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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Zero Day; The Monument Men; The Borgias, the Hidden History; The War of 1812; and John Quincy Adams

Note:  I'm having some eye trouble, so please forgive the typos.  From now on maybe it will only be recorded books.  jb

David Baldacci.  Zero Day© 2011  This is John Puller #1.  He’s an army warrant officer and CID operative, the son of Lt. Gen John Puller, who has dementia and still thinks he has a command, and younger brother of Robert Puller, a nuclear scientist in prison for life for treason.  Puller is dispatched to Drake, West Virginia to investigate the murder of an army intelligence officer.  It quickly becomes 7 murders.  Near Drake there is a concrete dome 3 feet thick and larger than two football fields.  It was constructed some 50 years early when the USG shut down some kind of secret facility on the site.  If it’s mentioned early, it has to be a player in the novel.  Think nuclear, of course.  Mason, the intelligence officer to whom Puller must report for this assignment, tells Puller that there have been two transmission in Dari from somewhere around Drake.  No middle eastern looking people have been seen anywhere in the area.  As Puller works with a local police sergeant, a woman named Sam Cole, the reader learns a little about strip mining, a nasty mine owner, and the mostly unemployed local population.   The book got good reviews and I guess the ending is a surprise, but I won’t be reading Puller #2.   Puller is too good at hand to hand combat; Baldacci seems fixated on army procedures; and the whole thing seems sort of simplistic and predictable.  September 2015

Robert M. Edsel.  The Monument Men© 2009  The movie was good but the book is so much more.  I loved Edsel’s Saving Italy and this one completes the story.  It seems incredible that the Nazis put so much effort and so many resources into stealing the art of Europe, and it’s almost as amazing that our military men at the highest levels bought into US efforts to save and return as much of it as possible.  They didn’t provide the Monument Men with much in the way of resources like Jeeps and staff, but they did cooperate.  The best story here is that of Rose Vallard, who was a minor staff member at the Jeu de Palme and managed to stay on when the Nazis took over.  She kept track of the shipments and when Paris was liberated worked with the Monument men to track them down  and recover them from their hiding places in mines and caves.   In one case she was able to get a whole trainload of art works shunted to a siding while the Nazis were evacuating Paris, so that the art works never went to Germany at all.  I’ve traveled widely in Europe and admired so many works on site and studied them and taught classes about them.  It never occurred to me that masterworks like the Ghent altar piece or Michelangelo’s Madonna in Bruges had once been hidden in places like salt mines and came close to being destroyed by vengeful Nazis as the war drew to a close.  August 2015.

`G.J. Meyers.  The Borgias, the Hidden History© 2013  The Borgia family must have the worst reputation in history, and few have questions whether it is deserved.  The family was Spanish, but it was the Borgias who move to 15th C Italy during the Renaissance who earned them their  infamous place in history.  The four main characters here are Alonzo who became Pope Calixtus III; Rodrigo, who became Pope Alexander VI;  Caesare, who became a cardinal in his teens and then left that exalted office to become a military adventurer, the Count of Valentois and married to a relative of the King of France, Duke of Romanga and a man in and out of favor with the Spanish, Neopolitan and French courts; and Caesare’s sister Lucretia, who was briefly married to one of the Sforza’s and then married Alonzo D’Este which eventually made her Duchess of Ferrara.  The amount of intriguing and betrayal  among the noble families of Italy is almost beyond belief.  I wish I had kept count of the political murders as I went along.  The Borgias were accused accused of many murders, but perhaps only Cassare was actually guilty Murder was routine in the politics of the time, but along with murder, the Borgias were accused of every kind of immorality including incest.  Supposedly Caesare and Lucretia and their siblings were sired by Alexander, and he was accused of an incestuous relationship with Lucretia.  Much of this was not written about until they were all dead and close study of historical records make it clear that Caesare et al were Alexander’s nephews and nieces, who he took in in accord with custom when their father died.  Along with the Borgias, the reader gets a nice summary of the political action in 15th C Italy among its great families, the Pope and the Papal States, the then great kingdom of Naples, Ferdinand and Isabella and King Louis XII of France, who wanted to add Naples to his holdings as a jumping off place to reconquer Palestine and become King of Jerusalem.  I think Meyer made his case that the Borgias were about as amoral as their peers.  Their main problem may have been that they were Spanish.  One final note, Lucretia, who was supposed to have been an accomplished poisoner along with her sexual  depravity, became the perfect duchess in Ferrara, beautiful, charming and much love and admired by all. She has many descendants among today's European royal families.  September 2015

Jeffrey Rogers.   The War of 1812© 2006  This seem to be an audio book only.  It is is a pretty good summary of this nearly forgotten and totally unnecessary war.   One thing mentioned that we tend to forget is that Jefferson, for all his other accomplishments, stripped the Federal Government of most of its functions.  This left Madison having to start from scratch to try to mount a defense.  At some point Jefferson did propose universal military training, but he was thinking of Greek citizen soldiers rather than a unified and permanent military establishment.  September 2015

Harlow Giles Unger.  John Quincy Adams. © 2012  John Quincy Adams had so many accomplishments that it would take pages to just list them.  Read this book and you will get a new take on just about everything that happened in American history from the Revolution to the 1830s.  Adams seems to have had a hand in everything, representing us abroad, negotiating treaties, acquiring Florida, the Monroe Doctrine.  He was an elitist, in that he thought voters and their government servants should be intelligent and educated, but he was a serious advocate for the rights of everyone and one of the earliest outspoken opponents of slavery.   As far as elitism goes, maybe he had a point.  How is it that so many blue collar people are strong supporters of the party of trickle down economics?  September 2015

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