"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read." - Jules Verne
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Sunday, January 14, 2018

THE WAR on KIDS: HOW AMERICAN JUVENILE JUSTICE LOST ITS WAY by Cara H. Drinan



Published by Oxford University Press in November of 2017.

Cara H. Drinan is a law professor at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Her book The War on Kids: How American Juvenile Justice Lost Its Way deals primarily with the changes to the justice system over the last 30 years and the mostly unforeseen consequences of those changes.

Drinan discusses how in the late 1980's and early 1990's the United States was experiencing a crime wave, including "the nation's peak murder rate" (p. 156) and a number of these criminals were minors. Lawmakers responded by making it easier to move cases involving juvenile offenders into adult court. Juvenile court, although imperfect, at least made some attempt to accommodate itself to the specific needs of youth offenders and offered opportunities to rehabilitate themselves. It also recognized the fact that young people's brains just work differently than adult brains (a point Drinan brings up often throughout the 

book). 

Early in the book, Drinan offers a powerful set of facts about the effects of poverty on youth and the truly dreadful conditions that some young people grow up in. Chapter 2's detailed description of Terrence Graham's childhood is tough reading. He was failed by nearly every adult relative in his life and was clearly failed by the social workers that knew the conditions he lived in and did nothing to remove him from a home filled with drugs, hunger, violence, chaos and deprivation. I wouldn't have let a dog stay in that house, let alone a human child.

Drinan also describes how defendants in the justice system often have to depend on understaffed public defender offices that clearly don't have the time to do much more than process their clients and hope for the best. The book Rights at Risk: The Limits of Liberty in America by David K. Shipler also covers this topic very well. Minors moved up into adult court become a part of an already over-burdened system. 


Not that the juvenile courts are doing much better. On pages 58 and 59 Drinan details a litany of failings, including statistics that show more than half of the minors held in juvenile detention don't even have an attorney. Public defenders that deal in juvenile law are overwhelmed. The industry standard is no more than 200 cases per defense attorney. Some have caseloads with more than 1,500 clients. There is no way they can do any sort of quality work with that sort of caseload. To make matters worse, many are not even trained in juvenile law. 

Drinan argues that there need to be a whole series of safety nets in place to help young people like Terrence Graham from getting into the justice system in the first place, but she offers precious few specifics. She also argues for rehabilitative programming in juvenile detention but only offers one detailed description - a program in Missouri that does sound promising. It is so promising that it makes me wonder why the other states haven't adopted it as well.

The second half of this slim book is a tough read. Not due to the content, but due to a lot of legalese. She makes a series of recommendations that sound all right, but I really can't say for sure because I am not an attorney. It's almost like she forgot who her intended audience was at the halfway point of the book and lapsed into jargon and started talking to the attorneys reading the book.

There are times when Drinan comes off as more than a little naive. She often reminds the reader that youth are often impulsive and their brains don't work like an adult human's brain. True enough. At times, though, she sounds like she would excuse nearly any crime simply because the perpetrator was a youth and youth can be more easily rehabilitated than adults. One case study involved a young man that lured another to a car wash so he could "talk" about an issue they were having. Instead, he ambushed him and shot him three times with a rifle. This is different than a young person who is serving time because he was the driver waiting outside in the car during a robbery in a store that resulted in someone being shot.


The closing is an unsatisfying mish-mash that takes way too many shots at Donald Trump. I am not a fan of the President. Despite all of his faults though, he is a political newbie and had nothing to do with the current state of the juvenile justice system.

Read the first half of this book to find out the depth of the problems with our juvenile justice system. It is powerful reading.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.


This book can be found on Amazon.com here: THE WAR on KIDS: HOW AMERICAN JUVENILE JUSTICE LOST ITS WAY by Cara H. Drinan.

Note: I received an advance uncorrected proof of this book for free so that I could write an honest review as a part of the Amazon Vine Program.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

TWO KINDS of TRUTH (Harry Bosch #20) (audiobook) by Michael Connelly



Published by Hachette Audio in 2017
Read by Titus Welliver
Duration: 9 hours, 54 minutes
Unabridged

The narrator, Titus Welliver, as Harry Bosch in the TV series Bosch.
Harry Bosch returns in his twentieth outing, more or less (there are a lot of overlapping characters in Michael Connelly's books). Although Bosch is primarily known as an LAPD detective, he is now retired and is working as a volunteer detective for the comparatively tiny San Fernando Police Department. He clears cold cases because San Fernando hasn't had an actual murder in years.

But, the opioid crisis has hit San Fernando and the owners of a family-owned pharmacy in one of San Fernando's main shopping districts are killed in an obvious hit by two gunmen. Bosch and the three full-time detectives swing into action.

Bosch is also distracted by a case from the 1980's that has come back to haunt him. A death row inmate has new evidence that exonerates him and he is blaming Harry Bosch for framing him in the first place and Bosch may be held financially responsible. Bosch, with the help of his half-brother Mickey Haller (The Lincoln Lawyer) has to act to save his good name, his life savings and to keep a murderer on death row.

Two Kinds of Truth is read by Titus Welliver, the actor that plays Harry Bosch in the Amazon streaming TV show Bosch. The Harry Bosch series has had a series of strong audiobook readers and Welliver continues that streak.

Longtime readers of the Harry Bosch series will be pleased to know that Jerry Edgar, an old partner of Harry's comes back to the series and plays a serious role.

This is the fourth Harry Bosch novel in a row that I thought would provide a good exit for the character. However, I am glad that Michael Connelly keeps on finding new things for Harry to do. In this book there were several new situations and new combinations of characters that kept it interesting.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly

Saturday, December 30, 2017

CALAMITIES and CATASTROPHES: THE TEN ABSOLUTELY WORST YEARS in HISTORY by Derek Wilson



Published in 2015 by Marble Arch Press

Going into this book, I knew that I would have a bone to pick with almost every one of the author's choices. After all, there are 5,000 years of recorded history and every last one of them is filled with tragedy. How can you pick and choose the actual worst 10 years?

Wilson, a British historian, focuses in this book on a Western point of view and the earliest date is 541 A.D. So, if you are making a pitch for the 10 worst years in the West in the last 1500 years, his choices are pretty solid.

The years he picks are:

541-542: The first outbreak of the Bubonic Plague weakens the nascent Byzantine Empire and the Persian Empire, killing millions.


1241-1242: The Mongols invade Eastern Europe.

1572: The Spanish Inquisition and everything that came with it.

1631-1632: The worst year of the Thirty Years War.

1709: The Great Freeze

1848: The "Year of Revolutions" in Europe

1865-1866: The assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the failure of the United States to follow through properly with Reconstruction after the Civil War. Also, the rise of terror groups like the KKK.

1942-1943: He almost exclusively focuses on the Russian front - the bloodbaths around Leningrad, Moscow and Stalingrad.


Robert Kennedy (1925-1968)
1968: The Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, protests around the world.

1994: The Rwandan genocide. There is a lot of focus on how and why the Western powers just watched it happen.

Sometimes, Wilson has a nice turn of phrase in his writing. I especially liked this line from page 151: "Over the centuries, whatever game Europe's nations played, the weakest had always seemed to be dealt to Poland."

But, there were lots of typos, a weird use of texting-style writing on page 122 and several errors with commas that made me have to re-read passages just to figure out if what Wilson had written was what he really meant to say. Other times, there are factual errors (that may have been editing errors - as I just noted, editing was a real issue in this book). The most egregious error was actually a double error in the same paragraph on page 227. Wilson notes:

 "By the end of 1967 the war had cost the lives of almost 16,000 combat troops and was gobbling up more than $2-3 million per month. What made matters worse was that America's youth had no way of avoiding military service because conscription (the 'draft') still existed."

First: a quick internet search says the Department of Defense spend $168 billion between 1965 and 1972 on military operations in Vietnam. I am sure he meant to say $2-3 billion, not million.

Secondly, there were ways to avoid the draft. Let's look at three recent American presidents. Bill Clinton chose the most popular way to avoid the draft - he went to college. It was no guarantee, but it was a good bet. Many universities grew during the Vietnam War due to increased demand. George W. Bush joined the Air National Guard. Also, it was no guarantee not be sent to Vietnam, but it was not likely. Donald Trump claimed disability (bone spurs in his feet).

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5. The limited focus on the West while claiming to be about all of history was a disappointment. The atrocious editing was also a concern.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: CALAMITIES and CATASTROPHES: THE TEN ABSOLUTELY WORST YEARS in HISTORY by Derek Wilson.

FAMOUS LATIN-AMERICAN LIBERATORS by Bernadine Bailey



Published in 1960 by Dodd, Mead and Company 
Part of the "Famous Biographies for Young People" series

In the 1950s and 1960s, it was common for the children's section of the library to have scads of biographies like this one. Most of them were about 100 pages of a simple biography of a single person, featuring a lot about that person's childhood. They must have been effective because I remember enthusiastically plowing through them and learning about Daniel Boone, Abraham Lincoln and other historical figures. Now, I am a history teacher.

This series is a variation on that theme. Rather than a single biography, it features approximately 12 page biographies (they vary in length) starting with a line drawing. All of the biographies are very readable, if not particularly compelling. But, in the days before the internet, books like this were gold if you were a young scholar assigned a write a report about a historical figure.

Other books in this extensive series include: Famous American Poets, Famous Pioneers for Young People, Famous Engineers and Famous Modern American Women Writers.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: FAMOUS LATIN-AMERICAN LIBERATORS by Bernadine Bailey.

Friday, December 29, 2017

BRAVE COMPANIONS: PORTRAITS in HISTORY (audiobook) by David MCCullough



Originally published in hardback book form in 1991.
Published by Simon and Schuster Audio.
Read by the author, David McCullough
Duration: 11 hours, 19 minutes
Unabridged

David McCullough
Brave Companions: Portraits in History is a collection of previously published articles and speeches. It's a smattering of this and that - sometimes it's about art, sometimes about scientists, sometimes about politicians and sometimes it's just some musings from McCullough about history. It doesn't matter, almost all of it is interesting and well-told. McCullough understands the value of telling history as a story - as always he is very approachable.

My favorite entry was the story of the railroad that preceded the Panama Canal. It was an amazing story of the power of human will against nature.

McCullough reads this audiobook, which is great because McCullough has a fantastic speaking voice and is well known for his voice work. I envy both his writing ability and his talents as a speaker.

My favorite quote from the book is from President Harry S. Truman: "The only new thing in the world is the history you don't know."


I rate this collection 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Brave Companions: Portraits in History by David McCullough

A CHRISTMAS STORY: THE BOOK that INSPIRED the HILARIOUS CLASSIC FILM (audiobook) by Jean Shepherd



Published by Listening Library in 2004.
Read by Dick Cavett
Duration: 3 hours, 36 minutes.
Unabridged

Jean Shepherd (1921-1999)
A lot of people aren't aware that the plot for the classic Christmas movie A Christmas Story was not written as a coherent novel but was actually a collection of short stories that the author had written about his childhood in northwestern Indiana during the Great Depression over the years that were then skillfully edited into a movie.

These stories don't follow the plot of the movie exactly, but all of the high points are here, including the infamous lamp, the bully, the BB gun, the visit to Santa and the Bumpus hounds. 


Interestingly, this audiobook was not read by Jean Shepherd, who was a professional radio personality and told most of these stories over the air (he is also the narrator in the movie). Instead, it is read by television host Dick Cavett. At first, I was disappointed but Cavett did a great job. This audiobook was a lot of fun.

5 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: A CHRISTMAS STORY: THE BOOK that INSPIRED the HILARIOUS CLASSIC FILM (audiobook) by Jean Shepherd.