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review 2018-07-10 04:25
Educated by Tara Westover
Educated - Tara Westover

What else is there to say? This book made me gasp and cringe and shiver. I kept audibly reacting to this book prompting a lot of discussion with my spouse. Westover's was a truly awful experience, vividly rendered in this memoir.

There is much about this book that may seem unbelievable, but I don't doubt that in essence, its true. Many victims go back to their abusers, again and again. It was shocking to find that Westover is a near contemporary of mine, and while I was hunting Pokemon on my GameBoy Color she was dodging iron. Not to mention the scissors. Oh my God the scissors.

This is a one-sitting book, no question about it. I couldn't put it down and you could not get me to shut up about it.

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review 2018-07-08 12:49
TO LIVE IS TO ENDURE - AND PREVAIL
You Don't Look Your Age: And Other Fairy Tales - Sheila Nevins

Several weeks ago, I happened to see Sheila Nevins speaking about this book on CSPAN's BOOK TV program. I was so taken in with her presentation that I decided to buy "YOU DON'T LOOK YOUR AGE: And Other Fairy Tales" at the earliest opportunity.

In essence, the book is an amalgamation of short stories and poems through which Sheila Nevins shares with the reader "the real-life challenges of being a woman in a man's world; what it means to be a working mother; what it's like to be an older woman in a youth-obsessed culture; the sometimes changing, often sweet truth about marriages; what being a feminist really means; " the need to identify and be wary of 'frenemies' (enemies pretending to be your friend); "and that you're in good company if your adult children don't return your phone calls." 

I fairly breezed my way through this book and - as a middle-aged man - appreciated the insights Sheila Nevins gave me from her own life. 

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review 2018-05-29 14:57
A FRIENDSHIP MADE & LOST IN WAR
The Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War - James McGrath Morris

"THE AMBULANCE DRIVERS: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War" serves as both a dual biography and a story of 2 men who shared an ambition of making themselves the pre-eminent writers of their generation. 

I wish to give credit to James McGrath Morris for writing such an interesting and engaging book. Prior to reading "THE AMBULANCE DRIVERS", I had cursory knowledge about Hemingway and had read one of his short stories during my freshman year in college that I thought at the time was rather good. A testament to the sparse prose that typifies Hemingway's best writing. As for John dos Passos, he was little more than a name I chanced upon over the past 20 years. I had read 2 books of his - the anti-war World War I novel 'Three Soldiers' (originally published in 1921) and a work of non-fiction, 'Mr. Wilson's War: From the Assassination of McKinley to the Defeat of the League of Nations' - both of which I liked, though I much preferred the latter to the former. So, when I came across "THE AMBULANCE DRIVERS" in a local, independent bookstore several weeks ago and read its flyleaf, I was determined to buy it.

Both men, despite their shared literary ambition, could not have been more different. Dos Passos, an only child from a somewhat affluent background, had grown up partly in Europe and partly in the U.S. and spoke several languages fluently.  He was admitted to Harvard at 16 and graduated 4 years later in 1916. Curious about the war in Europe, he made his war to France early in 1917 and later joined the ambulance corps, serving on the Western Front on attachment with the French Army that summer. The experience solidified Dos Passos' impression of war as an absurdity fostered by governments practicing deceit (via propaganda) and a needless waste of lives. 

Hemingway grew up in Oak Park, Illinois (near Chicago), the second of 5 children to a physician father and a mother who had trained as a musician. With America's entry into World War I in 1917, Hemingway, freshly out of high school, was keen to join the fight. But without his parents' consent, it wasn't possible for him to join the U.S. Army. So, for the remainder of the year, Hemingway went to work for The Kansas City Star as a cub reporter. There he honed his writing skills and came to rely on the Star's guide which came to define him later as a writer: "Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative."

Early in 1918, Hemingway responded to a recruitment drive from the Red Cross for ambulance drivers to serve at the Front. He arrived in France in June 1918. It was a critical time in the war with the Germans scarcely 40 miles from Paris and on the move. Hemingway didn't remain in France long. He went to Italy, where he and Dos Passos first became acquainted with each other. It was a brief encounter for both men. Hemingway was soon sent to the Front, where he was wounded in a mortar attack and ended up hospitalized in Italy for several months afterward. Dos Passos had run afoul of the Red Cross authorities for some anti-war remarks he had made in a letter to a friend in Spain that had been confiscated, translated, and read by Dos Passos' superiors. Plus, the draft board in the U.S. was breathing down his neck because Dos Passos had been out of the country at the time he had received a draft notice from the Army in 1917. So, Dos Passos returned to the U.S., was allowed to join the Army, returned with it to France shortly after the Armistice, gained acceptance into a special study program at the Sorbonne - courtesy of the Army, and was honorably discharged late in 1919.

The book, in the main, is about the development and the ups and downs of Hemingway's and Dos Passos' friendship. (The book also gives the reader wide ranging views of the personal lives of both men.) It was a friendship that was, at turns, supportive and fiercely competitive. As Hemingway gained fame from his best-selling novel, 'The Sun Also Rises' (1926) and gradually established his fame and reputation as a writer over the next decade, his friendship with Dos Passos would become fractious and eventually fall apart while both men were in Spain covering the civil war there in 1937. 

I enjoyed reading "THE AMBULANCE DRIVERS" so much and recommend it to anyone wanting to learn about the lives of 2 key figures in 20th century American literature. 

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review 2018-04-16 23:40
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

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text 2018-04-07 05:54
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.
 

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