About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

#14: The Lost Saints of Tennessee

The Lost Saints of Tennessee, by Amy Franklin-Willis (New York: Atlantic Monthly, 2012)

Summary:
"With enormous heart and dazzling agility, debut novelist Amy Franklin-Willis expertly mines the fault lines in one Southern working-class family. Driven by the soulful and intrepid voices of forty-two-year-old Ezekiel Cooper and his mother, Lillian, The Lost Souls of Tennessee journeys from the 1940s to the 1980s as it follows Zeke's evolution from anointed son to honorable sibling to unhinged middle-aged man.

"After Zeke loses his twin brother in a mysterious drowning and his wife to divorce, only ghosts remain in his hometown of Clayton, Tennessee. Zeke makes the decision to leave Clayton in a final attempt to escape his pain, puts his two treasured possessions -- a childhood copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tucker, his dead brother's ancient dog -- into his truck, and heads east. He leaves behind two adolescent daughters and his estranged mother, who reveals her own conflicting view of the Cooper family story in a vulnerable but spirited voice stricken by guilt over old sins as she clings to the hope that her family isn't beyond repair.

"When Zeke finds refuge with his sympathetic cousins in Virginia horse country, divine acts in the form of severe weather, illness, and a new romance collide, leading Zeke to a crossroads where he must decide the fate of his family -- either by clinging to the way life was or moving toward what life might be."


Opening Line:
"The late August air lies still, its weight pressing down on me in a way it didn't when I was a boy."

My Take:
Not high literature for the ages, possibly not even book club material (I wish I knew, but never have stumbled on a book club that was looking for new members) -- but a lovely, gentle story about a man confronting that all-too-familiar midlife question, "Is this really all there is?" Long story short (really, for once), I enjoyed it.

#13: The Namesake

The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri (New York: Random House Audio, 2003)

Summary:
"Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies established this young writer as one of the most brilliant of her generation. Her stories are one of the few debut works -- and only a handful of collections -- to have won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Among the many other awards and honors it received were the New Yorker Debut of the Year award, the PEN/ Hemingway Award, and the highest critical praise for its grace, acuity, and compassion in detailing lives transported from India to America.

"In The Namesake, Lahiri enriches the themes that made her collection an international bestseller: the immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, the conflicts of assimilation, and, most poignantly, the tangled ties between generations. Here again Lahiri displays her deft touch for the perfect detail -- the fleeting moment, the turn of phrase -- that opens whole worlds of emotion.

"The Namesake takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans. On the heels of their arranged wedding, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle together in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An engineer by training, Ashoke adapts far less warily than his wife, who resists all things American and pines for her family. When their son is born, the task of naming him betrays the vexed results of bringing old ways to the new world. Named for a Russian writer by his Indian parents in memory of a catastrophe years before, Gogol Ganguli knows only that he suffers the burden of his heritage as well as his odd, antic name.

"Lahiri brings great empathy to Gogol as he stumbles along the first-generation path, strewn with conflicting loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs, With penetrating insights, she reveals not only the defining power of the names and expectations bestowed upon us by our parents, but also the means by which we slowly, sometimes painfully, come to define ourselves. The New York Times has praised Lahiri as 'a writer of uncommon elegance and poise.' The Namesake is a fine-tuned, intimate, and deeply felt novel of identity."


Opening Line:
"On a sticky August evening two weeks before her due date, Ashima Ganguli stands in the kitchen of a Central Square apartment, combining Rice Krispies and Planters peanuts and chopped red onion in a bowl."

My Take:
Simply exquisite. Listened to this one on CD on a drive downstate and back, somewhere in between 11/22/63 and State of Wonder, and wow ... what a gorgeous book. Perhaps it's that Gogol is just 2 years older than I am and so much of his coming of age mirrors my own, maybe it's Lahiri's seemingly effortless combination of those challenges unique to the child of immigrants with those common to all American (or hyphenated American) adolescents. Or the perfection with which the novel captures tiny but telling details; if I warmed to Ashima on the first page, trying to re-create a favorite Calcutta street food in Boston circa '68 in the last few weeks of pregnancy cravings, I absolutely adored her by page 8, when she looks back on the day 2 years earlier on which she first laid eyes on Ashoke:
"Glancing at the floor where visitors customarily removed their slippers, she noticed, beside two sets of chappals, a pair of men's shoes that were not like any she'd ever seen on the streets and trams and buses of Calcutta, or even in the windows of Bata. They were brown shoes with black heels and off-white laces and stitching. There was a band of lentil-sized holes embossed on either side of each shoe, and at the tips was a pretty pattern pricked into the leather as if with a needle. Looking more closely, she saw the shoemaker's name written on the insides, in gold lettering that had all but faded: something and sons, it said, She saw the size, eight and a half, and the initials U.S.A. And as her mother continued to sing her praises, Ashima, unable to resist a sudden and overwhelming urge, stepped into the shoes at her feet. Lingering sweat from the owner's feet mingled with hers, causing her heart to race: it was the closest thing she had ever experienced to the touch of a man."
You (or at least I) can't help but feel the same tenderness for Gogol, Ashoke, and even some of the more minor characters like Ruth, Gogol's first real girlfriend, and Moushumi, who he eventually marries. (I did not, however, ever warm to his post-college love interest, the spoiled rich Manhattanite Maxine.)

I could go on, and on, and on ... but truly, this is one of those books I was sad to finish because I didn't want to let the characters go.

#12: State of Wonder

State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett (New York: Harper, 2011)

Summary:
"Dr. Marina Singh, a research scientist with a Minnesota-based pharmaceutical company, is sent to Brazil to track down her former mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson, who seems to have all but disappeared in the Amazon while working on what is destined to be an extremely valuable new drug. Nothing about the assignment is easy: not only does no one know where Dr. Swenson is, but the last person who was sent to find her, Marina's research partner Anders Eckman, died before he could complete his mission. Plagued by trepidation, Marina embarks on an odyssey into the insect-infested jungle in hopes of finding Dr. Swenson as well as answers to troubling questions about her friend's death, the state of her company's future, and her own past.

"Once found, Dr. Swenson, now in her seventies, is as ruthless and uncompromising as she ever was back in the days of the Grand Rounds at Johns Hopkins. With a combination of science and subterfuge, she dominates her research team and the natives she is studying with the force of an imperial ruler. But while she is as threatening as anything the jungle has to offer, the greatest sacrifices to be made are ones Dr. Swenson asks of herself, and will ultimately ask of Marina.

"In a narrative replete with poison arrows, devouring snakes, and a neighboring tribe of cannibals, State of Wonder is a world unto itself, where unlikely beauty stands beside unimaginable loss. It is a rare tale that leads the reader into the very heart of darkness, and then shows us what lies on the other side."


Opening Line:
"The news of Anders Eckman's death came by way of Aerogram, a piece of bright blue airmail paper that served as both the stationery and, when folded over and sealed along the edges, the envelope."


My Take:
A fascinating book. Yes, I'm a sucker for (pardon the pun) novel settings, especially when they're as vividly described as Patchett's Brazilian jungle, but honestly, I think I was more intrigued by how Marina's character develops over the course of the story. While she's a successful physician, she also has her issues: half-Indian, she's always felt somewhat out of place in the Eckman family's blond-haired, blue-eyed Minnesota, and she reacts to the anti-malarial Lariam with vivid, violent nightmares of being a young girl abandoned by her father in a crowded Calcutta market. She also seems more than a little lonely, despite the secretive half-relationship with her boss (who she still thinks of as Mr. Fox, rather than Jim). And then there's the back story: despite the jacket summary above, Swenson was less a mentor to Marina than a senior professor she and the rest of her med school classmates simultaneously admired and feared, and it was Swenson who was the supervising physician when Marina made the error that led her to abandon her ob/ gyn specialty for pharmacology.

Against this backdrop, Marina's boss/ lover Mr. Fox sends her Brazil shortly after they learn of Eckman's death. If Eckman hadn't been able to rein in Dr. Swenson, Fox argues, Marina's history with the older woman (which he doesn't really know anything about) and superior people skills should do the job.

And so she's off. After more than a brief sojourn in Manaus, the nearest city of any size, Marina finally convinces the Bovenders (the neo-hippie couple who've been renting Dr. Swenson's home while she's blissfully incommunicado in the jungle) to tell her where the doctor is (or at least put her in touch with a boatman who can take her there). She eventually reaches the remote settlement of the Lakashi people, who greet her arrival with jubilant torch-waving, and Dr. Swenson, who's a bit less thrilled to see her. As she becomes drawn into Swenson's research (ostensibly on the mysterious Lakashi propensity for extended fertility -- women continue having babies into their sixties and seventies -- but is it really?) and the jungle itself, she must confront complex questions, not only about nature and medicine and intervention, but about who she is and what role she has to play.

Bottom line: Didn't quite live up to the hype it's received, but still quite compelling.

#11: 11/22/63

11/22/63, by the inimitable Stephen King (New York: Scribner, 2011)

Summary:
"On November 22, 1963, three shots rang out in Dallas. President Kennedy died, and the world changed forever.

"If you had the chance to change the course of history, would you? Would the consequences be worth it?

"Jake Epping is a thirty-five-year old high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching adults in the GED program. He receives an essay from one of the students -- a gruesome, harrowing first person story about the night 50 years ago when Harry Dunning's father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a hammer. Harry escaped with a smashed leg, as evidenced by his crooked walk.

"Not much later, Jake's friend Al, who runs the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to 1958. He enlists Jake on an insane -- and insanely possible -- mission to try and prevent the Kennedy assassination. So begins Jake's new life as George Amberson and his new world of Elvis and JFK, of big American cars and sock hops, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake's life -- a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time."


Opening Line:
"Harry Dunning graduated with flying colors."

My Take:
This is what I'm talking about. Not perfect -- it's a very long book, and the extended, frustratingly subtle tracking of Oswald Jake-as-George needs to do to be sure he's stopping/ killing the right man drags a bit in places -- but mostly an entertaining and provocative book. As I've had to specify for other long-term King fans, it's not gory, either; this is not Cujo, or Carrie, or even the more recent Cell (which I happened to love anyway).

The time travel aspect of the book is well done. I particularly appreciated that through Al's experience, which happens off-screen before the novel opens, King's able to set up the rules for time travel fairly quickly and painlessly: 1) the portal always leads to Lisbon Falls, ME, circa 9/9/58; 2) no matter how long you stay in the past, only two present-day minutes have elapsed when you return; and 3) every time you travel back in time, it's a reset, and anything you changed on your last visit is erased. Establishing the above from the get-go allows Jake-George, and the reader, to spend more time on the really intriguing questions: Does the butterfly effect really exist? Can time resist being changed? Can one person make a difference?

But where the story really excels is in the everyday details of the late 1950s and early 1960s. This was before my time, of course, but I'm not alone in thinking so; says Errol Morris's New York Times review, "The real events aren’t historical, they’re very small — giving advice to a football player, staging the school play, doing the Lindy Hop with Sadie. We are brought back to the weird quotidian, endlessly surrounded by the detritus of civilization: Kresge’s, Ban-Lon, Aqua Velva, Studebaker." Jake's experience of these days with the 2011 knowledge of all that's happened since is surprisingly poignant. It's not that he glosses over the darker aspects of the era; on one road trip, he muses on the "Colored" restroom he encounters (a wooden board over a creek, in the side of a hill covered with poison ivy), and evidence of the repressive, sexist mores of the day is everywhere. And then there are the moments at both so simple and so brilliant that you wonder how King comes up with this stuff. One of Sadie's first inklings that George isn't being completely honest with her comes when she hears him singing "Honky Tonk Woman" (which wouldn't be released for several more years) -- not simply because she's never heard the song, but because there's no way, no how any radio station in the country would have played those lyrics in 1961.

All in all, a darned good read.

#10: The End of Everything

The End of Everything, by Megan Abbott (New York: Little, Brown, & Co., 2011)

Summary:
"In a placid 1980s suburb in the Midwest, thirteen-year-old Lizzie and her next door neighbor Evie Verver are inseparable, best friends who swap bathing suits and field hockey sticks and between whom, presumably, there are no secrets. Together they live in the shadow of Evie's glamorous older sister Dusty, who provides them a window on the exotic, intoxicating possibilities on their on teenage horizons. To Lizzie, the Verver household, presided over by Lizzie's big-hearted father, is the world's most perfect place.

"And then, one afternoon, Evie disappears. The only clue: a maroon sedan Lizzie spotted driving past the two girls earlier in the day. As a rabid, giddy panic spreads through the balmy suburban community, everyone turns to Lizzie for answers. Was Evie unhappy, troubled, upset? Had she mentioned being followed? Would she have gotten into the car of a stranger? Would Evie have gotten into a car with a man?

"Compelled by curiosity and a desire to rescue the enchanted Verver household from ruin, Lizzie takes up her own furtive pursuit of the truth. Her days spent with a shell-shocked Mr. Verver, she devotes her nights to prowling through backyards, peering through windows, pushing herself to the dark center of Evie's world. Haunted by dreams of her lost friend and titillated by her own new power as the center of the disappearance, Lizzie uncovers secret after secret and begins to wonder if she knew anything about her best friend at all."


Opening Line:
"She, light-streaky out of the corner of my eye."

My Take:
I've sometimes said, upon finishing books by Chuck Palahniuk or even Joyce Carol Oates, that I feel like I need to take a shower afterwards. I don't know if The End of Everything is quite that bad, but I did feel just a little ... I dunno, just icky. Certainly young adolescents' burgeoning awareness of their own sexuality isn't a new theme, and Abbott's combining it with a kidnapping angle is an intriguing idea. But IMO, a little bit of the young girl/ older man thing goes a long way, and in that regard, I think Abbott way overdoes it. Having an Evie who, at some level, wanted a relationship with Mr. Shaw? A narrator who has just a bit of a crush on her best friend's dad? An older sister who's affectionate behavior with her own father is starting to look more than a little inappropriate? Any one, perhaps even two, of these threads might have worked, but all together, they're too much. I went hunting online to see if anyone else had a similar reaction, and found this review by Ana on The Book Smugglers, which captures my problems with this book far more clearly than I could have. She says, in part:
"But I think that what discomfited me the most and makes me wonder is how, because the story is narrated by a na├»ve, unreliable 13 year old in the 80s, certain things remain unnamed (the setting in the 80s is quite important I think, to explain the lack of awareness?) This story clearly presents a disturbing portrait of things that are not quite right, of things that people won’t talk about or even name. I have nothing against things being open for interpretation but I would argue that even despite the unreliability of this narrator, certain events such as: the culprit being driven by guilt and killing himself in the end; Lizzie’s mother cryptically saying that things are not quite healthy next door; Dusty having serious mental issues, leave no DOUBT in my mind on what we are talking about here: incest as well as paedophilia. And yet the “relationships” between the three girls and older men in this story are constantly framed with the words “love”, “pure” “falling in love or being loved by” older men.

"I keep going back and forth about this, wondering if the narrative (again, by Lizzie, a 13 year old girl) and the 80s setting (and the lack of awareness about these issues) are enough to account for how Lizzie interprets these events and therefore it is down to the reader to name things and point fingers? Not to mention that there are enough consequences to some of the people involved in these events (death, loss of innocence, etc) not to make it an issue of metatextual lack of acknowledgment of those issues. ...

Also one last question: isn’t it disturbing how basically all female characters including the teenagers in this book are either attracted to married men or to much older ones and they are all, to one extent or another, victims of/dependent on those men? Lizzie’s mother is a victim of a marriage gone bad and only starts to recover when she meets a new man (married); Lizzie is a victim of a broken home and the lack of a father and a victim of the bad influence of the next door neighbors; Evie and Dusty are victims of their father; Evie is a victim of Mr Shaw (and a willing one disturbingly so); Evie’s mother is a non-entity, a shadow of her husband and even Mrs Shaw who never shows up on page, willingly helps her husband when he is on the run because apparently she can’t control herself or pities him even though he seems to be the worst husband in the world (not to mention a sick pedophile). I mean, how messed up is that? It is worth noting though that maybe this is totally intentional and meant to be one of those searing looks at American Suburban Life in the 1980s with women in their dependent roles with the poor children in the middle of it all and I am being entirely too contemporary in my interrogation of the text.

"... It is a good book, with positive things but ultimately it is not the sort of book that I, personally, care to read."

Monday, February 13, 2012

#9: Nanjing Requiem

Nanjing Requiem, by Ha Jin (New York: Pantheon Books, 2011)

Summary:
"The award-winning author of Waiting and War Trash returns to his homeland in a searing new novel that unfurls during one of the darkest moments of the twentieth century: the Rape of Nanjing.

"In 1937, with the Japanese posed to invade Nanjing, Minnie Vautrin -- an American missionary and the dean of Jinling Women's College -- decides to remain at the school, convinced that her American citizenship will help her safeguard the welfare of the Chinese men and women who work there. She is painfully mistaken. In the aftermath of the invasion, the school becomes a refugee camp for more than ten thousand homeless women and children, and Vautrin must struggle, day after day, to intercede on behalf of the hapless victims. Even when order and civility are eventually restored, Vautrin remains deeply embattled, and she is haunted by the lives she could not save.

"With extraordinarily evocative precision, Ha Jin recreates the terror, the harrowing deprivations, and the menace of unexpected violence that defined life in Nanjing during the occupation. In Minnie Vautrin he has given us an indelible portrait of a woman whose convictions and bravery prove, in the end, to be no match for the maelstrom of history."


Opening Lines:
"Finally Ban began to talk. For a whole evening we sat in the dining room listening to the boy."

My Take:
Had high hopes for this one. Sadly, it didn't deliver. Ha Jin's writing style, at least here, was just too detached and clinical for the book to be effective. Certainly the Rape of Nanjing was horrific -- heck, it makes That History Place's online list of the worst genocides of the twentieth century -- but Nanjing Requiem reads more like a chronicle of atrocities than a portrait of the human beings involved. Neither Minnie nor the narrator, Anling, really come to life in any meaningful way here. I have to agree with Marie Arana's Washington Post review, which calls the novel "unnervingly flat" and says it "doesn't quite pack the voltage it deserves. ... The action can read like a textbook, with intermittent spatters of gore."

#8: The Neighborhood Project

The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time, by David Sloan Wilson (New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2011)

Summary:
"After decades of studying creatures of all kinds, evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson had an epiphany: Darwin's theory won't fully prove itself until it improves the quality of human life in a practical sense. And what better place to begin than his hometown of Binghamton, New York? Making a difference in his own city would provide a model for cities everywhere, the habitats for over half the people on earth.

"Inspired to become an agent of change, Wilson descended on Binghamton with a scientist's eye and looked at its toughest questions, such as how to strengthen neighborhoods and how best to teach our children. He combined the latest research methods from experimental economics with naturalistic studies of holiday decorations and garage sales. Drawing on examples from nature as diverse as water striders, wasps, and crows, Wilson took a scientific odyssey that led him everywhere from a cave in southern Africa that preserved artifacts from the dawn of human culture to the Vatican in Rome. Along the way, he spoke with dozens of fellow scientists, whose stories he relates along with his own.

"Wilson's remarkable findings help us to understand how we must become wise managers of evolutionary processes to accomplish positive change at all scales, from effective therapies for individuals to empowering neighborhoods and regulating the worldwide economy.

"With an ambitious scope that spans biology, sociology, religion, and economics,
The Neighborhood Project is a memoir, a practical handbook for improving the quality of life, and an exploration of the big questions long pondered by religious sages, philosophers, and storytellers. By approaching the same questions from an evolutionary perspective, Wilson shows, as never before, how places define us."

Table of Contents:
  1. Evolution, Cities, and the World
  2. My City
  3. The Parable of the Strider
  4. The Parable of the Wasp
  5. The Maps
  6. Quantifying Halloween
  7. We Are Now Entering the Noosphere
  8. The Parable of the Immune System
  9. The Reflection
  10. Street-Smart
  11. The Humanist and the CEO
  12. The Lost Island of Prevention Science
  13. The Lecture That Failed
  14. Learning from Mother Nature about Teaching Our Children
  15. The World with Us
  16. The Parable of the Crow
  17. Our Lives, Our Genes
  18. The Natural History of the Afterlife
  19. Evonomics
  20. Body and Soul
  21. City on a Hill
My Take:
A promising but ultimately frustrating book. As the jacket summary above indicates, it's impressively broad, all right. Ever since that systems thinking class I took in grad school and the occasional behavioral economics book I've read since, I've grown a bit more used to this sort of unorthodox synthesis, but it still impresses me; I wish I could do it. (I tried in a recent job interview, and while I don't know that I failed spectacularly, I certainly didn't succeed well enough to get the offer.)

And there's so much potential here. Using the principles of evolution to study not just natural, biological phenomena, but the evolution of cultures and cities? Trying to figure out when and why what Wilson incessantly calls "the hammer blows of natural selection" select for selfish, water strider behavior and when they tend to favor the more cooperative wasp hive activity? Noting that both nature and culture resemble the immune system, with innate, inherited components that evolve very slowly and reactive, learning components capable of responding to one's environment? Assessing neighborhood quality based on how much candy kids get on Halloween? This stuff is different, fun, and entertaining to read about -- especially in Wilson's clear, well-worded prose.

And then somewhere in the middle of the book, things bog down. While I understand that setting up a whole new cross-disciplinary institute is A Big Thing, the details and name-dropping around this conference and that workshop get to be a bit tedious after a while. More irritating, in spending most of the last half of the text (with the hilarious exception of the chapter on crows) on such minutae, Wilson devotes an entire book to talking about how evolutionary principles and data gathering might be used to improve city and neighborhood quality of life without actually getting into any details about what distinguishes "hill" and "valley" neighborhoods, what interventions might help transform the latter, and whether they worked. The closest we get is a few reminders that yes, park space and nature within city limits appear to be A Good Thing ... but the concrete recommendations for improving life quality and empowering neighborhoods the promotional blurb promises are never delivered.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

#7: The Red Garden

The Red Garden, by Alice Hoffman (New York: Crown Publishers, 2011)

Summary:
"The Red Garden introduces us to the luminous and haunting world of Blackwell, Massachusetts, capturing the unexpected turns in history in our own lives.

"In exquisite prose, Hoffman offers a transforming glimpse of small-town America, presenting us with some three hundred years of passion, dark secrets, loyalty, and redemption in a web of tales where characters' lives are intertwined by fate and their own actions.

"From the town's founder, a brave young woman from England who has no fear of blizzards or bears, to the young man who runs away to New York City with only his dog for company, the characters in The Red Garden are extraordinary and vivid: a young wounded Civil War soldier who is saved by a passionate neighbor, a woman who meets a fiercely human historical character, a poet who falls in love with a blind man, a mysterious traveler who comes to town in the year when summer never arrives.

"At the center of everyone's life is a mysterious garden where only red plants can grow, and where the truth can be found by those who dare to look."


Opening Lines:
"The town of Blackwell, Massachusetts changed its name in 1786. It had been called Bearsville when it was founded in 1750, but it quickly became apparent that a name such as that did little to encourage new settlers."

My Take:
The language Hoffman uses here really is lovely, as are some of the stories ... but that's how this book reads; more like a collection of loosely connected (by place) short stories than a coherent novel. Perhaps I'm just reading this one too closely on the heels of Last Days of Dogtown, but that novel conveyed a truer and more nuanced sense of place than The Red Garden manages to do. Then too, I'm not a huge short story fan, and don't usually care for the handful of supernatural elements the author throws in. Well done, but not an all-time favorite.

#6: The Post-American World, Release 2.0

The Post-American World, Release 2.0, by Fareed Zakaria (New York: Norton, 2011)

Summary:
"Fareed Zakaria's international bestseller The Post-American World pointed to the 'rise of the rest' -- the growth of countries like China, India, Brazil, and others -- as the great story of our time, the story that will undoubtedly shape the future of global power. Since its publication, the trends he identified have proceeded faster than anyone could have anticipated. The 2008 financial crisis turned the world upside down, stalling the United States and other advanced economies. Meanwhile, emerging markets have surged ahead, coupling their economic growth with pride, nationalism, and a determination to shape their own future.

"In this new edition, Zakaria makes sense of this rapidly changing landscape. With his customary lucidity, insight, and imagination, he draws on lessons from the two great power shifts of the past five hundred years -- the rise of the Western world and the rise of the United States -- to tell us what we can expect from the third shift, the 'rise of the rest.' The great challenge for Britain was economic decline. The challenge for America now is political decline, for as others have grown in importance, the central role of the United States -- especially in the ascendant emerging markets -- has already begun to shrink. As Zakaria eloquently argues, Washington needs to begin a serious transformation of its global strategy, moving from its traditional role of dominating hegemon to that of a more pragmatic, honest broker. It must seek to share power, create coalitions, build legitimacy, and define the global agenda -- all formidable tasks.

"None of this will be easy for the greatest power the world has ever known -- the only power that for so long has really mattered. America stands at a crossroads: In a new global era where the United States no longer dominates the worldwide economy, orchestrates geopolitics, or overwhelms cultures, can the nation continue to thrive?"


Table of Contents:
  1. The Rise of the Rest
  2. The Cup Runneth Over
  3. A Non-Western World?
  4. The Challenger
  5. The Ally
  6. American Power
  7. American Purpose
My Take:
An enjoyable read, especially if you're interested in international relations and sick to death of all the political finger-pointing and "America in decline" frothing at the mouth we seem to hear in an election year. Not quite as detailed and substantive as Thomas Friedman's books, but not quite as dense to get through, either.