Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: 2017’s few, terrible disasters / The life of former president Obama / An Inca code cracked / David Attenborough talks retirement / Eudora Welty, Margaret Atwood and the mystery of Mary Trump

This week: 2017’s few, terrible disasters / The life of former president Obama / An Inca code cracked / David Attenborough talks retirement / Eudora Welty, Margaret Atwood and the mystery of Mary Trump

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. Disasters pound North America in 2017; overall down globally
By Seth Borenstein | Associated Press | December 2017
“Disasters kill about 30,000 people and affect about 215 million people a year. This year’s estimated toll was lower — about 6,000 people killed and 75 million affected. Was it random chance, statistical quirk or better preparedness? Experts aren’t certain, but say perhaps it’s a little bit of each.”

2. Obama’s post-presidential life: what does his second act have in store?
By Tom McCarthy | The Guardian | December 2017
“‘There is nothing more pathetic in life than a former president,’ said John Quincy Adams — but a year on, what to make of our most newly minted ex?”

3. Favorite Visual Stories Of 2017
By Emily Bogle | NPR | December 2017
“In 2017, politics dominated the news cycle along with the solar eclipse and hurricane coverage in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.”

4. Margaret Atwood: the unlikely style soothsayer of 2017
By Hannah Marriott | The Guardian | December 2017
“Thanks to two hit adaptations of her books, the writer has had a big impact on fashion this year.”

5. Harvard student helps crack mystery of Inca code
By Cristela Guerra | The Boston Globe | December 2017
“The discovery could be a first step to unlocking far more Inca history.”

6. Humans can spot small signs of sickness at a glance, research suggests
By Nikola Davis | The Guardian | January 2018
“Humans may use a host of facial cues – visible just hours after an infection starts – to avoid contracting illnesses from others, study indicates.”

7. David Attenborough: I’ll retire if my work becomes substandard
By Graham Ruddick | The Guardian | January 2018
“In rare comments on subject of retirement, Blue Planet II narrator says physical problems could also force him to quit”

8. The ‘Nuclear Button’ Explained: For Starters, There’s No Button
By Russell Goldman | The New York Times | January 2018
“William Safire, the former New York Times columnist and presidential speechwriter, tracked the origin of the phrase ‘finger on the button’ to panic buttons found in World War II-era bombers. A pilot could ring a bell to signal that other crew members should jump from the plane because it had been damaged extensively. But the buttons were often triggered prematurely or unnecessarily by jittery pilots.”

9. Eudora Welty, The Art of Fiction No. 47
By Linda Kuehl | The Paris Review | Fall 1972
“Once the interview got underway, she grew more at ease. As she herself might say, she was ‘not unforthcoming.’ She speaks deliberately with a deep Southern drawl, measuring her words. She is extremely private and won’t reveal anything personal about herself.”

10. The Mystery of Mary Trump
By Michael Kruse | Politico Magazine | November/December 2017
“Donald Trump reveres his father but almost never talks about his mother. Why not?”
Also: Presidents and Their Moms, A Short History

Book gems of 2016, Part 2

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on presidents and the political world.

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Summer is upon us, and the season of leisure is the perfect time for new stories, characters, ideas, and adventures. Throughout the next few weeks, Stillness of Heart continues its occasional series of critical recommendations, from Civil War battle histories to memoirs, and from intellectual histories to photobooks almost as beautiful as the natural world they celebrate.

Read Part 1 of this 2016 series here and subsequent essays in this series here.

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on presidents and the political world.

Editor Edith Gelles presents Abigail Adams: Letters (Library of America, 1180 pp., $40), a stellar collection of correspondence capturing the complexity, nuances, and uncertainties of the American Republic’s earliest era and of its first generation of political and intellectual leaders. It is a tribute to her intelligence, insight, bravery, and patriotic devotion. It is best read alongside John Adams: Writings from the New Nation, 1784-1826, edited by Gordon S. Wood (Library of America, 905 pp., $40). Taken together, the books illustrate a decades-long romance between a brilliant man and woman, the intellectual and cultural forces that shaped their lives, and an inspirational example for all Americans who should be just as devoted to the enrichment of their democracy as the Adamses.

Ronald L. Feinman’s Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman & Littlefield, 274 pp., $38) grimly examines the consistent danger faced by presidential candidates when the harsh public spotlight is perverted into a bullseye on their lives. Feinman turns the historic attempts and successful murders into case studies analyzing the government’s and public’s reactions to the crimes, providing fascinating and important perspectives on a too-often understudied aspect of presidential and political history. Mel Ayton’s Plotting to Kill the President: Assassination Attempts from Washington to Hoover (University of Nebraska Press, 376 pp., $32.95) takes a broader and more casual approach to the same issues, but from a different time frame and with many more details and anecdotes. They should complement each other quite well.

Seymour Morris Jr.’s Fit for the Presidency? Winners, Losers, What-Ifs, and Also-Rans (Potomac Books, an imprint of University of Nebraska Press, 462 pp., $32.95) arrives at the perfect time, just when Americans are overwhelmed from the campaign season’s speeches, news coverage, political ads, and scandals. If it makes us feel any better, previous generations of Americans did not have it much better. Morris unfurls an amazing and very colorful tapestry of personalities, ambitions, bizarre surprises, and the raw emotions of victory and defeat. Nothing better complements or enriches presidential history than the shadow history of the people those presidents defeated.

Jefferson Cowie’s The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics (Princeton University Press, 288 pp., $27.95) promises to be a fascinating and sobering reminder that any progress toward economic equality in American society is essentially paddling against the stream of traditional social and economic inequality. A strong, centralized, pro-active federal government forcibly reordered the democratic system to better benefit the lower-class citizens, from the early 1930s to the early 1960s, and that may be what is required for today’s America. Cowie’s book is not just a smart history but a call to action for today’s citizens and political leaders, along with a warning from the past of what resulted from inaction.

Marne L. Campbell’s Making Black Los Angeles: Class, Gender, and Community, 1850-1917 (University of North Carolina Press, 246 pp., $29.95) paints an extraordinary portrait of black families from the post-Mexican War era to World War I, illustrating how they grew, endured countless forms of discrimination, and struggled to build and sustain a viable community as the town steadily grew into an important city. Women, she discovered, were key to strengthening the relationships between different classes of black communities, thereby enabling their entire community to fight for economic independence, racial expression, and, ultimately, political power.

LBJ’s Neglected Legacy: How Lyndon Johnson Reshaped Domestic Policy and Government, edited by Robert H. Wilson, Norman J. Glickman, and Laurence E. Lynn, Jr. (University of Texas Press, 493 pp., $29.95), is an excellent essay anthology examining the lasting effects of Great Society legislation on modern American society, government, and economics. As the title suggests, the contributors argue that Johnson receives too-little credit for how his ambitions and political skills built the governmental and ideological architecture shaping today’s American society and the issues over which today’s loudest debates take place.

Doreen Mattingly’s A Feminist in the White House: Midge Costanza, the Carter Years, and America’s Culture Wars (Oxford University Press, 304 pp., $23.96) reminds us that the fight for feminism and equal rights could be difficult even under Democratic presidents. Costanza challenged President Jimmy Carter to support women’s right to choose, LGBTQ rights, and gender equality. She was a bright light in a dark America desperate for an undeniable and intelligent voice in the halls of power. Mattingly’s portrait challenges today’s generations to remember the heroic efforts that lead the initial assaults in the civil rights struggles still waged today.

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Book gems of 2016
An occasional series
Jan. 3: Antiquity, Civil War, World War II, and space
June 22: Presidents and the political world
June 29: Texas and Texas history
July 6: Latin America
July 13: Slavery and the Civil War era
July 20: World War I and II, science, culture, and literature

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

Colin Powell reflects / Political advice from Cicero / A parent’s suicide / Camp David’s relaxed influence / Video frames

Most of these great items come from my Twitter feed or Facebook news feed. Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook for more fascinating videos, articles, essays and criticism. Read past recommendations from this series here.

1. Colin Powell on the Bush Administration’s Iraq War Mistakes
By Colin Powell | Newsweek | May 13
“Colin Powell reflects on lessons from the battlefield to the halls of power — including the mistakes of the Iraq War, his infamous U.N. speech, and the crimes at Abu Ghraib. ”

2. The spirit of 1812
The Economist | May 19
“The [U.S. Navy] hopes to restore its prestige by celebrating a forgotten conflict”

3. Campaign Tips From Cicero
By Quintus Tullius Cicero and James Carville | Foreign Affairs | May/June 2012
“[T]he author clearly knew a lot about Roman politics in the first century BC, which turn out to have a distinctly familiar feel.”

4. When a Parent Commits Suicide: A Psychiatrist’s Advice
By Harold S. Koplewicz | The Daily Beast | May 18
“It’s the kind of death that’s doubly painful for children, who often need help handling conflicting and disturbing feelings. How to help the kids who are left behind.”

5. Robert Caro’s Tristram Shandy Moment
By Dean Robinson | The 6th Floor :: The New York Times | May 18
“Two hundred and fifty years ago, another writer — albeit a fictional one, trapped inside a novel — got similarly bogged down trying biographize his own self. ”

6. Camp David and Thurmont: A mountain shared, a world apart
By David Zak | The Washington Post | May 17
“Town officials are prepared for the worst, expecting the best, and will support citizens who want to exercise their constitutional rights by chanting in the general direction of a campground they can’t get within four miles of.”

7. Dickens, Browning and Lear: what’s in a reputation?
By Robert Crum | The Guardian | May 17
“The bicentenaries of three great Victorian writers underline the capricious nature of literary afterlives”

8. Q&A: Capturing a Video Frame
By J.D. Biersdorfer | Gadgetwise :: The New York Times | May 14
“How can I extract a single frame of the video and change it into a still picture?”

9. Rereading: Mildred Pierce by James M Cain
By Sarah Churchwell | The Guardian | June 24
“Todd Haynes has adapted Mildred Pierce, James M Cain’s novel about a divorced mother in the depression, as a sumptuous TV mini-series. But what has been gained and what lost in the process?”

10. The Greensboro Four
Witness :: BBC News | February 1
“On 1 February 1960, four young black men began a protest in Greensboro, North Carolina against the racial segregation of shops and restaurants in the US southern states.”

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TUNES

My soundtrack for today included:
1. CAN’T YOU HEAR ME KNOCKING The Rolling Stones
2. DEEP DARK TRUTHFUL MIRROR (Unplugged) Elvis Costello
3. A STROKE OF LUCK Garbage
4. GIMME SHELTER The Rolling Stones
5. FIRST CUT IS THE DEEPEST (Unplugged) Rod Stewart
6. HARD TO MAKE A STAND Sheryl Crow
7. MUSIC Madonna
8. WE CAN WORK IT OUT (Unplugged) Paul McCartney
9. SHE’S WAITING Eric Clapton
10. HEY JOE Jimi Hendrix

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

Solar tornadoes / The Mile High Club / Handsome presidents / Romney’s Hoover curse / An animated Robert Johnson

Most of these great items come from my Twitter feed or Facebook news feed. Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook for more fascinating videos, articles, essays and criticism. Read past recommendations from this series here.

1. Tornado Season on the Sun?
VideoFromSpace | Feb. 14
“For a 30 hour spell (Feb 7-8, 2012) the Solar Dynamics Observatory captured plasma caught in a magnetic dance across the Sun’s surface. The results closely resemble extreme tornadic activity on Earth.”

2. Wendell Pierce Goes to Market
By Elizabeth Gettelman | Mother Jones | January/February 2012
“The ‘Treme’ and ‘The Wire’ actor on his career, launching a supermarket chain in New Orleans, and why Americans shy away from reality on television.”

3. Flamingo Air, Cincinnati Airline, Offers Mile High Sex To Customers
The Huffington Post | Feb. 16
“The airline, started by a group of pilot friends who dared each other that they couldn’t get one couple to pay for a mid-air romp, is now a successful airline that takes people into the sky and lets them get it on.”

4. The Man on Mao’s Right, at the Center of History
By David Barboza | The New York Times | Feb. 17
“But his language skills helped shape negotiations during one of the most important diplomatic missions of the past half-century.”

5. Creatures of the deep: terrifying macro pictures of polychaetes or bristle worms
The Telegraph | Feb. 19
“These tiny monsters may look like they are from another planet but they are in fact creatures from our deepest oceans.”

6. Our most handsome presidents
Lapham’s Quarterly | Feb. 20
TR wasn’t too bad looking when he was at Harvard.

7. Can Romney Break the Hoover Curse?
By Abby Ohlheiser | Slate | Feb. 20
“Americans haven’t put a successful CEO in office since 1928. If Romney is to end the drought, he’ll want to avoid appearing to be the second coming of our worst president.”

8. The women of the Mercury era
Mercury 13 | February 2012
“[Twenty-five] women, narrowed down to 13, who participated in and passed the very same physical and psychological tests that determined the original astronauts. ”

9. Three Science-Based Sex Tips for the Emotionally Intelligent Gentleman
By Jeremy Adam Smith | Good Men Project | Feb. 14
“From zebras to astronauts, Jeremy Adam Smith looked to science for some sex advice.”

10. The Legend of Bluesman Robert Johnson Animated
Open Culture | May 2011
“During his short life (1911-1938), Johnson recorded 29 individual songs. But they could not have been more influential.”

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TUNES

My soundtrack for today included:
1. HOY TENEMOS (Boyz from Brazil remix) Sidestepper
2. EL CUARTO DE TULA Buena Vista Social Club
3. SONEROS EN UNA CESTA Cesta All Stars
4. MECANICA DE AMOR Mi Son
5. UNA MUJER EN MI VIDA Ramito
6. VOLVER A VERTE Oscar DeLeon
7. CANDELA Buena Vista Social Club
8. BESAME MAMA Poncho Sanchez & Mongo Santamaria
9. EL CAMISON DE PEPA Compay Segundo
10. BABARABATIRI Tito Puente

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

Grinding teeth / Anglicans in Catholic Church / Islamic life in France / Spanking kids

Most of these great items come from my Twitter feed or Facebook news feed. Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook for more fascinating videos, articles, essays and criticism. Read past recommendations from this series here.

1. Bloomberg Kissed Lady Gaga and the World Didn’t End
By Connor Simpson | The Atlantic Wire | Jan. 1
“New Year’s Eve is usually celebrated with drinks, Chinese food, noise makers and confetti and sealed with a kiss at midnight, but some celebrate differently, like by kissing Lady Gaga, clashing with the cops, burning cars in Hollywood and stripping on CNN. Welcome to 2012.”

2. Some Anglicans apply to join the Catholic Church
By Michelle Boostein | The Washington Post | December 2011
“The Vatican [was] set to launch a structure … that will allow Anglican parishes in the United States — and their married priests — to join the Catholic Church in a small but symbolically potent effort to reunite Protestants and Catholics, who split almost 500 years ago.”

3. Emily Dickinson
Civil War Women Blog | December 2011
“She was a deeply sensitive woman who explored her own spirituality, in poignant, deeply personal poetry, revealing her keen insight into the human condition.”

4. Muslims of France: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Al Jazeera World | December 2011
“Many Muslims would die for France during the First and Second World Wars, but did France recognise their sacrifices? How a generation of Muslims abandoned their parents’ dreams of returning home and began building their lives in France. What challenges face the young Muslims who grew up in France and entered adulthood at a time of economic crisis?”

5. Metaperceptions: How Do You See Yourself?
By Carlin Fiora | Psychology Today | December 2011
“To navigate the social universe, you need to know what others think of you — although the clearest view depends on how you see yourself.”

6. Will We One Day Stop Evolving?
By Michio Kaku | Big Think | October 2011
“Can evolution go on forever, or will we one day stop evolving?”

7. Beware of presidential nostalgia
By Fareed Zakaria | Global Public Square :: CNN | December 2011
“[W]e cannot really tell the quality of a leader judged from the noise of the present. We need time and perspective.”

8. Pro/Con: Spanking
By Jessica Pauline Ogilvie | Los Angeles Times | December 2011
“Pro: Studies show that spanking, properly utilized, can lead to well-adjusted children. Con: Spanking is harmful and can hinder kids later in life.”

9. The Nightly Grind
By C. Claiborne Ray | Q&A :: The New York Times | June 2009
“Why do some people grind their teeth at night?”

10. Can an Airline Pilot Really ‘Make Up’ Time During a Flight?
By J. Bryan Lowder | Explainer :: Slate | November 2011
“Is it just a way of calming passengers?”