1920: The Year of the Six Presidents

This a fun book by one of my favorite authors, David Pietrusza.

It was 1920, when six men who had been, were or would be president ran for the highest office.

Ex-president Theodore Roosevelt led the pack and was the favorite to get the Republican nomination. The very ill and very stubborn Woodrow Wilson wanted to run again to save his League of Nations. Also in the mix, eventual winner Warren G. Harding, his vice-president Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover and Teddy’s cousin Franklin Roosevelt.

They aren’t the only players, of course. Many other colorful characters are involved, such as the Democrat nominee James Cox, Socialist Eugene Debs, ex-president William Howard Taft, and various lovers, suffragists and prohibitionists.

It is a colorful tale about a colorful time in the nation’s history, just before the bottom dropped out.

Pietrusza knows how to tell a complicated tale, and does so thoroughly and thoughtfully.

There are a lot of moving parts to this story, and they’re all handled with aplomb and care.


Baby, You’re a Rich Man: Suing the Beatles for Fun and Profit

This seemed like a really interesting idea for a book.

But not this book.

This is all about the ins and outs of the many lawsuits the Beatles faced in their band years, and after, to an extent.

You start with the millions of dollars their manager Brian Epstein left on the table because of naivety, and the attempt to collect it.

The suits when Allen Klein took over the group.

There are the suits that broke up the Beatles.

The suits over the “My Sweet Lord”-“He’s So Fine” controversy.

The suits over the Concert for Bangla Desh.

The suits over “Come Together”-“You Can’t Catch Me.”

If there’s more here, I’ve forgotten.

I thought it would be a romp through the Beatles years and the whirlwind of activity around them. But it turns out to be as exciting as a deposition.

Maybe the genesis for the book was the song title. I wish the author had given it more thought.

The King of Vodka: The Story of Pyotr Smirnov and the Upheaval of an Empire

The story of a one-of-a-kind man, a Russian serf who became a tycoon, right at the confluence of capitalism and communism.

You know the end, Smirnoff vodka rules the world, a distinctly Russian drink that becomes a worldwide phenomenon. But the origin is interesting enough.

Pyotr Smirnov, an indentured servant, sees an opportunity at the last days of the Tsars and little by little builds a business and then a brand, and then an empire. He sought, and received, the imprimatur of the Tsar, and became a big-timer.

And then, revolution.

The whole thing comes crashing down as communists nationalize the business and Smirnov dies without his creation.

One of his sons, who didn’t really want in the business, takes over and resurrects the vodka and the family name.

Finally, Americans step in and take Smirnoff international – I didn’t know that part!

This is a really interesting look at alcohol, Russia and the forces that changed the world.