Friday, December 15, 2023

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders & the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

The plight and treatment of Native Americans in this country cannot be overemphasized as we become more aware and sensitive to the way they have been treated throughout our history. Killers of the Flower Moon stands out, at least partly because it has provided both the title and the source for a hugely popular movie, just released for streaming on Apple+. However, the book was a best-seller, listed as one of the top ten nonfiction books of 2017. Author David Grann, spent a number of years digging into the story of exploitation, murder, government disinterest, and simple graft which allowed this too typical rape of a people and the land during the first quarter of the twentieth century.

The Osage people were settled on a barren piece of unwanted territory in Osage County, Oklahoma, the largest county in the state, with Tulsa anchoring it at the southeast corner. It was sandy, dry, and unwanted until oil was discovered underneath it in 1897. The Osage people owned the mineral rights underneath land, making them, for a while, some of the richest people in the world. Soon, a number of white entrepreneurs and politicians realized the could gain control of the oil money only by marrying some of the women on the reservation. This led to a period, between 1917 and 1925 of local and imported men marrying Native people. Soon, a strange increase in the death rate of these Indian wives and the increased riches of the men, who gained control of much of the oil, began to occur. 

When called upon to investigate what was happening in Osage County, J. Edgar Hoover, the Director of the FBI was just at the point of organizing his agents as a national police force and creating the FBI myth for integrity and efficiency that lasted for nearly eighty years. He had little time and less inclination to seriously investigate the situation. Moreover, there were numerous investigation of the deaths and trials, all featuring extensive corruption, the the increasing exploitation of these not well educated or sophisticated people. 

The story, told by David Grann, brings the characters and the setting to life. Furthermore, his deep dives into archives long gathering dust in the State Library and other depositories lay waiting to be carefully collated, read, and interpreted. While the Osage people knew much of the history, they were not able to become good advocates in their own interests. As he digs through the various archives he uncovered, the horror of the treatment the Osage people received becomes increasingly horrifying to Grann and to his reader. This is a story you should read to shed additional light on the story before seeing the film. 

David Grann

David Grann is an award winning writer whose works have received best-selling status. Several of his books have been New York Times best-sellers, and he was a longtime staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. I bought the book and read it on my Kindle reader. 

Monday, December 4, 2023

The Innovators by Walter Isaacson

The seemingly ubiquitous biographer, scholar, university president, think-tank director, CNN chief, and editor of Time Magazine, Walter Isaacson, wrote The Innovators way back in 2014, which looks like a lifetime in the history of the development of computers. Nevertheless, with the exception of scanty attention paid to the development of artificial intelligence, this volume presents a lively and comprehensive picture of the development of calculating machines that have become indispensable in the modern world. Author of at least twenty volumes during the last thirty years, Isaacson has focused on the "great man (or woman)" theory of human progress, always writing about the people behind the ideas while making the ideas cogent for the thoughtful reader.

The story begins with Ada Byron (Lord Byron's only legitimate child) who became Ada Lovelace, and whose reputation remains bright in the world of applied mathematics, who saw the possibilities of Babbage's counting machine for more advanced applications. She is so important in the development of the idea of computers, that at least one major modern computer system was named after her. From mechanical devices, the computer industry developed as a variety of mechanical and then electronic devices made their appearance. Each idea, from  learning to program machines to produce answers, electric wires to transistors, to microchips, and more required reliance on past advances and the imagination to advance to the next step, as well as applications for those advances. Neither the microchip, the computer, the Internet, software, nor the World Wide Web itself was inevitable without the foregoing work or forward looking visionaries. 

Isaacson is a master of making links between advances that don't always easily emerge as inevitable advances growing in an ever widening universe of possibilities and making them coherent. Thus, the works of industrial giants like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs become necessary, but not sufficient, cogs in an ever-widening electronic universe. This is all presented in an approachable, almost friendly, writing style which makes the ideas we can't quite grasp into concepts the reader can see an appreciate without ever having any of the necessary skills to contribute to the ever expanding world of computers. 

 Isaacson takes a great person approach to the development of the ideas needed to culminate with the cyber world in which we're currently living, while also emphasizing the fact that great advances in nearly all areas of advance rely upon cooperation and collaboration between innovators, organizers, and entrepreneurs. Often great ideas in seeing the implications of an advance or in doing the math require someone to make the connections. It takes a different sort of personality to turn the resultant innovation into a salable product, making it possible for consumers to understand that they have a need it might fulfill. Thus, he emphasizes conjunction of brilliant ideas, useful applications, and finished products.

 Radio Shack TRS-80

 I have one, perhaps, personal quibble with the account of innovators who made computers available to the masses. Isaacson left out the role of Radio Shack and their TRS-80 home computer. Released in 1977, this home computer was the first computer I owned and where I began my learning curve. I got it from my mother and, later, sold it to a friend, so it did mighty work, back when so many of  us were learning to function in the cyber world...I never did learn to be a programmer, but I sure have worked any number of computers to the death over the years. 

Walter Isaacson

Walter Isaacson is a widely  known and widely read writer/administrator/television personality, and political advisor who has published numerous fine biographies. He's always readable!

I bought my copy of The Innovators in a bookstore as a remaindered book. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

The Pioneers - David McCoullough

Pulitzer Prize winning writer David McCullough could always be relied upon to tell a terrific story while presenting the reader with a good read. With eleven major titles to his credit, he managed to pick up a couple of Pultizer Prizes, a National Book Award, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He also narrated some of Ken Burns' PBS historical series, and kept busy with freelance writing. McCullough was a great writer who kept his readers' attention with lively prose that keeps the reader with him to the end. The Pioneers, published in 2019, two years before his death at age 89, showed he had lost none of his narrative skill. 

The Pioneers opens in Massachusetts around the end of the Revolutionary War, in June of 1787. The book focuses on the lives of Manasseh Cutler pastor of the First Congregational Church in Ipswich and Rufus Putnam, who fought with Washington during the Revolution, who began to look westward.  They helped lead the move westward from New England at a time when, having won The Revolution, the United States suddenly found itself as a country hugging its Atlantic coastline and having won control of millions of acres west of the original states, most of which was unexplored wilderness as far as they were concerned. He managed to commit Congress and President Washington to support a trip West with Revolutionary War General Rufus Putnam. The land they were headed for was the vast Ohio valley, west of Pennsylvania and across the Muskingum River, hundreds of thousands of acres of vast, mature woodlands inhabited only by a variety of Indian tribes. Forty-eight men set off for the Ohio River in the Winter of 1788.

Along the way, the first company encountered rough or nonexistent roads, cold winter hardships, and dense wilderness that none of them had ever encountered before. They had to break a trail across western Pennsylvania, cutting their way through deep forests and building rafts to cross rivers or to use them for transportation. Overcoming great hardships, the men reached the Marietta River separating western Pennsylvania from the Ohio Territory, built rafts to travel down-river, and chose to settle near what became Marietta, OH. They found the land filled with huge trees that had never heard the sound of an axe, as well as plenty of game for food. These men were determined to maintain Ohio as a non-slave territory, as the issues leading to the Civil War were already lively concerns. On their next trip West, they were joined by family members and more people seeking land and riches. 

Soon they were able to establish a ship-building center based on the availability of large timber. Women came to join their spouses, and both shipping and trade on the rivers flourished. The rest of the book contains lively descriptions of the development of communities, the building of churches, and, possibly the most important,  the establishment of schools and colleges in an area previously devoid of any formal education. As the Ohio territory grew in population and wealth, many of the heroes of the American Revolution came there to visit, and newer political figures came to marvel at the areas progress and promise. 

David McCullough

The Pioneers by David McCollough is top of the shelf history reading for anyone interested in American History, the opening of the West, the resistance to the spread of slavery, or simply a good story-teller bringing American History to life. I bought the book as a used book from, which is one of my go-to sources for good reading at a reasonable price. 

Saturday, August 12, 2023

A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World by Tony Horowitz - Book Review


We all grow up in America with an image of who we are and how we got here based on visions of how America was populated and where our belief systems developed. These understandings suggest that English Protestants seeking to escape the Church of England, who came to be known as Pilgrims, first stepped onto the rocky shores of  what is now Massachusetts in 1603, establishing a strong community which grew into and spread a new nation. Little in our understandings of who we are and how this country evolved from in indigenous native populations. For instance, the Miamisburg Mound in Ohio may date from 800 BC - 100 AD.  The remains of thriving Indian cultures have been discovered in almost every part of what is now North America.   These people, perhaps, millions of what are now called Indians farmed, grew crops, herded animals, and fought wars between themselves. 

We also have been taught little about the other, earlier explorations of North America from Scandinavia, Spain, and Portugal which took place for several centuries before the Pilgrims arrived. In A Voyage Long And Strange (Henry Holt & Co., 2008) Tony Horowitz sets his readers straight in his own unique and often amusing explorations of places Europeans visited, the peoples they met when they got here, the hardships they endured within the context of how those experiences have been ignored by school history. Written in the context of his own journey in the early 21st century, Horowitz presents the history and reality as well as a strong sense of place in this enlightening and insightful book about whom we are and how we "discovered" America.

Horowitz takes the guise of an interested amateur as he follows the routes taken by Vikings arriving before the year 1000. Columbus, may have sailed the ocean blue in 1492, but he never found the North American continent during his explorations, Evidence suggests that Spanish explorers not only explored what are now the Caribbean Islands, but also crossed what is now the southern United States from Florida to the Midwest as well as Mexico and Texas, as well as sailing up the West coast of California and Oregon. At every placed they explored they found complex cultures which we grouped together as what are now known as Indians. These people lived in complex societies, practiced effective, abundant farming, and fought wars against their enemies. All this happened before explorers landed at what is now Virginia beginning in 1540, where they sought to establish permanent livelihood before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620.

Horowitz plays the role of an innocent traveler looking for evidence of about the alien (that is: European) explorers to sites in North America and Mexico, as well as the Caribbean Islands. At each site he visits, he plays the role of a na├»ve visitor with  little or no information about the European incursions on local places. In seeking to explore the cultures of an indigenous population and the effects of the exploration and exploitation of this continent the explorers thought of as a large land-mass separating them from the Far East. What they encountered were organized societies from hunter-gatherers to sophisticated kingdoms. 

Since most of the explorers were there to chase riches, rumored towers of gold and silver, to return to their native country and gain fame and fortune back home, they were mostly unprepared for the natives they met. Depending on the nature of the lands they found, the explorers discovered a variety of indigenous peoples that, for at least a few centuries of European exploration were lumped together as Indians who lived in tribes. Depending on the climate and resources available in various places, these people were grouped into everything from rather rich kingdoms to highly organized agricultural societies, less organized groups of people able to live off the land. They had not discovered gun powder, so were much to the mercy of their invaders. Worse still, they had never been introduced to the various diseases these explorers brought with them from Europe. They had developed no resistance to the variety of disease common in Europe. Disease, rather than military prowess, probably tipped the odds to the favor of the invaders from the east.  

As Horowitz travels, which range from Nova Scotia and Labrador to the Caribbean Islands, Mexico, and much of the The American Southwest, Jamestown, and finally to where we think our history begins, New England. In every location he visits, he finds sites destroyed by time, development, and ignorance of the cultural riches which had once dominated the continent only to be destroyed by visitors who cared not at all for these people they "discovered." Horowitz discovers places that are still preserved, descendants of the local tribes as well as people dedicated to preserving the few remaining sites as well as some serious archeology. He maintains a good humor about the contrasts between contemporary tourists and the genuine wars of conquest fought over a period of two or three hundred years in North America. 

Tony Horowitz


Tony Horowitz (1960-2019) published a number of books in which he created a sub-genre of the explorer social observer. "His journalism was always participatory, and he took readers along for the ride,” Joel Achenbach, a reporter for The Washington Post, said by email on Tuesday. “He climbed masts on sailing ships, rode mules, marched with Confederate re-enactors, and ventured into dive bars in the remote crossroads of America.” (NY Times Obituary, May 28, 2019) 

I purchased A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World from, a site I highly recommend to people wishing to purchased used books which are usually in very good condition. 


Saturday, July 29, 2023

Oh, Didn't They Ramble: Rounder Records and the Transformation of American Roots Music by David Menconi - Book Review


While I was busy going to a local state college, getting married, and beginning a career as a teacher during much of the period in which the cultural revolution of the 1960's into which Rounder Records was created, I wasn't unaware of the musical revolution going on at the time. I played a guitar, badly, and sang folk songs, listened to many of the bands that emerged in this time, without either dropping out or really tuning in. Nevertheless, David Menconi's history of Rounder Records and the Rounder Founders (Ken Irwin, Marian Leighton Levy and Bill Nowlin)  brings back a wonderful, dangerous, and scary time dominated by the "drop out and tune in" musical and cultural vibe of the time. The book is simply a joy to read! The fact that it's written by a career newspaper writer who trod the musical beat, rather than an academician, brings an immediacy and liveliness to the book that many university press works often lack, lifting its creditability and enjoyment quotient. 

Attendees at bluegrass festivals, concerts, and conferences are well aware of at least two of the Rounder Founders, as they are known. Ken Irwin and Marion Leighton Levy can often be spotted sitting in seats, plying the hallways, joining in meetings, or talking quietly with members of both well known and not easily recognized bands. The third member of the triad, Bill Nowlin, is less often recognized, but equally responsible for the development of one of the most important labels from its earliest nascent beginning selling albums to fans at southern festivals to its sale to the Concord Music Group in 2010.

Two relatively short set-pieces provide deep insight into the context of Rounder's development and the adventuresome qualities of Ken Irwin and Marian Leighton. During a summer between college semesters, two of the Rounder founders took a risky, dangerous cross-country trip, hitch-hiking to the West Coast. This is followed up by a quite useful chapter on the development of the recording industry from the late nineteenth century wax cylinders to the growth of compact discs, with an emphasis on the development of what are now known as niche recordings. The two pieces emphasize the counter-culture roots, the risk-taking spirit, and the technological savvy that characterized the life of Rounder Records.

Obviously written with the strong backing of the Rounder Founders, the narrative describes in detail the growth and development of the three founders in the midst of the counter-culture years of the late 1960’s into the’70’s with both admiration and a strong sense of the era. Three smart, educated hippies who lived the communal ethic of the time while creating a very much capitalist record company. The combination leads to humorous as well as nostalgic responses.  Meanwhile, through years of growth, changing relationships, and unimaginable, at the time, success, Rounder Records continued to grow and thrive, hitting its first employees while increasing the size of its catalog beyond what the founders had originally imagined.

The Rounder Founders

Ken Irwin, Marion Leighton Levy & Bill Nowlin

There’s not enough space in a review to catalog the older traditional artists as well as the new and innovative ones Rounder then proceeded to record. Suffice it to say that much of the charm of this exciting and enjoyable book lies in the commitment and drive to expand while always seeking to keep their eyes on their original mission. The chapter on what became known by its album number, 0044, the first album by J.D. Crowe Crow and the New South, that altered bluegrass in serious ways as well as placing Rounder in an increasingly powerful position in the recording industry is typical of the risks the company took as well as its luck in being at the right place at the right time. 

Through the years, Rounder matured as a business and a leader in finding new artists across a broad range of genres and sub-genres while the Rounder Founders kept their original leftish perspective and collective approach to running their business. None of the above seemed to have stopped them from making ground breaking recordings, growing as an organization, signing new artists, and out-working many of their competitors. The crucial breakthrough growth point came when a warehouse worker discovered George Thorogood and the Destroyers playing an especially exciting form of rock & roll music, a genre into which Rounder had never ventured before. Other major artists signed included Alison Kraus, providing them with the leeway to continue taking risks with unknown and small niche performers. Most of the book details, with deep understanding and enough humor to keep it approachable, the journey of a small, niche record company into an industry giant. Meanwhile, the Rounder founders remained true to their values while learning to operate in a much broader universe.

Rounder Founders (more or less) Today

Ken Irwin, Marion Leighton Levy, Bill Nowlin

Other artists found or were found by the three Rounder founders as well as staff members. Because they remained true to their founding precepts while open to music that simply didn't appeal to larger, more commercial recording companies, they discovered artists who later left for seemingly greener pastures. Some came back and others continued to sell on Rounder as well as their new label. The company grew beyond anything they had imagined when they came together to record their first album. The story shows the value that people of principle bring to developing a thriving company, while keeping a close eye on the values that led them to found Rounder Records. 

David Menconi

David Menconi has put together an extensive Spotify playlist to accompany this book. For those interested in listening along to some of the featured artists and tunes, here's a link: Rounder Playlist. He worked as a reporter for the Raleigh News & Observer for 28 years. His most recent book before this, titled Step It Up and Go: The Story of North Carolina Popular Music.., published in 2020 was also reviewed in this blog. He has also written for Rolling Stone, Billboard, Spin, and the New York Times. 

I received a copy of Oh, Didn't They Ramble from the University of North Carolina Press in return for a review. 

Monday, July 10, 2023

The Gibson Brothers at Silver Bay

 On Saturday, we drove to Silver Bay YMCA Camp on Lake George, NY.  This gem of early twentieth century architecture serves as a summer getaway for a number of long-time summer visitors as well lectures, shows, conferences, and much more. On Saturday, we drove down for a Gibson Brothers concert in this wonderful old concert hall, built in 1909. Built entirely of wood, the auditorium proved itself to be a perfect place to hear the band with a special sound we seldom find in many other venues. 

Silver Bay Auditorium

The Gibson Brothers were in fine voice and good humor as they welcomed the Silver Bay crowd and a few people from outside that community. Darren Nicholson on mandolin makes a terrific addition to the band, when he stands in on mandolin, bringing first rate mandolin work along with, when needed, an additional harmony voice. 

The Gibson Brothers

Eric & Leigh Gibson

With their brotherly duets, high quality instrumentality, and unique humor, Eric & Leigh Gibson have now graced bluegrass stages, recordings, and song writing for well over thirty years. Maintaining their performance and always adding something new and/or surprising. 

Leigh Gibson & Mike Barber

Eric Gibson

Leigh Gibson

Mike Barber

Often underestimated, the role of bass players in bands represents both a major percussive sound and provides timing for the band. Mike has been with the band since their early days as a regional New England band through two IBMA Entertainer of the Year awards and more. Softspoken and quiet, Mike represents a crucial voice within the band. 

Eric O'Hara
Eric O'Hara has been a regular member of the band for several years on Dobro and/or electric steel. Eric was also their first teacher as a teacher at Dick's Country Store and Music Oasis in nearby Churubosco, NY.

Darrin Nicholson

Darren Nicholson, a fine musician from western North Carolina, has been a frequent stand-in with the Gibson Brothers for several years. He brings subtle, often virtuoso mandolin play to augment the bands already fine sound, as well as some subtle good humor.  On the rare occasions when they require a third vocal contribution, he adds a unique voice and well-blended voice. 

Eric & Kelly Gibson

Kelly Gibson

Kelly Gibson performed one of his own songs with competence and good stage presence. He's a welcome addition when he joins the band for a song. 

All told, it was a delightful evening of Gibson Brothers music. Ask for your local or national festival to book this first rate band.

Saturday, July 1, 2023

Stringbean: The Life and Murder of a Country Legend by Taylor Hagood - Book Review

Almost as soon as I picked up Taylor Hagood's biography of David Akeman (Stringbean: The Life and Murder of a Country Legend) I knew I could put aside my instinct to find fault in order to luxuriate in a well-documented, carefully constructed, combination of biography and true crime story that would introduce me to a musician I had only heard about, who along with his wife Estelle, was murdered in a gruesome plot to steal the money that was supposed to hidden away in his modest farmhouse.

The first several chapters use the few early available published resources and public records to locate David Akeman without ever overstepping what he can actually document. Then Hagood artfully and accurately portrays the environment in Eastern Kentucky, the rise of country and bluegrass music on the radio, and the increasing visibility of Stringbean as he worked with ever more prominent bands, appearing with them on the radio and travelling with them on the southern country music trail. He writes about the influences of Uncle Dave Macon and Grandpa Jones on Akeman's approach to the banjo. By creating an environment and maintaining scholarly demands for citing details, Hagood, a writer of imagination and agility, builds a fully believable environment without ever making leaps of credibility.

As the late fifties and sixties arrived, the influence of folk and rock music showed in Akeman's approach while he was always true to old-time traditions in his music and life, Hagood draws interesting and important distinctions between the emerging folk music craze, changes in country music, and the emergence of rock & roll. He focuses on the seemingly great difference between folk music's rising star, Pete Seegar and Stringbean, pointing out that their approaches to traditional music were quite different, while marveling that, apparently they never met. (pp. 86 - 91)

David Akeman

Stringbean's career, as Hagood clearly points out, spans the period between the late nineteenth century and the mid-twentieth, with his musical background on the banjo reaching back almost to the days of blackface, while lasting long enough for him to have travelled with Bill Monroe, and to be featured on both the Grand Ol' Opry and HeeHaw on television. Hagood is able to draw on television film archives through the sixties, when Stringbean emerged as a national figure as well as later, even more modern material, yet remains respectful of the traditional world of country music. 

As Stringbean matures into middle age, he becomes recognized as a transitional figure from old-time string band music reaching back into the late nineteenth century, while still keeping the respect and love of a new generation of musicians in country music, reflecting a more modern face through television. Just as Akeman had received extensive national attention because of the larger platform he enjoyed, his life was ended at the age of fifty-eight, largely because he had a reputation for storing large amounts of money in his home, because of his distrust of banks, growing out of his experiences during the Depression. The final chapters focus on the search for Akeman's killers and their trial, showing how difficult ferreting out the truth can be. 

Taylor Hagood

Taylor Hagood is a professor of English at Florida Atlantic University with a wide variety of interests in literature, music, and history. He has a busy career as an internationally known, in demand speaker, humorist, and musical performer. 

Stringbean: The Life and Music of a Country Music Legend by Taylor Hagood supplied to me by the University of Illinois Press and available from Amazon as well as other major vendors. I read a review copy sent to me by the publisher. I highly recommend this well-researched and highly readable (the two don't always go together) book. 

Friday, June 2, 2023

The Aftermath by Philip Bump - Book Review

Philip Bump has written an interesting and important book for anyone living in contemporary America who wonders why and how we got to the state we're in, as well as what the long-term future might look like. Most of us living in 2023 are aware, more or less, of what's going on in politics, lifestyle, entertainment, and every other element of contemporary society. We look at today's children, young marrieds, middle-aged people, and the elderly, trying to figure out how they have come to be the kind of people they are. If you're young, you might wonder how those middle aged people you know seem to have accumulated so much, or you might think their taste in music, television, and activities are somehow out of step with what you grew up hearing, watching and doing. If you're a member of my generation, labeled The Silent Generation, those of us born between 1928 and 1945, you might see us as completely out of touch with reality, while we might see you as rude, self-indulgent, and irresponsible. But the greatest influence during the past century and long into the future, according to Bump, is the group born between 1946 and 1964, the largest, and seemingly most influential,  generation in American history.

Whether you perceive the Baby Boomers as young upstarts who pushed aside as they became the most powerful group in the country, or, if you're younger than they are, the group that's keeping you from reaching your full potential or continues to insist on all the attention you think you're ready to assume, the Boomers simply cannot be ignored. Bump details their influences in a usually highly readable text accompanied by way too many charts and graphs demonstrating their influence and standing in relationship to the other age cohorts in America. 

Bump's data comes largely from research studies he makes clear and understandable and a large number of interviews of academics and other writers who have written about economic, social, and cultural aspects affecting life in America. His narrative particularly focuses on issues of race, social class, education, and culture as our country slowly, but inevitably, changes through time and each succeeding generation's reaction to the ones that came before influencing their lives. 

While not a scholarly work, The Aftermath relies on the work of many scholars and serious data collectors. This is both a strength and a flaw in this book. While the narrative is clear and explains much of the data presented, at times the amount of data is hard to digest into concepts making real sense. Another issue, for me, was the sparse coverage of the roll of labor unions and organized labor in the rise and fall of the economy, as well as the welfare of middle-class non-college educated men and women in the labor force. Nevertheless, the decline in college enrollments, as well as the increase in elderly reliance on social programs and generous retirement plans to clearly meet the needs of age cohorts following the Boomers. This book seeks to answer many of these kinds of issues and, for the most part, succeeds in pointing the way towards greater understanding. 

Philip Bump

Philip Bump is a columnist for The Washington Post based in New York. He writes the weekly newsletter How To Read This Chart. 

 I read The Aftermath: The Last Days of the Baby Boom and the Future of America in a hardback edition published by Random House, it is also available from in Hardback, paperback or Kindle editions. 



Saturday, March 25, 2023

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

In this comprehensive biography of Apple Computer’s founding member and longtime chief executive, no matter what his title was at any time, Steve Jobs emerges as both a genius and the most innovative creator of a computer which combined utility and style to become the most cherished brand name in technology. In compiling this compelling, highly readable account of a man who many saw not possible to fully describe, Isaacson has interviewed over 100 people who worked for or with Jobs as well as any number of his family and competitors. Having been chosen to write the biography by Jobs, it never becomes a hagiography, showing the man with all his flaws, many of which contributed to his success.

Steve Jobs was abandoned by his birth parents and adopted by a couple in northern California, his adoptive father was a tinkerer with cars and a lover of automotive design. Nevertheless, despite warm and loving adoptive parents, one of Jobs’ many devils remained throughout his life a sense of abandonment, perhaps leading to his own flaws as both a husband and a parent. Nevertheless, he was born at exactly the right time and adopted at the right place to be well-positioned for the emergence of the technological revolution that became Apple.

 Walter Isaacson may have been the best choice Jobs could have made to write his biography. The book details Jobs’ strengths and flaws in detail without ever seeming to lose contact with the volcanic personality he was exploring. Chosen by Jobs to write the book, he also was able to maintain his independence in order to create a full picture of a genius who was neither a saint nor a villain. Neither was a great computer designer or software architect. He emerges as a person who stood for great design and the highest possible software along with a vision for how such could be achieved and how it could be accomplished and the ability to interpret that to his employees while building a great and lasting corporation. Isaakson maintains that Steve Jobs will live in history as one of the great tech creators of all time. As an industrialist, Isaacson places Jobs in a pantheon with Edison and Ford…pretty high praise. 

Walter Isaacson

Walter Isaacson, a professor of history at Tulane, has been CEO of the Aspen Institute, chair of CNN, and editor of Time. He is the author of Leonardo da Vinci; The Innovators; Steve Jobs; Einstein: His Life and Universe; Benjamin Franklin: An American Life; and Kissinger: A Biography, and the coauthor of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made. Visit him at (Simon & Schuster)

I read Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster, 675pp) in a hardback edition I purchased from . It can also be bought for Kindle at I found the book to be highly readable for both general readers and those more interested in sharp, thoughtful analysis of a complex, difficult and important American industrialist. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The Gibson Brothers - Darkest Hour

The first time we saw the Gibson Brothers perform, as best we can ascertain, was at the 2005 or 2006 Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival, then held at the small municipal park in Weston, VT. For this show, they had a six member band, with Junior Barber coming out of retirement for a guest appearance. We were struck by their wonderful melodies, close harmony, sometimes edgy brotherly byplay, and far ranging repertoire, which had always contained many of their own songs. We became instant fans, and their being in the lineup became one of the criteria we applied for choosing which festivals to attend. 

Gibson Brothers at Jenny Brook - 2006

As we grew in our understanding and appreciation of bluegrass music, we also became aware that they fit into some special niches. Coming from northernmost New York State, they had grown up on a hardscrabble farm in an almost desolate area quite close to the Canadian border. Yet they had become, at quite young ages, masters of the banjo and guitar, and knowledgeable about the southern rural roots where the music emerged. To it, they brought their own fine song writing and wonderful brother harmonies. As they’ve grown as musicians and individuals, they’ve followed their own unique musical skills into places where many bluegrass musicians never venture, while continuing to develop their own unique sound. 

We’ve been listening to the new Gibson Brothers recording “Darkest Hour” for over a month in concert, on CD, and now on an excellent podcast presented by Bluegrass Unlimited and the Bluegrass Hall of Fame & Museum, as well as individual songs used in a variety of interviews.  The recording as well as the Gibson Brothers themselves only grow on us with each hearing, whether live or recorded. Always thought provoking, the two brothers have, in this marvelous album, become mature, seasoned performers, The longing for and glorification of two boys growing up on a marginal farm has been replaced by new perspectives showing their maturity as men and as performers as they move into middle age, It’s filled with reflective songs accompanied by their always heart-grabbing harmonies and musical excellence,

Grounded in reflection and based on the rich Gibson Brothers harmonies, The Darkest Hour is built upon their long-time well-recognized musical excellence, and honed clean and pure by Jerry Douglass’ excellent production, featuring some of Nashville’s brightest lights (Euen McGlocklin, Barry Bales, Alison Krauss), the recording shines like a diamond!

Leigh’s song “One Minute of You: A Song for Annie Gray” is a love song from a father to his daughter, filled with the desire a parent feels to cling to every minute of a child’s growth, knowing the letting go is, in the end, necessary. Eric wrote “I Go Driving” to capture the power of driving alone in the country to regain perspective and recapture the lost beauty of the farmland he grew up in, from the perspective of a lost era. The song is simply heart-rending. The Gibson Brothers manage to capture the richness of a lost past without the maudlin sentimentality found in many other contemporary bluegrass songs. Meanwhile, their music continues to be forward looking and optimistic. 

Simultaneously a bit darker than their earlier work, their natural effervescence and optimism still shines through - courageous and  confident. It’s like reading a novel instead of a book of short stories. The Adirondack songs, written over a period of twenty-five or so years and never collected in a single album, remain grounded in reflection  (The Barn Song, Song of Yesterday, Iron and Diamonds, Safe Passage, Railroad Line), yearning for a lost world. The Darkest Hour, chosen from previously never released songs and several of brand new ones, provides a sense of structure as well reflections on living a meaningful life. This newest recording by The Gibson Brothers continues their record of releasing exciting meaningful bluegrass collections.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Lady Justice: Women, The Law, and The Battle to Save America by Dahlia Lithwick


Lady Justice: Women, The Law, and the Battle to Save America by Dahlia Lithwick tells the stories of ten women who, through years of developing their legal practices, emerged, mostly, during the Trump administration as heroines for the rights of women and minorities, as well as helping to advance the awareness of men about the dangers of any profession being dominated by them. The book shows these advances through Lithwick’s clear understanding that effective legal practice requires not only tough-minded legal argument, but a strong emphasis on sharp storytelling. Through Lithwick’s clear thinking and penetrating narrative, each of the subjects emerges not only as a game changing attorney, but a woman of courage and persistence. 

The book opens with a profile of Pauli Murray, one of the most important and least known pioneers in combining the law and women’s experience in high levels of energy, intelligence, perseverance, and effectiveness. A civil rights activist who earned her law degree at Yale, along with other degrees from first-rate graduate schools across the country, she influenced an entire generation of Black and civil rights attorneys as well as helping mold arguments for the Supreme Court. She later became an Episcopal Priest, influencing that once stodgy denomination. 

Other chapters look at a series of attorneys who wove their influence through persistent effort against social reluctance for change in, often, male-dominated law firms where they experienced professional blockages and sexual harassment. They knew, however, they often could not openly resist without possibly (almost certainly) risking their personal advancement in an historically male-dominated profession. 

Lithwick tells her own story in a chapter called “#MeToo,” in which she describes when, early in her legal career, she became a clerk for a Federal judge who was, among insiders, notorious for his sexual harassment of woman clerks, all of whom felt constrained from outing the judge because of the negative effect it might have upon their own careers. Most, torn between fighting back and fearing the loss of their own legal careers, chose silence. Lithwick eventually left legal practice to become a legal writer covering the Supreme Court and other issues, as well as hosting an informative and entertaining weekly podcast called “Amicus,” available on many platforms. 

Dahlia Lithwick

“Dahlia Lithwick is the senior legal correspondent at Slate and host of Amicus, Slate’s award-winning biweekly podcast about the law.  Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, Harper’s, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The New Republic, and Commentary, among other places. Lithwick won a 2013 National Magazine Award for her columns on the Affordable Care Act. She was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in October, 2018.”  Penguin, Random House

I found the book to be riveting reading, from a writer who knows that dry academic or legal language doesn’t really do a good job telling stories. Lithwick turns history into the kind of stories that increase understanding while holding onto a reader and simultaneously educting. I purchased the book from Amazon and read it on my Kindle app.