Husband of former US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords Mark Kelly will release a children’s book this October titled “Mousetronaut: A Partially True Story.”
Kelly, who worked as an astronaut but retired this fall, says the story will follow a mouse who is selected to participate in an outer space mission and that he was inspired by real mice on board one of his spaceships. On one voyage, 18 mice were brought onto one of his crafts for experiments.
“Seventeen of them, as soon as we got into zero gravity, stayed latched on to the side of the cage,” Kelly told the Associated Press. “But one of them seemed comfortable through the whole mission, like he was enjoying it.”
Kelly said he thinks the fact that so many children want to become astronauts means the book will appeal to young readers. He said he’s wanted to write the book for years, but that his job as an astronaut made it hard to find the time.
“With NASA as an employer, it becomes a little complicated,” he told the Associated Press. “Now that I'm retired, I can take time to do this.”
The book will be published through Simon & Schuster and illustrated by artist C.F. Payne.
Kelly previously collaborated with his wife on her memoir “Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope.”
Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.
I was in the office of my banker, Adam, the other day when I noticed a copy of Carl Sandburg’s six-volume life of Lincoln lined up along the credenza.
People often decorate their offices and living rooms with old books, so with a wink across the desk, I asked Adam if the Sandburg series was just for show.
“I’ve always liked to read, and the Sandburg set is from my father,” Adam told me. “Sometimes, when I’m here late waiting for a client to show, I dip into Sandburg’s 'Lincoln' to pass the time.”
The thought of a young executive leaving the world of mutual funds and annuities to travel with Honest Abe from the prairies to the White House heartened me. I wondered if we all might benefit by turning away from our cluttered desks, if only for a few moments, to revisit the words and deeds of the Great Emancipator.
With the arrival of another Presidents Day, perhaps now is as good a time as any to acknowledge our debt not only to Lincoln, but to Sandburg, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 for the concluding volumes of his Lincoln biography. Sandburg, best known as a poet, seemed an unlikely biographer of the nation’s 16th president when he started the project in the 1920s.
“There were some critics who said at the time that a poet’s pen should not meddle in history,” Sandburg’s daughter, Paula Steichen, later recalled.
The poet comes through in many of the passages from Sandburg’s "Lincoln," which resonates with hymn-like clarity. Here’s Sandburg on the death of Lincoln’s mother:
“So the woman, Nancy Hanks, died, thirty-six years old, a pioneer sacrifice, with memories of monotonous, endless everyday chores, of mystic Bible verses read over and over for their promises, and with memories of blue wistful hills and a summer when the crabapple blossoms flamed white and she carried a boy-child into the world....“
Sandburg, who died in 1967 at age 89, wrote biography with the kind of flourish that can seem quaint to modern ears, but his basic sense of how to tell a good story is a reminder that even writers who aren’t professional historians also have something to contribute to presidential biography.
His "Lincoln," though perhaps little read today, is part of a larger tradition of presidential biography started by Washington Irving, the 19th-century writer who gained fame as the author of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" before turning to a mammoth life of Washington. Then, as now, Americans depended on popular writers to chronicle their commanders-in-chief – a practice that continues today in the able hands of David McCullough, Richard Reeves, and others.
Thanks to Sandburg and his successors, we can connect with the lives of our presidents on Presidents Day, and every other day of the year.
Neutral and seemingly weak, the little country on the Iberian Peninsula managed to play the world powers off each other and avoid invasion. Meanwhile, desperate refugees crowded the streets of Lisbon while a dictator fought to survive and boost his country's wealth.
Neill Lochery, a historian best known for work analyzing the Middle East, chronicles the struggles and success of Portugal in his new book Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1945.
In an interview this week, Lochery explored a dictator's dilemmas, a diplomat's bravery, and a legacy that could include tons of Nazi gold.
A: To me, Lisbon was the real Casablanca, the only city where the allies and axis powers openly operated in Europe. It had all the diamond traders, the refugees, people with letters of transit, people trying to get letters of transit to get to America.
The British operations manager said it really resembled Casablanca twenty-fold. That was the atmosphere of Lisbon. But your point about Switzerland is well taken. One of the key questions was neutrality, and the success of maintaining neutrality was a great challenge for the Portuguese.
Q: What made Lisbon useful to people trying to get out of Europe?
A: Once France fell in summer of 1940, and specifically Paris fell, refugees started streaming to the south of France. As Germany consolidated its control, they moved into Spain and Portugal to try to get out of Europe to get to America or somewhere else in the free world.
Many of these refugees were Jewish, and they were desperate to escape the horrors of the Nazis. As Arthur Koestler said [in a 1941 book], "Lisbon was the bottleneck of Europe." It was the last chance to get out.
[Koestler, a journalist, added that Lisbon was "the last open gate of a concentration camp extending over the greater part of the Continent's surface."]
Q: How easy was it to get out of Lisbon to a place like America?
A: It was very difficult. The leader of Portugal, António de Oliveira Salazar, saw the refugees as a hugely complicating factor. He's trying to maintain Portugal’s neutrality, and feared a German invasion of Portugal. The Portuguese also feared a proxy invasion by Spain, particularly during 1940 and 1941.
He had to juggle a lot of balls in the air. There was a hugely important complicating factor in the question of tungsten, a rare ore that’s mined in the northeast of Portugal and is absolutely vital to arms industries. Without tungsten, it's impossible to produce weapons. So you can see where this is going.
This was the key issue between the allies, the Germans and the Portuguese in the war: Would Portugal supply the Germans with tungsten? Salazar refused to stop selling to Germany.
Q: You write about Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a Portuguese consul in Bordeaux, France, who turned out to be a Schindler-like character who saved lives at risk to himself. What's his story?
A: Against the wishes of Salazar, he granted visas in May and June 1940 to a number of people specifically of Jewish origin to travel though Portugal. This in effect helped create the refugee crisis in Portugal, but also got a lot of Jews out of France.
We hear numbers talking about 30,000 people, but I think we're talking about a couple thousand.
Salazar was furious at him for doing this, and it caused an enormous amount of trouble for Portugal. He was recalled back to Lisbon, he was essentially put on trial and disciplined. Salazar basically killed his career.
Now, he's regarded as a hero.
Q: Do you think he's a hero?
A: I don’t think any major single character in the book is completely a hero or completely a villain. Just when you’re about to paint someone as an evil character, you see something that intrigues you and you think, well…
Q: Salazar, the Portuguese leader, comes across as an unusual sort of character -- a savvy dictator. What do you make of him?
A: He had a good war. He made an enormous amount of money for Portugal through the selling of tungsten.
He demanded the Germans pay in gold. It became very clear very quickly that the Germans were not using their own gold, that it had been stolen from central banks of Holland, Belgium and France and, from 1943, that Germans were using gold stolen from victims of the Holocaust.
There were 400 tons of gold, worth around $20 billion-plus in today's dollars.
But just when you're about to paint him as an evil dictator, the fact is that he never spent the gold, and he was in power until 1968.
Q: Why do you think Salazar didn't spend the money on his people?
A: My guess is that part of his philosophy is that you don’t spend more than you earn. It's better to be poor but not in debt, which is kind of ironic considering what’s going on today.
Q: Portugal is hardly a wealthy country, then or now. Where did the gold go?
A: Efforts to trace the gold have been met with silence. Most of it, I think, was laundered out.
But… the Catholic church here in Portugal has a big shrine in Fatima. Every year pilgrims come there. The Catholics wanted to upgrade the shrine, and they sent all these trinkets and gold bits to the Bank of Portugal to have them melted down. What came back were gold bars that still had swastikas on them.
Q: You're talking about Portugal's debt crisis. If the money is still around, could it play a role in that mess?
A: If Lisbon has $20 billion worth of gold, then it puts a different spin on when you look at events that are currently going on.
Portugal received a bailout last year, and just before it received it, a senior member of a coalition in Germany made a suggestion that maybe Portugal should sell the family silverware before it asks for money. As far as I know, that was met by stony silence, a quite eerie stony silence.
Clearly, the Germans believe that Portugal should spend some of this gold. That has interesting dynamics -- a German asking the Portuguese to sell their gold.
Q: What was the legacy of Portugal's role in the war?
A: I'm sitting you here talking to you in Lisbon, the center of Portugal, which wasn't bombed, even though the Luftwaffe was a couple hundred miles away in Bordeaux. It's quite unusual to have a major European capital that wasn't bombed in the war.
Salazar managed to avoid a Spanish invasion and made money out of the war for Portugal. He also granted both the British and Americans access to the Azores, islands that were vitally important to both the British and Americans in terms of U-boat warfare.
Salazar and Portugal basically played a very complicated game, and played it very well. Whether it's morally right or wrong, this was an opportunity for the Portuguese.
For small countries involved in global conflicts, it appears that there are possibilities to play both sides off against each other in order to maximum both political gains and money.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor correspondent.
Knox, 24, had her conviction overturned in October after being sentenced to 26 years imprisonment for the murder of Knox’s roommate, Meredith Kercher, in 2007 in Perugia, Italy, where Knox was an exchange student. Knox’s boyfriend at the time, Rafaele Sollecito, also was cleared of the crime after initially being sentenced to 25 years in prison. Sollecito is rumored to be seeking a publisher for a memoir of his own.
Various publishers bid for the rights to Knox’s memoir, according to The New York Times. The memoir is slated to be released in 2013.
“Knox will give a full and unflinching account of the events that led to her arrest in Perugia and her struggles with the complexities of the Italian judicial system,” a statement from HarperCollins read.
Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.
Fox host Bill O’Reilly has announced he’ll be releasing a book this fall on the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy.
The book, which will be titled “Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot,” will be O’Reilly’s second focusing on a presidential assassination. O’Reilly’s book “Killing Lincoln” is still on the bestseller list, despite charges from historians that the book contains some historical inaccuracies.
O’Reilly said in a statement that his new book, which, like “Killing Lincoln,” will be written with Martin Dugard, will “answer many questions” about the assassination of the president.
“Killing Kennedy” will be released by Henry Holt and Company and will come out sometime this fall, the company said.
A version of “Killing Lincoln” for children, titled “Lincoln’s Last Days,” will be released this August, said the publishing company.
Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.
Robert Harris can make a thriller out of just about anything. Even a guy sitting at a computer staring at numbers.
Sure, the British author began his fiction career with a traditional foray into alternate history, imagining what Germany and the world might have been like had Hitler survived and won the war. Since his World War II best-sellers (follow-up "Enigma" traces the British quest to break secret Nazi naval codes), Harris has delved into subjects ranging from the plight of an aqueduct engineer in ancient Rome sitting on the edge of Vesuvius to the deceptions discovered by a ghost writer for a British prime minister modeled on Tony Blair.
More recently, Harris has written two novels based on the political intrigue of Cicero and ancient Rome. The final book in the trilogy is expected next year.
At the moment, Harris is very much in a 21st-century state of mind with the recent American publication of "The Fear Index." Set in Geneva, the novel is a contemporary version of Frankenstein. This time the monster is artificial intelligence run amok in the ever-volatile world of hedge funds and global finance.
Dr. Alexander Hoffman, the protagonist of "The Fear Index," is the architect of an algorithm that is making his firm, and its clients, piles of money. He is the silent partner in the operation, never heard from in public, and viewed as a mysterious figure.
This setting gives Harris ample room to explore the fragile framework of the financial system, a world governed by relentless analysis, trades, and short sales driven by computers as much as anything. Hoffman is the kind of man who wakes in the middle of the night and grabs his version of a security blanket.
Here is Hoffman as Harris describes him early in the book:
“He reached for his mobile. It was one of a batch specially produced for the hedge fund that could encrypt certain sensitive phone calls and emails. To avoid disturbing Gabrielle – she detested this habit of his even more than she hated him smoking – he switched it on under the duvet and briefly checked the Profit & Loss screen for Far Eastern trading …”
From there, the mash-up of Bill Gates, Charles Darwin, and Victor Frankenstein takes flight, bolstered by unidentified malevolent forces, Hoffman’s frayed nerves and an invention that overwhelms everything in its wake. Hoffman Investment Technologies aims to make people, even its brilliant quantitative analysts, superfluous, if not obsolete.
Company computer screens bear the ominous slogan: “THE COMPANY OF THE FUTURE WILL HAVE NO PAPER/THE COMPANY OF THE FUTURE WILL CARRY NO INVENTORY/THE COMPANY OF THE FUTURE WILL BE ENTIRELY DIGITAL/THE COMPANY OF THE FUTURE HAS ARRIVED.”
Harris has done his homework in the financial sector, spending time with traders, bankers, asset managers and masters of algorithm, among others. Then, too, he delves into the world of physicists at the Large Hadron Collider, the underground scientific instrument (and experiment) located on the Swiss-French border. Such attention to detail pays off with verisimilitude in the fictional boutique hedge-fund, the vertiginous risks and rewards inherent in hedge funds, and the mind-boggling wealth to be found in Geneva, not to mention including just enough scientific jargon to lay the foundation for a severe case of man-versus-machine.
During a recent round of US appearances, Harris discussed the origins of the book, his well-known literary brother-in-law (Nick Hornby), and what might be in store for Cicero. Following are excerpts, edited for length and clarity.
On what inspired the new novel: "The pressure of events made it seem a good time to produce a book that had been in the back of my mind for more than 10 years. I quite like breaking up the Roman books with more modern books. I did it between volumes one and two and my publisher agreed it might be a good idea to do it between volumes two and three. To leave the Roman trilogy, to let it mature a little bit more. I’m getting a little bit older, Cicero gets older. It seems to work to do it that way. But I’m going to produce the third volume for publication next year."
On researching the book: It started really in 1999. When I read the Bill Gates book, “Business @ the Speed of Thought,” about the digital nervous system, I thought, “My God, that’s a good idea, what an Orwellian idea that is.” Sat on that idea for a long time and then the Lehman collapse happened (in 2008) and I thought, maybe the place to set this is the financial markets, which were increasingly dominated by computer technology. And I thought I’ll need a relatively small company that this is happening in.
I asked a friend who works for Citibank if he could introduce me to anyone who ran an algorithmic hedge fund. He did so in London and they were very helpful. I think because I was a novelist rather than a journalist.
They were relocating to Geneva to avoid British tax and also because they could recruit scientists from the Large Hadron Collider to work in the financial world. I felt I had stumbled on something that hadn’t really been done in popular culture before which is the extraordinary extent to which physicists and mathematicians have taken over the world there. I went to Geneva and spent some time and gradually managed to get into my dim brain what a hedge fund did and what a short was and that was it.
On finding thrillers in unusual places: There’s nothing more interesting than the details of someone’s life. All my novels are characterized by one thing. I like to take a central character and show him at work. The code-breaker, a guy who runs aqueducts, the politician in ancient Rome or in this case, people who work in a hedge fund. I just like the detail of the daily life. What’s the office like, where do you sit, what’s the first thing that happens in the day, how does the day go on, who comes to see you. Because I have an enormous interest in the detail of other people’s lives. That gives my books a sense of rootedness in reality and then you can introduce something unexpected happens and away you go. I like to take people you wouldn’t really think people would write novels about: an aqueduct engineer, a code-breaker, a hedge-fund manager. It’s in those sorts of lives that I find more fascination than in a CIA operative or a Marine or something like that.
On the inspiration of Frankenstein in "The Fear Index": Especially once I went to Geneva, where Frankenstein was created. I felt that Geneva gave me the opportunity to write a modern Gothic novel and use the tricks of the old Gothic writers: Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker. All the sense of menace. It’s a literary genre that’s about the hinterland between the human and the other. The vampire, the werewolf, the monster, madness. It suited my purposes entirely because I wanted to write about artificial intelligence and money and the sense of something being created out there. It unlocked the book for me after 10 years.
On talking shop with Nick Hornby: Well, we meet a lot. We always go on holiday in the summer for a few days together and in between and inevitably we talk a bit about what we’re doing. Not a huge amount in the technical sense. I don’t show him a book I’m writing until it’s finished, nor would he show one to me. He’s more nowadays concentrating on screenplays than novels, but he published his first book, "Fever Pitch," the year that I published my first novel "Fatherland." Our careers have run in parallel that way.
We always exchange books, we read one another’s books with pleasure and enjoyment. Not least because they’re not necessarily the sort of books I’d ever sort of pick up. I’m not interested particularly in football (soccer) or music or some of the things he writes about, but I really enjoy his books. I don’t think he would be reading necessarily about hedge funds or ancient Rome. We broaden one another’s mind.
On shifting from journalism and non-fiction to novels with "Fatherland" in 1992: Well, my last big non-fiction book was a story on the Hitler diaries called "Selling Hitler." And in the course of researching that book I read Hitler’s table talk and came across all the grandiose plans he had for what the world would look like if the Germans won the war. And I thought this would make a good subject for a non-fiction book. As I tried to write it, I found increasingly I was moving into so much speculation as to what the world would have been like that in the end I had to invent characters and a story.
That was how it happened, really. I sort of just passed through the looking glass into the world of fiction and I’ve never come back.
On embracing fiction: I just feel that it’s so much more interesting to create an imaginary world. And in novels like the Cicero books ("Imperium," "Conspirata") and "The Ghost" and in this book I can sort of do things about issues that interest me, contemporary issues, but do them in a way that is more imaginative. I like that.
On shifting from World War II to ancient Rome: Well, it was a dramatic departure. After I finished the first three books – "Fatherland," "Enigma," and "Archangel" – I thought I would break the pace and actually write a book set slightly in the future. Set it in America at the end of the 1990s, but I couldn’t quite make it work. One of the ideas I had actually was the precursor for the new novel, which was a novel about a corporation using computer technology and taking the Bill Gates line that companies should have a “digital nervous system.” I thought that was a great idea. Somehow I couldn’t get a book to work.
And then I read about new research on the destruction of Pompeii. I suddenly thought maybe I could write an allegorical book about the modern world set in the past. That was how it came about. And once I found myself living in this parallel world of ancient Rome, I didn’t really want to leave it. I’d always wanted to write a political book and it seemed to me that to write about the Roman political system in detail – first of all no one had really done it and secondly I thought it would be interesting to recreate and also serve as a way of writing about politics in a universal way. That’s why I turned to it. ("Pompeii," a stand-alone novel, preceded the Cicero novels.)
On completing the Cicero trilogy: It has to cover a lot of time, about 14 years, I think. The only way I can do that is by concentrating on the relationships between the characters. I’m not getting bogged down in a year-by-year chronicle of Cicero’s life, which would be very boring. I will find the arc of the story in the relationships between the characters and in a sense the novel represents a continuation of volume two. That is, a duel between Cicero and Caesar. This volume will begin with Cicero in exile, then he returns, then civil war and then all of the things that happen after that. Caesar’s victory, Cicero’s retirement from politics, Caesar’s assassination, Cicero coming out of retirement and at the very end, for the last six months of his life, running the whole show again. Just as he did in his prime. There is a nice dramatic arc to it.
In the end, I want all three volumes to be bound together in a single book.
Erik Spanberg is a regular contributor to the Monitor's book section.
In order to complete the writing process, Shriver said he will take time off from serving as CEO of the Special Olympics organization, which was founded by his mother. He said he wants the book to focus on how much he has learned from the competition.
“The athletes of this movement – in their heroism, in their perseverance, in their courage, in their vulnerability – there are really important lessons for a time and an age when people are really looking and seeking ways to find more fulfillment, more purpose, more peace … in their lives,” Shriver said in an interview with the Associated Press.
He said he’s received important lessons from the athletes who participate in the Special Olympics.
“Here I am 50-plus years old and I think the athletes of this movement have taught me more about how to live this life than anyone,” Shriver told the Associated Press. “There’s a lot more here than a charity. There’s a lot more than a cause."
There is no planned release date for the book yet, but Shriver said he may return to work by June. J. Brady Lum, the Special Olympics president and chief operating officer, will continue his role within the company with lead director of the Special Olympics International Board of Directors Stephen Carter taking on additional duties.
Shriver’s book will be released by publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.
So a good Muslim girl meets a guy through her parents, the only “dates” they have are chaperoned, and sex before marriage? Forget about it.
“I’m an unmarried, Muslim non-virgin,” writes Insiya Ansari, a writer from San Francisco. “I’ve said it aloud.”
“And no, I wasn’t married or engaged to be married, or even in an exclusive relationship,” writes Zahra Noorbakhsh, a first generation Iranian-American comedian.
And then there’s Tanzila Ahmed, who has an affair with a Muslim punk rocker with a Mohawk whose band she follows across the country. And Tolu Adiba, who fights her homosexuality, then moves in with a girlfriend, who was herself married to a man.
This Valentine’s Day, peek into the love lives of 25 American Muslim women navigating love and religion in “Love, InshAllah,” an intimate, brutally honest anthology by writers Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi. The stories sweep aside stereotypes about subservient Muslim girls entering into arranged marriages and show the myriad ways Muslim women look for – and find – love. (The word “InshAllah” in the book’s title is Arabic for “God willing,” a phrase frequently used by Muslims.)
After successfully pitching their idea at Pitchapalooza 2010, a literary festival in the Bay Area where writers get a few minutes to pitch book ideas to a panel of industry veterans, the pair secured agents and then a publishing contract with Soft Skull Press in Berkeley, Calif. When they began soliciting submissions from across the US, mainly through social media, Mattu and Maznavi were astonished by the response. They got around 200 submissions, from women with origins in East Africa, the Middle East, the subcontinent, and American converts, with a range of ages, professions, and sexual orientations. And the essays displayed a candor typically unseen in the Muslim community, an openness that surprised even the book’s editors, Mattu and Maznavi.
“I felt like we hit a chord,” Mattu told the Religion News Service.
Adds Maznavi, there “really hasn’t been the space to discuss these issues publicly, and openly and honestly…There’s been a lot of fear in the community – fear of judgment, fear of disapproval, and I think that manifested itself in a lot of self censorship and people not feeling comfortable to talk about these issues, even with very, very close friends.”
By the time submission calls came for “Love InshAllah,” “I felt like women were ready to talk about these stories,” says Mattu.
And talk they did, from a heartbreaking story by Leila Khan about losing her fiancé because he condemned Islam and lumped all Muslims together as terrorists, to a sweet tale by Huda al-Marashi, a first generation Iraqi-American, about adjusting her fairy tale expectations of love when she enters into a semi-arranged marriage.
The book, says Mattu, challenges pre-conceived notions about Muslim women by allowing the women to speak for themselves.
“There are still misconceptions about Muslim women, because Muslim women, their bodies, their lives, have been so caught up in political debate,” she told the RNS. “I feel like this is a way for people to connect with women who are revealing their full humanity.”
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Considering that he spent 12 years studying the history of American railroads, you might assume Stanford University professor Richard White would be delighted to take a bullet train from nearby San Francisco to Los Angeles in the time it takes to watch a Harry Potter movie.
After all, it's a dusty 6.5-hour trek by car and a hassle of security lines and cramped seats by plane.
But Richard White, the author of last year's well-received "Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America," is no fan of the state's mammoth high-speed rail project, which is scheduled to break ground this year. He warned in the New York Times last month that "it will become a Vietnam of transportation: easy to begin and difficult and expensive to stop."
White's opposition to the bullet train is unusual since he comes from the political left rather than the right. [Editor's note: In this sentence White was originally – and incorrectly – referred to as "Wilson."] (Many of the project's political opponents are Republicans.) I called him and asked why he sees the nation's railroad history as a cautionary tale instead of an inspiration. We also talked about the railroad baron he considers to be an airhead – the one whose name graces Stanford University, where White works.
Q: You write that the transcontinental railroads weren't needed but got built anyway on the public dime. What happened?
A: The basic thing is that no one would invest in them to begin with. You’re building a railroad into the middle of nowhere – railroads starting nowhere and ending nowhere. There's no traffic on these things, so that's why they have to be subsidized. You need all this public money and then borrowed money to get these things up and running.
They went bankrupt once, twice, three times, but the men running them got tremendously rich. Railroads become these containers for speculation, collecting subsidies and selling bonds, and financial manipulation.
They’re much like the companies we're familiar with now that have gone into bankruptcy but have made people rich.
Q: What was the legacy of the railroad boom?
A: We're still dealing with the consequences of what the railroads set in motion. They’re a disaster politically and environmentally. They begin modern American corruption, when corporations infiltrate the political system and make politics an instrument of corporate policy.
My argument in the book is that this is not a happy story.
Q: What do you say to skeptics who will say you're just another left-leaning academic bashing capitalism?
A: This is a book that proceeds mostly by quoting the people who did it. They make a far better case for what happened then I did. It's full of quotes, oftentimes very funny, about how they invent this kind of corporate capitalism.
If you don't believe me, the book is full of footnotes. For me footnotes are what give me protection. It's like smell to a skunk.
What’s interesting is that I'm attacked sometimes as being a leftist, which I am, and I am often attacked as being too conservative by people who want subsidies for these large infrastructure projects.
Q: You're not flattering about the brainpower of Leland Stanford, the railroad baron whose name graces your own university. What did you find out about him?
A: Stanford was not the sharpest tool in the shed. A lot of this stuff has to be explained to him.
His wife Jane realized exactly what was in his papers and she destroyed them all, but the story is in the papers of other people.
Q: What have your overlords at Stanford thought of all this?
A: I don’t think they really suspected that he was much more than how he's portrayed in the book.
Stanford University has been very nice to me, but I will never speak at Founders Day.
Q: How have your findings affected your perspective on the California bullet train project, which is estimated to cost almost $100 billion?
The writing of the book led me to question it in the ways I wouldn’t have before. This looks like pretty much like transcontinental railroads: people demanding a huge public subsidy for a railroad that will be extraordinarily expensive.
The public seems to be taking all the risk, and the gain will go to the contractors and people who build it. What they’re trying to do is make hard questions go away through all this gauzy public relations about how this is the future.
Q: How should the public look at projects like this?
A: You should be very leery of giving public money to large corporations on the promise that everything will be fine. The legislation has to be carefully written, and you should never have it that all the risk is public and all the gain is private.
Often the private sector pretty much protects itself and is confident that the public will come in and bail them out if things goes wrong. These public-private kinds of endeavors very often will lead to an exploitation of the public.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor correspondent.
In July of 1994, when I interviewed Eudora Welty at the home in Jackson, Mississippi where she had lived almost continuously since childhood, Welty expressed only one regret as she reflected on her life and work.
Welty, then 85 years old and in frail health, lamented that as her body had declined, her garden had declined along with it.
“The garden is gone,” she told me with a slight sigh in her drawling Southern voice. “It makes me ill to look at it.”
But what the celebrated matriarch of Southern letters didn’t know at the time – and what I didn’t know, either – was that help was just around the corner.
During the 1980s, Welty had donated her house to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, with the understanding that the house would be turned into a museum after she died. In August of 1994, Susan Haltom, who worked at the department and had an interest in garden design, showed up at Welty’s doorstep along with other department employees. With the assistance of other volunteers, they offered to slowly restore the garden that Welty and her late mother had once tended to perfection, creating an Eden of daylilies, roses, nandinas, camellias, azaleas and other Southern horticultural favorites.
Welty was excited about the restoration plan, though impressed by the amount of work that Haltom and her team had ahead of them. “It would be like hell to do,” Welty said of the job.
Haltom, along with landscape historian and garden writer Jane Roy Brown, tells the story of that restoration in "One Writer’s Garden: Eudora Welty’s Home Place," a new coffee-table book from University Press of Mississippi that also includes lavish pictures of the garden by photographer Langdon Clay. Welty family photos of the garden from its inception in the 1920s into the recent past complement Clay’s handiwork, creating a lovely pictorial record of an intimate landscape over time.
Although the subject matter gives "One Writer’s Garden" natural appeal to green thumbs, the book is really about how Welty’s gardening informed the creative life of one of the most distinguished American novelists and short story writers of the 20th century. Welty (1909-2001), best known as the author of short story collections such as "A Curtain of Green" and novels such as "The Ponder Heart" and "The Optimist’s Daughter," drew critical inspiration from her gardening when she sat down at the writing desk, according to Haltom and Brown.
“References to flowers and gardens colored her fiction and correspondence,” the authors write. “Their consistent presence in her writing reveals that the flower garden lay at the heart of her inner world, sustaining her creativity and stirring her imagination.”
I learned about Welty’s deep connection with flowers during my 1994 interview, when she recalled her winter days as a graduate student at Columbia University in New York – and the joy Welty felt when her mother relieved her homesickness by shipping camellias to Gotham.
“It was wonderful to be up there with the ice and snow, and these lovely tropical flowers would come,” Welty told me. Later, safely ensconced back in Jackson, Welty revived the tradition, shipping homegrown camellias to her snowbound friends up North.
“I sewed the stems to the inside edges of the boxes so they wouldn’t move about or jostle and hit each other. It was my own invention,” Welty said. “I only tried to send four or five blooms in a box on overnight express. I’d wrap the stems in wet cotton. In those days, you could go down to the train station and put things on the express and they’d get to New York the next day.”
Welty’s meticulous precision in stitching blossoms for shipment exemplified the kind of exactitude and eye for beauty that she brought to her prose.
When Welty died on July 23, 2001, Haltom, at the request of Welty’s family, arranged a bouquet of summer flowers “gathered from her yard and mine.”
It was a fitting send-off to a writer who grew both and stories and flowers with equal brilliance.