The next time you upgrade a perfectly good phone because of a rebate that is denied two months later, don’t feel bad. Humans: A Brief History of How We F*cked It All Up will introduce you to much worse human errors in judgment.
We celebrated when our hunter-gatherer ancestors started farming. Wrong! That practice started class divisiveness and wars over land.
We romanticized the middle-class Shakespeare fan who brought Henry IV’s starlings to New York City. Wrong! The starlings ate our crops and spread disease like salmonella coast to coast. The starlings’ kinsfolk also killed 62 air travelers in 1960 while forcing a plane to crash land.
There are many more examples of unintended consequences here. If you enjoy irony, Humans: A Brief History of How We F*cked It All Up is a gem. It also explains history with an eye to the human factor. Disneyland’s Cinderella’s castle is based on a Bavarian castle created by theatrical set designers at Mad King (really just homosexual) Ludwig’s behest as a tourist attraction. It is ironic that it worked for current and olden day Bavarian sightseers but also for copycat Disney. Killing Ludwig after he had built only three castles was the gaffe here.
Other reviewers characterize this book as funny and depressing. However, I think it is empowering knowing that everyone makes mistakes. 4 stars!
Thanks to Hanover Square Press and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in Humor, New Books, Non-fiction Tagged with: history, human, May 7 2019, psychology
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the Castle on Sunset is not salacious enough. When the topic is the famous Hollywood hotel, the Chateau Marmont, you expect some racy gossip. But if so, you will be sadly disappointed as most of the celebrity stories have been widely told before.
The Chateau was built at the height of 1920s optimism as a homage to a French royal castle. It was finished right before the market crash and the depression began.
The well-researched history of the many owners of the Chateau and its frequent rebranding is the best part of this book. Unfortunately, I was looking for spicy gossip, which is mostly absent. The Castle on Sunset is a serious history. If you are looking for that, you will enjoy this book. However, I wanted more original scoops on celebrities’ lives. 3 stars.
Thanks to Doubleday Books and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in New Books, Non-fiction Tagged with: celebrity, history, Hollywood, May 7 2019
A Short History of Europe begins with Neanderthals and concludes with the 2016 vote by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. In between are births, deaths, court intrigue and full-blown battles.
Whether you are planning to go on Jeopardy or just want to impress academics with your cocktail party banter, A Short History of Europe will assist in your goal. Each chapter is just long enough to read before bed. With enough information to whet your curiosity, you too will be searching Wikipedia for more details of those characters that intrigue you.
My only conplaint is the random first-person comments inserted within some of the chapters especially the rather long portion on the future of the EU at the end. However, the editing of over 4500 years into 400 extremely readable and interesting pages is pretty remarkable. 4 stars!
Thanks to PublicAffairs/Perseus Books and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Posted in Non-fiction Tagged with: history, Mar 5 2019
For decades, performers have known they have made it big when they hear, It’s Showtime at the Apollo!
More than just about the Apollo Theater in Harlem, this fact-filled graphic novel tells the story of African-American music in NYC from the Harlem Renaissance after WWI through the present. All the greats from all the eras have played the Apollo—Lena Horne, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Gladys Knight, Nicholas Brothers, James Brown, the Jackson 5, Sammy David Jr., Funkadelic and L.L. Cool J.
There are some interesting little known facts. Who knew that February in the 1960s was reserved for the drag show, the Jewel Box Revue? Or about the bomb threat that forced the Revue’s closure? I also learned where the famed Tree of Hope stump came from and why it is lucky.
Most graphic novels do not have so much text. Showtime at the Apollo reads more like an illustrated history than a true graphic novel. Even when the pictures alone could tell the tale, there is a text box labeling what is depicted. The artwork is clear. It is easy to recognize the famous faces.
For anyone who is interested in musical history or the story of African-American entertainment in New York City, this is a fantastic choice. 4 stars!
Thanks to the publisher, Abrams ComicArts, and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
Posted in Graphic Novel, Non-fiction Tagged with: history, Jan 8 2019, music
“The Executive will be always increasing here, as elsewhere, till it ends in a monarchy.” –Benjamin Franklin.
How to Get Rid of a President describes the true stories of how former Presidents were removed from office.
Ben didn’t need to worry as there are many ways to remove an unpopular President from office. Here are the eight explored in the book:
- Rejected by the party in the next election
- Undermined by others
- Dismissed preemptively
- Displaced by death
- Taken out by force
- Declared unable to serve
- Impeached and removed
- Shoved aside at the polls
How to Get Rid of a President Is a dense read chock full of examples of bad Presidents and their comeuppance. If you believe Trump is bad, you should read the story of Andrew Johnson, who is in most of the chapters as both parties tried desperately to get him out of the oval office. Nixon’s own staffers set a precedent of ignoring his often crazy or drunken executive orders. Despite democrats’ frequent calling for it to be used, impeaching a President is difficult to do and has never led to a sitting President’s removal.
This book is an important look into presidential politics. It is recommended for history buffs but also anyone unhappy with our current President. The stories here make him and even Hillary, if she had won, look good by comparison. 4 stars!
Thanks to the publisher, PublicAffairs, and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
Posted in Non-fiction Tagged with: history, Nov 13 2018
The 21 Lessons for the 21st Century cover five broad areas: technology, politics, despair and hope, truth and resilience.
In the 1990s, it appeared that liberalism had won its war with communism and facism. Even Russia had become, nominally at least, democratic. During the Trump and Brexit era, liberalism is once again on the ropes. Trump has an agenda of liberty only for Americans with a wall forcing foreigners to stay out. England, with Brexit, is attempting to limit liberty to only their own citizens too.
What is replacing liberalism? Nationalism and nostalgia for each country’s most prosperous time in history is being felt by both the US, England and even Russia with Putin and his tsarist fantasies. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century attempts to give some suggestions for where we should go idealogically from here. Per the book, in the shadow of the coming biotech and infotech revolutions with the threat of ecological collapse looming, zenophobia will not be easy or effective.
During the industrial revolution, machines replaced mankind’s physical abilities by moving heavy objects and speeding up processes beyond what man could do. With the recent breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI), machines may soon be able to replace mankind’s thinking abilities too. When that happens, what advantage will man have over machine? Worse, what jobs will be available?
Once AI advances to replace soldiers, what will prevent rich megalomaniacs from taking over the world? Once biotechnology allows the DNA manipulation of humans into superhumans, how will the rest of us survive? This and other ominous questions are asked throughout this book. Only the last few chapters have anything positive to say about mankind’s near future.
While this is an important book to read, its unfailingly grim view is tough to take on. Even though the future may not contain conscious robots like in the Terminator, it still seems pretty scary. While it seems credulous to say so, current times may be looked back on as the good ol’ days by our grandchildren.
If you lean toward depression or always see the glass as half empty, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century may not be a good reading choice. If you are staunchly religious, this book pushes secularism rather heavily. It goes so far as to call religion the most long lasting fake news. Also, if you are a Trump or Putin fan, be aware that both are demonized within this book. Because this book reflects more of the author’s views than any scholarly appraisal of trends or even actual events, I can only give it 2 stars. I think it will anger or scare most readers more than inform them. Such a shame and disappointment from the highly acclaimed author of Sapiens and Homo Deus.
Thanks to the publisher, Random House, and NetGalley for an advance copy.
Posted in Non-fiction Tagged with: history, near future, Sep 4 2018
From its start as a dream in Mattel’s eye, this is the story of Hot Wheels written by one of the first designers.
Realizing that model cars would be more fun if you could race them, Mattel had a hit with its innovative Hot Wheels cars and tracks. The cars were designed by real gearheads who were basing their models on popular souped-up cars from 1960s car mags. The designers were pulled from Detroit’s car makers by letting them design an entire, though 1/64th scale, car rather than only a small piece of a real car.
I loved Hot Wheels as a kid and snatched this book quickly off of NetGalley. The pictures of vintage Hot Wheels certainly brought back memories of my own cars. While the pictures are awesome, the story of how something completely different was created from the ground up is the star. This is a tale of how business innovation works. Have a great idea. Ignore the naysayers. Hire a great staff. Don’t rest on your laurels but keep reinvigorating your product line.
A great choice for the Hot Wheels fan. It also would be fantastic for that entrepreneur wannabe in your life. 4 stars!
Thanks to the publisher, Motorbooks, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.
Posted in Non-fiction Tagged with: cars, history, Sep 4 2018, Toys
Tells the true story of free African-American farmers’ struggles in early to mid-1800s.
The Northwest Territories of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin were initially free states where slavery was outlawed. As the area’s population grew, slavery was replaced by a lifetime of indentured servitude for many. Told through the eyes of one such free family, the book describes their struggles with the virgin farmland, neighbors, changing politics and harsh weather.
This well-researched tale is highly recommended for those interested in both African-American and midwestern history. 4 stars!
Thanks to Public Affairs and NetGalley for an advanced copy.
Posted in Non-fiction Tagged with: #FrugalFridays, african-american, history, Jun 12 2018
Fourteen years, deaths, illnesses, corruption and kickbacks! Who knew a history of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge could be so interesting?
It takes a family (and a lot of immigrants) to build the Brooklyn Bridge in The Bridge: How the Roeblings Connected Brooklyn to New York. The story begins when John Augustus and his son Washington Roebling are trapped by ice in a ferry from Brooklyn to New York City. Washington was still a high school student but he figured out how to free the ferry using materials on board. Later, Washington’s life is shown from college to war to marriage to a family of his own. Once the bridge construction begins, it is interesting how many new techniques are used. In the nineteenth century, America was inventive and proud of their new technologies. At times, politics and corruption appeared. However, the bridge continued to be built though behind schedule and over budget. Government hasn’t changed much in the past 130 years.
This is a great adventure story. Sure everyone knows that the bridge was built. Few know the technology used to build it. I doubt that the loss of life and expense in 2018 dollars would allow it to be built today. It is a fascinating look at the hubris of early America, where anything seemed possible. It is also a unparalleled love story between Washington and his wife, Emily. Emily was willing to fight gender prejudice and high-powered politicians to ensure her husband’s dream reached fruition.
Surprisingly, this is the first graphic novel to tackle the Brooklyn Bridge’s story. I think the beautiful art and color work add to the story. With only words, it would be difficult to imagine the toughness needed by the men to risk death and illness to dig the caissons that support the bridge. The partially completed scenes in The Bridge were particularly instructive. It didn’t take long to start to see its familiar shape.
The Bridge: How the Roeblings Connected Brooklyn to New York is highly recommended for both graphic novel readers, students writing papers about the bridge’s construction and to anyone who wants a good read. 4 stars!
Thanks to the publisher, Abrams Comic Arts, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.
Posted in Graphic Novel, Non-fiction Tagged with: Apr 17 2018, brooklyn bridge, history
Meticulously researched history of punk rock.
If you ever wanted to know what punk rock stood for and emerged from, pick up this excellent book. No Future covers the punk scene in England and Ireland from 1976 to 1984. It uses material from the time as its source material thus avoiding the pretentiousness of the last punk history I read (http://dianereviewsbooks.com/punk-dead-modernity-killed-every-night). It asserts that, while punk had a DIY ethos, it also was formed out of boredom of the middle-class life that awaited these teens. Punk died as soon as the ‘look’ became more important than the words. No Future calls the late fashionable arrivals to the scene ‘part-time punks’ but in America they were called poseurs or sometimes disparagingly ‘new wave’.
No Future is highly recommended for those interested in the punk era or its music. Even though I listened to the Sex Pistols at the time, I was surprised by the urbanity and foresight of Johnny Rotten’s quotes, which are sprinkled throughout this book. Many of the bands have been forgotten but their music is still refreshing. I suggest that you grab an adult beverage and play each song as it is mentioned on Apple or Amazon Music while reading this book. The music really is the star but No Future will add the historical, economic and political context that makes the music even more enjoyable. 5 stars!
Thanks to the publisher, Cambridge University Press, and Netgalley for an advanced review copy. No Future was published October 27, 2017.
Posted in Non-fiction Tagged with: history, oct 27, punk rock
A charming history of Video Games.
The Comic Book Story of Video Games is a graphic novel depicting their entire history from Alan Turing’s WWII mainframe Chess game to Pokemon Go. Turing’s logic in the Chess game was used to break the German’s supposedly enigma code.
There are many fascinating facts here. Here are only a few examples. Sega is an acronym for Service Games. The company was started to repurpose slot machines, made illegal in the United States in 1951, for our armed forces overseas. Sony, the maker of PlayStation, was started in a WWII bombed out Tokyo department store making rice cookers! Steve Jobs was hired by Atari in 1974 even though he was
a shiftless, unscrubbed teenager.
An overnight shift was invented for Jobs because few could tolerate his body odor or his judgmental attitude.
The Comic Book Story of Video Games bogged down slightly in the beginning. There seemed to be excessive detail about the evolution of the underlying mechanics of video games. However, once the first computer game was created, the path to cell phone games was engrossing. The text made you root for some of the innovators even though those with the best ideas didn’t always win fame or fortune. The illustrations are full of clever references to video game characters both old and new. I especially enjoyed the depictions of many of the video game pioneers that are included with a full page biography.
If you have any interest in the mechanics or history of video games, the Comic Book Story of Video Games will be a joy.
Thanks to the publisher, Ten Speed Press, and netgalley for an advanced review copy of the Comic Book Story of Video Games in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on October 3, 2017.
Posted in Graphic Novel, Non-fiction Tagged with: history, Video games
Every Family has a Story.
The author writes the history of her family from the 1890s until 1925 based on family and historical records and pictures. It begins with a drought in Nebraska forcing an entire farming family including their grown children to move to free land in Oklahoma. Some rode in horse-pulled wagons while others rode the newly built railroads. One, the matriarch Phebe, was left behind.
As the book continues, we hear of the harshness of living on a treeless prairie forcing families to leave in dugouts like moles underground. Eventually, the families build sod houses (yes the sod they only use for lawns out here in sunny California) and wooden framed houses in town. The requirements for keeping the free 160 acres of Oklahoma land were the building of a house with at least one window by the close of the fifth year on the land. There was no specifications about the building material. This led to settlers using their creativity and a booming business in window moving after the government inspector had left.
The author uses excellent period pictures of her family and others so you can really see how difficult it was for these pioneers. The book focuses on the female part of the story particularly in regards to what happened to Phebe. The writing style is quite beautiful and there is a full bibliography at the end for those wanting to read more.
While working in Child Protective Services in a small desert town in California, I was shocked to hear about children being picked up from a ‘cave house’ in the nearby sand dunes. The front of the house, which was one of many in the area, had a wooden door and a glass window. The rest of the house was a cave. Little did I, or anyone else in the office, know at the time but that was a common way to live less than 100 years earlier. If this book had only been written earlier.
I received an advanced review copy of this book from Net Galley and Upper Hand Press in exchange for an honest review. The book will be released on September 29, 2017. If you like true historical biographies, you should check it out.
Posted in Non-fiction Tagged with: biography, feminism, history, Oklahoma, pioneers