Library Suggestion

The Books I’ve Read Since 2013 That Were Suggested by Staff at My Local Library

Community-wide One Read selections, Facebook Friday suggestions, or in-library displays.
  1. The Trial of Fallen Angels, James Kimmel, Jr.
  2. The Ruins of Us, Keija Parssinen (One Read 2013)
  3. The Boys in the Boat, Daniel J. Brown (One Read 2014)
  4. The Great Bridge, David McCullough
  5. Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel (One Read 2015)
  6. Bettyville, George Hodgman (One Read 2016)
  7. The Nazi and the Psychiatrist, Jack El-Hai
  8. The Long Walk, Richard Bachman
  9. The Turner House, Angela Flournoy (One Read 2017)
  10. The Elementals, Michael McDowell

Wife Suggestion

The Books I’ve Read Since 2013 That Were Suggested by My Wife

Some from her extensive collection, some she purchased for me, and some specifically recommended.
  1. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
  2. The Green Mile, Stephen King
  3. The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan
  4. The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
  5. The Help, Kathryn Stockett
  6. I Am an American: A True Story of Japanese Internment, Jerry Stanley
  7. Remembering Manzanar: Life in a Japanese Relocation Camp, Michael L. Cooper
  8. Hitler’s Last Days: The Death of the Nazi Regime and the World’s Most Notorious Dictator, Bill O’Reilly
  9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling


The Books I’ve Read So Far from My Book List, Including those Prior to Starting This Blog

From “52 Great Books to Read from the New York Public Library,” by Lynn Gordon, Chronicle Press, San Francisco, 1997.
  1. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
  2. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the Brothers Grimm
  3. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
  4. The Prophet, Kahlil Gilbran
  5. The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
  6. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
  7. Waiting for Godot, Samuel Becket
  8. Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller
  9. Animal Farm, George Orwell
  10. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  11. A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
  12. Ten Little Indians, Agatha Christie
  13. The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne
  14. The Color Purple, Alice Walker
  15. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez

Martin Van Buren — John Niven (President #8)


First, some trivial facts about President Van Buren:

  • First president born a citizen of the United States (after the Declaration of Independence).
  • First president from the state of New York.
  • Last vice president elected to the presidency until Richard Nixon, and the last sitting vice president to do so until George HW Bush.
  • First former president to run again for president in a later election after losing the office.
  • Third widower president (Jefferson, Jackson).
  • Third one-term president but the first not named John Adams.

Today I wrapped up John Niven’s Martin Van Buren: The Romantic Age of Politics, and gave it just three stars on Goodreads. I found it almost as challenging as Ralph Ketcham’s biography of James Madison, because of its detailed look at the magic tricks behind candidates and elections. It was 600 pages of campaigns, for the most part, and some have suggested a shorter work would have done the job adequately.

However, I don’t fault Niven for the length, I only wish there were more personal information about the man who became America’s eighth president. Like Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, Niven’s focus is revealed in the title–it’s about politics more than the man.

I was not pleased with the editing, and the final chapter covered the last 15 years of Van Buren’s life while the rest crawled slowly through the years, making it feel very rushed. I also found very few one-liners that I could hang onto, and little creative personality of the author in the work.

I started my presidential biography mission marking favorite lines in my book of Ron Chernow’s Washington for saving or sharing later, but have come to realize I can’t spend that much time on these biographies if I’m ever going to finish them all. Even so, I remember only two or three I might have recorded from Niven’s work, a number that pales dramatically by comparison to the others that I’ve previously read. One line that I did find particularly memorable was this one:

“As with all the libelous campaign literature, Weed’s philippics were millet seeds of truth embedded in husks of fabrication.”

I also found the block quotes mostly uninteresting, as though they were inserted only to add some longer quotations here and there and take up some space. But overall, I did like it, and have gained a broader understanding of the maneuvering that goes on within political parties and caucuses.

Now on to the next one: The one-month president!

The Life of Andrew Jackson — Robert V. Remini (President #7)

Day 1 • page 4

Great opening, jumping into Jackson’s life midway, as he became the most celebrated war hero since George Washington.

I inadvertently bought the abridged version of Remini’s biography, not knowing that the unabridged version is three volumes. I decided to stick with it anyway, and supplemented Jackson with Jon Meacham’s American Lion, as well.


Day 2 • page 14

Said a resident of Salisbury, Kentucky, where Jackson had been quite a rowdy young man many years earlier:

“Well, if Andrew Jackson can be President, anybody can!”

I am already kind of regretting not giving a go of the three-volume edition of this. It feels rushed and chopped to pieces. Still a fantastic read!


Day 3 • page 24

“Oh yes, I’m divorced now,” Rachel said. “Good, let’s get married,” Jackson replied. These are not quotes from the book, mind you, but the amount of work the man put into confirming the status of his love’s first marriage.


Day 4 • page 48

Jackson sure had a lot of job changes, and each one seemingly better than the last (except that whole US Senate debacle). Through all of them he became more and more adept at politicking and earning the right allies. He is the country’s first true master politician!

I find it interesting that after two declared duels, no meaningful shots have been fired, and this from the great General Jackson. But then again, the greats do have a way of avoiding being killed by bullets.


Day 4 • page 68

Finally, in his third duel, meaningful shots are actually fired. How Jackson did not die from his wound–at any time, not to mention immediately–is hard to understand. Dickinson’s fate is equally hard to comprehend: I’m sorry, but if you don’t get a shot off the first time, you shouldn’t be allowed to try again. They need to change the rules of duels!

Then Aaron Burr is hanging out at the Jackson’s. In every other book I’ve read, he quickly became a political outcast not long after his duel with Hamilton, but here he is palling around with Jackson and both men are rebuilding their reputations in the process.

Also for the first time in my presidential biographies, I read of someone being merciless to his slaves. Washington could order the whip, but it sounds like Jackson went further–“on occasion,” as Remini puts it, as if that makes it more acceptable.


Day 5 • page 86

I may have heard it before, but I was still taken aback to read that Jackson had sent an orphaned Native American child to his home to be raised there. Because he felt a connection to it. Never mind that HIS army and HIS orders were the reason the child was an orphan. How will he explain that later in the child’s life?

I paused more after reading of Indian atrocities against American settlers. Pregnant women… sickening.


Day 5 • page 99

Some locals were not happy with Jackson’s enlistment of free blacks in the upcoming fight to save New Orleans:

“Be pleased to keep to yourself your opinions upon the policy of making payments of the troops with the necessary muster rolls without inquiring whether the troops are white, black or tea.”

Let the decisive post-war battle begin!


Day 6 • page 115

I am beginning to understand how mistakes tend to be the unsung heroes of war, and Jackson himself claimed he was lucky how the engagement with the British in New Orleans turned out. Nevertheless, the battle appeared afterward to be so one-sided, that it cemented Jackson’s lofty place in American history.

How quickly public opinion can change, however, as the hero who saved the city managed to overstay his welcome with a needlessly extended curfew and martial law. Still, he received a warm farewell and celebration at home when he returned to Tennessee.

After arresting federal judge Dominick Hall for releasing a man imprisoned by Jackson during his occupation of the city, the judge later charged Jackson with contempt.

The Hero of New Orleans paid the fine, much as it may have distressed him to do so. He was not prepared to defy Hall; he was unwilling to blemish his victory with a quarrel he was certain to lose. In a final display of spirit, he refiused to accept $1,000 raisied by popular subscription and requested that the sum be distributed among the families of soldiers who died in defense of the city.

Remini unapologetically defends Jackson’s relocation (“removal”) of Native Americans, but seems to present only Jackson’s opinions, not his own. It feels hypocritical for Jackson to present tribe leaders with the choice of relocation or extinction, since he himself would likely take the reigns of the operation exterminating them if necessary. But he probably felt, rightly, that if it weren’t he, many others would be more than willing to do it, making their fate inevitable, and relocation non-negotiable.

I enjoy reading today that another American city, Denver, has joined others in recognizing the second Monday in October as “Indigenous Peoples Day,” a holiday celebrated for centuries across the country as Columbus Day. I hope my own progressive city soon joins the list.


Day 7 • page 146

On the apparent neglect of the rights of southerners and westerners, before the Missouri Compromise, Jackson wrote: “I hope I may not live to see the evils that must grow out of this wicked design of demagogues, who talk about humanity, but whose sole object is self aggrandizement regardless of the happiness of the nation.” This statement reveals his growing detection of corruption in Washington.

He had plans to be fair to all, and at least in his mind, he was.

This was one of Jackson’s abiding principles. Long before he became President of the United States he articulated the fundamental doctrine of Jacksonian Democracy: the obligation of the government to grant no privilege that aids one class over another, to act as honest broker between classes, and to protect the weak and defenseless against the abuses of the rich and powerful.

Such was evident in his announcement of prosecuting any whites living on Cherokee land, but it seemed to vanish during his continued “Indian removal” policies.


Day 8 • page 160

Remini and Paul C. Nagel sure have different perspectives of the 1824 election. I think it would have been much better for John Quincy Adams if he had lost then and ran for president again in 1832! Both authors agree that Adams’ overreaching first State of the Union Address sealed the fate of his failed presidency.

Nagel specifically said there was no real “bargain” between JQA and Henry Clay, because the offer of Secretary of State was made after the House vote, but Remini presents the scheme as a simple fact, established in an otherwise harmless conversation likely with a wink or a nod. I am inclined from everything else I now know about Adams to believe that such a deal is completely out of character for him. Be that as it may, I can appreciate how it looked at the time, and perception is reality (or so I’ve been told).


Day 9 • page 182

The nastiness and slander of the 1828 campaign approaches that of today’s. I now equate the names of Isaac Hill and Duff Green with Andrew Breitbart. I am struck by the tragic personal details in the lives of the presidents–trivial details that I feel like I might have heard before but not comprehended–such as Rachel Jackson dying the same month her husband officially knew that he would become president. I am also saddened to learn of the death of Lyncoya, the Indian child the Jackson’s never should have had in the first place.

I can understand why Jackson blamed the Adams camp for the death of his wife, but she must have had a very weak constitution to have been ultimately broken by words on a page. She had just lost Lyncoya and, I’m sure, dreaded the attention and attacks that lay ahead, but there must have been something else. It is unfair of Jackson to extend the charge of government corruption to include second-hand homicide.

⇒     The loss of his beloved means Jackson is about to become the second widower in the President’s House, and adds to a remarkable footnote about our First Ladies: Only one of them through the first seven presidents lived in the White House for her husband’s entire time in office: The city and house were not built yet for George and Martha Washington. John and Abigail Adams couldn’t move in there until late in his third year in office. Martha Jefferson died a decade before her husband was president. James and Dolley Madison were burned out of the house during the War of 1812, and it wasn’t ready for the James and Elizabeth Monroe until late in his first year. That makes John Quincy’s wife Louisa Adams the first. Now I can’t help but wonder who was the first First Lady to live there for eight years, since I know the next several presidents after Jackson served only one term. Don’t tell me!

It sounds like it is a wonder that the President’s House withstood the raucous crowd that gathered for Jackson’s inaugural celebration. “The people’s president” was almost smothered by them! What a contrast to today, when the place is fortress, and not the scene of any significant inauguration-day festivities.


Day 10 • page 219

Jackson’s intended removal of corruption from Washington is overshadowed by the removal of his cabinet, and then the removal of the American Indian. Despite his calling it “harsh, arrogant, racist,” I am finding Remini to be far too tolerant of Jacksonian Indian policy. Don’t get me wrong — he has been critical of it. But calling their fate “inevitable” is an insult to humanity. The cause of liberty demanded better. And to suggest there was a military necessity to Indian removal I find quite laughable. Jackson had already proven nothing would stand in America’s way of defending itself anymore, and Indians would have been no obstacle had they not been relocated.

New Jersey Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen was one of the few to come to the defense of the Indians:

“We have crowded the tribes upon a few miserable acres of our Southern frontier: it is all that is left to them of their once boundless forests: and still, like the horse-leech, our insatiated cupidity cries, give! give! give!”

I would also like to know how Jackson expects to pay off the deficit while buying Indian lands for almost three times its amount.


Day 11 • page 251

Jackson saves the Union… for now. But I do believe the Confederate Army was just born in South Carolina.

I found it very exciting to read Jackson’s take on the veto, as he, like fellow limited-government advocate Thomas Jefferson, expanded the power of the presidency.


Day 12 • page 292

Jackson and his staff accomplished so much it is blowing my mind, while Adam’s entire presidency was covered in one chapter of his biography. Jackson’s popularity with the electorate also continued almost without fail, and I wonder if he would have run for a third term had his health not been declining and had he not had a newly rebuilt home awaiting him in Tennessee.

I would feel worse about Rachel’s letters being destroyed in the Hermitage fire if it weren’t for the fact that many early presidents intentionally burned personal letters themselves. It is sad, though. so much of their stories remains an unfinished puzzle.

I did a literary double-take when reading about Jackson’s tour after the South Carolina threat, when they stopped in Lowell, Massachusetts to see a factory where young women worked. The phrase “a veritable mile of girls” made me think of today’s presidential campaign, in which the names and behaviors of Donald Trump and Bill Clinton are bringing up outrageous stories too numerous too quickly for a voter to keep up. I believe their staffs would have to steer them clear of any place with a “mile of girls.”

I will be driving for 11 hours tomorrow, so I may not have much reading time, but I will try to post!


Day 13 • page 310

An assassination attempt that somehow failed twice! Jackson was calm back at the White House afterward, but that fits his style. He probably figured God obviously needed more from him, so he went on about living his life with no regard to what had just happened.

I can see how liberals and conservatives today borrow from Jackson’s vision of Democracy.

It is quite ironic that Americans were illegally migrating to Mexico in the 1830s, when Texas was still part of that country!


Day 14 • page 350

Retirement, and an end to the most colorful presidency yet. So many accomplishments, summarized nicely in chapter 29.

I am sad to read that Jackson did not free any of his slaves in his will — something profoundly flawed in his otherwise remarkable thinking.


Day 15 • page 360

Old Hickory is dead, but, despite his worry, his legacy lives on in a mostly positive way. The details of his passing make  a touching story on their own–that he was surrounded by so many friends and family members, and was speaking coherently (preaching!) to the very end.

I wonder what he would think about having his face on paper money? He would, I’m sure, graciously yield his likeness to someone else. That it looks like it’s going to be a leader of slave escape is something we just won’t tell him.

I will seek the three-volume Remini for my collection and plan to read that some day, after I’ve completed all the presdients. I considered reading Meacham’s bio on Jackson immediately after this one, but I feel like I should move on and come back to that as a “bonus” read later.  So instead, I am moving on to a different biography, Ron Chernow’s Hamilton, making me one of the few people reading it for a reason other than the Broadway musical that has apparently made it a trend.

The Nazi and the Psychiatrist — Jack El-Hai


Day 1 • page 2

The House. An introduction. A crime scene. Then, a short journey back in time, to the arrest of a Nazi high commander. Good start to this book!


Day 2 • page 38

The theme of deception has developed in the first three chapters. Kelley coaxing Göring into revealing himself. Or is it the other way around?

“Long before the name psychology was on everybody’s tongue,” Kelley wrote, “magicians employed its principles under the term misdirection.”

I couldn’t imagine how Göring expected to be treated as a superior officer by the American staff where he was incarcerated. It’s as if he didn’t realize he was a prisoner of war, and that his title named him as a leader of an organization that no longer existed, making it obsolete.

[P.S. My library book smells musty.]


Day 3 • page 61

“The very air feels imprisoned,” Andrus observed with satisfaction.

The change from the Mondorf hotel to the grounds at Nuremberg may have come as a shock to the prisoners, especially seeing the once-great city broken, and turned into the place of their indefinite confinement.


Day 4 • page 106

While many of the top Nazis were little more than ambitious sociopaths who had no particular basis for disliking people of Jewish faith, some were more like what we imagine the monsters to be:

Even more than Hitler … the husky, long-winded and uncouth publisher [Julius Streicher] believed that Jews were evil and subhuman, and anti-Semitism formed the foundation of all his political beliefs.

This exchange between the book’s title characters confirmed for me what I have always thought to be the simplest explanation for any grizzly orders surviving down the chain-of-command:

Kelley replied that Americans generally regarded all top Nazis, Göring included, as Hitler’s yes-men. “That may well be,” Göring said, “but please show me a no-man in Germany who is not six feet underground today.”

Göring’s loving letter to his wife portrays him as a good guy, and an average Joe. And he probably thought he was, in many ways.


Day 5 • page 115

Gustave Gilbert arrives on the scene, and I’m wondering why they needed a psychologist at all during that stage in the game. His Rorschach retests showing some different results, but maybe they say as much about the tester as they do the tested?

In a preview to Göring’s exit, Ley takes his own life his own way, to avoid the indignity of hanging. How many of the Nazi’s victims were given a dignified death?


Day 6 • page 124

Hess’s feigned amnesia is grating on my nerves, even if Dr. Kelley is buying into it a little.

A statue of Göring in every house? I can’t swear I’d heard his name before picking up this book–I’m OK with him being nearly erased from history.


Day 7 • page 132

The trial arrives, and it sounds like a spectator sport. I suppose it was. Visions and sound bites of the OJ Simpson trial come to mind.

“If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

“Not guilty in the sense of the indictment.”


Day 8 • page 155

I struggled just reading about the post-liberation film footage shown in the courtroom, which the accused had trouble watching. But my heart ached as I learned of the last use of the ovens at Dachau, as if a sacred grave had been defiled.

Goring’s suicide, to me, was an act of cowardice that outweighs any potential slight he might have felt at being hanged. He could have stood defiantly until the very end. Instead, he sneaked out the back door of this world to avoid the judgement he brought upon himself.

I was heartbroken when I learned of the bodies of the executed being taken to Dachau, as though a sacred place had been defiled. Things like that show how retribution is only crime upon crime.


Day 9 • page 162

President Truman:

“We have high hopes that this public portrayal of the guilt of these evildoers … will bring wholesale and permanent revulsion on the part of the masses of our former enemies against war, militarism, aggression, and nations of racial superiority.”

More insight into the warped mind of the doctor, after he shipped home what I call souvenirs: “[B]ooks that their Nazi authors had signed; copies of letters he had conveyed between Hermann and Emmy Goring; a sampling of the Reichsmarschall’s paracodeine pills; X-rays of Hitler’s skull; and the wax-sealed specimens of crackers, cookies, and candies that Rudolf Hess had claimed were poisoned by his English keepers.”

Kelley’s Analysis of Hitler: Megalomania — delusions of greatness.


Day 10 • page 170

Finally, he urged his countrymen to refuse to vote for any candidate who made “political capital” of any group’s race and religious beliefs or referred indirectly or directly to the blood, heritage, or morals of opponents.


Day 11 • page 191

The darker side of Dr. Kelley gains strength, and he correctly insists that he cannot see a psychiatrist himself because it would destroy his reputation. It is a sad commentary on the stigma of seeking help for mental health. Anyone should be able to do it without being afraid of the consequences and perceptions. We’re all human.


Day12 • page 227

I couldn’t help but think that the ghost of Herman Göring was smiling wryly as Dr. Kelley slipped away.



John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, a Private Life — Paul C. Nagel (President #6)



Day 12 • 8½ pages

Work and home demands have kept me from my minimum 20 pages per day today, and means I have read 8½ pages total the last two days. I will try to make up for it in the next couple of days.

I am starting this book (for the purposes of the new blog) on page 215, and ending today on 223. John has returned to Paris while journeying from Russia to his new post in London, traveling part of the way on a ship named after his father. I would think that would be a pretty cool experience for JQ, except that he spent most of his life to that point trying to get out of his John Adams’ shadow. Among the entertainments while in France, a visit to the castle of the Marquis de Lafayette, who will soon make his farewell tour of the United States. The more I read in other biographies about Lafayette, the more I want to read one about him. I have a good one on my to-read list, Lafayette, by Harlow Giles Unger.

John helped finalize the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812 with the same policies that were in place before it started–but with an American capital to rebuild–seen as a victory for the US. His amazing résumé continues to grow.


Day 13 • 24½ pages

I have found a love of statistics, and to some extent, trivia about two of my favorite subjects: Baseball and US Presidents. My wife hates it, so I get to talk about it here.

Today’s text confirmed for me what I had suspected, the unusual fact that our SIXTH president’s wife was the FIRST presidential spouse to live in the White House for her husband’s entire term. The city was not yet built in George Washington’s time, and was not ready (and barely) for John Adams to move into until his third year in office. Thomas Jefferson was a widower in the President’s House, James Madison was burned out of it in the War of 1812, and repairs did not allow James and Elizabeth Monroe to move in until late in his first year.

I found it incredible that Abigail Adams influenced two later presidents to give jobs to her family members, but that her son could not be moved to do so in his new office of Secretary of State. I think those apron strings are cut!

It saddens me how quickly JQA became a target of unfairness–during the so-called “era of good feelings,” no less–because of the aspirations of those he worked with. Monroe’s cabinet should have been a “dream team,” perhaps the strongest one the nation had seen to that point. But if nothing else, something politicians are great at is messing things up.


Day 14 • 20 pages

The metric system can save us from the devil. That thought was quite a surprise! JQA’s report on weights and measures sounds like the most detailed and boring book ever written! But if it made him happy, I accept it.

I like that Nagel mentioned John’s receipt of a stray vote that prevented Monroe from unanimous re-election. I also like that Adams opposed the Missouri Compromise, a deal that put my home state on the wrong side of history.

For the first time since starting my trip through the lives of all the presidents, I felt a real connection to the history I was reading, when John became a fan of steamboat travel. Being from St. Louis, I grew up in an area greatly affected by steam-powered traffic on the Mississippi, so it was easy for me to visualize the vessel on which he journeyed from Washington to Massachusetts.

I was sad that he seemed to pay little notice of the death of the legendary First Lady, his mother, Abigail in 1818. But it was somehow appropriate anyway. Also sad is knowing that his father would deteriorate substantially and not live very much longer, either.

My favorite line today was the humorous (and unintentional) use of alliteration when John was referring to Washington society’s petty social expectations as a, “paltry passion for precedence.”


Day 15 • 27 pages

If I am ever asked what contest between former presidents I would most like to see, I think at this point I would have  to say a swim-off in the Potomac by JQA and JFK.

John’s comment about the swine farm could  similarly apply to the politically ambitious in Washington: “Not cheering either to the sight or to the scent.”

His noble aspiration to, “bring the whole people of the union to harmonize together,” is one echoed by many presidents before and after him, and achieved by none. There are just too many of us and too many opinions to harmonize.


Day 16 • 33 pages

“My life must be militant to its close.”

I am unwrapping the injustice of a presidency doomed to failure by popular opinion before it even began. Adams became the second president to win the office via the House of Representatives, after Andrew Jackson claimed both the most popular and most electoral votes, though because there were four candidates, even Jackson did not take the required electoral majority.

While unfair to the highly qualified and dedicated Adams, I can appreciate what 1820s Americans would have been feeling: An exciting personality, the nation’s first big war hero since George Washington, and someone neither from New England nor Virginia, had been defeated through technicality by a government insider who had spent most of his life on another continent while failing repeatedly to make a private-sector career in America.

Nagel’s apologetic introduction of the chapter as a necessarily brief commentary on JQA’s presidency was followed by talk about the endless and unrestricted line of visitors to the Executive Mansion, and about trips home, but nothing on any significant event in which Adams played a role. It seems the most noteworthy thing about his time in office is that he became president at all. Perhaps the most unfortunate part of the story is that all of the grand desires he called out in his first Congressional address, torn asunder by colleagues, the press, and the people, are things we have and take for granted today. The country simply wasn’t ready for for his ideas, and wasn’t ready for another Adams.

I found Nagel’s description of the events of July 4, 1826, the most clever of the ones I have read so far:

The nation was much stirred by the news that the two principal authors of the Declaration of Independence should be recalled by God on the nation’s fiftieth birthday.

Both Thomas Jefferson and the senior John Adams, as well as JQA himself, had been diplomats overseas, a job in which being recalled means you are either fired, or needed in some other capacity and must go home.

I am heartbroken for John, as his insignificant presidency is nearly bracketed by his father’s death, and then his eldest son’s.


Day 17 • 23 pages

A sturdy white oak.

It is hard to fathom how JQA, twice ousted from elected office, constantly disrespected by colleagues and the press, and hard-pressed to find anything noteworthy he had accomplished as a politician, would come up with this phrase: “Public affairs… afford me rather relief and relaxation from these heavier domestic and personal afflictions.” That meant he had some really bad stuff going on at home.

I love how John’s opinion of President Jackson is revealed on page 343:

“He is one of our tribe of great men who turn disease to commodity, like John Randolph, who for forty years was always dying.” According to Adams, Jackson was “so ravenous of notoriety that he craves the sympathy for sickness as a portion of his glory,” willing even to allow talk of his “chronic diarrhoea.” He predicted that the president would “crawl” back to Washington, disappear briefly into the White House, and then emerge, “never in better health and spirits.”

Louisa’s description of her husband’s resolve to their only remaining son, Charles: “Your father is a sturdy white oak and not to be crashed by the reptiles who envy his talents and would destroy him if they could.”

It sounds as though in the next chapter, he will be doing the destroying…


Day 18 • 16 pages

Finally, John is thriving, never more popular at home, and newly reelected to the House. Yet I find that I can’t be too happy for him, as he has emerged on the wrong sides of the slavery and women’s rights issues–if only to sustain a fight.

I enjoyed reading about the origins of the Smithsonian Institution, courtesy of a bequeathal by British friend James Smithson.  I am also glad that Adams led the effort to keep the funds directed toward the cause for which it was intended.


Day 19 • 15 pages

I am realizing that John is possibly the most notable politically active septuagenarian since Benjamin Franklin, and continue to find it astounding how a man who had so often been beat up in his chosen career seemed to find additional strength each day in his old age. He turned around, to be the slayer of the “slavocracy,” provoking the ire of southern states at every opportunity, despite the “gag rule” on the subject of human bondage. With each page I read he becomes a bigger hero to the rights of all men, even defending the Africans of the Amistad before the Supreme Court.

I am pushing with his family for John to complete a biography of his father, but it appears that is not likely to ever happen. I am happy that he looks forward to finally having a friend in the Executive Mansion with the election of William Henry Harrison,  yet I know that only more death awaits, to take another jab at John’s hope and optimism.


Day 20 • 35 pages

I finished the text today, as I had a day off from work and was close enough to the end to see the light. It was a difficult for me, at this time, to read such detail of the deterioration of the health of John Quincy Adams. Yet I took inspiration from his drive to keep going until the very end, and only hope I can somehow manage that when my time comes around. Although I would like to retire at some point–I’m not sure Adams knew what retirement was.

He continued on in an effort to salvage his name in history, and he has more than done that. I couldn’t help but think that he was likely the most prominent politically-active septuagenarian since Benjamin Franklin. Then he turned 80 and kept going. I also thought about how he could stand beside Lincoln in American history as a formidable opponent of slavery.

As usual, I got choked up as I read of his passing, this time influenced by the unexpected celebrations he encountered as he traveled to Cincinnati and elsewhere. I thought about how hard that trip was for him physically, and how easy his last journey was, from Washington to Quincy where he finally would lay at rest.

It is a strange roller-coaster ride of emotion, getting to know someone intimately; watching them grow from childhood (or sometimes infancy) to adulthood, and then fading from this world to the next, all in a short three to four weeks of my time. Losing friends is hard. Meeting and losing them in the same month is inexplicable.

JQ is the sixth president of whom I have read a biography, and the seventh key American historical figure (including Franklin) in the last 12 months. I am gaining an invaluable perspective on what it was that made these men great, and not-so-deep down, I feel a wish to join them in their notoriety. Maybe in my next life…

Gone with the Wind — Margaret Mitchell

That’s Not How It Was in the Book

My wife and I have switched roles lately: She used to have a book in her hands regularly, and I couldn’t sit still long enough to read a book. But now her free time is so hard to come by that her best chance of appreciating an author is an audio book while driving to and from work, and now I am making a real effort to read. We have been to several movies at which she at some point said, “That’s not how it was in the book,” or afterwards would tell me details that were different in the book. Recently, it was I that said that line to her.

The novel.
The novel.

Early last year, I finished reading Gone with the Wind, and in November we watched the movie at home, the first time I had seen it in almost 30 years. What got me thinking about it yesterday was reading about a farm girl’s visit to the Road to Tara Museum in Jonesboro, Georgia. The movie opens up with text scrolling on the screen giving the viewer some background information leading up to the opening scene at Tara. I initially said, “That text isn’t from the book,” and then quickly and facetiously amended my comment, with just the right degree of snark, to, “That’s not how it was in the book!”

For the second time last year, I finished a film disappointed, and how could I be disappointed with such a classic!?  The first time it was part two in the Hunger Games movie series, Catching Fire. We saw that in the theater just months after I finished the book, and in that case I was disappointed because the movie was too much like the book. I kind of felt like I wasted my money.  But for Gone, I felt it was too little like the book. Only a few things noticeably changed, but so much was left out of the story that it just didn’t feel the same at all to me. The book moved me. The film did not.


Consider stopping here if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie and, like me, hate for any significant details to be revealed before you do so. I won’t be revealing any plot twists here or laying out the ending, but I will talk about some of the changes and deletions the film made. The only real significant change I noticed was with Scarlett’s belly: She spent much of the book pregnant with her three children, and in the film has only one. But I can see how her first two would not be considered critical to the story for the big screen, where if something weren’t sacrificed, it would be a six-hour-long piece of cinema.

But some of the unfortnate changes are in the dialogue. There is a scene in which Ashley is telling Scarlett how war has changed him, and it is cleaned up in the film, omitting these highlighted, stomach-churning lines:

“I saw my boyhood friends blown to bits and heard dying horses scream and learned the sickeningly horrible feeling of seeing men crumple up and spit blood when I shot them.”

His juvenile behavior is a bit more forgivable when you understand the cruelties he has lived through.

The film barely touches the madness of war. When Scarlett walks among the wounded lying in the street, it is a much more sobering experience through the novel.

USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor

No amount of great film directing can adequately translate some words from a book that are not part of the dialogue. One such excerpt has stuck with me the most, because it was exactly how I felt on a trip to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, years ago. Looking up through the window in the ceiling of the Arizona Memorial, on a beautiful near-cloudless day, I somehow saw that same sunny sky filled with planes, bullets, bombs, fire, and smoke. Paradise lost, as in Scarlett’s Atlanta:

It was unreal, grotesquely unreal, that morning skies which dawned so tenderly blue could be profaned with cannon smoke that hung over the town like low thunder clouds, that warm noontides filled with the piercing sweetness of massed honeysuckle and climbing roses could be so fearful, as shells screamed into the streets, bursting like the crack of doom, throwing iron splinters hundreds of yards, blowing people and anmials to bits.

What the film, and Clark Gable, does best is present the character of Rhett Butler. He has become my new hero, because he tells it like it is. He is the anti-politician.  You meet him through novel and film by learning that he isn’t received!  The first encounter between he and Scarlett is priceless in both versions of the story.  Rhett can be summed up by his attitude in one line:

“You can’t make me mad by calling me names that are true.”

If only we were all so accepting of our flaws, we could move past them.

Finally, I will give credit to the film media for being able to present Rhett’s final line with more passion than text could ever deliver. And yes, one little word was added to the line that in my opinion made it more effective.

Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

The delivery in the film seems to let linger Rhett’s anger, while in the book the line comes across as defeatist.

Had I remembered the film from seeing it so long ago and still not read the novel, I imagine I would consider it a classic but not particularly great. If I had seen it for the first time months ago I am sure I would think more highly of it than that. It is, without question, a brilliant work of art. However, I ask now that if you ever hear anyone refer to Gone with the Wind as a great film, you correct them: It is a great novel, that happens to be an excellent movie, too.

• • •

“Do you still want to tell me to go to hell?”

“Well, not as often as I used to.”

• • •

Nihil desperandum