Archive for March, 2009

#13 What Ifs of American History

March 21, 2009

No, I’m not dead. Just overworked and also trying to watch the NCAA tournament. But the challenge of 50 books lives on, and I am still making progress.

13. What Ifs of American History (edited by Robert Cowley)
This book was a collection of essays positing, as you might imagine, alternative versions of American history. The basic criteria is that you take some major historical event or period and interject one decision being made in a different way, and presto, guess at the ensuing results.

Some of these are kind of obvious what ifs– for instance, what if Kennedy had not been assassinated. Some of them are much more subtle– what if Eisenhower hadn’t authorized the U2 flyover of Russia that got Francis Gary Powers shot down. The proposed answer is that the Cold War would have defused decades earlier, and infinite amounts of American resouces would’ve been diverted from defense spending. Or what if the Mayflower hadn’t have sailed– the proposed answer is that colonists would have thrived in Virginia instead of Massachusetts, that the basic American ethic would’ve accordingly been changed, and we’d probably be a lot more like Canada.

This was a very interesting read. I particularly enjoyed the more obscure bits– like the possible mass industrial revolt that Rutherford Hayes saved the U.S. from in the late 19th century, or the aforementioned U2 spy plane scandal. The essay format is nice as well, because if you get a particular chapter that doesn’t particularly resonate with you, the next is merely pages away. I would recomend this book, and may try to check out others in this “What Ifs” series.



#12- Twenty Nights to Rock by Bill Tangen

March 3, 2009

For the second time in three books, I was disappointed. Tangen took a great concept– following Bruce Springsteen around to 20 concerts in 2002-3, and absolutely ruined it. This is the worst sort of rock fan travel writing. Sample section (not real, written by me, but could be real):

“It was nice, to be in Washington. The weather, was kind of rainy. Bruce was in great form though. He sang “Glory Days” and rocked out on his guitar. After the show I met whogivesacrap and obnoxiousjrk from the Springsteen message board. They were real nice. Then we found a great bar where I sang karaoke, which everyone loved.”

Horrid punctuation? Check.
Poor music writing, with no real sense of HOW anything sounded or was played? Check.
Frequent useless references to Internet people? Check.
Constant references to the author singing karaoke? Check.

I’m sure this book was a lot of fun for this guy to write. But for readers, it was a great concept with absolutely awful execution. Twenty Nights to Meander Aimlessly would’ve been appropriate for the type of writing used here. Yuck.