Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lowest Price Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire That Civilized the Wild West

The topic is interesting, but Fried needed a more ruthless editor.

One issue is overwrought (at at times, overly cute) prose. Here's a taste:

"Finally, on Tuesday, August 14, the emperor surrendered. World War II, the second war to end all wars, was finally over."

The "second war to end all wars?" -- completely unnecessary, and by WWII, no one thought that wars ended war. And the use of "finally" in successive sentences, ugh.

How about "Freditor's Notes" (playing off Fred Harvey)? How about "Acknowledgements and Outshouts"? The Brits have a word for this, and it's "twee". Corny tending to saccharine.

Second problem: "scene recreations". Here's a taste:

"His nose was stuffy, and he felt a bit feverish as he sat at his desk in the elaborately wood-paneled corner office. As he kept feeling worse, he walked over to the large brass National Regulator Company thermometer mounted on the wall to see if heat had been turned up too high."

The end notes acknowledges this bit as the start of a "scene recreation" (Fried's words). Elsewhere, a travelogue in the book mentions Fried saw the thermometer for himself, but so far as I can tell, there's absolutely zero evidence that anything like the recreated scene actually happened.

It might have, it's certainly plausible, but plausibility ain't history. And here's the deal: even if this did happen, exactly like Fried says it does, it's a distraction and it doesn't advance the ball.

Third problem: dumping in absolutely everything into the book. Fried cannot mention anyone without an aside about that person, most of which does nothing to advance your understanding of the Harveys. Instead of simply saying that a particular doctor was an eminent cardiologist, we need to know, apparently, that the doctor was the first to diagnose a myocardial infarction in a living patient, that he was a cofounder of the American Heart Association, and that he discovered sickle-cell anemia. OK, fine, but the second generation Harvey who was dying, was doing so from the flu, so why the heck is any of this on-point?

There's a whole page (that would be pg 253) devoted to the govt's attempts at societal control in WWI. Fried doesn't even attempt to tie it to the Harveys in any way shape or form. So why the heck is it in this book?

Inside this 400+ page book is a good, tight, 200 pager struggling to get out. Either Fried can't resist showing off or he doesn't have enough confidence in the subject material and feels he needs to jazz it up. It's unfortunate.Get more detail about Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire That Civilized the Wild West.

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