Bruce Thornton is a classics professor at Cal State Fresno and a fellow at the Hoover Institution. Decline and Fall is both a lament and a criticism of Europe’s weakening culture and declining moral stature. Liberals and progressives (among whom I count myself) will hate this book (though I don’t) because Thornton unabashedly advocates traditional European values such as individualism and freedom of speech, along with Christian values, including spiritual devotion to a higher power and clear and firm moral boundaries.
One of the downsides of indie publishing is that there are so many titles out there, it’s hard for the good ones to get attention. This is one of the good ones. D. J. “Jock” MacDonald ran the police station in the mining town of Kilembe, Uganda in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and was responsible for keeping order in a broad swath of the country’s rural Western Province. Dead End at Buffalo Corner recounts actual events in a novel-like third-person narrative.
Phew! This one was a long slog. Putnam provides exhaustive data in his examination of the decline of “social capital” in late 20th-century American society. The author defines social capital as the network of informal social bonds within a society. These bonds tie individuals and communities together, providing social, economic, and emotional support for all. The social networks of church, clubs, interest groups and sports leagues embody an ethos of trust and open-ended reciprocity: you watch my kids this afternoon, and I’ll watch yours some day in the future.
Charles Brandt, an attorney from Delaware, spent years interviewing Mafia hit man Frank Sheeran. Sheeran was one of the prime suspects in the disappearance of Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa, but because of all of the suspects refusal to talk, neither the local police nor the FBI could ever gather enough evidence for a conviction. After decades of investigation, the FBI closed the case and left it unsolved. Brandt, who had extensive experience in criminal law and who helped win Sheeran’s release from prison on medical grounds, thought he could draw a confession from the elderly Sheeran who had begun to reconsider his life as he approached death.
John Temple’s American Pain describes the rise and fall of America’s largest pill mill. A pill mill, in case you didn’t know, is a medical practice set up specifically to dispense narcotic pain killers. Patient appointments typically last only a few minutes, just long enough for doctor to write the prescription. Chris George, the wealthy son of a successful South Florida builder, was running a semi-successful shop selling anabolic steroids when he started seeing pain clinics pop up all over Broward County around 2008.
Nick Bilton’s American Kingpin describes the rise and fall of the darknet market The Silk Road, and its creator, Ross Ulbricht. The book focuses primarily on Ulbricht and a handful of agents from the DEA, FBI, IRS, and Homeland Security who wage a semi-coordinated effort to identify and capture the Silk Road leader, who was known online as the Dread Pirate Roberts. Ulbricht grew up in Austin, Texas, a middle-class kid with strong libertarian leanings.
The Body Keeps the Score describes what Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk has seen and learned in his thirty-plus years of treating trauma survivors. The author describes the causes and manifestations of trauma in a number of patients from his clinical practice: abused children, combat veterans, victims of accidents, rape, and assault. He describes how the intense emotional impact of trauma can linger for years when the mind is unable to assimilate the unbearable terror of events.
The Billion Dollar Whale, by Wall Street Journal reporters Tom Wright and Bradley Hope, describes the looting of Malaysia’s 1MDB sovereign wealth fund by con man Jho Low and his associates. Although this story has been in the news for years, and many are familiar with its outlines, the book provides rich details about a series of financial crimes whose scope and audacity is breathtaking. Jho Low came from a family in Penang provice, Malaysia, that had enough money to send him to boarding school at Harrow, where he met the children of some of the world’s richest families.
The Girl on the Velvet Swing tells the story of the 1906 murder of famed American architect Stanford White, who was shot to death before a crowd of New York’s elite at the opening night performance of a play at Madison Square Garden, one of the city’s architectural landmarks, which he himself designed. After the shooting, White’s assailant, the young millionaire Harry K. Thaw handed his pistol to a fireman and calmly walked to the police station in the company of a single officer.
It’s hard to write of a review of Alan Watts’ books because there’s so much in them. It’s like trying to summarize the ocean. Each time I re-read one of his works, I come away with something different. So I’m not going to try to encapsulate all that Watts says. Instead, I’ll just described what impressed me in this reading, using mostly Watts’ own words, since he can express himself better than I can paraphrase him.
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