Monday, October 17, 2016

Book Recommendations

Book Recommendations:

Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics. By Charles Krauthammer 
This excellent book was lent to me by my Marine buddy, Del when we visited him in NC. It is a collection of Krauthammer's best and most timely essays and columns over the past thirty years. It is hard to review, because they cover such a wide range of topics, and everyone is worth reading. The book was a best seller. I suggest you read the interview with Krauthammer on Amazon as well as other reviews, but hope you will read his clear thinking an excellent use of the language.

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard
My wife and I both wanted to read this excellent history for a book club we belong to, so we obtained a copy on CD and listened to it on our recent 2,100 mile vacation to NC and VA. It is a must for American history buffs. Though I'm a recovering politician with a masters in history, I knew little about Garfield beyond the facts that he was a Union Civil War General, had been elected president as a Republican and was assassinated shortly after taking office. I came to respect and like the man through Millard's treatment. I was surprised to find that he had not sought the nomination, had been for Sen. John Sherman, and was nominated against his wishes when the GOP convention bolted to him on the 36th ballot. I was also impressed with the kind of man he was. And dismayed to discover that his wound should not have been fatal, that what killed him was the introduction of infection by his doctors, especially the chief I'm-in-charge-here Dr. Bliss, as they did not believe in Lister's germ theory. An interesting subtheme was the efforts of Alexander Graham Bell to invent a machine that would locate the bullet in Garfield's body. It worked, except that Dr. Bliss would only let Bell try the machine on Garfield's right side where he wrongly but strongly believed the bullet was lodged. Bell's machine went on to save many lives before x-Rays were developed. I previously enjoyed Millard's book "River of Doubt" and am looking forward to reading her "Hero of the Empire." She is a treasure for those of us who still care about history.

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle  by the Countess of Carnarvon

Though I have never watched an episode of Downton Abby, my wife is a fan, so we picked this book up on CD to listen to on our recent driving vacation. I'm glad we did, as it is a fascinating look at upper class life in Britain before and during WWI. The heroine is the fifth Countess of Carnarvon, and the author is the eighth, so it has an intimacy and  richness of detail that comes directly from the family lore. The Earl of Carnarvon was a good man, but to maintain the family heritage, Highclere Castle, he needed to marry well. Almina was the daughter of Baron Rothschild, whose wealth probably made him the Bill Gates of the time. And he indulged her, both in funding the upkeep of the castle, in lavish balls and in turning the castle into a military hospital in WWI. Rothschild was a major supporter of the British war effort. Among other things, the Earl was a self-funded Egyptologist, whose claim to immortality was the discovery of King Tut's tomb. Unfortunately he died right after this from an infected mosquito bite. (Penicillin might have been a better discovery.) The most interesting character for me was the Earl's brother Aubrey, who had very poor eyesight (by the end of the war he was mostly blind.) Aubrey spoke several languages, including French, German, Bulgarian, and Turkish. Before the war he wired the earl, "Have been offered the throne of Bulgaria. May I accept?" The Earl wired back, "No." Doubtless a good decision with Europe on the edge of the Abyss. At the beginning of the war, Aubrey tried to enlist, and was rejected by both the Army and the Territorials (reserves) due to his eyesight. Nothing loath, he had a uniform tailored to match his brother-in-laws, a colonel in the Irish Guards. When the Guards marched to the trains in Piccadilly Station, Aubrey just fell in at the end, took train with his friends and wasn't discovered until they were well in France. They decided to keep him as a translator. He was badly wounded early on, captured by the Germans, recaptured by the British and recuperated at Highclere Castle. Returning to service, he wound up at Gallipoli, where he worked his way through the lines at great personal risk to negotiate a truce with the Turks so that both sides could bury their dead. Recalled to take his seat in parliament, he became a pacifist. Imagine any of today's rich elites going so far to serve the country in war instead of finding convenient deferments (student, bone spurs, etc) to keep they safely out of harm's way. This book will be enjoyed by more than just the fans of the TV series.

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