Never judge a book by its author! I read Fire and Fortitude, the first book in James McManus's history of the US Army in the Pacific War. I didn't care for it, because he kept sniping at men of the 1940s for their racism, as if he would be so admirably woke if he had grown up in the 1920s and 1930s. Worse, he scoffed at the men on the Bataan Peninsula because they smoked cigarettes -- men who had no future but death or a savage captivity. So I was ready to pass on Mr McManus's second volume, only to have Random House send me a copy without my asking for it. And it's brilliant! Really, it's one of the great combat histories of the Second World War: Island Infernos: The US Army's Pacific War Odyssey, 1944. It's a hefty book, and I'm far from finished, so I will have more to say about it next month.
Watching Darkness Fall: FDR, His Ambassadors, and the Rise of Adolf Hitler is well-written and an easy read, but it's thinly sourced and most of its sources are secondary accounts. (Almost everything David McKean says about Ambassador Dodd in Berlin seems to be taken from Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts, a very fine book.) He's also rather political, swooning over President and Mrs Roosevelt, while ranting against the isolationist Ambassador Joe Kennedy in London and even against the admirable Bill Bullitt in Moscow and Paris. Ambassador Bullitt impresses me as one of the few intelligent men of the 1930s, not excluding the president who appointed him and who later blocked his career in the State Department and prevented him from getting a US Army commission. (Nothing daunted, Bullitt joined the Free French army and actually helped liberate Paris in 1944. What a man!) There are also a few wild misreadings of history, as when Mr McKean treats the carving up of Europe by Hitler and Stalin in 1939-1940: he portrays the German dictator as blindsided by Soviet Russia's occupation of three Baltic nations, when that had been explicitly agreed in an annex to the dictators' treaty of August 1939. So I don't recommend the book to anyone with a serious interest in how the Second World War came about. But if you like pop history that goes down easily, you'll enjoy it.
Improbable as it seems (to me, anyhow) I was ninety years old last month. I celebrated the milestone by publishing Looking Back From Ninety: The Depression, the War, and the Good Life That Followed, an account of my life to date. To be sure, it's mostly about the early years, when I grew up dirt poor in New Hampshire, then lucked out when the local high school proved to be one of those New England anomalies, an endowed boarding school that also served as a Free Academy for the local kids. That put me on track for the state university and four years in Europe as a student, vagabond, soldier, and reporter for a newspaper that the troops fondly called The Oversexed Weekly. I returned to the States in the fall of 1958, fit for nothing except a career as a free-lance writer. It worked out rather nicely, though I never became the latter-day Hemingway of my dreams. I can't say, like Edith Piaf, je ne regrette rien, but I can't imagine living any other kind of life than the one that has gone by so swiftly. Blue skies, and always follow your dreams! -- Dan Ford
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