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John Burroughs: An American Naturalists – Edward J. Renehan, Jr.

Biography of John Burroughs. Few have heard of him now, but Burroughs was once very well-known. “For several decades he may have been the most popular writer of any kind in the country — when he and President Theodore Roosevelt traveled across the U.S. by train in 1903, observers said the writer often drew more admirers at their whistle stops than the politician, soon to be returned to the White House.”  His fame was deserved; his work is worth checking out.

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Book of Luke

Basically the same stories as the other book. I would say this book was a bit more eloquent. A bit longer.

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John James Audubon – John Burroughs

A short biography of John James Audubon by John Burroughs.  Written in 1902.  I didn’t know anything  about Audubon.  He was a naturalist.  After spending many years in various businesses, mostly failing, decided to follow his talent for drawing animals. Worked out well.

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Notes on Whitman – As Poet and Person – John Burroughs

The book is divided into two parts. In the first part Burroughs defends Leaves of Grass against academic, conventional-minded critics that objected to Whitman’s very unconventional style and often highly sensual themes. He also commends Whitman as a true lover and interpreter of nature, Burroughs favorite theme. The second, more interesting to the average reader section is a short biography of Whitman. It describes his early childhood life, his  time working in D.C., (including his getting fired from the Treasury Department for the crime of being the  author of Leaves of Grass), and his experience volunteering as a nurse during the Civil War, including several remarkable letters written by Whitman about his experiences. Whitman himself lended a hand in the books writing.

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John Burroughs – Boy and Man – Clara Barrus

Short biography of naturalist John Burroughs, by his close friend, Dr. Clara Barrus.

Burroughs was a well-known writer during his time. Subject matter similar to Thoreau.  Work  is very readable but not nearly on the same level as Thoreau, although that is really not a fair comparison for anybody.

 

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Lion in the White House – Aida Donald

Born in 1858 in NYC. Very wealthy family. Father stressed education. Uncle Robert Barnwell Roosevelt interested in social reform and conservation.

Sickly as a child. Father encouraged him to build up his body, which he did. Became very interested in natural science. Studied insects intensely.

Went to Harvard. Very good student.

Tried law school. Didn’t like it. Dropped out.

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William McKinley

by Kevin Phillips

Born in Ohio (like Grant, Garfield, Hayes, Benjamin Harrison,Taft, and Harding) 1843.

Iron was biggest manufacturing industry in Ohio in mid-19th century. McKinley’s father and grandfather  were iron makers.

Dropped out of Allegheny College due to depression. Recovered, but his father’s business failed.

Volunteered for Civil War. Served three years.

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Grover Cleveland – Henry Graff

Born in 1837. Grew up in New York state. Father was a minister. Father’s death prevented his attending college. With helped of his well-off uncle, he joined a law firm in Buffalo, and eventually passed the bar.
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Book of Mark

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Chester Alan Arthur: The American Presidents Series

Born in Vermont. Raised in New York. Mediocre student. Strong antislavery beliefs. Became a lawyer. 
 
Very much a people person, which led to much of his success. Friend of Roscoe Conkling. Assigned Commissioner of ports in NY. Important position at the time. And very lucrative. 
 
Panic of 1873 lead to the end of moiety system. Hayes made civil service reform the leading cause of his presidency.  Hayes replaced Arthur as part of his reform campaign. 
 
Arthur picked as president primarily because of his likability and his alliance with Conkling and the Stalwarts. Arthur remains loyal to Conkling during Garfield’s/Blaine’s successful scheme to appoint non-Stalwarts to cabinet positions. Led to a break between Garfield and Arthur. 
 
Arthur was really into modernizing the White House. Liked fine clothes, carriages etc…  He was the Jackline Kennedy of his time. 
 
Vetoed the Anti-Chinese Immigration Bill. Signed the second one, knowing his veto would be overturned. 
 
Popular book at the time. Henry George’s Progress and Poverty. 
 
Republicans were crushed in the elections of 1882. During the duck session when they still had a majority, Arthur decided to push Pendleton’s civil service bill. Wanted to be seen as party of reform. Passed and Arthur signed. 
 
Died from problems related to Bell’s Palsey; kidney disease. Was a big eater/drinker,  which probably caused the  issues.  
 
Remember as an “ok” president – not terrible, certainly not  great. Did  better than expected considering. 
 
 
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It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It – Robert Fulghum

I read his book All I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten a long time ago. I  remembered it as rather cornball, but I did remember it, which is something. I read something about this volume recently and decided to give it a try.

This one is pretty cornball as well, and formulaic, but I can’t say didn’t enjoy parts of it. The title come from a newspaper article, an interview with a guy, who when asked how his matteress got on fire, answers that it was already on fire when he lay down on it.

A couple stories stood out to me. The one about the driver instructor who was loved by his students because he just listened to them and  tried to get to know them.  Another good one was about his time at a Zen monastery.  The head of the place reads to him this:

There is really nothing you must be.

And  there is  nothing you must do.

There is really nothing you must have.

And  there is nothing  you  must know.

There is  really nothing you must become.

However. It  helps to understand that fire burns, and  when it rains , the earth gets wet. 

 

There was also the story about the Hunt Saboteur Association, whose purpose was to break up fox hunting events – often humorously – thereby saving foxes from death. The interesting point was that doing good can also be fun, it doesn’t have to be grim and hard work. 

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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.