Trust by Hernan Diaz – Book

From a Google Image Search – Oprah Daily

This book is so unique that you might set it aside, but the departure from traditional story structure is an essential element of this novel of a man so private and yet so concerned with his legacy that just one version of his story will not suffice. Trust by Hernan Diaz will perplex you and engage you and deliver you up to an ending you will either love or hate.

This is a billionaire’s tale from before, during, and after the Great Depression. This is social commentary. It’s a glimpse into the roots of conservative American financial philosophy. It exposes the rationalizations for breaking financial rules for personal gains while assuaging guilt and, in fact, turning insinuations of crimes into a philanthropic set of actions that saved and preserved America. That’s some major league rationalizing. Andrew Bevel (aka Benjamin Rask) is practically on the autism spectrum with almost no social skills, but a clear understanding of markets, math, and the outputs of the ticker tape machine. We hear his story in four different versions from different fictional authors, Harold Vanner, Andrew himself, Ida Partenza, and Mildred Bevel. Similarly, we get four different views of Andrew’s wife, Mildred. 

The author does not say that Bevel’s stock shenanigans (short selling) may have contributed to (caused) the crash of the stock market in 1929, however it’s possible to draw such a conclusion. We see market machinations through Andrew’s eyes so any criticism is offered through tone or insinuation; commentary as dry as Andrew’s personality. There is also the contrast between Ida Partenza’s father, activist and typesetter, socialist/communist/lefty. Andrew’s contempt for American workers who became impoverished during the Great Depression is a subtle match for the “makers” and “takers” that are used to rationalize the financial rights of twenty-first century millionaires and billionaires.

Hernan Diaz’s novel Trust is both different; and good. If I say too much it will ruin all your fun.

Madhouse at the End of the World by Julian Sancton – Book

From a Google Image Search – Goodreads.com

I picked Madhouse at the End of the Earth by Julian Sancton late one night thinking it would be a sci-fi book. In small print the cover said “The Belgica’s Journey into the Dark Antarctic Night” which would have been a clue if I had read it. But it ends up that this journey, one of the first to Antarctica reads like science fiction, although it is a factual account of an expedition to a piece of our own planet that has an environment as alien as any you might encounter in space. It has air humans can breathe, but the behavior of an ice field is treacherous, the cold temperatures are unfriendly to human life, and isolation and severe weather take a toll. What drives men to go on risky adventures, to put their very lives on the line for fame and fortune, science, and curiosity? What drives them to want to simply be first?

Adrien de Gerlache de Gomery of Belgium does not want to do as his family expects. De Gerlache wants to go to sea. Belgium has a tiny navy consisting of only two ferries, but de Gerlache finally is allowed to earn credentials as a navigator after which he joins the navy. King Leopold, his king offers to send him on an expedition to the Congo, but de Gerlache wants to go to Antarctica. He raises money, finds a ship (the Belgica), hires sailors and scientists and after three years of planning sets sail for Antarctica. He wanted to use an all-Belgium crew, but it proved impossible. He left with his friend Danco, Georges Lecointe (28), his captain, an experienced Arctic explorer, Amundsen, and a crew that spoke a variety of languages (French, Dutch, Norwegian, German, Polish, English, Romanian, Latin). The best bit of luck de Gerlache had was when he took on Dr. Cook who met the group in South America and saved many lives on the ship by his Arctic experience and his great good sense.

From a Google Image Search – Wikipedia

De Gerlache made a fateful decision to spend a winter frozen into the Antarctic ice pack because he wanted to continue when summer returned to find the Southern Magnetic Pole. Early adventures on the ice revealed a lovely canal that opened between glaciers where perhaps the expedition spent too long collecting scientific data. By the time they moved on winter was upon them. Thankfully there were men on this expedition who loved to pit themselves against nature, the harsher the better. De Gerlache, suffering from scurvy, never having trekked the cold places, was not one of them, but he was an excellent navigator. He made the decision to spend the winter in the ice pack deliberately and the hardships that ensued should have been laid at his feet, but he never reaped the criticism he deserved, although he did not come off unscathed either.

The expedition undertaken by de Gerlache for family, nation, and science was intended to give Belgium a place on the world stage and it did succeed somewhat in this regard. But it was the Order of the Penguin, the risk-takers, the experienced polar travelers who saved the lives of the men of the Belgica and the reputation of de Gerlache. Lecointe, the 28-year-old captain, Amundsen and Cook, the Arctic explorers brought experience to bear. 

Even so, trapped in an ever-changing field of ice and watery channels that opened and closed at a whim, trapped in a season without sun day after day, riddled with scurvy due to a lack of fresh food, life aboard the creaking ship became a madhouse in the sense that holding onto sanity became a challenging legacy of ice and night that no one had foreseen. Obviously, the mental state of participants in extreme conditions presented explorers of Antarctica with information on a subject they had not included in their scientific considerations and studies. Madhouse at the End of the World is a well-researched and detailed presentation of the journey of the Belgica and of the men who went on that expedition. It is also an engrossing read.