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December 2018

Beneath a Scarlet Sky: A Novel (Mark Sullivan, Lake Union Publishing, 2017, 460 pages)

Likely the best book I have read this year.  Outstanding historical fiction.  

Soon to be a major television event from Pascal Pictures, starring Tom Holland.

Based on the true story of a forgotten hero,  Pino Lella wants nothing to do with the war or the Nazis. He’s a normal Italian teenager—obsessed with music, food, and girls—but his days of innocence are numbered. When his family home in Milan is destroyed by Allied bombs, Pino joins an underground railroad helping Jews escape over the Alps, and falls for Anna, a beautiful widow six years his senior.

In an attempt to protect him, Pino’s parents force him to enlist as a German soldier—a move they think will keep him out of combat. But after Pino is injured, he is recruited at the tender age of eighteen to become the personal driver for Adolf Hitler’s left hand in Italy, General Hans Leyers, one of the Third Reich’s most mysterious and powerful commanders.

Now, with the opportunity to spy for the Allies inside the German High Command, Pino endures the horrors of the war and the Nazi occupation by fighting in secret, his courage bolstered by his love for Anna and for the life he dreams they will one day share.

Fans of All the Light We Cannot SeeThe Nightingale, and Unbroken will enjoy this just as much.


The Epidemic: A Global History of AIDS (Jonathan Engel, Smithsonian, 2006, 400 pages)

I was prompted to read this after recently seeing the movie Bohemian Rhapsody and learning more about the life of Freddy Mercury.  I was a teenager  during the height of the AIDS crisis in the United States.  My own extended family was touched by it.  

From the Castro bathhouses to AZT and the denial of AIDS in South Africa, Engel's work covers the epidemic from all angles and across the world. He seamlessly weaves together science, politics, and culture, writing with an even hand—noting the excesses of the more radical edges of the ACT UP movement as well as the conservative religious leaders who thought AIDS victims deserved what they got.

The story of AIDS is a compelling human drama, both in its profound tragedy and in the extraordinary scientific efforts impelled on its behalf. For gay Americans, it has been the story of the past generation, redefining the community and the community's sexuality. For the Third World, AIDS has created endless devastation, toppling economies, social structures, and whole villages and regions. And the worst may yet be to come: AIDS is expanding quickly into India, Russia, China, and elsewhere, while still raging in sub-Saharan Africa.

A distinguished medical historian, Engel lets his characters speak for themselves. Whether gay activists, government officials, public health professionals, scientists, or frightened parents of schoolchildren, they responded as best they could to tragic happenstance that emerged seemingly from nowhere. 

The Tumult and the Shouting: My Life in Sport (Grantland Rice, A. S. Barnes and Company, 1954, 378 pages)

Superb.  What a writer.  

"Grantland Rice was the greatest man I have known," Red Smith once wrote. "The greatest talent, the greatest gentleman."

Most of Rice's contemporaries would have shared this assessment.  One of the most celebrated sportswriters of all time, it was Grantland Rice who immortalized Notre Dame's outstanding 1924 backfield as "The Four Horsemen," who nicknamed Red Grange "The Galloping Ghost," and who authored one of the most frequently quoted poetic couplets in all of sport: "For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, / He writes--not that you won or lost--but how you played the Game."  But more important, if we see the 1920s and 1930s--the era of Jack Dempsey and Babe Ruth and Bobby Jones--as a Golden Age of Sport, it is in large part because Grant Rice saw them as golden, and conveyed this golden vision to millions of readers daily.