Book Review: Too Much and Never Enough by Mary L. Trump

Too Much and Never Enough by Mary L. Trump
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: July 14, 2020
Source: Borrowed

In this revelatory, authoritative portrait of Donald J. Trump and the toxic family that made him, Mary L. Trump, a trained clinical psychologist and Donald’s only niece, shines a bright light on the dark history of their family in order to explain how her uncle became the man who now threatens the world’s health, economic security, and social fabric.

Mary Trump spent much of her childhood in her grandparents’ large, imposing house in the heart of Queens, where Donald and his four siblings grew up. She describes a nightmare of traumas, destructive relationships, and a tragic combination of neglect and abuse. She explains how specific events and general family patterns created the damaged man who currently occupies the Oval Office, including the strange and harmful relationship between Fred Trump and his two oldest sons, Fred Jr. and Donald.

A first-hand witness to countless holiday meals and family interactions, Mary brings an incisive wit and unexpected humor to sometimes grim, often confounding family events. She recounts in unsparing detail everything from her uncle Donald’s place in the family spotlight and Ivana’s penchant for re-gifting to her grandmother’s frequent injuries and illnesses and the appalling way Donald, Fred Trump’s favorite son, dismissed and derided him when he began to succumb to Alzheimer’s.

Numerous pundits, armchair psychologists, and journalists have sought to parse Donald J. Trump’s lethal flaws. Mary L. Trump has the education, insight, and intimate familiarity needed to reveal what makes Donald, and the rest of her clan, tick. She alone can recount this fascinating, unnerving saga, not just because of her insider’s perspective but also because she is the only Trump willing to tell the truth about one of the world’s most powerful and dysfunctional families.

One of these days, Donald Trump will learn that making a big fuss and trying to stop the publication of books about him only makes people want to read them more. Too Much and Never Enough would never have been on my radar if Trump hadn’t tried to block its publication, but I’m really glad that it got so much publicity and that I was miraculously able to get it from the library so quickly.

Donald today is much as he was at three years old: incapable of growing, learning, or evolving, unable to regulate his emotions, moderate his responses, or take in and synthesize information.

It’s no secret that I have some criticisms of our current president, and I’ve read many, many books about his presidency. Where Mary Trump’s book differs from the rest is both her background in clinical psychology and her knowledge of him in a personal context over the years.

I hope this book will end the practice of referring to Donald’s “strategies” or “agendas,” as if he operates according to any organizing principles. He doesn’t. Donald’s ego has been and is a fragile and inadequate barrier between him and the real world, which, thanks to his father’s money and power, he never had to negotiate by himself. Donald has always needed to perpetuate the fiction my grandfather started that he is strong, smart, and otherwise extraordinary, because facing the truth—that he is none of those things—is too terrifying for him to contemplate.

There are a lot of interesting little facts in this book about the dysfunction that is the Trump family. I was not at all surprised to learn what a toxic environment Fred Trump created. I almost felt bad at times, but then I remembered that a lot of people grow up in toxic families and don’t go on to become racist, misogynistic leaders of the “free” world.

The fact is, Donald’s pathologies are so complex and his behaviors so often inexplicable that coming up with an accurate and comprehensive diagnosis would require a full battery of psychological and neuropsychological tests that he’ll never sit for. At this point, we can’t evaluate his day-to-day functioning because he is, in the West Wing, essentially institutionalized. Donald has been institutionalized for most of his adult life, so there is no way to know how he would thrive, or even survive, on his own in the real world.

Honestly, this book was incredible. I don’t have a lot to say about it other than I’d highly recommend it if you’re interested in more background in the life and childhood of the president of the United States.


Have you read Too Much and Never Enough? Is it on your TBR?
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Mini-Reviews: So You Want to Talk About Race & Stamped from the Beginning

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 16, 2018
Source: Borrowed

In this breakout book, Ijeoma Oluo explores the complex reality of today’s racial landscape–from white privilege and police brutality to systemic discrimination and the Black Lives Matter movement–offering straightforward clarity that readers need to contribute to the dismantling of the racial divide

In So You Want to Talk About Race, Editor at Large of The Establishment Ijeoma Oluo offers a contemporary, accessible take on the racial landscape in America, addressing head-on such issues as privilege, police brutality, intersectionality, micro-aggressions, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the “N” word. Perfectly positioned to bridge the gap between people of color and white Americans struggling with race complexities, Oluo answers the questions readers don’t dare ask, and explains the concepts that continue to elude everyday Americans.

Oluo is an exceptional writer with a rare ability to be straightforward, funny, and effective in her coverage of sensitive, hyper-charged issues in America. Her messages are passionate but finely tuned, and crystalize ideas that would otherwise be vague by empowering them with aha-moment clarity. Her writing brings to mind voices like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay, and Jessica Valenti in Full Frontal Feminism, and a young Gloria Naylor, particularly in Naylor’s seminal essay “The Meaning of a Word.”

This book was very, very good, to the point that I don’t really have anything to say about it. Oluo provides facts about and examples of racism, educates the reader on intersectionality and privilege, and shares a number of questions to think about in order to move forward.

Two quotes stand out for me:

“There is no neutrality to be had towards systems of injustice. It is not something you can just opt out of.”

“What am I thinking that this conversations says about me? Has my top priority shifted to preserving my ego?”

I think that everyone should read this book. And please, if I ever say anything racist or insensitive, don’t be afraid to call me out.


Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 12, 2016
Source: Borrowed

Americans like to insist that they are living in a post-racial, color-blind society. In fact, racist thought is alive and well; it has simply become more sophisticated and more insidious. And as award-winning historian Ibram X. Kendi argues in Stamped from the Beginning, racist ideas in America have a long and lingering history, one in which nearly every great American thinker is complicit.

In this deeply researched and fast-moving narrative, Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti–Black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. Stamped from the Beginning uses the lives of five major American intellectuals to offer a window into the contentious debates between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and anti-racists. From Puritan minister Cotton Mather to Thomas Jefferson, from fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to brilliant scholar W. E. B. Du Bois to legendary anti–prison activist Angela Davis, Kendi shows how and why some of our leading pro-slavery and pro–civil rights thinkers have challenged or helped cement racist ideas in America.

As Kendi provocatively illustrates, racist thinking did not arise from ignorance or hatred. Racist ideas were created and popularized in an effort to defend deeply entrenched discriminatory policies and to rationalize the nation’s racial inequities in everything from wealth to health. While racist ideas are easily produced and easily consumed, they can also be discredited. In shedding much–needed light on the murky history of racist ideas, Stamped from the Beginning offers tools to expose them—and in the process, reason to hope.

Stamped from the Beginning is, I think, another book that everyone should read. It’s incredibly interesting, going deep into the history of racism in the United States. Kendi brings up many historical figures and analyzes their behavior to show whether they were segregationists, assimilationists, or anti-racists.

While this book was well-written and definitely well-researched, it’s also very, very dense. At nearly 600 pages (or 18 and a half hours on audio), it takes a long time to get through and left me feeling absolutely exhausted. This is a book that you need to dedicate some time to, but it’s worth it.


Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
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Mini-Reviews: Eloquent Rage, When They Call You a Terrorist, & This is Going to Hurt

Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: February 20, 2018
Source: Borrowed

Far too often, Black women’s anger has been caricatured into an ugly and destructive force that threatens the civility and social fabric of American democracy. But Cooper shows us that there is more to the story than that. Black women’s eloquent rage is what makes Serena Williams such a powerful tennis player. It’s what makes Beyoncé’s girl power anthems resonate so hard. It’s what makes Michelle Obama an icon.

Eloquent rage keeps us all honest and accountable. It reminds women that they don’t have to settle for less. When Cooper learned of her grandmother’s eloquent rage about love, sex, and marriage in an epic and hilarious front-porch confrontation, her life was changed. And it took another intervention, this time staged by one of her homegirls, to turn Brittney into the fierce feminist she is today. In Brittney Cooper’s world, neither mean girls nor fuckboys ever win. But homegirls emerge as heroes. This book argues that ultimately feminism, friendship, and faith in one’s own superpowers are all we really need to turn things right side up again.

White privilege works by making the advantages white people have invisible while making the supposedly “poor” choices of people of color hypervisible.

Eloquent Rage is a well-written, almost academic look at the intersection of Blackness and feminism. Although it includes many personal anecdotes, it also expands to paint a wider picture of modern American society as a whole and the way that race, class, and gender affect our perception of someone’s actions. If you (like me) are white, this book might make you a little bit uncomfortable. It might make you say, “Hey, I don’t do things like that!” But there is a difference between not doing those things and actively working against them.

My only criticism of this book is that it sometimes takes a while to get to the point. Aside from that, it’s interesting, informative, and important.


When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors & Asha Bandele
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 16, 2018
Source: Borrowed

A poetic and powerful memoir about what it means to be a Black woman in America—and the co-founding of a movement that demands justice for all in the land of the free.

Raised by a single mother in an impoverished neighborhood in Los Angeles, Patrisse Khan-Cullors experienced firsthand the prejudice and persecution Black Americans endure at the hands of law enforcement. For Patrisse, the most vulnerable people in the country are Black people. Deliberately and ruthlessly targeted by a criminal justice system serving a white privilege agenda, Black people are subjected to unjustifiable racial profiling and police brutality. In 2013, when Trayvon Martin’s killer went free, Patrisse’s outrage led her to co-found Black Lives Matter with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi.

Condemned as terrorists and as a threat to America, these loving women founded a hashtag that birthed the movement to demand accountability from the authorities who continually turn a blind eye to the injustices inflicted upon people of Black and Brown skin.

Championing human rights in the face of violent racism, Patrisse is a survivor. She transformed her personal pain into political power, giving voice to a people suffering in equality and a movement fueled by her strength and love to tell the country—and the world—that Black Lives Matter.

When They Call You a Terrorist is Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele’s reflection on humanity. It is an empowering account of survival, strength and resilience and a call to action to change the culture that declares innocent Black life expendable.

In my notes, I summarized this book in one word: powerful. This is the absolutely heartbreaking story of Patrisse Khan-Cullors’ struggle to find justice for her mentally ill brother and the innumerable other Black men and women who have been treated despicably by a system that claims to help them.

This book touches on many important topics, such the disparity between how Black and white children are disciplined in school, the struggle that Black people face to find help for mental illness, and the criminalization of behaviors that would likely send a white person to a mental health facility. Her words are honest and direct and sometimes painful to hear.

The only reason that I didn’t rate this book five stars was that I found the timeline confusing, as she sometimes hops between time periods without making that clear. But really, this book is incredible. If you have any interest in how Black Lives Matter began, please give this book a try.


This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 7, 2017
Source: Borrowed

Adam Kay was a junior doctor from 2004 until 2010, before a devastating experience on a ward caused him to reconsider his future. He kept a diary throughout his training, and This Is Going to Hurt intersperses tales from the front line of the NHS with reflections on the current crisis. The result is a first-hand account of life as a junior doctor in all its joy, pain, sacrifice and maddening bureaucracy, and a love letter to those who might at any moment be holding our lives in their hands.

I’ve had This is Going to Hurt on my TBR for a long time and finally got a chance to pick it up from my library. I’ll start this with a warning: this book is a sassy, sarcastic, irreverent look at the daily life of a doctor. It’s filled with stories of patients that I probably wouldn’t believe if I hadn’t spent seven years working in a hospital. (Nothing surprises me anymore.) But beneath all of that sardonic humor, it’s clear that Adam truly cared about his patients and truly loved his work.

I liked this book a lot, but I will say that it gets a little… grating, maybe, at certain points. It’s kind of like, yes, we get it, sometimes patients are dumb. And yes, we get it, sometimes coworkers do stupid things. His reasons for quitting, though, become very obvious as the book goes on. I had, of course, heard that the treatment of medical professionals in the UK was terrible, but I hadn’t quite realized the extent of it until I read this book.

Highly recommended if you have any interest in medicine.


Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
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Mini-Reviews: A Very Stable Genius, You Never Forget Your First & The Mosquito

A Very Stable Genius by Philip Rucker & Carol Leonnig
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 21, 2020
Source: Borrowed

Rucker and Leonnig have deep and unmatched sources throughout Washington, D.C., and for the past three years have chronicled in depth the ways President Donald Trump has reinvented the presidency in his own image, shaken foreign alliances and tested American institutions. It would be all too easy to mistake Trump’s first term for pure chaos. But Leonnig and Rucker show that in fact there is a pattern and meaning to the daily disorder.

Relying on scores of exclusive new interviews with first-hand witnesses and rigorous original reporting, the authors reveal the 45th President up close as he stares down impeachment. They take readers inside Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and the Trump legal team’s scramble for survival, behind the curtains as the West Wing scurries to clean up the President’s mistakes and into the room to witness Trump’s interactions with foreign leaders and members of his Cabinet, and assess the consequences.

What’s interesting about this book is that the authors don’t try to push an agenda or influence the reader’s opinion — they just present quotes and events and let the reader draw their own conclusions. In my opinion, there’s really only one conclusion to draw, but hey. I’m just a book blogger.

Anyway, here are four things I learned while reading this book:

  • Trump thought the attorney general was his own personal lawyer.
  • Putin was the world leader Trump most wanted to meet.
  • He wants to bill other countries for US military support.
  • He thought he might win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Overall: very well-written, would recommend.


You Never Forget Your First by Alexis Coe
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: February 4, 2020
Source: Borrowed

In a genre overdue for a shakeup, Alexis Coe takes a closer look at our first—and finds he’s not quite the man we remember

Young George Washington was raised by a struggling single mother, demanded military promotions, chased rich young women, caused an international incident, and never backed down—even when his dysentery got so bad he had to ride with a cushion on his saddle.

But after he married Martha, everything changed. Washington became the kind of man who named his dog Sweetlips and hated to leave home. He took up arms against the British only when there was no other way, though he lost more battles than he won. Coe focuses on his activities off the battlefield—like espionage and propaganda.

After an unlikely victory in the Revolutionary War, Washington once again shocked the world by giving up power, only to learn his compatriots wouldn’t allow it. The founders pressured him into the presidency—twice. He established enduring norms but left office heartbroken over the partisan nightmare his backstabbing cabinet had created.

Back on his plantation, the man who fought for liberty finally confronted his greatest hypocrisy—what to do with the hundreds of men, women, and children he owned—before succumbing to a brutal death.

Alexis Coe combines rigorous research and unsentimental storytelling, finally separating the man from the legend.
 

I feel like I’ve seen this book everywhere since it came out! I’m not really a historical biography reader — if I’m going to read about politics, I much prefer current events — but I figured the hype had to be there for a reason. And it was.

This is a very different kind of biography. It’s short, hitting all of the highlights within about 300 pages, and never boring. It’s highly informative but still engaging. It dispels a lot of common myths about George Washington, like the wooden teeth and the whole cherry tree thing. All in all, it just shows a much less stodgy side of Washington than we usually see.

If you’re looking to learn more about the first president of the United States, you could sure do worse than this one.


The Mosquito by Timothy C. Winegard
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 6, 2019
Source: Borrowed

A pioneering and groundbreaking work of narrative nonfiction that offers a dramatic new perspective on the history of humankind, showing how through millennia, the mosquito has been the single most powerful force in determining humanity’s fate

Why was gin and tonic the cocktail of choice for British colonists in India and Africa? What does Starbucks have to thank for its global domination? What has protected the lives of popes for millennia? Why did Scotland surrender its sovereignty to England? What was George Washington’s secret weapon during the American Revolution?

The answer to all these questions, and many more, is the mosquito.

Across our planet since the dawn of humankind, this nefarious pest, roughly the size and weight of a grape seed, has been at the frontlines of history as the grim reaper, the harvester of human populations, and the ultimate agent of historical change. As the mosquito transformed the landscapes of civilization, humans were unwittingly required to respond to its piercing impact and universal projection of power.

The mosquito has determined the fates of empires and nations, razed and crippled economies, and decided the outcome of pivotal wars, killing nearly half of humanity along the way. She (only females bite) has dispatched an estimated 52 billion people from a total of 108 billion throughout our relatively brief existence. As the greatest purveyor of extermination we have ever known, she has played a greater role in shaping our human story than any other living thing with which we share our global village.

Imagine for a moment a world without deadly mosquitoes, or any mosquitoes, for that matter? Our history and the world we know, or think we know, would be completely unrecognizable.

Driven by surprising insights and fast-paced storytelling, The Mosquito is the extraordinary untold story of the mosquito’s reign through human history and her indelible impact on our modern world order.
 

Microhistories are something that I’ve recently gotten into, and after having read books like Stiff and How Music Got Free, I was interested to see this almost 500-page take on mosquitoes. But instead of a book on mosquitoes, their spread throughout the world, and the diseases they carried with them, I ended up with this… military history?

Unexpected.

I did learn a few fun facts while reading this book, like that people with Type O blood are bitten twice as often as Type A, and that an old remedy for dysentery was to inject mercury directly into the male urethra, but overall, I was kind of disappointed. I think instead of The Mosquito, a title like Malaria & Militias would have been more appropriate.


Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
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Book Review: Crisis in the Red Zone by Richard Preston

Crisis in the Red Zone by Richard Preston
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: July 23, 2019
Source: Borrowed

The 2013-2014 Ebola epidemic was the deadliest ever–but the outbreaks continue. Now comes a gripping account of the doctors and scientists fighting to protect us, an urgent wake-up call about the future of emerging viruses–from the #1 bestselling author of The Hot Zone, soon to be a National Geographic original miniseries.

This time, Ebola started with a two-year-old child who likely had contact with a wild creature and whose entire family quickly fell ill and died. The ensuing global drama activated health professionals in North America, Europe, and Africa in a desperate race against time to contain the viral wildfire. By the end–as the virus mutated into its deadliest form, and spread farther and faster than ever before–30,000 people would be infected, and the dead would be spread across eight countries on three continents.

In this taut and suspenseful medical drama, Richard Preston deeply chronicles the outbreak, in which we saw for the first time the specter of Ebola jumping continents, crossing the Atlantic, and infecting people in America. Rich in characters and conflict–physical, emotional, and ethical–Crisis in the Red Zone is an immersion in one of the great public health calamities of our time.

Preston writes of doctors and nurses in the field putting their own lives on the line, of government bureaucrats and NGO administrators moving, often fitfully, to try to contain the outbreak, and of pharmaceutical companies racing to develop drugs to combat the virus. He also explores the charged ethical dilemma over who should and did receive the rare doses of an experimental treatment when they became available at the peak of the disaster.

Crisis in the Red Zone makes clear that the outbreak of 2013-2014 is a harbinger of further, more severe outbreaks, and of emerging viruses heretofore unimagined–in any country, on any continent. In our ever more interconnected world, with roads and towns cut deep into the jungles of equatorial Africa, viruses both familiar and undiscovered are being unleashed into more densely populated areas than ever before.

The more we discover about the virosphere, the more we realize its deadly potential. Crisis in the Red Zone is an exquisitely timely book, a stark warning of viral outbreaks to come.

So, fun fact, Richard Preston is friends with one of my previous employers. I’ve met him, he was perfectly nice, and I always felt weird about reading his books because what if I hated something he wrote and then I had to look him in the face and pretend I didn’t? Well, fortunately for me and my reading life, I’m far removed from that job now and Preston has a new-ish book about, of all things, a highly contagious virus with no known vaccine and no foolproof treatment. It seemed timely, so I gave it a chance.

And let me tell you, this book made me want to simultaneously keep listening so I’d learn more and stop listening so I could go take a shower. That takes talent, I think.

The spread of Ebola is something that I’ve found mind-boggling since the outbreak in 2014. The small hospital I worked at held Ebola drills. I was trained to ask people if they’d been traveling, if they or any of their close contacts were experiencing any of a long list of symptoms, and who to contact with any suspected cases. This is a disease that causes bloody vomit, bloody diarrhea, bleeding from the eyes, ears, nose… basically blood just pouring out of the body at any opening. The very idea of someone casually walking into a doctor’s office while actively suffering from Ebola seemed laughable. The idea of any kind of pandemic coming to my town seemed impossible back then. Not so much now.

The thing is, the amount of medical professionals who got (and further spread) Ebola because they “forgot” their PPE is honestly terrifying. If doctors and nurses and researchers can go running, unprotected, into a room where dozens of people are infected with a highly contagious disease that’s spread through contact with infected bodily fluids, then it’s no wonder this disease spread like wildfire. There were so many accounts of doctors going to take blood samples or biopsies, only to realize after the fact that they weren’t wearing gloves. There were so many accounts of professionals who’d been exposed and gone about their normal lives like if they just ignored it, it would go away. This was much more disturbing to me than the cultural practices that led to Ebola’s spread between family members.

I will admit that the book can be a little confusing as Preston jumps around from one outbreak to another and back again with little differentiation. This is the main reason that I gave the book four stars rather than five. Overall, though, it was a very, very good book and I would recommend it if (and only if) you’re okay with very, very descriptive accounts of the effects and symptoms of Ebola.

#mm20: author introduction


Have you read Crisis in the Red Zone? Is it on your TBR?
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