Blog posts have become few and far between, but from time-to-time I find it important to share thoughts, revelations, or – in this case – a few good books to share and recommend. Recently, I have taken to grabbing short novels or non-fiction accounts. These are quick reads, coming off Best Seller lists, National Book Award nominees, or other noteworthy sources.
Allow me to share a few …
- The Greatest Beer Run Ever (Wm Morrow) by John “Chick” Donohue & J.T. Malloy
Frankly, I wasn’t impressed with the first few chapters of the book. Very little character development, a truly far-fetched plan, the possibility that Mr. Donohue had suffered a few too many blows to the head, and a rather sketchy way of describing the early parts of his adventure. This made it a tad unbelievable that a motion picture was in the works for the story; but at least – I figured – it would likely be one of the few movies that would be better than the book.
Chick Donohue, a born and bred New Yorker from Inwood, just north of Rockaway across the bay from JFK Airport. He was a former U.S. Marine, who served in Japan, and working as a Merchant Marine seaman when he accepted a barroom challenge to locate neighborhood servicemen and bring them all a beer (or two) to thank them for their service. The catch was all these young men were actively serving in Vietnam in those early years of that war.
We follow Chick on his adventure after landing a job on a the Drake Victory, a reborn World War II Victory ship, now running supplies down the Atlantic coast, through the Panama Canal, and across the Pacific to Vietnam. He dutifully lies to his commercial captain when they land, and begins to trek through the war landscape to find those on his list of Inwood fighting men.
All well and good, if a bit dull.
Then we find out Chick misses his ship’s sailing; gets waylaid by visa and passport issues, and ends up in Saigon as the 1968 Tet offensive, where North Vietnam changed everything Americans thought about what would become an extremely costly war! This is clearly the most interesting part of Donohue’s story as he witnesses first-hand the battles around the U.S. Embassy and President Thieu‘s Presidential Palace. This not only vastly improved my opinion of the book, but also my interest in and potential of the movie (Released in 2015).
I think I will dig it up and watch.
2. The Army of the Potomac Trilogy (Anchor Books) by Bruce Catton
OK … Admittedly, this is a repeat read. Not something I do routinely, unless the story is especially intriguing, well written, and interesting in perspective. But this collective work is well worth the repeat!
I read this trilogy roughly 15 years ago, when I immersed myself in Civil War history for roughly 18 months. This was long before I even tackled Shelby Foote’s mammoth The Civil War trilogy. If you have read Foote’s work, you recognize the need to treat such a treastise from the 10,000 foot elevation, where strategy, politics, and geography can be aptly addressed and incorporated.
The Army of the Potomac Trilogy covers the Civil War’s primary theatre (Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania) from an entirely different perspective. Limited to the struggle in the East, the storyline focuses on the detailed life of the soldiers, front-line officers, and generals of the Army of the Potomac. Reading it, it is very difficult to ignore the lives of those who directly fought that war and the exasperating proficiency of a Rebel army led eventually by the brilliant Robert E. Lee.
Volume 1 … Mr. Lincoln’s Army Beginning with the scramble to protect and defend the nation’s capital, the book’s primary tale is with the methods used to build, train, and elevate an army made largely of unprofessional soldiers, volunteering from all parts of the United States still loyal to or split in their loyalties to either side. Much is focused on the caustic relationship between Union General George C. McClellan and President Abraham Lincoln, as they tussle over the use of the army and the political pressures of a conflict threatening the entirety of the United States. Battles covered range from the first Union disaster at First Bull Run to the single largest casualty event, the Battle of Antietam Creek (Sharpesville) and the issuance of The Emancipation Proclamation.
Volume 2 … Glory Road Following Antietam and his refusal to pursue his damaged foe, McClellan is cashiered and a host of generals line up to take their turn leading Mr. Lincoln’s Army. Disasters ensue at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and the Wilderness. But the Army of the Potomac rebounds to its greatest victory, as it turns back Lee’s attempt to invade the North at Gettysburg.
Volume 3 … A Stillness at Appomattox In his desire to ground the Confederacy and its armies down to the nub, Lincoln turns to General Ulysses S. Grant, after successful campaigns in the western theatre. Grant proves to be a merciless and ceaseless fighter. Just what Lincoln wanted and needed to pursue, corral and diminish Lee’s army and the Confederacy’s hopes for an eventual military stalemate and coexistence with the Union. The final chapters shed light on the post-war preparations and discussions between Lincoln and Grant. The final scenes leading up to the surrender at Appomattox are mesmerizing.
If you are a student of the Civil War or just an avid reader of U.S. history, do not miss this trilogy.
3. The Stranger in the Lifeboat (Harper) by Mitch Albom
A disaster at sea on a stormy night off the coast of West Africa involving icons of government, industry, the arts, science, and finance. All but a handful are lost, the rest huddled in a single life raft. The survivors come across a man – still alive and floating in the ocean. They assume he was part of the super yacht’s crew, but no one remembers him.
When they ask him who he is, he responds with a stunning claim. He is The Lord!
What would your reaction be? How easy – or difficult – would it be for you to accept such a claim in your most desperate hours? Would he be greeted with warmth and relief, or cynicism and derision?
The story is a page-turner, moving back and forth between the Sea and those soles on a leaky, miserable raft floating across the North Atlantic and away from help off the coast of Africa, and Land where a police inspector investigates the finding of the raft and the contents of a notebook diary kept by one of the adrift survivors. It’s a compelling story with several somewhat predictable twists at the end.
But the real story involves the identity of the bizarre stranger, his claims, and the survivors struggle to survive. Without revealing too much in the way of spoilers, the key to the story and the purpose of the stranger’s appearance are revealed in an eye-opening and joyful conclusion.
Does anyone survive? What happens to the man who claims divinity? What was his ultimate purpose in appearance at such a desperate time, and his refusal to end the plight of those who survived the ship’s explosion?
I was enthralled. I was entertained. And I was enlightened!