I fast tracked this book to the top of my reading list as soon as I added it. And I read it with boyhood lust. Magic and super star fame, danger, the...moreI fast tracked this book to the top of my reading list as soon as I added it. And I read it with boyhood lust. Magic and super star fame, danger, the globe trotting circuit, physical and mental feats, deceit of all kinds, international spying, paranormal communication... What is not to love about this book to a boy at heart?! My passion for the subject aside, it was a rather typical biography with a fair amount of hero worship puffing up each chapter. Still, a fun read for me. It clips along just fine. Three stars, no less, no more and poof it's gone. 11/19/07(less)
Cherry’s 1912 classic adventure memoir combines and edits several other surviving diaries and does a wonderful job detailing Scott’s ill fated South P...moreCherry’s 1912 classic adventure memoir combines and edits several other surviving diaries and does a wonderful job detailing Scott’s ill fated South Pole Terra Nova Expedition. A long line of excellent reviews have already detailed this epic adventure and tragedy... So, I’ll skip a formal review and just outline a few of my own observations.
Cherry spent months attempting to traverse Antarctica in a perpetual sunless winter. Striking out in pitch black, often in snow storms, he tells of the countless times he and or members of his party (and dog teams) fell blindly into invisible crevasses. The potential disaster is mentioned so often, that the reader becomes numb to the incredible terror that this must have triggered, not to mention the physical exhaustion of pulling, dragging and picking one’s way back to apparent safety. Cherry must have recognized the redundancy, so in the middle of his book he goes into detail about the wild free fall, the back-breaking lurch at the end of the tethered harness and the exhausting recovery. Back at camp the danger would be dismissed with typical 1912 British bravado -- after each near tragedy, their comradeship would skyrocket.
My only real criticism (beyond the book’s heft) is Cherry's whitewashing and glory-writing while describing his teammates. No group of men, thrown into desperate circumstances are THAT good together! I blame three circumstances on Cherry’s hero worship; first, their close dependency on each other; second, Cherry’s impressionable age (he was in his 20’s); and finally, he knew his diary was likely his public legacy. He gets away with this near fatal flaw because his story does not need a antagonist. The natural villain is not a person, it’s Mother Nature and she’s a real killer!
He also personally survives a crazy sperm whale attack, as they worked in unison to crack and then explode through the ice field in an effort to snatch their running dog team from the solid ice shelf. Sounds like a scene from an old B-Sci-Fi called “Tremors!”
Other wild subplots include a month long death march to capture Emperor Penguin eggs (really!?... 4 guys, for weeks, in a -70º hurricane, for eggs!?... really!). Within that side story, Cherry chillingly describes his own temporary resolve to die.
A long story has some stretch room for nuance. As a fine example, Cherry takes his time describing the beauty and oddity of such a sparse landscape. He details the dramatic tricks in perspective caused by the absence of landmarks on such a grand scale. In his telling, one day he marched toward a strange shadowed mound on a distant horizon only to arrive at a discarded wrapper some 100 yards away. He didn’t discover and adjust his error in perspective until he was within a couple feet. That has to freak you out a bit! I first discovered this book because it’s title showed up on a National Geographic list of Top 100 Adventure Stories. Since then, I’ve made it a practice to read one or two a year. How does this South Pole survival story fair against the other classics? I would rank it well above the line, but just below a couple awesome stories. The short list below are all from the same cut and cloth, the British glory days of exploration. Strong competitors include; “The Endurance,” “The Forgotten Men,” “We Die Alone,” maybe even “The Long Walk” (note: The Long Walk has long been rumored to be heavily fictionalized).
Overall, very well done! However, modern readers beware; Cherry's turn of the century British verse is both charming and stiff.(less)
Grandin tells an incredibly well researched, comprehensive and at times fascinating story that encircles the entire history of Fordlandia. He also div...moreGrandin tells an incredibly well researched, comprehensive and at times fascinating story that encircles the entire history of Fordlandia. He also dives deep into the corporate culture of Ford that first hatched, then mismanaged and ultimately abandoned Ford’s Utopia. The size and scope of Ford’s vision was staggering; a 2.5 million acre parcel of deep Brazilian jungle, envisioned by the 60 year old to become his rubber dynasty. Hints of a real life “Atlas Shrugged” come to mind. The root of the monstrous failure was Ford’s own hubris. His corporate dictate stubbornly enforced compliance to his christian, Midwestern values and his own universal assembly-line model of industry. Ford’s company town was a surreal and rigid import; an ultra-clean main street complete with white picket fences, a swimming pool, a square-dance hall and a 18-hole golf course. Soy milk (another Ford obsession) replaced most milk products and alcohol was strictly prohibited on the plantation. At the end of both his life and his legacy, Ford was knowingly investing millions into a colossal corporate cluster-fock. On the surface, Grandin’s book is concerned with the logistics of building a town and cultivating a huge foreign plantation. However, below the surface, we are rewarded with an excellent, classic, modern-day tragedy. A character study of Henry Ford’s life and philosophies held in stark contrast to his flagrant flaws. Ford’s founding principals all fail in the Amazon and his naivete is both personally polarizing and suicidal for his pet project. Adopt or die Henry! Grandin also weaves into this epic three excellent side-car stories; Diego Rivera’s Detroit Murals, Ford’s Greenfield Village and the founding of the UAW. Folks, this classic “Machine vs. Jungle” book has it all!; swarms of spiders, evil chemists, seed smugglers, river boat prostitutes, a brow-beaten son, tribal uprisings, vampire bats, massive crop infestations and grafted rubber trees...lots and lots of rubber trees!!!(less)
Selby documents a stunning multimillion dollar jewel heist in the middle of Antwerp’s high security diamond capital. The midnight theft was the real “...moreSelby documents a stunning multimillion dollar jewel heist in the middle of Antwerp’s high security diamond capital. The midnight theft was the real “Crime Of The Century.” Despite the sensation of the subject, Selby’s straight-forward writing was flat and stuffed with stiff descriptions like, “...an apparent victim of foul play.” Question: Who writes like that? Answer: A B-Level Crime TV Script Writer. Criticism aside, there is a special place in my heart for True Crime. The details of the gang heist carried me through several summer nights. My sophomoric reaction is best defended in a stand-up-bit from comedian Dane Cook. Dane bets the guys in his audience that he knows the one thing that they would all choose WAY-OVER SEX. “...Participate in a successfully BANK ROBBERY!!!” He goes on to comically act out the highlights from any one of a thousand heist movies, complete with the line, “Where’s Joey?... Where’s the frxing van?” Apparently, Selby is also in on the act.(less)
Dispatches is a superb collection with a flashes of brilliance. Herr is a gifted writer and a measured study of the motivations behind man’s actions....moreDispatches is a superb collection with a flashes of brilliance. Herr is a gifted writer and a measured study of the motivations behind man’s actions. I loved it. One way to adequately critique Herr is to put his flame next to O’Brien’s excellent collection, “The Things They Carried.” In suggesting a comparison, I’ve immediately placed Herr next to the very best in War Short Stories. O’Brien’s disturbing gift was his use of unbelievably beautiful and poetic prose... while describing... some of the most horoific war crimes imaginable. Michael Herr’s, “Dispatches” does not present such a garish clash between style and content. In comparison, Herr keeps Dispatches style true to journalistic excellence in expose’; it is fast, blunt and punchy. His writing seems less effected and less imagined then O’Brien’s work. Regardless, both books serve up a flashing glimpse at the emotional range and rage of war. The contrast between man’s capacity for compassion and insane-evil is both jarring and riveting. (less)
The incredible Spanish conquest of the Inca empire is fascinating. How could 150 men take on 100,000 Inca warriors? MacQuarrie lays out the answer in...moreThe incredible Spanish conquest of the Inca empire is fascinating. How could 150 men take on 100,000 Inca warriors? MacQuarrie lays out the answer in a very clear and concise manner. Still, I felt like I was watching an one dimensional history documentary. Half way through I realized, “I’m not emotionally vested with either side!” For the most part, rich detail is lacking in her story-telling. Contrary to that last statement, MacQuarrie would occasionally blurt out an imagined micro detail, “his golden medallion earrings must have glistened in the hot sun as he inspected his men.” Pick a lane MacQuarrie! A final confession that further tainted my review, my terrible name memory left me confused by the many Peruvians that were introduced.(less)
The mysterious disappearance of world adventurer David Livingston captivated England and America in the late 1800’s. The old man’s new mission was to...moreThe mysterious disappearance of world adventurer David Livingston captivated England and America in the late 1800’s. The old man’s new mission was to find the source of the Nile. Stanley, New York Daily New’s Foreign Corespondent, was sent in to find him dead or alive. Both men braved the tribes of Africa and ruthless Arab slave traders. The brutal bush exposed them to sickness and threatened starvation. The story behind the meeting is epic — this book is not. Accurate and enlightening, but short of engaging.(less)
Crile’s real life history reads like an excellent spy novel. The largest covert CIA war in history (Afghanistan / USA vs. Russia) was launched by a wi...moreCrile’s real life history reads like an excellent spy novel. The largest covert CIA war in history (Afghanistan / USA vs. Russia) was launched by a wild-man Texas Congressman named Charlie Wilson and two gifted CIA agents. They had three things in common; a deep hatred of communists, an addiction for wild risks and a gift for swaying people and politics. Charlie Wilson, through his Appropriations Committee influence, had the balls to funnel 100’s of millions of dollars and act as a illegal spokesperson for “American Interest” abroad. Under the Reagan Administration, Afghanistan Freedom Fighters eventually became a public rally cry against Communist Russia and a major blow to USSR’s super-power status. (9/3/04)(less)
Epic historical account of the building of the Panama Canal. The largest turn-of-the-century engineering and medical triumph. The story spans 30 years...moreEpic historical account of the building of the Panama Canal. The largest turn-of-the-century engineering and medical triumph. The story spans 30 years including both the French failure and Roosevelt’s victory. Critical to US Naval Superiority. Pivotal in the war on Yellow Fever and Miliaria. Great, great story.(less)
A startling refreshing writing style that features O’Brien’s poetic clip and blunt realism. He has a gift for matching words to souls — one grunt sold...moreA startling refreshing writing style that features O’Brien’s poetic clip and blunt realism. He has a gift for matching words to souls — one grunt soldier at a time. In the process he captures the searing topics of the Vietnam War and the resulting and crushing emotional recoil. The veneers of valor are replaced with his version of truth in war. The collection of stories range as O’Brien grasps at the dark side of man as warrior beast.
Two of my favorite stories. The opening story and book's namesake is worth the price of admission (pure poetic prose). Toward the end there is a second riveting story about a draft dodger poised on the Canadian border (bittersweet and unforgettable). 5/28/04(less)
An outstanding book! Pellegrino writes with beauty and heart. To pair his prose with such an evil event is a profound juxtaposition, similar to Tim O’...moreAn outstanding book! Pellegrino writes with beauty and heart. To pair his prose with such an evil event is a profound juxtaposition, similar to Tim O’Brien’s short stories on Vietnam. Prior to “Last Train” my reading interest only danced around the subject of Hiroshima. What an incredible initiation. Pellegrino tackles and simplifies the complexity of nuclear fusion to explain the atom bomb in “Freshman 101” terms. He also conveys the will and the stunned reaction of the surviving Japanese people from both cities. Pellegrino achieves authentic intimacy by selecting a few family members and doctors and pairing their real life horror with the chaos of their instantly bleak surroundings. Curiously, he also goes into detail describing the two flight teams that dropped the two horrific bombs. I assume he did so in an effort to humanize the two squads. A big warning; the power of Pellegrino’s pen will leave indelible impressions in your mind. His brutal and wrenching stories need telling and retelling across the ages. You will never read another book like this one.
If the nuclear science in the first half of the book, bogs you down, please don't dismiss the volume. The eye witness accounts contained in the second half of the book are well worth your trouble. (less)