Other five-star reviewers have said most everything I might say. I did not want A Gentleman in Moscow to end and will make the rare move (for me) of reading it again, this time for the Kindle so that I can save my favorite references and passages. I was almost entirely taken in by the twists and turns, wholly willingly, and thoroughly enjoyed Towles’s prose, settings, and characterizations. Spying on Russian history unfolding from the 20s through to the 50s was an entertainment; I kept expecting Ninotchka to appear as a character. The references to Montaigne and other thinkers gave me pauses to think for myself. Some authors might have set their essays on the strength and endurance of the human will in a more conventional prison or gulag. Many thanks to Towles for his choices and reminder that classic virtues and manners do not need to be casualties of cultural and political upheavals.
I had very high hopes for this book because I love reading American history and because I can’t help from trying to synthesize what I understand actually happened with contemporary thinking and philosophies. But this book was a big disappointment. It failed completely in gaining any useful insight into the minds of the Founders. I don’t feel that Ricks makes his case at all that America’s Founders got their government-forming ideas and principles directly from reading the ancient Greeks and Romans. And I (still) think the ancients had much less to do with the shape of our country than Ricks proposes.
I learned that Enlightenment and Renaissance thinkers (Machiavelli, Locke, Hobbes, Hume, Montesquieu, and others) were the main influencers on the Founders’ thinking and that the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution (especially as unpacked and explained in the Federalist) express a reaction to the history and contemporary actions of the British monarchy and parliamentary system much more so than to any other source. Those Founders educated “classically” certainly were exposed to ancient ideas and values as expressed from Homer to Hadrian, but Ricks completely leaves out the one source that was the first and most important source for the ideas and values of practically every thinker, monarch, politician, and military leader from at least the 5th century CE to the 18th, namely the Christian Bible.
Think and say what you like about the Bible from today’s perspective, but I can’t imagine writing an intellectual history of the American Revolution without acknowledging the Bible’s central role in shaping the minds and hearts of the Founders, and the whole United States by implication. At least I couldn’t before reading this book. I’m tempted to say, as have others here, that the book is a waste of time. But I don’t believe that. It has provided more food for thought about the influence of the Bible on all Western history including US history than anything else I’ve read.
Clearly, there is a lot to explore about the influence of the Bible on our political values (the foundation for government provided by laws and a legal system, individual accountability, human rights, social consciousness, egalitarianism, and much more). I’m looking forward to reading those books some day.
For months prior to the election, I thought if only the minorities will just vote, we’ll be alright. You can’t just ignore demographics forever. The white majority has been barreling toward minority status for years—decades actually. Sooner or later, the new majority will make its presence felt. Things will change. Everybody, even white people, will start making decisions to help everyone. We’ll find a way to nurture self-interest and common interest toward the same vision and we’ll keep moving ahead indefinitely. But back to Georgia.
The results from across the country after November 3rd showed some promise, but there were enough Democrat losses (I was hoping, unrealistically as it turned out, for a strong backlash against the mighty McConnell and Graham.) that it looked like we’d taken a big step back after the giant step forward of 2018. At first, I was doubtful that the Georgia Democrats could pull off two wins, or even one. I’ve seen Georgia change dramatically as Northerners has migrated there in big numbers for tech and other corporate jobs. These and immigrant professionals and an included African-America community are creating a new demographic profile for the Peach State. It would be up to Georgi
a—deep-South Georgia—to show if minorities could be motivated to vote in large-enough numbers to take the Senate runoff elections, point the way to a re-alignment of American politics, and finally bring an end to the Civil War. Too hopeful?
In the end, it took not only the actual vote count, but also the dedication and integrity of Republican, formerly Trump-supporting, state and local officials and the commitment of Stacy Abrams and her team to make sure the election was carried off legitimately and the double Democratic victories secured. I nominate Ms Abrams for national “get out the vote” czarina. White supremacy is in its death throes, looking ahead desperately, knowing that its days are numbered. But this has been said before.
Here’s another vote for the idea that the Democrats must actively address the felt needs of rural America and rural voters–the ones across the great divide. My limited travels in 2020 took us twice into rural counties in Illinois and Wisconsin. It has been 50 years, wow, since I saw rural Illinois “downstate” up close. I guess I expected to find a land in decline, many visible signs of hard times, even poverty. But no, that was the 70s. Today, the farms and fields I saw from the Interstate were straight out of Wendell Berry‘s 1975 vision of the future of corporatized agriculture, documented in his The Unsettling of America. The agricultural landscape, where every half mile or used to be a family farm house and outbuildings, some looking prosperous and others not so much, now stretches unbroken for miles, covered with monoculture corn and soy beans and wind farms of slowly turning blades, presumably pumping out electricity for the ravenous grid.
When I got off the Interstate, that’s when I saw decline. I attended college in a 45,000-person, county seat in western Illinois and wanted to see the campus once again, maybe for the last time. Apart from sensing the ghost-town desolation caused by the pandemic, I felt sad about the state of the campus and even more so, the town. The off-campus street where I rented a room in 1969 looked as though a few block s of Chicago’s poorest neighborhood had been transported there. Generally, the town looks like this is where hard times have gone to live. The proud history of that town, site of a Lincoln-Douglas debate and an early 20th Century railroad hub, is a distant memory. What should be a healthy, growing (why not?), vital town looks hapless and confused about what it has become.
Democrats should read this article by Bill Hogseth. Many rural voters voted Trump this year because they see no vision for them in Joe’s vision for America. I believe Joe when he says he will be a President for all the people, including those in rural counties. I’ll be watching closely as he picks his Agriculture secretary and policies aimed at rural America become clearer.
P.S.: On December 8, 2020, Joe Biden announced Tom Vilsack as his nominee for agriculture secretary, kicking off a wave of skepticism. I accept that Vilsack knows the territory, as a former Iowa governnor and AgSec for eight years during the Obama terms. The answer to “what will Vilsack do about agriculture’s big issues?” lies in the nexus of Biden’s stated progressive aims and Vilsack’s undoubted ability to get things done at 14th and Independence.
A word as we embark on the good ship Joe. It’s been a long time since I’ve looked forward to any single event more than I do the January 20, 2021 presidential inauguration. There’s just so much that needs doing. After dealing a death blow to the COVID-19 pandemic, there aren’t any policy areas more important than job creation and educational reform. This is no time to look backward, except when absolutely necessary to undo destructive actions taken by the Trump administration. We should only be looking forward to the better lives we can create for people who are unemployed, under-employed, soon-to-be-employed, and preparing-to-be-employed.
Let’s learn from the lessons of the 70s and 80s, when jobs and whole industries were exported to the developing world: the countries which now make nearly all our clothing, much of our food, our light-manufactured goods, and much more. We used our ingenuity, our technology, and our productivity increases to help launch the fastest growing economies of the past twenty years, raising the quality of living for many millions. Good for us. Now, let’s haul away the debris we created, clean up the regulatory environment, get people working on our decrepit infrastructure, and clear the paths for students and immigrants to reach their potentials and contribute to America’s next chapter in greatness.
The former greatness we’ve been told over and over again to make again had its problems. Now is when we can finally put the Civil War behind us. It will ultimately take a demographic flood tide to sweep away racial inequity, and it’s now upon us. Note Georgia. It’s taken half-a dozen generations to add non-property-owning white men, former slaves, women, 18-20 year-olds, and ex-felons to the voting rolls. It’s looking like the presidential election is Georgia was the image of things to come. We’ll find out soon if the old resistance will maintain its strangle hold on the South or the momentum caused by new peoples and population statistics will take the day. The story of all the years it took to make a democracy where all the people can vote does not bode well for making fundamental changes in the racism and anti-Semitism that has blemished the bright, eager face of America. But now is the best chance we’ll have in our lifetimes to make those changes stick.
Join the parade. Get on the bandwagon, help push it down the road, make the rest of us proud. This is a very special time in our history.
We hear a lot about immunity these days. Or not immunity. My subject here is our tendency to act as though we are immune to history. We happily cling to historical events, documents, and persons, I guess because they are the building blocks of our personal mythology, answering, for us alone, the big question “how did we get here?” It’s important that we do this because by extending a line from that point in the past through today, we hazard guesses about the future, an endless fascination. In this, we are no different than a thousand generations before us.
In my daily flagellations over COVID-19, Trump, a government that doesn’t work anymore, and getting old, I am beset with frustration that my fellow people seem to have a poor sense of history.
Start with the pandemic. My reading tells me we knew everything we needed to know about how to deal with a pandemic the likes of COVID-19 (I mean there’s already been 18 of ’em, right?) when we got the word that number 19 was on its way. It couldn’t matter less where it started. It’s actually a good thing if it started in China because as we saw, the Chinese uni-culture was prepared to do what needed to be done to lock the epidemic down and bring society back. And it wasn’t like we couldn’t see what was happening. By February, we could have drawn a line from what had already happened in China through our own situation at that time and on into March, April…October. That’s what Korea and Japan did, right?
And then there’s the fact that what happened in the USA in the pandemic of 1918 is so well documented and has taught several generations of epidemiologists and lawmakers and presidents exactly what to expect. We have plenty of experts to tell us what to do when COVID-n is headed our way. Many tried.
Learned during the COVID-19 crisis: We should have known better.
Over many years, I have gradually become aware of the utter avoidability of some of the great worldwide disasters: the World Wars, oil spills and other environmental catastrophes, and the COVID-19 pandemic.Continue Reading…
It would seem to be down to Kamala Harris or Susan Rice. After all these months of speculation, Harris and Rice are said to be the front-runners and most likely prospects for the Democratic vice-presidential choice.
I’m good with either option. I hope that whoever is not chosen, along with the many other not-chosens, will line up alongside Biden to create the landslide victory I want to see. (Btw, what form is Mike Bloomberg‘s declared support for Joe Biden taking?)
As I recall, a landslide by definition is 55% of the vote or more, a 10-point differential. I’m hoping that more like 65% of the popular vote goes for Biden, but I know that’s unlikely.
I believe that Biden will win. The question is by how much. The choice for Veep will probably not decide the election. The most important influence on the margin will probably be the number of past Trump supporters who decide they’ve had enough and stay home or vote Biden or vote write-in.