What I’m Reading

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

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.



Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe — I read this right around the time Voyage of Mercy was published as part of my continuing effort to learn more about the legacy of the 1847 famine. Keefe writes brilliantly about the “Troubles” during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, and does so by wrapping the big picture history around a murder investigation. The bitterness between England and Ireland has been caused by many factors — religious, social, economic — and I maintain that the Great Hunger of 1847 is at the root of much of it. This book is well researched and a riveting story.


The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson — I think New York Times bestselling author Erik Larson has produced his best book since Devil in the White City. It’s become fashionable in some circles of late to downplay the role of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the British people at the outset of World War II. Nothing could be further from the truth. The defiance and courage shown by Churchill and his countrymen during the relentless bombing by the Germans remain one of history’s best examples of bravery, and among the key reasons the Allies prevailed during the Second World War. Eschewing the advice of numerous British diplomats who urged a negotiated peace with Hitler, Churchill taught the British people “the art of being fearless,” as he held his country together until the United States entered the war (and beyond).


The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz: A True Story of Family and Survival by Jeremy Dronfield — Wow, I had a hard time putting this book down! In 1939, Gustav Kleinmann, a Jewish upholsterer from Vienna, and his 16-year-old son Fritz are arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Germany. They miraculously survived the Buchenwald concentration camp, and then Gustav learns that he is being sent to Auschwitz. Desperate to remain together, Fritz insists to his Nazi captors that he must go too. This is a true story of love, hope, and courage that has to be read to be believed.


Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR’s Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors by James D. Hornfischer — This amazing World War II story traces the journey of the crew of the USS Houston, which is trapped in the South Pacific after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. After several battles, the ship is finally sunk and its survivors are taken prisoner. For more than three years, their fate would be a mystery to their families at home. What their loved ones did not know was that the Houston survivors were taken prisoner and forced by the Japanese to work on the brutal Burma-Thailand “death railway” — immortalized and sometimes falsely glamorized by Hollywood in such films as The Bridge on the River Kwai. The reality was far worse. This story — and the ultimate fate of the Houston crew — will keep you reading late into the night.