Category: Good Reads (page 1 of 3)

The Polish Officer
Alan Furst

Capt. Alexander de Milja is a chameleon. A cartographer by profession, de Milja works as an intelligence officer in the Polish underground at the outset of World War II. When the Germans discover de Milja’s identity in Poland, he goes to France and later Russia to continue his work. Under a series of false identities, mingling with the bon vivants of occupied Paris, he becomes a prized intelligence resource, surviving by cunning and passing valuable strategic information to the British. De Milja is in even more danger, working as a saboteur based in a Ukrainian forest as the Germans march east. De Milja’s disguises are many-he passes as a Russian writer, a Czech coal merchant, and a Polish horse breeder-and he embraces each persona completely as he goes about the business of espionage and sabotage. De Milja comes across as a genuine individual who, in his weaker moments, grapples with his desire to give up the fight. This well-written, realistic novel paints a vivid picture of the grayness and despair of the German occupation.

Recommended by Tom Reifenheiser

And the Show Went on :
Cultural Life in Nazi-occupied Paris
Alan Riding

In the weeks after the Germans captured Paris, theaters, opera houses, and nightclubs reopened to occupiers and French citizens alike, and they remained open for the duration of the war. Alan Riding introduces a pageant of twentieth-century artists who lived and worked under the Nazis and explores the decisions each made about whether to stay or flee, collaborate or resist.We see Maurice Chevalier and Edith Piaf singing before French and German audiences; Picasso painting and occasionally selling his work from his Left Bank apartment; and Marcel Carne and Henri-Georges Clouzot, among others, directing movies in Paris studios (more than two hundred were produced during this time). We see that pro-Fascist writers such as Louis-Ferdinand Celine and Robert Brasillach flourished, but also that Camus’s The Stranger was published and Sartre’s play No Exit was first performed-ten days before the Normandy landings.Based on exhaustive research and extensive interviews, And the Show Went On sheds a clarifying light on a protean and problematic era in twentieth-century European cultural history

Recommended by David Mace

The Cost of Courage
Charles Kaiser

This heroic true story of the three youngest children of a bourgeois Catholic family who worked together in the French Resistance is told by an American writer who has known and admired the family for five decades. In the autumn of 1943, Andre Boulloche became de Gaulle’s military delegate in Paris, coordinating all the Resistance movements in the nine northern regions of France only to be betrayed by one of his associates, arrested, wounded by the Gestapo, and taken prisoner. His sisters carried on the fight without him until the end of the war. Andre survived three concentration camps and later became a prominent French politician who devoted the rest of his life to reconciliation of France and Germany. His parents and oldest brother were arrested and shipped off on the last train from Paris to Germany before the liberation, and died in the camps. Since then, silence has been the Boulloches’s answer to dealing with the unbearable. This is the first time the family has cooperated with an author to recount their extraordinary ordeal.

Recommended by Taylor Strubinger

The Paris Architect : a Novel
Charles Belfoure

A beautiful and elegant account of an ordinary man’s unexpected and reluctant descent into heroism during the second world war.” —Malcolm Gladwell A thrilling debut novel of World War II Paris, from an author who’s been called “an up and coming Ken Follett.” (Booklist) In 1942 Paris, gifted architect Lucien Bernard accepts a commission that will bring him a great deal of money – and maybe get him killed. But if he’s clever enough, he’ll avoid any trouble. All he has to do is design a secret hiding place for a wealthy Jewish man, a space so invisible that even the most determined German officer won’t find it. He sorely needs the money, and outwitting the Nazis who have occupied his beloved city is a challenge he can’t resist. But when one of his hiding spaces fails horribly, and the problem of where to hide a Jew becomes terribly personal, Lucien can no longer ignore what’s at stake. The Paris Architect asks us to consider what we owe each other, and just how far we’ll go to make things right. Written by an architect whose knowledge imbues every page, this story becomes more gripping with every soul hidden and every life saved.

Recommended by Jan Selkowitz and Burt von Stuelpnagel.

Avenue of Spies
a True Story of Terror, Espionage, and One American Family’s Heroic Resistance in Nazi-occupied France

Alex Kershwaw

The best-selling author of The Liberator brings to life the incredible true story of an American doctor in Paris, and his heroic espionage efforts during World War II The leafy Avenue Foch, one of the most exclusive residential streets in Nazi-occupied France, was Paris’s hotbed of daring spies, murderous secret police, amoral informers, and Vichy collaborators. So when American physician Sumner Jackson, who lived with his wife and young son Phillip at Number 11, found himself drawn into the Liberation network of the French resistance, he knew the stakes were impossibly high. Just down the road at Number 31 was the “mad sadist” Theodor Dannecker, an Eichmann protégé charged with deporting French Jews to concentration camps. And Number 84 housed the Parisian headquarters of the Gestapo, run by the most effective spy hunter in Nazi Germany. From his office at the American Hospital, itself an epicenter of Allied and Axis intrigue, Jackson smuggled fallen Allied fighter pilots safely out of France, a job complicated by the hospital director’s close ties to collaborationist Vichy. After witnessing the brutal round-up of his Jewish friends, Jackson invited Liberation to officially operate out of his home at Number 11–but the noose soon began to tighten. When his secret life was discovered by his Nazi neighbors, he and his family were forced to undertake a journey into the dark heart of the war-torn continent from which there was little chance of return. Drawing upon a wealth of primary source material and extensive interviews with Phillip Jackson, Alex Kershaw recreates the City of Light during its darkest days. The untold story of the Jackson family anchors the suspenseful narrative, and Kershaw dazzles readers with the vivid immediacy of the best spy thrillers. Awash with the tense atmosphere of World War II’s Europe, Avenue of Spies introduces us to the brave doctor who risked everything to defy Hitler.

An interesting fact about this book is that two grand uncles of one of our members, Burt von Stuelpnagel, are in the book.

Recommended by Taylor Strubinger and Burt von Stuelpnagel

Dereliction of Duty
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

The Iran Wars : Spy Games, Bank Battles, and the Secret Deals That Reshaped the Middle East
Jay Solomon

This is the deeply reported, riveting account of a war waged on many levels–military, financial, covert–that most don’t realize America has been engaged in for years. For over a decade, against the backdrop of the Middle East, Central Asia and the Far East, the United States and Iran have been engaged in a conflict as significant as it is hidden from view. Using a combination of economic sanctions, assassinations, global diplomacy and intelligence work, the United States has struggled to stabilize and contain what it sees as the most alarming foreign policy threat we face, while at the same time Iran has used the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and their own formidable intelligence networks and proxies to undermine the United States’ foothold in the Middle East. Through missed opportunities, miscommunication, and mistrust the two nations periodically moved toward and backed away from moments of understanding and compromise. Even as Iran built up their nuclear technologies, they were eventually brought to the negotiation table under crushing sanctions. Jay Solomon provides an unprecedented glimpse into the power struggle that the United States and Iran are locked into and the machinations that led to a historic agreement

Recommended by Frank Johnson

Blood and Sand
Alex von Tunzelmann

bloodsandOver sixteen extraordinary days in October and November 1956, the twin crises of Suez and Hungary pushed the world to the brink of a nuclear conflict and what many at the time were calling World War III. Blood and Sand is a revelatory new history of these dramatic events, for the first time setting both crises in the context of the Arab–Israeli conflict, and the treacherous power politics of imperialism and oil.
Blood and Sand tells this story hour by hour, with a fascinating cast of characters including Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anthony Eden, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Nikita Khrushchev, Christian Pineau, Imre Nagy and David Ben-Gurion. It is a tale of conspiracy and revolutions, spies and terrorists, kidnappings and assassination plots, the fall of the British Empire and the rise of American hegemony. Blood and Sand is essential to our understanding of the modern Middle East and resonates powerfully with the problems of oil control, religious fundamentalism and international unity that face the world today.

Recommended by Tom Reifenheiser

Ike’s Bluff
President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save the World

Evan Thomas

ikesbluffEvan Thomas’s startling account of how the underrated Dwight Eisenhower saved the world from nuclear holocaust. Upon assuming the presidency in 1953, Dwight Eisenhower set about to make good on his campaign promise to end the Korean War. Yet while Eisenhower was quickly viewed by many as a doddering lightweight, behind the bland smile and simple speech was a master tactician. To end the hostilities, Eisenhower would take a colossal risk by bluffing that he might use nuclear weapons against the Communist Chinese, while at the same time restraining his generals and advisors who favored the strikes. Ike’s gamble was of such magnitude that there could be but two outcomes: thousands of lives saved, or millions of lives lost. A tense, vivid and revisionist account of a president who was then, and still is today, underestimated, IKE’S BLUFF is history at its most provocative and thrilling.

Recommended by Tom Reifenheiser.

An Officer and a Spy
Robert Harris

officerspyRobert Harris returns to the thrilling historical fiction he has so brilliantly made his own. This is the story of the infamous Dreyfus affair told as a chillingly dark, hard-edged novel of conspiracy and espionage. Paris in 1895. Alfred Dreyfus, a young Jewish officer, has just been convicted of treason, sentenced to life imprisonment at Devil’s Island, and stripped of his rank in front of a baying crowd of twenty-thousand. Among the witnesses to his humiliation is Georges Picquart, the ambitious, intellectual, recently promoted head of the counterespionage agency that “proved” Dreyfus had passed secrets to the Germans. At first, Picquart firmly believes in Dreyfus’s guilt. But it is not long after Dreyfus is delivered to his desolate prison that Picquart stumbles on information that leads him to suspect that there is still a spy at large in the French military. As evidence of the most malignant deceit mounts and spirals inexorably toward the uppermost levels of government, Picquart is compelled to question not only the case against Dreyfus but also his most deeply held beliefs about his country, and about himself. Bringing to life the scandal that mesmerized the world at the turn of the twentieth century, Robert Harris tells a tale of uncanny timeliness––a witch hunt, secret tribunals, out-of-control intelligence agencies, the fate of a whistle-blower–richly dramatized with the singular storytelling mastery that has marked all of his internationally best-selling novels

Recommended by Joe Spain

The Plot Against America
Philip Roth

plotagainstamericaIn an astonishing feat of empathy and narrative invention, our most ambitious novelist imagines an alternate version of American history.
In 1940 Charles A. Lindbergh, heroic aviator and rabid isolationist, is elected President. Shortly thereafter, he negotiates a cordial “understanding” with Adolf Hitler, while the new government embarks on a program of folksy anti-Semitism.

For one boy growing up in Newark, Lindbergh’s election is the first in a series of ruptures that threaten to destroy his small, safe corner of America–and with it, his mother, his father, and his older brother.

Book-in-a-Bag.

Longitude:
The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time

Dava Sobel

longitude
Anyone alive in the eighteenth century would have known that “the longitude problem” was the thorniest scientific dilemma of the day-and had been for centuries. Lacking the ability to measure their longitude, sailors throughout the great ages of exploration had been literally lost at sea as soon as they lost sight of land. Thousands of lives and the increasing fortunes of nations hung on a resolution. One man, John Harrison, in complete opposition to the scientific community, dared to imagine a mechanical solution-a clock that would keep precise time at sea, something no clock had ever been able to do on land. Longitude is the dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest and of Harrison’s forty-year obsession with building his perfect timekeeper, known today as the chronometer. Full of heroism and chicanery, it is also a fascinating brief history of astronomy, navigation, and clockmaking, and opens a new window on our world.

Recommended by Gary Banks

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