What I’m Reading

Books I think you’ll enjoy (besides mine)…


To Hell and BackTo Hell and Back: The Classic Memoir of World War II by America’s Most Decorated Soldier, by Audie Murphy — I knew of Audie Murphy, of course, one of the most iconic infantry soldiers in all of American history, not just in the Second World War. He received more than 20 medals, including the Congressional Medal of Honor during WWII. What I did NOT know is that Murphy is an outstanding writer. His memoir was first published in 1949, and the copyright was re-issued in 1977, but I simply had never read it before. Murphy gives us an up-close and very personal view of combat and brotherhood — his close relationship with his buddies, the randomness of those who live and those who die, the fear, the savagery of the fighting, the cold weather, the hunger, the hardship of sleeping in the elements. All of it. From Sicily to the Italian mainland to France to Germany, Murphy tells it all in this riveting memoir. And think of this: on Victory in Europe Day (V-E Day), May 8, 1945, Murphy still had not reached the age of 21. Read this as soon as you can.


A Worse Place Than Hell

A Worse Place Than Hell: How the Civil War Battle of Fredericksburg Changed a Nation, by John MattesonAs I mentioned earlier, Fredericksburg is one of the battlefieldsKate and I visited in March. My advice to you: visit the battlefield and then read this book. But if you can’t visit, read the book anyway! Matteson uses Fredericksburg as the lens through which to view five people who change dramatically, which leads to profound changes in the country’s law, literature, politics, and popular mythology. The five are Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Walt Whitman, Louisa May Alcott, chaplain Arthur Fuller, and Confederate artillery expert John Pelham. All five were part of the Fredericksburg experience, and the story Matteson weaves is as compelling as anything I’ve read in a long time. This is NOT a ‘battle and tactics” book (although Matteson gives us enough to set the scene), but rather, a broad look at how these critical three months tested the five individuals whose lives reflect the soul of a nation.



Munich: The Edge of War, by Robert Harris — I love the way Robert Harris writes, and in this book (the first of my fiction recommendations), he outdoes himself. This novel takes us back to the famous Munich conference of 1938 when gullible British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain visits Munich to meet with German Chancellor Adolf Hitler in a desperate attempt to avoid a major war. This would forever be known in history as the “appeasement conference” in which Chamberlain returns and assures his countrymen that Hitler has no intention of full-scale war. Harris tells the story through the eyes of two main characters: an aide for Chamberlain and an aide for Hitler. I won’t say anymore, except to say Harris’s research is excellent, and the story he has woven is better still. A great summer read!


The Murder of Willie Lincoln, by Burt SolomonPresident Murder of Willie LincolnAbraham Lincoln is crushed when his 11-year-old son, Willie, dies in the White House of typhoid fever in early 1862. That statement is historically accurate. But what if Willie was murdered? That’s the premise offered by Burt Solomon, whose novel (my second fiction choice) will keep you up late reading. Lincoln asks one of his secretaries, John Hay, to conduct the investigation of his son’s death. Hay’s main character is compelling. The story takes a number of twists and turns, all within a very accurate historical setting. And I didn’t see the ending coming! (That’s all I can say!)



Taking Paris: The Epic Battle for the City of Lights, by Martin Dugard —Fast-moving and well-written, this book takes you from the German invasion of France in May 1940, through the Nazi occupation, to the liberation of the city in the summer of 1944. All the big players are part of this saga: Churchill, FDR, Patton, DeGaulle, Eisenhower, Rommel, and brave members of the French resistance who worked to sabotage the Germans at every turn and helped the D-Day invasion be a success. It’s a great story and well told!



The Most Noble Adventure: The Marshall Plan and the Time When America Helped Save Europe, by Greg Behrrman — I’ve had this book on my shelf for years (it was published in 2007), but didn’t get to it until a few weeks ago. I’m glad I did. Most of us know of the Marshall Plan at some level, but I certainly didn’t know its full story until I finished this book — how it came to be, the politics involved, the amazing American administrative and financial commitment, the European response, the players who made it successful. It’s an incredible story of one of the most effective foreign policy efforts in all of American history — the economic rebuilding of a decimated Europe after World War II — as Behrman says, a policy defined by “the very best of ideals.” 


Why Sinatra Matters, by Pete Hamill — And speaking of books that were written years ago, this gem was published in 1998. I read it shortly after its release, and then decided to read it again now. It is short, but powerful. It places the entire Sinatra experience into the context of music and American history, and Hamill tells the story beautifully (he’s a great writer). He explains that there are many facets to Frank Sinatra, some admirable, some not so much, but in the end, all that really matters is the man’s music — beautiful, energetic, mournful, and enduring. With his voice and his songs, Sinatra spoke to a generation — and then another and another — and is still speaking today. Make time in your schedule to read this book.


Scholars of Mayhem: My Father’s Secret War in Nazi-Occupied France, by Daniel C. Guiet with Timothy K. Smith — This book is a nice companion to Taking Paris. It tells the astonishing story of the author’s father, the lone American on a four-person team of allied secret agents dropped into Nazi-occupied France. They were a unit of Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE), the secret service ordered by Churchill to “set Europe ablaze.” Parachuted into France the day after D-Day, Guiet and his team organized, armed, and commanded an underground army of 10,000 French resistance fighters who wreaked havoc on the Germans and helped the Allied invasion to take hold and advance. The personal story — how Daniel Guiet brought this family secret to life — really gives this book its heart.



Madhouse at the End of the Earth: The Belgica’s Journey into the Dark Antarctic Night by Julian Sancton — This is the harrowing and thrilling true story of the Belgica voyage, a three-year expedition to Antarctica led by Belgian commandant Adrien de Gerlache. During the devastating winter, the Belgica becomes trapped in ice, and when the sun sets on the polar landscape one last time, the crew is condemned to months of endless night. What happens next is up to you to read!



All the Frequent Troubles

All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler, by Rebecca Donner — Man, did I love this book! It’s the story of the extraordinary life (and brutal death) of Mildred Harnack, the American leader of one of the largest underground resistance groups in Germany during Hitler’s regime. It’s part biography-part riveting history, written by Harnack’s great-great niece. We hear lots of those within Germany who collaborated with Hitler — now read about the only American in the leadership of a very active German resistance. I did not know about this story; so glad I read this book.


12 seconds of silence12 Seconds of Silence: How a Team of Inventors, Tinkerers, and Spies Took Down a Nazi Superweapon by Jamie Holmes — This book is about a ragtag group of American scientists who overcome one of the toughest problems of WWII: how to effectively shoot enemy airplanes out of the sky. Working in a secretive organization known as Section T, this group creates one of the world’s first “smart weapons” — developed in response to the devastating German V-1 rocket attacks on England — that would eventually save countless lives and help bring about the Axis defeat. Enjoy this story which will also explain to you how the book gets its title.



Churchill's secret messenger (novel)

Churchill’s Secret Messenger by Alan Hlad — This is my one fiction recommendation, which is based on historical fact. It’s the story of Rose Teasdale, who is recruited by Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE), a secret organization that conducts espionage in Nazi-occupied Europe. Rose — whose fluency in French captured the attention of Winston Churchill — parachutes into occupied France to aid the French resistance. Great read — moves fast and the history of the contribution by British women to the French resistance movement is accurate.