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James A. Garfield – Ira Rutkow

Last president born in log cabin. Born in the Western Reserve. Close to what is now Cleveland. Great student at Williams College. Good at debate. Considered one of the best-educated presidents.
 
Long-time congressman from Ohio. Was a radical Republican, voted for the impeachment of Johnson. Not a Lincoln fan, felt he wasn’t aggressive enough.
 
Elected to Senate. Backed Blaine for presidential nomination. Disputed convention, Blaine supporters eventually threw support to Garfield. Eventually he won out over Grant.
 
Made Blaine Sec. of State. He preceded to attempt to control Garfield. Assignment outraged Conkling, boss of NY politics. 
 
He and his vice-president did not like each other. Author was aligned with Conkling, a Stalwart. 
 
Garfield refinanced the national debt, reducing the interest debt by 40%. Was agressive in bring Hawaii under US influence.
 
The “Star Route” scandal involved post office officials pocketing funds from rural routes that generated additional money do to their rural nature (they  didn’t’ really deliver the mail, just kept the money). To his credit, Garfield did not attempt to shield his campaign  manager or primary fund-raiser when their involvement was discovered.
 
Charles Guiteau shot Garfield at the Baltimore and Washington train depot. Garfield was headed to New England for a two-week vacation with his wife (she was already in the North East, recovering from an illness). Guiteau was a nut-job who had been pestering the Garfield administration for a position. He claimed he acted to save the  republic from Garfield. 
 
The doctors gave him champagne to counter liver hemorrhage. oh boy. The doctor’s fought vigorously about Garfield’s care. Dr. Bliss won out, over the objection of several more qualified doctors. 
 
Book provided a lot of information on the history  of medicine (written by a doctor).  Basically, there were two schools of though: Allopaths, who believed in strong remedies to produce the opposite affect of a disease, and homopaths, who basically believed the opposite. Neither really led to particularly effective treatments. The Allopaths probably did more harm.
 
In the 1860’s doctor Joseph Lister made the connection between sterilization techniques and positive surgical outcomes. His thoughts were well-known by the time Garfield was shot, but not well-accepted by U.S. doctors, especially older ones, such as those that treated Garfield.
 
Author notes that Garfield’s wound was similar to Reagan’s. He would  have recovered quickly with modern medical treatment.  
 
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The Made Ones: Crazy Joe Gallo and the Revolution at the Edge of the Underworld – Tom Folsom

Biography about Joey Gallo, mobster from NYC. Subject of the Dylan/Levy song, “Joey”.  Levy actually new Gallo personally, back in the sixties when  “mobster chic” was popular among the rich white privileged types. Morons.

Didn’t like the book at all really. Written in a hipster beat kind of way, I found the style annoying, and at times it was hard to follow. 

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The Book of Matthew

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Rutherford Hayes: Presidential Series by Hans Trefousse

Father died before he was born. Raised in Delaware. His mother’s brother played a major role in his life.
 
Became lawyer. Went to Harvard. Served in military during civil war. Became a Congressman, then Governor of Ohio three times. Supported Grant administration. Lost race for Senate. Started free library in his town. 
 
Elected president in 1876. However, it was a disputed election, which weakened his presidency. He also had to deal with a Democratic Congress.
 
He worked to move the country back to a gold standard. He pursued civil service reform. In his third year he vetoed a slew of attempts by southern congress to make it difficult to enforce the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. Had various issues with Indians. 
 
Very pro education, even for blacks. Thought capitalism caused labor to not get fair share. Thought taxation too low for wealthy. “A government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.” 
 
One of the best educated presidents. 
 
Promised not to run for a second term, and declined to when pressed to by his party.
 
Interesting tidbits:  Somoa requested annexation during his administration. Part of Paraguay is named after Hayes. Author mentions that Hayes tried to bring the parties together after his disputed election, unlike Bush, who did the opposite. 
 
 
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The Making of Donald Trump

All I can say is: “Wow”. Book details many incredibly deceitful and often illegal activities of this horrible individual. Two of Trump’s guiding principles: revenge and attack. All you need to know about him.

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Uylesses S. Grant – Josiah Bunting III

A real page-turner. Grant was an interesting man, during an interesting time. Book makes him out to be a pretty extraordinary guy: uninterested in ceremony and affect, but keenly interested in getting whatever the job was complete.

 

 

 

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Andrew Johnson: A Biography by Hans Trefousse

 Didn’t take notes on this book (!)Johnson was a fool. Took over from Lincoln, tried to back the South in a foolishly strong-armed manner. Made a lot of enemies, most notably Thaddeus Stevens.  

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A. Lincoln: A Biography – Ronald C. White

A very long biography of Lincoln. More detail than I needed.

A few things stood out. Lincoln’s early study of the the speeches of ministers and politicians paid off down the road. Without his writing and  oratory ability he never would have been president. He was a very shrewd politician, knowing exactly when  the time was right to move. Finally, he always spent time working out all the angles on an issue before he made a decision. 

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The History of France – W. Scott Haines

Short interesting history of France.  Read for our trip… 

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James Buchanan: The American Presidents Series – Jean Baker

Buchanan was from Pennsylvania, at the time the second most populous state in the country.  He came from a relatively well-off family, and was able to attend college, Dickinson. As most future politicians at the time did, he study law after college. He served in Congress, and held many posts for various administrations, most notably as Polk’s Secretary of State.

His presidency was a disaster. Most historians think he was too generous in his treatment of the South, where most of his support came from. He completely botched the slavery issue in Kansas by siding way too heavily with the South. He also was weirdly inactive when the South succeeded, basically doing nothing, claiming the Constitution didn’t allow him to act. Buchanan is often ranked as the worst president in US history (and that’s saying something).

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Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

An autobiography of a guy from a poor, sometimes violent, very dysfunctional Appalachian family. Spent his childhood in the backwoods of Kentucky, and his teen years the Ohio Rust Belt. Joined the Marines after high school, which along with his grandparent’s guidance, helped set him on the right track. Went on to graduate from Ohio State and then Yale Law School.

The book was a New York Times bestseller. Vance is now a regular on the talking-head circuit and probably has made a shit-load of money. Good for him.

It was an interesting, easy read. I can’t say I was particular stunned by what he had to say. His description of his rough upbringing was interesting, even for a hillbilly such as myself who is is somewhat familiar with how it goes. His thoughts on what how families stuck in this type of environment could be helped are not terribly insightful. Basically, the government can’t do much, they need to be like him and pull themselves up by their bootstraps (not realistic if you ask me).

I’m glad I read it. I preferred Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams by Alfred Lubrano,  which dealt similar subject manner in a more thoughtful manner. 

 

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Franklin Pierce – 14th President

Pierce was the fourteen president of the United States. He was a Democratic from New Hampshire.

Ironically, although one if his highest priorities was keeping the Democratic party together, he ended up splitting it apart. By supporting the negation of the Compromise of 1820, which marked a line across the country above which slavery was outlawed, he reignited the issue of slavery across the country. “Bleeding Kansas” was one of the unfortunately consequences.

During the next election only seven of the 44 Democratic congressman were re-elected. Republican James Buchanan, an even worse leader, was elected next. 

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Millard Fillmore by Robert Rayback

A very sympathetic  treatment of Fillmore. Book was too long, but I certainly learned a lot. Millard was (according to this book) a very principled man who put country over personal glory.  Things didn’t work out exactly the way he wanted, but that’s not extraordinary. 

Fillmore was a Whig. The Whigs were sort of  the Democrats of the day, believers in a government that invests, helps, and stabilizes the country. Mostly anti-slavery, but they also attracted some members from the South, which allowed them to build a strong enough coalition to prevail, at least on occasion.

Besides the Compromise of 1850, which Fillmore was instrumental in making viable, he mostly was involved in foreign policy. Lots of “stuff” happened in Hawaii, Japan, China, Nicaragua, with Britain,  etc.

Fillmore tried to run again as the head of the  “Know Nothing” party, but was defeated.

In the mid-1850 the U.S. experience a time very similar to today: strong anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic sentiments, and a party (the  Know Nothings”) that took full advantage of it.

 

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Zachary Taylor – John Eisenhower

Born in Virginia,  raised in Kentucky. Sporadic education due to take of school on frontier. Made a name for  himself in military.  Nicknamed “Old Rough and Ready”. Lead a series of  mostly successful battles during the Mexican War.  Not much of a planner, but good at improvising.

Ran for president – reluctantly – as a Whig.  He would be the last Whig to be elected  president. Died just a few months into  his term, perhaps due to food poisoning.

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Beginning JavaScript

Best tech book I’ve ever read. Starts from the beginning, doesn’t skip steps. Admittedly, it does make it a chore to wade thru all the detail,some of which is already known. However, I’d rather be a little bored than totally baffled.

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A Year Without Pants – by Scott Berkun

Berkun’s discusses his year working at Automattic, leading teams designing enhancements to WordPress.com. He describes the unique culture of Automattic, the company behind the most popular by far content management system in the world.

In (very) short, he believes the very non-hierarchical, remote-centric, small team, informal culture at Automattic is the general model of the future work office environment.    

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A Country of Vast Designs: James Polk – by Robert Merry

A lot of shit happened during Polk’s four years in office.

A Democrat, Polk was a disciple of Andrew Jackson. He promised to serve only one-term in order to placate rivals that he knew coveted the presidency. Not a strong leader and lacking charisma, he nevertheless succeeded in bringing about all four of the main items on his agenda:

  • Lowering tariffs
  • stabling the currency 
  • acquiring the Oregon territory
  • expanding country to the Pacific

He may not have done it exactly to plan – instead starting a war with Mexico – but he did  it.

Poor guy died four months after leaving office.

 

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John Tyler, the Accidental President – by Edward Crapol

  More detail than I wanted.

Basic story – undone by slavery, of which he was a avid supporter. Achievements: Border with Maine/Canada, trade agreement with China, annexation of Texas, Tyler Doctrine in Pacific (which eventually lead to annexation of Hawaii).

Believed expanding the borders would keep nation together, and eventually would lead to the end of slavery (weird idea). First Vice President to become President, played a large role in setting precedence that VP would become Pres. for rest of term. Constitution was unclear on that point. 

He was a Whig, but big on “states rights”, like his idols Jefferson and Madison. Caused him to become very unpopular within his own party. Was not even nominated for a run at a second term.

 

 

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Scars of Sweet Paradise – The Life and Times of Janis Joplin by Alice Echols

Typical rock star on drugs story. I wish it had focused more on the music instead of her tragic life. Amazing the harm well-meaning parents can do do a child, especially if that child is susceptible to being affected by it.

 

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William Henry Harrison – by Gail Collins

The ninth president. Died after only one month in office. Ran as an Indian War hero, notably the battle of Tippecanoe. Actually did a poor job at that battle, but did better in subsequent ones. Ran as a man of the people, but actually grew up relatively rich (sound familiar?). First candidate to openly campaign for the office.

 

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Martin Van Buren – Ted Widmer

Excellent. 

Van Buren – first president for whom English was second language. poor man, yet lost re-election to a rich man who  campaigned as the  poor man (sounds familiar).  Founder of the Democratic party. Had misfortune of having a economic depression at the beginning of his  administration. Fair to say he was rather unprincipled in regard to slavery.  

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Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times by H.W. Brands

jackson_book

Loved it. I guess it helped the author to have a subject that led such an eventful, action-packed  life. The author kept a nice balance  between too much and not  enough detail.  

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John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, a Private Life – by Paul C. Nagel

 

johnquincyadams

Quincy was a man conflicted between the desire for a contemplative intellectual life and the rough-and-tumble world of politics. He never reconciled the two,  and a result was often unhappy.

This book was a bit of a snooze. As a man of words not action, his life just wasn’t that interesting.

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Reading Classics for Pleasure – Michael Dirda

classicsAs every schoolboy knows, reading classic works of literature is often a bore. Dirda suggests a large selections of works know as classics that are actually fun to read. I plan to a few, see how it goes. I tried “True History” by Lucian. Although it was interesting to find that a writer from the 2nd century had much the same sensibilities as a modern writer – sarcasm, wit, blasphemy, sex – I didn’t find it especially fun to read. I’ll keep trying.

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Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit by Mary Poppendieck and Tom Poppendieck

Lean Software DevelopmentWhen Toyota was a small company, its goal was to sell inexpensive cars in Japan. Because it was small, it couldn’t use economies of scale to compete. Instead, they develop a series of techniques to eliminate waste and speed-up development time. These techniques eventually were called “Lean”, and later where incorporated in the Agile software development methodology.

The thing that really struck me about this book is it’s economy and logical style. Little fluff, very clear, well thought-out.