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Friday, June 29, 2018

Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch

My sister made me start watching The Crown, but I certainly kept watching of my own accord.  So it seemed a natural next step to read Sally Bedell Smith's Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch.  Published in 2012 to coincide with the Queen's diamond jubilee celebrating 60 years on the throne, Smith's book tries to take the reader behind the public, stoic face of the queen and show that underneath the facade there is a woman who cares deeply about her family and has a dry wit.  I found the book generally very interesting and worth reading.  It's not as tantalizing as the television show, probably because the author doesn't feel free to present speculation on private moments as fact (I'm looking at you Devil in the White City).  The closest it ever really gets to that is mentioning scenes from the movie The Queen and commenting on whether they are likely to be accurate.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

To the Lighthouse

The title of Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse" is not misleading.  The first chapter is mainly people arguing, speculating, and otherwise discussing making a trip to the lighthouse.  Then there's a montage of time passing.  Finally, in the last chapter, you have the big payoff where some people actually go to the lighthouse.  From a very superficial perspective the story is simplistic to the point of being boring but, as compared to much of my list, refreshingly straightforward.

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Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Wright Brothers

I imagine that everyone has heard that old Edison quote:  "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration."  It borders on the cliché.  But I don't think I've ever seen as practical and interesting an illustration of the concept until I read The Wright Brothers by David McCullough.  This is the third book I've read by McCullough, and I've enjoyed all three of them.  I don't think I had realized that, no matter what popular opinion was, the world was largely on the cusp of flight.  People were trying to solve the problem the world over.  Had anyone bothered to survey the contenders, it seems unlikely they would have put their money on the Wright Brothers.  There were players with almost unlimited government funding, much larger teams, and numerous publications to their names.  Somehow, despite all of that, the Wright brothers came out on top, due to an almost unbelievable combination of hard work, single mindedness, scientific rigor and ingenuity, business sense, and courage (or foolishness, depending on how you look at it).  I won't bother going into too much detail, but I do recommend the book to anyone who enjoys historical biographies.  It's a pretty quick read.

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Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Naked and the Dead

It was somewhat odd timing that I watched Platoon so soon after reading Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead.  Both of these works tried to portray the experience of soldiers in a single platoon on the front lines of a war.  While Platoon focused on the Vietnam War, The Naked and the Dead takes place on a fictional island in the South Pacific during World War II.  It has been described as semi-autobiographical since it largely came from Mailer's service on a reconnaissance platoon.

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Friday, June 1, 2018

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple

I'm probably revealing my ignorance here, but, despite the popular saying, I honestly hadn't realized that there was a cult that committed mass suicide by drinking Kool-Aid.*  The saying "don't drink the Kool-Aid" actually seems to be more popularly used to warn someone away from accepting indoctrination rather than doing something really bad as a result of indoctrination.  Now I know more about the topic than anybody needs to thanks to Jeff Guinn's The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple.  While his life and methods have been extensively researched, Jim Jones remains an enigmatic figure.  Guinn, at least, certainly doesn't portray him as the easy to hate two-dimensional villain one would expect from a cult leader responsible for nearly (if not more than) a thousand deaths.

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