April 26, 2015

Book review: “Believer: My Forty Years in Politics” by David Axelrod

I’ve known David Axelrod for more than 30 years. We were colleagues as reporters at the Chicago Tribune. Then, after he moved across the street to become a political operative instead of a political reporter, I would bump into him now and again as I covered various stories. Then, in 2008, he was the chief strategist for Barack Obama’s first presidential run, and I was assigned to do a profile of him. My 4,600-word article in the Chicago Tribune Magazine was titled “The Agony and the Agony,” an allusion to Axelrod’s constant fear of failure, even in the midst of great triumph, the inner engine that drove his frenetic pace…and pacing. Now, here’s his book Believer: My Forty Years in Politics.   Spin As a reporter, I hated to interview Axelrod because of his ability as a spin doctor. So I found it interesting that, in Believer, he mentions the word “spin” only six times.
April 13, 2015

Book review: “Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East” by Scott Anderson

There is much to admire in Scott Anderson’s Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East (2013), but I had my problems with it. What I especially liked about the book was how, at various points in the narrative, Anderson would step back and explain or put into perspective something that other authors tended to just take as a given. Or were too lazy to look into A good example is his description of how it feels to ride a camel. I’m not sure how many books about World War I hero Thomas Edward Lawrence or about the Middle East in general ever get around to doing this, but I’d bet it’s few, if any. In the midst of recounting Lawrence’s return to the Arabian desert and to camel-riding after two years behind a desk, Anderson mentions “the grinding physical discomfort” that the British officer had to endure. And then he elaborates: Since its pronounced and narrow spine lies just below the skin, riding a camel is a wholly different experience from riding a horse, more akin to sitting atop a swaying metal rod. Even the best Bedouin saddle – little more than […]
April 11, 2015

Book review: “The Portrait Now” by Robin Gibson

Robin Gibson’s book The Portrait Now was published in connection with an exhibition of the same name, organized by Gibson, on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London from November 19, 1993 to February, 6, 1994. It’s an elegantly produced, compact book that is itself a beautiful object, featuring images of 64 paintings, sculptures and other works with a modicum on useful, helpful commentary. Most of the artists are British, as are most of the subjects. That may be part of the reason many of the pieces here didn’t resonate with me. I didn’t know the backstory. Still, the impact of art shouldn’t depend on what a viewer “knows” about the subject and/or the artist. Another problem for me was the small, flat format which made the works all about the same size, far from how they would be experienced in a gallery — and made it especially hard to take in sculptures. Still, Gibson and the National Portrait Gallery went to great pains to present three-dimensional pieces well-lighted and –framed and all the art in rich, accurate color. No, my difficulties were more rooted in my inability or maybe laziness to decipher the messages or statements the artists […]
April 2, 2015

Poem: “The bullet enters Lincoln’s skull”

He dreamed and saw her under the tree in the pink dress her mother hated. He felt a small hand in his in the darkness and wanted to escort the boy. He saw the sun of that afternoon on the circuit when the horse was lame and he had a headache. He heard the voices of the hecklers for the first time clearly. He saw the burned city and the white city and the prairie town Capitol. He smelled the market stores along the river and the fish there for purchase. He saw his father by the woodblock with an axe in his hands and the body of an animal at his feet. He tasted blood. Patrick T. Reardon 4.3.15 Originally published in the magazine Telephone Book, number 18, in 1983.