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A VERST TOO FAR

The Polar Bear Expedition: The Heroes of America’s Forgotten Invasion of Russia, 1918-1919 - James Carl Nelson

As someone who grew up in the Midwest U.S., I first gained some awareness of the 'Polar Bear Expedition' of 1918-19 --- in which a U.S. Army regiment was sent to Northern Russia in the summer of 1918 ostensibly to guard stores of Allied military equipment at the port of Archangel, but was later used in battle against the Bolsheviks as part of a larger Allied (i.e. British) scheme to overthrow the Bolshevik government in Moscow and bring Russia back into World War I as a way to force Germany to recommit military forces there --- from a story I read in the late 1970s in a local paper about an elderly gentleman in Detroit whom mention was made of as having served in Northern Russia with the U.S. Army in 1919. I never forgot that newspaper story. And so, when I became aware of this book, I was determined to read it.    And I'm glad I did, because I learned so much.    For instance, who knew that, in addition to the U.S. and Britain, French, Canadian, and some Chinese military forces were involved in military actions against Bolshevik forces in Northern Russia in 1918-1919?

I highly recommend "THE POLAR BEAR EXPEDITION: The Heroes of America's Forgotten Invasion of Russia, 1918-1919" for anyone interested in learning about a long overlooked chapter of U.S. history that can provide valuable lessons for policymakers, academics, U.S. civilian and military leaders, and the general public as to the need (as stated by the White House) to deploy military forces in any part of the world identified as vital to U.S. security interests.
 

AMBITION IS MADE OF STERNER STUFF WHEN ONE CRAVES RESPECTABILITY

Necessary People - Anna Pitoniak

"NECESSARY PEOPLE" shows how ambition can impact upon a friendship between 2 people from vastly different backgrounds. One who was born to immense wealth and privilege who is used to the world revolving around herself and those of her class. And the other who comes from a poor, dysfunctional family in Florida, who is determined to make a successful life for herself in the cutthroat world of broadcast journalism within a cable news network in Manhattan.

This is the second Anna Pitoniak novel it has been my pleasure to read. Her debut novel - The Futures - I read a year ago and absolutely loved it (!) Normally, I don't care for reading contemporary fiction. But Anna Pitoniak really has a knack for crafting phrases that a reader won't soon forget and creating characters who become real in your mind. Her writing style is breezy and engaging. "NECESSARY PEOPLE" makes for ideal summer reading. 

THE FORTUNES & SORROWS OF WAR

Gunner Girls and Fighter Boys (The Factory Girls) - Mary Gibson

"GUNNER GIRLS AND FIGHTER BOYS" brings home to the reader the impact of the Second World War on the British people, combatants and civilians alike. The novel is mainly centered around a family (i.e. the Lloyds) in a neighborhood in London known as Bermondsey. Indeed, we first meet the Lloyds (Mum and Dad; their eldest daughter Peggy - and her husband George, an asthmatic who's a few years older than his wife and lives principally as a grafter, evading the law by hook and by crook through various black market activities; Jack, the Lloyds' only son who sometimes does a few jobs for George; and youngest daughter May, a bookworm and homebody) on Sunday, September 3, 1939 - the first day of war. An air raid alarm is sounded and while most of the Lloyds seek security in a community shelter, May is intent on ensuring that the Sunday dinner is not ruined. The full reality of Britain being at war with Germany still had a certain unreality to it. 

In the years to come, the war would exact a heavy toll on the Lloyds and Bermondsey itself. Lives would be radically changed, rudely upset, lost. And May through her service in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) - the women's branch of the British Army - would find her life profoundly altered. For anyone who wishes to understand in some way how the Second World War impacted upon those who experienced it, For that reason, I highly recommend reading "GUNNER GIRLS AND FIGHTER BOYS." It'll put you on an emotional roller coaster you won't soon forget.

1916: WAR WITHOUT END?

The Land of My Dreams: War at Home, 1916 - Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

One of the hallmarks from reading a Cynthia Harrod-Eagles novel is that you will never be indifferent to the lives of the characters therein. And so it is with "THE LAND OF MY DREAMS", the third novel in the 'War at Home' Series. 

It is now 1916. The First World War for civilians and combatants alike in Britain has taken on the attributes of an irresistible tide, altering everything in its path. In the Hunter family, 2 sons are now on active service. David, the eldest and his mother's favorite, is an infantry officer who has already received his baptism of fire in the failed Battle of Loos of the previous year. Bobby, who had followed his brother into the Army, developed a love for aviation and was able to wrangle a transfer to the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) whilst still in Britain. Bobby takes to the rigors of ground school and the rather haphazard flight training scheme then in effect in the RFC with nary a misstep. With the advent of spring, he earns his wings and is assigned to a frontline unit in France where he becomes a skilled scout pilot, flying the nimble Airco DH.2 single-seat biplane 'pusher' aircraft on various offensive patrols and escort missions over the lines. By mid-year, the Battle of the Somme would commence, a cataclysmic struggle that would sorely test the resolve of both the British forces at the Front and their families at home. 

In the meantime, the rest of the Hunter family is caught up in the pressures and changes the war has already wrought on the world around them. Beattie, the matriarch of the Hunter family, while busily engaged in an expanding number of charitable activities related to the war, has a chance encounter with someone from her past which could have consequences on her marital relationship. Diana (the eldest daughter) unexpectedly finds 'love' - if one can truly it that - from an unexpected corner. I won't say more on that score. For the reader of this review whose curiosity about this novel has been whetted, I will leave it to him or her to take up "THE LAND OF MY DREAMS" and discover how the third year of war impacts on the Hunters, some relatives thereof, and some of the servants in the Hunter household

ESCAPING DEATH BY A WHISKER - THE BRITISH SUBMARINER'S WAR IN THE MEDITERRANEAN, 1941-42

Turn Left for Gibraltar (A Harry Gilmour Novel) - David Black
Following the successful completion of his temporary assignment as a liaison aboard a Free French submarine, Sub-Lieutenant Harry Gilmour, is assigned to the Tenth Flotilla, which is based on the besieged Mediterranean island of Malta. Whilst travelling en route by submarine, Harry ends up unexpectedly in a situation which could have sidelined him for the duration of the war. But after the lapse of several weeks, and with help from an unexpected quarter, Harry and a small number of his compatriots regain their freedom. 

Harry arrives in Malta at a time (the autumn of 1941) when British land, air, and naval forces are managing to hold their own against Italian air and naval forces. This is in marked contrast to earlier in the year, when the Germans had dispatched a Fliegerkorps to Sicily (barely 60 miies from Malta) to assist their Italian allies with their siege of Malta. But upon Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, German air units were withdrawn to assist the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front. 

In the meantime, Harry is serving on a submarine with a commander who rules with an iron hand, cowing his crew through intimidation. Indeed, Harry's commander makes clear to him in a private moment after they have returned to Malta from patrol deep in enemy waters that he intends to make his mark as a submariner so that his superiors will find him indispensable and confer high command on him. And to achieve that, he is willing to do all that he deems necessary - even at the risk of endangering the crew - to achieve this lofty goal. For his great ambition is to be a career naval officer. 

The submarine arm on Malta is, at this stage of the war, the only effective offensive arm the British have (along with surface units) capable of taking the war to the Germans and Italians in the Mediterranean. Many of Harry's missions are vividly rendered by the author. So much so that I felt a distinct chill from reading some of the action scenes in the novel. The submariner's war, while promising rewards in terms of tonnage of ships sunk and harassment of enemy naval forces, is highly fraught with peril in the form of enemy minefields and attacks from Axis air and naval units. Many submarine crews lost their lives on patrol and their disappearance only became clear when a submarine failed to return from patrol or could not be contacted by the Tenth Flotilla command weeks after the submarine's return could be reasonably expected (given its normal endurance). 

Harry has a number of close-calls on patrol, one of which claims his ruthlessly ambitious CO. Subsequently, Harry is assigned to another submarine, where the atmosphere is much more amicable and supportive. 

"TURN LEFT FOR GIBRALTAR" also amply illustrates"how war drives its wedge between more than just nations. Shirley (Harry's sweetheart) is waiting for him back in Scotland, but the world offers many distractions for a young man..." 

At the novel's close, it is the Spring of 1942. The Luftwaffe has returned in force to Sicily to assist the Italians in their ongoing assault on Malta. Indeed, Malta is on the brink of starvation. And in that moment, Harry's life takes on a unexpected change.
 
All in all, "TURN LEFT FOR GIBRALTAR" keeps up the intensity already established in the previous 2 novels of the series. I highly recommend it for anyone in search of a thrilling and breathlessly intense adventure novel for summer reading.
 
 
 

 

HOW TO WIN FROM ONLINE DATING

Data, A Love Story: How I Cracked the Online Dating Code to Meet My Match - Amy Webb

"DATA, A LOVE STORY: How I Cracked the Online Dating Code to Meet My Match" is a testament to Amy Webb's ingenuity and sheer grit to devise, test, and put into practice a strategy that netted her 'the man of her dreams' who became her future husband. 

Anyone who has tried online dating as a way to find him/herself a girl/boyfriend or prospective spouse can appreciate how stressful and at times frustrating it can be to have that good date or series of dates that could lead to meaningful, personal relationships. I admit I felt a kind of voyeurism from reading about Amy's dating experiences. I appreciated her honesty in being clear about the type of man she was seeking and the systematic way she went about realizing her goal. Some other reviews of this book, I've noticed, have taken issue with Amy Webb's methods. That didn't bother me one bit. In fact, I couldn't help but admire what she was able to do in being able, after considerable effort, to meet the man who became her future husband. Maybe some of those people who have written critical reviews of "DATA, A LOVE STORY" have a certain envy of Amy's success. 

Beyond the main text of the book, Amy Webb, through the accompanying Notes and Appendix, shares with the reader the fine details behind the crafting of each chapter as well as the logic and quantitative methods she employed in finding the 'ideal date' for her. Anyone reading this review who may want to try online dating, I feel, would derive a worthwhile benefit from learning from Amy Webb herself through reading this book as to how she cracked the online dating code to meet her match.

JFK, the Kennedys and Me - Lester S. Hyman

Lester Hyman has written a fine book of remembrance of his friend and political mentor, President Kennedy, as well as of Robert Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, and the Kennedy family with whom he has been acquainted for close to 60 years. This in itself conveyed to me the specialness they hold in the hearts of millions of people as proponents and exemplars of public service as an agency for social and economic justice.

Given that today marks what would have been President Kennedy's 102nd birthday (GOSH!), I want to thank Mr. Hyman for this book.

EXAMINING WAR & ITS EFFECTS AT THE FRONT & AT HOME IN 1915

Keep the Home Fires Burning (War at Home) - Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

"KEEP THE HOME FIRES BURNING" takes up where "GOODBYE PICCADILLY" left off. It is now 1915. For both the Wroughton and Hunter families in Northcote, the war is beginning to take on a grimness that is beginning to make itself felt throughout Britain. Charles Wroughton, the eldest son and inheritor of the family estate, has been an officer in the Territorials, training his men for the time when they will be sent to France to assume their place at the Front. He and his fiancée, Diana Hunter, have grown more in love and plans are made for a spring wedding. The Hunter family is going through wrenching changes of its own with 2 of the older sons joining the military. Diana's younger sister, Sadie, now approaching 17, is very much a tomboy with a deep love for horses and the countryside. Before the year is out, she would have a job helping to train horses for service with the army in France and become more wiser in the ways of life through charitable war work in the community.

 

At the same time, the lives of the servants in the Hunter's employ are also undergoing changes paralleling what is reflected in the rest of the nation. Nowhere is this more evident than in the observations made by the Hunter's chef, a proud lady known as 'Cook' by the family. At Christmas, Cook muses to herself that "[e]verything was changing, and she didn't like it. She and Ada [the chief parlour maid] had been together for over twenty years, and their lives had not been altered in that time, bar the move from London to Northcote. Life was like that, before the war. Nothing ever happened, nothing ever changed, you knew where you were, and you knew where you would be next year.

 

"And your life would have been instantly recognisable to your mother, your grandmother, your great-grandmother. There was a magnificent solidness to the world - by which she meant England; a dignity, a worth. If a thing was right, it was right - why would you ever change it?

 

"But now, just in one year, everything was as different as could be. Young men went off to war and got killed. People got blown up in their own streets, in their own beds [thanks to the Zeppelins] ... Routines couldn't be relied on. There were strangers everywhere you looked. And women in particular were doing things you could never have imagined. ... Everything was upside down, everyone was out of their place, nothing could be depended on.

 

"And now Ada - Ada of all people! - wanting to walk out with a man [a soldier] she hardly knew. She and Ada had been like two halves of a walnut. What would happen to her, Cook, if Ada changed? What if she went away? Why can't things be the way they were? She threw the impassioned plea to Heaven. I hate change. I hate it!"

 

 

I loved this novel, being able to experience, in ways big and small, the changes all the characters went through in the course of one full year of war. One of the things I love about reading a Cynthia Harrod-Eagles book is how she can bring vividly to life any character that graces the pages of her novel. I developed strong feelings - pro and con - about these characters. I became intensely curious to see how they would fare, which was enough to make me stay with "KEEP THE HOME FIRES BURNING" to the final page. Now I'll catch my breath before going on to read the third novel in the series.

Spitfire Deserter? The American Pilot Who Went Missing - Bill Simpson

I was prompted recently to buy the book "SPITFIRE DESERTER?" because of a story I had come across years ago from reading the book 'Malta: The Spitfire Year 1942' about an American fighter pilot flying Spitfires with the Royal Air Force (RAF) who was regarded as a deserter because he was the only pilot of his squadron to fly off the American carrier USS Wasp on the morning of April 20, 1942 to the besieged Mediterranean island of Malta who failed to arrive there.

 

Indeed, "Malta: The Spitfire Year 1942" states that "[at] 1117 [on April 20, 1942] , a message was received from Malta that 46 aircraft had arrived safely, and that one was missing. This was the aircraft flown by one of 603 Squadron's Americans, Sgt. Walcott, who had been with the unit for only a month. He had confided to a Canadian pilot that he had no intention of flying to Malta. Consequently, as the Spitfires began their 660-mile flight, he turned for Algeria (some 55 miles to the south) where he force-landed BP958 in the area to the south of the Atlas mountains. Making contact with the US Consulate, he claimed to be a lost civilian pilot in need of repatriation!"

Well, in "Spitfire Deserter", Bill Simpson provides the reader with some background history about Salvatore "Bud" Walcott, his flight training with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in Canada and the advanced flight training he received during 1941-42 with the RAF in Britain. To his credit, Simpson makes an earnest attempt to determine -- given what information he was able to obtain about Walcott from U.S. and British sources, as well as from former squadron mates and people in Massachusetts (where Walcott lived for most of his life, dying there in July 1962, age 42) --- whether or not, as has been alleged by the RAF authorities, "Bud" Walcott was a deserter and a defector. 

From what I read, I don't know what can conclusively be said to account for Walcott's failure to reach Malta in April 1942. Walcott himself claimed that shortly after taking off from the USS Wasp, his Spitfire could barely sustain airspeed to remain aloft. So he increased power to his aircraft's engine and was able to gain altitude. But by that time, he was lagging behind his squadron mates. He increased power as a way to catch up with the formation, but became concerned that he might exhaust his fuel prematurely. After all, he had more than 600 miles to fly over the sea --- most of it deep in enemy territory. So, Walcott dropped down to sea level, endeavoring to independently make it to Malta. Some time later, Walcott passes over a small white ship and noticed black smoke coming out of his engine exhaust. His cockpit filled with smoke and the engine temperature began to rise alarmingly. What to do? Walcott thought he might have to bail out and so climbed to what he regarded as a safe altitude for doing so. He was now at 1,200 feet and headed toward the Algerian coast. (Algeria was then a part of French North Africa which was administered by Vichy France, a client state of Nazi Germany set up shortly after France's surrender to Germany in June 1940.) The engine temperature of Walcott's Spitfire had at this point returned to a normal range. But once over Algeria, the engine cut out and Walcott had no choice but to try to make a landing as soon as possible. His Spitfire crash landed and Walcott was knocked unconscious by the impact. Subsequently, he was picked up by Vichy authorities and placed in an internment camp on the edge of the Sahara Desert where conditions were austere, at times brutal, and harsh. There Walcott would remain as a de facto prisoner til the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942, when he was freed and repatriated to Britain, where he made a report about what he had been through since he had been reported as missing. Subsequently, Walcott would be commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF), fly combat with a fighter squadron in North Africa, and later be sent back to the U.S., where served out the remainder of the war as a flight instructor. 

In my view, given the scope of information the author was able to obtain about Walcott and the matter of determining whether or not he was a deserter while with the RAF, the book could have been much shorter. There were so many fillers about the part of Massachusetts in which Walcott grew up, the history of the affluent family into which he married while with the USAAF, and a short history of the island of Malta and its significance during the Second World War as key to Britain's strategic position in the Mediterranean. What I found useful in understanding who Wolcott was through learning about the extensive flight training he received as a fighter pilot, as well as the treatment he and other Allied combatants received during his internment at Laghouat by the Vichy authorities. Hence, the 2 stars.

FOREVER REMEMBERED: A Tribute to America's Aviators of World War II

— feeling amazing
Forever Remembered: The Fliers Of World War II: Interviews - Irv Broughton

"Forever Remembered: The Fliers of World War II - Interviews" is a treasure trove, as far as aviation books are concerned. It is all the more previous now almost 20 years after its initial publication because many of its interviewees -- all of whom served in various aviation-related capacities in the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF), Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard during World War II -- are now deceased. As the World War II generation is leaving us in ever greater numbers, there are now correspondingly few eyewitness stories that we can draw upon in the present time. 

Irv Broughton is a gifted interviewer. In each interview, he acts more as a facilitator, allowing the interviewee to speak freely and expansively about his/her wartime experiences. I very much enjoyed reading these interviews and being given entree to stories from World War II that had either been forgotten or little remarked upon. For example, there was the story of Teresa James, who, prior to joining the U.S. Army's Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) in 1942, had earned her private pilot's license in 1934 and went on to be a barnstorming pilot in Pennsylvania and a flight instructor. She was one of 25 women to form the WAFS, whose purpose was twofold: "1) To see if women could serve as military pilots, and if so, to develop the nucleus of an organization that could be quickly expanded. [and] "2) To release male pilots for combat." The WAFS proved to be so successful that a year later (August 1943), WAFS was merged with a group of women pilot trainees to form the WASPs (Women Air Force Service Pilots). 

Many of the people interviewed in this book led truly remarkable lives, both during the War and afterward. Stewart Ross Graham, for instance, had joined the Coast Guard prewar and later learned to fly, taking part in numerous long-range patrol and search & rescue missions in World War II. He later became one of the first helicopter pilots world wide and helped pioneer various search & rescue techniques that became standard for all helicopters engaged in such roles. There were also a couple of interviews with 2 of the Tuskegee Airmen who saw combat with the 332nd Fighter Group in the war, one of the U.S. Navy's top fighter aces, former aircrew who became prisoners of war (POWs) of either the Germans or the Japanese, a test pilot who emerged from the war as the only survivor of a core group of 12 test pilots tasked with flying the latest USAAF aircraft to the limits of their flight capacities, and one of the few American night fighter aces of World War II. 

A 'GRANDE DAME' THROUGH TRAGEDIES & TRIUMPHS

Jackie After Jack: Portrait of the Lady - Christopher Andersen, Christopher Anderson

I finished reading this book a short time ago tonight (10:32 PM). It gave me a better appreciation for the type of life Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis was able to make for herself (and her 2 children) from the immediate aftermath of President Kennedy's assassination to her own death 3 decades later.

This is the second book about a Kennedy that I've read from Christopher Anderson, and he is to be commended for the painstaking research and scores of interviews he conducted with people who knew Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis well. My only quibble are a few errors with regard to historical dates that I found lightly sprinkled throughout the book. Otherwise, "Jackie After Jack" was easily readable and made me feel almost as if I were Jackie's shadow.

A COMBAT PILOT'S LIFE IN 'PHONEY WAR' FRANCE

Sorties and Soirées: Journal of a Royal Air Force Pilot Officer (18 Squadron) Serving in France with the BEF 1939/40 - Arthur Hughes DFC

There are very few accounts from Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel who served in France during the 'Phoney War' period of World War II which lasted from September 1939 to May 10, 1940. That is why this wartime journal by Arthur Hughes - who was a newly minted RAF pilot posted to France in October 1939 - is priceless. He provides the reader with some very revealing details on relationships and experiences his squadron had with their French allies, military and civilian alike. 

Hughes' squadron - which flew Bristol Blenheim twin-engined planes - was tasked with flying photo reconnaissance missions over Germany and along the Franco-German frontier directly facing France's Maginot Line, which stood as a defensive fortification against a possible frontal German attack on France itself. From the descriptions Hughes gives in his journal, one gets the impression that these missions were casually carried out by whichever crews in his squadron were chosen at a particular time for the job. And the more I read about the goings-on of life as experienced by Hughes and his squadron mates, the more I was reminded of Derek Robinson's novel, 'A Piece of Cake' which depicted life in a RAF Hurricane fighter squadron in France during the same period of Hughes' service there. The eccentricities of Hughes' commanding officers, the wild, riotous parties his squadron sometimes engaged in (replete with lots of alcohol) that took place in the cities and villages where RAF units were based, and casual and personal interactions with the French in their midst help to give the reader a tangible sense of the impatience and weariness both British and French people in France had at that time to have the war over and done with - so as to avoid massive bloodshed. The echoes of the First World War hung heavy in the air for British and French alike. 

Starting with May 10, 1940, the full force of the German Blitzkrieg on France and the Low Countries soon overtakes Hughes' squadron. The pace of life abruptly takes on a maddening, desperate urgency. But for Hughes, as his journal entry for May 12, 1940 bears out, he shows a remarkable calmness --- "I am not really panic stricken, but at intervals a horrid fear seems to seep into my entrails and my stomach grows hollow. Mostly I carry on the normal activities of life without worrying or even thinking. This human capacity to forget, or rather to ignore, unpleasant facts is a divine gift and never has it been so welcome. Entangled with this fear is a surge of excitement at the thought of action at last, which is, I fear, tinged with a modicum of blood lust: the urge to kill. Curiosity too is there, curiosity just to know what it is like. And of course, personal vanity, with its illusion of superiority to others, helps to create the illusion of invulnerability: it can't happen to me." 

A few months later, after Hughes' squadron is compelled to leave its French base and is, by stages, evacuated to the UK, he makes the following entry on July 19, 1940:

"Jones is dead; the gay, smiling, beautiful youth was practicing formation flying this morning, the formation broke up and he did not return. Witnesses say that he spun in. With him went Webster, a new observer, keen, a mouse with the heart of a lion and quite the most promising youngster. That such children - Jones was 19, Webster 20 - should come unscathed through shot and shell only to fall victims to an error of judgment is ironic to say the least. That such passion for living, such frank and delirious delight in life, love and laughter should be wiped out in an instant is tragic. Thrusting these young men into battle with inadequate training is a damned tragedy. Jones was obviously not fully competent on Blenheims; he came back from a raid on Tuesday, ran short of petrol, jettisoned his bombs in the fields near Hatfield and made a forced landing near Welwyn Garden City: the aircraft burned. Why this futile waste?"

"Sorties and Soirées" comes highly recommended as a book that offers the reader an unflinchingly honest account of the life of an RAF pilot officer in France during the early months of World War II. Hughes would go on to have a long war.

TRACING THE RISE & FALL OF A HIT 1970s ROCK BAND

Daisy Jones & The Six - Taylor Jenkins Reid

I finished reading "DAISY JONES AND THE SIX" today and it's A WINNER. It offers the reader full access into the rise and fall of a 1970s rock and roll band from the perspectives of the band members themselves, told 30 years later. And what a story it is, set on the roller coaster themes of joy, heartache, despair, and intra-band squabbles that become heated and irreconcilable. 

This is a novel that tugs at the heart and if you're a music lover and/or have memories of the 1970s rock music scene (as I do), you will love "DAISY JONES AND THE SIX." Indeed, by the time I read the last page, I could hear the intoxicating rhythms from Heart's 1977 hit, 'Barracuda', running through my mind.

SURVIVING THE HOLOCAUST TO LIVE A LIFE OF GREAT PURPOSE

A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy - Thomas Buergenthal, Elie Wiesel

"A LUCKY CHILD: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy" is Thomas Buergenthal's story of survival against incredible odds during the Second World War, first at the Ghetto in Kielce, Poland (which was later wiped out by the Germans), Auschwitz (where he was imprisoned between August 1944 and January 1945, when he with other able bodied survivors were forced to march on foot in the depths of winter into Germany shortly before Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops), and Sachsenhausen, where he was liberated by the Soviets in April 1945. Thomas was by then 10 years old, the only child to have survived the Auschwitz Death March. 

Burgenthal's story is a heart-searing, honest, and powerfully poignant account of the human cost of the Nazi Holocaust, and of the resilience of one of its survivors to endure, persevere, and make a life for himself in the U.S. as one of the world's leading international human rights law experts

ROY COHN: A DARK LORD IN LATE 20th CENTURY AMERICA

— feeling amazing
Citizen Cohn - Nicholas von Hoffman

Roy Cohn (1927-1986) was someone I had known about for many years for the notoriety he achieved as the young lawyer who served as the chief counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy during the early 1950s at the height of the anti-Communist hysteria in the U.S. A hysteria upon which McCarthy rode to fame (infamy), destroying the lives and careers of many innocent people in the process. McCarthy went on to overreach himself through the Army/McCarthy hearings in the spring of 1954 and was discredited. Consequently, McCarthy was censured by his Senate colleagues, took increasingly to drink, and died an alcoholic in 1957. I was not disposed to like Roy Cohn.

Yet recently Cohn came increasingly to mind because of his later association as a mentor to the present occupant of the White House when he was an up-and-coming real estate mogul in New York during the 1970s and 1980s. I searched around for a biography that would give me a more comprehensive understanding of who this man was and how and why he was able to exert the influence he had. Well, "CITIZEN COHN" fit the bill. The author interviewed scores of Cohn's associates, family members & relatives, acquaintances, as well as those people he cheated in various court cases in which he agreed to represent them. This was a book whose contents I had to slowly ingest as it took me from Roy Cohn's final days as he was dying from AIDS to his early life growing up in the Bronx, his rise as a young attorney in New York and then Washington (where he sustained a temporary setback following McCarthy's fall into disgrace in 1954), and his subsequent development into crafty lawyer, power broker, schmoozer with the rich & powerful in the law and government, and socialite. 

It seems that there was nothing Roy Cohn wasn’t willing to do to help a client win a lawsuit or court case. His friendship with J. Edgar Hoover he used to help destroy people’s careers. And yet to those people he helped and befriended, Cohn was highly regarded. I have the impression that Cohn enjoyed the drama of the life he led and used money as a vehicle to advance what he believed in. He was not someone who was so much interested in amassing money and wealth as in exercising power and influence to shape events and wreck vengeance on his enemies (e.g. Robert Kennedy and Robert Morgenthau, a former Federal attorney for the Southern District of New York and later District Attorney for New York County) or anyone he deemed a threat to the interests he defended. Indeed, as was pointed out in the book, "[Cohn] was not driven to corruption for money. Roy joined the bar when the law business was exploding, when lawyers were beginning to amass fortunes comparable to industrialists and financiers; the way was open for him to make his millions honestly, ethically, legally as of course, he often did.

"But his crimes yielded Roy more than profit; they were the zesty acts from which he seemed to get the maximum zing by giving a few friends, a few lovers, a peek; they were a defiance, a taunt to the men and women who stood for rules, conventions, maxims which tortured, twisted, and confused him. There were elements of anger and disorder and bewilderment in Roy's crimes."

Now that I know much more about Roy Cohn than I did before reading "CITIZEN COHN", my opinion of him is unchanged. He proved to be as awful as I had previously believed him to be, based on what I had heard about him on TV from people who had dealings with him. Yet, I have been made aware of how complex a person Cohn was, both in his professional and personal lives. He was brilliant in many ways and had a capacity for kindness and generosity to people whose relationships he valued, and who in turn became his friends. But what talents he had, he avidly used for manipulating the justice system in protecting his clients (some of whom were prominent leaders in the New York mafia) and cheating honest people who sought his counsel. I don't think Hollywood could have crafted a better story than the life of Roy Cohn.

HOW "BRAVE" ARE YOU PREPARED TO BE?

BRAVE - Rose McGowan

Before reading this book, I knew of Rose McGowan from her work in the TV series 'Charmed', which I enjoyed watching from time to time. Like a lot of other famous people and celebrities whose careers I have followed vicariously over time, I gave no thought to the life she occupied outside of Hollywood. The public persona commanded my attention and held it.

Then about a month ago, I listened to an in-depth interview Rose McGowan gave to BBC Radio as a way of promoting this book. I was fascinated by her thoughts and impressions of a lot of things she talked about. So much so, that I went one day to the neighborhood library after work and borrowed their copy of "Brave." 

"Brave" is about a woman's odyssey through life with all its ups and downs, and as advertised, it is also a manifesto for the individual to begin the process - if he/she has not already - of challenging the injustices and falsehoods that continue to be heaped upon us by spoiled and privileged elites (white male privilege writ large) in the film industry and other institutions that shape the world in which we live in ways big and small. I enjoyed this book. It made me laugh at times - McGowan knows how to write and use colorful language - and it offered me ample food for thought.