How Democracies Die

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Review #41: Non-Fiction

Blogging for Books #13

How Democracies Die by Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky

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How Democracies Die is fast-paced and gripping, throwing history at you, analyzing current world governments, and contemplating the future state of world governments with an emphasis on America’s democracy at just the right speed to keep even non-political junkies hooked. It’s very easy to assume that this book is a Trump-bashing tome, but it’s an honest critique of current politics in America, with evidence from governments around the world through decades of struggle with democracy. And it’s a much shorter read than it looks (there’s an extensive Notes section that has successfully added dozens of books to my TBR, so thanks.)

Ziblatt and Levitsky give us just the facts, ma’am — and for anyone who is legitimately concerned about democracy, citizens’ involvement in government, the use of checks and balances, the US constitution — the facts point to democracy in America failing, and being increasingly jeopardized by a Donald Trump presidency. They build a very compelling case, one that does not place the weight of the destabilizing of America’s democracy squarely on Trump’s shoulders. Example after example of fluctuation governments in South America, in Europe, in Africa, etc., show how democracies have risen and fallen, and discuss the events that led up to those points.

What Ziblatt and Levitsky do is point out how each destabilizing event around the world can be related to something in past or recent American history. They pull no punches when calling out American politicians for straying from democratic behavior; they go back to Washington, discuss Lincoln, Nixon, and up through how Donald Trump was elected…and what could happen in the coming years if democratic norms are not restored. They weave an at once fascinating and terrifying story of the birth and weakening of America’s democracy, give us three possible outcomes of the Trump presidency, and thankfully leave us with optimism that there is still time to correct our path.

True believers in democracy will read How Democracies Die with a lump in their throat and finish it with a fire in their belly to make things right. Unfortunately, those who merely believe in their political party, regardless of how that party may be undermining the tenants of democracy, will probably write the book off as an attack on one party, one figure in particular, and may not get what they should out of this warning. Ziblatt and Levitsky have raised the alarm, and we would all do well to respond to it.

5 out of 5 stars

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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I Had a Nice Time and Other Lies…

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Review #39: Non-Fiction

I Had a Nice Time and Other Lies… by The Betches

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I love The Betches. I follow them everywhere; I like, retweet, regram, etc. This was not a terrible book, but it was not a great one. I think, perhaps, even just two years can make a difference with subject matter like this. Many sections came across as a bit tone-deaf in relation to the social climate today.

I found myself cringing several times throughout. The authors routinely speak to finding love based on your level of attraction, and using your looks to catch a decent bro. They split no hairs making it known that being attractive means thin and conventionally pretty. They give advice in the same vein as dudes cat-calling on the street: if you’re not pretty, smile more, so people don’t notice how not pretty you. If you’re overweight, LOVE YOURSELF AT ANY SIZE, but also if you don’t like being fat, go to the gym and get thin and therefore pretty. Also, don’t get old. Getting old is ugly and your man will leave you. A general theme is basically be pretty and stay pretty. I understand these are jokes, I just don’t think they hold up well.

There is a male voice (The Head Pro) included in every chapter, side notes and insights, even responses to letters from people looking for advice. I like the idea of various points of view, a “guy’s opinion” if you will. Some of the commentary is fun and funny and interesting. Some is eye-roll worthy. Insights about how playing hard to get might mean different things to men and women – interesting. Dealbreakers that including being too short – eye-roll. The Head Pro calls out a lot of double standards between men and women. But then also asks you to just keep buying into and living them. Though he says it’s shitty that men are affording more leeway to be crass and vulgar and loud in public, women should definitely still tone it down or there’s a good chance it’s a dealbreaker for your bro. Though it’s stupid that men are seen as macho and breadwinners and protectors, women should maybe think about “appealing to male sensibilities” and let them drive/navigate on road trips. There’s also a section on how to keep your man from feeling “trapped” in your marriage. Eye-roll. This male insight misses the mark.

All advice is also completely heteronormative. Not that this is a real demerit to the book. It’d be impossible to include every scenario of romantic connection that exists today. Just a simple acknowledgement of that fact would have been nice.

The best thing about this book is that it’s almost an anti-relationship book. Yes, the main advice that lies within is to help you get out of your own way and find a romantic partner (and not just any partner, but one that treats you well and respects you and basically isn’t trash), but The Betches consistently hate on relationships in general throughout. They come back time and again to the idea that real Betches don’t need a man, and they can do bad all by themselves. And that’s, honestly, the best advice any woman can get.

Obviously, if you know The Betches – if you, too, follow them everywhere, or have read their other book – you know their humor and you know to take pretty much everything they say with a grain of salt. I Had a Nice Time and Other Lies… is not a typical self-help book. It’s humor. I laughed out loud a ton and shouted “YAAAASSSS!” into my living room. So if that’s all you’re looking for here, it’s a good read. It has nuggets of wisdom and some powerful and empowering moments, but mainly, it’s entertainment and that needs to be taken into consideration in the end.

3.5 out of 5 stars

*Cover image from Amazon

 

Betrayal: The Crisis in The Catholic Church

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Review #31: Non-Fiction

Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church by The Investigative Reporters at The Boston Globe

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This is a collection of articles and research done by the “Spotlight” staff at The Boston Globe that brought the groundbreaking story of a Catholic priest child molestation epidemic to light. Betrayal is the work that spurred the film “Spotlight,” named for the department that was tasked with shedding a spotlight on these monumental stories.

And if you’ve seen “Spotlight” and think that was the whole story — you’d be astronomically incorrect.

This book is more of a companion to the film — a jumping off point with the hard facts and figures leading up to the story that is told in “Spotlight” and continuing on after the final credits rolled.

There is so much devastating information contained in these pages. Several times I had to stop reading and just take a breath, knowing these are real people, the story is real, the numbers are real…and this collection is not even the tip of the iceberg. It’s heartbreaking from start to finish, but that is what makes it so necessary. The harder the stories are to tell, they harder they are to hear, the more we absolutely need to hear them.

It was mind blowing how deep the corruption went, just how big this whole thing was. And knowing it was merely one city, one community that was put through so much…it seems nearly impossible to fully grasp the magnitude.

Betrayal is expertly written. It does not shy away from or sugarcoat the most horrific details. It says what needs to be heard. And it is far from one sided. As any good piece of journalism will do, Betrayal delves into the life and experiences not only of the victims and their families, but it largely examines the background of the perpetrators and their families, as well as the Church itself, and the community. It is well-rounded and all encompassing in its research. It is structured to give us the history of religious institutions, the Catholic church and the men in charge, this huge Boston scandal, and the epidemic that seems to be prevalent even now.

Betrayal is a truly tough read, but such an important one that it really cannot be missed. To make a safer future, we must fully know and understand the past.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

*Cover art from Amazon.com

I Will Find You

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Review #30: Non-Fiction

I Will Find You by Joanna Connors

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At times equally terrifying and engrossing, I Will Find You grabs ahold of you from page one and demands to be read until the end. Joanna Connors writes with such honesty and bravery about such an uncomfortable topic for readers, and an extremely traumatic one for her, that you can’t help but keep turning the page. We don’t want to to know, and yet, we have to know.

This must be how Connors felt when she decided to research her rapist 30 years after the attack. She documents her experience and tells her survival story with courage and grace, even allowing the reader into the moments she decided she needed to tell her children what had happened to her, something she thought she would never do. Connors brings us along on her journey to find peace, and does it beautifully and intelligently.

Being a journalist, it is no surprise that this book is extremely well written, well researched, and unbiased — amazingly so. It is spectacular the way in while Connors is able to research and write about a man who brutally raped her, as if he were any other person she were covering for a story. She speaks to his family and friends, people who were involved in her lawsuit and other cases against him, and stays mostly neutral.

Though she does explain who she is and why she’s interviewing them to some of the man’s family, mainly Connors just tries to find out who he was, and maybe why he did what he did to her, and to others. In doing so, she touches on so many important and topical issues. This book sheds light on institutional and socialized racism, sexism, domestic abuse, victim blaming, and the failure of our current justice system to really do anything about any of them. I Will Find You is so much more than one woman’s search to understand her rapist and to find closure from her one experience.

Joanna Connors perfectly recounts her rapist’s life, the actions that lead to his attack on her, shedding even more light on the idea that crime begets more crime, violence, more violence. He lived in poverty, was addicted to drugs at a young age, was subjected to domestic violence and a violent life on the streets. Though none of this makes you sympathetic to the man who committed such gruesome acts of violence against Connors and others, it does make you pay more attention to the underlying causes of such acts; it makes you see how society both creates criminals and punishes them for it.

In heart-pounding, stomach-wrenching, thought-provoking prose, Connors gives us an awakening not to be missed.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Spinster

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Review #25: Non-Fiction

Blogging for Books #6

Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick

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I was pretty excited to read this book; I’d heard some good things about it, friends had highly recommended it, and having recently ended my own engagement, it seemed like a fitting read as far as timing goes.

I didn’t, however, find what I was expecting. I thought it would be funnier, for starters. Though there are definitely tidbits here and there that forced a smile, a giggle, and in one case, an all-out head-thrown-back laugh, it is a mostly very serious book. This doesn’t make it bad, per se, but it did turn me off a little. There are things in life that humor helps ease, and coming to terms with the realities of human relationships and romance is, in my opinion, one of them.

Bolick give us a ton of information about her “awakeners” (the women who inspire or have influenced her “spinster” lifestyle) in this book. She has absolutely done her research and really brings these women to life through her own commentary about them, as well as their own writing and other secondary sources describing them in detail. Part of me loves all these details and inclusions, and part of me feels it was too much. At one point I felt like staying, “Alright already. If I wanted to know this much about this woman, I would read her biography and her life’s work myself.” I was left knowing a lot about Bolick’s “awakeners” but wanting for how they really influenced Bolick –what I was ultimately hoping for from this book.

It also felt extremely dated. Many of the women Bolick writes about span all the way back to the 1800s and the majority of their lives and decisions play out in the early 1900s. Bolick herself is writing about her life mostly in the 1990s and early 2000s. I had never heard of many of the women and other influencers Bolick mentions, and felt their lives and choices really couldn’t be related to the lives of women today. I definitely didn’t feel like I could really relate to Bolick well – in some ways, of course, but the world has changed so drastically from even the 1990s that these anecdotes fell rather flat.

Bolick’s life, arguable much more recent, felt distant from life for women (especially women writers in New York City today.) Many of the opportunities Bolick and others she writes had about just don’t exist in NY today. The publishing industry just isn’t the same, and Bolick’s opportunities and successes in NY offered her greater options in her personal life than many would be offered today. This is wonderful for her, don’t get me wrong (I’m admittedly jealous of what she was able to accomplish and the relationships she was able to experience), but I was unable to really connect to the writing knowing how these experiences probably couldn’t exist today.

Overall, the book started slowly, picked up in the middle but eventually became distant from the reader. Though there are a few grains of wisdom and valuable insight sprinkled throughout, it is by no means a must read.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Modern Romance

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Review #24: Non-Fiction

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

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This book is phenomenal. The subject matter and the writing are extremely approachable; it’s filled with Aziz Ansari’s typical humor, as well as being truly engaging and informative.

This is not, however, a comedy book. Ansari partnered with real sociologists, conducted real interviews and studies in cities around the world over the course of a few years to make this book what it is. This is a collection of real information and research about real people and real relationship changes and trends.

Ansari really opens the curtain on the differences in relationships, love, marriage, break-ups, and life between generations and through technological changes over the years. The information age has truly turned romance and personal relationships on their head, and Ansari’s book documents this transformation with intriguing facts, figures, and charts.

In addition to the fascinating data Modern Romance presents, it is brilliantly peppered with Ansari’s signature wit through clever asides, footnotes, anecdotes and laugh-out-loud funny photos.

With the information and the humor of this book, I could not put it down. It is a fast-paced and easy read that presents real, fresh data in the style of a friendly conversation. If you’re interested in romantic relationships or how people connect to each other in today’s day and age at all, pick this book up immediately. But also pick it up if you’re simply after a quick chuckle.
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

*Cover photo from Amazon.com

Dead Wake

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Review #23: Non-fiction

Blogging for Books #5

Dead Wake by Erik Larson

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It would honestly go against everything I know about good writing and storytelling, not to mention come as a complete and utter shock, if anything by Erik Larson wasn’t phenomenal. Not only is what he writes informative, but it’s entertaining; something that doesn’t happen all that often with non-fiction, unfortunately.

Firstly, Dead Wake is extremely well researched. Even without the dozens of pages of reference material and notes at the end of the book, you can tell just from the meat of the book that Larson labored over it extensively. There are more than a handful of characters in this book, but none of them is neglected. We are never introduced to someone who we don’t hear from again. Larson has created a well-balanced cast from several different sides of this story, with myriad viewpoints. We really get to know these characters, and though we know how many of their stories will end, we are still drawn into their journey every step of the way, waiting to see if we will find out their exact fate. Larson ties up as many loose ends as he can with his research. Each character has a story that is both heartbreaking and beautiful — stories that wouldn’t be known if it weren’t for Larson.

One of the hallmarks of a good historian and researcher is to find the information that hasn’t been discovered or distributed before. Many say that history is written by the victors, and in many cases, this is very true. History will always have bias. Here, Larson tells the story of the Lusitania from the views of Americans, the British, passengers on the ship, naval officers, German u-boat crew, and many others. He uses first and secondary accounts of what was going on with the Allies as well as the Germans through this wartime, and humanizes both sides. Though through the evidence he gathers, it is very obvious that there are heroes and villains in this story, he reminds us that both groups are people, something that oftentimes gets lost among the pages of our history books.

There is an element of mystery and adventure to Larson’s book. He is a master of writing a story that we know the ending to and still fostering thrills and suspense. Larson admits to having believed a different version of the story of Lusitania before beginning his research; a false story that I had also assumed, and suppose many others might as well. The sinking of the Lusitania, to my understanding before reading Dead Wake, directly and immediately lead to the United States’s involvement in World War I. However, Larson, in great detail, paints a very different picture. From the lead up to the Lusitania’s voyage; to its attack and eventual sinking; and the aftermath for friends, family, and country; Larson painstakingly presents the decisions that had to be made by everyone involved along the way. In fact, several years passed and other events lead to the US eventually entering the war efforts. And Larson presents all of these facts in a way that is both informative and interesting.

I was expecting nothing less than a good read out of Dead Wake, but what I got was much better than expected. Larson weaves exceptional details about a time in history that seems to be little-known with human interest stories and an action packed nautical thriller seamlessly. Dead Wake has it all, and does something that, in my mind is nearly impossible; readers will be thoroughly entertained, while simultaneously informed.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.