Reviews by Leah A. Zeldes

The Candidate

by Joseph A. Altsheler

Much of the text of this absorbing 1905 novel about a presidential campaign shows how little American politics has changed, or perhaps what it has reverted to. Candidates no longer campaign cross country by train; the "West" no longer begins east of Chicago; and election news is no longer carried by telegram, but Wall Street robber barons who know little of the worries of the people, and care less, try to dictate policy to the candidate for the sake of their own vested interests using their fat purses as carrot and stick just as they did more than a century ago; news media are today as nearly partisan and prone to slanting the truth; and pomposity and bombastic rhetoric abound.

The presidential candidate in this case is Jimmy Grayson, a relatively young man from the West, who makes up as an orator what he may lack in experience in office. He travels with his wife and their niece Sylvia Morgan, both of whom assist the campaign, plus a retinue of reporters, one of whom, John Harley of the New York Gazette, becomes increasingly important to the campaign, and to Sylvia, who, regrettably, is already engaged to marry a much older man, a prominent supporter of her uncle. Although Grayson is his party's nominee, his party is greatly divided on various issues, among them the influence of financiers. This and other questions of what is right vs. what is politically expedient to keep the party together and win the election come up again and again.

U.S. politics at the outset of the 20th century were aligned differently than today. (Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, was president then, opposing monopolies and promoting land conservation, but the GOP moved so far rightward after his second term that he founded the Progressive Party.) However, whatever the parties stood for then — they are not named in this novel — anyone reading will certainly find parallels to the present day in passages like these:

“It was a gathering of the great, moneyed men of the party, eager to see the attitude of (the candidate) upon affairs that concerned them intimately, and prompt to take action in accordance. They were the guardians of ‘vested’ interests, interests watched over as few things in this world are, and they were resolved to see that they took no harm....

“They were men of power, men whose brief words went far, and they held in their hands strings that controlled many and vast interests when they pulled them, and their hands were always on the strings.... They worked, by choice and by opportunity, in silence and the dark....

“(The public) heard the candidate tell of mighty corporations, of a vague and distant place called Wall Street, where fat men, with soft, white fingers and pouches under their eyes, sat in red-carpeted offices and pulled little but very strong strings that made farmers on the Western plains, two thousand miles away, dance like jumping-jacks, just as the fat men wished, and just when they wished. These fat men were allied with others in Europe, pouchy-eyed and smooth-fingered like themselves, and it was their object to own all the money-bags of the world, and gather all the profits of the world's labor....”

“The conversation was exclusively commercial and financial. (The financiers believed) the whole science of government pertained to the development of trade, and it was the business of a people, as well as of a man, to stick to the main point. It was for this reason, too, that Mr. Crayon incidentally let it be understood that he did not value a college education. He had several university graduates working for him on small salaries, while he had never been inside the walls of a university, and that was the beginning and end of the matter; there could be no further discussion.”

Reviewed on 2015.12.18

The Man Who Would Be King

by Rudyard Kipling

The 19th century abounded in books about the royalty of obscure little principalities, which let young girls dream about becoming princesses. This is the boys' equivalent, in which a pair of British ne'er-do-wells knocking about the Raj decide to make for the frontier of Afghanistan with a plan to set up as rulers over the unsophisticated natives. They get what they deserve. To me, the narrator, a journalist, is the most interesting character, though he's very much in the background.

Reviewed on 2015.12.09


by H. Beam Piper

A 1953 story on something of same theme as C.M. Kornbluth's "The Marching Morons": Post-war anti-intellectualism has put deliberate "Illiterates" in charge of the country, with stigmatized, uniformed "Literates" they hire to do the dirty work of reading and writing when absolutely necessary. Most of the Illiterates aren't unintelligent; they merely don't have book learning. Technology seems to have escaped censure, so there are plenty of machines, recording devices and other mechanisms in use by both classes.

The Literates, though deemed a necessary evil, are so hated they must go armed and with bodyguards to defend themselves. Yet they are entrusted, among other things, with medical care, reporting for news broadcasts and teaching schools for Illiterates' children.

The implications of that are obvious, and not everyone is what he seems. The action centers on an Illiterate department-store mogul who is running a senatorial campaign, his children, and the political plotting and divided loyalties among both Illiterate and Literate camps.

It's not a bad read, if you can ignore the logical fallacies, but it's far from Piper's best work, and Kornbluth handled the concept much better.

Reviewed on 2015.12.09

Penelope's Irish Experiences

by Kate Douglas Wiggin

The trio of Penelope (now married), Francesca (engaged) and their older friend, Salemina, are once again traveling in the British Isles, this time in Ireland. It's not really successful as either a travelogue or a novel. The travel is sketchier than in the previous volumes on England and Scotland, and the romantic element — a reunion between Salemina and a long lost swain — takes place so much offstage that it adds little interest.

Reviewed on 2015.12.09

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