Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Scurlock & Spurlock

One benefit of having a huge backlog of books to read is that I can group my selections by theme. My first two books of June are companions to documentary films by rhyming author-directors James Scurlock and Morgan Spurlock. I also rented the movies from Netflix for a multimedia experience. I have included Amazon links to the books and DVDs below.

Maxed Out: Hard Times in the Age of Easy Credit by James Scurlock - This book was a steal at the Borders outlet in Gurnee Mills last year -- only $1.98 -- which I finally got around to reading. The book and movie are a good pair for anyone interested in abusive financial practices and the roots of the current economic malaise. My wife was fascinated by Maxed Out -- she had no idea of how banks target consumers -- and she's probably the ideal reader/viewer. As someone more familiar with devious bank tactics, I found the book and movie interesting but not shocking. The greatest shortcoming of both, especially the movie, is that they are largely anecdotal. As such, they do a better job of illustrating the problems than offering solutions or explaining how we got here (though the book provides a bit of credit card history). There are other problems. The national debt is covered so briefly that it might as well have been excluded. Also, almost everyone is portrayed as an innocent victim, as if there is no personal responsibility in the act of acquiring and using a credit card. Scurlock's effort to draw attention to the credit card problem is commendable, but clearly not enough people got the message before the financial meltdown of late 2008.

Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? by Morgan Spurlock - In contrast to Maxed Out, Spurlock uses a humorous perspective on an even more serious subject. Under the guise of looking for the Al Qaeda leader, Spurlock travels the world and examines terrorism, Islam, the Israeli-Palistinean conflict, and U.S. involvement in all of the above. I suppose it's no secret that Bin Laden remains unfound, but Spurlock discovers much about the cultures and religions of the Middle East. He talks to people in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East including a former IRA terrorist, Muslims in the slums outside Paris, Egyptian radicals, a Moroccan publisher, Palestinian refugees, Saudi women, U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, and Shimon Peres, former prime minister and current president of Israel (the movie omits the European portion of Spurlock's journey except in the bonus material). This book exceeded my expectations; I thought it would be merely entertaining, but it is also thoughtful and informative. One of our country's greatest failures in the "Global War On Terror" is in misunderstanding or not knowing anything about the people, religion, and conflicts of the Middle East. For that reason, Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? should be required viewing/reading for all Americans.

Current tally: 46 books finished, 40 books acquired

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