Three Book Recommendations (47 cents)

I have three books to recommend. Full disclosure: I have only read so far one of them, but I have recently heard the authors of the other two books speak about their books, and feel comfortable making these recommendations based on what they said, and how they said it.

1. Tom Gjelten’s “Bacardi and the Long fight for Cuba”, published in 2008. The Bacardi family founded their rum distillery in the mid-1800s. Shortly after Fidel Castro became the head of the Cuban government, the company was nationalized and the family went into exile. In between, the Cubans fought the Spanish colonialists, objected to American dominance after the Spanish-American War, and suffered through one fragile, incompetent and undemocratic government after another. Throughout all of these troubles, the Bacardi company prospered (overcoming obstacle after obstacle) and the members of the Bacardi family were active in Cuban politics and political movements (including underground movements), generally taking progressive, good government positions, almost always ending in frustration. Over the course of time, the company also internationalized, with facilities built in Puerto Rico, Mexico and elsewhere, putting them on a sound footing after the seizure of the Cuban facilities by Castro’s socialist/communist government, and positioning themselves to take a role in various exile movements from abroad. So, Gjelten’s book focuses on three subjects: the history of Cuba, the history of the Bacardi business enterprises, and the actions of members of the Bacardi family. These are each fascinating topics, and obviously are closely related. Gjelten’s book tells the story well – it is a smooth read, extremely clearly written without embellishment. It draws you right along.

2. “Spies Against Armageddon” by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, and just published this week. Years ago, I read through “Every Spy a Prince”, the 1991 book by these two authors on the Israeli intelligence community. Fascinating stuff, and when I saw that Raviv was going to speak at the Spy Museum about a new, updated book, I knew I wanted to hear what he had to say. Raviv, an American born journalist, and Melman, an Israeli, have written about Israeli intelligence for decades. Based on their research and many interviews, they have not only updated their earlier book, but apparently modified much of what they had concluded earlier based on their recent conversations for current and former officials. Israel has five different intelligence operations, according to Raviv: (1) Mossad, dealing with foreign espionage; (2) Shin Bet, the domestic branch; (3) Aman, the military intelligence branch and the largest such operation; (4) Lakam, dealing with scientific intelligence activities; and (5) aliyah bet, to work on clandestine immigration. The book promises to lay out much of these activities (obviously, there is more that the authors know, and even more that they don’t), including up to date activities, such as the joint development of Stuxnet, with the United States, and operations to assassinate Iranian scientists to help forestall the development of the A-bomb by Iran. Love them, or hate them, learning about Israeli intelligence is crucial, and this book (which has already led to a large amount of controversy in its first week of publication) promises to help its readers gain this knowledge.

3. Stanley Weintraub’s new book “Final Victory”. “Final Victory is another just published book, by prolific historical writer Stanley Weintraub, is the story of Franklin Roosevelt’s four presidential campaign, against Thomas Dewey in 1944. I heard Weintraub talk about the book earlier this week. Weintraub is always interesting to listen to (I had heard him speak before) because he seems so much in command of not only his subject, but subjects that abut his particular topic, giving him the ability to give interesting answers to the many questions he is asked. He made a number of interesting points. First, although Roosevelt was quite ill in 1944, he had not been informed as to how ill he really was. His personal doctor appeared to have kept from him, and from other medical professionals, the extent of his congestive heart failure, although Roosevelt knew that he was ill, and in fact had a number of medical situations during the campaign that he chose to ignore. Second, one of the reasons that Democrats nominated Roosevelt for a fourth term is that he had so dominated Democratic politics that there was no alternative candidate available. Third, that by maintaining (for the time) an extensive speaking and travel schedule during the campaign, and by traveling to Yalta in February 1945, he may have accelerated his death which occurred in April, just 83 days after his election.

I recommend each of these books, and look forward to reading the two I have yet to read.

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