For Kids!

by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate PowellMarch Pic

People, I had the chance to hear Congressman John Lewis speak this past weekend—if you ever have a similar opportunity I highly recommend it. Lewis has written a graphic novel (along with a co-author and illustrator) about his experiences in the civil rights movement. His project is modeled after a comic book he read in the 1950s, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, which ultimately inspired him to join the civil rights movement. Lewis’ book aims to bring his story to a new generation and it was really great to see a bunch of tweens in the crowd. From what I’ve read so far, this would be good for kids roughly 10 years and up. I think. I know nothing about kids or what they read, so, parents: check it out and be the judge. (And let me know) It’s very well done.


Another great cover. Who needs Henry when the books look this good?

Another great cover. Who needs Henry when the books look this good?

The FBI’s War on Student Radicals and Reagan’s Rise to Power
by Seth Rosenfeld

Being a staunch Gen Xer in a city of militant hippies can be a confusing existence. Starting with the realization that there is such a thing as a militant hippie. So I figured that Subversives, which chronicles Berkeley in the 60’s, might provide me with some missing historical knowledge about this place that’s become my home and, in the process, maybe I would start to understand the mysterious habits of an indigenous species known as the Baby Boomers.

Subversives follows the trajectories of three men whose paths converged during Berkeley’s student protests: Mario Savio, leader of the Free Speech Movement; Clark Kerr, president of the University of California; and Ronald Reagan. Seth Rosenfeld, the book’s author, spent more than 30 years piecing together this story as he battled the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act to attain secret agency files. Four lawsuits later, he finally obtained 250,000 pages of previously unreleased material that fleshes out the standard 60’s narrative in a detailed and fascinating way. Given my penchant for getting to the bottom of this whole Baby Boomer thing, I found myself particularly drawn to Mario Savio’s story.

Born in 1942 and raised in a Catholic household, Savio was an uber intellectual with a genius-level IQ and a sensitive soul. He loved math and science and assumed he would become a physicist. As he hit his teenage years, Savio’s deep thinking became more complicated as he tried to reconcile his scientific mind with his devout religious beliefs.

Later, looking back on his childhood, Savio claimed that his most formative experience was when he came across pictures from the Holocaust for the first time. “It’s like a dark, grotesque secret that people had, that at some time in the recent past people were being incinerated and piled up … I started to get the idea that people weren’t really coming completely clean about things … that there was almost a conspiracy not to tell the truth to oneself, even on a mass scale.”

Reading this quote from Savio, I started to get where his generation was/is coming from a little more. If one feels that society has refused to acknowledge evil and act accordingly, it would follow that one would Question Authority and all the convention, consumerism and bureaucracy that comes along with that authority. So, yeah, trying to change the world comes with some entitlement.

There isn’t space here for me to tell you exactly how, a decade later, Savio found himself standing on top of a Berkeley police car delivering an improvised speech to hundreds of his fellow students who sat surrounding the car. That speech would come to mark the beginning of the Free Speech Movement and, some would argue, the beginning of The Sixties.

I began reading Subversives during the demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri. I’d been riveted by CNN’s 24-hour coverage (by the way, if anyone can tell me why people hate Don Lemon, I’d love some insight) and I was feeling like I needed a reading selection with some relevance—however indirect—to current events. In Rosenfeld’s prologue, he explains that his book “illustrates the dangers that the combination of secrecy and power pose to democracy, especially during turbulent times.” Enough said. I recommend this book to anyone interested in a history of Berkeley and/or those seeking to fan any dying flames of resentment toward Ronald Reagan.

Speaking of Reagan, I think I’ll be reading fiction next …


by Arianna Huffington

For those of you who know my father, you probably know this: the man can shop. If you’ve ever paid me a compliment on an item of clothing, a handbag, or perhaps a houseware, most likely my response to you was, “My Dad gave it to me.”

And so it was delightful but not surprising when a package arrived in my mailbox a few weeks ago from my father. Inside: a copy of Thrive by the articulate and well-heeled Arianna Huffington. I couldn’t help giggling – Arianna is just the kind of lady my dad would champion.

Like the last book I wrote about here, Thrive wasn’t at the top of my to-read list, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate that in addition to his extraordinary taste and procurement skills, my dad may have a good suggestion now and again. (Let the record state that he has been telling me to start a blog about books for years) So I gave in to the charms of Arianna.

Here are the things that she wants us all (but especially women) to do:

Practice Yoga
Stand Instead of Sit
Remember We’re All Going to Die

Arianna’s main point is that our culture defines success in terms of money and power but these values don’t lead to “a successful life by any sane definition of success.” She has a nice metaphor where she compares money and power to a two-legged stool that may work temporarily, but will eventually topple without a third leg. Her solution (or, third stool leg, if you will) is a “Third Metric” which (bear with me) has four pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving.

I was surprised that a smooth-talker like Arianna couldn’t have come up with a cleaner way to organize her plan – the four pillars of a Third Metric was a little trippy for me – but nonetheless, she makes a reasonable point and has a lot of good examples and evidence to back it up. For example, I found it particularly compelling that she cites the Exxon Valdez spill, the Challenger explosion, and the accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island as all being at least partially the result of sleep deprivation.

But here’s where books like Thrive bug me. One, they really don’t need to be full-length books. This one evolved from a commencement speech that Huffington gave at Smith last year and the message probably worked perfectly in that format. Her common sense propositions had me after the first example or two; I didn’t need twenty. Two, a message that resonates with the graduating class at Smith doesn’t necessarily resonate with larger swaths of the country. While I noted a couple spots where Arianna tries to offer inexpensive and/or quick ways to follow her suggestions, I couldn’t help but cringe a little at how very “Upper” the whole thing sounded. I mean, it’s pretty easy for someone who already has all the money and power she needs to tell the rest of us how much yoga we should be doing.

I’ll leave you with this. On her recent book tour, Arianna visited the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco and was interviewed by Sheryl Sandberg, fellow mogul-turned-advice-author. A woman in the audience asked both women if they could honestly say that they would be in the positions they are in today if they’d been following Huffington’s suggestions for a more mindful life every step of the way. While each woman extolled the virtues of all the sleep and meditation they were currently allowing themselves, neither one of them answered the question.