Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Churchill in War and Peace

Churchill was a man uniquely suited to the role he played in WWII. He was a warlord and a statesman, a unique combination that gave him the personality to lead his nation through one of the worst periods in world history. The question this book seeks to answer is: What made Churchill that way?

Three periods of Churchill's life are the focus of the book: war, empire and peace. In the section on war, the author highlights Churchill's experiences during the Boer War and the war in the Sudan. Here he saw the horror or modern warfare against the traditional tactics of earlier generations. It gave him a dislike for scientific warfare, but also the realization that the challenge must be met. He also realized that more than a soldier he had to be a statesman to affect the outcome of world conflict. This section was my favorite and has lessons that we can help us today.

Churchill believed in democracy. People should be allowed to rule themselves, but he was also a staunch supporter of the empire. The empire gave Britain status in the world that Churchill was loath to lose. 

In peacetime, he was less successful in leading the country. Being a firm believer in constitutionality, he disliked Socialism. Although it cost him political office, he staunchly criticized Socialism believing that it was bad for the country.

This is an excellent book. Not only does it present a comprehensive look at the events that formed Churchill and how he used his experiences, it gives us lessons for today that we should understand. I highly recommend the book.

I reviewed this book for Booklook Bloggers.  

Saturday, October 10, 2015

A Social History of the Pharaoh Hatshepsut

Kara Cooney called her book, The Woman Who Would be King, a social history because she takes the liberty of imagining what Hatshepstu thought and felt. The book isn't fiction. It's a well researched narrative about the reign of a remarkable woman by an Egyptologist who has studied the period extensively.

A woman pharaoh was unknown in Egypt before Hatshepsut. Other women had ruled for more or less extensive periods of time as regents; however, she ruled as the senior pharaoh with her stepson, Thutmose III, for twenty-two years. The period of their joint reign was marked by prosperity and extensive influence in the ancient world. There is no indication that she denied power to Thutmose III, rather it appears that they had a mutually agreeable arrangement.

In addition to the portrait of Hatshepsut, Cooney gives a detailed picture of what life was like for a royal princess. It reads almost like a good novel and enhances our understanding of Hatshepsut without taking liberties with her thoughts or feelings.

I thought Cooney did an excellent job of pointing out where she was taking liberties with the historical record. Her ideas about Hatshepsut's inner life make the book more readable, but she also gives the reader a chance to view the facts. The book has extensive notes that allow the interested reader to go more in depth and to test Cooney's conclusions.

I highly recommend this book if you enjoy reading about ancient Egypt. It's very well written. The pace is good. You may find it hard to put down.

I reviewed this book for Blogging for Books.    

An Intimate Picture of Mark Twain's Family in His Later Years

Twain's End is a novel, but based on extensive research done by Lynn Cullen. Mark Twain was an exceptionally talented writer, but his real life persona, Samuel Clemens, was far from the kindly old man telling marvelous stories. In fact, he was irritable, crotchety, and difficult. He was also a womanizer.

The story is told largely from the point of view of Isabel Lyon, his longtime secretary, whose extensive diaries gave Cullen the picture of the Twain household. Lyon came to work for Twain when his family was in tatters. His wife was fragile and ill, his daughters and his finances out of control. Isabel managed to turn things around and fell in love with Twain. When his wife died, she thought that marriage might be in the offing. Twain, however, had other ideas.

Twain was fond of young girls. One of his special favorites was Helen Keller. He supported her through a crisis in her writing career and enjoyed her company. I found the portrait of Keller and her relationship with the Macys one of the most interesting parts of the book. Her original teacher, Annie, Sullivan, was married to John Macy. Together the three of them formed a literary partnership.

If you enjoy well researched historical fiction, I highly recommend this book. The characters from Twain to Helen Keller present an intimate portrait I would never have suspected. The character of Isabel Lyon is based on her diaries where she is clearly unhappy, hoping for more of a relationship with Twain than he offered. I found her thoughts circled constantly on the same topic and made it difficult to like her, although I felt sorry for her.

The settings from Twain's mansion to the streets of New York capture the flavor of the era and enhance the picture of the characters and their lifestyle.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Search for the Secret to Eternal Love

Elia, a lit student, is infatuated with Cameron Beck's masterpiece, Secrets of Odysseus. The book is a compilation of poems Beck wrote to his mysterious muse, but no one knows who she is. Elia is determined to find out. She desperately wants to know what love is and Cameron seems to have the answer.

In a coffee house one night before the end of term, she thinks she hears Beck read a new poem. The poem is left behind when the poet vanishes. Elia rescues it and now is determined to find Beck. The search leads her to a remote Caribbean Island. The islanders have befriended Beck and resent the stranger's intrusion, but she persists.

This love story is told from several perspectives. Elia is the protagonist in the present day, but we also see Cameron. In the past, we see him and his lost love. Usually, I find stories told in two time periods don't work well. However, in this case with the secret of lost love as the thread holding the story together, it works well.

Elia is a delightfully naive character. She is desperately searching for the meaning of love, but she is also capable of determination to see her adventure through to completion. Beck is a more nebulous character. We glimpse his total infatuation with his lover, but in the present day he is more subdued yet willing to part with his secret to the right person.

The characters who inhabit the island: Isabella, the island matriarch, Fatty, the medical doctor with a drug habit, Paco, the cantina owner, and Falcon, the pilot, are extremely well drawn. Each is unique and each fits the setting perfectly. They were some of the best parts of the book.

If you enjoy an adventure wrapped in a romance, you'll enjoy this book.

I reviewed this book for PR by the Book.   

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Family Devastated by a Historic Tragedy

On the day the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Amaterasu took her grandson, Hideo to school. She was supposed to meet her daughter Yuko at the cathedral later. They were estranged because of what Yuko chose to do.

Before Amaterasu set off to meet her daughter, the bomb exploded. The residents of Nagasaki called it “pikadon” a bright flash that changed their lives forever. Yuko was at the center of the blast. There was no hope of finding her, but Amaterasu and her husband, Kenzo, searched for Hideo. They never found him.

Now Amaterasu is a widow living in the United states when a badly scarred man arrives at her door claiming to be her lost grandson. Amaterasu finds it hard to accept that this man is her grandson, but his arrival triggers a flood of old memories.

The is a beautifully written book. The descriptions of Nagasaki both before and after the bombing make you feel that you can see the city. The characters are compelling. Although I couldn't feel warm about Amaterasu, I thought her character was well done.

The plot moves back and forth between the present and life before the bombing. In the early days we get to know Yuko and her relationship with Amaterasu. The mother-daughter relationship drives the story. Often I find a story that moves between time periods is better in one era than the other. In this case, I thought the author did a good job tying the past to the present and gradually revealing the problems that created friction between Amaterasu and her daughter.

I highly recommend this book if you enjoy family stories set in tragic circumstances.

I reviewed this book for Penguin.  

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Case Studies in Branding Showing Big Successful Companies

While this book presents standard business ideas about branding and is well written and interesting, it does little to help small business owners learn how to brand their product. The book opens with a standard section on the principles of branding: create a demand, determine a strategic direction, deliver the core benefits of the product, and maintain a long-term vision. This section is followed by sixteen case studies showing how the business leaders of successful companies used the principles.

The book is well written and entertaining if you're interested in how companies like Amazon, Victoria's Secret, and Starbucks succeeded, but like so many case study books, these stories are very individual and driven by the brilliance of the company founder.

Aside from the principles, which can be found in most marketing textbooks, I didn't find much to help the struggling small business. In fact, I think it would be rather daunting for a small business to compare itself to Frito Lay, for example.

I recommend this book if you're interested in reading about success stories, and you may glean some useful ideas for your business, but this isn't a manual for how to improve your brand. You have to take the ideas and work to create what's right for your business.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

A Detailed History of FDR From His Early Political Career to the Fall of France During WWII

Although FDR left no detailed memoir giving the reasons for his political decisions, Daniels has captured his words and used them in the context of events to give us a picture of what FDR thought. The book opens with a brief view of Franklin's early life, but the concentration is on his political career. While I had read several biographies of Roosevelt, this is the first one to go in depth about his early office holding. I found it instructive in light of his later political ideas including the New Deal.

I also found it fascinating to read about how FDR was able to control the information about his polio and was able to act as normal as possible. It's enlightening to see how he about how he overcame his affliction.

On the positive side, this is a very detailed, perhaps definitive, look at FDR. Because there is so much detail from quotes to actions to what other historians have said about him, it is a sometime difficult book to read. However, if you're interested in a comprehensive history, this is it.

On the negative side, because the book is crammed with historical detail it is sometimes hard to read. I enjoyed it, but I wouldn't recommend it unless you're interested in becoming immersed in FDRs life.

The book ends before the US enters WWII. Although the transitions seems rather abrupt when you've been following the history closely, it leaves you wanting to go more in depth into the next segment of FDRs career.

If you enjoy history, this is an extremely well done book. I highly recommend it.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.