December 29, 2014

Book review: “The Arms of Krupp” by William Manchester

  Nearly half a century ago, The Arms of Krupp by William Manchester was published to several decidedly negative reviews. The reviewer for Kirkus Reviews wasn’t sure, after going through the book’s 833 pages of text, whether Manchester saw the Krupp family as fierce patriots or whores in their service to the Fatherland over two centuries of armament development and sales. The writing, according to the review, was, at times, leaden and, at other times, afflicted with pedantry. Historian Alistair Horne complained in the New York Times that the book had many inaccuracies and was tainted by Manchester’s “visceral, anti-Germanism” as well as his “passion and prejudice.” Horne was unclear if the author believed that the final “sole proprietor” of the Krupp firm, Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, was really guilty of war crimes. Was Alfried responsible for the Krupp firm’s brutal use of 100,000 slave laborers from the conquered eastern nations and from the Third Reich’s concentration camps for Jews? Was he guilty of the deaths of tens of thousands of those people and even their babies? Horne wasn’t sure where Manchester stood. In another New York Times review, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt asserted: There are three basic kinds of […]
December 17, 2014

Book review: “The Green Hills of Earth” by Robert A. Heinlein

Sometimes, when he was younger, Robert A. Heinlein would speculate in his stories and novels about the science of space travel, and that could get a bit wonky. Sometimes, when he was older and had had wide success, he would fill his fiction with bombast about how humans should live, and that could get tedious. In The Green Hills of Earth, Heinlein does what he does best — writes about that endlessly mysterious and endlessly curious thing called human nature. The Green Hills of Earth is a 1951 collection of nine short stories and a novella, originally published during the previous decade. Here, there’s not much discussion of space hardware or theoretical physics. People are people, albeit in alien settings or in exotic circumstances.   “Nothing new” The novella “The Logic of Empire” is set mainly on the harsh landscape of Venus (which seems very much like equatorial Earth, except hotter and muggier), but the subject is one that has been an aspect of human society from the beginning — slavery. Through a series of unexpected events, lawyer Humphrey Wingate finds himself as a labor client on the second planet from the sun, which is to say that, since there […]
December 10, 2014

Book review: “American Queen: The Rise and Fall of Kate Chase Sprague, Civil War ‘Belle of the North’ and Gilded Age Woman of Scandal” by John Oller

Mary Todd Lincoln was in her glory. It was March 28, 1861, and she had hosted her first state dinner at the White House as the nation’s First Lady. She was saying good-bye to her guests, including Kate Chase, the daughter of her husband’s Treasury Secretary, Salmon P. Chase. “I shall be glad to see you any time, Miss Chase,” she said to the tall, elegant 20-year-old woman. “Mrs. Lincoln,” said Chase, “I shall be glad to have you call on me at any time.” What effrontery! Yet, two weeks before the start of the Civil War, the battle for dominance of Washington, D.C., society was already well underway between the diminutive, Kentucky-born Mary Lincoln and the queenly Kate Chase. And Chase was winning.
December 1, 2014

Five mythic poems

  FIVE MYTHIC POEMS   Dullahan Up Lake Shore Drive, I ride on my charger, black as a deep cave. You don’t see me, commuter, too dull with science. Onto Hollywood Avenue, then Ridge Avenue, then onto Clark Street. Children see me. Ignore me. They know. If you are a dancer, a painter, a singer, don’t look my way. You have eyes, but I will lash them with my whip of human spine. Onto Granville, then to Paulina. Up the street. I arrive. You die. Note: The Dullahan is a sort of Irish version of the Headless Horseman. I wondered how he’d do in present-day Chicago. Quite well, I discovered.