here's how far behind I am -- I finished this book the end of last month and am just now getting to it here. aarrghh!
Village of Secrets begins with th...morehere's how far behind I am -- I finished this book the end of last month and am just now getting to it here. aarrghh!
Village of Secrets begins with the coming of the Nazis to France in 1940 and the establishment of the Vichy government under Pétain. It wasn't long until measures of repression against certain targeted groups ("foreign" Jews, Freemasons and Communists) began; the campaigns against them were accompanied by propaganda that targeted these groups as "dark forces of the 'anti-France'." However, as time went on, it became clearer that the Vichy government was expected to play a role in helping the Nazis implement their anti-Jewish policies -- not just the foreign-born, naturalized citizens, but eventually the French-born Jews, who'd mistakenly believed that their status offered them some modicum of safety.
If you believe the myth that started circulating in 1953, a pacifist-oriented pastor named André Trocmé in the French parish of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon "helped save some 5,000 hunted communists, Freemasons, resisters and Jews from deportation to the extermination camps of occupied Poland." According to a magazine article that year, Trocmé had instilled his own belief in non-violent, peaceful resistance among his parishioners, and it was in this spirit that they were led to take in, hide, and sometimes get people whose names "appeared on Nazi death lists" safely over the Swiss border. Over two decades later, in 1988, Le Chambon was designated by Yad Vashem as the only village in the world to be "Righteous Among Nations," an appellation that in combination with a number of articles, documentaries, and memoirs about this remote village in the Massif Central, perpetuated the ongoing myth about Trocmé's role and that of Le Chambon as well.
But there's a problem here: by focusing solely on this small, remote village and this peace-loving Protestant pastor, over the years that "myth" has ignored a lot of other people -- those from other places, of other beliefs, and even a number of humanitarian authorities who literally risked everything to help save people designated for the camps. In this book, the author takes on the realities behind the myths and examines the changing and still-controversial discourses evolving from this historical period.
Either I add a too-long review, or you can click here for the long one at my online reading journal. Here's the short version: as its bottom line, this book most thoroughly examines how ordinary people responded to very extraordinary circumstances during this time period. It is a well written and meticulously-researched narrative that uses first-person accounts of people who lived to tell their tales due of the help they received from others, as well as accounts from some of those who helped them to survive.
I know I just added this book yesterday, but I opened it at 1 pm when it arrived, let everything else go, skipped dinner, and read the entire night th...moreI know I just added this book yesterday, but I opened it at 1 pm when it arrived, let everything else go, skipped dinner, and read the entire night through because I could not put it down. I guess you might say that I LOVED this book:
a) It's about polar exploration, probably my favorite nonfiction reading topic in the universe, b) it's by Hampton Sides, who has not let me down yet with any of his books, and c) it's just so engrossing that I couldn't stop reading it. I'm pretty tired and cranky right now, but what the hell -- it was so worth it. Once again Hampton Sides has proven that he is not only a master of his topic but also a master of storytelling.
I've written up my thoughts about this book at the nonfiction page of my online reading journal; feel free to click on over. For now, I'll just reiterate how fanbloodytastic I found this book.
I seriously can't do this book the justice it deserves, but In the Kingdom of Ice is an absolutely phenomenal story told by a master storyteller, and it deserves as wide of a reading audience as possible. Even readers who might not normally be excited about the history of polar exploration would love this book -- the story is harrowing enough, but Mr. Sides highlights the humanity and the sheer bravery of these heroic men facing the unendurable in one of the most unforgiving environments in the world. The book literally reads like a novel, complete with cliffhangers, moments for rejoicing, and above all, page-turning scenes making it impossible to set the book down. It's an ultimate true "rollicking adventure" story, one that should be on everyone's reading list. To answer other reader criticism, yes, there's a lot of detail involved, but none of it is wasted space or used as padding as so often seems to be the case. I cannot recommend this book highly enough -- on the favorites list of 2014.
... someone should get in touch with Ken Burns -- this would make a fascinating PBS special.(less)
Actually, I finished this a little while ago, not today. I really, REALLY liked this book. I'm just posting a way shorter version of the longer post I...moreActually, I finished this a little while ago, not today. I really, REALLY liked this book. I'm just posting a way shorter version of the longer post I wrote at my reading journal blog; if you want the longer one, just click here.
A few months back while blurb-reading through the longlist for Australia's Stella Prize, the blurb of Moving Among Strangers caught my eye. I have no idea why -- I had absolutely no clue who Randolph Stow was, so really, my interest probably shouldn't have been so piqued. But it was as if this book somehow managed to exert some strange, weird pull on me and all I know is that I had to have it. While Randolph Stow, his writing, and his feelings about being a writer in Australia are all certainly a big part of this book, it is also a very personal sort of memoir of the author who, because of her interest in Stow, comes to understand more about her mother and father, and finds herself reconnected to long-absent members of her extended family. It is indeed a little gem of a book that combines her own family story to the story of this writer who penned the line "we are here as shipwrecked mariners on an island, moving among strangers, darkly." As I read through her memoir, this line out of Stow's The Girl Green as Elderflower (one of two epigraphs) came to take on a surprising amount of meaning in both lives.
Considering that I had no clue who Randolph Stow was when I first picked up this book, by the time I got to Ms. Carey's description of coming upon the location of the original merry-go-round by the sea in Geraldton, I was actually compelled to buy a copy of Stow's book of the same name. Moving Among Strangers is a lovely book that has a bit of a painful personal edge throughout that a reader can't help but to notice, offering a much more in-depth experience than say a straight-out biography of Stow would have. Ms. Carey also expresses herself in a straightforward way so as to make her book extremely reader friendly and accessible. I am not a big memoirs person, but truthfully, given that I was unfamiliar with the subject of this book, I was completely engrossed in this book the entire time I was reading it. It is definitely a book I can most highly recommend. (less)
I'll post my review of this book here because LibraryThing and the publishers sent me this edition, but I have to make a sort of embarrassing confession: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher, but couldn't get started on it right away so I set it aside to be picked up later. When I was ready to read it, which was like 2 weeks ago, I went to find it, and it was nowhere. It had just disappeared. I looked through each and every bookshelf and each and every book to find it (which in my case, is like looking for a needle in a haystack), and it didn't turn up. I went to find one on Amazon and to my horror discovered that the book is not scheduled for publication until July. Then I went into full-on panic mode because I had committed to reading this for LibraryThing's early reviewers' program for April so I bought a new, UK copy of A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal. Considering the pound to dollar conversion rate, I ended up paying about $40 for my stupidity. But I will say this: it was worth every penny I spent on it and more.
A Spy Among Friends, which is, in Macintyre's words, "not another biography of Kim Philby," ... "less about politics, ideology and accountability than personality, character, and a very British relationship that has never been explored before." Macintyre notes also that the "book does not purport to be the last word on Kim Philby," but rather "it seeks to tell his story in a different way, through the prism of personal friendship..." and his work succeeds on every possible level: impeccable research, the very-well developed investigation of Kim Philby's dual character, and frankly, despite the fact that it's nonfiction, it reads like a highly-polished, top-tier espionage novel, making it reader-friendly for anyone at all interested in the subject.
Macintyre's account brings new life to this very old and well-covered story: he sets Philby's story among friends, most notably Nicholas Elliott of MI6 and James Jesus Angleton (who had met Philby in London at the age of 24, and for whom Philby right away became "an elder-brother figure), who ultimately became an ultra-high ranking member of the CIA. Both men trusted Philby implicitly and both refused to believe that he was a spy the first time he came under suspicion after the defections of Maclean and Burgess. As Macintyre examines the respective careers of the three high-level spies, their social interactions, their proximity to each other over the course of their work as spies, and their ties to upper-class British society with its private clubs, the best schools, etc., he also establishes how easy it was for the trusted Philby to carry away much highly-secret information and hand it over to his Soviet contacts. As Macintyre notes, one of the "weaknesses" within the intelligence community was how natural it was to trade information, since agents are not able to share it with anyone outside of their small circle. Philby, a big drinker, boozed it up with Angleton, for example, during lunches in Washington DC when after being transferred there as MI6 chief (selected by Angleton himself); Angleton and Philby exchanged info while drinking bourbon, eating lobster, and having cigars at the end. In one particular Albanian operation that ended in possibly hundreds of deaths, Macintyre notes that "Lunch at Harvey's restaurant came with a hefty bill." Philby's relationship with Elliott was one of even stronger ties and a stronger long-term friendship; Elliott would have never in a million years banked on Philby, with whom he shared his secrets, as putting those secrets to "murderous use."
Throughout this entire book, Macintyre focuses on Philby's "two faces," his dual nature as a "double-sided man," where "One side is open to family and friends and everyone around them,..the other belongs only to himself and his secret work." As much as friends and family thought they knew him, the real truth was that
"Philby was spying on everyone, and no one was spying on him, because he fooled them all."
Among other things, Macintyre also examines the effects on the friends and family left in the wake of Philby's betrayals, the divisions between MI5 and MI6, and the results in human terms of Philby's work in passing along info to the Soviets.
A Spy Among Friends is extremely well written, and even though it's a work of nonfiction, the story kept me on edge up until the last minute. In fact, one of the most eye-opening sections of this book is at the point where Philby's been outed in 1963, and Nick, Philby's biggest supporter, takes it upon himself to be the one to get him to confess. If this conversation hadn't been recorded, one would think it was the work of a master spy novelist. Then, when Macintyre has written his last word, the reader comes upon a short, but wonderful afterword by John LeCarré that the reader should absolutely not miss. In fact, anyone who's even remotely interested in Kim Philby, or anyone who has enjoyed Macintyre's previous work should not miss this book -- it is simply stellar.
The Last Pirate is a wonderful book, very entertaining but at the same time very serious. It charts both the rise and fall of a man whose career gener...moreThe Last Pirate is a wonderful book, very entertaining but at the same time very serious. It charts both the rise and fall of a man whose career generated millions but whose addictions ultimately left him living under a bridge in Miami. It also examines how the author's life was affected by The Old Man's highs and lows, leaving him without a dad throughout his childhood.
When the author, "Little Tony" Doukoupil was six, "The Old Man" walked out on his family. In the author's first six years, Big Tony may not have qualified as father of the year (leaving his kid alone in a Disney hotel, doing heroin while his son had a bout of serious croup), but all the same, Little Tony adored his dad. Before Big Tony left, the family lived off the proceeds of Big Tony's wide-ranging, and very profitable dope-smuggling enterprise, which lasted more or less over a 20-year span of time. His crew consisted of a very small group of trusted friends, but their cleverness & caution fed the big machine of sellers and users in the U.S. After Big Tony's departure, the money started to dwindle, and when needed most, Big Tony was in such a cocaine and heroin-addled state that he couldn't remember where he'd buried the coolers of cash he'd stashed from New England to New Mexico. It was a big step down in the author's life -- going from one of the top private schools in Miami to becoming the poor kid was only part of how his father's absence affected his childhood. The author grew up from age six on without his dad, who in his mind's eye would become an outlaw and a pirate, engaging in the same sorts of renegade activities as pirates and smugglers of earlier times. Just recently, though, Tony Dokoupil the younger became a dad, and haunted by his absent father, set out to find out what he could about him. According to the author, it was his first Father's Day card that made him "terrified of the genes I carry and the man I may become." It also prompted him to discover his father's story so as to find some loophole in the account of his "father's rise and fall," something that would tell him that genetics aren't everything.
From various sources, the author has recreated as much of his father's history as possible, trying to form a better picture of who this man was and what he did. All he knew about his dad before starting to research this book had come to him only in "scraps." He goes into his father's family and childhood, then looks at the early days of his dad's dope experiences and how from there he became the head of one of the biggest pot-smuggling operations in American history. It's often funny, and at times eye opening, revealing for example, just how close America came in 1970s to totally decriminalizing marijuana, or a drug-related scandal in DC starring Peter Bourne, Jimmy Carter's chief drug policy adviser, or how DEA agents in South America would turn a blind eye for their own cut of the business. But on a more personal level, the story is much more on the troubling side, as Big Tony's family gets caught up in his decline primarily because of Big Tony's addictions, his "passion." The book also reveals, among other things, a brief history of the early days of marijuana legislation, and how the golden years of pot smuggling started to decline later on due to a) Reagan's policies and the War on Drugs, and b) the rise of less-risky homegrown, better-quality marijuana.
There's so much more to this book, and I've only briefly touched on it here. It's very honest, so much so that at times it's downright painful to read, but at the same time, some parts of this book are actually funny, and it definitely provides a perspective on the beginnings of the rather pointless war on drugs. When all is said and done, though, the author leaves the reader with the point that it's all about the choices people make in life -- and he's absolutely correct. What a good book! Definitely recommended. (less)