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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Review: The Best of Our Spies by Alex Gerlis

Best spy novel I have ever read. Ever.  

All spy stories should be this devious. Lt. Quinn, having been returned to England following his ship being bombed into oblivion off Crete, falls in love with one of his nurses. Unbeknownst to him she is a German spy in deep cover, but the spymasters in Bletchley Park know it and are manipulating their relationship so they can turn her into a double agent without her, or his, knowledge. “He has no idea whatsoever who she is. He is unaware of what is going on. Thinks this beautiful Frenchwoman who is two years older than him has fallen in love with him. He is like the cat that has found the cream, gallons of the stuff, in fact.” The idea is to feed her all sorts of false information leading to an assumption that the real invasion of the continent will take place at Pas de Calais and not Normandy which they want the Germans to believe is just a diversion. Then she is sent to France. 

Not only is it a terrific spy novel, but a good love story, as well and nicely set in an historical context. You will begin to question good and evil and whether the end can ever justify the means.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Review: Highliners by William McCloskey

The tsunami of 1964 caused by the earthquake wiped out a major portion of Kodiak, Alaska, but it vitalized the fishing community which now thrives with canneries for salmon, crabs, halibut, and other seafood caught in the rich waters of the Alaskan shelf. Fishing these waters is extremely dangerous and the towns that support it resemble nothing less than the older frontier.

The book is an interesting combination of fiction and non-fiction alternating chapters as McCloskey follows the career of Hank, college graduate and Vietnam veteran , who falls in love with fishing (for some unfathomable reason) in Alaskan waters for a variety of species. We're treated to a section on each kind of boat and species as Hank learns the skills needed for each finally (after being injured by the smashing force of a Halibut tail --I had no idea...-- they can weigh up to 400 lbs.) as submanager of a cannery, a job that displays all the intricate details of the operation and the vast quantity of material that is processed (millions of cans of salmon during an eight-week season) with the concomitant problems of managing people who don't want to be managed. He ends up as skipper on a boat so we get to see the business from that end as well. (The scenes of the boats icing up are tense and scary.)

Being a bit bizarre myself, I found the mix of technology and culture to be fascinating.


Sunday, October 01, 2017

Review: Citizens of the Green Room: Profiles in Courage and Self-Delusion by Mark Leibovich

One of my major gripes during the last election (an election Trump insists was fraudulent - I agree, let's do it over) was the myopia of the Washington media who spent the entire election cycle talking to each other and refusing to examine the obvious currents of dissatisfaction with Washington and the "elites" who reside there and run the country. (They all read and absorb "Playbook" produced by Mike Allen - read the essays to understand what that is and why it's important.)
Leibovich, who writes for the Times, specializes in writing profiles of those in Washington. He's more self-aware than some others about where he fits in the Washington swamp, but his insights into the relationship between the media and Washington insiders and how residing there affects them and their lives are valuable. This book is an older collection of those essays. They remain relevant and interesting. The profile of Glenn Beck is particularly interesting and revealing on how and why Beck is the way he is. His show on Fox was known in the ad world as "empty calories: he draws great ratings but is toxic to ad sales."
The mnemonic techniques of Andrew Card, patterned after that of a 16th century monk, are startling to say the least. I have read of other people who create "castles" of the mind where memories are stored for easy retrieval; Card uses a kitchen with some things in the freezer, others on one of the burners, etc.
Even though some of the essays are more than a decade old, the comments and profiles are as fresh as if there were written yesterday. His comments on campaigning and the relationship between reporters (badgered by the 24/7 news cycle and bored to tears by the candidates' canned speeches) and the candidates are just as pertinent today as they were 10 years ago. "Politics is not about objective reality, but about virtual reality . . . an infinitely revisable [and risible] docudrama."
Some fun quotes: "Chris Matthews is trapped in a tired caricature" "The demise of the cable blow-hard" "Rick Santorum is like Forrest Gump with an attitude." His essay on fakery in Washington and pretending to have read the "Economist" is priceless.