Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Crunchy Cons

Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of counterculture conservatives plan to save America (or at least the Republican party)
© 2006  Rob Dreher
272 pages

Imagine a Republican who praised Jimmy Carter instead of dedicating a Two-Minute Hate to him. That's Rob Dreher. In an age of bitter partisan rancor, it's refreshing to encounter someone who looks beyond the asnine liberal-conservative divide and realizes that politics and values aren't as simple as they tell you on the television. Alas, values are still simple to Dreher, who knows there's still an Us and a Them; it's just that the Thems and the Us's sometimes swap sides.  The Us's are those people on the left and right who seek a meaningful life and are prompted by their inner convictions to live differently than the mainstream; the Thems are those wretched modernists, the consumerists, the cafeteria Catholics, and the individualists who defy culture and brazenly think for themselves. (You know, because thinking for yourself makes you so mainstream.)

The title alone may give you a feel for the goings-on of crunchy cons. Various sections cover Dreher's (who is the authority on who may be and who cannot be a Crunchy Con) thoughts on consumerism and technological dependence (bad), food (industrial food bad, CSAs awesome), homes (modern architecture bad -- read Jim Kunstler), and religion (orthodoxy for the win). While the thoughts as expressed can be found in other books*, Dreher's positions and criticisms are couched in the language of conservatism and traditionalism; he attacks agribusiness not on the grounds of social justice (as Eric Schlosser did in Fast Food Nation and Reefer Madness), but because he wants  to promote the rugged  old values of small farmers and promote self-reliance.  Dreher doesn't attack consumerism because mindless consumption plays into the hands of the bourgeoisie, or destroys Mother Earth; his hostility stems from the fact that there's more to life than owning stuff, and the idea of our being able to buy happiness is not only unhealthy, it's impious.

Religion undergirds Dreher's approach: for him, being a 'crunchy conservative' means living sacramentally; "viewing the physical aspects of life -- the food we eat, the places we live, the world in which we move -- as being inseparable from spiritual reality."  Dreher's aim in being a crunchy con is to live a meaningful life, and for him, religion supplies that meaning. The problem with mainline conservatism is that world changes too quickly for traditionalism-for-principle's-sake to mean anything. Yesterday's raging liberals are today's  conservatives, because the status quo is a moving target. Dreher's people stand out among  other conservatives by defining what they intend to conserve, instead of being content to resist change on principle. Hence, while most conservatives are fine defending relatively recent developments like automobile oriented sprawl, Dreher is still defending the old-fashioned, traditional, human-oriented cities that have now been embraced by progressives.

There's a lot to like about Crunchy Cons, but there were a few too many flies in the soup for me. Like the authors of The Plain Reader, Dreher puts a lot of stock behind parents being the chief cultivators of their children.  And while I get the reason for concern -- I, too, would prefer not exposing children to television for numerous reasons, the values it imparts among them --  as someone who was raised in a "conservative", no-television household, I'm awfully glad I was able to view TV and other media from time to time that let me see the world beyond the prison walls of my controlled environment. I was able to compare my parent's worldview with another, and figure out what I wanted out of life. This obsession with controlling children, witnessed in both The Plain Reader and in Crunchy Cons, and displayed in the authors' hatred for public schools and media, strikes this escapee as sinister and unhealthy. Your values mean nothing if children cannot grow into adults who can make a choice. And therein lies the rub with Dreher's work, for as much as he advocates choice in other areas -- people should be free to run small farms, instead of being forced to play by agribusiness' rules; people should be freed from compulsory education, raising their children whatever way they decide; when it comes to belief, people should Learn their Place and believe what they're told. Tradition is God, and if you think you can modify it you are a degenerate loser who is responsible for the imminent destruction of humanity.

At times, Crunchy Cons was an eye-opening delight. Like The Plain Reader, it demonstrates how people can lives of purpose and value amid the noise of an entertainment-obsessed world.  The author's contempt for those who do not seek more meaning, however, and his anti-human belief in the primacy of tradition, left me feeling sick. The Plain Reader was a far better example of a conservative counterculture, and though problematic in ways, it was far gentler.

 *In Praise of Slow, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Fast Food Nation, The Geography of Nowhere, Technopoly, Amusing Ourselves to Death, To Have or to Be, American Mania, and Bowling Alone.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The New Jim Crow

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
© 2010 Michelle Alexander
290 pages

            In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander argues that the United States’ drug laws, coupled with its law enforcement and penal cultures, have ushered in a new era of discrimination, segregation, and 2nd class citizenship for  African Americans.

            In building her case, Alexander first demonstrates how law enforcement practices have become increasingly abusive, both physically and of the law. She then scrutinizes the penal system as a whole, revealing how dramatically the ranks of the imprisoned have swelled since the declaration of the drug war. That war is waged not against the manufacturers of narcotics in South America, but against their users; the streets and homes are the battlefield, through which the police storm through in full riot gear.  Next, she elaborates on the traumatic consequences of being touched by the penal system; a mistaken arrest, not even a conviction, can haunt an individual for life, ruining their ability to find work and housing both on the market and through government assistance. So much as touching a joint can warrant an individual being thrown into a sinkhole of self-perpetuating despair and poverty.

            Although each point is condemning on its own, throughout the text Alexander emphasizes the disproportionate way they impact African-American families. The police kick down the doors of black apartments, not white suburbs, even though drug use is statistically the same across ethnic lines. Blacks, not whites, are most subject to arbitrary traffic stops and unconstitutional drug searches. The result of these policies and practices is that African-American families and communities have been destroyed: millions of black men are in prison, and millions more unable to build a life for themselves through honest toil after having been branded a criminal. The chief weakness of her approach is that drug use is voluntary, something Alexander counters only with pointing toward the double standard which exists wherein blacks are punished hard for the same crime that whites are ignored for violating. (This is a a valid point, to be sure, though it doesn’t seem quite the match for countering the criticism.)

            The old Jim Crow separated blacks from whites, relegating them to the sides or beneath the status of whites, through segregation and disenfranchisement. Although law enforcement and penal practices were not arranged deliberately against blacks like Jim Crow, the effects of the two sets of laws, Jim Crow and drug war, are strikingly the same:  the act of being discriminated against by agents of government strangles any notion of citizenship among black youth in the cradle, while destroying their ability to create a life and stable family for themselves and become constructive members of society.The New Jim Crow exposes the lie that discrimination is a thing of the past;  bigotry and abuse are plainly rampant. The work stands as a penetrating criticism of the United States’ prison system, which as much a stain on its human rights record as Jim Crow or slavery. This is one well worth reading.


Friday, April 26, 2013

The New World

A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Volume II: The New World
© 1956 Winston Churchill
400 pages

Shortly before the eruption of the Second World War, Winston Churchill was busy at work authoring a history of the English and American people, of which this is volume II.  Although one might think The New World is set in North America, the new world here is one of political culture, not geography. To be sure, this volume is set in in the Age of Discovery, and there is a section on the first few English colonies...but this work's primary focus is charting the transformation of England from a strongman monarchy into a constitutional government largely run by Parliament. Not coincidentally, Churchill also tracks the effects of the reformation on English religion; here we witness the break from Rome, the birth of the Anglican church, the rising of Protestant sects like the Puritans, and the tension between all three that would lead to wars, a dictatorship, and the happy departure of the Pilgrims to America, where they could ruin a whole new continent with their raging dislike for life. As mentioned prior, Churchill is a traditional historian,  completely focused on the king and the leaders of Parliament. Most people exist to do the ruler's bidding (the soldiers of the New Model Army) or to be put down by a good ruler (the Chartists, Levellers, and Diggers).  Despite this, it's fairly entertaining because Churchill so unabashedly throws in his own opinions, never missing a chance to commend his ancestor Winston Churchill or to get in a few digs at the dig-worthy Oliver Cromwell.

I may read another volume of this series eventually; I'm curious as to how he handled the American Revolution, and I'm told his coverage of the American Civil War is commendable.  Besides that, reading the work in his voice amuses me to no end.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Plain Reader

The Plain Reader
© 1998 various authors, edited by Scott Savage
272 pages

What really matters?  Such is the question explored by the contributing authors of The Plain Reader, a collaboration between Amish and Quaker communities to express how living simply allows them to ‘put to rout all that [is] not life’ and experience themselves, their families, their communities – every aspect of the human condition, in fact – in a more profound way.  Plain is a provocative work, prompting  readers to think critically about their own lives and how our habits reveal our values.In return, the lessons taught may allow those interested to create a more peaceful, meaningful life.

The Plain Reader begins with the account of a man who quit his job at an oil company and purchased a small working farm to run with his wife and children.  He was tired, he said, of working in a place that  encouraged reckless consumerism that allowed a tiny minority to live extravagantly (that's us) at the expense of both the poor and of future generations, who will left with our messes and without resources. He was tired of working long hours at this company, being separated from his children and world outside his office. In place of all that, he was choosing a life that allowed him to practice sustainability and self-reliance, and to impart those values to his children while watching them grow up and working alongside them at the family farm while experiencing the glory of the natural world.  Toward the book's end, one author writes that the essence of being Amish is choosing to reject anything that gets in the way of experiencing life fully, that constitutes a spiritual obstacle.

In that spirit, the authors of this book live. Some of them are not so different from most people who might pick up this slender volume: they have simply chosen to disengage from the constant havoc of everyday life. They've stopped shopping for the sake of shopping; they've shut off the television and found they liked a quieter home.  They've opted to bicycle to work, or move closer to it so they wouldn't have to drive. Some start a garden and learn to can. And others have taken more dramatic steps, like joining Amish communities and taking up farming as a vocation. Because the sources hail from Christian religious communities, that tradition is touched on within, but these authors do not need to inject religious beliefs into their ordinary lives, like slapping a "HONK IF U LOVE JESUS" sticker onto their SUV; instead, their ordinary lives are their practice, and every action is imbued with the sacred, from birthing to washing clothes. They are not Puritans, for the most part; one contributor is a Quaker minister who uses a laptop to write his sermons and provide his pulpit notes.  He's uncomfortable with having become dependent on the computer to write the notes he used to compose in longhand, but, he concludes, using the computer to write allows him more time to drive his buggy.

The relationship between humanity and machines is a running theme of the book; there exists a proper relation between the two, and working  out what that relation is should be left to people and communities. Critical discussion of the machine is not limited to tools and physical objects, however, like the effect of televisions and computer games on family life;  the authors take on Systems as machines, or as things which treat people like machines. They disdain an compulsory educational system that grooms  children to take tests, but doesn't impart any skills; they reject dehumanizing work, and a medical approach that views organs and individuals in isolation and regards disease in both as something which should be treated with an array of patented pills.  The contributors time and again turn away from the big and impersonal to the small and human-scaled; they embrace barter and favors systems rather than money, and stress the importance of adults who know children personally in teaching them about the world, one-on-one and by example, like apprentices and masters.

A common thread is that of community. As mentioned, most of the authors hail from Quaker and Amish communities, and so put great stock by traditions which bring and keep people together; The Plain Reader, while attacking most of what modern people take for granted, is conservative in that it generally emphasizes the welfare of communities over that of individuals, although the essayists presumably have different ideas as to what the ideal balance is between individual and communal well-being. While one urges people to think for themselves, another writes that removing televisions from the home allowed him to shelter his children, teaching them to accept certain beliefs on face value; he explicitly scoffs at this notion of people believing any old thing they want. The catch is, of course, that the culture the authors adore so much, the traditions they keep to, are themselves artifacts, just as invented by human beings as television sets, automobiles, and SaladShooters.  

Though not a large book, The Plain Reader offers an abundance of food for thought. But that food isn't candy; it isn't necessarily sweet and easy to swallow. It's substantial, chewy, and can be felt all the way down  your esophagus.  Even to someone as receptive to their ideas as myself, some of the essays presented a challenge, especially in  regards to health. While I find the "everything should be treated with pills" model as dubious as any,  the mention of holistic medicine and having an herb for everything makes my skepi-senses tingle. Diet and exercise have their place in warding off most diseases -- but antibiotics have their place, too.  The trick is to not destroy the body's immune system by swallowing a pill for every runny nose.  Everything in moderation -- or should that be, most things?

The Plain Reader commends itself to those interested in a thoughtful life. 


Friday, April 19, 2013

This week at the library: cities and simple living

This week at the library, I’ve started a series of England-themed readings to commemorate St. George’s Day, on 23 April. My selections are A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Volume II: The New World by Winston Churchill, and A Dangerous Inheritance: A Novel of Tudor England by Alison Weir. I’ve never read any of Churchill’s work. So far I’ve found him a spirited if traditional storyteller.

The New Jim Crow is an unrelated read, as it examines the effects of the United States’ enthusiasm for prisons on African-Americans; I’m almost finished with that.

Earlier in the week, I finished The Plain Reader, but I’ve been so provoked by it that I’m re-reading it, essay by essay, and writing reflections on it in my personal journal. It’s a collection of thoughts on simple living. Reviews and comments are also pending for The Universe Within and The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs.
I have three interlibrary loan requests pending.. Chimpanzee Politics,  Buddhism without Beliefs, and Crunchy  Cons

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Spectacle of Corruption

A Spectacle of Corruption
© 2004 David Liss
381 pages

When Benjamin Weaver went to a pub, he never expected to end up fighting for his life, let alone be arrested for the crime of killing a man he only met when the man saved his life during the struggle.  But that's what taking jobs from mild-mannered preachers will get you.  The minister had been threatened with violence if he didn't stop sermonizing against the Whig abuse of the poor, and asked Weaver -- detective, bounty hunter, thieftaker, shakedown man -- to find out who was responsible for the threats.  But during an election season, even a homily for the poor can be part of an elaborate plot. And so, after effecting an escape from prison and a death sentence, Weaver must find out who is trying to frame him, and why -- and in the process, will find himself knee deep in a conspiracy to restore James II to the crown. A Spectacle of Corruption thrusts Weaver into the exciting and dangerous world of 17th century politics, taking readers on a journey through the dark, winding paths of London, into working class pubs and the galleries of the wealthy.

Spectacle is a  worthy successor to  A Conspiracy of Paper, dominated by Weaver and a few other outstanding characters -- his doctor and friend, whose obsession with bloodletting  (a running joke) has switched to enemas, Johnathan Wild, the 'thieftaker general' who is involved in every criminal plot of note, and (of course) a beautiful woman who is far more canny than proper society will allow for. Weaver has no idea who would be trying to frame him , and even less idea as to who wants to help out him. Someone placed a sobbing lass with a lockpick in his path before he was incarcerated. The man who Weaver immediately suspects, Wild, has nothing to do with it. The mystery is part of the battle being waged between the Whigs (corrupt businessmen), the Tories (corrupt aristocrats), and to a lesser extent between the Tories and the shadowy Jacobin plot to one day displace George I and restore to the English throne a monarch who can actually speak English. Unlike Conspiracy of Paper and Ethical Assassin, Liss doesn't use Spectacle to muse on any philosophical issue, except perhaps the frauds people perpetuate to find a better place for themselves within society, masking their true selves as not to cause alarm. 

I very much look forward to the third book in this series, The Devil's Company

Friday, April 12, 2013

Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet

Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet
352 pages
© 2008 Michael T. Klare

For much of the 20th century, a handful of industrialized countries enjoyed access to a seemingly infinite supply of oil. But a century of economic progress has seen global demand for oil soar. Ever more countries are scrambling for a bigger piece of the petroleum pie, and there's increasingly less to divide, while appetites the sticky sweet stuff have only just been whetted.  As nations scramble to find new oil deposits to replace those which they've already exhausted, the global balance of power has shifted. Formerly impoverished nations are now fat with wealth, and titans of the global economy have become increasingly anxious beggars on the verge of throwing punches. In Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet,  Michael Klare elaborates on why the global dependency on a resource with an unstable future is a growing threat to world peace and muses on how the great powers, old and new, can turn competitive tension into collaborative energy and prevent quests for energy security from becoming World War III.

Oil (and gas) are potent stuff.  The energy contained within them isn't limited to fuel for transportation: they can  and have brought back to life, Lazarus-style, failed states like Russia which capitalized on its ability to control the flow of fuel to Europe. They've also turned desert wastelands dotted with yurts into spectacles of affluence; goodbye tents, hello opulent towers and water fountains performing music.  This enormous wealth has been generated because global demand for oil is climbing at the same time that supplies are faltering:  the great wells have been drained, discoveries of new ones are falling, and wells are exhausted more quickly than they can found. In addition to our rapacious appetite for fuel wreaking havoc on the environment  (who needs mountains when you can have coal? Aw yeah.), they're not having a happy effect on global politics, either. Not only has the wealth and power given to Russia and the new petrostates been restricted to a relative few, with little of the wealth being invested back into their societies, but the few have used the power to strengthen their hand; petty tribal chiefs now have money and foreign militaries doing their oppressing for them. Which foreign militaries? Those of the United States, Russia, and China, the Big Three who are canvassing the globe in search of resources and playing games with whatever tinpot dictator they can pressure to give it to them -- from the Caspian Sea to Africa, and especially the Middle East. Although Klare's early chapters detail the rising demand for oil, most of the book is given to studying how various powers, the big three in addition to Japan,  India, and a few other states, are competing with one another in board rooms cutting deals, and increasingly on the edge of the battlefield. While no wars have erupted yet, Klare seems to think they're inevitable. His final chapter urges the powers to work together to solve their common problem of energy security, rather than wasting scarce resources trying to stave off the inevitable.

Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet is a book to read if you've any interest in global affairs and the future of energy. It's replete with data to impress (and horrify) your friends: did you know we'll have to double our production of oil to meet predicted demand by 2020?  (Considering that we've been reduced to smashing  greasy rocks together to find it, that's a fairly daunting challenge.) Klare is an engaging writer, making a discussion of production figures seem interesting; it helps that competition for them is causing so much conflict.  Given the importance of the subject, this is a book I think more people should read, but there are a couple of niggling problems: first, this book is four years out of date, and  so many of the facts may have changed.  Russia's Gazprom, for instance, isn't quite as intimidating now as it was in the book, and the new petrostates aren't wasting all of their oil money. Some nations on the Persian Gulf are investing in renewable energy in anticipation of the inevitable day that oil proves to be not magic and runs out, like every other resource.  Additionally, some of his advice seems a bit unhelpful, namely that suggestion that China and America collaborate to make more fuel-efficient cars; those meager contributions be dwarfed by the fact that both nations are aggressive car promoters and yearn for more automobile sales. These are trifling matters, though; the meat of the book is more than food for thought.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Monday Musings

Every Monday, Should Be Reading posts a list of questions people can write on as they like. I don't think I've ever participated before, but I usually enjoy reading others' responses. The questions are:

• Describe one of your reading habits.
• Tell us what book(s) you recently bought for yourself or someone else, and why you chose that/those book(s).
• What book are you currently desperate to get your hands on? Tell us about it!
• Tell us what you’re reading right now — what you think of it, so far; why you chose it; what you are (or, aren’t) enjoying it.
• Do you have a bookish rant? Something about books or reading (or the industry) that gets your ire up? Share it with us!
• Instead of the above questions, maybe you just want to ramble on about something else pertaining to books — let’s hear it, then!

I recently purchased The Plain Reader: Essays on Making a Simple Life, and anticipate it arriving in the post sometime this week. I first heard about it on The Sprocket podcast, which covers bikes, beer, music, and 'simplifying the good life'.   I have on order, through Interlibrary Loan, two books: Frans de Waal's Chimpanzee Politics, and a bit of historical fiction by David Liss called A Spectacle of Corruption.   Last year I purchased eighty books, which is waaaaaaaaaay too many,  and right now I'm trying to declutter.

I currently starting two books, Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish and Michael Shermer's The Believing Brain. I've read both authors before; in fact, I read Shubin just a few weeks ago. I enjoyed his The Universe Within Us, but haven't posted comments yet.  Your Inner Fish has been on my to-read list foreeeeeever, and I bought it a few weeks ago because I wanted a science read.

Saturday, April 6, 2013


© 2013 Bernard Cornwell
432 pages

And by God, he thought, there was nothing like this feeling. A good horse, a tight high saddle, a lance, and an enemy taken by surprise.

It's the year..well, 1356, and after a lull in the fighting, the Hundred Years War is about to resume. England is having a merrie old time raiding the French countryside, setting fire to every structure and peasant they can find, and carting it all back to Calais.  Somewhat chuffed, the French king has at last decided to take action. His goal: capture the Black Prince, young Edward, and use him as a ransom to force the English to recoup France its losses in land and goods, and end the war. With an overwhelming advantage in numbers, and the wisdom learned after numerous defeats (to wit: don't make it easy for the English archers by riding massive targets into battle),  France seems poised for a momentous victory at Poitiers...but then comes Thomas of Hookton, the knighted leader of a group of archers who call themselves the Damned.

Thomas is known to readers of Cornwell as the bastard son of a priest ("the devil's whelp") who rose from the ranks as a common archer to the leader of men, and one who found the Holy Grail, to boot. 1356 sees him on a mission  to ensure that the French don't recover a relic known as la Malice, the sword that Simon Peter used to defend Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.   His rival is his opposite, a golden-haired idealistic  virgin who fancies himself an actor in some heroic quest, fighting dragons and demons and restoring France to glory.  These two opposites -- Cap'n Mal and Captain Hammer, if you will -- meet first in battle over a woman, as a young countess has decided to run off with another knight, one who isn't her morbidly obese and stupidly cruel husband. The Virgin Knight, Sir Roland, sees it as his duty to restore a naughty adulteress to her god-given master, hubby dear, and Thomas rescues her while shaking the count down for unpaid debts. (The aristocracy may sneer at Thomas' band of common longbowman, but they're willing to pay a rich price to enlist their service.).  While Thomas and Roland seek la Malice and spar over the woman, each trying to avoid capture and death while traveling through a war zone -- the English and French armies move to engage with one another, and eventually Thomas takes his place on the battle lines, where he fights desperately and accomplishes stunning deeds -- as Cornwell's heroes are wont to do.

Cornwell's strengths as a writer aren't missing here: his scenes are rich with detail, the dialogue is lively and hilarious, the prose commands the reader's emotions, the battles are intense. He's wonderful -- but what I liked most about 1356 was Thomas' foe, Roland. The two are on opposite sides throughout most of the novel, but it's not as if Roland is a bad guy. He's committed to Doing the Right Thing; like Thomas, he has a talent for fighting and enjoys the competition. But Roland is an innocent, not for his 'virgin' status but because he thinks the world is a fairy tale, in which he is Prince Charming. He undergoes a fair bit of character development as the tale goes on, learning how truly contemptible 'noble' rulers can act, and how virtuous the damned can be,

1356 is another rollicking story of war, love,  and mischevious monks.


Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile
336 pages
© 2012 Taras Grescoe

The cheap energy era is over, unless someone invents a Star Trek replicator that can magick barrels of oil into existence. Cities across the world are working to meet the challenge of keeping millions of people moving and their local economies growing by investing in mass transit. In Straphanger, Taras Grescoe visits thirteen cities in the Americas, Europe, and Asia to experience their transportation systems, finding what what works and what doesn't. These cities include not only those with long-successful and fully integrated systems, like Paris and Tokoyo, but cities like Phoenix which were built for the automobile and which are now trying to transform themselves. Watching these cities strive for the future has for Grescoe all the thrill of attending a rocket launch: when they're successful, it's glorious, but when they fail...the results aren't pretty.  Happily for Grescoe and readers, most of his accounts are of successful takeoffs -- and even the failures have something to teach.

Prior to the automobile, the great urban centers of the industrial age depended on transit systems to keep their expanding population mobile: even small cities could boast a trolley system. But as the automobile zoomed into the historical spotlight, these systems were abandoned and destroyed -- until now. The transit renaissance is not only bringing old systems back to life, but bettering them: only only are trains cleaner and faster these days, but the systems themselves are better thought-out. Take buses, for instance, which are increasingly being taken out of congested traffic and deployed in Bus Rapid Transit systems, in which they're given a full lane of the road, dedicated to them. Those who board these  have pre-purchased tickets, much like train lines -- allowing BRT drivers to more than double the average speed of their buses outside the system. BRT systems are ideal for poorer cities in desperate need of transit, but which lack the means to create more involved systems. like subways.

Straphanger combines history and public policy,  covering traditional transit (trolleys,  trains, and subways),  transitional transit with a twist (BRT), and bicycles as well. Although bicyles are individual vehicles, Grescoe demonstrates how they can be connected to cities' mass transit systems. For instance, in Paris, a Metro ticket that allows subway access can also be used to rent a bicycle to take to the train station -- and bus stops there nearby, as well. Copenhagan's history of recent expansion has been done while simutaneously promoting bicycle use, making it in Grescoe's view an excellent choice for American cities to study. The great lesson of Straphanger is that for mass transit to succeed, it must consist of a network that people can actually use to get places. Busses that run erratically are of no use to people who need to get to work on time, and bike lanes that go nowhere do more harm to the cause of bike commuting than good. Integration is a key element of that, both in working in transit options where people live, work, and shop, and in connecting those options to expand people's opportunities.  Paris' achievements in this field make it Grescoe's favorite, but Straphanger's writing doesn't focus just on functionality: he points out how transit can be a place for civic art, as exemplified by Moscow's subway, and expand people's quality of life:  cycling is fun, far more than sitting in gridlock.

Straphanger is a winsome, thoughtful, and entertaining book which should be of interest to citizens who want to make their communities better and more sustainable places to live.

Walkable City, Jeff Speck
Pedaling Revolution, Jeff Mapes
Waiting on a Train, Jeff McCommons
The Green Metropolis, Jeff  David Owen