Book Rec: The Presidents Club

61iyNBdczoLI’ve been reading through the biographies of our presidents and so far have been enjoying getting to know them. It’s interesting to learn about their accomplishments, what drove them toward their failures, and how history has decided to label them.

But there’s one thing that their biographies tend to overlook.

We may learn about each man’s upbringing, his habits, his fierce run for the top job, what made him tick, etc. But even the most in-depth biography touches very little on the behind the scenes story of how each president interacted with one another before and after their arduous campaign battles against one another.

The Presidents Club by Nany Gibbs and Michael Duffy undertakes this task, with every post-WWII president (beginning with Truman and Hoover).

The wonder of this book is in the telling of how unlikely friendships – and rivalries – formed because of stark differences of ideology and running the White House.

Perhaps my favorite part of the book is toward the end when we learn about the unforeseen friendship between Clinton and both Bushes, the iconic polar opposites in the political arena.

A colleague of mine a few years back became one of my very good friends, even though we had completely different political views – he a Carter supporter, and me a Bush man. Thing is, we never had a fight or argument. We explained our views and we listened to the other with respect and understanding – understanding that we each want what’s best for our families and the country. But, as he often said, we just have different ways of getting there.

Here is an eye-opening excerpt from The Presidents Club that I think every American can learn from.

“…George W. Bush did me one of the great favors of my life,” Clinton [said]. “He asked me not once, but twice, to work with his father. We took 7 trips together. This man who’d I’d always liked and respected and run against … I literally came to love … and I realize all over again how much energy we waste fighting with each other over things that don’t matter … He can virtually do no wrong in my eyes …” 

The Bush family paid Clinton back at this particular gathering, “conferring on him the highest possible honor: a family nickname … Laura Bush asked all twenty-seven Bushes in attendance to gather for a family picture … Clinton [was] standing quietly off to the side backstage, watching the big family take its places for a photographer when the call came from Neil Bush rang out: “Bill, Bill! Brother of Another Mother! Get in here!” 

And so he did, taking his place in the back row, near some grandchildren. “Yeah,” Clinton mused, recalling the moment a few months later, “the family’s black sheep. Every family’s got one.”

Even in this party-split nation we can still live as one country, in unity and love for one another.

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A Hero Has Died

WK-AV921_COVER__DV_20101110182743Louis Zamperini has died. He is the subject of the international bestseller Unbroken by Seabiscuit’s biographer Laura Hillenbrand.

The only reason I didn’t put this book on yesterday’s post, “Reading List for Patriots” was because I was saving it for when the movie comes out this December.

Louis Zamperini died of pneumonia yesterday in Los Angeles at the age of 97. And what a life he led. Unbroken details his life as a Olympic distance runner who so impressed Adolf Hitler that the Fuhrer insisted on meeting the young runner.

Later he enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces and earned a commission as a second lieutenant in the Pacific. He was shot down and survived 47 days at sea in a raft with two other men.

And that is only the beginning.

Unbroken is quite possibly the greatest World War II book (or nonfiction subject) I have ever read, and there is no better time for you to read it than now, in honor of a great American hero.

Unbroken will be Angelina Jolie’s third directorial project. Watch the three minute trailer here.

Unbroken

Reading List for Patriots

I’ve put together a few patriotic books that I have really enjoyed – so much so that I plan on returning to them for a second, third, or fourth read.

John Adams 2

John Adams by David McCullough

It’s my goal to read a biography on every U.S. president and John Adams not only depicts one of the best, moral, upright men who have presided over our country, but McCullough’s book is quite possibly one of the greatest, gripping, and engaging biographies I have ever read, and probably will ever read. You will frequently hear readers of the book lament coming to the end of the book, aching for more, long as the book is. It reads like a movie, and you will actually feel like John Adams is a true friend by the end.

close to shore

Close to Shore by Michael Capuzzo

Think small-town America off of a New Jersey coast. The year is 1916. Beaches were just recently seen as recreational turf for outings and vacations. The ocean was seen as a big, safe, swimming pool. And the great white shark was believed to be as harmless as a puppy. Close to Shore captures the first known recorded shark attacks on American soil, in an age where violence in the waters was unheard of. This story inspired Peter Benchley’s Jaws which gave us one of the greatest American films of all time by director Stephen Spielberg. But Close to Shore is so fascinating, so unimaginable, that it would not be believed if it were written as fiction.

1776

1776 by David McCullough

In McCullough’s detailed account of the monumental events in 1776, you have a much clearer and polished appreciation for the odds our forefathers were up against in the Revolutionary War. Not surprisingly, General Washington’s genius will blow your mind. And you will understand just how devastatingly close the Americans were to not winning our freedom. An intriguing, and sometimes suspenseful read. Another great by McCullough.

DWCity

Devil in the White City by Eric Larson

History and fiction buffs unite! There’s something about America’s past that makes me well up inside. This book recreates America’s prime, and the author never bores when describing the pure-white city “as bright as Heaven itself, and so majestic that the Court of Honor alone brought grown men to tears upon seeing it.” Suspense seekers and history buffs ought to check this book out. It’s a lot of fun and very fascinating. And you will walk away with a deeper appreciation of the roots of America’s greatness, and why we are still the greatest country in the world 120 years later.

Bottom-of-the-33rd

Bottom of the 33rd by Dan Barry

No other sport screams American pride like baseball, and in this book you will get a lot of both – baseball and American pride. Another book set in New Jersey, two triple-A teams pitted against each other on the day before Easter, April 18, 1981, neither knowing that they are about to go down in history as the longest professional baseball game ever. Even baseball naysayers will get caught up in the poet-like writing of Barry’s fascinating account. This is one of my all-time favorite books.

disney

Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler

Mr. Disney. Walt. One of my favorite men in history, who created the most beloved empire the world has ever known. Gabler’s meticulous account of Walt Disney’s life is eye-opening and truly fascinating, and is a true rags-to-riches story that will make anyone believe that if you are persistent enough, clever enough, and talented enough, you can make it anywhere in America.

washington

George Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

And of course, no patriotic reading list would be complete without the life of George Washington, our nation’s first President. Earlier I praised McCullough’s John Adams as being the best biography ever written – this book is just a tick below, only because Washington, as a man, was not as personable and warm as Adams was. So no biographer in the world could create a personal attachment between the great Washington and his readers. But Chernow, I believe, did the greatest job that could ever be expected. Thought this is probably the longest book I have ever read, I will gladly be revisiting it as soon as I can, so fascinating it was.

Please feel free to share some of your favorite patriotic book recommendations below, we’d love to hear from you!

 

 

They Risked All

The-American-Patriots-Almanac-365-reasons-to-love-AmericaThe following is taken from The American Patriot’s Almanac by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb.

On July 4, 1776, delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence. The men who issued that famous document realized they were signing their own death warrants, since the British would consider them traitors. Many suffered hardship during the Revolutionary War.

William Floyd of New York saw the British use his home for a barracks. His family fled to Connecticut, where they lived as refugees. After the war Floyd found his fields stripped and house damaged.

Richard Stockton of New Jersey was dragged from his from his bed, thrown into prison, and treated liked a common criminal. His home was looted and his fortune badly impaired. He was released in 1777, but his health was broken. He died a few years later.

At age sixty-three, John Hart, another New Jersey signer, hid in the woods during December 1776 while Hessian soldiers hunted him across the countryside. He died before the war’s end. The New Jersey Gazette reported that he “continued to the day he was seized with his last illness to discharge the duties of a faithful and upright patriot in the service of his country.”

Thomas Nelson, a Virginian, commanded militia and served as governor during the Revolution. He reportedly instructed artillerymen to fire at his own house in Yorktown when he heard the British were using it as a headquarters. Nelson used his personal credit to raise money for the Patriot cause. His sacrifices left him in financial distress, and he was unable to repair his Yorktown home after the war.

Thomas Heyward, Arthur Middleton, and Edward Rutledge, three South Carolina signers, served in their state’s militia and were captured when the British seized Charleston. They spent a year in a St. Augustine prison and, when released, found their estates plundered.

Such were the prices paid so we may celebrate freedom every Fourth of July.

It Doesn’t Stop at The Hunger Games

gregor series

While writing my young readers historical fiction book about a dachshund in Nazi Germany, I’ve been reading two types of books: historical books surrounding the Nazi era and young readers books.

While it’s pretty easy to find really enthralling historical books, young readers books that aren’t dumbed down are kind of hard to come by, outside of Harry Potter and a few classical works.

My wife and I are big fans of The Hungers Games books, so I asked her, “Would you be interested in reading Suzanne Collins children’s book series?”

“What are they about?”

“This kid who goes underground and meets giant bugs and rats and spiders and stuff.”

“No way,” she said. “That sounds gross.”

So, I got her the set for Christmas.

You may be reading this and thinking, I’ve heard of Collins’s young readers books, and giant insects and stuff just don’t appeal to me.

Let me tell you that Sarabeth and I have both read the series since Christmas and are in love with Gregor the Overlander.

Don’t judge a book before you read it. Suzanne Collins is at the top of her game with her Gregor series. There are very similar themes as in The Hunger Games, and even though they’re directed at young readers instead of teens, I’m not quite sure the subject matter is any less impactful and thought-provoking.

Gregor is a twelve-year-old boy who accidentally falls down the laundry chute with his two-year-old sister, Boots. Together, they fall down, down, down to the Underland, an entire underground world that exists underneath New York City.

There, they befriend humans and giant cockroaches and spiders and bats – who are the main mode of transportation. Like The Hunger Games, hardly anything in these books is at all predictable.

The first book, Gregor the Overlander, was a wonderful introduction to this dark world, and introduced probably one of my favorite literary characters of all time (he’s a giant rodent) who remains a key player throughout the series. Books 2-3 weren’t as captivating, but there’s enough action that young kids – boys or girls – would enjoy them. Book 4, The Marks of Secret, was a good prelude to the final book of the series – The Code of Claw – which was one of the coolest, and heartbreaking, conclusions to a series I can remember.

Collins is a master at causing you to feel sympathy for her characters, be they people, cockroaches, bats, or rats. Her plots are very deep and interwoven, but not so complicated that an eight-year-old wouldn’t get it.

Sarabeth and I will both be returning to these books very soon, and will most definitely pass them down to our kids (though because there are some very gruesome and gory scenes, we would suggest no younger than eight, depending on the child’s maturity level).

But even if you don’t have kids and you’re just looking for a great series to get immersed in, I can’t recommend Gregor enough. Another treat by Collins, is her children’s picture book, Year of the Jungle, which serves as sort of her mini-autobiography and explains a lot about the inspiration behind her books.

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How to Decide What to Read

BookstoreProbably the most common cry from bookworms is, “There’s not enough time to read all the books I want to read.”

It is certainly part of the curse to not be able to enjoy all the knowledge and creativity books have to offer. Let’s face it, life just sort of gets in the way.

A while back I wrote about how to find time to read, which you can take a look at here.

So let’s say you’ve figured out how to carve out time to read. But how do you go about choosing what to invest your time in?

I take book searching very seriously, and because of that, very few books I read disappoint me. Allow me to share my tips on choosing the right books to read.

1. Reviews, reviews, reviews

If I see a book that looks rather interesting, I don’t buy it right away. Instead, I go on Goodreads and Amazon and read the reviews to get a general idea of what people thought about the book. More often than not you’ll find recurring praises or complaints, which you’ll likely share. This way, you’ll at least have an idea what you’re getting into.

2. Branch Out

I don’t know how many people I’ve read about or talked to that’s said, “I read such-and-such genre, but it’s getting kind of old and repetitive.” Well, yeah! You spend your efforts reading every Harry Potter knock-off, you’re going to grow sick of young readers fantasy books real fast. Be brave and try reading a book on a subject or from a genre you don’t have much experience in. I don’t particularly care for sports in the least, but one of my all-time favorite books is a sports book.

3. Another note on Branching Out

Don’t limit yourself to just books that appeal to you as a target audience. You say, “But I’m a 50-year-old woman, so I’m best just sticking with Agatha Christie mysteries.” If I remained a target-audience statistic, my shelves would be full of Stephen King and James Patterson novels. And honestly, King isn’t that thrilling to me and Patterson doesn’t even write his own books any more than my dogs pay the bills. No thank you. I’ll stick with more unconventional books for guys my age, like Little Women, and Anne of Green Gables.

Share some tips about how you go about finding new and exciting books to read!

Some Reading Fun

Enjoy this excerpt from my book, The Man in the Box. There will be a release date for the second edition coming soon. And don’t forget to Like The Man in the Box Facebook page for a chance to win a free, autographed copy!

From Chapter 18

Robbie turned off the radio. It was up to him to break the ice. He said, “We missed you at breakfast.”

Taylor continued to stare at the window with her chin in her hand.

“That coffee’s for you,” he said, motioning toward the mug in the cup holder beside them. “Just cream. No sugar.”

“I like sugar now,” mumbled Taylor.

Robbie nodded, taking note of one of the many changes about his little girl. “How’s Darrin?” he asked, but bit his tongue as soon as the wrong name snuck out of his mouth.

“It’s Dwayne. And fine.”

“You never did tell me why you were crying last night. I figured you had broken up.”

“Dwayne wants me to go to a party that I know you’re not going to let me go to; it’s no big deal, okay? There. You know all you need to know.” She said this as she pulled a piece of paper out of a side pocket from her duffle bag and shoved it in his direction.

Robbie didn’t know what frustrated him more: the fact that this twerp was pressuring his daughter to go to a party or that she was still dating him.

Wanting to steer clear of the romance department, he ignored the paper she was pushing toward him and decided to just jump in feet first and get to the bottom of last night’s escape attempt. He asked, “What happened last night? Where were you going? Were you going to that party?”

“No, I wasn’t. It’s not for a while. Next month or something,” was Taylor’s muffled response.

“You know you’re grounded, right?”

“Good. I love missing out on my social life,” snapped Taylor, throwing the paper to the floorboard in a fit.

“Hey. Don’t get smart with me,” retorted Robbie, growing angry.

Taylor threw back, “You’re the ones who think you’re so smart! You don’t even know what I was doing last night!”

“It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that you were sneaking out, Taylor. So maybe we’re not as smart as you think!” Robbie shook his head and vilified himself for his absent-minded comeback.

Taylor just rolled her eyes and turned her head away, refocusing her sight out the window.

After a moment, a calmer Robbie asked, “So what were you doing last night?”

“What do youcare? You’re too busy coming up with reasons to get me in trouble.”

“Not get you in trouble. We’re trying to keep you fromtrouble.”

Taylor just mimicked Robbie, sticking her lower lip out in a mock gesture. He just about blew a fuse. He prayed her own children would be just like her for the sole purpose of making her pay for all of his headaches.

“Here’s a newsflash Taylor,” started Robbie. “If you would just talkto us, then maybe we wouldn’t be so suspicious of whatever you’re doing. What is it, Taylor? I care; talk to me. Is it drugs?”

“Dad.”

“You’re not into that voodoo Wicca stuff are you?”

“No.”

“Is it sex?”

Dad!

“Oh please don’t let it be sex. You already have a kid, don’t you?”

“Yes, Dad, I managed to hide my fat stomach from the entire family for nine months.”

“You see! I don’t know if you’re telling me the truth right now or just being sarcastic with me which, as you know, would be lying,” yelled Robbie. “I don’t know how to read you.”

“Why do you even have to read me at all? Why can’t you just leave me alone?”

Robbie stopped behind a line of cars at the stoplight. “Because you’re my daughter, and that’s not what parents do, Taylor. Apparently you’ll find that out in about fifteen years when little Wayne is sitting in your spot and you’re driving him to school.”

Taylor sighed in utter frustration saying, “I don’t have a baby, Dad!”

“Is there a chance that you could be having one?” Robbie awkwardly asked, unable to suppress his curiosity.

The light was still red, and Taylor flew open the door and jumped out of the car yelling over her shoulder, “I’m walking to practice!” Then she slammed the door, flying her duffle bag over her shoulder.

Robbie, in a moment of utter shock, had his eyes only on Taylor when he gassed the car to follow after her. He flew right into the car in front of him, lurching him forward, catching on the seatbelt. The sound of crunching metal sent him into a panic as he saw dollar signs float away on wings all around him. The coffee spilled all over his right leg throwing him into a world of pain, and he clumsily tried pulling his pant leg apart from his skin to ease the burn.

He looked at Taylor who was just a few feet away, expecting her to come back to the car. But she just gave him those eyes that told him he was just plain embarrassing and continued to walk off.

 

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