Monday, December 11, 2017

When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning





Why I Read It: I was out of reading material after a flight was delayed in Minneapolis, so I picked it up off the rack. And World War II is the literary gift that keeps on giving.

Summary: Millions of servicemen face boredom while waiting, and the United States responds with mountains of books.

My Thoughts: This book has many angles to it, centralizing on the disparity between Nazi Germany and the United States when it came to freedom of thought and expression. Germany burned books, with approximately 100,000,000 books destroyed during the war through public conflagrations and the ravages of combat. It sought to stamp out ideas contrary to its cause, and force a nation to think in one, cohesive direction. The U.S., on the other hand - despite the "banned in Boston" movement alive and well in the 1940s - understood that knowledge is power, that only by understanding how the world truly operates can an individual, or a nation, take part in it productively.

With men pulled from farms, fields, cities, towns and more across America and thrust into life and death situations around the globe, America found that simple, easy-to-carry books were in high demand. At first, the country responded with book drives. Then a council of the country's top publishers created the "Armed Services Edition," pocket sized reproductions of popular books, printed by the hundreds of thousands and shipped to servicemen around the world (note: not to servicewomen, the distinction being made that they were for combatants).

There was one interesting hiccup, though, as prior to the 1944 election Republicans sought a form of censorship in regard to books being shipped overseas to soldiers. With a reported two-thirds of soldiers in the Pacific primed to vote Franklin Delano Roosevelt in for a fourth term as President of the United States, Republicans attempted to block any political references in materials being sent to soldiers anywhere. The language was included in a bill that would make voting easier for deployed servicemen, who barely voted at all in 1943. The idea that a soldier fighting for democracy could not participate in its primary right is , of course, ludicrous. But there was a political war that had to be fought for both soldiers to vote and to enjoy the fruits of the freedom of the press.

One concept made my head spin. As the war ended, many soldiers believed they were writers, and queried publishers in regard to publishing their memoirs of their war experiences. We know which books made it through the process, but what didn't? If World War II was fought today, we would have a much richer genre of books. Paper shortages and the bottom lines of the major publishing houses curtailed the flow. Today with printing on demand, digital books and self-publishing, we would have an avalanche of soldiers' tales. It makes you wonder what wasn't written.

American soldiers were the envy of Allied troops, especially in book-deprived Europe. There is no doubt that because of this program, American forces formed the best read military in the world. And when they came home, their often newfound love of learning led them into their postwar careers, with many thousands passing through college on the way. The greater ramifications of this process, creating an enlightened generation, are probably being felt even today.

Some small acts create major change. In World War II, it was pocket-sized books that changed the face of war for millions of men, keeping home within an arm's reach at all times.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Birding Without Borders by Noah Strycker





Why I Read It: I'm a birder.

Summary: One man conquers the world, breaking the record for the most bird species seen globally in a single year.

My Thoughts: There are a lot of birders out there. In fact, there are more than you know. It's a pastime that is now global in dimension, and it's spoken in a language all its own. And I don't mean Latin, but that helps, for sure.

Birders understand the passions of other birders, for the most part. As with any hobby, there are extremists. But for the most part, when a visiting birder arranges with a local to find something he or she has never seen before, it's met with great enthusiasm.

Strycker set out to break a record, but he did it in a way that few others have done before, with grace and thankfulness at every stop along the way. In the end, he got his record, well knowing that there were already plans afoot by someone else to break it the following year. He makes numerous new friends around the globe, captures the wide range of bird conservation themes impacting the world today and proves that the widest of gaps - linguistic, cultural, political - can be bridged by open minds.

I've completed similar challenges, on much smaller scales. I've forced myself to find a new nature trail to walk every day for a year. I've taken a 30-minute nature walk in each of Massachusetts' 351 cities and towns in a single year. And I've read 50,000 tombstones in a year to determine what my own epitaph should be. Along the way, I've recorded every bird I've seen as part of the exploration experience.

I can tell you that Strycker's stories of planning for his journey mirrored mine, with the spreadsheets, route-making, etc. And I can tell you that the calendrical sensations are the same. Getting out of the gate there is a sense that the world is before you, and in Strycker's case, that was an absolute truth. There is a desire to start off right, making the first step symbolic. He starts in Antarctica, at the very bottom of the world. I had no such luck with my Massachusetts year. I planned to start somewhere symbolic, like Plymouth Rock, but a friend called and asked for help with a Christmas Bird Count. At sunrise on January 1 I was in a manure field in a small farming town. You want your first bird to be special, not common in any way. He started with a Cape Petrel, something most of us will never see. In my new trails year, bird #1 was a House Sparrow, and bird #100 was a Fish Crow. (Sigh).

By the end of the year, the journey is the story, and once the deadline is in sight, it's time to get reflective and philosophical. If the goal is met, there's a serenity to knowing that it's all over, that the next day you can get up and do whatever you want. Usually, that means considering what the next challenge should be.

Strycker did it right. Now that he's found 6,000 of the world's recognized 10,000 or so, it'll be interesting to see if he opts to take a second year to find the balance. But whatever he does, he'll be sure to continue to spread goodwill wherever he goes.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Man Who Invented Christmas by Les Standiford




Why I Read It: I read A Christmas Carol every year; I figured I should know why.

Summary: The story of Charles Dickens and his amazingly enduring tale.

My Thoughts: The author states that Charles Dickens has been called "the man who invented Christmas" in the past, and admits that it might be a bit hyperbolic, but tells a pretty convincing story to that effect.

Nearly two hundred years removed from the origins of the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge, we have more or less glossed over the story of its author, at least in relation to the details of his life as it concerned the writing of this book. Christmas is a beast, starting in late September each year. We don't stop to smell ancient roses like we should. But A Christmas Carol is one of them to which we should pay specific attention.

Dickens was struggling as a writer at the moment the idea hit him. Moreover, he had already dabbled in Christmas-themed stories before he penned this work, and would continue to do so for a few more years, never again reaching the same level of success. It turned out to be the perfect confluence of forces for him and, as it turns out, millions of readers living well into the future.

The underlying message of A Christmas Carol is charity, avoidance of greed, and it was published in a time, in 1843, when London was in dire need of such reflection. Life was tough, all around. There is probably a direct connection between the book's publication in late 1843 and the founding of the YMCA in the same city in 1844. As all -pervasive as Dickens' story was, it probably had at least a tangential effect on the Y's founders. Interestingly, the story comes with the ironic twist that Dickens was angered by the lacking paycheck he received from its first run.

A fun feature of this printing is that the book also contains the full text of A Christmas Carol, so we can seamlessly step from the Dickens story to the Scrooge story.

So, did he invent Christmas? No, obviously not. But he did help shape the holiday we celebrate today, helping to cement traditions we often inherit without much thought as to their origins.

Mad Dog: The Maurice Vachon Story by Bertrand Hebert and Pat Laprade




Why I Read It: "Mad Dog" Vachon was a legend by the time I started watching pro wrestling in the late 1970s.

Summary: The life story of one of French Canada's wrestling legends.

My Thoughts: Wrestlers, like any other athletes, tend to fade away when they leave the limelight. They occasionally show up in the background shots of sketches, barely recognizable as an extra referee or in some other capacity, sometimes trotted out one last time to lift up a current star, to put them over. The WWE has done a great thing by establishing its Hall of Fame, and opening it up to wrestlers from all across the United States, reversing its ancient trend of not recognizing other associations, a lingering aftereffect of the territorial era. Through it we get to see and hear our heroes and villains one last time.

Maurice Vachon was one of those wrestlers with whom I'd lost touch through time. Honestly, I don't know that I ever saw him wrestle, as his most accessible home turf to me in the early 1980s, the American Wrestling Association, was just beginning to be televised in my region before it was swallowed up by the then-WWF. Now, his brother, Paul "The Butcher" Vachon, was a different story. By that time he was a jobber, collecting a paycheck week to week by getting his shoulders pinned to the mat to highlight established and up-and-coming stars. I didn't see him at his prime, but at least I saw him in action. I read about Mad Dog in the many magazines of the day.

So it was almost a blank slate with which I approached this biography. I had previously read the authors' work in a history of Montreal wrestling, which, in turn, spawned this book. The book is translated from the French version, with minor interruptions to its flow, overall very well done.

The basic story is that "Mad Dog" was a gimmick, and Maurice Vachon had a heart of gold. In the days when fans truly believed what they were seeing, before "kayfabe" was broken for good, it was hard to believe that there was an ounce of good in him, but it was true.

There are recurring themes in his life. From a hardscrabble childhood, he followed the typical YMCA redemption story (life was tough, I went to the Y and it changed for the better) by taking up boxing and then wrestling. Maurice represented his country at the Olympics as a wrestler, gaining national recognition that would follow him for the rest of his life. He cheated death several times, eventually losing part of a leg to an accident. He went through several marriages. and rode the ups and downs of the industry.

I think, for me, the enduring image will be of Mad Dog, fire in his eyes, working on building a casket for an opponent in his backyard for a televised sketch. That type of far-fetched lunacy was what fueled the future of wrestling, for better or worse, depending on your point of view, microphone skills becoming as important as physical talent. But in the end, it was indicative of the creativity of the performer that showed through and his passion in connection with his pursuit.

Mad Dog may rest in peace, but there are generations still left who are still riled up by his act.

American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee




Why I Read It: As a citizen scientist, the idea of telling a wolf's story through collected data seemed interesting.

Summary: Forces collide and decide the fate of an iconic wolf.

My Thoughts: The basic story told through this book is that as a country we are so deeply divided on so many issues that we are blind to the consequences of our own selfishness. And that goes for all sides of any argument.

In this case, it's wolves and wolf-watchers vs. ranchers and hunters, politicians standing on either side to get elected, the National Park Service caught in the middle and already-elected officials in Washington, D.C., attaching the lives of wolves to bills as poison pills to block passage of unrelated laws. In many ways, this is the most disgusting of practices.

The author follows the life of 0-6, a wolf claimed to be un-anthropomorphized (due to the fact that she was never given a proper name, instead called by the last two numbers of the year of her birth). Unfortunately, whether she was 0-6 or Sheila, she still gathered a following who watched her every move and made her a member of their extended family, exactly what scientists are trained not to do. The scientific disconnect was just not there, and because of it, there was an epic blow-up when she was shot and killed.

It takes moments like this, of course, to cause change, but in this case, all sides have ground on which to stand. Conservationists want wolves back at Yellowstone, to restore the natural order, to cause that tropic cascade that controls the elk population, which in turn changes plant colonies for the better, etc. Ranchers want their cattle protected, and who the hell can blame them? Hunters want to hunt, and not just for sport. They want to provide food for their families, and they see wolves as competition. It's a nasty snarl of a question that leads to back-and-forth situations in which states have jurisdiction over the lives of the animals, and then the federal government does, and vice versa as the political winds blow. Wolves, clueless as to man-made boundaries, the current state of their placement on the endangered species list and other human whims, have no idea when they transition from a safe zone to one in which anyone with a gun can shoot and kill them, and wander into and out of rifle and spotting scopes.

No matter which side you land on in this debate, you'll be mad when you finish this book, because the story doesn't end. There will be more to come.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Great Quake by Henry Fountain




Why I Read It: Amazon Vine pick, plus my natural curiosity about geology dragged me in.

Summary: The 1964 Alaska earthquake and what we learned from it.

My Thoughts: When I was a kid in the 1970s, attending college in the late '80's and early '90's, there was no doubt that plate tectonics explained the make-up of the earth's crust and the cause of earthquakes. It was in the textbooks. It was fact. Yet, it was only seven years prior to my birth that the theory started to come together, as a result of the 1964 Alaskan quake. I guess I had believed that like other theories, it had roots much deeper in the past, even if just the late 1800s. In a way, I guess it had, when we consider the role that the theory of seafloor spreading had on the development of the theory of plate tectonics.

The author focuses on several different groups of people in the books, including the residents of the towns of Chenega and Valdez, and the geologists called in to research changes in the landscape following the quake. He tells the story of the quake with a fast-paced series of short, destruction-filled sentences that attempt to describe the eternity the quake felt like during its five horrendous minutes. I don't think anything ever written will be able to do so, but the author gives it a valiant, convincing effort. He fills us in on the backstory beforehand, introducing us to the characters the quake kills off wantonly and indiscriminately. He tracks the survivors from his 1964 narrative up to the present day. And he tracks the damage and the effects of the quake all over the Pacific Rim.

The star of the story is George Plafker, a geologist who, already familiar with the region after years of field work, joined the team researching the quake's aftermath. His work - driven by the rising and falling of the land, sometimes measurable by, of all things, barnacles, led to the theory of plate tectonics, which, incidentally, is still being tweaked even today.

The story reminds us, too, of the relative unpredictability of earthquakes. But it brings a question to mind. Since we now have ground-penetrating radar, are we far from technology that will allow us to identify those places along fault lines where stresses are building? And from that point, can we develop technologies that will allow us to alleviate those stresses before they release themselves? Or is this like trying to drop atomic bombs into the center of hurricanes, a nice idea but relatively ineffective, even if they represent the ultimate efforts capable by man against nature?

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Once Upon a Town by Bob Greene





Why I read it: Impulse buy. I saw it as yet another story in the biggest story of them all, World War II.

Summary: A small town train station is turned into a place of joy for America's military men as they cross the country on troop trains in World War II.

My Thoughts: So, what happened in North Platte, Nebraska, in World War II? Meet just about any veteran you meet (sadly, they are almost all gone), and he will tell you.

As a stop on the east-west rail line across the country, the North Platte station suddenly became a place that just about every serviceman knew. He had a precious few minutes to get to know it, but the locals were ready.

They set up the train station as a canteen, and stocked it with whatever they could make: coffee, pleasant sandwiches, cake,s pies and more. The local communities took turns manning - or womanning, technically - the canteen, making sure that every train, sometimes as many as 32 per day, was met, with smiles, positive vibes and home style nourishment for young men with the most uncertain of futures.

Bob Greene went to find it, and found it was gone. But the people were there, and the spirit lived on. He let them tell their own story, in this partial oral history of the North Platte Canteen, and sought the men who went through and made it home to tell the story of the miracle they witnessed in Nebraska.

If you have read and are a fan of The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim Defede, you will love this book. It's as feel-good as it gets.

Playboys and Mayfair Men by Angus McLaren




Why I read it: It was an Amazon Vine opportunity, plus the interwar period has always interested me.

Summary: "Crime, Class, Masculinity, and Fascism in 1930s London" as studied through the lens of the Mayfair Men diamond theft case.

My Thoughts: So, the basic story is that four young men, from well-bred stock (as defined by the social structures of interwar England) stage a robbery, are caught, tried and punished. From these simple, straightforward moments spring innumerable storylines.

Who were they, and why did they do what they did? Were they typical of men of their generation, or were they just four wayward souls who sank to the lowest of the low? As the subtitle, quoted above, states, there was a lot more to it, mostly driven by the sensational coverage by the newspapers of the day. The perpetrators' pasts were paraded across the front pages, their failed relationships, their speeding tickets, their soured business dealings. From these details the concept of a "Mayfair Man" hardened: a lover of speed, a self-made adventurer, a risk-taker.

But there was more. Despite the carefully constructed "butch" facade, the typical Mayfair Man, was a little effeminate by the day's standard. The men in the robbery was described as such by the hotel staff that encountered them before and after the act. But were they trendsetters, or followers of fashion trends sent forward by men like Noel Coward and Fred Astaire?

The discussion, too, focused on politics, with each side, liberal and conservative, blaming the other for the rise of the Mayfair Man.

Perhaps the most interesting facet of the story pertains to the punishment for the crime. Two of the men were sentenced to flogging. The should-we-or-shouldn't-we debate raged. Should capital punishment be allowed? Was it really a deterrent? And should the sons of England's socially superior families be subjected to it? Their masculinity would be on trial when the cat-o'-nine-tails struck, too, especially when watched by the generation who came before them, those who fought in World War I, and gave up friends, limbs and more for their country.

My thought on the topic was that I was surprised that it was even an issue. For centuries, death had been a spectator sport in Great Britain, with public executions, in many gruesome, gory variations, always attracting crowds. These punishments were not public, beyond the results published in the newspapers (which varied from paper to paper). But England was in the throes of growing its conscience, at least questioning whether or not physical punishment - from flogging to execution - should even be alternatives any more.

The author presents us with much more than just the case, as he offers us the life histories of other "Mayfair Men" who fit the mold, rich, young men who wanted more and were not averse to taking it.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Under the March Sun by Charles Fountain




Why I Read It: A baseball fan through and through, major league spring training is something I've never experienced.

Summary: A history of the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues, focusing mostly on the musical chairs game at play among the many cities hosting and hoping to host big league clubs.

My Thoughts: When I was a kid, Winter Haven was the byline. The Red Sox trained in Winter Haven. Always had, always would. I had no understanding that spring training did not come with the advent of baseball. It seems so obvious; they must have trained somewhere warm before the season started, even the old Boston Beaneaters. Yet, at some point in my life, they moved to Fort Myers. It was the result of negotiations regarding the needs of a club and the needs of a community, of the optimum number of practice fields and fan accessibility. It was part of the regular shuffling from city to city, from state to state, through time. But it had major economic impacts on Winter Haven. There are only so many major league teams to go around. Without the best package to offer, a community may find itself without one for a year, and a facility in waiting is a facility stagnating.

And yet, from Boston, when I found out the Red Sox moved, I reacted like someone who had no idea of any of the above. "Huh, they moved." And I went on my merry way.

Politics and economics both play major roles in the spring training game. From the beginning, pioneers in Florida saw spring training as their economic salvation. Six weeks of bylines in major northern cities were seen as untouchable marketing opportunities for tourism boards. Now, a century on, it's all a multi-million dollar affair. It's Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Boardwalk and Baseball in Haines City. It's the celebration of baseball that sometimes goes too far to be sustainable. It's about understanding the fan experience as a part of the grander scheme, but that the bottom line still trumps everything.

It's also the competition between cities in Florida, and between Florida and Arizona. And it's the story of the briefly considered Oasis League in Las Vegas. The sting of gambling kept the sport away, but now that the NHL has broken down that barrier, with a new team in the desert, has the game changed? The author also deals with the trials of racial integration. Florida is the Deep South, and as such, spring training was a battleground in the integration war.

To keep it all straight, the author includes a thorough appendix, by team, of the spring training locations of the past 120 years. After reading this book, I'll never give the news of a move a "Huh" again.

Finally, let me just say how fun it is to read all the way through a book, and have the author sign off the acknowledgments from a spot fifteen minutes from your house. It brings the whole reading experience full circle, and makes one feel like there is somehow magic nearby.

Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith



Why I Read It: Had an Amazon gift card and wanted t o load up my Kindle with some good history reads.

Summary: A straightforward biography of the General.

My Thoughts: It might be hard to find anyone who shaped our 20th century way of life more than Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The author takes an even-handed view of the life and times of Ike, from his personal relationships (including his alleged affair with Kay Summersby) to his political dealings. The result is an opus, a sweeping, epic journey through a half century of American history.

What we find is that Ike knew better than most how to leverage personalities against each other, and how to call in favors when needed. When he saw his Army career stagnating, he would call on superiors he knew were sympathetic to his cause and would find the next great job. Although he missed World War I, on the sidelines as the troops marched off and returned, he was, from the 1930s to the 1960s, tied into many of the most important moments of American history. He served in Washington D.C. during the dispelling of the Bonus Army. He served under MacArthur in the Philippines. And he was given supreme command of the combined allied efforts in Europe in World War II.

It's here that we see his strengths and weaknesses, according to Smith. Dealing with Roosevelt, Churchill, de Gaulle, and the political scene, he excelled. As a military strategist, he lacked polish; it would be interesting to read a biography of Ike written by a British military man like Montgomery. To be fair, sadly, the British had a two-year head start in combat on the continent, and were therefore battle-hardened by the time the Americans joined the conflict. Still, it was when he pulled back from coordination of combat tactics and focused on political relationships that would be important after the war that he shined.

It was, of course, perfect training. Ike would return to regular army duties after the war, would work as president of Columbia University and as Supreme Commander of NATO and ultimately would spend eight years in the White House. He traded in Patton, MacArthur and Marshall for Roosevelt, Churchill and de Gaulle; he then traded them for McCarthy, Stevenson, Nixon and the rest of the 1950s cast of domestic political characters. His years in the White House included the opening days of the Civil Rights movement (he demanded desegregation of the Army) and the Space Race; unrest in both Asia and the Middle East; the Dien Bien Phu incident; the rise of the CIA; the expansion of the American highway system; and more. He worked hard - oftentimes to the dismay of his fellow Republicans - to avert war. Having seen it up close, he felt that funds poured into defense could better be spent elsewhere in the U.S. He exhorted the Soviets to think the same way.

Yet, he also believed in the use of overwhelming force as a deterrent. When the people of Little Rock refused to integrate their schools, Ike ordered the 101st Airborne to Arkansas to escort the kids into the building. He held the atomic bomb at bay, wanting never to use it, but also never letting his true feelings be known. He believed that global, open sharing of the science behind it would avert the feared mutually assured destruction its use would inevitably bring. But it remained a chip he could play at any time, if needed.

He maintained good relations with the Russians until the very end, when the U-2 incident destroyed them. Ironically, the last flight caused the uproar. Eisenhower didn't like the idea of American overflights of Russian territory, though the data returned, ostensibly about the Soviets' ability to wage war with intercontinental ballistic missiles, had value. He called for an end to the flights, but the CIA pushed for more. He allowed one more, within a two-week window. It got delayed until May 1, and was shot down, the pilot surviving. Any good will Ike had built up with the Russians for the past decade and a half was gone, leaving the next President (Kennedy) to inherit a highly unstable world.

The author treats Ike's final years as a denouement, as Ike hoped it would be. He had put in his time on the world stage and was ready to fade into the background.

This book left me wanting the story to continue, as I felt like I was losing a friend when the "character" of Ike petered out. I felt the same way reading James Clavell's Shogun. And yet, I move on.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Streak by John Eisenberg




Why I Read It: Ripken breaking Gehrig's record was a remarkable moment for baseball, and it occurred during my lifetime, making it an interesting historical topic for me personally.

Summary: Gehrig, Ripken, and all the others who have tried to break their consecutive games played streaks.

My Thoughts: When you think about it, an iron man streak is a precarious thing. A player can, at times, seem invincible, heroic; at others, he can be seen as the most selfish man in the majors. When averages are up, runs are being knocked in and the position is being fielded cleanly, it's all good. When the average heads for the Mendoza line, fans begin calling for heads.

So it should be no surprise that it took two Hall of Famers to set the records.

But Eisenberg reminds us that Gehrig's streak was by no means the first, and Ripken's was by no means the last - more on that in a minute. The story of the streak predates Gehrig by decades, and continues today. Between the Iron Horse and Cal came a long list of pretenders who never made the grade, for various reasons. Eisenberg shows how health, a dedicated team trainer, sympathetic managers and even luck need to come together to play the game for more than 2,000 consecutive appearances.

But what is an appearance? Is batting lead off and being pulled from the game considered an appearance? What about pinch running? Just playing defense? As you can imagine, it has been debated through time, and even appears in the Major League Baseball rule book.

This record is one that may never be broken. Yes, it's cliche to say that, and also to say, "Never say never," but the fact is that with today's game the rationale no longer exists. Current belief states that players are better with occasional rest, that the 162-game grind is beyond human capacity, if a team truly believes in fielding its best nine every day. Rarely do players play all 162 any more; stringing together 18 consecutive 162s seems utterly comical.

But, the fact is, Ripken set his record just twenty years ago, and in this ageless game, one never knows what will happen next. Still, Ripken and Gehrig are the only two to break 2,000 (Sachio Kinugasa did so in Japan), and Everett Scott's 1,307 was less than half Ripken's total.

Eisenberg examines all angles, bringing us back to the 19th century to seek the genesis of the iron man streak. He turns over every rock in the life of Gehrig to figure out why he did it, and does the same with Ripken's story. When one considers it's been 19 years since the record was broken, this side-by-side telling of their stories was long overdue.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Baseball Meat Market by Shawn Krest



Why I Read It: Whenever I get stitches, I ask the doctor to make them red. Baseball is in my blood.

Summary: Twenty of the biggest baseball trades in history, how they came to be, and how they look in retrospect.

My Thoughts: I'll state right off the bat (haha) that I'm not a huge fan of the modern statistics. I understand how it happened. Imagine living in the 1920s when the craze for statistics first hit. No longer was a player just what the eyes told you he was. Nope, he was now a bag of numbers, statistically comparable to all others in the game. It was a dehumanizing moment for baseball, and all sports that followed as crazes for the American public. Sports - all sports - became math games.

There's been a recent explosion in the ways we measure baseball players. For decades, we were comfortable with the big three for hitters: Average, Home Runs and RBIs. We checked Wins and Losses for pitchers, Earned Run Average and Strikeouts. Pitchers were judged by Complete Games and Shutouts for starters, and, from the 1970s onward, Saves for closers. Krest throws that all out for the purposes of this book and focuses on Worth Above Replacement, or WAR.

So, for old-timey stats lovers like me, let's move past that and get into the meat of the book.

Krest pulls out 20 of the biggest trades in history and dissects them from inkling to aftermath, ultimately validating his judgement of them by the use of WAR comparisons. It's the area in between that is the most fascinating. Trades can often surprise us, when we hear that player A was moved for player B or player C to be named later. We think, "wow, that came out of nowhere," but, in many cases, there were may iterations of that trade before it was finalized. Different names were thrown around.

Through Krest's research we find out just how detailed and mind-boggling the process can be, with players dangled and pulled back, offers changed and more. This book humanizes the trade process, reminding us that there are wives who want their children to grow up in strong communities, knees blown out in offseason basketball games necessitating the search for replacement players, crabby attitudes on behalf of the players and simple miscalculations and missed projections on the parts of the trading partners.

The book is dense, and covers an era from the 1950s onward, mostly focusing on the 1970s forward. For almost all baseball fans there will be a moment of revelation when they are forced to picture their favorite player wearing a rival uniform, in a version of a trade that never was.

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle




Why I Read It: A check mark on my classics list.

Summary: A condescending and truculent man of science tells tales of dinosaurs living in South America and leads an expedition to find them to quell the doubts of the London scientific community.

My Thoughts: That Sir Arthur Conan Doyle can write.

He starts with a premise that fantastic creatures exist in a faraway place that cannot be fully divulged (thereby setting up an alien world on Earth) lest other adventurers race ahead and find out the area's secrets. A team is assembled: a doubting man of science (Professor Summerlee), a retired military man with a history in South America that will come back to haunt him (Lord John Roxton), and the hero of the day, Edward Malone, the dashing journalist who also happens to be a famous Irish rugby player (described as the last standing of the manly sports, an interesting editorial observation of the time). The pugnacious Professor Challenger surprises them all by arriving on scene to lead the expedition.

They assemble the standard gathering of Star Trek red shirts, the expendable support staff that one-by-one dwindles away via one incident or another. The four major characters make it through the Amazon jungles and up onto the plateau to find the world once depicted in the suspicious drawings of an American albino. They find what they came for, and much, much more.

The story has the feel of H. Ryder Haggard's King Solomon's Mines, Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan stories and other adventure tales of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when exploration into the depths of the jungles of the southern hemisphere was all the rage. Seemingly everything is included from the playbook of the genre, tribal wars, stinging plants, horrific depictions of grisly deaths, unexpected discoveries and run-ins with creatures yet unknown to man, or, rather, long ago forgotten. In one instance, the team is presented with a cliffhanger of mammoth proportions, as their escape route from the plateau is destroyed, which is funny, as Doyle is known as the inventor of the term.

Partway through the story, Malone, the journalist, changes from a first person narrative in journal form and begins a series of dispatches to his London newspaper. We read along like his readers would have, hanging, ourselves, on every turn of the troupe's fortunes.

In the end we are left with the belief that there is more to come. Malone took on the journey to prove his worth to the love of his life, but she is not waiting for him to return. He goes all in on the next adventure.

Jurassic Park be damned. This is where it all began, and where the tale will always remain in my heart. Long live Professor Challenger!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Maybe We'll Have You Back by Fred Stoller




Why I Read It: I read My Seinfeld Year.

Summary: Fred Stoller's Hollywood autobiography.

My Thoughts: It's a cautionary tale, for sure. Fred tells us in great detail about how hard he has had to work to make it in Hollywood. Despite the fact that we believe we "see that guy in everything," a guest spot here and there means a paycheck here and there.

Who is he? Try the snarky waiter on Friends, in Monica's restaurant. He was the guy Elaine dated on Seinfeld, but he couldn't remember her after the fact. He was Cousin Gerard on Everybody Loves Raymond, playing the accordion and welcoming Robert into his cult. And you can't miss his voice in the Disney cartoon Handy Manny.

Fred's deadpan, self-deprecating style is deadly funny. It's been a struggle, and it's been a long shot, for sure, and he never lost sight of those facts. Yet he persevered. And he never sold out on his dream.

His experiences include the inner circle Hollywood crap of which we all hear, of ass-kissers and ladder climbers who were nice to him when they started out, but ignored him when they got to the top, or knives in backs and shysters seeking ways to extort funds from those working hard to get their big breaks. Fred has seen it all.

There are some tales he tells that surprised me. He protects a lot of names, but others, not at all. I can't say that I wish I was Fred Stoller, but I do wish I had the guts that Fred did to make a go of it when the world around him was telling him to stay in his room and forget about the outside world. In that way, Fred is a hero.

Chuck Amuck by Chuck Jones




Why I Read It: Childhood obsession gone wild in college.

Summary: The autobiography of Warner Brothers animator Chuck Jones.

My Thoughts: The basics are simple. I was born in a time when Bugs Bunny was on TV every day. And that meant that so, too, were Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Wile E. Coyote, Speedy Gonzalez, the Roadrunner, Foghorn Leghorn, et al.

And so the foundation was set. Fast forward to UMASS Amherst, 1990 to 1993. I happened to room with some guys with the same memories of sixteen-ton weights falling from the sky, of gunshots to the face that did not kill, yet rather spun the bill of Daffy Duck around in a circle, and "smell-a-vision replacing television." We did more than watch reruns. We became experts. We came to know the directorial styles, even the particular whims of the background artists (I can still pick out a Phil de Guard at 50 paces). We were majoring in history (both my buddy Jay and me), physics, hotel, restaurant and travel administration, but we were minoring in Looney Tunes animation.

Now fast forward to the spring of 2017. I was walking through the Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego with colleagues one night when I looked up and saw the words "Chuck Jones Gallery." Wile E. sat in the front entrance. My friends kept moving and didn't notice at first that I had stopped, entranced. They asked why. I pointed to the Grinch. I showed them "One Froggy Evening." I said, "You know him, you just don't know you know him."

And so I sought more. I headed straight to Amazon for the ebook.

My first impression is that it's a shame that Chuck Jones was an animator; he could have been a writer. He has such a beautiful style, reminiscent of the 1920s era in which he grew up. One of the world's truisms is that many of the greatest artistic expressions spring from personal experiences. From the start, Jones explains how the cats he animated exhibit traits he saw from one wanderer who came into and meandered out of his life. And it struck me: the arid southwest, roadrunners. This was where he lived.

Much of this book is about inspiration, and much about family. Some of the content turns to almost inside jokes of his industry, and we learn a lot about how cartoons were made in the middle of the 20th century, how various producers viewed the work and how their idiosyncrasies affected the final products. We learn what Jones considered his top accomplishments.

While I loved most of what Jones did, there were a few stops along the way with which I did not agree (see Tom and Jerry). That said, this book was a memory lane type excursion for me. As he spoke to me through his prose, I could see the images in my head of Marvin Martian and Duck Dodgers, of Elmer, Daffy and Bugs during Wabbit Season.

The book opened a floodgate of memories for me that will result in a cascade of follow-up reading.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Italy: A History by Vincent Cronin



Why I Read It: I'm Italian.

Summary: A thorough, straightforward history of the two millennia that forged the current Italian nation.

My Thoughts: It's good to know that my professors as UMASS were correct.

I had the chance to study Italian history under two professors who were, as we like to say, "fresh off the boat." They had no doubt been here in the States for a long time, but like my great-grandmother and others in my extended family, they retained heavy accents and occasionally threw in an Italian word where it fit better than anything English had to offer. Hearing them speak about their native history was inspiring, even if the Italian people have struggled to make their way through the centuries. I think that was the biggest takeaway from this book for me, that Italian history is not a simple path, and for huge chunks of time it's not even Italian.

It's glorious at the start, if we can confidently connect the dots between ancient Rome and modern Rome. Like much of European history it falls silent after the fall of the Roman Empire, and wide chasms of time pass without any, or much, documentation. But when Italy arises again, in its many nation states, it becomes the cultural center of Europe, from Michelangelo to Galileo and beyond. Napoleon - who was Italian in all but official nationality (born on an island that became French just a few years before his birth, he spoke Italian and had an Italian surname, Buonaparte) - forged the idea of unity picked up later by Mazzini and Garibaldi. Since that time, there has been a single Italy, even if it has struggled for national identity.

If there was one fact that I learned in this book that I will remember for the rest of my life it's that my name, or one very close to it, once sparked fear in the hearts of people across Italy. Gian Galeazzo (as compared to John Galluzzo) was the first Duke of Milan in the late 14th century, just before the Renaissance, and dreamed of unifying Italy. He led numerous military campaigns toward that end, and is credited with setting up the first modern bureaucracy. It all came to naught, as he died of a fever before he could finish off his plan.

This book, in my case, was refreshing, both in the sense of being pleasant, and also in reaffirming the value of my college education.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

You Gotta Have Wa by Robert Whiting




Why I Read It: Always up for a baseball book.


Summary: The experiences of American baseball players playing in Japan (as of the late 1980s).

My Thoughts: The cultural divide between the United States and Japan is enormous, and I applaud those folks who travel either way to forge a new life.

For baseball players - keep in mind this book was written in the late 1980s - the experience has been, simply put, testing. The Japanese at that time had a deeply strong belief that they were all middle class, but that no matter what the circumstances, they were better people than any gaijin, or foreigner, treading on their soil.

Their sacred traditions of respect and "face," as well as the bushido code, the realm of the ancient samurai, all play roles in the Japanese baseball world. They train until they can barely move, throw fastballs until their arms no longer work, even through injury, and run antiquated stamina drills because history mandates that they do so. Managers and owners make decisions based on how they look to other people rather than on sound baseball strategy. Pitchers will intentionally walk American batters numerous times to avoid the shame of giving up home runs, especially when a gaijin is chasing a record held by a Japanese star, and even when the bases are already full.

And then there's wa. The Japanese believe in team harmony, whole American teams have won World Series riding "25 players in 25 cabs." Anything that disrupts wa can be seen as a hindrance on the pathway to a championship. Many times that disruption has been an American in a Japanese uniform, living as an individual, as Americans do.

Some Americans have fared well under these circumstances, others have completely fizzled out. Some have challenged those sacred records (like Saduhara Oh's all-time home run title; Oh, by the way, was half-Chinese, and never fully respected by the Japanese). They've become the greatest American baseball players of whom we've barely heard.

Robert Whiting brings us through everything from the American perspective to the Japanese. He tells us what the umpires think, how the managers - both Japanese and Americans heading up Japanese teams - deal with the owners, and gives us a straight history of the Japanese game from the start of the Meiji Restoration in the middle of the 19th century to the late 1980s. Purists who follow the American game will shake their heads as they read, much like Japanese fans shake their heads at the American version.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Samurai Warriors by David Miller



Why I Read It: When I was a kid, I watched the Shogun mini-series on television with my father. Then, when I was on my back healing my surgically repaired ankle with the other one freshly sprained, I read the novel.

Summary: The samurai: who they were, what they carried, their ethos, the wars they fought and their role in Japanese history.

My Thoughts: The author's research was spectacularly done, and this book shines because of it.

The author, who was inspired by the examination of a single samurai sword, carries us through the length of Japanese history, and sets us in place with a topography of the country. He examines the rise of the samurai class and its ultimate demise. And he introduces us to the shoguns, the samurai, the ronin and all of the others who played parts in the sweeping pageantry of Japanese feudal history.

The book is lavishly illustrated with ancient tapestries and modern photos of the weapons, armor and ceremonial dress of the samurai, as well as the castles they built, stormed, decimated and rebuilt.

Several themes stand out. First, the overwhelming sense of loss of life is ubiquitous. Battles were huge, and nobody was spared. Thousands died through time in the name of one master or another, with many innocents slaughtered along the way. And many more took their own lives in a suicide culture that was revived with the kamikazes of World War II. To a westerner, it's unnerving.

Second, the ingenuity and creativity in warfare is interesting, to say the least. During one battle, samurai lashed burning torches to a herd of bulls and sent them charging into the enemy (fire was a major weapon throughout Japanese history). Once, in a show of force, an army cut off the noses and ears of fallen enemies, loaded them onto a ship and let it drift downriver to their surviving opponents.

Miller explains, too, how under the Tokugawa shogunate, the country saw an unprecedented period of peace, lasting for two and a half centuries. During these days the samurai, as warriors, were marginalized, and sought other ways to retain their societal status. Western contact led to a crumbling of the class, as the Japanese found out how much more advanced other countries were in terms of weaponry and military tactics. (The story of Will Adams, on whom James Clavell's Shogun is based, is included). The last medieval-style battle in the world was fought in Japan. By the 1870s, the samurai were officially gone, by decree.

The history is laid out in a straightforward style, on timelines and, in the appendices, in tables. There are tales and themes of Japanese history into which I'd like to dig deeper, thanks to Miller's work.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

What Now, Lieutenant? by General Richard I. "Butch" Neal, USMC (Ret.)



Why I Read It: General Neal is my hometown hero.

Summary: Subtitle: "Leadership forged from events in Vietnam, Desert Storm and beyond."

My Thoughts: Well, we have this in common: we have both delivered commencement addresses at our common alma mater, Hull High School, in Hull, Massachusetts. Beyond that, though...

Yes, I grew up in General Neal's hometown, a small community in Boston Harbor (literally, it's a peninsula) where life was exactly as he describes it. For the colder months, the town was always pretty quiet. Nobody had to drive through Hull to get anywhere, especially the Village, a neighborhood near the end of the peninsula. But then, come summertime, the population doubled, due to the 3.5 miles of beach the town sports. Due to its small population and tight-knit nature, everybody knew everybody.

"Butch," as his grandmother called him, toughed out his childhood and found his calling in the military, with the Marine Corps. He lost his dad while he was young, but because the community was what it was - a collection of people watching out for each other at every turn, as family roots ran very deeply - there was no shortage of father figures around. To make his way through college, for instance, he rode the local garbage truck of Ernie Minelli. He got to Vietnam as a lieutenant - about the same time that my father did - and lost good friends in a terrible situation...just like my father did. Neither one of them ever forgot.

He learned a lot from the "Battle of Getlin's Corner," in which he was summarily thrust into leadership upon the deaths of his immediate commanding officers, all eyes turning to him as if to say, "What now, lieutenant?"He carried those lessons with him for life. Throughout his narrative he stops to explain where and when more such "What now, lieutenant?" moments arise, and how he used them to teacher younger Marines the right ways to do their jobs. He believed early on in the strength of "eyeball level leadership," looking a man square in the face and delivering whatever feedback had to be delivered. Up the chain he went, all the way to 4 stars and the role of Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps. If you watched any of the Gulf War on TV, you saw him as the briefer for General Norman Schwarzkopf.

And here's where the book gets weird, for me personally. I covered his retirement ceremony for our hometown newspaper, the Hull Times. Reading about it in this book was beyond deja vu. I got to relive, through this historic document, an episode I witnessed firsthand, but this time I got to see it from another person's perspective. And I can tell you that for readers of the Hull Times, the ceremony did not disappoint (no thanks to my writing skills). The General has never forgotten his hometown. He referred right back to Ernie Minelli, and out there in the crowd that night at the Marine Barracks in DC were many other faces familiar to me, Hullonians who had made the trek to DC. Hull has never forgotten "Butchy" Neal, either.

A few days after the ceremony I was at the Hull Lifesaving Museum, where I worked at the time, when a car pulled up to the front of the building, and out hopped the General, in his civvies, truly retired. He walked into the building, looking for me. He handed me a framed photograph of the two of us at his retirement ceremony, me handing him a photo on behalf of the local Coast Guard station crew. He had signed it with a thank you for my presence at the ceremony; it still hangs in my office, twenty years later.

I told him that I had wanted to tell him about my dad and his service in the Marines. My dad was wounded while there (he carried shell fragments in his leg his entire life from a grenade thrown by one of his own guys), and finished out his tour in September 1967, leaving the Corps, though it never left him. Four star General Richard I. Neal, retired Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, looked me square in the eye, firmly shook my hand, and said, "I would like to meet your dad someday." I was floored. Sadly, it never happened. My dad died in 2012 in a VA hospital, surrounded by comrades.

I have no idea how this book will affect you. I had the privilege of being swept along in a sea of familiar landmarks and familiar names, and learning intimately about the man I consider my hometown hero.

My Seinfeld Year by Fred Stoller



Why I Read It: Because "Seinfeld" was in the title.

Summary: A Kindle single, a short book about the experiences of writer/actor Fred Stoller, someone you know, but just not by that name.

My Thoughts: The face, the voice, the sad sack characters. You can't miss them. They have become the Fred Stoller trademark. He's the guy who can't remember Elaine on Seinfeld, despite the fact they've been on a date. He's the jerky waiter in Monica's kitchen on Friends. He's Cousin Gerard on Everybody Loves Raymond.

More than that, he's the guy who wrote one of the iconic Seinfeld episodes, "The Soup." Not the one with the Soup Nazi, but instead the episode in which comedian Kenny Bania gives Jerry a suit that no longer fits him in trade for a "meal,"an entity of which the two have very different ideals. This story was not torn from while cloth; it actually happened to Stoller.

Stoller's autobiography works upward from his youth in New York, through his stand-up years and over to Hollywood. Much of the book focuses on his year as a writer for the show, his interactions with fellow writers and with the cast members themselves, not to mention the "real" Kramer back in New York City. The acting bug hits him again after finishing his Seinfeld year, and in an odd twist, he ends up on the show the following year, playing a guy Elaine is attracted to because he can't remember her.

Stoller gives us a little insight into the life of a Hollywood part-timer, what it's like to seek that starring role but being unable to land anything but bit parts. In the end, though, he lets us know that compared to many other trajectories of a life, his path has not been that bad.


Grunt by Mary Roach



Why I Read It: I think I hooked myself, after reading Stiff. Feels like I'm adding her to the list of authors I will read whenever they publish.

Summary: Subtitle: "The Curious Science of Humans at War."

My Thoughts: Years ago, a friend and I did some research for a book we were writing about a local military base and found that much more went on at the base than we originally expected to find. Underneath the straightforward training for combat in World War II was an undercurrent of experimentation. There were uniforms and equipment, vehicles like the Aqua Cheetah and self-propelled scissor bridges. But at the deepest level was the war against seasickness. A doctor on base even developed a "seasick machine" that recreated the illness so that he could test different remedies on "volunteers." At the heart of it all was a harrowing statistic. The Army expected that for troops landing in amphibious raids casualties could be expected to be as high as 90%, due to seasickness.

And that is generally what this book is about, fine-tuning the American soldier to make him or her as safe as possible in all operations, by wrapping him or her in the most durable and lightest gear available. The author, in her typical graphic but deliberate style, walks us through the testing facilities and labs where the work is being done, on hearing, on fabrics and more. She stays clear of weaponry, telling us this book is about the soldier and how s/he adapts to combat. There is also a focus on rebuilding soldiers torn apart by war, which is not for the squeamish.

The author, as usual, uses self-deprecating humor to tell the story, dropping bad jokes on submarine commanders and exposing her ignorance on specific topics in the most awkward places. It humanizes the process of dealing with topics such as the effects of diarrhea on combat operations.

It's a losing battle, of course. War will take lives. But the goal of the book is to highlight what is being done to deal with the minutiae that may eliminated or controlled in order to lessen casualties in future wars.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic by Jason Turbow




Why I Read It: I grew up thinking I was destined to play third base for the Red Sox. Baseball is in my blood.

Summary: The subtitle says it all: "Reggie, Rollie, Catfish and Charlie Finley's Swingin' A's." The book covers the early 1970s A's dynasty.

My Thoughts: If you did not live through the early 1970s baseball seasons, here is your chance.

Jason Turbow's book about the early 1970s is essentially a collection of biographies, with the keystone figure being Charlie Finley, the twenty-year owner of the A's, first in Kansas City and then in Oakland. The surrounding cast, though, is as important to the central story as the Owner (capital "O" intended): Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, Blue Moon Odom, Rollie Fingers, Sal Bando and so many more. And that fact drove the Owner to ridiculously self-destructive acts that somehow never proved strong enough to take down his own team.

It's complicated.

Finley survived early health problems to build his own business empire, eventually buying the A's and creating a baseball dynasty. He played a back-and-forth game with his players, lauding them with riches when they made him look good (oftentimes taking credit right from them, claiming that the only reason they performed well was due to his foresight) and haranguing them when they did poorly (always their fault). His relationships with his managers - 18 in 20 years, including a few repeat customers - were just as difficult. He was both lavish and cheap, depending on the circumstance. And he never could see how his actions affected how people viewed him. He never got out of his own way.

His ego was met head-on by those of his players, including Reggie Jackson. Reggie's rise to stardom was meteoric, and Finley couldn't stand to share the spotlight, despite the fact that Reggie's greatness would help propel Finley's own team to amazing accomplishments. Reggie and his teammates spent most of the early 1970s fighting back against Owner-imposed injustices on the players; how they managed to win three consecutive World Series during this time is one of the greatest puzzles of baseball history.

In the end, the story is one of lost potential. With a core of young superstars and a rising cast in the minors, the A's should have contended for the next decade, but because of Finley's mismanagement - poorly mistimed with the beginning of the era of free agency - the A's fell flat on their faces for the balance of the decade. Had it been anywhere else, under any other owner (save for Steinbrenner, maybe?) the 1970's A's might have gone down as the most celebrated team in baseball history. But alas, they scattered, fleeing Finley whenever they had the opportunity, reuniting here and there, never regaining old glories.

If you don't believe me, trust in Turbow.

After reading this book, I want to re-read Jonathan Mahler's Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning, as it more or less picks up the Reggie Jackson story where Turbow's reportage closes. Why not keep this train rolling?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Crazy is my Superpower by A.J. Mendez Brooks




Why I Read It: Have been a wrestling fan since before Hulk Hogan took down the Iron Sheik.

Summary: The full backstory behind the rise of "A.J. Lee."

My Thoughts: There are wrestlers' autobiographies, and then there are autobiographies by people who became wrestlers, but who understand that they are not fully defined by what happened between the ropes.

April Mendez faced ridiculous odds. Her life started with bouts of homelessness and, when she had them, homes under the duress of domestic violence, substance abuse and mental illness. Much of her youth  was spent wondering: why do my parents fight each other? why are all of our belongings on the sidewalk? why am I so hungry all the time? The fact that she became a superstar wrestler is not the surprise; making it to adulthood with any kinds of goals and dreams intact was the real longshot.

Her story - exceptionally well written, in no-holds barred style - is of breaking free and being pulled back down. Ultimately it's of overcoming the restraints associated with mental illness and driving toward goals. It's of bucking the system - why should all women in professional wrestling look the same, play the same role? - and redefining the place of women in the sport. And, in the end, it's of early retirement, getting into a cutthroat world and getting out of it before it was too late.

This book is an inspirational as it gets. And, for those of you instantly judging it as "a wrestling book," know that what made A.J. Lee spring forth from April Mendez took many years. This is not ringside play-by-play. It's the unscripted life story that got an undersized girl obsessed with anime and video games into the spotlight of the WWE, against all odds. The wrestling stories come and go quickly in the book, just a brief phase of the life of April Mendez.

When War Played Through: Golf During World War II by John Strege


Why I Read It: I was writing a book about golf history, and wanted to capture this era in particular, as information about the sport during those years, on a local level, can be tough to come by.


Summary: Golf as played on the homefront, by the generals, by the POWs and on the training bases of World War II.



My Thoughts: I reiterate. World War II was not just one story. It is a story of millions of stories.


So, what of golf? I was working on a state history of the sport and realized I was coming up dry. The state association I was following through time dried up during the war. Finances became tight, tournaments stopped, even meeting minutes came to a crashing halt. But the golf courses still existed on December 8, 1941. The golfers still lived. What became of them all for the next four years?

This book helps to answer that question on the national level, obviously straying beyond the country's borders as the passion for golf traveled with both amateurs and pros overseas, into war zones, even POW camps.

The author follows the pros of the day, both those who signed up with one of the services for the duration (many of them became instructors on golf courses stateside) and those who kept playing the game professionally against a depleted field. He also follows the amateurs, some to their untimely deaths in uniform. He explains how materials shortages affected the game (you couldn't find a new ball anywhere, at least not for anything even remotely affordable), and how the United States Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews supported each other during the war. He follows General Dwight Eisenhower down the fairways as he bought precious moments of solitude while on the courses where his headquarters sat.

Still to be gathered are the local details, how it affected each and every course (some were turned over to pasturage, others became part of the war effort). This, of course, is for the surviving clubs themselves to interpret and for local historical societies to explore. As deeply as this book went, there are many layers beneath yet to be fully explored.

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman


Why I Read It: A personal fascination with what we control and what we don't, in regard to our minds.

Summary: System 1 (instinct) and System 2 (contemplation), and what they do for us.

My Thoughts: We all think the same way. We are, after all, the product of millennia of evolution. Just as easily as we say that Purple Martins seek hollowed-out gourds for their homes in spring because they evolved to do so through the course of thousands of years, so, too, do we react to situations in specific ways because our brains have evolved. When threatened, we strike or flee, in much the same fashion our caveman ancestors did when faced with life-or-death situations. System 2 kicks in afterwards, when we have time to stop and think through the incident.

This is superbly oversimplified by me. The author goes to much greater length to prove the existence of the systems and to explain how they work. He references numerous studies - his own and those of others - that build the case, many of which are truly eye-opening.

I found myself at one point doubting him, based on the results of a survey into which I clearly placed in the minority. I finally realized that that was just the case: when you have a 70-30 split in a percentage, somebody is in the minority. I then took a different tactic in reading the book; I surrendered to it. My own egotistical assumptions aside, I learned to take the text at face value. After that, I was free to enjoy it.

Some of the studies referenced in the book tackle real world subjects like the actual accuracy of "experts" in financial markets, as compared to their perceived accuracy. Are experts really experts? Are they paid appropriately? You will be surprised at the truths. Can anyone honestly say they should trust their instincts, their gut reactions, to guide them every time?

So, drop the ego and enjoy. You will probably find out more about yourself, not to mention humanity, than you ever thought you would by looking at the cover.