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Book Notes

October 25, 2012

New Obama book is worth reading

David Maraniss is one of the more talented non-fiction writers in this country. His biographies of Bill Clinton and Al Gore have been widely acclaimed. His biography of pro football’s legendary coach Vince Lombardi, “When Pride Still Mattered,” is one of the best sports books I have ever read. When Maraniss takes on a project, he puts his heart and soul into it and leaves no stone unturned.

His latest effort is “Barack Obama: The Story.” Maraniss spent four years spanning the globe to research the origins and development of the man who went on to become our first African-American president.

Forget about politics, birtherism and conspiracy theories. This biography is the amazing story of how two completely diverse cultures intersected by chance and produced somebody who came to embody the American ideal that anyone can become president.

Maraniss’ story is so in-depth that President Obama doesn’t appear until the seventh chapter. The author spent a great deal of time in rural Kansas and the backcountry of Kenya conducting research and interviewing family members to learn what forces led to Obama’s parents meeting by chance one day at the University of Hawaii. It’s almost like getting a history lesson of Kansas and Kenya (how much do we really study those places in school?).

Some of the background stories on Obama are quite revealing. Other than the suicide of his great-grandmother, Obama’s mother’s family is pure Americana. One can only imagine scenes of them sipping lemonade on their front porch on a hot summer day, baking apple pies, and attending the county fair.

Obama’s mother was named Stanley Ann Dunham. Apparently the name came not from her father (also named Stanley) but from the Bette Davis character in “In This Our Life.” Obama’s grandmother absolutely adored the actress. Stanley Ann and her parents bounced around the Midwest and the West Coast as her father kept looking for his niche in life. The family eventually settled in Hawaii.

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Book Notes
  • Despite good reviews some movies disappoint Sometimes a popular movie can be difficult to evaluate. It may be a hit at the box office, receive great reviews, and earn multiple Oscar nominations. But what if it didn't really do it for you? How do you rip a film that clearly appeals to the masses? I faced that dilemma with one of the top grossing releases of 2013. I guess I learned that everyone has different tastes.

    August 14, 2014

  • Comparing HOF, Coop, now and then The Baseball Hall of Fame is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year and it's amazing how much the Hall has grown since it first opened in 1939. An estimated 48,000 fans journeyed to Cooperstown to watch the induction ceremonies two weeks ago. The annual Hall of Fame weekend has become a major tourist attraction as floods of Hall of Famers and ex-big leaguers descend on the village to celebrate, reminisce, and sign autographs (for a fee). It's all quite a change from its humble beginnings in 1939.

    August 7, 2014

  • Biography of Neil Armstrong shines light on space program We just celebrated the 45th anniversary of the first lunar landing. We all remember Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, uttering those famous words, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.â€� It was an exciting time for our country and the world. There was talk of a mission to Mars by 1980. Instead, we haven’t been to the moon since 1972 and manned space exploration has become an afterthought. What happened?

    July 31, 2014

  • Early 'blahs' sometimes hide a gem There are often films that sound rather "blah" when you first notice them and have no interest in seeing. It's usually due to the preview either being really stupid or the producers wanting to avoid giving away too much of the plot. If it's the latter category you must be careful. Sometimes there's a gem of a movie hidden behind the facade.

    July 24, 2014

  • 'Moneyball' author tackles Wall Street with 'Flash Boys' Have you ever read a book that feels like it's in a foreign language? It covers a subject you know is important and figure at some point it will all make sense. What do you do when that doesn't happen? Obviously, the easiest solution is to toss the book aside. But what if the underlying message is something you "get" and don't want to give up on? I faced that dilemma recently.

    July 17, 2014

  • MacNeil reading highlights novels Several weeks ago I had the good fortune to attend a talk by Robert MacNeil at the Guilderland Public Library. MacNeil is best known as the former co-host of the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour on PBS. He retired in 1995 but has continued to write both fiction and non-fiction. His talk at Guilderland focused on two of his novels, "Burden of Desire" written in 1992, and its sequel, "Portrait of Julia," which was published last year.

    July 10, 2014

  • 'The Monuments Men' shows important history World War II continues to hold a special place in the hearts of readers and movie goers. The reasons are many but much of it can be traced to the endless number of storylines from that conflict. There is literally a treasure trove of material that keeps emerging. The latest example is the movie, “The Monuments Men.â€�

    July 3, 2014

  • Authors not afraid to think like freaks Conventional wisdom is something we automatically take for granted. It can be something as simple as assuming there is no cure for the common cold or political polls being a good indicator of who will win an election. Common assumptions of course can be wrong but we usually just accept them as fact. However, in many cases it would be much better to think "outside the box" and consider an alternative way of looking at the world.

    June 26, 2014

  • Book goes further into Armstrong's lies There hasn't been a shortage of elite athletes that have fallen from grace in recent years. Most of them have been baseball players who have been caught using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and then lying about it. Golfer Tiger Woods fell from his pedestal because of extra-marital affairs. He has yet to regain his previous aura and perhaps never will. But the loudest crash of all came from cyclist Lance Armstrong who was not only a liar and a cheat but ruined other people's lives in the process.

    June 19, 2014

  • Documentary proves Butch, Sundance still enchant "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" is one of the most popular films of all-time. The 1969 Western is based on the real life exploits of two infamous outlaws whose specialty was robbing trains. They became folk heroes because they supposedly never shot anyone.

    June 12, 2014