Thursday, December 8, 2011

Best of 2011 Countdown: #17


Seamus McGraw

The End of Country
Seamus McGraw
Random House

The End of Country is a fantastic story of the battle for control of a gas deposit worth over one trillion dollars in a remote part of northeastern Pennsylvania. Seamus McGraw grew up in this region; his mother, in fact, is one of the first residents to receive an offer (and decline) from the gas company. This is an age old story of corporate greed, lies, and more greed as the gas company attempts to swindle low income residents. It is also the story of how the town is swept up in the turmoil created by the lure of a quick buck. Some will become rich, most will walk away with a couple hundred dollars, but all will pay the cost of toxic water and land.
Seamus McGraw does a fantastic job of describing the effects and economics of  hydrofracking, the desperation of some residents, and the commitment of other residents to do the right thing with little or just plain wrong information. Stop in your local store and read the first ten pages; you won't put it down.


Catherine the Great
Robert K. Massie
Random House

I've already declared my love of all things Russian recently, so of course I jumped all over this new biography of Catherine the Great.  One might say dangling this book in front of me would be like leading a horse to a trough of sugar cubes.  First, Robert Massie is a Pulitzer Prize winning biographer.  Second, Catherine is one of the most interesting leaders in history.  She's the Queen Elizabeth I of Russia, if you're looking for a more familiar comparison.
Catherine, a German, came to Russia as the bride of a real winner of a husband, Peter (he wasn't exactly a stallion in the fact he didn't touch his bride for the first nine years of marriage).  She managed to ascend to the position of Empress of Russia, though, after Peter died, and then was off to the races.  She associated with the greatest minds and leaders in Europe during that time, instituted cultural reforms, waged wars, and entertained numerous lovers.  She was beloved and she was vilified.  She was a foreigner--a horse of a different color, if you will--governing a mostly backward country that still had serfs.  For thirty-four years she was the icon of Mother Russia, a woman who overcame scandal, political strife, sexism, and using her horse sense and charm, positioned Russia as a force in Europe.

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