By Tom Cochrun
Inductee Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame (2010). radio/tv broadcaster and producer (Emmy winner), and mystery writer and documentarian
I Could Have Been President by William L. Seavey
As the book title suggests, Bill Seavey has a unique view of things. He is a thinker and provocateur. He's got a straight on, stripped down writing style that is honest and easy to read. He applies his no nonsense approach to a wide range of topics and interests--and may indeed prove he deserves his self pronounced moniker as a Renaissance Man.
Seavey is the kind of writer who engages you immediately whether it is with a lament on the world of print and publishing in an age of new information technology--or his personal exploration of being a stepparent.
His collection of essays move with agility over a wide range of topics to which he has devoted considerable thought. He offers admonitions, advice and expansive expression. He brings an analyst's view to contemporary issues and he may prompt your own thoughtful deliberations.
One of my favorite pieces is his tribute to Tennis Warriors. He writes of men whom I know, and an attitude and sweaty chase that is common to those of us who still lace up beyond our prime. The piece brims with a spirit and love of the game. Those of us who have played with Bill know that he demonstrates tenacity. (There are some who have trepidation in sharing a court with this warrior). Still, no one should shrink from reading this collection of essays.
Bill is a bit of a worrier too. By that I mean he has a concern for the commonweal. In this context, when probing and thinking deeply on topics that undergird well being (such as the progression of life and the legacy of our behavior) I think of Bill as a professor, causing us to consider a bit more deeply the fabric of life and our contribution to its tapestry.
Bill Seavey cares. He cares enough to be honest, candid, analytical, concerned and affirmative about a higher chord of thought and behavior. Maybe he could have been President--but what a different world it would have to be to make that possible. (Maybe a more honest and better world.)
Review by Terence P. Ward. Allbooksreview.com
Title: I Could Have Been President
Author: William L. Seavey
William Seavey is correct when he muses, "Essays are becoming a lost art in our speeded up age," as he does in the introduction to his collection of essays, I Could Have Been President. Outside of school assignments, the closest approximation to essay writing most of us ever see is what the bloggers have to say, and well-crafted blog posts are usually some 600-800 words, which makes for an anemic essay. Seavey uses the format to articulate his views on the world in more depth than today's reader generally encounters. A thoughtful observer of the world around him, this collection offers his thoughts on a wide range of topics, compiled over decades of time. As the provocative title suggests, some of them are political in nature, but he also touches upon aging, disparity with developing nations, oil consumption, religion, futorology, death, sports, homelessness, and parenting. In amongst those are a tribute to a favorite celebrity of his, some
discussion of his own genealogy, a brief memoir about his brush with celebrities, and even a little bit of poetry.
My personal favorite of these two-dozen pieces is "The Misconceptions about Yellowstone Park", as Yellowstone is one of my favorite places on the planet. On the one hand, I saw the depth of his expertise on the subject in this essay, which Seavey wrote when he was an employee of the park. On the other, because it
was written in 1967, some of the problems he describes, such as "bear jams" caused when families of the large animals would gather by the road to beg for food of passing drivers, are fascinating glimpses into history. When I visited this grand park some 35 years later, only the bison jammed the roads, and they had no interest in food. One ranger actually quipped that road shoulders were their natural habitat! Perhaps that explains the dearth of hitchhikers, which wereapparently abundant in Seavey's day.
The Yellowstone essay does include a brief introduction which gives the year of its writing, but that's a concept which does not carry through this work. Ofttimes the reader has to piece together clues about when the individual essays were penned, which is frustrating given the very topical and immediate style the author prefers.
Without the date, it's difficult to grasp the historical context. Simple placing the written or publication date at the top of each essay would instantly increase its value to the reader.
Although the author eschews more modern media and writing styles, technological advances could also enhance this book. I personally find e-books a bit of a chore to read, much like the author, but nevertheless this book would be well-suited to the format. Seavey frequently references his other works in his essays, many of
which have not been published, and invariably without the publication history of those which had seen print. An e-book could include embedded links to those other columns and works, or at the very least to the Amazon page where they might be purchased. Again, instant value enhancement.
I fear that the shortcomings I have noted would deter more than a few readers, and that would be a shame. The content is far better than the problems would suggest, and I expect that a re-edited version, in electronic format, would easily set the blogosphere afire.
Review of William Seavey, I Could Have Been President
by Fritz Ward, Amazon Books Top 500 Reviewer
The short essay has become something of a lost art. Beginning with Montaigne,
writers have attempted to "assay" or weigh the merits of an idea, observation, or
argument in a tight format. This approach to writing has a number of advantages,
not least of which is that the economy of space forces authors to focus in on a topic and consider it without rambling off on tangential thoughts only vaguely related to the issue at hand. Indeed, school age students, who are wont to ramble at length, are taught essay format for precisely this reason. But the same strength of form the short essay offers is also a weakness in the modern world. Too many authors, and far too many readers, mistake quantity for quality of argument, and more than a few books currently on the market could and should be reduced to a couple of pages. William (Bill) Seavey's collection, "I Could Have Been President" is a refreshing change from recent literary trends. A collection of 24 carefully written essays, none of which exceed a few pages, this book offers readers some thoughtful observations on everything from fame to growing older, with reflections on science and religion thrown in as well.
Some of these essays are wholly practical. Do you want an inexpensive vacation?
Consider a home exchange. Having problems with adopted children? (Or perhaps
children that you wish you could say were adopted?) Seavey shares his survival
story of being a step parent. Will it help? Maybe. Will it give you the sense you are
not alone in your feelings? Absolutely. And who hasn't heard of the neighbor from
hell? How do we deal with such people in a civilized manner? These and many
other essays can be found in this book.
But amidst the practical, there are also some serious reflections on greater issues that face humanity. Indeed, far from being a disparate collection of thoughts, this book is united by two broad themes. The first, and by far the most prominent of these is the apparent disconnect between broad political issues and our everyday lives. We are all aware of national calamities, but even in an age of mass media, these events do not have the immediate impact on our lives that unpublicized everyday occurrences do. Seavey is remarkably candid in his exploration of this topic. The suicide of his (ex) wife impacted his life far more than many national events ever would. Most of us can point to similar events in our own lives. (Indeed, Seavey and I share a similar such experience: we were both attacked by a bear in Yellowstone.) This theme appears in many of the essays. Seavey approaches the topic of homelessness, for example, from the micro perspective of one who directly worked with these people to try and help them find jobs and stability in life. Yellowstone Park is discussed, not in terms of the larger environmental movement, but as a place someone would actually want to visit. Not exactly travel literature, the "Misconceptions about Yellowstone Park" is still excellent reading. The essay compares reality and expectations among tourists, workers (and by extension, park rangers as well).
The other major theme in this book is what I might describe as a pleasant
agnosticism. Unlike many authors, Seavey is not pretentious, which might come as something of a surprise to people who read the subtitle of this book "Contemporary Essays … by a true Renaissance Man." But Seavey is referring here to the range of his interests, not the degree of his certainty. Instead, readers are treated to thoughtful reflections on a variety of topics, but they will not find "the truth." Seavey for example, is at once skeptical of and respectful towards religious thought and traditions in his essay, "Until the Good Lord Takes You Home." He does not discount religious ideas, but ultimately admits that they simply do not speak to him. He, like many of his generation, finds more meaning in science. But unlike a fair amount of today's left, which worships science as a new (and rather jealous) God, Seavey is also skeptical of the fruits of science. In a considered poem (the only one in this book) he notes that technology has done the earth more harm than good. Nonetheless, he remains optimistic that science can provide insights, if not ultimate answers, to the problems we face. The essays "Taming Growth" and "Putting Americans on a Low (or No) Carb-uretor Diet" illustrate this optimism.
On the whole I was impressed with this collection. That is not because I am in full
agreement with it. Seavey was raised in a different generation than I was and his
politics reflect a "whole earth catalog" type of new left thought. While I often share some sympathy with this variety of left wing politics, I was raised in a generation that saw the effects of extensive government involvement in the economy and have, as a result, adopted a more libertarian perspective. But agreement is not required. These essays are the thoughtful reflections of a person who is fully engaged with life and all lovers of ideas will appreciate them.