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  1. There are masses of books about the Blitz, Churchill and WWII in general but not like this one. The main focus here is the first year of Churchill's leadership, jumps quickly to The American's entering the war and then ends. What makes this book so different is that Larson is a master storyteller of non fiction and makes it read like a thriller. He says in the acknowledgements that he's always been fascinated by how people like Churchill managed to balance desperate ad dire affairs of state with the normal problems of daily life so much of the book is taken up with the sort of thing that normally gets left out of serious history books such as his private secretary's unrequited love affair, the 17 year old Mary Churchill's flirtations with RAF officers and her later engagement, much disapproved of by her parents. Some readers might find all this trival, I love it, I always want to know about the people and it makes the reality of what it must have been like living then so very real: you did live for the moment and you understand why reactuions that would seem awful in hindsight - being irritated by the delay caused a bomb crater rather than worrying about who might have been hurt became natural. Larson splits the narrative between England and Germany on day by day basis and doesn't foreshadow anything. We might know what happened in the big picture, but Goring, Churchill, Hitler, Max Beaverbrook et all didn't. The reader lives in their present as events unfold, and sometimes gets taken as much by surprise as the main protagonists were. I did learn some new facts about the war but the main thing I've really taken from the book is a sense of what it must have been like to live then. An excellent read.
  2. Restored Thread 3rd February 2012, 03:23 PM Binker I have always enjoyed popular history books, if that is the term, beginning with the various Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre books. After those, I hit something of a drought, with the exception of books related to exploration and Simon Winchester's books. But recently, there have been several writers here in the United States that have written popular history books. Laura Hillenbrand is one. Erik Larson is another. These authors often focus on a particular person or object to provide the organizational structure for their story, even if that's not the most important person or object in the story. The Hare with Amber Eyes is a good example of that. If you wanted to read all about netsuke, which were ostensibly the focus of the story, you would be disappointed (as Cassie was). In this book, the central character is Martha Dodd, the daughter of the American ambassador to Germany from 1933 to 1937. I think the reason she's the focus of so much in the book is that she's a very interesting person and she kept lots and lots of records and letters. I think history must belong to the scribbler as much as the victor. Martha's father, William Dodd, was a historian who was active in the Democratic party in Chicago. As a result of his political efforts, he was rewarded with what was thought to be a safe, boring posting, which he hoped would give him the time to finish his 3-volume work on the American South. It did not turn out to be a safe, boring posting at all. Instead, he was in Germany just as the rest of the world began to realize exactly what the Nazis were. What is interesting is how long it took most people to figure out what was going on. There were one or two people in the diplomatic world who were truly alarmed--and roundly ignored. In the beginning, Dodd was not one of them (and neither were any of the other ambassadors). In part, this seems to be because they could not imagine that Germany, the land of great poets and musicians, could turn into such a hateful place. But in large part, I think it was because anti-Semitism was such an ingrained part of everyone's world view that the first anti-Jewish laws and actions didn't seem all that horrible to anyone other than the Jews themselves. It was only when things turned obviously murderous that the world noticed and condemned, but things had been very bad for a long time before that. The book very clearly shows how things began getting worse and worse and worse, while people hoped for change and feared it wouldn't come (well, it did come, but not in the way they hoped--things got much worse). It also shows the various divided views within Germany and even the Nazi party. But more than anything, it shows how the society became ever more totalitarian and full of fear. Anyone who was in Germany at the time saw it; almost no one outside of Germany saw it. By the end of Dodd's ambassadorship, things are almost unbearable, but that was 1937--there was still so much more to bear. I thought this book was very good. The author captures the atmosphere of the time and almost every personality is clearly drawn. The author writes well--it's a bit of page turner even though you think you know everything that happened. As I've mentioned elsewhere, my daughter is taking a Holocaust history class in college and will be going to Berlin and Krakow in early March, so we also discussed the book and some of the major players, which made it even more interesting for me. However, I've had to console myself for all the sadness by reading something lighter--a murder mystery. Then I'll turn to the BGO group read. #2 9th February 2012, 11:34 PM Binker I forgot to mention that Hans Fallada makes an appearance in this book. I know that many of you found his book very powerful. I can't remember the name of the book--"Alone in Berlin," maybe? Apparently, "Hans Fallada" was a pseudonym, but I dont remember his real name, either. I suppose this is, at most, a moderately interesting post.
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