Book reviews: Notes from Neil

By Neil Rajala

A May Day Mix

Thursday, May 1 — Happy May Day everyone! We're caught in that awkward place between the onset of (mostly) nice weather and summer vacation. Don't forget to leave time for some good books while you're starting the year's yard work and prepping your bicycle. Here's what we're reading:


Jonas Jonasson

Mr. Jonasson's previous book to make our shores from his native Sweden was The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. The title alone tells you the basic thrust of the story - a man escapes from a nursing home on his birthday and embarks on an unpredictable, fanciful and often very funny journey.

In his new novel, the author weaves a tale no less unpredictable. A young woman born to crushing poverty in South Africa finds her way out of the shack and mud of her childhood, and into South Africa's nuclear arms program. She eventually escapes to Sweden, where she finds happiness among the first "normal" people she meets in her life. But danger, and a rather unwelcome hunk of munitions, follows her and threatens the life she's formed with an American Vietnam deserter and twin Swedish brothers - one of who doesn't officially exist. There are head-shaking new plot twists on nearly every page. Mr. Jonasson, as he did in his last book, holds all of the crazy pieces together with his matter-of-fact storytelling style and remarkable dry sense of comedic timing. A tale that could easily spin out of control becomes compelling and moving in his talented hands. kobo eBook

Seymour Morris Jr.

Another very specific slice of history. I do seem to be drawn to those, and this one, too, was a very satisfying read.

Despite his storied, highly-decorated combat career, Mr. Morris makes a convincing argument that General MacArthur's greatest victory was during peacetime. Given the title "Supreme Commander", his task was to rebuild a defeated and economically ruined Japan following WWII. The personal animosity felt toward him by fellow military and political leaders left him with few allies and given a slim chance of success (President Truman appointed him to the job never even having met him). And yet, in less than six years Japan was transformed from its previous chauvinistic and feudal society into a democratic, peace-loving country well on the road to becoming a global economic power. MacArthur's empathy, persuasiveness and business sense surprised all of his doubters and added a late glorious chapter to a monumental military career. kobo eBook


Matt Taibbi

When young Mr. Taibbi took over the famed National Affairs Desk at Rolling Stone Magazine, he was a little-known journalist, following the likes of Hunter S. Thompson and P.J. O'Rourke into that job's spotlight. In fact, most news watchers were likely more familiar with his father Mike, a long-time correspondent for NBC News. But take it over he did, and until his recent retirement from the magazine proved himself to be one of the country's most astute watchdogs of global economics. His reporting on the banking and governmental malfeasance (and all of the subsequent lack of prosecution thereof) resulting in the 2008 financial crisis became must-reads for anyone wanting to actually understand what happened.

His new book expands on his columns by offering an overview of how the ever-widening income inequality in our society is corrupting our justice and prison systems from top to bottom. It's hard not to be outraged as he presents facts, figures and stories of real people to support his ominous opening statement: "Poverty goes up. Crime goes down. The prison population doubles. Fraud by the rich wipes out 40 percent of the world's wealth. The rich get massively richer. No one goes to jail." kobo eBook

I'm not about to complain about the cool, rainy weather we had last month. The day after my father drove down here from the UP for Easter weekend, the north country was socked with another snowstorm. He couldn't help but laugh while sitting outside in 70-degree temps as we celebrated the holiday. Oh, and they got another four inches or so this past week, too. Things down here are both fine and dandy, thank you.

Until next week,


NeilNeil Rajala is Currently Director of Community & Business Services for Schuler Books, Neil's decade with the company has included the wearing of many different hats - and lots and lots of reading.