How the Post Office Created America: A History

Amid all the wrangling over the fate of the USPS, here’s a look at the post office, how it came to be, and, frankly, where it went wrong.

Until 1966, it was an agency of the federal government, even a part of the Cabinet. And since then, it’s run a massive deficit.

How the Post Office Created America: A History

Actually, it pretty much has ALWAYS run a deficit, because of what its mission was: carry mail to every corner of the country, no matter what. And it was spectacularly successful, despite all the challenges, of distance, prices and aging equipment.

Another constant challenge was the spoils system, whereby winning political parties handed out postmaster jobs all over the nation, to people that had no idea how to do the job.

It’s all here, from postal roads and development of highways in the country, how the railroads helped, the coming of the telegraph, and even the side story of the Pony Express. But it started sliding backward, falling behind on technology.

Finally, it was cut loose, and tried to catch up, but “mistakes were made.” The government-run corporation shed its spoils jobs, but was stuck in old buildings with old equipment. The rising cost of the workforce hurt – when this was written, 80% of the USPS budget went to worker salaries and benefits – and those responsible for oversight lacked political will to fix it.

And even with years of warnings, the USPS got caught flatfooted by email, instead of leading the charge.

As it stands, the future of the USPS is up in the air, due to more than just politics. But its history is rich and gives insight to the growth of the U.S.

NFL Century: The One-Hundred-Year Rise of America’s Greatest Sports League

As the NFL enters it second century, this is a look back at its first, from the pros just before 1920, to the organization of the league, and all the stories after.

It’s a look at some of the familiar stories (if you’re a football fan), told from a new angle, along with some new stories.

It’s here from the 1958 Championship Game (“The Greatest Game Every Played”), to the formation of the AFL, to the glory years of the ’70s, this is a fun look at the game. Plus, there are chapters about the first black quarterback to start in the NFL (James Harris), to how the Cowboys were built in the ’90s, to the expansion of the game, both number of teams and breadth of reach.

One thing that bugged me about this book, though, are a couple of mistakes that I found. For example, the New York Jets signed Joe Namath, beating out the St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL – but this books says it was the Chicago Cardinals (they had already moved). It also had the wrong score of SBII. Not major things, but it just makes me wonder what other errors are in here that I trust the author – the former executive director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame – to have gotten right.

Not the worst book on the NFL I’ve read, but maybe not the best.

Three Days in January: Dwight Eisenhower’s Final Mission

For the final three days of Dwight Eisenhower’s administration, he hosted president-elect John Kennedy at what was to be called Camp David (at the time, Shangri-La). The president was trying to prepare the president-elect for the road ahead.

Kennedy didn’t really listen.

What followed was a rash of Cold War mistakes including an unsuccessful meeting with Khrushchev and the standoff that led to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Kennedy, fresh off a razor-thin victory over Eisenhower’s VP, Nixon, felt he could handle whatever came his way, and was brash and young enough to believe it. He would fill his administration with pointy heads from Ivy League schools, and many were unprepared to meet the Soviets across the table.

This book also touches on the reality that had Eisenhower backed Nixon only a little, Nixon would have won, and the Cold War (and probably the Cuban Missile Crisis) would have gone differently.

Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

A hit from the past, I read this in January 2019.

This is one of a couple of books on candy out there, and I think it’s a good one because it doesn’t condemn people for liking candy! A few other books out there are pretty nasty about our candy obsession, but this one is a fun, non-judgmental look at sweet treats.

One review I read says it’s about how candy became food and how food has become candy, and that’s a pretty fair assessment. It’s about the slow development of our sweet tooths (teeth?) and how changes in the manufacture of sugar helped that along.

From candy as a luxury good to an everyday snack, from an energy food to a lazy treat, from heavenly goodness to a sinful addiction, this book looks at how this all developed.

Her final assessment: Enjoy candy, but be reasonable about it. Recommended.

Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat

Here’s one I just finished, Sept. 2020. It’s a look at the ways we’ve developed our cooking and eating habits.

This covers the gamut, from the first time people tried something other than roasting food (boiling, they think), and the ways we did it – starting from pits to pots.

This history also looks at cookware, the development of ovens and stoves, cookbooks, measuring and even how we started manufacturing ice (a very American obsession).

And of course, a look at spoons, knives and forks.

It’s better than I was expecting, right up there with anything Mark Kurlansky would write, like Salt and Cod.

Totally worthy, and a recommended one from me.

 

… And we’re back.

So I’ve decided to start up again for various reasons, not least of which being because I’ve been reading like crazy this year in Our Time Of COVID.

You can see I left off at the tippy-top of 2019, so I have a lot to catch up with. Plus, I want to add reviews for my current reads. So until I catch up, it’ll be a mix of books a read up to 2 years ago to books I’ve just finished.

One of the incentives to read has been my discovery of BookOutlet. Click on that link and you can get remainder books cheap, sometimes as much as 20% off their low prices. And if you do, I get some points to save on books.

So watch this space and I’ll start reviewing again soon.

-Ralph