Friday, January 20, 2012

Advice and heart warming true stories are @ your library

The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse That Inspired a Nation by Elizabeth Letts

Kirkus Reviews –

Two long shots, a blue-collar owner and his unlikely horse, make it to the top of the equestrian world.

Responding to the postwar American demand for farm labor, young Harry de Leyer emigrated from Holland and settled in Long Island, and his talent with horses earned him a job as riding master at an all-girls boarding school. Arriving late to an auction in 1956, he offered $80 for a flea-bitten, undernourished, gray gelding, already loaded onto a slaughterhouse truck. His kids dubbed the lumbering, 8-year-old former plow horse Snowman, and the animal's sweet disposition made him a favorite among the Knox School's novice riders. Indeed, de Leyer turned a small profit reselling Snowman to a neighbor seeking a docile mount for his daughter. Only when Snowman repeatedly jumped his paddock fence to return to de Leyer's farm did the trainer belatedly recognize the horse's hidden talent. In telling how de Leyer turned Snowman's untapped potential into a two-time National Horse Show champion, novelist Letts (Family Planning, 2006, etc.) strains too hard to portray the story as an antidote to an era—economic downturn and nuclear dread notwithstanding, the late '50s were hardly as desperate as she makes out—but she's dead right about the unprecedented media environment—glossies and newspapers still flourished, TV was firmly established—that catapulted Snowman's legend well beyond the privileged confines of the show-jumping aficionados. An experienced equestrienne, Letts perfectly understands the high-society horse world, the politics and the intricacies of the high-jump competitions and the challenges facing a low-budget arriviste. At its core, though, this is the story of de Leyer and Snowman, about the elusive qualities that make a champion jumper and the special gifts required to read a horse's signals. Readers skittish around sentiment may balk, but Letts' gentle touch proves entirely suitable to this genuinely sweet tale.

A heartwarming story begging for the Disney treatment.

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney

Kirkus Reviews - 

Baumeister (Social Psychology/Florida State Univ.; Is There Anything Good About Men?: How Cultures Flourish by Exploiting Men, 2010, etc.) and New York Times science journalist Tierney extol the practical wisdom, as buttressed by the findings of modern social science, of willpower.

It wasn't long ago that the mantra "wretched excess is just barely enough" was on many American lips; but, write the authors, there is an old-fashioned virtue on revival: self-control. Without it, we are often prey to "compulsive spending and borrowing, impulsive violence, underachievement in school, procrastination at work, alcohol and drug abuse, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, chronic anxiety, explosive anger." Baumeister and Tierney use their appealingly upbeat voice to explain the intricate call-and-response between the failure of self-control and its problematical results, each feeding upon and reinforcing the other. Willpower is what we use to ward off disadvantageous temptations and desires, what allows us to monitor our behavior as social beings. It is also like a muscle in that it becomes fatigued through use and has to be replenished, most easily through sleep and healthy diet. However, even "if self-control is partly a hereditary trait—which seems likely," it can be nurtured, and the authors submit a variety of tools to revivify self-control, such as setting standards and realistic goals, laying down "bright lines" and behaving consistently through establishing rules and regulations. There is an instructive chapter on the role of glucose in maintaining a vigorous self-control, commonsensical explorations into how self-awareness helps in self-regulation via self-consciousness—"that crucial task for a social animal: comparing our behavior with the standards set by ourselves and our neighbors"—and tricks to conserve the energy that willpower demands: precommitment (what Odysseus used to thwart the Sirens' song), orderliness and lofty thoughts. Sewn into the social science are a number of engaging stories, from Eric Clapton to David Blaine to Mary Karr, that provide local color if not necessarily helpful roadmaps.
Baumeister and Tierney afford readers numerous paths to put their feet on the higher ground of self-control, for "inner discipline leads to outer kindness."

Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State by Dana Priest and William Arkin

Kirkus Reviews - 

A newsworthy examination demonstrating that U.S. government secrecy is eroding civil liberties, busting the federal budget, contributing to deaths in unauthorized wars and spreading paranoia among large portions of the citizenry.

Washington Post reporters Priest (The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace with America's Military, 2003) and Arkin (Divining Victory: Airpower in the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War, 2007, etc.) published the beginnings of this book as a newspaper series during 2010. The authors are meticulous but angry reporters, openly dismissive of the national-security apparatus begun by the federal and state governments at least 100 years ago, then expanded significantly after 9/11. Although President Obama vowed to curtail the national-security state and overall government secrecy in the wake of the Bush administration, Priest and Arkin demonstrate that the current president has abandoned that vow. They calculate that at least 850,000 individuals inside government and within government contractors have received "top secret" security clearances. Untold hundreds of thousands more individuals are cleared to use and abuse secret but not top-secret information. Priest and Arkin reach the sad but unavoidable conclusion that 9/11, combined with other real and threatened incursions by terrorists, has led to an around-the-clock police state. In addition to compelling anecdotes, the authors cite as examples the regular broadcasts of threat warning levels from the Department of Homeland Security, a culture of fear surrounding discussions of al-Qaeda by politicians and the public and budget-busting measures to protect what is unprotectable or perhaps not even in danger.

A mixture of investigative reporting and advocacy journalism that shines light in dark corners but is ultimately depressing because the authors seem convinced that the paranoia and its dangerous offshoots will never dissipate.

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