Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Straight Into Darkness - Kellerman

This was an odd book for the club to select. To begin with we don't read a lot of fiction, particularly mystery fiction. I was aware that the author had been a speaker at one of the local Jewish organizations and that several of our members had attended. So I assumed the book was selected because of something the author said in her talk. Whatever, I started the book.

I was immediately absorbed by the story.  It was a history of the time just prior to World War II and, with a huge cast of characters, the author described the early Hitler, Brown Shirts, and Nazi organization. The story focused on anti-Semitism and the coming Jewish tragedy, and was told using the skeleton of a police procedural. The main character is a veteran policeman.

The book has a few weaknesses. The storyline falters here and there for one, and there are many implausible sections.  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Books Read

06-08-08           The Pillars of the Earth                     Follett
07-08-08            Human Smoke                 
08-08-08            The Innocent Man                            Grisham
09-08-08            The Book Thief                                Zusak
10-08-08            The Man on Mao's Right                    Chaozhu
12-08-08            Misquoting Jesus                              Ehrmann

01-09-09            The Mold On Dr, Florey's Coat

02-08-09            The Most Wanted Man                        LeCarre
03-08-09            I Rose Like A Rocket                           Grondahl
04-08-09            Pandora's Keepers                              Van De Mark
05-08-09            Dixie Betrayed                                   Eicher
06-08-09            The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
07-08-09            Inside The Oval Office
08-08-09            The Nine: The Supreme Court             
09-08-09            Moby Dick                                          Melville
10-08-09            General U.S. Grant's Memoirs         
11-08-09            Club Member Biographies
12-01-09            What's So Great About America           D'Souza
12-21-09            Man Of The People: Harry Truman       Hanby
11-19-09            The Things They Carried                     O'Brien
11-19-09            The Lost Symbol                                 Brown
12-01-09            Fighting Terrorism                              Netanyahu
12-16-09            The Imperial Cruise                            Bradley

01-04-10            The Year of Living Biblically               Jacobs

01-06-10            Why Viet Nam Matters                       Phillips
02-01-10             Man Of The People                           Hamby
02-01-10             With Wings Like Eagles                     Korda
02-01-10             Murder Be Hanged                            Ross
02-01-10             Death of a Mystery Writer                 Barnard
02-15-10             Hell To Pay                                       Giangreco
02-15-10             World War  IV                                   Podhoretz
02-21-10             The Leisure Seeker                           Zadoorian
02-23-10             The Castle In The Forest                   Mailer
02-27-10             Murder on K Street                           Truman
03-08-10             An Unplanned Life                            Elsey
03-20-10             Live From The Battlefield                 Arnett
05-23-10             Micro Trends                                    Penn
05-23-10             Out of Mao's Shadow                        Pan
07-15-10             Reversible Errors                             Turow
07-10-10             The Coldest Winter                          Halberstam
09-23-10             Zeitoun                                            Eggers
10-25-10             Rules For Old Men Waiting                Pouncey
11-18-10             Kingmakers                                      Meyer & Brysac
12-12-10             Ill Fares The Land                            Judt

01-06-11             Matterhorn                                       Marcantes

02-12-11             Winner Takes All Politics                   Hacker and Pierson
02-25-11             Snowflower And The Secret Fan        See
05-23-11             Rebels - Irish Rising of 1916              de Rosa
07-11-11             The Fear Within                               Martelle
07-11-11             The Irregulars                                  Conent
07-15-11             Scurvy                                             Bown
07-15-11            Washington Rules                              Bacevich
09-11-11            Nemisis                                            Johnson

05-28-13            The Generals                                    Ricks

08-25-13             The Last Founding Father                 Unger
10-08-13             Destiny of the Republic                    Millard
10-25-13             An Irish Country Wedding                 Taylor
10-25-13             An Irish Country Doctor                    Taylor  
10-29-13             The Long Way Home                         Laskin
11-02-13             Terrorist                                          Updike

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Terrorist - John Updike

I was prepared to dislike this book. John Updike is known for his liberal bias on just about everything - and that's usually, not my cup of tea. I started reading the book anyway and was drawn in quickly.  Before reviewing the book, and as an example of typical Updike, here are a few excerpts worth considering:
* * * * *
". . . the unspeakable but considerably successful and still,at least in the Arab world, admired Adolf Hitler."

"Now, routinely, Jack Levy interviews children who seem to have no flesh-and-blood parents - whose instructions from the world are entirely imparted by electronic ghosts signaling from across a crowded room, or rapping through black foam earplugs, or encoded in the intricate programing of action figures twitching their spasmodic way through the explosion- producing algorithms of a video game."

"Look at television, Mr. Levy, how it's always using sex to sell you things you don't need. Look at the history the school teaches, pure colonialist.  Look how Christianity committed genocide on the Native Americans and undermined Asia and Africa and now is coming after Islam, with everything in Washington run by Jews to keep themselves in Palestine."

". . . computers. We've built them into the system so that everyone is dependent, not just libraries but industry, and banks, and brokerage houses, and the airlines, and nuclear power plants - I could go on and on."

"There could be a cyberattack. They use these worms that get by the firewalls and plant these applets, they call them, that send back covert messages describing the network they've penetrated and paralyzing everything, scrambling what they call the routing tables and getting by the gateway protocols so that not just the stock market and traffic lights but everything freezes - the power grids, the hospitals, the Internet itself, can you imagine? The worms would be programed to spread and spread until even that television you were watching would go on the fritz, or else show nothing but Osama bin Laden on all channels."

"Race, sex - they spook us (Americans). Once you run out of steam, America doesn't give you much. It doesn't even let you die, what with the hospitals sucking all the money they can out of Medicare. The drug companies have turned doctors into crooks. Why should I hang around until some disease turns me into a cash cow for a bunch of crooks?"

* * * * * 

John Updike essentially constructed the entire story around these excerpts. It's about an American Muslim from childhood to early manhood, and his evolution from innocence to terrorist.

An excellent book, easily read.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Long Way Home- David Laskin

The first half of this book was devoted to introducing the characters. Then, about mid-book, the author expanded with more details about the young immigrant American men.   I was starting to be bored reading the first half when the author began to describe what happened to each man during World War I. The resulting picture is an extraordinary history of a time now quickly fading into the past.

The Great War created ten million dead people in just four years (1914-1918). It was the "War To End All Wars".

The peace lasted about twenty years.

Friday, October 25, 2013

An Irish Country Doctor - Patrick Taylor NBC

This book, my friends, is a grand read. If you read and liked "All Creatures Great And Small", or any other of James Herriot books, you will enjoy this one every bit as much. It is in many ways the Dr. Kildare story set in rural Ireland. The young and new doctor joins an old practice run by a gruff crumudgeaon and together they treat a fascinating assortment of very Irish characters. The book rocks with laughter and the beautiful green countryside comes alive.

An Irish Country Wedding - Patrick Taylor NBC

Like all Patrick Taylor's books this one is exceptionally good. As I said when reviewing a Previous Patrick Taylor book, if you liked James Herriot's "All Creatures Big or Small" you will enjoy "An Irish Country Wedding" just as much. 

The characters, their names, and the place names will produce a smile.. The story takes place in "Ballybucklebo, Ulster, Northern Ireland" and the central character is named "Doctor Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly." 

The book brings to life the people of a small Irish village and their various interpersonal foibles. Would recommend to anyone.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Destiny of the Republic - Candice Millard

Well written tale about the generally unknown past President,  James A. Garfield.

A fine man who somehow has been overlooked in Presidential history.

The most absorbing part was after he was shot was when Dr. D. Willard Bliss arrived and just took over Garfields care.

That care was strongly characterized as malpractice.

There was a side story avout the "Induction Balance" invented by Alexander Gaham Bell to determine exactly where the bullet was lodged.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Last Founding Father - Harlow Unger

Sub-title: James Monroe and a Nations Call To Greatness

My expectations were low. For some reason I have always thought Monroe was a bit of a dud. Perhaps I was absent during my high school class when he was discussed, or had a teacher who didn't like him.  This book reversed my opinion and then some. It portrayed James Monroe as a dynamic and capable executive who has been often overlooked. He was indeed a powerful influence among the many Founding Fathers. After serving as a Congressman, Senator, Ambassador to France, Ambassador to Britain, Minister to Spain, Governor of Virginia, U.S. Secretary of State, U.S. Secretary of War, and finally, America's fifth President, he was an eminently qualified political leader. Early in the book this sentence stood out: 

"Washington's three successors - John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, were mere caretaker presidents who left the nation  bankrupt, it's people deeply divided, it's borders under attack, and it's capital city in ashes".

The book begins in 1754 and the author writes convincingly, in strong language, the details of his career. Consider these sentences for example: 

"Monroe's presidency made poor men rich, turned politicaql allies into friends, and united a divided people as no president had done since Washington". 

"He created an era never seen before or since in American history . . . that propelled the nation and it's people to greatness".

It turned out to be an excellent book. It ably corrects the general belief that James Monroe belongs in the second row of our Founding Fathers. The author does  very good kob of describing his remarkable life of achievement and accomplishment. 

All Americans should read and enjoy this book.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Generals by Thomas Ricks

Interesting book. Mr. Ricks, with fairly good credentials to do so, studies American Generals since the Korean War. He compares their successes and failures to his opinion of what General George Marshall would have done in similar circumstances. He then proceeds to extrapolate why our military forces win, and why they lose. I don't agree with several of Mr. Ricks conclusions. He blames the declining quality of 'generalship' has resulted in lost wars. Isn't that an over simplification? 

Ricks contends that from the Korean war forward America's ability to counter a military threat has become dangerously inept. He points to war with  Korea, Viet Nam, and Iraq and judges each as a failure. Ricks has determined that the losses are the result of poor leadership. Or is that just one of several reasons? He does make a good argument that failing to remove weak and unsuccessful general officers is the overwhelming cause. General George Marshall set the standard back in WWII. Since then our  political and military establishment has failed to remove unsuccessful general officers fast enough. Instead, in combat situations particularly, it became normal to leave a failing officer to continue for months or (even years).  And this is the real problem: 

On removal, general officers have often been promoted, received a pay raise, and a transfer to a prestigious (non-combat) responsibility. 

This systemic change has resulted in the United States having a combat leadership of mediocre general officers who produce unsuccessful results.  Not applying stiff negative
consequences for failure has produced a steadily less effective leadership.