This is my next group of books for donation. With this bunch, another milestone—I’ve cleared off another shelf! YIPPEE! Hey, I take my victories where I can. I hope these guys find happy homes.
The Stuff: This examines in painful detail the 2002-2003 plagiarism and fabrication scandal involving New York Times reporter Jayson Blair. An internal investigation found Blair plagiarized material from reporters at other papers and claimed to have been in cities interviewing people when he was not. The New York Times ran a 7000-word front-page story about their internal investigation of the matter in May 2003. Blair, as well as two editors, resigned over the matter. The egregiousness of Blair’s conduct is an issue, as is race because Blair is black. The authoritarian managerial style of Executive Editor Howell Raines is also an issue. He was warned about Blair but ignored warnings, as had others.
This is a sad, painful but necessary autopsy of the scandal.
Bio: Seth Mnookin (b. 1972) is a Professor of Science Writing and the Director of the Graduate Program in Science Writing at MIT, according to the blog for his most recent book, The Panic Virus. He is a board member of the National Association of Science Writers, and from 2004 to 2018, he was a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. He has written articles for The New Yorker, Wired, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Spin, Slate, and Salon.com. His other books include Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the Top (2006), about the Red Sox; and The Panic Virus: a True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear (2011), about the vaccine/autism controversy. Additionally, Mnookin has written about his struggle with heroin addiction.
Title: Hard News: The Scandals at The New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media
Author: Seth Mnookin (b. 1972)
First published: 2004
The Stuff: This digest-sized book begins with a review of fossil evidence for the theory of evolution. It is not anti-creationist per se but assumes the reader accepts, as do most reputable scientists, evolution as fact. It describes some controversies within the scientific community regarding the theory itself. To do that, it must describe the theory—for example, lay out what natural selection means. Genetics was not understood in Darwin’s day. Author Morris reviews all this with as neutral an eye as possible.
Morris gives a selected bibliography toward the back with many renowned writers such as E. O. Wilson, (surprise) Richard Dawkins, and Steven Pinker. I enjoyed reading this but got a sense of underlying sadness.
Bio: Richard Morris (1939-2003) earned a Ph. D in physics from the University of Nevada. From San Francisco, he published a small avant-garde poetry magazine, Camels Coming, beginning in the mid-60s. He also published poetry, fiction, and drama. In later life, he turned to writing about science. Among his twenty or so books are Light: From Genesis to Modern Physics (1979), The Big Questions: Probing the Promise and Limits of Science (2002), and the posthumously published The Last Sorcerers: The Path from Alchemy to the Periodic Table (2003).
Title: The Evolutions: The Struggle for Darwin’s Soul
Author: Richard Morris (1939-2003)
First published: 2001
The Stuff: This is a series of oral history testimonies from natives, almost exclusively from north of the Mexican border, of their encounters with European settlers and, later, Americans. Each section opens with a brief introduction describing who the speaker is and other relevant information. The selections stretch back to the seventeenth century. There is humor but also much sadness. It covers not only the treaties but relates (complete with misspellings) the experience of a child in foster care.
This is a deeply moving and profoundly sad book.
Bio: Peter Nabokov (b. 1940) holds a Ph. D in anthropology from Berkeley. He is now professor at UCLA. His other books include Sacred Geography: Reflections and Sources on Environment/Religion (1989), American Indians and Yellowstone National Park: A Documentary Overview (with Lawrence Loendorf) 2002, and A Forest of Time: American Indian Ways of History (2002).
Title: Native American Testimony: a Chronicle of Indian-White Relations From Prophecy to the Present
Editor: Peter Nabokov (b.1940)
First published: 1992
The Stuff: O’Conner discusses grammar, laying out all the tired rules of English textbooks, but does so with a lightness and sense of humor that reading her work has none of the feel of an English textbook. This is evident even in the chapter titles: “Plurals Before Swine: Blunders with Numbers” and “Verbal Abuse: Words on the Endangered List.” However, this is not Grammar Lite. She examines not only topics like there/they’re/their (p14) but also the use of the word “shall” (p. 188) and the semicolon (p 139). It is brief, with only 204 pages, and includes a glossary.
Bio: Patricia T. O’Conner (b. 1949) is a former editor at the New York Times Book Review. In addition to her books, she writes blogs and has written columns and appeared as a guest on radios, all having to do with language. She graduated in 1971 from Grinnell College in Iowa with a B.A. in philosophy. Her books include Words Fail Me: What Everyone Who Writes Should Know About Writing (1999) and You Send Me: Getting It Right When You Write Online (with her husband, Stewart Kellerman) (2002).
Title: Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English
Author: Patricia T. O’Conner (b. 1949)
First published: 1996
The Stuff: The author posits one central question in his first chapter: “Why do some places prosper and thrive while others just suck?” He quickly ticks off a list: not a matter of brains, education, natural resources, culture, civilization, government, or hard work. Nor are economics textbooks helpful. Even their precedents are snoozers: “The Wealth of Nations, Das Kapital, and The General Theory of Whatchmacallit were impressive works and looked swell on my bookshelf, but they put me to sleep faster than the economic news of the 70s had.”
He decides then to travel to different countries where the economies were either failing or prospering under different systems: 1) “good capitalism” in the United States, 2) “bad capitalism” in Albania, 3) “good socialism” in Sweden, and 4) “bad socialism” in Cuba. He also travels to Russia, Tanzania, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.
Did he arrive at The Answer? Nah. He offers some insight, but he went into the fray with preconceived notions and saw things that confirmed his ideas. It’s something of an interesting semi-gonzo journalistic travelogue, but this was a disappointment for me.
Bio: Patrick Jake O’Rourke (1947-2022) was an American libertarian political satirist and journalist, writing for such periodicals as The Atlantic Monthly, The American Spectator, and The Weekly Standard, and has been published in many others. He also wrote a column for a while for the Daily Beast and was a frequent panelist on NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! Though in later life, he called himself a conservative libertarian, he was a self-proclaimed “hippie” when younger. He wrote about twenty books. Among his best known are Parliament of Whores and the current book.
Title: Eat the Rich: a Treatise on Economics
Author: P. J. O’Rourke (1947-2022)
First published: 1998