Of the books I read this year, these are the ones that stand out.
Europe at the dawn of the Protestant Reformation indulgences and
relics were the coin of an all-too-temporal Catholic culture. The
tale is knowledgeable about life, events and personages of the era.
The plot is full of twists and turns, weaves fictional and historical
characters, and provides enough suspense to keep the reader fully
engaged. An easy, informative read.
in 1830’s Illinois, the story is based on Abraham Lincoln’s early
career as lawyer and aspiring politician. Many of the characters
are, like Lincoln, based on real persons while others, like Cage
Weatherby, are fiction. The two sets of characters blend in with
each other and key facts of Lincoln’s life in this seamless
historical fiction. The Abraham Lincoln of this story is raw,
uncertain about many things and clueless about women. What he is not
clueless about is politics as an all-encompassing endeavor. He he is
constantly in action on behalf of the Whig party and even at this
early age sees a need to make a mark with his life. Stephen Harrigan
creates the story with lively dialogue, interesting characters and
good descriptions of frontier Illinois.
Fiction. Set in Haiti in the years leading up to the 2010
earthquake, Peace-Keeping, centers on Terry White, a laid-off
sheriff's deputy now serving with a UN mission in Haiti and a local
judge with whom he becomes associated. White is instrumental in the
judge's decision to challenge a long-term incumbent. The plot is
pretty simple but what gives this story its power is the history and
context that Mischa Berlinski provides by way of background and
David Gessner examines the works of two iconic western writers--the
staid, establishmentarian Wallace Stegner and the radical Edward
Abbey—and examines their influence on how America views its western
lands. Although worlds apart in their personas and attitude toward
the larger society, both writers understood and appreciated the
limits that arid western lands imposed on the humans who attempted to
wrest a livelihood from those lands. Gessner also includes
interviews with the many writers and thinkers influenced by both men.
His literary biography is no hagiography. Gessner paints a complete
picture of each of his subjects and does not ignore tStegner’s
cultural conservatism or Abbey’s misogyny and racism. But he also
recognizes their contributions to how we understand our relationship
with our arid western lands.
review of the music that accompanied the American forces to Vietnam.
Bradley and Werner follow the zeitgeist of the war as expressed in
the music from its early optimistic days to the final collapse of the
American military in the war's later years. Written with great
understanding of the social context of the war, We Gotta Get Out
of this Place demonstrates how music expressed the hopes,
frustrations and divisions among the soldiers and American society at
large. Three chapters focus on the experience of music and the war.
The fourth chapter examines how music was brought to the war zone.
The fifth chapter expands the discussion into how veterans have used
music to make their transition back into civilian society. The book
is laced with first person accounts that add a stark reality to the
Illustrates the full range of experiences and feelings about the
Vietnam War. The 138 interviews take the reader beyond the usual
focus on leaders and presents the the war in all its diversity.
There are plenty of the usual suspects but equally important are the
stories of the families, Vietnamese on both sides as well as
Americans, who were affected by the war. A few interviewees still
cling to the idea that America could have bested the Vietnamese
Communist but most, even the hawks, have come to see the war's
futility. Each of the oral histories are compelling but the stories
told by the children searingly describe how war changes lives
forever, even for the survivors.
In 1895 at age 60, deeply in debt and honor-bound (at wife Livy's
insistence) Mark Twain began an extended trip around the world
telling stories from the works that had made him the America's most
prominent writer. Although he had amassed a fortune from his books
and articles, he lost his fortune, along with his wife's inherited
wealth and was dogged by creditors. He was saved by a combination of
his own talent and the friendship of H.H. Rogers, a founder of
Standard Oil and one of America's richest men. The plan: Twain
would travel and lecture, earning fees and gathering material for a
new book while Rogers would negotiate debt repayment and publishing
deals. All complex and all presented in an easy to understand
narrative. Richard Zacks provides plenty of background on 19th
century publishing, Twain's disastrous investments and family life in
the Clemmons household. Sources include letters and excerpts from
Twain's notebook that never made it into the book. The Mark Twain of
Chasing the Last Laugh is at times charming, irritable,
cynical, clever, excited, sad and at peace. He is a person fully