The Loyal Son: The War in Ben Franklin’s House

A mixed bag about a fascinating man and his perplexing son, Benjamin and William Franklin.

As Ben grew in stature and fame as a scientist and patriot, his illegitimate son William went his own way, becoming governor of New Jersey just as war broke out.

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The Franklins were accused of colluding, splitting the difference and taking different sides so they could help each other when the dust settled. But the battles inside the family revealed how untrue that was.

The loyalist William was hoping it would all go away, and was imprisoned for being on the wrong side.

Meanwhile Ben warily became a patriot, testing the winds and coming to terms with being on the other side. He was brilliant, of course, and much of the patriots’ war and nation planning involved him. But he didn’t go out of his way to help his son, being much more concerned with his grandson, William’s son Temple.

Along the way, Ben posted himself in France and all but abandoned his dying wife. That created more cracks in the Franklin family.

Ben had a tendency to move slowly, leaving for a short visit to England before the war that turned in to a residence of more than 2 years. He kept his own counsel, did what he wanted, and philandered along the way.

This is an interesting look at a complicated, famous family, warts and all. You’ll probably be a little less enamored with Benjamin Franklin afterward.

Excerpts from letters make up the bulk of the book, but we don’t know how truthful any of the Franklins were with each other, so the truth can bit a bit inconsistent and uncertain.

The book, unfortunately, goes on a little too long. Trim it by about 50 pages and it’ll go down better.

I received this book from Library Thing.

 

 

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Vulgar Tongues: An Alternative History of English Slang

Slang is everywhere, but may be on its last legs, this book says. That’s but a side argument in a look at the development of slang in the English language.

This seemed like a fun topic, and I was looking forward to learning more history about slang, but the book ultimately wasn’t what I was hoping for.

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For one thing, I was disappointed that almost half the book was about sex, body parts or intoxicants. I guess that’s where a lot of slang comes from, but it felt like those sections went on a bit too long.

The other disappointment is that this was really written from a British point of view, so some of the words and references were, in a word, foreign to Americans. Luckily, I’m an Anglophile so I did get some of the references, but if you aren’t familiar with, say, Cockney rhyming slang, you’ll be lost. Some American slang is folded in, but not as much as compared with the rest of the book.

The one thing that stuck with me was a conclusion made at the end of the book, on the offensiveness of the best slang. Yes, slang does offend, that’s a given. But in our touchy times, that may be the unpardonable sin:

“Ultimately, slang will have no place in this world, because the best of it is almost guaranteed to offend someone, somewhere.”

Let’s hope that conclusion is wrong, because slang is and should remain part of language, offensive or not.

I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway.

Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign

As Hillary Clinton herself struggles to understand “What Happened” in her new book – and blames everything and everybody from James Comey to Russians to misogyny to Bernie Sanders – “Shattered” offers another point of view: Hillary’s problem was Hillary herself.

The authors had previously written a sympathetic biography of her at the State Department, “HRC,” which gained them access to the campaign. They were able to talk to staffers off the record as long as they didn’t reveal anything before the election. If they could have, the narrative would’ve changed.

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Hillary starts under the cloud of the email server debacle, and it never really gets much better. She is angry at her staff for being unable to formulate a statement of Hillary’s reason for running – but they can’t because she doesn’t really have one. She’s deep into policy, but short on likeability. People don’t trust her, and haven’t for more than two decades.

In short, she’s her own worst enemy. And yet, as a Clinton, she expected to win. And when it wasn’t going her way, she blamed.

To be fair, the tales of backstabbing and turf wars could probably be told about any major campaign. But hers were particularly interesting because the tiffs set up old-style politicians (like Bill) against new-age analytics gurus (like campaign manager Robby Mook). Decisions were made with faulty premises, and the voting reflected that. For example, the candidate never visited true-blue Wisconsin, either in the primary or the general campaign. And she lost both times.

There are plenty of revelations in this book, and although the tone is sympathetic toward Hillary, there is one fact the authors do drive home: In a climate of rising populism, both within the Democratic party and the nation at large, Hillary was the wrong candidate for the wrong time.

I received this book through Penguin Random House’s Blogging for Books program.

Last Team Standing: How the Steelers and the Eagles – “The Steagles” – Saved Pro Football During World War II

A fascinating look at a long-forgotten time in pro football – when it was hanging by its nails just as World War II got under way, and a move that saved two storied franchises.

All able-bodied men were shipping overseas and the ones left behind were too old, too young or too infirm to carry on a tough sport like football. Although baseball got the go-ahead to keep playing, football had a decision to make. Keep playing, or shut down for the duration.

The Cleveland Rams decided to take 1942 off, but that left the league with an odd-numbered (and difficult to schedule) nine teams. The league asked two of the weakest, the Pennsylvania pair Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers, to merge for the year. Had they not, the Eagles and Steelers might not have survived.

But they did merge, and the Phil-Pitt “Steagles” were born. They were largely the Eagles with a few Steelers thrown in, but were co-coached by the odd-couple tandem of Philadelphia’s Greasy Neale and Pittsburgh’s Walt Kiesling.

This book is filled with colorful anecdotes about the players, the cities and the realities of 4F football. And with the Steagles’ surprise run for the playoffs.

It’s an episode that impacted football forever.

 

Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon

In the shadow of the moon walk of historic Apollo 11 and the tragic, but heroic, Apollo 13 – even the fatal Apollo 1 – Apollo 8 often gets forgotten.

But Kluger draws attention to the amazing, out-of-left-field trip to circle the moon, as Apollo 8 took a huge risk and shut down most of the competition left in the Space Race.

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The Apollo mission flown by Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders (originally Apollo 7) was just supposed to take the LEM moon lander out for a test around the Earth. But NASA thinkers decided to go for broke and switched the crew to Apollo 8, shooting them to the moon by the end of 1968.

Kluger takes you into NASA offices, space contractors’ assembly floors, family kitchens and the smelly Apollo 8 capsule. You’ll feel you’re there as you hear the stories of the remarkable people who made this mission happen, nearly flawlessly.

And you’ll find out about the famous “Earthrise” photo that gave the entire planet a new perspective on the fragility of life.

Kluger previously wrote about the Apollo 13 mission with Lovell (that book was originally called “Lost Moon,” but was retitled “Apollo 13” after the movie). In fact, the movie was based on the book, and reading “Apollo 8” feels much like another exciting movie – hope it’ll be made. Is Netflix calling?

Space geeks and those in the mood for a good true story should pick up “Apollo 8.”

Thanks Library Thing for the Early Reviewer book.

Paul McCartney: The Life

Philip Norman’s mea culpa to Paul is largely good, has some flaws, and will fill in some gaps. But be forewarned – it’s not a Beatles book, and it’s not “authorized” in that the author sat with the subject. So, as such, it’s a different animal.

Norman gained acclaim/was criticized for 1981’s “Shout!,” which was a Beatles book and helped lionize John Lennon after the murder. It had damning things to say about Paul.

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Norman then buffed John’s story anew in 2008 with “John Lennon: The Life.” So when he approached Paul about a book, it was a surprise when Macca said fine, but wasn’t interested in hashing it all out again. Norman relied on interviews with old friends, staff, family, etc. As such, it’s a hit-and-miss collection of memories, from the beginning until Paul’s marriage to Nancy Shevell.

There is silence from Jane Asher, which leaves a gap, and a lot of details from “secret” girlfriend Maggie McGivern. She does a good job of inserting herself in a prime spot in McCartney’s life.

Linda, of course, was gone so she couldn’t talk, so there’s another gap. And no Lennon, no insights. And though he had access to previous books, interviews and letters, very little from either Brian Epstein or George Martin.

That said, there were good moments in the book, and sad moments, such as the recounting of Linda’s death, and the stupidity of the Japan pot bust/jail time.

Norman also couldn’t help himself and did relate Heather Mills’ most scandalous accusations in her divorce petition – all of which the judge in the case dismissed as false. So why include them in detail?

Maybe Paul’s life is too long now and has had too many chapters to attempt to gather it all into one volume. (For a look at Paul in the ’70s, get “Man On The Run.”) Maybe this would have been better as a two-parter, or an ongoing series. But it wasn’t, so it leaves me a little disappointed.

The Tunnels: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill

It’s a time that’s hard to fathom now. A country divided, a capital divided, a people divided.

In East Berlin, there were people desperate to leave, and the building of the wall in 1961 just steeled their resolve.

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This is the story of those who tried to get away, and how NBC and CBS raced to have the chance to film such an escape … and how the Kennedy administration tried to stop them.

Betrayal, arrests and killings are all part of the story of those to attempted to breach the wall, and that’s documented here.

Interesting to see an unfettered look at Kennedy, without the afterglow of sentiment. He was more of a hawk than we remembered, but also more timid. But considering nuclear war was always minutes away, maybe that’s understandable. He also told the CIA to begin investigating American journalists – a huge betrayal of the CIA’s stated job.

The aftermath of the tunnel crossing wasn’t always sunshine and roses, either. One crosser brought his wife … and promptly lost her to another man.

Lots of twists and turns here, like a good novel – but it’s all real.

Thanks, Blogging For Books, for the book.