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October 09 - November 09 Book Reviews

The Gambler King of Clark Street: Michael C. McDonald and the Rise of Chicago’s Democratic Machine , The Turtle Catcher, The End of Overeating, “What the Heck Are You Up to, Mr. President?”: Jimmy Carter, America's “Malaise” and the Speech that Should Have Changed the Country, and How to Smell a Rat: The Five Signs of Financial Fraud

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The Gambler King of Clark Street: Michael C. McDonald and the Rise of Chicago’s Democratic Machine by Richard C. Lindberg. (Southern Illinois University Press, $29.95).
    Just how did Chicago get this way?  In our recent political season, the question was asked again as a new president was elected and an incumbent Illinois governor of the same political party was impeached and removed from office for egregious acts of corruption. In his revealing new book, Chicago historian Richard C. Lindberg traces the origins of machine politics in Chicago through the life story of its principal architect: Michael Cassius McDonald, the 19th century “Gambler King of Clark Street.” McDonald established the underpinnings of a system of governance in the Windy City based on the exchange of influence, when criminals became indistinguishable from the politicians, schemers, wheeler- dealers and chair warmers in it for personal gain. McDonald built Chicago’s first downtown casino, “the Store.” In a colorful, riotous life, McDonald controlled everything—except events in his personal life. His first wife, the fiery Mary Noonan McDonald, ran off with a Catholic priest. The second, Dora Feldman, twenty-five years his junior, murdered her teenaged lover in a 1907 scandal that broke McDonald’s heart and drove him into an early grave. The author, who has written 14 books about Chicago history, politics, crime, sports and ethnicity, has studied McDonald’s life for 20 years.—Tamara Shaffer

The Turtle Catcher by Nicole Heiget. (Houghton Mifflin, $24).
    New Germany, Minnesota, during the outbreak of World War I, sets the stage for The Turtle Catcher, an evocative novel that traces the evolution of the Richters, a German-American farm family, as they make their way in the new world. At the center of the story is Liesel, the only daughter of the Richter family, a girl who is physically marred and emotionally scarred. Much of the story is focused on Liesel’s relationship with her brothers and with an awkward neighborhood boy who also is also scarred—mentally. A palpable undercurrent of tension colors Liesel’s world, lending a voyeuristic aspect to the novel, but The Turtle Catcher suffers from being too many things: coming-of-age story, historical novel, mystical fable and mystery. Yet despite its flaws, it resonates with rich characters and a colorful setting, even if the plot unravels a bit toward the end.—Kelli Christiansen

The End of Overeating by David A. Kessler, MD. (Rodale, $25.95).
    The good doctor attacks our food industry with zest and outlines a path to “food rehab” by describing how we can make a “critical perceptual shift” from hypereating and reacting to  superstimuli to gaining control over our thinking about “big” food choices. You will look at food from a new perspective.—KB

“What the Heck Are You Up to, Mr. President?”: Jimmy Carter, America's “Malaise” and the Speech that Should Have Changed the Country by Kevin Mattson. (Bloomsbury USA, $25).
    This puzzling title of a book is actually a quotation from a newspaper headline. Kevin Mattson’s introduction to his book is a brilliant preparation for the pages that follow. This is a must-read for anyone trying to decipher the final years of Carter’s administration. The times were out of joint. Americans were still trying to deal with the scars of the Vietnam War and Watergate. The Three Mile Island meltdown in Pennsylvania added to the woes. Although three years had passed since Carter was elected president, the author focuses on the summer of 1979. Americans were angry. A severe shortage of fuel caused line-ups at gas stations. Fights broke out. Citizens wanted immediate solution. Even so, Carter took time to travel overseas, attending special meetings. Returning home, Carter knew he needed all the help he could get. His approval ratings were dropping steadily, and at home town meeting, he was heckled. A Secret Service agent saved him from an assassination attempt. The times were out of joint. But there was no shortage of thinkers at the White House, some of them household names. After many meetings and rewritings, on July 15, 1979, Carter made his “Crisis of Confidence” speech. The immediate reaction was excellent and upbeat. Later, however, in talking about the “Crisis of Confidence,” Clark Gifford’s unfortunate use of the term “malaise” caught on and was picked up by friend and foe alike. The damage was done. That, along with the Iran hostage crisis in November, assured Carter’s defeat for reelection in 1980.—Emily McCormack

How to Smell a Rat: The Five Signs of Financial Fraud by Ken Fisher with Lara Hoffmans (Wiley, $24.95).
    Fisher, a long-time contributor to Forbes magazine, tells of numerous scams and scammers, embezzlers and the flashy tactics used by these good-for-nothing bilkers. This book is immensely colorful and points out some of the most obvious tactics used by these con men and women, namely exclusivity, reputation alone, political and social connections and “fanciful life stories.” Fisher describes what to expect from a legitimate professional and suggests many other sources for futher reading. It’s a quick read, but juicy all the same.—KB 

Published: October 12, 2009
Issue: November 2009 Sports Issue