NonFiction: The Truman Acheson Letters, Trail of Tears, the Peloponnesian War, and Advice from Two Grandmothersby Larry Cox on Nov. 30, 2010, under Uncategorized
In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks and Other Complaints from an Angry Middle-Aged White Guy by Adam Carolla (Crown/Archetype, 25)
Adam Carolla is a radio and television host, actor and comedian. His new book is a hoot. He claims what we used to settle with common sense, we now settle with lawyers and hand sanitizers. His candid anecdotes are peppered with complaints such as our inability to sometimes see the obvious. For example, several years ago when he was at the Phoenix airport bar, a heavyset, grey-bearded guy ordered a Jack Daniels straight up. A young guy wearing an earring behind the bar asked if he had an ID. At first the old guy laughed but the bartender asked again. Finally the old dude fired back, “You got to be kidding me, son.” The bartended replied, “New policy. Everyone has to show ID.” The old guy finally reached into his worn jeans and pulled out his military identification from WWII. This lack of common sense makes Carolla’s blood boil but there are dozens of other situations and he takes no prisoners as he zeros in on Whole Foods-shopping moms, Oprah-watching, his belief that women can’t communicate, iPhones, taxes and even ketchup packets. Carolla’s observations are little literary bombs just waiting to detonate and make readers explode in laughter.
Affection & Trust: The Personal Correspondence of Harry S Truman and Dean Acheson 1953-1971 with an introduction by David McCullough (Knopf, $30)
President Truman and Dean Acheson, his Secretary of State, were responsible for shaping post-WWII America. Their major accomplishments included both the Marshall Plan and NATO. Following the end of Truman’s term, the two men continued to exchange letters in which they shared often surprising and illuminating opinions. Candid, unburdened by political ambition or vanity, Truman and Acheson revealed their character and friendship with each other on every page. This is a remarkable collection that humanizes these two incredible men.
This is an especially intriguing book since it provides an intimate look at both the thinking process and personal exchanges between a former president and one of most polished, urban thinkers of the post war era.
The introduction by historian and Pulitzer Prize-winner David McCullough places the letters in their historical content.
The Man Who Invented the Computer: The Biography of John Atanasoff, Digital Pioneer by Jane Smiley (Doubleday, $25.95)
John Atanasoff is one of the most famous men you’ve never heard of. Just before WWII, John Vincent Atanasoff was sitting in a bar on the Illinois/Iowa border when an idea suddenly popped into his mind. The professor of physics and mathematics wondered if a combination of the binary number system with a series of electronic switches on a moving drum could yield a computing machine. It could, indeed, and its reality helped change and redefine our modern world. Although he helped make his “computing machine” a reality, he failed to patent much of his work and Jane Smiley makes a good case in her new book that others including John Mouchly and J. Presper Eckert from ANIAC stole his intellectual property. This fascinating biography finally gives John Atanaoff credit that is long overdue. Meticulously researched and crisply written, this is nothing less than a real-life techno thriller.
Smiley, author of fifteen works of fiction and four works of nonfiction, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for “A Thousand Acres.”
Song of Wrath : The Peloponnesian War Begins by J.E. Lendon (Basic Books, $35)
This comprehensive history is not for the casual reader. The 500-plus pages document the Ten Years’ War that erupted during the late fifth century BC between the city-states of Athens and Sparta. It was a conflict that was ultimately about rank, revenge, and an almost ritualistic motivation to crush, shame, and savage one’s opponent. During this conflict, it wasn’t enough to just kill the enemy, the fields and buildings of enemy states had to be ravaged and destroyed.
J.E. Lendon, a Professor of History at the University of Virginia, explores the nature and meaning of the Peloponnesian War and its ramifications that continue to reverberate even today. This is a panoramic narrative that spans the epoch from the Persian Wars in 479 BC to the resolution of the Ten Years War in 421 BC. The diplomatic maneuvers, big-picture strategies, and even the bloodshed on the battlefield itself are all revealed to bring into focus this blood chapter in Greek history.
Letters from Home: A Wake-Up Call for Success & Wealth by David R. Reiser and Andrea R. Reiser (Wiley, $27.95)
We live in turbulent times. David and Andrea Reiser point out that our national debt continues to grow, our politicians are corrupt, our business leaders are greedy, inept, or both, our young people are lazy and disrespectful, and a shocking number of people are grabbing entitlements than in working hard to pursue the American dream. They add that even though these descriptions don’t fit everyone, they do apply to enough citizens to reflect that there is a problem. The Reisers are convinced that unless we shift back our culture to one that embraces the principles that made our country great, conditions will only worsen and the problems grow and fester.
The authors are first to say that it won’t be an easy fix. Some of the solutions they feel will set our country back on course include the idea of working hard, going above and beyond what we are expected to do. We should learn from adversity and be resilient. Follow our moral compass and when we fall, pick ourselves up again. They also urge readers to save presently, spend thoughtfully, practice gratitude, and recognize when you are blessed.
There is much wisdom and common sense in this book. The big question is whether we have the inner-strength and commitment to make the sacrifices needed to bring about change.
Driven West: Andrew Jackson and the Trail of Tears to the Civil War by A.J. Langguth (Simon & Schuster, $30)
For some unknown reason, most high school and college American history classes seem to short change the period from about 1812 to the Civil War. The 1830s, 40s and 50s are, at least to me, extremely interesting because they involve four of our most intriguing presidents, namely Monroe, Jackson, Van Buren, and Polk. This was a period that saw manifest destiny on steroids and the expansion of our country from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
A.J. Langguth, professor emeritus of journalism in the Annenberg School of Communications & Journalism at the University of Southern California and author of ten previous books including the acclaimed “Union 1812: The Americans Who Fought the Second War of Independence, brings into sharp focus this dark but crucial era in American history, a time when youthful vigor, enthusiasm, and idealism met head-to-head with greed, hypocrisy, and raw racism.
After the War of 1812, President Andrew Jackson triggered the country’s “manifest destiny,” an expansion that meant the removal of the Cherokees and other tribes of the Southeast, people who had lived and prospered for centuries in the present day states of Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. Jackson, who had his reputation for being an Indian fighter, decreed that the Cherokees and other Native Americans were to be removed from these lands to make way for what was becoming an exploding white population. After much national debate, the Cherokees were finally driven at bayonet point from Georgia to Oklahoma Territory in the “Trail of Tears,” one of the nation’s most regrettable actions.
“Driven West” presents the wrenching firsthand accounts of this forced march, a tragic event in which hundreds died from exposure and disease. Once the Cherokees reached Oklahoma Territory, their problems continued as longstanding divisions within tribal leadership triggered appalling assassinations and blood feuds that continued until the outbreak of the Civil War.
Simply put, this is one of the most accessible books ever written about this historical period. It also proves once again that Langguth has few equals when it comes to historical reporting.
Don’t Sing at the Table: Life Lessons From My Grandmothers by Adriana Trigiani (Harper, $22.99)
Adriana Trigiani, the New York Times bestselling novelist, had two remarkable grandmothers, Lucia “Lucy” Spada Bonicelli and Yolanda “Viola” Perin Trigiani who lived through the twentieth century from beginning to end as working women. In between juggling careers and raising children, they served up advice that reflected their approach to life, love, and overcoming obstacles.
The values in this book are ones that make life richer and more beautiful. Lucy and Viola recommended that women make their own living, defend and protect reputation, love and concentrate on one man, be bold, direct, different, and add fresh flowers to a vase from your own garden.
The advice given to their granddaughter is the very definition of the modern woman. As the author points out, the wisdom of her grandmothers is truly “tiramisu for the soul.”