CHURCHILL/ WALKING WITH DESTINY

Critics have acclaimed Andrew Robert’s CHURCHILL WALKING WITH DESTINY as the best single volume biography of the iconic world figure. Having completed the 982 pages, read in sequence, I add my voice to the acclaim.  It is a masterwork by the   celebrated British historian. His commitment to exacting detail refreshes the landscape of history, while at the same time his prose is not at all cumbersome.

Churchill’s life and his personality is indeed complicated but Roberts misses nothing. History lovers will wrap their minds around the voluminous Churchill quotations and Roberts places them in exacting context. From Winston’s  birth through the Boer War, WW I, the “Wilderness Years,” and then of course the lead-up and fighting of WW II, Roberts introduces the reader to every professional and personal influence on Churchill.  Yes, Winston’s personality, lifestyle and his varying demeanor is splendidly portrayed. (I can cite a typical Churchill breakfast menu and the exact proportions of Whiskey and water.)

The portrait of the Second World War is profoundly complete in great detail of the successes and failures, both militarily and diplomatically. CHURCHILL, is without a doubt, a book for students of history.  Reading CHURCHILL makes one wish that the knowledge within  of war, leadership, politics and diplomacy  could be universal. So many lessons and a plethora of wisdom. ” Expert knowledge, however indispensable, is no substitute for a generous and comprehending outlook upon the human story, with all its sadness and with all its unquenchable hope.” (Churchill, February 26, 1946 University of Miami)

In the bleak years of 1939-1940 when England stood alone against Hitler, Winston Churchill made one of his many inspirational speeches.

“Come then, let us to the task, to the battle, to the toil-each to our part, each to our station. Fill the armies, rule the air, pour out the munitions, strangle the U-boats, sweep the mines, plough the land, build the ships, guard the streets, succor the wounded, uplift the downcast, honor the brave. Lets us go forward together, there is not a week or a day or hour to lose.”    Little wonder it was said of Churchill, ” He weaponized the English language.”  Roberts allows the reader to captivate the famous Churchill intonation.

Another prodigious biography of Churchill is CHURCHILL by Roy Jenkins. An impeccable  companion read to CHURCHILL WALKING WITH DESTINY is THE STORM OF WAR, also by Andrew Roberts. (See gordonsgoodreads.com April 2012.)

Engage, absorb,  enjoy!  GHH

 

 

THE AGE OF EISENHOWER/WILLIAM HITCHCOCK

I chose THE AGE OF EISENHOWER, a discussion of his presidential years 1952-1960, primarily because of the timeliness of  the comparison of leadership and policy with the present administration. Historian William Hitchcock has  accomplished  a scholarly milestone with this objective retrospective of the nostalgic 1950s and Ike himself.

The  triumphs and failings of the Eisenhower presidential years  are expertly chronicled. However, it is Hitchcock’s insight into Eisenhower’s  presidential leadership style, personality  and his transformation from the military leader of the free world to the presidency, that is most compelling.

We think of the 1950s of a period of peace and prosperity which was true. It was also a decade of international and domestic turmoil including the beginning of the Cold War.The decade also produced the arms race, the missile gap, the U-2 disaster, the Suez Canal crisis and the Castro takeover of Cuba. The Eisenhower years gave us the beginnings of the battle over desegregation of public schools, Little Rock, McCarthyism, Nixon and the creation of the CIA and NASA. How Ike handled and sometimes mishandled these critical developments is given microscopic analysis.

THE AGE OF EISENHOWER is for lovers of  American History. This biography of Eisenhower’s presidency is deserving of its high praise.

EAST TO THE DAWN/ AMELIA EARHART BIOGRAPHY/A VERY DIFFERENT STORY

Forget for a moment the doomed 1937 round the world flight and all of the continuing speculation that continues to this day.  Set aside temporarily that Earhart was the first woman to solo across the Atlantic. Put in perspective all of her pioneering accomplishments as the world’s most prominent woman in aviation. Then settle in to read this marvelous perspective of a truly remarkable person.

Biographer Susan Butler got the Amelia Earhart story right in 1997 when she completed ten years of research and published EAST to the Dawn, The Life of Amelia Earhart. It was the sixtieth anniversary of Earhart’s fateful last flight. Of course the aviation story is extremely well told but the real story is how Amelia Earhart used her celebrity and incredible energy to universally advance the cause of women during the 1920s and 1930s.

Amelia the social worker, the world-wide lecturer on behalf of women’s rights and the establishment at Perdue University of a permanent foundation designed to advance women in the profession of aviation engineering and development.   One can only imagine her further impact had not her life ended in tragedy somewhere in the Pacific trying desperately to find tiny Howland Island  on the next to last leg of her round the world flight.

Amelia Earhart’s  celebrity was earned.  She came from Atkinson Kansas, the daughter of an alcoholic father  whose many jobs took the family east and west.  Her formal education was thwarted but she persisted, became a social worker and by sheer chance became exposed to aviation. Once hooked she never looked back. All along her rise to unimaginable celebrity she never once forgot that she represented professional career opportunities for all women.

Amelia earned her just celebrity and acclaim as an aviator but had she lived, understanding her as Butler’s book reflects, her contributions to society and women’s advancement would have been far greater than being the first woman to fly around the globe.   Having read Butler’s book I am convinced Amelia Earhart would have  unquestionably made that her lasting legacy.

In 1932 the American Women’s Association presented Margaret Sanger its first annual award.  A year later the second annual award was presented to Amelia. The presentation to Amelia was made by Dr. Lillian Gilbreth, the renowned industrial psychologist.  In her closing remarks, Gilbreth chose these words: Miss Earhart has shown us that all God’s chillun got wings.

This is the 80th anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s last flight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

MARIO CUOMO/ NEW FROM WILLIAM O’SHAUGHNESSY/ A TIMELY LOOK BACK

Mario Cuomo called him “Brother Bill.”  Therefore, who better than William O’Shaughnessy to publish MARIO CUOMO, Remembrances of  a Remarkable Man.  The book captures their personal relationship  and the unique openness between them. The author shares countless previously unpublished interviews with Mario Cuomo both before and after his  governorship. The author peels back the pages of many of Cuomo’s most remarkable speeches,  delivered by the person who is deemed the best political orator of his day. O’Shaughnessy bares personal witness to Mario Cuomo’s interactions with the famous and less famous.

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O’Shaughnessy has always possessed an impeccable sense of timing. After all he is a radio guy, a medium that lives in the present.  We are  currently in the moment of a political  campaign for the leadership of the free world where neither candidate is trusted by a majority of the American people. The word “orator” will find no place in the newspeak of today. To the contrary, O’Shaughnessy’s  Mario Cuomo reads as a tribute to trustworthiness, statesmanship, vision, empathy, oratory, gravitas and grace. Cuomo’s words leap from the tome’s pages with themes of a “higher calling.”  The book begs the question; What happened to our national discourse?

Mario Cuomo is filled with anecdotal insight into the governor, his friends, his day-to-day, his family and his lifestyle  evolving into a tableau describing why he was admired by millions and loved by those closest to him. Will we see the likes of Mario Cuomo again? O’Shaughnessy is hopeful.

William O’Shaughnessy is president and editorial director of Whitney Media. He has written four other books: Vox Populi, More Riffs, Rants, and Raves, It All Comes Back to Me Now and Airwaves.

 

 

 

DESTINY and POWER/ GEORGE H.W. BUSH/ MASTERFULLY MEACHAM

With high advance praise from historians David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Michael  Beschloss one need not say much more in recommending this masterful work by  Jon Meacham.

imgres-2 Destiny and Power,The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush captures the man brilliantly and fairly and secures him a permanent place in American Presidential history.  George Herbert Walker Bush may indeed be  A last of his kind, and Meacham relates clearly and concisely  the depth of that appellation.  More than a biography, Meacham details a period in American and world history through the portal of the Bush Oval Office. The research is impeccable and the access provided Meacham by a very private president and his family is remarkable.

A must read, now even more meaningful with another Bush running for President.

I also recommend  Meacham’s Franklin and Winston an Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship. Search gordonsgoodreads for details.

SHORT NIGHTS OF THE SHADOW CATCHER

Author Timothy Egan in his book Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher  crafts a splendid and enjoyable biography of  world-renowned  American Indian anthropologist, photographer  and chronicler  Edward Curtis.

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Egan captures the epic story of Curtis’s extraordinary creation of the 20-volume The North American Indian, an incomparable photographic and narrative now considered a work of art, documenting the complex and tragic story of the vanishing Native Americans. Egan writes in extensive detail of the thirty years during which Curtis became a slave to the completion of the work, capturing the personal sacrifices and near death adventures necessary for the narrative to be “preciously”  Edward Curtis. “This was a place like no other he had seen through three decades of portrait foraging, ”  writes Egan.  ” Think of it,”  Curtis wrote in his diary, ” At last, and for the first time in all my thirty years work with the natives, I have found a place where no  missionary has worked.”

Edward Curtis

Edward Curtis

At the Little Big Horn  battlefield and only after extensively interviewing Sioux who were present  that day, Edward Curtis uncovers a very different story of what actually happened at Custer’s Last Stand. ” Let them fight, there will be plenty of fighting left for us to do.”  George Armstrong Custer as told to Curtis by Crow Scout White Man Runs Him overlooking the  battlefield where General Marcus’s troops were slaughtered.

The reader will meet those who inspired Curtis to pursue his dream including Teddy Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, J.P. Morgan, George Bird Grinnell , Chief Joseph and Geronimo. Egan’s portrait of Curtis is explicit in that it would be impossible to find another American who sacrificed  to the extent of Edward  Curtis to pursue the documentation and preservation of the vanishing way of life of the first Americans.

More than a biography, Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher shares with the reader Curtis’s depth of knowledge and understanding of the widely different cultures, rituals, and beliefs of the various American Indian tribes.  It is also a wonderfully crafted story of how the creative work of those who possess incomparable talent and vision are often  lost in their own time only to attain rightful acclaim by future generations.

Before The Storm--Apache 1906--Edward Curtis

Before The Storm–Apache 1906–Edward Curtis

I commend Short Nights Of The Shadow Catcher to all who have interest in poignant literature surrounding our first Americans.

Other books I have posted on gordonsgoodreads by Timothy Egan include The Worst Hard Time and The Big Burn.  Utilize the search tab found here.

THE MAN WHO SAVED THE UNION-ULYSSES GRANT IN WAR AND PEACE

In the excitement of  the release of  the Steven Spielberg  movie Lincoln, I have coincidentally just completed H.W. Brands’ The Man Who Saved The Union , Ulysses Grant in War and Peace.  Grant, not Lincoln, the man who saved the union?  On the surface, the book’s title is a dichotomy of  enormous proportion. In reality, Grant accomplished much of Lincoln’s vision and the movie Lincoln  should encourage renewed interest in the presidency of Ulysses Grant.

Historian Brands takes nothing away from the great emancipator. To the contrary, he highlights Lincoln’s wisdom in plucking Grant from the western theater of the Civil War and rapidly promoting him to command all Union forces.  Brands forcefully makes the case for Lincoln’s stubborn confidence in General Grant amid repeated periods of doubt, chaos and defeat. Following the war, Lincoln relied on General Grant to carry out the challenge of reconstruction it’s the South including its return to civil order.

Spielberg’s  Lincoln, is based in part of Doris Kerns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals.  Brands’ biography of Grant portrays how together, two of the greatest figures in American history, Lincoln and Grant, crafted an outcome that did indeed preserve the union. Ironically, through an act of fate, it was the hand-picked military general who carried out the brilliant politicians foresight. The movie Lincoln, and the books Team of Rivals and The Man Who Saved The Union embrace the same cast of historical figures.  Following a biographical review of Grant’s early and then wartime years, Brands continues his narrative after Lincoln’s assassination and the debacle of Andrew Johnson’s ascension to the presidency, leading to Grant’s election as president.

Brands leaves no doubt that General Grant, as the overseer of reconstruction while Johnson was president, used every tool within his power as commanding general, to carry out Lincoln’s philosophy toward bringing the rebel states back into the union. Grant’s zeal was equal to Lincoln’s regarding equality and the rights of full-citizenship for the recently emancipated slaves, while at the same time finding the way to keep the Southern States in The Union.   Lincoln ‘s death and the Johnson presidency made the task nearly impossible.  It was during this period that Grant came to fully understand and embrace Lincoln’s intellect which laid the foundation  for a Grant presidency that would bring into fruition Lincoln’s dream.

General Ulysses Grant, the man who disavowed politics and  as General in Chief refused an office in Washington, casts aside his disdain for public office and accepts the nomination of the Republican Party for President of the United States. It is Grant who carries forth the Lincoln legacy by navigating  passage of the, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution through a bitterly divided congress.  In order, these amendments granted equal citizenship under the U.S. Constitution and created the voting rights act.  Brands details Grant’s deft handling of reconstruction during his two terms in the White House utilizing diplomacy and the military to neutralize the Klu Klux Clan and other White Citizens Organizations.  You see in Grant’s ability do deal with the disparate forces in congress much of the same political savvy wielded  by Lyndon Johnson over a half century later!

I caution readers not to look here for a battlefield  history of the Civil War although there is substantial detail on the capture by Grant of Fort Donelson and Fort Henry in the west and the epic battle at Spotsylvania in Virginia.  While the military overview of the war is complete, this book is mainly about Grant, the man, the general and the president.  You will find many of Lincoln’s Team of Rivals still in play while Grant begins his ascendency and assumes the presidency.

Team of Rivals by Doris Kerns Goodwin is an obvious read before seeing Lincoln.  The Man Who Saved The Union by H.W. Brands is a must sequel.  Brands is also the author of the great FDR biography Traitor to his Class.