Monthly Archives: June 2020

Book Review: Every Hour, Every Atom: A Collection of Walt Whitman’s Early Notebooks and Fragments

Every Hour, Every Atom: A Collection of Walt Whitman’s Early Notebooks and Fragments
by Walt Whitman and edited Matt Miller and Zachary Turpin. Miller is an Associate Professor of English at Yeshiva University’s Stern College. He holds a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Iowa and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Miller is a founding member of the Walt Whitman Initiative, an international collective bringing together all people interested in the life and work of Whitman, and currently serves on the board of directors. Turpin researches nineteenth-century periodical culture, digital humanities, textual recovery, and the history of epistemology and the sciences. His interests are in American poetry, particularly Walt Whitman. He has earned a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from the  University of Houston.

The work presented is a collection of poetry and notes of Whitman’s early writing.  Turpin’s expertise in document recovery is particularly useful, as many of the pages have not aged well.  Even so, there are portions that are unreadable in the original.  The work is recreated in standard printed text with more modern editorial markings.  There is a legend for the editing markings.   Miller was one of the few responsible for digitally recording the original documents at the Library of Congress.  He and his group were among the last to touch the frail notebooks.

This collection presents what has been previously only seen by a few and presented in a very readable format. Every Hour, Every Atom is a book for fans and scholars of Whitman’s work.  These early works show the development of his poetry and his thinking.   As with many notes and drafts,  a great deal has been crossed out (but still readable) and abandon in final drafts.  An excellent collection with introductions by both editors. Although available both in paperback and ebook format, the paperback will allow for notes in the margins and a cleared look at the prints of the original text. Extremely well done.

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Book Review — The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes

The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes by Zachary D. Carter is a biography of the economist and his times. Carter is a senior reporter at HuffPost, where he covers Congress, the White House, and economic policy. He is a frequent guest on cable news and news radio, and his written work has also appeared in The New Republic, The Nation, and The American Prospect, among other outlets.

It wasn’t until my last semester of graduate school that I finally took an economics class, and that was because it was a prerequisite for graduation. That being said, I have never had much interest in economics outside of the historical. I chose this book mainly because of my interest in Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group (or “Set” as the author prefers to call it). In the group of writers and artists, Keynes seemed to be the odd man in the group. It was hard for me to see how deficit spending, public works, and monetary policies would blend with a group of artists.

Carter explores Keynes’s personal life, including his unlikely marriage to the Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova. Lopokova became a wedge between Keynes and the Bloomsbury Group that took nearly a lifetime to remove. Keynes did become a major benefactor of the Group. His love for the arts was also included in some of his theories, as a symbol of what we had lost during the two world wars and what we fought for. However, most of the book is dedicated to his economic theories and history.

Keynes’s opinion often sought by governments and their leaders; however, like a modern Cassandra, his advice was rarely taken or diluted to the point where little of the original recommendation was carried out. From the aftermath of World I through Bretton Woods and to Nixon’s admission, “I am now a Keynesian in economics,” Keynes’ influence grew with time even after he died in 1946. His theories went against the earlier ideas of neoliberalism and were attacked throughout the second half of the twentieth century — most notably by Reagan and Thatcher in the 1980s. Although attacked by the right, it was the Clinton Administration that almost killed Keynesian economics in America. However, shortly afterward came the return of deficit spending, demand-side economics, and government expenditures to maintain the economy. The most recent example is most Americans received a $1,200 check because of the pandemic. If people can’t work, they can’t “feed” the private sector.

Keynes was a man dedicated to his work and ideas. His early death can be attributed to his commitment. Even though his life centered on economics, he was a man who supported the arts. He financially supported the Cambridge Arts Theatre, the Royal Opera House, and helped establish the Arts Council of Great Britain. He was not a communist and did not want to liberate the working class, but felt that stabilizing capitalism would lead to a higher standard of living and a higher quality of life for all. The Price of Peace provides a detailed biography of the man, his life, and his legacy.


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Book Review — The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking)

“There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.

There is another theory which states that this has already happened.

― Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking) by Katie Mack is a look at the end of the Universe as well as its history. Mack is a theoretical cosmologist and Assistant Professor at North Carolina State University. Her research investigates dark matter, vacuum decay, and the epoch of reionization.

Popular science books are a growing market. In the early 1980s, I read Taking the Quantum Leap: The New Physics for Nonscientists by Fred Allan Wolf. It was the first of its kind for me — Hard science without the math. Not that I had anything against math, but I wanted to read for pleasure as well as to learn. Math provides the proof for the writing, but if the reader is willing to trust that the author did all the math, it’s all good. It’s much the same way one can operate, understand, and repair a gasoline engine without knowing all the engineering mathematics that had gone into its creation. There are plenty of books on quantum mechanics, relativity, and cosmology for those interested in science but without the mathematical background. 

With all the science books out there, why choose Mack’s book? Mack has something in her style that is unique. Some writers come off as arrogant and might even be the type of person who would kill off a planet. Others are excellent, like Michio Kaku. Others write a book hoping to popularize their theory. I have not read a more inviting scientist than Mack since Sagan. She has that manner of talking to an old friend. It encourages to reader to continue. She also has a sense of humor and probably the most enjoyable footnotes I have ever read. 

Mack begins with the history of the Universe from the Big Bang until now and then moves to the death scenarios of the Universe in a very understandable manner. The death of the Universe can happen in a few ways. Gravity can pull it back into a singularity and possibly bounce back. If gravity does not contract the Universe, it can end by Heat Death, basically running out of energy. These two theories have been around for quite some time in one form or another. Two other theories are presented — Vacuum Decay and the Big Rip. All theories are discussed in an understandable manner. The readers need not fear words like quantum mechanics and relativity. Although not in their complete mathematical form, they are described in a way a layperson can understand and not so oversimplified to turn off someone with some college courses in science.

Mack not only makes cosmology and physics understandable she makes it inviting. There is an enthusiasm for sharing knowledge that is missing in many other books on similar subjects. That enthusiasm is contagious and welcoming. She will give the reader an understanding of the big picture of cosmology as well as a few Douglas Adams references. Extremely well done. 

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Book Review — In Cold War Skies: NATO and Soviet Air Power, 1949–89

In Cold War Skies: NATO and Soviet Air Power, 1949–89 by Michael Napier is a history of the development of Cold War aircraft. Napier joined the RAF in 1978 and served with 14 Squadron as a Tornado pilot in the late 1980s and again in the early 1990s. These two tours engendered a deep interest in 14 Squadron’s distinguished history. He was appointed as Honorary Secretary of the 14 Squadron Association in 2003 and since then has carried out extensive research into the Squadron’s heritage. Michael, who is now is an airline captain.

Aircraft had three developmental periods starting with the rickety biplanes of World War I, The peak of propeller power in World War II, and the sleek jet age of the Cold War. With little knowledge of aircraft, most people can place a plane in its era with little difficulty. The Cold War Era was effectively the end of the propeller drive aircraft and the start of the jet era. There were some holdovers from WWII, but they did not last long in the new era, with the notable exception of the Tupolev Tu-95. Just as with the earlier periods, there is a noticeable change and advancement in design and performance.

Napier gives the reader a pictorial history of the aircraft used by the Soviets and NATO. Many readers who grew up during the Cold War will recognize the Soviet and American aircraft. Many planes are iconic, such as the F4 Phantom, A-10, and the SR-72. Other planes have faded into obscurity like the F-82, CF-100, and the IL-28. Napier also includes NATO and French planes like the Vulcan, Vampire, and Mirage. Also included with the plane’s history are command structures for the countries’ air forces. The final section of the book dedicated European neutral countries and their air forces.

Several sections have first-hand accounts from pilots and their experiences in the air. A Bulgarian Air Force officer offers a description of the Soviet procedure for dropping an atomic bomb. This added a feeling for the times and environment when war and the threat of war were very real. Photos of the planes in flight fill this album, including pictures of Soviet Badger mid-air refueling, which differed from the American version as the refueling was wingtip to wingtip instead of straight on.

This is a book the reader will want in a hardback copy. The photos are not done justice in the ebook format. As with most pictures on an e-reader, much of the detail is lost. Napier gives the reader a reasonably comprehensive history of Cold War air power. The mixed style of the writing does well with the photographs. He provides the reader with the feel of what it was like to be a pilot in the standoff that lasted forty years. Very well done and recommended for readers of aviation and military history.

Available August 18, 2020

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Poetry Review — Whale Day and Other Poems

…for death is the magnetic north of poetry


Whale Day and Other Poems by Billy Collins is the poet laureate’s latest collection of poetry. Collins is an American poet, appointed as Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. He is a Distinguished Professor at Lehman College of the City University of New York. Collins was recognized as a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library and selected as the New York State Poet for 2004 through 2006. In 2016, Collins was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. As of 2020, he is a teacher in the MFA program at Stony Brook Southampton.

Collins has proven himself to be a brilliant poet. Even more so, in his style of writing. Collins is entertaining, witty, and his poetry relates to most people. However, he can not rhyme and has played on that in the past with the collection The Rain in Portugal. In this collection, I was astonished to find a near rhyme in “Sleeping on My Side.” He writes as the reader is an old friend, and he is having a friendly conversation. It is an uncomplicated style, yet the reader can easily recognize the writing as poetry. 

Early on in this collection, a theme arises that is hard to miss — Death and aging. From the poet’s seventy-five-year-old dog to musing on his own mortality, the theme runs through the entire collection. Still, Collins adds his wit to keep the poetry from becoming depressing or, as in “Anniversary,” offers a way to accept and even celebrate the end.  

The collection is not entirely on the above-mentioned theme. “Banana School” shows humor and a look at what we can learn from other species as well as making a crack about Gertrude Stein. In another poem, Collins leaves his wilder days behind by sailing into the quiet cardigan harbor of his life. In the months of the year, April is relieved to find she is not the cruelest month after all. Meanwhile, in Toronto, graduate students are busy translating his poems into Canadian.

Humorous at times, reflective at other times, and even sad at other times, Collins shows that America still has poets that can be in touch with the times and yet remain faithful to the concept of poetry. His writing is highly polished and remarkably colloquial. He can make the reader smile in one poem and tug at his or her heartstrings in another. Collins is truly unique and an American treasure. An outstanding poetry collection for all readers.

Available September 29, 2020

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