The Book of the Week is “House of Stone” by Anthony Shadid, published in 2012. This is a journalist’s personal account of his quest to get closer to his Lebanese roots through renovating a house built by his great-grandfather, and a collection of inherited stories of the diaspora of his ancestors.
As is well known, Lebanon has a history of conflict among its numerous religious denominations despite the fact that most of those groups have monotheism in common. Amid the breakup of the Ottoman Empire at the end of WWI, Shadid’s extensive family of prior generations fled the violence for South America, West Africa, Australia and the United States. His family was Christian. Even as he was working on the house in 2007, Lebanon was teetering on the brink of war yet again. Martial law was imposed and “Even the opposition’s supporters cringed at the sight of militiamen sipping coffee at Starbucks, their rocket-propelled grenades resting in chairs in a distinctly Lebanese vision of globalization.”
In refurbishing the house in Marjayoun, Lebanon, Shadid told of the contractor’s procrastination and excuses, infighting among his distant relatives who were doing the work, power outages and haggling over prices, among other snags, that caused inevitable delays. These causes of frustrations comprise the nature of Lebanese culture. At the same time, Shadid also described how all the workers boasted of their pride of craftsmanship, their hospitality and sociability. After more than a year, he reveled in the inspirational artistry of his new home when it was almost done, unsurprisingly, over budget and past deadline.
Read the book to receive an intimate feel of the contradictions of the Lebanese mindset– of war, “…emptiness, aridity, hopelessness, the antithesis of creation, imagination” and of beauty, family ties and faith in God.
The Book of the Week is “The Undiscovered Paul Robeson” by Paul Robeson, Jr., published in 2001.
This is a biographical account of Paul Robeson from his birth until the start of WWII, written by his son. At times, it is like a soap opera. This ebook is mostly commentary on the diary entries, letters and notes of Robeson and his wife, Essie, and covers the following topics:
- Robeson’s runaway success as a scholar and athlete in the nineteen-teens in the United States
- how Robeson came to choose his ultimate career of professional actor and singer, starting in the mid-1920’s
- how Essie’s identity was dependent on Robeson’s because she gave up her own career to manage his career
- anti-black discrimination the couple encountered
- his extramarital affairs
- the intimate details of their relationship
- Essie’s health problems
- Robeson’s on-and-off presence during his son’s early childhood years
- Robeson’s philosophy on life and international political activities
Robeson took up the cause of fighting for civil rights for African Americans, but his son writes, “He lived a pampered, aristocratic life, far from the radical humiliations endured daily by even the highest-ranking blacks in the United States.” In the 1930’s, the Robeson family was living in the Soviet Union because the country showed no racism, colonialism or fascism; thus, Robeson was able to overlook the atrocities committed by Stalin at a time when the behavior displayed by other nations was ugly.
Also in the 1930’s, Robeson decided he did not want to act in theatrical or movie roles that portrayed negative black stereotypes. His mythic status, which eventually brought him great wealth, afforded him flexibility in deciding the course of his career.
Read the book to learn all you ever wanted to know about Paul Robeson up until WWII.
The Book of the Week is “The Waxman Report” by Henry Waxman with Joshua Green, published in 2009. This is a political memoir that discusses the major issues the U.S. Congress faced during the four decades of Waxman’s career.
The author, a liberal Democrat, was first elected a Representative in the fall of 1974. He talks about the steps required for making laws with regard to containing an epidemic, such as AIDS in the 1980’s: generate publicity, raise funds for studies on the subject, and, further along the learning curve– implement measures on prevention and treatment. Waxman remarks that involvement of celebrities generated publicity for not just AIDS issues, but also for getting the big pharmaceutical companies to research and manufacture drugs to treat ailments whose sufferers are too few in number for profitability. Waxman participated in helping pass a Congressional bill that contained a creative compromise for both the medical business and patients.
The author dealt with a slew of other political issues to which the aforementioned steps can be applied, too. However, he wrote that the government must be careful not to grant too many allowances to the entities it is regulating in order to pass legislation, because once a bill becomes law, those allowances will not be lessened.
Another point Waxman makes is that politicians sometimes need to partner with their ideological enemies if they want to pass a law. This is where “pork barrel” legislation can be advantageous for both sides. If the opponent’s district is horribly polluted and in danger of being fined, for instance, he might want to help draft an amendment to an anti-pollution law, as was the case with the 1977 Clean Air Act in the early 1980’s.
Read the book to learn the details of how Waxman paints Republicans as evil– their deregulation of various industries has harmed Americans’ health and financial well-being. Nevertheless, the author is optimistic because American politics, although a dirty business, is cyclical. Government and the people work together to adapt to the changing times.
The Book of the Week is “The Secret Olympian” by Anon, published in 2012. This ebook is about Olympic athletes (who were interviewed by the author) and the issues they face before, during and after the Olympics.
Most nation’s teams travel to the metropolitan area of the Olympic games locale two or more weeks prior to the actual competition. Of course, the better funded teams use the latest technology in adjusting to the local conditions. For instance, if the venue is at a higher altitude than what the athletes are used to, they sleep in “hypoxic altitude tents” if they don’t find them too noisy. Other high-tech devices are used to test the athletes’ physiology more than once a day– “…oxygen utilisation, lactate generation, statistics about lung capacity… at different cycling and running speeds…” Blood is drawn from the ear to be tested; a rectal thermometer tests core temperature.
In 1968 in Mexico City, Olympians saw various “firsts” in addition to high altitude that they hadn’t previously encountered. Gender and low-level drug testing were initiated. Mexico was the first developing, and Spanish-speaking nation, to host the Olympics. At those games, East and West Germany competed separately.
The author relates how extremely rare gold medallists are. In Great Britain, athletes who have won gold medals number about 300 out of a population of approximately 60 million; .000005 or 1 in 200,000 people.
Read the book to learn about various athletes’ experiences in training, competing, clothing-exchanging, doping, partying, retirement and much more.