Monday, April 30, 2007

The places in between
(Rory Stewart, 8 CDs)
Pretty interesting story, told by a guy ballsy enough to walk hundreds of miles through Afghanistan just two weeks after the Taliban fell.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

(Neil Pollack, 7 CDs)
Superb, interesting, honest, and fun-loving discussion of what it means to become a parent when you still want to rock out. Although I'm not an intransigent hipster, I immensely appreciated Pollack's discussion of issues such as disciplining your son, schooling him in non-simpy music, and trying to make the world you live in reflect the world you want your offspring to spring into.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Free Speech Movement: Coming of Age in the 1960s
(David Lance Goines, 767 pp)
A fascinating personal memoir, with extensive documentation, that tells the great story of the FSM, as well as various shock waves that followed, e.g., the Berkeley Barb, and the birth of the Hieronymous press that Goines runs today. Link here goes to the archival version, online at the Bancroft library

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transformation of New York
(Hilary Ballon & Kenneth T. Jackson, editors; 304pp)
This book, produced in tandem with current museum exhibitions in NY, has been part of a project to "rehabilitate" Moses' reputation. Although the different essays do advance claims to "contextualize" Robert Caro's indictments (racism, neighborhood razing, and car-fetishism struck me as his 3 worst crimes), this book provides more than enough evidence to believe that Caro was not biased. Here are several stories left out of the Powerbroker, which are mentioned here: 1) When Metropolitan Life began to plan in 1943 to construct the massive housing known as Stuyvesant Town, Moses helped establish legislation authorizing the exclusion of non-whites from access (p117). 2) Moses conspired to cut Washington Square Park in half, placing a freeway that would run through the Village -- The neighborhood group that mobilized to oppose this devastation included Jane Jacobs (p124), who later went on to write her incisive and anti-Mosaic theories of urban life. Although Caro never mentioned the details of this campaign against the Village, the horrific plans that Moses drew up show how ugly the city could have become if he'd been allowed to shove his highways into the center of Manhattan. The book itself, apart from Moses' reputation, is full of interesting details, although it could have been better produced. The opening pages, a photo portfolio of Moses' legacy, would have been greatly improved had the editors simply added one line of information about when the particular projects had been built. The very last section of the book is dense with an assessment of many of the projects undertaken, including those never built, and to my mind, the unbuilt projects stand as a clear demonstration of how dangerous Moses' power actually was.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Against the Day
(Thomas Pynchon, 53 hours/1085 pp)
I've been listening to this since late January, and it's impossible to excessively praise the experience I've been magically granted. I have enjoyed every Pynchon book, with the exception of Vineland, but this one struck me as the funniest of them all. It's also profoundly interesting, arcane, overwhelming, and endlessly intricate. I've been whittling away concurrently at a wiki that provides a great online guide to scan, after the fact. The book's tales stream so charmingly that no guide is required in advance. (I wasn't able to read Ulysses the first time without a crib, but Pynchon's work is far less architectonic, much more immediate). At every page, ideas scintillate, and I kept feeling as if I was sitting beside the craziest, most over-educated lunatic in Berkeley. The audible version is amazingly well produced, and highly recommended. I expect to re-read this again (and probably again).

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Alice Waters and Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution
(Thomas McNamee, 400pp)
Alice Waters' story is told with grace and compelling detail. The biography tells her life story so well that the reader also learns about the trajectory of the delicious revolution, with close attention to the tale of Berkeley over the last 30+ years. The big lesson: To live an inspiring life, be inspired by those you meet along the way. Alice clearly pursued her dream, from the moment she experienced French food in her junior year abroad.