On the normalization of Donald Trump

Something that might get lost in the daily political-information overload is a thought-provoking historical article in yesterday’s LA Review of Books by Ron Rosenbaum, the author of “Explaining Hitler.” Rosenbaum writes that initially he had declined to write or speak about potential links between Hitler and Trump prior to the election because he did not wish to water down the atrocities committed by Hitler and compare them to someone who had not yet been elected and who seemed to simply be “childishly vindictive.”

And yet. Post-election, Rosenbaum’s views have changed, and he worries about the normalization of of Donald Trump and his administration. The way he chooses to broach this subject is incredibly compelling – through the story of the long fight by the Munich Post to attempt to hold Hitler accountable before, during, and after his rise to power. It is a story of a small newspaper refusing to normalize Hitler, defiant in their rejection of the lies and diversions that had been accepted by others.

…The Munich Post never stopped investigating who Hitler was and what he wanted, and Hitler never stopped hating them for it.

As Hitler sought to ingratiate himself with the city’s rulers (though never giving up the threat of violence), the Post reporters dug into his shadowy background, mocking him mercilessly, exposing internal party splits, revealing the existence of a death squad (“cell G”) that murdered political opponents and was at least as responsible for Hitler’s success as his vaunted oratory.

Set aside twenty minutes to read this piece. It serves as a strong reminder to continue to think critically and ask questions in the face of an onslaught of lies and diversions in this administration. This is, as Rosenbaum writes, not normal.

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Book Review: The Richest Woman In America

Recently the Gilded Age has been cropping up in economic and social discourse as a parallel to today’s wealth inequality and ostentatious elite. So it seems quite timely to review a biography of a woman living in this very era.

The author of The Richest Woman in America, Janet Wallach, describes the Gilded Age as an era of “avarice, opulence, and easy credit, [one which] burst from gluttony” (p. 201). But the biography focuses on a woman whose critics would not dare mention opulence and easy credit alongside her name: Hetty Green.

A Savvy Investor

Hetty Green, circa 1900.
Hetty Green, circa 1900.

Hetty was thoughtful, astute investor who never strayed from her own advice: buy when everyone is selling and sell when everyone is buying. She was a one-woman example of how to resist herd behavior: trust your instincts and don’t worry other people’s decisions. When it came to how she did business, Hetty did not care in the least what people thought about her. In his classic, The General Theory, Keynes would write of the long-term investor, “worldly wisdom teaches that it is better for reputation to fail than to succeed unconventionally” (as cited in Scharfstein and Stein, 1990). It is almost as if he is describing the public reaction to Hetty a half century earlier.

Hetty succeeded – well beyond the wildest dreams of most men – and yet, because her approach was so unconventional, her reputation suffered. She was often vilified and mocked in the press and became known as the Witch of Wall Street (though oddly, Wallach chooses not to mention this moniker in her book; perhaps this indicates a soft spot for Hetty). A 2001 article in The New Yorker noted that this nickname was not fully derogatory – there was a certain awe that came with Hetty and her approach. And indeed, as a lone woman succeeding in a man’s world, Hetty should inspire awe. Continue reading Book Review: The Richest Woman In America

Race, Money, and Marriage in ‘Belle’

I saw ‘Belle‘ over the weekend and loved it. Based on a true story, the film has neatly tied loose ends and liberal embellishments that give the story an Austen-esque feeling, but it’s more than just another period piece.

I recommend reading two great background pieces before seeing the movie to get a better sense of who Dido Elizabeth Belle was and what makes her story so remarkable:

My thoughts on the movie contain some plot spoilers, so feel free to come back after you have seen the movie.

Continue reading Race, Money, and Marriage in ‘Belle’

Downton Abbey: Updates to My Reading List

In April I plan to return to researching and writing on early twentieth-century economic and social issues beyond those featured in Downton Abbey. Before I do, I want to provide an update to my reading list from Season Three to include quick reviews of new material I used for this season.

I picked up three new books while conducting research for Season Four:

The first, The Decline and Fall of the Aristocracy, by David Cannadine, is an excellent book for anyone who wants to hunker down and read about the long, sometimes painful transition of the wealthy elite following World War I. It is comprehensive, detailed, and thoroughly researched. Cannadine weaves together the economic, social, and political changes that led to the decline of the landed aristocracy using journals, letters, and archives.  While a long book at over 700 pages, it remains an engaging read all the way through. If you are using it for research, I would note that the index is only useful if you are hunting down information on a specific person or region of England. However, the book does not punish a reader for skipping around and the chapter titles give you a good indication of what to expect in each.

Continue reading Downton Abbey: Updates to My Reading List

Summer Reading

I have several books on my list to read this summer.

I love books. If I go into a bookstore, I’m going to leave with at least two books, even if I had just planned to “look”. I have a Kindle, and, while it has its benefits – especially while traveling, I’m still buying books. I hoard them and am very reluctant to give them away even if I don’t plan on reading them again. There is something about having a thick book in my hands. If I’m in the middle of a particularly good book, I take a minute to flip through the unread pages like a deck of cards with a sense of excitement for what’s ahead. As for genres, I love biographies, historical fiction, historical nonfiction, general nonfiction about the quirks of the world.

Anyway… here is what I am looking forward to reading this summer. In hard copy.

The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers and A World On Fire

By Neil Irwin (Nonfiction)

This could be billed as the sequel to The Lords of Finance. I just started The Alchemists a few weeks ago and read The Lords of Finance earlier this year. I keep thinking about how similar the two books are. Like Ahamed, Irwin describes a financial through the lens of key central bankers. This time, the focus is the financial crisis that began in 2007, and he describes how they worked together to attempt to stem the panic and stabilize the global financial system. The personal details of the book are what really remind me of The Lords of Finance, and create a compelling story. I’m enjoying it so far and hope to have a full review up on the blog later this summer.

Life After Life

By Kate Atkinson (Fiction)

I’ve already started nearly finished this book. I’ve been talking about it non-stop to everyone I know. Without giving anything away, it takes place primarily in the UK and the story begins in 1910 and winds its way through the World Wars. It has some fascinating insights to everyday life during the wars, particularly World War II. But the best part is, every once in a while the author hits rewind, and the story starts again and goes in a different direction. If you are a history fan, the way this author grapples with the “what-ifs” is just fascinating. I have already decided that I have to read this one again.

The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II

By Denise Kiernan (Nonfiction)

I have a feeling I’ll be talking about this book to everyone I know, too. Working women, World War II, with some secrets to boot. Definitely my type of story. The author interviewed several women who unknowingly worked on enriching uranium  in a small Tennessee town and pieced together this story detailing a little known part of the Manhattan Project’s history.   The fact that these women had no idea what they were collectively working on – each one worked on their own small part of the process under sworn secrecy – just astounds me. I can’t wait to read it. The Daily Show had a great interview with the author – you can check it out here.

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World

By Michael Lewis (Nonfiction)

I read Lewis’ book, The Big Short, a few years ago and I think it was the only thing that managed to describe the implosion of the subprime mortgage market  in a format that was readable and interesting, not just jargon.  Boomerang came out in 2011, and I have been wanting to read it ever since, but somehow I am just getting around to it. Boomerang is based on articles Lewis wrote for Vanity Fair and looks at the global credit crisis of the 2000s. I loved Lewis’ Vanity Fair pieces and recommend this one on Greece if you don’t want to read the whole book.

Hard Times

By Charles Dickens (Fiction)

I’m a big fan of Dickens. The image of Miss Havisham and that creepy uneaten wedding cake has stuck with me since I first read Great Expectations in the 8th grade. I’m looking forward to reading Hard Times with a close eye on Dickens’ critique of the Victorian society and the problems that came with the rise of industrialism. Dickens was known to be very outspoken on economic and political issues of the time, and this book, published in 1854, is another example of the link between literature and economics – one which I can’t wait to start. I’m hoping to do a post on the economic symbolism of the book later this summer.

So there it is.  I expect a few more books might pop in here and there throughout the summer, but this is a good start. You can follow me on Goodreads to see my progress and check out short book reviews.

What are you reading this summer? Any books I need to add to my list?