Category Archives: Books

Summer of ’69 by Elin Hilderbrand

I have been reading some pretty heavy stuff and this looked like a good beach read and it is. It is not any sort of light fluff even though it is set on Nantucket Island where the Levin family spends their summers in the matriarch’s house. They have gathered there for decades.

Against a backdrop of beaches, tennis lessons, and romance are some hard things. The grandson is in the army fighting in Vietnam. His sisters who range from early teenagers to adults in their 20’s are having problems. The younger ones are maybe growing up a little too fast. The Mom and Dad are not getting along and Mom is really liking her gin and tonics maybe a little too much. Grandmother is in denial about everything. And so the story moves forward.

It was fun that the book was set in 1969 when the country was going through so many changes and it references a lot of things I remember vividly. Senator Edward Kennedy scandal at Chappaquiddick where he left a young woman to drown and never called the police, the moon landing, Woodstock, hippies, marijuana. I was only 14 then and it was all pretty amazing and I was stuck in the little burg of Eagar, Arizona up in the White Mountains.

I loved this book. The characters are real and so re their problems. Yes, they kind of work through what is going on but not everything is tied up at the end of the book. Just like real life. This is my first book by Elin Hilderbrand and will not be my last.

The Room where it Happened by John Bolton

I just got through reading Bolton’s memoirs of his brief time in the Trump Administrator as National Security Director. The book is certainly eye opening as Bolton describes working with Trump on issues such as China trade, North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction, the threats from Iran, and finishes off with the crisis in the Ukraine that led to Trump’s impeachment.

Bolton gets way down in the weeds and what comes out is his contempt for the way Trump does things. To Bolton, our president cannot maintain a train of thought for very long, cares little for issues except to the extent that he can use him to advance his own interests. He also doesn’t know the first thing about negotiating and mistakes personal relationships with international relationships. Bolton describes Kim Jong Un of North Korea laughing at Trump when he figured out that he could easily use that personal relationship to get concessions in negotiations.

Bolton also excoriates the House of Representatives for a lazy kind of impeachment where due to electoral schedules the calendar was abbreviated and so in the interests of time the issues were all focused on the Ukraine where in reality there was probably grounds for impeachment in a consistent pattern of self dealing by the President. The House also did not pursue their subpoenas in court so there was not much of an investigation and the process because ultra polarized and resulted in an acquittal by the Senate.

Bolton fears an unleashed Trump in a second term. The only thing that restrained him from many things in his first term was the fear of not being re-elected. Trump was barely constrained anyway and he’ll be much worse.

The book was interesting also as it gave me an insight into Bolton. The guy is pretty smart and has a lot to say. Once I understood where he comes from I could see where he got a lot of his beliefs. He is big into American Sovereignty for example which makes him very suspicious of any treaties that limits that for example. Despite some reports Bolton is not endorsing Biden. Bolton doesn’t say much about Biden but really goes after Obama and his policies.

The book scorches Trump pretty good. Trump did everything he could to stop publication of the book. It does not cast him in a good light.

I highly recommend this book.

The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes

I just finished reading “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” by Richard Rhodes. It is certainly comprehensive. It starts at the start of the 20th century and ends of course with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is very comprehensive as it surveys the development of modern physics and then gets into the huge industrial complexes built within just a few years with just one goal, to get enough fissionable material to make a bomb before the Germans, Japanese and Russians.

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“Little Boy” Atomic Bomb like the one dropped on Hiroshima

There are many interesting items in the book, such as:

  • Albert Einstein was instrumental in getting the United States to think about an atomic bomb. He played no part in the development of the bomb because he was considered a security risk.
  • USA believed the Germans were ahead in development because Germany was the center of Physics research. It wasn’t until after the war that they found out how far behind Germany was. The scientists working for the US knew that the basic science was well known and it was inevitable that other countries were going to develop the bomb and there was really not much that could be done to prevent it.
  • When the Manhattan Project started, the basic science for the bomb was considered settled so the work was to develop the technology to apply the science and fabricate a bomb. The huge facilities at Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Hanford, Washington were there to get enough fissionable material to make the bomb. The basic plan was to make a bomb to test, and then after that drop bombs as fast as the fissionable material could be produced and fabricated into bombs.

So the physics is interesting and the technology challenging and so big parties when the test bomb at Trinity exploded. Rhodes does a great job sobering things up talking about the allied program of bombing residential areas in both Germany and Japan with mixtures of high explosives to break the houses and apartments and incendiary devices to make them burn. Rhodes also writes of the aftermath of the nuclear bombing including first person accounts of the horrific effects. Many people vaporized, others charred, others roasted alive. Many died of radiation sickness.

Atomic Bomb Test
Atomic Bomb Test, Bikini Island, 1946

There is a lot of second guessing going on now about if we should have dropped the bombs or not but the Americans were concerned about the casualties if the allies invaded the Japanese Homeland. They looked at the battle of Okinawa where the allies lost over 12,000 lives and the Japanese had 110,000 soldiers killed. In addition 40,000 to 150,000 Okinawan lives were lost. The allies estimated they would lose 400,000 to 800,000 lives invading the Empire. The estimated deaths after the bombing was 90,000 to 146,000 at Hiroshima and 39,000 to 80,000 at Nagasaki, many if not most innocent civilians including children, mothers, and elderly people.

Atomic Bomb Casing the ""Fat Man""
Model of Fat Man Atomic Bomb used on Nagasaki

I am very interested in Atomic Energy, the Manhattan Project, and all things Cold War. I spent a big part of my life in New Mexico, home of Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, Sandia Laboratories, and the Trinity Test site. My mother worked at the Hanford Site, source of our Plutonium in a clerical role after the war. I have other relatives who worked in military nuclear related industries. I think other boomers have ties to the Cold War era.

Anyway, the book is 838 pages and too me forever to read but there is a lot of information that is packed in there. I loved it. I got my Kindle version very inexpensively on during a promotion.

“American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummings

American Dirt book cover

American Dirt‘ by Jeanine Cummins is a work a fiction following the Lydia and her son Luca, residents of Acapulco, Mexico. Lydia owns a bookstore and befriends a mysterious man who comes and is really interested in books. Her friend turns out to be a leader of a local cartel. The problem is that Lydia’s husband is an investigative journalist looking into her friend’s cartel.

Things take an explosive and tragic turn and Lydia and son Luca have to flee for their lives quickly and she decides the only place where they can be safe is El Norte, the United States. She has to think fast, make decisions at the spur of the moment and has to trust people. Some people she encounters are very helpful, others are total crooks. The books kept me on my toes the whole time.

The most interesting part of the story is “Le Bestia” the network of freight railroads running north and south in Mexico. Le Bestia is the fastest way for the migrants, including those from South America to make the long journey. But is dangerous, it is dangerous to try and get on and it is dangerous to ride. Here is a brief CNN video about the Le Bestia, the Death Train.

I don’t want to give away the story but this book has compared to “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. I think American Dirt is a great book and certainly worth reading.

“My Struggle: Book 2: A Man in Love” by Karl Ove Knausgaard

My Struggle, Book 2 Cover image

Karl Ove Knausgaard is a Norwegian writer who has caused a stir with his autobiographical fiction. I finished Book 1 about a year ago. I loved it but it was exhausting to read as Knausgaard delved into every single detail of his life. Book 2 is the second of six of his My Struggle series and it was every bit as fascinating and interesting as the first. It covers marriage and his three kids and his love hate relationship of being in a marriage and taking care of his kids, while trying to write.

He strips away the veneer of what society expects him to say about his thoughts on marriage and child raising and says what he really thinks, and his reactions to what he thinks. He applies the same process to the literary world and expresses the tiredness and resentment he feels toward readings and writings and literary things in general. He would rather spend the time writing rather than talking about his writing.

The whole thing is intense and I could only take about 50 to 60 pages at a time. Many paragraphs are over a page long. The angst is intense. So I’ll be getting Book 3 soon. I buy the books because it takes me too long to read them to get the library version.  You can get the Kindle version on Amazon for $10.

Want a pro tip – I am moving away from Kindle except for very low priced books. I found an online used  bookseller who will sell me Book 3 of the series  for $5 including shipping. Meanwhile I will give my copy of Book 2 to  our excellent local used book store Gardners. They will give me $5 credit against future books (yes I checked, they don’t have Book 3.) So my net cost of Book 3 is approximately $0. Sorry I digress into my thriftiness. 

What about the poor authors you say? They will miss out on royalties as I execute my strategy. Yep, I feel sorry for them, but I am trying to solve my problems. They can worry about their own problems. I still buy lots of books especially from authors just starting out. I happily pay full price for those books.

Outsider: Tales from the Road, the Trail and the Run by Bob Doucette


I just finished Bob Doucette’s new book: Outsider: Tales from the Road, the Trail and the Run. It is an account of his life with an emphasis on his love for climbing mountains, trail running, hiking, and fitness. He covers a lot of territory in this slim volume. How he and his brothers grew up loving the the outdoors and  being fit. How he pursued his journalism career hard and neglected his health and then how he realized that he needed to make some changes and became intentional in his pursuit of his goals and chose the hard way to do things. He talks about the concept of wilderness and its importance to him and others. He also discusses spirituality and the loss of his brother and the tests to his faith that brought.

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One of the many trails on Tulsa’s Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness.

Bob weaves through this several tales of his adventures. Getting caught on the mountains in a rainstorm, road trips with friends, problems encountered and dealt with. He has climbed many of Colorado’s famed peaks over 14,000 feet tall and makes some of them sound like a good walk and others sound very scary. He is a talented and competent writer and he tells his story well. He is a little self deprecating I suspect as I think some of the exploits might be a little more exciting than what he lets on. This book is a great read about a man who loves the outdoors. I give five stars out of five. You can get in on Amazon here.

Grand Teton from Mormon Row

The Tetons in Wyoming

Doucette is a resident of Tulsa, works in journalism, and spends much time at Tulsa’s Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness and  a couple of years ago worked behind the scenes in support of the fight against city hall to allow an Outlet Mall on the mountain. He has a blog, Proactiveoutside, where he writes mainly about outdoors issues.  If he isn’t working you might be able to find him at his gym lifting the big weights or running the trails on Turkey Mountain.

“Manhattan Beach” by Jennifer Egan

Manhattan Beach  by Jennifer Egan is quite a read. It is a novel set in the middle 1930’s through mid World War II about a girl Anna and her family who live in New York City. The book starts out a little quietly but builds to quite a story featuring Irish and Italian mobsters and associated treachery, learning how to be come a navy diver, U Boat attacks, double lives, hopelessness and redemption. The book is about how complex people are and we don’t really fully understand others. I loved it and recommend it highly.

 

Dean Koontz – The Silent Corner

I am mad at myself after reading “The Silent Corner” because I have always shied away from reading Dean Koontz because I thought he was not a very good author. Was I ever wrong. He is very skilled and in this book puts together a very good suspenseful novel.

The star of the book is Jane Hawk, a top notch FBI agent whose husband, for no good reason, commits suicide after leaving a chilling suicide letter.  jane starts checking into things and finds out that all sorts of people are committing suicide and there are other disturbing trends also so she starts checking into things more closely and that makes certain highly placed people angry. Very angry so she has to go into hiding, and get off the web.

She has to deal with a shadowy cabal of ruthless Silicon Valley executives, rogue FBI agents and all sorts of good stuff.

This is a very good thriller and proves that one can write a very good book where everybody keeps their clothes on and the writing is not cheesy.

I give this book five star out of five.

“No Middle Name” by Lee Child – Short Stories featuring Jack Reacher

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No Middle Name is a collection of short stories featuring the thriller superhero Jack Reacher. The stories are satisfying for the most part with no big surprises except for a couple of them that feature Reacher as a teenager. One in particular is over the top. Spoiler alert below.

A young sixteen year old Jack Reacher finds himself all by himself in New York City back in the 70’s one night and quite a night it is. Let me see, what happens. Well he goes to a bar and just sits down with a table of four college coeds. One of the coeds decides to take young Jack to a concert with her as protection. The same night the 16 year old Reacher rescues a female FBI agent by slapping a top mafia guy. The mafia guy tries to get revenge by getting a bunch of his friends to teach young Jack a lesson. Well that didn’t turn out very well for the bad guys. The same night, the college coed has Jack show her how much he likes her and she was so gratified that she decided to return the favor. (The weird part, she committed a felony twice with young Jack as the victim, but I digress) Anyway while she is showing Jack her appreciation do you think he is distracted. Oh no, he is not. He sees a guy sneaking up on them with a gun and determines it is the Son of Sam killer that was terrorizing New York at the time. Young Jack being the nice guy he is doesn’t interfere with the coed and waits until after she is done before he tells here what he saw. He ends up telling the FBI agent about the mass killer but not about the child rapist coed Reacher is hanging with.

It was quite a night for young Jack. Raped twice and finds the Son of Sam killer. Sorry if I offend.

I confess that I didn’t read all the stories. I will say that I read enough. Got my copy at the library. You want to know what is strange. On Amazon you can get the hard copy for half the price of either the paperback or the Kindle version. What’s up with that. Any publishing industry mavens out there that can explain that?

“My Struggle: Book One” by Karl Ove Knausgaard

I heard somebody talking about a series of autobiographical novels by a Norwegian Author and was fascinated by the concept. I mean, what is an autobiographical novel anyway? I have a feeling that many autobiographies are somewhat novels but I don’t want to get side tracked down that rabbit hole. So anyway I read about the the books.

The books are six in number published in Norwegian from 2009 to 2011. The books are called “My Struggle” and numbered one through six and were written by Karl Ove Knausgaard and reveal his private life, thoughts, and dreams. He names family members and gets into all sorts of private matters. This has resulted in turmoil with his family members and amazingly he did not anticipate the response from the people close to him.

I just finished Book One and found it fascinating. There really is not plot or anything and the whole book is about the struggle he had dealing with his father. He describes in detail his actions, his thoughts and responses to what is going on around him and for some reason I find it gripping and read it very quickly. He turns his life inside out with all the contradictions, and self defeating thoughts and actions and inconsistencies. It is almost like reading about oneself. (Or at least myself). It has been said that reading the book is like opening up somebody else’s diary and finding your secrets in it.

So, I am looking forward to reading the other five. Only three so far have been translated into English but I am sure that it is just a matter of time.