The Bookshelf . . . Part 3 of 3

Bookshelf

For the past few years, I have compiled lists of books that I have read over the previous 12 months, and posted them here. With any luck, you may find an idea or two to help you get through your Christmas shopping.

So . . . here is Part 3 of 3 of the books that I have read so far in 2018.

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Paul Newman: A Life — Author Shawn Levy has taken an all-encompassing look at Paul Newman, one of the top actors of the past 50 years. There weren’t a lot of warts in Newman’s life, although it seems he was a functioning alcoholic, strayed a time or two on both of his wives, and liked to drive fast. But it’s intriguing to read how Newman moved through his career, and it is absolutely amazing to see in black and white just how much positive work Newman the philanthropist was able to accomplish.

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Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice — Bill Browder, who wrote this book, is a grandson of a man who once led the American Communist Party. Browder later co-founded Hermitage Capital Management, an investment company that at one time was a huge investor in Russia. Red Notice details the rise and fall of Red Notice within Russia, with a huge focus on what led to the latter. This is a frightening story of what can happen when someone runs afoul of — and stands up to — high-powered people in Putin’s Russia. None of it is pretty.

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Reporter: A Memoir — Seymour M. Hersh may be the greatest investigative reporter of our generation. If not, he certainly is in the discussion. No one has been a greater pain in the butt to the American government, American presidents, the CIA and assorted others in positions of power. In the mid-1990s, Hersh met with Cardinal John O’Connor, archbishop of the diocese of New York, who told him: “My son, God has put you on earth for a reason, and that is to do the kind of work you do, no matter how much it upsets others. It is your calling.” . . . That calling has resulted in what is a fascinating read for a number of reasons, including spelling out just how far those in power will go to stay in power.

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A Rift in the Earth: Art, Memory and the Fight for a Vietnam War Memorial — If you have ever visited the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., chances are that the image will remain with you forever. In this book, author James Reston Jr. chronicles all that went into this project, from the contest that was held to select the winning entry, to the vociferous opponents and all of the politics that came into play before the memorial was dedicated. Maya Lin was 21 years of age and an undergraduate architecture student at Yale when her design was selected for the memorial. A lot of the book is about her battles from 1979-84 against male authority figures, who wanted to interfere with her vision and change the memorial’s design.

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The Rooster Bar — Three law students get scammed by the system in this book from the prolific John Grisham, so they choose to try reversing things and scamming the scammers. Unlike most, if not all, Grisham books, there isn’t one person here who is really likeable, so I found it hard to feel any emotion while reading this one.

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Route 66 Still Kicks: Driving America’s Main Street — Is there a more famous highway, at least in North American, than Route 66? Author Rick Antonson and travelling partner Peter drove more than 2,400 miles as they worked to see as much of the original Route 66 as possible. The result is a nifty read that is full of anecdotes about the likes of Al Capone, Woody Guthrie, Mickey Mantle, John Steinbeck and Bobby Troup. It was Troup who wrote the iconic song ‘(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66.’ . . . The New York Times referred to this gem as “one of the best books of the bunch” in a 2012 Christmas roundup of travel books. It will make you want to rent a Mustang and get some kicks.

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The Russian Five — The Detroit Red Wings, under head coach Scotty Bowman, once had five Russians as key players on their roster. “Their legacy should be . . . it’s history, it really is. . . .,” says Dave Lewis, who was an assistant coach on those teams. “It was a revolutionary thing to even have one or two on your team. We had five and we haven’t seen it since. And to influence and marvel your teammates like they did, guys like Steve Yzerman and Nick Lidstrom. Those guys aren’t dumb hockey people. I really think it should be talked about in terms of the history of the NHL, and how they changed our game.” Keith Gave, who wrote this book, covered the Red Wings for the Detroit Free Press. Gave speaks Russian and played a key role in the early days of the Russian Five — Sergei Fedorov, Slava Fetisov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Vyacheslav Kozlov and Igor Larionov. Gave especially was involved as the Red Wings worked to get Fedorov out of Russia. Gave was there, too, when the Russian Five took the Stanley Cup home to Moscow.

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The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit — “Everyone dreams of dropping out of the world once in a while,” writes author Michael Finkel. “Then you get in the car and drive back home.” Unless you’re Christopher Knight, that is. In 1986, at the age of 20, Knight drove his car into a Maine forest, left the key in the ignition, and walked away. For 27 years, he lived in an encampment he constructed himself, surviving by raiding cottages and a camp for disabled children nearby. His ‘home’ was so well hidden that not even the authorities could find him. Eventually, technology tripped him up as he broke into a camp building and was arrested. Finkel got most of the information for this book by visiting Knight while he was in jail. This is an intriguing look into solitude and how to deal with it, and the art of survival. But I don’t know if it explains well enough just how Knight survived all of those harsh Maine winters.

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Tiger Woods — Authors Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian, both of them investigative journalists, tell the story of the rise and fall of Tiger Woods. It’s doubtful that any athlete of Woods’ stature has fallen so far so fast, and the authors detail all of it — from the pressure placed on him almost from birth by obsessive parents, especially his father, Earl, to the stunning fall from grace. A couple of things really stand out here: 1. Woods was incredibly rude and insensitive to a whole lot of people on the way up; 2. It is amazing that he could have had such success inside the ropes while so much was going on away from the PGA Tour.

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Two Kinds of Truth — Harry Bosch is retired from the LAPD now and doing some freelance work for the San Fernando Police Department. Author Michael Connelly has written another vintage Bosch book, and even has the veteran cop doing some undercover work. The really good news is that the ending indicates that there is more Bosch on the way.

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The Year of the Pitcher: Bob Gibson, Denny McLain, and the End of Baseball’s Golden Age — Author Sridhar Pappu takes 1968 and explores it using all that was happening in and around the U.S., as a backdrop to the MLB season. This was the summer in which the fierce Bob Gibson had a 1.12 ERA with the St. Louis Cardinals and the problem-child Denny McLain won 31 games for the Detroit Tigers. They would meet in the World Series but neither would be the hero. This is an interesting look at the U.S. as the 1960s were drawing to a close, a good look at two huge names from baseball’s past, and a whole lot more.

That’s it.

Merry Christmas . . . and happy reading!

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The Bookshelf . . . Part 1 of 3

Bookshelf

It’s back, by popular demand (well, Dan Russell always asks for it) . . . For the past few years, I have compiled lists of books that I have read over the previous 12 months, and posted them here. With any luck, you may find an idea or two to help you get through your Christmas shopping.

So . . . here is Part 1 of 3 of the books that I have read so far in 2018.

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All-American Murder: The Rise and Fall of Aaron Hernandez, the Superstar Whose Life Ended on Murderers’ Row — This book chronicles, as the title suggests, the rise and fall — an amazingly quick fall at that — of Aaron Hernandez, who was a tight end with the NFL’s New England Patriots when it all came crashing down. By book’s end, the reader knows that there can only be one outcome. But what leads to that outcome is mind-numbing; it is absolutely incredible how much badness one person of such high visibility was able to cram into his young life. James Patterson, one of the biggest-selling authors of this generation, had a hand in the writing, along with Alex Abramovich, with Mike Harvkey.

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American Gods — If you choose to read Neil Gaiman’s work, suspend all your beliefs and open your imagination wider than it has ever been. This is science fiction and fantasy and everything in between; it is a horror story and reality. It is about gods and non-gods and war and our culture. And it’s likely different than anything else you have ever read. After you have finished it, you will look at the people next to you somewhat differently, whether you are shopping, dining, at a hockey game . . .

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Beartown — Beartown is a town, presumably in Sweden, that loves its junior hockey team. In fact, if there is a word stronger than love, well, that’s what it would be. Written by Swedish author Fredrik Backman (and translated by Neil Smith), Beartown is one of the best works of fiction that I have encountered. It explores the relationship between a team and a hockey-obsessed community, including the parents and sponsors to whom winning is the only thing. This is a dark, dark novel and, if you know anything at all about junior hockey, it is absolutely full of truisms. It often will have you shaking your head, nodding your head and raising an eyebrow — often at the same time.

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Beneath a Scarlet Sky — At the age of 18, Pino Lella finds himself as the personal driver for General Hans Leyers, a man of great power within the Nazi party. It’s late in the Second World War and Leyers is working in the area of war-torn Milan, Italy. Oh yes, the teenager also is a spy for the resistance. Written by Mark Sullivan, this one is based on the story as related to him by Lella, and as you read you have to keep reminding yourself that this is non-fiction.

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The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created — Jane Leavy wrote two earlier baseball classics, The Last Boy and Sandy Koufax, and you can put The Big Fella right there, too. While The Last Boy was about Mickey Mantle, The Big Fella details the life and times of Babe Ruth. Meticulously researched, Leavy writes not only about Ruth but about the impact he had on the people around him and, indeed, society at the time. This is a wonderful, wonderful look at America in Ruth’s time.

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Bottom of the 33rd — Darn, but this is a great book. . . . The Rochester Red Wings visited the Pawtucket Red Sox for an International League baseball game on April 18, 1981. It turned into the longest game in pro baseball history, lasting 33 innings and taking 8 hours 25 minutes to play. The game was suspended on April 19, around 4 a.m., with 19 fans still in the stands at McCoy Stadium. The final inning, the 33rd, was played on June 23 and lasted only 18 minutes. Author Dan Barry magically explores the game, all of its nuances and oh, so many sidebars. Like the pitcher who went home at 1 a.m., but whose wife wouldn’t let him in because she thought he and teammates had been out drinking and carousing. . . . If you haven’t already read this one, find a copy and prepare to be entertained.

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Camino Island — This work from prolific author John Grisham is somewhat different from the legal thrillers that he has written. There aren’t any lawyers involved in what is a book drafted around the world of rare books. The pace is leisurely as it follows Bruce Cable, who owns a bookstore on Florida’s Camino Island, and Mercer Mann, a would-be writer who is trying to find her way into a second novel.

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Clandestine — This cop book, written by James Ellroy, has been around since 1982. Ellroy, of course, also wrote the Black Dahlia and LA Confidential, among other works. He is a master of the noir detective novel and Clandestine is no exception. It follows Fred Underhill, who is an LAPD detective when the book opens but, well, you’ll have to follow the twists and turns to see if he still has a badge at book’s end. If you like the noir genre, you’ll love this one.

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Court Justice: The Inside Story of My Battle Against the NCAA — Ed O’Bannon, a former basketball star at NCAA, and lawyer Michael McCann explain in plain terms how and why the former chose to be the frontman in a lawsuit aimed at allowing so-called student-athletes to control the use of their names and likenesses. It all started after O’Bannon’s college basketball career was over when he saw his image playing in an EA Sports video game. Through it all, the NCAA comes out looking like a plantation owner.

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Darkest Hour: How Churchill Brought England Back from the Brink — Using archived material, author Anthony McCarten provides us with a play-by-play of the days leading up to Britain’s official involvement in the Second World War. Hitler is moving west through Europe and, surely, Britain will be next. At the same time, the political arena in Britain is a mess, with Churchill only days into his run as Prime Minister. There are those who would negotiate with “Herr” Hitler and “Signor” Mussolini. Churchill, though, isn’t so sure. But will he or won’t he?

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Dark Sacred Night — The latest from author Michael Connelly has Harry Bosch, who is officially retired from police work but just can’t give it up, and LAPD detective Renée Ballard teaming up. Bosch is kind of freelancing with the San Fernando PD, and is investigating a cold case, while Ballard works the late show (night shift) with the LAPD. Connelly is a master at writing this kind of fiction, and Dark Sacred Night is another fine addition to the library that includes Bosch.

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Father Bauer and the Great Experiment: The Genesis of Canadian Olympic Hockey — This book, from author Greg Oliver, deserves a prominent spot on the shelf with others that detail important stories in Canada’s hockey history. There was a time when senior hockey teams, most of them having had to fund-raise, represented Canada at Olympic Games and World championships. Then along came Father David Bauer, whose dream changed the face of Canadian hockey. It wasn’t that easy, though, and Oliver has all the stories right here. If you care about Canada’s hockey history, don’t miss this one.

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Finnegan’s Week — Fin Finnegan is a cop in San Diego but he would rather be an actor. He really doesn’t have a whole lot of luck at either. Finnegan, with three ex-wives behind him, is the main character in author Joseph Wambaugh’s book from 1995. It’s full of lots of great dialogue and some truly off-the-wall characters.

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TOMORROW: Part 2 of 3.