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Dominick Dunne, 1925-2009

Writer Dominick Dunne, a voice of reason, particularly during the outrageous trial of the Butcher of Brentwood, O.J. Simpson, died yesterday. Mr. Dunne was a Hollywood studio executive, author of The Two Mrs. Grenvilles, and he was the survivor of a murder victim (his daughter, Dominique). His articles were published in the insufferably trendy Vanity Fair but he is best remembered by this writer for his unwavering sense of justice and his cogent reports from the Los Angeles courtroom calling out a monster that was literally getting away with murder.

Back from Boston

Back from Boston and catching up. I gained new knowledge in several lectures and courses, visited with friends and family, and I met some of my classmates for the first time. More on OCON later—I know I’m still behind on posts—and other stuff. I did see a movie, which I recommend: Public Enemies. Not a great film, and it’s directed by Michael Mann, who tends to portray villains as heroes and vice versa, but it’s a solid gangster movie, not too graphic, and the Marion Cotillard character holds it together. Johnny Depp plays Chicago gangtser John Dillinger with a bit too much of an ‘Elvis‘ impersonation for my tastes and Christian Bale is fine but underdeveloped (he plays the good guy), though he does pull off the movie’s most emotional scene, in which his policeman character reclaims his own moral authority from an incompetent government agency.

The role of government continues to expand. President Obama’s at it again with another attempt to nationalize an American industry—this time, the medical profession. In six months, he has quasi-nationalized banks, insurance companies and the automotive industry and his health care reform, such as and whatever it is, will undoubtedly move the nation toward economic fascism. Having written about medical policy for 15 years and having been on the forefront of protecting individual rights in medicine, I see that legislation to control each American’s medical treatment is coming. The showdown is likely to be the most crucial political battle since slavery. And socialized medicine is exactly that, so this is urgent.

One of the nation’s least important—yet overhyped—battles is the Watergate dustup, which at least gave us a decent president, Gerald R. Ford. I recently read his off-the-record thoughts and memories in Write It When I’m Gone: Remarkable Off-the-Record Conversations with Gerald R. Ford by Thomas M. DeFrank. Covering the tense days before the former Michigan congressman became President of the United States when Richard M. Nixon resigned in August of 1974 through President Ford’s final days, DeFrank’s unique arrangement with the 38th president results in recollections and conversations that are often fascinating. President Ford was a pragmatist and he wasn’t around long enough to shape the direction of his Republican Party—which buckled to the religionist faction in 1978—or the nation. But, whether he was confronting Communists over the U.S.S. Mayaguez, refusing to bail out New York City, or granting a pardon to a disgraced former President Nixon, which was the unequivocally proper course of action, President Ford emerges as the best president of the late 20th century. Though he briefly served in the White House before narrowly losing to a “born-again” Christian fundamentalist named James Earl Carter, Jr., Jerry Ford was a great American and a good president. Write It When I’m Gone (he actually told DeFrank: “Write it when I’m dead”) shows an ambitious, deliberative and thoughtful man who generally understood the nation’s founding principles and government’s proper role. Jerry Ford’s razor-thin loss to Jimmy Carter in 1976 reminds us of the power of one’s political choices to shape history and our future.

Book Marks: Science Matters

Two George Mason University science professors, James Trefil and Robert M. Hazen, have updated and expanded their 1991 book, Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy (Anchor, $ 15, trade paperback) addressing recent claims of advancements in particle physics and biotechnology. Though this is not a review, I can say that this new edition is generally well written, accessible and informative—with one glaring exception so far; they are agnostic on the abortion-related question of whether life begins at conception.

Their premise that one ought to be literate and knowledgeable about basic scientific principles is good and they hold that the universe is knowable, not random and chaotic. Chapters on faith-based assertions—doomsday claims by environmentalists and creationists alike—appear to be unbiased. The authors say they have written a book for the general reader that is equally informative as an introductory high school or college textbook and I’m inclined to agree.

They know we need remedial education. In the introduction, Hazen and Trefil write: “[S]cientists and educators have failed to provide many Americans with the fundamental background knowledge we all need to cope with the complex scientific and technological world of today and tomorrow. The aim of this book is to allow you to acquire that background—to fill in whatever blanks may have been left by your formal education.” With 19 chapters on electricity, atoms, nuclear physics, astronomy, genetics and evolution, and an epilogue, and an index, Science Matters is worth considering.

Book Marks: Gifts for Dads

With Father’s Day coming up on June 21, those in the market for a Father’s Day gift might get some ideas from my 2003 newspaper article about books for dads. Among the titles is an old favorite about a controversial Supreme Court nomination, Advise and Consent by Allen Drury, one of the most gripping and stimulating novels I have ever read. I still recommend these books as gifts (links to Amazon.com included; I make a small amount of money if you buy one through Amazon.com). I am currently reading new biographies and non-fiction books; I may write about them.

Book Reviews: Boys, Quakes and Cooking

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend Michael Gurian’s The Purpose of Boys (Jossey-Bass, $ 26.95), because the author completely endorses the view that the purpose of boys—and presumably girls—is, of course, service to others. Self-denial runs throughout this thoughtful book, which appealed to me because the author, a family therapist, focuses on the development of boys in an often anti-boy culture. Dr. Gurian encourages parents and boys to embrace heroism—a rare advocacy these days. Here, too, Dr. Gurian’s definition falls short of man as a rational and selfish human being. He writes that he advises patients to think of the term HEROIC as an acronym for Honorable, Enterprising, Responsible, Original, Intimate, and Creative. Excellent ideals but check out what he means by being responsible: “a boy who cares about others’ needs, and becomes a man of service.” That means the boy must put others first—and himself last—in service of … whom? What? Why? Dr. Gurian’s right that boys are being seriously neglected. Sacrifice of boys (or girls) is not the cure.

A good beginner’s book for kids who want to understand earthquakes—which we’ve been experiencing here in southern California lately—is Earthquake! ($ 3.99, Aladdin Paperbacks) which is part of Simon & Schuster’s Natural Disasters series. The large print, 32-page edition by Marion Dane Bauer, with color illustrations by John Wallace, is scientific about how the earth moves, with facts about the earth’s movement presented in sequence with the three major types of fault movements. A few pages cover various myths about quakes, correctly described as “made up” stories, and the book includes a note to parents and teachers and sound advice on what to do during a quake. Earthquake! is Level One of the four levels in the publisher’s Ready-to-Read series, which means longer sentences and increased vocabulary for the beginning reader.

The Family Chef ($ 27.95, Celebra) by sisters Jill and Jewels Elmore contains very healthy soup, salad and family meal recipes for adults, babies and kids and it’s a well-organized cookbook for those who seek to replicate the food consumed by shapely actress Jennifer Aniston, who hired them and wrote the Foreword. Short notes are personal, fun, and sometimes educational, though the print is too small so use eyeglasses or contacts while cooking if you wear them. With a table of contents with chapter titles such as “Go, Fish!”, lots of white space and color photographs for each recipe, this is a handy kitchen reference for making relatively simple, light meals (assuming the reader is already familiar with different types of lettuce such as mache, Grenoble, and Parella) in international styles. I like the resources section, which provides addresses, Web sites and telephone numbers for the Elmore ladies’ favorite grocers, utensils and ingredients. Also included in The Family Chef: an index and a listing of their favorite food and cooking books—and movies (No Reservations, Ratatouille, and Lasse Hallstrom’s Chocolat, all highly recommended by me, too, especially Chocolat!)