by Edwin Lefevre

This book came highly recommended, and for someone intensely interested in financial markets, it has value. It may be an Investment Classic. It is written in textbook fashion, meaning it is poorly written and prolix. It is a blue pencil special.

This reader read 100 pages and stopped. The first problem is the text is a narrative using I: Everything must be explained by I, and neither I nor the author do that. I does not explain well the stock market, stock picking or timing. It seems out of nowhere I is in a brokerage shop or a firm where he buys or sells. I happily tells when he’s made money, based upon what analysis of the market, a stock, conditions or being drunk or using drugs? (e.g. Union Pacific)

This reader tired of reading that I had talked to friends, brokerage people, or there was this stock or that, and all the while this reader knew he was reading too many words. There ought to be one-quarter or one-third fewer words in this book, because there is no explanation of analysis or the market or stocks. This reader did not need to read that many words about I’s social career. Hence, the text should be 200-225 pages instead of 300 pages.



By George C. Daughan

This book tells of sea and lake battles and other activities of the United States Navy through 1815. The best chapters are of navel efforts during the American Revolutionary War. The author mentions but lacks detail about the ships and the weaponry: American ships were better constructed, why? They carried more cannons, and had better cannons than the British, French or Spanish. He also mentioned that the American sailor was well treated, although that policy did not last. (See Two Years Before the Mast)

The book is woefully short when it enters the fields of finance and politics. The author’s reading of sources after 1789 is painfully incomplete. The United States had a huge debt which all the country wanted to pay or remove; Hamilton’s initial effort to make all debt obligations of the federal govcrnment – like what happened after 2008 – failed. The Great Compromise of 1790 is partially relayed.

The author overlooks Hamilton’s close relationship with a British espionage agent, Colonel Beckwith. He laments that Madison and Jefferson (Republicans) wanted to set and follow Constitutional rules and procedures. In 1795 Hamilton arranged for John Jay to negotiate the Jay Treaty (about trade) with Britain, yet Hamilton later called Jay “an old woman” for delivering such a lame treaty. The author also seems to approve of the Alien and Sedition Acts, despite the direct conflict with the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Much of what John Adams did as President is approved, although he was away from the seat of government for two years. Adams began building frigates, yet when war came 15 years later, those ships were bottled up in harbors or defeated on the seas, just as the Republicans said would happen during any war with the British. Adams did successfully negotiate a peace treaty with the French (1800).

In the meanwhile throughout Adam’s administration, Hamilton was a war monger. He wanted to lead American forces to remove French and Spanish rule from North America with British backing. No American wanted that: Too much debt; too much military and war; too British – no American wanted the British close to American borders. Americans did not want to resume a political relationship with the British. Hamilton failed in his military ventures by 1800, and later that year he accused Adams of incompetence. [ Note that Aaron Burr took the plans of his good friend, Hamilton, and tried to make them work. He was accused of treason and put on trial, 1807.]

The Republicans willingness to favor peace and not increase the Navy or to finance campaigns left the waters calm. Diplomacy worked during the peace. The United States seemed a pacific nation. Napolean likely believed he would sell Louisiana to America and in the future reconquer it. For the price of the military budget for less than 20 years, the Republicans bought Louisiana and doubled the size of the country. The author of If By Sea pooh-poohs this second greatest accomplishment by American diplomats. Even Hamilton approved, and American finances did withstand the increase of debt.

The author is entirely correct that the Embargo of 1807 was ineffective and likely the wrong policy. As happens embargos were used and threatened (1794), and they were widely and popularly supported before and during the American Revolution. (see histories by T.H. Breen) There is no mention of this historical context in If By Sea, and the applicability of the policy, earlier, and other effects later.

A primary fact which allowed Americans to prevail on America’s lakes during the War of 1812 was the British blockade. American shipping was at a standstill; no ships in, or out. Sailors went to the lakes. On the other hand the British were far from the ocean up a river frozen for half the year. They did not their Navy ships and sailors trapped, so the British were using trappers, farmers and fur traders as sailors. If the war had lasted into 1815, the British would have had a difficult time on the lakes.


Candice Millard

This involved tale of exploration succeeds remotely. When reading J.H. Parry’s two books about Renaissance exploration of the oceans, I was amused when Parry would correct the location (navigation) of the place because the ocean currents did not conform to the records stated in the original sources. River of Doubt does not make such corrections. I do not have a sense that the author has traveled along the river.

This tale presents Theodore Roosevelt as someone who is a reckless adventurer and somewhat of a flake. No one knew the type and quantity of goods for the exhibition until three weeks along the trail. Someone looks. They are carrying Rhine Water, along with lots of other useless stuff. Much of it is abandoned. Neither Roosevelt nor Rondon (Brazilian) inspected or determined the anything was wrong until underway too far into the exhibition – lives have been damaged or lost, and will be. Note also, on this long trip into the jungle, Roosevelt has a bum leg; his son, Kermit, malaria.

It seems completely improbable Roosevelt would have gone off without reading anything about exploring rivers. During his life time books were written by such explorers: Richard Burton (Tanzania, Nile, 1860); Richard Speek (Nile, Lake Victoria, @1860); Henry Stanley (Nile, Congo River 1880); John Wesley Powell (Grand Canyon 1870) Certainly, Roosevelt knew that quinine inhibited the transmission of malaria. River of Doubt finally mentions quinine (p. 250) but the standard medical practice for prescribing quinine in 1914 is not given in the text. Roosevelt, himself, only had to ask his good friend, Leonard Wood, for advice. [About that page in the tale Roosevelt is hot with a malarial condition.] I might conclude that Roosevelt recklessly neglected quinine, or the author dropped quinine into the story as an afterthought.

The author has told a tale of the Central Amazon. Because journals, diaries, specie collections and exhibition records are incomplete or missing, she tells about the geography, flora and fauna very well. These environmental chapters, extending almost as far as the Amazon River is broad, carry the book and make it readable. She cannot tell of the full horrors of the place, except if half of any exhibition party returns, it has been a successful venture. The environmental chapters allow for the calendar to proceed. It replaces what might be available if all the sources were available: March 3, 1914, the party stopped her; disagreement between X and Y. This is the outcome. My only question is about vicinage: Are the flora and fauna described unique to the River of Doubt or are they found everywhere else in the Amazon basin?

An issue issue of biography arises from the text. It is not fully explored. Roosevelt was 53 years old. He suffered personal/psychological set backs when he lost the elections of 1912. Until that year Roosevelt had no defining potentially defeating events since his Rough Rider Days, when he was 40 years old. He takes up this exploration in an effort “to forge his own happiness.” (276) Yet at 54 he is injured, old, fat and out of shape. He knows a year of hardship and disease await him. He should not go within 500 miles of the River of Doubt. No one tells him not to go. Yet, was Roosevelt incapable of “forging his own happiness” in anyway, other than the means he devised in youth?

The answer to this question is obvious. Roosevelt physically and mentally failed. He also created conditions which led to his early death.

DEAR MARK TWAIN – Letters from his Readers

Apparently everyone in the nineteenth century is like present-day readers. Readers wrote to Mark Twain,
1. To get autographs in return (usually unsuccessful);
2. For advice about careers and writing;
3. To praise or criticize a Twain writing;
4 To superimpose one of their recent experiences on an episode in one of Twain’s works.
5. To learn where to buy the best editions of Twain’s work. [There letters were always
passed onto appropriate persons or businesses.]
6. To announce a new charity, or ask Twain to support publicly an existing charity.

Twain himself does not handle contact with the public well. He takes everything head-on, matter-of-factly and briefly, the tenor of the correspondence. The letters hardly enter the literary world where Twain works – essays, short stories. articles, novels and notes to close friends (Rogers, Howells). Twain does not purposefully neglect the common crowds; there are only 200 letters in this volume which seem representative. Twain may have received 200 or more letters per week. He had to allocate his time.

I cannot thoroughly recommend this book; I cannot completely disregard this book. The text tells a successful author almost everything to expect from a reading public. I was surprised that nineteenth century readers were interested in further stories of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Twain tried many; published a few. But platform fiction was not his forte. [Imagine Huck and Tom in the 1850s in the antebellum South; Consider Hank and Tom participating in the Civil War from 1861-1865; Dream of Hank and Tom during the Guilted Age.]



I heard much about this author and decided to give her a try. Tartt likes long and longer sentences. When I experience authors using long sentences, I am inclined to send each a bag of periods.

In History of Florence, Ferdinand Schevill, Ungar, NY, 1961, has many long beautiful sentences conveying a paragraph’s worth of information before the period arrives:

“If we now remind ourselves that Boniface VIII belonged to a lesser clan of the Roman Campagna, the Caetani, and that throughout his early life he had been exposed to the slights of the greater lords, we have no difficulty in understanding that from the moment he commanded the unbounded resources of the papacy he resolved to raise the Caetani to a level with the oldest and most powerful barons of the capital.”(page 168)

This sentence states a longstanding motivation of Boniface VIII and supports inferences why other Roman and Italian families did not like and back the upstart Caetani clan. It also explains why in 1308 (ten years later) when the French sacked Rome Boniface VIII had no friends.

That sentence has its own motors. The reader goes from facts to more facts defining further the subject and other nouns all without a dependent clause following the verb. There are no semi-colons; colons and parentheses. The author has set up the motivation, ability to use power and the projected results of using power.

In The Little Friend Harriet, girl growing up, tells the story of the family. It is the South of the 1950s and 1960s. Every scene in the book may have happened, but readers don’t need a chronicle of a family’s life. The sense that events are similar makes them indistinguishable; family members dwell on nonsense – what-ifs and what-might-have-happened is conveyed. Here’s a sentence about Harriet’s and the family’s outlook: 

“She possessed, to a singular and uncomfortable degree, the narrowness of vision which enabled all the Cleves to forget what they didn’t want to remember, and to exaggerate or otherwise alter what they couldn’t forget; and in restringing the skeleton of the extinct monstrosity which had been her family’s fortune, she was unaware that some of the bones had been tampered with; that others belonged to different animals entirely; that a great many of the most massive and spectacular bones were not bones at all, but plaster-of-paris forgeries. (The famous Bohemian chandelier for instance, had not come from Bohemia at all; it was not even made of crystal; the Judge’s mother had ordered it from Montgomery Ward.) (page 40)

There are oblivious problems, the first being this is a summing up, which runs on. It is better if a novelist tells the story and allows the reader to sum up – reach the conclusion the author wants the reader to make. This sentence sits in the novel like it was an outline point, which should not stand out in the text.

I added the sentence in parentheses because the words or sentences in the parentheses inferentially relate to something that came before. However, it seems improbable any sentence should start with “the narrowness of vision” and link it up with the great family lie, the Montgomery Ward chandelier.

I have been around long enough to know “the narrowness of vision” and “restringing the skeleton.” The secrets and the “dirt” about families are not about whether something is gold or brass, something easily discovered on “The Antiques Roadshow.” Family secrets are about conduct, behavior and thoughts. I would know more about my family not from the filtered fables about favorite souvenirs, but how family members procured their liquor during Prohibition, from whom and how far behind was Elliot Ness.  

There is a lot of parentheses use in A Little Friend. It is irritating. I decided to look it up. Perrin, Smith, Corder, Handbook of Current English, Scott, Foreman & Company, 3rd Edition, 1968, tells, “Parentheses are curved marks used chiefly to enclose incidental or explanatory remarks.” (173) “Parentheses are used to enclose remarks and asides that are not essential to the meaning of a passage.” (174) In essence parentheses are notes or footnotes in another form. A Little Friend uses parentheses correctly but does that use make it a novel?

It is still Harriet’s tale later on:

“Pemberton Hull was driving home from the Country Club in his baby-blue ’62 open-top Cadillac ( the chassis needed realigning, the radiator leaked and its was hell to find parts, he had to send off to some warehouse in Texas and wait two weeks before they arrived but still the car was his darling, his baby, his one true love and every cent he made at the Country Club went either to putting gas in it or to fixing it up when it broke down) and when he swept around the corner of George Street his headlights swung over little Allison Dufresnes sitting out on her front steps all by herself.” (page 104)

I don’t need to know the state of repair of a character’s tuna boat. What is amazing is the car made no noise as it came up the street, and Harriet was upstairs on her bed near an open window and didn’t hear it. When Harriet talks to a boy from town, he mimics the car by sound. (108)

The realization readers have after plowing through The Little Friend (more than 200,000 words) is, how many extra words will I read by the end on page 540? After reading the first 50,000 words, I figure I had read an extra 15,000 words – 75,000 words possible total which is another novel. I refuse.

These words exist in The Little Friend because someone failed to edit it and next blue pencil the text. Long sentences, semi-colons, colons and parentheses return me to my days when I wrote law. I know legal writing when I see it, and The Little Friend is written like a lawyer wrote it. It is informative and mostly clear with a caveat: Legal writing is better organized. A Little Friend is lawyerly not literary.

The types of writing to pass information or to tell a story in a novel is a grand canyon. Each presents opinions; each should present a consistent point of view; each presents the entire opinion in steps. But informational writing follows those guides in every document in order: A, B, C, D. Opinions and their arguments in literature can bounce around: A, L, Z, Q.

In literature an author communicates her imagination; she does not communicate information. Authors shift the order of presentation of opinion: A, L Z, Q may be it. But other devices give structure and order to the story: Voices. There can be more than one. All voices must be distinct from the standpoint of the character: education, biases, prejudices, age, status. These voices pass into dialogue.  In The Little Friend Harriet’s voice seems similar to those of other characters and their dialogue. The drawback is compounded by a united style [or presentation] of writing. For the reader all the characters become the same.

The paragraph about repairs needed on Pembarton’s car would have been better placed earlier when Harriet talks to him: She had introduced him before and knows his “one-true love.” He likely would have mentioned the car, if given the chance because he talked about the car with everyone who would listen. Pembarton also talks about Harriet’s sister. The car arrives but Harriet doesn’t describe any sound, or its effect on her. (104) The sound comes from the boy on page 108. In a novel the characters and the car, obtaining character-like traits, should relay a vignette. Weave the facts into the story about the people rather than data dump: (1)Pembarton’s car, (2) Harriet’s sister, (3) who is Pembarton.  

I tired of reading informational clumps, and stopped when family members began talking about the son, ten years dead, who would now be at college in a fraternity… I realize there is a story in The Little Friend, but it is not well put together. I don’t want to read it.

P.S. I glanced at Donna Tartt’s new book, The Goldfinch (700 plus pages) and was disillusioned. There are words in parentheses on the first page! What type of author has a writing style using parentheses?


“The logic of Michelangelo’s David, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Einstein’s Physics [has] been replaced by that of the Stock Exchange Year Book and Hitler’s Mein Kampf.” The author sets out a story – the “special conditions which exist” – to develop this theme. As I view the world, Ambler may as well be writing about the Clinton, Bush and Obama years in the United States of America.

Protagonist, Latimer, is a writer of detective stories. In Istanbul he meets a Colonel of Turkish intelligence who has outlined a detective story but can’t write it. He gives it to Latimer to write. He also offers to show Latimer the body of an international criminal, Dimitros. Latimer sees the man and learns what the Turks know of his activities – spotty before 1924 and a blank after 1924. Latimer decides to learn about Dimitros’ political, criminal and financial activities in those missing 14 years. 

For 100 pages the story is an obligation to read. It could be improved by Ambler telling of Latimer’s curiosity to investigate as a writer. Otherwise, Latimer seems flat and a gadfly. Also when faced with dead time in a story, an author can improve the tale in one of two ways: Tell a better story, OR improve the language used in the telling of the story. Ambler finally ponies up with the second method:

       1. Who is the mastermind becomes “who paid for the bullet?”

       2. Darkness of human existence became “baroque of human affairs.”

       3. “wrinkled flesh” is “raddled flesh”

       4. A sentence “People were dying faster than if you had machine-gunned them.”

       5. An adversary learns that Latimer’s passport says he is a writer, and he says, “…writer is a very elastic term.”

If some of these phrases and sentence offend, the time of this novel is Europe between the Wars. There is a chapter on white slavery and drug dealing in Paris, circa 1930. Many of the victimized prostitutes were from Eastern Europe. I thought this novel was a prequel to the movie, “Taken.”

Tomorrow I shall blog more about the gross statement of the theme of A Coffin, but this book demonstrates with little effort and few additions to the text that something of substance can be included in a tale of international crime. Ambler makes his book a statement of his times, a mirror of society. 

What does the first sentence of this post have to do with crime and A Coffin? When one person or hundred of persons are allowed to shirk the law, step over its lines repeatedly, make fortunes, become prominent and be protected, that makes for a very different society than the one popular in political mythology: Everyone plays by the same rules, has the same opportunities, can pursue happiness, can contribute to the general weal and gain the esteem due a member of society. In the first described society, select people abuse and take advantage and rob. Under the political myth, it is assumed there is organic growth to the betterment of everyone.

Most Americans prefer the political myth, but they don’t always know how to achieve it. They neglect standards, criteria and values. One area where Americans have abandoned all caution: Countless American entertainers and artists, purporting to be part of the community, are abusing the system: They don’t entertain; they aren’t artistic. But why denounce easy targets in the United States?

Look overseas to Russia and the band Pussy Riot. In a church that band decided to perform a desecrating concert and publicize it. The performance was devoid of art and was bad entertainment. If Pussy Riot does not shock with the band’s name, it shouldn’t perform in a church for “more shock value.”

They were prosecuted and imprisoned, which only enhanced their name in the West. Pussy Riot became a cause celebre. Rock and roll musicians asked they be released. I do know if Pussy Riot committed the crimes like trespass or malicious mischief, but years in prison seem long. Although devoid of art and being poor entertainment, the West is ready to bestow awards, riches, fame and adulation on Pussy Riot. That is a mistake. There are no standards, no values, no excellence, just publicity. The West, especially America, cannot give Pussy Riot a big- welcome, you’ve-held-up-our-values, you’re-important-to-human-existence. The West, America and the remainder of the World have done that justly and recently. Who out there has the gall to compare the comparative worth of Pussy Riot to Nelson Mandela?

What does Eric Ambler say? If society does not abide by its heroes like Nelson Mandela and conduct, respect and uphold supporting values and standards, society will end with the standards, values and excellence of Pussy Riot, “the Stock Exchange Year Book and Hitler’s Mein Kampf.”








HIPPIE – Barry Miles

A picture book (nine by twelve inches) of the Sixties’ music and hippie scenes.

Author Barry Miles is on the inside back cover. A photograph has a biographical caption of one sentence which reads in part, “Barry Miles was a central figure in the development of the hippie movement…”

Everyone can stop laughing now. Although there are photographs, hippies were no longer hippies by 1968. They were street people, dealers, run-of-the-mill petty thieves, drug addicts, counterculture-artists as well as students, radicals, revolutionaries, communist anarchists, women belonging to various women’s groups, gays, lesbians, ecology-earth freaks, commune people and minorities.

I appreciate the pictures, graphics and artwork in Hippie, but showing them only does not distinguish among the lifestyles and goals among the various peoples. That sort of story, fiction or non-fiction, would take a long time and a long book put together with great care. By showing pictures only there are mistakes. Women’s movements (1968 to the present) ended much public nudity for the mass of politically in-tune women. Indeed, by the Spring of 1973 the underground newspaper, The Berkeley Barb, which had made a living on naked women stopped printing those photographs. Yet in Hippie Miles has photos of naked women at music festivals to support the idea that there were hippies later.

The mix of Hollywood and youth music is not well told in pictures or in the slight editorial comments. Much too many pages are devoted to Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary and people prominent in the mid-Sixties when their influence justly faded after a year. One page mentions The Beach Boys – surfing, girls, ocean, beach: California Culture. The Beach Boys were in California before The Beatles, the Stones and everyone else. And California, its beaches and the Pacific had a lot to do with hippies, pot and youth music. No pictures and no words explain, tell or reveal any of this.

Hippie makes a passing glance at Charles Manson, musician hippie. His murders are mentioned, but it is Manson personally who is responsible, not hippie culture of peace and love which Manson embraced and lived, had disappointments and professional set  backs. Something should have been written. Anyone familiar with hippie culture knows how mean, degrading and violent it was. Explanations are difficult but not an impossible analyses for “a central figure in the development of the hippie movement” to narrate about hippies, Manson and murder.

Finally, while there are many photographs, graphics and artwork, collected in one volume, not much was presented that I had not seen before. The book yielded insignificant facts – Bill Graham’s beginnings. But there is no explanation in Miles’ broad brush of hippies and the culture. Did hippies disappear (1) because they no longer had anything to oppose; (2) because life was becoming more difficult to support that lifestyle; (3) because the youth of America [not English youth] were less naive; (4) because hippies could not solve anything in society with their lifestyles; (5) because hippies were predatory leeches on society; (6) because women stopped being hippies because it was primarily chauvinistically oriented and women were interested in liberation or feminism?

None of these questions or considerations are solved by showing pictures, artwork and graphics. Hippie is disappointing.