Reading Diary
Music Reviews
Favorite quotations
Contact Me

Reading Diary for 2018

  and earlier
"Cincinnati Reds: The Big 50"
by Chad Dotson and Chris Garber
Cincinnati Reds: The Big 50A fun, light look at the authors' list of their Top 50 moments in the history of the Cincinnati Reds. The chaptesr are pretty short – just a handful of pages each – and the list of selected events and characters is pretty spot-on.

"The Quartet"
by Joseph J. Ellis
The QuartetHistorian Joseph Ellis revisits the Constitutional Convention of 1787 when the post-Revolution American experiment was foundering. Ellis does a masterful job of placing modern readers back into that time – laying out the prevailing political, cultural and philosophical winds that were shaping events of the time. But what sets his history apart is that he tells it through the lens of four of the most influential members of that convention: James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and George Washington. He is on his most solid ground when relying on superb research to re-create the events of the Constitutionl Congress from their perspective. Here, Ellis builds upon the excellent 1986 history "Decision in Philadelphia" (Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier), which likewise drew on the memoirs and correspondence of participants. Ellis undercuts his own authority, and that of his book, when he uses the book to weigh in on contemporary poliitcal arguments, such as scolding those who argue for "original intent" as a method of measuring a law's constitutionality or contemporary critics of the compromise to incorporate slavery into the Constitution. Ellis would have been better served to simply tell the tale and allow readers to draw their own conclusions on the nature of our ongoing national experiment.

by Dava Sobel
LongitudeEasy to read (if a bit breezy) history of the development of reliable methods for mariners to determine their longitude while out of sight of land. The story plays out as a race between those who thought measuring the moon's movements in the night sky was the cheapest way for sailors to determine their precise location, vs. those who felt a truly accurate timepiece was going to be more reliable, as it could be used even when overcast. If a bit too short for such a wonderous tale, and one that takes in centuries – with an ending scene that lasts decades – it's still a nice retelling of a story few today are familiar with.

"Mediterranean Summer"
by David Shalleck with Erol Munoz
Mediterranean SummerFascinating look at a season aboard a private high-end luxury yacht, told by the chef. An American chef who, at the time, was still finding his way, David Shalleck is hired by an Italian family to prepare all meals for a summer aboard their sailing yacht — both feeding the crew and providing the meals for their family and, on occasion, friends who visited for a day or more. From his ongoing efforts to find local ingredients in whatever port they were in, to the personalities that comprised that particular crew, it's a fun, insightful narrative. And he shares some of his recipes at the end of the book!

"Beyond the Call"
by Lee Trimble with Jeremy Dronfield
Beyond the CallOne of those amazing "lost" stories of World War II that only came to light by happenstance. Lee Trimble was trying to get to know his father better in the time they had left, when his father finally let slip that in the closing days of the war he was assigned to a secret mission to help bring former U.S. POWs back from Russia after their POW camps were liberated by the Soviets – "liberated" being a very subjective term. The mission was secret so as not to jeopardize relations with Stalin, and then forgotten about during the Cold War. Trimble's father, Robert, conducted behind-allied-lines missions that were sometimes as hazardous as being in German territory, and witnessed horrors he'd never seen from 15,000 feet as a bomber pilot. A remarkable tale.

"The Seafarers: The Vikings"
by Robert Wernick
The VikingsWritten in the late 1970s, this book is an early re-examination of the Viking mythology. Rather than rampaging savages, Wernick's telling has them as more interested in trade than violence – although like all successful peoples of their era, they were very capable at combat. But after conquering an area, they would often stay, farming the more fertile areas of Britain and Ireland, with their longer growing seasons than the tiny farms they'd left behind in Scandinavia. The great irony is that the earlier waves of Vikings, having become the new farmers in the south, found themselves the target of successive waves of their own relatives, who didn't treat them with any more charity than they'd shown the original inhabitants. Still, it was as merchants that they flourished – establishing the widest (from the Black Sea to Greenland) network of ocean and river trade routes seen since the fall of the Roman Empire, not to be surpassed until the ascendancy of Renaissance Venice.
"The Seafarers: The Great Liners"
by Melvin Maddocks
The Great LinersA gorgeously illustrated celebration of the short-lived age of the great oceangoing passenger ships, or liners. Where wind-powered sailing ships had been far too slow, too unpredictable in their transit times, and too uncomfortable (no refrigeration for food storage, for instance) to ever attract much of a vacation or upper-class passenger base, the advent of the steam engine and the rise of large steel hulls created an opportunity for enterprising shipping firms. By the advent of the First World War, the trans-Atlantic ocean liner was moving millions of people between North Amerca and Europe every year, many of them well-off vacationers. But within mere decades, the arrival of the passenger jet made the liner obsolete – although the cruise ship is a close relation. Still, for a brief, shining moment, the ocean liner was the epitome of modern travel – a high-end hotel afloat, with the best in cuisine, lodgings, and live entertainment. For those of us born too late to experience it in person, this history is a lovely glimpse into a lost time.