What I’m Reading

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

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 remains 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 survive 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 Japa nese 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 surv ivors 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.

V2, A Novel of World War II by Robert Harris — This author writes great novels, many of them with an historical focus for which he does a great deal of research. Such is the case with V2, a novel focusing on the German V-2 rocket attacks on England at the end of November 1944, and the secret British counter-intelligence operation to counteract one of Hitler’s most terrifying weapons before it could do more damage. Much of this work was done by a group of women in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAA F). Harris’s main character in the book, Kay Caton-Walsh, was inspired by (though Harris is careful to say “bears no resemblance to”) Eileen Younghusband, who died in 2016 at the age of 95, but who previously had revealed in memoirs published in 2009 and 2011 of the existence of the Mechelen operation, named for the small town in newly liberated Belgium, where the British counter-intelligence operation took place. You will love this book.

The Lincoln Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill America’s 16th President — and Why it Failed by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch — The story of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865 is well known, but far less known is the original conspiracy to kill him four years earlier in 1861 as he made his way to Wa shington D.C. for his first inauguration. Southern conspirators planned an elaborate plot to assassinate the new President in Baltimore as Lincoln’s inauguration train passed through en route to the capitol. The fact that it failed resulted in Lincoln taking office and becoming one of the most important people in all of American history. I think you’ll enjoy this riveting story, which features the influence of the Pinkerton detective agency and the heroic work of America’s first woman detective, Kate Warne. Meltzer, who also writes great novels, is the author of a similar nonfiction work, The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington.

In the Enemy’s House: The Secret Saga of the FBI Agent and the Code Breaker Who Caught the Russian Spies by Howard Blum — From World War II to the Cold War, Blum tells the true story of genius linguist codebreaker Meredith Gardner and FBI agent Bob Lamphere and their efforts to break the KGB spy ring inside the United States whose goal was to steal America’s atomic secrets. Beginning in 1946 — when Gardner discovers the existence of the Russian spy ring — and continuing for the next decade, the two men worked together on Venona, a top-secret mission to uncover the Soviet agents and protect the atomic bomb. The story eventually leads to the arrest, conviction, and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and the suspicion of a mole in the American intelligence community that was feeding Moscow Center information on Venona. More history that reads like fiction!