MORE BOOKS WORTH A LOOK....
David McCullough taught me what written history ought to "sound" like. I was fortunate to sit with him for about an hour in Marietta, Ohio in 2017, among a small group of about twenty others amidst the artifacts of the Pioneers of the Ohio Valley at the Campus Martius Museum, to talk about the writing of history, and of the fascinating people of our past. Mr. McCullough said that his wife, Rosalee, first reads aloud to him nearly every word he has ever written so that he can listen to the rhythm of the writing. It works. His telling of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge is captivating. It's difficult to pick an appropriate place in the text to stop reading for the night. The achievement of building the Brooklyn Bridge, indeed of even daring to propose the idea in a place and manner that until then no one thought possible, is simply stunning. The telling of the story is equal to the achievement. Get yourself a cup of hot Earl Grey, flip open The Great Bridge, and enjoy every word.
WHEN AMERICA formally launched herself into the Space Race against the Soviets with the formation of the Space Task Group in 1958, America began to put together plans to build a rocket, strap a man into the top of it, and launch him into the vacuum of outer space. At the time, however, no one had any idea how to do that. Indeed, no one had any idea how such a man, IF he survived the launch, would be brought safely back to earth, or even if bringing him back at all was even possible! What should he be called? How will we "launch" a rocket? Should there be a button, or a switch, or a fuse to ignite the machine? Should there be a "count" before launch, and if so, should it go "up" or "down"? What should the Control Room look like, and who ought to be in it? Chris Kraft was the one man most instrumental in deciding everything we now accept as "standard operating procedure" for launching men into space. There was nothing on Earth more adventurous, more romantic, more thrilling than the Manned Space Program in the 1950s and 60s; Chris Kraft led America through every second of it. The book pictured here is my own autographed copy, signed during a meeting with Mr. Kraft in Melbourne, Florida in 2001. Simply, an incredible story, by an incredible man.
NEW YORK TIMES reporter Neil Sheehan, who passed away on January 7, 2021, at the age of 84, in many ways sounded the death knell of the Vietnam War when he published the Pentagon Papers in 1971, a mammoth secret study commissioned by the U.S. Government in 1967 that chronicled America's involvement in Southeast Asia since the Eisenhower Presidency. The following year, in 1972, Sheehan began work on 'A Bright Shining Lie'; he would complete it sixteen years later. Published in 1988, it is undoubtedly the best single book you'll find on America's war in Vietnam. It is not the story that Americans were told about Vietnam during the war years, nor is it the story of what the American Government at the time thought was happening. Rather, it is a blistering, fascinating telling of what America was actually doing in Vietnam, told through the experiences of American Advisor John Paul Vann, a flawed and brilliant believer in the "winning the hearts and minds" philosophy that drew the country ever deeper into the quagmire of Vietnam. Two readings later, and I still catch myself thinking often of a third.
IF THERE IS a lesson to be drawn from the year 2020, it is perhaps that the answers we seek on the Constitutional perplexities of modern America are likely not to be found in court deliberations of the coming months and years. Rather, the answers are more likely 233 years behind us, reverberating still inside the quaint little meeting room of the State House on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. Who were these men who first walked into that stifling space in the summer of May 1787, to begin crafting a system of government unlike anything ever put down on paper before? What did they say to each other? What did their letters home during that long summer debate convey to friends and family? What difficult compromises were struck beneath the shade of the old-growth trees that today ring Independence Hall, and what were the intentions of the men whose handshakes forged a nation? This book, a well-thumbed 1987 reprint of a work originally published in 1966 is, I believe, the finest single-volume telling of the Grand Convention that produced the American Constitution. Now, especially now, it's essential reading for every American who calls themselves "Patriots".