And more books

SPELLBOUND: Book Two of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia proves that years of reading X-Men have given me a reflexive loathing for any story that discusses locking up mutants/superhumans/mages (it’s not that the idea is implausible, but Chris Claremont ran anti-mutant bigotry into the ground during his time on the book). Despite the growing hostility to magical “actives,” this turned out solidly entertaining as plotters hoping to enslave the Actives frame the Grimnoir for sending mad wizard Zingara to assassinate FDR. This puts Jake Sullivan and his friends on the run while also preparing for an alien entity preparing to suck the life out of our world and Faye discovering she’s a reincarnation of the world’s most evil mage. Good, though Correia still doesn’t get the language right (nobody in the 1930s was tossing around “black hole” as casually as they do today).
AFFAIRS OF HONOR: National Politics in the New Republic by Joanne B. Freeman shows the early United States as a world where honor and reputation mattered in a way that made the Klingons look positively laid back. Freeman captures well the complexities of national government in an era when politics and electioneering were considered shameful (even by people who engaged them), and when calling someone a liar (also “scoundrel” or even “puppy”) was grounds for a duel and failing to issue a challenge when insulted was another mark of shame. Freeman also discusses the methods of political attack and their implication, including newspaper articles, letters, gossip and the duel itself, and how they affected the men posing for public acclaim (like a lot of historians, Freeman sees Adams as someone too impetuous to get the pose right). Freeman argues this explains such seemingly illogical acts as Hamilton dueling Burr while deciding not to shoot and the obsession participants in the election of 1800 had with clearing themselves of charges of backroom dealing (defending themselves even decades later). Very good.
THE POWER OF THE PRESS: The Birth of American Political Reporting by Thomas C. Leonard traces the start of American political reporting to Ben Franklin’s brother challenging Cotton Mather’s smallpox vaccination campaign, a fairly radical step when almost any reporting on local government could result in suppression or violence (“Most printers didn’t include local news—it was safer to print stories from a couple of states over.”)—even though Franklin was dead wrong and Mather right. Leonard traces the shift to a more congenial atmosphere in the early 1800s (when it was a given that reporters would polish up speeches for print), the increasing interest in political news as the Civil War loomed (and emphasizing that Lincoln was very skilful at knowing when a speech needed to go out to the people and when it needed to be kept just for Republicans) and then onward through Thomas Nast’s cartoons attacking the Tweed Ring and the birth of muckraking journalism. Leonard concludes that the forces in play include not only party and local loyalty (nobody wanted to write bad stuff about their town) and, of course money: The development of nonpartisan investigative journalism happened when publishers realized they’d boost sales more than catering purely to one side. Not as good a political history as Affairs of Honor, but interesting.

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One response to “And more books

  1. Pingback: Honor and its discontents | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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