This book is wonderfully ridiculous - a satire of this finest kind. "The Mouse" in this story is the tiny country of The Grand Duchy of Fenwick - an A...moreThis book is wonderfully ridiculous - a satire of this finest kind. "The Mouse" in this story is the tiny country of The Grand Duchy of Fenwick - an Alpine country five miles long and 3 miles wide near the borders of France and Switzerland. Their entire economy, based on the successful export of their world-famous wine Pinot Grand Fenwick, is brought to its knees after American vintners in San Rafael, California begins bottling a competitive wine they call Pinot Grand Enwick.
After being laughed at when they send several official documents of complaint to United States officials, they hit upon a scheme which they feel will restore their national economy forever. They plan to declare war on the United States and following their inevitable defeat, expect the United States to be the "gracious victors" and shower them with funds to rehabilitate them, as was done following Germany's defeat at the end of World War II.
Grand Fenwick's Duchess Gloriana XIII tasks the duchy's high constable Tully Bascomb with assembling an appropriate expeditionary force to invade the U.S. Constable Bascomb vigorously proceded to do so and soon marched out the duchy's only road connecting it with the outside world with his force of three men-at-arms, besides himself, and 20 longbowmen dressed in chain mail and surcoats. Once outside the duchy, they had to catch a bus to the port of Marseille, France, where they chartered a two-masted, square-rigged sailing vessel - a brig - to take them to their point of invasion, New York City.
As the result of a hilarious series of events, they "invade" during a 100% Civil Defense drill during which there were no people on the streets or anywhere in sight when they arrive in New York. The Grand Fenwickian expeditionary force ends up "winning" the war by capturing the Columbia University physicist and the ultra-destructive "Q" bomb that he created, then calmly sailing out into the Atlantic Ocean well before the United States realizes that it has been "invaded."
The remainder of the book describes, in hysterical fashion, how this event leads to "guaranteed" peace for the entire world. It is a "light" read and very funny, but it is also very thought-provoking in a "what-if" kind of way regarding how the guarantee of world peace came about. It is not great literature, but it is wonderfully imaginative satire. I recommend it to readers who can accept it on that basis.
This book was originally published in The Saturday Evening Post on a serialized basis beginning in December 1954. I read a paperback copy published in 1959 and which sold for $0.35. The pages were literally falling out, but I managed to keep them together long enough.
Some may remember the 1959 movie of the same name starring Peter Sellers. He not only played High Constable Tully Bascomb but also the parts of Grand Duchess Gloriana XII and the duchy's Prime Minister Count Rupert of Mountjoy. As I read the book, I recalled fairly clearly having seen the movie many years ago. To the best of my recollection, the movie was an excellent adaptation of the book.
A former Mafia hit man allegedly carried out a contract assassination of a South American dictator based on the orders of the head of an American inte...moreA former Mafia hit man allegedly carried out a contract assassination of a South American dictator based on the orders of the head of an American intelligence service. Following his arrest, he agrees to be a government witness in exchange for being included in the witness protection program as a citizen of a foreign country. Twenty years later, when he is in his 80’s, he agrees to relate his story to a writer, who plans a fictional account of what is related to him on numerous audio tapes as well as the notes he took during the interviews. He is convinced by the chief advisor of a powerful senator that the book should come out as non-fiction instead of a novel and that the assassin should come testify before a Senate hearing of the involvement of the former intelligence service head, who has now moved into a very high-level elected position.
When the “witness-protected” former hit man, arrives in Washington for the hearings, he is assassinated. Within a few hours of his death, his assassin is also killed. The presumption is that each of the deaths is the result of Mafia contracts. Since the original hit man can no longer testify, the tapes and notes become a critical piece of evidence and very much a “hot-potato” for the novelist turned non-fiction writer, who is on the run from several groups who will not stop until they have the tapes.
This was a reasonably good murder-mystery but a bit too convoluted and confusing for me. I give it a very luke-warm recommendation.
I have just finished reading this absolutely amazing story of the truly incredible horse Seabiscuit. The story tells of how the initia...moreWOW!!!!!!!!!!!!
I have just finished reading this absolutely amazing story of the truly incredible horse Seabiscuit. The story tells of how the initially ill-tempered, little-appreciated horse was brought from obscurity to the pinnacle of his sport by an unlikely trio: Charles Howard (his flamboyant owner), Tom Smith (his ultra-quiet, very intense trainer), and "Red" Pollard (his incomparable jockey).
Illustrations of the impact this horse had on America are: "At year's end, when the number of newspaper column inches devoted to public figures was tallied up, it was announced that the little horse (i.e., Seabiscuit) had drawn more newspaper coverage in 1938 than Roosevelt, who was second, Hitler (third), Mussolini (fourth), or any other newsmaker. His match with War Admiral was almost certainly the single biggest NEWS story (not just sports news story) and one of the biggest sports moments of the century." "Each WORKOUT was attended by ten thousand or more spectators." During this match race, it was said that: "His (i.e., the race announcer) voice crackled over the radio waves to an estimated forty million listeners, including President Franklin Roosevelt. Drawn up next to his White House radio, F.D.R. was so absorbed in the broadcast that he kept a roomful of advisors waiting. He would not emerge until the race was over."
Laura Hillenbrand weaves a tale so vivid with detail that you really feel as if you were looking over the shoulders of those whom she is describing. A good example is portrayal of the jockey's role in the success of a racehorse. "To pilot a racehorse is to ride a half-ton catapult. It is without question one of the most formidable feats in sport. The extraordinary athleticism of the jockey is unparalleled: A study of the elements athleticism conducted by Los Angeles exercise physiologists and physicians found that of all major sports competitors, jockeys may be, pound for pound, the best overall athletes. They have to be. To begin with, there are the demands on balance, coordination, and reflex. A horse's body is a constantly shifting topography, with a bobbing head and neck and roiling muscle over the shoulders, back and rump. On a running horse, a jockey does not sit in the saddle, he crouches over it, leaning all his weight on his toes, which rest on the thin medal bases of stirrups dangling about a foot from the horse's topline. When a horse is in full stride, the only parts of the jockey that are in continuous contact with the animal are the insides of the feet and ankles - everything else is balances in midair." "The stance is, in the words of one... researcher, 'a situation of dynamic imbalance and ballistic opportunity.' The center of balance is so narrow that if jockeys shift only slightly rearward, they will flip right off the back. If they tip more than a few inches forward, a fall is almost inevitable."
Even before jockeys can mount for their race they must "make weight," that is step on the scale to ensure they don't exceed the weight limits. "They called the scale 'the Oracle," and they lived in slavery to it. In the 1920's and 1930's, the imposts, or weights horses were assigned to carry in races (i.e., the handicapping process), generally ranged from 83 pounds to 130 or more, depending on the rank of the horse and the importance of the race. A rider could be no more than 5 pounds over the assigned weight or he would be taken off the horse." "To make weight in anything but high-class stakes races, jockeys had to keep their weight to no more than 114 pounds." They went to extremes to achieve this. "Most jockeys took a more straightforward approach: the radical diet, consisting of six hundred calories a day. Red Pollard went as long as a year eating nothing but eggs." "Water, because of its weight, was the prime enemy, and jockeys went to absurd lengths to keep it out of their systems. Most drank virtually nothing." "But weight maximums were so low that near fasting and water deprivation weren't enough." "Then there were the sweating rituals, topped by 'road work.' This practice... involved doning heavy underwear, zipping in a rubber suit, swaddling in hooded winter gear and woolen horse blankets, then running around and around the track, preferably under a blistering summer sun."
In 1940 Seabiscuit was returning from a long injury-induced layout to run the Santa Anita Handicap, also known as the Hundred Grander to reflect the highest purse paid in any horserace at that time. "People had begun gathering by the track gates just after dawn. By nine-thirty, the parking lot was already swollen with care. Many people had driven across the nation to see the race; virtually every state in the union was represented by license plates." After they threw the gates open, one correspondent said it looked "like the Oklahoma landrush." "Up in the pressbox, reporters from all over the world arrived." "In the luxury boxes, celebrities filed in: Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, Sonja Henie, James Stewart, and Bing Crosby."
One thing in particular that was so amazing is that the impost weights assigned to Seabiscuit were almost always 130 or more pounds and in almost every race his rivals carried imposts of no more than 114 pounds. "In six years, Seabiscuit had won thirty-three races and set thirteen track records at eight tracks over six distances. He had smashed a world record in the shortest of sprints, one half mile, yet had the stamina to run in track record time at one and five-eighths miles. Many of history's greatest horses had faltered under 128 pounds or more; Seabiscuit had set two track records under 133 pounds and four more under 130 while conceding massive amounts of weight to his opponents. He was literally worth his weight in gold, having earned a world record $437,730, nearly sixty times his price."
This is definitely a 5-star, A+ book. I most definitely recommend it to almost any reader.(less)