Moscow, December 25th, 1991 – The Last Day of the Soviet Union

An amazing book, better than I was expecting, and well worth a read.

The Soviet Union went down by decree, with the stroke of a pen, and nobody would have seen that coming, even earlier in 1991, much less any year during the Cold War.

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This book is structured from morning to mid-morning to noon to afternoon to evening of Dec. 25, 1991, with an epilogue the next day.

Woven into the book is an account of the rivalry between Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, the first (and last) president of the USSR and the minor party figure from Siberia who became president of independent Russia.

It’s really enlightening, revealing some flaws in the armor of Gorbachev, who had become admired in the West, and some good sides to Yeltsin, who was reviled.

Along the way, jealousies, pettiness, revenge and more fueled the interaction between the two and drove the political fortune of the Soviet Union – and the United States, to some extent.

The politics are hard to dig out, and the names, for a non-Russian-speaking American – forget it. But it’s worth hanging in there for a good hard look at the last day of the Cold War.

If we only knew then what we’d be up against next …

Highly recommended.

Alpha Beta: How 26 Letters Shaped the Western World

This is the history of the development of the 26 letters of the English alphabet, and it’s an interesting one, too.

I was expecting something different – maybe more a roll call of each letter, going into its development. Instead, it was more academic, and more enlightening than I had expected.

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The book also concerns itself partly with the origins of written language, the move from pictographs to syllables to letters.

And about English, where the letters came from (Etruscans, we think) and where it went from there. He also takes a side trip into what he considers the perfect alphabet, Korean.

This is a short book but lots of fun, and makes me want to read more about the development of the alphabet. Anybody know a good book?

The Kennedy Assassination–24 Hours After: Lyndon B. Johnson’s Pivotal First Day as President

In the first 24 hours after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Lyndon B. Johnson made some critical decisions that determined the successes – and failures – of his presidency.

This look at Nov. 23, 1963, was a very enlightening, even to somebody who is pretty well-versed in the assassination literature.

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The main backdrop is the rivalry between Johnson and Bobby Kennedy as the keeper of the flame/preserver of the legacy of his brother Jack. You could feel the tension between them as the account of the day continues.

Interesting that this book recounts all the myths and rumors about the day, scene at the hospital, phone calls, etc. It tells all the tales, from all sides, and attempts to sort out the truth.

Ultimately, Johnson is seen as a tragic figure, who had some of it coming to him, too.

OK I admit it, I used to be into all the conspiracy stuff, but I’m not anymore, so the fact that the book didn’t go into the mess of the assassination was a plus. Kind of like how Tony Stark didn’t want to hear Peter Parker’s origin story. It was better for it.

Not for those who want to debate the Grassy Knoll, but for those who want to know about LBJ.

Operation Columba—The Secret Pigeon Service: The Untold Story of World War II Resistance in Europe

This book started out great, but didn’t stay great.

A little-known episode of WWII (at least by me) was the use of homing pigeons/carrier pigeons by the Allies against the Nazis.

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Pigeons were dropped into occupied territories, like France and Belgium, with instructions for the finders to observe and write all they could and then send the pigeons back to England.

It was only somewhat successful, but Operation Columba (being the species of pigeon) had one major success, and this is partly a story of that success.

But that’s mostly the first couple of chapters. The book then turns into a look at spying and resistance in general during WWII – which is great, but that’s not what I was reading the book for. I was reading for the pigeon program.

It’s an interesting subject, but it got away from the central thought, I thought, and that diminished it.

I won this book from LibraryThing.