Saturday, November 18, 2017

Two recommended books

Book Reviews

The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn by Nathaniel Philbrick 
As a history buff with a master's in the subject, I have read a lot about Custer and the Bighorn fight. But as a fan of Philbrick's other work, I had to pick this up. It will be the standard work on the battle for many years. It is well written, well researched and well balanced. It goes into the personalities of Custer (he sounds like a modern politician--and I don't mean that as a compliment) and of Sitting Bull, detailing a lot of their careers before and, for Sitting Bull, after the battle. It cites the positives as well as his negatives of the participants on both sides. It also examines in detail the actions of Reno, Benteen, Terry, Gibbon and others. As a vet, I would not have wanted to serve under any of them. Philbrick has reviewed a great many sources, including some unpublished, and weighs the veracity of the accounts. There are a myriad of details I didn't know, Like that Sitting Bull's great-grandson served in the 101st Airborne in Vietnam and received a Bronze Star. This is a must for history buffs, especially those with an interest in military or western history.

Language in Thought and Action: Fifth Edition by S.I. Hayakawa (Author),‎ Alan R. Hayakawa (Author),‎ Robert MacNeil (Introduction)
This excellent book was referred to me by my friend who is a retired USMC Colonel. Because Hayakawa was a conservative US Senator, I fear some will pass the book by because of the political divide. This would be a their loss. According to Wiki, Hayakawa was "a linguist, psychologist, semanticist, teacher, and writer." This book is non-political, in fact there is much that progressives would approve of. From the preface: "The original version of this book, Language in Action, was in many respects a response to the dangers of propaganda, especially as exemplified in Adolf Hitler's success in persuading millions to share his maniacal and destructive views. It was my conviction then, as it remains now, that we need a habitually critical attitude toward language--our own as well as that of others--both to provide for our personal well-being, and to ensure that we will function adequately as citizens. Hitler is gone, but if the majority of our fellow citizens are more susceptible to slogans of fear and race hatred than those of respect and peaceful accommodation among human beings, our political liberties remain at the mercy of any eloquent and unscrupulous demagogue." And, "The basic ethical assumption of semantics, analogous to the assumption in medicine that health is preferable to illness, is that cooperation is preferable to conflict."
            He clearly explains the difference between reports, inferences and judgments.  He goes into the uses of purr-words and snarl-words, and details how what should be "reports" are often slanted into judgments. Some other quotes, "It will be the basic assumption of this book that widespread intraspecific cooperation through the use of language is the fundamental mechanism of human survival."  And, "Today the full resources of advertising agencies, public-relations experts, radio, television, and slanted news stories are brought to bear in order to influence our decisions in election campaigns, especially presidential elections." (Published in 1990 before the Internet! But he didn't have much good to say about TV.)  And," If we can get deeply into our consciousness the principle that no word ever has the same meaning twice, we will develop the habit of automatically examining contexts, and this enables us to understand better what others are saying."

            I wish I had read this book 45 years ago. It would have made me a better senator, and better speaker and a better writer. In my view, it should be read by every reporter, every broadcaster, every politician, every writer and all who rely on clear communication in their lives. 

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