Sunday, September 29, 2013

This week at the library: bikes, Greeks, stuff, and eeeeeevil

Dear readers:

September's winding-down for me has been busy for me, and especially today. All three meals were taken with friends while out and about; it was a day filled with a country drive and a long walk through beautiful old neighborhoods in my college town, ending with a trip to the library and my exchanging one pile of books for another. I have good, sturdy messenger bag for the toting. This month's haul:

  • Bicycle: the History, David Herlihy 
  • The Origin of Satan, Elaine Pagels
  • Greek Ways: How the Greeks Created Western Civilization,  Bruce Thornton
  • A Consumer's Republic: the Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America, Lizabeth Cohen
  • The City in History, Lewis Mumford
  • The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger, Marc Levinson
  • The Last Human: A Guide to Twenty-Two Species of Extinct Human, G.J. Sawyer & Viktor Deak

Reviews are pending for Uncommon Carriers and Crabgrass Frontier. I'm also considering reading Robert Harris' The Fear Index, but now it's competing with a book on shipping containers. It's gonna be a tough call.

Happy reading, everyone!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Field Grey

Field Grey
© 2011 Phillip Kerr
384 pages

Bernie Gunther survived Hitler's Germany and a Soviet prison camp, so when he's forcefully detained by the American  Navy on the open seas and interrogated, he's not too much impressed by their attempt at viciousness. Sure,  he had the bad luck to be traveling with an attractive lady who happened to be wanted by the American government for assassinating a cop in Cuba and fomenting revolution, but he's had worse luck.  Back in the 1930s, he once saved the life of another cop killer who is now one of the most powerful men behind the Iron Curtain: Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi. Did I mention Gunther is a detective who actually doesn't like cop-killers?  The US Navy would like to know why Gunther was running around the Caribbean with an assassin and a lot of money -- and the Central Intelligence Agency is even more curious as to his association with the head of the Stasi.  Mockingly thrown into the very prison cell that housed Adolf Hitler, the man who destroyed his country and whom he hated, Gunther is made to tell his own story.

 Field Grey is a tangled political thriller set in  Germany as Hitler came to power and drove it to ruin, but set also in the Germany of the Cold War: a Germany divided by the victorious allies, now scheming against one another in equal measure.  Bernie Gunther is no Nazi, but neither is he a good communist or a reconstructed German: he's a proud, jaded Berliner, and the story he tells is one calculated to guard his most precious secrets from the treacherously friendly Amis.  Field Grey impresses with its pacing; the plot moves forward steadily with a few bends here and there until a hairpin at the end: it doesn't rely on confusing the reader to thrill. Although Gunther is your standard-issue world-weary cynical detective, he has a wicked sense of humor which he uses to good effect to irk enemies and allies alike.  Despite technically being a member of the SS (which absorbed criminal investigations), he's sympathetic yet realistic:  not a Nazi, but not a knight in shining armor, either.  Field Grey is one of numerous Gunther novels by Phillips Kerr, which I selected to read first because it ranged through so many years.  It will not be the last! Look for this if you've an interest in detective mysteries, historical fiction, and Cold War intrigue.

Oh!  And there's romance, naturally. Can't have a detective story without beautiful women..


  • Fatherland, Robert Harris. Likewise a detective novel with a German lead,  this work is also one of alternate history, for it's set in a Europe where Hitler is celebrating his 70th birthday,  presiding in triumph over Europe and a broken Russia, hoping to reach detente with the Americans. Unfortunately for him,  a murder investigation leads to the facts of the Holocaust being unearthed.
  • Garden of Beasts, Jeffery Deaver.  Gunther is a proud Berliner, claiming the city as his more readily than anything else, and Beasts is set in 1933 Berlin.  An American reporter shows up during the Olympics and realizes that Hitler is up to something other than building highways. 

Home Economics

Home Economics
© 1987 Wendell Berry
192 pages

The term economics originally referred to household management, and to Wendell Berry, that's what it should remain still. Home Economics collects essays on the meaning and relation of economy to human life. In it, he deplores the cancerous growth of massive, unwieldy structures like agribusiness, globalization, and the state which destroy culture, communities, and the land, reducing the human experience to economic inputs. He ruminates thoughtfully on the value of more traditional ways of life, and advocates for an approach which is much more finely-grained For Berry, the humane society is one built to a small scale, built on local economies wherein people, not institutions, are the primary actors, and where the relationships between people and the land are respectfully maintained.

Berry is a fascinating author. At first glance, he's manifestly romantic and old fashioned, advocating for the same kind of agrarian  Republic of citizen-farmers that Thomas Jefferson yearned for. Though he's grounded in the past, quoting freely from classical poets and the Bible life, he's not mired by it: he does not despise cities as Jefferson and other agrarians did, and writes that if we wish to preserve the wilderness and farms, we must preserve our cities, too.  Though he doesn't outline his reasoning, it may be similar to that of David Owen's, who sees energy-efficient cities as the best hope for combating climate change. It's certainly a better  hope than car-dependent suburbia, which Berry despises (however much a gentle and aging scholar-farmer can despise something).   Berry urges readers to consider a return to localism not just because it's better for the environment (his veneration for which is religiously inspired), and not just because the new institutions are oppressive and destructive but because Nature has a way of correcting the unsustainable. That which cannot sustain itself will not: eventually it will fail. We will not persist living as we do now forever: our choice is in how and when we change.  In the hereafter, Berry writes, we may ask forgiveness for the crimes Nature has judged us for, but God has never shown any inclination to overturn her just sentences.

At times a warning, the vision of Home Economics is not dire.  In elaborating on the weaknesses of industrialized and globalized modernity,  he affirms that the ongoing desecration of human life and the planet will not long endure -- and in articulating what was lost, he makes clear to modern readers what it is they miss without being able to describe; the bonds of family and community life, attachment to place, and the sense of a life of meaning and purpose. His holistic vision offers to restore those powers laid waste in getting and spending.

Folks, This Ain't Normal, Joel Salatin. Salatin advocates some of the same ideas, at least in terms of farm ecology. He's more cheerfully manic and provocative, though.
Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey (on the virtues of the wilderness)

The Working Poor

The Working Poor: Invisible in America
© 2004 David Shipler
352 pages

"Like my daddy used to say -- 'Son, life's hell to pay for when you're poor -- cause  always just outside the door's another Hard Time.'"    (Jerry Reed)

The United States is simultaneously one of the richest and poorest countries in the world, a land marked by both obscene waste and desperate poverty. Explanations vary as to the cause of the widening income gap; some blame a deteriorating culture, others globalized free trade, and still others maintain it's a classic case of exploitation.  Poverty may be endemic to economics, but the great tragedy is tragedy's juxtaposition with the American dream of success: work hard and you will prosper. Reality is more complicated than that. In The Working Poor: Invisible in America, David Shipler shares the lives of people who, despite long shifts, can't get ahead.  They are black, white, Hispanic and Asian; some have lived here for generations, others are newly arrived immigrants. The reasons for their quicksand desperation are complex and varied: although many mire themselves in self-destructive cycles of behaviors, others are truly and continually ensnared by cycles of poverty -- poor housing that leads to bad health that leads to spotty employment and debt that lead to poor housing.  It's not as if they don't try, but the odds are against them: even a small hiccup, an unexpected dilemma, can completely derail hopes of progress.

  Shipler's work doesn't propose any grand national agenda like the War on Poverty, and his account demonstrates how problematic proposed solutions have been so far.  Welfare offers intrusive, obtrusive bureaucracy and distorted incentives;  public education for impoverished areas is largely a failure, and while there are a great many incompetent teachers, whose talent is less about communicating with children and more memorizing what Has to be Taught,  the reality of poverty is that it isn't just material. There's a greater cultural poverty present that Shipler details as well: a loss of hope, of ambition. Some of the stories here are outright depressing in demonstrating how failure can run in a family, with unparented children growing up to have babies who grow up likewise unparented. They lack not just the data accumulated in twelve years of schooling, but ordinary life skills.  There are also hopeful stories, like the single parent who embraced poverty of the material kind by refusing to work two jobs, deciding that devoting time to her children, giving them the attention and instruction they need, was more important than a financial cushion.  Though raising two children on a single  wage was hard, her children were success stories who later escaped poverty.

The Working Poor is a valuable book, demonstrating that there is more to financial security than simply working hard -- and more to insecurity than bad personal choices. Although Shipler is probably more sympathetic to the progressive, he's by no means convinced that government can be a decisive solution here. His work illustrates how complex the problem of poverty is, communicating to the reader that it would take more than a money dump in one program or another. The problems of poverty -- dismal education,  the costs of healthcare and housing, access to transportation, availability of jobs, the shattered status of a family life -- are all connected, and there is no Gordian solution.  As grim as it can be, the book is girded with hopeful stories of struggle and resilience. Based on extensive interviews and Shipler's own research (including  time spent observing schoolrooms), it's as close to a comprehensive understanding of working class poverty as one will find without living it.


  • Nickle and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenrich. This is the author's account of attempting to live on minimum wage in three different states, with little success. Her experience demonstrated many of the problems here (the costs of housing and expense of transportation, especially)  though family life was not an issue and she never had to deal with state welfare offices. 
  • Reefer Madness, Eric Schlosser, which also shone a light into the dirty business of migrant agricultural labor. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Free to Choose, Born to Buy (and Left to Die)

In the past two weeks I've been reading a series of books which connected together despite being on disparate subjects. Milton Friedman's Free to Choose, published in the 1970s, argues for a completely free market -- that is, one with no regulations, tariffs, government licenses, public financing, etc. Friedman follows initial chapter on the power of markets with sections that compare the effects of government attempts to improve safety,  protect consumers against defective products, raise wages, etc.  Time and again he made good points about market efficiency,  but the general attitude advocated is extreme. Friedman is not nearly as extreme as other free marketeers: he respects the potential power of monopolies and advocates for free trade so that potential monopolies are always disrupted from outside, and  (staggeringly, for the 1970s) acknowledges environmental hazards.  Although I'm often tempted to agree with him on principle, in practice caution is warranted. While Friedman is correct in pointing out that people who buy defective products will not be likely to purchase them again,  consumer-driven corrective measures aren't always the best. What would he make of malware, for instance, which invades people's computers and then pretends to be an anti-virus program, which will rid the obvious infection for a fee?   On the whole, this work makes the same arguments as Thomas Sowell's Basic Economics, but Sowell was far more thorough.

A much different view was taken by Juliet Shor, whose Born to Buy examined the commercialization of childhood. After providing a history, an overview of the tactics, and an examination the consequences, Shor argues -- pleads, as a parent -- for regulation and taxation to reign in the corporate invasion of schools, the ubiquity of product placement in television, the insidious attitude in advertising that encourages kids to not only seek approval by buying things, but to assert their coolness by badgering their parents into buying them the latest and greatest -- advertising that blames the parents for being  mean and the cause of their child's misery if they don't. Released in the same year as Susan Linn's Consuming Kids,  Shor's work contains more concrete data, but is not quite as helpful:  Linn focused on especially destructive themes and counseled parents on how they could make decisions in their household and in conversations with their children to counter consumerism and premature sexualization.  Shor largely passes by  media sexualization and only looks at government regulation to reign in the abuse. Considering that the Supreme Court regards corporation as people who can dump however money they'd like into elections,  I would not count the US government as an ally in this fight.   Born to Buy is still very much worth reading, though, just for the numerous interviews with marketing execs, many of whom (parents themselves) left the business when they could no longer reconcile their work with their consciences. (With good reason:  their usurpation of child psychology and carefully planned invasions of home and school borders on villainy.)  A quotation from one:

"Banks [,a marketing agent], believes buzz practitioners are just getting started.
'We'll have ten or fifteen more ways of encircling the consumer in ten years [...] surrounding almost every move you make, that would be the ideal.' Asked about consumers who didn't like being marketed to, Banks didn't hesitate. 'Covert messaging. Use their friends.'"

Born to Buy was published in 2004. Nine years later, 'Banks' must surely be pleased with the ubiquity of facebook, which converts our friends' passions into ads for us, projected across the internet via plugins.

And lastly there was The Working Poor: Invisible in America, which profiled the millions in America who do their damndest to fulfill the promise of the American dream, but cannot seem to escape poverty.  David Shipler attempts to find out why, and realizes the answer is...complicated! Yes, shockingly, a societal problem has nuance. Poverty cannot be reduced to bad character nor oppression inherent in the system. Instead, it's a little of both. More extensive comments on this piece will follow this week.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Sky is Not the Limit

The Sky is not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist 
© 2004 Neil deGrasse Tyson
203 pages

          How does a young black kid from the Bronx become a world-famous astrophysicist, Director of the Hayden Planetarium and the second coming of Carl Sagan?  The Sky is Not the Limit is Neil deGrasse Tyson’s semi-autobiographical account of how he came to be seduced by the study of the  night sky,  one that doubles as a light work of popular science, promoting informed, critical thinking and asserting that yeah, science is cool.   Subtitled Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist, Tyson’s memoir reveals that anyone can take joy from studying the stars, even if their view of the sky is washed out from city lights and their ambitions discounted by everyone they meet. The biography-turned-essay collection is Tyson’s most effective attempt so far to convert his gift for communicating science in public lectures into written form. Though his being seduced by heavenly bodies takes center stage, one essay ("Dark Matters")  sees Tyson make a rare comment on race. Although he received support from his parents and guidance from remarkable individuals like Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov, Tyson had to overcome the obstacle for race: at every step along the way of his education people questioned his choice of occupations, from patronizing whites doubting his intelligence ("Why don't you just play basketball?") to patronizing blacks who thought astrophysics was too white and that an intelligent black man should be helping the race by  being a social activist instead. He persevered, however, and eventually became a celebrity scientist, the first black man (to his knowledge) to be interviewed on television and asked for his professional opinion on something outside of race or civil rights. The Sky is not the Limit covers astrophysics, math, skepticism, telescope stargazing as a first date (not successful), and September 11th, 2001.  Those looking for an entertaining science read should find this attractive. 


  • Dr. Tyson hosts a weekly podcast called "StarTalk Radio", which is ridiculously awesome. He always hosts with a comedian, includes interviews, and fields questions from listeners about science and popular culture. The last show featured an interview...Buzz Aldrin, one of the first two men on the moon. Tyson has also spoke with Dr. Ruth (that "Dr. Ruth") and frequently features authors like Mary Roach and Neil Chaikin.
  • An interview with Dr. Tyson about the book on Point of Inquiry



Friday, September 20, 2013

The Disappearance of Childhood

The Disappearance of Childhood
©1982 Neil Postman
177 pages

Television is killing your children -- conceptually. In 1985, Neil Postman penned Amusing Ourselves to Death, in which he, building off of the lesson in Technopoly that technology changes our culture without our knowledge, examined television’s malevolent effects on political, civic, and religious discourse. The Disappearance of Childhood, published in 1982, is an earlier form of this argument, and one which focuses only on the effects of television on childhood.  In it, he asserts that childhood is a social construct, not a biological fact; that it sprang into being with the advent of the printing press and the need to instill widespread literacy; and that the rise of easy-accessible information through the television (and by extension for modern readers, the internet) has killed the innocence of youth. Although its historic claim about childhood is dubious,  concerns about the diminishment of modern childhood remain valid, and the connection between the two, the idea that technology is not value-free, but in fact shapes us as we use it, is as fascinating as ever.

Postman's initial bold claim that childhood is an invention of the middle ages is staggering in its audacity. With hundreds of thousands of years of history behind us as a species, we cover the globe in a seemingly infinite mosaic of sharply different cultures. Yet for all this diversity, there is not one semblance of childhood as special outside of medieval Europe and the cultures it influenced? To be sure, there are avenues of thought that make the thought understandable: modern children have far easier lives than their predecessors of any age. The demands placed on children in earlier epochs meant they had to participate in the life of their household, on the farm or at work, early on.  But does this translate to nothing about children being regarded as special at all? The  claim is simply too broad to go down easily.

That a side, this preview of Amusing Ourselves to Death, which casts childhood as the first victim of the communications revolution that later claimed public discourse, education, and our peace of mind, remains noteworthy. That revolution, writes Postman, spelled an end  of childhood as a special time in which children are protected from the burdens and full knowledge of the world, allowed to frolic in leisure outside the schoolroom, while inside it being good students learning to navigate their literary world.  Before widespread literacy, writes Postman, knowledge was primarily transmitted orally, and children learned the secrets of the world fairly easily. After the printing press made written communication the primary means of cultural transmission, however, not only did the knowledge being transmitted become 'secret' in that one had to learn to read to take part in it, but literary culture so broadened the intellectual capacity of the human race that the ideas being discussed became far more complex. To learn the world meant committing to a course of training and study, and that meant school. School was the potter's house in which young clay was molded into tall, strong vessels of knowledge. and ready for the responsibilities of adulthood.

The coming of mass communication, especially the television, ruined all that. While once courses of study were designed so that people -- children -- were gradually introduced to adult ideas as they grew older, the nightly news now exposes children to the adult world all at once. Within twenty minutes,  young minds can witness the horror of war,  be subjected to lessons about how buying things leads to happiness (and how being ignorant of the right shampoo will mean being forever alone because women recoil from dandruff), and learn a host of interesting words like 'incest' and 'erectile dysfunction' to ask mom and dad about. Because television requires virtually no prior knowledge, no training, no work to be entertaining or 'enlightening',  adults who spend much of their leisure time basking in its blue glow will be rendered infantile, easily manipulated and incapable of sustaining their attention in anything worthwhile. Although most of the book is a serious treatment of technology and society, toward the end Postman sounds a teeny bit crotchety. 

Although The Disappearance of Childhood has a questionable start and loses focus toward the end, the pages between raise a question worth considering for modern parents. Regardless of Postman's historic claims, both parents and child psychologists entertain worries today about 'age compression' or 'kids getting older younger'.  Though Postman muses in 1982 that computers might be a saving grace for literacy, if they continue to require programming language to set up and use (thus requiring another kind of focused education) a recent  article by The Atlantic wondering if it's unhealthy for toddlers to spend so much time on smartphone applications indicates that such hope is absurd.  Although Postman was primarily concerned with television, the internet makes TV look innocent. There's virtually no knowledge concealed from a child with a search engine and a curious mind, and the knowledge revealed won't just be a line of text: might well constitute a graphic video.  Knowledge is a powerful asset, and the danger that today's children are being exposed to too much, too soon,  warrants attention.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

This week at the library: vanishing children, the suburbs, and markets run amok

Dear readers:

 Last week I paid a visit to my alma mater's library, my first since finding out I still have borrowing privileges there. I emerged from my first half-hour with a large stack of books, then halved it out of consideration for the fact that I had to carry them all to my car.   It's been a long while since I made a literal Trip to the Library and exchanged one pile of books for another -- as I now work in one,  I tend to check out books as I find them throughout the week.  That trip's hunt produced:

  • Satisfaction Guaranteed: the Making of the American Mass Market, Susan Strasser
  • The Sky is not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson
  • Crabgrass Frontier: the Suburbanization of the United States, Kenneth Jackson
  • Born to Buy: the Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture, Juliet B. Schor
  • The Disappearance of Childhood, Neil Postman
  • Home Economics, Wendell Berry
  • Free to Choose, Milton Friedman

The initial check-out period is four weeks, so I'm going to start making monthly trips up there.  I've already begun feasting on this stack, as the review and pending review for Satisfaction Guaranteed  and The Sky Is Not the Limit indicate.  I'm reading Wendell Berry's collection of essays a little every night, but I think I'll commit to Neil Postman in earnest next -- his Amusing Ourselves to Death and Technopoly are two of the single-most influential books I've ever read;  no one has shaped my thinking like Postman.

Speaking of authors, I recently noticed that Goodreads will display a list of your most-read authors on command. My results aren't too surprising, and I'm happy to see that dear Doctor Asimov holds the #1 spot with nary a challenger in sight.

I'm a liiiiittle embarrassed the only woman on the list is J.K. Rowling. It gets better when you look at the top 100, but...

Any fellow Goodread members out there? Who are your top fifteen?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Sky Walking

Sky Walking: An Astronaut's Memoir
© 2007 Tom Jones
384 pages

Although the exploration of space has a scientific edge, the first astronauts were not scientists: they were military pilots. Thomas Jones is no exception, establishing the foundation for his career in NASA as an Air Force pilot, but his aspirations for space were definitely those of a man of science, not those of a hot-dogging jockey out to set records and prove his manliness. A member of the astronaut class of 1990,  Jones took part in no less than four Space Shuttle missions,  advancing science as a mission specialist. Jones' Sky Walking is one of two shuttle-era astronaut memoirs, the other being Mike Mullane's Riding Rickets; and of the two, Jones is easily superior. This detailed memoir, grounded not just in memory but in Jones' mission logs and letters home,  offers a look at NASA in transition as the age of the space race gave way to one of geopolitical cooperation in the building of the International Space Station -- a project Jones had a hand in. While a shuttle memoir doesn't ripple with explosive excitement like that of an Apollo astronaut's,  Jones is a sturdy guide to NASA of the 1990s -- a thorough and professional author whose attitude combines Right Stuff-era dutifulness with a scientist's excitement at what new knowledge science missions in space might produce.

Although his career spanned over a decade, Jones never sold that idea to his wife. When he applied to be an astronaut, it was over assurances to her that in the unlikely event that they accepted him, he'd be in the program for four years at most -- a year of training, followed by a couple of flights 'up'.   Jones brought something to the program that NASA administrators liked, however:  he was chosen for his first mission before more senior astronauts who'd waited for years for their first flight into the black, and remained a popular choice for a series of missions thereafter, totaling four. Jones' first two missions were expressly scientific, as he helped deliver and begin operating a new form of orbital radar operated from the shuttle that  allowed data receivers on the ground to see far more deeply into the Earth's crust than ever before. Jones' latter missions were tied to the International Space Station: after his crew proved the feasibility of orbital construction procedures, he delivered and established the Destiny laboratory module, the core of the International Space Station. Although each of these missions were successes, the memoir is not without its disappointments: on his third mission, Jones and his companions were frustrated to find that they'd endured months of  rigorous mission-specific training and faced the prospect of rocket-fueled death to get into space, only to arrive in orbit and find their door wouldn't open to let them do their extravehicular work -- or spacewalk.  The birth of the ISS program was not a storied triumph, either:   although Jones chiefly chronicles his own missions, NASA's general history of the time is provided as context.  NASA in the 1990s was an agency struggling to find a purpose for itself. The moon was forgotten in the history books and the shuttle program firmly operational.  With Mars out of the question and the government not particularly supportive of any big projects, NASA was left with half-considered plans for a space station called "Freedom". Bumbling bureaucracy and chronic budget overruns sapped virtually everyone's enthusiasm for it: even Jones and the other astronauts, for whom the station would be a guarantor of work,  regarded it with skepticism. The International Space Station wasn't planned as such; it emerged as a product of compromise.

Those interested in the shuttle program will find Jones' memoir of interest, as he's generous with  details. His missions have far more appeal than those of fellow shuttle memoir-writer Mike Mullane's, whose shuttle  trips were classified runs for the Department of Defense.(Without being able to say much about his missions, Mullane used much of his ink to complain about NASA politics and tell bawdy stories.)  Although Jones' story easily  holds interest, it doesn't exactly command it:  Jones isn't an aggressive author who screams "LOOK AT ME!"  He writes not just as an astronaut, but as a science educator, and so the work requires some focus on the part of the reader. As much as I appreciated Jones' professional style, the occasional glimpses of his personality, like his account of being mesmerized by the slow-turning globe under his feet, kept the work from being reading too much like a debriefing.  The resonance these lapses in the military staccato added would have helped the memoir connect even more easily with general readers, though the odd few dry moments scarcely detract from Sky Walking's appeal. Jones' memoirs offer readers an education into the intensive, prolonged training that astronauts endure, a story of NASA scientists at their finest, and a look into the birth of the International Space Station, inspiring despite its difficult birth. With the shuttle program behind us, and the next crew vehicle Orion not yet operational,  it also provides a look back to the days when American astronauts flew high on ships of their own.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Satisfaction Guaranteed

Satisfaction Guaranteed: the Making of the American Mass Market
© 2004 Susan Strasser
348 pages

America was born of the frontier, its citizens people who by necessity often manufactured their own household requirements.  This was the case throughout most of the 19th century: even in cities where people could purchase articles like candles and clothing.  But by that century’s end, a revolution was in the process – a consumer revolution in which virtually every household good, from food to cleaning solutions, came from factories. Even more remarkably, however, those goods weren’t even coming from the factories through familiar faces at local groceries: they were entering the lives of people through new mail-order schemes and colossal supermarkets. Satisfaction Guaranteed examines how a few entrepreneurs transformed Americans’ lifestyles and marketplace.

Like Never Done and Waste and Want,   Satisfaction is chiefly focused on social history, and together the three examine various facets of Americans’ transformation from producers to consumers, of how a nation of nominally self-reliant farmers and merchants became one of employee-consumers and big business. Unlike her previous workers, however, here Strasser presents a critical business history, rather like Straight Out of the Oven or Cheap.  To explain the success of the new businesses, she demonstrates to readers how they created completely new business and marketing practices, like ‘market segmentation’ – targeting particular products within a brand to specific demographics.  Another novelty was that of the brand name or trademark, which could be used to build a reputation for quality. They also depended on new technologies and systems, either material (in the form of railroads that allowed for mail-order companies to flower and deliver cheaper goods through volume sales) or legal, like court decisions that made corporations easier to form and much more effective at managing interstate businesses. Strasser places the most emphasis on marketing, however, for it was marketing that introduced Americans to completely new goods (‘Oleomargarine? What kinda cow makes that?), marketing that coaxed them into trying it even when their local grocers didn’t want to stock it, and marketing that gradually lured them into not only using products, but becoming dependent on them. Marketing is why invention is the mother of necessity.

Although Strasser regards consumerism as wasteful, she doesn’t rail against the giants that promote it – indeed, depend on it. There are no villains in this piece, though she’s plainly sympathetic to the small businessmen, like the neighborhood grocers and general store managers, who were at first forced to keep goods on their shelves they had no experience with , and then driven out of business when large chains like A&P Groceries invaded. (Ads of the day directed potentials customers that if their local firms didn’t carry Crisco or the brand in question, they should forward the names and addresses of those firms to the corporation, who would see to it that the goods were offered for retail.)   The new branded products didn’t offer storekeepers much of a profit margin, and eventually corporations began seeing local retailers as obstacles to reaching as broad a customer base as they possibly could – and that was the goal: not meeting needs, but devising any way to create and capture new markets. Whereas once Americans produced things in-house to satisfy their needs, now they were consumers who bought whatever ensnared their interests – and following the ‘credit revolution’, they didn’t even need to be limited by what they could afford.

Strasser’s previous work has been lively yet comprehensive, and Satisfaction Guaranteed largely meets those standards.  Covering the intersection of business practices and lifestyle,  she focuses more on new approaches business management than on lifestyle, the usual center of attention,  which may broaden her audience to those interested in business in general.  This by no means detracts from its appeal as an introduction to the origins of mass consumerism in America, however.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Two Fronts

The War that Came Early: Two Fronts
© 2013 Harry Turtledove
416 pages

In Hitler's War,  Harry Turtledove began a new alternate history of the Second World War, one in which the conflict started in 1938 when Britain and France decided Hitler was being too obvious a budding supervillain in invading Czechoslovakia, and declared war on him for want of anything better to do.  The following years have seen the powers of the world enter into conflicts and alliances with one another, and drop out of them, with ease.  Every dramatic derivation from real life has been reversed, to the point that the series has been a disappointment. But in Two Fronts, Turtledove has produced a military action-adventure novel that's enjoyable regardless of how similar is setting is to our own.

In 1942, the situation is thus:  Germany is in the midst of a two front war, fighting Britain, France, and the Soviet Union while simultaneously throwing men and material into Africa to bail Mussolini out after Il Duce discovers his new Roman Army is still no match for the crazy Scots defending Egypt. In the east, Japan os still trying to conquer China in total, and is now merrily engaged in a war against the United States, which it initiated by sneak attack. Sound familiar?  That's pretty much the situation of reality's World War 2, but with one notable exception: the United States is not at war with Germany. Two Fronts covers the year 1942 in the history of the war that came early, and is is not progressing as one might expect -- but the war which is taking place is interesting in its own right, even if it makes little sense.  It is an in-between novel, in which there aren't any major obvious happenings -- though there are a few subtle happenings which will have major consequences for savvy readers -- but there is an awful lot of fighting. Turtledove's cast of characters is as strong and varied as I've yet seen from him, with viewpoints from all theaters, countries, and branches of the service: whatever military action readers look for, it's here. Tanks, infantry, sea, special operations, even a little aviation are included.  (Aerial warfare isn't downplayed, but bombers are mostly in the background making everyone's lives just a bit more exciting/miserable.)

Two Fronts sees a few interesting changes hovering around the sides of the action, both involving superweapons. Not only do the Japanese begin to introduce biological warfare into their struggle with the United States (dropping rats filled with the Black Death into Hawaii), but a little project in Tennessee named after Manhattan loses its funding. The implications as the war goes are enormous, but then again I've been saying that for four novels, so who knows?  I belatedly realized in reading this that The War That Came Early isn't so much about  a logical series of events that builds off of the war starting in 1938: rather,  that alteration is only one of many. Turtledove seems to be using the early war as a way to turn the Second World War into a sandbox, in which he can explore what-if scenarios like the failure of the Manhattan Project, or the introduction of 'secret weapons' into the field of combat. While I'd prefer the aforementioned logical buildup, this approach has its own merits: it's like the airships  and steam-powered cars in The Two Georges, an interesting take at what-might have been. It is World War 2 with different toys. This is only problematic in that sometimes the plot doesn't make sense. For instance, in this 1942, the United States is only fighting Japan. While it's also sending some resources to Britain and some to Russia to help fight Hitler, the majority of its industrial capacity should be free to be focused squarely on Japan, a Japan which should be weakened by the fact that it decided to invade Russia first. And yet, instead of the United States slowly but surely checking the Japanese advance and swinging a few punches of its own, it's floundering. Maybe its industrial capacity simply hasn't hit full war-time mobilization yet since it doesn't have the added challenge of taking on Hitler, but this amateur-hour performance on their part is bothersome.

Two Fronts is perplexing because I like it. I didn't expect to like it, because it didn't address the fact that this history isn't very 'alternate' despite the early start. It may be that the differences are more subtle than I'd expected, and their consequences will take longer to be noticeable as a result.  Despite the fact that the general sequence of events is unchanged I genuinely enjoyed the variety of military action presented here, especially since Turtledove didn't repeat himself too much. (The exception:  he has decided infantrymen do not like artillerymen, who can kill them without risking being killed in turn. He saw fit to tell the reader this several times. I'm starting to wonder if he doesn't do this on purpose.)    Perhaps this World War 2 with a twist was just the light reading I was looking for this weekend.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Astronaut Wives Club

The Astronaut Wives Club
© 2013 Lily Koppell
288 pages

When a gang of test pilots joined the Mercury program, they and those who followed them didn't have an inkling of what was to come-- and their wives, their unwitting partners in an unexpected story -- knew even less.   In part, Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo only prolonged the misery they knew as the wives of test pilots: they were married to men who were never home, who had a one in four shot of dying every time they went to work, and whose military career seemed more like juvenile adventurism than noble service.  But when pilots became astronauts, those worried wives became the partners of instant celebrities, subject to more scrutiny than they could have ever anticipated.

The Astronaut Wives Club is the story of the harried women who kept the home fires burning while their men, basking in glory and adulation, put fire in the sky. Lily Koppell is a chatty social historian whose account demonstrates how the ladies of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo adapted to the new stresses of their celebrity-wife status, whose homes became the backdrops of national dramas every launch, who were accosted in grocery stories by reporters -- including news hacks who beat a path to the doors of new widows to ask how they felt about their husbands' demise, arriving even before the NASA officials who were to respectfully deliver the bad news. In addition to facing the prospect of their husbands dying horribly -- running out of air and leaving bodies to circle in lunar orbit forever, perhaps?  --  and living under the public eye, having to keep the home and kids looking shipshape to satisfy the Powers that Be and shut the mouths of gossip columnists -- the wives also had to contend with the fact that their superstar husbands were taking an endless stream of "Cape Cookies" to bed. The combination of  cocky, accomplished, and adulated men working in Florida states apart from their wives in Houston, and the presence of young things in miniskirts batting their eyes at the big ol' heroes -- was a bad one for the astronaut's home lives: few marriages survived the space program.

Although early on Koppell fancies the idea of the story of the astronaut wives being one of American women coming into their own, a link with the feminist movement never strongly materializes:  the manners and mores of the astronaut homes were a decade behind those of the popular culture at large, though 'progress' in the form of splintering marriages  increased when it became obvious that NASA didn't really care if the astronauts cheated, so long  as public scandal was avoided So long as they were landing on the Moon, who cared about serial affairs?   Absent of precedent, and left to fend for themselves by NASA, the astro-wives fell back on one another, relying on one another for moral and personal support. They met in one anothers' homes to share their worries and woes, especially helpful given that they were under orders not to burden their husbands with anything -- hence why Jim Lovell didn't realize that all three of his children had their tonsils removed until after he and his wife were leaving town. This is more evident in the Mercury program, when there were only seven wives in a tight-knit circle: as their numbers expanded, first with the New Nine and then additional astronaut classes each with a dozen men at least, cohesion faded.  This is sadly true of the book as well. Though it starts out with a clear focus on the response of the Mercury wives to their new role as being to national icons, as more subjects enter the picture, Koppell drifts, and this combined with her casual  approach means the book loses much of its potential punch, feeling scattered by midway.

The Astronaut Wives Club is an interesting  if weak look into the 'home front' of the space program, with appeal for readers who want to learn a little more about an aspect of the space race that is only lightly touched on at best elsewhere, or readers interested in the lives of accidentally-famous women. Though based in part on interviews with living astronaut wives, it's more serviceable as a diversion than a comprehensive treatment of the subjects.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Two Sides of the Moon

Two Sides of the Moon
© 2006 Alexei Leonov and David Scott
448 pages

Remember the fifties, those fat complacent days when the Future seemed a century away?
Then up went Sputnik, gave the world a butt-kick, and made it clear tomorrow starts today!
'Beep beep beep' -- hello there! Sputnik sails giggling through the skies
Red flags, red faces jump in the race as the space age begins with a surprise! 
("Surprise!", Prometheus Music)

In another setting, Alexei Leonov and David Scott could have been the cause of the other's death. Fighter pilots from empires at odds with one another, intermittently on the edge of war with the fate of the planet hanging in the balance, they would have surely entered combat against one another had the Cold War ever become hot. But instead, one manifestation of the tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, the Space Race to the moon, made them first respectful rivals, then friends. Two Sides of the Moon is a joint biography of the pair, telling their experience as active participants in the race for the stars. Both men were highly accomplished: Leonov was the first man to walk in space, and Scott commanded Apollo 15, the first explicitly scientific lunar mission.  And yet they regarded the Apollo-Soyuz mission as their greatest achievement, for there they established to all the world their conviction the space race had been the triumph of humanity against the odds and the elements, not one nation or one group of men against another.

Readers will welcome Two Sides of the Moon as a rare look into the Soviet space program, and Leonov is the best man living to deliver an autobiographical account of it, given that everyone more famous than him in the Soviet program is long dead.  Each man takes turns telling his side of the story, from their boyhood days until the culmination of the race in Apollo-Soyuz, in which spacecraft from both powers unite, demonstrating the feasibility of international cooperation, to which the International Space Station is a tribute.  Although their stories are wholly distinct from the other, they do work in references to their shared experiences and this combined effort:  Scott comments upon seeing the Earth from space that they "should have sent an artist":  Leonov, appropriately enough, was a painter. Another reference is Leonov revealing an early death in the Soyuz program caused by a spark in a pure-oxygen atmosphere, a disaster that the United States experienced for itself when Gus Gussom, Ed White (first American to spacewalk) and Roger Chaffey were killed in a launchpad fire caused by the a spark same flammable, pressurized atmosphere. Their accounts offer comments and comparisons about the two space programs: despite their sensitive nature, information leaked through intelligence services reliably. By the authors' account, a feeling of cameradie between the astro- and cosmo-nauts established itself early: despite their being opposing military men, the would-be spacefarers from either side of the Iron Curtain were exposing themselves to extraordinary risks, and under extraordinary scrutiny. When one man from one program fell, they all felt it -- by this account.   The Soviet program was distinct in being lead in its early years by Sergei Korolev, the "Chief Designer": Leonov presents him as a driving force behind the Soviet's organization and planning, and when he died in 1966, their program began faltering. (It didn't help that by that point, ambitions were truly lunar and new rockets were being introduced into both programs -- NASA had far better success with its moon-bound Saturns than the Soviets did with their rockets.)   The American astronauts were wholly unaware of his role in the Soviet program, one of the few complete surprises their joint account reveals.  The book moves more swiftly through the post-Apollo 11 years, mentioning the Salyut project briefly before giving more attention to Apollo-Soyuz, in which the two men both took part.  The book ends with epilogues in which both men comment on the fates of their programs in recent years, and offer musings on what might lay ahead: David Scott offered the idea that nations might have to introduce orbital military patrols to investigate newly-launched satellites.

Two Sides of the Moon  recommends itself to those interested in the space race, chiefly for Leonov's contributions. Although Scott is a fair writer with helpful technical explanations and many interesting missions, there are so many Apollo biographies out there that his is hard-pressed to rise out among them. Leonov, on the other hand, is nearly alone in offering a Russian view for the English market, and as mentioned easily the best man living to offer an account, given that his close friends like Yuri Gagarin, and his old bosses (including Korlev) are deceased.  Two Sides makes the space race out to be an inspiring struggle between two powers whose accomplishments were noble even if their motives were suspect, and reinforces the fact that despite the distinctions and oppositions in our cultures and beliefs, humans are really not so different from one another: underneath the  suit of the American astronaut and the Soviet cosmonaut is the same human flesh.

"When Apollo 11 had soared away from Cape Kennedy I had kept my fingers crossed. I wanted man to succeed in making it to the moon. If it couldn't be me, let it be this crew, I thought, with that we in Russia call 'white envy' - envy mixed with admiration. [...] On the morning of 21 July 1969 everyone forgot, for a few moments, that we were citizens of different countries on Earth. That moment really united the human race. Even in the military center where I stood, where military men were observing the achievements of our rival superpower, there was loud applause."

p. 247, Alexei Leonov

Into that Silent Sea, Francis French and Colin Burgess, a history of both programs.
Moon Shot, Alan Shephard and Deke Slayton. Likewise a joint effort, this culminates in Apollo-Soyuz.
"Surprise!", Prometheus Music. This celebrates Sputnik and the space age; it's a rather lively tune.


Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Says about Sex, Diet, and How We Live
© 2013 Marlene Zuk
328 pages

Despite its name, Paleofantasy is not a deliberate debunking of arguments for a 'paleo diet' and a paleo lifestyle.  Although Zuk does take aim at paleo proponents time and again, her argument approaches the same ideas from a different tack. Rather than assume that people ought to live the lifestyle our bodies evolved to expect, and then look for the science that informs that lifestyle, Zuk first asks:  what does biology tell us about the way our ancestors once lived, and can that information be used to help us today?  Subsequent chapters are a brief survey of the evolutionary heritage of our diet, our sex and childrearing practices, modes of exercise, and health.  The essential point of Paleofantasy is that evolution is an ongoing process: humanity is not a finished product, nor a monolithic species. What is true for some populations doesn't necessarily hold for others.  Thus, studying the lifestyle of our ancestors isn't particularly helpful, because they had different lifestyles depending on their local climate, and each made micro-adaptions in its own way.  Two populations of mountain-living people ,in Tibet and the Andres, both adapted to living in such thin air -- but in two different evolutionary ways. Her message to those interested in paleo living is this: don't get carried away.  By all means, don't overeat and get in a lot of exercise -- but do it because it makes sense now, not because the ancestors starved and were active.

Although the book will probably succeed in cooling the jets of the moderately interested, for more ardent practitioners, she will doubtless fall short, and not just because of defensiveness on readers' part. A staple of paleo nutrition is that grains are of the agricultural devil. Zuk's is response is to point out that look, we've evolved a gene that lets us process starch.  We've adapted! Evolution in action.  She does not, however, address the concern of anti-grain readers that while we can eat grain, we shouldn't because of its insulin-spiking effects and the subsequent relationship with diabetes and obesity.  To borrow an example from her book, also used in Sean Carroll's The Making of the Fittest: while there are snakes who can survive eating poisonous toads,  that doesn't mean they should turn poisonous toads into the bedrock of their snake food-pyramid. Likewise, she doesn't address the rationale that palo-fitness people use in pushing for short, intense workouts, namely that a high level of stress for a short time is better at building bone and muscle than a marginal level of stress done for long intervals.  She simply says "Hey, there are people who have adapted to running really long times."

Paleofantasy doesn't necessarily impress, but it does offer a moderating voice to those who can get carried away by the prospect of living like our ancestors to the point of going to bed with a Sounds of the Nighttime Forest CD playing, because that's what our brains expect.

Antifragile, Nassim Nicholas Taleb (which includes a section on high-stress short-term exercise)
Wheat Belly, William Davis;  Good Calories Bad Calories, Gary Taubes (on the problems of the modern diet)
Catching Fire: How Cooking Made us Human, Richard Wrangham
Sex on Six Legs, Marlene Zuk.

Monday, September 2, 2013

From History's Shadow

Star Trek: From History's Shadow
© 2013 Dayton Ward
388 pages

The geocentrists were right: Earth is the center of the universe. Or at least, it was in the 20th century, for how else can you explain how many extraterrestrials, time-traveling or otherwise, there were running around it?  One moment, the USS Enterprise was sailing merrily along, and the next -- there were two aliens chasing one another in the cargo bay, both of whom had been living on mid-20th-century Earth for decades, one of whom wanted to destroy Earth's civilization before it could destroy hers. The other was a Vulcan named Mestral, whose survey ship had crashed and who declined rescue after discovering I Love Lucy. As his goal of peaceful observation conflicted sharply with the other's goal of triggering an Earth-shattering kaboom, they schemed and fought against one another amid the human space race until their feud ended with their somehow teleporting across space and through hundreds of years. Well, such things happen in the 23rd century, especially to Kirk.  

The story gets more complicated, and more fun, but it began in 1947, in a place called Roswell, when something crashed in the New Mexican desert. The government claimed it was a weather balloon, but rumors couldn't help but escape that what crashed was an alien ship, and the military was hiding the truth from the public.  From History's Shadow, set largely in the 20th century, tells the story of the United States' response to encountering that alien life back in July '47. As a secret security department devotes itself to investigating reports of UFOs,  they find much more than a series of stories to be debunked. Oh, there are false leads, all right -- but then there are the crashed probes and series of mysterious incidents that reveal the truth: there are aliens on the planet, all right, and they're not all from the same place. Some watch, some help, some sabotage -- and there are seven humans serving a mysterious shadow organization from the future which is itself monitoring and countering the aliens.  Mid-20th century Earth is a cosmic meet-and-greet.  

From History's Shadow is a fantastically fun Star Trek novel that plays with various conspiracy theories of the 20th century. Dayton Ward links several Star Trek episodes from various series into an integrated story, one appealing for its retro appeal think alt-historical fiction), and especially so because it functions as a standalone novel. (As much as I appreciate the integrated quality of the Treklit series these days, it's a relief to find a novel that doen't require three more for context!) Although readers will enjoy From History's Shadow most if they've seen "Little Green Men" (DS9) and "Assignment: Earth",   the episodes are not required reading.  Ward deserves high praise for how smoothly he fit together elements from The Original Series and Enterprise, and delivering a strong Trek novel that is largely told from the perspective of characters completely outside the usual cast of characters,  many being 20th century Americans. Considering how serious the Typhon Pact/Cold War in Space books have been, From History's Shadow is a welcome easy read, a mystery-adventure alien conspiracy story of the space race, with a Star Trek twist. 

Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations, Christopher Bennett; Star Trek TNG: The Persistene of Memory, David Mack. Both of these take elements from a wide variety of Trek episodes and moves into a single, grand story. 
Assignment: Eternity, featuring Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln, the latter of whom is a major supporting character in From History's Shadow
Roswell High, Melinda Metz, a series of YA books from the late '90s and early '00s about the alien children who survived the Roswell Incident and who live among humans in secret. It inspired a TV show with better characters (in part) but an inferior story: one episode called "The Summer of '47"  tried to tell what happened.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Radicals for Capitalism

Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement
© 2008 Brian Doherty
740 pages

Libertarianism has been in the news recently: Julian Assange referred to its rising wave in the Republican party as America's best hope for halting the advance of the police state, and Chris Christie (governor of New Jersey and  rumored as a presidential contender in 2016) scoffed at it, causing a bit of a row between him and libertarian-leaning Senator Rand Paul.  American libertarianism is distinct in holding as sacred something the first libertarians regard as suspect: property. While historically, libertarianism was born out of  the left's distrust for the state, authority, and coercive power -- power created by property and the acquisition of wealth -- American libertarianism is more a renaming of classical liberalism, of the idea that the government should stay out of the economy and out of people's lives.  But this survey of American right-libertarianism is not limited to Adam Smith. It is is a work of economics, yes, but realm of thought covered here  delves into questions as old as philosophy: what is a person's proper relationship with other people?  This expansive volume, which seeks to do for right-wing libertarianism what Russell Kirk did for conservatism in The Conservative Mind,  ranges from the mild, traditional F.A. Hayek to ranting ideologues who dream of being Nietzschean supermen.  Although most helpful in summarizing the contributions and sharing the lives of a wide range of individuals, many of whom history has forgotten entirely, its size may scare many off: at 740 pages, it's no brief read.  The author, as a contributor to Reason magazine ("Free Minds and Free Markets") is wholly sympathetic to his cause, of course, but his being a true believer doesn't diminish the volume's value:  there is a far wider variety of thought in right-libertarianism than one might expect and Doherty is helpful in analyzing the thoughts of conflicting individuals, discerning their shared beliefs and examining why they later came to oppose one another.  Sometimes the narrative wanders into the realm of the obscure, especially  when discussing economic esoterica, but Radicals largely lives up the the promise of being "freewheeling".  This is not a question of editing: Radicals isn't rough around the edges, only written with a deliberate breeziness that seems out of place with the topics being discussed. Referring to "bullshit arguments" and employing 'natch' for 'naturally'  does not inspire confidence in the author's seriousness.

Radicals for Capitalism briefs readers on the lives of scores of persons, some more significant than others. While Hayek, Ludwig van Mises, and Murray Rothbard are names which get a lot of traffic, 'furies of liberty' like Isabel Paterson and Rose Wilder Lane are probably unheard of outside the realm of libertarian historians. The great variety of forceful and opinionated personalities here are generally divided into two groups: economists and philosophers,with some mutual crossover  Whatever their focus, all emphasized the importance of property and the rights of the Individual as supreme. The basic ideas are not new, and Doherty accordingly begins with Enlightenment which birthed classical liberalism. Radicals is a history of how these ideas were fleshed out and expressed in the contexts of their time, as well as passed on to other generations.  The right-wing libertarian movement, judging by this account, seems to have crystallized around opposition to the New Deal. Most of the book's action takes place in the middling decades of the 20th century, in which the American public became increasingly comfortable with the rising role of the state in their lives (through Social Security, conscription, federal involvement in mortgages, transportation, and food, etc).

 Although the libertarians here often worked together in opposition against the rise of the state, they were hardly monolithic. Some, like Hayek, wrote books debating economic policies, and engaged in weekend conferences and discussion groups (Mont Pelerin Society, Circle Bastiat) to study the problems they faced together, and articulate why they thought government policies ill-considered, others like the Foundation for Economic Education sought to educate the populace more directly, by mailing out pamphlets defending the free market.  Some wrote novels with libertarian themes (Rand,  Robert Heinlein), and still others -- entertainingly -- infiltrated the radical student left and tried to convert their energy into furthering the libertarian cause. This book was worth reading just for the idea of staid economists s getting high and then waxing poetic about the beauty of liberty -- then ditching their suits for fatigue jackets and wandering into riots to fight the Man. (And then there are the many attempts of libertarians to buy islands and build their own nations, which read like a series of wacky Wile E. Coyote misadventures.) While men like Hayek and Mises advocated a marginal role (at best) for the government in economic matters for various reasons (government influence caused corruption, economies are too complex to plan efficiently or fairly, etc), others like Ayn Rand and Rothbard were libertarians for ideological reasons, to the point that Rand berated Mises for being a socialist because he didn't condemn government economic involvement for the 'right' reasons. The infighting sapped their energy, but theirs is still a cause on the march: Reagan and Bush may have only given lip-service to it by the advocates' standards, but lovers of the "freedom philosophy" were admitted in the court of presidential politics in the form of Milton Friedman and others Although the Libertarian Party (the history of which is chronicled here)  is not presently strong contender for national elections,  the 20th century produced influential libertarian think-tanks like the Cato Institute, and the growth of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street both demonstrate a rising popular contempt for the government's constant intrusions into their lives and business policies.

Radicals for Capitalism is a book to be considered, if carefully. Doherty doesn't write to convince:  the arguments for libertarian here are not aimed at the reader, but are presented for cross-comparison and examination.  Presumably, those willing to read seven hundred pages on a single subject are sympathetic to it to begin with. Those who are interested in learning about the philosophy will find the history worth their while, and be entertained by the unexpected antics of these personalities along the way. This mostly makes up for the grating effect of some of the thinkers featured, like the dazzlingly self-righteous Ayn Rand, who appears early and never seems go away. (Doherty doesn't seem particularly sympathetic to her, despite the fixation.)   Rothbard is another mildly obnoxious star, asserting late in the book that children have no right to expect care from their parents, who are perfectly within their rights to let the little parasitic bastards starve.   I was personally impressed by the variety of thought and people featured within the book, and though it grew wearisome, the thoughtful contributions overcame the manic ones, and the book makes it easier to appreciate right-libertarianism as something more than a sinister tool of big business to free itself of restrictions. The men and women chronicled here came by their ideas honestly, they believed them sincerely, and they argued for them passionately. I would still avoid some of them at a dinner party in real life, but an age of bank bailouts and PRISM, even maniacs for liberty can sound sensible. The book would benefit from being a little less freewheeling, and it focuses more on free markets than on civil liberties.

If you want an idea of how across-the-spectrum the book is, RationalWiki's article on Murray Rothbard is a kind of case study, and is much shorter at one page. (That's Rational as in part of the modern skeptics movement, not rational as in linked to Reason magazine.)