Category: Book Discussion (page 1 of 4)

Elephant Company : the Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II by Vicki Croke, May 9, 2018

J.H. “Billy” Williams always had an affinity for animals. So, when he responded to job offer with the East India Company to work with logging elephants his family wasn’t surprised, though worried that he had already come back from World War I in one piece, would he be so lucky with India? Not only did he find his calling with the elephants in India, Billy and his elephants became war heroes. At the onset of World War II, Williams formed Elephant Company and was instrumental in defeating the Japanese in Burma and saving refugees, including on his own “Hannibal Trek.” Billy Williams became a media sensation during the war, telling reporters that the elephants did more for him than he was ever able to do for them, but his story has since been forgotten. Part biography, part war story, and part wildlife adventure, Croke delivers an utterly charming narrative and an important, little-known piece of the legacy of World War II.

 

NYT’s Book Review: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/13/books/review/elephant-company-by-vicki-constantine-croke.html?_r=0 

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, April 11, 2018

The mysterious Jay Gatsby uses his fabulous wealth to create an enchanted world fit for his former love, Daisy Buchanan, now married to Tom. Daisy, though, is a romanticised figment of his own imagination, and the extraordinary world that he creates is equally illusory. He gives lavish, legendary parties where the guests and gate-crashers enjoy free-flowing champagne and cocktails and carefree hospitality. But a more sinister reality begins to break through, as idealized romantic figures prove to have human frailties and selfish motivations, and the grandiose world of Gatsby’s creation crumbles and disillusion turns to tragedy.

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick, March 14, 2018

Soon to be a major motion picture starring Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Ben Wishaw, and Brendan Gleeson, and directed by Ron Howard.The ordeal of the whaleship Essex was an event as mythic in the nineteenth century as the sinking of the Titanic was in the twentieth. In 1819, the Essex left Nantucket for the South Pacific with twenty crew members aboard. In the middle of the South Pacific the ship was rammed and sunk by an angry sperm whale. The crew drifted for more than ninety days in three tiny whaleboats, succumbing to weather, hunger, disease, and ultimately turning to drastic measures in the fight for survival. Nathaniel Philbrick uses little-known documents-including a long-lost account written by the ship’s cabin boy-and penetrating details about whaling and the Nantucket community to reveal the chilling events surrounding this epic maritime disaster. An intense and mesmerizing listen, In the Heart of the Sea is a monumental work of history forever placing the Essex tragedy in the American historical canon.

The Library has a copy of the movie.

Side read: Moby Dick

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the greatest American novels finds its perfect contemporary champion in Why Read Moby-Dick?, Nathaniel Philbrick’s enlightening and entertaining tour through Melville’s classic. As he did in his National Book Award–winning bestseller In the Heart of the Sea, Philbrick brings a sailor’s eye and an adventurer’s passion to unfolding the story behind an epic American journey. He skillfully navigates Melville’s world and illuminates the book’s humor and unforgettable characters—finding the thread that binds Ishmael and Ahab to our own time and, indeed, to all times. An ideal match between author and subject, Why Read Moby-Dick? will start conversations, inspire arguments, and make a powerful case that this classic tale waits to be discovered anew.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is one of the most perilous adventure tales ever. Unbelievable – but true. I understand that business schools use it to teach crisis management. Gary

 

Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West by Christopher Knowlton, February 14, 2018

A revolutionary new appraisal of the Old West and the America it made

The open range cattle era lasted barely a quarter-century, but it left America irrevocably changed. These few decades following the Civil War brought America its greatest boom-and-bust cycle until the Depression, the invention of the assembly line, and the dawn of the conservation movement. It inspired legends, such as that icon of rugged individualism, the cowboy. Yet this extraordinary time and its import have remained unexamined for decades.

Cattle Kingdom reveals the truth of how the West rose and fell, and how its legacy defines us today. The tale takes us from dust-choked cattle drives to the unlikely splendors of boomtowns like Abilene, Kansas, and Cheyenne, Wyoming. We venture from the Texas Panhandle to the Dakota Badlands to the Chicago stockyards. We meet a diverse array of players—from the expert cowboy Teddy Blue to the failed rancher and future president Teddy Roosevelt. Knowlton shows us how they and others like them could achieve so many outsized feats: killing millions of bison in a decade, building the first opera house on the open range, driving cattle by the thousand, and much more. Cattle Kingdom is a revelatory new view of the Old West.

 

From Delancy Place:

THE BIRTH OF THE AMERICAN COWBOY — 1/08/18

Today’s selection — from Cattle Kingdom by Christopher Knowlton. In the mid-to-late 1800s, some 10 million cattle would be driven north out of Texas, the largest forced migration of animals in human history. It was the birth of the American cowboy:

“Cattle had been trailed from Texas to Missouri as early as 1842 and to California as early as 1854. … Although the maps depicting these routes suggest an orderly branch network of roads, on the ground the paths taken were often circuitous, as the drovers needed to provide water and grass for the cattle along the way. This meant following rivers and creeks and tracing the routes of old Indian and buffalo trails. The earliest endpoints were the railheads of the Union Pacific and the Missouri Pacific railroads, which were gradually extending their tentacles of track westward, now that the Civil War was over and capital was available for their expansion.

“But nothing about this trail-driving scheme turned out to be quite as easy as it looked on paper. The first challenge: a cattle drive required horses, but the freely roaming mustangs needed to be roped, corralled, and broken by a skilled broncobuster. It typically took five to six days to properly break a wild mustang. And to trail cattle north, a journey that could take three to six months, drovers needed four or five horses per cowboy.

“The second challenge: the behavior and temperament of the wild Texas Longhorn itself. … It was a challenge for cowboys to round up these wild cattle. Texas Longhorns hid in the brush during the day and did most of their foraging at night. Only briefly in the summer, when the tor­menting mosquitoes were out in force, did they spend the daylight hours in open areas, where they hoped to find a breeze. Most of the time the cowboys were compelled to ride into the thorny brush to flush the cattle out. But a cow with a young calf was prepared to gore a horse to defend her offspring, and the longhorn bull was no­toriously ornery: ‘sullen, morose, solitary, and pugnacious;’ as one cattleman put it. ‘The longer he lived, the meaner he became.’ …

“Once a herd was assembled, the profit-seeking Texan faced his most grueling challenge: the trail drive itself, since railroads throughout the South had been badly damaged during the Civil War and had never ventured far into Texas. … It required a minimum of eight men to drive a thousand head of cattle. The trail boss usually rode a few miles ahead, scouting out water holes and good places to graze the herd. The cook followed on the mess, or chuck, wagon. …

“Two cowboys were positioned at the point of the herd and two along each swing, or flank. The two most junior cowboys brought up the rear and were known as drag riders. Their job was to keep the slow and lame cattle moving along. They were constantly sub­jected to dust and spatterings of the herd’s manure; they took the full brunt of its noxious odors. … [One] staple of the diet was ‘son-of-a­-bitch stew,’ concocted from leftover cattle parts such as the heart, testicles, and tongue.

“On a good day, a trail drive could cover fourteen or fifteen miles, usually with a break at midday for lunch. The greatest threat facing the drovers was a stampede. It didn’t take much to spook the jumpy longhorns: lightning, the appearance of a wolf, the snap of a towel. …

“In the spring of 1867, some 35,000 head of cattle headed up the trails; the next year, 75,000; the year after that 350,000; and in 1871, some 600,000. The great migration of Texas Longhorns, the largest forced migration of animals in human history, had begun in earnest. In all, some ten million cattle would be driven north out of Texas, accompanied by half a million horses and some 50,000 cowboys.”

Book Discussion: Jan 10, 2018
A Gentleman in Moscow
by Amor Towles

A New York Times bestseller “The same gorgeous, layered richness that marked Towles’ debut, Rules of Civility, shapes [A Gentleman in Moscow]” – Entertainment Weekly   “Elegant… as lavishly filigreed as a Fabergé egg” – O, the Oprah Magazine   He can’t leave his hotel. You won’t want to.   From the New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Civility—a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel  In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery. Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose. “And the intrigue! … [A Gentleman in Moscow] is laced with sparkling threads (they will tie up) and tokens (they will matter): special keys, secret compartments, gold coins, vials of coveted liquid, old-fashioned pistols, duels and scars, hidden assignations (discreet and smoky), stolen passports, a ruby necklace, mysterious letters on elegant hotel stationery… a luscious stage set, backdrop for a downright Casablanca-like drama.” – The San Francisco Chronicle From the Hardcover edition

Here is a video tour of the Hotel Metropol (courtesy of Charles Salmans)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPkLFmUiTjo

An interview with the author by the WSJ:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUXlagGIH18

Amor Towles’ website has some interesting discussion:
http://www.amortowles.com/

Latvian Stew: Mentioned on page 97
The author points to this recipe (there are others).

PORK STEW WITH DRIED APRICOTS AND PRUNES

(Svinina v Kislo-Sladkom Souse)

SERVES 6 — 8

As the apricots and prunes cook, some of them will fall apart and thicken the sauce. Serve this stew accompanied by boiled potatoes, buttered and garnished with chopped parsley, if you like.

3 lbs. boneless pork shoulder,
trimmed and cut into 1″ pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 tbsp. vegetable oil
6 carrots, peeled, trimmed, and
sliced crosswise
4 tbsp. tomato paste
1 cup dried apricots
1 lb. white boiling onions, peeled,
each cut into 6 wedges
1 cup pitted prunes

1. Season pork with salt and pepper. Heat 3 tbsp. of the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add pork and cook, stirring occasionally, until meat releases its juices and is no longer pink all over, about 5 minutes. Add carrots and cook until slightly tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and 5 cups of water, then add apricots. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and gently simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes.

Another recipe that looks good from Epicurious:
https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/pork-stew-with-apricots-and-prunes-2559
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On page 133 The Count quickly notes that a number, 1,173 is not prime by using the Divisibility by 3 Theorem.  That is if the sum of the digits of a number are divisible by 3 (or 9) then the number is divisible by three (or 9), hence, not prime.   The book’s example: 1+1+7+3 =12 is divisible by 3 so, according to the theorem, 1,173 is divisible by 3.

Here is an informal proof.

Suppose that you have a four-digit number N that is written abcd. and a+b+c+d is divisible by 3.  Then

N=1000a+100b+10c+d=(999+1)a+(99+1)b+(9+1)c+d=(999a+99b+9c)+(a+b+c+d)=3(333a+33b+3c)+(a+b+c+d)
so when you divide N by 3, you’ll get

333a+33b+3c+(a+b+c+d) /3.  But since a+b+c+d was divisible by 3, the 3 in the denominator cancels out and the remainder is an integer..  Hence N is divisible by 3 and not prime.

Book Discussion: December 13, 2017
Dereliction of Duty
by H.R. McMaster

From respected Lieutenant General and Trump Administration National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, an authoritative, highly critical analysis of the arrogance, deception, and controversial decisions at the highest level of government that led to America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. “The war in Vietnam was not lost in the field, nor was it lost on the front pages of the New York Times or the college campuses. It was lost in Washington, D.C.” —H. R. McMaster (from the Conclusion) Dereliction Of Duty is a stunning analysis of how and why the United States became involved in an all-out and disastrous war in Southeast Asia. Fully and convincingly researched, based on transcripts and personal accounts of crucial meetings, confrontations and decisions, it is the only book that fully re-creates what happened and why. McMaster pinpoints the policies and decisions that got the United States into the morass and reveals who made these decisions and the motives behind them, disproving the published theories of other historians and excuses of the participants. A page-turning narrative, Dereliction Of Duty focuses on a fascinating cast of characters: President Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, General Maxwell Taylor, McGeorge Bundy and other top aides who deliberately deceived the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the U.S. Congress and the American public. McMaster’s only book, Dereliction of Duty is an explosive and authoritative new look at the controversy concerning the United States involvement in Vietnam

Book Discussion: Nov 8, 2017
Midnight in Broad Daylight
A Japanese American Family Caught Between Two Worlds

Pamela Rotner Sakamoto

midnightMeticulously researched and beautifully written, the true story of a Japanese American family that found itself on opposite sides during World War II—an epic tale of family, separation, divided loyalties, love, reconciliation, loss, and redemption—this is a riveting chronicle of U.S.–Japan relations and the Japanese experience in America.

After their father’s death, Harry, Frank, and Pierce Fukuhara—all born and raised in the Pacific Northwest—moved to Hiroshima, their mother’s ancestral home. Eager to go back to America, Harry returned in the late 1930s. Then came Pearl Harbor. Harry was sent to an internment camp until a call came for Japanese translators and he dutifully volunteered to serve his country. Back in Hiroshima, his brothers Frank and Pierce became soldiers in the Japanese Imperial Army.

As the war raged on, Harry, one of the finest bilingual interpreters in the United States Army, island-hopped across the Pacific, moving ever closer to the enemy—and to his younger brothers. But before the Fukuharas would have to face each other in battle, the U.S. detonated the atomic bomb over Hiroshima, gravely injuring tens of thousands of civilians, including members of their family.

Alternating between the American and Japanese perspectives, Midnight in Broad Daylightcaptures the uncertainty and intensity of those charged with the fighting as well as the deteriorating home front of Hiroshima—as never told before in English—and provides a fresh look at the dropping of the first atomic bomb. Intimate and evocative, it is an indelible portrait of a resilient family, a scathing examination of racism and xenophobia, an homage to the tremendous Japanese American contribution to the American war effort, and an invaluable addition to the historical record of this extraordinary time.

Side read: Hiroshima by John Hersey

Book Discussion, October 11, 2017
Killers of the Flower Moon : the Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

From New Yorker staff writer David Grann, #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Lost City of Z, a twisting, haunting true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history         In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, they rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.       Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target. Her relatives were shot and poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more and more members of the tribe began to die under mysterious circumstances.       In this last remnant of the Wild West—where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes like Al Spencer, the “Phantom Terror,” roamed—many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll climbed to more than twenty-four, the FBI took up the case. It was one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations and the bureau badly bungled the case. In desperation, the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only American Indian agents in the bureau. The agents infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest techniques of detection.  Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history.        In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann revisits a shocking series of crimes in which dozens of people were murdered in cold blood. Based on years of research and startling new evidence, the book is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, as each step in the investigation reveals a series of sinister secrets and reversals. But more than that, it is a searing indictment of the callousness and prejudice toward American Indians that allowed the murderers to operate with impunity for so long. Killers of the Flower Moon is utterly compelling, but also emotionally devastating.

Charlie Rose interviews the author:
https://charlierose.com/videos/30603

September 13, 2017
Book Discussion:
The Things They Carried
Tim O’Brien

A classic work of American literature that has not stopped changing minds and lives since it burst onto the literary scene, The Things They Carriedis a ground-breaking meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling. The Things They Carrieddepicts the men of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and the character Tim O’Brien, who has survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of forty-three. Taught everywhere from high school classrooms to graduate seminars in creative writing it has become required reading for any American and continues to challenge readers in their perceptions of fact and fiction, war and peace, courage and fear and longing. The Things They Carried won France’s prestigious Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize; it was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award., A classic, life-changing meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling, with more than two-million copies in print Depicting the men of Alpha Company-Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and the character Tim O’Brien, who survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of forty-three-the stories in The Things They Carried opened our eyes to the nature of war in a way we will never forget. It is taught everywhere, from high school classrooms to graduate seminars in creative writing, and in the decades since its publication it has never failed to challenge our perceptions of fact and fiction, war and peace, and courage, longing, and fear., Tim O’Brien’s modern classic that reset our understanding of fiction, nonfiction, and the way they can work together, as well as our understanding of the Vietnam war and its consequences.

 

Side reads:

“Dispatches” by Michael Herr.  According to John Wolcott, who served in Viet Nam, this accurately captures the life of a grunt.  One of the greatest examples of war journalism ever written, Michael Herr’s clearheaded yet unsparing retellings of the day-to-day events in Vietnam take on the force of poetry, finding clarity in one of the most incomprehensible events in our modern era. A National Book Critics Circle finalist and highly acclaimed upon its publication, Dispatches still retains its resonance as America finds itself amidst another military quagmire.  

 

 

 

“Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad.  Charles Marlow is a steamboat captain on the River Thames near Gravesend England. He and his crew work for an ivory trading company. One day he recounts to his fellow crew the story of his life and how he became a captain for the steam boat company. The focus of his story involves the journey Marlow undertook to the outer reaches of the company’s operations. Here he tells of his wild encounters with Mr. Kurtz, a man with a great reputation for bringing in the most ivory for the company. Kurtz is widely respected by the natives, yet Marlow has some differing opinions as he struggles to understand Kurtz’s way of life, while uncovering secrets about the strange way Kurtz conducts his business.

This book inspired the movie “Apocalypse Now”.

 

 

August 9, 2017
Book Discussion: A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn

Award-winning screenwriter Malla Nunn delivers a stunning and darkly romantic crime novel set in 1950s apartheid South Africa, featuring Detective Emmanuel Cooper — a man caught up in a time and place where racial tensions and the raw hunger for power make life very dangerous indeed.

In a morally complex tale rich with authenticity, Nunn takes readers to Jacob’s Rest, a tiny town on the border between South Africa and Mozambique. It is 1952, and new apartheid laws have recently gone into effect, dividing a nation into black and white while supposedly healing the political rifts between the Afrikaners and the English. Tensions simmer as the fault line between the oppressed and the oppressors cuts deeper, but it’s not until an Afrikaner police officer is found dead that emotions more dangerous than anyone thought possible boil to the surface.

When Detective Emmanuel Cooper, an Englishman, begins investigating the murder, his mission is preempted by the powerful police Security Branch, who are dedicated to their campaign to flush out black communist radicals. But Detective Cooper isn’t interested in political expediency and has never been one for making friends. He may be modest, but he radiates intelligence and certainly won’t be getting on his knees before those in power. Instead, he strikes out on his own, following a trail of clues that lead him to uncover a shocking forbidden love and the imperfect life of Captain Pretorius, a man whose relationships with the black and coloured residents of the town he ruled were more complicated and more human than anyone could have imagined.

The first in her Detective Emmanuel Cooper series, A Beautiful Place to Die marks the debut of a talented writer who reads like a brilliant combination of Raymond Chandler and Graham Greene. It is a tale of murder, passion, corruption, and the corrosive double standard that defined an apartheid nation.

Recommended by Jan Selkowitz

 

Side read:  Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

July 12, 2017
Book Discussion:
Last Hope Island
Lynne Olsen

When the Nazi Blitzkrieg subjugated Europe in World War II, London became the safe haven for the leaders of seven occupied countries–France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Norway, Czechoslovakia and Poland–who fled there to avoid imprisonment and set upgovernments in exile to commandeer their resistance efforts. The lone hold-out against Hitler’s offensive, Britain became a beacon of hope to the rest of Europe, as prominent European leaders like French general Charles De Gaulle, Queen Wilhelmina of Holland, and King Haakon of Norway competed for Winston Churchill’s attention while trying to rule their embattled countries from the precarious safety of ‘Last Hope Island'”

Review from the NYT’s: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/05/books/review/last-hope-island-lynne-olson.html 

Companion book: “Avenue of Spies” by Alex Kershaw. There is one paper copy and 2 audio copies in the Library. Recommended by Taylor Strubinger.

 

June 14, 2017
Book Discussion:
The Undoing Project
Michael Lewis

How a Nobel Prize–winning theory of the mind altered our perception of reality. Forty years ago, Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky wrote a series of breathtakingly original studies undoing our assumptions about the decision-making process. Their papers showed the ways in which the human mind erred, systematically, when forced to make judgments in uncertain situations. Their work created the field of behavioral economics, revolutionized Big Data studies, advanced evidence-based medicine, led to a new approach to government regulation, and made much of Michael Lewis’s own work possible. Kahneman and Tversky are more responsible than anybody for the powerful trend to mistrust human intuition and defer to algorithms.

The Undoing Project is about a compelling collaboration between two men who have the dimensions of great literary figures. They became heroes in the university and on the battlefield—both had important careers in the Israeli military—and their research was deeply linked to their extraordinary life experiences. Amos Tversky was a brilliant, self-confident warrior and extrovert, the center of rapt attention in any room; Kahneman, a fugitive from the Nazis in his childhood, was an introvert whose questing self-doubt was the seedbed of his ideas. They became one of the greatest partnerships in the history of science, working together so closely that they couldn’t remember whose brain originated which ideas, or who should claim credit. They flipped a coin to decide the lead authorship on the first paper they wrote, and simply alternated thereafter. This story about the workings of the human mind is explored through the personalities of two fascinating individuals so fundamentally different from each other that they seem unlikely friends or colleagues. In the process they may well have changed, for good, mankind’s view of its own mind.

 

Discussion Leader: Harris Hester

The Library has 4 copies of a shorter book, Think Twice by Michael Mauboussin, that addresses the subject. He lives in the area and has spoken at the Library. He’s Managing Director, Global Strategies, Credit Suisse. Gary Banks

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