“The Post-American World” by Fareed Zacharia (Norton, 2008)

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Fareed Zakaria, author of The Future of Freedom, and editor for Newsweek Inter-national, offers up a sobering yet fascinating look at the possible future of the United States and its stake as the global superpower in the first half of the twenty-first century.  The Post-American World is part business, part political, part historical, and part sociological; as Zakaria analyzes how the United States has arrived at the state it is in internationally, and what the future holds for the two global giants of India and China on the horizon.

Zakaria begins by discussing how the United States – as well as its citizens – has continued to perceive itself, from the end of the Cold War to the present, as the sole global superpower and utopian democratic and capitalist nation by which the rest of the world should admire and follow suit with.  This is all too clear with the globalization of numerous American companies such as the McDonald’s and Starbucks franchises, which can now be found almost anywhere in the world, on every continent except Antarctica.  But in that time, the United States has lost uncountable jobs, manufacturing industries, and development institutions to other countries, which is now causing serious problems with unemployment and the cost of goods and services to the nation and its citizens.

Zakaria points out: “Generations from now, when historians write about these times, they might note that, in the early decades of the twenty-first century, the United States succeeded in its great and historic mission – it globalized the world.  But along the way, they might write, it forgot to globalize itself.”

Coupled with this is the continued downfall and disinterest the rest of the world now has in the United States with the choices and decisions it has made.  “The world is moving from anger to indifference, from anti-Americanism to post-Americanism,” Zakaria says. And it is not until the United States fully comprehends this, that things will begin turning around and improving.

With the United States left in the wake of globalization, Zakaria turns the reader to the next two giants that will become the next so-called superpowers due to the variety and number of industries already situated within their borders, as well as the exploding workforce that is available at a much cheaper rate than the Western World.  Zakaria spends most of the book, with specific chapters each on India and China, giving their history and development over the centuries and how it is that they now stand at this brink to become the next superpowers.  He also offers sobering statistics in a world that is becoming more environmentally inclined: “Between 2006 and 2012, China and India will build eight hundred new coal-fired power plants – with combined [carbon dioxide] emissions five times the total savings of the Kyoto accords.”  And yet the growth in these countries is unstoppable and how is America to critique this when it is one of the largest contributors of carbon dioxide in the world?

In the last chapter, Zakaria addresses what the United States needs to do to become the once great shining nation it was.  “It needs to stop cowering in fear.  It is fear that has created a climate of paranoia and panic in the United States and fear that has enabled our strategic missteps.”  While at this moment in time, this seems more of a lesson for its government than its people, it is the last paragraph in The Post-American World that makes the most sense to the reader:

“For America to thrive in this new and challenging era, for it to succeed amid the rise of the rest, it need fulfill only one test.  It should be a place that is as inviting and exciting to the young student who enters the country today as it was for this awkward eighteen-year-old a generation ago.”

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Originally written on June 20th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Einstein: His Life and Universe” by Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster, 2007)

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Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, takes biography writing to a whole new level with Einstein: His Life and Universe.  This isn’t just the story of Albert Einstein from birth until death; Isaacson escorts the reader on a unique journey through the mind of Einstein, as well as through the eyes of his friends and family; along the way one becomes so close and understanding of the man of the twentieth century it is as if he were still alive and conversing with you.  This book shows you the man and human being behind the genius of physics and astronomy, the creator of the theory of relativity.

Do not be fooled by the sheer girth of this 700-page book, Isaacson has a writing style that immediately makes the reader feel calm and at home, sitting in a comfortable chair doing what they love to do.  Coupled with this is the knowledge – since the book is so large – that you will experience every important moment in Einstein’s life and you will be able to put to rest the urban legends that have developed over the decades.  And no, Einstein did not flunk math.

Isaacson has done an incredible job in researching the math and physics so that the theories and ideas are presented in their entirety and laid out plainly so that if the reader wishes to truly understand Einstein’s ideas behind relativity, magnetic fields, quantum mechanics, and his never ending search for the unified field theory, they can.  But unlike most Einstein biographies, this is only part of the book; another part is the human being behind the incredible brain.  While being a very kind man throughout his life, Einstein also had a thing for the ladies, divorcing his first wife, Maric, of many years due to his infidelity with his second wife and cousin, Elsa, who he would outlive.  Nevertheless, throughout his life Einstein always loved and cared for his children, even his first daughter with Maric who was given up for adoption and remains an obscure detail to history.  There was a time when he held little respect for Hans Albert, his son, who pursued a career in engineering; Einstein’s love belonged to the world of theory and contemplation and despised the more manual sciences.  Later in life, Hans and Albert became close once again and his son was by his side when Einstein died.

While not in the table of contents, the book can be divided into two parts, two worlds essentially for Einstein’s life.  The first is his growing up in Germany and then moving to Switzerland, Prague and Berlin.  His genius was there from the beginning, as he mastered calculus at the age of 15, and while working at a patent office began his work on relativity.  It took some years before Einstein was granted a professorship in Berlin among his colleagues.  It is during this time that Einstein was at his height and achieved a celebrity status that was very uncommon for a scientist, and where Hitler began his steady rise to power.  While Einstein adamantly declared himself without religion, he never considered himself an atheist but a scientist; however he always considered himself a member of the Jewish culture and with the changes taking place in Germany, he became a prominent spokesmen for the Zionist movement.  Sadly it came to the point where it simply wasn’t safe for Einstein to live in Germany anymore, as well as being forced out of his professorship, he made the decision to immigrate to the United States.  He had visited the country a number of times during his tours around the world as a proponent of relativity and to meet other scientists at conferences, and was a big supporter of the rights and freedoms inherent in the country.

This is where the second part of the book begins, pursuing Einstein’s life in the United States.  It was during this time that he sought out citizenship and left for Bermuda so that he could properly immigrate and go through the citizenship procedure.  An adamant pacifist throughout his life, as the horrific events taking place in Germany began to surface, Einstein became more political and outspoken towards the country of his birth.  And it was at this time the theory of the chain reaction was discussed between him and a scientist friend and the concept for the atomic bomb was developed.  While it has been thought by many that Einstein was linked with the atom bomb from its conception to its detonation, he was only involved at the theoretical stage, kept out from the further proceedings due to his Jewish and German history.  Once the full potential of the bomb was realized, Einstein went out of his way to voice his opinions on the effects of the bomb to the President, Defense Secretary, and anyone else who would listen.

After the end of the war and devastation caused by the bombs, Einstein became introverted, focusing more on his theoretical work and pulling away from the limelight.  For the rest of his life, to his last days, he calculated, contemplated, and searched for  the linking solution between relativity and quantum mechanics: the unified field theory that would explain the universe once and for all.

Einstein: His Life and Universe does not simply tell you Einstein’s life story and the incredible achievements he made, but instills a fascination and excitement with science in the reader.  It brings back potent ideas of the past during the age of discovery, as well as laying a foundation in science for the ideas and inventions of the future when, perhaps, the unified field theory may finally be discovered and fully realized.

AUDIOBOOK VERSION: The reader for the audiobook version for Einstein: His Life and Universe is Edward Hermann who starred in The Aviator, received an Emmy Award for his work on The Practice and appeared regularly on Gilmore Girls.  Hermann’s voice is like that of an enjoyable professor at a lecture, or a grandfather telling you an old story: soft and calming, but also clear and understandable.  It is perhaps in the audiobook version that the book is a lot less daunting and the listener is able to enjoy the story wherever they are.

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Originally written on July 8th 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.

“1000 Places to See in the U.S.A. and Canada Before You Die ” by Patricia Schultz (Workman, 2007)

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When travel writer Patricia Schultz published 1000 Places to See Before You Die on May 22nd, 2003, she expected the book to do relatively well like her other travel writings.  She has written for Frommer’s, Berlitz, and Access travel guides, and has published articles in Condé Nast Traveler, Islands, and Harper’s Bazaar: a fairly accomplished travel writer in her field.  This was the general idea for bookstores also: 1000 Places would do relatively well being a travel book and an original idea.  No one predicted an amazing, bestselling success; one of the top gifts for Christmas of that year; and an unstoppable expansion into new uncharted territories: a calendar, a TV show, a registered trademark, a soon-to-be information-filled website (www.1000beforeyourdie.com), and an idea that will spawn countless sequels, such as Shultz’s latest release 1000 Places to See in the USA and Canada Before You Die, released almost exactly four years later.

What makes this new book unique for Americans and Canadians is that there is at least one chapter (if not more) in this book that each person will know very well, for it is about where they live.  They likely will know the big tourist spots, the areas one must visit, and the locations that are known worldwide; these are all included in 1000 Places to See in USA and Canada Before You Die.  However, Schultz takes you further with short detailed articles on areas you may never have heard of, even if you live in that particular area.  I live in California and have for some time.  I’ve seen a lot of the popular locations Schultz mentions: Alcatraz Island, Catalina Island, Yosemite, and the Mission Santa Barbara; but on reading this chapter I was thrilled to discover new locations I’d never heard of within California, such as Ojai, a delightful town located north of Los Angeles, as well as the annual Festival of the Arts, held in Laguna Beach each summer.  Included in this chapter on California are also articles on popular restaurants for both Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Schultz takes you on a journey through every state of the country, and every province in Canada, providing the reader with valuable information that doesn’t take up that much room.  Each article is a couple pages long and ideal for reading in a brief space of time, say, waiting for a train or plane, or taking a cab ride across a city you’ve never been to before.  One of the keys to this book and Schultz’s last, is the economical way they have been published in paperback form (however, 1000 Places to See in USA and Canada Before You Die is also available in hardcover), and while they may not fit in your pocket, they easily slip into a backpack or purse, weigh little, and are very easy to navigate with a table of contents and extensive index.  Schultz goes one step further with her latest book in providing the reader with “special indexes” in addition to the regular one, which includes: first-rate hotels, resorts, and spas; lists of unique restaurants and places to eat; scenic drives; getaway islands; and where to take the kids, to name a few.

The saying is: “So many places, so little time.”  But thanks to Patricia Schultz, travelers now have two invaluable resources that while not making it possible to see every important place in the world in one lifetime, nevertheless quantify and qualify what there is so see and why you should see it; whether you’re sitting on a couch in your home deciding where to travel to; or 35,000 feet up on your way to a new and never before seen country; or traveling along a rare and hidden location you’ve never heard of.  Over a hundred years ago, every traveler was required to have their Baedeker on them at all times; in the twenty-first century, it is 1000 Places to See . . .

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on June 14th 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.