Schweid, hardly the first American traveler to Cuba to note the island’s auto-mania, makes this an occasion to write both a...

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CHE’S CHEVROLET, FIDEL’S OLDSMOBILE

ON THE ROAD IN CUBA

When Fidel Castro entered Havana in 1959, it was on the back of a Willys jeep. Che Guevara pulled in a little later in a Studebaker, and a socialist paradise was born.

Well, sort of, says Latin America hand and writer-on-offbeat-subjects Schweid (The Cockroach Papers, 1999, etc.): Fidel and Che drove capitalism and brand names off the island, but they created a vast unintended museum devoted to American cars of the ’40s and ’50s in the bargain. Cuba had always been car-crazy, writes Schweid; as early as 1913 there “were over 4,000 motorized vehicles in Cuba,” including “Oldsmobiles, Locomobiles, Overlands, Cadillacs, Dodges, Whites, Chalmerses, Packards, and Chevrolets.” Some of those flivvers were still in service in WWII era, when, Schweid notes, “for Cubans who wanted one, only the used car market remained, and even this was limited.” The hungry Cuban market had to make do with dreams, which Ford nurtured by spending thousands on ads in Havana newspapers during the war years. So did Chevy and Studebaker and every other American manufacturer. When the guerrilla armies overthrew the Bautista regime at the end of the ’50s, the island was full of Chryslers, Ramblers, Cadillacs, Dodges, Plymouths, and any conceivable American mark, all of which have since “served the Revolution tirelessly, and continue to do so on a daily basis, carrying its loads, transporting its people,” even as Fidel has given up his Willys for a chauffeured Mercedes and even as thousands of suffering Cubanos have had to endure Yugos, Skodas, Ladas, Warsawas, and other automotive horrors from the former Eastern Bloc, which inspired enterprising islanders to make an art of recycling, retrofitting, and revering Yanquí wheels.

Schweid, hardly the first American traveler to Cuba to note the island’s auto-mania, makes this an occasion to write both a sturdy history and a lyrical song of love for the cars of yesteryear. The result: a treat for motorheads and geopolitics buffs alike.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2004

ISBN: 0-8078-2982-0

Page Count: 262

Publisher: Univ. of North Carolina

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2004

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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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WHY WE'RE POLARIZED

A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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