WAY DOWN YONDER IN THE INDIAN NATION

A broader view of the ground Wallis covered in Oil Man (1988) and Pretty Boy (1992): the history and lore of Oklahoma and its inhabitants, from the earliest days to the present. One of Wallis's strong suits is his ability to convey the collision between Oklahoma's frontier origins and its role in the modern world. There's plenty of solid material here: Topics run the gamut from the rowdy 1889 land rush to the quiet modern influx of Mennonite farmers; from a visit to the sleepy panhandle town of Texoma to a survey of Tulsa's numerous art-deco buildings. The author is at his best in affectionate sketches of such Oklahoma originals as maverick football-star Joe Don Looney, Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller, and cowboy Jim Jordan. Most of the chapters originally appeared as magazine pieces (in Oklahoma Today, American West, etc.), and three are reprinted from the author's previous books—so the approach is inconsistent from one chapter to the next. Some, such as the one on the ``Thunderbirds,'' the 45th Infantry Division of WW II, effectively combine history, personal observation, and color, but others, such as a guide to popular barbecue joints, are puff pieces of little lasting value—especially since there's no evidence that the article has been revised or updated in the 11 years since its magazine appearance. And while Wallis's upbeat attitude and aggressively folksy style are probably perfect for Oklahoma Today, they don't wear well at book length. Well-researched and sympathetic view of the American heartland—but best read the way it was originally written, in chapter-size bites.

Pub Date: June 23, 1993

ISBN: 0-312-09410-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1993

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Not flawless, but one of the best recent analyses of the contemporary woes of American economics and politics.

WHO STOLE THE AMERICAN DREAM?

Remarkably comprehensive and coherent analysis of and prescriptions for America’s contemporary economic malaise by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Smith (Rethinking America, 1995, etc.).

“Over the past three decades,” writes the author, “we have become Two Americas.” We have arrived at a new Gilded Age, where “gross inequality of income and wealth” have become endemic. Such inequality is not simply the result of “impersonal and irresistible market forces,” but of quite deliberate corporate strategies and the public policies that enabled them. Smith sets out on a mission to trace the history of these strategies and policies, which transformed America from a roughly fair society to its current status as a plutocracy. He leaves few stones unturned. CEO culture has moved since the 1970s from a concern for the general well-being of society, including employees, to the single-minded pursuit of personal enrichment and short-term increases in stock prices. During much of the ’70s, CEO pay was roughly 40 times a worker’s pay; today that number is 367. Whether it be through outsourcing and factory closings, corporate reneging on once-promised contributions to employee health and retirement funds, the deregulation of Wall Street and the financial markets, a tax code which favors overwhelmingly the interests of corporate heads and the superrich—all of which Smith examines in fascinating detail—the American middle class has been left floundering. For its part, government has simply become an enabler and partner of the rich, as the rich have turned wealth into political influence and rigid conservative opposition has created the politics of gridlock. What, then, is to be done? Here, Smith’s brilliant analyses turn tepid, as he advocates for “a peaceful political revolution at the grassroots” to realign the priorities of government and the economy but offers only the vaguest of clues as to how this might occur.

Not flawless, but one of the best recent analyses of the contemporary woes of American economics and politics.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6966-8

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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An educational and inspiring biography of seminal American innovators.

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THE WRIGHT BROTHERS

A charmingly pared-down life of the “boys” that grounds their dream of flight in decent character and work ethic.

There is a quiet, stoical awe to the accomplishments of these two unprepossessing Ohio brothers in this fluently rendered, skillfully focused study by two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning and two-time National Book Award–winning historian McCullough (The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, 2011, etc.). The author begins with a brief yet lively depiction of the Wright home dynamic: reeling from the death of their mother from tuberculosis in 1889, the three children at home, Wilbur, Orville, and Katharine, had to tend house, as their father, an itinerant preacher, was frequently absent. McCullough highlights the intellectual stimulation that fed these bookish, creative, close-knit siblings. Wilbur was the most gifted, yet his parents’ dreams of Yale fizzled after a hockey accident left the boy with a mangled jaw and broken teeth. The boys first exhibited their mechanical genius in their print shop and then in their bicycle shop, which allowed them the income and space upstairs for machine-shop invention. Dreams of flight were reawakened by reading accounts by Otto Lilienthal and other learned treatises and, specifically, watching how birds flew. Wilbur’s dogged writing to experts such as civil engineer Octave Chanute and the Smithsonian Institute provided advice and response, as others had long been preoccupied by controlled flight. Testing their first experimental glider took the Wrights over several seasons to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to experiment with their “wing warping” methods. There, the strange, isolated locals marveled at these most “workingest boys,” and the brothers continually reworked and repaired at every step. McCullough marvels at their success despite a lack of college education, technical training, “friends in high places” or “financial backers”—they were just boys obsessed by a dream and determined to make it reality.

An educational and inspiring biography of seminal American innovators.

Pub Date: May 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4767-2874-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

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