This magnificent collection took 10 years to organize, collecting Madiba’s letters from the many points where they were received, and from the prisons–where many of them were not mailed out, for various technical reasons that were a poor disguise for censorship. The preface suggests that most people will want to flip through it rather than reading it cover-to-cover, but I am a habitual cover-to-cover sort, and so I read the first 50 pages in sequence. And the book’s editor is correct. This is not a cover-to-cover read.
Nevertheless, I am struck immediately by the dignity with which Mandela communicates with his captors. Time and again he writes to them in a courteous, civilized, and highly educated hand about the various ways in which his rights under South African law are being violated and what he is requesting they do to remedy it. He is persistent. He forces them to treat him as a human being. Mandela was an attorney, but he was also possessed of social instincts that nobody can teach anyone. And although I never met him, everything I have read–which is a good deal, where this man is concerned–convinces me that he was also a very nice person.
This is a tome, and it’s a treasure. I am glad I was denied a galley because this is the sort of volume I want as a physical copy. In the end my son purchased it for me for my birthday, and so I thank Benjamin. What a treasure.
If you are looking for just one book about Mandela’s life, read his hefty autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. However, if you are a collector of books about South Africa, or about civil rights in general, or of course, about Nelson Mandela, go out and get this book now.
This is the RBG book I’ve been waiting for. My huge thanks
go to Net Galley and Henry Holt Publishers for the review copy. This book will
be publicly available November 5, 2019.
Justice Ginsburg wants us to know that the sky is not
falling. Though progressive thinkers see great cause for concern, primarily
within the executive branch of the federal government, the U.S. Constitution
hasn’t changed, and the Supreme Court, she insists, is made up entirely of
strong legal minds that revere it. Precedents are still the basis of future
rulings; the overturn of precedent is rare and unusual. But for activists—and she
loves us—she also points out that public opinion is what alters the course of
the law. Congress makes laws based on what their constituency desires. So she
isn’t suggesting we put away our pussy hats and our picket signs; she just
wants us to know that our advocacy works, and she appreciates everything we do
to further women’s rights, civil rights, and gay rights.
Twice previously I read other books about RBG; one is a
popular biography that I enjoyed, but that didn’t go deeply enough into
Ginsburg’s legal ideas, and the second is just dross, minutiae gathered from
her high school year book and whatnot. Whereas part of me just wants her to
write an autobiography, I have to recognize that she is very elderly, has faced
health challenges lately, and to stand a chance of writing any sort of memoir,
she’d probably have to resign from the Court. And goodness knows, I want her to
stay there, ideally forever. Instead, Rosen’s series of interviews with this
feminist icon serves nicely.
Rosen has been friends with Justice Ginsberg for many years;
they were drawn together initially through elevator discussions of opera. His
chapters are brief but meaty, organized around key rulings and topical
interviews. Rosen explains succinctly at the outset how this friendship formed
and grew, but he doesn’t get windy or use the opportunity to aggrandize
himself. He keeps the focus strictly on his subject. The interviews flow in an
agreeable manner that is literate without being verbose or Byzantine.
We live in politically polarized times, and so even when I
am reading about a political figure that I admire, I generally expect my blood
pressure to rise a little, perhaps in passionate agreement. But if anyone in
this nation has the long view of history and the key domestic issues that have
unfolded, particularly with regard to the rights of women, it is RBG. And
although I am not as senior a citizen as Justice Ginsburg, many of the changes
she mentions that have occurred over the decades are ones that I can also
attest to, though I hadn’t thought of them in years. For example, when I came
of age in the 1970s, it was still not unusual to try to enter a bar or club
only to be barred at the doorway because women weren’t allowed inside. (“Gentlemen
only, Ma’am. Sorry.”) I had forgotten about these things; as her recollections
unspool I see that she is right. Change happens, but lasting change happens
slowly. We are getting there, at least with regard to women’s rights and gay
rights. Issues of race and class are something else entirely, and she points up
specific instances where justice has not progressed and change is imperative.
I could say more, but none of it would be as
wise or as articulate as when Ginsburg says it. If you’ve read this far in my
review, you should go ahead and order this excellent book now. I highly
recommend it to all that are interested in social justice, both formal and
Say this name to schoolteachers and children’s librarians and watch our faces light up, our backs grow a trifle straighter, our steps quicken. Dr. Seuss is the closest thing we have to a patron saint, and when I saw this biography, I wanted it as badly as I’ve wanted any galley. Big thanks go to Net Galley and Penguin Dutton, and many apologies for my tardiness. It’s a strange thing but true: when I must write an unfavorable book review, I know just what to say and can do it the same day I finish reading, but for a momentous work such as this one, I need some time for my thoughts to gel. Brian Jay Jones writes biographies of quirky visionaries such as Washington Irving, George Lucas, and Jim Henson, and he doesn’t cut corners. This biography is highly recommended to adult readers, but don’t go handing it off to your precocious fifth grader until you’ve read it yourself. Geisel’s life held some very deep shadows.
Geisel grew up with comfort and privilege as the heir to a
family beer making business; the slings and arrows that came his family’s way
during Prohibition taught him that small minds can do ugly things. Still, his
youth was mostly untroubled; he attended Dartmouth , where he was voted Least
Likely to Succeed, and then Oxford, where his studies in Medieval German
floundered, his attention drifting to the margins of his notebook, where he
drew fanciful creatures and turreted buildings that would later become iconic. It
was Helen, his sweetheart, who suggested he follow his heart and pursue art for
a living. His early success came in advertising for Flit bug spray. Once he and his bride became financially
stable enough to move out of their low rent neighborhood and into a tonier
area, he discovered he had no use at all for pretension, and he wrote:
“Mrs. Van Bleck
Of the Newport Van Blecks
Is so goddamn rich
She has gold-plated sex
Whereas Miggles and Mitzi
And Bitzi and Sue
Have the commonplace thing
And it just has to do.”
He served in the military during World War II with Francis
Ford Coppola making propaganda and training films. His pro-intervention
cartoons are surprisingly hawkish—I have the collection titled Dr. Seuss Goes to War on my shelves—but
he later realized that it was wrongheaded to demand the internment of Japanese
Americans, and in some bizarre way, he intended Horton Hears a Who to be his apology for it.
His family was not Jewish, but his surname confused some
people, and he received some anti-Semitic shade that inspired him to stand up
for the rights of Jewish Americans.
Jones deserves credit for confronting the anti-Japanese
racism and xenophobia in this author’s early years; he doesn’t gloss over it,
and he doesn’t turn it into something prurient either. He lays it straight out,
along with Ted’s more enlightened thinking in his later years, and it strikes
exactly the right tone. This isn’t comfortable material, but then it shouldn’t
The most amazing thing is to learn that Seuss—known to
family and friends as Ted—wasn’t a successful author until well into middle
age. He vacillated between advertising and “brat books” but hit it big when he
submitted How the Grinch Stole Christmas to
Bennett Cerf at Random House, which would be his second home for many years.
Though he and his wife moved to Southern California and much of his work was
mailed in, he became known for coming to read his book to the Random House
staff in person when it was publication time.
(He was also known for being difficult at times, micromanaging the
publication of his work, and this may be part of the reason he wasn’t urged to
attend business in person on a more regular basis.)
Ted and Helen were unable to have children, a painful fact
that they chose not to share with the public. When asked during publicity tours
why a man with such a great heart for children had none himself, Ted deflected
it by saying others should have the children and he would write for them.
Helen’s illnesses and Ted’s infidelity were aspects of this
author’s life I knew nothing about. It’s
hard to read about, but again, Jones includes these things in the narrative not
to shock us, but because they have to be there.
He was widely known and revered for his insistence that
books should be fun for children to read and should not preach or moralize, but
instead, should respect the readers. He
was a pioneer in this regard, and I owe him a great debt for teaching me to
love literature as a preschooler, and for providing such wonderful books for my
own children and students later in my life. It is this legacy that remains when
the rest falls away, that reading should open new worlds for its young readers;
it should not trick or manipulate its audience, but instead should speak to
children with respect using language they can understand.
I love good military history, and so when I saw this title I
requested and received a review copy, thanks to Net Galley and Scribner. It’s
for sale now, but I can’t recommend it to you.
One of the first things I do when I read a new author in
this genre is to check notes and sources.
A first rate military historian will have multiple sources for each fact
cited, and a reasonably good one will have a variety of sources, primary
sources being most desirable.
Fenelon doesn’t do this. Much of his information hangs on a single source, and often these are not well integrated. This is the first time I have seen military history published by a major house, that uses Wikipedia as a source. All of the history teachers I know send their students back to do a rewrite if they hinge their citations on Wiki, and if teenagers aren’t allowed to do it, I cannot think why Scribner permitted it.
What drew me to the book is the paratroopers. There seems to
be a spate of these coming out right now, and I find it fascinating subject
material. There’s also a trend, of which this book is also an example, of
embracing the brave German troops against whom American forces fought, and not
unnecessarily, either. I could get behind this trend more easily were it more
universal, but somehow U.S. historians are quick to recognize the shared
humanity of former enemies that are Caucasian, and others, not so much. If I
could see one, just ONE WWII history that recounts kind of brave actions on the
part of the Japanese during this conflict, I would be a good deal less cranky.
Be that as it may, this book is inadequately researched and
inadequately documented. It’s not professionally rendered, so if you want to
read it, do so critically and evaluate as you read. Get it free or cheaply; don’t
pay full price.
Christina Thompson is the author of Come On Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All, which I read and
loved. I was thrilled when I saw that she was about to publish another book,
and even more so when I found a review copy; thanks go to Edelweiss and Harper
Collins. This book is for sale now.
For centuries, Western scholars have tried to tease apart
the many unknown aspects of Polynesian history. The islands are spread across
an area of the Pacific Ocean (and beyond) so large that all of the Earth’s
landmasses could fit into it, and there would still be room for an extra one
the size of Australia. And yet there’s undeniable evidence that they navigated
from one to another in canoes, without compasses or written maps of any kind.
How the heck did they do it?
Thompson discusses the early European efforts, from the
‘discovery’ of various islands—and she points out that Europeans jealously
guarded information, and so British explorers didn’t benefit from what the
Spanish found, for example, and vice versa—to present day. She talks about the
differing points of view, languages, and cultural divides that prevented the
white folk from understanding what islanders were trying to tell them, and from
believing that they knew as much as they did. As far as I can tell, Thompson is
the first Caucasian writer to approach this subject with respect for the
islander peoples about whom she is writing; her husband and sons are of Maori
descent, and so for her, this connection merges the academic and the personal.
The thing that makes Thompson so readable is her wry take on
the errors made by those that came before—mostly the Westerners that approached
the area with paternalism tinged with more than a little racism in many cases. I’ll
be reading along and thinking yes yes, this is interesting…and then I’ll come
across a remark and reread it—did she just say what I think she just said? And
then I am laughing out loud. Find me a geographer, an anthropologist, a
sociologist that can do that. In particular, her unpacking of the whole
Kon-Tiki debacle is unmissable.
If I could change anything, it would be to have been able to
read this before I went into teaching instead of after retirement. I taught a
lot of Islander kids, and the wisdom is that when we teach American history, we
incorporate the history of each ethnic group represented in the classroom. I
knew how to include my African-American students, and I knew what to tell kids
of Chinese and Japanese backgrounds. I had material for my Latino kids. But
with my Islander students, all I could do is say that I had truly tried to find
information for them, but what little I found was so deadly dull and written at
such a high literacy level that it wouldn’t work for them. And what would
really kick ass is if this writer, at some lull between high-powered academic
projects, could write something for children or young adults of Maori descent.
Right now, English-speaking Pacific Island kids have one Disney movie. That’s
This book is highly recommended to every reader with
post-high-school literacy ability and stamina. It’s a cultural treasure, and
though I rarely do this with galleys, I will go back and read this again,
because there’s no way to take it all in the first time, even when making
My attention was riveted on the title. Frogmen! Spies!
Thanks go to Net Galley and Henry Holt for the galley, which I expected to love.
Though I am disappointed, I would have been more so had I paid the cover price
for this fast-and-loose pop history.
The author takes the events surrounding D-Day, the massive
attack that turned the tide of World War II, and recounts them from the
perspectives of those that were there, both on the Allied side as well as on
the Germans’. Though the narrative flows in a congenial tone, it represents a smallish
amount of research stretched and padded, and the result is a smattering of
important information that’s already been conveyed in a million other sources,
most of which he doesn’t cite, and a great deal of trivial information provided
by bystanders, which he does.
So there is the research—or mostly, there isn’t. The author
draws to some extent upon stories garnered through his German wife’s family,
but a lot of it comes across as the sort of long-winded recounting that causes
even loving family members to inch toward their coats and make noises about how
late it’s getting to be. Long passages of direct quotations pass without a
citation, and then later there are citations, but they aren’t well integrated,
and almost nothing has more than a single source provided. In other words, it’s
sketchy stuff that cannot pass muster.
In all fairness, I have to admit that it’s bad luck on the
author’s part to have his work released so soon after Spearhead, which is brilliant and meticulously documented. On the
other hand, this is no debut, and though I haven’t read the author’s other
work, I can’t imagine that he doesn’t know he’s cut corners here.
Then there’s the other thing, an elephant in the room that
isn’t entirely this author’s fault. Why is it that when a war ends and enmities
cool, the folks that are invited back into the fold by the UK and USA are always
Caucasians? Brits and Americans wax sentimental now alongside Germans, none of
whom belonged to families that liked the Fascists, yet the Japanese fighters of
World War II never make it back into the family, so to speak. And in this
Milton has a vast amount of company, but this is where it is most obvious, so
this is where I’ll mention it.
So there it is. It’s for sale now if you still want it.
I read this historical gem free and early, thanks to Net Galley and Random House Ballantine; it’s among the top ten percent of the military histories I have read, and it’s one of the few that I have recommended to friends and relatives. Makos’s introduction tells us what he has done to lay his groundwork, and it’s impressive:
We traversed the battlefields of the Third Reich—with the men who made history…In 2013. Clarence Smoyer and three other veterans traveled to Germany and allowed us to tag along, to interview them on the grounds where they had once fought. We recorded their stories. We recorded what they remembered saying and hearing others say. Then we verified their accounts with deep research. We drew from four archives in America and one in England. We even traveled to the German Bundesarchiv in the Black Forest in search of answers. And what we found was staggering. Original orders. Rare interviews between our heroes and war reporters, conducted while the battle was raging. Radio logs of our tank commanders’ chatter, allowing us to time their actions to the minute… Is the world ready for a book about tanks? There’s one way to find out. Shut the hatches. Tighten your chin strap. It’s time to roll out.
Spearhead is equal parts memoir and history, and Makos is known for using a “You are there” writing style, though he is new to me. He writes about the most riveting parts of their service there, and though each of these four men starts the war in a different place, at the end they are joined together when they reach Cologne.
The congenial narrative is enhanced with photographs of the men then and now, along with pictures of other men they served with, some of whom made it out alive as well as many that didn’t, or who survived the war but emerged crippled. There is a great deal of comfort, when reading a tale that must include so much carnage, in knowing from the get-go that Clarence Smoyers, Buck Marsh, Gustav Schaefer, Chuck Miller, and Frank Audifred will survive. There are a lot of names and faces, and here I was grateful to be reading digitally on Kindle, because I could use the “search book” feature to quickly regain the identity of participants I couldn’t recall when they came up again.
There are some poignant moments; after all, they were really just kids. Sometimes they made it through battle because their commanders made wise decisions; sometimes they lived on in spite of incompetent or negligent commanders; and sometimes they found themselves in command.
I never knew much about how tanks are operated. I believed that the guy whose head sometimes pokes up out of the hatch was the driver; that’s not so. And I had never given any thought to where the tankers sleep at night, or where they go to the bathroom. And the scandalous lack of safety for the men in Sherman tanks wasn’t clear to me till I read that the British called the Sherman as the “Tommy cooker,” the free Poles named it a “burning grave,” and Americans called it a “crematorium on wheels.” Ultimately this made it into the press when journalist Ann Stringer reprinted the comment that “Our tanks are not worth a drop of water on a hot stove.” The Pershing tank would be a tremendous improvement, and would be largely responsible for keeping our veterans alive to tell about it.
There are some amazing high-tech photographs and diagrams that were unavailable during this conflict; I went back to them several times as I became more acquainted with the lives of the men inside them. The maps could be better, but then you can’t have everything.
For those interested in World War II military history, or for those that read war memoirs, Spearhead is hard to beat. You can also visit the author’s website at AdamMakos.com. This book will be available to the public February 12, 2019. Highly recommended.
This compact but potent collection of poetry is so good that it hurts. DeMaris B. Hill spills America’s historical shame across the printed page with the articulate rage and power of the generations she writes about. My thanks go to Bloomsbury and Net Galley for the review copy. This collection becomes available to the public January 15. 2019.
The keys to reading Hill’s poetry are in the introduction, and in additional brief introductions at the beginning of each poem. These are broken down into five sections that depict the different ways in which women of color have been bound over the centuries, and Hill points out that Black resistance didn’t start with Black Lives Matter, and it didn’t start with Dr. King and Rosa Parks either. American Black folk have been fighting for their rights for centuries, but some periods have been better publicized and more widely recognized than others.
The introduction is not long by most standards, but I found myself impatient to read poetry, so halfway through it I skipped to the poetry; read the collection; and then I went back to reread the introduction from the beginning. After that I went back over the poems a second time, lingering over my favorites. The review copy was a rough one, and it’s hard to read poetry if the spacing is whack. Your copy is almost guaranteed to be cleaner, but you may choose to read these more than once anyway. Strong poetry will do that to you.
Each poem is devoted to an African-American woman that has fought in one way or another, and the conclusion is written for Hill’s son. The book is billed as a collection that takes us from Harriet Tubman to Sandra Bland, which it does, and both of these poems are resonant and in the case of Bland, achingly sorrowful. My own favorites were those written about Eartha Kitt, who was familiar to me, and Ruby McCollum, who wasn’t. The poem about Alice Clifton made me wish I could unread it, because it is harsh and horrible, but in case it wasn’t clear from the get go: Hill isn’t writing to spare our tender feelings. She’s pissed, and she’s right to be.
These poems contain some of the finest figurative language I have read anywhere.
Highly recommended for those that seek social justice and that love excellent poetry.
I read my copy free and early, thanks to Net Galley and St. Martin’s Press. This book is for sale now.
This meaty little nugget is one of a kind. I had sworn off World War II, both fictional and historical, because so much information gets repeated; you can only read so much about the most visceral parts of this conflict before your worldview darkens. I am out of the classroom and had promised myself a chance to stop and smell the roses in my retirement years. But then there’s this.
Firstly, there’s nothing about the Holocaust to speak of here. That was a draw card, because I am done with that most searing of horrors for awhile. Instead, she writes about Latin America during the war—and I knew nothing, nothing, nothing about any of this. I was aware that there were some nations down there that are reputed to have flirted with the fascists, and even then, I wasn’t sure it that was the truth or a myth.
The book is broken down, not by relevant Latin American countries, but by subtopics, and this is both more analytical and more interesting than if she’d done it the obvious way. Who knew that there was a model city established inside of the Amazon in an effort to rope more employees—well, slaves—into harvesting rubber for the war? Who knew that vast amounts of South American petroleum ran the trucks and tanks that rolled over Europe? Perhaps most appallingly—who knew that Japanese expatriates and their families, born and raised in Peru and other locations in Latin America, were kidnapped in a down-low deal between the US and the governments of the affected nations so that the US could intern them, then use them for prisoner swaps?
There are enough weird-but-true facts here to cross your eyes, and the author has her documentation at the ready. A fifth star is denied because of what isn’t here; why portray United Fruit as upstanding patriots? Many of us know this corporation was a sinister entity with its roots tangled deeply in the CIA. Lots of Guatemalans have plenty to say about United Fruit. More directly related here is the brief, friendly reference to Disney as a WWII patriot, and yet many of us know how warmly Uncle Walt regarded Hitler: the catch-phrase “Mauschwitz” says it all. Partial truths make me wonder what else I am missing as I read this.
With that one caveat, this book is recommended to you. The citations are thorough and the text is written free of technical terms that might hamper a wide readership. Read it critically, but do read it.
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