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Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité - LIVING IN REVOLUTIONARY FRANCE

Where the Light Falls: A Novel of the French Revolution - Allison Pataki, Owen Pataki

"WHERE THE LIGHT FALLS: A Novel of the French Revolution" very much lives up to its billing. Upon turning the page, the reader quickly finds him/herself in Paris during the winter of 1792. The deposed King and Queen of France are imprisoned, awaiting trial for treason. The city is in tumult as men with radical ideas and a penchant for dispensing violent, retributive 'justice' have taken control of the national government. Along the streets in a horseborne tumbril are several condemned persons being taken to the Place de la Revolution. Despite the bitter cold, thousands of people eagerly await the spectacle soon to take place before their very eyes. "They sound impatient, shrill with the heady prospect of fresh blood to wet the newly sharpened guillotine blade." The spectacle then takes shape as - one by one - each condemned person is prompted to walk up onto the stage where 'le guillotine' awaits. The condemned person's head is placed within the guillotine's clutches. The audience views the scene with bated breath and fevered anticipation. A blade forming the top part of the guillotine set above the condemned person's head is released and with a swish, swiftly severs the condemned person's head, sending it into a basket set close by. Charles Dickens could have taken some lessons from the 2 writers of this novel, in terms of conveying a real, tangible sense of the early stages of what came to be known as 'The Terror', the darkest period of the French Revolution. 

The novel then goes on to relate the stories of Jean-Luc St. Clair, a lawyer from Marseille who moved with his young family to Paris, where he works in an office handling claims involving deposed nobles; Andre Valiere, a young army officer of the ancien régime who has forsworn his noble heritage to join the Army of the French Republic; and Sophie de Vincennes, a young widow living under the close eye of a vindictive uncle who has powerful connections within the government. Her fate would later become entwined with Andre's. 

The reader is carried from the depths of The Terror to the steady rise of Napoleon Bonaparte, who first made a name for himself as a military commander without equal, leading French armies to resounding victories against the Austrians in Italy and later in Malta and Egypt. All the while, France is in turmoil with the demand for justice breeding more paranoia and instability. "Jean-Luc, Andre, and Sophie find themselves bound together in a world where survival seems increasingly less likely - for themselves..." 

This novel has all the hallmarks of a Class A thriller. It'll leave the reader breathless, a little dizzy, and glad to have read it.

WALKING WITH NATURISTS IN THE UK

Naked Britain - Amelia Allen

A year ago, I learned about this book in a radio interview the author, an established fashion photographer, had given BBC Radio London. As someone who once tried the "naturist lifestyle" many years ago in the West Indies, I was curious to read, see, and learn about Amelia Allen's take on the naturist world in the UK. 

For Allen, "[s]hooting 'Naked Britain' was a study in mindfulness for me. I photographed this book fully naked, because I wanted to completely immerse myself in the world of naturism and understand how this way of life feels." Allen met with many of the people - of various ages and backgrounds - who practice naturism at a naturist club about 20 miles from London. The photographs - all in B&W - are of the highest quality. and show people engaged in conversation over cards, cycling, swimming, doing calisthenics, walking in the woods, playing tennis, gardening, playing billiards, sitting poolside, and standing on the shore. There is a pure and simple honesty in this book about living and being at peace with one's nakedness among one's fellow human beings similarly free of clothing. 

Two of the more memorable insights Allen said she got from the time she spent among naturists are the following --- 'Naturism changes how you feel about our body and yourself, it changes your perspective on what the body is.' AND - 'People are just people; it's liberating to just be yourself.'

"NAKED BRITAIN" is a book I would recommend to anyone who is interested in learning more about naturism and values quality photography

"WITH BODIES THAT BOOGIE WITH BELONGING/TAP DANCE THIS TENACIOUS TOPOGRAPHY"

A Choreographer's Cartography - Raman Mundair

In "A CHOREOGRAPHER'S CARTOGRAPHY", the Indo-British poet Raman Mundair has crafted a varied collection of poems that reflect her love for the life and language of the Shetland Islands (e.g. 'Stories fae da Shoormal'and 'Hairst Mön Hamefir') as well as poems conveying the anguish the war, "the dynamics and historical by-ways of the waltz", "the movement of people and the crossing of boundaries", in addition to the effects of thwarted passion. 

Special Note: There is a 'Notes and Translations' section in the book that provides the English translations of the poems that are written in the Shetland Islands dialect as well as the small number of Hindi, Urdu, and Punjabi words scattered across 3 of the poems ('A Choreographer's Cartography', 'A Servant's Tale III', and 'Vicky and the Sikh' - which refers to the close relationship Queen Victoria had with her Sikh manservant, Harminder Singh Sahib, during the latter years of her reign). 

Lovers, Liars, Conjurers and Thieves - Raman Mundair

Much as I enjoy poetry, I confess that I don't read it often. On a regular basis, I dive deeply into prose to quench what has proved to be a lifelong thirst for knowledge and entertainment. The happy result of these peregrinations into poetry and prose has been an abiding love and reverence for language and its subtle nuances.

So, in reading "LOVERS, LIARS, CONJURERS, AND THIEVES", I savored reading poems that spoke of "the intense joys of intimacy and love, and the pain of their rejections", as well as the wonder of travel, the impact of the 1947 Partition which gave rise to an independent India and the birth of Pakistan, and "a passionate concern with the body politic." There were also other poems that evoked the physical scars of domestic violence and racist murders in the UK. Not easy reading, but I appreciated being informed through metaphor and subtle allusion about these glaring injustices. One poem, in particular, held for me a special resonance because it said as much about myself as it did about its author. It is entitled "Tidal Moods" ---

"There are clear, still moments
luminous as an African sky
at night or at sea
when she calms
when I wonder
what governs me, 
whether this centrifugal pull
is from a source rooted in the moon,
stars or simply hormones;
whether the magnet
moon is in cahoots with my seratonin --
or perhaps my seratonin seduces 
the moon with the promise 
of eternal, ecstatic bliss."

President Kennedy aptly summed it up when he said that "poetry reminds [mankind] of the richness and diversity of existence." This book of poems I recommend to anyone for its richness and diverse themes. 

"THE DISHY, ROLLICKING & DEEPLY PERSONAL STORY OF WHAT REALLY HAPPENED IN THE 2016 ELECTION"

Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling - Matthew Chozick

"CHASING HILLARY: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling" is the fourth book on U.S. presidential campaigns that I have read. The other three being "The Making of the President, 1960", "The Road to Camelot: Inside JFK's Five-Year Campaign", and "The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America."

On the whole, "CHASING HILLARY" is a multi-sided book which tells the story of Hillary Clinton's two presidential campaigns (the first in 2008 in which she failed to secure the Democratic nomination and the 2016 campaign, in which she made history as the first woman to be nominated for President by a major political party), and sheds some light on the author's life and journalistic career, as well as her up and down relationship with Hillary Clinton herself. I liked reading this book, its story (most of which was centered on the 2016 campaign) was easy to follow, and I learned some things about Hillary Clinton (even after following her career over the past 26 years) that I didn't know before. 

The truly painful part of reading "CHASING HILLARY" for me was the author's recounting of Election Night and the day after. It brought to my mind the mostly sleepless night I had November 8/9, 2016, listening to the returns by radio, and then turning off the radio when the outcome proved to be the worst imaginable. 

For anyone who wants to get a better feel for who Hillary Clinton is and what she came to represent for so many people across the nation - and a personal insight from someone who covered the 2016 Clinton campaign up close for The New York Times from start to finish - read "CHASING HILLARY."

IN REMEMBRANCE OF OLD EAGLES, 1914-1918

German Aces of World War I: The Pictorial Record - Norman L.R. Franks, Greg Vanwyngarden

Here is a comprehensive grouping of the roughly in access of 350 German airmen (pilots and observers who served in artillery-spotting, bombing and reconnaissance units on the various fighting fronts) who were officially credited with shooting down at least 5 enemy aircraft in combat during the First World War. 

Many of the available photos of these airmen are contained in this book. They give the reader a tangible sense of the people who flew in the first air war. These airmen - through the listings of their dates of birth and death, manner of death, highest rank achieved whilst in service, and units with which they served in combat - in a larger sense, live again. "GERMAN ACES OF WORLD WAR I: The Pictorial Record" is highly recommended for any aviation enthusiast and student of World War I.
 

CIRCE REDISCOVERED

Circe - Madeline Miller

A few minutes ago, I finished reading this book. (It is 1:11 PM EST as I write this.) I feel a deep reluctance to have to take leave of what was truly a wondrous, fantastic, and engaging story. "CIRCE" had become more than a story rooted in myth; it became real in my consciousness.

Before reading this novel, what little I knew about Circe came from the Edith Hamilton book 'Mythology' I had read in high school. That book conveyed to me a vengeful and capricious enchantress (somehow the word 'witch' never entered my consciousness, perhaps because I always imagined Circe to be alluring and beautiful - as well as powerful) who took a dim view to mortals coming to her island. So much so, that many a marooned sailor upon meeting Circe was transformed by her into a snorting pig.

But through reading this fantastic novel, I came to learn so much more about Circe and her origins. Daughter of Helios the Titan god of the Sun and the nymph Perses, she grew up in a family that thought little of her and didn't expect much from her. Yet, unlike her immortal siblings, Circe had some humility and compassion about her that showed that she had a heart. With the passage of time, Circe went on to do something that, as an immortal, she shouldn't have done. It probably would've been to her benefit to lie or simply not speak to anyone of what she had done. But one of the things I found remarkable about Circe was her willingness to speak truth to power (in her case, her father, who had never hid his disdain for her), and to bear the punishment imposed on her by Zeus. That meant eternal exile on the deserted island of Aiaia. And there is where Circe - through the centuries - came truly into her own, honing "her occult craft" and "tam[ing] wild beasts."

Madeline Miller has an amazing skill in crafting prose that breathes life -in all its richness and complexity - into this novel. She relates in compelling detail the varied adventures Circe had, as well as the encounters she had with a number of the gods and mortals (including Odysseus with whom Circe would eventually enter into an intimate relationship) who ventured to her island. There were also some unexpected surprises that I'll leave to the reader of this review to discover for him/herself. (No spoilers here.)

This is a novel that once read you'll want to read again. IT IS AMAZING.

A PILOT'S LIFE IN WAR & PEACE

Hurricane Combat: The Nine Lives of a Fighter Pilot - Kenneth William Mackenzie, Denis Smallwood

Simply put, this is Wing Commander Kenneth William (K.W.) Mackenzie's story of a long, colorful and varied career in aviation in war and peace. 

Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Mackenzie trained as an engineer and learned to fly while still in his teens. Subsequently, he joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR) in the late 1930s, received rigorous training in the Royal Air Force itself and was posted to 501 Squadron in the later stages of the Battle of Britain in September 1940, flying the Hawker Hurricane, which he came to love "for its ruggedness, stability and relatively light controls with viceless flying characteristics. It could take anything that you could give it and out turn anything flying at the time; well flown, a match for anything." 

Mackenzie writes vividly of his combat experiences with both 501 Squadron and 247 Squadron, where he flew Hurricanes on night fighter operations both over Britain and  Occupied France. He proved to be a daring and resourceful pilot, made ace, and was shot down by flak whilst attacking a small airbase in France on the night of September 29th, 1941. He ended up a prisoner of war for 3 years before being repatriated to Britain. 

Aviation was Mackenzie's life and his book (with photos) amply illustrates how rich a life that was.

RFK & THE PEOPLES' CAMPAIGN OF 1968

The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America - Thurston Clarke

This year marks 50 YEARS since Senator Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY) embarked upon what was, at its outset, a seemingly quixotic quest for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, and ultimately, the Presidency itself. 

From the time Kennedy declared himself a candidate on March 16, 1968 in the Senate Caucus Room (where 8 years earlier, his older brother, Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy of Massachusetts, had declared his candidacy for the Presidency in 1960 - leading to a successful presidential campaign which Robert Kennedy himself had managed), he was resented as an opportunist because he had waited until Senator Eugene McCarthy's (D-MN) surprising second place finish to LBJ in the New Hampshire primary a short time earlier to throw his hat in the ring. 

For the first two weeks of the campaign, Kennedy's main focus was highlighting the retreat of the Johnson Administration from some of its Great Society programs and the disastrous Vietnam policy - with his urging that the war be ended, leaving the South Vietnamese themselves to secure their sovereignty. Then LBJ announced at month's end that he wouldn't run for an additional term as President. That compelled Kennedy to change the impetus of his campaign, laying renewed emphasis on dealing with issues of poverty, civil rights, Native American and Chicano rights. 

Clarke does an excellent job of showing how the campaign unfolded with Kennedy boldly campaigning in both the Indiana and Nebraska primaries in the aftermath of Dr. King's assassination. Both states had strong Republican bases, which JFK had failed to carry in 1960. Though at heart a shy and sensitive person, Kennedy made it a point throughout his campaign of being direct, honest and among the people whom he wanted to vote for him. Many times, he would be mobbed by his supporters who came to see Kennedy as a politician who would do what he said he would do to address their needs and concerns. He was the one politician in that campaign who came to bridge the gap between Black and white, rich and poor, young and old.

The climax of the campaign for Robert Kennedy would be the California primary of June 4, 1968. Before focusing his efforts on California, Robert Kennedy had journeyed to Columbus, OH, to speak with members of the uncommitted Ohio delegation. Kenny O’Donnell [who had been Kennedy's roommate at Harvard and later worked as a close aide to President Kennedy] helped to organize this meeting, stressing to Kennedy NOT to be late. Well, Kennedy ended up mixing with supporters on the streets of Columbus and ended up 3 hours late. It didn’t look good when Kennedy belatedly arrived in that hotel. “He walked into a room filled with angry, sullen, and inebriated delegates, and saved himself by delivering what O’Donnell called ‘the best damn speech I have ever heard in my life.’ “

“O’Donnell was ecstatic, saying later, ‘He knew just what they wanted to hear and acted as if he loved being there…. He just handled himself beautifully. He was his brother. It was fantastic. The women just went ga-ga over him. They were unanimous – all the old pros were taken aback by how much they liked him. This was not the Bob Kennedy they had read about. This was not the ruthless arrogant young fellow. All they kept saying was, ‘He’s just like Jack! He’s just like Jack!’ I knew he could go all the way, then. Once he had California in his pocket, he would have Daley and all the pros were going to love him. I was never worried about the general election.”

Then tragedy ensued. 


I have long admired both President Kennedy and Robert Kennedy for their service and devotion to humanity and their promotion of public service as an agency for improving peoples' lives. To Thurston Clarke I am grateful for giving me a tangible sense of what the 1968 campaign was like, as well as access to the accounts of various personalities who played key and unsung roles in that campaign. For though I was alive in 1968, I was much too young to have any memories of that year's historical events.

 

For anyone reading this review who finds him/herself wanting to know more about Robert Kennedy, I recommend the following 2 books ~

i) ROBERT KENNEDY: His Life by Evan Thomas
ii) BOBBY KENNEDY: The Making of a Liberal Icon by Larry Tye

SOLDIERING IN THE BRITISH RAJ IN THE EDWARDIAN ERA

Old Soldier Sahib - Frank Richards

"OLD SOLDIER SAHIB" was written by Frank Richards as a follow-up to his widely acclaimed First World War memoir "Old Soldiers Never Die."

Richards shares with the reader some aspects of his early life leading up to his enlistment in the British Army in 1901 during the waning days of the Boer War. It is fascinating to see through his eyes a glimpse of how life in Britain was for a working class person at that time, as well as gain an understanding of how the Army trained soldiers and carried out its regular functions. 

After a year of home service, Richards' unit is shipped to India, where he shares with the reader much of what he did and experienced there. This, for me, was perhaps the best part of the memoir because, as someone who visited India in February 2003, I savored the opportunity to see British India through Richards' eyes. One example from Richards' time in India that made me chuckle was the following: 

"A man in my tent at Meerut had bought a very clever little monkey and dressed him up with little striped trousers, red coat and a pill-box on the side of his head. He gave him a little wooden musket too and trained him at the word of command to go through all the arms-drill that a soldier was taught. He had a small collar around his neck, to which was attached a long thin chain. During the day he was tied up with this chain to a large tent-peg outside the tent; on cold nights he slept at the foot of his master's bed. The man badly wanted to see what effect a drop of beer would have on his pet, so one day he brought about a pint and half of beer in a basin from Canteen and held it for him to have a drink. The monkey took a good drink and the way he smacked his lips afterwards made some of us who were looking on think that it was not the first occasion that he had tasted beer. By the time had drained the basin dry he was helplessly drunk. He staggered towards the tent-peg to lean his arms on it, which was usual custom when resting during the day; but he must have been seeing a dozen pegs, because each time that he put on his arms to lean on it he was still two or three feet away. After falling down half a dozen times, he gave it up and the last time he fell he went to sleep. He now took the habit of accompanying his master to the Canteen every evening; after he performed a few tricks he would go along from table to table, holding out a little tin mug for a drop of beer to be put in it. Night after night he got gloriously drunk, and after he had been with us twelve months his master awoke one morning to find him dead at the foot of his bed. All the boozers were convinced that he had drunk himself to death, which in their opinion was the most noble and happy end to which either man or monkey could come."

Eventually, Richards' unit was transferred to Burma, where he served out the remainder of his Army service. Then he returned to Britain (1909), where he was put into reserve status. A status he maintained until August 1914. 

For anyone keen to experience a way of life long past from someone who lived it, "Old Soldier Sahib" is the book to read.
 

A NOVEL THAT READS LIKE A PATCHWORK PLAY

Everyone Brave Is Forgiven - Chris Cleave

"EVERYONE BRAVE IS FORGIVEN" offers the reader a broad look into the lives of 4 people between September 1939 and June 1942. First there's Alistair Heath and his friend Tom Shaw. Both of them were sharing a place in London at the time war was declared. Alistair promptly enlisted in the Army while Tom (who didn't share Alistair's keenness to join the Forces and felt that the war would soon resolve itself) continued in his job in the education department. Then there's Mary North and her childhood friend Hilda. Mary - who hails from an affluent background with a father a Member of Parliament - returned to the UK from finishing school in Switzerland, set on finding a job that would put her in the heart of the war effort. She ends up being placed in a school to teach a number of pupils, one of whom is an illiterate African American boy named Zachary (whose father came over to the UK to work as an entertainer in a minstrel show). It proves to be a short-lived job as Mary's class is relocated to the countryside without her. Mary goes to see Tom - who has some pull in the system - to see if she can be placed in another teaching position. 

In the meantime, Alistair proceeds with his training, endures a rigorous, extended outdoor exercise, and is later sent to France with his unit. 

While the writing is generally good, the story of these 4 people as the war went on, didn't really gell with me. Mary seemed rather flippant, though she had a certain, at times admirable forthrightness. Once she got it in her mind that she was in love with Tom, she went after him. Tom comes across as the self-effacing, tight-lipped Englishman. Alistair's unit got caught up in the chaos of the German Blitzkrieg across Western Europe in the spring of 1940 and barely manages to escape to Britain via Dunkirk. He returns as a shell-shocked officer. For him, the war has already changed his outlook in many ways. He and Tom get together and Tom coaxes him into going out on a date with him and Mary and Hilda. Hilda sees the war as a great adventure and is eager to find a man who suits her fancy. Alistair seems to fit the bill. But the date was rather odd. I won't spell out the particulars of it. But shortly afterwards, Alistair's unit is posted overseas and the relationships among the 4 people become strange and rather convoluted. 

This novel is not a keeper.

HOLDING UP THE SKY AMID STORMS & SHELLS

Jagdgeschwader 1 ‘Oesau’ Aces 1939-45 (Aircraft of the Aces) - Robert Forsyth, Jim Laurier

This book provides a concise and yet expansive history of one of the Luftwaffe's most active fighter units in the Second World War: Jagdgeschwader 1 (JG 1). The unit came into being in 1939 as a result of a reorganization within the Luftwaffe. Upon the outbreak of war in September of that year, JG 1 played a minimal role in the invasion of Poland. Furthermore, between 1940 and 1942, JG 1 was deployed over Northern Europe and on the Western Front, where it saw action during the Battle of France in May and June of 1940. JG 1's main opponent (following the French defeat) was the Royal Air Force (RAF), which made incursions into its airspace which encompassed the defense of Northern Germany from its bases in Holland. 

By late 1942, with the United States now in the war, JG 1 became increasingly a vital part in the defense of the Reich. The United States Army Air Force (USAAF) was now fully committed with the RAF to the Allied air offensive with its growing numbers of bomber and fighter groups to help destroy Germany's capacity to wage war. 

This book has plenty of first-hand accounts from many of JG 1's pilots, which recount in considerable detail, the struggles these pilots faced in taking on the fleets of USAAF B-17 and B-24 heavy bombers (and their fighter escorts). The reader will shudder while reading these harrowing accounts, tangibly experiencing the fright the JG 1 pilot must have experienced from flying his ME 109 or FW 190 fighter plane into tight formations of enemy bombers, braving the streams of defensive fire directed at them from these formations. 

From 1943 to war's end in May 1945, JG 1 fought a tenacious battle - which expanded to 2 fronts, West and East. As with any book of this magnitude from Osprey, there are plenty of photos and illustrations in "Jagdgeschwader 1 'Oesau' Aces 1939-45" to give greater clarity to what the Second World War was like for the airmen on both sides who fought in it. 

"ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL" - AN ABSOLUTE MUST-READ

Anatomy of a Scandal: The brilliant, must-read novel of 2018 - Sarah Vaughan

From the moment I read the first 2 to 3 pages of "ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL," I knew this would be a novel I wanted to see through to the finish. I was seduced by the writing, which flows seamlessly and is a joy to read. 

Each chapter in "ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL" is told from the vantage point of the main characters: Sophie Whitehouse; James Whitehouse (her husband), an ex-Etonian and Oxfordian (both he and Sophie had met at Oxford, where they were students during the early 1990s), who was "to the manor born" and as an MP (Member of Parliament) and junior government minister is clearly poised for greater things. Besides, he and the Prime Minister - Tom Southern - are both blue bloods and boon companions from Eton and Oxford days. Both are imbued with an overweening sense of entitlement and privilege that gives them the sense that they can get away with just about anything. Besides, James is supremely self-confident, has an unerring knack for ingratiating himself with just about anybody, and has a handsomeness that even in middle age continues to draw women into his orbit. Then there is the barrister Kate Woodcroft, QC (Queen's Counsel), who has been appointed to prosecute James when he is accused of rape by a young woman who had worked for him as a researcher. 

A large portion of the novel is taken up with the trial. It is a high-profile trial which forces Sophie (who had given up her career upon marrying James and had contented herself with being the ideal political wife and mother of their 2 young children) to reassess both her marriage and her understanding of her husband, as well as her loyalty to him. Kate, too, is deeply impacted by the trial, which she is determined to win. Old ghosts from Kate's past are resurrected. And there are links between the present-day and Oxford from the 1990s that reveal interesting and unexpected connections among the main characters. 

Surprises and twists abound in "ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL" that will keep the reader wanting to know more. This is a novel that won't be soon forgotten by anyone who reads it. It is that GOOD.
 

JFK & RFK - AMERICA'S DYNAMIC DUO

The Kennedy Brothers: The Rise and Fall of Jack and Bobby - Richard D. Mahoney, David Talbot

"THE KENNEDY BROTHERS: The Rise and Fall of Jack and Bobby" offers the reader various views and perspectives on the evolution of the relationship between John F. Kennedy and his younger brother Robert between 1951 and 1963. At the same time, it also provides, in a large sense, a living history of the Kennedy Administration; the challenges, setbacks and triumphs it experienced; and the roles Robert Kennedy played in that history as Attorney General (e.g. his relentless fight against organized crime and his moral support for the cause of civil rights) and enforcer and protector of his brother, the President. 

Then we also experience the inner struggles and agonies Robert Kennedy endured after his brother was assassinated in Dallas in November 1963. After years of supporting JFK through his various political campaigns and in the White House, he was faced with having to find his own voice and place. In the process, Robert Kennedy's humaneness and compassion for the poor and disenfranchised - coupled with his fearlessness and the spirit of his character - came to define him in the eyes of millions of Americans as he went on to win election to the U.S. Senate from New York in 1964 and embarked on the path that led him to his last crusade, his run for the Presidency in 1968. 

In the words of the author: "... the Kennedys, with all their romance and irony, finally unite in an aesthetic comparable to the Greeks that they read about and quoted: they were daring and they were doomed, and they knew it and accepted it. They would die and make their deaths into creative acts of history. They would be heroes. And they would give their country an imperishable poignancy in its heart."

SCANDAL IN WASHINGTON DC (1923)

Our Man In Washington - Roy Hoopes

"OUR MAN IN WASHINGTON" is one of those novels that blends reality with fiction so well that the reader won't be altogether sure of up from down, much less left from right. 

The story begins in Baltimore, Maryland during the spring of 1923. James M. Cain, a journalist and aspiring writer (who had done some work for the Baltimore Sun on labor issues), makes the acquaintance of the famous journalist, satirist, and cultural critic H.L. Mencken. Cain is hoping to get a job working for Mencken, who is rumored to be at work in creating a national journal that would bring together several of the nation's finest writers to contribute stories emblematic of the country's cultural values and lifestyles. Both men decide to collaborate on a book that would lay bare the rumors of scandal and corruption in the Harding Administration (i.e. graft, bootlegging, sex, and murder). 

In the process, Cain and Mencken spend the whole of the spring and most of the summer of 1923 investigating leads both in Washington and Baltimore, as well as becoming acquainted with some of the principal characters in, near or out of government who would later go down in infamy as the truth began to emerge about some of the scandals associated with the Harding White House. Both men also are able to have arranged for them separate off-the-record interviews with both President Harding and his wife (aka 'The Duchess'). 

There is a lot more to "OUR MAN IN WASHINGTON" than being both a thriller and a mystery novel. There is passion, subterfuge, and in Gaston B. Means, a real-life shady private-eye/fraudster/thief/confidence man who made this book even more compelling. And I must admit that the book's cover art captures perfectly the spirit and essence of early 1920s America with images of Warren G. Harding, Mencken, Nan Britton (President Harding's mistress who is said to have borne his daughter), Teapot Dome, and the presidential seal --- with the front page of the Sunday, May 7, 1922 issue of The Washington Post serving as backdrop. Anyone who enjoys a political thriller with the elements of a mystery novel will enjoy reading this book.
 

WHAT "WE" ACCOMPLISHED

We by Charles A. Lindbergh - Charles A Lindbergh, Sam Sloan, Fitzhugh Green Sr., Myron T. Herrick
I wonder how many people knew that Charles Lindbergh had written a book in 1927 shortly after he accomplished the remarkable feat of flying solo from New York to Paris? Until about a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea that "WE" existed. "WE" in the title was Lindbergh's way of referring to himself and the airplane ('The Spirit of St. Louis') that carried him across the ocean to Paris. He considered what he achieved in that flight not a singular accomplishment for him alone, but also for the plane. 

Most of the book is taken up with Lindbergh telling his life story, his brief time as a student of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin, his initial training as a pilot in a flight school in Nebraska in 1922, his experiences barnstorming in the South and Midwest, his subsequent acceptance into the U.S. Army Air Service as an aviation cadet in 1924, his successful completion of his military training the following year (Lindbergh was made a reserve officer), followed by his service as an air mail pilot --- all of which led up to his undertaking the quest to carry out a transatlantic flight. A quest (as represented by the award of the $25,000 Orteig Prize for any aviator who succeeded in flying across the Atlantic) that had already been taken up by many of the world's renowned aviators --- without success. Many died in the attempt. 

The remainder of the book goes on to describe the reception Lindbergh received across Europe and the U.S. in May and June of 1927 after his record flight. 

I enjoyed reading this book so much. While there are aspects of Charles Lindbergh --- later manifested in his life when he became a controversial political voice with the America First isolationist movement pre-Pearl Harbor --- that I do not like, his achievements in aviation are AMAZING.