Archive for the ‘The book on my nightstand’ Category

Since I’m still recovering from my dad’s near-fatal illness – yes caregivers are exhausted after a major bout like this and it gets harder to recover when one gets older – I’ve mostly been reading light mysteries like Carolyn Hart and Joanna Fluke, enjoyable but easy to roll over and go to sleep after reading.

I finally read the Robert Weinberg biography of Louis L’Amour, The Louis L’Amour Companion [Andrews and McNeel, 1992] and what an enjoyable read it was. Some of the smartest people I know think highly of L’Amour but since I’m not a particular Western fan I skipped this book. Did you know L’Amour published a book of poetry before writing Westerns? Although a goodly portion of the book involves relating how specific plots came to be – a subject of which I was ignorant – the overall impression of L’Amour as witty, self-assured, interesting, well-traveled and eminently likable dominates the book.

I read Jonathan Dimbleby’s attention-getting The Palestinians when it first published [Quartet Books, 1979]; it’s full of fascinating pictures by Donald McCullin. I confess I only gave it cursory examination back then but I reread it and found it troubling. The book raises legitimate questions about the continuing impact of a naïve Western world arbitrarily assigning land to the Jews by taking it from Arabs in the Middle East.

What struck me the most about this book was the author’s continued assertion that he was just stating the facts, ma’am and what a lie that was. There is no attempt to balance any arguments that show why the event occurred in the first place, or why the Palestinians and the world don’t obsess over Jordan and other Arab countries that tossed out the Palestinians and no attempt to condemn the terrorism. Indeed he practices a moral equivalency of ‘who can say what is terrorism and what isn’t’ that is exploding all over the world today. Many of my ancestors were Irish and England has sometimes treated them horribly but I condemn the IRA without any qualms. Far from simply showing the Palestinian point of view, Dimbleby does indeed attack the Israeli position and his native Britain. This is reminiscent of the recent PC-USA, which divests from businesses working with Israel in Gaza but claim they only want positive investment with the Palestinians, they don’t want to hurt their Jewish “friends” but then proceed to show the “other side of the debate” by showcasing viciously anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic websites, publications and individuals, e.g., CodePink cofounder Medea Benjamin at their General Assembly. Nor does Dimbleby point out that the Palestinians believe it is their religious duty to destroy any and all Jews, nothing to do with Israel as a political state but that they are non-Muslims.

I must now point out that Dimbleby at the time was a journalist for the BBC, which is possibly the most notorious anti-Israel, anti-Semitic and pro-Palestinian news source in the West. How much of an impact did journalists like Dimbleby have on shaping that bias? This is roughly the same timeframe when British actress Vanessa Redgrave, of the superstar Redgrave family, came out in support of the terrorist PLO and Yasser Arafat; who can forget the seductive dance she did at a PLO campfire while she waved a rifle above her head? What was the impact on public opinion and British journalism by this union of the popular media and celebrity? Oh at the time Redgrave said she wasn’t turning against her Jewish “friends” she was simply attempting to show the other side.

Maybe I just had a bad taste in my mouth from the Dimbleby book when I read The Liberator by Alex Kershaw [Crown 2012], which  followed one brave American – Alex Sparks – through the last two years of bloody WWII battles. Kershaw was highly opinionated , e.g., he’s harshly critical of Churchill without any praise and of the egotistical Gen Mark Clark, which is a common assessment among historians. Nor do I have any problems with the post-war Sparks supporting gun rights after the violent death of his grandson by a underage shooter wielding a gun. Sparks was entitled to his belief and I don’t doubt the NRA viciously fought back against him. It’s just that I wondered about bias from this author who has written other best-selling WWII books. How much, especially in these days of active historian revisionism, can one trust these opinions? Can’t you write a history book without bias, whether using primary or secondary sources?

While in graduate school, one of my professors, a witty and brilliant man, proudly proclaimed himself a feminist, a Socialist, and a prolific writer of revisionist history. He admitted he and a group of similar-minded professors routinely claimed to be coauthors no matter how nebulous the contributions and to continually cite each other in order to ramp up their peer-reviewed articles. “Yep, it’s all about SSCI [Social Science Citations Index],” he laughed and we laughed with him. Gaming the system doesn’t sound so funny in these days of questionable peer review. And it turns out he was a public feminist but one of those liberal men -twice divorced and messing around with one of my classmates – who was a real jerk with the women in his personal life.

I think I might be getting cynical in my old age.

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I loved the works of Tony Hillerman so I enjoyed Tony Hillerman’s Landscape [HarperCollins, 2009] by daughter Anne Hillerman. She and husband Don Strel traveled to Southwest locations used in her dad’s books. Beautiful photography with insights from Tony to his daughter on why he chose locales and what they personally meant to him. Nice.

The Tarnished Land [J B Lippincott, 1972] by Elizabeth Byrd is a fictional work of Ireland’s great famine in the mid-19th century. This was one sad book, drawing you in to the socioeconomic and political forces before and during the famine by focusing on one town and one family. I read it in one day because I was concerned what happened. Some of my ancestors emigrated from Ireland, and I was surprised to find myself thinking of it with a very personal view. It forcefully hit home to me the old saying that everyone alive today is a survivor, an evolutionary winner of numerous wars, plagues, accidents, violence, famines, etc.

For my WWII book, I read Stalin: the first in-depth biography based on explosive new documents from Russia’s secret archives [Doubleday, 1996] by Edvard Radzinsky. After reading this book, I was depressed for a full week, tainted by the closeness of such evil, such cold-blooded hate, such complete self-obsession in the name of a communal movement, such manipulation of national and international media, leaders, and intelligentsia  to pursue his goal. The legendary spying of the USSR was something I routinely heard while growing up but it was astonishing to hear of apartments built with double walls to accommodate spying equipment and the secret police using secret tunnels to enter bedrooms of the leaders to steal, kidnap, threaten or kill.

I was disturbed by worldwide support for Stalin from writers, artists and celebrities, especially Communist or Communist sympathizers who eventually learned of Stalin’s misdeeds but kept quiet or lied to advance the cause of Communism. Famous writers, writers I read in high school or colleges who indirectly contributed to millions of deaths for their lousy cause, because that’s what it was all for: a world revolution for a one-world government. It was all so creepy, so reminiscent of a Cold War-era newspaper or James Bond thriller. Only it was real. This collaboration or ignorance was so much bigger than Walter Duranty.

A couple of events in the late 1930’s surprised me. I had no idea the useless/bumbling League of Nations, the precursor of today’s United Nations, expelled Finland from their organization because the USSR, which attacked Finland to gain better borders and access to their natural resources, successfully blamed the victim. A typical move of Hitler, as well. I was astonished to learn Stalin, while assisting the far-left Spanish Republicans, actually stole Spain’s gold reserves to prevent them from falling to Hitler and the far-right Franco army and for the use of the USSR to build their military, by hiding the reserves in a cave. Stalin had a definite order of priorities, and he was #1.

Whatever you think of Senator McCarthy’s investigations, you soon learn from this book that he was not only right, he seriously underestimated the problem. Over and over we see memos and papers that prove Stalin used embassies and diplomats to import spies and obtain military and other intelligence, as well as incite rebellion and unrest in US colleges and unions and media, all to move toward world-wide communism. It was disconcerting to realize that Frank Burns was right and Hawkeye was an idiot.

The worst part, of course, was the naivety of President Roosevelt during the war toward the charm offensive of the sociopath who was Joseph Stalin. He ran rings around Roosevelt, causing the 2 of them to override a more aware Churchill. It’s too bad Roosevelt didn’t live to see the folly of his acquiescence particularly at Potsdam. That he didn’t live to see that he allowed Stalin to acquire more land than Hitler, to kill more people than Hitler, to imprison more people than Hitler. That he didn’t live to see East Europe fall to Communism, that he didn’t live to see the uprisings that were brutally squelched by Stalin, Khrushchev and later leaders. That he didn’t live to see the Berlin Wall and people die while attempting to escape to the West. Too bad he didn’t live to see President Kennedy decry the wall and to see President Ronald Reagan save the world from the truly Evil Empire. The world owes Reagan a debt it can never repay. Don’t get me started on the naivety of the Obama administration, which seems determined to repeat Roosevelt’s errors.

Lastly, I read The Comet Connection: escape from Hitler’s Europe [1990, University of Kentucky Press] by George Watt. This should have been an interesting book to me, since Watt relates his parachute drop from a damaged plane inside Nazi Belgium, and one of his fellow escapees was a Kentucky native but Watt was a socialist with Stalin sympathies during this time. He says he later disclaimed Stalin’s “excesses”  doesn’t say he recanted socialism. He has every right to his socialist beliefs, as long as he observed our laws and didn’t seek to overthrow our government but after reading the Stalin biography, I was in no mood to hear of his entry into the International Brigade, especially when he relates the [accurate] cruelty of the fascist Franco Nationalists but ignores the equal cruelty of the leftists as they assassinated unarmed Catholic priests and nuns in the streets or anyone who supported the exiled monarchy. He doesn’t discuss the  anarchists who had a large part of the lefty radical Republicans. He decries Hitler’s assistance to Franco but supports Stalin’s assistance to the Spanish Communists. What’s the difference? Both were evil men, they both should have stayed out. I don’t want to fight the ugly Spanish Civil War here but I didn’t want to read Watt’s sympathies with the Communists in the USSR or Spain, and especially not with Stalin.  I wish the book had been written by the Kentucky man, who happily also survived the airplane crash.

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I read the Margaret Thatcher biographies in reverse order, just finishing her original The Downing Street Years [Harper Collins, 1993]. I think I enjoyed The Path to Power more because I really didn’t know much about childhood, college or young adult years and early political career. I remembered much of her time as Prime Minister. I wish I hadn’t been such a snooty liberal during that time and enjoyed her unique personality more. I was especially nostalgic about her words on Ronald Reagan, the only Republican president I voted for as a liberal. I voted for Jimmy Carter [sigh] in 1980 but I voted for Reagan’s reelection because the difference between American in the time of Carter and the time of Reagan was night and day. Thatcher is honest enough to relate disagreements with Reagan. The Falklands War, which comprises a significant part of the book, was fascinating to read from her viewpoint, a viewpoint that didn’t always perfectly coincide with the American viewpoint. Although some of the political traditions and language were lost on me, you come away from the books of Thatcher realizing how very intelligent she was.

Are you old enough to remember Peter Townsend? His book Duel of Eagles [Simon and Schuster, 1969] is a comprehensive look at the RAF and its counterpart Luftwaffe during WWII, but I first remembered his as the ex-lover of Princess Margaret in the 1950’s.  For years firm gossip had the story that she was forced to give him up because he was divorced while she was in line for the throne after her older sister Elizabeth and her kids. She supposed lived a miserable and lonely life after that, using alcohol and parties to dull the pain. When she died, letters were found indicating the decision was hers alone and she was unsure of their love.

The book is nothing about that. Although I have a basic knowledge of the planes and battles during the war, some of the info was too detailed for me to closely follow. Sometimes Townsend mentions a person, place or event and then later casually explains it. Not a big deal. Some of the most interesting aspects of the book were the companies and countries who allowed Germany to rearm, indeed many profited by it. While I knew the Soviets had assisted the Germans with tank technology and pilot training, I had no idea how extensively the Communists aided Germany under the 1922 Treaty of Rapallo by opening up 3 of their bases that specialized in gas warfare, tank training, and the air base where the Germans smuggled in parts to build test planes and then trained pilots for their use.

As Group Captain, Townsend was close enough to the action to know  the animosity between the old-school military administrators and the Hugh Dowding/Keith Park team who saved the nation during the brutal Battle of Britain. I’ve read some on Douglas Bader and although his courage against incredible odds is never questioned, I admit a little of his star was tarnished for me by this book.

These “serious” books turned out to be more enjoyable than the “fun” books I read this time. I read Randy Wayne White’s new Bone Deep.  His Doc Ford series typically emphasizes subjects, usually scientific, of which I know little but that’s not a problem. He also writes snappy dialogue and thoughts for his characters; this time I found some too obtuse to follow. Be clever but for heaven’s sake, let me know for sure what’s going on or how the book ends. I’ve been a little peeved with White because of his book a couple of years ago in which Doc Ford stated that if you’re against illegal immigrants or amnesty well then you’re racist but thankfully there’s no politics in this book.

That was nothing compared to the mystery books I read, two by Joan Hess. A Holly, Jolly Murder [Dutton, 1997] was a throwaway book on witchcraft and Druids. You know who the villain is from day 1, and she throws in some occasional wit among her feminist assertions. Even worse was her Malpractice in Maggody [Simon and Schuster, 2006], which was the most boring vehicle of political stereotypes and hackneyed dialogue that I heered teluv in a coon’s age, sugar-babe. Hess can write when she wants to, too bad she decided to try political commentary as a career move here.  Think I’m exaggerating? In a plot that has nothing to do with politics, she notes “fire-breathing right-wing” and the “left wing would, by default, be the right wing.” The ex-Marine is an idiot who ends up smoking pot, the illegal immigrants are righteous, the old woman vulgar beyond measure, the conservative politician an idiot hypocrite who kills, guns are taken up all the inhabitants and they’re idiots with them, and – surprise – the men are all stupid misogynists speaking lines that would embarrass a Neanderthal.

Ever wonder why liberal men like Eliot Spitzer, who cheated on his wife and cracked down on prostitutes while having an affair with one, isn’t called a “hypocrite?” Ever wonder why it’s okay for women, including the protagonist in this book, to threaten men with castration or the like and that’s funny but you can’t say stuff about women? You won’t find any answers here.

I went from that straight into The Chocolate Moose Motive by JoAnna Carl,  [Obsidian Mystery, 2012], a book that should contain a “Political Advocacy Warning” label.  The aging hippie is gold, her daughter is beautiful, the old Vietnam vet is an anachronistic gun-toting bully who destroyed his son by forcing him into the military. Just in case you don’t get the message, the protagonist heroine flat-out states she’s a die-hard liberal. Oh, honey, you don’t need to spell it out. Conservatives/libertarians/Republicans aren’t as dumb as you think. Hey she wrote the book in the big presidential election year of 2012, guess she assumed she couldn’t take chances.

Two authors in one week down my reading drain.

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It’s funny that last week I finally finished a book I’ve put off for months and I didn’t finish two other books that I wanted to read.

I didn’t finish Winston Churchhill’s Closing the Ring even though I’m a huge fan of his because the book – a library book – is more than 70 years old and was too dusty for me to deal with, especially in spring allergy season. I guess I’ll try a different library and see if I can come up with a cleaner copy. Sorry, Winston.

I also didn’t finish the Mark Halperin-John Heilemann book Double Down Game Change 2012 because everyone uses snark at times in political commentary but the book was virtually all snark. I’ve read Halperin for years and he’s often an intelligent and serious liberal but I found this book as annoying as a junior high parody. It takes a lot of guts, time and money to run a presidential campaign and all the players deserve more respect than I saw in this book.  I’ve also seen the authors discuss the book on tv and heard analysis of it from various sources so that lessened the urgency to finish. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for this book but I typically finish books no matter what.

I went back to finish Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken [Random House, 2010] and I’m glad I did. I had read enough of the book to see it was headed to a WWII POW camp but I hadn’t finished the book when it due back at the library. It’s so much more than a personal account of war. I didn’t catch the religious conversion at first, and it was very moving when it became clear. I was also fascinated by accounts of the Japanese who went unpunished for war crimes; all for the sake of global peace with a new ally in the new Cold War. I knew this happened with some Germans, partly because they escaped, partly because countries such as Austria or Argentina hid them, and partly because the powers that be decided it would help Germany recover. Of course, some got away with acts of war because they were scientists and went to the United States literally minutes before the Russians could capture them. I’m still upset that Joachim Peiper got away with his Battle of the Bulge atrocities, though. [Note: If you’re not familiar with this figure of WWII history, Peiper’s Nuremburg, er, Nuremberg sentence was commuted in 1956 but in 1976 he was killed in his home by a bomb set by unknown assassins. So he got away with the atrocities in the sense that he was set free and he got to live 30 years after the war’s end but someone made sure he “got it.”]

Red Storm on the Reich: The Soviet March on Germany, 1945 by Christopher Duffy [Athenum, 1991] was a rare detailed history of individual campaigns and battles, as well as a perspective on Stalin’s goals and objectives in the war, which didn’t always match those of the other Allies. Stalin was looking out for Stalin, and creating a USSR empire. It’s discouraging to contemplate the sacrifices made to free the world from Hitler and the Nazi’s only to see Stalin and the USSR force Communism on so much of the world. Stalin killed more people than Hitler did, was at least as ruthless as Hitler and enslaved more people than Hitler did. Duffy also documented in some detail the atrocities the Russians committed against Germany and East Europe; some of it was revenge but some of it was racial hatred. There’s not much difference between the Nazi’s thinking the Jews subhuman and the Russians thinking the Poles/Slavs were subhuman.

One interesting point by Duffy was his assertion that although Stalin’s prewar surge of his military hurt the nation when the Nazi’s invaded, the purge didn’t always involve killings. He states that some of the military were exiled to Siberia in the purge, and thus conveniently returned to assist in the war. I thought the purge was exclusively murders of his officers. Marshal G K Zhukov has received so much well-deserved praise for his war success that I found Duffy’s information about the other generals and their interaction/competition with Zhukov quite interesting, but frankly this book is ultimately quite depressing.

I also found the clever and funny Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh [Touchstone, Simon and Schuster, 2013] ultimately depressing. I’ve enjoyed her blog for quite a while but it’s disheartening to learn she’s been truly suffering from depression and mental illness. Like a child that is something of a ham and, encouraged by adults, becomes addicted to the attention-seeking behavior when it’s no longer cute or appropriate, I ended up wanting Allie to give up her obsessive behavior, her belief that her damaged psyche is the cause of her success. Turn back, Allie, go have a normal life. That’s what I wanted to say because I want her to be happy. Don’t fall for the life of alcohol as a writing muse or selling your soul to play guitar or taking heroin to perform. No doubt she’s thought of all this because her genius is that she thinks of everything. She’s hilarious and I wish her a good life.

I also read 3 mysteries as an escape, all by authors unfamiliar to me. The Chocolate Castle Clue, in the Chocoholic Mystery series, by JoAnna Carl [Obsidian, Penguin Group, 2011] was pleasant but forgettable. The Nantucket Diet Murders by Virginia Rich [Delacorte, 1985] was a little more interesting but also forgettable. Murder as a Second Language by Joan Hess [Gale, 2013] is a Claire Malloy Mystery and quite clever. Claire is almost too cute and precious but it’s a good mystery. Sigh. Without intending to, just by reading classics by the likes of Sayers and Chesterton, and modern masters by the likes of Rankin, Rendell, Hillerman and Grafton, I have become a mystery snob. I’ll probably check out some more by these 3 authors though on my next library visit. You gotta read some fun stuff.

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This last week I read volume 3 of Winston Churchill’s The Second World War series The Grand Alliance [Houghton Mifflin Company, 1950]. It was pretty slow going because I’d never read it, unlike The Gathering Storm from a couple of weeks ago. Lots of appendices of primary historical documents.

I was especially interested in hearing his account of the war in the Middle East. I knew a little about the German influence in Iran, Syria and on  Rashid Ali and the Golden Square in Iraq but I hadn’t realized those countries were friendly with the Italians as well. I also hadn’t realized that the Germans sent in an advance guard to foment rebellion in the Middle East, although that was their formula in the European countries and territories.

Although I knew the British fought in the Middle East to provide a pipeline to Russia, there were multiple memos stating the primary purpose for the capture of Iran [Persia then] was to send oil to Russia and keep the Mediterranean open for that oil and other shipping funneled from the US to Russia.

Churchill doesn’t soften his bitterness toward Stalin and his constant whining, especially galling to the British PM since Russia had illegally assisted Germany in the 1920’s with tank technology and training Nazi pilots, signed a treaty with the Nazi’s, helped Hitler carve up Poland, had demonized Britain and the United States before and during the war until they became his allies, had remained indifferent when Hitler invaded much of Europe and bombed the hell out of Britain and France and the Low Countries but demanded – and got – tremendous assistance from his 2 allies. Churchill points out that his little country could ill afford to help Russia but did so anyway at tremendous sacrifice, and that the materials sent by the US to Russia were originally intended for Britain, thus requiring even greater sacrifice for the nation who fought the Nazi’s alone for over a year and a half, and fought them the longest. Churchill is particularly furious that Stalin failed to appreciate any of this and completely ignored the deaths of British sailors traversing the Arctic Circle to supply Russia. Stalin never showed any gratitude and never stopped demanding more, while continually whining. Of course, Stalin used the war as a means to increase the USSR empire, helping rescue Eastern European nations from Nazism by turning them to Communism.

I read another book about WWII, Dirty Little Secrets of WWII by James F Dunnigan and Alfred A Nofi [William Morrow, 1996], which contained a lot of information I already knew but some interesting information I didn’t.

The book spent a page or two on the Japanese medical experimentation in Chinese Manchuria, a unit called Detachment 731 and led by Lt Gen Shiro Ishii, who killed all his 400+ prisoners before being invaded by the Soviets in 1945. These experiments, done without anesthesia of any kind, were performed on Chinese, British and American prisoners, and equaled the depravity of those done by the Nazi’s. No one survived the experiments and the prisoners were thrown into mass graves. Ishii was handed over to the United States and given immunity in exchange for his research materials. The remaining medical personnel were tried as war criminals in Russia, most released in the 1950’s.

Of the millions of tons of supplies given to Russia by the United States and Britain, which were the most valued? Radios, waterproof telephone wire, 100 octane aviation fuel and trucks. Russia had no waterproof phone wire at all, only lower octane fuel and very inferior radios and trucks. It’s doubtful that Russia could have repelled the Nazi’s without these – and other Allied – supplies, especially in their vast country which required superior communication and transportation.

I’ve also read this little tidbit on Hitler before, here’s some of A Virtuous Fellow at Heart: Adolf Hitler did not smoke or drink alcohol, ate only a vitamin-enriched vegetarian diet, consulted his astrologer regularly and opposed animal experimentation and vivisection.

I also read Primal Blueprint: Quick & Easy Meals by Mark Sisson and Jennifer Meier [Primal Nutrition, 2011], a book that is primal, paleo, low-carb, grain-free, dairy-free and gluten-free and pretty much convinced me that those people are hard-core and I’m a wimp. Sigh.


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This past week I only read a couple of books because one of them A History of the Jews by Abram Leon Sachar [Alfred A Knopf, 1968] was involved and sometimes dry. He was president of Brandeis University and the book is scholarly and inclusive. What can you say about such a comprehensive project? Lots of names in languages I don’t know with lots of dates I don’t remember. It’s a thoughtful book, and the 6th edition of a book first published in 1930. A couple of things stood out to me: the author’s assertion that the writers of the Torah were in effect extremists who were intolerant of other religions and incessantly wanted the Israelis to overthrow their oppressors or invade other areas, thus affecting the viewpoint of Old Testament parts. As an example he uses King Ahab, who was an excellent ruler but married the despised Jezebel and openly tolerated other religions, including her paganism. That was, of course, abhorrent to the leaders/prophets/scholars who kept alive the the oral histories. I guess that makes sense but I had never really thought of that perspective.

Sachar also discusses at some lengths the liquidation of Jews in Europe, especially during the Spanish Inquisition-Torquemada-Ferdinand and Isabella era. I knew that Jews were forced to renounce their religion or die from hideous torture or that some paid huge ransoms to leave the nation but I didn’t realize some Jewish children were sold as slaves and sent to Caribbean Islands. I haven’t had the chance yet but I’d like to do a little research and find out what happened to those children.

I also read Saving Italy [W. W. Norton & Company, 2013] by Robert Edsel.  A couple of  years ago I read his book The Monuments Men and liked it, so I took a chance and went to see if the Clooney/Damon/Hollywood bunch of liberals would ruin the current movie, The Monuments Men. I found it quite faithful to the book and essentially patriotic. Some groups had complaints about the movie, e.g., some Jewish bloggers thought it didn’t show enough of  the WWII Jewish sacrifice or sufferings. I have to admit there’s validity to that argument, the Jewish massacres were subtly implied, which may not be enough. I’m not sure young people today would detect those subtle implications because they know so little WWII history.

Also, the question of ‘is art worth a human life’ is at first answered negatively, which is how I would answer, but then is equivocated toward the end. Ah, situational ethics by a bunch of Hollywood liberals, who would have thought? But it was quite easy to ignore that ambivalence. Edsel himself believes that the story of saving Europe’s art and priceless manuscripts is a true success story for the US Army and one that is often ignored.

I found the reading of Saving Italy a bit more stodgy than The Monuments Men, perhaps because keeping track of the Italian names of art, artists, places and people more difficult than the European artifacts of several nations. I’ve been to some of those European museums in Germany, France, Holland, and Belgium  and seen some of the art mentioned in The Monuments Men but I’ve never been to Italy. The Nazis also stole important art from the Soviet Union, some of which tragically has never been found, and they had detailed plans of what they intended to steal from England but didn’t get the chance.

Some of The Monuments Men – actually a few were women – who primarily or exclusively  worked in Italy but not during the later liberation of Europe seemed quite irritating  – I found Fred Hartt particularly trying. Pope Pius XII is sometimes portrayed unsympathetically; his coziness with certain Nazi friends and his callousness toward the Jews have been documented elsewhere. It was difficult to stay calm when an Italian official or resident or the pope or a monuments man like Hartt would criticize the American bombing or battles. Wonder how upset they were when they supported Mussolini or when the Italian troops killed and bombed Ethiopians? Edsel recognizes that feeling and often makes that point.

Edsel, e.g., notes the Allied bombing that destroyed the famed and ancient Monte Cassino monastery was understandable even though it turned out that the Germans weren’t holed up inside. The Germans had fought with their firing lines pushed up against the outside walls of the monastery, making it impossible for the Allies to detect that the ferocious Germans weren’t inside. Later, Edsel notes that if you stand atop the partially-rebuilt monastery, your main view is the thousands of crosses on the graves of the Polish, British and Americans who died trying to liberate Italy but didn’t live to climb to the mountain top.

Both Edsel books are well worth the read, especially if you have an interest in art or WWII history. Both of his books on saving European art at the end of WWII are primarily positive and pro-American, as well as thoroughly researched.

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The book on my nightstand

It just occurred to me everything I read this week was nonfiction. That’s a mistake, I like to read some fun stuff too. I did look at some seed catalogs so that’s definitely fun reading.

I reread Winston Churchill’s The Gathering Storm [Houghton Mifflin, 1948] and realized why quite a bit missed the mark 25 or 30 years ago. Not only did I not know a great deal about the period between WWI and WWII but Churchill omits quite a bit of identifying info for the sake of brevity. The book is still 784 pages so I’m not complaining, and I now know the missing links.  Churchill is a heck of a writer and has a perspective like none other. I’ve developed a little more interest in some of the weaponry/equipment and found the technical appendices more meaningful this time, too. One other thing I noticed is his defense of France’s reticence in confronting Hitler, a defense that was more understanding that most of us have today. Churchill isn’t one of the ‘cheese-eating surrender monkeys’ adherents, instead sympathetically pointing to the tremendous population drain among men of fighting age from the wars/conflicts with Germany. He also points out the greater danger to France because of its proximity to Germany.

I also read this little book by historian Stanley Weintraub 11 Days in December: Christmas at the Bulge, 1944 [Simon & Schuster, 2006. I’ve read a couple of his earlier books. There’s been a lot written about the Battle of the Bulge but it was still interesting, contains some insinuations based on conjecture, e.g., Ike and Kay Summersby, and some opinions, including Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery. Weintraub isn’t a big fan but it’s always striking to note the extreme opinions that Monty seems to invoke. Lots of info about Lt General George Patton, and about specific troop movements, some of which is over my head.

I also read Chris Kresser’s Your Personal Paleo Code: The 3-Step Plan to Lose Weight, Reverse Disease and Stay Fit and Healthy for Life [Little, Brown and Company, 2013]. Whew, the title and scope of the book alone  wore me out. One reason I like Kresser is he’s interested in those of us switching from vegetarian to paleo.

Somewhat irrelevant is this video of author/historian M Stanton Evans introduction  Diana West receiving the Mightier Pen Award upon publication of her new book American Betrayal, which I haven’t read. I’ve read a couple things by Evans in years past but hadn’t heard from him in a while. He’s always witty and I love his anecdote of the young woman reporter labeling WWII as “World War Eleven.” The whole video is funny and it’s only a few minutes, worth a listen. His theory of Inadequate Paranoia is certainly applicable in America today.


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