Sunday, May 20, 2018

by Carl Hoffman 

For a long time (starting in the 1920s and 1930s) both Americans and Europeans have been obsessed with the country of Indonesia, particularly its many islands. Thousands of westerners have flocked to Bali for its beaches, its cheap living, and collecting tribal art. Two men in particular were captivated with Borneo and would leave their native countries, living life to the fullest by two separate ventures.
Bruno Manser, a Swiss man, was always wandering, traveling all over, never satisfied with whatever he was striving for. He took great risks and could have died several times. In 1984, Bruno went on an expedition to visit these caves in Borneo and then slipped away from the group to make contact with the Penan, an indigenous tribe of hunter-gatherer nomads. He ended up living for years with them, learning the language, cutting his hair short, wearing a loincloth, hunting with a blowpipe and poison arrows. They accepted him as a member of the tribe.
American Michael Palmieri was originally from California. He, too, wandered the world, and eventually settled in Bali in the 1970s. Michael would lead expeditions into the jungle of Borneo buying up all this art and and carved statues from the Dayaks. He became so successful and wealthy that eventually museums and private collectors wanted the stuff.
Both men were in Indonesia at the same time, only met each other once for a brief conversation, never realizing that they both were fascinated with native culture.
The Last Wild Men of Borneo is a tremendous book. Author Carl Hoffman is one heck of a writer. Fortunately he had Bruno Manser's journals, interviews with Bruno's relatives, friends of Bruno's, and met up with Michael Palmieri who took him to Borneo. The story is very compelling and keeps you riveted. If you like a good adventure story about two fearless men and what they encountered in the deepest heart of Borneo (the good with the bad), you'll want to read this book.
Very highly recommended. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

by John Heminway

When Anne Spoerry died in February 1999, it seemed as if all of East Africa turned out for the funeral. Thousands of people from mostly Kenya came to pay their last respects to the woman they called "Mama Daktari," Mother Doctor. For almost fifty years, Dr. Spoerry had treated over a million patients and they considered her to be a saint. As an esteemed member of the Flying Doctors Service, Dr. Spoerry (she didn't learn to fly until she was forty-five years old) would take to the skies in her plane called "Zulu Tango" and travel to wherever she was needed no matter how risky. She had quite a heroic career, but that was only part of her life. In 1948, after World War II had ended, Dr, Spoerry had to get out of Europe away from the demons that were chasing her. She had been in the French Resistance, taken prisoner, and ended up in the women's concentration camp: Ravensbruck. It was here that her nightmares truly began. Apparently, she was one of those "doctors."
What an incredible story masterfully told and written by a wonderful author. John Heminway actually knew Dr. Spoerry for twenty years and flew out to Africa several times to meet with her. As a journalist, he wanted to interview her and eventually do a documentary. He was just as passionate about Africa as she was and hoping that since they were kindred spirits (he thought), it would be time well spent. The only thing was that he had to keep to the subject of her treating the people and not bring in anything else. Whenever Heminway tried to probe about where she was during World War II and dealing with the Germans, Spoerry clammed up and either changed the subject or stormed out of the room. This only made Heminway more intrigued and he realized that he would have to dig quite deeply to uncover Spoerry's secretive past. He would have to wait until she passed away to reveal the darkness.
In Full Flight  is quite a tale and keeps you at the end of your seat. Having never heard of her before (most of her friends thought they knew her), it's quite a feat to be able to break through such a complicated persona. This is a book not to be missed.
Very highly recommended.

Friday, March 23, 2018

by Daniel Stone 

Here in America we have quite an amount of different kinds of food to eat and enjoy in sufficient amounts. Most people would probably think that it was always this way. Not at all. In the early part of the nineteenth century American meals were pretty basic and bland. There were no spices and no sauces. Fruits and vegetables were rare. Anything that grew from the soil was rejected. People ate to subsist. Things started to change by the end of the nineteenth century. Appetites began to broaden as companies like Pillsbury, Heinz, Lipton, et al, appeared with new inventions to make food preparation more user friendly and less as a chore. Also at this time was the Gilded Age for the United States when it became a powerhouse in industrialization. It enabled people to travel far and wide over oceans and into countries. One of the many would be a young botanist named David Fairchild. Fruit was his job and he wanted to explore the world to check out foods that could help American farmers and would delight people's palates. He would travel to more than fifty countries, tasting, savoring, collecting the seeds, and shipping them back to the United States. So what you see in supermarkets and farmers' markets originated in other countries. Thanks to Fairchild it's quite a variety. He's the one, after all, that gave the United States avocados. (They were originally from Chile.) Also on the list are: peaches (from China), red seedless grapes (Italy), wheat (Spain), kale (Croatia), and much more. Fairchild came along at the right time and we have much to thank him for.
The Food Explorer is a wonderful book. There is so much fascinating information about the history of food when America was barely one hundred years old and then onward. Plenty of interesting food trivia. Chapter two talks about what exactly is a fruit and sweetness has nothing to do with it. You learn about the Meyer lemon (yes, it was actually named for somebody and he had to get a patent for it). This lemon originated in Peking, China. Fairchild didn't just bring back food. Those cherry blossom trees that you see in Washington, D.C. were introduced by him. These beauties came from Japan.
Author Daniel Stone is a wonderful writer. (He has done many articles for National Geographic and Scientific American.) He keeps your interest from the beginning to the end and it's just a delight to read. If you like finding out about food exploration and where it originally came from, don't hesitate. The book is really terrific.
Very highly recommended. 

Friday, November 3, 2017

by Robert Gandt 

Very close to midnight, on November 29, 1947, the people of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were dancing in the streets and absolutely delirious. David Ben-Gurion was not. He knew in no time there would be problems ahead. The reason for the jubilation was that the United Nations had voted to partition Palestine into two states: Arab and Jewish. The oppressive rule of Great Britain would cease and the occupying forces would leave in May 1948. This is what worried Ben-Gurion. The five Arab countries that surrounded Israel were heavily fortified militarily. Israel's defense force (the Haganah) could not possibly compete with the Arab strength. They had no army, no air force, and no big ally to support them. One week after the resolution, President Truman ordered an embargo on arms being shipped to Israel. (He had originally supported having a Jewish state, but his own State Department was anti-Israel.) Great Britain and most of the countries in Europe followed suit. Ben-Gurion knew that what was needed most for Israel to survive was aircraft. 
Volunteer airmen from the United States, Canada, Britain, France, and South Africa signed up. Most of them had flown in World War II. They were idealistic, brave, and extremely courageous. Some of them were Jewish, but many were not. It was a small group who were fearless. They risked everything for Israel, flying, fighting, and dying. Because of what these airmen did, they helped save Israel.
Angels in the Sky is another one of those untold stories that nobody has ever heard about. Luckily for us, author Robert Gandt stepped in. He knows plenty about the military and aviation having already written other books on these subjects. If you enjoy reading about combat flying, this is the book for you. It's truly a terrific story. Hats off to to these selfless, heroic men.
Highly recommended. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

by Bruce Henderson 

When Adolph Hitler became Germany's chancellor in 1933, the Jewish citizens were doomed. All of their basic rights were torn from them. If they thought that maybe things could get better that idea was quashed in 1938 because of Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass"). Nazis destroyed their homes, businesses, and synagogues. Many Jews were killed and thousands of them were shuttled off to concentration camps where they perished. The ones that were left knew that they had to get out as soon as possible. The big problem was the U.S. immigration quotas which limited how many could come. Also, it was very difficult for an entire family to leave. So it was decided that the eldest sons would go to live with either relatives or foster families. In a few years, these young men had become Americanized loving democracy and freedom. They joined the U.S. Army so that they could return to Europe to fight Hitler's persecution against them. The military soon realized that they had a goldmine with these German Jews. They spoke the language, knew the culture, and the psychological makeup of the enemy. In 1942, they were molded into a top secret force. For the next eight weeks, extensive training was taught at Camp Ritchie in Maryland. Close to 2,000 of these young men were instructed to interrogate POWs. They were sent overseas with all the combat units to fight the Germans, which for the Ritchie Boys (as they came to be known) was entirely personal. By collecting tactical intelligence on troop movements, enemy strength, and defensive positions, the Ritchie Boys were able to save thousands of American lives and helped win the war.
Sons and Soldiers is one incredible story. There's so many books out on World War II and yet here comes one where the subject matter is virtually unknown. Author Bruce Henderson writes about six of these Ritchie Boys from their childhood days in Germany to their flight to America, their incredible exploits during the war, and then their return to Europe to find out what happened to their families. Through extensive research and interviews with four of the six Ritchie Boys who were written about here and are still living plus many others, Henderson has crafted a terrific read of courage, heroism, and patriotism that is not to be missed.
Highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

by Joan Brady 

Was Alger Hiss really a spy for the Soviets and therefore a traitor to the United States? It has certainly seemed that way with everything that has been written about him. Seventy years ago (1947), his case kept Americans transfixed and it was all anybody talked about. This was the time of the atomic age. Communists were deemed dangerous and paranoia was spread quickly by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). They needed a scapegoat and Hiss was the perfect one in their eyes.
But, maybe it wasn't so. Maybe Hiss really was innocent. Perhaps what happened to him was one big cover-up.
If you thought and believed that Alger Hiss deserved to be indicted for The Trial of the Century, then you need to read this book. Author Joan Brady turns an entire case on its head and then some. She read through all of the transcripts of both the hearings and the trial. Brady reveals how Richard Nixon was the accuser and exploiter. Nixon suppressed evidence, manipulated facts, fabricated orders of events, and bribed witnesses. No wonder he was called "Tricky Dick." It's because of this case that Nixon eventually became the President of the United States.
Brady is a crime writer and it definitely shows here. She lays out all the evidence, analyzes it, and questions everything. Brady dissects the entire case and the more she deciphers the more you shake your head that Hiss could have been found guilty. Alger Hiss: Framed is definitely a page-turner and a book not to be missed.
Highly recommended.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

by Elizabeth Foyster 

Was John Charles Wallop, the 3rd Earl of Portsmouth really insane? According to his family he was. They initiated a Commission of Lunacy against him in 1823. A the time, Lord Portsmouth was fifty-five years old and had enormous wealth. The family wanted to place that fortune under legal protection. Anybody who knew Portsmouth from aristocrats to servants gave statements to the Commission, which was well over one hundred people. They testified that he definitely was crazy. But, there was also an equal amount of witnesses who said that Portsmouth had a sound mind. So, who was to be believed? This case was a goldmine for the newspapers. A lifetime of secrets was now being aired to the public and they just ate it up. The trial would become the most expensive British insanity trial ever held.
It's almost always enjoyable to read about someone who I never of, especially if they're quirky, unconventional, have foibles and the book is especially well-written. Author Elizabeth Foyster did a masterly job with The Trials of the King of Hampshire. Her specialization is in family history, which she was able to utilize effortlessly in digging out all the machinations ("dirty laundry") that the Portsmouths had. Luckily for Foyster, there was tons of information on Portsmouth in the archives. Nobody else seemed to be interested in him until Foyster came along. I'm glad that she brought Portsmouth to the forefront as this story is really fascinating.
Highly recommended.