by Erik Larson, 2011, Broadway Paperbacks, New York
This is a fascinating book, well-written and extremely well-researched. I was amazed at how well the author could reconstruct events that occurred so many years ago. I couldn’t help compare his work to The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan which I had recently read. In that book the author apparently had the opportunity to interview many of the participants in that particular piece of history and did a poor job of bringing those insights to his book. In the case of Larson’s book, he did not have an opportunity to interview many of the persons involved in his book because almost all of them are deceased. Nevertheless, he did a much better job of relating the events that occurred.
Another aspect of the book that I appreciated was that the author didn’t attempt to over-embellish the narrative. He just describes the events and lets the reader react. All too many times an author seems to try to pound home his or her particular views (e.g., Stacy Schiff in Cleopatra and Doris Kearns Goodwin in Team of Rivals. I much prefer Larson’s style where he leaves it up to the reader to react and form opinions.
It is chilling to read about this period of time in history when almost an entire population of a so-called civilized county was highjacked by a ill-educated megalomaniac and his henchmen. In current times where there are very real dangers in our own country that require extra vigilance (i.e., surveillance) by our government of individuals’ actions, it behooves us to ensure that adequate processes and protections are in place to ensure that a similar result never occurs.
by James Mann, 2010, Penguin Books
This book was very disappointing, primarily because it was so repetitious. There were over sixty pages devoted to objections by various individuals to Reagan’s Berlin Wall speech. Many of the objections were repeated numerous times in the book. Our book club selected the book for the month of May, but many participants said they didn’t bother to finish the book.
I was further disappointed when I read the acknowledgements at the end of the book. The author interviewed numerous individuals who were involved in the events depicted in the book. He also spent a number of months in Berlin studying. The disappointment is that he brought so little from those interviews and studies to the book.
Did I say that there was a lot of repetition? In case you missed that part, I have to mention that the author repeated a lot of information, much of it over and over and over again.
by R. A. Scotti, Back Bay Books, 2004
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. I was expecting another fairly dry (no pun intended) description of the devastation wrought by this super storm. Instead, I got a collection of well-written vignettes of what happened to certain individuals during the storm, along with some pretty well-researched description of the impact of the hurricane on a macro level.
The author, R. A. Scotti, is apparently also a mystery/suspense writer. She utilizes these skills well in her telling of the stories in this book. I am reminded of how well Ken Follett applies the skills he utilized in writing adventure stories to his more recent work (he managed to keep his readers’ interest while telling a story about building a cathedral, which should be a bit like reading about grass growing). I think that many of the authors today who write popular fiction tend to be stuck in their groove and aren’t able to do anything different (e.g., James Patterson, et. al.). I guess one reason is that once they start raking in the money doing what they are doing, there is little incentive to try anything new.
Anyway, I have digressed a bit. As I have stated, I think that this book is extremely readable and interesting and my only criticism is that she may have devoted a bit too much discussion as to what happened to the school bus passengers on Jamestown Island. Possibly, too much information here. Other than that, I recommend this book, especially to anyone who has lived or spent any amount of time in the areas affected (which is just about all of the Northeast U.S.)
by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, 2011, Henry Holt and Company, LLC, New York
This is an attempt to make history exciting as it gets the reader inside of the heads of the individuals involved. It succeeds as entertainment but doesn’t add much to a story that’s already been told many times before. If you like light reading and don’t know much about history, this is a great book for you. Personally, as I put down the book, I felt disappointed that it didn’t provide something more.
by James W. Douglass, 2010, Touchstone
I really don’t know what to say regarding this book. Mr. Douglass has done a great deal of thinking and research on the Kennedy assassination and is convinced that the CIA orchestrated it because they felt Kennedy was moving toward disarmament and the end of the Cold War. He frames his argument around some writings and predictions of Thomas Merton, a prominent Catholic priest and writer.
Douglass presents a great deal of information that he attempts to tie together as proof of his theory. I do not profess to be very knowledgeable about the assassination or the subsequent investigations, so I am not able to refute his facts or theory. I finished the book with a great deal of skepticism, however, primarily because the author was so intent on presenting facts that supported his theory. Many of the supposed witnesses that he cites are mental cases, heroin addicts, or just other somewhat shady persons. In addition, some of the testimony is a bit hard to believe (such as the story of a C-54 cargo plane that left Andrews Air Force base in Maryland, flew to Dallas, landed in the Trinity River basin, and picked up an alleged Oswald double after the assassination. Another story is about an alleged plan to assassinate Kennedy in Chicago in early November. Only the cancellation of this trip apparently saved Kennedy at that time. The question that popped into my mind was whether the President would have been travelling in an open car on an expressway in Chicago in November?
In addition to my doubts about some of the information presented, the organization of the book was an absolute mess. Rather than constructing the argument chronologically, the author randomly jumps around, making the entire story much harder to follow than it needed to be. He also repeats information time after time, supposedly to prove his point.
There is a lot of information in this book that was new to me and, for that reason, it was worthwhile. It would have been a much better book if it had been written from a more objective point of view and if it had been organized much better.
by Barry Estabrook, 2012, Andrew McMeel Publishing
Barry Estabrook does a good job of outlining what has happened to the tomato in Florida over the last few decades. It was particularly interesting because we live so close to the heart of Tomatoland and I didn’t have a lot of the information that the author provided.
The books seems divided into two separate themes: first, the conditions under which the workers live and work and, second, how the tomato evolved into a hard, tasteless fruit and the current efforts to fix the problem. The author does a pretty good job with each of these topics, but it makes the book a little disjointed.
There was a lot of information in this book that I didn’t know and I found it to be extremely readable. By the end of the book, however, I think I had had enough of tomatoes.
Note: This is the first book I have read using a Kindle Touch device. It was a pretty good experience, especially since I could make the text bigger. I put it in landscape mode so that I could have bigger text and still have a decent number of words on a line. It created a bit more page turning, but that was okay.
by Jared Diamond, first published in 1997 this edition has an afterword published in 2004, W.W. Norton & Company
This book was interesting for me to read, although a bit of a chore. The work is very repetitious and sometimes downright boring. At other times it was very interesting and the author asked and asnwered some very provocative questions, the main one being how did we get to where we are from prehistoric times.
I can’t recall a book that provided so much information in a concise manner. On the other hand, I can’t recall a book that seemed so repetitious. This is a strange conundrum.
The theories that the author proposes seemed, for the most part, very logical and well stated but I finished the book with a suspicion that he provides only a part of the story and the part he provides is the part that fits in with his theories. I was cruising along and accepting his logic until, all of a sudden, he stated that there were too many variables contributing to the spread of technology that the answer was that it was random. After spending so much time articulating how the domestication of plants and animals occured and then outlining the origins of written language, he gets to technology and finds a whole bunch of reasons so he states it must be random! So much for the scientific method and its application to history.
Diamond’s approach certainly has merit and holds out promise. I just don’t think he has accounted for all the proximinate and ultimate causes of how we got to where we are. Another book I read, The Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell, deliniates some of the environmental factors that contribute to success. That book seems to drill down into the factors that cause sudden technological advances to a much better extent than Guns, Germs and Steel.
In the end, I am glad that I slogged through this as it caused me to think a lot on human develoopment and gave me a lot of information I didn’t know before. I don’t feel, however, that the ques
by Elie Wisel, 1972 (new translation by Marion Wiesel, 2006), Hill and Wang, a division of Farrer, Straus, and Giroux, New York
Compelling, horrifying, saddening – one individual’s story of his Holocaust experience. Also, I might add, beautifully written.
Reading this, I can understand why it is so difficult to believe that there exists a living God who loves each and every one of us. How can this ever happen on earth if that were true? Elie Wisel became convinced a benevolent God who answered his prayers did not exist when he witnessed the atrocities being committed by his fellow human beings. This book not only calls us to remember the Holocaust so that it can never be repeated, but it also raises questions as to how God, if he exists as a god who loves us, would ever permit this to happen to anyone.
The prose in this book is so compact and powerful, that it is extremely easy to read. Only the content makes it difficult to get through. After reading it, though, I am grateful to the author for sharing his experience, as painful and difficult as that effort may have been.
by Michael Lewis, 1989, W.W. Norton & Company, New York
This is an interesting read, but, unlike most everybody who has reviewed this book, I didn’t find it that funny. On the cover of the book is a quote by Tom Wolfe: “The funniest book on Wall Street I’ve ever read.” Either there aren’t very many funny books about Wall Street out there or Tom Wolfe’s sense of humor must be pretty constrained. I would maybe recommend that he read some Evanovich.
Anyway, it was somewhat interesting to see the world of bond trading in the 1980′s. But it doesn’t appear that Michael Lewis had a clue where all this was headed. He left Salomon Brothers in 1988 for personal reasons thinking that he was leaving behind the potential for a great career. Prior to leaving, however, he bought shares in Salomon Brothers thinking that, despite the poor management he chronicled in his book, the company would always do well. He also spent a chapter praising Michael Milken at Drexel for the work he was doing with junk bonds at Drexel. By May of 1991, Salomon Brothers had been fined $290 million for securities infractions. It was then absorbed by Travelers and Citigroup, the Salomon name eventually being discarded. By 1990, Milken had been indicted and convicted of fraud and sentenced to ten years in prison. I feel that some of the so-called humor in the book seems to dissipate in light of subsequent events.
I think I liked The Big Short more as it seemed to provide a better portrait of the players involved.
The Americans who Stood with Britain in its Darkest, Finest Hour
by Lynne Olson, 2010, Random House, New York
This book is about three Americans who played prominent roles in London during World War II, ambassador John Gilbert Winant, Edward R. Morrow, and Averill Harriman. While Morrow and Harriman are well known, Winant seems to be pretty much a forgotten figure in our history.
Lynn Olson not only portrays the roles each of these played, but she also outlines many other aspects of the war, including many aspects of the relationship between Roosevelt and Churchill as well as some of the stress that Eisenhower endured . She focuses particularly on the issues that strained the relationship between Britain and the U.S. prior to and during the war years.
The book is extremely well researched and is very readable. I was somewhat surprised, however, by her depiction of Roosevelt and a vacillating, dithering leader and Roosevelt’s and Churchill’s dislike of one another. The book left me with the impression that Olson focused a bit too much on negative incidents and discounted the positive accomplishments and aspects of these situations. Why, for instance, did Churchill go into a complete emotional funk on hearing of the Roosevelt’s death when he supposedly didn’t like or get along with him all those years? Why do the British seem to recall the all the American soldiers who were in England during World War II with such nostalgia if they wreaked such havoc on its citizens?
Despite what I think is possibly too much focus on the negative, the book provides a telling framework of the relationship between the British and the Americans in World War II and the differences in our cultures. It also provides a lot of information about John Gilbert Winant who played a significant role in helping to ameliorate our differences during that time, even though he seems to be largely forg