Current Reading: July 2021

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Current Reading: July 2021

Jul 6, 2021, 2:30pm

I finished We Band of Brothers: A Memoir of Robert Kennedy by Edwin Guthman. In the late 1950s, Guthman was a Seattle journalist who had already won a Pulitzer Prize. When Robert Kennedy came to town as a federal prosecutor to investigate corrupt labor leaders, Guthman, who had been writing about those same issues, decided to cooperate with the investigation, knowing that Kennedy would have subpoena power that would enable him to get at financial records that a journalist could never uncover. The friendship that grew between the two men led to Kennedy, upon becoming Attorney General, inviting Guthman to Washington as special assistant for public information in the Department of Justice. Essentially, he was RFK's chief press representative, as well as a trusted advisor, and as such was present for many important deliberations during Kennedy's time as AG. This book is Guthman's fascinating memoir of those times.

Guthman takes us through those initial investigations and his growing admiration for RFK's intelligence, tenacity and integrity, and then through the JFK presidency, including the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the Cuban Missile Crisis and, most compellingly, the Justice Department's involvement, such as it was, in the Civil Rights movement during the JFK years. Most harrowing is Guthman's description of the hour-by-hour negotiations and decisions during James Meredith's attempts to enroll as the first black student at the University of Mississippi.

Guthman also provides a brief but moving picture of Robert Kennedy's intense grief over his brother's death, and goes into some detail about his clashes and eventual enmity with Lyndon Johnson. Guthman stayed on Kennedy's staff through his successful Senatorial campaign in New York, and gives an interesting description of those days, but then went back to his journalism career, and so offers only a few insights into Kennedy's time as a senator. He leaves the details of RFK's death to others to describe.

This is not a "warts and all" biography. Guthman was an unabashed RFK admirer. Given that this admiration comes from a hard-nosed journalist after years of close contact, we might give it some strong credence. But Guthman does not claim to be offering a comprehensive study of Kennedy, and I would guess that he had knowledge of skeletons in RFK's closet that he chose not to reveal.

Jul 7, 2021, 2:03pm

Finished from the library: 1808: the Flight of the Emperor by Laurentino Gomes
In 1808, the Portuguese royal family fled to Brazil ahead of Napoleon's invasion. A concise and fascinating read.

Edited: Jul 9, 2021, 9:48am

Completed Passage To Union. It's an interesting presentation of the relationship between Railroads, their financiers, politicians, government and the rest of the population in the 19th and 20th century in the USA. Might be a good place to start to see how one impacts the other.

Jul 12, 2021, 7:04am

Finished up Fallout yesterday evening, Leslie Blume's informative look at what it took for John Hershey to produce his account of the survivors of the Hiroshima bombing.

Jul 12, 2021, 7:51pm

I have just started Empire of the Black Sea by Duane W. Roller a history of the Mithradatic kingdom of Pontus.

This book covers the earlier history of the kingdom as well as the most famous Mithradates.


Jul 13, 2021, 2:57pm

>5 Macbeth: Sound interesting. I've added it to my wishlists.

Jul 14, 2021, 12:18am

>6 jztemple: you won't be disappointed


Jul 14, 2021, 7:44am

>7 Macbeth: That's also on my TBR list; though I probably won't get to it until next year.

Edited: Jul 14, 2021, 7:49am

Speaking of stuff that's been kicking around on various personal TBR lists for awhile, I did finish Crimes Against Nature yesterday. This is an examination of what happens when government-mandated nature reserves are created, and the local folks surviving off the land suddenly find their traditional way of life criminalized. It was interesting enough, but since the original monograph is about twenty years old I have to wonder if there was a more contemporary treatment that I could have read.

Jul 18, 2021, 1:45pm

I completed An Empire of Silver yesterday. It discusses the San Juan Mountain area in Colorado and mining there. The writing was inconsistent. I must admit I did skim some chapters. There are a number of interesting photos including many early ones and then a current picture of the same area (in 1963 to 1965).

Jul 19, 2021, 12:16am

My Festival of Mithradates continues with The Poison King by Adrienne Mayor which is a biography of the great man. Mayor presents him in a sympathetic light, and puts in a fair bit of speculative text to fill in the gaps as much of the original sources are either lost or heavily partisan.

She gives a brief mention of some of the historical fiction about Mitrhadates where he is often portrayed as the soft Eastern Despot fighting clean democratic Rome.
He Died Old by Alfred Duggan which is more of a long essay than a historical novel
The Last King by Michael Curtis Ford a novel written from the perspective on one of his sons and
The Grass Crown by Colleen McCullough where Mithradates is introduced as a young man, and built up as a character, then the whole series of Mithradatic Wars are glossed over in a transitory interlude.

Fortunately she doesn't glorify The Death of Kings by Conn Iggulden with a mention as its treatment of the character and the period is criminal.

I am enjoying The Poison King.


Jul 21, 2021, 8:48am

I finished The History of Rome: The Republic (Volume 1) by Mike Duncan. This covers the rise of Rome from its founding through the crumbling of the republic. Duncan actually had lecture podcasts on this subject, which I tried, but couldn't follow along--my mind wandered during the audio! However, I did like this brief history. Duncan spiced this up with some juicy tales that you would not find in regular history textbooks, although this is not a textbook. The only "flaw" I found was that I did not think enough time was spent on the reasons for the crumbling of the republic. I did take some notes on the earlier history of Rome. 371 pages

Edited: Jul 22, 2021, 12:00am

Finished Blood and Treasure: Daniel Boone and the Fight for America's First Frontier by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin. For the most part it was pretty good, being focused on the conflicts between the whites and the Indians as much as it was about Boone. The authors were a bit stylized in their writing, sometimes being a bit too moralizing for my taste. Also, while I considered myself rather well read, I was off to the dictionary for words such as evanescent, brume, mephitic, banjax and quotidian. And to Wikipedia for a reference to the Grand Guignol. For a book that is supposed to be popular history, this seems a bit much.

Jul 22, 2021, 5:19am

Finally finished China Marches West earlier this week. It’s got some significant flaws, but overall it’s a good book and there’s not much else on the subject in English.

It took longer to finish than it should, partly due to the aforementioned flaws, but mostly for all sorts of Real Life reasons.

Jul 22, 2021, 2:21pm

I finished The Pioneers by David McCullough about the settlement of the Northwest Territory, specifically the Ohio River Valley (Marietta). A great history. I felt it did not delve deep enough into the conflicts between the pioneers and the Native Americans, but that is probably a book in in itself. 379 pages 4 stars

Jul 22, 2021, 4:57pm

>15 Tess_W: I listened to the Audible version of the book but felt I missed a lot, so I have a hardcover copy for my reading pleasure sometime in the future.

Edited: Jul 23, 2021, 4:22pm

Imperial Twilight: the Opium War and End of China's Last Golden Age by Stephen Platt
An interesting account of the British arrival in China and events leading up to the Opium War.

>15 Tess_W: I read a library copy of the book.

Jul 24, 2021, 9:49am

>17 princessgarnet: I thought it was quite good, though there's a lot less Opium War than the title suggests.

Jul 25, 2021, 9:08pm

My dive into the Hellenistic period continues with Ghost on the Throne by James Romm. This is a cracking read, and I am 2/3 of the way through after starting on Saturday morning.


Edited: Jul 26, 2021, 3:52pm

Several days ago I completed Connecticut; a guide to its roads, lore, and people which is part of the American Guide Series. I'm going through each state in alpha order. This one has better pictures than some do. This state was published in 1938.

Jul 27, 2021, 7:35pm

After finishing Ghost on the Throne (which I heartily recommend) I have now started on How to Plan a Crusade by Christopher Tyerman. I picked this one up at the bookshop at the Australian National University for a very low price. Hopefully the price does not indicate that the book has been discredited. :)


Jul 27, 2021, 10:20pm

>21 Macbeth: A book that discusses in part the logistics of putting on a crusade? Awesome. I love logistics :)

Jul 28, 2021, 9:39pm

>15Hello Tess, we meet again. I have to say that I thought this one of McCulloughs less impressive works, and if I had not had, as do you, connections to Ohio I doubt I would have finished it. Most interesting was the formation of a company in New England to open up this part of what was then the far west.
I am also interested, having lived in Hudson, the site of the original Case Western University, in the similar expansion into NE Ohio from Connecticut.
I think he was somewhat derelict in his treatment of the conflict with Native Americans, just touching on it as an unfortunate problem that needed to be solved.

Jul 29, 2021, 9:22am

>21 Macbeth: I think you'll be pleased with your purchase...I was certainly impressed with the work.

Jul 30, 2021, 8:42am

>16 jztemple: That is a great idea! I'm from Ohio and a historian, so this book was right up my alley. I listened on audio, so I was often stopping, rewinding, and taking notes!

I just completed The Federalist Papers. I had read a few of them before, but not all of them. I also made notes on each and every one of the papers. I found it interesting that these men did not think the judiciary would be a problem, hence no check on their power. If they lived today, I'm sure they would rue that decision! What brilliant and eloquent men Hamilton, Jay, and Madison were!

Jul 31, 2021, 6:28pm

I'm almost finished with Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna by Adam Zamoyski which is (surprisingly) interesting and informative in spite of its size and complexity. I'm enjoying it a lot but I have to read it slowly to keep track of the names and events.

Edited: Jul 31, 2021, 8:52pm

>26 jztemple: That would be interesting. My understanding of the history of Napoleon stops on the evening of `18th June, 1815, the battle of Waterloo, or Mont St. Jean, depending which side you were on.
We Brits don't have much to feel proud about any more, but that event was one of them.

Aug 1, 2021, 12:43pm

>27 scunliffe: The situation was fascinating. Before Napoleon escaped from Elba there was a real chance of war breaking out with France, Britain and Austria against Prussia and Russia as arguments continued about how Poland and the German states would be divided up.

Aug 2, 2021, 9:24am

>28 jztemple: I did not know that.....seems like another book to add to the list.