Sins of the Father by Jeffrey Archer

This sequel to Only Time Will Tell is the second book in the Clifton Chronicles which follows the wealthy English Barrington family and the not so affluent Clifton family. Harry Clifton joins the merchant marine during WWII. He survives the sinking of his ship, and hoping to start a new life in America, takes on the identity of a dead American friend. His hoax works too well. Police arrest him for a murder committed by the dead man. Jeffrey Archer develops the characters well and writes an intriguing story.

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The Emperor of all Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee

I began reading The Emperor of all Maladies with reservations.  After all, how entertaining can a book about cancer be?  To my surprise, the author, Siddhartha Mukherjee swept me into his world and kept my attention for the entire book.  The work is intended for lay readers, but it manages to relay a tremendous amount of medical information without becoming tedious.  Mukherjee carries the history of cancer from ancient societies centuries before the birth of Christ to modern times, emphasizing the slow and tedious pace of advancement and the courage or perhaps cohones would better define the actions of the healers who dared to balk at traditional standards of care to push untried therapies that carried great risks but offered hope where none had existed.  He brings to life his very real characters by emphasizing their personalities and the conflicts that they faced.  I particularly enjoyed learning how mustard gas that maimed and killed thousands of people during WWI became one of the first chemotherapeutic agents during WWII.  It had attacked the bone marrow and destroyed the white blood cells of soldiers so why couldn’t it abolish malignant white blood cells in patients with lymphoma?

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A Prisoner of Birth

A Prisoner of Birth by Jeffrey Archer is a modern-day version of The Count of Monte Cristo.  Shortly after Danny Cartwright proposes to his pregnant girlfriend Beth, a barrister coerces him into a fight during which the barrister kills Danny’s best friend who is Beth’s brother.  The barrister frames Danny for the murder.  Danny is poor and illiterate and unable to refute the lies of the barrister’s friends who testify at the trial.  The jury convicts him of murder, and he goes to Belmarsh Prison in London.

There he shares a cell with Sir Nicholas Moncrieff, a wealthy, well-educated Scottish nobleman who teaches Danny to read and to talk like an aristocrat.  The two men look much alike, and a prisoner working for the barrister mistakes the two men and murders Sir Nicholas shortly before he is due for parole.  Danny assumes the nobleman’s identity and soon leaves the prison with the Moncrieff fortune and scores to settle.

The choice of Belmarsh Prison as the setting for the novel adds authenticity to the writing since the author spent time as an inmate there.  I hope to find time in the future to read A Prison Diary, Archer’s three-book series of diaries elaborating on life in various prisons where he experienced incarceration for “perjury” and for “perverting the course of justice.”

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The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression by Amity Shlaes

The Forgotten Man: a New History of the Great Depression published in 2007 is filled with lessons pertinent to the management of today’s depressed economy.  The author, Amity Shlaes, discusses the policies that led to the collapse of the world economies in 1929 and the effects of the responses of Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt.

The title comes from a lecture given by William Graham Sumner five decades before the Great Depression in which he discussed the laws proposed by progressives to solve the inequities of society.  A and B propose to take money from C to give it to X.  C is the forgotten man, the one who pays.  Roosevelt changed the meaning.  In his first major campaign speech for the presidency, he referred to the poor who receive government aid as “the forgotten man.”

Herbert Hoover became President on March 4, 1929.  By September 3, the stock market rose to 381, an historic high.  Then on Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, it plunged to 230.  Hoover responded with creation of public works programs, and he pushed industry to maintain the wages of workers even as profits plunged.  As a result, many businesses shut down, and unemployment rose from three percent to nine percent within three months.

Congress passed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, and Hoover signed it into law on June 17, 1930.  Nations retaliated with their own tariffs and international trade plummeted.

Hoover also encouraged legislators to attack Wall Street with prosecutions and investigations of speculators and short sellers.  The markets responded with further falls below two hundred.

Deflation swept across the nation, and the FED, instead of pumping money into the economy, tightened the money supply, making loans difficult to obtain.

To make matters worse, Hoover signed the Revenue Act of 1932.  It raised the top tax rate from the mid twenties to sixty-three percent, a move that stifled creation of new businesses and hiring of new workers.

Franklin Roosevelt came to power on March 4, 1933, thirty-two days after Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany.  Industrial production stood at fifty percent of the 1929 level, farm prices had fallen sixty percent, and two million people were homeless.  Banks all over the country were closing their doors.

Roosevelt responded with a massive expansion of the federal government.  The National Industrial Recovery Act established the Public Works Administration to create huge public projects such as dams, bridges, schools, and hospitals.  It also expanded rights of labor unions, and it created the National Recovery Administration that established extensive regulation over industry and forced government, labor, and industry to work together to control prices and wages as was done in Italy at that time under Mussolini.  Many of these arbitrary rules made it difficult to carry on a business.  The Supreme Court found this act to be unconstitutional in1935.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) put 250,000 people to work on local rural projects, and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) oversaw the construction of dams and power stations to provide electricity to poor areas of Tennessee.

The Agricultural Adjustment Act limited farm production by paying farmers to destroy excess livestock and to reframe from planting their lands in order to create shortages and thus increase the value of farm products.  The act raised taxes on companies that processed farm goods.  The Supreme Court later invalidated the act.

In April 1933 Roosevelt abandoned the gold standard for US currency.  Nine months later he reestablished it at a price of $35 per troy ounce instead of the previous $20.67.

Roosevelt felt that unbridled capitalism and greed had caused the depression, and he initiated a string of prosecutions against capitalists, Wall Street leaders, and others who opposed or got in the way of his programs.

In 1935 he started the Works Progress Administrations to provide jobs for millions of workers, the Federal Writers’ Project to hire writers, and the National Youth Administration to give jobs to young people

The Wagner Act greatly increased the power of unions by creating the closed shop whereby a union could keep nonunion people from working at a company, and once a union was in place, it would remain in place with no requirement for election by ratification.

The Social Security Act provided pensions for seniors; and a tax bill in 1935 increased estate taxes, raised the top tax rate to 79 percent, lowered the tax threshold to increase the number of people who paid taxes, and created a graduated corporation tax and a dividend tax.  All these taxes stifled investment and prolonged the depression.  Why should a man risk losing his money for a new venture when the margin for profit is miniscule?

The number of programs and regulations created is mind-boggling.  In 1930, the United States had a per capita income that was one-third higher than Britain.  By the end of the 1930s, it had fallen even with Britain.  The editors of the Economist attributed the slide to “institutional obstructions to a free flow of capital.”

In 1938 unemployment lay at 17.4 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was 121.  It took the most horrific war of all time to pull this country out of the Great Depression.

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Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Nonfiction biographies can at times be tedious to read, but not this account of the life of Steve Jobs.  Walter Isaacson brings his character to life with details that can only be obtained through extensive familiarity with a subject.  The fact that Jobs cooperated with Isaacson in this endeavor and encouraged him to reveal all his warts and flaws gives the account a feeling of authenticity.  Steve was not a warm or lovable person.  His parents gave him up for adoption as an infant, and knowledge of this abandonment bothered him throughout his life even though his stepparents provided him with a loving home.  He had trouble with relationships and had no patience for people with less vision than himself.  In spite of this personality flaw or perhaps because of it, he transformed the computer, movie, and music industries and changed the way millions of people share information, read books, and interact with the rest of the world.

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The Hunger Games

the hunger games book coverI enjoyed Suzanne Collin’s novel, The Hunger Games, and I watched the movie yesterday.  The premise is a young woman’s struggle to survive against impossible odds, and at the same time, to preserve her humanity.  A different truth struck me.  The future world that she painted reflected too closely Germany under Adolf Hitler and the Soviet Union under Stalin and present-day Iran under religious fanatics.  Evil is an integral part of the human soul.  It will always be with us, just as there will always be individuals who will strive to do that which is right.  No matter how good life becomes, there will inevitably be someone with a convincing voice who will tell us that we have been cheated or that we deserve a greater share of life’s rewards and that somebody else is to blame.  There will always be someone who will pit people against each other and stir the pot until hatred boils over and destroys the good will that years of tolerance and good deeds may have created.  All that we can do is enjoy the good times, treat other people fairly, and shun those who teach animosity towards people who are different from us.

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