The 60s: The Story of a Decade (New Yorker: The Story of a Decade)

The 60s: The Story of a Decade/ The New Yorker Ed. Henry Finder

| Book Review by Jim Scott |

This is the third of The New Yorker’s ambitious series, The 40s, The 50s, and now, The 60s.  Following the style of its previous collections, The 60s presents historic New Yorker pieces from the decade, accounting in real-time many seminal events of the tumultuous period.   The series’ project director is Henry Finder, the editorial director (since 1997) of this influential and talent-packed magazine.  (The highly respected Finder is also responsible for editing the magazine’s editor-in-chief, David Remnick’s, prolific authorship of books and magazine articles.)

By the 1960s, the magazine had fully transitioned in twenty years from a lighter, oft-time comedic, societal commentary magazine to one that approached problems and issues boldly.  Under editor Remnick from 1998, The New Yorker continued to celebrate its maturity as “fully politically engaged, daring and intellectually exciting.”  The decade series, launched under his tenure and Finder’s leadership, gives vibrancy and substance to that claim of successful, committed transition.

Many timeless works and authors of the ‘60s found place weekly in The New Yorker, and are included in The 60s, such as James Baldwin, Truman Capote, Rachel Carson, Bob Dylan, Cassius Clay, John Cheever, John Updike and many others.  The anthology is organized in parts, titled: Reckonings (environment, race, crime); Confrontation (University integration, Berkeley, Chicago, Washington, Prague); American Scenes (Cuba crisis, The Great Society, Missile silos, Woodstock, Assassinations); plus Artists & AthletesPoetryCritics (Cinema, Art & Architecture, Television, Theater, Music, Books).

Current New Yorker writers, including Jill Lapore, Malcolm Gladwell, and David Remnick himself, provide thoughtful, contemporary, historical context for the selected works.  The result is a fascinating time capsule portraying rising awareness or calls to action during what was, undeniably, a turbulent period.

One may pose several questions on editorial decisions driving this otherwise superb ‘60s collection: Where is Betty Friedan (The Feminine Mystique, 1963) who ignited the contemporary women’s movement?  Where is Harper Lee (To Kill A Mockingbird, 1960) whose Atticus Finch lionized “white” courage in the face of racial prejudice? Where is Malcolm X’s Autobiography, 1965, which changed the way many Whites and Blacks looked at their worlds?

Despite these omissions, the book deserves your attention and a place on your bookshelf, along with its predecessors, The 40s and The 50s.  Finder’s works are towering celebrations, which should be read by anyone wishing to visit or revisit the trauma and upheaval of the ‘40s, the tensions, and innovations that underlay the placid ‘50s, and the “shattering of glass” which marked the ‘60s.

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Book Review: Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland

| Book Review by Mike Wall |

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland 

by Patrick Radden Keefe

In Belfast, Northern Ireland in late December of 1972 as many as eight men shoved their way into the apartment of Jean McConville, a 37-year-old widow and mother who had just stepped out of her bath. They ordered her to dress and come with them. All but two of the men were masked. Jean’s oldest son recognized the unmasked men as neighbors. One man carried a handgun. All 10 of her children were present. Downstairs more masked men waited. Jean was bundled into a van. A man put the muzzle of a gun next to her son’s face and told him to leave.

Her body was discovered in 2003. A blue diaper pin she kept clipped to her blouse helped identify her. No one had been prosecuted for her murder.

Using the murder of Jean McConville as the lodestar, Keefe tells the story of The Troubles, the internecine violence and open warfare that has taken the lives of more than 3500 people since 1969. Brokered by the United States, The Troubles ended with The Good Friday Agreement of April 1998.

This book records the aftereffects of this conflict, how the participants, years later, “nursed old grudges and endlessly replayed their worst abominations”, and how “they never stopped devouring themselves (322).”

We learn what happened to Jean McConville.

Decades later Gerry Adams. an IRA leader was heckled while giving a speech. The man in the crowd yelled, “Bring back the IRA!” Adams shot back, “They haven’t gone away, you know (319).”

That is a moment to make you gasp, that it could all come back. Yeats in his great poem on the Irish revolt against British rule, “Easter, 1916” asked if all the deaths were worth the gain.

Jean McConville’s death was not. She is the person who matters, the name and story that forces us to move beyond statistics and slogans and into the real pain of political violence.

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A Wonderful Stroke of Luck

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From The Avid Reader Show, Sam’s latest interviews from a history of over 450 interviews over the past decade:

A Wonderful Stroke of Luck is set in a boarding school in New Hampshire where we meet Ben and his unique teacher, Pierre LaVerdere, who teaches reason and the art of skirting around the truth.  Though Pierre’s students leave him, he never really leaves them.  It’s not difficult to relate to Ben, when Ben leaves boarding school he wonders as we all often do with periods of our lives – what did that experience really mean?  His whole life shaped by a couple of years … why?  When you read the book that why will be answered.  Listen to the podcast:  THE AVID READER

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The Uninhabitable Earth | Book Review

| Book Review by Jim Scott |

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells

Wallace-Wells has delivered an eloquent description of the world’s climate breakdown and the consequent societal collapse.  Though a non-scientist and non-environmentalist, this talented journalist writes that mankind has “exited the state of environmental conditions that allowed the human animal to evolve in the first place, in an unsure and unplanned bet on just what that animal can endure.”  His conclusion emerges from analyzing years of others’ “scientific work” (my emphasis) and recognizing the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as the gold-standard assessment of the Earth’s state (on a carbon dioxide [CO2] drunk) and the likely trajectory for climate change (collapse), due principally to human-generated, CO2-rich emissions, accepted as “settled science” in our schools, colleges, scientific journals, and public media.

Cause=>effect=>solution: he says, “We have all the tools we need, today, to stop it all: a carbon tax and the political apparatus to aggressively phase out dirty energy; a new approach to agricultural practices and shift away from beef and dairy in the global diet; and public investment in green energy and carbon capture.”

In Wallace-Wells’ final pages, he inadvertently acknowledges that “we live today under clouds of uncertainty about climate change,” after already having told us repeatedly of the certainty of his bleak, IPCC scenario.  His stylistic phrase “clouds of uncertainty” is perhaps a Freudian slip: clouds and water vapor are unmentioned greenhouse gas molecules, accounting for as much as 10 times warming effect of CO2 + methane + nitrous oxide, combined, though yet remaining inadequately evaluated and modeled by the scientific community.  Moreover, many other serious researchers, believing that it’s wrong to blame global warming primarily on greenhouse gases in general, much less on CO2 alone, cite IPCC’s major shortcomings in the key areas of research scope, inadequate models, conflicting temperature information, lack of regional geographic relevance, and economics.  And Nobel Prize winner (for climate change economic modeling) William Nordhaus has soundly criticized the IPCC’s strategic CO2-target cap as costing more than it’s worth.

They describe the global heat engine as a complex interplay of activities all over Earth’s surface: on the sea and on land as well as above (stratospheric winds) and below (ocean currents and deep, geological activity).  Caltech’s Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences is aggressively researching the global heat engine scope issues.  In addition, to replacing the clunky IPCC climate models, MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change has described in refereed technical journal, NATURE, its long-anticipated “Multi-Sectoral Climate Impact Assessment” strategy using a highly advanced, integrated modeling framework, which at long last analyzes and integrates economics with regional, geospatial factors.  The fresh, ongoing climate research by these and others should help inform Wallace-Wells’ “certainty” as well as help dispel our uncertainties.

Meanwhile, read Wallace-Wells’ book as he takes us to a place where we may not wish to go, as hair raising as poet Virgil was for Dante in the Inferno.

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The Paper Wasp

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From The Avid Reader Show, Sam’s latest interviews from a history of over 450 interviews over the past decade:

Listen to the podcast:  THE AVID READER

The Paper Wasp is about two women, one beautiful, one plain, one insecure and one quite confident (at different times).  It’s about a rekindled relationship in which power shifts, spirituality is embraced or given lip service and plans are made, by both women, plans that sometimes work and sometimes don’t.  My point, somehow made in an extremely disjointed fashion, is that it’s hard to know who’s successful, who’s a failure, who knows what their life is about and who doesn’t and then layered on that is the insecurity the reader experiences when she has no idea whether what she is reading is what is really happening.

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Cinderellas of Conflict

| 3 Book Review by Jim Scott |

  • A Lab of One’s Own: Science and Suffrage in the First World War,

by Patricia Fara

  • Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II,

by Liza Mundy

  • Hidden Figures:The Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win The Space Race,

by Margot Lee Shetterly

 

These are three, celebratory narratives of women excelling in science, engineering and mathematics in the shadow of war and international conflict.

Patricia Fara, a Cambridge science historian, writes convincingly of the wholesale, societal animus against women in Britain 100 years ago.  Based on her prodigious research, she celebrates the work of historically marginalized women scientists, previously excluded from the solidly male territory of the technically elite.  Fara delivers a lasting tribute to the women who bridged the science and engineering talent gap caused by WWI’s absorption of male counterparts.

Accomplished journalist Liza Mundy extols the work of several thousand, mathematically astute, American women recruited in WWII by the U.S. Army and Navy and deployed successfully as code-breakers of German and Japanese war communications.  Mundy passionately and effectively portrays the mind-numbing tedium and frustration of their clandestine work, and holds no punches in assailing society’s entrenched misogyny before, during, and after the war.

Margot Lee Shetterly, daughter of a Black research scientist at NASA-Langley Research Center, founded “The Human Computer Project” as the research vehicle resulting in the paean, Hidden Figures.  The focus was the successful struggle of segregated Black women mathematicians who played key roles inside NASA, with clear impact on the U.S./U.S.S.R. space race of the ‘50s and ‘60s.  She illuminates the human computers’ efforts to overcome Jim Crow and “gender-smack down” realities, both of which failed spectacularly to attenuate the spunk and value of the women to NASA’s successes.

As Frederick Douglas wrote presciently in 1870: “Women’s natural abilities and possibilities, not less than man’s, constitute the measure of her rights in all directions and relations, including her right to participate in shaping the policy and controlling the action of the Government under which she lives…” These 21stcentury stories reflect the “Douglas touch” on women’s rights, extending from a suffrage base of counting politically towards one of competency-based, professional equality.

These mathematicians, scientists, and engineers were clearly Cinderella figures, where war and conflict were wicked stepmothers, with a fairy godmother nowhere to be seen until the likes of Fara, Mundy, and Shetterly appeared to reveal their exciting stories from obscurity.

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You Will Be Safe | Podcast

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From The Avid Reader Show, Sam’s latest interviews from a history of over 450 interviews over the past decade:

Listen to the podcast:  The Avid Reader

Damian Barr is an award-winning writer and columnist. Maggie And Me, his memoir won several prestigious awards. Damian writes columns for BigIssue and High Life. He is the creator and host of his own Literary Salon that premieres work from established and emerging writers. I’d love to talk to him for hours about that but we’re here to sell his book, to be unpolished.

You know, Sometimes I get a little nervous when a novel straddles two centuries with multiple characters. But no need to fear here. The pieces of this book fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. It may not be the most pleasant of juxtapositions but it is a novel that immediately draws the reader in, not with certainty, but with a subtle questioning that leaves one a bit nervous and unsure, kind of, of one’s own values.

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