This title story of this book tells of Bob Kearns, tinkering inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper, whose patented invention was stolen by Ford and other big automakers. The story was originally a 1993 New Yorker article, but was republished in this book as a tie-in to the 2008 Greg Kinnear movie of the same name. That’s just one story in this fascinating collection, though, which covers topics ranging from Nevada gold mining to the Antikythera Mechanism. The book is quite good—not earthshattering, but interesting, and certainly capable of giving the reader interesting discussion topics so he can avoid politics at the next cocktail party he has to attend.
I have a confession to make. The first history I learned about the Vietnam War was from watching the move Rambo, in 1985. Around the same time, and viewable on VHS (what’s that, Daddy?) if you missed it in the theater, were movies like Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, the latter set during the battle that is the focus of this book. From these movies, naturally, I learned little real history, and haven’t learned much more about Vietnam since. In fact, when I was a young lawyer at a giant law firm, I used to amuse myself by needling the senior partners, rich, aging hippies all, by telling them that I thought of World War I and the Vietnam War as roughly contemporaneous, and equally relevant to the modern age—that is, not at all. They were not amused.
I’ve always liked Bruce Springsteen, but never knew much about him beyond what could be read in the news. His autobiography, Born to Run, tells everything a reasonable reader could want. It’s not a tell-all, certainly—while Springsteen honestly relates his life, including quite a bit of self-criticism, he says explicitly he has not told the reader everything. Still, the reader learns a lot, and for someone like me not sentient in the 1970s, in particular, the book draws a vivid picture of a particular unique time.
From when he won the Republican nomination, until Election Night, I told anyone who would listen that Trump would win, and win handily. I am a Trump supporter, and voted for Trump. I am also a big fan of Steve Bannon. Joshua Green is none of the above—yet he has written a compelling, and insightful book, even-handed in every way, that is very much worth reading.
Naked Money, by Charles Wheelan, has a primary goal and two secondary goals. The primary goal, admirably accomplished, is to simply, but not simplistically, explain monetary policy. One secondary goal, also well accomplished, is to defend fiat money against those who call for going back to a currency backed by gold or some other physical asset. The other secondary goal, less well accomplished, is to justify aggressive government action, in particular by central banks, to shore up the American financial system during the 2008 crisis.
Scars of Independence should carry a big banner across its front, shouting “New & Improved!” The book’s central, and only, claim to relevance is that it offers fresh insight into the War of Independence, uncovering hidden truths and exploding myths. But, as with most “New & Improved” products, the consumer is disappointed, for while this is a serviceable history of the Revolutionary War, focusing on the violence involved, it is neither new, nor improved (although at least, unlike many other “improved” consumer products, the author hasn’t shrunk the box and increased the price).
I have read David Goldman for a long time, under his alter ego, Spengler, a columnist for the Asia Times. His columns are invariably excellent—pithy, insightful, and a pleasure to read. But the talent set required to be a columnist is very different than that required of a book author. Many columnists are unable to write a book that is other than either a set of compiled columns or a padded out column. The late Joseph Sobran, who wrote for National Review when it was more than a forum for third-rate neoconservatives angling for jobs under Republican politicians, was one such. David Goldman is another, and it shows in the many defects of this 2011 book, How Civilizations Die.
Most bad books have some redeeming feature. This one doesn’t. Ernest Cline’s first book, Ready Player One, was quite good for what it was—an exercise in Eighties nostalgia, aimed at people like me who came of age in that golden time. Armada is an attempt to further capitalize on that nostalgia, but it’s more reminiscent of a creepy, jobless stalker who skulks every night outside his ex-girlfriend’s apartment, begging her to give him one more chance, because, after all, didn’t it used to be so good?