From the "And Now for Something Completely Different" Department, Simple Tricks and Nonsense is pleased to present its very first guest speaker: Mr. Ron Safsten, editor-at-large (ret.).
I first encountered this charmingly eccentric fellow about five years ago when I was working in the test-item mines at Experior Assessments. He became Master Po to my Grasshopper, teaching me to zero in on the pickiest of nits, excise random apostrophes, and generally terminate flagrant affronts to the English language -- not that you can tell I've had any such training from the unfiltered effluent I usually publish in this space, of course.
Among Ron's various side projects (most of which seem to involve small-scale agriculture of some kind) is Scan-a-Book, a self-published newsletter of book reviews. Ron specializes in finding obscure, eclectic and esoteric titles published by university and small-run presses, the sorts of books that fly pretty low on the radar screen and may not reach the audiences they deserve.
Believing that he could reach a far wider audience using this here InterWeb-thingie, I've been after Ron for some time to create an online version of Scan-a-Book. Unfortunately, he seems to regard anything involving the Internet with the same suspicions a medieval peasant held for that new-fangled "printing press" thing. So, as a favor to him and a means to introduce some variety into my blogging -- not to mention the high-minded goal of trying to gain a wider audience for these little-known books -- I have agreed to post his reviews here in my personal space from time to time. Eventually, I hope to spin off a Web page dedicated specifically to these reviews, but for now expect to see a Scan-a-Book entry every few weeks, depending on how quickly Ron gets them to me.
Remember that what follows is his work, not mine. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the management.
The Appalachian Frontier: America's First Surge Westward by John Anthony Caruso (Trade paperback non-fiction, published by the University of Tennessee, available through most megabookstores and online, from Amazon, et al)
A little more than two centuries ago, a few enterprising men shouldered their muskets and moved westward over the weathered southern range of the Appalachian Mountains. They were leaving they felt was the "over-crowded" East Coast colonies, where villages were only a few days apart, reckoning by how far a horse could carry a man during the daylight hours. Some of these frontiersmen were adventurers, restless men who were more comfortable in the wilderness than in a house with glass windows. Others were indentured servants escaping their financial bondage, while some were criminals wanted by various colonial authorities, but most were drawn by the promise of new and unclaimed land.
The author draws a somewhat one-sided, romanticized picture of this period, but his work offers a fascinating view of the very beginnings of America's march from its relatively settled and organized colonies on the Atlantic seaboard into the unknown heart of the continent.
(American History/Good Reading +)
The Politics of Injustice: The Kennedys, the Freedom Rides, and the Electoral Consequences of a Moral Compromise by David Niven (Hardback non-fiction, published by the Univ. of Tennessee)
Looking back at the tumultuous 1960s through the eyes of this generation's politicized writers and professors of American history, it is easy to fall prey to the idea that the late President John F. Kennedy was a staunch supporter of equal rights for America's black citizens. Oops. He wasn't. First and foremost, Kennedy wanted to be President for two terms. With that noble purpose in sight, he avoided supporting the equal rights cause, in some cases actually hampering the work of black leaders and others in his own political party who were putting their lives on the line for a minority.
The years of Camelot are now presented as some kind of political golden age but they apparently were still years of smoke-filled-room scheming and major miscalculations of the latent power of the liberal black voting bloc, and this book's author (no relation to the late English movie actor, by the way) doesn't shrink from pointing out what was really done back in those days, when the President could easily charm the media into asking only softball questions.
(American History/Political Science/Good reading)
The Yale Guide to Careers in Medicine and the Health Professions: Pathways to Medicine in the 21st Century edited by Robert M. Donaldson, Jr. M.D., Kathleen S. Lundgren, M.Div., Howard Spiro, M.D. (Trade paperback non-fiction, published by Yale University, available from Yale Univ. Press, on order through most megabookstores and online, from Amazon, et al)
If you or somebody in your family has visions of entering the medical profession on some level (M.D., Physician's Assistant, Nurse, Researcher, et al), this is an invaluable read. It includes the personal experiences, triumphs and indecisions, of more than 70 men and women who are now qualified and working in American medicine. Despite the horrendous increase in medical malpractice insurance, medicine at any level still offers a multitude of rewards to the dedicated and compassionate professional.
(Science/Good reading +)
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