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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Saving Italy; Unbroken; and American Emperor: Aaron Burr's Challenge to Jefferson's America

Robert Edsel  Saving Italy.  ©2013   Edsel earlier book, The Monuments Men, which I haven’t read, was made into a George Clooney movie which I saw last night.  The movie was a great disappointment, particularly after just reading Saving Italy, Edsel’s book on the monuments men’s activities from Sicily to Naples and on to the north.  It features Deane Keller, an art teacher from Yale, and Frederick Hartt, the art historian who wrote the text I used in graduate school.  It was incredible to learn the details of the travels during WW II of the artworks I so admired during my many trips to Italy.  Edsel has done an amazing amount of research to document the efforts of the SS to expropriate massive amounts of Italian art and the efforts of the monuments men and Italian curators and art historians to track them down and protect them.  If it’s a choice between the movie and the book, read the book.  I listened to the audio version from the library on my new Kindle HD.  June 2014
Laura Hillenbrand.  Unbroken.  ©2010  When I pulled this off of the return cart at the library, I put it in my bag because it was written by the author of Seabiscuit, whom I greatly admire – the author, I mean.  Seabiscuit is a horse.  I must be the only person alive who can read who didn’t know the story of Louie Zamperini, the WW II bombardier who went missing in action when his B-24, the Green Hornet, went down in the Pacific.  The book was on the best seller list for 165 weeks.  Zamperini, his pilot and one surviving crew member floated on a life raft for 47 days until they were picked up by the Japanese off the coast of Kwajalein.  From there they entered hell on earth until their POW camps were liberated at war’s  end.  Zamperini had been a track star at USC and competed in the 1936 Olympics.  The track community thought he would be the first to run a four minute mile, but then the war came.  After the war, like a very high percentage of former POW’s, he had serious psychological problems and became an alcoholic until his wife dragged him to a Billy Graham revival.  Louie shaped up and had a long career counseling youths who had been in trouble with the law.  He was still at it at age 92.  During his career he carried the Olympic torch five times and he eventually got back to Japan to meet with his captors.  His main nemesis in the camps, Mutsu Watanabe, known to the prisoners as “The Bird,” was 7th out of 40 on the original list of war criminals, but he escaped detection until amnesty was declared seven years after the war.  He had a successful insurance business in Tokyo.  He refused to meet with Zamperini.  The book is soon to be a movie directed by Angelina Jolie.  June 2014
David O. Stewart.  American Emperor: Aaron Burr's Challenge to Jefferson's America. ©2011   In the introduction I learned that Stewart is a lawyer turned writer who lives nearby in Garrett Park, MD.  Ever since I struggled in college to write a paper on the election of 1800 I have wanted to know more about what happened to Burr afterwards.  As Vice President he was much admired for his role as the presiding officer in the Senate, but he was not asked to come back for a second term.  Perhaps killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1803 was the main reason, but there was also that thing about not stepping back in 1800 when the election was tied and went to the House of Representatives.  Jefferson never forgave him.  Burr was a brilliant lawyer, an excellent judge and a charismatic leader.  Unfortunately he used his talents to plan a private invasion of Spanish lands in North America and invited America's Western territories to secede from the Union and join him.  As a lawyer, Stewart seems to have been the perfect person to tell this story and put Burr’s trial for treason in perspective.  I really liked this book and I will be looking for Stewart’s other historical works, of which there are several.  I’ll also be looking for Gore Vidal’s  Burr.  June 2014

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