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Richard A. Jenkins "Richard A. Jenkins" RSS Feed (Washington, DC USA)
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Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh
Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh
Price: $19.24

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A life that could be better told, December 22, 2014
My guess is that 2 1/2 stars really should do it. Lahr definitely has done his homework here but the book often sinks under the weight of its own detail and despite the volume of information, there's little context and some people and parts of Williams' life evolve in ways that seem elliptical. Frank Merlo quickly is transformed from the perfect complement to Williams' personality to an erratic, problematic mate--did he change? was he a cameleon? did something happen to him? None of these questions are answered and yet this man was one of the most important people in Williams' later life. Other figures like Gore Vidal seem to make only cameo appearances although the two were great friends for many years. Among his friends and acquaintances, only Maria St. Just really seems well drawn and she has been an important figure in the Williams legacy through her role as co-executor of his estate (a trust for his mentally ill sister).

Williams, himself, was a somewhat ironic figure--his work was transgressive in many ways, yet he flourished during a period that is often considered conservative and repressive. Even after the movie code and the Legion of Decency left his film adaptations somewhat baffling, they were great hits through the 1950s. His florid prose and Gothic situations may have helped, but bestiality, incest, rape, infidelity, and homosexuality were not mainstream themes in 1950s film and the Broadway stage. Dysfunctional families and dysfunctional relationships are old dramatic staples (predating our language for describing them), but even that fails to explain Williams' popularity and the regular revival of his work. Like many people who were considered "ahead of their time" in the 50s, he was unhappy as society changed in the 60s. A lot of his themes were no longer fresh and topics like mental illness were being handled with greater frankness or with potent new styles or metaphors. It's significant that Williams continued to write even as he became less and less capable of managing his affairs. His source material never changed (it was his family, after all), but he failed to adapt to a new world and incoherence took the place of the merely curious.

The book would have been a better read if it had lost about a third of the detail (much of it is repetitious) and the various pieces of Williams' life were better knitted together. If you like John Lahr's writing in the New Yorker, be prepared that you may still find this biography to be mostly a frustration.


Point to Point Navigation
Point to Point Navigation
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $9.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Short but not very sweet, December 22, 2014
In theory, this is supposed to pickup where Vidal left off with Palimpsest. Instead, it rehashes many of the same anecdotes and tries to settle some of the same old scores. People who don't know his history or haven't read Palimpsest may wonder what the problem was between Vidal and Bobby Kennedy (mostly it was Vidal not understanding how a powerful family builds and maintains its mythic stature, despite his being steeped in Washingtonia). This memoir has many of the same tics as the previous ones, like his endless efforts to tie himself by blood or marriage to much of DC's leadership class. This sort of thing seems to be a mix of southern families liking to discuss their roots (something he mocks in places but clearly enjoys) and the DC game of pointing to one's often feeble connection to figures of power or history. The thing about DC, though, is that power is fleeting (today's famous acquaintance is tomorrow's figure who will barely rate a historical footnote) and virtually everyone can be a distant relation--a famous onetime resident of your apartment/condo building, an acquaintance whose family played a key role in blundering us into the Vietnam War, etc.) or a person once served (long-time taxi drivers may even have an autograph book). The problem is that Vidal really cares about this stuff long after it should no longer matter, despite his efforts to be a bit less emphatic about these ties here than in Palimpsest. What does come across in Point to Point Navigation is a diminishment in energy and a recognition of his coming demise. Unfortunately, there is little about his late in life preoccupations like the Timothy McVeigh case and some Vidal trademarks like his coyness about his sexuality just seem a bit anachronistic at this point.

Judging from other reviews, some people can't get enough of Vidal. OTOH, some of us have felt like we'd already gotten enough and the best thing one can say is that at least this book is rather short.


The Art of Fielding: A Novel
The Art of Fielding: A Novel
Offered by Hachette Book Group
Price: $8.04

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A "big book" that falls short, September 14, 2014
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This book received great praise on its arrival and made many "best of.." lists, yet it also has attracted a great deal of thoughtful but highly negative reviews both here and in the media. My vote is with the negatives. Harbach is a competent writer--he can create a scene physically, provide good baseball play-by-play, and he avoids stylized or purple prose, but ultimately he's not a good literary writer. He might be a skilled editor (he co-founded a literary magazine) and might be an okay essayist, but he really fails to create depth in characters or their setting, and his storytelling is a halting set of situations which don't evolve naturally.

Harbach's Westish College is strangely without personality--is it a safety school, a safety school for people who couldn't get accepted at a regular safety school, a jock school, etc? No frats, surprisingly little drinking, no late night bull sessions, little self reflection, no road trips (beyond the nearest mall). It sounds like the least interesting liberal arts college anywhere. The characters mostly are one dimensional--the working class characters are a collection of stereotypes. The more privileged characters have a bit more depth, but not much. The many allusions to "Moby Dick", the most frequently assigned novel that no one ever reads is a bit pretentious as a naming and story telling device. Characters come and go without explanation--the main character's stereotype-ridden family is a large part of the opening, but basically disappears for the rest of the book. Substance use problems come and go without explanation. A virile guy with no money takes Viagra (a very expensive medication). The whole thing fails to hang together. My guess is that Harbach had several novel or story ideas and ultimately found a way to string them together. Harbach's biographic informations suggests a modestly privileged boy who has never really known other kinds of people except perhaps more privileged academic peers. Beyond crappy apartments in hipster neighborhoods and a few turns as barista or some other college-boy job, I'd imagine he has no concept of how people struggle. The lack of real empathy holds back both character and story. The book ends morbidly and melodramatically, but for me, it was a relief--if it hadn't been a selection for a book club, I never would have made it that far.


Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House
Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $11.84

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Slightly better than average stereotypical DC reportage, January 25, 2014
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The book sets out as a story of Bush & Cheney with the case of Lewis "Scooter" Libby as a vehicle but gradually becomes something else. Bush's main partnership begins with Cheney but ends with Condi Rice. Baker seems to lose interest in the Libby case about midway through the book and the return of focus at the end seems tacked-on and half-hearted. The major weakness of the book is the stereotypical DC press corps reporting. There is much effort to provide "balance" (highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the Bush presidency; a lot of "both sides do it" reportage) but much of it falls flat like the effort to tie the Iraq War to Clinton-era policies. There is relatively little analysis of personality or leadership and, for a White House reporter, Baker doesn't seem to display much historical knowledge of the Presidency.

One comes away with a fairly clear picture of Cheney, in all his Darth Vader-like glory. The one inconsistent piece is his social life--he is described as having rather little social circle, yet countless people, mostly conservative Republicans of his era are described as friends. Most likely, many are "DC friends", which usually meet a lower standard for closeness than friendships in most of the country (NYC and Hollywood friendships seem similarly loose and often shallow).

Bush's seeming inconsistencies and, particularly, his limitations as a leader aren't really pulled together. The DC version of fairness and objectivity ("both sides do it") and the lack of analysis seem to drive this intellectual sloppiness. Yet, paradoxically, these devices accentuate Bush's shortcomings as a leader rather than providing some sort of "even handed" or neutral standard. The long painful recap of the Iraq War, the leaks and seeming chaos of Bush's second term, and Bush's lack of connection to the changing leadership of his own party do not lend themselves to highlighting Bush's strengths. While Bush comes across and less incurious than his detractors would suggest, he also does not come across as a quick study or a critical thinker. Like most presidents, he often had to rely on "Cliff Notes" briefing on key issues but without the various bases on which his predecessors had to build: the broad, if shallow, knowledge of government of his father; the wonkish curiosity of Clinton; or the deep electoral understanding of LBJ or Nixon. Bush's combination of "goofy" (more often crude and awkward) and brittle is cataloged but never really reconciled with his other qualities. Bush's relationship with the media is bizarrely missing, although it becomes clear that the closeness of the Texas and Cheney circles enabled Bush to freeze out the media he initially charmed on the campaign trail, and to minimize leaks to a greater degree than prior administrations.

What keeps this from being a tiresome one or two star book worthy of some predictable DC reporter in the David Broder tradition, is that Baker actually is a good reporter. At times, it's unclear whether he's been sly or simply well-informed, but there are occasional flashes of useful analysis (Bush came to DC with his Texas cronies, while Cheney had a lifetime of contacts in and around the government). The real subtext of the story is Rice's relationship with the President; her attention to turf and tactics which were evident from Day One. Rice's history as an administrator at Stanford (she was reviled in the manner of most Deans) is neglected and yet it may have provided an education in how to thrive and survive in political infighting among the powerful. Rice established a place at the table for herself from the beginning and used her tutoring relationship with Bush to ultimately triumph over Cheney as his neocon policies came to cause the Administration no end of problems.

Despite its redeeming qualities, the book has many shortcomings. Baker assumes a knowledge of the Clinton administration which younger readers may lack and it's a knowledge in synch with the DC media crowd and not the way most people thought of Clinton. Some figures like Karl Rove are oddly missing although obviously important to the Bush presidency. Colin Powell comes across as marginalized from the beginning of the Bush presidency, yet it's unclear why he stayed, or why he was kept in the cabinet. Powell's success in improving the status of the State Department in Congress is unmentioned and unexplored. Clearly, more was going on with the Powell than what we have been told here.

In sum, it's a 2 1/2 star book that I occasionally felt like tossing across the room but ultimately found worthwhile to finish. Baker would have been better off without the tics of DC White House reporting and actually, so would have Bush. A little more exposure to feisty, independent colleagues Helen Thomas and a little less to hacks like John Harris (warmly acknowledged as a mentor) would have benefited Baker and the book. Until we have the benefit of historians' deep analysis of an administration, we have to deal with journalists' first draft of history and this certainly could have been worse.


Son of a Gun: A Memoir
Son of a Gun: A Memoir
by Justin St. Germain
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.42
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Complelling writing, but some missing pieces, October 1, 2013
This review is from: Son of a Gun: A Memoir (Hardcover)
St. Germain provides a memoir and an attempt to understand and reconstruct the death of his mother. The book is reminiscent of James Ellroy's "My Dark Places"; both were the sons of mothers who had brought them to bleak places where one could remake oneself. Ellroy's mother was part of the nightlife of LA's less desirable San Gabriel Valley suburbs. St. Germain's mother brought her sons to played-out Tombstone, AZ. The stories diverge in that Ellroy disintegrated for quite a while whereas St. Germain appears to have gotten his life together more quickly.

St. Germain captures the bleakness, isolation, and hopelessness of small town life on the geographic and cultural fringes of the settled West. His own grief is not entirely uncovered and this is both normal, but also a shortcoming for a memoir of this type. His mother is not unlike many, a seemingly strong woman drawn to destructive men and intense, ultimately untenable relationships. How he had broken free of all of this and how well he has avoided the destructiveness of his youth is not really discussed and given the other content, I suspect he hasn't entirely unraveled it himself. The rather incomplete nature of the book, as well as the padding, in some places, with Tombstone lore knock off a star of what otherwise I found to be a very compelling.


Necessary Errors: A Novel
Necessary Errors: A Novel
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $9.74

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Coming of Age in Post-Velvet Revolution Prague, August 31, 2013
I visited Prague in 1990, toward the end of the time period covered by this book. The descriptions of landmarks, conditions and the mood of the city instantly took me back to things I hadn't thought about in years. His ability to capture the experience of a place that was opening itself to outsiders (and already drawing them in large numbers) caught my attention and made it easy to enjoy Crain's coming of age story. He captures life experiences that will be recognizable to expats, even those who have never visited Prague or came to expat life at some point after their early twenties. The story incorporates "coming out", the disappointments of early love and infatuation and the kind of close yet fluid friendships that are common in a first job, or in college. Some of the other reviews suggest a plotlessness that really isn't here--this isn't a postmodern jumble or a story without end. It's the unfolding of life in a bookish young man who has been closed to others because of his sexuality and protected by modest privilege and a stable upbringing. I found that I was absorbed by most of the book and Crain's ability to capture youthful experience, but a few things knocked off a star for me. Two of the three romantic relationships that structure large portions of the book emerge without realistic signs or pacing and occasional sections are leaden with density and excessive detail or description. Still, despite having read more than enough "coming of age" novels (indeed, starting one for a book club at about the same time), Crain's ability to capture a life is exceptional and the book is a worthy read.


Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam
Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam
by Fredrik Logevall
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $26.09
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A long rewarding journey, November 4, 2012
All of the major Vietnam books ("Bright Shining Lie", The Best & the Brightest, etc.) are long and not all are easy reads. "Embers of War" is blessed by clear compelling writing and a variety of new perspectives that make you forget that it only takes you to 1959 after 800+ pages. Logevall adds new sources, including a perspective from British diplomats and a closer examination of early US thinking about Vietnam with detailed attention to the Eisenhower Administration and frequent check-ins with presidents who later had tremendous influence over the Vietnam War (JFK, Nixon and in fewer places, LBJ). The result sheds some new light on the evolution of policy with much more nuanced looks at Eisenhower and Kennedy, in particular. The book clearly does not comport with a traditional Cold War view of Vietnam, but even reviewers who clearly have that bias seem impressed with the wealth of new information and the broad scope of the book.

Truman and Dean Acheson come off badly whereas FDR appears to have had a very farsighted view of Indochina. Eisenhower is shown trying to balance military advisors who saw little strategic value in entering a post-Korean conflict in SE Asia and a hawkish secretary of state, along with the bellicose Vice President, Richard Nixon. Domestic concerns colored Truman's and Eisenhower's thinking and, overall, Eisenhower seems to have tried to limit US involvement but only after exploring a multi-lateral approach to support or succeed the French, and it's clear that the "Domino theory", to some extent, overruled his own skepticism about land wars in Asia. JFK is one of the more interesting minor characters. He showed an interest and skepticism about US involvement in Vietnam from early in his political career. Whether this would have prevented the kind of broad commitment made by LBJ remains an open question. He is identified as a an early ally of Diem but there is little detail about this and clearly whatever association did not stop the coup that ended Diem's government. The section on Dien Bien Phu is fascinating, in part, because rather small changes in either side's timing could have led to very different outcomes that the decisive defeat of the French. Also interesting the account of the Geneva negotiations that followed and the likelihood that the Chinese, in particular, may have intervened in ways that gave HO Chi Minh's government a less favorable deal than might otherwise had been possible.

Logevall tends to take rather nuanced and cautious approaches to many contentious issues but creates a fairly credible argument that Ho could have become a Tito-like leader, in part because of his lack of early involvement with Moscow (which demanded subservience) or China (which was a historic enemy with its own civil war for much of the period). These arguments have been made in the past but rarely with so much and so varied evidence. The role of the British as potential partners in a Vietnam "solution" gets a significant amount of space, which has rarely received as much attention in the past. The British became increasingly less willing to play an active role, partly because of their lack of confidence in the French and their increasing unwillingness to follow US policy.

The book is a bit weak on Cambodia and Laos which would have been helpful given the role of these countries in the Geneva negotiations. It also has little to say about Thailand's role as a strong hedge against communism and the consequences of US influence there. Even so, these are relatively minor concerns. the book is engrossing reading and provides one of the more accessible yet detailed accounts of the prelude to the US war in Vietnam.


How To Be Gay
How To Be Gay
by David M. Halperin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.70
57 used & new from $7.44

17 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Hopefully someone else will use it as a point of departure, October 14, 2012
This review is from: How To Be Gay (Hardcover)
I was tempted to give this book 3 stars because of the strength of much of its beginning and end, and because those parts might be a useful point of departure for someone else. However, the long march though the midsection of the book and its recycled nature made me think 2 stars was about right. The very beginning of the book sets a rather problematic tone--Halperin recounts the stir caused when he taught a course called "How to Be Gay". I dimly remembered the controversy, but Halperin writes as though his readers would recall all of the details. There seems to be an assumption that the reader knows all the details. There also is a lecturing tone where one is forced to read the same points reiterated in often tedious prose.

The strength of the book is Halperin's effort to locate elements of a gay culture that is largely independent of sexual desire and that has continuity over time, although some of the specific outward manifestations of it may change. He puts this out as a challenge to those who say "gay culture" is dying but really mean that their own generation's cultural references are not being adopted or fully appreciated by the next generation. These are points that make sense to me and are fairly easy to illustrate. Unfortunately, the follow-up to this is an analysis of gay culture where examples that are mostly located in Halperin's generation (people who came of age in the early 70s) and the generation before, often drawn from the films, "Mildred Pierce" and "Mommie Dearest" which have Joan Crawford (as well as camp and melodrama) in common. He later suggests that these two films provided what he thought was an enormous base of material for thinking about gay culture, which simplified the process of presenting his ideas. In the after notes, it becomes apparent that he already had a book chapter that concerned the two films, which makes the use of these films as lazy as it is tedious. When it comes to dealing with younger generations' gay culture, there are mentions of Lady Gaga, the tv series "Desperate Housewives" and "Golden Girls" and not much else. Given that a college professor has ample access to youth culture, particularly in a course about culture, the relative lack of attention to generational change seems puzzling as well as lazy.

Halperin starts out talking about the need to go beyond stereotypes, but the "Mildred Pierce"/Mommie Dearest" material seems to wallow in stereotype and go on and on in crushing detail as he mines these films and the Crawford persona for explanations of gay culture. For me, the effect was a bit like being trapped in a conversation that started out interestingly enough but quickly became a dissertation on arcania from which one could not politely remove oneself. Just when it seemed safe and the conversation had turned to something else, Mildred, Mommie, and Joan were back, in full force. Along the way, Halperin also makes rather arbitrary distinctions about elite culture (backpedaling in the case of Shakespeare) and making claims that heterosexual camp cannot exist. There are interesting points here and there, but Halperin often misses the obvious. He notes the decline of gay interest in musical theater in the "clone era" after Stonewall, but fails to mention the obvious--that musical theater was already in decline before Stonewall and that young gay men often were caught up in their own version of youth culture. He also seems to miss how the post-hippie culture had a fairly strong gay components (consider disco and reedy-voiced singers like Olivia Newton-John). One consequence of many waves of "coming out" has been the inclusion of men whose interests may or may not closely resemble those of men who came out first, particularly those men for whom passing in straight society was at best, difficult. Halperin, instead, gives perhaps too much attention to heteronormative assimilation which he places in a rather simplistic set of contingencies. The argument that gay culture endures despite social change needs a more complex conception of culture than Halperin provides. Assimilation became possible, in part, because gay culture began to crossover without the cover of "code" and the people who came out in later times or generations may have had sensibilities that differed in degree or breadth from those of more pioneering gays.

Ironically, despite Halperin's criticism of assimilation, he drops a few examples of his own apparent denial of gay culture. For example, he claims to have not understood Judy Garland's appeal to gay men as a young man. It would not have been difficult to find people who would provide that information in tedious detail in his generation or even among much younger gay men. Why he has chosen to claim ignorance of such a classic gay icon is one of the things that makes the book sometimes as intriguing as it can be tedious.

Halperin closes the book by returning to his initial theme. Sadly, it becomes evident that he has missed much more promising themes and questions. For example, he neglects the enduring appeal of fantasy forms among gay men, which often have changed over generations and sometimes had much crossover with straight culture (as in the case of gaming among young gay men today). Perhaps the need to exist within a heterosexual milieu, knowing one is different makes many fantasy forms more attractive. Perhaps, it is the solitary nature of these activities. He neglects the disproportionate participation of gays in certain sports and other pursuits, although he does provide some attention to the seeming gay interest in collecting and connoisseurship. The intense dissection of "Mildred Pierce" combined with Halperin`s obvious snobbishness makes one wonder what kitsch or tackiness is hiding in his closet along with his denial of Garland knowledge.

The book will appeal to those who can't get enough cultural meaning from Joan Crawford (and I know those people are totally serious about it), but it will be a long slog for many others ,


Every Time I Think of You: A Novel
Every Time I Think of You: A Novel
by Jim Provenzano
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.46
26 used & new from $4.63

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A novel to "Think" about buying, September 29, 2012
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"Every time I Think of You" has received less attention among media reviewers than Provenzano's earliest books. Except for his first book, PINS, Provenzano seems also to have escaped notice from the usual reviewers of gay lit on Amazon and their overwritten rhapsodies of joy, which often seem to be equally effusive regardless of whether or not something is readable.

The book revisits some of the previous ground laid by PINS, but takes the story in a different direction, with less emphasis on athletics and homophobia and more attention to love, popular culture and social class. The book also is more explicit than PINS. Provenzano is rather unique among gay fiction writers in considering the social and economic circumstances of gay men's lives, whereas much gay fiction reflects a certain kind of "college boy" background that seems oblivious to the real problems of making a living. He also chooses settings or other circumstances (like the book's setting of a small city outside of Pittsburgh) that are off the usual map of gay writing.

I enjoyed reading the book, but I thought it showed several weaknesses that knocked off a star. The handling of Everett's rehab and Reid's role in finding a program for him is unrealistic. One would have expected a hospital social worker or professionals working with a wealthy family to fulfill this role. Even for young adult fiction, this will seem like an off note and for someone like me who is responsible for a family member who was disabled in a serious accident close to the time frame in the book, it's particularly glaring. Provenzano is probably a product of the book's time, but seems to have forgotten some of the social context. "Coming out" is relatively uneventful except for Everett's mother despite 1980 being a time when even liberal people and settings remained quite homophobic. I can see trying to focus on the relationship, while putting these issues somewhat in the background, but it is unrealistic for the time. The incident with the drug dealer is rather melodramatic and misses the everyday nature of drug dealing at a time when illicit drug use was peaking in the US.


Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy
Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy
by Christopher Hayes
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.71
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36 of 48 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hayes starts out strong but limps along by the end, June 30, 2012
Hayes book has provoked a great deal of discussion about elites and meritocracy in the US and that seems to be its most important function. It's the kind of book that shakes up people who confuse listening to NPR with being well informed and it's given some context to people who want to believe in the system but know that something is very wrong. I suspect that, though, that a lot of people who've pondered questions about economic advancement and elites will find that it falls far short as was the case for me. The work of people like Barbara Ehrenreich or Joe Bageant is much more on target, which reflects their willingness to be outside of Hayes' bubble. Hayes starts out strong with a commencement speech that sharply challenged the test-based elitism of his alma mater, Hunter College High School in New York. Unfortunately, it goes down from there. Hayes covers valuable ground, but never really connects the dots. he points out the obvious shared anger of tea partiers and occupiers, but doesn't connect either back to the kind of astroturf campaign that exploited rank and file tea partiers and that dates back to slavery time in terms of how populist anger has been manipulated by a certain kind of entrenched elite (in contrast to the genuine grassroots anger of the occupy crowd). Hayes harkens back to a "golden age" of meritocracy (roughly the first 20-25 years after WWII) and a second era that engaged people who'd been excluded by the golden age (ethnic/racial minorities, women, & gays), without really questioning the limits of the golden age or recognizing how affirmative action for women and minorities affected the second era. Affirmative action happened without any recognition that the "golden age" had its own affirmative action and that some preferences, e.g., for entrenched elites like the Bushes had never gone away. The inclusion of gays just seems gratuitous given that most advances for them have come later.

The book gets more scattershot as it goes along and important points like the funding of tea partiers by Dick Armey and other establishment figures get lost. It seems as though he attempted to use his Harvard sabbatical to write the book, as well as related articles without really integrating the short form material into the book. The book also seems compromised by Hayes inability to really get outside the privileged world he's inhabited since he passed the test for Hunter. There is no mention of the people from his childhood who didn't pass the test and he clearly never bothered to use his Harvard time to visit the shrinking blue collar precincts of Cambridge that gave Tip O'Neil his start. Having grown up in a pretty ordinary place and having had the opportunity to see or observe different cohorts of people through my education, teaching, and mentoring, it's obvious that many talented people lose the opportunity to join the "elite" while others rise or fall at different points in their lives, sometimes able to do better in a later step than they did in school. The people I know who have justly succeeded in my field often were not the people with the best grades or test scores. Some of the "most likely.." folks have made incredible job killing mistakes in their personal lives and some of the "successes" have achieved much though lucky breaks early in their careers. Some people voluntarily leave the elite, too--the older brother of a high school classmate earned an PhD at MIT, played a significant role in the "Star Wars" defense program (enough to be turned into a Tom Clancy character), and yet chucked a lucrative defense contracting career to become an evangelical pastor and an amateur Old Testament scholar. The elite is far more fluid, and fragile than Hayes opines. It's always had some degree of corruption, but he doesn't seem fully able to accept that.

The book ends on an optimistic but wholly unrealistic note. Hayes clearly has no idea what people sacrificed to accomplish previous cycles of reform and change in the US, or how long it has taken to establish labor unions, child labor laws, etc. He fails to realize that elites often lose in the process, if only to a new elite. One can talk about social justice in the abstract, but it can come with a personal price. By the end, I found myself humming the Phil Ochs anthem to well intentioned cluelessness, "Love Me I'm a Liberal". It pretty much sums up why Hayes in his earnestness comes up short.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 19, 2012 3:33 PM PST


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