Wednesday, October 29, 2014

An Evening With Dennis Lehane

This year my friend George (from The Thirty Year Itch) and I got tickets to the Cuyahoga County Library's Writers Center Stage series. We have great seats--the middle of the third row. We're right in front of the speaker and we don't have to crane our necks to see him/her.

The October event featured Dennis Lehane and was this past Thursday. He gave an astounding presentation. If you follow the Criminal Element twitter feed, I live tweeted a lot of it, but want to share the event and some photos with you here.


For long-time blog readers, you may remember that Dennis participated in the Six-Word Memoir series and his memoir was "I owe it all to libraries." That memoir came screaming back as he began his presentation Thursday night. He said he was going to talk about the 20 reasons he is where he is today. "One through ten are...libraries," he proclaimed.

As a first grader, Dennis' teacher called his parents to tell them he liked to read. And with that motivation, his Irish-immigrant mother took him to the local branch of the Boston Public Library and got him a library card. The librarian told a young Dennis that he could borrow any of the books in the library, he just had to bring them back in two weeks. To a six-year-old boy from the wrong side of the tracks, being told that he was just as entitled to the books in his library as was the boy who was dropped off in the Bentley indicated to Dennis that he mattered.

One of the best lines of the night (and there were quite a few) was Dennis' jab at the Tea Party. He said, "By the way, Tea Partiers would consider this socialism, but we called it a library."

So after the huge importance of libraries, Lehane explained that he was not from a literary family. His parents were both Irish immigrants without a high school education. But he was from a storytelling family. His father was one of eighteen children, most of whom immigrated to the United States and all settled in the same geographic location. They were very insular, so before Dennis started school he was surrounded more by 1930s Irish culture than 1970s Boston culture. (Those Boston vowels do still pepper his dialogue, though.)

One of the characteristics of that Irish culture was that the families would all regularly get together and tell stories about Ireland. Dennis says he and his brother quickly learned that their family had a shaky relationship with "facts." The same story would be told at various times with tweaks to the events.

Unbeknownst to his mother, Dennis' father would take him to Vaughn's Tavern on Dot Avenue where everyone would sit around and tell stories as well. Here he learned three rules: #1 - TELL THE STORY! Don't go into long drawn out descriptions and set-up, just tell the story. #2 - Make it funny. Because Rule #3 is the point of the working class story is 'the man got screwed.'

So while Dennis Lehane didn't get a literary education through his youth, he did learn to tell stories. And he also learned to listen, which ultimately strengthened his gift with dialogue. His skills with the oral story tradition were evident as he entertained and awed the crowd.

Lehane also informed the audience that he had to be dedicated at a very young age. "Liking to read in working class Dorchester got you one thing--your ass beat. So if you're going to do it, you need to be dedicated." And dedicated he was. He says that in Dorchester, you didn't become a writer. You became a cop, a plumber, a fireman, but you didn't become a writer. So he knew if he returned to his hometown and wasn't a writer, he'd be tending bar at Vaughn's Tavern on Dot Avenue with customers yelling, "hey Hemingway, give me another Schlitz."

Dennis Lehane says he has No. Other. Talents. None. He tried his hand at a few other things in college and failed miserably. Telling stories is what he knows how to do. And we benefit from that in many realms. He's a novelist, a screenwriter, a play write. When asked what he prefers he said that screenwriting is easier because you're part of a team. The whole project doesn't sit on your shoulders. But, "When you write a book, you're God...it's a pain in the ass being God, but at the end of the day it's the most rewarding."

The whole event was wonderful. Lehane's stories, his enthusiasm, his gift for story-telling, it was a fantastic time. I can't encourage you enough that if you have the chance to see him, take it. You'll feel like you're sitting in the bar listening to the story-telling and mentally watching the worlds form around  you. This event was so great that now the rest of the series has a very high bar to live up to. I'll let you know how everyone does.



Happy Reading!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Hand to Mouth - Linda Tirado

My review of Linda Tirado's Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I am posting it here today for non-crime Monday with their permission.

First line: "In the fall of 2013, I was in my first semester of school in a decade."

When Linda Tirado responded to an online forum question—“Why do poor people do things that seem so self-destructive?”—she had no idea her explanation would go viral and result in her first book, Hand to Mouth. This frank, sarcastic depiction of life as a member of the working poor is a frightening reality from which many Americans are just one misfortune away.

Tirado says, “Being poor is something like always being followed around by violins making ‘tense’ movie music…and they’re playing the shower scene from Psycho.” Life is a constant source of exhaustion: working multiple low-wage jobs, taking care of children and a home, in Tirado’s case attending school. All the while, fighting to pay the bills and praying no disaster strikes.

In her intelligent, articulate narrative, Tirado addresses numerous stereotypes, illustrating their hypocrisy and irrationality. For example, she discusses service work. She says, “I think the sorts of people who honestly think that service workers should be more smiley and gracious just don’t get it. They don’t get it because they can take so much for granted in their own lives—things like respect, consideration, and basic fairness on the job. Benefits. Insurance.”

The idea that the poor are lazy and should just work harder to improve their station in life is an illusion. By telling her personal story, Tirado shows how futile that theory is and how desperately changes need to be made. If readers approach Hand to Mouth with an open mind, they’re sure to leave it compassionately richer humans.

Hand to Mouth is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9780399171987) from Putnam. There is also an unabridged audiobook (ISBN: 9781611763300 ) read by Tirado from Penguin Audio.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Wait for Signs - Craig Johnson

Wait for Signs is a collection of Craig Johnson's 12 Longmire short stories. And I want back and forth about the first line to share in this review, so I decided you're getting 3 first lines: the acknowledgements, the introduction (written by Lou Diamond Phillips) and the first story, so here you go.

First line (Acknowledgements): "After I was fortunate enough to win the Cowboys & Indians Tony Hillerman Award with 'Old Indian Trick,' the first story in this collection and the first short story I had ever written, I got the bright idea that I'd send it to the folks who subscribed to my newsletter as a free gift for the holidays."

First line (Introduction): "Tightrope."

First line (First Story--"Old Indian Trick"): "It's hard to argue with an old Indian or his tricks."

I picked up this little book with the intention of skimming through it to remind myself of these stories I've read before and read-read the couple that were new to me. But when I sat down and started the skimming part, I said, "oh, I'll just re-read this one because it was so fun." Well, I re-read them all because they are ALL so much fun. And with them came the realization that this is a book that I'll re-read many times because the stories don't lose anything on the second, third, fourth....reads. In fact, they seem to become richer.

As mentioned in the first line of the acknowledgements, the stories kick of with "Old Indian Trick," featuring Walt and Lonnie Little Bird. This story has a mystery element to it, but they don't all. What they all contain is some wisdom of humanity, some insight into the characters we love in the series, and of course, a lot of humor.

"The Ministerial Aid," the book's second story continues to leave me a bit teary-eyed when I read it, needing to go out and do something extra kind for someone. I always feel like this is the story that reminds each of us we're capable of performing miracles--regardless of our faith or lack thereof--we have that power. There are plenty of chuckles in this one, but even more food for thought.

"The Slick-Tongued Devil" follows up "The Ministerial Aid" and they have much of the same effect. Johnson, confined to the limited length of a short story, still manages to bring the Wyoming setting to life in these yarns: "A few granules of snowy sleet had swept across the ridges along the Bighorn Mountains and collected in the low spots and windward sides of the European blue sage, and on one of the escaped structural limbs of the sweat lodge, a great horned owl sat with his back to me."

If you haven't read the series yet, these stories are so enjoyable and heart-warming.  If you have read the series, you get some background we don't read about in the novels. These two stories bring us a bit closer to Walt and the relationship he had with his wife, Martha.

The fourth story "Fire Bird" features one of my series favorites, Lucien Connally, while "Unbalanced" introduces a nameless young woman who never appears in the novels. Both stories remind us a little about the value of family...and friends.

The sixth and seventh stories, "Several Stations" and "High Holidays," show our fearless sheriff dealing with motorists in his kindly--and intuitive--manners. We see the beauty of Johnson's language at work with descriptions like, "The highway patrol had closed the interstate and the driver of the big eighteen-wheeler had negotiated the off-ramp but had only gotten as far as the first turn on the Durant county road before he slid off and slowly rolled the truck over like an apatosaurus looking to make a giant snow angel."

"Toys for Tots" is still probably my all-time favorite of the Longmire short stories. The relationship between Walt and Cady plays out; Walt's extra-large sized compassion is front and center; and Johnson is in top form with the humor. The stories often contain little trivia facts, much like the ones Walt can rattle off in odd situations, and this one provides a little background on the Toys for Tots organization.

"Divorce Horse" takes readers to Memorial Day and a missing sorrel while Walt and Cady play out a friendly, gender-based wager. Johnson's gift for creating vivid images comes alive as he describes an Indian relay race: "The men were painted and so were their mounts. One of the beauties of the sport was the pageantry--some of the riders were in full warbonnets, some in shaman headdresses, the riders and their ponies resplendent in team colors, the designs reflecting the lines, spots, handprints, and lightning bolts recorded in the old Indian ledger drawings."

While Henry Standing Bear appears in several stories, he is prominently featured in "Thankstaking." This story is so rich in meaning, it probably requires several readings to truly grasp it all. The implications of the past, the possibilities of the future and the importance of the present all converge on relationships in this tale of cultures.

"Messenger" came out last year as an ebook story centered around a port-a-john and an owl. With Walt, Vic, Henry and a group of bears, you know you're in for a wild ride.  Vic's wit is in high form--when the trio comes across a ranger sitting on top of a port-a-john with a family of bears rustling around it, she asks the ranger, "Hey, Chuck, what were you doing, looking for a Porta Potty that was just right?" And the madcap adventure contained in this story's 30 pages is one you can only fathom in Absaroka County. And contrasting the humorous element is the respect of Indian lore.

The book concludes on a new story, "Petunia, Bandit Queen of the Bighorns." Santiago Saizarbitoria features prominently in this story of a renegade sheep. The presence of Saizarbitoria opens up the opportunity for Walt to share some factoids about the Basque, to which Santiago wants to know, "'Do you really sit around and memorize that stuff?'"

This beautiful little book is a gem. The pages inside are priceless stories of love, relationships, humanity and nature. They are stories to read again and again--especially when you need your faith in people renewed or if you just need a good laugh. I can see this collection as a great introduction to the series for new-comers, and devout fans will definitely want this jewel of the Bighorns for their libraries. As for me, I'm going to make it a yearly holiday tradition to revisit the stories. Re-reading them brought me a warm, fuzzy feeling, which is always a plus in the cold NE Ohio winters.

It's extremely rare for me to suggest to people, "you should definitely sign up for this author's newsletter." But I do that regularly with Craig Johnson. The reason? Each newsletter includes a little anecdote with Craig's wisdom and humor. It's like a smidgeon story and a ray of sunshine in my email box. And then of course, there's the annual Christmas short story. So I encourage you to check out his website, and on the Contact tab, you'll find directions for how to receive his updates...his Post-its!

Wait for Signs is available today in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0525427919)--it's a small book, like Spirit of Steamboat (which comes out in paperback this week, too, by the way), so it would make a nice stocking stuffer if you want to share the Longmire love this holiday season. But for all my fellow audiobook fans who know how AMAZING George Guidall is at narrating this series, there's an audiobook version as well from Recorded Books! I really can't wait to hear him read these stories. Regardless of your preferred format, I hope you enjoy these stories as much as I did, whether it's your first time reading them or your fourth, fifth, sixth....

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Organized Mind - Daniel J. Levitin

This one got by me. The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload ran in Shelf Awareness awhile back and I'm reposting it here today with their permission. I found this one very fascinating. It's long and there are sections that could have been tightened up a bit, but I've put a lot of these ideas into practice for myself and have seen a marked difference, so I don't want to leave it off the blog. Hope you enjoy it.

First line: "We humans have a long history of pursuing neural enhancement--ways to improve the brains that evolution gave us."

With the constant barrage of information, coupled with the infinite distractions of technology, neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin (This Is Your Brain on Music) says it’s no wonder people regularly lose their keys or forget appointments. The information isn’t going to slow, so what’s the solution? Understand your brain.

The brain’s natural tendency is to sort all incoming information, a tendency that served humans well until the current information explosion. Now the brain takes in an overwhelming amount of data, experiences and knowledge and organizes it in such a way that memories are difficult to retrieve or are altered to the point of unreliability. To battle this phenomenon, Levitin says people need to move some of the brain’s systems outside the body.

He examines how these external systems can work to organize the human environment, everything from the physical—homes—to the theoretical—time.

The Organized Mind is jam packed with ideas readers can immediately put into action, but it also contains concepts readers may struggle to accept. It challenges the value of multi-tasking and asks readers to make rational decisions about life-changing events, like cancer surgery. In theory, the rational choice is obvious; when confronted with the actuality, an emotional component comes into play. However, Levitin does an excellent job of showing different perspectives and driving home the idea that an organized mind can have more control over emotion because it has control over the information.

Anyone who’s ever asked themselves, “now, where’d I put those keys?” will find The Organized Mind an invaluable, life-altering resource.

The Organized Mind is available in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0525954187) from Dutton. There is also an unabridged audiobook version, narrated by Luke Daniels, from Penguin Audio.

Monday, October 13, 2014

All the Truth is Out - Matt Bai

My review today for non-crime Monday is All the Truth is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid. My review first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers and I am reposting it here today with their permission. I wasn't old enough to vote when the Gary Hart scandal occurred but I remember it well. What a different journalistic world we live in since this happened....

First line: "To get to the tiny village of Kittredge, Colorado, which for five days in 1987 became the unlikely center of the political solar system, you have to take the interstate about ten miles west of Denver and then follow Bear Creek Avenue as it winds its way up the mountain."

In 1987 Gary Hart enjoyed a substantial lead not only for the Democratic nomination but also in the overall Presidential race. Then an altogether unprecedented journalistic earthquake shattered the foundation of his bid for the nation’s highest office and forever changed the landscape of American politics. Matt Bai (The Argument) examines Hart’s campaign and the world of journalism to illuminate why this promising presidential hopeful ended up disgraced unlike any before him and any since.

Bai details the impact Nixon and Watergate had on the news world. Writers vowed never to be embarrassed by a politician’s deceit to that degree again. Add the tantalizing celebrity of Woodward and Bernstein’s success, and when Tom Fiedler of the Miami Herald received an anonymous tip Hart was having an illicit affair, he set out to catch Hart in the act and uncover a scandal.

The story, familiar to most Americans over the age of 40, hasn’t been recorded quite the way it happened. Bai lays out a timeline contradicting the widely held course of events, and questions the rationale reporters used to justify their then-unheard of behavior. Bai says, “the cardinal objective of all political journalism had shifted, from a focus on agendas to a focus on narrow notions of character, from illuminating worldviews to exposing falsehoods.”

Bai narrates Gary Hart’s story from a new perspective, one that is haunting in the shadows of America’s current state of affairs, and one that will leave readers wondering just how much would be different today if the scandal never happened.

All the Truth is Out is available in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0307273383) from Alfred A. Knopf. There is also an unabridged audiobook (ISBN: 978-0553399851), narrated by Rob Shapiro, from Random House Audio.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Five on Friday - Hank Phillippi Ryan

Happy, happy Friday all! I hope you've had a great week. It's been a little crazy here, so I'm looking forward to a calmer weekend.

A couple odds and ends to share with you before we welcome our special guest. First is this month's Nerdy Special List. Pop Culture Nerd has that up over at her blog. Both of my recommendations are non-fiction books, but both great, great reads. I think crime readers will especially appreciate Just Mercy.

Not really book related, but worthy of a mention none the less is this flash mob project I have every intention of participating in tomorrow. Join me?

Susan Goldstein is a xuni.com client and I just added this story to her website this week. I now want to go to Paris more than ever. A library of exclusively crime writings. How cool?

Sadly I'm not going to be able to make it this year, but the Murder & Mayhem conference has relocated from Muskego to Milwaukee and will take place November 1st, so if you're in the Milwaukee area, check it out!

And of course some contests, right?

FridayReads is in tune with us because they are giving away Hank Phillippi Ryan's newest Jane Ryland novel, Truth Be Told.

And Criminal Element has the Second Paper Capers Sweepstakes still going on.

O.k. that's it for my jibber jabber today. Now let's get on with the show because today we are investigating the investigator...investigative reporter that is. Hank Phillippi Ryan has been a TV investigative reporter long enough to snag herself 32 Emmys. How she can juggle that job and write books is a wonder. But write them she does. She has a series of novels about Charlotte McNally, an investigative reporter (fancy that!) and most recently she's written a series about Jane Ryland, a former TV investigator turned newspaper reporter.  Hank has been snatching up every award possible with this new series and book number three, Truth Be Told, hit stores this week.

Anyone who has had a chance to meet Hank in person knows about the kind, generous person that she is. She's smart and funny and could give those fashionistas a run for their money. I am so very pleased to welcome her back to the blog (this isn't her first visit of course) to join us for Five on Friday. Friends...Hank Phillippi Ryan!

Hank Phillippi Ryan Hank Phillippi Ryan


1. My favorite place to read is: Bed. It’s so cozy, and such a nice way to end a day. However. It’s difficult, because there are two things that happen, neither one optimal, but I persist.

One, if I am really tired, I wind up reading one page, and then I think—I have no idea what I just read, I’ll start again tomorrow. Which is so unfair to the author! (My husband does the same thing. “You’re asleep,” I say, poking him as his head nods over the pages. “No, I’m not,” he insists. “What did you just read?” I ask. Pause, pause. NO idea.)

The other problem is the book-is-too-good problem. When there’s a book that’s fantastic, whether I’m tired or not, I cannot put it down. I’ll look at the clock, and it’s 2 am! And I am doomed.

And still, I read in bed.

2. The most famous person I ever met was: Oh, the most famous? Hunter Thompson? Who I worked with at Rolling Stone. The coolest, nicest, funniest guy ever. Brilliant. I interviewed Dustin Hoffman when I did a radio show called Rolling Stone Radio News—very memorable interview, since my tape recorder broke and we had to do it all again. BIG lesson in checking the tape. Walter Cronkite? Bill Cosby? President Carter? Harry Belafonte? Richard Avedon? I went on tour with him for a project. Oh, I know! Prince Charles! Does that do it? I interviewed him briefly when he came to Boston, and he told me the inside scoop on the signet ring he wears.

3. My favorite kind of cookie is: I am not a big cookie person, and it’s not difficult for me to say no. However! A just-out-of-the-oven homemade chocolate chip is ridiculous to resists, tight? They are crispy and gooey and lovely. I am also fond of Lorna Doones, do you know those? Shortbread, and everyone thinks they taste like cardboard, but I love them. I say: they taste like buttery cardboard. I also love Girl Scout thin mints, and those sugar wafer you can snap apart. Do they still make those?

4. My favorite brand of athletic shoe is: Ah, athletic shoes. Do I have any? I guess my black flats from J Crew that I use for travel—hey, they’re really good for running through airports right? That’s athletic.

5. #1 item on my bucket list right now is: Oh, it makes me sad to think about bucket list, you know? Because it makes my life—which I am enjoying so completely—seem to have a visible ending. So I have to admit, I’ve never thought: gee, I can’t wait to…whatever. But things I’d love to do? Grab my dear husband and go live in Paris for six months, exploring and writing and learning perfect French. Move to Rome, to the same thing. London. Break the most important life-changing news story ever. Have a New York Times Bestseller, or two. Have a terrific wonderful idea. Tell a unique and memorable story. I know this isn’t typical. But I just don’t think of life that way!

Well gracious, yes, I think Prince Charles qualifies for the most famous. I guess if I had to answer my own questions I'd have to say Hank is the most famous person I know, right? ;-)

And we'll have to find out from Hank if those flats are good for chasing down her investigation suspects, too.

Today was so fun. Hank is so fun, and I'm just thrilled that she was able to take time with us today. She's busy as a beaver out on her tour for Truth Be Told. Let me tell you, she is making a lot of stops, so check out her schedule and see if she'll be near you. She'll be working at the Bouchercon auction again this year, so you can be assured to see her there as well! And you can always connect with her through her website, her Facebook or her Twitter. She must do some of it in her sleep--how else can she possibly do it all!? However she does it, we're glad she does.

Thanks for stoppin' by today friends and have a lovely, lovely weekend filled with good books and happiness.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

To Dwell in Darkness - Deborah Crombie

First line: "In the first moment of waking, he had no idea who he was."

In her sixteenth go round with the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James duo, Deborah Crombie packs an explosive punch, both literally and figuratively.

Melody Talbot, Gemma's detective sergeant is in  St. Pancras concourse to watch her boyfriend, Andy, perform a live concert when a great explosion rocks the entire concourse. Melody reacts with officer instincts and moves toward the explosion while everyone else is stampeding away. As she breaks through the mob with the help of a good samaritan, she discovers a man burning to death as a result of the white phosphorus grenade he was holding. The individual who ignited the bomb is beyond help--and beyond recognition, but others in the area have been hurt so the authorities and medical personnel are summoned.

St. Pancras is now part of Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid's patch in his new assignment at Holborn Police Station. So when a young woman comes in to declare a friend missing since the explosion, Kincaid's the man she must talk to. The young woman along with her friends were protesting that day and Ryan Marsh, one of their group, was supposed to ignite a smoke bomb in order to attract the attention of the media present for the music concert. Ryan hasn't been seen since just before the chaos ensued.

Ryan Marsh poses a new mystery for Kincaid, there doesn't seem to be any trace of him anywhere. On the QT, Kincaid's friend and former colleague Doug starts digging into the possibility that Marsh is an undercover cop.

Meanwhile, a new possibility for the explosion victim arises when another young woman--also a part of the group of young protesters--comes in to declare her boyfriend also missing. Kincaid's responsibilities in the case continue to pile up: identify the victim, locate the missing individual who is not the victim, find out how and why a wp grenade was mistaken for a smoke bomb. And do it all while adjusting to a new detective sergeant who doesn't seem to like Kincaid much.

While Kincaid is up to his neck in questions surrounding his case, Gemma is certain she knows who committed the rape and murder of young girl, but there's no forensic evidence to support her. She struggles to find an overlooked clue or a new angle, so they can arrest the monster responsible.

On the homefront, Toby and Kit discover a frail mother cat in the garden shed who has just given birth to a litter of kittens. The Kincaid/James household just got a little bigger.

Deborah Crombie has a stellar talent for weaving a complex story together in about 300 pages. She manages to tell two mysteries and develop infinite interpersonal relationships without losing her readers. Instead she pulls them deeper into the world of her British duo and interlocks all the pieces so that a complete image is created when the puzzle comes together.

The dynamics of character relationships are as engrossing as the who-dunnit. The Kincaid/James children offer an element of innocence and hope that opposes the darkness and despair they adults most often see in their career world. The children's dialogue is authentic and unguarded, offering insight only young minds can provide.

But as I gush over the character relationships in the book, I don't want to neglect the strength of the plot. The suspense is well developed with aptly placed plot twists, red herrings and a limited narrator; this all works to keep the pace swift. The psychological elements of Crombie's novels heighten the intensity for a thrilling crime novel.

A few little extra details I feel are worth mentioning include the map on the end papers. It's a great resource to understand the geography, especially for a reader like me who has no working knowledge of London. The other is Crombie's attention to detail down to the pets. As an animal lover, I'm acutely aware of their role in novels. In this particular one, Erika, an elderly friend of the family makes a choice about kittens that is so well considered. It's probably a small detail that most will glance over, but for me I was moved by Crombie's thoughtfulness in its inclusion.

While there are elements that weave through the books in the series, To Dwell in Darkness, can easily be read and enjoyed without any background, with some background or of course with all the background. I came to this series late, but am very glad I finally made it. I thoroughly enjoy these books.

To Dwell in Darkness is available in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0062271600) from William Morrow. It is also available as an unabridged audiobook (ISBN: 978-1482992434), narrated by Gerard Doyle, from Blackstone Audio.

My review of To Dwell in Darkness is part of the TLC blog tour. You can find the entire list of blogs participating in this tour on their site. And you can find Deborah Crombie at her website, blogging at Jungle Red Writers or on Facebook and Twitter. She was also a Five on Friday guest here awhile back. If you missed that, be sure to check it out.

Disclosure: I do some contractual work for one of the owners of TLC Blog Tours. My work does not involve this tour or any other tour I would agree to be a part of here at the blog. Nor does my work with them obligate me to a specific kind of review. The reviews are still my own opinions and reflect only my thoughts on the novels. If you care to read more, you can find more information on my Disclosure page.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Seven Bad Ideas - Jeff Madrick

I don't typically read books about economics; it's not a subject that usually keeps my attention. However, the subtitle to this book, "How Mainstream Economists Have Damaged America and the World" did pique my interest. I'm very glad it did. No matter what "kind" of reader you are, you're still a human in this world and this book speaks to an economy that is affecting us all--we can all benefit from the knowledge inside it. My review of Seven Bad Ideas first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers. It is appearing here on my non-crime Monday with their permission.

First line: "Economists' most fundamental ideas contributed centrally to the financial crisis of 2008 and the Great Recession that followed--the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression."

In the introduction to his new book, Jeff Madrick (Age of Greed) says that economists could benefit from advice Henry James once gave his students: “Any point of view is interesting that is a direct impression of life. You should consider life directly and closely.” Madrick’s stance is that mainstream economists rely too heavily on theory that doesn’t hold up in practice. To illustrate and support his stance, he explains seven economic ideas that have driven policy since the 1970s and offers evidence of how they have failed not only the American people but the entire world. And if politicians continue to follow these ideas they could hold the United States back for decades.

Throughout the country, most colleges teach the same conservative economic ideas, passing their theories along to the future economists, and almost none includes a course on the history of their ideas. Madrick says, “history is rarely a cherished discipline among economists, and case studies are too often neglected.” So Madrick uses case studies and data to show government’s leading role in innovation, results of deregulation, flaws in low inflation and austerity economics, as well as the need for community-mindedness in a successful economy.

Readers don’t need to be finance specialists to understand Seven Bad Ideas. Economic jargon, when used, is clearly explained and Madrick often offers vivid analogies to make the concepts even more accessible. In addition, Madrick serves up more than blunt criticism; he offers alternative ideas. The eighth bad idea would be missing this book.

Seven Bad Ideas is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9780307961181) from Alfred A. Knopf. There is also an unabridged audiobook version, narrated by Adam Grupper, available from Recorded Books.

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