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Birchbark Blog

White Rage

Louise Erdrich - Monday, May 29, 2017

Dear Readers,

For the past month I've been acting as a book physician, writing out summer reading prescriptions for people with a few hours to spare.  Mostly, I've written out prescriptions for books that will make people laugh or become immersed in suspense.  White Rage, by Carol Anderson, is stronger medicine.  Images of black rage abound -- from riots in L.A. to Ferguson, Minneapolis, St. Paul -- but images of white rage are often hidden in the acts of the justice system and in the halls of congress.  Anderson has undertaken a history of white rage, and it is shocking from the first pages.  Who knew that Abraham Lincoln wanted to rid the country of slaves by sending them to what is now Panama?  How many high school classes teach the true history of Reconstruction?  With unceasing clarity and calm,  Carol Anderson narrates a history so compelling that I could not stop reading.  If you're thinking of picking up a true crime drama, why not enlarge your thinking with a true historical crime drama?  

This is an extraordinary book and I hope you read it.

For books and readers everywhere,

Yours truly,


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Superior Lake

Louise Erdrich - Tuesday, May 02, 2017

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes reads like a mystery -- how on earth will people and the lakes themselves defeat invasive species like the sea lamprey, zebra and quagga mussels, alewives?  Dan Egan makes the story of each battle epic, full of colorful characters and bold acts.  A reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Egan knows how to pare a story to its most interesting elements.  Having finished the book, I immediately started over.  (I can't remember the last time I've done that.)  More questions:  Will the deep troughs, now drains, that have been mistakenly engineered to assist large vessels, draw down the lakes?  Will the salmon. or the whitefish and other native species, triumph in the end?  And what of the waterless states fed by the shrinking Colorado River?  There have always been plans to pipe Lake Superior out of MInnesota.  When and how will our fellow Americans come for this vast, but finite, treasure?   

Taken for granted, spoiled, fished out, over-loved, will the Great Lakes survive us?  Probably, in some form, but we could very well not survive their loss.  So this book is on my MUST READ list.  Suspenseful, superbly informative, crucial.  I also love Egan's portraits of people working for and against the lakes -- a "World War II veteran named Vernon Applegate showed up and did what no creature in the past 360 million years had apparently been able to do.  He got under the lamprey's skin.  He figured out how it migrates and how it hides.  How it feeds, how it breeds, and how it dies.  And then he put a stake in it." 

If you don't know what a sea lamprey is, look it up.  You are in for a treat.  Bring this book to any lake this summer, any beach, and be grateful for Applegate.

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