Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Empty Mansions


It is hard to imagine having so much wealth that you could have multiple mansions and allow them to sit empty and unused for decades. And yet, Huguette Clark did exactly that. She spent most of her life as a recluse in an apartment in New York City. Her apartment was large in comparison to most New York City apartments, yet beautiful designed. Even there, she only used a few rooms.

The story of how Huguette Clark came into her inheritance and where that money came from was equally fascinating. I had no idea the influence of her father, W. A. Clark, on the American West and the mining industry. Most of her money was inherited from her father's mining and investments. After her father, and then mother, died, Huguette retreated from life in the 1920's and lived reclusively with only a handful of close assistants. She handled most of her money by phone and people did what she asked. She developed several unique interests in doll collecting and artwork.

Towards the end of Huguette's life, even she could see that she would never spend all of her money. Though she came quite close. She gave hefty amounts to various people, which are now under dispute. And since she has passed away, her distant relatives have now shown an interest in her money and want their "fair" share.

This is a fascinating story of wealth generated during the industrial revolution spanning many decades. It raises many questions about wealth and personal responsibility, finance, and spending. Can you have so much money that you will never spend it all? Most of us will never know, but in the case of Huguette Clark we can see one possibility.

Book rating: 5 stars

The books I select for review are books which I personally select from my local library. I do not receive any reimbursement from authors or publishers or free books. I do provide links to Amazon as a convenience to the readers of this blog. I do earn a small referral pittance which is not even enough to buy a soda.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Salt Sugar Fat


Most of us would think that food that came from lab would be disgusting, and yet we eat it anyway. Jello, Lays potato chips, sodas, and nearly all pre-packaged convenience foods are made this way. The book Salt, Sugar, Fat is all about How the Food Giants Hooked Us.

Michael Moss explores the big business of food. There are a lot of interesting tidbits on how these companies conduct food tasting experiments to discover how much salt, sugar, and/or fat a consumer can tolerate. Even more interesting is they also look to see what makes us crave more. They then manipulate their food products to not only satisfy us, but to get us to buy more. At other times food scientists try to solve a problem to make a food more convenient or less expensive. Jello and pudding are two examples of a food product designed to create an instant food that use to take much more time to prepare. Other products have a constant shifting of ingredients depending on the price of food commodities available.

Michael Moss provides an expose of several food products and and food giants, which is very interesting. He suggests one real solution to the problem. The power is in the consumer to buy or not buy. If we don't buy a product, the food giants will change their product until we do. We are starting to see a backlash against this kind of food production. MacDonald's sales are down. Other food companies are removing high-fructose corn syrup and using "real" sugar (though even this is highly suspect)*. There is growth in organic and natural products. Vigilance on the part of the consumer is important because these changes may not always mean what we assume.

The book is a worthwhile read and will make you think twice about shopping the aisles of a grocery store.

Book Rating: 4 stars

*I recently bought a can of Betty Crocker frosting that proudly claim to have removed high-fructose corn syrup. But if you read the ingredients, it still contains corn syrup, which is misleading.

The books I select for review are books which I personally select from my local library. I do not receive any reimbursement from authors or publishers or free books. I do provide links to Amazon as a convenience to the readers of this blog. I do earn a small referral pittance which is not even enough to buy a soda.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Kerry : Agent Orange and an American Family


Agent Orange. A substance many modern Americans know little about and how it devastated an entire generation. This true story by Clifford Linedecker relates the story of Kerry, the daughter of Michael and Maureen Ryan. Kerry was born shortly after Michael returned from Vietnam. She was born with over 22 major birth defects and deformities. The cause - Michael's exposure to Agent Orange while in Vietnam.

Agent Orange was a substance sprayed on the jungles surrounding military bases and battle areas in order to defoliate the plants. And it worked amazingly well. The soldiers were told the substance was harmless to humans. They did not wear protective gear and even worse, they bathed in and drank contaminated water. The most highly exposed soldiers died shortly after returning from Vietnam. Others were periodically sick as the toxin slowly released in their system. Even today, Vietnam veterans are dying of aggressive cancers or suffering from lingering health problems. The people who live in defoliated areas of Vietnam are still suffering today, unable to use their land for food production and dying of cancers.

And the story gets even sadder as we learn that the children of Vietnam veterans are suffering from this toxic exposure. Kerry somehow managed to survive despite enormous challenges, living until 2006. Doctors could not explain how one child could be born with some many problems. As the Ryan's tried to help their daughter, they began to put the pieces together. Other Vets were also dying or sick. They were having children with unexplained birth defects and problems. And soon it became clear that Agent Orange was the likely source. Soon the Ryans became the center of the Agent Orange story and testified before Congress in the hopes that Vietnam Veterans and their families could get the help they needed.

Their efforts were not entirely in vain. Many veterans are getting helped, but the bureaucracy of the Veteran's Administration is still a major roadblock. And even all these years later, Vietnam Veterans are being denied treatment either out right or through delayed appointments and bureaucratic nightmares.

This story is important because it tells us what our government did to our soldiers. We don't know what lingering effect and how long this toxic exposure will last. What damage has been and will be passed from one generation to the next? We don't really know and it seems, sadly, that very few care.

Book Rating: 5 stars

This book is now out of print, but is available at nominal cost from third-party sellers on Amazon or at a public library.

The books I select for review are books which I personally select from my local library. I do not receive any reimbursement from authors or publishers or free books. I do provide links to Amazon as a convenience to the readers of this blog. I do earn a small referral pittance which is not even enough to buy a soda.