Despite not having time for anything (or maybe because I still need something to switch my attention to), I recently listened to more audiobooks than usual. However, I am often left in a state of dissatisfaction. I do not know whether something is wrong with me or if I am following the wrong recommendations, but I do not know how to rate most books I have read recently. In many cases, the books didn’t meet my expectations, as with The Other Wes MooreThe Feminist City, and Gentrification is Inevitable. Each time I just started to get into the complexity of an issue, the book would end with no conclusion. Most likely, it’s me expecting the answer where there is none.

The situation is a little bit different with two books I just finished. One of them was Anxious People, which I picked up after an attempt of cashless bank robbery close to our office, and started to read on the long flight without an internet connection. The other one was There is no such thing as an easy job which was suggested for our book club discussion but didn’t make a cut. With both of these books, I feel the same way: I should like them; they are very insightful, with lots of unexpected twists, others like them, and I should like them too, but somehow, they are not “my” books. 

I am going to leave it this way for now 🙂

A Book I Am Excited About

I am finishing the Berlin Dairy by Willian Shirer. What an amazing book! I can’t believe I knew nothing about it until I saw a recommendation from a friend. William Shirer was a CBS broadcaster who worked in Nazi Germany from 1934 to 1941. He wrote several books about the history of WWII and the history of Nazism, and now I want to read them all! 

I think that it is a combination of two factors that make this book so amazing: first, he was an outstanding journalist with an extraordinary analytical mind who knew both how to get access to information and how to interpret it. And second – that it is an actual diary, so the readers follow events in “real-time.” When he wrote something in his journal, he did not know what would happen next or the implications of the events he had just recorded. It’s something like: I can’t believe Molotov and Ribbentrop are meeting! How can they negotiate when Russia is the most fierce critic of Nazism. How is it possible that they could reach any agreement?! They did?! 

It turned out there were lots of historical facts I didn’t know. Take the Winter War – I thought I knew everything as much as I could, visiting Finland several times a year. Still, I had no idea that it started with the air raid shelling Helsinki – I thought that all the war events happened at the frontline. 

This book has way too many parallels with the current war in Ukraine, like when the author explains how Germans have “no morals.” A German is lamenting about “bad Finns who fight against Russians, and why they are doing such a horrible thing as resisting? When Shirer says that Finns are fighting for their independence and asks won’t the Germans do the same if they were invaded, the response it: but that’s different! Russians are our friends!

Or when he cites a conversation with a German waitress about the British air raids: why are they bombarding us? – Well, because you are bombarding London! – But we only shell military objects, and they through bombs on our civilian objects? – Why do you think that Germans only bombard military objects? – That’s what our newspapers say!

Sounds familiar, right?! Way too familiar!

I almost finished this book, and I have three other books in queue, but I am urged to drop them all and read all the rest of the books by Willian Shirer(which will definitely take a while!)

The Climate Quartet by Maja Lunde

I read the third book of the Climate Quartet first, unaware of the previous two, and then came back to read the Life of Bees and the End of the Ocean. 

The History of Bees

The End of the Ocean

The Last Wild Horses

All three of the books impressed me greatly. How Maja Lunde draws connections between what happens here and now in today’s world and what can happen in the near future due to today’s actions is incredibly convincing. 

I can’t think of a better way to explain how we, the people of the planet Earth, can impact our nearest future, not on what will happen many generations ahead, but on what could happen to our children. 

Democracy Rebirth: A Book Review

This book (Democracy rebirth by Dick Simpson) covers in depth the parts of the political history of the United States and Chicago in particular, which are not addressed often. Let’s put it bluntly: we used to hear about the “Democratic machine” from our opponents when they want to say that nothing good ever comes from Democratic officials. We rarely think about what IS the “Democratic machine.” Maybe it’s my ignorance, but it was the first time in my life that I understood that this is not an insult but an actual mechanism of ensuring that the Democratic party stays in power. And it’s the first time I heard it from a person, who is a Democrat, served as an elected official, and is very serious about returning a true democracy to US politics. Some quotes I find important:

The cure for the dichotomy between the imperatives of capitalism and democracy lies in government regulation of the economy, a fairer system of taxation, and more generous government programs in education, health, and welfare. What is needed is the Goldilocks effect—neither too much nor too little government. We need government regulations and programs that allow capitalism to succeed without destroying either competition or democracy. We need policies that tax wealthy individuals and corporations more fairly and that provide a basic income to the poor to raise them and their children out of poverty.

The standard work week that is today forty hours will need to decrease while minimum wage and income will need to increase to a livable wage. In the future, humans will be directing the work of machines using computer software and artificial intelligence. On the other hand, professionals are ever more tied to electronic communication so that there are in many ways more tied to their jobs for longer hours. The nature of work will need to change in ways that are more humane for everyone.


The last chapter summarizes political actions which should be taken to achieve a Democracy’s rebirth, including an automated voter registration system, control over campaign contributions, and elimination of machine politics.

P.S. I learned about this book when I attended this event in the Chicago Public Library.

After The Meeting With An Author

Today, the Chicago Public Library hosted a meeting with Toya Wolfe, and my goal was to finish Last Summer on State Street before this event. (by the way, all library copies were taken, including the audiobooks, so I purchased it).

I am glad that I could attend and be a part of the conversation with the author. As someone who actively participates in the work of several volunteering organizations which service underprivileged communities, I was deeply touched by the events described in this book. Way too often, I see similar stories unfolding: no matter how hard we try to help the youth in crisis, in most cases, we can do nothing.

Answering one of the questions from the audience, Toya Wolfe made the following analogy: if you go to the war, you might return alive, or you might die; it’s often the question of chance. But if you go to war malnourished, there are higher chances that you won’t survive, although there is still a chance. In the same way, growing up in an unhealthy environment or in a broken home increases the chances of a youth getting into trouble, but at the same time, there are still chances for a good outcome. After today’s meeting, the book feels a little bit less depressing:).

Harold Washington Library

Yesterday, the HWL hosted a meeting of the Society of Midwest Authors meeting – the first one in-person since the pandemic’s start. The UIC professor Dick Simpson discussed his new book, “Democracy’s Rebirth” with Mayor Lori (who wrote a preface for that book).

The worst thing about this event was that it went completely not advertised! One lady in the audience asked me how I learned about this event, and I replied that I was looking for something else on the library website. If I won’t looking to reserve a group room, I would never see it! The library announced that the number of participants would be limited to 300, but I do not think there were 300 people there. Those who came wondered how others would miss an opportunity to see the Mayor right in front of them on the stage :).

The conversations around me in the auditorium were even more interesting than on stage. Several people had some organizing/political background, and they exchanged their life stories. One gentleman said that after he retired, he took a crash course to become an ESL teacher and how he wanted to go to Sait-Petersburg and how now he is glad he didn’t go “because he won’t want to aid Mr. Putin.”

There is a special exhibit on the 9th floor to mark the centennial of Harold Washington. For some reason, they don’t allow any photography there, so there is nothing to report.

And I also checked out the Winter Garden – it’s gorgeous, and maybe next time, I will get a chance to grab a table there 🙂

The Four Winds: a Book Review

Such a great book! I do not remember who recommended it to me, and I do not know why I was putting away reading it for so long! I purchased it on Audible a while ago and almost returned it without reading it because other books were in line… I am so glad I didn’t return it!

I knew very little about that period of American history. I knew times were bad, but I could not imagine to what extent! The eco-catastrophe described in the book looks almost not real and, at the same time, too close to nowadays climate change warnings. How people could forget that such horrible things already happened not so long ago.
Another thing that struck me is the description of poverty and how many people showed no compassion. Knowing how deceiving the Soviet propaganda used to be, you tend to think that everything they said back in the days was not true. And then you feel shocked realizing that indeed, people were exploited, and indeed, capitalists were afraid of the unions, and indeed, communists risked their lives, and they, indeed, did some good things!

One of these books, when you are sad you’ve finished it already :).

And More To The Previous Post

Two things I forgot to mention in the previous post. 

One is about the resemblance between the Long COVID and the long-term effects of the Spanish flu on people’s ability to think and concentrate. John Barry even analyzes the behavior of President Wilson during the peace negotiations in Europe. He goes as far as speculating that his inadequate after-flu decisions affected the resulting treaty in such a way that it late made it easier for Hitler to come to power. 

And once again, about an extremely important balance between panic and informed decisions. As John Barry states, people should know the truth. When the government officials are honest in their communications, they help to maintain trust in society. Also, he cites Lincoln about the importance of identifying the thread – only when the thread is identified can you fight it. I would add to this what I’ve already said many times: whenever there is a need to change the course, it is important to explain why these changes are made, what prompted these changes, and why it was not the case before. We all know what would be the reaction otherwise 🙂

“The Great Influenza” book

I have so many things to say about this book! I started reading it because, like many others, the current COVID pandemic prompted my interest in the 1918-1920 flu pandemic. I wanted to know more about it, how people handled a pandemic a century ago, what was the effect on society and the economy, and most importantly – why we know so little about it?! 

The book gave all these answers and even more. It is more “medical” than I thought it would be; sometimes, I felt like there were too many medical details, but that’s what makes this book so convincing. 

 It starts with a survey of medicine and medical science history in America. I could not imagine that there was such a lack of science until the beginning of the 20th century! And then, the book proceeds with documenting the development of the flu pandemic, covering all medical, social, and political aspects. You can’t stop making parallels with the COVID pandemic, even though the book was written more than ten years ago. (The last version of the afterword was written when the COVID pandemic had already begun, so some similarities are discussed)

The big question I had from the very beginning of the current pandemic was the following: why do we know so little about the Spanish flu pandemic? Historical textbooks mention briefly that “one hundred million people got sick,” but that’s pretty much it. When you read anything related to the 1918 – 1920 period, the flu is never mentioned as a background of events. 

The most important reason why it all but disappeared from world history is that it was forbidden to write about it! The world was at war, and none of the participating countries wanted to spread panic or “hurt the morale.” That statement explained much of what was going on. It’s unbelievable: people were getting sick and dying. In some cities, like Philadelphia, dead bodies were piling in the houses because there was nobody to carry them away and nobody to bury them. And newspapers said nothing!

It was primarily because of the wartime censorship, but also because there was (and there is) nothing heroic in dying from a disease. 

The government kept saying, “it’s nothing but the common cold.” Same as know there were people in denial. A quote from the book:

The government’s very efforts to preserve “morale” fostered the fear, for since the war began, morale—defined in the narrowest, most shortsighted fashion—had taken precedence in every public utterance. As California senator Hiram Johnson said in 1917, “The first casualty when war comes is truth.”

Barry, John M.. The Great Influenza (pp. 333-334). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

And one more – especially pronounced because it was written way before the pandemic:

So the first two items on the list are the lessons from 1918, which COVID has confirmed: 

Number one, tell the truth. 

Number two, NPIs work.

Barry, John M.. The Great Influenza (p. 467). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

The author notes that not only the newspapers were silent, but also almost no works of literature mention the Spanish flu pandemic (that prompted me to start actively looking for such books, found some). You can’t stop thinking that our COVID memories might vanish in less than a hundred years! And you can’t stop thinking that the Spanish flu lessons were not learned!


I finally finished Bedrock faith, which I read as a part of One book – One Chicago.

I am still thinking about this book. I rated it 4-star, but I would give it two separate grades if I could. One for the quality of writing, and another for the book’s main idea.

The book is very well written. You do not want to rush through; you are not trying to turn the pages before you finish reading and pick at the end. I read it slowly, enjoying the language, savoring each detail, and each of the characters appeared so real!

As for the book’s main idea, I am still hesitant about my feelings. I think that the book manifests it loud and clear that “once a bad apple always a bad apple.” It feels like Stew Pot “was born bad” and acted violently throughout his life because he could not act differently. And I have a problem with that statement. I believe that under life circumstances, a person can become very negative and that their mind might take such a turn that they would constantly think of harming somebody. But it will always be impossible for me to accept that people might be “born that way,” and there is no way to change it. I would love to discuss it with somebody who read it.

Another book I recently finished listening to is Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. My impressions are similar to what I felt after finishing “Color of Law”: I can’t believe it’s happening here and now. Wilkerson suggests that race is social rather than a biological characteristic and compares the position in the society of Blacks with this of untouchables in the Indian society. The similarities are shocking. Also, she describes many real-life situations that are too real, so well-recognizable, and once again, it feels unreal that things like this happen nowadays.