Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Stripe-Panted Cookie Pushers

At the west end of the diplomatic lobby of the Department of State, is a plaque that states: "in honor of diplomatic and consular officers of the United States who while on active duty lost their lives under heroic or tragic circumstances."  The first name is William Palfrey, commissioned by the Continental Congress as Consul General to France, who set sail in 1780 and was never heard from again.  The plaque continues with only the simplest of explanations noting the cause of death as yellow fever, shot by sniper, volcano, or exposure.   

Diplomats may be a misunderstood group but this list includes stories of some greats who did their best to connect the world.

1.  A Diplomat Among Warriors: The Unique World of a Foreign Service Expert, Charles Murphy (1964).  Murphy had one of the most fascinating careers of any diplomat.  He served as the Deputy Chief of Mission to our Embassy in Paris during the German occupation and later moved to North Africa where he  planned the Allied landing in French North Africa. Subsequently, he became a senior political advisor to General Dwight D. Eisenhower for the remainder of the war.  After the war he served in occupied Germany, and then in 1949 became ambassador to Belgium. In 1952 he was appointed the first U.S. ambassador to post-Occupation Japan.  Bought used.

2.  Inside an Embassy: The Political Role of Diplomats Abroad (1992).  As slim volume that collects first hand studies of how a country team at an Embassy works.  Bought used State Department. 

3.  The Diplomats, Martin Mayer (1983).  Mayer wrote a series of books about bakers,  lawyers and diplomats.  Bought used.

4.  Fires in the In-Box, John Leacacos (1968).   The ABC's how of the State Department works.  Somewhat dated but still applicable.  Bought used State Department book sale. 

5.  The Ambassadors: From Ancient Greece to Renaissance Europe, the Men Who Introduced the World to Itself, Jonathan Wright (2006).  The earliest ambassadors had to be intrepid travelers, politicians and salesman.  Bought new.    

The Ambassadors: From Ancient Greece to Renaissance Europe, the Men Who Introduced the World to Itself
Sketches from a Life

6.  Sketches from a Life, George Kennan (1989).  The father of Containment, he witnessed Communism and Nazism first hand.    Bought used.  

7.  The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World they Made, Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas (1986).  The story of the men that helped shape American foreign policy during WWII and after.  Gift.  

The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made

8.  The Arabists: The Romance of an American Elite, Robert Kaplan (1993).  A series of profiles of dozens of American diplomats who worked in the Arab world over the past 200 years and opened up the Middle East.  Bought new.

Arabists: The Romance of an American Elite

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A River Runs Through It

This list is a surprise because it is unintentionally the longest.  I didn't intend to collect river books but I think rivers serve a special place for explorers, travelers and story tellers.  There's a defined purpose to start at the mouth of the river and move upstream to its source.    Rivers have served as the source of religion, mythology, cradles of civilization, and cultural inspiration.  For the Greeks, there was the River Styx, which divided the underworld from the world of the living.  Mark Twain used the flow of the Mississippi to tell the story of America in Huckleberry Finn.  Lewis and Clark followed rivers during much of the Voyage of Discovery.  Joseph Conrad used the river of the Congo for the path of Marlow to find Kurtz in Heart of Darkness.   

Books about rivers have proved captivating for readers and publishers.  In making the list, I discovered at least two different series that had been published on rivers--the Great Rivers of America and the Great Rivers of the World.  I also discovered there a few I  haven't read (those are the ones without comment).

Also a pleasant surprise that most of my all time favorite writers have "river books." 

1.  The Hudson, Tom Lewis (2005).   Mile for mile, the Hudson may have more American history embedded in it than any other river.  Some have argued it has characteristics of a Fjord.    Bought from the author at a book event gathering of 50 authors.   

 The Hudson: A History
2.   River Horse, William Least Heat Moon (1999).   WLHM set out to cross he United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific following only rivers and other waterways (only one point at the Continental Divide requires a fording of about 30 miles).  He succeeds in telling as fascinating a story as he did in Blue Highways.  Bought new. 

River-Horse: The Logbook of a Boat Across America 

3.   Slowly Down the Ganges, Eric Newby (1966).  I almost hate to include my all time favorite travel writer here (he will get his own list later) but the 1,200-mile journey down the river, which he took in 1963 with his wife and changing cast of crew was motivated in part by Newby's lifelong and fascination of rivers: "I like exploring them. I like the way in which they grow deeper and wider and dirtier but always, however dirty they become, managing to retain some of the beauty with which they were born."  Bought used.

Slowly Down the Ganges. by Eric Newby 

4.  The Mekong, Milton Osborne (2000).   Bought used. 

5.  Mississippi Solo: A River Quest, Eddy Harris (1988).  Bought used.

6.  Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain (1876).    Part of a complete set of Mark Twain I bought because I thought I "needed it."

7.  Running the Amazon, Joe Kane (1989).  Bought used. 

Running the Amazon 

7.  In Trouble Again: A Journey Between the Orinoco and the Amazon, Redmond O'Hanlon (1988).   Part of the Atlantic Traveler Series.  Bought used.

8.  Explorers of the Amazon: Four Centuries Along the World’s Greatest River, Anthony Smith (1990).   Bought used. 

9.  Land Gone Lonesome: Inland Voyage Along the Yukon River, Dan O'Neill (2006).   Bought used. 

A Land Gone Lonesome: An Inland Voyage Along the Yukon River 

10.  The Last River: The Tragic Race for Shangri-la, Todd Balf (2000).  In 1998, a group of American explorers and kayakers set out to trace what may be the the world's last major unexplored river, the Tsangpo.  It snakes out of the Himalayas between giant mountains peaks--some that are complete vertical drops of thousands of feet. Bought used.

The Last River: The Tragic Race for Shangri-la  

11.  Blue River, Black Sea: A Journey Along the Danube into the Heart of New Europe,   Andrew Eames (2009).   Bought used on Amazon.

12.  The Black Nile: One Man’s Amazing Journey Through Peace and War on the World’s Longest River, Dan Morrison (2010).   On wish list and received as a Christmas gift.

13.    The White Nile, Alan Moorehead (1960).  Describes European fascination with the world's longest river and the various expeditions to find its source.  Covers years 1856 to 1900.  Companion to the Blue Nile.  Bought used.  

14.  The Blue Nile, Alan Moorehead (1962).  Companion to the White Nile above but covers earlier period, 1798 to 1850.  Bought used. 

15.   The Columbia, Stewart Holbrook (1956)    Part of a series of books called the Rivers of America that included some 50 rivers.  This edition published in 1956 was marked as the “Lewis & Clark Edition”.   Bought used.

16.  A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia, Blaine Harden (1996).   Bought used Warrenton Library. 

17.  The Seine, Anthony Glyn (1966).  Part of the Great Rivers of the World Series.   Bought used Warrenton Library

18.  Down the Yangtze, Paul Theroux (1995).  Taken in 1980 when rural China was still in the shadow of Mao.  More of a booklet, that a book, this was part of the Penguin 60s series, published to mark Penguin publishing's 60th anniversary.   Another favorite, Theroux has written over a dozen travel book and I hope to give him his own list later.  Bought used for 50 cents. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Traveling the Fault Lines of Civilizations

The borders between east and west seems like tectonic plates.  Immense forces of culture, religion, language collide sometimes resulting in earthquakes that alter civilization at the margins.  Sometimes the collision requires us to remake our political maps .  

Perhaps it was probably more imagined that real but the experience of taking a ferry crossing Bosphorus leaving the European side of Istanbul to the Asian side, seemed like leaving one world and entering another.  

Four books on what happens at the faults lines.  

1.  Bloodlands: Between Hitler and Stalin, Timothy Snyder (2010).  A compelling read on the the frightening use of power by the 20th Century's two most ruthless dictators.  The people of Ukraine, Poland and other eastern Europe territories were first starved to death in the millions by Stalin's enforcement of collective farming.  When Hitler invaded these territories, he deported, starved and murdered the population in the millions to make room for German living space. The whole scale slaughter continued when the Soviets reoccupy the territory.  By the end, it is numbing to try to comprehend the succession of atrocities that total some of 14 million people murdered.    Compelling to the point that I could not set it down.  My father-in-law's family immigrated from Ukraine in the early 20th Century (I could only think how fortunate a decision his parents made to leave when then did).  Kindle edition.  

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin

2.  Between East and West, Anne Applebaum (1994).   Shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union and the east European countries, Applebaum traveled through Poland, the Baltics, Belarus, Ukraine and what she called "island cities."   Applebaum also wrote a book on Soviet gulag system.  Bought used.  

3.  Borderlands: Nation and Empire, Scott Malcomson (1994).  Malcomson's borderlands are Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, and Uzbekistan.  Still in the "To Read" pile.  Bought used.

4.  Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus, Robert Kaplan (2000).  Kaplan ends his journey in the Central Asian "stans."  I was excited by the arrival of this book when it came out since Kaplan ends his trip in Turkmenistan where we were living at the time.  I was able to buy new and have shipped to Ashgabat.  He described the new border lands along the southern edge of the former Soviet Union as "an explosive region that draws the Great Powers."   The Great Game continued.  Bought new. 

Eastward to Tartary Publisher: Vintage

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Make Something of Yourself

Updated from a March 2011 post. 
Have you ever wanted to make something?  To contribute a useful object to the existing stock of reality?  My grandfather was a builder of bookcases, cabinets, tinkered with engines and machinery. I inherited his wooden workbench complete with a vice, and cubby holes. And with it was a collection of vintage tools.  The picture above are three of his measuring tools: a Starrett and a 4" precision ruler with a Stanley boxwood and brass folding ruler in the middle.

Building a treehouse for my daughter was among the most satisfying things I've ever done. Find a site, draw the design, and buy the materials. Every day I was building it, I went to sleep thinking about the next task: hammering nails, shingling a roof, and painting the siding. The treehouse still stands unlike a lot of things where I've expended effort only to end with something abstract or amorphous.  

This is a short list of authors who express the satisfaction of making something from start to finish: one house, one ship, and one motorcycle.  Updated with a another house and a coffin.


1.  A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder, Michael Pollan (1997).  I admire this book for the careful details described in the writing but also for what the author accomplishes--a snug "dream hut" in the woods. Bought as a remainder.    


2.  Spartina, John Casey (1989).   John Casey's novel about a Rhode Island fisherman struggling to build a fishing boat in his back yard.  It goes against my bias to include only non-fiction on my lists.   The thing about boats is that when you're on them, they are your self contained world.  If it's a boat you made, it's your self-made world.  Bought new read for a book club selection.


3.  Rebuilding the Indian: A Memoir, Fred Haefele (1998).  The author couldn't get his book published and as a diversion bought a box of parts to a 1941 Indian Chief Motorcycle. Haefele is an arborist by profession who describes his experience-- and anyone else who has ever tinkered or built something--as "the spirit of the backyard Daedalus."  Bought as a remainder.


Another exception to my list are two books I don't yet own but are on my wish list of "Want to Read" books by David Giffels...


4. All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-Down House, David Giffels (2008).  Described as a funny, poignant, and confounding journey as he and his wife and a colorful collection of helpers turn a money pit into a house that will complete their family.



5. Furnishing Eternity: A Father, a Son, a Coffin, and a Measure of Life, David Giffels (2018).  A book that combines the larger questions of life, heirloom tools, and carpentry.  As of this post, I've ordered.  

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Learning to Walk

Walking is man's best medicine. 
Walking is the the best way to see things. It may be be the best and oldest form of exercise and therapy. The philosopher Nietzsche said it is the best way to think and that it helps problem solving.If I'm ever in a city with several hours of free time, I'll want to walk it. I bought a bunch of my "walking" books from the Warrenton, Virginia Public Library, within 30 miles of the Appalachian Trail.    
[Apologies for the some of the spacing--formatting gremlins got the better of me.]

1.  A Walk Across America, Peter Jenkins (1979). 
A best-seller from the late 70s. Jenkins walks from Alfred, New York to New Orleans. He seems completely unprepared by our standards today. Fascinating because of the people he meets and you keep wondering if he's going to make it safe and sound. Bought used at Warrenton, Virginia Library.  
2.  The Walk West: A Walk Across America 2 (1981), Peter and Barbara Jenkins.  In New Orleans Jenkins marries continues his walk across America--with his bride Barbara. Lavishly illustrated with 48 pages of full-color and black-and-white photos. Bought used at Warrenton Library.

3. Along the Edge of America, Peter
Jenkins (1995)
. Jenkins continues to explore American walking the southern border from Key West to Brownsville, TX. Bought used at the Warrenton Public Library.
4. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, Bill Bryson (1999).
A humorous way to walk America’s great eastern trail. Bought used at Warrenton Public Library.


5. The Appalachian Trail, Ann and Myron Sutton (1967). The sensible way to walk America’s great eastern trail. Compare and contrast with Bryson. Bought used Warrenton Public Library.


6. Washington Schlepped Here: Walking in the Nation's Capital, Christopher Buckley (2003). Crown published a series of books on walking American and foreign landscapes. I bought this one to compare my impressions with Christopher Buckley’s. I meant to buy more but never got around to it. Bought new.

7. Where the Waters Divide: A Walk
Along America’s Continental Divide,
Karen Berger and Daniel Smith (1993).
The western counterpart to the AT walk
above. State Department used book sale.

8. The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, Philosophy and Literature of Pedestrianism, Geoff Nicholson (2008). Walking and the unusual. Bought used Warrenton Public Library.

9. On Foot: Guided Walks in England,
France and the United States, Adam
Nicolson (1990).
A beautiful walking guide
with glossy page
s, artful black and white
photos and maps. Bought used Warrenton
Public Library.

Monday, March 21, 2011

List #7: Witness to the End...

I recently became obsessed about the end of wars.  It started, not intentionally, with the book, Bloody Crimes about the last days of the Civil War.   I can't imagine what the country went through to heal and come together.  Lincoln was assassinated and Jefferson Davis was trying to evade capture to keep the Confederate cause alive, even after General Lee surrender.  It’s unlikely the country will ever endure such a period of turbulence again.  I began to wonder how people behave at the end of wars, at the end of causes.  Why do some fight to the end, even when it's hopeless.  What’s left for the living?  How do the victors conduct themselves and how do the defeated return to society?  In putting together this list, I found my interest goes all the way back to my junior high years when I was fascinated by WWII.  The book Hitler: The Last Ten Days was my earliest purchase.  The rest came in the last several years--mostly World War II.
1.  Aftermath: The Remnants of War: From Landmines to Chemical Warfare--The Devastating Effects of Modern Combat, Donovan Webster (1996).  Battlefields from WWI to Vietnam and nuclear test sites in the American west.  Bought new. 
2.  Aftermath: Travels in a Post-War World, Farley Mowat (1997).  Bought used, previously sold at a discount at the BYU bookstore dated April 20, 2001.  The one on the list I still have to read.  Farley Mowat will appear in other lists about sailing, the far north and memoirs of WWII.  
3.  After The War (Motta Photography Series) Werner Bischof (1995).    Bought new.  Poignant black and white photos of the Europe at the end of WWII.  Often lone figures making their way through apocalyptic landscapes. 
Werner Bischof After The War (Motta Photography Series) 
4.  The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape, Brian Ladd (1997).  Used bookstore purchase, BJ’s Books, Warrenton, VA.
5.  Battleground Berlin: Diaries, 1945-1948, Ruth Adreas Friedrich (1990).  Warrenton Library Used book sale.  Diary of a Berlin woman--one of several books I’ve started. 
6.  Back to the Front: An Accidental Historian Walks the Trenches of World War I, Stephen O’Shea (1996).  Bought new.  Learned that France has a full time Department that does nothing but collect unexploded ordinance from the countryside.  Finding a shell for a farmer is so common they pile them by fence posts for pick up. 
7.  Battlescapes: A Photographic Testament to 2000 years of Conflict, Alfred Bullensback (2009).   Beautiful coffee table book.
Battlescapes: A Photographic Testament to 2000 years of Conflict (General Military)

8.  Endgame, 1945: The Missing Final Chapter of WWII, David Stafford (2009).  Kindle edition.  Stories of soldiers, civilians and aid workers during the last ten days of the war.  Amazing stories of survival and human responses to the end of the a horrible ordeal.  Reading now. 
Endgame, 1945: The Missing Final Chapter of World War II 
9.  Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse, James Swanson (2010).  Bought new.  See above.  Started my current tear on this topic.  Parallel stories of Lincoln’s funeral train and the manhunt for Jefferson Davis make it one of the most fascinating chapters in American history. 
10.  Scenes from the End : The Last Days of WWII in Europe, Frank Manuel (2000).   Bought new.  More black and photos.  
11.  The Last 100 Days, John Toland (1965).  Purchased at a used book fair.  Germany fighting on two shrinking fronts--Soviets to the east, America, Great Britain and Allies to the West.   Compressed down to one final sliver.    
12.  Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of WWII, John Dower (1999).  Little known story about the occupation of Japan immediately following the end of the war.  Startling from the standpoint that American forces were preparing for an all out war on the main islands of Japan that was expected to be a fight to the death of every man, woman and child.  Bought used.  
13.  Hitler: The Last Ten Days: An Eyewitness Account, Gerhard Boldt (1974).  Read in the seventh grade.  A period of fascination with WWII.  
14.  Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45, Max Hatings (2007).  Same author as Armageddon.  Hastings brings history and the end of an epic struggle to life building in personal stories of the foot soldiers and sailors. 
Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45 (Vintage)  
15.  The Last Battle, Cornelius Ryan (1966).  A used book store find.  The Soviets had arrayed an immense army against a last stand of German fanatics, boys and old men.   
16.  Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945, Max Hastings (2010).   See Retribution.  Another Kindle read.  I marked it liberally.  A series of heroic or tragic acts--one after the next.  So many that I liberally marked numerous passages. 
Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-45 

17.  The Other Nuremberg, Arnold Brackman (1989).  Read as a library book (not in keeping with my bookshelf criteria) but mention here as the book deserves mention.  The Japanese war crimes trials, often overlooked.  Noticed that it seems to be scarce.  Going for $150 on Amazon.  

Sunday, March 20, 2011

List #6: Talking Turkey

How do you decide what to read?  In more than any other factor, travel has changed what I read.  I was ignorant of Byzantine and Ottoman periods of history and their time in history seemed irrelevant.  For Thanksgiving one year, my family stayed in Istanbul, in the old section hear the Blue Mosque.  The hotel room had walls that were four feet thick and bars on the windows, formerly a Turkish prison, and the setting for the book and movie, Midnight Express.   Hearing the call to prayer for the first time echo through the great city called out a history that dwarfed even England's.  After that, I started buying books on Turkey.  Also, I got to say I ate Turkey in Turkey on Thanksgiving. 

1.  A Byzantine Journey, John Ash (1995).  Purchased new.
2.  Turkish Reflections: A Biography of Place, Mary Lee Settle (1991).  State Department used book sale.
3.  Journey to Kars, Phillip Glazebrook (1984).  State Department Used Book Sale
4.  The Ottoman Centuries, Lord Kinross: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire, Lord Kinross (1977).  Used book store?
5.  The Sultans, Noel Barber (1973).  BJ's Used Books Warrenton, VA.

pastedGraphic.pdf6.  The Sons of the Conquerors: The Rise of the Turkic World, Hugh Pope (2005).  Bought new. 

See also List #3: Enemy at the Gate.