Jefferson Part 2.

Jefferson was a supremely gifted politician who understood that progress depends, not on ideological purity, but compromise. I was glad to be reminded that he was attacked by the radical fringe among Republicans who regarded themselves as the true, pure  keepers of  traditional Republicanism for compromising with New England Federalists. Jefferson, Meacham says “was no longer Republican enough- a man who had displeased the extremes of his day – a sign that he had been guided not by dogma but by principled pragmatism.”

It sounded a lot like the current Republican Party’s radical fringe, excoriating Governor Chris Christie for collaborating with President Obama to facilitate aid to his state’s hurricane victims, and moderate Senator Richard Lugar losing to a hard right primary opponent who then proceeded to lose the general election to the Democratic candidate.

After Meacham on Jefferson, I thoroughly enjoyed Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lyndon Johnson and  the American Dream. It is not so much a Johnson biography as a careful, occasionally psychological analysis of Johnson the consummate politician who, like Jefferson, understood the acquisition and use of power. Johnson was a master at  reaching across the aisle in every imaginable way to keep lines of communication open between a Democratic president and congress. Kearns quotes Johnson: “The biggest danger to American stability is the politics of principle,, which brings out the masses in irrational fights for unlimited goals…Thus, it is for the sake of nothing less than stability that I consider myself a consensus man.” Johnson’s story is also part tragedy. He believed, as did almost all of his advisers, that there was nothing America could not accomplish. It led him not only to the war on poverty, an admirable goal that produced very effective programs for the poor and underserved, but also to the mammoth troop escalation in Vietnam which ended in disaster and precipitated his decision not to run for reelection and to retire from politics.

On a lighter note,  I’m recommending Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, the touching, funny and quietly powerful story of a boy born with a facial deformity and the challenges of attending public school, relating to peers, a few of whom are unthinking and cruel. It is also a story of the unconditional love of his parents. It is on the New York Times Children’s Books Best Seller list, but this book will engage adult readers as well.

I ordered and read Hoosh by Jason C. Anthony, after the Times reviewed it and caught my attention. It’s about the”Heroic Age” of Antarctic exploration and ongoing exploration. And it is about how early explorers survived and how and what they ate. Hoosh was an Antarctid staple, made of dried meat, watered down ground biscuits, and fresh penguin and seal as available. It was disgusting, all agreed, but early explorers ate it and survived. There are recipes at the end for the truly adventuresome, “Savory Seal Brain on Toast” for instance. The supply logistics were, and still are horrendous: transporting, storing and preparing food in the most hostile environment on earth. And yet, a French expedition in 1903 brought along a chef who managed to bake bread three times a week, perfect croissants on the weekend and “whipped up a mean creme brulee out of cormorant eggs. “Predictably” Anthony observes, “the French refused to die hungry.”

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