Sunday, January 23, 2011

Review of Books

Classes start tomorrow. I think I'm ready for it. I've had plenny time off...especially now that I'm back on the frigid east coast. I need something to take my mind off how freaking cold it is outside.

But one of the best things about having time off like I've just had is that I got to read...lots of books of my own choosing. Nothing for school, no required reading, and no pressure. Here's a review of the books:

--Love My Rifle More Than You, by Kayla Williams: Ms Williams was an Army Specialist and spent a deployment in Iraq. She writes very candidly about her experiences spending so much time with a bunch of guys under some pretty stressful circumstances. I found a lot of common ground with what she had to say, mostly with her reactions to being one of very few women surrounded by men and the camaraderie that develops in operational units. The tedium of standing the watch. What it feels like to walk into a D-FAC. I don't think it's the end-all, be-all statement of women in the military, but it is a good, honest portrayal of one woman's experiences.

--Deadliest Sea: The Untold Story Behind the Greatest Rescue in Coast Guard History, by Kalee Thompson: This is the story of the rescue of 42 of the 47 people onboard F/V ALASKA RANGER in the Bering Sea in March, 2008. The vessel lost a rudder and sank within a few hours, about 120 miles west of Dutch Harbor. The Coast Guard units involved in the rescue include USCGC MUNRO, D17 Command Center, and multiple aircraft from Air Station Kodiak. It was a well-written book, full of accounts from the crew of the fishing vessel as well as responders. And it's always fun to recognize people in books...LT Jimmy Terrell and CAPT Lloyd from MUNRO and Liam Larue from NTSB.

--A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS and Dangerous Days at Sea, by Richard Phillips: I was in Bahrain when the MAERSK ALABAMA was attacked, which I think is the same time zone as Somalia. We were all abuzz about it when it happened, so it was really cool to read the back story. And it was interesting to hear about the life of merchant marines. I've boarded a ton of commercial vessels, but never really took the time to ask about how the ship runs on a daily basis. I also think that piracy is an area that we, the CG, are uniquely positioned to combat...ya know...WPBs, which are a great platform for chasing pirates, that are looking for work in that area of the globe. Anyway, I enjoyed this book for a number of reasons: Mr Phillips talking about the duties of being a Captain, the mental preparations he made for underway trips, and the insights into how the merchant ships run. The casual brutality of the pirates, as well as the deaths, were not part of what I enjoyed, but were definitely integral to the story.

--Third World America,  by Arianna Huffington: The first few chapters of this book are ungodly depressing, mostly about how America is falling apart as a country. How the poor are getting poorer while the rich sit in their ivory towers eating gold-plated caviar, how our education and health care systems are in crisis, how our infrastructure is crumbling and desperately needs investment. But Ms Huffington does offer a few niblets of encouragement, practical suggestions that everyday people can take to help shore up the American dream. Mostly bleeding heart liberal spin on the current state of affairs, but not all gloom and doom.

--Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat's Jewelry Box, by Madeleine Albright: I heard Madame Albright speak at the end of last semester. She was on campus for the Sadat Lecture for Peace and spoke about the potential for peace in the Middle East. She was a brilliant speaker, engaging, cogent and well, funny. I enjoyed this book also, with its beautiful pictures of so many different pins. But I really want to read Madame Secretary: A Memoir.

--Uncommon Valor: The Medal of Honor and the Six Warriors Who Earned It in Afghanistan and Iraq, by Dwight Jon Zimmerman and John D. Gresham: What a powerful book. It tells about six servicemen who earned the Medal of Honor, all awarded posthumously. I think it came out before Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta was recognized in November, 2010 with his Medal of Honor. The book also gives a nice history of the medal and its recipients. The most frustrating story was about Joe Foss, a WWII Medal of Honor recipient who traveled with his medal in January, 2002. He was stopped by airport security for "suspicious objects" in his jacket. He missed his flight after being detained and questioned as a possible terrorist suspect for carrying something that looked like a Japanese throwing star. The airport security screeners didn't recognize was his Medal of Honor. The stories about the more recent recipients were powerful stories of men who recognized their duty and unhesitatingly made decisions that were devastating to themselves, but saved the lives of those soldiers and sailors around them.

--The Long Walk, by Slavomir Rawicz: There is controversy about whether this is a true story. Records prove that Slavomir Rawicz was not one of the group that escaped from the Siberian prison camp in 1941. Regardless, it's still a good read about the power of perseverance.

And even though classes start tomorrow, I'm in the middle of two books right now: The Trumpet of Conscience, by Martin Luther King, Jr and Fannie's Last Supper: Re-creating One Amazing Meal from Fannie Farmer's 1896 Cookbook, by Chris Kimball. Hopefully I'll get to finish them both before things get too crazy with school work.

Just so you don't think that all I read is hard-core non-fiction, I'll come clean and admit I also read some fiction including Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith and The Sleeping Beauty, by Mercedes Lackey.

And of course, there's a few books that I still want to read:
--Mark Twain's Autobiography...He wouldn't let it be published until 100 years after his death...should be good.
--Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand...recommended by a friend.
--Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia, by Michael Korda...I heard about it on NPR and it sounds interesting.

Anybody got any other recommendations?

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