Books USA

Books USA

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Secret History of Washington, DC

Make no mistake. “Empire of Mud,” J.D. Dickey’s history of early Washington, is a bracing and graceful read, but upon finishing its ­calamity-laden pages, you may conclude that a lot of people had a lot of years to get a job done and failed to do it — and that their failure haunts us in ways too numerous to count.

So if you can stomach learning how our beautiful, vexed city became a cat toy for national politicians and an ongoing rebuke of democracy, this is as good a place as any to start.

To continue reading this review, which 1st appeared in The Washington Post, click here.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Civil Rights Hero John Lewis @National Book Fest

Last Saturday, the Library of Congress held its annual National Book Festival. More than 100 authors participated. Rep. John Lewiscurrent Congressman from Georgia and one of the greatest heroes from the Civil Rights era, was one those authors. Here is what Lewis, co-author of the graphic novel March: Book 1 (a 3-part trilogy that will explain his years in the Civil Rights Movement) with Andrew Aydin, had to say.

Lewis walks to his book talk
When he was a boy in Troy, Alabama, John Lewis' parents were sharecroppers. One of Lewis duties was to take care of the chickens. But at a very early age, Lewis decided he wanted to be a preacher. So he would encourage his siblings and cousins to gather all the chickens together and he would then practice a sermon.

"Now those chickens never did quite say 'Amen,' but I think they listened to me better than some of my (Congressional) colleagues do today. And some of those chickens were more productive," Lewis told the crowd, who honored him with a standing ovation before he began his remarks.

Lewis said that as young boy he was disturbed by the For Whites Only and Colored Only signs he encountered. "I would ask my parents why and they would say that's the way it is. Don't get in the way. Don't get in trouble."

"I didn't like it but I didn't know what to do about it. Then I heard about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. Dr. King inspired me and changed my life," he added. "I got into good trouble, necessary trouble."

"I began studying the discipline of nonviolence. We were sitting in at lunch counters. People spit on us. They put lit cigarettes in our hair and down our backs," he continued.

In Nashville, Lewis bought a used suit for $5 to wear as a protester. "I wish I still had that suit. I would sell it on EBay," Lewis joked.

In 1961, Lewis became one of the Freedom Riders. In DC, as Lewis' group of 13 was preparing to defy both law and social dictates to ride an integrated bus through the south, they went to the city's Chinatown district for a dinner. "One of the group said, 'We should eat well because this may be like our Last Supper."

Lewis and his group did not have to wait long for violence. In South Carolina, Lewis and others were pulled from the bus, beaten viciously, and left lying in pools of blood. In Alabama, white Southerners tried to burn the bus. That pattern of violence would follow Lewis for the rest of his time in the movement. 

The congressman said his graphic novel trilogy is designed to make young people aware of the sacrifice and struggle that went into the Civil Rights Movement. He believes it is history that should never be forgotten.

Lewis believes that America has come a long way, but still has a long way to go in the ongoing struggle for equality for all people.

"When I was in Troy, Alabama I couldn't take a book out of the library - it was for whites only". In 1998, Lewis returned to speak at a program at the library and at its conclusion, he was given a library card. "That says something about the distance we have come," the congressman said.

Then there was the meeting not too long ago in Lewis' office on Capitol Hill. "This older gentleman and his son came in and said 'Mr. Lewis, I am one of the people that beat you. I want to apologize. Will you forgive me?' We hugged. He cried. His son cried. I cried."

"I am glad I got into that good trouble, that necessary trouble," Lewis concluded.

The congressman then turned the podium to Aydin, his co-author and staff communications director. Aydin, who describes himself as a life-long comic book geek, began prevailing on Lewis to write a graphic novel after learning that Martin Luther King had been the subject of a comic book during the Civil Rights era. At first Lewis declined, but after insistent urging, agreed to the project if Aydin would help him.

"Sometimes you get challenges that are real opportunities. You have to grab on to them. That's America. That's what makes this a special place." 

Aydin said he never realized that March: Book 1 would spend 35 weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers List. He did, however, have an inkling that the book might enjoy some success after hearing back from a reporter who had received an advance copy. "I gave the book to my 9-year-old son and now he has put on a suit and he's marching around my house demanding equality for everyone,: the reporter told Aydin.

"I think today what would Dr. King tweet? What would Gandhi tweet? Imagine what they could have done with these (today's social media) tools?" Aydin noted.

"Today, you're seeing a restless generation all across the country. But they need nonviolence. They need to be the way the Civil Rights Movement was in its best moments," Aydin said. "We want this generation to see how it was done and create a new nonviolent revolution in this country."

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Alan Greenspan @The National Book Festival

Last Saturday, the Library of Congress held its annual National Book Festival. More than 100 authors participated. Alan Greenspan, who served as chairman for the Federal Reserve for 13 years, spoke about his years one of the nation's most influential economist and The Map and the Territory: Risk, Human Nature, and the Future of Forecasting. was one those authors. He answered a series of questions posed by David Rubenstein, co-founder and Chief Executive of the Carlyle Group.

Economist Alan Greenspan answers questions form David Rubenstein
Question: Who is here to find out what the economy is going to do?
Greenspan: Raises his hand high, to much laughter from the crowd.

Question: What do you expect from the economy?
Greenspan: It is edging higher and that is likely to continue for a while. But we are in an area where we have never been before.

Question: Where do you invest?
Greenspan: I try to find out what Carlyle is doing (again, much laughter from the crowd).

Question: Did you really give up the clarinet to become an economist:
Greenspan: I was a very good amateur. I used to sit next to Stan Getz (a jazz great) and I realized that I can never play what this kid is playing. I am in the wrong profession.

Question: Who was the smartest president who ever worked with?
Greenspan: There were two - Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. Now there were a few things wrong with Richard Nixon. I don't have time to enumerate them. I heard in person what you heard on the (Nixon secret) tapes. My general idea was he hated everybody.

Question: Did you have problems when you were working with the White House?
Greenspan: On Oct. 19, 1987, the Stock Market lost 23% in one day. The next day was terror. It was one of the worst periods. But it is completely forgotten because nothing (bad) happened.

Question: Is it true that you get your best ideas in the bathtub?
Greenspan: I have a bad back. So not only was it true back then, it happens to this day.

Question: Reporters said they could tell what was going on (in interest rates and the economy) by looking at your bookcase?
Greenspan: Reporters claim there was a signal for what the federal reserve was going to do - it was my briefcase. But that was a myth. If my briefcase was big, it was because I packed sandwiches for lunch. (more laughter).

Question: Are there things you would do differently?
Greenspan: It would involve the nature of bubbles. There are booms and busts, but we never had enough (information) to get a fix on that. By definitions all bubbles burst, but not all bubbles are toxic.

Question: Why is predicting the economy so difficult?
Greenspan: It involves human psychology and uncertainty.

Question: Do you ever talk to other Federal Reserve chairmen?
Greenspan: We talk socially all the time. But here is an unstated edict - you never comment or evaluate what your successor (or predecessor) does (or did).

Question: It was said that you sometimes said things in Congress testimony that no one could ever understand?
Answer: I would be getting ready to answer a question and I would see the next day's headline in The Washington Post. My tongue turned over and incredible gibberish would come out.

Question: When you're out at a cocktail party and somebody asks you about interest rates, what do you say?
Answer: "They will fluctuate." (more laughter from the crowd).

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Is Literature the Most Important Weapon of Propoganda?

A scene from the movie version of Dr. Zhivago.
Soviet leader Joseph Stalin once described writers as “the engineers of the human soul.”
“The production of souls is more important than the production of tanks,” he claimed. 

Stalin clearly believed that literature was a powerful political tool—and he was willing to execute writers whose works were deemed traitorous to the Soviet Union.
Stalin's sentiments regarding literature may seem like the deranged delusions of a dictator. 

But consider a similar Cold War-era comment by the CIA’s then-chief of covert action: “Books differ from all other propaganda media primarily because one single book can significantly change the reader’s attitude and action to an extent unmatched by the impact of any other single medium.” He also used a military metaphor for culture, calling books “the most important weapon of strategic propaganda.”

To continue reading this post, which 1st appeared in The Atlantic, click here.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

DC Writer Tells a Tale of Crack, Crime, and Addiction

He was a reporter for the Washington Post. Covering crime in the era of crack and Mayor Marion Barry. And even as he was writing, he was addicted to crack himself.

Read an excerpt from Rueben Castenenda's book S Street Rising: Crack, Murder, and Redemption in DC which 1st appeared in Politico.