Sunday, January 14, 2018

Evicted - Matthew Desmond

Sub-title:  Poverty and Profit in the American City

I found recently that Bill Gates had recommended books to read from 2017.  This was one of those.

Evicted is a painful read that provides first-hand reporting of the daily lives of people struggling to afford a place to live.  In the past few years, the cost of renting has gone from the recommended 30% of income to the reality of 60-70% for the poor reported on in this story.  This are ordinary people that never get ahead and instead remain in grinding poverty largely due to the way renting living space is conducted in America. 

The author spent over a year living with these folks in a dingy trailer park and seedy apartments in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, not a place where I would think of poverty taking hold.  He follows eight individuals through their multiple evictions or moves to avoid it.  He contrasts their situations with that of a landlord making six figure income by aggressively exploiting this market.  It's a stark picture of a court system and assistance programs broken and ineffective. 

In the epilogue the author offers some suggestions for changes in policy but the call to action I'm afraid falls on deaf ears. 

Published: 2016  Read: January 2018   Genre: Sociology

A Midwife's Tale - Laurel Thatcher Ulrich


Sub-title: The Life of Martha Ballard, based on her Diary 1785-1812

Since I've immersed myself in genealogy over the last couple of years, I've upped my interest in history.  This book was recommended as insight to the lives of women in the early years of the United States.  The author transcribed sections directly from the diaries of Martha, a midwife in Hallowell, Maine.  She then analyzes the transcript to interpret Martha's day to day living.  It's a unique look at how women lived and prospered in early colonial America.  There are few other writings that provide this level of detail. 

Martha was not a writer; she was basically keeping a log of her work and travels for tracking purposes.  But her story sheds light on so much of the day to day struggles and attitudes of the time.  In 27 years she attended 816 births.  The book covers those births as well as religious groups of the time and legal and criminal activities.  A great read for a history nut.

Published:  1999   Read:  January 2018   Genre: History

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Sugar in the Blood - Andrea Stuart

Subtitle: A Family's Story of Slavery and Empire


In 2015 I found a reference to this novel and put it on my TBR list.  It is a historical account of slavery's establishment in the Western hemisphere, beginning in Barbados and the West Indies.  My son's grandfather was born in Barbados, immigrating with his family to the United States as a child.  I wanted to learn more about the history of the island and its people.  The book did not disappoint.

The author is a descendent of a white plantation owner and his slave wife, a mulatto who herself descended from slaves brought from Africa in the 1700's.  The society in Barbados in the late 1700's and into the early 1800's was a blended hierarchy of races, that broke into separate camps when those at the lowest rungs rose up to protest.  

The second part of the book describes how the overwhelming desire for sugar from the new world turned the slave trade into a massive business enterprise that destroyed the native population and their society in the name of greed.  

I found no mention of my son's ancestors who I've traced back to the early 1800's in Barbados on his paternal side.  Future research!

Published:  2013  Read: November 2017  Genre: History


Eichmann's Executioner - Astrid Dehe and Achim Engstler

This is a short novel that uses the relationship of three men to tell the story of the guard chosen to be the hangman for Eichmann, one of the convicted persecutor of Jews and responsible for organizing the mass transportation to concentration camps.

The facts of the story are shown in different perspectives; from the present day's viewpoint to the memories of participants and the imagined conversations of prisoner with guard.  What struck me was the denial by Eichmann of any wrongdoing, a complete blindness to his horrific acts.  The guard is taken in by his seeming normality and in later life is haunted by his complicity. 

The book was translated from German, the authors collaborating on bringing a story of the impact on the lives of survivors and observers.


Published: 2014  Genre: Fiction