A welcome to readers

As a resident of this planet for more than four fifths of a century, I have enjoyed both successes and disappointments in a wide variety of vocations, avocations, and life experiences. This blog satisfies my desire to share some thoughts and observations--trenchant and prosaic--with those who are searching for diversions which are interesting, poignant and occasionally funny. I also plan to share recommendations about good/great movies I've watched and books and articles which I've found particularly mind-opening, entertaining, instructive. In addition, I can't pass up the opportunity to reflect publicly on how I am experiencing the so-called Golden Years. Write anytime:

Monday, June 29, 2015


This is an incredible article by Chris Hedges about the increasing isolation of Americans and what he sees as the socio-political implications of that isolation.


Thursday, June 25, 2015


This is a very insightful article that slapped me in the face, once again, with a truth that I, as a Kentucky-born and bred Southern-type-man, did not want to hear.  Why? Because it is true, like it or not. I am ashamed of that racist part of my "heritage." I don't wish  "I were in the land of cotton," 'cause "old times there" are far better not forgotten, but repudiated. Shame on me. Shame on us.

‘The Perpetrator Has Been Arrested, but the Killer Is Still at Large’

Posted on Jun 24, 2015
By Amy Goodman

  A Confederate flag flies behind the U.S. flag in Charleston, S.C., on Monday. (Darryl Brooks / Shutterstock.com)
The massacre of nine African-American worshippers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., has sent shock waves through the nation and could well blow the roof off the Confederacy. Dylann Storm Roof is accused of methodically killing the congregants, reloading his Glock pistol at least twice. He let one victim live, according to a person who spoke with the survivor, so she could tell the world what happened. This brutal mass killing was blatantly racist, an overt act of terrorism.
Those murdered included the minister of the historic church, 41-year-old Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who also was an elected state senator in South Carolina and who was leading a Wednesday night Bible-study group. Roof actually sat in on the group for an hour before the massacre.
What little we know of Roof’s motivation for his alleged crime comes from a website he is believed to have created. A manifesto posted on the site says: “I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.” A survivor of the shooting said that Roof told a victim begging for him to stop the killing: “I have to do it. You’re raping our women and taking over the country. You have to go.”
The website includes photos of Roof brandishing a gun, the .45-caliber Glock that is likely the murder weapon, and the Confederate flag, leading to renewed efforts to remove this symbol of racism and hate from flying on public property. For decades, the Confederate flag flew above the South Carolina Statehouse, along with the U.S. flag and the state flag of South Carolina. After the NAACP began a boycott of the state in the year 2000, a compromise was reached. The Confederate flag was removed from the state Capitol dome and placed on statehouse grounds, alongside a Confederate war memorial.
Among those who first stood up last week in favor of removing the flag was a white Republican serving in the South Carolina legislature, Doug Brannon. He told us on “Democracy Now!”: “I woke up Thursday morning to the news of the death of these nine wonderful people. I knew something had to be done then. ... Clementa Pinckney deserves this. Those nine people deserve this. Our state Capitol needs to be free of the flag.” When we asked him if he would consider a memorial to the victims of the Emanuel AME massacre, he said it was “a wonderful idea.”
The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II is the president of the North Carolina NAACP. He heard about the slaughter on Wednesday night while in jail. “About 10 of us had been arrested in the state House in North Carolina for challenging extremist politicians who have passed the worst voter-suppression law in the country,” he said. Barber has led the “Moral Mondays” movement, with hundreds to thousands of people protesting weekly against the agenda being passed by North Carolina’s Republican-controlled state government. He favors removal of the Confederate flag, which he calls “vulgar,” but suggested that passing policy would be a more potent memorial to Clementa Pinckney and the other victims.
“Reverend Pinckney was not just opposed to the flag, he was opposed to the denial of Medicaid expansion,” Barber continued. “He was opposed to those who have celebrated the ending of the Voting Rights Act. He was opposed to the lack of funding for public education. He wanted to see living wages raised.” Addressing state Rep. Doug Brannon, Barber said: “Let’s put together an omnibus bill in the name of the nine martyrs. And all of the things Reverend Pinckney was standing for, if we say we love him and his colleagues, let’s put all of those things in a one big omnibus bill and pass that and bring it to the funeral on Friday.”
Wal-Mart, Amazon and other major retailers have pulled Confederate paraphernalia from their shelves. Alabama has taken down the flag, and other states, including South Carolina, are following. The symbol of the Southern states’ rebellion and secession, of waging war to protect slavery, will be less visible. But the fight for equality, waged 200 years ago by the very founders of Charleston’s Emanuel AME church, continues. As the Rev. Barber says, systemic change is essential: “The perpetrator has been arrested, but the killer is still at large.”
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,200 stations in North America. She is the co-author of “The Silenced Majority,” a New York Times best-seller.
(c) 2015 Amy Goodman
Distributed by King Features Syndicate

Monday, June 1, 2015


I subscribe to Delancyplace.com blog and check it every day.  The author's tastes generally agree with mine and I have bought and read many books based on his recommendations. Today, he encloses a list of the best 12 books of the last ten years, and then follows it with a list of the "best of the rest." For readers, I heartily recommend this list.  I own and have read many of these books myself and have several more in my "to do" pile.  Have fun.

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The Delanceyplace.com Top Twelve Books of the Decade:

Tomorrow is the tenth anniversary of delanceyplace.com, and to celebrate we are doing three things. First, we are announcing our top books of the decade--all listed below. Second, we have tabulated all the many votes we received from our readers for best selections of the decade, and will be emailing them one-by-one in a countdown over the next couple of weeks. Lastly, we've randomly drawn ten names from among all those who submitted their choices, and will be sending a copy of all of our top books to each of the winners. 

I've read roughly 1500 books in the past decade, but since Google tells us there have been129,864,880 books published in modern history, it seems like the smallest possible drop in the bucket. I tried over the last couple of months to narrow down these 1500 books into my own personal top ten.

I almost succeeded--I got it down to my top twelve. Or top seventeen. Or top twenty. Depending on how you count.

And I've listed sixteen more under the heading "Best of the Rest" -- almost any of which could rightly have been included in my top twelve.

To read history is to learn the patterns of human behavior. To read history is to learn to better read yourself, your spouse, your neighbor, your boss, your political leaders, and the world.

There were plenty of mediocre books among the 1500 I read. For example, I wanted to learn about the history of Brazil but couldn't find a good or great book on that subject -- so I took what I could find. And I started many books that turned out to be so lousy I simply stopped reading. Those never made it into my tally.

But every once in a while, I found myself deep inside of a book so compelling that I ended up lost in it, so fully absorbed that I lost track of everything else. Every single one of Robert Caro's four books on LBJ was like that for me. As was Alan Jay Lerner's Street Where I Live. I simply could not stop reading.

Other books, while imminently readable, were so unexpected or ideologically challenging that I had to put them down -- sometimes for days -- just to try and absorb what I had read. David Graeber's Debt was like that for me. So were Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel andJacques Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence.

All the books below have stayed with me. Some haunt me. I can never forget the scene of the northern and southern American Civil war armies camped on opposite sides of a river, ready to do hideous battle with each other the very next day, but singing hymns in unison at Christmas. Nor Lerner's heartbreaking, fatalistic advice that the only way to cope with a failed relationship was to "simply love her." 

So here they are. As always, it is all nonfiction -- and we include them if we read them in the last ten years even if they were published many years before that. 

The Top Twelve

An indispensable explanation of why certain of world's countries, continents, and peoples became dominant and certain others lagged behind. Be prepared for the unexpectedly pivotal importance of domesticable animals and the size and weight of grain seeds. History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples' environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves. Those who domesticated plants and animals early got a head start on developing writing, government, technology, weapons of war, and immunity to deadly germs. An immensely important book for understanding the world.

No politician ruled the U.S. Senate with the ironclad, ruthless power of Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson, and few have turned their power so unexpectedly for such a seemingly altruistic cause as civil rights. The third book in a projected five volume biography (the other three are The Path to Power, Means of Ascent and The Passage of Power--with a projected fifth volume forthcoming), it can nevertheless easily be read as a standalone book. Caro traces LBJ's career from his days as a newly elected junior senator in 1949 up to his fight for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960. The milestone of Johnson's Senate years was the 1957 Civil Rights Act, whose passage he single-handedly engineered. The bonus is a brief but compelling history of the Senate: Do you want to know why U.S. government is so unwieldy and dysfunctional? The framers intentionally designed it that way.

If oil has had the greatest impact of any single factor on world history for the past 100 years -- and it likely has -- this is the book that chronicles that saga. The Prize traces oil's central role in most of the wars and many international crises of the 20th century and provides a lively history of the petroleum industry, tracing its ramifications, national and geopolitical, to the present day. If you want a deeper understanding of the Middle East, Russia, Texas, Venezuela or any other oil-focused region, this book will supply it.

In our supposedly secular age, fundamentalism has emerged as an overwhelming force in every major world religion. A follow up to her more popular History of God, this book endeavors to explain why. As part of that, few developments have had more impact on recent political, social and military landscape than terrorism. But most see that terrorism in one dimensional terms --good versus evil, right versus wrong -- without ever examining the underlying causes of terrorism. Armstrong does that here with a masterful 500 year history of extremism and fundamentalism in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Thoughtful examination of comedy has spawned some of the best books I've read, all profound reflections of the most important trends in society. Chief among these is Nachman's look at the comedic turmoil of the 1950s, a brew rich with such icons as Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, Woody Allen and Sid Caesar. He provides detailed biographies not only of household names like these, but also comics like Jean Shepherd, Shelley Berman, and Will Jordan whose legacies have far outpaced their name recognition.

Almost as good are Zoglin's look at the decades just after the 1950s, Kanfer's examination of Groucho Marx and his times, and Martin's poignant, rueful reflections on his eighteen year stand-up career.

Goleman's 1995 book Emotional Intelligence arrived like a storm into a world focused solely on IQ. His book is a survey of the research on emotions, and he argues compellingly that emotional intelligence is in many respects a more important form of intelligence and a more important determinant of a the outcomes in a person's life. Together with his follow up bookSocial Intelligence, he provides an indispensable resource for a deeper understanding of human behavior.

I normally avoid polemics, but Jacob's 1961 book is the ultimate polemic, stemming from her improbably successful fight to preserve NYC's Soho and outflank the huge city planning industry whose flawed theories were then ruining the very cities they were trying to improve. Her four rules for vibrant neighborhoods stand as an icon of clear thinking. In this lively book, Jacobs creates a new paradigm for urban planning and explains what makes streets safe or unsafe; what constitutes a neighborhood, what function it serves within the larger organism of the city, and why some neighborhoods remain impoverished while others regenerate themselves.

The Comanche were the most fierce of the Native American tribes, and Quanah Parker was the boldest of their chiefs. He took his stand against the unstoppable encroachment of settlers in the West at the very moment that Comanche resistance was doomed. Empire of the Summer Moon is a vivid historical account of the forty-year battle between Comanche Indians and white settlers for control of the American West. Gwynne is an extraordinarily gifted writer, and his follow up book, Rebel Yell -- a biography of the legendary Confederate General Stonewall Jackson -- is every bit as powerful. 

A survey of western history's most important scientists and a wonderfully readable account of scientific development over the past five hundred years, focusing on the lives and achievements of individual scientists. He begins with Copernicus, during the Renaissance, when science replaced mysticism as a means of explaining the workings of the world, and he continues through the centuries, breathing new life into such icons as Galileo, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Linus Pauling.

As a Texan who was transplanted to the East Coast, my bias is that it is impossible to understand American history without a deep understanding of the Western United States. This compelling book provides that chronicle with all the legend and Hollywood cliché peeled away, and in doing so reveals something all the more compelling and instructive. The companion volume to the PBS television series, the book chronicles the arrival of wave after wave of newcomers from every direction of the compass: explorers, trappers, soldiers, gold miners, Mormons, railroaders, cowboys, lumbermen, ranchers and others. It is an ethnic collision of Indians, Mexicans, Yankees, ex-Confederates, European immigrants and Chinese.

This book is a history of debt and money, but in some respects, it is also a history of the world. Often an emotionally charged polemic, it shatters the conventional myths of the history of money, explores the moral issues surrounding debt, and builds the foundation for a clearer, better understanding of both economics and social justice. Graeber shows that before there was money, there was debt. For more than 5,000 years, since the beginnings of the first agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems to buy and sell goods -- that is, long before the invention of coins or cash. It is in this era, Graeber argues, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors. Graeber shows that arguments about debt and debt forgiveness have been at the center of political debates from Italy to China, as well as sparking innumerable insurrections. He also brilliantly demonstrates that the language of the ancient works of law and religion (words like "guilt," "sin," and "redemption") derive in large part from ancient debates about debt, and shape even our most basic ideas of right and wrong.

A history of the period between world war one and world war two that traces the emergence of the United States as the world's dominant power. The sin of most historians is to ignore the financial aspects of history, but almost invariably, financial factors are the most central of all. In the depths of the Great War, The heart of the financial system shifted from London to New York. The infinite demands for men and matériel reached into countries far from the front. The strain of the war ravaged all economic and political assumptions, bringing unheard-of changes in the social and industrial order. The book explores the ways in which other countries came to terms with America's centrality -- including the slide into fascism -- and redefines the legacy of World War I.

The Best of the Rest

This book demonstrates the profound difference that optimism and pessimism make in each of our lives, a thesis grounded in sophisticated research and experimentation. The book further makes the case that those with the habit of pessimism can train themselves to be more optimistic, with meaningful and enduring effect. Known as the father of the new science of positive psychology, Martin E.P. Seligman draws on more than twenty years of clinical research to demonstrate how optimism enhances the quality of life, and explores the practice of optimism.

Bill Bryson is a treasure, and his prolific output includes books on Shakespeare, the roaring 20s, the home, England, Australia, Africa and a host of additional subjects. Frankly, I recommend all of them. Each is, in essence, an entertaining and substantive overview of the subject at hand. I am astonished at the level of mastery he achieves on such a rich variety of subjects. My pick here is A Short History of Nearly Everything, which covers everything from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization. Made in America -- a history of the American version of the English language -- is almost as good.

We like to hold up icons like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Edison as the best examples of the American character. For my money, P.T.Barnum may be the better and more representative example of who we really are. Barnum was one of the wealthiest and best known Americans in the mid-1800s, and his America Museum in Manhattan the country's most popular and highest grossing attraction (his circus came much later). His sweeping boldness and bravura were a perfect reflection for an era in which America became the wealthiest country in the world, and we owe at least some of some of who we are to Barnum.

As proprietor of his museum, Barnum went on to promote an array of amazing acts: the midget Tom Thumb, the Swedish singer Jenny Lind, bearded ladies, Siamese twins, the first hippopotamus in America, and the world's most famous elephant -- Jumbo.


I'm a sucker for books on words and language, and this is certainly among the best. Covering such turning points as the little-known Celtic and Welsh influences on English, the impact of the Viking raids and the Norman Conquest, and the Germanic invasions that started it all during the fifth century CE, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue ultimately demonstrates the arbitrary, maddening nature of English -- and its ironic simplicity due to its role as a streamlined lingua franca during the early formation of Britain.

Who knew that an entertaining and useful overview of world history could be contained in this short history of six beverages? And yet here it is, the story of humanity from the Stone Age to the 21st century through the lens of beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola. Beer was first made in the Fertile Crescent and by 3000 B.C.E. was so important to Mesopotamia and Egypt that it was used to pay wages; in ancient Greece wine became the main export of her vast seaborne trade, spirits such as brandy and rum fueled the Age of Exploration, coffee stoked revolutionary thought in Europe during the Age of Reason, tea became especially popular in Britain, with far-reaching effects on British foreign policy, and Coca-Cola became the leading symbol of modern globalization.

And if you do read it, you must follow it up with Kurlansky's history of Salt. For most of history up until the last century or so, salt -- with its critical role as a food preservative in the era before refrigeration -- was as important to the world as oil is today, and was a crucial determinant of wealth, politics, trade, and war.

A breathtaking and forcefully argued vision of the future, Kurzweil submits that the pace of change will continue to accelerate, solar energy will rise to serve all our energy needs, and humanity itself will become digital. Kurzweil examines the union of human and machine, in which the knowledge and skills embedded in our brains will be combined with the vastly greater capacity, speed, and knowledge-sharing ability of our creations.

Happiness has become one of the most important subjects of academic psychology, and rightly so. This book puts forward the large body of research on that subject, and demonstrates how we routinely and grossly misperceive what it is that will bring us happiness, while missing those things that will. A systematic and sometimes humorous look at the science underneath our human foibles. 



A story of Florence during the era of the Medicis, when a reclusive, prickly genius named Fileppo Brunelleschi both reinvented architecture, and invented the revolutionary new technique of perspective in painting. He engineered the perfect placement of brick and stone, and built ingenious hoists and cranes (among some of the most renowned machines of the Renaissance) to carry an estimated 70 million pounds hundreds of feet into the air to create Florence's magnificent Duomo. This drama was played out amid plagues, wars, political feuds, and the intellectual ferments of Renaissance Florence.

A dense, scholarly overview of the last 500 years of occidental history. In the last half-millennium, as the noted cultural critic and historianJacques Barzun observes, great revolutions have swept the Western world. Each has brought profound change--for instance, the remaking of the commercial and social worlds wrought by the rise of Protestantism and by the decline of hereditary monarchies. And each, Barzun hints, is too little studied or appreciated today, in a time he does not hesitate to label as decadent -- which he tellingly defines as the wide acceptance of key things known to be untrue.

Illuminating the Age of Discovery, Bergreen writes this powerful tale of Magellan's expedition that was the first to sail around the world. The voyage was an adventure in the most dramatic sense of the word -- intensely painful and harrowing. His day-by-day account incorporates the testimony of sailors, Francisco Albo's pilot's log and the eyewitness accounts of Venetian scholar Antonio Pigafetta, who was on the journey. Magellan's mission for Spain was to find a water route to the fabled Spice Islands, and in 1519, the Armada de Molucca (with five ships and some 260 sailors) sailed into the pages of history. Many misfortunes befell the expedition, including the brutal killing of Magellan in the Philippines. Three years later, one weather-beaten ship, "a vessel of desolation and anguish," returned to Spain with a skeleton crew of eighteen gaunt sailors.  

If you don't love theater don't read this.It is the story of Lerner and Lowe's three masterpieces -- Camelot, Gigi, and My Fair Lady -- told with Lerner's rapier wit and incisive prose. At some levels, this is my personal favorite of all the books listed here, and I have re-read it many times for pure pleasure. It is the story of what Mr. Lerner calls "the sundown of wit, eccentricity, and glamour." The author himself, try as he will to keep himself out of his pages, emerges not merely as a great talent, but as a man of laughter and love. His principals, however, are Moss Hart and Fritz Loewe, with a stupendous supporting cast: Julia Andrews, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, Cecil Beaton, Louis Jourdan, Maurice Chevalier, Leslie Caron, Vincente Minnelli, Arthur Freed . . . and on and on. They are seen intimately in moments of triumph, disaster, doubt and panic, pettiness and laughter. 

The complete, no-holds-barred history of Africa has been neglected, but Meredith more than makes up for that in this tour de force that covers everything from the pyramids, the conquests of the Greeks and the spread of Islam -- to the Suez Canal, the diamond mines, and the emergence of post-colonial states. In this vast and vivid panorama of history, Martin Meredith follows the fortunes of Africa over a period of 5,000 years. He traces the rise and fall of ancient kingdoms and empires; the spread of Christianity and Islam; the enduring quest for gold and other riches; the exploits of explorers and missionaries; and the impact of European colonization. He examines, too, the fate of modern African states and concludes with a glimpse of their future.

The dominance of Charles Schulz's Charlie Brown and Peanuts in American pop culture in the mid-to-late twentieth century is impossible to overestimate. At its peak, his cartoon strip was read by over 300 million people. For all the joy it brought, Charles Schulz, was a profoundly unhappy man. Michaelis reveals the full extent of Schulz's depression, tracing its origins in his Minnesota childhood, with parents reluctant to encourage his artistic dreams and yearbook editors who scrapped his illustrations without explanation. In one sequence, Snoopy's crush on a girl dog is revealed as a barely disguised retelling of the artist's extramarital affair. Michaelis is especially strong in recounting Schulz's artistic development, teasing out the influences on his unique characterization of children. And Michaelis makes plain the full impact of Peanuts' first decades and how much it puzzled and unnerved other cartoonists. Peanuts, full of empty spaces, didn't depend on action or a particular context to attract the reader; it was about children -- who he used as surrogates for adults -- working out the interior problems of their daily lives without ever actually solving them. The absence of a solution was the center of the story.

As we have pointed out on occasion, Americans tend to read histories of World War II, the Civil War, and very little else, which makes biographies like this one all the more important. Woodrow Wilson was the deeply flawed genius who served as America's twenty-eighth president and dominated on the most pivotal moments in world history -- the years surrounding and including World War I. From the visionary Princeton president to the architect of the ill-fated League of Nations, from the devout Commander in Chief who ushered the country through its first great World War to the widower of intense passion and turbulence who wooed a second wife with hundreds of astonishing love letters, from the idealist determined to make the world "safe for democracy" to the stroke-crippled leader whose incapacity -- and the subterfuges around it -- were among the century's greatest secrets, Wilson is ultimately a tragic figure.

Galileo's Daughter, Dava Sobel

Galileo, one of the progenitors of the scientific revolution, wrote one hundred and twenty-four extant letter to his daughter Maria Celeste. Ultimately jailed for the heresy of his belief that the Earth orbited the Sun, this is Galileo's dramatic story illuminated by these letters. Moving between Galileo's grand public life and Maria Celeste's sequestered world, Dava Sobel illuminates the Florence of the Medicis and the papal court in Rome during the pivotal era when humanity's perception of its place in the cosmos was about to be overturned. During that same time, while the bubonic plague wreaked its terrible devastation and the Thirty Years' War tipped fortunes across Europe, Galileo sought to reconcile the Heaven he revered as a good Catholic with the heavens he revealed through his telescope.

If you use one of the above links to purchase a book, delanceyplace proceeds from your purchase will benefit a children's literacy project. All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity.

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Delanceyplace is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context.  There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, are occasionally controversial, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came. 

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