I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the TalibanI Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The whole world knows that Malala is the Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban because she campaigned for girls’ education. I Am Malala is much more than recounting that gruesome event. It is a frank and accurate history of Pakistan, especially the Swat region and the Pashtun tribe. She is brutally honest about the barbarism of her people, particularly concerning the subjugation of women who are denied an education and forced to confine themselves to home and travel only with a husband or male relative. They often practice arranged marriages and sell daughters as brides to settle family blood feuds. Malala also reveals in vivid terms the dysfunction and duplicity of Pakistan’s government and army who, while claiming allegiance to the US and accepting billions of dollars, aided and abetted Osama bin Laden.

All this is very interesting and on the mark. Because Pakistan is supposedly an ally, we seldom hear the truth about this ruthless, backstabbing, hypocritical nation of tribal barbarians who possess nuclear weapons. We can see video of Taliban in Afghanistan herding women into soccer stadiums and shooting them in the head, or stoning women on the street. What we don’t see are videos of the same atrocities in Pakistan. Malala describes these outrages in an almost offhand tone and never once considers that the root cause of the problem is Islam. Despite her ordeal and having become a world-renowned proponent for educational reform, she faithfully accepts the repression of women, keeps the scarf on her head, and claims to want nothing more than to return to the Swat valley where her attempted assassin has become leader of the local Taliban. She tells about, when visiting Mecca, her mother bought a new burqa for the occasion. It can’t be both ways. One is either subjugated or not. She even sugar coats parts of the Quran, once stating that Mohamed “migrated” from Mecca to Medina. History tells us that the Meccans had had enough of him and ran his ass out of town.

I have to say that I am glad I read I Am Malala, but I can’t say that I ever warmed to the person. I also think that this book isn’t particularly well edited. How much the co-author contributed, I can’t say. The voice sounds genuinely Malala’s, but there are some places where a native English speaker might have suggested changes. It also bothered me that in her gushing admiration for Obama, she claimed that he rose from a struggling family. Struggling how? Is being raised by affluent white grandparents struggling? It’s a remarkable story that shines a light on a global crisis, but I’m not sure Malala Yousafzai actually sees the crisis.

View all my reviews

poggibonsipoggibonsi by Dan Alatorre

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mike was a venture capitalist with a plan to destroy Tuscany, so he started in the hole on the likeability index. He took his wife and young daughter to Italy for a vacation before settling into the business of plundering the fabled countryside. He fell on the wrong side of his wife, Mattie, and she went home in a huff. To make things worse, his local contact and business partner was hospitalized with heart trouble. Alberto tells him not to worry, that he will appoint an associate to help cement the deals. That associate happens to be the most beautiful young woman in Italy. This can only end badly.

Reading Poggibonsi, which is the name of the town on which Mike intends to do a hostile takeover, takes faith and patience. Until we meet the succulent Julietta, there’s not much happening. The first person narrative is burdened with excessive detail. There are some diversions to third person, which may have been a better choice of voices. Mike’s assistant, Samantha, is an endearing character who, in addition to being infatuated with Mike, is Mattie’s best friend. This is a complicated dynamic within the plot. Mike redeems himself from time to time with some insightful observations about the nature of life. The ending is fairly predictable and lingers longer than this reader thought it should. The meat of this story is Julietta, and that part is done extremely well. She has beauty, brains, and she knows how to go about getting what she wants. What’s not to like about that?

$2.99 at Amazon

View all my reviews

Everyone Loves a Good Plague

Plauge

Bubonic plague may not be the only star of the Black Death. Anthrax may have had a supporting role. Whether one, the other, or both, the Black Death killed twenty million people, a percentage of world population even greater than the fifty million killed by the Spanish Flu pandemic of the early twentieth century. A culling of that magnitude had a profound effect on the future world. It gave us Ring Around the Rosie and prevented the Plantagenet kings from seizing the rule of France, the Low Countries, Spain, and possibly even Germany.

 

Mr. Cantor delves deeply into the impact the plague had on historic individuals as well as facets of society. He explores the intricacies of land inheritance as it was impacted by the loss of heirs and convoluted English law. These aspects are the focus of this book more that the rampage of the epidemic across Europe and Britain. In the Wake of the Plague also tells of the contemporary attempts to rationalize the disaster. In various places Jews were tortured until they confessed to poisoning wells. The alignment of Jupiter and Saturn were blamed, and at later times, pathogens from outer space were the cause. This fascinating book is quite scholarly. It is definitely not light reading, but it is well worth the effort.

Buy at Barnes & Noble

Buy at Amazon

Golden State Blues

NO capitol

Our shiny-headed governor says he will sign a bill into law ordering courts, police, cities, and all the way down to landlords, to violate Federal Law. If I recall, South Carolina did something similar to this in 1860, just before Lincoln sent federal troops to resupply Fort Sumter.

The California Constitution says this:

SEC. 3.5.  An administrative agency, including an administrative

agency created by the Constitution or an initiative statute, has no

power:

   (a) To declare a statute unenforceable, or refuse to enforce a

statute, on the basis of it being unconstitutional unless an

appellate court has made a determination that such statute is

unconstitutional;

   (b) To declare a statute unconstitutional;

   (c) To declare a statute unenforceable, or to refuse to enforce a

statute on the basis that federal law or federal regulations prohibit

the enforcement of such statute unless an appellate court has made a

determination that the enforcement of such statute is prohibited by

federal law or federal regulations.

Part (c) seems to say to me, “Federal trumps State.” Furthermore, parts (a) and (b) make no distinction between state and federal statutes when denying administrative agencies the power to declare them unconstitutional.

By signing this bill, our governor will be committing an act of treason. It’s time for President Trump to declare Jerry Brown to be in a state of rebellion and send federal troops to throw his ass in jail along with the legislature and all the mayors—numerous police chiefs as well.

House of Spies

House of Spies (Gabriel Allon #17)House of Spies by Daniel Silva

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Julian Isherwood, geriatric art dealer, was stood-up by his date, who was half his age. His untimely exit from the posh London restaurant made him witness to the beginning of a terrorist attack. His panicked reaction saves dozens from annihilation. It just won’t do to have a terrorist attack without bringing that master of assassination, Gabriel Allon, out of the shadows where he has been lurking at the head of Israel’s intelligence service. The perpetrator is well known to the heads of intelligence across the globe, but how will they locate him and draw him into the open? Gabriel, as usual, has the solution. First steal a few hundred million Euros from Bashar Assad, then buy a villa at San Tropez in the name of a Russian arms dealer and his French wife. This was to attract the attention of a French billionaire and his stunning, almost wife, who is actually the largest importer of Moroccan hashish. Of course, we know that Gabriel won’t fail, but what will be the aftermath of the ISIS’s leader’s demise?

I first encountered Daniel Silva in Barbados. He wasn’t there, but one of his books was in the hotel’s ‘take a book, leave a book’ library. I’ve been hooked ever since. The Gabriel Allon character is a part-time assassin and a part-time art restorer who has a troubled past. He slips in and out of Europe and the U.S. with cat-like stealth mounting complex operations for the Israeli secret service. One can think of him as a Jewish James Bond who practices monogamy. As odd as that sounds, Allon is enormously appealing.

Buy at Amazon

Buy at Barnes & Noble

View all my reviews

The Great Quake

The Great Quake: How the Biggest Earthquake in North America Changed Our Understanding of the PlanetThe Great Quake: How the Biggest Earthquake in North America Changed Our Understanding of the Planet by Henry Fountain

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Alaska earthquake of 1964 was the largest seismic event to ever strike North America. It lasted for nearly five minutes and triggered a series of catastrophic tsunamis. I recall when it happened, and I even spoke to a person who experienced it. That is one reason why I wanted to read this book. The other reason is that I’m writing a book that begins with a big earthquake, and I wanted to do some fact checking. Mr. Fountain’s description of the earth movement and the tsunamis is marvelous. The truth in this case, is hyperbole. Towns vanish, ships and people disappear, the earth opens, and snaps shut repeatedly. Houses fall into great fissures. Those readers who are familiar with earthquakes should try to imagine one that lasts for five minutes and increases in intensity as it progresses.

I am disappointed to have to tell you that the actual description of the disaster is woefully brief. Most of this book is filler. We have the life story of the geologist who investigated the quake after the fact. We even got the life history of his father. We were subjected to the life story of one of the early proponents of the Continental Drift Theory. A few more biographies of some of the victims were thrown in to fill a couple more chapters. There is just too much uninteresting and unnecessary information. I suggest that you skim it or skip it. Go straight for the earthquake. That part is great.

Buy at Barnes & Noble

Buy at Amazon

View all my reviews

Resistant to Change

This is the post excerpt.

I did not want to start a new blog, but Blogger quit working. I couldn’t even contact them to complain. I’ve gotten behind in my book reviews, so I’m going to use this initial post to review The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan.

Capture

The first remarkable thing about The Botany of Desire is that is written by a man named Pollan. How did he resist changing the spelling to Pollen? That aside, there is a great deal of pollen dusting these pages. Mr. Pollan focuses on four plants: the apple, the tulip, cannabis, and the potato. Who knew that something as commonplace as an apple had a fascinating history? Apples originated in Kazakhstan. Edible apples cannot be raised from seed, therefore, the apple trees planted by Johnny Appleseed, were grown for making hard cider. Tulips drove normally staid Dutchmen insane. Modern pot cultivation has been refined to a science that relies completely on clones. Genetically modified potatoes are treated like software, and farmers must accept the terms of a licensing agreement to grow them.

 

The Botany of Desire is an in depth journey into arcane history, and at the same time exploring the often symbiotic relationship between plants and humans. Michael Pollan, in addition to being a journalist, is a dyed in the wool gardener who draws on his own experience to bring this book to life. That experience, coupled with profound research, makes this book an intriguing read.