SATIRE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

My Man Jeeves

By P. G. Wodehouse

Narrated by David Thorn

P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975, British Author, humorist)

Amazon shows there are 46 books written with Jeeves as a main character in the Wodehouse series.

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011, Author, Essayist, Social Critic) was a great fan of the “Jeeves” series written by P. G. Wodehouse, published between 1911 and 1974. 

With Hitchens’ Oxford English education, he had a keen understanding of Wodehouse’s skewering of the English upper class; particularly the ridiculously wealthy.

One wonders what delicious comments Hitchens would have for today’s American President.

Hitchens arrives in the U. S. in 1981. He becomes an American citizen in 2007.  He dies at the age of 62 in 1975 from the same cancer as his father.

After listening to Wodehouse’s first book, one is inclined to believe Hitchens high praise is partly due to his personal life experience.  The books are about an upper class English character who chooses to move to New York to live life as a wealthy New Yorker. 

Bertie Wooster and Jeeves.

Hitchens is more like the brilliant butler than the dull-witted upper class Englishman in Wodehouse’s books, but his upper class English education (at Oxford) gives him a prescient understanding of the very wealthy.

Jeeves is a wunderkind working for a slightly dull witted bumpkin that has great family wealth.  Wodehouse’s wealthy English aristocrat, Wooster, exhibits “bumpkiness” by wearing garish ties, hats or facial hair that Jeeves steers him (sometimes humorlessly) away from. 

Wodehouse’s humor is subtle and somewhat endearing but it is difficult to suspend disbelief. With a man servant like Jeeves who diplomatically surpasses his wealthy patron in every category of being, it stretches credulity to a breaking point.

How could a servant of great intelligence, social grace, and aesthetic taste remain in the service of a moron.  In 2019, it appears more possible than one might have believed. ( James Mattis, former Secretary of the Dept. of Defense serving President Trump.)

This first book is a series of short stories with a few that exclude Jeeves.  It is funny but not “lol” to those who are not English; a member of the enlightened, or those particularly fond of satire.  This is not to suggest Wodehouse is not at times hilarious but Wodehouse, like Mark Twain, is an acquired taste.

Wodehouse’s rich bumpkin is a kind of “helpful Hannah” wishing to do the right thing for his friends. In Wodehouse’s stories, a wealthy “helpful Hannah” inevitably creates more trouble than help.  Jeeves comes to the rescue.

Volodymyr Zelensky (President of Ukraine)

As is often the case, doing for others what one thinks another needs leads to unintended consequence.

One is flummoxed by the idea of Jeeves not using his prescient ability to escape servitude.  On the other hand, John Steinbeck creates a brilliant minor character in “East of Eden” who makes a case for servitude in order to live a life of contemplation.

Hitchens fascinating mind and skill as an essayist of life, books, and politics suggests he knows more about the value of Wodehouse than this reviewer.  Listening to another Wodehouse book remains in one’s mind; maybe not soon, but in the future.  If Mark Twain is an acquired taste, so may be Wodehouse. 

HUMANITY’S SURVIVAL

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Horizon

By: Barry Lopez

Narrated by James Naughton

Barry Holstun Lopez (American author, essayist, fiction writer.)

As a first exposure to Barry Lopez’s writing, “Horizon” is a disturbing review of the state of nature.     

There is a “Let It Be” determinism in Lopez’s memoir of travels around the world. 

There seems little rage in “Horizon” about the decline of earth’s environment. Particularly in comparison to Greta Thunberg’s accusations against spoilers of the world.

Of course, Lopez is in his 70 s.  Thunberg is 16. Her generation is more likely to feel the consequence of world’ ecological change. One doubts pessimism is the intent of Lopez’s recollections. But pessimism is a sense some may get from a 23-hour narration of “Horizon”.

From Lopez’s varied experience as a writer, historian, amateur archaeologist, and world traveler, he concludes humankind may be destined for a sixth extinction

Lopez lives a peripatetic life that exposes him to the remains of animal species lost; the evolutionary fragments of human remains, and the disparate changes of weather around the world. 

Lopez visits parts of the world discovered by explorers.  Particularly men like John Cabot, Christopher Columbus, James Cook, and others.  Lopez writes many vignettes about James Cook and his obsession–to map the world.

Man’s inhumanity to man has been recorded many times by many writers. Lopez regrets the passing of native populations, and suggests their passing is because early explorers paved the way for new civilizations.  In recalling various expeditions, Lopez makes one aware of the nature of human beings. 

The American Indian’s “Trail of Tears” are repeated in many civilizations. 

Lopez notes the lows of human beings with a story of two older men who want him to ghost write an essay about their experience with underage girls in Thailand. In a bigger historical picture, Lopez explains the nature of explorers who destroy as well as initiate new civilizations. 

Lopez infers human civilization is trapped in a cycle of self-destruction.  Every society desires stability and longevity. Lopez infers human nature gets in the way of those desires.

Lopez writes about Darwin’s theory of evolution, and the arbitrariness of genetic selection that sustains human life. Lopez holds the view that Darwin’s theory may be key to human’s future survival.

Lopez infers a chance genetic modification will seed human survival as the world ecological system changes. Lopez notes many civilizations are gone; others are headed for extinction. Today, human advancement is a product of greed and self-interest. Tomorrow, human advancement may be dependent on love and care for others.

Just as greed and self-interest are genetic markers for today’s world cultures, a new genetic marker might offer love and care for others for tomorrow’s world cultures.

Lopez illustrates slavery still plagues the conscience of 21st century civilization.  Discrimination because of race, color, or creed are evident in every nation of the world. 

Jews, Palestinians, Houthi, Saudi Arabians, Taliban, Afghani, Iranians, Pakistanis, Indians, Blacks, Whites, Latinos, Inuit, Canadians, Americans, Chinese, Asians, Russians and others feed into humanities self-destruction. There is blame to go around with a mentality of “my way is the only way”.

Cortes Conquest of the Aztec Empire.

 

From Oregon to Antarctica; from Africa to California, to New York to Australia, to the Galapagos Islands, and back to Oregon, Lopez reflects on the state of the world. 

What can break humanity’s cycle of self-destruction?

Lopez leaves a slender hope that the evolution of human beings will rescue humanity.  He is neither optimistic nor pessimistic.  Lopez suggests the world will go on, but humans may be the sixth extinction.  The question is—is it up to us, fate, nature, or a Supreme Being?

ADHD

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Unbroken


By Laura Hillenbrand

Narrated by Edward Herrmann

Laura Hillenbrand (Author)

Hyperactivity in children is a blessing and curse. 

Louis Zamperini (1917-2014, American WWII Veteran, participant in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.)

Every parent that faces life with a hyperactive child listens to Hillenbrand’s story of Louis Zamperini and thinks of what might be if their child’s high energy can be focused rather than blurred by the hurly-burly of life.

Hillenbrand vivifies Louis’s life with stories of his early years of running away, hopping trains, practical joking, stealing, and raising hell.  Louis idolizes an older brother that lives a more conventional life but Louis refuses to follow the placid image of the good son; the obedient child.

Fortunately, Louis is blessed with a tolerant mother and a stern, but understanding, father who accepts Louis for himself rather than what he, or his mother, want him to be.  Louis does not outgrow his hyperactivity but channels his energy into the discipline of a sport.

With that beginning description of Louis Zamperini, Hillenbrand tells the story of Zamperini’s advance as a world class runner; i.e. the youngest member of the near 4 minute mile club of the 1936 Olympics.

Louis meets Adolph Hitler, not as a winner of the race, but as an Olympic competitor that gives all he has-to be the best he can be.

Zamperini is alleged to have said “I was pretty naïve about world politics, and I thought he looked funny, like something out of a Laurel and Hardy film.”

Louis Zamperini returning from imprisonment as a POW with his mother (Louise) and father in the backrground.)

World War II strikes the United States at Pearl Harbor.   Zamperini’s stellar running career is grounded.  He returns home to be drafted by the Army/Air Force.  He becomes a bombardier.

Zamperini is assigned to a B-24 Liberator as a bombardier.

The story of “Unbroken” begins with a rescue mission for a B-27 crew downed in the Pacific Ocean.  The rescue crew includes Louis Zamperini.   

The rescue crew is unsuccessful; i.e. the lost crew is not found. 

On the return flight, engine trouble forces the rescue plane into the Ocean. Three men (possibly four out of 20 plus men) survive the crash.  With a poorly provisioned life raft, two live to be placed in a Japanese prison camp, Louis and the rescue plane’s pilot.

This story of survival is inspirational.  It can be listened to as a true adventure.  One may also hear a cautionary tale about parenting. 

It is difficult to raise children in an affluent society where both parents must work to pay the bills. One wonders about the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). 

Where does a parent draw the line on drug treatment for children with this diagnosis?  Is the diagnosis real or is it a symptom of a society that does not have enough time to parent?

American Capitalism

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Americana, A 400-Year History of American Capitalism


By Bhu Srinvasan

Narrated by Scott Brick, Bhu Srinvasan

Bhu Srinivasan (Author, American citizen born in India, Emigrated at age 8 to the United States with his mother.)

“Americana” is homage to the muscular success of capitalism in the United States.  It appears it takes someone born outside America to unapologetic-ally endorse the gift of capitalism to the world. It seems Bhu Srinvasan lives the American dream in the 21st century. 

Srinvasan “leans in” by arguing libertarian-ism’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses.  “Americana” speeds through the history of great men (because women’s contribution is largely ignored) who settle America in the 17th century.  With the help of English entrepreneurs willing to risk investment in the voyage of the Mayflower, the egg of American capitalism is hatched. 

Mayflower Replica

(The Original Mayflower Sailed September 6,1620 and landed on Cape Cod 66 days later, which was 500 miles north of its intended destination in Virginia.)

The investors expect a return on their investment.  They finance the expedition based on an expectation of success from a settlement in Virginia.  The first years of the Pilgrims’ progress is nearly a bust.  The author explains the initial investment is nearly lost but recovered by an agreement among the settlers to buy out their Mayflower investors.  The buyout is a success because the settlers find a ready market for American goods in England; particularly beaver furs which were provided to settlers by native inhabitants.

With growth of the fur trade, new settlers come to America.

The beaver fur business is expanded with new settlers who learn how the Indians ply their trade.  Competition grows and undoubtedly many tribes are shut out of the trade.

This, as in many more stories told by Srinvasan, reminds on of the boon and bane of capitalism.  That is not Srinvasan’s intent, but the effect of competition from acquired knowledge, new technology, and entrepreneurship is repeated many times.  There are winners and losers in the growth of capitalism.

There is an “end justifies means” theme in Srinvasan’s view of America.  The reality of quality-of-life improvements in America makes Srinvasan’s view a worthy subject of contemplation.  America is the most economically successful nation in the modern world.

“Americana” glosses over issues of slavery, racism, corporatism, and many of the harsh realities of a transactional economic system. 

Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Ford, Rockefeller, Morgan, Edison, Westinghouse, Watson, Gates, and Jobs are a few examples given for the success of American Capitalism. 

What is missed is the “blood in the water” from changes wrought by these men of steel, automobiles, energy, finance, communications, transportation, and technology.  With each advance in American ingenuity, there is a general rise in America’s standard of living.  Indeed, Bhu Srinvasan himself is a tribute to the success one can have in 21st century America. But, Srinvasan tells only one side of the story.

Homelessness in America is a disgrace.  Rat infested ghettos in large American cities perpetuate poverty and crime.  A deteriorating education system is gamed by the wealthy who neglect what can be done to help the poorly educated. 

Corporations have a duty to educate people displaced by technology.  Government needs to move beyond the transactional value of health care to provide basic health services to all Americans.  Environmental degradation needs to be abated before the world’s 6th extinction. 

To ignore the price paid by a growing underclass in America, is side-stepped by Srivasan’s “…History of American Capitalism”. 

America capitalism can do better.  We are no longer a struggling economy like that which existed in the days of the Pilgrims and later so-called robber barons.

Srinvasan is an excellent primer on capitalism but that is history; not a prediction of a future where homelessness, a deteriorating environment, a failing education system, inadequate health care, and racial injustice are ignored.

UNNATURAL CAUSES

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Unnatural Causes

By Dr. Richard Shepard

Narrated by Dr. Richard Shepard

Dr. Richard Shepard (Author, UK Pathologist who investigated many celebrity deaths including Princess Diana.)

Dr. Richard Shepard is an English forensic pathologist.  In a cathartic examination of his profession, Shepard reveals how obsessiveness is a boon and bane in life.  From youth to late middle age, Shepard reflects on his life.

In “Unnatural Causes”, Shepard examines the causes of others’ death. With ever-present foreshadowing, a listener recognizes a man who is going to experience a mid-life crisis. 

In Shepard’s dissection of life, many male listeners will see their own narcissistic lives.  The expense of self-absorption is delusion, and often divorce.  For a male obsessed with a career, the cost of delusion is a crisis of personal identity. 

The cost of divorce is different for men than for women.  The biggest cost of divorce is paid by a wife.  She not only loses a part of her identity; she loses the security of family, friends, and income.

Shepard does not overtly acknowledge the inequity of divorce, but one senses his feeling of guilt.

The personal part of Shepard’s story is a sad commentary on relationship between men and women in the modern world.  It is a picture of many men who grow old with their first wife and abandon them when youth has been spent. 

The primary purpose of Shepard’s book is not to explain men’s narcissism but to explore the profession of forensic science.

There is no question that Shepard’s experience qualifies him as an expert in the field.  From terrorist events in England and 9/11 in the U.S. to the death of Princess Diana, Shepard practices his profession as a revered and respected pathologist.  He explains his obsession for “cause for death” from childhood. 

Having lost his mother at an early age, her absence motivates Shepard to understand what causes death. Though unsure of himself when he first encounters dissection of a human being, Shepard notes how curiosity shuts out any discomforting feelings in cutting and examining internal organs of a human corpse.  His focus is on finding the true cause of death.

In the course of Shepard’s career, his search for “cause of death” is found to be difficult, but not because of death’s pathology. 


Shepard explains how political pressure from the public, the police, and the judicial system influences diagnosis of death. The public may want to know the “cause of death” because of preconceived notions.  The police may want to know the “cause of death: because of their perception of someone’s guilt or innocence.  The judicial system may want “cause of death” based on witnesses for the defense or prosecution.  To Shepard, what someone wants is not relevant.  Only the truth is relevant.

Shepard’s conviction that truth is all that matters leads to a professional crisis. 

A less than reputable couple lose their child to what Shepard concludes is SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).  Based on Shepard’s diagnosis, the couple is set free.  Years later, the couple has another child.  Both parents are alcoholics according to reports given in Shepard’s account of the case.  Years after Shepard’s SIDS determination, a second pathologists reviews the record and finds what he believes to have been child abuse.  The court agrees with the new pathologist and the child is taken from the parents.  Shepard is brought before a board of inquiry to determine whether he should keep his license.

Shepard’s book is worthy of a listener’s time to find out what the board of inquiry decides.  Both the personal and public crises Shepard faces will resonate with anyone who has obsessively pursued a career and had his/her personal integrity challenged.

There is the added benefit of hearing how “inequality of the sexes” is a deeply rooted social phenomena.

POWER OF THE PEN

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World

By: Leo Damrosch

Narrated by David Stifel

Leo Damrosch (American author and professor of Literature at Harvard)

Leo Damrosch’s biography of “Jonathan Swift” illustrates the power of the pen.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745, Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet and cleric.)

Jonathan Swift is principally remembered for “Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World”, better known as “Gulliver’s Travels”.  What is less known of Swift is that he was and is a revered Irish hero.

Damrosch has written a comprehensive biography of Jonathan Swift’s life.  Damrosch searches for what is known, while expressing reservation about what others speculate about Swift’s life.  Jonathan Swift is recognized as an ordained Anglican priest that reluctantly accepts a position as Deanery of St Patrick’s church in Ireland. 

Swift lives an ironic life.  He was born in Ireland but preferred living in England.  His life reflects humanity’s ambivalence about money, power, and prestige. 

Irony lies in Swift’s desire to become rich, powerful, and respected while skewering the rich, powerful, and respected.

Swift reveres the Anglican Church while he hates the memory of King Henry VIII’s duplicitous murder of Saint Thomas of Canterbury in the 12th century.  Irish Catholics are tolerated rather than accepted as religious equals by Swift.  Swift’s appellation for Irish Catholics is “those Irish”.

England’s leaders grew to fear Swift’s power of the pen. He became a respected, if not rich, Irish cleric. Religious satire was Swift’s sword but it had two edges.

Just as Swift is endearing himself to English leadership, he writes a satiric book about western Christianity.  The book is called “A Tale of a Tub”.  It is widely read by literate England.  Queen Anne considers the book blasphemous because of its parodies about religion and religion’s use and abuse in politics. 

Damrosch believes “A Tale of a Tub” burns Swift’s chance for ever becoming an English Bishop, a well-paying and respected position in the Anglican Church.  Without Royal endorsement, Swift has little chance of promotion in England.

An irony of Swift’s life is that he gained a reputation as a maker and breaker of English’ politicians and noblemen by writing “A Tale of a Tub”; i.e. Damrosch notes several examples of English’ leaders that either solicit mention in Swift’s writing or fear pillory by Swift’s pen.  The good consequence is respect for Swift’s writing skill; the bad consequence is English Royalty’s disdain for Swift’s writing substance and his ultimate lesser-posting in an Anglican Church in Ireland.

In today’s news, Pope Benedict implies deterioration of the church is caused by 1960’s sexual liberation.

Swift embraces religion but denigrates its leadership.  

Irony follows irony in Swift’s life.  Swift is a Tories’ sympathizer that evolves into an Irish hero that decries Tory treatment of Ireland in the early 18th century.  He hated Ireland but became Ireland’s hero.  Swift promotes Ireland’s boycott of British goods when England forbids export of Irish wool to anywhere but England.  Swift decries Irish poverty but suggests poverty is an Irish moral failing. 

The climax of Damrosch’s biography is Swift’s publication of “Gulliver’s Travels”.  Swift’s dissection of societies’ follies is as relevant today as it was in the 18th century.  One might argue that “A Tale of a Tub” is equally important but “Gulliver’s Travels” resonates with all who read for pleasure, politics, or enlightenment; whether young or old.  “A Tale of a Tub” is more relevant to the time of its writing.

There are other biographical details about women in Swift’s life, his stories, and Swift’s idiosyncratic habits but power of the pen is the thematic giant in Damrosch’s book.  Damrosch shows how Swift became a feared satirist by England’s leaders.

BEING AND NOTHINGNESS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

By Helen Simonson

Narrated by Peter Altschuler

Helen Simonson (English author)

“Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” is Helen Simonson’s literary debut.  The book begins like a locomotive chugging up hill but ends as a journey well taken.

This is a love story. It is also a story about an age demographic inelegantly described as a “pig in the python”; i.e. baby boomers that are born after the end of WWII (between 1946 and 1964).  Major Pettigrew is a fictional father of a baby boomer. 

Pettigrew believes in an internalized moral code and endeavors to live by it.  Emulation comes from one who sees a person act with reasoned opinions based on lived life.  Denigration comes from “boomers” that see a person trapped in the past and unwilling to change with the times.

Though Major Pettigrew is a retired English military officer, widowed and living in a small town in England, he represents what human’s emulate and denigrate. 

Pettigrew’s adult son is what David Reisman, in “The Lonely Crowd”, calls an “other directed” person that lives by a code based on perceived values of the day.  The code is highly malleable.  It is created by friends, family, business and societal influence.  The son’s conduct changes with his perception of other’s beliefs.  In contrast, the Major lives by an internalized code based on personal life experience. This difference creates conflict. 

One of Simonson’s examples of father/son conflict is in the sale of a matched set of antique guns.

The son wants to sell; the father does not.  The son acts from consciousness of societal norms that value things in dollars and cents.  The father acts from consciousness of what the guns mean to him in life experience.

Simonson creates a love story that makes the same point.  Jasmina Ali comes into Major Pettigrew’s life.  She is a Pakistani widow at age 50, several years younger than the Major.  The son is shocked by his father’s dalliance with a non-English widow.  His son is more concerned about how the village views the relationship than how his father feels. 

Simonson elaborates on this view of love by showing the son engaged to a young American woman that idealizes the English countryside.  She envisions having an idyllic country refuge, away from the city, to emulate English aristocracy.  The American asks the son to co-purchase a cottage near his father.  Major Pettigrew sees that the purchase is based on an image of English nobles oblige; not the substance of a home.

The son compounds “boomer” generation “other directness”. He changes his mind based on what society may think of him. He distances himself from his American fiancé to court an English aristocrat. The aristocrat offers higher social and financial reputation.  Major Pettigrew is mystified by his son’s fickle change of heart.


The climax of this story is skewed toward an appreciation of the “inner directed” nature of Major Pettigrew.  Major Pettigrew acts with courage and conviction to save a life, though it costs one of his beloved personal possessions.  He also rescues his paramour from the refuse of English and Pakistani prejudice.  Pettigrew makes his “…Last Stand”.

In 1950, David Reisman writes in “The Lonely Crowd” that “other directness” is a symptom of a civilization’s incipient decline.