Category: Good Reads (page 1 of 3)

Good Read: Richard Nixon: The Life By John A. Farrell

Thoroughly Researched Biography Tapping Recently Available Sources

Until Donald Trump, no one in American presidential politics had come so far, so fast, and so alone in exploiting the politics of grievance as Richard Nixon.

John Farrell’s biography is very thoroughly researched and has gained notoriety because at the Nixon library Farrell discovered notes from Nixon aide Bob Haldeman, contemporaneous to the 1968 election. Haldeman’s notes substantiated the rumor that, through an intermediary, Nixon reached out to South Vietnamese President Thieu to scuttle South Vietnamese participation in President Johnson’s peace initiative. The message: South Vietnam could get a better deal once he, Nixon, was President. Nixon’s goal was to eliminate any chance that his opponent, Hubert Humphrey, would benefit from the prospect of US withdrawal from Vietnam. More than 20,000 American soldiers died as US combat participation in the war extended from 1968 until Nixon left office in 1974.

Farrell is at his best in describing the events leading to the Checkers speech which dissuaded Eisenhower from dropping Nixon as his running mate in 1952. In his first term of office, according to the author, Ike did not feel that Nixon was growing in terms of perspective (“He lacked the grandness of vision and spirit to unite a great country”) but at the same time Ike cynically used Nixon for tactical offense so that as president he could stay above the fray.

The author reminds us of all the disgusting characters that formed the political culture of the 1950s and 1960s. These included Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohen, George Wallace and the southern power brokers such as Strom Thurmond and Richard Russell. America was roiled by the assassinations of JFK, Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the race riots of the inner cities, and the polarization of opinion regarding the Vietnam War. The dirty tricks of Nixon’s House and Senate campaigns were by no means the exclusive purview of Richard Nixon. Indeed the author notes the vote counts in Chicago and Texas which may have illegally tipped victory to John F. Kennedy in the 1960 election and which likely persuaded Nixon that no one would ever again outdo him in employing dirty tricks to win.

Farrell highlights one difference between the postwar period of Richard Nixon and our current political environment: Victory over Nazi Germany and Japan in World War II showed Nixon’s generation what government could do. With the end of the war, the US population doubled with the baby boom and there was great demand for the expansion of government services. Farrell makes the point that Nixon believed in government, and that he was more progressive than Kennedy on Civil Rights in 1955. The government social safety net was expanded under Nixon’s presidency, including tax reform for low income individuals, increased aid for education, and a 20% hike in Social Security payments. The problem with right-wingers, Nixon said, was that, “they have a totally hard-hearted attitude where human problems and any compassion is concerned.”

Nixon was an excellent student of the mood of the electorate and in 1968 was able to reach out to the conformist middle and working class which had become disillusioned with Democrats who took their traditional supporters for granted. Farrell says that Nixon won the “gut vote” — a precursor of what Trump did in 2016.

Nixon was an introvert in an extroverted profession. As president, he used Bob Haldeman and John Erlichman to wall himself off not only from confrontation, which he hated, but even from one-on-one interactions which made him uncomfortable.

The President was given to angry outbursts and ill-advised orders, which his top advisors (Kissinger, Laird, Haldeman) learned to ignore. “Bomb Damascus” didn’t mean that he intended the order to be carried out.

Unfortunately, as Farrell lays out in a particularly good chapter, “The Road to Watergate”, lower level aides were all too eager to please the President and the Watergate burglary and other dirty tricks went forward with implicit rather than explicit approval. “The way to Presidential favor was to bring a dead mouse to his door,” notes the author.

Will the hubris (or insecurity) that brought down Richard Nixon serve to bring down Donald Trump? Farrell seems to suggest that the answer is no. As the Watergate scandal grew, with damaging testimony from John Dean and others, the public was becoming bored with the “he said, she said” allegations. But then the discovery of the White House tapes changed everything and forced Nixon’s resignation. Whatever emerges from the Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian involvement in the election, it seems unlikely that the special prosecutor will uncover evidence that is so specific, irrefutable, and damning as the Watergate tapes.

This is an excellent biography of the most controversial of presidents, and readers will benefit from John Farrell’s study of primary sources that have only recently become available to Nixon biographers.


Charles G. Salmans

Also, from the NYT’s Book Review: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/29/books/richard-nixon-biography-john-a-farrell.html?_r=0

Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain’s Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War by Ben Macintyre

The incredible untold story of WWII s greatest secret fighting force, as told by our great modern master of wartime intrigue

Britain’s Special Air Service or SAS was the brainchild of David Stirling, a young, gadabout aristocrat whose aimlessness in early life belied a remarkable strategic mind. Where most of his colleagues looked at a battlefield map of World War II s African theater and saw a protracted struggle with Rommel s desert forces, Stirling saw an opportunity: given a small number of elite, well-trained men, he could parachute behind enemy lines and sabotage their airplanes and war material.

Paired with his constitutional opposite, the disciplined martinet Jock Lewes, Stirling assembled a revolutionary fighting force that would upend not just the balance of the war, but the nature of combat itself. He faced no little resistance from those who found his tactics ungentlemanly or beyond the pale, but in the SAS’s remarkable exploits facing the Nazis in the Africa and then on the Continent can be found the seeds of nearly all special forces units that would follow.

Bringing his keen eye for psychological detail to a riveting wartime narrative, Ben Macintyre uses his unprecedented access to SAS archives to shine a light inside a legendary unit long shrouded in secrecy. The result is not just a tremendous war story, but a fascinating group portrait of men of whom history and country asked the most.

Washington Post, Top 10 Title for 2016
NPR “Best Books of 2016” – Staff Picks and History Lovers selection

Recommended by Jim Phillips

Let There Be Water : Israel’s Solution for a Water-starved World by Seth M Siegel

As every day brings urgent reports of growing water shortages around the world, there is no time to lose in the search for solutions. The US government predicts that forty of our fifty states-and sixty percent of the earth’s land surface-will soon face alarming gaps between available water and the growing demand for it. Without action, food prices will rise, economic growth will slow, and political instability is likely to follow.Let There Be Water illustrates how Israel can serve as a model for the US and countries everywhere by showing how to blunt the worst of the coming water calamities.Even with sixty percent of its country a desert, not only doesn’t Israel have a water problem; it has an abundance of water. Israel even supplies water to its neighbors-the Palestinians and the Kingdom of Jordan-every day.Based on meticulous research and hundreds of interviews, Let There Be Water reveals the methods and techniques of the often off-beat inventors who enabled Israel to lead the world in cutting-edge water technology. Let There Be Water also tells unknown stories of how cooperation on water systems can forge diplomatic ties and promote unity. Remarkably, not long ago, now-hostile Iran relied on Israel to manage its water systems, and access to Israel’s water know-how helped to warm China’s frosty relations with Israel. Every town, every country, and every reader can benefit from learning what Israel did in order to transform itself from a parched land into a water superpower.Beautifully written, Let There Be Water is an inspiring account of vision and sacrifice that will long be admired by government officials and engaged citizens facing water shortages and other seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Recommended by Jim Phillips. The Library has a copy.

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

The Founding Fathers tried to protect us from the threat they knew, the tyranny that overcame ancient democracy. Today, our political order faces new threats, not unlike the totalitarianism of the twentieth century. We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.

Recommended by Jim Phillips

A Fine Mess : A Global Quest for a Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Tax System by T. R. Reid

New York Times bestelling author T. R. Reid travels around the world to solve the urgent problem of America’s failing tax code, unravelling a complex topic in plain English – and telling a rollicking story along the way.

The U.S. tax code is a total write-off. Crammed with loopholes and special interest provisions, it works for no one except tax lawyers, accountants, and huge corporations. Not for the first time, we have reached a breaking point. That happened in 1922, and again in 1954, and again in 1986. In other words, every thirty-two years. Which means that the next complete overhaul is due in 2018. But what should be in this new tax code? Can we make the U.S. tax system simpler, fairer, and more efficient? Yes, yes, and yes. Can we cut tax rates and still bring in more revenue? Yes.

Other rich countries, from Estonia to New Zealand to the UK—advanced, high-tech, free-market democracies—have all devised tax regimes that are equitable, effective, and easy on the taxpayer. But the United States has languished. So byzantine are the current statutes that, by our government’s own estimates, Americans spend six billion hours and $10 billion every year preparing and filing their taxes. In the Netherlands that task takes a mere fifteen minutes! Successful American companies like Apple, Caterpillar, and Google effectively pay no tax at all in some instances because of loopholes that allow them to move profits offshore. Indeed, the dysfunctional tax system has become a major cause of economic inequality.

In A Fine Mess, T. R. Reid crisscrosses the globe in search of the exact solutions to these urgent problems. With an uncanny knack for making a complex subject not just accessible but gripping, he investigates what makes good taxation (no, that’s not an oxymoron) and brings that knowledge home where it is needed most. Never talking down or reflexively siding with either wing of politics, T. R. Reid presses the case for sensible root-and-branch reforms with a companionable ebullience. This affects everyone. Doing our taxes will never be America’s favorite pastime, but it can and should be so much easier and fairer.

Recommended by Gary Banks.

Troublesome Young Men : the Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England by Lynne Olson

A riveting history of the daring politicians who challenged the disastrous policies of the British government on the eve of World War II

On May 7, 1940, the House of Commons began perhaps the most crucial debate in British parliamentary history. On its outcome hung the future of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s government and also of Britain―indeed, perhaps, the world. Troublesome Young Men is Lynne Olson’s fascinating account of how a small group of rebellious Tory MPs defied the Chamberlain government’s defeatist policies that aimed to appease Europe’s tyrants and eventually forced the prime minister’s resignation.

Some historians dismiss the “phony war” that preceded this turning point―from September 1939, when Britain and France declared war on Germany, to May 1940, when Winston Churchill became prime minister―as a time of waiting and inaction, but Olson makes no such mistake, and describes in dramatic detail the public unrest that spread through Britain then, as people realized how poorly prepared the nation was to confront Hitler, how their basic civil liberties were being jeopardized, and also that there were intrepid politicians willing to risk political suicide to spearhead the opposition to Chamberlain―Harold Macmillan, Robert Boothby, Leo Amery, Ronald Cartland, and Lord Robert Cranborne among them. The political and personal dramas that played out in Parliament and in the nation as Britain faced the threat of fascism virtually on its own are extraordinary―and, in Olson’s hands, downright inspiring.

 

Recommended by Tom Reifenheiser

Born a Crime : Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.

 

Recommended by Gary Banks

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

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