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review 2018-06-17 06:37
A WHITE HOUSE DINNER FOR THE AGES
Dinner in Camelot: The Night America's Greatest Scientists, Writers, and Scholars Partied at the Kennedy White House - Joseph A. Esposito

Prior to reading "DINNER IN CAMELOT: The Night America's Greatest Scientists, Writers, and Scholars Partied at the Kennedy White House", the most I knew of this most unique dinner which took place on the evening of Sunday, April 29, 1962 was from a now famous statement President Kennedy made there. It is as follows: "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House - with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." One of my high school U.S. history teachers first made me aware of that quote, which left a deep impression that hasn't left me after almost 40 years. 

Joseph A. Esposito has taken considerable care in reconstructing for the reader what that White House dinner was like - down to the various personalities (e.g. Linus & Ava Helen Pauling; Dr. Ralph Bunche, the first African American recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the UN in negotiating the 1949 armistice between Israel and the Arab States; J. Robert Oppenheimer - the father of the atomic bomb - for whom this dinner marked the beginning of his political rehabilitation after having had his security clearance stripped away from him in 1954; the poet Robert Frost; the widow of Nobel laureate Ernest Hemingway; the literary personages Mr. and Mrs. Lionel & Diana Trilling; Pearl Buck; William & Rose Styron - who later became close friends of the Kennedys; the writer and social critic James Baldwin; and the astronaut John Glenn) in attendance. 

The book also has the complete seating plan for the dinner, which took place in the State Dining Room (where President Kennedy presided at the lead table, # 7) and the Blue Room (where the First Lady, Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy, sat at the lead table, # 17) - in addition to several photographs that were taken at the dinner itself. They help to recapture, in a large sense, an America that was sure of itself and its place in the world despite the perils and challenges of the time, and the essence of a President and First Lady who encouraged a flowering of the arts and sciences among all Americans - as well as inspiring people to be and do better for themselves and humanity. 

I absolutely enjoyed reading "DINNER IN CAMELOT" which I think will serve in years to come as the main source for anyone wanting to know more about this unique and seminal event in 20th century U.S. history. It may also remind the reader that it is possible for the U.S. to extricate itself from the polarization and toxic national politics that bedevils us in the present time. For we live in a nation that has had many ups and downs since its inception in 1789 - and managed to, at various times, to embrace "the better angels" of its spirit and character.

 

Let "DINNER IN CAMELOT" remind the reader that We the People can work together anew to make a better nation for ourselves and future generations through encouraging a renewed appreciation for the arts and sciences.

 

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review 2018-06-17 00:27
One command's struggles against the U-boats
Bayly’s War: The Battle for the Western Approaches in the First World War - Steve R. Dunn

Over the past few years Steve Dunn has carved out a niche for himself writing books about various aspects of the First World War at sea that have often be overshadowed by its more dramatic personage and battles. His latest book is an account of the Western Approaches (the waters off of the south of Ireland) centered around the effective, no-nonsense figure of Admiral Lewis Bayly. When he assumed position of Senior Officer of the Coast of Ireland station in 1915, he took over a command that was struggling in the war against the U-boats. Like the rest of the Royal Navy it officers and men were working out how to respond to the deployment of this new weapon of war, a task made more difficult by the shortage of appropriate ships and the competing demands made on the available resources by the demands of war. As a result, sailors went to sea aboard inadequate vessels and pursued ineffective tactics such as trawling the Irish Sea in the (usually vain) hope that they might entangle German submersibles or force them to exhaust their batteries.

 

Upon taking command in Queenstown Bayly brought a renewed determination to the station. Focusing on the war, he set the tone for his men by curbing the social activities and customs that had endured from the prewar era. With the aid of new ships and more men he carried out his orders vigorously, protecting merchant shipping and hunted down U-boats by any means possible. In this his command received a boost in the summer of 1917 with the arrival of the first warships of the United States Navy. This proved Bayly’s finest hour as commander of the station, as he established harmonious relations with American officers as they worked to protect the vessels transporting the doughboys to the front. The esteem in which they held him was reflected after the war with their efforts to support and honor Bayly in his retirement.

 

Dunn’s book provides readers with a succinct and effective description of the war off of the Irish coast. Though he concentrates on Bayly, he does not do so to the detriment of his coverage of the many men who fought and sacrificed in their battles with the U-boats. While this comes at the cost of a degree of repetitiveness in his accounts of U-boat attacks and the efforts to sink them, it is a minor issue with what is otherwise a worthy study of a part of the war covered only in passing in larger accounts of the naval history of the First World War.

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review 2018-06-14 09:23
Ecstasy
Ecstasy: A Novel of Alma Mahler - Mary Sharratt

by Mary Sharratt

 

Near the turn of the 19th century, Alma Schindler yearns to make her mark as a composer. Female composers are unknown at the time, though new possibilities for women are opening up. She marries Gustav Mahler, who insists she give up her music as a condition of their marriage.

 

I liked the writing voice on this one right away. Alma had such enthusiasm that I wanted to see her achieve her dream from the start. The story takes us through her life as a young girl, her first love and her relationship with her various family members, but especially with her music.

 

It's not all upbeat though. Alma sacrifices a lot for her marriage and it's inevitable that she will question her decisions as time goes on. Mahler himself is a challenge to deal with and it was an era when women were expected to suppress their own needs and be supportive of a husband. Alma is a naturally passionate and creative person and this state of affairs can only clash with her natural inclinations.

 

I enjoyed reading this, despite the unhappy parts. The narrative kept my attention, even if at times I wanted to shake Alma and tell her she was making some bad decisions.

 

The historical note at the end was as interesting as the story itself. Alma was a woman ahead of her time, though her unfaithfulness in her marriages would bring a lot of criticism. She weathered some difficult times and gave her love to some of the top composers of her time. Some of her own compositions can be found on YouTube and I couldn't resist having a listen after reading this story. I found her 5 Lieder for voice and piano pretty amazing and can only imagine that if her music had been supported earlier in her life that she might have been recognised in history as one of the great composers herself, rather than just a shadow of her husband's accomplishments.

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review 2018-06-14 02:04
Know Your Bill of Rights
The Know Your Bill of Rights Book: Don't Lose Your Constitutional Rights--Learn Them! - Sean Patrick

This was a fantastic addition to our history class. It gave background on why the framers were interested in putting so many things into the Bill of Rights and making sure that if they forgot something it would be covered. It was a great read and good info for any wanting to know more. 

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review 2018-06-13 01:23
Harry Potter - A Journey Through A Histo... Harry Potter - A Journey Through A History of Magic - LIBRARY BRITISH
For more reviews, check out my blog: Craft-Cycle

This is a gorgeous book!

I am always hesitant about buying Harry Potter books outside of the ones J.K.Rowling actually wrote. When I was a kid, I collected everything HP, but as an adult, I've become more picky (probably because I have to spend my own money now). There are just too many Harry Potter-related books to possibly have all of them.

I saw this at my local library and was interested. After reading three pages, I immediately ordered my own copy. 

It is a beautiful book. The book shows various items featured in the British Library exhibition, "Harry Potter: A History of Magic". While I wish I could visit the actual exhibition, this is the next best thing.

The book includes artwork from the new illustrated editions of the first three books by Jim Kay, various historical items related to witchcraft on display, original drafts of part of the HP books handwritten or typed by J.K.Rowling, and much much more.

This is a great edition to any HP fans library.

While there are tons of amazing pictures in this book, I wouldn't recommend it for kids because it is so long and text-heavy. I think it is more appropriate for pre-teens and beyond. There are a few fun experiments and activities included, which may appeal to children, but I think it is a bit lengthy for them to enjoy as a whole.  

Amazing book. It is so fascinating and beautiful and splendid. Truly spell-binding. I loved it. 
 
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