Humor and the Presidency by President Gerald Ford (1987, Arbor House)
Ford is often an overlooked President of the modern age. He is seen, quite reasonably, primarily as a caretaker for the policies of President Nixon who did not manage a successful re-election. He was portrayed in the press as a klutz and a bumbler, which was particularly unfair because he was one of the most athletic Presidents we’d had.
A few public incidents can be made to skew opinion. This book shows that Ford recognized that fact; more, it demonstrates that he was not exceptionally bitter. The book’s title focuses on the general category of humor, but the content is almost exclusively targeted at political cartoons.
For fans of political cartoons, the book is a delight. Ford provides context for many of the images beyond the usual short caption explaining what was in the news spotlight at the time. He also explains what it’s like for a public figure to deal with humiliation, warranted or not.
The book is short – too short, in my opinion, as are most political cartoon books – but its low price (about $5-8 can buy a copy in decent condition) offsets that concern nicely.
One taint is provided by the introduction, which was written by Chevy Chase. Chase & Ford maintained a very good relationship after Ford left office, often speaking highly of each other. Their friendship seemed, on the surface, to be similar to that of Dana Carvey and the first President Bush. But, while Carvey has continued to speak respectfully and sometimes even reverently of his friend following the passing of President Bush, Chase felt it necessary to deride Ford in the months following that President’s death.
On the other hand, it once again demonstrates that a President was, at one point, expected to be a man of honor and class.
Salammbo by Gustave Flaubert (1863, Michel Lévy Frères)
Salammbo is a 19th century novel of sex and violence which would be decidedly more interesting for high school and collegiate readers than the commonly assigned Madame Bovary. Both were written by Flaubert, and both are considered high points in classical literature in France, but Salammbo (sometimes spelled Salambo in the U.S.) is comparatively unknown in America.
The controversy over the topics addressed in Salammbo is overrated. Whereas at the time of its publication the graphic descriptions of violence and the stark recognition of sexuality were scandalous, in today’s culture they are virtually puritan compared to some episodes of Game of Thrones or True Blood.
Of greater interest is the depth of research Flaubert conducted in his effort to write the novel. Flaubert investigated the world of pre-Christ Carthage extensively, and he successfully integrates his knowledge into a story of leadership, romance and betrayals. The prose is dense, but not excessively so; even with the hazards associated with translations the English versions have retained the easy hand at storytelling which was absent in many 19th century authors.
Flaubert creates fictional characters and intermingles them with historical figures; by doing so he frees himself to write a cohesive story, something often lacking when only existing people and known events are used. It’s a strong example of a historical novel, and one worth picking up for those who enjoy the genre.