Sunday, July 15, 2018

Post # 24

Quote for the Day: "Flint may be the most egregious modern-day example of environmental injustice." Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, What the Eyes Don't See. 2018.


What the Eyes Don't See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City
by Mona Hanna-Attisha

It is assumed that one of the primary responsibilities of local, state, and national government, through their numerous health and regulatory agencies, is to protect and ensure the health and safety of its citizens. This is the story of the total failure at all levels of government to protect the men, women, and children of Flint from lead poisoning via their community drinking water. The story is told by the Flint pediatrician, and her team of friends and colleagues who fought to alert Flint to this catastrophic health issue and make Flint, Genesee County, the State of Michigan, and the national government stop the poisoning of Flint by its own water department and deal with the serious health consequences that will affect thousands of Flint children for years to come.    

I was born and raised in Flint and spent nearly half my adult life living and working there. I followed the news closely of the poisoning, the cause, and its far-reaching implications as they were reported. I thought I knew most of the story.  But Dr. Hanna-Attisha's inside account of the crisis rocked me. At times I had to put the book down because I couldn't read through my tears and more than once I became too outraged and upset to read another word. At its heart, this is a book about how the lives of Flint's adults and especially its children were devalued by the very people empowered and entrusted with their well being. It wasn't just a failure of government it was criminal malfeasance. It was also a case of overt institutional racism. The previous sentence was the conclusion reached by a five-member state panel tasked with "reviewing actions regarding water use and testing in Flint."

Dr. Mona, as she is known by her patients, is as good a writer as she is an activist for the public good. The book reads like an edge-of-your-seat thriller as she chronicles her dawning awareness of  Flint's lead poisoning. She was fully aware of the terrible long-term effects lead poisoning would have on the young but the more she tried to make public health officials aware of the crisis the more they discredited her and lied to the public. The book is absolutely gripping reading and the author does a great job of weaving her family history and home life into the story.

The book is a shoo-in for inclusion in Michigan's Notable Book List and deserves consideration for a Pulitzer Prize. It is the best book I've read this year and the most important. And I fully admit I am biased. Long before I read the book I considered Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha a personal hero and, however doubtful in the current political climate, this proud immigrant from Iraq and U.S. citizen deserves a Presidental Medal of Freedom.  And if you don't believe it can happen in your city you could be dead wrong. Flint was the canary in the coal mine. If it wasn't for Dr. Mona and her team of public health activists no one would have noticed or acted upon the dead canary.

What the Eyes Don't See by Mona Hanna-Attisha. One World, 2018, $28.00

The Wreck
by Landon Beach

At the heart of this entertaining and suspenseful thriller is one of Michigan’s great historical mysteries that has gone unanswered for more than three hundred years. The author has done his research and cleverly woven that mystery and the solving of it as the engine that drives this novel of adventure.

School teacher Nate Martin and his wife Brooke spend their summers in an old beach house on the northern coast of Lake Huron that once belonged to his parents.  Michigan’s Sunrise Coast has traditionally been ignored by the wealthy but as available lakeshore property on the Lake Michigan side of the lower peninsula has become harder to find, the well-to-do discovered Lake Huron and its beautiful beaches. The coast the wealthy once looked down their noses at is presently becoming gentrified. This is the first novel or piece of non-fiction that I’ve read that describes the ever increasing shift from small, aging cottages to million dollar summer homes along northern US-23. The author is very good at capturing the feel, character, and charm of Up North small towns and cottage life on the big water.

On one of Nate’s morning strolls, he finds a peculiar and very out-of-place object on the beach. In trying to discover what the object is, where it could have come from, and if it is of any value he is told to look up Hutch, a Coast Guard retiree and widower, who lives up the coast from Nate and Brooke. The man is a bit of a curmudgeon, a jack of all trades has an interest in maritime history, and is estranged from his only daughter.

Nate’s discovery is of great interest to Hutch. The two men slowly become friends as they work to identify and research the object’s history and the adventure it soon leads them on.  The author does a great job of meticulously establishing a fictional resolution of Michigan’s 300-year-old mystery and describing the adventure that ensues. As news of what Nate might have found spreads it attacks the attention of violent men in search of some quick money. The main characters are fully drawn and several minor plot threads give them added dimension. The well thought out lead up to the climax burns like a slow fuse.

In fact, the build-up to the climax is so well drawn out the slam-bang abrupt ending comes as somewhat of a disappointment. I would have liked to have read a much more detailed account of how the villains arrived at the climactic scene. Instead, they were just there. I would have also liked more character development for the villains. Especially the singularly cold-blooded killer of which there was not even a hint as to his murderous side.

Landon Beach admits to wanting to entertain the reader which he does admirably in this his first novel. As an added bonus the reader is introduced to a very good description of the circumstances and the few basic facts surrounding one of the state’s great mysteries.
The Wreck by Landon Beach. Landon Beach Books, 2018, $11.99

Personal Recollections of a Cavalryman with Custer’s Michigan Cavalry Brigade in the Civil War
by J.H. Kidd

Since its publication in 1908, this memoir of a cavalryman who served in the 6th Michigan has been considered a Civil War classic. J. H. Kidd dropped out of the University of Michigan as a freshman and with the help of his influential father was conditionally appointed an officer in the 6th Regiment of Michigan Cavalry. The condition? In 15 days he had to recruit and enlist 78 men into his company.  He did it in under 15 days and served throughout the war as a cavalry officer under George Armstrong Custer. As Custer rose from the command of the 6th  Cavalry to command of the only cavalry brigade in any of the Union armies made up of regiments from a single state, Kidd followed him up the chain of command from Lieutenant to Brigadier General.

The memoir was written years after the war and was based on Kidd’s many letters to friends and family during the war. The result is one the most thorough and vivid personal accounts of a cavalryman’s daily life in camp, on the march, and on the battlefield to come out of the war.  Skyhorse Publishing’s welcome reissue of the classic with an introduction by Paul Andrew Hutton will hopefully introduce new readers to the important contributions and the many sacrifices Michigan’s cavalry made in saving the Union. It will also cause readers to re-evaluate General Custer’s prowess as a leader and a soldier.

Kidd, who became a journalist after the war, is a fine writer. The book overflows with memorable passages from thumbnail sketches of the outstanding and memorable men he served with to descriptions of battles and their aftermath. Kidd wrote of his first sighting of Lincoln, “In appearance, he was as unique as his place in history…. .” Of his first glance at Custer, the author recalled his “appearance amazed if it did not for the moment amuse me.”
The regimental surgeon looked like a preacher and swore like a pirate and when he got on a roll the man “could congeal blood in one’s veins.”

When Kidd suffered his first wound in battle an ambulance carried him through the debris of the battlefield and he observed, “everything was suggestive of desolation, nothing of the glory of war.” He follows that with a devastating description of the field hospital and watching the slow, painful, and uncomplaining death of a trooper shot in the bowels who knew his wound was fatal. And like every other man who served under Custer, he thought the world of him.

This book belongs on the shelf of any Michigan Civil War buff. No, I take that back, this enduring classic belongs on the shelf of any Civil War buff.
The Personal Recollections of a Cavalryman with Custer’s Michigan Cavalry Brigade in the Civil War by J. H. Kidd. Skyhorse Publishing, 2018, $14.99.

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February 1, 2020 Post #51

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