Sunday, 27 December 2015

The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration -- Ta-Nehisi Coates

From the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s, America's incarceration rate doubled. By the mid 1990s, it had doubled again. "By 2007 it had reached a historic high of 767 people per 100,000," says author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates in the October 2015 cover story of The Atlantic, in an article entitled "The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration." He adds that the United States "now counts for less than 5 percent of the world's inhabitants -- and about 25 percent of its incarcerated inhabitants. In 2000, one in 10 black males between the ages of 20 and 40 was incarcerated -- 10 times the rate of their white peers. In 2010, a third of all black male high-school dropouts between the ages of 20 and 39 were imprisoned, compared with only 13 percent of their white peers."

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The Problem of Pain - C.S. Lewis

Published in 1940, The Problem of Pain – the first in a popular
series of six volumes on Christian doctrine written by C.S. Lewis – is a
short, 157-page book that packs a major philosophical punch. For a patient, curious reader -- not normally your humble reviewer -- The Problem is a smoothly articulated, intuitive journey through the mind of a brilliant academic, one who reverted back to his faith in his early thirties after an intense period of informed and thoughtful atheism.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Climate Change Debate - Four Books

Every time I see a new book denouncing climate change -- a.k.a. man made global warming, or MMGW -- I jump at it. The subject fascinates me. How, I wonder, can reality continue to be rejected. In all of human history, I'm quite sure, there has never been a more contentious scientific debate. Not even the most impassioned flat earth campaigns could match the recalcitrance and quantity of falsehoods emanating from the MMGW controversy. Some well-known believers have even dared go on record suggesting "deniers" be imprisoned. How do we stop this insanity? With each new published book I fantasize that finally, the alarmists will be forced to admit defeat and come down to pleasant, cool earth.

Friday, 21 August 2015

The Hand that Rocks the World: An Inquiry Into Truth, Power and Gender - David Shackleton,

The Hand that Rocks the World: An Inquiry Into Truth, Power and Gender, by Ottawa's well-known men's advocate David Shackleton, is one ambitious undertaking. Shackleton’s goal is to lay the groundwork for a new social science discipline, one that will guide humanity to truth and wisdom. According to Shackleton, once this innovative psychosocial regimen is established and put into practice, it will lead to -- among other previously unattainable accomplishments -- the eradication of the psychological blocks that prevent men and women from understanding and accepting one another other fully. Applied properly, the new social science will ensure both sides learn precisely how the two groups can fit snugly together into the same world, and live happily ever after.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town - Jon Krakauer

Jon Krakauer's most recent book, Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, published in 2015, helped this reader (your humble book reviewer) to partially understand the rape culture that has gripped university and college campuses across North America. I first came across the term "rape culture" in 2014 when the University of Ottawa suspended its hockey team after a complaint of sexual assault involving some of its players. The accusation was commenced while the team was playing against Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. A week later, a student union rep got on the radio and started ranting against the "rape culture" in universities across Canada.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now - Ayaan Hirsi Ali

     Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a gutsy, smart and beautiful woman. Moral, sincere and extremely courageous, she wowed the world in 2007 with the publication of her life story in Infidel: My Life, a New York Times runaway bestseller. Infidel chronicles her extraordinary and terrifying personal experiences from the time she was a child growing up as a Muslim in clan-based, war-torn and impoverished Mogadishu. The victim of female genital mutilation, she survived family beatings, war and famine under several different African and Middle-Eastern dictators. Covered from head to toe, she lived as an ultra-religious young woman in Kenya. Ultimately, she fled to Holland as a refugee to avoid an arranged marriage. And these were her easy trials!

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Reefer Sanity: Seven Great Myths about Marijuana - Kevin Sabet

Published in 2013, it would be a mistake for present day governments to ignore Reefer Sanity: Seven Great Myths about Marijuana. It was written by Kevin A. Sabet, an assistant professor of psychiatry -- though not a medical doctor, his detractors remind us -- and Director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida. A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and of Oxford University, where he received his Doctorate in social policy, Sabet is enemy number one to the frenzied, far-flung and demanding hurry-up-and-legalize-marijuana industry.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Bitter Harvest: A Woman's Fury, a Mother's Sacrifice - Ann Rule

Bitter Harvest: A Woman's Fury, a Mother's Sacrifice, a strangely-named book written by the recently deceased and prolific true crime writer Ann Rule, is the tragic and torturous story of an exceedingly unhappy and violent family. Don't expect much of a happy ending, but (spoiler alert) there are a couple of courageous survivors. For this two-doctor family that starts out with so much promise and produces such wonderful, healthy children, it ends up imploding on a scale almost never seen in the suburbs.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin - Timothy Snyder

This 2010 New York Times Bestseller is a painful look back at some of humanity's most violent years, precipitated by two of history's most diabolical tyrants.
    Though not ground breaking in terms of revealing new pivotal historical facts, Timothy Snyder's five-hundred page volume is a unique and important study of the overlapping times of Hitler and Stalin from 1933 to 1945. In those twelve short years, in the "Bloodlands" -- the area that extends, Snyder explains, from central Poland to western Russia, through the Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic States -- murder-by-government took on proportions difficult to imagine, when fourteen million innocents perished, many as a consequence of nothing more sinister than simple government regulation.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway

At first I had to force myself to continue to read The Sun Also Rises, first published in 1926. Over and over again as I ploughed through scenes of the post-war “Lost Generation” drinking too much in Paris nightclubs or, around the middle of the book, fishing in the Pyrenees, I asked myself, and sometimes my friends: “So, what’s the deal with Hemmingway, anyway?”
     Spoiler alert: I ultimately fell madly in love with the book. Here’s an example of the kind of “Iceberg Theory” discussions Hemmingway used in the novel, with some very minor editing, and the teensy amount of non-dialogue phraseology eliminated by me:
     “Hope I gave him the right address.”
     “You probably did.”
     “Go on.”
     “Let’s eat.”
     “Where will we go.”
     “Want to eat on the island?”

Thursday, 26 March 2015

War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy

The book War and Peace, when it is talked about at all these days, it seems to me anyway, is referred to because it is so long. It’s often used as a joke to denounce someone’s long-windedness: “Hey, we’re just your lawyers, so you don’t have to give us War and Peace when you summarize your marital problems for these divorce proceedings”, or, “Hey, I’m expecting a brief history of the Nigerian Civil War for this essay assignment; War and Peace has already been written.”

Thursday, 19 March 2015

The Truth about Trudeau - Bob Plamondon

Want to know a secret? Former Canadian Prime Minister, the late Honorable Pierre Elliott Trudeau, was far from the great statesman and effective leader Canadians have been constantly told about. His flaws were many, and the extensive damage he did to Canada’s armed services, economy and international standing is too much to measure.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich - William Shirer

     I decided to read William H. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany – first published fifteen years after the World War II’s end, then republished in 1974, 1990, 1991, 1998, 2010 and 2011 – while listening to Lowell Green’s lively Ottawa weekday morning talk radio program sometime in 2013. One of Green’s callers, a regular woman participant who always has interesting information and opinions to contribute, mentioned that she had read the book and therefore knew how dangerous anti-Semitism could be. My late mother’s dog-eared copy – with the torn spine and too many loose pages – had been eerily sitting up high on my living room shelf – dusted but not read – for almost 30 years. So I finally took it down and started on a terrifying, educational journey into the evil genius and reign of one of the twentieth centuries most demonic tyrants.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

The Massey Murder - Charlotte Gray

A hundred years ago, on February 8, 1915, Bert Massey, a car salesman and member of Canada’s prominent Massey family, arrived at his Walmer Road home in Toronto to an unexpected and fatal surprise. Carrie Davies, his 18-year-old domestic servant, stood in the shadowy doorway, aimed the gun she was holding, and shot him in his side with his own 32-calibre Savage automatic pistol, “available in the Eaton’s catalogue for $18.” After firing another shot or two as he turned and ran, the tiny girl closed the door and disappeared inside the house with the weapon.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

A Hundred Years On A Handshake - Brian Hanington

M. Sullivan and Son, the Arnprior, Ontario-based construction business started in 1914, celebrated a milestone of sorts last year, but who, you ask, outside the enormous Sullivan family, would care? Well, as it turns out, many people, including many outside the local communities permanently improved by the well-run, ethical and generous company. A Hundred Years On A Handshake: The Lively History of M. Sullivan and Son Limited – written and produced by Ottawa’s own Brian Hanington – is the reason that the story of the Sullivans and their adventures will wend its way, perhaps slowly but most certainly, across the provinces and down into the Unites States as time presses on.

Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoevsky

It’s critical when you pick up a classic like Crime and Punishment – first published in 1866 – that you understand where the author was coming from. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s intense, painful and complicated life is summarized very briefly on the inside cover of the 1982 Bantam Book edition of the 472-page novel. Born in 1821 in Moscow, he was the son of an abusive alcoholic army surgeon who was ultimately murdered by his own serfs. Tired of the elder man’s brutality, they drowned him in vodka by pouring the toxic liquid down his throat.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Free at Last - Lynne Cohen

Full disclosure: Here is a review of my second book by friend and fellow author Brian Hanington. As you will read, though he loves my work, he has issues with some (maybe  most) of my strongly held opinions.

Reviewed by Brian Hanington

I’ve just finished Lynne Cohen’s autobiographic sketch Free At Last, and as a liberal with a quiet communist streak myself am happy to describe her work to others of my ilk.
    Unlike her more—shall we say—ardent counterparts in the right wing press, Cohen successfully maintains her forceful opinions on the usual range of flashpoint topics without sounding either arrogant or misinformed. Even better, she quietly makes the point that what we now view as arch-Republican conservatism was once thought decidedly liberal. So we begin to read Free At Last a bit back on our heels, thinking that just maybe the author isn’t nuts after all.

Things that Matter - Charles Krauthammer

Some books are winners the instant they are published by virtue of their authors. Charles Krauthammer’s latest title, Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics, is one such winner. Still, the book is a let down in two small but significant ways: as a collection of Krauthammer’s commentaries, a good portion of it is a re-read; and his essay on Jewish destiny is just plain wrong. More on this latter minor irritant later.