Saturday, April 25, 2009

My Private War- Liberated Body, Captive Mind by Norman Bussel

This is a combat veteran’s account of his experiences as a gunner flying B-17’s over Europe in WWII. The fact that he is Jewish only adds to it’s allure. Quite simply put, this is one of the most engaging and personable war related memoirs I have ever read.

It is 2 stories- the first being the typical account of a 17 year old from Memphis going off to war and his experiences in bootcamp and flight training and then into the European Theater, flying B-17's out of England.

Short on braggadocio and long on personality, this book hooks you with stories of his friends and wartime buddies. You'll meet "Red" a guy who could find anything, anywhere. And "Old Joe" the German guard who time and again befreinds Mr. Bussel and his fellow captives. From his shootdown over Berlin in 1944 and beyond into captivity you will laugh with mirth and winch in pain as the story unfolds.

Almost lynched by farmers, saved by his enemies, tormented by his captors and liberated by his comrades, this book is fast paced and alive with an energy all it's own. No subject is off limits in this witty memoir of a life turned upside down by the ravages of war and imprisonment beyond the gates of the prison itself.

The second story is one of repressed memories and a struggle against anti-semitism, alcoholism, and Post Traumatic Stress before the phrase was coined.

Stunningly honest in his assessment of his own lifes problems and drawing parallels with the Post Traumatic Stress Disorders of the present day, this book is more than a mere memoir. It is a valuable insight and learning tool into a subject that is still much misunderstood.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

American Lightning by Howard Blum

What do you get when you put William Burns, Clarence Darrow and D.W.Griffith together in one book that links them all? One of the greatest true detective stories ever written.

The sheer scope of this book- from the explosion by anarchists at the LA Times in October 1910 to the Union battles of Chicago and the discovery of a nation wide plot by the Unions to destroy Capitalism, to the nascent film studios of D.W. Griffith in NY City and then back to Los Angeles for a sensational trial this book never stops giving the reader one surprise after another.

Add to this the battle for water rights in LA and the surrounding county (the underlying true story behind the Jack Nicholson movie “Chinatown”) and throw in some Mary Pickford and you have a book that can’t be put down.

Mr. Blum doesn’t confine himself to just the story- as if that wouldn’t be enough- he delves into the lives of the participants in detail- showing the how and why of the actions undertaken by each in this intricately told tale of domestic terrorism long before 9/11.

Of special interest to fans of the Scopes Monkey Trial and Clarence Darrow will be the
motivations that led one of the greatest legal minds of his day to commit bribery and suborn perjury in his quest to seek justice.

This book reads like a Robert Ludlum spy thriller- just when you think you’ve got it- you get another surprise.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Red Mutiny- Eleven Fateful Days on the Battleship Potemkin by Neal Bascomb

One book leads to another and reading this book was the direct result of reading Boris Gindins “Mutiny- the Real Life Events that inspired the Hunt for Red October”.

This book marks the first time that the subject of the 1905 mutiny aboard Potemkin has been written about utilizing the manuscripts of the various participants of the mutiny as well as declassified Russian Naval records. As a result of this plethora of information we now have the only full account of the events as they unfolded in the Black Sea over 100 years ago.

Beginning with the moldy bread and maggot infested meat, this book takes off like a shot and keeps on coming! The crew is divided at first- and the First Officer has his hands full trying to keep the crew together as Tsar Nicholas II begins the hunt to capture or destroy the Potemkin. The ship anchors at Odessa where they hope to inspire a Revolution ashore and then take the entire fleet.

The Russian fleet tracks and pursues the Potemkin but twice the ship slips away. The unwillingness of the crews on the pursuing vessels to fire on their own comrades thwarts the Russian Tsar in his efforts to regain his prized warship and results in a mutiny on a second ship as well. At the same time- the unwillingness of the Potemkin crew to shell the city of Odessa as threatened, reduces the mutiny to a cat and mouse chase across the Black Sea to Romania, where ultimately the crew slips ashore and the Potemkin is returned to the Tsar.

Mr. Bascomb has taken a myriad of information and distilled it into a compelling read.

Mutiny by Boris Gindin with David Hagberg

This is the story of the real life events that inspired Tom Clancy’s “Hunt for Red October”. The only difference is that there is no submarine.

A Jew raised in the Soviet Union of the 1960’s had very little to look forward to in the way of career choices. Boris Gindin was an exception. His grades in school along with his mechanical abilities and the intervention of an interested teacher helped secure him a slot at the Naval Academy. From there Mr. Yeltsin embarks upon his naval career landing the coveted position as Chief Engineering Officer aboard the Russian FFG (Guided Missle Frigate) Storozhevoy.

The ship’s Zampolit (political officer) has some misgivings about the direction that Russia has taken in respects to the Cold War. The US and Soviet Union were heading toward a thermonuclear confrontation. The crew, composed of mainly young, apolitical men taken from the countryside and conscripted into service, wants no part of it. These misgivings soon boil over into the perceived failures of the Russian Revolution and the Zampolit hatches a plot to take the ship and broadcast his opinions to the world, using the ship as a stage.

When the mutiny finally does happen in the harbor at Riga it splits the officers as well as the men- with Mr. Gindin- despite his ill treatment as a Russian Jew- opting to do the duties he was assigned and in a gripping account recalls how the non mutinous officers were herded below and imprisoned along with the Captain.

Meantime the Soviet government is rushing to destroy the ship while Mr. Gindin, knowing every inch of the Storozhevoy, is able to escape the confinement and the ship is retaken.

If this seems an oversimplified version of the events it is by design. The tension that Mr. Gindin creates throughout the book and the insights he provides into life in the Soviet Union at the time are too complex to detail here- this is a book that simply must be read
in order to capture the real intensity and scope of the mutiny.

This book will lead you to see the analogies in the 1905 Mutiny aboard the Russian ship Potemkin. The reasons, aims and desires of that crew were the same as the Storozhevoy. But that is the next book….

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Brother Gardeners by Andrea Wulf

I originally meant to alert a friend about this book and ended up being completely surprised by the scope of the book and it's rapt attention to history, which is my first love.

Prior to the dawn of the 18th Century and into the early 1700's scientists were of the notion that plants did not reproduce sexually. They held forth a myriad of scenarios by which plants were replicated.

Thomas Fairchild, a nurseryman in England, could not have disagreed more. Fairchild took it upon himself to cross pollenate a Carnation with a Sweet William and a new species was born.

By 1733 an enterprising cloth merchant in London received 2 cases of plants from the Colonies
and became the first real merchant of garden plants as we know them today. But this was just the beginning.

Ms Wulf traces the the English love of gardening through history- including the Voyages of Discovery by Sir Lord Banks and his journey around the world- only the 2nd Western vessel to round the Horn of Africa and on into the Indian Ocean, all the while gathering more plants and specimens.

Captain Cooks voyages are chronicled, as well as the acquisition by Lord Banks of the famed Linnaeuss collection from Sweden, all in a most readable style and engaging format.

The book is illustrated throughout and contains a superbly cross referenced Glossary for the uninitiated gardener. With an extensive Bibliography this is a book, that while about garening- is about so much more.

I highly reccommend this book for the Amatuer Gardener as well as the Armchair Historian.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Echo From Dealey Plaza

This is one of the most fascinating books I have read about the “Camelot” era in America. It is told by Abraham Bolden, the first African American on the Secret Service, appointed by President Eisenhower in 1959 after having served on the Illinois State Police. He met JFK during the President Elects visit to Chicago-the city where Mr Bolden was assigned by the Secret Service- a chance meeting with the newly elected President, while guarding a washroom on the lower level of McCormick Plaza, led him to be selected as the first African American to serve on the White House Detail.

What he observed- between 1961 and up to 6 months prior to the Presidents assassination in November of 1963 compelled Mr Bolden to approach his superiors with his concerns for the Presidents safety. After being removed from the White House Detail he was given routine counterfeiting cases to work out of Chicago. When the President was killed in Dallas Mr Bolden again approached his superiors. This act propelled Mr Bolden on a journey that took him through the courts for a bribery that never occurred. Convicted on the testimony of gangsters he went to prison and on to an Institution where he was given heavy doses of unspecified drugs and subjected to enormous psychological tortures. Newly married at the time of his ordeal- his faith in his God and family sustained him throughout. He emerges amazingly unscathed spiritually and in response to an e-mail by this author had the following to say-

“What we must come to understand is the unity of all peoples of the world in God's creative justice. We must cultivate the spirit of unity through love of the principles upon which our great Constitution of America was founded. We must come to understand that the reason that the Infinite Creative Consciousness gave us hands was so that we could reach out to one another in brotherhood and compassion and together solve the riddles of life.”

This is an interesting and thought provoking book about the “powers that be” both in the 1960’s as well as now. And the story of one mans faith and how it sustained him through 2 decades of struggle- and prison- here in America.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

SLAVE- My True Story by Mende Nazer
and Damien Lewis

While not, sadly, a novel or unique story, it is very plainly written and answers some of the most basic questions concerning how one remains enslaved. It is almost unimaginable for the average Westerner to even comprehend the political and social conditions necessary for such a system to exist- yet at one time they did exist, right here in America.

Change the century and the ultimate destination of London for that of the antebellum South and you have a story in common with that of thousands of our own African- American citizens and their ancestors.

The simplicity with which Ms Nazer relates her tale only adds to the inhumanity of the injustices inflicted upon her- mentally and physically. She despairs of her lot while never losing complete hope that she will someday be redeemed. Hers is the tale of all oppressed people down through the ages and even to this present day in Ms Nazers native Sudan.

The one feeling that stays with you after reading this book is that only as a people,
acting in a civilized association with one another, and finding some things just outright unacceptable, that upholds our collective freedoms. And this is the final truth of the book, that we are all connected and our fates are connected,and we are all responsible to one another.