wept when comprehending he might be something else and the intoxication we felt for having just gotten Cespedes turned the shirt-receivers their own kind of emotional. When they got a load of Flores in his first at-bat since the trade that wasn’t, they rose and applauded. Thank you, Wilmer. Thank you for being here. Thank you for being you. This sort of gratitude isn’t readily associated with the Mets fan species, but standing ovations now followed Wilmer Flores around like a loyal pup. He couldn’t step into the batter’s box or approach a ground ball without his every movement causing a commendatory commotion. Driving Juan Uribe home with the first run of the night in the fourth made him only more beloved.

Four National relievers. Three Met runs. One hellacious fist pump out of Wright after he crossed the plate. Yes, it seemed to shout, this is what all that stretching and exercising the back was for … this is what I signed that long-term deal for … this is what it’s all frigging about. Even when filling David Wright’s thought bubble, I can’t imagine The Captain cursing.

If you came to the Mets later in life—by marriage, by immigration, by one day looking up at the television and deciding that team on the screen was somehow for you—then your elation is every bit as earned as mine. The Mets may extract blood, sweat and tears from you, but you don’t have to fill out a form to prove your loyalty (they tried that with the “True New Yorker” marketing gambit of 2014 and it backfired blazingly). Adult conversions are welcome. They’re admirable. We know you had your choice of baseball teams and we thank you for flying with us.

Recommended booksBad Guys Won by Jeff Pearlman, If at First by Keith Hernandez and Mike Bryan,  Faithful by Stewart O’Nan and Stephen King
Rating: ***1/2