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Friday, November 18, 2016

Arrival

Mrs. T. wants to go to a movie. "What's showing," she says.  I dunno  but I'll check. I did.  "Mostly the usual trash and a few kids shows. Oh and a sci fi that Time says is "for adults."  " I know you don't like those monster mash ups but maybe...."  Out of the goodness of her heart she agreed to give it a try. :) We went.
Linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) leads an elite team of investigators when gigantic spaceships touch down in 12 locations around the world. As nations teeter on the verge of global war, Banks and her crew must race against time to find a way to communicate with the extraterrestrial visitors. Hoping to unravel the mystery, she takes a chance that could threaten her life and quite possibly all of mankind.
Cutting straight to the chase Arrival  definitely was for adults. Meaning no shoot em ups and bombs going off everywhere. There is plenty of suspense and more than a little tension. Amy Adams is quiet, afraid and strong, clearly the only person who can  ultimately figure out what's going on. I can't believe I'm writing this but Ms. Adams star turn is definitely in the Meryl Streep category. Also, not as a turn off, but I must admit the theme  that communication between alien  races was nigh impossible and potentially catastrophic brought to mind Republicans and Democrats during the recent horrific election season.  But I digress. It's an interesting and thoughtful movie...:)
 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Steel Wave


A tad late in acknowledging Veterans Day I review The Steel Wave. This book reminds us of the sacrifice of The Greatest Generation. It is the second volume of a historical fiction trilogy that tells the story of the Second World War in Europe.  Jeff Shaara,   following his fathers footsteps in Killer Angels , tells this story  through the points of view of some of history's most fascinating people , The Steel Wave traces the D-Day landing and subsequent days in the Normandy campaign of WWII.  Generals Eisenhower, Bradley, Montgomery,  Rommel are the main characters. The author puts events and opinions into their mouths and thoughts based on his research. For the many who know this story well it’s an interesting sidelight. For those unfamiliar with the history of this shattering event it makes the vast details easy to digest.
But where this novel really stands out is in conveying what this battle, so renowned but now, with World War II veterans dying along with their first hand memories, felt like for the fighters:"The awful noises returned: screaming wails, the air above them ripped and shattered. The shells began to thunder above them, jolting him, the men tumbling again, more dust, the concrete shaking, deafening blasts. He lay flat, held his helmet to his head, curled his legs in tight, felt himself bouncing on the concrete, his hands hard on his ears, his brain screaming into the roar of fire, the terror grabbing him, pulling him into a complete and perfect hell."And here is a pitch-perfect description of what it must have been like to leave the nausea-inducing landing vessels for the nausea-inducing terror of the most nightmarish run on a beach in history: "He . . . looked straight ahead, smoke rolling past, screaming men, more blasts, more fighter planes overhead, wide flat sand, the cliffs so far away."
Shaara wrote in a very interesting introduction: "I realized that the greatest drama here is not the event but the raw and frightening uncertainty for everyone involved. It is easy to view history in hindsight, as though it were a foregone conclusion how the war, or this particular piece of it, would turn out. But for those men whose deeds and accomplishments created this history, there were no foregone conclusions at all."

The reader is left with two conclusions. The first is that William Tecumseh Sherman was right: War is hell. The second is that this is a hell of a war novel. As a matter of fact all three novels in this series are very well done.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Historical Photography Quiz

A German soldier holding up Hitler’s shredded pants after a failed assassination attempt at German headquarters in East Prussia, June 20, 1944,

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

People of the Book


Geraldine Brooks historical novel People of the Book traces the journey of a rare illuminated manuscript through centuries of exile and war. 

 Brooks, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her previous novel, “March,” has drawn her inspiration from the real Sarajevo Haggadah. As she explains in an afterword, little is known about this book, except that it has been saved from destruction on several occasions, twice by Muslims and once by a Roman Catholic priest. 
The story begins in 1996 when Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, which has been rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Priceless and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images.  Hanna is able to trace the book’s journey from its salvation back to its creation. This makes for a fascinating story with lots of detective work.  Along the way we find art forgers and nationalist fanatics and even some romance.  What is the origin and the whole story behind the survival of this wonderful book? Lots of action will tell us along with some fascinating historical vignettes.   Perhaps a broader context and personalization of the main characters would help but then again history and historical fiction should  open our eyes and hearts to different times and places and touch our curiosity to want even more.
As a small footnote to the locale of much of this book, I am presently receiving physical therapy from a young woman who came to America as a child and war refugee during the Bosnian war. She is of Croatian ethnicity and fled Belgrade the Yugoslav and Serbian capitol during the bombing..... Small world indeed.
 

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@Barrie Summy

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

THE PRESIDENT'S BOOK OF SECRETS


THE PRESIDENT'S BOOK OF SECRETS
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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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

Hamilton



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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