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GENERAL CONVERSATION > March-April 2012 "talk"

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JoAnn/QuAppelle | 1608 comments Mod
chit chat here for a couple of months........

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Schmerguls | 228 comments What I Read in March 30 years Ago (1982)

1697. The Masaryk Case, by Claire Sterling (read 2 Mar 1982) In September 1981 I went to Czechoslovakia and so I decided to read this book. It is about the fall of Jan Masaryk on March 20, 1948, from a window in the Czernin Palace in Prague. The guide we had in Prague had known Masaryk and said he was a nice fellow--the guide also said the window was closed behind him. This book does not make a point of that, but concludes Masaryk was smothered with a pillow and then pushed out of the bathroom window. But it is just a thesis. I have no doubt it was murder, but it would not appear it can be proved. This book is "well-written," reminding me of the style of The Reporter--a magazine I subscribed to during its life 30 years ago. But the book is rather discursive, and with no footnotes it has a polemical sound at times. And I suppose I am naive but it seems awfully loaded with murder--and my trip to Czechoslovaks did not make me that scared. But the brutality of Stalin and his operatives is beyond question and 1948 was a Stalin operation in Czechoslovakia.

1698. Czechoslovakia Since World War II, by Tad Szulc (read 6 Mar 1982) When I started this book I did not expect much. After all, this story is not new to me, having read a couple of books of the subject in April of 1981. But this book, though footnoteless, really seems to tell its story. Its author was with the New York Times in Czechoslovakia till he was expelled in December 1968. The book tells the incredible story of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia, and one is just astounded by the account: how can people seriously defend the official Communist line on events there? I kept thinking of those soapbox speeches I used to listen to in New York in 1953, and wondered if there were in the same square during 1968 those who defended Russia's actions in Czechoslovakia. I cannot believe there were. It is a sad, sad story, and I don't think anything has improved since 1971, when this excellent account was published.

1699. Charles Darwin "A Man of Enlarged Curiosity" by Peter Brent (read 14 Mar 1982) This biography published in 1981 I really found very enjoyable, even though I realize my scientific knowledge is far too limited to permit me to have any mental ability to deal with the finer points of Darwin's scientific writings. But I found the book consistently interesting, even though Darwin's life, after the voyage of the Beagle (1831-1836) was finished, was spent in doing nothing but his writing. I found the book just very well-done, even though its author appears, from the sketch on the jacket, to have no special credentials for writing on Darwin and his work.

1700. The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court, by Bob Woodward Scott Armstrong (read 17 Mar 1982)
This book came out in 1979 and I knew I would read it. It is journalistic, but has an air of authenticity. It could not be other than based on conversation with people who know. The authors claim to have interviewed more than 170 former law clerks. I am amazed at how much work is done. If I had to write one opinion it seems to me that'd be a big job; is it because I am interrupted so much at the office? I am astounded at all the work that must be necessary to be a Justice. The book should be read beside a set of Supreme Court Reports. The book covers, year by year, 1969 to 1976. I really can't say I was too startled by anything in the book. It takes a very dim view of Warren Burger, as Chief Justice and as intellect, but that doesn't surprise me. It speaks well of Rehnquist as a man, but says the obvious about some of his work. I had no trouble seeing how he distorted precedent in the "states not subject to minimum wage" case when I read it, even though I inclined to agree with it. But the attitude of the book is liberal, and I know if I had been a clerk when I got out of law school I would have been liberal too. I was disturbed by the coarseness exhibited by Justices and clerks, per this book. I am not convinced I could be, or would have been, as blaze about obscenity as the clerks and some Justices were. A very readable and perceptive book, even though not profound.

1701. At Twelve Mr. Byng Was Shot, by Dudley Pope (read 21 Mar 1982) This is on the incident which resulted in Admiral Byng being shot on 14 March 1758. It is very well told, and is of course a lamentable story. John Byng was sent to the Mediterranean in 1757 with a weak squadron, engaged in a battle with the French off Minorca, and then the next day the squadron--some ships in which had been badly damaged--went back to Gibraltar. The Government was looking for a scapegoat and Admiral Byng was court-martialed and shot. Voltaire in Candide has someone say to Candide: 'In this country it is thought well to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others."

1702. The Queen's Necklace, by Frances Mossiker (read 27 Mar 1982) This is a 1961 book. It was interesting, but not scholarly enough. The author tells the story of the Necklace by the accounts of the persons concerned. She translated the briefs and memoirs and simply strings the excerpts together. Her translations use modern words and in general seek to popularize the accounts. But it was all interesting. One must conclude Countess de la Mitte-Valois simply duped Cardinal Rohan, and that Marie Antoinette had nothing to do with it. At least, I do. The contract for the necklace was signed Jan 29, 1785. Cardinal Rohan was arrested Aug 15, 1785. Judgment was pronounced May 31, 1786. Cardinal Rohan was acquitted by a vote of 26 to 23. Countess de la Motte-Valois was found guilty by unanimous vote, and was branded and imprisoned. She escaped to England in 1787. Cardinal Rohan died in 1803.

1703. In Search of Dracula: A true history of Dracula and vampire legends, by Raymond T. McNally and Radu Floresau (read 30 Mar 1982) This is a quite careful compilation of what authors could learn of the historical Dracula. Really well-done, if not too important.

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Libyrinths | 57 comments Schmerguls: The Masaryk Case, by Claire Sterling

Schmerguls, have you read any more recent books on this topic? It has always interested me, and I was thinking with the Fall of the Wall, records might have become available which weren't at the time of the writing of that book.

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Schmerguls | 228 comments No, Liby I have not but I think it pretty clear that people in Czech lands feel Masaryk was done dirt by the Communists. When i toured Czechoslavakia there were a heap of Lenin staues to be see, Now I am told that Lenin statues are not seen any more there.

Sometimes things go right.

message 5: by Libyrinths (new)

Libyrinths | 57 comments Thanks, Schmerguls. I'd always heard that he was murdered, and I really have no doubt that he was. But knowing the truth about it -- like who was involved, where the orders came from, etc. -- would be nice.

Indeed, things finally went very right.

message 6: by Schmerguls (new)

Schmerguls | 228 comments What I Read in April 30 Years Ago

1704. Pulitzer, by W. A. Swanberg (read 6 Apr 1982) Pulitzer was born 10 Apr 1847 at Mako, Hungary. His father was half-Jewish, his mother Catholic. He arrived in the U.S. in August or September 1864 and enrolled in the Union Army Sept 30, 1864. His career is fantastic, from his days at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and then to the New York World. He died Oct 29, 1911, on his yacht in Charleston, SC His life is too fantastic to be believed. He was practically blind for years, and lived in extravagant style, while all the while supporting Democrats and decrying the plutocrats. He was so eccentric he was probably mentally ill, doing goofy things like insulating his spaces against all sound. But the book is a little sloppily put together, and it is not as chronological as it should be. The account of the war between Hearst and Pulitzer is unbelievable, and there would seem little doubt they caused the Spanish-American War. The book is a little too popularized--I believe his book on Whitney is better, because it is a little more carefully done. The time from 1865 to 1911 is a fascinating era. (There is new biography of Pulitzer out this year by James McGrath Morris which maybe would be worth reading, since it is so long since I read this one by Swanberg.)

1705. Japan's Longest Day, Compiled by The Pacific War Research Society (read 11 Apr 1982) This is a most amazing book. It was published in 1968. The Society which compiled it is a group of 14 persons who as of 1968 had spent eight years researching the "Pacific War." This book tells of the time from noon Aug. 14, 1945, to noon Aug 15, 1945--the latter being the time when Emperor Hirohito began reading the Rescript accepting the Potsdam Declaration's demand for surrender. It is a vivid account and told by Japanese conveys a different flavor than would have been the case if told by an American. There was an effort by lower-ranking Japanese officers to prevent the surrender, and this effort combined with the War Minister's ending of his own life makes the hour-by-hour account of that 24-hours highly dramatic. This is one of the most intensely interesting books I've read on the War--I should read more from the Japanese side. It is such a different way of thinking. A fantastic book, gripping in a way novel to me. {Bix's book on Hirohito, which I read Mar 21, 2001, downplays the effort by the lower-ranking officers, and says it did not amount to much!]

1706. The European Discovery of America: The Northern Voyages A.D. 500-1600, by Samuel Eliot Morison (read 17 Apr 1982) (Bancroft Prize in 1972) I am very impressed by this book and I found the accounts readable and teeming with interest. He has a chapter on St. Brendan and the Irish 400 to 600, who supposedly got to North America. Leif Ericson certainly got here about 1000. Morison feels the settlement was on the north tip of Newfoundland. John Cabot of course came in 1497 (June 24)--Morison believes he landed on Newfoundland. Morison doesn't trace the fishermen voyages, but they came regularly to the area after Cabot. Morison also tells of the voyages of Verrazzano, Cartier, Frobisher, Gilbert, John Davis, and the voyages sent by Sir Walter Raleigh. I was really interested in Frobisher and Davis, since they were neglected in our fourth grade history. They spent a lot of time in northern Canada. In a note Morison tells of the search for the Northwest Passage up to 1969. This is a really excellent book, and I believe I should read Morison's book on the Southern Voyages also.

1707. The Kensington Rune Stone: New Light on an Old Riddle, by Theodore C. Blegen (read 18 Apr 1982) This is a sheerly fascinating book published in 1965 on the Kensington Rune Stone found in 1898 three miles north of Kensington, Minn. The book pretty conclusively demonstrates the inscription was made in the 19th century, even though it is not by a rune specialist. I would love to go to Alexandria, Minn., and look at the stone and the museum. A sheerly enjoyable read.

1708. The European Discovery of America: The Southern Voyages A.D. 1492-1616, by Samuel Eliot Morison (read 22 Apr 1982) This is a great work, and I really enjoyed most of it. It starts with Columbus, covers Magellan in good detail, and then spends a lot of time on voyages in the South America area, and then covers Drake, Sarmiento, Cavandish, and Hoorne--the latter being the Dutchman who discovered Cape Horn. Morison does an excellent job, and I consider my having read this volume and his volume on the Northern Voyages very worthwhile.

1709. Walter Lippmann and the American Century, by Ronald Steel (read 26 Apr 1982) (National Book Award biography prize in 1982) (National Book Critics Circle Nonfiction award for 1980) (Bancroft Prize in 1981) For the period covering Lippmann's life to World War II I was very impressed, then I was very turned off by the divorce and remarriage in 1938--Lippmann carried on an affair with the wife of Hamilton Fish Armstrong, a very close friend of his, and both Lippmann and Armstrong's wife got divorces so they could marry each other. Lippmann's second wife was a fallen-away Catholic and when Lippmann became old she dumped him in a nursing home and went off on her own but she died Feb 16, 1974. Lippmann was born 23 Sep 1889 in New York and died there Dec 14, 1974. The book's treatment of the time after World War II was opinionated and the author is apparently of the school which believes Russia could have been coaxed into behaving by a different posture by us after World War II. This to me is incredible, and I have very little patience with a thesis that Henry Wallace was right in those years. Much of the treatment of those years seems superficial. Nor could I help but feel Lippmann was not very astute. He fluctuated all over the lot: was a Socialist for a time after he graduated from Harvard in 1910, was with the New Republic as a TR Progressive, then with Wilson, but opposed ratification of the Versailles Treaty; then went to the New York World till 1931, when he started his column which he wrote till 1967. Most presidents he was "for" at the beginning, then turned against. It is a good book, but I can't say I admire Lippmann--he was not my kind of person. But I am glad I read the book, albeit I do not think it was too well-written. It could have used a better editing. But they were memorable years, 1910 to 1967, and I enjoyed reading about them.

Sounds like a pretty affirmative reading month, eh?

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