SARAH VOWELL/ LAFAYETTE/MAKES HISTORY PERTINENT/RELEVANT/FUN!

If I were a superintendent of schools I would be inclined to advise  publishers of history texts  to invite Sarah Vowell to author my high school books. I suspect rather than turning away from a dry text of dates and  events, students might flock to the class to learn history from a contemporary author and storyteller who “gets it!”

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Vowell’s  LAFAYETTE IN THE SOMEWHAT UNITED STATES  is extraordinary in its snarky telling of  the story of  the Marquis de Lafayette, adopted son of George Washington, and profound contributor to the successful outcome of  the Revolutionary  War. Vowell’s history is  contemporary, humorous, relatable, and in your face.

Let me tempt you.

” I would like to see the calamity at Valley Forge  as just the growing pains of a new nation. It has been a long time since the men and women serving in the armed forces of the world’s only superpower went naked because some crooked townies in upstate New York filched their uniforms.  But there’s still this combination of governmental ineptitude, shortsightedness, stinginess, corruption and neglect that affected the Continental Army before, during and after Valley Forge that 21st Century Americans are not entirely unfamiliar with.”

” Whatever the actual  root of our centuries- old, all-American inability to get out shit together, no one can deny that the flinty survivors of Valley Forge embodied another national trait that every man, woman and child in this  republic is supposed to have: backbone, self-reliance, grit. An attribute that comes in handy in this less-than-public-spirited republic the Continentals were fighting to bring about.”

Yes, Vowell offers some fine upbraiding and stern lectures, but she does not miss a molecule of the history of Lafayette, the French, Washington, Yorktown,  Saratoga, Franklin, Adams, Cornwallis, Gage, the Palace at Versailles, Von Stuben, Hamilton, Jefferson, Knox and Howe.

Even the ” Boss “ makes the cut, the battle at Monmouth having been fought on his home turf.  Vowell writes, ” It’s a different kind of independence, personal, not political, but one of the many things we won in that war fought over two centuries ago turned out to be the freedom of expression that let a dude from New Jersey  write a song like Thunder Road.

The American Revolution, bare bones,  readable, relatable and memorable. If only Mr. Stevens at South High School  had a copy of  LAFAYETTE IN THE SOMEWHAT UNITED STATES.  I would have known so much more, so much earlier!

Also by Sarah Vowell, Unfamiliar Fishes, The Wordy Pilgrims, Assassination Vacation, The Partly Cloudy Patriot, Take the Cannoli, Radio On.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BORN TO RUN/ BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN

Born To Run is a compelling, required read for every Bruce Springsteen fan. This autobiography is so real the ink on the pages become the juices of life and the soul and sound of his music. Add an in-depth  understanding of this unique human, talent, writer, troubadour  and survivor.

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Born To Run is a marvelous book for all  because it is the genuine and believable story behind Springsteen’s stardom. There is not an ounce of vanity among the pages.  It is  a story of how music is made, songs are written and why honesty and credibility count.

Born To Run is extraordinary in its humanity. It is a loving memoir of a relationship between father and son, of human survival, friendships and of the struggle to find true love amidst the perils of stardom.

Born To Run is a masterpiece, seven years in the writing. Whether or not you have ever attended a concert of the E Street Band, or purchased one of  Springsteen’s mega hits, this autobiography is important.

It all begins with the song!

” My records are always the sound of someone trying to understand where to place his mind and heart. I imagine a life, I try it on, then see how it fits. I walk in someone else’s shoes, down the sunny and dark roads.”

” Something as seemingly inconsequential as music does certain things very well. There’s a coming together and a lifting, a fortifying, that occurs when people gather and move in  time with one another. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Anthem’s from an artist who came from a dead-end, took a road less traveled and found incomprehensible success. Trust me. You will quickly understand.  Born To Run is beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homegoing/ Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi details the beginnings of the slave trade as African  tribes  raid one another’s villages to gain riches by kidnapping  young men and women at the behest of  British slave traders. The Gold Coast of Africa became Ghana where to this day stands the Cape Coast Castle and the  “Door of No Return ” leading to the beach where the slave ships waited to sail to the Caribbean and America.

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Homegoing is a story of Africa and the havoc wrought  by British colonization.  The book tells a parallel  story of Africans chained together and cast upon the shores of America. Gyasi writes  in Homegoing of generation after generation of her people searching for identity in frightening and ever-changing worlds in Africa, the American South and the streets of present day Harlem. Listen to Gyasi’s  voice:

White men get a choice. They get to choose they job, choose they house. They get to make black babies, then disappear into thin air, like they wasn’t never there to begin with, like these black women they slept with or raped done laid on top of themselves and got pregnant. White men get to choose for black men too. Used to sell ’em; now they just send ’em to prison like they did my daddy, so they can’t be with their kids.

Homegoing is compelling, engaging, insightful and beautifully written The novel follows  generations of descendants seeking answers and understanding as to how their past became the present. Through it all, Gyasi never loses the thread, weaving back and forth taking the reader along on an emotional journey. There will be much more to come from this brilliant first time novelist.

 

 

 

 

MILLER’S VALLEY/ ANNA QUINDLEN

” But no one ever leaves the town where they grew up, not really, even if they go.”  In those key strokes Anna Quindlen, through the voice of  Mimi, Miller’s Valley protagonist, speaks for everyone who hails from small town rural America.

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Miller’s Valley reads with an easy cadence.  ” Oh, I get that, I know him he’s just like… she reminds me of…. ” I said to myself over and over, as Miller’s Valley unfolded  on pages that turned easily and eagerly.

In every small town there exists a mystery behind every doorway and in Miller’s Valley the secrets play out at kitchen tables, barns and where else but at the local diner. The book reads like a memoir. It is both predictable and unpredictable in a perfect blend.

Anna Quindlen was a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist while at the New York Times. Her memoir Lots of Candles Plenty of Cake published in 2012 was a  number one New York Times bestseller.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

HACKING BEFORE THE COMPUTER AGE/ CODE WARRIORS/ STEPHEN BUDIANSKY

Stephen Budiansky’s scholarly book CODE WARRIORS, NSA’S CODEBREAKERS AND THE SECRET INTELLIGENCE WAR AGAINST THE SOVIET UNION is a detailed history of the NSA and the historical herculean and expensive effort to crack the codes and cyphers of the enemies of America dating back to pre WWII.  From the successful breaking of the German Enigma code to intercepting and deciphering war-time radio signals, Code Warriors details the massive U.S. intelligence  gathering mechanism that blossomed into a billions of dollars bureaucracy complete with the intrigue of politics, fighting factions and competing egos.

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Budiansky’s impeccable research sets the stage for today’s headlines as the world of hacking and high speed computers has replaced machines that mechanically spun alphabetical and numbered wheels to crack codes of friends and enemies alike.  The author’s pages are not always kind to the  NSA or the CIA.

It almost seems simplistic  that America once constructed huge antenna arrays worldwide to capture information  sometimes with questionable legality. Early satellites intercepted radio signals and a tunnel under the Berlin Wall tapped into Soviet communications.  America spent additional billions safeguarding its own classified military and diplomatic messaging but the Soviets kept pace and the information race equalled the arms race. It all came under the umbrella of signals intelligence.

While Alan Turing and a staff of hundreds took months to crack the German codes at Bletchley Park, today lone wolf hackers invade secret government and private  files with the impunity of key strokes.

Budiansky details the NSA’s obsession with capturing every possible syllable of signal intelligence and then attempting to decipher and make sense of all of the information. The book begs the question as to whether NSA codebreakers have also become hackers as the narrative  transcends  current events.

Code Warrior’s is  valiant in its effort to make highly technical material  understandable for the layman and place the subject in the context of its vital importance in the major world events of the past seventy-five years.

Stephen Budiansky also wrote Blackett’s War and Perilous Fight.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

A MAN AND HIS MEDIUM/ ALAN HENRY WITH GORDON HASTINGS

I must explain first that I proudly worked closely with Alan Henry in writing this memoir. It was an inspiration to learn his life story and help define his lasting impact on the broadcasting industry. This is not simply a book about broadcasting. It is much more than that because it speaks of a time when young people with a passion could find supportive and helping hands to launch their career.

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The broadcasting industry is approaching the 100th anniversary of the birth of America’s first commercial radio station, KDKA, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. KDKA signed on the air on November 20, 1920.

Emerging through the haze of broadcasting history come the names of individuals that transformed the emerging new technologies of radio and television into broadcast programming that attracted hundreds of millions of listeners and viewers.

Entertainment programming came to the new radio medium inherited from the vaudeville stage. Long form dramatic shows followed including scripted programs like Lux Radio Theater and comedies that included Amos and Andy and Burns and Allen. There were westerns Tom Mix, The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers and dozens of crime shows including the FBI in Peace and War, The Shadow and Mr. and Mrs. North. It was radio’s Golden Age.

When television exploded in American homes during the 1950s radio needed to reinvent itself by creating new and appealing programs and approaches to position itself for the future. Many stations adopted a Rock & Roll music format while others took a more adventurous, riskier and innovative approach and created what later became All News and Talk Radio.

This is the untold story of Alan Henry, a young boy left on a relative’s doorstep at an early age whom through self reliance, grit and imagination grew to be among America’s most successful radio and television broadcast entrepreneurs, innovators and executives.

Alan Henry took high risks to help create programming that is today universal across all media. Over the decades these formats have launched thousands of individual careers in radio, television, cable television and the Internet.

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Alan Henry’s legacy has left an indelible mark on how Americans use the broadcast media in the 21st century. The book is available now at amazon.com and can be obtained through your local bookstore.