Winter of the World: The Century Trilogy, Book 2

by Ken Follett, Audiobook narrated by John Lee, 2012, Penguin Audio

I have continued on my quest to listen to all three books in this trilogy.  I am again giving this book a three-star rating although I think it’s a bit better than the first book of the trilogy, World Without End.  This book was about World War II and various families who were impacted by the war whereas the prior book was primarily about World War I.  Perhaps the immediacy of the subject made it a bit better than the first.

I often think of Herman Wouk’s Winds of War and War and Remembrance when I read these books as they are written with the same basic formula: the war, the families, and how they survived through the war.  Wouk’s works are definitely a better effort as they dealt with the internment in concentration camps of some of the family members.  I could feel the stress and impending doom much more in his books than Follett’s.  Follett also throws in a few sex scenes to titillate his readers while Wouk’s were a bit more prudish.

While I can’t really rave about these, they aren’t bad listening, and, I as mentioned, they do refresh the history for me. 3 stars

In Harm’s Way

by Doug Stanton, 2003, Henry Holt & Company, New York

This book is about the sinking of the cruiser Indianapolis in the Pacific Ocean toward the end of World War II.  The book is well researched and well written.  The U.S. Navy made a number of operational mistakes that led to the ship’s sinking by a Japanese submarine and the sinking probably could have been avoided.  The Navy tried to pin all the blame on the ship’s captain and court-marshalled him.  The book uncovers who the real culprits were but also tells about the sailors and officers of the crew.

This was a pretty interesting book to read although it did seem to bog down a bit toward the last half of the book.  There was a movie by the same name with John Wayne and Kirk Douglas that was made in 1965.

3 1/2 stars

The Nightingale

by Kristin Hannah, Audible Audio Edition, narrated by Polly Stone, 2015, Macmillan Audio

This is the story of two sisters in occupied France during World War II and the two different paths they pursued to survive the Nazis.  The one sister pursued active resistance while the other sister tried to comply with the demands of the occupiers.

The book paints interesting contrasts between the two sisters’ approaches and also links their differences to the personalities of the two sisters.  The book also depicts the hardships of the occupation in stark terms.

I didn’t find the book to be all that compelling, probably because I have read so many similar accounts.

3 1/2 stars

All the Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doerr, 2014. Scribner, New York

This book, about a young blind girl and a German boy genius whose paths cross in WWII, starts a bit slow and seems a little disjointed in the beginning, but it really comes together in the end.

The author utilizes very short chapters that alternate back and forth between the blind girl and the German boy.  I found that it took a little getting used to, but this technique really adds to the overall book. 4 stars

Killing Patton

by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, 2014, Henry Holt & Company, LLC, New York

This book was given to me as a gift at Christmas.  Otherwise, I probably would not have read it.  Once I had it, however, I was looking forward to learning something about Patton as I hadn’t read much about him.  I did see the movie many, many years ago and thought it was done very well.  I recall George C. Scott won the academy award for his portrayal of Patton.

Once I started reading, however, I had a very hard time staying with it.  As with the other book I had read by these guys, Killing Lincoln, the book seems to have been written for sixth-graders.  Many of the footnotes provided basic information that everyone should already know.  This book’s writing was much worse than Killing Lincoln, however, and I just couldn’t read more than a couple of pages at one sitting.

Since I am not that knowledgeable on the subject matter, I can’t make any astute comments on the accuracy of the information, but it seemed to me that the authors were very harsh on their assessment of Omar Bradley and Dwight Eisenhower’s performance in this period, giving all credit and no criticism of Patton’s actions.

In regard to the main theme of the book, only one or two chapters were actually devoted to Patton’s accident and subsequent death.  It appeared that the author’s mentioning of  a few suspicious aspects of Patton’s death would be enough to raise the possibility that Patton was assassinated.  The innuendo that Wild Bill Donovan had something to do with it doesn’t seem to square with what I have read in other books about Donovan.

I think that O’Reilly and Dugard have found a means of generating huge amounts of revenue through some rather shoddy writing and research.  This book is a continuation of that process.2 stars

Supreme Commander: MacArthur’s Triumph in Japan

by Seymour Morris, Jr., 2014, Harper

This book was somewhat of a disappointment.  I was very interested in how a successful occupation of another company was managed, particularly after the disaster that occurred in Iraq.  The book seemed to start out pretty well as it depicted MacArthur’s arrival in Japan and some of his first acts and policies.  I think the book bogged down when it abandoned a chronological timeline and addressed various occurrences by topic.  This made it somewhat hard to follow.  Also, it appears that the book had been heavily edited and most of the cuts were probably in the last half of the book where topics were treated almost in summary form.  Perhaps the book would have been very tedious without those cuts, but it seemed that a lot of information was left out of the final product.

I suspect that there are much better volumes available regarding this important period following WWII.2 1/2 stars

Private Svoboda, Hope is the Last to Die

by Steven R. Roberts with Alexander von Svoboda, 2013, Rouge River Press, Dearborn, MI

This story is about a youth who was drafted into Hitler’s army and survived incredible hardship.  At the age of 15 Alexander Svoboda was sent to the Russian front to defend the motherland from the oncoming Russian army.  His unit was severely outnumbered and, although many of his schoolmates in the same unit did not survive, Svoboda was captured by the Russians and sent to a POW camp in Siberia.  He then escapes and makes his way back to his home in Austria (walking much of the way), only to find out that the Allies have cut a deal to turn over his part of Austria to Russian control at the end of the war.

I think the author really hit his stride in the telling of this story.  The story is told by Alexander in first person, present tense.  The story unfolds as if it is happening at this very minute rather than 70 years ago.  With each page there is something new and interesting happening and the story never drags.

Although I really liked the book, I do have a few comments that I thought could have made the book just a bit better.  In the first place, I didn’t like the font the book was printed with.  It was published using a sans-serif font which I believe is more suited to a poster or notice of some kind.  I am much more accustomed to reading a book using some kind of serif font such at Times-Roman.  After reading a while it didn’t seem to make much difference, but it took a little getting used to at first.

As I read the book, I got the feeling that the story was being told by a much older individual than a boy of fifteen or sixteen.  I am sure that the war would age someone quickly, both physically and mentally, but the story was related with far more wisdom, insight, and maturity than someone of that age could possibly possess.  It’s understandable that this would occur as the story was told to the author many years after it occurred, but it took away some of the immediacy of the book.

I noticed in a couple of places where there were some grammatical errors in the case of a pronoun (using the accusative “me” instead of the nominative “I” with an intransitive verb).  In English these errors are frequently heard and seen as we typically use different cases only with pronouns, but  it is unlikely that a schoolboy who is trained in much more structured German would be making the same kinds of grammatical mistakes that we typically do in English.  This is a pretty minor criticism, but as I was reading along, it was a bit jarring to see a typical English grammatical error uttered by a German schoolboy.

Lastly, there were a couple of places where the author switched from active to passive voice and back that seemed out of place.

These small items didn’t detract from the overall impact and impression of the book.  I liked it very much. 4 stars

In the Garden of Beasts, Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin

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.
four stars


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.5 stars

Citizens of London

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

3 1/2 stars