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March 2019

The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, Its Regions, and Their Peoples (David Gilmour, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011, 480 pages)

This is a wonderfully readable exploration of Italian life over the centuries and is filled with provocative anecdotes as well as Gilmour's personal observations, and is peopled by the great figures of the Italian past―from Cicero and Virgil to the controversial politicians of the twentieth century. His wise account of the Risorgimento debunks the nationalistic myths that surround it, though he paints a sympathetic portrait of Giuseppe Verdi, a beloved hero of the era.  Gilmour shows that the glory of Italy has always lain in its regions, with their distinctive art, civic cultures, identities, and cuisines. Italy's inhabitants identified themselves not as Italians but as Tuscans and Venetians, Sicilians and Lombards, Neapolitans and Genoese.  Italy's strength and culture still come from its regions rather than from its notion of a unified nation.

One of The Economist's 2011 Books of the Year.


Taking Charge: The Johnson White House Tapes, 1963-1964 (Michael R. Beschloss, Simon & Schuster, 1997, 592 pages)

To get the full benefit of this book you need to listen to the audio book (  The audio clips of Johnson's phone calls and office recordings provide a rare insight into Presidential history.  Nixon's tapes--not nearly as extensive as Johnson's--were perhaps more famous, but Johnson was the only president to tape all of his meetings and phone conversations .  They reveal a man who struggled to surpass JFK on civil rights, guided the country into Vietnam, and twisted the arms of friends and enemies alike.


The Point of It All: A Lifetime of Great Loves and Endeavors (Charles Krauthammer, Crown Forum, 2018, 400 pages)

So good, I read it twice.  Published following his untimely death, The Point of it All is a fine collection of Krauthammer's best columns, articles, and speeches.  There is much to admired and reflected upon in here.  

Krauthammer was a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, a syndicated columnist, political commentator, physician and bestselling author. His Washington Post column ran weekly for 33 years and was syndicated in more than 400 newspapers worldwide. For over a decade he was a nightly panelist on Fox News' flagship evening-news broadcast Special Report. He served as a member of the President's Council on Bioethics and he was a member of Chess Journalists of America. Along with his wife Robyn, he cofounded Pro Musica Hebraica. He died on June 21, 2018. 


Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America's Most Notorious Pirates (Eric Jay Dolin, Liveright, 2018, 416 pages)

Avast!  A roaring good read. 

Set against the backdrop of the Age of Exploration, Black Flags, Blue Waters reveals the dramatic and surprising history of American piracy’s “Golden Age”―spanning the late 1600s through the early 1700s―when lawless pirates plied the coastal waters of North America and beyond.  Best-selling author Eric Jay Dolin illustrates how American colonists at first supported these outrageous pirates in an early display of solidarity against the Crown, and then violently opposed them. Through engrossing episodes of roguish glamour and extreme brutality, Dolin depicts the star pirates of this period, among them towering Blackbeard, ill-fated Captain Kidd, and sadistic Edward Low, who delighted in torturing his prey. Also brilliantly detailed are the pirates’ manifold enemies, including colonial governor John Winthrop, evangelist Cotton Mather, and young Benjamin Franklin.  Upending popular misconceptions and cartoonish stereotypes, Dolin provides this wholly original account of the seafaring outlaws whose raids reflect the precarious nature of American colonial life.