Enough about books, now about me

I wanted to post a few books before stopping to talk about me. That time has arrived.

I’m a reader, obviously. Not of fiction, but non-fiction because of my background of journalism, I think. I like facts, so I like factual books.

I focus on history because I love it. Those who don’t know history are doomed, etc. But it’s not all wars and dates and elections – although those can be interesting too. I’m really enjoying a comparatively new genre called Microhistory, which takes a tiny slice of the world and writes it up. For example, Mark Kurlansky’s book Salt really got me going.

I also like books on pop culture, music and sports. Getting into biographies lately, too.

Favorite authors? Kurlansky, Bill Bryson, Peter Ackroyd and David Pietrusza, among others.

I get books from the usual places, like Barnes & Noble. I also love a place called Half Price Books, where the books are, uh, half price. Except for used clearance books in back, which can be $1 or $2. Love that. I also frequent a place called Bookman’s, which also has used books. I’ve also hit garage sales, and I got one of my most favorite books of all time at a Big Lots.

Lately, I’ve been getting review books from Goodreads and Library Thing. Well worth the effort – and hey, free books!

Hope you enjoy my reviews, and maybe buy a book or two through my Amazon link at the bottom of each review.




Almost President: The Men Who Lost the Race but Changed the Nation

Not all who lose the presidency fade into oblivion. This book shows how some of the also-rans had a tremendous impact on the nation.

Two of the most obvious and most recent: Al Gore and Barry Goldwater.


Gore (controversially) lost to George W. Bush, then finding a new cause, raised the profile of the (controversial) issue of climate change. Would he have pushed the issue into the national psyche if he had won?

Goldwater was a conservative before his time, much-ridiculed and hated. But he impacted the conservative movement for good by influencing a personable ex-actor and future president, Ronald Reagan.

There are more stories like this, most of them unexpected. Always a good thing to read up on presidents during a presidential election year.

Almost President: The Men Who Lost The Race But Changed The Nation

Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era

Do you like ’60s music, the girl groups, sing-along-able hits that didn’t involve British groups?

Then you liked the writers of the Brill Building. Burt Bacharach, Carole King, Neil Sedaka … all of the familiar (and less-familiar) names are in “Always Magic in the Air.”


An amazing nexus of tunesmiths resided at the Brill Building in New York, pounding out hit after hit (“The Locomotion,” “Leader of the Pack,” “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do,” etc.).

This book looks at the teams that made the songs, and digs into their history, lives, loves and jealousies. Song after song will bounce around in your head as you read this book, and that’s a good thing.

Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era

1066: The Year of the Conquest

More than an account of the conquest of England, this book talks about the everyday people and their everyday lives in that pivotal year.

The Normans defeated the Saxons, but it was the English who ultimately won. The Normans were assimilated into the culture, and a new people were born. Howarth tells how this all happened.


Even if you’re not into the intricacies of Harald vs. Harold, “1066” is still a good read and a look at how the English world was created.

1066: The Year of the Conquest

The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World

A great tale of a time when science was almost suckered by the seance.

America in the 1920s was in the grip of Spiritualism, and science was eager to prove the supernatural. The magazine Scientific American conducted an investigation to find one true example of communication with the dead, and found their most promising subject: “Margery.”


Seduced by her charms and astounded by her contact with the dead, the magazine was about to declare her authentic. But one member of the investigative panel wasn’t about to be taken: Harry Houdini.

This is a great look at both sides of the story, and shows that the legendary unmasking of Margery wasn’t as clear-cut as history has said.

I received a free review copy of this book from LibraryThing.

The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World

Tune In (The Beatles: All These Years, #1)

The beginning of what promises to be an all-encompassing, 3-part megabiography of The Beatles.

Lewisohn, who has delved deeply in to the Beatles legend, takes on the beginning of the story up until the moment before they become stars in England. “Tune In” (presumably Part 2 will be “Turn On” and Part 3, “Drop Out”) catches the boys from the beginning, when they WERE boys.


And in going back, he corrects some mistakes of past biographies (for example, it’s Richie Starkey, not Ritchie).

You get the feeling that there were tiny breaks and misses throughout. If we didn’t know the end of the story, you’d get the feeling that the whole Beatles enterprise was going to collapse at any moment. But that’s what makes this so interesting.

Grab this one, and while waiting years for Vols 2 and 3, go back and read some of the other things Lewishon has done (although those are more glorified lists than prose). Also read some of the more microfocused Beatles books out there, such as The Day John Met Paul and With a Little Help from My Friends: The Making of Sgt. Pepper.

Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years

The Great Siege of Malta: The Epic Battle between the Ottoman Empire and the Knights of St. John

Such a small number of men kept the Ottoman Turks from overrunning Malta and then likely Europe.

This book is an amazing look at how the expansionist Muslims were fought off by the Christians, splitting the Mediterranean into a Christian Europe and Muslim North Africa well into modern times. And it could easily could have gone the other way.


Get ready for interesting battles, tactics and atrocities on both sides. Nobody comes out clean in this tale, but it’s a great read.

I received this book through a drawing at LibraryThing.

The Great Siege of Malta: The Epic Battle between the Ottoman Empire and the Knights of St. John

Swastika Nation: Fritz Kuhn and the Rise and Fall of the German-American Bund

Fascinating look at the rise and fall of the American Nazi movement German-American Bund in the 1930s and 40s.

The movement centered on a megalomanic, Fritz Kuhn, a German-born American citizen who admired Hitler and pursued the creation of a Nazi America. The stunning thing about this is that he had many on his side – including Henry Ford.


The group’s antisemitism was a factor that attracted many to the cause. So was the idea of “Aryan” purity and German nationalism.

The book also is about out those that dared to challenge him – many of whom were Jewish newspaper columnists, such Walter Winchell, and Jewish criminals, such as Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel. Their involvement in bringing the movement down was a surprising angle.

I took off one star for one simple reason: the repetitive use of the title in every chapter. Fritz Kuhn sought to establish his Swastika Nation, we’re reminded again and again. Look, I get that Bernstein likes his title, but why does he have to say that as though Kuhn really was seeking to establish something called “Swastika Nation”? It’s annoying.

Otherwise, a good book about a forgotten chapter of American history.

Swastika Nation: Fritz Kuhn and the Rise and Fall of the German-American Bund

Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce

Really interesting subject, but the book misses the mark.

The book is a series of anecdotes, which, although related under the big umbrella “Christmas Truce of 1914,” still manages to feel quite disconnected.


The narrative pushes both forward and backward in the time line, which is confusing at times.

I’ll keep looking for a better book on this subject.

Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce