History, truth, and cedar trees; and the two failures who saved the nation; newsletter, July 20, 2018

July 23, 2018 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: newsletter.

This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,273) on July 20, 2018


We’re still recovering from the near-4,000 mile journey we took out West a couple of weeks ago. That recovering has included a lot of mowing and a good bit of weeding and cleaning out in the garden. We’re now gathering tomatoes and cucumbers. The July heat hasn’t made that much fun. More on the Great American Road in next week’s newsletter.

This week, however, a cornucopia (I love that word) of items: journalism, history, truth, cedar trees, and the Civil War included. Enjoy.

I hope you’ve had a great week and are looking forward to a great weekend.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.

Good journalism saves lives

Good journalism saves lives.

In this Age of Hyperbole, that’s no exaggeration. A couple of weeks ago in the newsletter, I mentioned John Carreyrou, investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal, and the book he has written titled Bad Blood.

The book tells the story of Elizabeth Holmes. the wunderkind of Silicon Valley, and her company Theranos and the way he uncovered her immoral and fraudulent behavior. Holmes said she had discovered a way to test blood using just a finger prick rather than needles that extracted blood from veins. Her company, she said, was developing the technology that would do the testing inside a small container, something patients could take home with them.

The results produced by these machines could be immediately transmitted to physicians, who could then prescribe or adjust medications based on those results.

Such a device, Holmes said often, and very persuasively, would revolutionize the delivery of medical care.

It was a journalistic narrative that is almost irresistible: A young, eager entrepreneur in Silicon Valley touts a world-changing idea and manages to raise a lot of money. She/he garners a lot of attention from the media, and that attention — plus the money — is self-confirming. Holmes was a master at directing and using this narrative.

The problem was that almost none of this was true.

There was indeed a device, but there was no technology capable of analyzing blood in this way. Blood, and a substantial amount of it, had to be drawn from a vein to be analyzed properly. Just about anyone with expertise in blood analytics could have told any journalist that.

As long as Holmes was taking money out of the hands of rich investors and venture capitalists, the story was not that important. When she started testing the device on live patients and claiming that it could accurately analyze blood for more than 100 different tests and when doctors started using those test results to prescribe or adjust medications — that’s when the real trouble began. The results the Theranos machines produced often varied widely from those of more traditional testing.

Had Carreyrou not done the investigative work that he did — and had the Wall Street Journal not backed him up as it did — it is certain that people would have died.

Carreyrou’s story of how Holmes built a myth around herself and of how he uncovered the truth of her fraudulent claims is fascinating and ultimately satisfying. The book, Bad Blood, contains far more than I have been able to include in this short summary and is highly recommended.

Female crime writers, #MeToo, and the love for Raymond Chandler

What’s a female crime-writing author, who owes so much to Raymond Chandler and who loves him dearly, to do in this age of #MeToo? Megan Abbott (Give Me Your Hand) has some interesting observations in a delightful and insightful essay on Salon.com.

Abbott is unabashed in her love for Raymond Chandler and the noir world that he creates so superbly in novels like The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye.

But the misogynistic attitude that Chandler’s characters exhibit is on full display. That Abbott concedes:

And yet, even reading Chandler’s harsher passages, I find myself not turning away but moving closer. Trying to understand something. Am I still entranced? Even as I resist the faintly gendered connotations of the term, its suggestion of female helplessness in the face of male potency, I still feel the pull. What fascinates and compels me most about Chandler in this #MeToo moment are the ways his novels speak to our current climate. Because if you want to understand toxic white masculinity, you could learn a lot by looking at noir. Source: Raymond Chandler in the age of #MeToo.

Look closely, she says, rather than rejecting it. Chandler still has something to tell us.

A good sub-10-minute read.

Cedars of Lebanon falling victim to climate change

If you grew up, as I did, in a household where you heard stories from the Bible, the phrase “cedars of Lebanon” has special meaning. They were trees used in building King Solomon’s temple.

That temple had the best of everything, so nothing but the best cedars would do. And the best cedars came from Lebanon. (1 Kings 5:6)

The cedar tree has a special place in the life and history of Lebanon, but now climate change, according to a beautifully constructed photo story in the New York Times, is killing those cedars.

Through five millenniums of recorded history, a parade of civilizations has praised the cedars of Lebanon — and then chopped them down. Lebanon has been deforested by Mesopotamians, Phoenicians and ancient Egyptians; by the Greek and Roman empires; by crusaders, colonizers and modern Middle East turmoil. Yet the trees are so symbolic of the country that a cedar stands at the center of the Lebanese flag.

Take a look: Climate Change Is Killing the Cedars of Lebanon – The New York Times

Note: Here in Tennessee near the town of Lebanon, we have the Cedars of Lebanon State Park.

Giveaways and offers

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”

Independence Day Celebration — Books about Freedom. This Instafreebie group giveaway has some fantastic books by an excellent group of independent authors (including . . . ahem . . . me). You will find something to add to your summer reading stack.

Two failures who saved each other – and then saved the nation

Well into his adult life, Cump Sherman considered himself a failure. So did others. He had attended West Point and had accomplished some relative successes in his military career. But when he left the army, he proceeded to fail at everything he tried. His health — he suffered from asthma — and his mental stability were the big question marks in his life.

Much the same could be said for Sam Grant. He, too, went to West Point and excelled there only at horsemanship. His experience in the Mexican War showed that he could lead men into combat effectively. Otherwise, like Sherman, Grant knew only failure as a civilian. Unlike Sherman, Grant’s health, mental and physical, was not in question, but he had demonstrated a weakness for alcohol.

Then in April 1861, the Civil War began, and both men got a second chance.

During that first year of the war, neither man seemed to be able to move much beyond their civilian failures. Sherman — whose family was well placed politically — wound up as the chief military commander for the forces in Kentucky, but his mental instability became public, and the criticism that ensued drove him more deeply into his depression.

Grant rose quickly through the ranks and achieved some notable successes at Forts Henry and Donelson as Union forces began their invasion of Tennessee. But his reputation for drinking dogged him, and although President Abraham Lincoln was impressed with his accomplishments, his military superiors, particularly Henry Halleck, had little use for him. Hallack, however, could not ignore Grant’s accomplishments and the favorable impression he had made on the public, so he promoted Grant to commander of the Union forces in West Tennessee.

At the same time, he put Sherman in charge of a department under Grant.

Sherman had been taken with Grant’s style of military command, which was decisive and forceful. He saw in Grant someone he could respect and trust, and his confidence in his military abilities was restored. Grant, in turn, showed respect for Sherman’s ability and confidence that he could lead soldiers into battle. That confidence was confirmed as the Union forces moved southward on the Tennessee River and landed near a small Methodist church name Shiloh.

It was there, at Shiloh, that Cump Sherman became the William Tecumseh Sherman that history has given to us. It was also at Shiloh that Sherman’s partnership with Ulysses S. Grant was forged, though in a strange and surprising way.

Part 2: Shiloh, the battle and beyond (next week)


The major sources for the information above are the excellent biography of Sherman (Sherman: A Soldier’s Passion for Order) by John Marszalek and Winston Groom‘s Shiloh, 1862, an outstanding description of the battle that demonstrated to both sides what the next three years of the Civil War would be like.

Writing a book? Forget the keyboard; find the audio recorder

Let’s see: It’s hardback > paperback, > ebook > audiobook. That’s the natural sequence of things, right?

Maybe, maybe not.

A growing number of authors are rejecting this sequence and going straight to the . . . audiobook.

That’s what this recent article in the New York Times says. It uses non-fiction author Michael Lewis as an example. Lewis just sold his latest work, a contemporary political narrative, to Audible, the audiobook publisher and retailer.

And he has a deal for more.

Mr. Lewis is part of a growing group of A-list authors bypassing print and releasing audiobook originals, hoping to take advantage of the exploding audiobook market. It’s the latest sign that audiobooks are no longer an appendage of print, but a creative medium in their own right. But the rise of stand-alone audio has also made some traditional publishers nervous, as Audible strikes deals directly with writers, including best-selling authors like the historian Robert Caro and the novelist Jeffery Deaver. SourceWant to Read Michael Lewis’s Next Work? You’ll Be Able to Listen to It First – The New York Times

And because it’s audio and not print, some new possibilities open up. Instead of narration, there can be drama. Audible is actively looking for original works to buy or commission.

As part of its push for original stories, Audible is commissioning one- and two-person plays, and recently awarded grants to 15 emerging playwrights. In May, it announced a deal with the actress and producer Reese Witherspoon to develop audio originals.

If you are an audiophile, this is all good news.

The death of truth

Pour yourself a cup of coffee or make yourself a strong cup of tea (my evening choice) and settle back to read this important but difficult article in The Guardian by Michiko Kakutani on why we seem to have given up on facts.

Kakutani is the former chief book critic for the New York Times. She has taken a deep dive into the reasons for the unreasonableness of many of today’s civic discussions.

She writes:

For decades now, objectivity – or even the idea that people can aspire toward ascertaining the best available truth – has been falling out of favour. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s well-known observation that “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts” is more timely than ever: polarisation has grown so extreme that voters have a hard time even agreeing on the same facts. This has been exponentially accelerated by social media, which connects users with like-minded members and supplies them with customised news feeds that reinforce their preconceptions, allowing them to live in ever narrower silos.
The death of truth: how we gave up on facts and ended up with Trump | Books | The Guardian

Kakutani’s book is The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump. These are difficult times for facts, reason, and truth. This essay will help you understand why we’re at this point.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor (actually, pen and wash): William Tecumseh Sherman (caricature)

Best quote of the week:

Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms you would never see the true beauty of their carvings. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, psychiatrist and author (1926-2004)

Helping those in need

This is my weekly reminder to all of us (especially me) that there are many people who need our help. It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here). When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org)is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall 


You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Top 10 books about gangsters, Trumbull’s portrait of Washington, and hurricane news: newsletter, July 13, 2018



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