What I’m Reading

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



Empire of Ice and Stone: The Disastrous and Heroic Voyage of theKarluk, by Buddy Levy — If you’re in the mood for an Arctic adventure, a true story that demonstrates the full breadth of human endurance, courage, and heroic leadership, then make this book your nonfiction choice for the summer! In the summer of 1913, the Karluk departed Canada for the Arctic Ocean. Just six weeks later, the ship is trapped, encased in giant ice floes as the freezing darkness of the polar night closes in. What happens next — including the bravery demonstrated by the ship’s captain — is the stuff of legend. I won’t give too much away — best if you just read this book! 



The ConfidanteThe Confidante: The Untold Story of the Woman Who Helped Win WWII and Shape Modern America, by Christopher Gorham If you haven’t heard of Anna Rosenberg (and NO, she is not to be confused with convicted spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg), then you are not alone. Until now, her powerful story hasn’t been told. She served as FDR’s special envoy to Europe in WWII, was instrumental in crafting policies that helped America win the war and prosper afterwards, and served as a high level diplomat and confidante in the Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy administrations. Chris Gorham tells a wonderful story and finally gives Anna her due! In the interest of full disclosure, I was proud to have reviewed Chris Gorham’s early proposal, and offer a blurb for this book (and thankful to Chris for his nice acknowledgment).


December '41 Cover

December ’41, by William Martin – This is my historical fiction pick for this issue! It’s shortly after Pearl Harbor, and a German agent is planning to kill U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the night he lights the National Christmas tree in Washington D.C. The clock is ticking, the thrills and twists are fantastic, and…well, it’s fiction — so I can’t give too much else away. Bill Martin is at his best in this book — his research is impeccable and his narrative is relentless. Read this if you (or anyone you know) enjoys World War II and/or a great spy thriller.



Ever to ExcelEver to Excel: A History of Boston College, by James M. O’Toole — Time was, if you lived in the Boston area, you either attended Boston College or knew someone who had. Now, that same maxim can be used anywhere in the country — and huge parts of the world. BC has transformed itself from a small commuter school for Irish immigrants, established in the 1860s, to an international powerhouse regarded as one of the best universities anywhere. Jim O’Toole, University Historian at BC and the Clough Millennium Professor of History Emeritus, has written THE history of Boston College that anyone will enjoy. The best way to order this book for you or your “Eagle” of choice is to visit this website. And another full disclosure from me: in addition to being an amazing scholar and a fine writer, Jim is a good friend, and many years ago was one of the reviewers of my UMass- Boston master’s thesis (see item above).


The forgotten 500The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II, by Gregory Freeman – This is one of those incredible World War II stories that just never seem to stop, and one about which I knew very little. During bombing campaigns over Romanian oil fields that supplied the Germans, hundreds of American airmen were shot down in Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia. Local Serbian farmers and peasants risked their lives to offer refuge to U.S. soldiers while they waited for rescue — and in 1944, Operation Halyard was born. The starving Americans in Yugoslavia had to construct a landing strip large enough for C-47 cargo planes — without tools, without alerting the Germans, and without endangering the villagers. I won’t say too much more, except that this story was suppressed for more than 50 years for political reasons. Hope that’s enough of a tease to read this book! 


The Watchmaker's DaughterThe Watchmaker’s Daughter: The True Story of World War II Heroine Corrie Ten Boom by Larry Loftis – Staying in WWII, the remarkable story of Corrie Ten Boom, whose heroic efforts saved the lives of hundreds of Jews in occupied Holland, MUST be added to your reading list! Corrie and her family, devout Christians, joined the Dutch resistance and built a secret room in their house to hide Jews and resistance members. She and her sister are finally arrested by the Gestapo and sent to the notorious Ravensbruck concentration camp. But it doesn’t break the courageous Corrie. Miraculously, she survives, and begins a new journey embracing forgiveness and faith. This is another story that will have you wondering: “Could I have acted with the same courage and conviction as Corrie did?”


Checkmate in BerlinCheckmate in Berlin: The Cold War Showdown that Shaped the Modern World by Giles Milton – I didn’t know quite what to expect when I picked up this book — and then I found I couldn’t put it down! The story is about the race to seize Berlin in the aftermath of World War II, and — after the Russians do so — how the German capital is partitioned off among the Allies, and the tensions that follow. The narrative runs through the remarkable Berlin Airlift conducted by the United States and the British in 1948, during which they fed millions of Berliners who were cut off from supplies by Russian troops who encircled the city. This book essentially recounts the first battle of the Cold War between 1945-1949– amazing drama, high tension, and huge stakes — with a profound impact on the modern world. You won’t be disappointed.


The Pale Blue EyeThe Pale Blue Eye (historical fiction special) by Louis BayardIt’s 1830 and a cadet is killed at the relatively new West Point Academy. Former New York City police detective Augustus Lander is called in to discreetly investigate. Any scandal could do irreparable damage to the fledgling institution, so he must tread lightly. He finds help from an unexpected ally — a moody young cadet – a poet named Edgar Allen Poe. That’s all I’ll say. Great historical mystery for you to enjoy this Fall!



WrenCode Name Blue Wren: The True Story of America’s Most Dangerous Female Spy— and the Sister She Betrayed, by Jim Popkin — This book reads like a spy thriller — but every word is true! It’s the story of Ana Montes, a US intelligence superstar who was arrested just days after the 9/11 attacks for secretly spying for years for the Cuban government. Montes didn’t just betray her country – her deceit was personal. Her brother and sister-in-law were FBI special agents. Her only sister, Lucy, worked her entire career for the Bureau — and the highlight of Lucy’s distinguished career was as a Miami-based language specialist helping the FBI flush Cuban spies out of the U.S. As the book jacket states: “Little did Lucy or her family know that the greatest Cuban spy of all was sitting right next to them at Thanksgiving, baptisms, and weddings.” I was unfamiliar with the Ana Montes story until I read this riveting book!



Agent 110: An American Spymaster and the German Resistance in WWII, by Scott Miller — In November 1942, American spymaster Allen Dulles slipped into Switzerland just before Nazi forces sealed the border. His mission was to report on the inner workings of the Third Reich. Code-named Agent 110 by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), he discovered a network of Germans — students, industrialists, diplomats, and generals — conspiring to overthrow Hitler. Many books have been written on the efforts by the French and Polish resistance to oppose the Nazis, but this focuses on the resistance within Germany, and Dulles’ efforts to exploit it. A lesser-known tale and an excellent read.



CryCome to This Court & Cry: How the Holocaust Ends, by Linda Kinstler — This book can best be described as haunting. Kinstler weaves in her personal family story with the little-told story of the oppression and killing of Latvian Jews by both the Nazis and the Russians. Kinstler’s grandfather, Boris, had served in the killing unit of Latvian Nazi Herberts Cukurs, the so-called “butcher of Riga” — but years later evidence emerged that Boris might have been a double agent for the KGB, whose mission was to collect information on Nazi killing units. Like a detective, Kinstler sets out to find the truth, and her investigation is a compelling part of this story.



Land of HopeLand of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story, by Wilfred M. McClay If there’s one thing that bothers me most about how American history is taught (and learned), it’s that we focus on random and discrete ideas and events, and haven’t had an authoritative and compulsively readable book that offers Americans a clear, informative, and inspiring narrative of their own country. Wilfred McClay changes that with this book. His goal was to “provide an account that will inform and deepen their [Americans] sense of the land they inhabit and equip them for the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship.” He defines citizenship as something larger than the civics-class meaning, but rather as “a vivid and enduring sense of one’s full membership in one of the greatest enterprises in human history — the astonishing, perilous, and immensely consequential story of one’s own country.” This book examines the full tapestry of the American experience, in the form of a coherent, dramatic, and compelling story. Doesn’t matter how much American history you know — you’ll find this book valuable and a “keeper” on your shelf.


Lightning DownLightning Down: A World War II Story of Survival, by Tom Clavin — I found this book really hard to put down! It’s the story of Joe Moser and about 170 other Allied airmen who were taken as prisoners and sent to Buchenwald, one of the most deadly and notorious Nazi concentration camps. They endured horrific conditions, and at one point were ordered executed by Hitler himself. I won’t give away any more of this incredible story, but I will say that I consider myself knowledgeable about the Second World War, but never knew that prisoners of war were sent to Buchenwald. Read this book when you can give it your full attention — I guarantee that this story will engross you completely. 



The Bullet GardenThe Bullet Garden, by Stephen Hunter Stephen Hunter is one of my favorite authors, especially his novels that feature his serial characters, Bob Lee Swagger and his father, Earl Lee Swagger. This is an “Earl” novel set in WWII, and Earl is tasked with stopping a seemingly unbeatable German sniper who is thwarting the advancement of Allied troops after D-Day. Again, be ready to abandon almost everything else as you become totally absorbed in this page-turner — with spot-on history woven into a riveting story! 



Prisoners of thePrisoners Castle Castle: An Epic Story of Survival and Escape from Colditz, the Nazis’ Fortress Prison, by Ben Macintyre — Wow, did I enjoy this book! Macintyre has a number of compelling books to his credit, including Operation Mincemeat, Agent Zig-Zag, and The Spy and the Traitor, and he’s done it again with Prisoners of the Castle. The Nazis reserved the notorious Colditz prison for the most incorrigible Allied POWs — those who attempted escapes from other stalags, those who engaged in insubordination to their Nazi captors, etc. Macintyre tells this story through the eyes of some of Colditz’s most legendary inmates, as well as the Nazi superintendent who oversaw their captivity. He really delves into life (and hierarchy) within Colditz, and after years of operation, describes the prison’s end game as the Allies descend upon Germany.