Currently Browsing: Book Reviews
Jan 12, 2016
Even though we have continue to read almost anything that is put in front of us, we realized we haven’t done a book review in awhile. (After all, how many people are really interested in Stephen Sears’ Chancellorsville like we are?)
After seeing the movie trailer for the film 13 Hours, (trailer is below) we decided to take the time to read the book upon which the movie is based.
Before we get to the review, we want to make it clear that for any book we review, we aren’t getting compensation from anyone. We have no dog in the fight of whether the book is good or bad.
“13 Hours” is the story of the men and women who fought to defend the US Consulate and CIA Annex in Benghazi, Libya from attacks on September 11 – 12, 2012 from terrorists. In the attacks, four US citizens – Ambassador Chris Stevens, Information Officer Sean Smith, CIA contractors Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods – were killed. The book is told from the point of view of the men who were part of security teams at the Consulate and the Annex.
Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that what happened at Benghazi has been “political fodder.” Hearings were held on the incident. What was known by whom and what was said has tried to be determined. Whether the attack could have been prevented has been discussed. All of these topics are worthy of discussion and should see the light of day.
However, the book doesn’t discuss at length any of those issues. The book mentions the controversy because it is a controversy, but the authors stay away from it because the book is the story of what happened to them, and not what was happening in Washington, DC or even after the attacks. The only real controversy the book delves into is the so called “stand down” order which kept the men at the Annex rather than rushing to the aid of the Consulate. The men all say they were told to stand down and not try to render aid to the people in the Consulate by a CIA station chief named “Bob.” The CIA has denied they ever told the men to “stand down.” The men dispute that claim. It seems to us that the truth rests with the men. After all, if you have gotten your gear and your weapons and are sitting in vehicles ready to go to the Consulate, why didn’t the men leave immediately? The only thing that makes sense is that they were told to stand down and wait by someone.
Eventually the men tell “Bob” to take a long walk off a short pier (using far more colorful language) and they head off into the night to rescue and support the fighting at the Consulate.
To say the book is compelling is an understatement. It is one of the better first person accounts of anything we have read in a long time. The authors describe the gambit of the emotions of the men as they appear to be hopelessly outnumbered and without support. Will they ever see their wives and families again? Will they ever sit in a peaceful setting and drink a beer with the men fighting with them and for whom there is a deep abiding love and respect? There is anger at the support or rather the lack of support from the militia in the area who are supposed to be protecting the Consulate as well as serving as backup in case there was an incident. There is anger and frustration at the lack of military support from the US government as the men receive no air support from anything. Even a drone that flies overhead sends pictures back to Washington rather than supply support in the way of missiles or even real time intelligence as to where the attackers are and where the next attack is coming from.
Aug 26, 2012
Well, this is a first for us.
The other day as we were sitting here at the Raised on Hoecakes world headquarters, we received an email from someone claiming to be a senior account manager at the “A Group” who asked if we would be interested in reviewing the soon to be released book “Embracing Obscurity,” by “Anonymous.”
“Oh great,” we thought, “another ‘419 scam’.”
For kicks, we started to dig around a little and found that the company is legitimate.
Our curiosity was piqued to say the least.
The writer of the email, Rodney Brown, said that he had seen our review of the Tim Tebow book “Through My Eyes,” and was wondering if we would be interested in reviewing a book being published by B&H Publishing called “Embracing Obscurity.”
(We have no delusions that we were picked to because of the greatness of our review of the Tebow book. We aren’t that good or special. We know the A Group did something like a Google search and we were there.)
We called Mr. Brown and talked to him for a bit. We made sure he knew that we would review the book as we saw fit, and if he was expecting a favorable review because he was sending us the book for free, well, that wasn’t going to happen. We also mentioned that there were laws about giving something in exchange for a favorable review.
Mr. Brown was upfront and said they would send a copy of the book and a copy of the law which covers reviews. His job, he explained, was to get people to review the book thereby creating a sort of viral marketing campaign.
We agreed and the book will be coming to us so look for a review in the future.
As part of the email, Mr. Brown attached a letter from the author which you can read here.
There’s even a video on the concept of the book:
Jul 17, 2012
One of our favorite authors has passed away.
Donald J. Sobol, who wrote more than 80 children’s books has passed away due to lymphoma.
We can’t tell you the number of time we went to the library to get his books. We loved his “Encyclopedia Brown” series for which he was most famous.
His books taught us that reading could be more than words on a page. One could be a detective and think critically, solving police cases which adults could not. We sent some of his books to a friend of ours whose young daughter became a fan as well. Sobol’s books are timeless to young minds.
Sobol was a World War II veteran, serving in the Pacific as a member of the Army Corps of Engineers.
After the war, Sobol started as a copy boy for the New York Sun until he was eventually promoted to being a reporter and then moved to Florida in 1949 to write full time.
May 27, 2012
Ever had one of those “oh crap, how could I have missed that?” moments? A moment of enlightenment? A moment when what you believe is replaced with a bigger, greater truth?
Such is the book “Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II,” by historian Arthur Herman.
There are many long held myths Herman rips apart in his meticulously researched book.
The first is the myth most grew up with in regard to the American economy and America’s entrance into World War II. We were basically taught that prior to the war, the country was in a great depression and when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, forcing the US into the war, the economy and production of goods stopped, turned on a dime, and made what became known as “the arsenal of democracy.” Reality is much more interesting.
Prior to Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt had placed a call to General Motors head William Knudson – a Danish immigrant. Knudson had worked with Henry Ford and helped establish the first true optimized production line. After leaving Ford. Knudson went to GM, where he turned GM around to become a force within the automobile industry.
But it was “the call” that changed all that.
“Knudsen? I want to see you in Washington. I want you to work on some production matters.” With those words, President Franklin D. Roosevelt enlisted “Big Bill” Knudsen, a Danish immigrant who had risen through the ranks of the auto industry to become president of General Motors, to drop his plans for market domination and join the U.S. Army. Commissioned a lieutenant general, Knudsen assembled a crack team of industrial innovators, persuading them one by one to leave their lucrative private sector positions and join him in Washington, D.C. Dubbed the “dollar-a-year men,” these dedicated patriots quickly took charge of America’s moribund war production effort.
Henry J. Kaiser was a maverick California industrialist famed for his innovative business techniques and his can-do management style. He, too, joined the cause. His Liberty ships became World War II icons—and the Kaiser name became so admired that FDR briefly considered making him his vice president in 1944. Together, Knudsen and Kaiser created a wartime production behemoth. Drafting top talent from companies like Chrysler, Republic Steel, Boeing, Lockheed, GE, and Frigidaire, they turned auto plants into aircraft factories and civilian assembly lines into fountains of munitions, giving Americans fighting in Europe and Asia the tools they needed to defeat the Axis. In four short years they transformed America’s army from a hollow shell into a truly global force, laying the foundations for a new industrial America—and for the country’s rise as an economic as well as military superpower.
The production numbers for the US during the war are simply staggering. While Freedom’s Forge gives more details, the numbers show the US produced more products than the other countries in the war – combined. At the same time, the US did this with a lower percentage of men fighting and a lower percentage of women working in factories than any other country. In addition, as a percentage, the US economy produced more for domestic goods vs. war goods than any other country. All of this was due to the vision and foresight of William Knudson and men like Henry Kaiser.
May 1, 2012
When we picked up “Priceless,” by former FBI agent Robert Wittman, we thought, “this ought to be good.”
After all, “Priceless” has all the makings of a great thriller that may be stranger than fiction. How can it not? Sleazy art dealers. Undercover stings. FBI agents working with other law enforcement agencies around the world. And what is at stake?
Priceless works of art.
It is not as if there aren’t movies that have tried to capture the excitement of international art thefts as well. The Thomas Crown Affair, Ocean’s Twelve, and Entrapment are just a few.
Even the book’s subtitle of “How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures,” promises much.
Can it get any better than that?
The book could press all the right buttons and yet it fails to excite.
It took us awhile to figure out why the book, while covering an exciting topic, fails to deliver. We believe there are two reasons. First, it is not uncommon for a true life story to be less than what other fictional books and movies would have you believe. Often investigative work is tedious and the equivalent of watching hub caps rust. While the author of Priceless may be a good looking fellow, he is not in the same class as Catherine Zeta Jones (of Ocean’s Twelve and Entrapment.) Maybe the book fails to excite because we expected more excitement from it. If that is the case, that is our fault.
But after finishing the book and pondering it for a week or so, we realized the flaw – and perhaps the bigger flaw – was not that the book didn’t live up to the “excitement” we envisioned, but rather the book comes off as self serving and self promoting. After leaving the FBI, Wittman established his own security company that focuses on the prevention of art thefts. There is a feeling within the book of “if only the world’s investigators were as great as I…”
Dec 9, 2011
After we heard some feedback on our review of “Killing Lincoln,” by Bill O’Reilly, we thought we’d review the book “Through My Eyes,” by Tim Tebow.
Before we review the book, we should state any bias we may have toward the author. We did the same thing with the “Killing Lincoln” review simply because no matter how hard one tries to deny it, there is always a bias to writing on subjective subjects such as whether you like or dislike something.
First, unlike many of our friends, we are not rabid fans of the University of Florida Gators. We are not a member of the Gator Nation. In fact, when it comes to rooting for college teams, we have a definite pecking order. We first root for our beloved Terps from the University of Maryland. We then root for any Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC team.) After that, to appease, to pacify, and to stay out of harm’s way, we will root for the Gators, followed by teams from the Southeastern Conference (the SEC.)
We watched Tebow play in college and were amazed and impressed with him. It was not just his football ability, it was the stories off the field as well. We always thought Tebow was an underdog to “make it in the next level” for a variety of reasons. Yet to be honest, we rooted for him. In his senior season we began to think and believe he could play in the NFL.
Luckily for us, he not only is playing in the NFL, but is making fools out of a lot of people who claimed he couldn’t.
This means from what we have seen of Tim Tebow, we like him. There is something appealing to us that is hard to quantify. Maybe it is that we wish and hope he is as nice, polite and sincere as he appears in interviews. It just may be that we are rooting for someone in the public eye not to be a phoney.
When we picked up “Through My Eyes,” there was a bit of skepticism. After all, at 24 years of age, what can he tell us? We have socks and underwear older than Tebow.
What life experiences has he had that are of interest to us?
One reviewer at Amazon.com had the same issue and in fact asked something along the lines of “isn’t a bit presumptuous for a someone so young to be writing an auto-biography?”
Which brings us to actually reviewing the book.
Dec 1, 2011
Following our review of the book Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever, we received an email from Esther Bochner, a Senior Publicist at Macmillan Audio.
Just for kicks, we Googled “Esther Bochner” to make sure the email wasn’t a hoax. It doesn’t appear to be so. According to LinkedIn, Ms. Bochner does indeed work for Macmillan Publishing. She is a 2008 graduate of the Johns Hopkins University with a BA in English and Political Science. (It caught us off guard that the qualifications for being a publicist were being an English and Poli-Sci major instead of Advertising, but you learn something new everyday.)
We also went searching for how she found our little review and were surprised to find that we were on the third page of Google. (We are sure by the time you read this we will be much lower in the search results.)
Here is the email Ms. Bochner sent us:
I saw your great review of KILLING LINCOLN and I wanted to make sure that you are aware that the book is also available as an audiobook from Macmillan Audio, read by O’Reilly himself! I’d love to offer you a clip from the audiobook to post on your site alongside the review as multimedia content. Let me know if we can make that work!
In our experience, when something represented by a company is given less than a good review, seldom does the company refer to that review as “great.”
To refresh your memory, this is what we wrote as a conclusion to our review of the book:
Nov 30, 2011
After much internal debate, we decided to give Bill O’Reilly’s book on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln a try.
Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever by FoxNews pundit Bill O’Reilly and author / adventurer Martin Dugard is a difficult book to review because of the two prominent names on the dustcover – Lincoln and O’Reilly.
O’Reilly is a polarizing figure in America today. Despite being seen as a conservative by most people, he claims to be a moderate independent. His style is bombastic and confrontational and sometimes that gets him into a spot of being “factually challenged.” His previous books have been successful, although we have always found them to be somewhat superficial. Perhaps it is because O’Reilly is used to seven minute segments where one cannot get into great depth on any subject, but his writing style tends to have short chapters that often skim the surface of any issue.
The second problem is, of course, the other prominent name on the book – Abraham Lincoln. There is no other individual in the world who has had more books written about him than Lincoln. Books on Lincoln have outsold every other topic other than the Bible. When one writes about Lincoln, one is writing in a crowded field where it is difficult to stand out.
“Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever” seems to be as polarizing as the Lincoln and O’Reilly themselves. As of this writing, reviewers at Amazon.com have given the book 1,065 “five stars” ratings and 1,071 “one star” ratings. Only 243 people gave the book a two, three or 4 star rating. That means out of the 2,379 total reviews, a little over 10% of the reviews rated the book somewhere in the middle of the available ratings. The other 90% are at polar opposites of the spectrum.
To us that is a indication the controversy and strong opinions surrounding Bill O’Reilly may be driving the reviews.
To that end, we suppose we should say that we are not fans of Bill O’Reilly. Neither are we antagonistic toward him. O’Reilly has a certain style and demeanor that many people enjoy. We are not one of those people. At the same time, his show covers a great many stories and items that other commentators do not discuss. This means that we like the topics of his show, but rarely like the way those topics are presented and discussed by O’Reilly. At best, we are lukewarm to O’Reilly. We neither hate him nor would he be our first choice (or second, third, fourth…) for dinner.
Which finally brings us to the book itself.