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Tuesday, October 18, 2016


The Untold Story of Intelligence Briefings to America's Presidents from Kennedy to Obama
by David Priess

Every president has had a unique and complicated relationship with the intelligence community. While some have been coolly distant, even adversarial, others have found their intelligence agencies to be among the most valuable instruments of policy and power.
Since John F. Kennedy’s presidency, this relationship has been distilled into a personalized daily report: a short summary of what the intelligence apparatus considers the most crucial information for the president to know that day about global threats and opportunities. This top–secret document is known as the President’s Daily Brief, or, within national security circles, simply “the Book.” Presidents have spent anywhere from a few moments (Richard Nixon) to a healthy part of their day (George W. Bush) consumed by its contents; some (Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush) consider it far and away the most important document they saw on a regular basis while commander in chief.

 The details of most PDBs are highly classified, and will remain so for many years. But the process by which the intelligence community develops and presents the Book is a fascinating look into the operation of power at the highest levels. David Priess, a former intelligence officer and daily briefer, has interviewed every living president and vice president as well as more than one hundred others intimately involved with the production and delivery of the president's book of secrets. He offers an unprecedented window into the decision making of every president from Kennedy to Obama, with many character–rich stories revealed here for the first time.

I picked this book up not looking for the juicy details of secrets for the Presidents but to learn about the process.  That is the mechanism of Presidential decision making. There were few if any secrets. There was lots of information  about how choices were made, some wise, some botched  for a myriad of reasons. I delayed reading this book till after this years Presidential campaign began in earnest and then  delayed it even longer. It became a frightening book to say the very least and the reason is quite simple. I imagined this process and the contents it contains on a day by day basis in the hands of the most unqualified and dangerous MAN in American History to be nominated by a major political party for the Presidency of the United States ever………

Then after the electorate chooses Hillary, go ahead and read this most interesting book, in a calm manner, somewhat,though not perfectly  assured, that the fate of our nation rests in reasonably intelligent hands

Monday, October 3, 2016

Victory at Yorktown

The man who did everything but stand on his head (Newt Gingrich) to get Bill Clinton impeached for messing around with a "aide" is now a semi-successful writer of historical fiction. Of course, Newt, the disgraced former Speaker of the House of Representatives, was busy playing the same game as Bubba about the same time. Along with his co- partner William R Forstchen, a college Professor of History, he has written a series of American historical fiction novels. Several years ago I borrowed To Try Men’s Souls and gave it a C+ review. More recently, having read about his “endorsement” of Donald Trump, I decided to check out one of his more recent literary efforts. This on the theory that his literary talent couldn’t possibly have sunk lower than his already rock bottom political judgments as evidenced   by endorsing Donald Trump, the most unqualified Presidential candidate,  ever….   The book was Victory at Yorktown. Being careful that any money exchange would not go from the author to The Man Who Would Be King, I purchased the book for $1 at Goodwill in the cause of teaching employment skills.
Although Victory at Yorktown  is a historical fiction book it is obvious that it mirrors realistic events and characters of the Revolutionary War.  George Washington and his British counterparts are central to the story. It intertwines war, friendship, and heroism to make a very powerful and compelling story.  The authors explain in the prologue why they chose to tell this event as a fictional story instead of nonfiction: “We are historians, but we also love a good story and believe that neglect of good stories has always been the failure of most traditional histories, which turn such exciting adventures and personas into dull and lifeless facts.”  As a retired history teacher, I couldn’t agree more with that premise.

Actually, if you’re looking for a readable primer on the conclusion of the Revolutionary Was it’s rather good. The book seems basically accurate in its depiction of the characters, real and imagined. The authors have obviously made a special effort to humanize the stiff and faultless figure of  Washington.  The desperation of a last throw of the dice chance for victory over British colonialism clearly comes through. Some of the scenes wander off into other venues but don’t seriously hamper the story. All in all,I’d rate Victory at Yorktown a B+.



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@Barrie Summy

Friday, September 23, 2016

Salem Falls

History, Biography, and Historical fiction  are my reading favorites but then I occasionally find a fiction author I really like.  Jodi Picoult is one of those whose themes and writing style have totally won me over. She published her first book in 1992 and has come up with a new one just about every year since then. I’ve just finished my fifth one so have a ways to go…J

Salem Falls published in 2007 caught my eye because it’s about a teacher. As a retired teacher, I knew personally both men and women who abused their position of authority in both sexual and non-sexual ways. I also knew several others who were falsely accused of abuse.   Picoult's books usually deal with ethical issues and are told from a variety of viewpoints, with each chapter written in a different character's voice. Picoult uses this technique to show multiple sides of a situation and underscore areas of moral ambiguity.
Jack St. Bride was once a beloved teacher and soccer coach at a girls' prep school - until a student's crush sparked a powder keg of accusation and robbed him of his career and reputation. Now, after a devastatingly public ordeal that left him with an eight-month jail sentence and no job, Jack resolves to pick up the pieces of his life. He takes a job washing dishes at Addie Peabody's diner and slowly starts to form a relationship with her in the quiet New England village of Salem Falls. But amid the rustic calm of Salem Falls, a quartet of teenage girls harbor dark secrets -- and they maliciously target Jack with a shattering allegation.  Now, at the center of a modern-day witch hunt, Jack is forced once again to proclaim his innocence: to a town searching for answers, to a justice system where truth becomes a slippery concept written in shades of gray.


Friday, September 16, 2016

Historical Photography Quiz

After several weeks of civil unrest, the East German government announced on 9 November 1989 that all GDR citizens could visit West Germany and West Berlin. Crowds of East Germans crossed and climbed onto the Wall, joined by West Germans on the other side in a celebratory atmosphere.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016


I’d been reading for some time now about the huge Broadway musical hit…. Hamilton. “Huh?”, I thought. Not one of the most well-known nor beloved of the Founding Fathers. Hoping to learn more, I’d realized my chances of seeing the play on Broadway were slim and none…..   I also knew that most of the high school texts had written him off as a wannabe monarchist and conniver at best.. It was time to get Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton to read. Maybe it was also time to broaden my view of the man.


Put quite simply, Ron Chernow argues that Hamilton’s early death at age 49 left his record to be reinterpreted and even re-written by his more long-lived enemies, among them: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Monroe.  Hamilton’s achievements starting with his role as Washington’s aide during the Revolution, soldier, and later member of the Constitutional Convention, co-author of The Federalist Papers and   first Secretary of the Treasury, were clouded after his death by strident claims that he was an arrogant, self-serving monarchist..

 To  Hamilton’s credit he had a very modern view of the future of the fledgling nation.  Hamilton was "the prophet of the capitalist revolution" in which American would become an industrial giant of cities and modernization. As Treasury secretary he created the modern financial and economic systems that are the basis for American might today.

The writing of American history and biography has reached a very high  peak in recent decades in both research, brilliance and accessibility. Ron Chernow's masterly Alexander Hamilton clearly reaches that high level.

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@Barrie Summy

Friday, September 2, 2016

Historic Photography Quiz

At the instigation of the Soviet Union, the East German government begins the construction of the Berlin Wall.  It is intended to prevent the exodus of thousands more East Germans fleeing the "workers paradise" to the West.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Reluctant Admiral

Sometimes you just stumble on an obscure book and pick it up. Thus was the case at my bargain book stop recently…. The Goodwill.  It was The Reluctant Admiral. It is the story of both an individual and an organization. The individual is Admiral Yamamoto, the architect of the Pearl Harbor raid and commander of the Combined Fleet until his dramatic death in the South Pacific. One of the best-known Japanese wartime leaders -- complex, tough, sympathetic, and realistic -- he believed from the start that Japan was bound to lose the war. The organization is the Imperial Navy, whose gentlemanly traditions and international outlook contrasted strongly with those of the army. Based on interviews with people who knew him well, private and intimate correspondence, and secret and official documents, it is -- as the New Yorker said -- a "brilliant" book. Fascinating is how I would describe it but then I'm a military history junkie and the book surely wasn't a "best seller". My only critique would be lots of unfamiliar names that were hard to keep track of. Still the basic story brings a subject clearly to light...:)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

History Photography Quiz (Part V)

Leo Tolstoy telling a story to his grandchildren in 1909.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Dead Wake - The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

One of my favorite authors is Erik Larson a modern master of popular narrative nonfiction. No dull history tomes for him as he’s  proven time and again  adept at rescuing relatively significant but mostly obscure episodes in history and turning them novel like into best sellers. Two of my favorites were The Devil in the White City and In The Garden of Beasts.

2015 brought us Dead Wake – The last Crossing of the Lusitania.
On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth month, a huge and fast luxury ocean liner sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying thousands of people including a record number of children and infants. Trying to starve Britain into submission, Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. Still most believed the “rules” of warfare kept civilian passenger ships safe from attack.
Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, following new orders was ready to shoot. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small—hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more—all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.
The fate of many of the passengers we know but it was the secrets which lay behind the decisions of the hunted and the hunter which drew my attention and kept me focused on the story.  Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster whose intimate details and true meaning have long been obscured by history. How it all happened and why was quite unexpected. A historical mystery as it were. I loved it.