The Final Books of the Year 2010

I have not posted much this month – many reasons. But I have not been completely idle. This is the first of year-end postings – this one giving a brief description of the six books I have read this month. The second posting will describe the shows I have seen.

1. “April 1865: the Month That Saved America” by Jay Winik. The campaigns to end the Civil War, as seen from the North and the South. The fall of Richmond, the casualties of the last battles, the agony of the President Lincoln and the stubbornness of President Davis, the surrender of Lee to Grant, the decisions of the remaining Confederate generals, the assassination of Lincoln and the flight of John Wilkes Booth, and policies of Andrew Johnson. Highly recommended.

2. “From Ice Set Free: the Story of Otto Kiep” by Bruce Clement. This is a rarely read 40 year old book telling the story of the author’s father-in-law, a German with a conscience, yet caught up as a public official during the Nazi years, until he is arrested and executed. An interesting perspective of Hitler’s Germany, raising questions as to how Germans could have, or should have, acted. A Nazi era book that does not concentrate of the Jewish question.

3. “The Invisible Wall: Germans and Jews” by former Treasury Secretary Michael Blumenthal, a Berlin native who left with his family when he was twelve, and spent eight years as a refugee in Shanghai before he and his family were permitted to enter the United States. A fascinating book, which is really two books in one – the story of six German Jews, making their ways through life from the 18th to the 20th centuries – the court Jew, the baptized woman salon hostess, the famous musician/composer, the banker, the drama critic, and the businessman, all distant relatives of Blumenthal. The book is both a biography of these six individuals (and of Blumenthal himself) as well as a very well written and informative history of Germany itself. Highly recommended.

4. “Recollections of My Life as a Woman” by Diane di Prima. An interesting memoir of the first part of the life of New York born and educated beat poet, giving a sometimes too intimate portrait of New York literary society of the 1950s. Di Prima has lived in San Francisco for decades – perhaps there is a second volume in the offing.

5. “Operation Solomon” by Stephen Spector. The second evacuation of the Ethiopian Jews. Tells a fascinating story, but also raises questions about what was done, and what should have been done. The Jews were not well off in northern Ethiopia, but again no one else was either. When they were encouraged to leave their homes and come to Addis Ababa, where they lived in camps set up as temporary shelters, their position became desperate. Then, rescue became a necessity.

6. “Bombshell” by Joseph Albright and Marcia Kunstel. The true story of Ted Hall, scientific prodigy hired to work in Los Alamos on the development of the bomb, and who became a Soviet spy, along with Klaus Fuchs and the Rosenbergs, and was perhaps more helpful to the Soviets than any of the other better known agents. Fascinating. Highly, highly recommended.

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