Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ill Fares The Land - Tony Judt

The book club met yesterday and as usual each member commented on Mr. Judt's book. I was again out of step. The book was not a comfortable read for me. It's is biased with liberal comments and opinions I disagree with.

Tony Judt is an intellectual academic whose specialty is social and economic systems. Way too many of his statements are no more than his questionable opinion.     

Judt says: "unregulated capitalism is it's own worst enemy and sooner or later must fail and turn to the state for rescue."
I believe President Bush unwisely approved the $700 billion dollar (TARP) stimulus to shore up the nation's temporary credit crisis, then followed with another stimulus of $152 billion dollars intended to promote job creation. Both efforts failed.

The Hoover Institute (Stanford University) paper by John Cogan says: "The general idea of stimulating the economy through state and local governments is probably not a very good one. Plain old permanent federal income tax cuts retain their superiority as a fiscal stabilization device."

Cogan also says: "The bottom line is the federal government borrowed funds from the public, transferred these funds to state and local governments, who then used the funds mainly to reduce borrowing from the public. The net impact on aggregate economic activity is zero."

Judt says: "A liberal is someone who opposes interference in the affairs of others; who is tolerant of dissenting attitudes and unconventional behavior." 

He must have been kidding.
Judt also writes that: " . . . . in public policy social democrats believe in the possibility and virtue of collective action for the collective good." 

So do conservatives and libertarians. The problem is that America's most difficult policy issues are embedded in a vast government administration that has become corrupted. There is little regard for the principles the Constitution for example.  
F.D.R. made a huge and harmful decision when he added Economic Security to the Bill of Rights. He used this new right  to increase the size and scope of the federal government, and to creat huge non-sustaining entitlements. Economic Security was again used by President G.W. Bush to justify another $852 billion dollar stimulus. And the right to Economic Security was again used by President Obama when he released another $787 billion dollar stimulus in 2009.
Judt writes: "To avert national bankruptcies and wholesale banking collapse, governments and central bankers have performed remarkable policy reversals, liberally dispersing public money in pursuit of economic stability and taking failed companies into public control without a second thought."

The national government is now the largest single force in America and consumes half of all we produce. It has also accumulated a the largest public debt in our history. How can this be a good thing? 

Then he says: "In short, the practical need for strong states and interventionist governments is beyond dispute."

Judt is way out of touch. Over half of all Americans disagree with him.  Like other liberals Mr. Judt claims that interventionist governments are the natural extension of the founders principles, documents, and institutions - and there is no basis for this statement.
Either we will be governed by ourselves under our Constitution, or else we will be governed by a new kind of master invented in our day, the bureaucrat, and by the impenetrable web of rules that he fabricates and enforces.



Thursday, November 18, 2010

Kingmakers - Meyer & Brysac

A long, well written analysis of how the modern middle east was developed. It's a scholarly work describing the people and reasons the middle east is divided as it is. The book got off with a slow start but became more interesting at Chapter 6 which introduced Lawrence of Arabia. From that Chapter forward it also became easier to read.

Years ago I read "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom" and remember it still. Between then and now I held old Lawrence in high esteem. Interestingly, the authors of this book could not make up their mind whether Lawrence was a fraud, a crack-pot, or for real. They burst my hero bubble.

At the Cairo Conference several key decisions were made. The British Army was replaced by the Royal Airforce. The move was made by Air Marshal Sir Hugh Trenchard, Winston Churchill and Lawrence, and the intent was to govern Mesopotamia "with hot air, airplanes and Arabs."

The Balfor Declaration was born in 1918 and Palestine was then an ugly confusion of war-like terror. With the Balfor the British were trying to reunite the Jews and Arabs on land they both considered sacred. Sound familiar. The Brits finally gave up and were replaced by the Americans who are still trying almost 100 years later.

During the mid 1920s Jack Philby was a  key character in Iraq, Trans Jordan, Palestine and Syria. Ibn Saud was rising The entire region was restless. It was during the 1930s that Britain had a serious problem. Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan were considering joining the Axis and India was threatening a revolt. British oil supplies were threatened. Churchill dictated that the British would do all in their power to control the pipeline.

Britain's 1941 victory in Iraq  stopped German access to Iraqi & Iranian oil.

The British election in 1945 resulted in another new policy for Palestine. It was to avoid partition by creating a bi national state that would guarantee political and economic rights for a Jewish minority in an Arab country. Zionists considered this arrangement completely unacceptable and began acts of terrorism - including the bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946 by the Irgun under Menachem Begin.

British leaders were aware that the world perceived Britain as waging war against Holocaust survivors. President Truman appeared to favor the Zionists.  Looking for a way to "save face" the British referred the problem to the United Nations.

more to follow

Monday, October 25, 2010

Rules For Old Men Waiting - Peter Pouncey

I finished this one last night. What a wonderful book. It may be the best read of the year. The subject matter sounds dreary but isn't. The story meanders between present time and time gone by, and it does so fluidly and without haste or confusion. I thought the writing style to be intelligent, and the text carried from one page to the next. The main story is about death and dealing with death. It is not maudlin and grey. Instead it moves from a depressed state to reality, and quietly teaches as it proceeds.

One paragraph will stay with me for a long time.

"You know, the cruel thing about depression is not that it makes you see the world darkly; God knows at my jauntiest, I've always looked on the world darkly. How else should one look at the bloody thing? The real debasing role of depression is to remove all flashes of energy or concentration, to ensure that you can never complete anything. Depression as depth fatigue. It takes a particular zest in grinding you to immobility, so that you have no smidgeon of self-esteem left."

I've experienced depression and can attest that the author hit this definition perfectly.

The story revolves around an old professor who loses his wife and subsequently, living alone and remote, begins his own decline to his death. As he fails more each day, he brings memories forward by way of glimpses of his history. The process is not sad, but rather fascinating. The author's writing is superb.

This is not a book for everyone, but it was a terrific and timely book for me. As I say, it may be the best book I read this year.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Zeitoun By Dave Eggers

I found Zeitoun to be an interesting, factual and not particularly surprising account of the hurricaine KATRINA.  It's a good story, well written,  about a Muslim man who didn't deserve what he got. You can find an excellent review at the following link:

Extra Comments. Reading this book I kept thinking about our present government which is so rapidly dismissing the American dream. The current administration can't lose our American heritage fast enough. They claim that the same old way of doing things has failed, and to fix everything they intend to reduce our freedoms  - and replace them by increasing the power of our Government. Under all of the rhetoric lies the question:

Just exactly what should we expect from our government?

Our current ultra-left-liberal government believes the nation can be managed better if it's citizens give up much of their FREEDOM and independence. They want to transfer more and greater powers to our government bureaucracy. The majority of Americans do NOT agree, but the liberal minority, mostly Democrats, have elected to shove these programs ahead regardless. It's an understatement to say that the majority of Americans are not happy . . . . but their voices are ignored.

America is in the process of making a huge leap toward government dependence.

Our government and it's systems have proven superior to most others for 200 years. People with common sense (regardless of political party), know that evolutionary changes may be necessary as society itself changes, yet they believe the fundamental structures and systems designed 200 years ago by the Founding Fathers, are basic and fundamental. By following those guidelines America has grown and prospered. Why in the world would we now reject our traditions and history instead of respecting and learning from the past.

The word freedom, repeated in the context of America, describes one of our nation's major attractions. It is the nature of governments to reduce the freedom of their citizens. They do so by the steady imposition of new laws, and almost every law passed establishes a limit on someones freedom.  Most laws are intended to protect the rights and freedom of someone else.

America's Constitution  describes the limits on acceptable behavior. It tells in clear language what citizens and the government are NOT to do. It insists on limits that apply to individuals and to government activities.

 The Declaration of Independence  describes what is expected of individuals and of their government. It further addresses the basic nature of individuals and their fundamental rights . . .  such as the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It confirms for us , and it tells us that our citizens are all equal under the law, and that all men are equal under their Creator.

Mr. Zeitoun defied the instructions of police, fire and government spokespeople. He refused to leave his home and property and remained in the dangerous area of New Orleans following hurricane Katrina. He was arrested and badly treated in the makeshift legal system temporarily in place. In one sense it should never have happened, and in another HE ASKED FOR IT.

The Katrina devastation was an act of God coupled with a catastrophic failure of U.S. Government levies, diversion channels and disaster preparedness.

Repairing the damage of Katrina.

1.  When was it decided that ACTS OF GOD (NATURE) must be be insured by government?

2.  Should American Tax Dollars pay Katrina's costs for rebuilding, restitution and 
     other damage?

3. On a related matter, when was it decided  A PERSON'S RETIREMENT must be guaranteed
    and paid for by American Tax Dollars?

4. Why are  UNEMPLOYED WORKERS  paid for with American Tax Dollars? 

Why do these questions pop up?

Because the most damaged city in Katrina's path was New Orleans where a very large percentage of the displaced people have been living on welfare for generations. Too many have never even had a job, and neither have their parents. For these parasitic permanent welfare clients Katrina has provided a windfall. The government is rebuilding their homes and repairing the damaged infrastructure. Katrina closed thousands of businesses and the government is now furnishing welfare money and no interest loans to urge business owners to get started again. How closely is this welfare money monitored and managed? Who is responsible for it?  
Returning now to Zeitoun and the Hurricane Katrina,

1.   when was it decided that our national government had to pay for the property
      damaged (provide insurance),

2.    and had to pay residents and business owners to rebuild in a dangerous natural flood

Let us have a discussion on those questions.



Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Coldest Winter - David Halberstam

This was not a geezer selection. George Elsey was giving away a few of his books and this was one I have wanted to read for some time. It's about MY war. The forgotten war in Korea. I sort of adopted it because officially I am a Korean War Veteran (I hasten to add that I've never been anywhere near Korea), and because it was being fought (on the other side of the planet) I became a Korean War Vet - on paper only.  It was to become very important to me - a long time ago. Permit me to quickly say again that I had absolutely nothing to do with the Korean War. Nothing at all. I happened to be in the military from 1954 to 1958. I attended a few specialized schools in the USA and then was shipped to Sembach AFB in Germany. That became my home base for the duration.

But because of the timing, I was eligible for the KOREAN GI BILL. Without it's considerable financial help I would never have been able to go to college. I was so lucky as to have served during the time the Korean War was still on the books. Actually it was over but our leaders seem not to have known just how to formally end it. Finally, no one was declared the winner, and the Korean War just stopped at the 38th parallel . . . . and the two sides, North and South, agreed to quit fighting right there.  

Back to the book. The Coldest Winter is one of the few serious books about the Korean "Police Action", and it is surely the best. As I proceeded to read it I found the characterizations of the dominant individuals involved, to be fascinating. To be sure, Douglas MacArthur is first praised for a victory at Inchon that (in advance) had all of the earmarks of a catastrophe.  He got lucky. After that victory Mr. Halberstam takes Doug-out Doug apart, piece by piece. In the end, following a distinguished career, MacArthur is painted with a brush of tar. He deservedly became a worthless, dangerous, egocentric failure as a military commander. His fall happened during the Korean War.

If I were to recommend this book to anyone, I would give it an A++


Reversible Errors - Scott Turow

The club selected this novel as a relatively lightweight and easily digested alternative to our regular text book tomes. It was a pretty good choice. The author is a lawyer and the book describes many of the legal factors from the commission of a crime to the final court verdict. The story moves right along.  The legal maneuvering delivers a question at every twist and turn - and there are many. The way the book is assembled and the police and lawyer stuff is explained, reminded me of the many British Police procedural I've read.

If I was to recommend this book to someone, I would give it a "B" grade.


I wrote the above a month ago. Since then the Geezers have met and discussed the book at length. By the time we finished the entire legal system had been investigated and several opinions aired. We decided that  the American legal system from stem to stern is broken. Using the book, "Reversible Errors" as a guide, the club members shined a light on it's history and current status.
  • Capital Punishment,  yes or no?
  • A deterrent to others?  
  • Does incarceration benefit society or not?
  • Is it possible to rehabilitate chronic criminals?
  • Should jails inflict hard time as a deterrent?
  • Or soft time dedicated to rehabilitation?
  • Should the "3 strike" rule be applied to every criminal?
  • Or should it be subject to common sense variations?
  • Since the science of DNA testing has become a determining factor in crimes involving people, society has discovered many innocent men held in prisons, how is an inmate chosen to reinvestigate?
  • By whom?
  • Because it is possible to collect DNA evidence from very old (theoretically thousands of years) materials, should there be a time limit to using DNA as evidence?
  • The jury system is flawed.   
                 1. Most of the people serving do not want to be there.
                 2. A jury of 12 is usually not  a cross section of peers.
                 3. Most juries are biased by the retired and elderly.
                 4. Most jurors have no experience judging other people.

All of these questions were triggered by the book "Reversible Errors" and clearly insist that our legal system of determining guilt needs to be studied and improvements made. Also, that the harshness of incarceration and the punishment for crimes should be guided by newly developed standards.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Out of Mao's Shadow - Phillip P. Pan

This is one of the best books about China that I've read.

Recomended with Five Stars *****

Huge China, with such an unbelievable number of citizens is, to this day, both a mystery and puzzle. One wonders from the start, how rural peasants were attracted to communism in the first place. The book begins with Tianamen Square and quickly moves backward to 1989 when so many young people converged in protest of the corruption within the Communist government. The brutal release of military might resulted in the massacre of  students (and other protesters) at Tianamen Square. The  government made a terrible mistake when they unleashed the military -  and it has haunted them ever since. The author suggests an explanation - and then concludes by agreeing that the government was wrong.  

Out of Mao's Shadow informs the reader of the period from the beginning of the Chinese Communist Party to the present,  illustrating how it took over and became the one and only political party. And how it's leaders have used fear and cruelty to rule the masses of the Chinese people. It has not ever been a successful government. Since it gained  dominance over the Nationalist party to the day Mao Tse Tung died, was a ruthless government that rewarded it's elites and encouraged corruption. The economic progress after Mao's death has been astoundingly successful. The Chinese Communist Party has been steadily changing.  To experience the rapid progress has required the party to join the free market capitalism of the modern economic world. Only by doing so can they sustain the present day astonishing economic growth. The government has it's hands full trying to manage the growth. And China, overall, remains plagued with terrible living conditions and desperate poverty. China has not been able to remedy it's many labor abuses, and corruption of political functionaries is still an uncontrolled reality. 

Finally, the all-powerful government still controls much of Chinese life. It is gradually opening up, but the process isn't easy for them. The government is stressed.



The Great Leap Forward (Began 1958) "...some thirty million people - and perhaps as many as fifty million - starved to death as a result. 

Anti-Rightist Campaign (Began 1957) " many as six million people perished."

The Cultural Revolution (Began 1966) "...36 million people were persecuted" and "...1,500,000 people were killed." " Shanghai there were 5,000 people killed." "In Daoxian county in Hunan Province, 5,000 people were killed."

Famine. (1957) " least ten million people had died in all of Sichuan Province between 1957 and 1960."

Chinese Communism. (Began 1949) "...since the economic reforms began two decades ago, mining accidents take the lives of 10,000 to 40,000 coal miners annually."

Microtrends - Mark Penn

The writer has a long history of polling and from that he has deduced (as Sherlock Holmes would say) what he believes to be the natural extrapolation of facts. The result is a fascinating book that points out 'what led to what,' and 'how it happened'.

The book has 15 Major Divisions:
  1. Love, Sex, and Relationships,
  2. Work Life,
  3. Race and Religion, 
  4. Health and Wellness,
  5. Family Life,
  6. Politics,
  7. Teens,
  8. Food, Drink and Diet,
  9. Lifestyle,
  10. Money and Class, 
  11. Looks and Fashion,
  12. Technology,
  13. Leisure and Entertainment,
  14. Education,
  15. International.
I've listed them all to illustrate the diversity and number of subjects addressed. Each of the 15 Major Divisions is further divided into 8 or more Chapters (subjects within the major heading), and they are all interesting. Basically they show how small things (acorns) are ultimately responsible for large things (oak trees).

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Live From The Battlefield - Peter Arnett

Part 1 of the book is about the author growing up in New Zealand and how he found his way to a career in jounalism. It covers (1934 to 1962), and while it's quite interesting . . . the more absorbing part of the book starts with part 2.  

Part 2 (1962 to 1975) is titled 'SAIGON'. From this point I couldn't put the book down. It is a riveting account of America's modern military machine, people and weapons in Viet Nam, and it is told with an undercurrent of political and military mis-management, mis-direction and enormous frustration.  In a step by step manner, Mr. Arnett describes our tragic descent into Conrad's "HEART OF DARKNESS", and how America's overwhelming military might was found to be so ineffective against an irregular enemy.

As he reports the story of Viet Nam he also makes a good case for eliminating indiscriminate bombing, defoliation, and napalm bombs in modern warfare.  He is obviously appalled by the bloody and indiscriminate killing of helpless civilians. Mr. Arnett's  tries, successfully I think, to avoid political correctness and the influences of the military command structure. The result makes his book something special.

Mr. Arnett skillfully describes a long and  regrettable time in Viet Nam's history. He blends into it the catastrophic effects of American politicians who tried to run the war and spares no one. The reader's attention is carefully drawn to the many elementary and stupid decisions and exactly who was responsible.  When the author feels justified,  he doesn't hesitate to poke a stick in Uncle Sam's eye.

Part 3 (1974-1990),  covers the time after Viet Nam. For our intrepid journalist it is a story of non-stop travel to exotic and dangerous locations around the world. Place names like Panama, Beruit, Nambia, Angola, Zaire, Russia, Ethiopia, and Israel for example, just breeze by with a whoosh. This part of the book is almost a pause as Mr. Arnett gets ready for Iraq.

Part 4 (1990-1991). The section on Bagdad is one of the most realistic wartime reporting ever done. The reader is given a ring-side seat in the middle of the war zone. I thought it reminiscent of Ernie Pyle and Andy Rooney's WWII reporting.  Several times I pictured Willie and Joe having a smoke behind some rubble.

Mr. Arnett was holed up in war time Bagdad when it was under the constant barrage of American military might. For some [never quite explained] reason CNN was able to maintain one reporter (the author) and complete broadcast equipment in the midst of the war zone? Arnett was holed up at the el Rashid Hotel where he  broadcast a running report on the war.  The first Iraq war was a retaliation for their take-over of Kuwait. Bush, Sr. and his administration figured Iraq was a threat to it's neighbors, particularly Israel, and needed to be stopped in their tracks.  The war resulted in the  destruction of most of Iraq's war machine. . . . but left Saddam Hussein in power. That seemed to be the right desicion at the time. 

We mis-judged Saddam Hussein as badly as he mis-judged us.

To be continued . . .       
On a grade scale ...... I give this book an A+ 

Monday, March 8, 2010

An Unplanned Life - George Elsey

The author is an active member of my book club. George McKee Elsey is an interesting person with an exceptional background. Now 92 years old and sharp as a tack, his comments in the book on the history from World War II to the present are made with the authority of someone who was there. His memoir describes in humble detail his carreer in various  assignments in our Federal Government. It's scope is astonishing, it is very well written, and makes for a wonderful read.

Fresh out of Harvard with his phi beta Kappa key and a Master's Degree, he joined the navy, became an Ensign, and was given a position that ultimately led to "the map room" of the FDR White House. He served both FDR and later Harry Truman as the war time director of the map room, and during the same period he was an advisor and speech writer for them both. His position papers (one of which he signed a copy and gave me for my collection) were outstanding.

His associations with the prominent people of the time are fascinating. May I drop a few names here as an example: Harry Hopkins, FDR, Stalin, Churchill, Chaig Kai Shek, George Marshal, Harry Truman, Clark Clifford, Indira Ghandi, Dean Acheson, Omar Bradley, James Byrnes, John Foster Dulles, Anthony Eden, Eisenhower, James Forrestal, Averell Harriman, Hirohito, Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson, Wm. D. Leahy, Molotov, Nixon, Drew Pearson, James Reston, Eleanor Roosevelt, Dean Rusk, and Henry Wallace. Each of these people, and many more, are the people George worked with in the White House during his long carreer. 

Following the war George became President of the industrial conclomerate Pullman Incorporated, and within a few years became connected with the American Red Cross,  first as Vice President and later President. He served in that position for several years before retirement.  

To be completed asap . . .

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Murder on K Street - Margaret Truman NBC

A long time ago I thought quite a lot of Harry Truman. (Still do.) I suppose that influenced my first purchase of a book by his daughter Margaret. Time has gone by. I've read about a dozen of her mystery books set in the Washington, D.C. area. I have never been disappointed.

Murder on K Street is excellent as a convoluted story of detection . . . and as a primer on national politics. The characters, complications, mystery and scope of the novel are just right. The operating details of how our federal government works behind the scenes is fascinating.

On a grade scale of A to F . . . Murder on K Street gets an A

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Castle In The Forest - Mailer NBC

If, for some reason,  you want to read a truly raunchy book . . . may I recommend this one. How in the world did Norman Mailer make his vastly over rated reputation?  In my estimation  he was a ONE BOOK author and his talent ended with THE NAKED AND THE DEAD.  It was his first and should have been his last.

Back to the subject. The first 1/3 of The Castle In The Forest is devoted to the specualtion that incest was common among Hitler's ancestors. Perhaps it was. The author also claims that incest was the primary motivator of the infamous murderer Heinrich Himmler. Okay, so what. The author, Norman Mailer, uses this trembling stage to examine, in great detail, the genitals of every possible relative on Adolf Hitler's family tree. Mailer seems to delight in describing every penis and asshole, every vagina and orgasim.

By the time a reader gets through the first 1/3 of the book it has clearly proven to be a useless tale of speculation and disgusting hypothesis.

The root idea seems to be that Adolf Hitler was somehow the evil result of the evil parentage mystically driven into evil people by the Maestro (Devil) himself.

The thesis is faulty, the writing is exceptionally bad, and after reading about 1/3 . . . the book is now in the trash to be burned.  

On a grade scale of A to F, this one doesn't even rate an F-.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Leisure Seeker - Zadoorian

Wow! The sleeper of the year. This wonderful little book (unfortunately) hits very close to home, and is without a doubt the most enjoyable sad story I have EVER read. That's right, SAD story. From the very first of the book the reader knows, or at least suspects, where the story is going. It begins as a quiet travelog written by an old lady who goes off on a trip with her husband in a motorhome named Leisure Seeker. It is at once funny, hilarious, and tragic. All at the same time. The masterfully underwritten story of two people trying to follow Route 66 to it's conclusion at the Pacific Coast in Santa Monica will hold your interest from the first page to the last . . . and you will chuckle and cry as you go. I would recommend this book to anyone who is retired, any kid with retired parents, any medical person who treats people with terminal illnesses . .  and needs a laugh!

On a grade scale of A to F I definitely would give The Leisure Seeker an A++++

Monday, February 15, 2010

World War IV - Norman Podhoretz

The Presidential campaign leading up to the election in 2008 was brutal. It was so loaded with partisan lies, mis-direction, and personal attacks it may even have been the worst in American history. Candidate Obama ran against the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld Administration instead of his opponent John McCain. In his campaigning Obama never missed an opportunity to criticize Bush . . . on every front. He demeaned the office of President by the shear audacity of his tremendous volley of lies and inuendo.

The then unpopular former President Bush stayed out of the contest and did not reply. The Republican ticket, John McCain and Sarah Palin, was unable to defend the Bush Administration and at the same time advance a dynamic Republican platform. 

Ultimately, Obama won by a whisker. But he won.

Bush Jr. still elected not to defend his record. Instead, he seems quite confident to let history make it's own judgement.

The problem is that Bush Jr. did some terrific things while in office. His accomplishments were many and his failures were few. Until this book came out no one spoke up and tabulated all of the positive accomplishments of the Bush Administration. The Author (Norman Podhoretz) deserves our thanks. He has written a fascinating, balanced, non-partisan, and finely fair accounting of the Bush Administration.

I wish it was possible to force all of the Bush-Haters to read this book.

On a grade scale of A to F. . .  I would give World War IV an A+.


Hell To Pay - Giangreco

This book is an eminently readable collection of military knowledge and deserves a prominent place amid World War II History texts. A bit dry as most detailed histories are, but highly recommended to the serious student of this subject:

        (1) Every thing you ever wanted to know
           about the run up to the planned invasion of Japan.

      (2) The exceptional size, complexity, and possible
            human cost of Operation Downfall

       (3) The convincing and logical reasons that caused
             President Truman to unleash the Atomic Bombs on Japan.

       (4) An extensively detailed accounting of military
            activities that led to Japan's unconditional surrender.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Man of the People - Alonzo L. Hamby

The sub title is [A Life of Harry S. Truman], and the book is the finest and most complete biography available. It is really excellent, and imparts both the facts and the personal essense of Harry Truman better than any of the other Truman biographies.

Our O.C. Geezer Book Club is fortunate to have as a member, George Elsey, who was an active young advisor to F.D.R. and remained in office when Harry took over. Harry was unprepared, overwhelmed, but possessed of a clear idea of right and wrong. He was a common man, intelligent and decisive. He became a good President.

George originally worked for Roosevelt running the [map room] during W.W. II. When the war ended George became an assistant to Clark Clifford, and in that capacity, remained close to the President as an advisor. He traveled to Potsdam with the President, and to several other of the conferences of the time. George wrote speeches and position papers for President Truman, and many of George Elsey's duties and assignments are detailed in the book.

George was also kind enough to present a verbal disertation further describing the events mentioned in Hamby's book. It made the book even more interesting to the club members. 

The book is long, detailed, and reads like a very good textbook. On a grade scale of A to F it should earn an A.  It is an excellent read that would appeal most to a person interested in history. 

With Wings Like Eagles - Michael Korda

This book is a terrific read. It is yet another rendition of the Battle of Britain and perhaps the best of them all. It is composed by a skilled writer who leads the reader form page to page. Much of the story is about Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding's ultimately successful strategy for using Britain's fighter aircraft to defend the homeland. It is a rousing story, very detailed, and a most satisfactory history. On a grade scale of A to F it deserves an A+.

Murder Be Hanged - Jonathan Ross

Another excellent police procedural from Great Britain. Inspector George Rogers has an odd crime to solve. First, a son complains that his step father plans to harm his mother. Then, in no particular order, the mother is hanged, the step father is thrown off a cliff, a male friend of the mother drives his car off the same cliff. All of these deaths focus back on one person, but Inspector Rogers follows a dozen trails before figuring it out. The little book does hold the readers interest. On a grade scale of A to F it should receive a C+.

Death of a Mystery Writer - Robert Barnard NBC

This turned our to be a great British [police procedural] mystery. On a grade scale of  A to F  it should earn a B. The writer who is the subject of the book is a most destestable person, and his death turns out to be a quite believeable puzzle for Inspector Merideth. Death by NICOTINE was new to me. Good story,  short, and  easy to read. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Why Vietnam Matters - Rufus Phillips

Skip gave this to Ray Herndon saying it was the best yarn about Viet Nam he had read. On that recommendation I bought a copy. Sorry Skipper, I've read better.
It is a GOOD book based primarily on the CIA/American advisors interworking with the South Vietnamese. Most of the book concerns the nuts and bolts of the war. There is quite a lot of detail about the natives and their small villages and hamlets. The author, Rufus Phillips, was there to win hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese. The reason why the United States military was there is left unclear. The reader is asked to believe that winning the people to our side was the most important factor of potential success, yet the author makes certain the reader understands that it didn't work.
The reader is buried in minutia and lost in the labrynth of foreign names. Oddly, the first two thirds of the book pleads for a once successful operative in Vietnam, an  "old hand"  named Edward Landsdale, to return to Viet Nam, win the war, and fix everything. He didn't return and it didn't happen. For anyone truly interested in the Viet Nam story, I suggest they start on page 291 (Humphrey loses, Nixon takes over). The last part of the book is easily the most important and most valuable.

P.S. According to the author we won the military war and then lost it quiting and leaving the country helpless. Will that lesson influence the wind down of the war in Iraq.! 

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Year of Living Biblically - A.J. Jacobs

The book is different. Very different. The guy who wrote it is up front with his quirks. He is so far out in la-la land that the thesis of the book is lost behind whatever makes him tick. He takes great pains to show how eccentric his personality is, yet he has written a quietly funny book. It makes the reader chose between laughing at: (1) what he says relating to the Bible -(2) or laughing at the tinsel show of a fairly bright Jewish intellectual geek. He is convincingly one very neuotic person. He writes rather well - yet one comes away saying something like:

"Okay I read it. So what".