THE CHEAPSKATE NEXT DOOR: THE SURPRISING SECRETS OF AMERICANS LIVING HAPPILY BELOW THEIR MEANS (2010)
Although this book contains much sage advice on how to live less expensively, the author seems a bit too interested in promoting an earlier book of his on the same topic. Also, trying to be funny (he was voted the funniest person in his 4th-grade class), he takes liberties with quotations. He cites statistics frequently--with no references.
For instance, he states that the average home in the US (in 2010, presumably) is 1,650 square feet. Where does this figure come from?
That's an astonishing figure, to my way of thinking. Have we as a people really reached a point where we feel we need that much space simply for living?
It's entirely possible.
More fact-checking would have made this a better book.
YOUNG, CHRISTINE ELLEN
A BITTER BREW: FAITH, POWER AND POISON IN A SMALL NEW ENGLAND TOWN (2005)
The author, an investigative journalist, gives an account of an arsenic poisoning case in the small town of New Sweden, Maine, where one person died and fifteen became critically ill as a result of arsenic that had been added to their church's coffee.
The case is solved more or less satisfactorily, but apparently there will always be people in the community who firmly believe that someone else was responsible for the poisoning.
The story is interesting in what it tells about the dynamics of a small, close-knit town--its suspicion of "outsiders" (people "from away"), for example, and its hyperactive gossip mill.
The account is so packed with people's names, however, that it is difficult to keep track of the narrative. Also, the banter among the detectives on the case--dialogue which the author admits to having made up--could easily have been dispensed with. It adds nothing to the story.
THE XENOPHOBE'S GUIDE TO THE RUSSIANS (2001)
A highly entertaining and interesting book, not just for someone traveling to Russia, but for anyone interested in Russians as a people. Written by a native Russian who has lived in diverse regions of Russia and who has studied philology and psycholinguistics for decades, it is written in English--not a translation from Russian--and is eminently readable. The author is also an authority on swearwords the world over.
If you've been wondering what Russians are currently eating, drinking, buying, traveling around in, and doing with their leisure time, this book is an excellent guide. You will also learn much about the Russian character: morals, customs, conduct, attitudes, government, culture, conversation. The book has 19 brief chapters, each devoted to a different aspect of the Russians as a people.
The author views his countrymen with the unblinkered eyes of an observer who is wise to their ways. There is no boasting here. Russians come through to us in these pages with all of the stark realism that emerges in some of the Russian fairy tales we may have read in our childhood. This is not to say that the Russians depicted here resemble Ivan the Simpleton--far from it! They are shown to be shrewd, gregarious, sentimental, and very cynical indeed.
The book contains a number of jokes--many revealing the profound cynicism of a people accustomed to dealing with inefficiency, corruption, and interminable waits for basic necessities. Russians must be among the world's greatest readers, and the author gives a plausible explanation for this: they spend so much time waiting in lines that they can get a lot of reading done.
12 December 2002
ZUCKOFF, MITCHELL AND LEHRER, DICK
JUDGMENT RIDGE: THE TRUE STORY BEHIND THE DARTMOUTH MURDERS (2003)
The authors, reporters for the Boston Globe, give a coherent and responsible account of a grisly murder of two Dartmouth College professors of geology in 2001. The murderers, two high school boys who chose their victims at random, appeared to have had no motive other than a wish to get hold of some money and access to PIN numbers.
One of the boys is a probable psychopath, as is well demonstrated in the narrative. The other was clearly his disciple.
They went to high schools in a blue-collar Vermont town, and the authors maintain that the local school policy of allowing high school students to finish their required course work before their senior year ("block programming") might have contributed to the unfortunate turn these two boys' lives took: they had too much unsupervised time on their hands at a vulnerable time in their lives.
I'm puzzled about where these two boys--Robert Tulloch and Jim Parker--stood with respect to college plans, a big concern of many US high school students. I wonder if they chose the Dartmouth College town (Hanover, NH) as the place for their attempts at murder, not just because they felt there would be easy money available there, but also because of a certain amount of bitterness at not being destined for college. But whether they could have gone to college isn't made clear. I think it's an important question, nonetheless.
23 January 2012