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Matt's rating system:

GO!  I liked the book a lot and recommend it to you without reservation.  (Comments in this category are also posted at amazon.com.)
CAUTION  I liked it, but your tastes may be different.
STOP!   I really didn't like the book at all.
YIELD  I recognize that there is merit here, but as I'm not a member of the target audience, I'm not sure my comments are useful.
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2014 BOOK COMMENTS
THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER WEB   by David Lagercrantz (2015)  Like Scarlett O'Hara and Jason Bourne before her, Lisbeth
Salander should be allowed to rest in peace after her creator (Stieg Larsson, in this case) has shuffled off the mortal coil.  To be
honest, even Larsson's last two Salander books didn't measure up to the promise of
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  If they had,
Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara would have made the movies by now.  
The Girl in the Spider Web is an obnoxious mixture of child
abuse, industrial espionage and journalism worship with none of the edge of Larsson's original work.  I can't imagine a well-educated
American having much interest in such a menage.  (12/23/2015)

CITY ON FIRE   by Garth Risk Hallberg  (2015)  Mr. Hallberg is an amazing writer.  I've seldom read writers who have the knack for
crafting sentences and paragraphs that are comparable to the what's on display in
City on Fire.   The problem with the book is that
there are over 900 pages of these sentences and paragraphs in service of a story--stories, to be fair--that really aren't that compelling.  
It's a saga that spreads over seventy years or so between the 1950's and sometime in the next ten years or so, and you find yourself
wishing that Mr. Hallberg would hurry up and pick up the more interesting threads of the tale again soon.  Some might call this an
embarrassment of riches.  I just call it exhausting.  For the record,
City on Fire is the saga of the mega-rich Hamilton-Sweeney clan of
Central Park West, their various lovers, hangers-on, exploiters, victims and pursuers in the law enforcement community. Oddly
enough, I think this material could be a long-runnng mini-series on television, and I think that--despite Mr. Hallberg's word crafting
skills, it would be a lot more interesting.  (11/30/2015)

THOMAS JEFFERSON AND THE TRIPOLI PIRATES: THE FORGOTTEN WAR THAT CHANGED AMERICAN HISTORY  by
Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger   I'm guessing that Mr. Yaeger did most of the writing and Mr. Kilmeade, the well-known television
and radio talk-show host, is doing most of the promotion.  This book is scholarly to the extent that there are end-notes, but there's
really not a history here.  The pirates of Algiers and Tripoli oppressed American shipping for the better part of fifteen years, but the
story as presented here, the story is sketchy at best. And while Thomas Jefferson did play a major part in the execution of the war,
there's really not a lot of information here about him and what he did to prosecute the war.  If I had to guess, I'd say his name is only
in the title to goose sales.  As an important segment of the Arc of Christianity v. Islam that's spanned a thousand years, the War with
the Barbary Pirates is certainly deserving of  attention and a book that presents the history of the episode in a scholarly manner.   This
is not that book.  (11/18/2015)

BATS OF THE REPUBLIC   by Zachary Thomas Dodson  This book feels like the future of books.  But that's not necessarily a
compliment.  The actual book itself is presented a number of formats:  letters from a father to a daughter, the handwritten letters and
sketchbook of a traveler in the 19th century American West, a book about a Chicago family in the early 20th century, some sort of
continuous text that's meant to evoke how writing will look in the middle of the century we've just begun.  At the end of the book is a
letter in an envelope--referred to frequently in the narrative--that contains the ending of the story.  You can choose to open the
envelope and read it or not.  Mr. Dodson is a cofounder of featherproof books, a group of authors who champion working in various
formats.  The story does or does not sprawl over 300 years of American history as various generations of a family try to make sense
of the world unfolding around them.  The story itself isn't that compelling, and if frequent shifting of stories in differing formats
exhausts, you might want to give
Bats a pass.  But if you're interested in how the future will look (the future of publishing, anyway),
you might want to check it out.  (11/12/2015)

THE SURVIVOR: A MITCH RAPP NOVEL  by Vince Flynn and Kyle Mills   If the name Mitch Rapp means nothing to you, skip
the rest of this paragraph and move on to
The End of Tsarist Russia.  And if you're like the millions who love the combative Mr. Rapp,
you won't care if I like this, the fifteenth Mitch Rapp novel or not.  So why am I wasting my time?  For the record, I liked this
installment marginally better than recent efforts, if only for the fact that there was relatively less of Mr. Rapp's miserable back story in
this book.  I like to read action books for action; I really don't need to know how miserable the protagonist is.  (11/8/2015)

THE END OF TSARIST RUSSIA: THE MARCH TO WORLD WAR I & REVOLUTION   by Dominic Lieven  (2015)    So.  Mr.
Lieven, senior research fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge and author of
Russia Against Napoleon, would have you believe that his
book is from the hundreds others that have been written on the subject because he had access to Russian records that no Western
ideas had seen before--or would see again as the Russian ministry where they were maintained was closed the week after he was
there.  Long story short: There were six "empires" in the late 19th century, and five of them were on the continent of Europe, rubbing
up against each other.  Even at the dawn of mechanized warfare, it was inevitable that they would be at each other's throats as they
always had.  Nicholas II was a weak leader, but he could have been a political mastermind and still have lost his empire.  Mr. Lieven's
prose is--well, prosaic.  Despite the fresh point of view he brings to the material, his writing style doesn't really make you feel that
you're reading something profound.  If you're interested in the material, you'll want to read it.  If not, you're still better served reading
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Robert Massie and Barbara Tuchmann.  (9/18/2015)

AVENUE OF SPIES:  A TRUE STORY OF TERROR, ESPIONAGE, AND ONE AMERICAN FAMILY' HEROIC RESISTANCE
IN NAZI-OCCUPIED PARIS
  by Alex Kershaw  (2015)  My job gets progressively easier as titles get longer.  This book is indeed
the story of Dr. Sumner Jackson, head of the American Hospital in Paris during World War II, who somehow was allowed to continue
to roam free and keep the hospital open long after America entered the war and the Nazis consolidated the governments of Vichy and
Occupied France.  He did, anyway, until the Resistance-related activities of his French-born wife were discovered about a year before
the end of the war, and Jackson, his wife and child were all shipped off to concentration camps in the Reich.  All three Jacksons are
clearly heroes of the Resistance, and their work enabled many messages and people to be funneled through Paris and into the hands of
the Free French in England.  Given all that, Mr. Kershaw, who's written several books about WWII, tells the story rather drily.  Dr.
Jackson's story has been told more energetically elsewhere; although I don't recall that his wife's work was mentioned.  If you're
someone (like me) who's going to read almost anything that lays some claim to Paris, you're going to read the book anyway.  But if
you're looking for an exciting and inspirational story of the Resistance, look elsewhere.  (8/28/2015)

VILLA AMERICA: A NOVEL   by Liza Klaussmann  (2015)  There may be two more revered figures of the Lost Generation than
Gerald and Sara Murphy, but I don't know who they'd be.  This novel is one version of their story that the novelist says she cobbled
together from their old letters.  Maybe.  The centerpiece of the story is an assertion Gerald Murphy struggled with his sexuality, which
the author says is well-known from his letters to Sara and others.  From this nugget, she has concocted a steamy life-long romance
for him with a fictional pilot he encountered on the Riviera--much as Zelda Murphy had done in real life around the same time. That
part of the book may be tittilating an steamy, but it doesn't really make up for the rather banal way the author handles real-life pieces of
work like Scott and Zelda, Ernest, Cole Porter and others.  They are, unfortunately, a rather pedestrian back-drop for Gerald's
dalliance.  Even Sara Murphy seems to be a supporting character in her own life--a turn of events that no one at the time would have
suggested.  Hemingway was fond of saying that "everyone loves the Murphys."  Turns out he might have been more right than he
knew.  (8/25/2015)    

OUR MAN IN CHARLESTON: BRITAIN'S SECRET AGENT IN THE CIVIL WAR SOUTH    by Christopher Dickey  (2015)   
This book seems straightforward in its presentation, but the more of it you digest, the more you wonder what the author is thinking.  
Let's start with the title.  "Our" Man in Charleston?  The man in question is the British Consul, Robert Bunch.  Everybody in town
knew he was the agent of the Queen.  That was his job.  His sympathies were with the North, but Secretary of State William Seward
spent most of the war trying to get him arrested for treason.  Southern diplomats were equally distrustful.  Had he not been a
registered agent of the crown, he would have been picked up early on.  "In the Civil War  South?"  The Civil War starts on page 235 of
this 327 page book, and when it begins, Bunch's usefulness is almost at an end to everyone.  This is a story that never really gets
going--which is too bad because it's a fascinating time in a fascinating place.  (8/12/2015)

THE ENGLISH SPY   by Daniel Silva   (2015)  is fine, I guess.  Mr. Silva is an oustanding writer, and he tells an interesting story
competently in this, the 800th installment of the story of Mossad super-spy Gabriel Allon.  I've read a bunch of thrillers this summer,
and I've been struck by the ways that different authors try to make us like their protagonists.  The most obvious example, of course, is
James Bond, so let's talk about him.  In his original novels (which are so dated as to be almost unreadable today, by the way), Ian
Fleming busted a gut trying to make us care about Bond's personal life.  He married him off at least once, and gave him a couple of
other women that he seemed to genuinely care about.  The original 007 movies were all about the secret-agent game, and those women
were nowhere to be seen.  Those were fun.  More recently, the film-makers (who never had much use for what actually happened in
the books) have been giving the Daniel Craig iteration of Bond a backstory that's postively Shakespearean--and it's been no fun at all.  
Skyfall is more logically a sequel to King Lear than Goldfinger.  But back to The English Spy.  As long as Allon is chasing the evil Irish
bomber Eamon Quinn, the story is great.  When Allon's pregnant wife back in Jerusalem is dragged into the proceedings, everything
grinds to a halt. Hate to sound antisocial, but I think I speak for a lot of readers when I say I don't really care about Mr. Allon's boring
private life.  Sorry.  The good news about
The English Spy is that there's still plenty of "the good stuff."  (8/11/2015)

THE OREGON TRAIL: A NEW AMERICAN JOURNEY   by Rinker Buck (2015)  In all honesty, I wouldn't have taken this book
off the shelf if I hadn't been planning my own visit to Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon in the weeks ahead, but I did.  And when I heard
Pauline Frommer discussing it with the author on a podcast of her radio show a couple of days later, I was encouraged to think that
there might be something here that might help me plan my own western trek--although mine would not be two thousand miles in a
covered wagon, as Mr. Buck's was.  The journey that Mr. Buck describes is all in his mind as we're exposed to endless vignettes about
his father, mother, siblings, organized religion, Fox News viewers, law enforcement officials, and everybody who calls themselves
cowboys or cowgirls and is not dead.  He has issues with all of them.  For example, take law enforcement:  "The cops of America are
poster boys of low self-esteem.  Their uniforms, silly hats, and sparkling patent leather girdles freighted down with shiny handcuffs,
walkie-talkies and spray canisters of Mace apparently do not make them feel secure enough, so they always add the hostile
interrogation to make sure that the accosted citizens know who is in charge."  If any of the state troopers he'd encountered along his
way HADN'T been friendly, courteous and helpful, I can't imagine what he would have said about them.  Disappointment, disgust and
distain drip from every page of this book.  Unless you're planning your own covered wagon trip from Kansas to Oregon and need to
know the differences between mules and horses or the different kinds of wagons, you don't need this book in your life.  (8/3/2015)

A DEATH IN FLORENCE   by Paul Strathern  (2015)  perhaps should have been called Deaths in Florence.  First, Lorenzo the
Magnificent, last of the great Medici rulers of the city died.  His death was followed by the rise of the monk Savanarola, whose
fundamentalist crusade to stamp out practically everything Lorenzo had created to foment a humanistic culture led to his own
death--and ultimately to the death of the Renaissance itself.  Mr. Strathern gives the subject matter his best shot as he tries to explain
how Platonism, Aristotleism, humanism, secularism and the corruption of the Borgia pope in Rome merged into the train wreck that
resulted in the end of Florence as the most cultured city in the world as the fifteenth century was coming to a close.  Mr. Strathern
clearly knows his subject and tells his story in a scholarly way--which is both the book's strength and shortcoming.  It's nice to have
the facts, but perhaps if he'd had more of an appreciation for scandal, the story would have been more compelling.  (8/2/2015)

THE REDEEMERS   by Ace Atkins  (2015)  Ace Atkins marches rentlentlessly (Spell Check doesn't think that's a word) onward,
demonstrating why he's currently Mississippi's best writer and putting his talent into the service of a bunch of rednecks in his fictional
Tibbeha County, Mississippi. (Think of it as Calhoun County without the glamor.)  Quinn Colson is now the ex-sheriff, but that doesn't
stop him from evildoers who want to despoil what few resources the county has left.  I'm happy to say that this book is a tad less
over-the-top than the last book which featured both a crime wave and a F5 tornado descending on the town simultaneously.  (At least
it wasn't a sharknado.)  This time it's just a stupid Mississippi State fan who hires a stupid Alabama fan to rob a stupid Ole Miss fan.  
The characters are (mostly) repellent and the plot is sleazy, but damned if Atkins doesn't keep you hanging on every word.  (7/28/2015)

MISSOULA   by Jon Krakauer  (2015)  It was a hard time deciding what I liked least: 1) Overprivileged collegiate athletes feel entitled
to do things like raping co-eds, thinking that they're somehow above justice; 2) idjit college girls who get drunk on their first dates with
said athletes, invite them to sleep in their beds on their first dates, and are shocked that the boy thinks that sex is on offer; 3) puffed up
college administrators who think that a rape on campus is not the business of local law enforcement officials; 4) local law enforcement
officials who so dislike dealing with the college officials that they blow off pursuing the rape cases they get; 5) families of victims who
somehow feel entitled to a say in the punishment meted out to a criminal after he's convicted;  6) the US Department of Justice
interested in telling everyone how to do everything except dispense Justice; or 7) a well-meaning writer with an agenda who doesn't
acknowledge that what he's describing is the result of fifty years of sexual revolution, decadence and a hook-up culture that is killing
this country.  (7/26/2015)

DEATH AND MR. PICKWICK: A NOVEL   by Stephen Jarvis  (2015)  is something new in the world.  It says it's a novel, but
almost everyone in the book was a real person who did most of things described.  Is it non-fiction?  No, not really.  It claims to be
about the origins of
The Pickwick Papers, but it's so full of meandering digressions that you'll be reminded of A Thousand and One
Nights
and the way that Scheherezade told a new story every night to keep the prince from killing her. As soon as you start thinking
that the book is on track, Mr. Jarvis (former columnist for the
Daily Telegraph) wanders off in a new direction and starts talking
about some unrelated vignette of English life in the early 19th century.  The vignette may or may not relate somehow to the general
thrust of the story, but it doesn't really matter because in a few pages he will have changed the subject again and you'll get lost in the
possible meaning of wherever the author has decided to take us next.  Frankly, I started getting a little tired of it after the first couple
hundred pages (there are over 800 in all), and found myself sneaking ahead to something that seemed to be more related to the main
plot. I would say that if you're the person who likes to go somewhere on your vacation and know where you're going and when you're
going to get there, this might not be the book for you.  On the other hand, if you're the type to just get in the car and go where the day
takes you, it might.   The only thing that you'll be certain of at the end of the book is that Charles Dickens was a toad.  (7/14/2015)  

THE COST OF COURAGE   by Charles Kaiser  (2015)  Mr. Kaiser is the author of In America, a study of the music of the 1960's,
and
The Gay Metropolis, a history of gay life in America.  For reafons that aren't absolutely clear, he's long wanted to tell the story of
the Bullouchs, a Catholic socialist family of Parisians in the mid-20th century whose three twenty-something children become active in
the French Resistance.  To Mr. Kaiser's credit, he tells their story beautifully.  I'm sure there were many families in France whose
members were as loyal, as brave and as dedicated to a Free France as the Bullouchs.  Perhaps the author wants to say something about
all of those other families by telling the story of this one.  I'd like to think that's true, but that's not absolutely clear in the book.  What
is absolutely clear, however, is that Mr. Kaiser thinks the Bullouchs are pretty special, so maybe that's enough.  Much of this 228-page
book tells the "big story" of World War II.  While I'm sure that some exposition is necessary to provide context for what the family
was enduring at the time, the particular details of what was going on in the war--like four pages about the Stauffenberg
conspiracy--which had nothing to do with the French Resistance as far as either Mr. Kaiser or I are aware--is somewhat baffling.  
Near the end of the book, Mr. Kaiser says that Christiane, one of the three siblings who is now 71 and a grandmother, wrote a 45-page
"confession" of what she did in the war for the benefit of her children and grandchildren. She thought it was her duty to tell them of
the sacrifices made by earlier generations.  I think I'd rather have read just that.

WEST OF SUNSET   by Stewart O'Nan  (2015)   Often, biographers of F. Scott Fitzgerald tend to lose interest in Scott and Zelda
after their personal crash, which roughly coincided with the Great Crash of 1929.  This is entirely understandable because in the last
eleven years of his life, he was holed up in some seedy boarding house near whatever asylum Zelda was in at the time, drinking and
grinding out fast writing jobs to pay her bills. He was--in the words of
The Breakfast Club, "social--pathetic and sad, but social."  
Eventually, Zelda was considerably stabilized--either through treatment or drugs--to the point where Fitzgerald thought he could get
away to Hollywood and make some quick dough to pay for Zelda's care, his daughter's college tuition and the time he needed to get out
the big novel he thought was in him.   This is where
West of Sunset opens.  It's an imagined account of his last three years that covers
his affari with Sheilah Graham and the writing work he did on movies like
The Women and Gone With the Wind--for which he received
no credit.  Mr. O'Nan is a swell writer, and the Hollywood world he creates for Fitzgerald seems believable and compelling.  I'm
certainly not going to criticize anybody else for fictionalizing the life of a real person, but I do think that if you're going to do it, you
must be careful and respectful.  I think that Mr. O'Nan meets that standard, and I applaud him for it.  (7/1/2015)

REAGAN: THE LIFE  by H. W. Brands  (2015)   Reagan: The Life takes its title seriously.  Despite it's 737 pages, the book is
basically a telling of the facts of the 40th president's life without much in the way of analysis or perspective.  He reports; you decide.  
In a way, this is refreshing.  Many people are becoming reluctant to read history these days because there's an expectation of bias on
the part of the reader that suggests that a certain amount of skepticism is going to be required to get through the work.  On the other
hand, it would have been helpful if Mr. Brands, a professor of history at the University of Texas, had included some perspective or
additional background about the men, women and events that were so much a part of Reagan's life.  In the recital of the facts of the
Reagan presidency, the meaning of those facts gets lost or omitted.  Speeches at Point du Hoc and the Berlin Wall each receive less
than a page of attention, but each in their own way were seminal moments in Reagan's presidency.  Most egregiously, I think, is the
way Reagan has influenced politics in general and the conservative movement in particular in the twenty-five years since he left office.
Reagan: The Life is just that.  For Reagan: The Legacy, you'll have to look elsewhere.  (6/28/2015)

THE BONE TREE   by Greg Iles  (2015)  Do you think much about the pacing of a novel?  I do.  Some books like Gone With the
Wind
and War and Peace spread out over decades as they tell their stories of--well, war and peace; others cram so much action into a
short period of time that you're either breathless or skeptical that so much can be done in such a short period of time.  Exhibit A in the
latter category is
Inferno, Dan Brown's last book in which the irrepressible Robert Langdon raged along and trashed world heritage
sites from Florence to Venice to Istanbul in the course of one day.  The Bone Tree falls into the latter category as well.  Set 15 minutes
after the end of Mr. Iles's last book,
Natchez Burning, this book covers a lot of territory, settles dozens of old scores and even solves
the Kennedy assassination in the course of three days without ever leaving Mississippi or Louisiana.  There were times when I was
reading this book when I actually had to stop and remember if this was still the same day that this same character was doing
something else in another part of the state.  Speaking of states, I kind of got the idea from the book that Mr. Iles might think that he's
gone about as far as he can go in creating an interesting criminal class in Southwest Mississippi.  Most of the evil-doers in this book
are from Louisiana and most of the action takes place there.  The number-two guy in the Louisiana State Police has a hunting camp
somewhere south of Natchez, and most of the action in Mississippi takes place there.  Hardly anything happens in Natchez, which is
kind of strange because the lead character is actually the mayor of that city.  In what seems to be a highly unlikely scenario, the sheriff
of a Louisiana parish deputizes him to help him crush a crime ring in his parish.  But those are minor complaints.  I always say that
Greg Iles and Ace Atkins are the two best writers in Mississippi today, and nothing in The Bone Tree disputes that claim.

MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD: THE CLIFTON CHRONICLES   by Jeffrey Archer (2015)  I didn't notice the part about "The
Clifton Chronicles" when I picked up the book in the bookstore and decided to take it home.  I'd read the first book in the series a long
time ago and decided that I really wasn't interested in reading any more of it.  There have been two or three (or fifty, for all I know)
books in the series since then, and as a result, I had no idea who these characters were nor what ancient curses or feuds they might be
carrying with them into the 1960's when this book is set.  It's clear that if I'd been reading along in the series, I'd know a lot more
about these characters than I learned in the book.  Based on the evidence at hand, they're all unpleasant in one way or another.  I
admire Mr. Archer's work, but I think I'm going to punt on this book.  My advice to you as a reader is that if you've been keeping up
and know what there is to know about the Clifton family and their enemies, you probably won't be disappointed.  If you--like me--are
clueless about them, you should probably start at the beginning.  (6/7/2015)

THE GREAT DIVIDE:  THE CONFLICT BETWEEN WASHINGTON AND JEFFERSON THAT DEFINED A NATION   by
Thomas Fleming.  Oscar Wilde once wrote that any fool can make history, but it takes a genius to write it.  By that light, I'd have to
say that Thomas Fleming, a historian who's written more than fifty books, is a genius.  Even when you think you've read enough about
the first and third presidents to think you know them well enough, along comes Mr. Fleming to blow that idea out of the water.  For a
long time, the prevailing sentiment has been that George Washington was a great man and Thomas Jefferson was a great president.  
Curiously enough, the first person to start pushing that particular line of patter was none other than Thomas Jefferson, who seemed to
be blind to Washington's skill at starting a country and establishing the political precedents that we still observe today.  Jefferson saw
him as an English loving would be-monarch who was leading the country to ruin.  When he himself was elected in 1800, he sought to
be everything that Washington was not and run the country in a way that was completely antithetical to Washington's management.  
The result was the bankruptcy of the country, the Burr Conspiracy and the War of 1812.  How did Jefferson come possess such a set
of beliefs?  Mr. Fleming says that Jefferson's residence in Paris during the French Revolution was a root cause.  As the  author says,
He was having a conversion experience.  With no traditional religious faith to balance his intellect and emotions, politics had become
Thomas Jefferson's religion.  The cause of liberty, sustained by his belief in the essential goodness of human beings, became his chief
article of belief.  Few people, above all Jefferson himself, have understood his experience this way.  Viewed from a distance of two
centuries, it was a turning point in American history.  
Powerful stuff, and The Great Divide is full of such observations.  (5/2/2015)

SWANSONG:  THE COLLECTED DIARY OF THE LAST DAYS OF THE THIRD REICH, 1945   by Walter Kempowski  
(Original published in German, 2005; English translation, 2014)   Mr. Kempowski, according to the book jacket, is considered to be
one of Germany's most important post-war novelists.  The fact that I'm not familiar with any of them is irrelevant.  What is relevant is
that after tiring of fiction, he began collecting eyewitness accounts, diaries, letters and memoirs of World War II which told the stories
of everyone from Hitler, Stalin and Churchill to Russian prisoners-of-War being held in the Reich and starving German hausfraus who
went out every morning in search of food for their families.  He combined his entries into a chronological format he called "collage,"
and today we might call "mash-up" and published ten volumes over twenty years.  Swansong is an English translation of the last of his
ten volumes and deals with four specific days in late April-early May of 1945.  They are April 20th Hitler's (last) birthday; April 25,th,
the beginning of the Battle of Berlin; International Labor Day on May 1st and VE Day on May 8th.  A book that is made up of a
thousand or so journal entries--mostly from people you've never heard of--is a challenge to the reader to reboot ones focus every other
paragraph or so and retain focus on each individual entry.  It's difficult reading.  I'm not sure that a casual reader of World War II
history would find it to be a rewarding proposition, but maybe I'm wrong.  (4/27/2015)

1920: THE YEAR THAT MADE THE DECADE ROAR   by Eric Burns  (2015)  I've said several times that I'll read almost any book
that's named after a year.
1493?  Extraordinary.  1759?  Loved it. 1914?  Classic.  1920?  Well, let's just say that it's the exception that
proves the rule.  It was the year of Prohibition and suffrage, Planned Parenthood and Ponzi.  It was probably very interesting, but I'm
afraid you wouldn't know it from reading Mr. Burns's book.  I don't remember reading any of his earlier books, but I've always
enjoyed watching him on television and listening to him on the radio.  He writes on a wide range of subjects, but in the current book,
he tries to tie all the subjects I've mentioned and others to a bombing that took place at the J. P. Morgan Bank on Wall Street that Mr.
Burns sees as an early forerunner of the events of 9/11.  It's a metaphor that's tortured at best, but he runs--and runs--with it.  When
he devoted a chapter to the Teapot Dome scandal--still a few years in the future--I was tempted to think that he'd run out of material
and was just trying to fill pages.  When he offered his review of books that Ernest Hemingway hadn't written yet in 1920, I was sure
of it.  But I do give Burns credit for one keen insight that I hadn't credit before.  In 1920, a man named Wayne Wheeler was the
president of the Anti-Saloon League, the leading proponent of Prohibition before it was passed.  Nobody wanted Prohibition, except for
a few thousand "mothers and others" who were unrelenting in their pressure to put bars out of business.  Burns says that this is the
first instance of a special interest group subverting the will of the people and passing an unpopular law that satisfies no one but the
squeaky wheels that got it passed.  Burns calls that "the beginning of the end of the sovereignty of the people and the transfer of
political power to passionately committed special-interest groups who began to sow both money and intimidation throughout the halls
of government to achieve their ends." He goes on to say that the it was "the end of the republic that the Founding Fathers had
imagined."  I think he might be right about that.  (4/18/2015)


APRIL IS FRENCH HISTORY MONTH!   (It's not a real thing, but I like it so much that I tend to hoard books about France
and read them all at the same time.)

NAPOLEON:  A LIFE   by Andrew Roberts (2015)  Mr. Roberts points out that since Napoleon's death in 1821, more than a book a
day has been printed with his name in the title.  Remarkable.  Roberts also says that almost all of them have relied on the
correspondence that Napoleon III published as a tribute to his uncle long after his death.  To use a current analogy, that was kind of
like Hillary Clinton publishing the emails from her private server and saying that's all the information anybody needs to know.  By
contrast, Roberts, a fellow of the Napoleonic Institute and of the Royal Society of Literature, says that his own research has tapped the
vast amount of new correspondence that has been published in recent years by the Foundation Napoleon and purports to be every
letter, note, dictat, order of the day or anything else that can be proved to have been written by Napoleon himself.  Such new
material--combined with Mr. Roberts' wonderful ability to weave it all together, makes for a book that is both authoritative and
readable.  It certainly doesn't fall into the category of "light reading," but it's certainly worthy of the attention of anyone who's
interested in the subject.  (4/20/2015)

HOW TO BE PARISIAN WHEREVER YOU ARE   by Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret and Sophie Mas  (2015)  I
think a better title for this book might be
How to be Parisienne Wherever You Are, 'cause it's all about the chicks, man.  The only role
that men play in the unfolding of this book is being bewitched and befuddled by Parisian women.  Having said that, the last chapter is
kind of interesting because it suggests places in Paris where you can go for specific purposes.  Where to go for a birthday
celebration?  Chez Bogato on rue Liacourt.  Where to take a smart date?  Musee de Louvre.  (Hell, even I could have guessed that
one.)  And finally, "Your HQ--a cafe that is an extension of your living room and your office at the same time.  You greet the owner,
plug in your laptop, order a lemonade, and ask them to lower the music...and naturally the food is simple and delicious."  The authors
recommend Restaurant Marcel on villa Leandre.  Hemingway liked le Dome.  (4/23/2015)

MARQUIS:  LAFAYETTE RECONSIDERED   by Laura Auricchio ( 2015)  This book brought into focus a conundrum I frequently
encounter when reading history; namely, what's the difference between "academic" and "scholarly"--or is there a difference?  This
book--like
The Death of Caesar a little further down the list--is what I would call scholarly.  Yes, it's footnoted to within an inch of its
life, but it's also accessible, a quality I find not to be in evidence in works that I consider to be "academic."  (An example of something
I'd find to be "academic" is
Empire of Cotton, further down this list.)  Marquis is approachable; Cotton is exhausting.  I'm not damning
a book with faint praise when I say that it's scholarly but not academic.  What I'm saying is that I probably like the scholarly book
better, and such is the case with
Marquis.  Ms. Auricchio is the dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies at the New School of
Public Engagement in New York, and she's a wonderful writer.  Consider the following:  
He lived in treacherous times and made
imperfect choices. He failed at more ventures than most of us will ever attempt and succeeded at efforts that stymied countless men,
but he never abandoned the belief that he could change the world, and he never despaired of success.  Of all his accomplishments,
these might be the most extraordinary.
If I would take Ms. Auricchio to task for anything, it would be the title.  What's up with the
"Reconsidered"?  I think her point is that Lafayette is not as revered in France as he is in America, but I don't think that's much of a
revelation.  Anyone who's read any French history knows that he was a centrist in the French Revolution and that the high road of
moderation between Constitutional Monarchy and Terror was the fast track to the guillotine. Lafayette's greatest accomplishment
during the Revolution was surviving it.  Whether your interest is French or American history, I think you'll enjoy Ms. Auricchio's
book.  (4/7/2015)

PARISH MATCH: A STONE BARRINGTON NOVEL   by Stuart Woods  (2015)  Ouf.  French History Month is NOT off to a good
start.  Apparently, there have been other Stone Barrington novels.  Mercifully, I've missed them.  I suppose you'd say mess is the male
equivalent of a woman's romance novel, in that the hero spends about a week in Paris, and during that time, he has sex with EVERY
SINGLE WOMAN he meets and kills an alarming proportion of the men.  It's not entirely clear what his actual job is, but apparently,
having sex twice a day is a requirement.  I'll admit that some of the things that happen in this book are physically possible--I just don't
see them happening to someone as prosaic as Stone Barrington.  This book made me ashamed to be literate.  (4/7/2015)

THE DEATH OF CAESAR   by Barry Strauss  (2015)  Do we really need yet another re-hash of the world's most famous
assassination?  Well, turns out we do.  If you thought that you getting the facts and nothing but the facts from Shakespeare, you may
be in for a surprise. Turns out he got most of his information from Plutarch--not that there's anything wrong with that--but in doing
so, he was swayed by Plutarch's opinion that Decimus (called "Decius" in the play) wasn't a major player.  Mr. Strauss, professor of
history and classics at Cornell, argues persuasively that indeed he was.  Decimus was one of Caesar's favorites--he shared a victory
chariot with Octavian and Marcus Antonius when Caesar returned from Italian Gaul with his army in the fall of 45 BCE.  In the few
short months between then and the Ides of March of 44, Decimus had come to the conclusion that Octavian and Antonius were much
better positioned to share in the glory of Caesar's upcoming campaign against the Parthians.  If he was going to get ahead in the world,
Caesar had to go down.  As the first of "Caesar's men" to join the conspiracy against him, Decimus was instrumental in the initial
success of the plot.  If info like this is of any interest to you at all, you'll like Mr. Strauss's book.   He's an excellent writer and makes
the story you thought you knew as fresh as tomorrow's headlines.  (4/4/2015)

CHASING GOLD:  THE INCREDIBLE STORY OF HOW THE NAZIS STOLE EUROPE'S BULLION  by George M. Tabor  
(2015)  I'd like to think that Mr. Tabor has too much integrity to have come up with this title himself.  For one thing, I'm not sure
what, if anything, is "incredible" about this story. Europe and America's central bankers, who are the key players in this book, aren't
necessarily a bunch that well-known for their tales of daring.  More to the point, this book isn't really about the gold the Nazis
stole--it's really more about the gold that the countries that were about to be overrun managed to spirit away from their grasp.  The
best stories in the book have to do with the gold of Spain, Norway and other countries that managed to hide their bullion or send it to
New York or London for safe keeping.  Of the major participants in the war, only Belgium (which indeed did have a large supply for
such a small country) saw its stash fall into Hitler's hands.  The stories told in this book really are rather fascinating--they're just not
necessarily the stories that the title of the book would have you believe.  (4/2/2015)

DEAD WAKE by Erik Larson (2015)  Mr. Larson, author of great books like In the Garden of Beasts and The Devil in the White City,
brings his impressive talents to an investigation of the torpedoing of the
Lusitania in 1915.  The research is impeccable and the writing
is first-rate.  Most people think that the sinking of the
Lusitania prompted America's entry into World War I, but as Mr. Larsen points
out, that didn't happen for another two years.  The attack did, however, get these wheels into motion that was irreversible.  I've always
wondered why the
Lusitania never seemed quite as glamorous as the sinking of Titanic three years earlier.  Now I think I understand
that people just don't like to spend much time thinking about an attack by other humans in broad daylight in plain sight from the Irish
headlands as much as they're romanced by the idea of hitting an iceberg on a cold night in the middle of the ocean. And of course,
Titanic was on its maiden voyage and alleged to be unsinkable.  Nobody was under those kinds of illusions three years later.  Mr.
Larson has done it again.  Check it out.  (3/21/2015)

LEAVING BERLIN   by Joseph Kanon  (2015)  I was hoping for great--or at least better--things here.  Alex Meier is an American
writer who emigrates to Communist Berlin in the years just after allegedly being hounded out of America by the McCarthy trials.  But
not so fast. Alex is a double- or triple-agent, so who knows who he's really working for or what his mission in Berlin really is.  And
that's kind of the problem with Leaving Berlin.  We don't know if we're supposed to like the main character or not.  We the readers are
left, just kind of wandering around the Alexanderplatz, lost and not to sure what we're supposed to be thinking.  It's clever that he
works a few real people like Bertholdt Brecht into the narrative, but in the end, we're not left with the sense that anything that's
happened really mattered all that much. Mr. Kanon's previous books included
The Good German. (3/15/2015)

EMPIRE RISING   by Rick Campbell  (2015)  This book jumped the shark for me when--in the middle of a declared war between
China and the United States--the National Security Advisor (a woman, no less) sneaks into the Great Hall of the People in Beijing
and--SPOILER ALERT--implants a computer virus into the Chinese defense computer network.  I like the Chinese, so I was put off
by the notion that we'd be going to war with them from the beginning of the book, but when the action I just told you about happened,
the whole thing just fell apart.  Mr. Campbell, a retired naval commander and the author
The Trident Deception, is a good writer, but I
don't think this was his best work.  (3/17/2015)

TWELVE DAYS   by Alex Berenson  (2015)  Well, they're back.  After seventy years of licking their wounds after that nasty
Holocaust incident, those sneaky Jews are back in the popular culture.  As Mr. Berenson tells it, they're trying to get peaceable nations
like the United States to do their dirty work for them by taking out Iran's nuclear bomb.  It's almost as if Reichsfuhrer Goebbels had
written the darned thing himself.  Other than its alarming premise, there's really not much going on here.  The cover says the book is
"A John Wells Novel," which suggests that Mr. Berenson has written about his main character(s) before.  I was frankly rather
surprised to discover this because there's nothing in the book to suggest that I should care whether Mr. Wells is alive or dead.  Perhaps
Mr. Berenson cared more about him in earlier books.  More egregious still is the proclivity for characters in this book who are known
to be hardened killers to release their enemies when they have them over a barrel, knowing fully well that when they do, the released
parties will be back to torment them in the next chapter. This happens three or four times in this book.  To call it counter-intuitive is
being charitable: It's just stupid, but it happens over and over. Mr. Berenson is a pretty good writer, but I'm tempted to think that he's
just trying to pad the length here.  In reality, what he's really trying is the patience of his readers.  (3/16/2015)

ELEPHANT COMPANY   by Vicki Constantine Croke  (2015)  The story of Billy Williams, or "Elephant Bill" of Burma deserves to be
told.  It is remarkable.  Mr. Williams went to what is now Myanmar after the Great War, when Burma was still a British colony.  His
job was to work with the men who wrangled the hundreds of elephants who literally did the heavy lifting in the production of teak
wood. (In a nutshell, the men cut down the trees, and the elephants hauled them to the river where they were floated hundreds of miles
downriver to Yangon.)  Over the course of two decades of careful study and interaction with the beasts, he came to think of the
beasts as his friends, and some of them were better friends than the humans in his life.  Chief among them was a great beast named
Bandoola whose story would have been sufficient to fill a book. The crowning achievement of Billy's work with the elephants came
during WW2, when the elephants, now doing business as the No. 1 Elephant Company, did much of the work to build the Burma
Road.  As much as I admired this book as a project, I can't say that I was particularly crazy about it as a book.  Mr. Williams never
really came alive for me, and frankly, I was more interested in what was going on with Bandoola. The author seemed to lose interest in
Williams and Bandoola after the war broke out, and I'm kind of sorry about that because I thought that would have been the best part
of the story.  Ms. Croke covers wildlife issues for the public radio station in Boston and has written several books about animals in the
wild, including
Lady and the Panda.  (3/15/2015)

A TOUCH OF STARDUST  by Kate Alcott (2015)  If you've ever turned on a television in the month of December, you've seen a
movie called The Holiday, in which Cameron Diaz, a successful producer of movie trailers, exchanges houses during the holidays with
Kate Winslet, who's a writer for a London newspaper.  When Kate gets to Hollywood, she meets Cameron's next-door-neighbor, a
writer from the Golden Age of Hollywood, played by the late Eli Wallach.  Over dinner one night, Eli tells Kate that there are two kinds
of women in movies--the leading lady and the best friend. Kate realizes that she needs to be the leading lady of her own life.  I mention
this because
A Touch of Stardust is about a young woman who comes to Hollywood in 1939 to break into the movie business as a
writer.  As the book rolls along, we find that Julie, our heroine, isn't really the leading lady in her own life--and certainly not the leading
lady of
A Touch of Stardust.  That would be Carole Lombard, who Julie goes to work for as an assistant while the love of Carole's life,
Clark Gable, is busy filming
Gone With the Wind.  Carole Lombard was a force of nature, and Ms. Alcott should have figured that out
as she was writing the book.  Starting about half-way through the book, we couldn't care less what the simpering Julie was up to--we
just wanted to hang out with Carole.  Ms. Alcott is the widow of the legendary Frank Mankiewicz, and she should have learned enough
about the movies from him to be able to figure out who the leading lady in a book should be.  (3/13/2015)

EMPIRE OF COTTON:  A GLOBAL HISTORY  by Sven Beckert  (2014)  Mr. Beckert claims that cotton is the world's first global
industry.  He says that in the mid-19th century, 1.5 percent of the world's population was involved in the growing and production of
cotton cloth.  From India to Egypt to Indianola, the crop was harvested by slaves and sent aboard ships to the industrial heartland of
England where it was spun into garments and other products and dispatched to the world.  Mr. Beckert, professor of American
History at Harvard, has written an outstanding book that presents a convincing argument for the idea that the production of cotton
created the system we know today as capitalism.  The book is heavy reading to be sure, but if you're interested in knowing how King
Cotton got his name, I highly recommend it.  (3/11/2015)

DOING THE DEVIL'S WORK   by Bill Loehfelm (2015)  is the first novel of New Orleans I've read in a long time that feels real.  I
don't know if Mr. Loehfelm is from New Orleans, but he lives there now, and he avoids the cliches and writes compellingly about the
city in the post-Katrina years.  Maureen Coughlin is a newbie cop and assigned to the Sixth District, home of everything from
Commander's Palace to unspeakable slums in the Mid-City area.  Folks start showing up on the sidewalk with their throats slashed in
such a way that there's bound to be some sort of connection.  Or is there?  Clues point to the ne'er-do-well son of a wealthy Audubon
Place developer to a couple of edgy cops.  You don't often see male novelists writing female protagonists, and Mr. Loehfelm does a
fine job of conveying the irritation, contempt and frustration that Maureen feels as a New Orleans policewoman.  I didn't know until
after I'd read the book jacket that this is the third in a series of novels Mr. Loehfelm has written about Maureen Coughlin.  I'm
definitely going to check out the other two.  (3/9/2015)

THE ALPHABET HOUSE   by Jussi Adler-Olsen (2015)  If you're familiar with the Department Q novels, you're familiar with Mr.
Adler Olsen's work.  Over the course of the first couple hundred pages of this novel of WW2 and its aftermath, I thought it just might
be one of the best novels I'd ever read.  James and Bryan are British pilots who go down somewhere in Germany during a
reconnaissance run.  To save their hides, they steal aboard a hospital train and assume the identities of patients who are being
transferred to a mental hospital near Freiburg.  For almost a year, the pilots simulate mental illness so that they won't be moved from
the hospital. Eventually, Bryan manages to escape, but he doesn't think James is well enough to come with him, so he leaves him in the
ward.  All of this is riveting, and it makes you wish you were a better writer.  Unfortunately, the second half of the book is
much--much--less compelling.  Set during the 1972 Munich Olympics, Bryan finally summons the courage to return to Germany after
28 years and try to discover whatever happened to James.  Turns out, he's still in Freiburg--still simulating mental illness and living at
the mercy of three other "simulants" from the hospital who are just no damn good.  The process of dispatching the evil-doers and
rescuing James is much more mundane than the brilliant first half of the book.  Which is too bad. I still recommend
The Alphabet
House
highly--but oh, what might have been.  (3/5/2015)

PRIVATE VEGAS   by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro  (2015)  This is either the fifth or 728th book in the "Private" series,
originated by James Patterson.  Mr. Patterson's name is on the cover of the book, but I suspect it was actually written by somebody
named Maxine Paetro.  I read one of the earlier books--who knows which one--and thought it was alright, but this one is warm beer
by any comparison.  The main characters whose personalities were probably fleshed out several books ago are just sketches of
themselves. I assume we're meant to know their histories, but I didn't, so things that happened to people which were probably meant
to be significant or affecting are lost on me.  There are several plot lines going on, which is fine, but they're presented in 120 chapters
over 360 pages.  Even I can figure out that's an average chapter length of three pages, so as soon as I got invested in what was going
on in one plot line, the chapter was over and we were off to other characters in another part of town. From the title, you'd think that a
significant part of the action takes place in Las Vegas, but except for a smarmy sub-plot that plays out in a strip mall, not much does.  
(Do I sound frustrated?)  Even though there's cliffhanger of sorts at the end of the book, nothing that precedes it makes me want to
buy the next one (
Private Baton Rouge?) to find out what happens next.  (3/2/2015)

THE SENSE OF STYLE: THE THINKING PERSON'S GUIDE TO WRITING IN THE 21ST CENTURY  by Steven Pinker (2014)
In the first paragraph of this book, Mr. Pinkus says he's talked to lots of "good" writers and developed a "gut" feeling that writing style
can't be taught--you either have it or you don't.  He spends the next 307 pages proving that he should have listened to his gut. You can
do lots better. (2/22/2015)

THE GREAT NEW ORLEANS KIDNAPPING CASE: RACE, LAW, AND JUSTICE IN THE RECONSTRUCTION ERA  by
Michael A. Ross (2015)  So if it's so great, how come you've never heard of it, right?  As crimes go, it was pretty awful, but not
necessarily sensational--a white two-year-old is kidnapped and probably murdered. What makes the "case" "great" is the phrase after
the colon in the title. This was the first investigation of white people in post-Civil War to be prosecuted by an African-American
detective in a city that had come to be dominated by African-American politicians.  The police--and the entire city government, for that
matter--were under intense scrutiny by a white community that was eager to exploit any mistake and discredit a police department and
city government they no longer controlled. Ultimately, the facts of the case were much less interesting than the community's response
to them.  If the era interests you, I think you'll like the book a lot.  If not, you probably won't. (2/20/2015)

AMERICAN GUN: A HISTORY OF THE U.S. IN TEN FIREARMS   by Chris Kyle with William Doyle  (2013)  I actually
purchased this book early last year, long before I knew that
American Sniper was being made into a movie, or Chris Kyle was a name
that everybody knew.  I was writing a book about nineteenth-century New Orleans and needed some information about Colt revolvers.
(The Colt Model 1860 revolver was the basic firearm for Union soldiers in the Civil War, but the famous "Peacemaker" didn't make its
debut until about ten years later--but you probably knew that.)  This book was published a few months after Mr. Kyle was gunned
down by a veteran he was supposedly trying to help recover from PTSD, and there's a touching Foreward from his widow.  I have no
doubt that Mr. Kyle knew a whole heckuva lot about all ten of the guns listed in the book, and I'm sure that the anecdotes he relates
about his experiences with them are true. But I'm equally certain that 90 percent of the history of each of the guns was studied and
written by Mr. Doyle, who also co-authored James Meredith's memoir and was once director of original programming at HBO. (Jim
DeFelice, who co-wrote
American Sniper, was also brought in after Kyle's death.) I have no problem with this because the three of
them wrote a pretty good book that--for better or worse--says a lot about America.  (2/15/2015)  PS: The ten guns are the American
Long Rifle, the Spencer Repeater, The Colt Single Action Army, The Winchester 1873 Rifle, The 1903 Springfield, the M1911 Army
Pistol, the Thompson Submachine Gun, the M1 Automatic Rifle, the .38 Special Police Revolver and the M16 Rifle.

CITIZENS OF THE GREEN ROOM: PROFILES IN COURAGE AN SELF-DELUSION   by Mark Leibovich  (2014)  One of these
days, some Washington "insider" is going to write something that is truly bi-partisan and interesting, and I guess I'm just going to have
a heart attack and die. After scoring big with
This Town last year, Mr. Leibovich's agents probably suggested that he follow up quickly
with a book that dredges up what I'm sure are some of what he thinks are his best works from the past.  There are profiles of Hillary
Clinton ("vulnerable", "cautious"), Glenn Beck ("extreme"), John McCain ("a cliche'). (To his credit, he did describe Chris Matthews as
"the ranting uncle at the Thanksgiving table that the kids have learned to tune out" America followed shortly thereafter.) Mr. Leibovich
always lets you know how many minority citizens are (or are not) at any Republican function. And as you probably suspect, the racial
profile of the group never comes up when he's writing about Democrats. I should have known better. Mr. Leibovich, chief national
correspondent for
The New York Times Magazine, was equally partisan in This Town.  Maybe I thought it was an aberration.  I was
wrong--clearly a Profile in Self-Delusion.  Now I know. (2/14/2015)

EMPIRE OF SIN: SEX, JAZZ, MURDER, AND THE BATTLE FOR MODERN NEW ORLEANS   by Gary Krist (2014)  "Conflate"
is a word that's being thrown around a lot these days--thanks, Brian Williams--and I think this book provides a good example of the
word. Mr. Krist, who's written several books about Chicago and other places and things, conflates the earliest days of the Mafia in
New Orleans, the rise and fall of Storyville and the birth of jazz in the years between 1888 and 1920. Lots of interesting information
about lots of things are here, but it doesn't quite come together into a compelling narrative. Except for a couple of figures who span the
entire time span--notably Tom Anderson, the impresario of Storyville and Josie Arlington, its most notorious madam, most of the
figures really don't have much to do with one another, and you get the impression that this is a number of interesting essays rather than
one coherent story. By all means, read the book if you're interested in any of the topics listed in the title. If not, there are probably
more comprehensive sources of information out there. (2/11/2015)

LENINGRAD: SIEGE AND SYMPHONY:  THE STORY OF THE GREAT CITY TERRORIZED BY STALIN, STARVED BY
HITLER, IMMORTALIZED BY SHOSTAKOVICH
 by Brian Moynahan  (2013) I would have loved to been in one of the meetings
where the author tried to interest the publisher in his idea for this book.  The stories of the WW2 Siege of Leningrad and Dmitri
Shostakovich writing his Seventh (Leningrad) Symphony--told parallel to one another.  It must have seemed irresistible.  Problem is
that those two stories weren't much of a fit to begin with.  Based on what we know now, Shostakovich had written his themes for the
symphony--and at least the first movement--well before the beginning of Hitler's Operation Barbarossa, which unleashed the hounds of
hell at Leningrad's feet in June 1941.  Shostakovich and his family were moved out of the city well before the Wehrmacht arrived, and
he finished the score hundreds of miles away.  None of this diminishes the work, and it was a major propaganda coup for Russia and
its new allies, Britain and America, when it was finally performed in the besieged city in August 1942.  Both of these stories are worth
telling, but Mr. Moynahan has mushed together Shostakovich's story, the military story of the siege and unrelated anecdotes about how
people in the city coped together into a confusing and unsatisfactory hash that doesn't really serve any of his alleged purposes.  Also,
while I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the story that Mr. Moynahan chooses to tell, if you go to the Wikipedia page for
Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony, you'll find a very different story than the one presented in this book.  The Wikipedia page has a
banner at the top that says, "This Page Has Some Issues."  I think the book probably does, as well.  Mr. Moynahan has written several
books about Russia and has served as European editor of the
Times of London. (1/19/2015)

THE HAPPINESS OF PURSUIT: FIND THE QUEST THAT WILL BRING HAPPINESS TO YOUR LIFE   by Chris Guillebeau
(2014)  The title kind of says it all. Everybody needs a quest.  Mr. Guillebeau's was to visit every country in the world, and he did.  
The book seems geared to folks who might not have discovered yet what their quest might be.  As such, I suppose it could be useful.  
If you already have a hunch about what your quest is, the pickings are rather slim regarding how to get there.  (Essentially, it can be
summed up in "Just do it.")  As I read the book over the New Year's holiday, the most useful idea I found was that each year, he sets
attainable goals for himself in the following categories: 1) Writing; 2) Business; 3) Friends and family; 4) Service; 5) Travel; 6)
Spiritual; 7) Health; 8) Learning; 9) Financial (Earning); 10) Financial (Giving); 11) Financial (Saving).  I actually followed his lead on
this and set some goals in those categories for myself.  I don't know if it will make me a better or happier person, but it does give me a
"road map" for some things I want to do this year. Mr. Guillebeau is a native of Louisiana and hosts the World Domination Summit, an
international gathering of creative people who seek adventure while giving back. (1/5/2015)

HITLER'S WARRIOR: THE LIFE AND WARS OF S.S. COLONEL JOCHEN PEIPER   by Danny S. Parker  (2014)  Who?  
Joachim (Jochen) Peiper was the youngest full colonel in the SS at the end of World War II.   He did it the old-fashioned way, by
parlaying intelligence, good looks, family position and amorality into a job as Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler's aide in the run-up to the
war.  Around the time of Barbarossa, he requested and received permission to join the
Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler in Russia.  There and
in the Italian campaign and the Battle of the Bulge, he exhibited what some called valor and others called foolhardiness and managed not
to get himself killed.  As a result of being to close to Himmler, he was a wanted man at the end of the war.  He was tried and
sentenced to death, before having his sentence reduced.  He served ten years in prison.   When he got out, he was an unreformed Nazi
in West Germany, a country where that wasn't a problem. After working at Porsche and Volkswagen for twenty years, he retired to
the French countryside, where he thought he would live out his days in peace.  Not so much.  On the night before Bastille Day in
1976, French communists broke into his home in the Haute Saone and torched the place.  A case could be made that he died in the
fire.  Or not.  A body was recovered, but it was never properly identified.  For a long time, there was a legend that Jochen Peiper was
alive and/or well, before dying of cancer in the 1980's.  This book is strictly for Nazi junkies.  Everyone else should be directed toward
more wholesome endeavors--like the next book.  Mr. Parker has written extensively about the Battle of the Bulge in WWII. (1/8/2015

THE BURMA SPRING: AUNG SAN SUU KYI AND THE NEW STRUGGLE FOR THE SOUL OF A NATION  by Rena Pederson  
(2014)  As I'm sure you remember, Aung San Suu Kyi (Think of it as Unsung Sue Chee) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize is one of
those years in the 90's when the Democrats weren't running a candidate.  She was unable to accept her prize because she was under
effective house arrest in Myanmar at the time.  It was believed that if she went to Oslo to pick up the prize, she'd be unable to return to
the country.  The story of "The Lady" (as she's known in what used to be called Burma) is fascinating.  In addition to her story, we're
provided with a fairly comprehensive look at political and social life in Myanmar, which declined from being one of the most advanced
countries in Southeast Asia at the end of World War II to being ranked next to last on the world misery index a few years ago.  We're
given an overview of Aung San's life, and a survey course regarding the various vermin that she struggled against in her fight for
democracy by non-violent means.  Unlikely contributors to her struggle were Laura Bush, who championed her cause during her
husband's administration; and Hillary Clinton, who assisted her during her years as Secretary of State.   The book features a Foreword
by Laura Bush.  While the tone of both the Foreword and the book are a tad less critical of Aung San and her motives than I'd prefer,
there's no doubt that it's an amazing story.  Ms. Pederson is the former editorial page editor for the
Dallas Morning News.  (1/12/2015)

GERMANY: MEMORIES OF A NATION   by Neil MacGregor (2014)   This is the kind of book that scares children. It's huge.  It
weighs almost three pounds, and it has a title that makes you think you're reading the history of Germany--which is only partially true.  
In reality, it's a history of iconic people and things that we think of when we think of Germany.  It's thirty chapters are individually
concerned with such things as the Brandenburg Gate, Meissen porcelain, Goethe, Volkswagens and concentration camps. Taken
individually, the chapters are interesting, if seldom fascinating; but taken together, the lack of focus or comprehensible timeline might
wear the reader down. In the books favor is its rich photographic documentation of the subject matter.  This isn't one of those books
which has ten or twelve pages of photos in the middle.  Practically every other page has a color picture of something referred to in the
text--hence the weight of the book.  If you've got an eclectic curiosity about the people and things that have made Germany what it
is--and you don't want to get bogged down in the nation's confounding political history, this could be a book for you. Mr. MacGregor
is Director of the British Museum.  (1/1/2015)

KAISER WILHELM II, (1859-1941): A Concise Life   by John C. G. Rohl  (2014)  If you go to Mr. Rohl's page on Amazon, you'll
see that Part 1 of his epic three-volume biography of Wilhelm II sells for a whopping $670.99.  (Volume II sells for a slightly less
whopping  $196.96, and Volume III goes for a downright modest $61.75.)  But apparently, Mr. Rohl is just as good at Marketing as he
is at writing German history because he's written
A Concise Life, which could be considered as the Executive Summary of the
three-volume work. The thirty chapters occupy a mere 194 pages, followed by 56 pages of notes.  Mr. Rohl provides the broad
strokes of what most people need to know about Kaiser Willie, and if you want to know more, he tells you where you can find it in his
magnum opus. And he doesn't stint on offering opinions.  While most of today's historians are wont to say that "the world drifted into
war in 1914," and that no one person is responsible for the ultimate outbreak of the war, Mr. Rohl places the blame squarely on the
shoulders of his subject by offering numerous quotes from the horse's mouth before the war even started saying that there would
never be a more opportune time for Germany to settle its affairs with France and Russia, so war should be declared as quickly as
possible. When he appeared to get cold feet at the last minute and changed his mind, he allowed himself to be stampeded into battle by
his Army General Staff.  To add insult to injury, he provides lots of quotes from the kaiser after his abdication and Hitler's assumption
of power, saying things like Hitler is finally doing what he'd attempted to do in WWI.  A Concise Life is a wonderful tool for
understanding the perplexing life of Germany's last kaiser.  Mr. Rohl is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Sussex.  
(1/2/2015)