Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Summer Reading

What I like the most about the summer months is that once the school work is done, there is plenty of time to read. I always have plenty of reading recommendations for friends, and this batch of material is also worthy of a mention.

1. "The History Boys" by David Halberstam. Halberstam, who died earlier this past spring, was an enormously influential public historian who wrote about topics as diverse as the American auto industry to the Vietnam War. In his last essay, published posthumously by Vanity Fair, Halberstam attacks President Bush's argument that he is the new Harry Truman, and the administration's general and careless embrace of history. I especially appreciate Halberstam's smashing critique of comparing Americans who oppose the war in Iraq as "appeasers" and "traitors wishing for another Yalta." Halberstam correctly notes the enormous difference between the current administration's interpretation of Yalta and the reality of the situation in 1945; namely that the Americans could do nothing about eastern Europe in February of 1945, as the Soviet Union had well over 5 million troops occupying these lands, and were at the gates of Berlin. Even the neo-conservatives' hero, Winston Churchill, noted that there was nothing that the UK or the USA could do about the Soviet occupation of eastern Europe. There was nothing Truman could do either, and there is little to suggest that Bush would have done any of the painstaking alliance building that Truman did to create NATO, the UN, the WTO and many other international organizations that the current President has little time for. The article also has this great parody of Ben West's The Death of Wolfe done by Edward Sorel. Truly the apotheosis of the neo-conservative hero.

2. Stephen Carter's New England White. Producing another mystery regarding upper-class African Americans, Carter a great scholar and novelist. If you like history, a book that teaks Yale University, and fast-paced book of 600 pages, this is for you. New England White is not quite as good as The Emperor of Ocean Park, but still a good second effort.

3. Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West. While I moved away from doing Civil War history as a paying gig, I still enjoy reading books regarding various military campaigns. This book, written by academic historians William Shea and Earl Hess, is well suited for a popular audience. The writing style is brisk, free from academic jargon, and is an excellent introduction to the Civil War in the Trans-Missouri Theater of operations. I would recommend it for anyone, especially should you be visiting the battlefield in the near future (I still have not been here myself). My next Civil War read is Stephen Rhea's The Battle of the Wilderness, which is the first title in a five volume series on the Eastern Theater in 1864.

4. Not a book per-se, but a blog about a planner's road trip on US Highway 50. I really enjoyed reading this, as the author traveled through an assortment of regions and communities, each facing different development and regional planning issues. If you have time to read his entire story, check it out.

I am currently reading some planning books (which I will post on at a later time), and various titles regarding Presbyterian History. If anyone has any recommendations on the latter topic, I would appreciate any suggestions.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Since you've been gone....FAQ!

Q: Where the heck have you been?
A: Ummm, I had a busy semester. I know that sounds lame, but I didn't feel like blogging much over the past four months since I talked about Susan getting into a car accident. As always, I over loaded on courses, and this semester I had an especially enjoyable heavy load. Plus, I took two summer classes, which ended last week, and have been working full time since Memorial Day.

Q. OK, so you had a busy semester. Did you want to tell us about any classes that you took?
A. Perhaps my favorite class was one in which I worked on a redevelopment project of the City of Ypsilanti. For those of you who don't know, Ypsilanti is a town 10 minutes away from Ann Arbor, and is home of Eastern Michigan University and a host of urban ills. I was in an great group that created a plan to revitalize the commercial district near Eastern Michigan University. To see the plan, check it out here (if the link does not work, please let me know, and I'll email a copy of the report to you.

I also took classes in Urban Poverty, Governmental Finance, Geographic Information Systems, and an independent study in Planning History. Good times, but I was glad when everything finished on April 27.

Q. So if you finished school in late April, why didn't you start blogging again then?
A. I started two summer classes after a week of vacation. I took a Microeconomics class (to meet a program requirement) and a class in advanced statistics. Both of these classes, while somewhat enjoyable, had a heavy work load. Plus, I worked for a week on my parents new cottage before beginning my summer job after Memorial Day.

Q. Ok, a lot of information here. First, your parents are building a cottage? Why would two ex-1960s counter-cultural types become landed gentry and build an estate on the backs of the poor?
A. Good question. First, my parents wanted a place for the entire family to gather together in the shadow of Lake Michigan. As for this new cottage, not only will we serve the Lord, but also future Bratt grandchildren will be trained in Dutch Calvinism, the finer points of Reformed Theology, the importance of restoring a national governing Democratic coalition to redress the past 12 years of GOP wrongs, and simply a place to have fun. I'll post a link to some photos I've taken in the near future.

Q. That sounds good. You also mentioned that you started a summer job. I thought graduate students spent the summer trying to understand what hit them over the past academic year.
A. Most people might consider some vacation to be prudent. However, I got a great job for the summer, and every day of work feels like I'm on vacation. I work at the Institute for Social Research, and I'm doing a great deal of interesting work on various studies. My job will last till early August, and then I'll have a few weeks before classes start again in early September.

Q. Oh no. You have the potential of three weeks free. Don't tell me you are going to be idle and do the devil's work?
A. Not at all. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm going to be working on an article regarding urban planning in Grand Rapids during the late 1950s and early 1960s, so I will be in Grand Rapids for a week doing research and eating at favorite old haunts. I'm also leaving a week to put together some graduate applications for next year, and I will be vacationing with Susan at the cottage as well.

Q. I've gotten the non-important stuff out of the way. On to the real questions. What is new with Susan.
A. Well, her blog will fill one in with any needed information. She has had a busy summer, jumping through a great number of hoops required for ordination in the PCUSA. She is actually in Princeton this week taking a class while I eat away left overs and avoid cooking.

Q. Anything going on with the cat?
A. Not really. She's getting a haircut at some point later this month. She destroyed two of her toys while I was gone last weekend, so I'll need to get her something new soon.

Q. How are you guys doing after the death of your car in February?
A. We are doing OK. Thanks to the sharp eye of Susan's mom, we got a 1994 Buick Century in March, and it has been doing rather well for us. The exciting news is that Susan picked up our new car in Washington DC last week. Hello 2004 Toyota Prius!

Q. That is good news. Perhaps you might be able to do some road tripping now? After all, you have made repeated boasts about planning these great trips, and never actually do it.
A. Very true. I'm hopeful that I'll do some long-distance driving this summer. My sister is starting a Ph.D. program at UPenn this fall, so I'll probably help her move a bit. One of my brothers is beginning graduate work at Stanford this fall as well, although I'll probably save that trip for something that Susan and I can do together later next year.

Q. Thank you for your time, and please blog some more.
A. I'll try!

Grand Rapids Planning

As one who no longer lives in Grand Rapids, I still remain interested in the politics and planning of the city. This August I'll be working on an article about urban planning in the City of Grand Rapids and the surrounding suburbs during the late 1950s and early 1960s. If anyone is interested in this topic, I'll send you an abstract at some point in the near future.

As anyone who hasn't been in a hole for the past ten years knows, there has been a great deal of development in downtown GR. While I have mixed feelings on some of the development (concentration of high tech and medical facilities in a small geographic area causes many residents to be pushed out in the name of growth, huge public funds are used for private development, etc.), on the whole I think that this growth is what has made GR keep its head above water during the decade of depression in Michigan. If anyone is interested in keeping up to date on developments through the greater Grand Rapids area, visit this blog. Chris Knape is a good reporter, and has a keen handle on some of the issues of development in Grand Rapids.