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text 2017-06-27 04:14
BL-opoly - #24 - Take the Jungle Cruise!
A Goddess in the Stones: Travels in India - Norman Lewis

Several months ago, Open Road Media was offering hundreds of free Kindle books.  I went on a rampage, acquiring about 400 titles over a space of two or three days.

 

I've never heard of Norman Lewis, but I do like learning about new places, so I downloaded this title, amongst all those others.  Last week-end I selected  A Goddess in the Stones: Travels in India to fulfill the Take the Jungle Cruise. #24 space on Booklikes-opoly.

 

I'm about 15% into the book, which was written in the 1990s.  So far, it's making me a bit uncomfortable.  I get a distinct colonial feel about it, about Lewis's perspective, but we'll see how it goes.

 

 

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text 2017-06-26 20:45
Reading progress update: I've read 73 out of 383 pages.
All the President's Men - Carl Bernstein,Bob Woodward

I'm reading this concurrently with John Dean's Blind Ambition, in which I've just reached th point of the Watergate break-in and how Dean, as White House counsel, reacted to it.

 

In both books, I'm reading the original publication, old paperbacks that don't have any benefit of later editing or updates.  (I do have a Kindle edition of Blind Ambition, with updates, but I'm not reading it. . . yet.)

 

All the President's Men is not as easy to read as I had anticipated, because it's written in a single third person point of view, so it's Woodward this or Bernstein that, rather than we, I, etc.  Sometimes I have difficulty keeping them distinct.

 

But what's truly fascinating is how much these two reporters learned and how quickly they learned it from their own investigation, making their own contacts, making blind phone calls.  It's interesting to speculate how much different the task would have been with today's technology.  On the other hand, they were able to pick up a phone and call the White House and be put through directly to high level people like Bob Haldeman without any trouble.

 

 

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text 2017-06-17 16:35
BL-opoly - Free Friday #1 -- All the President's Men
All the President's Men - Carl Bernstein,Bob Woodward

I've had this one sitting on the family room bookcase for I don't know how long.  Even though I know the "story" -- I remember when it all happened -- I've never read the book, or seen the movie.

 

I had another book picked out last night for the Free Friday event, but The Crafstman proved to be one of those books I need to read with a pad of little Post-its to mark the important passages.  Sociology, arts and crafts, and political theory are not the stuff for relaxing week-end reading!

 

But there sat the Bernstein and Woodward book, and with the anniversary of the Watergate break-in being this week, I thought I'd go in a different direction.  I only read 30 pages before I started falling asleep, but I was seriously hooked.  The projects planned for this week-end while the BF is out of town may get shoved aside in favor of reading. It's going to be too hot to do anything outside. . . .

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review 2017-06-10 20:38
Reading progress update: I've read 382 out of 382 pages.
The Tunnels: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall-and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill - Greg Mitchell

Disclosure: I do not personally know the author, Greg Mitchell, but I do follow him on Twitter and have had a very few direct exchanges with him.  Through one of those, I won a copy of this book.  So this was a free copy, but not in any way connected to my reviewing it.  I'm not sure Mr. Mitchell is even aware that I occasionally review books at all.

I have read two of his previous books, Hiroshima in America: A Half-Century of Denial, written with Robert Jay Lifton, and Atomic Cover-up: Two Soldiers, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, and the Greatest Movie Never Made.

The Berlin Wall went up a couple months before I turned thirteen, just before I entered the eighth grade.  I remember the event dominating the news.  Much of my mother's family was German, and from an area that was then in East Germany, so there was a personal, if distant, connection.  We watched the news on television every night, and the fifteen-minute broadcast at noon on the local Chicago station.  And my parents subscribed to the major pictorial news magazines, Life and Look, which often featured articles about Germany and Berlin, especially after the Wall.  I knew about the death of young Peter Fechter, killed trying to escape.

Somewhere in my consciousness all these years was probably a memory, too, of reports of successful escapes, including through tunnels, but it wasn't a memory I could easily call up.  Therefore I went into the reading of The Tunnels with only the most essential, but essentially superficial, background information.

The opening chapters of Mitchell's book expand on that background as well as introduce the main characters – the diggers and the refugees.  But as the story proceeds, others emerge on the stage – reporters, informants, politicians.  The narrative acquires a context beyond the tunnel, beyond the Wall, beyond Berlin.

Without that context, this is a thrilling escape adventure.  With that context, this becomes a powerful commentary on the human spirit in its greatest and weakest moments.

During that summer of 1962, when a small group of young men began the tunnel under Bernauerstrasse, international events were heading on a collision course that seemingly had no connection to the dirt and mud and risks.  

An NBC news crew had quietly, almost secretly, filmed some of the construction of this tunnel, intending to present the result as a documentary for U.S. television.  There was, however, opposition from the government, and by the time the program was scheduled to air in the fall of 1962, political tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union were escalating over the deployment of missiles in Cuba.  Though there were American forces in West Germany, and even in Berlin – an isolated city surrounded by Soviet-controlled East Germany – Cuba was closer to the U.S. mainland by thousands of miles.  And there were those in the administration of John F. Kennedy who were willing to write off Berlin -- in the form of a nuclear war -- in exchange for keeping those missiles out of Cuba.

The governmental machinations exposed in The Tunnels are not pretty.  They're a stark contrast to JFK's Ich bin ein Berliner speech of the following June, delivered to 450,000 cheering, adoring Germans.

There is much in The Tunnels that applies to our current international political scene.  The book was published in October 2016, on the eve of, well, you know what.  And the final pages reference walls in general and in particular.  One passage, however, may be more poignant than all the rest.

Under Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany remains one of America's close allies but its citizens, according to opinion polls, harbor deep ambivalence about the United States.  To a significant extent, the country is still divided politically, with a surprising level of anti-democratic feeling (and opposition to new immigrants) in the former East and plenty of left-wing sentiment in the old West.  Peter Schneider, a well-known German journalist and author (one of his books is The Wall Jumper) told a New Yorker writer that Americans in the Cold War era "created a model of a savior, ad now we find by looking at you that you are not perfect at all – much less, you are actually corrupt, you are terrible businessmen, you have no ideals anymore."

Angela Merkel, who was born in East Germany, is now sometimes referred to as the leader of the free world, a title formerly claimed by the president of the United States.

The 90-minute documentary produced by NBC and aired in December 1962 went on to win three Emmy awards in May 1963, including Program of the Year, the first documentary to do so.  The Tunnel is available online.  I watched it just after finishing the book; it is well worth your time.

There are many worthwhile quotes in this book, in addition to the passage I reproduced above, that remain as relevant to 2017 as to 1962.  After The Tunnel finally reached American audiences and was deemed "nothing short of a triumph" based on both reviews and ratings,

[Producer Reuven Frank] was troubled that he still didn't understand exactly why the Kennedy administration had fought [the film] with such vehemence.  Frank realized, not for the first time but now most profoundly, how painfully vulnerable to pressure the America media remained when it came to the reporting of sensitive issues.  "Anyone with half a brain," as he once put it, "can make it impossible," or nearly so.

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text 2017-06-07 19:40
Reading progress update: I've read 34 out of 320 pages.
The Tunnels: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall-and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill - Greg Mitchell

The Berlin Wall went up quickly, overnight on 13 August 1961.  At first it was mostly barbed wire with some concrete, and for the first several months it remained relatively porous, easy to slip through at various points.  But as the barrier was fortified, those who wanted to escape to the West had a more difficult time doing it. 

 

Though Berlin was a divided city inside a divided country, travel between the sectors had been relatively free until that August.  That freedom, however, had allowed thousands of East Berliners to permanently leave for the western sector, and many of them were skilled professionals.  Not only was the cold war heating up, but the space race and technology competition were ramping up, too, and the eastern bloc couldn't afford to keep losing its best and brightest.

 

Some of those best and brightest went to work on tunneling to get their families and friends and even paying "passengers" under the Wall.

 

One of the most fascinating features of this book is that Mitchell had so much access to first-hand source information.  As he writes in the prefatory "Note to Readers,"

 

It incorporates no invented dialogue.  Re-created scenes are not imagined but based in most cases on accounts of two or more participants.  Unless otherwise attributed, anything between quotation marks is either actual dialogue (as recalled by a witness, often in an interview with the author) or from a memoir or other book, letter, oral history, court record, interrogation, White House transcript, or other document cited in the Notes. . . . All of the names are real. . . . [N]early all of the central events and episodes in this narrative (and surely the most exciting sections) are based on lengthy original interviews with nearly all of the key tunnelers, and several of the couriers and escapees. . . .

 

Yes, I'm only 10% in, but I already highly, highly recommend this book as a testament to the indomitable human spirit.  Goodness knows we need it these days!

 

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