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Sunday, August 21, 2005

What Tax Profs Are Reading . . . Ann Murphy

Bookclublogo_1Ann1a Ann Murphy (Gonzaga) is kind enough to share with us reviews of six books she has read (actually, listened to) recently:

      • Founding Brothers, by Joseph J. Ellis
      • A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson
      • Mountains Beyond Mountains – The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World, by Tracy Kidder
      • Pendragon – The Merchant of Death, by D.J. MacHale
      • May It Please The Court, by Peter Irons and Stephanie Guitton
      • The Roosevelts: An American Saga, by Peter Collier (with David Horowitz)

The goal of What Tax Profs Are Reading . . . is to share with the broader tax community reviews of both tax-related and nontax-related books recently read by tax professors. We invite tax professors to submit book reviews for publication on TaxProf Blog.

Founding Brothers – by Joseph J. Ellis

This book about the men who are usually referred to as the Founding Fathers is very interesting and enjoyable read. Ellis discusses John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, George Washington, Ben Franklin and James Madison, although most of his detail is in the relationship between Adams and Jefferson. What I liked most about the book was his concentration on the personalities of these men. After I read it I looked upon these men in a much more human way – of course they were flawed – aren’t we all? Their flaws make them more human. Of particular interest is the rather lengthy (but fascinating) description of the duel between Hamilton and Burr. Ellis presents the result (Hamilton’s death) as one that neither party intended nor wanted – really a tragedy of errors. I found my earlier admiration of Jefferson waning a bit because of this book and I learned that perhaps the most deserving of admiration is Franklin, who was the only brother who clearly and publicly opposed slavery. What I did not like about this book is the organization. I am very much a lineal thinker – from start to finish. Ellis jumps around quite a bit and I found that a bit bothersome. I highly recommend this book.

A Short History of Nearly Everything – by Bill Bryson

This is an absolutely fantastic book. The older I get, the more exciting science becomes. Bryson presents complex concepts in a way that is understandable to even me – a liberal arts major! How interesting our world is and how fascinating we humans are. He covers it all – protons, the galaxy, physics, the human body, etc. Granted, he has to do it at break-neck speed, but he has such a gift with words that he never lost me for a minute. This book made me want to learn a lot more about everything. I just wish I had the time! Bryson has a wicked sense of humor and it show throughout this book. He interviews quite a few experts in each field he covers and together these experts and Bryson explain the seemingly unexplainable. On the down side – I need to listen to this book again, because he covers so very much – however, that really is not a negative – I am looking forward to listening again. I was able to get the unabridged version of the book on tape at my local library, but it is now out of print, and only the abridged version is available on tape, which is a shame. One of the best books I have read in quite some time.

Mountains Beyond Mountains – The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World – by Tracy Kidder

Can one person really affect the world? Oh yes. This book about Dr. Paul Farmer proves that. Farmer is one interesting guy – he grew up rather poor and his father was truly eccentric (he raised his family on a boat and on a bus). Farmer excelled at school and earned an anthropology degree. In connection with his degree, he visited Haiti and was not only shocked by the conditions he found there, but also truly fell in love with the people and the country. He then went to medical school at Harvard. While in medical school, he took secret weekend trips to Haiti. Soon his professors discovered his impossible double life and granted him special permission to miss classes so that he could conduct his work in Haiti. This man is remarkable. He is brilliant, compassionate and possibly the hardest working man in America. He single-handedly tackled tuberculosis in Haiti, and then broadened his reach to Peru and Russian prisons. My husband read this book before I listened to it and he would constantly look up from the book and say “you just can’t believe what this guy has accomplished.” Indeed. The only down side of this book is that it made me feel that I have not met my human duty of giving back to this world. The book certainly inspired me and I am taking greater steps to help those in need. I could not recommend this book more highly.

Pendragon – The Merchant of Death – by D.J. MacHale

I bought this book on C.D. for my sons. I discovered that the best way to stop arguments between my nine and eleven-year old sons was to listen to audio books. I simply look for books that aim at the pre-teen audience. But, I have to say, this book is great! My sons and I are not alone in our appreciation of this book – there are now six Pendragon books. Pendragon is Bobby Pendragon – a 14-year old boy who is popular in school and is living a normal suburban life. Then his cool Uncle Press comes to visit him and asks for his help. Bobby’s life changes forever. He’s off to another dimension named Denduron. The two races on Denduron are heading for an ultimate conflict and possible destruction of their world. Bobby is a “Traveler” and is able to float between dimensions. Much to his surprise, he is the only one that can save Denduron. MacHale is an excellent writer and the story is action-packed from start to finish. My sons and I were inventing reasons to take drives so that we could listen to more of the book. I’ve just ordered # 2 and # 3. Wonderful book for kids and adults – but there is a bit of mild profanity, so you may not want to introduce it to young children.

May It Please The Court – by Peter Irons and Stephanie Guitton

This is just wonderful. Oddly enough, my husband bought this book and audio cassettes for me a number of years ago, and I let it sit on the shelf. I wish I had not waited! The audio cassettes contain actual recordings of arguments made before the U.S. Supreme Court – apparently the taping of such arguments did not begin until 1955. Irons and Guitton selected certain landmark cases and they provide commentary to the arguments. I don’t think I would have appreciated this as a law student, but I certainly do today. The cases are of course the most fascinating ones, but to actually hear the arguments – they seemed to transport me to the courtroom as the cases were being argued. Absolutely fantastic. A must-read for any law professor!

The Roosevelts: An American Saga – by Peter Collier (with David Horowitz)

You get a lot of bang for your buck with this one. This book covers the mid-1800s until the 1960s and all the Roosevelts in between. Of course, the focus is on Teddy, Franklin (FDR) and Eleanor, but Collier and Horowitz discuss all of the offspring of Teddy and Franklin, and how interesting they are! The authors distinguish between the “Oyster Bay” Roosevelts (Teddy’s side) and the “Hyde Park” Roosevelts (Franklin’s side). There was quite a bit of animosity between the two clans. The superb writing of Collier puts you back in time and many times as I finished listening to the audio book, I was almost surprised to find myself in the year 2005. The book is that engrossing. There is an enormous amount of tragedy in this family – Eleanor’s father (Teddy’s brother) was a desperate alcoholic. Franklin’s mother was overbearing and domineering and cruel to Eleanor. Surprisingly, the book does not take a sympathetic view towards Eleanor, although the authors certainly present her heartbreaking childhood in detail. Eleanor and FDR’s children are victims of an incredibly dysfunctional upbringing. Eleanor was cold and FDR was gone most of the time. None of the children of Teddy and FDR were able to walk in the footsteps of their fathers. A beautifully written book and one you can’t put down.

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