As previously pointed out, reading is a passion of mine and covers virtually all genres. Be it history, politics, sociology, crime (fact or fiction) or just about anything that catches my eye, reading is a true joy. One of the great things about being a reader (and a writer) is that everyone always knows what kind of a gift I would like. A book. So here are a few reads for this month.
The Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Recently I was given a beautiful two volume, slip-cased, hardback set of these eight historic books that tell what it was like growing up in the prairie country of the Midwest in the 1870s thru the 1890s. Mrs. Wilder begins her journey with "The Little House in the Big Woods" set in the woods of Wisconsin. Her father, Charles Ingalls, was a man possessed of an itchy foot and a desire to not be crowded. Over the years the family moved to Kansas, where a change in Indian Territory boundaries forced another move, this time to Minnesota and then on to the Dakotas. "Pa sang, Uncle Sam is rich enough to give us all a farm!" Free land lured the Ingalls family along with a rush of settlers to Dakota territory to claim a homestead. From there Laura married and moved to Missouri with her husband and young daughter.
Through these stories - originally published (for the most part) in the 1930s and 40s - we are treated to the trials and tribulations of life in a nation that was still struggling to expand. As farmers, weather plays an important part in the stories of the Ingalls family. Windstorms, blizzards and dust added to the difficulties of pioneer life as the family survived through the blindness of one daughter and the loss of an infant child. Originally intended as a series of children's stories "The Little House" books have endured as a living tribute to those who took the wild, barren lands of the Upper Midwest and turned them into productive farm country with numerous small towns that characterized the values that made our nation.
Over the years I was fortunate to have visited some of Mrs. Wilder's home sites in Independence, Kan., DeSmet, S.D., and Mansfield, Mo., and at each location I felt an attachment with this woman, her family and her stories.
This set is highly recommended for anyone wanting to understand the lives of those early settlers told in an engaging style that fits both the young reader and those of us a little long in the tooth. One last point - the Michael Landon TV series, supposedly based on these books, is a pleasant escape but has little to do with the actual stories.
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Broke, USA: How the Working Poor Became Big Business by Gary Rivlin
In his "Inferno," Dante reserved the lowest level in his seventh and final circle of hell, below even murderers, for the moneylenders guilty of usury. In Christendom, Jesus knocked over the tables of the moneylenders in the temple. And yet as a nation we have come to celebrate the moneylenders who prey upon the poor as locusts prey upon a field of new wheat.
In "Broke, USA," the author introduces us to what he terms as Poverty USA and tells the personal stories of average, albeit mostly poor, minority, elderly Americans, who suffered deeply while contrasting their stories with those who made obscene profits off of them. Rivlin focuses on the highly profitable and the highly exploitative industries of payday loans, rapid refunds, pawn shops, rent-to-own, high-interest car sales, and predatory mortgage loans that made billions off the systematic mistreatment of the poor.
This is an excellent read and proves the most expensive lifestyle in our nation is the lifestyle of the poor who are victimized at every turn as the vultures suck the nickels, quarters and dollars out of their pockets. The book is disturbing and eye-opening, with interviews from both sides of Poverty, Inc., where one group of people lost everything while others gained immensely by preying on those who could not understand the fast talkers or actually felt they were being helped.
In reading this book, I was reminded of Thomas Jefferson who said, "Experience demands that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor." Also, the words of Henry Ford came to mind, "A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business."
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Emergency Air, by F.J. Bohan
Putting together a family shelter and stocking it with food and water is an important part of every survivalist's and prepper's groundwork. Making certain the shelter is air tight to protect from airborne contaminants is also important, however, that airtight seal can be deadly. You can live up to six weeks without food, five days without water, but only 4 minutes without air.
Commercial air filtration systems providing clean, filtered air can cost up to a hundred thousand dollars, putting them out of the reach of the average home shelter builder. In "Emergency Air," author Bohan has explained, in detail, how to make certain that a system filtering air of 97.7% of airborne particulates, including airborne radioactive particles, can be built and installed at a cost of $150 or less. Bohan has become a recognized expert in survivalist and prepper circles with his books "Living on the Edge" and "Barbed Wire: Barricades and Bunkers" being embraced as common sense publications that make insuring a family's safety can be achieved with excellent products at low cost. "Emergency Air" adds to that depth of knowledge and covers products easily obtained at local hardware or big box home stores without expending thousands of dollars. This one is a must for the preppers bookshelf.
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Rich Food, Poor Food, by Mira and Jason Calton
Being confident that your kids eat properly can be seriously endangered by feeding them pre-packaged "convenience" foods such as Froot Loops, Swanson frozen meals, and Mountain Dew, along with frozen bread and potato products that are loaded with dangerous chemicals to the point they are banned by nations all around the world (except the USA) and have garnered hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines when the chemicals are included in food products.
"Rich Food, Poor Food" lists ingredients used in over 80 percent of American convenience foods that have been banned in other countries. Low-fat, no-fat snack foods routinely include Olestra - a product that causes severe gastrointestinal distress and has been banned in both Canada and England. Borminated vegetable oil has been connected to virtually every form of thyroid disease and been banned in more than 100 countries, yet it appears in Mountain Dew, Fresca and Squirt soft drinks.
Kid love Mac and Cheese and parents love the convenience. However, would those parents be comfortable knowing the coloring agent that makes it so appetizing comes from coal tar - the active ingredient in lice shampoo that has been linked to cancer, ADHD and allergies?
In those handy frozen dinners, frozen potato and frozen bread products can be found azodicarbonamide - a substance so toxic it has been banned in fifteen European nations and its use will lead to a $500,000 fine and a 15-year prison sentence in Singapore. The chemical, used to make bleach and plastics, is also known to cause asthma.
Then there are the petroleum products butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), both known carcinogens and found in Post, Kelloggs and Quaker brand cereals. The use of both products has been banned in England and Japan.
This book needs to be read by every parent and person concerned with what chemicals are approved by the FDA for use in American food products.
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Building Hoover Dam: An Oral History of The Great Depression, by Dennis McBride and Andrew J. Dunar.
Oral histories are always fascinating and this one is no exception. Of the nearly dozen books on my shelves about Hoover (nee Boulder) Dam, this one is by far my favorite. The voices of the people who were there during the construction of the dam ring out with pride at their accomplishment, along with the tales of those who died because of the actions of the Big Six Companies in failing to protect their safety.
The book is laid out in a chronological and thematic fashion, with stories ranging from the tent homes at Hemenway Wash to moving 30 foot diameter pipe sections to the bottom of Black Canyon and the establishment of schools and churches at the government-owned Boulder City. A trio of appendices covers FDR's dedication of the dam, workers' terminology and a list of those who died during the process of creating this engineering wonder of the world. One of the fascinating, albeit creepy, items is the deaths of both the first and last man at the project - a father and son who died 13 years, to the day, apart.
Completed in record time and under budget, the construction of Hoover Dam extracted a toll on the families and on the men who labored in the extreme heat, extreme cold and poisoned air of the diversion tunnels. Included are memories of a wide-open Las Vegas where whores and booze were readily available for anyone willing to cough up the money.
Although published ten years ago, the book is readily available and remains a timeless historical timeline presented by those who were there. Anyone interested in the construction of Hoover Dam will find this book to be a fascinating read. I highly recommend it for their bookshelf.
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Fat, Drunk, and Stup!d, by Matty Simmons
Few films have achieved both the cult and iconic status of 1978's "Animal House," a movie that took a cast of mostly unknowns and a young director to Eugene, Ore., where they managed, with a limited budget, to produce a movie that brought fame to many of the young actors, the director and a lot of dollars to the coffers of Warner Bros.
In the pages of "Fat, Drunk , and Stup!d," Matty Simmons, one of the founders of The National Lampoon, tells the story of how "Animal House" - through a difficult birthing process - became the icon that has led many a college frat boy astray. Filled with anecdotes about the cast, crew and filming, the book provides a fascinating insight into the making of a low budget film; from dealing with studio hacks to finding a college willing to let them film on campus. We see the selection of the memorable cast members, such as John Belushi (a given going into the project), Tim Matheson as the womanizer Otter, the first on-screen appearance of Kevin Bacon, and the great performance of John Vernon as Dean Wormer (was there ever a better name for a dean or a better actor to portray him?).
There is the classic tale of the young boy who was reading a copy of Playboy when one of the cheerleaders flies into his bedroom during the bedlam of the parade scene (filmed in downtown Cottage Grove, Ore. The boy looks up and says, "Thank you, God." Years later he became the pastor of a church in Cottage Grove, and when ordained the local paper headlined, "Lucky Boy Still thanking God."
Like the film, "Fat, Drunk, and Stup!d" is not for everyone, but if you are among the millions who loved the film the book tells how it all happened and how this cult classic became a part of American film history.