The Death of the President is a rich, deep full body emersion into a very specific two week window surrounding Kennedy’s assassination. Manchester was...moreThe Death of the President is a rich, deep full body emersion into a very specific two week window surrounding Kennedy’s assassination. Manchester was the authorized biographer and as such he was granted incredible early access to the full cast of family, politico and personal friends. He also had the doggedness to track down, time stamp, cross check and personally attempt to experience every living detail.
The amount of reference material (pre-google) that Manchester must have digested is just staggering. I read that he conducted over 1,000 in depth interviews. I can just imagine his rapid fire and relentless questions... And then what happened?...And immediately after that?... Who was on your far left?... Do you remember the song that was playing?...What shoes were you wearing that day? One famous selection suspends time and space and thin slices the exact moment of the President's Death. We are treated to a snap shot in time across the entire globe answering the bonding question of the decade, "Where were you when the President was shot?"
What makes this book a classic and a national treasure is not the long yarn but the tight weave. When Manchester consumed all he could, he became as close to omniscient as any man might be. With that amazing perception and awareness as background material, he then crafted his story. Manchester is of course famous (or infamous) for his outrageous detail, but he is equally gifted at editing and scripting riveting dialog. Additionally, his emotional insight and analogies are as fresh today as they were when he first wrote them in 1963. He brings his characters into vivid focus, reporting not just their actions, but their emotional intent (or heart felt reservation). An interesting side note - the Kennedy's who first authorized the unvarnished story, recanted Manchester's effort and stone walled the final draft in court. Manchester was clearly a fan of the family, but it did not stop him from reporting the painful and revealing truth. Perhaps he did too good a job?
If you ever wondered what it would be like to live in the early 60’s, running among the Kennedys, this book will take you there. At the time of JFK’s death, I was a chubby little one year old and my Dad was thirty. Somehow I feel like I know my Pop a little better after consuming this 50 year old epic. A gift from Mr. Manchester.(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)
Wow! And for the record, I detest the liberal use of the exclamation wow and doubly detest it’s pairing with an exclamation mark. That said, it is the...moreWow! And for the record, I detest the liberal use of the exclamation wow and doubly detest it’s pairing with an exclamation mark. That said, it is the first thing that came to mind as I wrote my review and I thought I would give this fine book it’s due. Where have I been? Talk about a heartfelt book that still delivers 50 yrs. after it’s writing. From page one it relates in a very simple way, true emotion and vivid insight into the complexity of personal relationships and small town racial conflicts. In my opinion, McCullers delivers magic on the highest order. I actually felt stronger after reading it. Fair warning: her pace and her indulgence in both dialog and thought is considerably slower than modern fiction. So muster the patience and enjoy her gift. 8/31/07(less)
I love a grand Southern story, especially one this well written. A marvelous micro-sized moral twisting and twirling within one small fictional town....moreI love a grand Southern story, especially one this well written. A marvelous micro-sized moral twisting and twirling within one small fictional town. It will be the best book I read this year and I predict when I pick it up again, it will be the best book I’ll read that year! A timeless classic that can physically take the place of a roaring fireplace and your favorite blanket. Side note: you have to give Harper Lee extra credit just for the inventive character names. Boo Radley, Atikis Finch. ... they’re just fun to say. Check out the audio edition narrated by Sissy Spacek.(less)
For the once thriving post Civil War steel town of Johnstown, this flood was an epic disaster of biblical proportions. The devastation wrought by the...moreFor the once thriving post Civil War steel town of Johnstown, this flood was an epic disaster of biblical proportions. The devastation wrought by the ill fated mountain reservoir (and the faulty earth damn meant to keep it at bay) completely eliminated three valley towns in it’s path. The fifty foot high flood wall literally scoured the valley of all trace of a town, a person or a tree. McCullough, as always, captures the entire town-in-time and then takes us to the action through the eyes of the scrambling survivors. His story is so well researched and descriptive you would swear he must have been their — and you’ll swear you were their also. Read this book during the monsoon season for the full effect. 12/10/03(less)
Once every two years (if I’m lucky) I have the rare privilege of reading a true five star epic. Nelson’s detailed account of America’s amazing space r...moreOnce every two years (if I’m lucky) I have the rare privilege of reading a true five star epic. Nelson’s detailed account of America’s amazing space race captures an essential historical decade. Several times I was shocked by the clarity of his story telling at both the macro and micro levels. Nelson achieves this effect by layering together a sweeping series of well edited personal cameos, each on to itself a fascinating victory or tragedy. I’m 46 and this is one of those invaluable books that helps fill the void in my early childhood memories. It also historically connects my father’s lifetime to my own. The space race captured the imagination of the world and sparked a national and international media frenzied. Nelson tells the inside story at Nassau, the Pentagon, MIT and the Kremlin. He also made the book deeply emotional and accessible by revealing the personal lives of each Apollo astronaut and their families. Finally, not to put too big a bow on it, this is also a very macho story stuffed with genius level intellect, national pride, determination, risk and bravado. The science alone is staggering. I kept thinking how did they do all this without an I-Mac? For God’s sake this was the 1960’s, we had yet to invent the 8-track tape player! One of the more interesting aspects of Rocket Men is the direct parallel and interrelationship between the space program and the international arms race. It seems obvious now that I step away from it, but prior to reading this fine book it never dawned on me that the two programs were in fact one and the same. What worked for space rockets worked for war rockets. Rather clever how it was spun and sold to America!(less)
The transcontinental railroad and Lincoln’s underwriting of a race between the two coasts during and after the Civil War. The link was a necessity to...moreThe transcontinental railroad and Lincoln’s underwriting of a race between the two coasts during and after the Civil War. The link was a necessity to survive and protect our borders as one country. Cover to cover is stuffed with stories from immigrant labors; Chinese from San Francisco and Irish from Boston New York. Crooked deals and boom towns!(less)
A classic man’s man post WW2 memoir. Graves personifies the traveling writer; macho, adventure seeking, well-read x-pat, mixing with affluent traveler...moreA classic man’s man post WW2 memoir. Graves personifies the traveling writer; macho, adventure seeking, well-read x-pat, mixing with affluent travelers. His writing is heavily influenced by Hemingway’s crisp, cut to the chase prose. But somehow, Graves seems more innocent, more imperfect, more personal than Hemingway (a friend, not a legend). Graves adds an interesting time twist to his own memoir, acting as the elderly editor and commentator looking back on his journal entries from his 20’s. I need to read a Grave’s novel or two now that I know the man. Graves and Hemingway inspire me to change my writing style. Throw out the flourish, strip edit, cut the truth down to the quick. What a great book to start the new year!! 1-5-09.(less)