Book Review: ‘Vanderbilt’ by Anderson Cooper

Book Review: ‘Vanderbilt’ by Anderson Cooper
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Updated 13 June 2024
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Book Review: ‘Vanderbilt’ by Anderson Cooper

Book Review: ‘Vanderbilt’ by Anderson Cooper

Written during the pandemic in 2021, “Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty” looks at the Vanderbilt family, one of the most famous in US history, written by one of its own.

It was penned by journalist Anderson Cooper, formerly of CNN, and while many of us rifled through old archives while on lockdown in our own homes, Cooper attempted to piece together fragments of his own history — and US history.

The book begins with young Cornelius “the Commodore” Vanderbilt at the beginning of the 19th century. Through grit, and a pathological desire to acquire money at all costs, he was able to build two giant empires, one in shipping and another in railroads, that would make him the richest man in America. His staggering fortune was fought over by his heirs until well after his death in 1877.

His great-great-great-grandson is Cooper and this personal yet exhaustive book covers a vast amount of real estate — both in stories and locations — as historian Katherine Howe, his co-writer, and Cooper explore the story of the legendary family and its influence.

Cooper and Howe breathe life into the former’s ancestors who built the family’s vast empire, basked in the Commodore’s wealth and became synonymous with American capitalism and high society.

Moving from old Manhattan to the lavish Fifth Avenue, from the ornate summer palaces to the courts of Europe and modern-day New York, Cooper and Howe recount the triumphs and tragedies of this American dynasty. 

The vignettes are often fascinating and give context to tales often recounted, like that of Alva Belmont, who was married to a Vanderbilt before pivoting to a world of activism. In her heyday she hosted one of the most lavish gala balls of all time, held in 1883, which inspired many a TV series and fanciful gossip following her rivalry with the infamous Caroline Schermerhorn Astor.

The story looks at the melancholic life of Alva’s daughter, Consuelo, and at her eventual happy ending.

Cooper and Howe delve into corners of stories that are more or less unknown. I was particularly fascinated by the story of his relative who lived in a museum for years, before being eventually kicked out.

The stories link and go back and forth on the timeline, perhaps making it slightly confusing for the lay reader.

It does really require the reader to have some prior knowledge of the Vanderbilt family, with its many scandals and nuances.

The authors also go into detail about the lives, and deaths, of the many Vanderbilt men.

The last part of the book spends time exploring the late Gloria Vanderbilt, Cooper’s mother. These passages are the most emotional in the book.

Cooper, who is now a father, explains how writing the book helped to provide a historical context which his son can read about in later life to understand the story behind the stories, and tall tales, written about their family.


Review: ‘Elden Ring’ expansion offers more of the same excellence 

Review: ‘Elden Ring’ expansion offers more of the same excellence 
Updated 24 July 2024
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Review: ‘Elden Ring’ expansion offers more of the same excellence 

Review: ‘Elden Ring’ expansion offers more of the same excellence 

LONDON: “Shadow of Erdtree” is the highly anticipated expansion for the critically acclaimed game, “Elden Ring.” The original game, released in 2022, swept numerous awards upon release and captivated players with its intricate world, challenging gameplay, and immersive lore. Within a week of its release, the expansion has seen over 5 million players dive into its dark world, a testament to the game’s allure and the reputation of its creator, Hidetaka Miyazaki. Miyazaki, also the president of FromSoftware since 2014, cemented his and the developer’s legacy with the release of “Dark Souls” in 2011, a game that defined a genre and set a new standard for difficulty and storytelling. 

Jumping into “Shadow of Erdtree” is no small feat. Even for seasoned players with over 130 hours invested, accessing the new content requires overcoming significant challenges, including defeating an optional boss to unlock the entrance to the “Land of Shadow.” This expansion continues the trend of demanding gameplay, rewarding perseverance with new content that expands the lore and challenges of “Elden Ring.”

The plot of “Shadow of Erdtree” continues the enigmatic and complex narrative established in the base game. Players find themselves amid the turmoil of demi-gods battling for fragments of the once all-powerful Elden Ring. Into this chaos steps a “tarnished,” an outcast whose journey is intertwined with the mysterious figure of Miquella the Kind. The story remains cryptic and layered, inviting players to piece together its many facets through exploration and discovery.

Fundamentally, “Shadow of Erdtree” offers more of the same elements that made “Elden Ring” a success. The expansion preserves the dark, epic, and dangerous atmosphere of The Lands Between. New areas and the addition of Scadutree fragments provide fresh content while maintaining the game’s signature aesthetic. Enemies are as unforgiving as ever, ensuring that players will face numerous deaths as they navigate the perilous landscape.

The sense of reward in “Shadow of Erdtree” is immense. The expansion enriches the game with a plethora of new items, crafting options, flasks, clothes, weapons, magic, key items, and Ashes of War. These additions enhance the depth of gameplay, offering new strategies and customization options for players to explore.

For those who love delving into the intricate lore and challenging gameplay of “Elden Ring,” “Shadow of Erdtree” is a must-play. It expands on the original game’s strengths, delivering a compelling and demanding experience that will test even the most seasoned players. Supporting wikis and community resources will undoubtedly be invaluable as players navigate the expansion’s new content and uncover its many secrets.


What We Are Reading Today: Divergent Democracy

What We Are Reading Today: Divergent Democracy
Updated 23 July 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: Divergent Democracy

What We Are Reading Today: Divergent Democracy

Author: Katherine Krimmel

Democratic and Republican party platforms display clear differences on important issues. They reflect a programmatic party system in which policy positions serve as a key basis of electoral competition.

In “Divergent Democracy,” Katherine Krimmel examines this transformation of the American party system, using innovative machine learning techniques to develop and present the first measure of party differentiation on issues since Democrats and Republicans began competing with each other in 1856.


REVIEW: Book censor falls victim to the malady of imagination in Kuwaiti novel

REVIEW: Book censor falls victim to the malady of imagination in Kuwaiti novel
Updated 24 July 2024
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REVIEW: Book censor falls victim to the malady of imagination in Kuwaiti novel

REVIEW: Book censor falls victim to the malady of imagination in Kuwaiti novel

JEDDAH: Getting lost in a good story is an occupational hazard and a crime in “The Book Censor’s Library,” a dystopian political satire with elements of magic realism. The story follows an unnamed narrator whose life unravels after he reluctantly begins working for an all-powerful government.

With a spellbinding and smooth translation from Arabic by Ranya Abdelrahman and Sawad Hussain, Kuwaiti literary icon Bouthayna Al-Essa’s novel warns against the loss of originality and personal freedoms in its depiction of the transformation of a man into a reader and his inevitable fall down the rabbit hole of books and imagination.

Set in the near future “in a place that would be pointless to name, since it resembles every other place,” the novel follows the book censor in the New World as he combs through manuscripts, looking for any offending word or idea that would render a book unfit to publish.He is a “guardian of surfaces,” and his task is to ensure that books that carry depth and ideas should be identified and removed from the shelves because “one curious person who picked up a volume and read a few lines could poison the entire society.”

In a swift turn of events, the protagonist himself is swept away by classics like “Zorba the Greek,” “Alice in Wonderland,” and “1984,” his dreams and waking hours engulfed in the siren song of good storytelling.

As the world around him slowly regains color, he falls into the throes of an existential crisis, torn between doing his duty as a simple cog in the machine and the secret society of “Cancers” attempting to restore books to their former glory and preserve the collective memory of humanity.

Drawing from the power of timeless stories, El-Essa’s Orwellian tale delves into the terrifying heart of darkness to remind us that “cancer cells are the only ones that thrive in a dying body.”


What We Are Reading Today: Europe’s Sea Mammals

What We Are Reading Today: Europe’s Sea Mammals
Updated 22 July 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: Europe’s Sea Mammals

What We Are Reading Today: Europe’s Sea Mammals

Authors: Robert Still, Hugh Harrop, Luis Dias, & Tim Stenton

This cutting-edge photographic identification guide to Europe’s sea mammals—the only such guide of its kind—covers the 39 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises and 9 species of seals found in the region, which spans the eastern Atlantic from Iceland to Macaronesia, and the Mediterranean, Caspian and Baltic seas.

Written and illustrated by a team of professional tour guides with extensive experience presenting the region’s sea mammals, the guide features more than 180 color photographs, maps and graphics.


What We Are Reading Today: Virtual You

What We Are Reading Today: Virtual You
Updated 21 July 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: Virtual You

What We Are Reading Today: Virtual You

Authors: Peter Coveney & Roger Highfield

In this deeply illuminating book, Peter Coveney and Roger Highfield reveal what it will take to build a virtual, functional copy of a person in five steps. 

Along the way, they take you on a fantastic voyage through the complexity of the human body, describing the latest scientific and technological advances—from multiscale modelingto extraordinary new forms of computing—that will make “virtual you” a reality, while also considering the ethical questions inherent to realizing truly predictive medicine.