winterbadger: (pooh tao)
Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter (26) Carter has always struck me as the best president in my lifetime. Not the "nicest" president or the "best person"--the best *president*. While I think he is a very *good* person, and a true Christian (as I was brought up to understand Christ's message), those are usually ways people diminish him, damning him with faint praise. "Oh, he was too honest to be president" or "oh, he was so much better as an ex-president". But, by implication, "he was an awful *president*." Nonsense. Far too many people have bought into the mythology of the Reagan era and the GOP fiction spinners who have run the White House for more than half the time I've been alive. This book (the recorded version of which, to my delight, is read by the President himself) chronicles one of his greatest achievements--the Camp David Peace Accords--but also the failure of subsequent US presidents to put the sort of pressure on all parties that Carter did, and the subsequent growth of unilateral, imperialist policy in Israel, scuttling the peace process because it can simply take whatever it wants, with the supine acceptance of the United States and the rest of the western powers. Carter is unsparing of his own naivete and ignorance, his optimism in hoping that Israeli and Arab leaders could be convinced of the benefits to be gained by working together to achieve stability. His conclusion is that, as much as Israel thinks it can simply create stability with guns and bulldozers, concrete and barbed wire, it will only continue to stoke the frustration and determination of Palestinians to resist occupation and tyranny. Both sides need to come together with honest intent before peace can be achieved; Carter is much more hopeful than I am that this will eventually happen.

Berlin Diary by William Shirer (27) Literally, Shirer's diaries of his time as foreign correspondent in Berlin from 1933 to 1940. Shirer concealed some names of persons and places to protect friends, peers, and sources in case his journals were seized by the Nazi government, but the names that remain include Edward R. Murrow (his co-worker and boss at ABC) and Joseph Harsch (an alumnus of Williams College I met briefly, who like Murrow and Shirer is one of the legends of wartime reporting from World War Two) as well as all the famous figures of European politics of the 1930s and 40s, large and small, whose deeds and words Shirer reports with unflinching candor and much insight and humour. Having read so much of went on in these days as dry history, I found it fascinating to hear the perspective of a reporter working in the middle of the events, recording day by day his perceptions of the events unfolding around him. Equally interesting, in a geeky way, were the insights one gets from his adventures about the technical side of radio broadcasting and the often remarkable lengths to which reporters had to go to get their stories on air (and the lengths that the German government would go to to control what news went out, both sly tricks--like using studio microphones that reduced background noise, so listeners couldn't hear the sounds of an air raid going on during the broadcast--to heavy-handed censorship.) Shirer saw daily life in Germany and neighboring countries before and during the war, from political riots in Paris to head of state visits in Italy, covering the Nazi seizure of Austria, traveling to Poland to see the fighting firsthand and to to France and the Low Countries to see the aftermath of the 1940 blitzkrieg. For much of the war, Shirer's wife and daughter lived in nearby, neutral Switzerland, and the contrast he observed in his visits to them between wartime Germany (literally darkened and under sever rationing) and the bright, bustling nightlife of Berne and Zurich was quite remarkable. I was glad that I had recently read Lynne Olson's Those Angry Days, as a number of personalities of the time get mentions here which I would not have understood as well if I hadn't been introduced to them already.

Dragonsong and Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey (28 and 29) Re-reading some YA books I enjoyed in S. Still enjoyable light reading.

Mistress Masham's Repose by T.H. White (30) An old family favourite, this was one of Melissa's picks when we were scavenging an awesome used bookstore in Sidney, BC. I re-read it after she was done, and found it agreeable, but a little tiresome in its heavy-handed humour. Taking some ideas and situations from classic literature and re-applying them to a YA adventure: A+. Attempted satire: C-.

The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timothy Egan (31) A fascinating story of the first great forest fire after the creation of the national forest system in the United States. This revisits several characters whom I met in Edmund Morris's three-volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt, like Roosevelt himself and his successor in the presidency, the hapless and feeble William Howard Taft. It even mentions William Allen White, who I'm sure was mentioned in Morris but who served as a central character in (again) Lynne Olson's Those Angry Days, given his role in pushing America out of isolation and towards participation in World War Two. But most of all, this book gives gives me a broader picture of Gifford Pinchot, advisor to TR and FDR and sometime governor of Pennsylvania, but first and foremost the architect of the National Forest system and the first head of the US Forest Service. This tale conveys his passion for forestry and conservation, stoked by his ealry mentor, John Muir. Much of the story deals with Pinchot's battles with the timber and railroad barons who wanted to exploit public lands for their resources and turn them into a vast patchwork of mines, factories, towns, and cities. Pinchot (under TR and, for a while, Taft) fought a losing battle against these predatory corporate trusts and their congressional allies, trying to preserve the wild beauty of the West for future generations. While the great fire of 1910 was a disaster of epic proportions for the western forests and the homesteaders and towns that lay in its path, Pinchot used the heroic deeds of the outmatched forest rangers who tried to fight it. With an astute sense of politics and public relations, Pinchot turned the tide of public opinion and forced through reforms that allowed the Forest Service to grow and assume a more powerful role. Ironically, however, the men who went on to lead the service worked hand in glove with the timber barons in a way that horrified Pinchot. And the lessons that the Forest Service chose to learn from the fire, that all fires, no matter how small, had to be fought to extinction, actually worked against the health of the forests, as it brought to a halt the cycle of cleaning and revitalizing burns that had kept the forest ecosystems healthy.

In Progress

Dark Star by Alan Furst
Wilson by A. Scott Berg
Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by Julian Thompson
Queen Victoria's Book of Spells Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Master and God by Lindsey Davis
1914: The Days of Hope by Lyn MacDonald
Learn Python the Hard Way by Zed A. Shaw
The Somme by Robin Prior and Trevor Williams
What Color Is Your Parachute? 2015: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers by Richard N. Bolles
Crisis on the Danube: Napoleon’s Austrian Campaign of 1809 by James R. Arnold
McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales edited by Michael Chabon
The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy
Boer Commando by Denneys Reitz
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Other New York: The American Revolution Beyond New York City Ed. by Joseph S. Tiedemann and Eugene R. Fingerhut

more books

Mar. 13th, 2015 01:30 pm
winterbadger: (pooh tao)
The Chinese Bell Murders by Robert van Gulik (11) Another interesting set of Chinese mysteries from the Dutch Sinophile and diplomat van Gulik. Judge Dee handles a crime of passion, a gang of smugglers, an ancient feud, and a suspicious monastery with the help of this two trusty lieutenants and his dependable sergeant.

Six Months in 1945: FDR, Stalin, Churchill, and Truman--from World War to Cold War by Michael Dobbs (12) It would take some time to give this book a proper review, but as an opener let me say that I found it much more satisfying then the similar work by Michael Beschloss that I recently listened to. Some of the difference is doubtles due to the latter having been an abridged version (I hate those), but I find Dobbs to be, among other things, simply a better writer. That said, what stands out is the richness of detail and the vivdness of the character portraits he provides, things that might well be compressed in an abridged edition. Likewise, the breadth of the topics touched on is incomparably to the advantage of Dobbs's book. One fair point of comparison, I think, is that while Dobbs introduces a good many of the people invovled in the events of the period, from US Ambassador Averill Harriman and Soviet FM Molotov right the way down to the American and Russian soldiers meeting for the first time along the Elbe River, his focus remains on the principals: FDR (and later Truman), Stalin, and Churchill. Beschloss spends a tremendous amount of time and attention on Henry Morgenthau, Jr. While he was an important advisor to FDR and a major player in the considerations behind Allied treatment of postwar Germany, it makes little sense to pay more attention to him even than to Roosevelt, especially given that his plan for the occupation, though an important chip in the three-power game of poker, wwas never implemented.

The Wages of Zen by James Melville (13) and A Sort of Samurai by James Melville (14) I've started rereading Melville's Superintendent Otani mysteries, enjoyable stories about a mid-ranking Japanese police official in the city of Kobe. Otani, who served briefly in World War Two, is in middle age when we meet him in these tales, set in the 1970s. Otani-san is ably assisted by two colorful characters, Kimura-san, who handles the department's contacts with foreigners, and Noguchi-san (informally known as "Ninja"), who deals with Kobe's underworld denizens. Otani's wife, Hanae, often figures as a supporting character, and his radical-turned-solid-middle-class daughter and son-in-law are never too far away. In The Wages of Zen, the police are called in to a Zen temple to investigate drug smuggling that isn't but soon find a murder has taken place. In A Sort of Samurai, Kimura's language skills and debonair charm are required as the police investigate a suspicious death and some related unpleasantness. Melville (real name R.P. Martin), an Englishman, spent many years in Japan in various diplomatic and cultural positions and was well able to give Western readers a glimpse into the world of postwar Japanese culture. I imagine that his Kobe of the 1970s and 1980s might seem almost as foreign to today's younger Japanese as it was to European and American readers when the novels were published. Melville's stories are entertaining and enlightening without being hugely demanding; his characters are genuine and full o f personality, well rounded rather than simple cut-outs.

The Ultimate Battle: Okinawa 1945—The Last Epic Struggle of World War II by Bill Sloan (15) My reading of this follows my reading of Sloan's book on the battle of Peleliu, Brotherhood of Heroes. Since the two campaigns followed each other as well, many of the US Marine Corps men familiar from that book appear here as well, almost like old friends. Reading Brotherhood was wrenching, a tiny glimpse of the horrific conditions of fighting, even living, in the conditions that Marines suffered under in that battle being enough to turn one's stomach. The same can be said for Ultimate Battle, which conveys the brutality, the awfulness, the bitterness of losing friends and comrades, the horror of warfare, the frightful conditions on the ground, the mixture of fear and adrenaline rush of fighting off kamikaze attacks at sea, the stolid determination of the Japanese military (who knew they could not win the battle in any sense of the word) to inflict as much damage as possible on their enemy before they died, and of the destruction and terror of the native Okinawan noncombatant population, truly the shrimp crushed in the battles of the whales. Even the aftermath, in which is detailed the end of the war and the last attempts by fanatics to hold out in Japan, even to the extent of trying to overthrow the wartime government and the emperor in order to keep fighting, is fascinating. And the recounting of the postwar lives of the men who survived the fighting, who have become familiar to the reader, is heart-warming in its assurance that so many were able to find purpose and live on to ripe old age, many of them being interviewed by Sloan for the book, sixty years and more after the war.

In progress:
Blackett's War by Stephen Budiansky
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by MG Julian Thompson
Crisis on the Danube: Napoleon’s Austrian Campaign of 1809 by James R. Arnold
McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales edited by Michael Chabon
The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy
Boer Commando by Denneys Reitz


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