EDUCATED/TARA WESTOVER/ ASTONISHING!

i just finished reading The New York Times  best selling memoir, Educated by Tara Westover.  More on that in a moment, but first I transgress too when I first read the classic novel Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe. Why?  When Wolfe’s heralded novel was first published  some literary critics charged that it was not in fact a novel but rather an auto-biography. Some accused Wolfe with telling his life story, an autobiography, rather than creating an original manuscript.  When Look Homeward Angel was published in 1929 the term Memoir was not part of the general descriptions of literary work. Autobiography covered that category.
Now, back too Educated, a memoir. Tara Westover’s life story is so incredulous that this reader was tested on page after page as to whether I was reading a  novel or a memoir. My thoughts were the flip-side  of Look Homeward Angel as I observed , “This can’t be a novel it must be true.” I mean to offer no criticism of Educated or Westover for telling of her remarkable story.  Having read many, many excellent  memoirs ( search gordonsgoodreds.com ), I have  no problems with  memoir authors adopting the necessity of some literary license in bringing a story to life. If you read the memoir  The Glass Castle , by comparison, you may find  Educated a story that in places boarders on disbelief. I make that observation not as criticism but in awe of Westover’s survival and success.
Turn the pages and enjoy.   

THE FLIGHT PORTFOLIO-JULIE ORRINGER- A Novel? Historical Fiction?

Julie Orringer is back with her second Novel titled The Flight Portfolio. The theme is similar to her first  in one aspect, escape from the Nazi’s.  In that Novel, The  Invisible Bridge, Orringer chronicled the escape of the protagonists grandparents from Hungary. ( See gordonsgoodreads.com).  The Flight Portfolio tracks the courageous adventure of Varian Fry, a young American in Marseilles, France seeking to help famous artists and writers escape Nazi tyranny.  Among them are Chagall, Hannah Arndt, and Max Ernst. Fry works under the auspices of an American funded philanthropy, The Emergency Rescue Committee.  Orringer makes clear that the Varian Fry part of her book is in fact a well researched work of non-fiction.

 

In the midst of the daring intrigue  of Fry’s  daily work, Orringer introduces a parallel story line. A former Harvard classmate, Elliott Grant,  and unconventional lover of Fry’s is also in Marseilles, himself seeking to save  the son of yet another individual from the hands of Nazi’s.  The story line becomes tense as Fry’s homosexual  relationship with Grant complicates the mission.

Julie Orringer’s writing is splendid and enjoyable.  Her work is always intricately researched and clearly presented. A novelist who will certainly provide her readers with much future enjoyment.

How To Swim Underwater, short stories by Julie Orringer.  Wonderful.

THE CITY- STATE OF BOSTON by MARK PETERSON

Boston, a city unlike any other in the annals of American history.  ” A City On a Hill,” The Athens of America, ” The Cradle of Liberty.”   Each appellation has been appropriately tested over centuries.  Mark Peterson’s THE C ITY-STATE OF BOSTON is nothing short of remarkable and an important unfolding of the fundamental role this city and its colonial inhabitants played in America from the 1630’s through the onset of the Civil War.

Look not in these pages for the” Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” The Boston Tea Party, or for “One if by land, two if by sea.”  No. This scholarly work is about Boston’s era of enormous influence through the prism of religion, colonial government, social norms, economics, trade, regional influence, slavery and the utopian ideals that the Puritans of the Great Migration brought with them to the New World.  Peterson’s history unfolds upon American shores beginning in the 1630s as British Immigrants establish a largely independent entity called Boston, virtually free from the influence of the mother country. Boston, through the ingenuity and common purpose of its people, established an ethical  culture whose influence spread to the evolving New England Region. Boston became the undisputed mercantile center of the worldwide Atlantic trade, and the dominant force of culture and ideals that lead to the American Revolution.

You will learn of the New England influence upon the Articles of Confederation, of John Adam’s conflicts with Thomas Jefferson in the framing of the Constitution, and of how the slave states ultimately dominated the direction of the nation in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  The southern block influence became so great under Jefferson that in the period of the War of 1812, Massachusetts considered becoming the first state to succeed from the fragile Union.

I hope these brief references will stimulate you to  absorb Peterson’s  incredible insight into this period of colonial history.  It ranks at the very top of the books I have selected on the subject because it journeys deeply below the surface of the famous named historical events and creates an understanding of how the most important city of the period came into dominance and then faded.  You will be introduced to new individuals whose names never have appeared on the,” marquee of history,”  but  the influence of whom was enormous.

Mark Peterson is the Edmund S. Morgan Professor of History at Yale University. He is the author of The Price of Redemption: The Spiritual Economy of Puritan New England.   Search gordonsgoodreads.com for two suggested companion reads to BostonAmerican Dialogue by Joseph Ellis, The Barbarous Years by Bernard Bailyn, John Adams by David McCullough.  

 

 

 

THE BRITISH ARE COMING/RICK ATKINSON

It’s here, Volume One of Rick Atkinson’s The Revolution Trilogy!   At last, the story of the Revolutionary War, beyond the limits of a single volume. Volume one, THE BRITISH ARE COMING, is extraordinary and that comes as no surprise to those who have read his  WWII Liberation Trilogy, An Army at Dawn, The Day of Battle, The Guns at Last Light.

Volume One of the Revolution Trilogy  tells the story from both the American and British perspective of the first 21 months of America’s war for independence. Incredible detail and a volume of characters with many new heroes and knaves. Atkinson’s narrative is in living color.  The Continental Army is indeed ragtag,  and Ben Franklin, Henry Knox, Nathaniel Greene, George Washington and many others are all seen in a new and very much alive perspective.  Even though history has unveiled the outcome, Atkinson entices the reader to plead for more intricate detail on just how that ending unfolded.  Volume Two is on the way.

Fall and Rise/ The Story of 9/11

The story of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, with good reason, will never fade.  Mitchell Zuckoff’s current retrospective on 9/11 and its aftermath, Fall and Rise The Story of 9/11, only adds to the relevance of the recent hard fought congressional battle to extend first responder benefits.

The book is chronologically presented and easy to read, benefiting from Zuckoff’s having covered 9/11 as a reporter for the Boston Globe.  The prism of passed time adds to Zuckoff’s perspective and research.  It is not incidental to his resume that he was a member of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team. He also wrote the NYT bestseller 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi.  I recommend Fall and Rise, especially for those too young to have remembered the event as it unfolded.  The book, as well as any can, presents a cohesive story of the tragedy and the impact upon those who lived and died on that day.

 

NEW AND OLD FROM DAVID McCULLOUGH

David McCullough never disappoints. His latest book, THE PIONEERS, is the story of three New Englanders who opened the Northwest Territory to settlement in late eighteenth-century America. John Adams negotiated the acquisition of the Northwest Territory from the British at the close of the Revolutionary War. McCullough’s portrait begins.

Fellow New Englanders, also from Massachusetts, General Rufus Putnam and the Reverend Manasseh Cutler pioneered the first settlements along the Ohio River near present day Marietta, Ohio.  Both men are also credited with prohibiting slavery in the future Northwest Territory states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.  McCullough’s book is the story of these and other pioneering families and their descendants who settled the American frontier west of the Allegheny Mountains. The research is impeccable and the storytelling is classic David McCullough.

I came upon an earlier McCullough book that I had overlooked.  BRAVE COMPANIONS  is the well told stories of remarkable individuals who have contributed greatly to the American landscape: Amazon River explorer Alexander von Humboldt; Harriet Beecher Stowe and the impact of Uncle Tom’s Cabin; Frederic Remington; Louis Agassiz of Harvard; The Lindbergs; Harry Caudill a lawyer who opened to the world the tragic stories of Appalachia; David Plowden the photographer of vanishing America. David McCullough illuminates these uncommon individuals. BRAVE COMPANIONS is a short but marvelously enlightening read.

” How can we know who we are and where we are going if we don’t know anything about where we have come from and what we have been through, the courage shown, the costs paid, to be where we are?” David McCullough, BRAVE COMPANIONS, 1992.

AMERICAN DIALOGUE-THE FOUNDERS AND US-JOSEPH ELLIS

Joseph Ellis’s latest book American Dialogue THE FOUNDERS AND US is important and timely.  His through examination of the philosophies of America’s Founding Fathers, particularly Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Madison and Hamilton provides a significant platform of thought and insight into America’s economic, environmental and constitutional crisis projected from the nation’s  founding the  present day.

America’s  failure to confront slavery and the genocide of the Native American’s is an underlying theme that continues to challenge American democracy.  Does our system of government continue to retreat from crushing issues of the day? Can a crisis of confidence in the American system of government continue to be averted by a collective closing of the eyes?

Then again, history delivers hope.  Says Ellis, “ Much like meteors streaking across the horizon, demagogues tend to enjoy only limited life spans, so the Trump Presidency is likely to resemble the proverbial blip on the historical radar screen.”

A critical eye is cast on the founders and in so doing Ellis illuminates fundamentals as to why America is facing relatable critical issues in modern times.

Ellis is the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning Founding Brothers.