Friday, August 21, 2015


Beautiful writing, a feeling of otherworldliness, and all the heartache of Ondaatje's The English Patient. Arg.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Daniel James Brown, THE BOYS IN THE BOAT

Extremely well-written, engaging, page-turner about the eight boys from Washington who won gold in the 1936 Olympics. While it tells the story of all eight boys, it is focalized largely through the personal memories of the #2 man in the boat, Joe Rantz; it begins with his horrifying childhood (his stepmother was like something out of Disney), creating a psychological trajectory of him transcending not just his material poverty but his lack of trust in others, to become part of this team. The author is also very congnizant of the historical context--the myths that the Eastern US was writing about the Western US, for example, and how that created a sort of "meta" story (intertwined with the Seabiscuit story, for example, rough-hewn but real power coming out of the west), about the boys of Washington and Cal (UC Berkeley) versus the "privileged" Yale, Cornell, Harvard crews. The boat story is also cross-cut with the rise of Hitler and how the Olympics were used as a propoganda opportunity, with Leni Riefenstahl and Goebbels duking it out for power. Fascinating. Couldn't put this one down. If you liked THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY (Erik Larson), you may like this one too.

Saturday, August 1, 2015


The author happens to be the cousin of Sasha Baron-Cohen (as in BORAT). That notwithstanding, the book presents a pretty unshrinking and unhumorous look at the lack of empathy which allows people to be able to see others as objects, to commit atrocious cruelties upon them, and to feel no remorse. He provides some historic, collective examples of genocide and systematic torture; then he switches to discussing the individual, tracing out the Psychopath, Borderline, Narcissist, and Zero-negative (less common; think Asperger's) types in terms of behavioral, environmental and genetic causes. His goal in writing the book is to suggest the need for a change in the DSM-V, to identify a new category called "Empathy Disorders." He makes a compelling case ... I for one believe we do need more discussion about empathy both in everyday life (as opposed to the shame and blame that have the potential to make us shrivel inside) and in extreme circumstances. Interestingly, though, he brings up how empathy depends upon the ability to keep our own consciousness as well as that of another (akin to two spotlights) in our mind simultaneously; but he never mentions Jessica Benjamin, the profoundly insightful psychoanalyst who wrote about this ability--what she calls "interdependence"--in her book BONDS OF LOVE, decades ago. I was surprised he didn't know it or reference it; seems a very odd oversight.