Sunday, September 1, 2019

September 1, 2019 Post # 46

Quote for the Day: "I expect nothing from Michigan, and heartily wish I had never heard of it." James Fenimore Cooper in a letter to his wife. The reference is probably due to a losing investment in Kalamazoo real estate.

In August of 2017 Michigan in Books' first issue or posting hit the Internet. In the past month  Michigan in Books surpassed 10,000 total page views. My heartfelt thanks go out to all the regular and occasional readers of the blog and my admiration continues to grow for Michigan's little known and often ignored self-published authors who write with such passion and eloquence about our state whether it is fiction or nonfiction. Please keep writing, your voices will be heard.  


Flint Fights Back: Environmental Justice and Democracy in the Flint Water Crisis
by Benjamin J. Pauli

The author is an Assistant Professor of Social Science at Flint's Kettering University who arrived in Flint with his wife and three-year-old son in 2015. As a new Flint resident with a family, the author became a close observer of the unfolding story of how the city's water became lead-tainted, the cover-up that followed with local and state officials denying the water was toxic or a health risk, and finally how Flint residents rose up and demanded clean water. A social scientist literally found one of the great stories of social, environmental, and democratic injustice of the decade dropped in his lap.

The Flint Water Crisis is a familiar story to most of us in Michigan. But none of the previous accounts approaches or studies the city's water crisis from the perspective of a social scientist. The reader gets a thorough account of how the water crisis occurred when the source of Flint's water supply was switched to the Flint River. The book covers the struggle by Flint residents to convince local and state officials they were being poisoned even as the same officials repeatedly claimed the water was fine, lead levels were not dangerously high, and there were no adverse effects from drinking, washing, cooking, or bathing in Flint's new water supply.  It wasn't until Dr. Hanna-Attisha revealed the dangerous levels of lead found in Flint's children and charged, in the case of Flint, it was "poisoning by policy" that the full extent of the crisis was realized.

The book explores environmental justice and the lack of it when it comes to the poor or people of color. The author also weighs in on the political climate within the state that permitted this "catastrophic breakdown in trust" between those "poisoned by policy" and their elected officials and government-appointed bureaucrats' who failed to listen, investigate, or simply tried to ignore the problem. The book is especially critical of Michigan's policy of replacing elected officials with state-appointed emergency managers in financially strapped cities like Flint. The emergency managers answered to the state and not to the people who they had been appointed to govern.  

A social scientist's inquiry into the Flint water debacle presents an added dimension to the story. The author makes clear that when the people of Flint demanded clean, safe water they also called for the restitution of their democratic rights. This reviewer must add that in the introduction and occasionally in the narrative neither my education nor IQ prove anywhere near adequate to untangle or understand academic gobbledegook such as: "This kind of normative language, some have agreed, has proven to be highly co-optable into the post-political "consensus" of neoliberalism, with favorite activist ideas like the "human right to water" operationalized by elites in ways compatible with privatization and other neoliberal agendas." But don't let the occasional sentence like the one above stop you from reading this important and revelatory book.

Flint Fight Back: Environmental Justice and Democracy in the Flint Water Crisis by Benjamin J. Pauli. MIT Press, 2019, $35 pb.

Deadly Restoration: A Douglas Lake Mystery
by Eric M. Howe

The University of Michigan Biological Station on Douglas Lake, north of Pellston, encompasses 10,000 acres of nearly untouched forest, wetlands, and 40% of the Douglas Lake shoreline. The land is like a time machine in which scientists can visit a Michigan ecosystem that existed 100 years ago. Every summer since 1909 scientists, graduate, and undergraduate students travel to the station to study the natural evolution of ecosystems, attend classes and conduct research. And this summer, among those who came to the station, was a killer.

The Maple River has recently become an object of local controversy in which the scientists at the Biological Station were asked to comment. The river has two main branches and has been dammed for decades just below the point where the two branches meet south of Pellston. It has become popular lately to remove old, outdated dams and make rivers free-lowing. A prominent group of locals is pushing for the removal of the dam on the Maple. Objecting to the removal are scientists who believe their research will be compromised and sportsmen who know the removal of the damn will permit sea lampreys to reach the upper portions of the river and wreak havoc among the upstream native trout. The author does a fine job of explaining the pros and cons of removing these dams and how passionate the argument can become. The Maple River damn argument becomes deadly when the leader of the pro removal group is found murdered.

Several of the Biological Station scientists are asked to share their expertise in helping to solve the murder. The result is one of the most original and surprising pieces of evidence leading to the killer in any mystery I've read. On the other hand, the murder doesn't occur until more than halfway through the book and at times takes second place to a richly detailed description of the Maple River area and the U of M Biological Station. 

The dam on the Maple River was recently removed and hopefully in the second book in the series, which will be reviewed in a later posting, readers will learn how the river has been effected. 
Deadly Restoration: A Douglas Lake Mystery by Eric M. Howe. Eric M. Howe Publisher, 2019, $7.99 pb.

Do No Harm
by Dawn Eastman

I'm not sure what sub-genre within the mystery field this author's two murder mysteries, featuring Dr. Katie LeClair, would comfortably fit. They are virtually violence-free murder mysteries, not a page in the book is graced with either an obscenity, swear word, or a sexual situation that makes it past 1st base. And it appears the local police of fictional Baxter, Michigan are incapable of solving murders and seemingly step aside and count on Dr. Katie to do their job. It is not the kind of mystery I usually turn to yet I found myself stuck like super glue to the book until the final page. 

Dr. Katie has a new patient who has just been released from prison for a murder he says he didn't commit. The young doctor is intrigued by her patient's story and looks into the facts and evidence from the old murder investigation. She learns that a college student doing a research project is also looking into the murder and has disappeared.  Then her patient disappears. Dr. LeClair is left with trying to figure out what happened years ago and if that has anything to do with the mystery of her vanished patient and the college student. Katie is also beginning to think her patient was wrongly accused.

Unlike the first in the series, this book does not provide the reader with as complete a portrait of a small-town doctor's practice.  What you do get is a doctor so committed to her patients' she will even try to prove one of them innocent of a decade-old murder. The plot keeps the reader guessing until the last page and in some ways, the construction and unfolding of the plot reminded me of an Agatha Christie mystery. Those looking for a throwback mystery absent of foul language, raw violence, and gratuitous sex will find this book to their liking. 
Do No Harm: A Dr. Katie LeClair Mystery by Dawn Eastman. Crooked Lane Books, 2018, $26.99 hardback.

The Life of the Lakes: A Guide to the Great Lakes Fishery Revised and Updated 4th Edition
by Brandin C. Schroeder, Dan M. O'Keefe, and Shari L. Dann

This 126-page report is jam-packed with charts, photographs, maps, graphs, and a surprising amount of information on the past, present, and future of commercial and sport fisheries on the Great Lakes that currently amounts to $1.5 billion dollars a year. This information-rich book gives a description of each lake and its watershed, fisheries, ecology, and its socioeconomic setting.

The authors cover the current management of the commercial fisheries and the tourism spawned in eight states and two countries by the fish of the Great Lakes.  The report leaves no doubt about the fragility of the fishery in a section devoted to the history of fishing in the Great Lakes and the near-collapse of the native fish population in the 1950s. It took state, federal and Canadian agencies years to bring back native fish, clean up polluted areas, and control invasive species. The book also looks to the future status of the fishery.

The book is full of surprising and eye-opening information such as the fact that 2.1 billion gallons of water a day is diverted via canals and water control structures in Chicago from Lake Michigan into the Mississippi River. Or, that the most popular sport fish anglers go after are perch and walleye. The book also tells of the resilience of the fishery and as evidence notes that Lake St. Clair is once again home to one of the world's largest populations of spawning lake sturgeons.

Anyone interested in the health of the Great Lakes and its fisheries will be hooked by this book. 

The Life of the Lakes: A Guide to the Great Lakes Fishery 4th ed. by Brandon C. Schroder, et al. Michigan Sea Grant College Program, the University of Michigan, 2019, $19.95 

Any of the books reviewed in this blog may be purchased by clicking your mouse on the book's cover which will take you to Amazon where you can usually purchase the book at a discount. By using this blog as a portal to Amazon and purchasing any product helps support Michigan in Books.


April 1, 2020 Post # 53

Quote for the day: "...[Lake Superior is] beautiful, empty, glittering, cold and brooding, gull-swept and impersonal; always there, alw...