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Gabriela, Cravo e Canela
Jorge Amado
Progress: 157/358 pages
Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph (The Authorized Doubleday/Doran Edition)
T.E. Lawrence
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The Creature from Jekyll Island: A Second Look at the Federal Reserve
G. Edward Griffin
Progress: 41/608 pages
Peter the Great
Robert K. Massie
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Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty
Bradley K. Martin
A Time for Trumpets: The Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge
Charles B. MacDonald
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The German Army 1933-1945
Matthew Cooper
Progress: 198/598 pages
Corporal Hitler and the Great War 1914-1918: The List Regiment
John F Williams
Progress: 22/238 pages


— 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.


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.


Three in Thirteen: The Story of a Mosquito Night Fighter Ace - Geoff Coughlin, Roger Dunsford

On the whole, this is a very remarkable book about a modest man (Joe Singleton) who joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) within days of the declaration of war in September 1939 and received training as a fighter pilot.

Upon completion of training, Singleton was kept back as a flight instructor for several months. He became one of the pioneer pilots in what was the developing science of night fighting, which the book does a fantastic job in explaining to the reader. Stapleton learned to fly both single and dual-engine aircraft which the RAF had put into service as night fighters. He would be posted to a frontline night fighter squadron in the spring of 1942 and spent the next couple of years honing his skills and growing in experience through flying a variety of missions from night defense against German bombers attacking Britain to 'Ranger' or 'Intruder' missions, which involved flying over German-occupied Europe and Germany by night attacking Luftwaffe bases and targets of opportunity. Very hazardous work.

Stapleton would come to the nation's attention and be lionized as a hero for the mission he and his navigator/radar operator (Flying Office Geoff Haslam) flew during the night of March 19th, 1944 against a large number of German bombers poised to bomb the city of Hull in Northern England. Stapleton was instrumental in breaking up the German attack, and in the space of 13 minutes, shot down 3 German Junkers bombers. In recognition of this achievement, Stapleton was later awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), Britain's second highest award for bravery.

Other hallmarks of this book are its illustrations, photos of various aircraft and squadron life (many of which came from Stapleton's personal photos) and an appendix which sheds further interesting details on Stapleton's mission of March 19th, 1944 as told in his own words and through official channels. All in all, "THREE IN THIRTEEN" is a very good, solid book which I recommend highly.


Jack: A Life Like No Other - Geoffrey Perret

"JACK: A Life Like No Other" is a fairly straightforward biography of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th President of the United States. The reader is taken through the various phases of JFK's life and career. It was a life fraught with many challenges and perils, highs and lows. Throughout his life, JFK suffered from a variety of illnesses (e.g. chronic back pain which became steadily worse over time, jaundice, scarlet fever, malaria, and Addison's Disease) than would have humbled a lesser person. Indeed, on 3 different occasions, JFK had been administered the final rites by the Catholic Church. And as if by a miracle, JFK not only survived but endured. "From an early age he had known something that few rich men's sons ever learn this side of serious illness: there is no wealth but life." 

While this was an easy book to read, there were some glaring errors in it that were enough for me to give it a lower grade than other books about President Kennedy I had enjoyed reading and valued for the knowledge they gave me about this singularly unique individual and statesman who had the capacity to inspire millions of people to their best efforts, and in the process, become better human beings. (Furthermore, the author's contention that President Kennedy's death was attributable to a single assassin - Lee Harvey Oswald - I don't agree with at all. Perret leaves the reader in the midst of that fatal motorcade in Dallas, TX, which the President and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy took center stage on November 22, 1963, summing up the book with a novelistic flourish that struck me as somewhat overwrought.)

LAUNCHING LBJ: How a Kennedy Insider Helped Define Johnson's Presidency

Launching LBJ: How a Kennedy Insider Helped Define Johnson's Presidency - Helen O'Donnell

Using a wealth of information from both written and oral histories from a variety of people who had served in the administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson - including her deceased father Kenny O'Donnell who had served as President Kennedy's Chief of Staff - Helen O'Donnell has written a compelling story of the role her father played in helping LBJ secure himself in his role as President between November 22, 1963 and November 3, 1964. 

Indeed, the best selling point about "LAUNCHING LBJ: How a Kennedy Insider Helped Define Johnson's Presidency" is that it reads like a fine political thriller. The only difference here is that the story described therein of a nation struggling through a painful transition between the assassination of a beloved, martyred President and the blossoming of a new administration ---whose President assumed the Kennedy mantle by taking up and ensuring the passage into law between 1963 and 1965 of JFK's unfinished legislative agenda, while at the same time establishing his own unique brand of leadership --- was true.


The Skipper's Dog's Called Stalin (A Harry Gilmour Novel) - David Black

"THE SKIPPER'S DOG'S CALLED STALIN" is the second novel in the Harry Gilmour series, which highlights the lives of Allied submariners during the Second World War. 

In essence, the novel deals with the experiences Royal Navy Sub-Lieutenant Harry Gilmour had during the spring and summer of 1941 as a liaison officer aboard a Free French submarine, Radegonde. Gilmour, who could speak and comprehend French passably from his time at university, was charged - along with 2 Royal Navy sailors who were also detailed to serve under him (one was a Leading Telegraphist and the other a Leading Signalman) with keeping talbs on the commander and crew of Radegonde. What had begun as a wary relationship between Gilmour and his French counterparts gradually developed into one of trust and respect. A trust and respect that was gained from the various mine laying missions Radegonde carried out along the Norwegian coast. During one of those missions, one of the mines became fouled up and, at great risk to himself, Gilmour managed to resolve a sticky situation that could easily have destroyed Radegonde. 

Later in the novel, Radegonde is sent out to Halifax, Nova Scotia, with a party of French marines, whom it would go on to carry far out into the Atlantic to carry out a mission to the island of Martinique in the Caribbean (now under the control of Vichy France) whose prospects of success were extremely doubtful. Adventures abound and the reader will be amply rewarded with many thrilling, colorful, and dramatic actions as the novel reaches its denouement. 

I now look forward to reading the third novel of a series that superbly depicts the highs and lows of being a Royal Navy submariner in wartime. 


Cleo J. Dobson: U.S. Navy Carrier Pilot World War II A Personal Account - Carl Dobson, Dorothy Dobson Zoellner, Nancy Dobson Napier

This book was compiled in large part by the family of Lieutenant (jg) Cleo J. Dobson from the diaries he kept during his Second World War service as a pilot in the United States Navy between December 7, 1941 (the day of the Pearl Harbor attack, when he flew in to one of the air bases there from the carrier USS Enterprise) and the Japanese surrender in August 1945.

Dobson was a native of Oklahoma who went on to earn a degree in Mathematics from a state university in 1938. Following graduation, he joined the Navy and was accepted for pilot training, which he completed 2 years later. Dobson's war entailed participating in the early raids U.S. naval air forces made on Japanese island bases in the Central Pacific during February and March 1942 (a time when Japanese air and sea superiority was overwhelming), as well as flying missions as a scout/dive bomber pilot in the Battle of Midway and the early battles around Guadalcanal from the Enterprise. (Later in the war, Dobson would return to active service with a carrier task group as a commander of a fighter squadron flying missions against the Japanese homeland in 1945.)

Reading this book made the immediacy of wartime life for a naval pilot - which was a mixture of extreme stress and tension from combat followed by moments of boredom and tedium - very real to me. 

With increasing numbers of Second World War veterans now passing away, I am ever more appreciative of the sacrifices they made to help re-establish and ensure peace and the promise of a better world for us all. This book comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.


The Kindness of Strangers - Salka Viertel

"THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS" is one of the best memoirs I've ever read. 

Salka Viertel (1889-1978) I had no knowledge of who she was prior to reading her memoir. But no sooner had I begun to read the first few pages, a door had been opened to a spacious house with many rooms, corners, and closets by an old, dear friend I hadn't heard from for many moons. Salka's words became alive and I eagerly listened to her life story. A life that had begun in a bourgeois Jewish family (her father was a distinguished lawyer and also mayor of Salka's hometown) in the province of Galicia in the latter years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Salka aspired to be an actress and, after wearing down her parents' resistance, was given acting lessons. This was in the era just before the outbreak of the First World War. Salka became acquainted with some of the finest actors, artists, and musicians as she slowly ascended the ladder to a steady acting career which earned her distinction. Then the war intervenes and for a time, Salka and her younger sister Rose (who would became an actress herself) served as nurses before resuming acting in both Austria-Hungary and Germany. She led a somewhat bohemian lifestyle before making the acquaintance of the man (Berthold Viertel) who would later become her husband. Berthold was a talented poet, writer, and had extensive interest in the theatre. He would go on to become a distinguished theatre director, poet, and film maker. 

The memoir then takes the reader into Salka's later life which took her from Europe to America, where she would eventually work in Hollywood, make the acquaintance of Greta Garbo (who became a close friend), become an American citizen, and helped find homes in America (Salka lived in a lovely house in Santa Monica, California, not far from the Pacific) for many of the writers, artists, actors and actresses who were lucky to escape Hitler's clutches. 

Through reading "THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS", the reader is given access to 2 lost worlds spanning half of the 20th century. That is, " --- the pre-Hitler German-speaking stage and the pre-CGI Hollywood" as it was from the 1920s to the 1940s. Through all her ups and downs, Salka Viertel remained resilient, strong, tender-hearted, and full of life. I am so glad that I made her acquaintance.

PENNY MARSHALL: "My Mother Was Nuts"

My Mother Was Nuts - Penny Marshall

Today, I finished reading this memoir exactly at the point I arrived at my stop on the subway near where I work.  What timing, eh?


On the whole, "My Mother Was Nuts" was a very informative, funny, and engaging memoir.   I learned so much about Penny Marshall that I simply had no idea about.   I first became aware of her during the early 1970s because of the role she had in the TV sit-com "The Odd Couple" as Oscar Madison's secretary.    I thought she was funny and cute.    Then, I followed her at a distance when she was on "Laverne and Shirley."   By then, it was the mid-1970s, I was a preteen/early teen, and as "Laverne and Shirley" came on Tuesdays at 8 PM, opposite my favorite TV show on NBC at the time (which was "Baa Baa Black Sheep"), I didn't watch much of the goings on with Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney in Milwaukee during the late 1950s.         


Penny Marshall was one of those celebrities I grew up with but didn't follow her career closely.   I came to know her as an actress, film maker, and director.    So, reading her memoir was a very enjoyable and illuminating experience for me.    She was gutsy, a rabid sports fan, a big hearted person, and a hard-working pro who valued her family and friendships.   


I like to sum up this review by citing a quote from Penny Marshall about a meeting she had with Princess Grace of Monaco in the 1970s.  "... I chatted with the Princess, who was as gorgeous as I remembered her in movies when she was Grace Kelly, the star from Philadelphia. When I asked if she missed acting, she smiled and said, 'What do you think I’m doing now?' ”

Sarah Vowell speaks at the 2016 National Book Festival in Washington, DC.


Sympathy for the Devil: Four Decades of Friendship with Gore Vidal - Michael Mewshaw

"Sympathy for the Devil: Four Decades of Friendship with Gore Vidal " is a book that takes the reader through the various stages of the relationship Michael Mewshaw had with the great writer, essayist, gadfly/wit, intellectual, and political polemicist who was Gore Vidal.

For me, as someone who once met Gore Vidal (albeit briefly) at a public event in which he was interviewed about his life and career and later signed copies of what proved to be his final novel, "THE GOLDEN AGE", I learned more about Gore Vidal on a personal level from reading "Sympathy for the Devil" than I had ever given thought to. Vidal had been my favorite living writer for close to 20 years, and in all that time, I gave little thought to his personal life. From reading his novel and hearing him expound on various themes on TV and radio, I became caught up in his persona. He was a very fascinating person. And though I never agreed with him on every matter he spoke about, Gore Vidal was never dull.

The following observation Mewshaw made about Vidal, made me sad, because it summed up the beginning of a slow and steady decline of a singularly unique figure on the literary and world stage: “In the space of time I had known him, Gore had become the kind of novelist he used to blister with disdain. Having mocked Faulkner, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald as rummies and lampooned his contemporaries – Mailer, [Tennessee] Williams, and Capote – as lushes who squandered their talent, having described Irwin Shaw and James Jones in their last years on Long Island as looking like ‘a couple of mangy old lions’, he was now as bad as any of them, and nobody except Howard [Auster, who was Vidal’s longtime companion and protector] dared tell him to take a look in the mirror.”

For anyone who is either a Gore Vidal fan or simply curious about who he was, this is the book for you. I highly recommend it.


Adèle - Leïla Slimani

Adèle Robinson seemingly has a good life. She lives in a fine apartment in Paris, where she works as a journalist, which affords her opportunities for travel. She is also married to Richard, a successful surgeon and they have a 4-year old son, Lucien. And yet, she is a restless, discontented soul, seeking sexual release from any roguish man who captures her fancy. According to the author, Adèle "wishes she were an object in the midst of a horde. She wants to be devoured, sucked, swallowed whole. She wants fingers pinching her breasts, .... She wants to be a doll in an ogre's garden." 

Adèle lives 2 lives, and as result her world goes topsy-turvy, impacting on herself and the nature of the relationship she had had with Richard and their son. The reader should hold on tight while reading this book, because many unexpected things happen at a cinematic, frenetic pace. This is a story that is easily read over the course of a few hours or a couple of days (as it proved to be for me).


Alarmstart: The German Fighter Pilot's Experience in the Second World War - Patrick G. Eriksson

"ALARMSTART: The German Fighter Pilot's Experience in the Second World War" is the result of the past 30 years of research carried out by the author, in addition to his interviews with surviving Luftwaffe fighter pilots who had flown in the West (from September 1939 to June 6, 1944), as well as a few who had flown in the invasion of Poland and subsequently were assigned to the West. 

"Alarmstart" (Scramble!) constitutes what is likely to be one of the last books of its kind in which Luftwaffe veteran pilots are able to share their stories, because the ranks of surviving pilots is thinning out very quickly. Indeed, many of them are now dying off. It is a book that also benefits from containing photos never before released, as well as primary documents, diaries, and flight logs. For that reason, "Alarmstart" comes very highly recommended. 


Goodbye Piccadilly (War at Home) - Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

"GOODBYE PICCADILLY" is a novel centered around 2 families in Britain, spanning the period from July to December 1914. One family - the Hunters of The Elms, Northcote - is middle class. Mr. Edward Hunter is a banker - yet with enough wealth as to be able to have servants (one set of servants lived with the Hunters while the other set lived in their own respective residences). The other family - the Wroughtons - is representative of an aristocratic class that enjoys considerable influence, possesses immense wealth, and commands everyone's respect. 

While the middle and upper classes often dealt with one another formally and in business matters (Edward Hunter acted as a financial adviser to Earl Wroughton, the family head), the upper class seldom mingled socially with their middle class contemporaries, regarding them as their inferiors.  Notwithstanding that, Charles Wroughton (Earl Wroughton's eldest son, who is destined to inherit the family estate and all that it entailed) espies Edward Hunter's eldest daughter Diana one day while on an outing and takes a fancy to her. Diana is 19, very beautiful, and longs for marriage. She has her eyes set on Charles - who is rather shy and ill-at-ease in most social situations. The odds are clearly against them both. For the Wroughtons would never countenance a marriage of their eldest son to - God forbid! - a banker's daughter. 

What makes "PICCADILLY SUMMER" such a delight to read is the way Cynthia Harrod-Eagles brings forth a variety of fascinating characters across the classes who become so immediately human and real to the reader. Northcote goes from being a tranquil village to a community caught up in the initial excitement, demands, and stresses created by the outbreak of war in August 1914. By year's end, "Northcote reels under an influx of khaki volunteers, wounded soldiers and Belgian refugees."


The war itself which began as 'something remote' by virtue of being waged across the Channel in France and Belgium, was, at its outset, regarded by most people in Britain as a short-lived conflict that would result in an Allied victory by Christmas. But by Christmas, it is becoming clear in the public consciousness that the war is much more dangerous than previously thought with no end in sight. Casualties are much higher than anyone could have foreseen. And all the while, life in Northcote is changing under wartime pressures for everybody. What those changes will lead to remain to be revealed. (I can't wait to read the next novel in this 6-novel series.) 

FIRE IN THE SKY: From Formosa to the Land of the Rising Sun, 1944-45

HELLCAT vs SHIDEN/SHIDEN-KAI: Pacific Theater 1944-45 - Tony Holmes

"Hellcat vs Shiden/Shiden-Kai: Pacific Theater 1944–45" provides the reader with a comprehensive analysis of the relative merits (and histories) of both fighters. 

From October 1944 --- when the U.S. Navy's F6F Hellcat first sparred with the Imperial Japanese Naval Air Force's sturdy and rugged Shiden fighter in the skies over Formosa --- to July 1945, when both fighters last fought each other in the Battle of Bungo Strait, both planes represented the zenith of American and Japanese fighter design in the Pacific War. But for the Shiden and Shiden-Kai fighter, it was a matter of too little, too late because both types had been plagued with initial design and performance flaws which delayed the aircraft's production. Consequently, the Shiden/Shiden-Kai was placed in significant numbers with a fighter unit in Japan (in early 1945) made up of some of Japan's veteran fighter pilots, who showed what a formidable fighter it could be when skillfully flown. Boasting of four 20mm cannons (2 in each wing), a powerful engine, and excellent maneuverability, this was a fighter capable of taking on the Hellcat on more or less equal terms. Alas, for Japan, the Shiden/Shiden-Kai represented a last gasp and could not stave off defeat


Enduring Courage: Ace Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the Dawn of the Age of Speed - John F. Ross

"ENDURING COURAGE" brings vividly to the reader the essence of the man who was Eddie Rickenbacker (1890-1973). Pioneer race car driver, mechanic, World War I fighter ace and squadron leader, national hero, airline executive, and controversial figure. Rickenbacker looked death in the eye many times, both in war and peace, and miraculously survived each time. No-one who knew Rickenbacker ever forgot the experience, for he endeared himself to as many people as well as those he alienated through his brusque, hard-nosed manner.

My only fault with the book was the author's tendency to sometimes resort to hyperbolic, overblown prose. Otherwise,"ENDURING COURAGE: Ace Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the Dawn of the Age of Speed" made for engrossing reading.