While I enjoyed John Bruning’s book “Indestructible”, about World War II pilot “Pappy Gunn”, I didn’t feel it lived up to its subtitle, e.g., “One ManWhile I enjoyed John Bruning’s book “Indestructible”, about World War II pilot “Pappy Gunn”, I didn’t feel it lived up to its subtitle, e.g., “One Man's Rescue Mission That Changed the Course of WWII”. Part of my reason for selecting this book was the intriguing subtitle. Unfortunately for me, I’m always a little disappointed when the Publishers description on the book jacket, or if the book’s sub-title don’t quite measure up to the hype, and this was the case for this book. “Indestructible” tells the story of Paul Irving “Pappy” Gunn, an ex-navy pilot turned airline executive in the Philippines as World War II broke out in the Pacific theater. Gunn joined McArthur’s Army air force, but was on a mission out of Country as the Japanese overran Manilla where his family was living. His wife and four children were interred in a Japanese prison camp, and the book jacket and sub-title led me to believe I’d be reading about “… a renegade American pilot” who “… fights against all odds to rescue his family--imprisoned by the Japanese”. Instead, while Gunn certainly did worry about his family as the war continued, he never was able to locate them, nor was there any rescue mission planned or attempted to free his family or their fellow prisoners. Nevertheless, the book does tell an interesting story about an interesting aviator. However, some of the tales may be enhanced. Bruning frequently mentioned that a number of the tales have been passed down over time, perhaps 100% true, perhaps legend, and “… what actually happened may never be known...", or "...no one knows for sure..." as he tells the story of this respected innovative pilot. Gunn’s importance to the war effort was not as a fighter pilot or top-gun ace, but rather as an innovator who improved armament and tactics. He fought through the administrative bureaucracy and supply limitations and worked tirelessly to improve everything he touched. One of his most important innovations was to modify the B-25 Mitchell bomber adding multiple forward facing machine guns allowing the planes to do low-level strafing of ships and ground troops, greatly enhancing their efficiency as attack weapons. For his dedication, insights, and innovations, adding to the war effort to slow down and turn the tide against Japanese advances in the Pacific, Gunn’s story is certainly one worth telling. ...more
The Middle East of 2010, which Stephen Kinzer wrote about in his book "Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future", isn't necessarily the same Middle EThe Middle East of 2010, which Stephen Kinzer wrote about in his book "Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future", isn't necessarily the same Middle East of 2017, when I read the book. In the period after the book was published, turmoil in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, the Arab Spring brought changes in several countries, Syria is ravaged by an on-going civil war, ISIS has become a force in regions of Syria and Iraq, prospects for Israeli / Palestinian peace remain poor, Netanyahu has enlarged his power in Israel and settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem have expanded, etc. Turkey and Iran, which Kinzer highlights, have also seen significant changes with Erdogan surviving an attempted military coup, and strengthening his power afterward, and Iran successfully negotiated a deal limiting its progress toward nuclear bomb development in return for lifting of crippling sanctions by Western powers. Even more important, since Kinzer was writing about America's Future influence and partnerships in the region, is the recent election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. So, much of the forward looking thoughts Kinzer expressed in the book needs to be reconsidered in today's environment, and many of his hopes for the future of the region are even further from being achieved than before. Nonetheless, there still are reasons to read the book, even if recent books have a more realistic viewpoint of the turmoil which continues in the region. The past history of Turkey and Iran, in particular, are still very relevant, and provide a good reviews of the people and the leadership in those countries, as well as the apparent hopes and expectations of the citizens....more
I’ve been struggling to understand the militant Islamist mindset since 9/11, when supporters of Osama Bin Laden destroyed the World Trade Center and aI’ve been struggling to understand the militant Islamist mindset since 9/11, when supporters of Osama Bin Laden destroyed the World Trade Center and attacked the Pentagon. In time, I learned something about Bin Laden's hatred of America because what he saw as (1) U.S. one-sided support for Israel at the expense of Palestinian concerns; (2) our support of authoritarian regimes in Mid-Eastern countries at the expense of their oppressed Muslim citizens; and (3) our military presence in Saudi Arabia which is contrary to Islamic doctrines.
More recently, with the rise of ISIS, I had to work even harder to begin trying to understand the appeal of the Islamic State. Graeme Wood's book "The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State", helped a lot. It may be that "The Way of the Strangers" would have been the only book I needed to gain an understanding of ISIS, but it's also probable that previous readings helped provide additional background which helped make Wood's book so insightful. These previous books, such as Jihad Academy, by Nicolas Henin; Black Flags, by Joby Warrick; and ISIS: The State of Terror, by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger. certainly helped by providing key information and background.
In this book, Graeme Wood shares his understanding of ISIS as obtained by his detailed studies of their statements, as well as insights he gained by his travels through Muslim Countries, and finally through his interviews with a variety of Muslim scholars and leaders. He really did his homework, and instead of simply observing or reading about the reports from the Islamic State, he met with and discussed the workings of ISIS with knowledgeable Muslim leaders. Thus, he was able to provide new insights into ISIS ideology, and the intentions of the new Caliphate. He manages to tell us how ISIS justifies their horrific violence against non-believers, whether Westerners, Christians, or even some Muslim sects as well. Their beliefs are justifiable (to them), and are based on original teachings of Muhammad, as they understand them, reflecting a medieval era of jihad when Islam was being spread by the sword.
ISIS leaders and fighters are throwbacks to early Islam, following past practices such as slavery and beheadings, as found in the original teachings of Islam from periods of war over a thousand years earlier. Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, preaches the importance of establishing the Caliphate, and how it's the duty of all Muslims to swear allegiance to the Caliphate, become members, and follow the examples of Muhammad. Those who do join the Caliphate, and strictly follow the teachings of ISIS, may find a social welfare system in place which works for them. Those who fail to follow the rules may find themselves subject to medieval style punishments such as amputations, beatings, stoning, crucifixion, or beheadings.
Wood also points out that if ISIS is to be defeated, those fighting against it must gain a better understanding of their beliefs and intentions. Since they follow strict interpretations of the Quran and Hadith, knowing that should be helpful in understanding what may work in fighting them, and what is likely to fail. Since end-of-time prophecies predict a great war between Islam and the non-believers, making a great war happen by putting troops on the ground against them only fulfills their dogma and may bring in more supporters. And should they lose that great war, it's not likely to diminish their appeal, since prophecies also discuss losing battles before the ultimate victory. Thus, slowly bleeding ISIS over time may be the better choice, discrediting the leaders, bringing dissatisfaction to the followers, and gradually causing the Caliphate to lose ground, and therefore lose legitimacy....more
Jay Sekulow's recent book "Unholy Alliance: The Agenda Iran, Russia, and Jihadists Share for Conquering the World" reiterated much of what Americans aJay Sekulow's recent book "Unholy Alliance: The Agenda Iran, Russia, and Jihadists Share for Conquering the World" reiterated much of what Americans and Europeans have seen and experienced over the past fifteen years, i.e., there's an element of radical Islamists seeking to attack Western democracies whenever and wherever they can. In the first part of the book, Sekulow discusses some of the basic tenants of Islam, the origins of the beliefs, and differences between Shiite and Sunni elements of Islam. Sekulow emphasizes that Iran is a major source of hatred and a major supporter various radical elements throughout the Middle East, including Hamas and Hezbollah. And while the sub-title of the book includes a reference to Russia, it's only in the last ten percent of the book or so where Russia seems to be discussed, and then it's mostly in regard to Russia and Iran both working to support the Assad government in Syria. Sekulow also makes the point that the Obama Administration's failure to stay engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan created a void in leadership in the area - a void subsequently filled by Iran and Russia. Because this book was written before the 2016 U.S. elections, Sekulow didn't discuss newly elected U.S. President Donald Trump, but it's apparent that he would be supportive of Trump's stated intention to take the fight to and quickly defeat ISIS and the terrorist Islamist elements. Readers with an interest in this subject might also be interested in reading one or more of the following, which contain similar messages and warnings, but in a slightly better way: Ayaan Hirsi Ali's "Heretic"; Brigitte Gabriel's "They Must Be Stopped"; Kenneth Timmerman's "Preachers of Hate"; Geert Wilders' "Marked for Death: Islam's War Against the West and Me; Peter Bergen's "Holy War, Inc."; Glen Beck's "It IS About Islam"; "Milton Viorst's "Storm From the East"; Robert Baer's "The Devil We Know"; Michael Scheuer's "Marching Toward Hell"; Mark Steyn's "America Alone"; and George Friedman's "America's Secret War: Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between America and Its Enemies"....more
As I read this book, I noted that it's being made into a movie of the same name, due to be released early in 2017. Often, when comparing a movie basedAs I read this book, I noted that it's being made into a movie of the same name, due to be released early in 2017. Often, when comparing a movie based on the book it was based on, people like the books better than the movies. But in this case, I suspect the movie will be better. The story itself is a good one, telling of the behind-the-scene women who performed many of the basic calculations needed by NASA to calculate orbital trajectories, launch velocities, ocean landing sites, etc. in the early days of the space program. Especially poignant is the fact that the women featured in the book were all black when women were discouraged from entering the work force, especially in technical areas, and blacks in general were excluded from all but the most menial jobs. These women started their education and careers in the era of Jim Crow laws in the South, well before the landmark Supreme Court "Brown v. Board of Education" case made segregation in schools illegal. The fact that the Federal Government brought in many educated and talented black women into the aeronautical and space agencies at that time was a true breakthrough for equality in the workplace. And even though jobs were offered to these women, in those early days, they still had to endure separate housing, separate bathrooms, separate cafeterias, and discrimination on the job. Yet they persisted and prevailed. These women became true role models, and their story is well worth telling. The book was interesting in that regard, focusing mainly on the personal stories of the women. But I imagine Hollywood will be able to jazz the story up a little more with space shots and tension to liven it up for the theaters. ...more
This short "prequel" sets the stage for Grisham's latest novel "The Whistler". It identifies most of the main characters, the crime committed and theThis short "prequel" sets the stage for Grisham's latest novel "The Whistler". It identifies most of the main characters, the crime committed and the subsequent trial, and hints at the fact that the defendant may have been set up. However, there's little of the drama and legal intrigue characteristic of most Grisham novels here, so you have to trust that the full novel will develop that more. ...more
"The Yankee Years" covers Joe Torre's years as Yankee manager from the mid 1990's to the mid 2000's. The events Torre describes are now 10 to 20 years"The Yankee Years" covers Joe Torre's years as Yankee manager from the mid 1990's to the mid 2000's. The events Torre describes are now 10 to 20 years old, but as someone who lived in the New York area during that time, the book was a great walk down memory lane. The descriptions of some of those great Yankee Championship years, memorable games and players brought back many, many memories. The great plays, great players, and great comeback victories were exciting to remember. At times, for games which I didn't remember clearly, I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat, so to speak, anxious to hear about the next pitch or the next batter so see if the game would end in a dramatic victory or a disappointing loss. Yankee fans should like the first half of the book a lot, since that covers a streak of four World Series Championships. The last half of the book may not be as pleasing, since it describes Yankees losses in the playoffs and years when the Red Sox managed to best the Yankees. But all in all, baseball fans from that era should enjoy recalling memorable plays such as Jeter's memorable "flip" game against Oakland in the 2001 Division series, Aaron Boone's 2003 playoff walk-off home run, the Alex Rodriguez clubhouse tensions, George Steinbrenner's management over reactions, and dozens of other stories from those memorable Yankee Years. ...more
I might imagine that most people today, thinking about the on-going wars around the globe, might think that unconventional fighters, shifting in and oI might imagine that most people today, thinking about the on-going wars around the globe, might think that unconventional fighters, shifting in and out of the field of combat, blending in with the civilian population, as well as Special Forces, Navy Seals, insurgencies, and guerrilla tactics are all the norm when it comes to the way the armed conflicts are fought. But as Ben Macintyre makes clear in "Rogue Heroes", that really wasn't the norm in the past. Through history, there were the formal battle formations of the Roman Legions, British Redcoats marching in tight formation in battles at the end of the 18th Century, the massing of thousands of troops in opposition to each other, etc. as the way of the past.
Macintyre describes a British WWII innovation in fighting techniques, e.g., the idea of small bands of highly trained elite troops, each with special skills and stealthy techniques being inserted behind enemy lines. That innovation is the subject of the book, and owes its start to Britain's Special Air Service (SAS) and the vision of a young British officer named David Stirling. Macintyre's book tells the story of the original SAS men and their deeds and successes, beginning primarily as saboteurs in North Africa during World War II, harassing Rommel's desert forces. Success bred success, and the SAS was expanded and given additional responsibility, and eventually was copied by other fighting forces around the world. Macintyre does an excellent job in telling this story of innovation, skill and bravery of those original men. ...more
While this book received many rave reviews and awards, and remains on best seller lists, it failed to grab me, and after finishing the first half of tWhile this book received many rave reviews and awards, and remains on best seller lists, it failed to grab me, and after finishing the first half of the book, I fast forwarded through to the end. As a reader of mostly non-fiction books, the novels I enjoy are those which stay close to facts, history, and realism. If that's done, then the fictionalized characters in those stories seem more real to me, and I find the story more enjoyable. That didn't happen for me in "The Underground Railroad". Some of the liberties Colson Whitehead took with the history, details and facts in creating his story, such as what the underground railroad really was (and wasn't), almost seemed disrespectful and made light of the hardships endured and bravery exhibited by those who aided runaway slaves in their efforts to escape to freedom. Slavery, the Underground Railroad, some of the social medical experimentation performed on freed blacks, etc., are serious topics and deserve to be treated with historical accuracy, and creating a novel within those constraints would have been more interesting to me. As a result, I lost focus and interest in the story, and never really developed empathy for nor a connection to the main characters. ...more