The Great Purge

Which books survived the Mass Culling of 2018?


In my last column, I referenced the fact that my writerly output had been slowed of late by various travels caused, unfortunately, by long-distance funerals. Alas, things have not slowed up in that regard, and I am shortly off to the north again, where I understand it is colder than a witch’s typewriter.

Lacking as I am in warm-weather togs, and soon to be surrounded by various young grandchildren and their cousins (all also known as bags of viruses), I fully expect that my flu shot will have little efficacy.

In fact, I just saw a report on TV in which the talking head gleefully noted that the most-recent flu vaccine is only about 10 percent effective. To my pessimistic mind (in which every glass of bourbon is only half full), that means the other 90 percent of the viruses have canceled their ski trips and are waiting for me.

Oh, well.

In that last column, I promised to list some of the books that I kept during our massive — and still ongoing — downsizing. I will devote this piece to my surviving nonfiction library.

(Speaking of libraries, Naples, FL, where I live, has a wonderful library system, with at least nine well-constructed branches that come in handy during hurricanes; my shelves also contain plenty of library tomes, in various stages of overdue fines.)

But some of the nonfiction books I still own are:

  • Cosmos by Carl Sagan. For those days when I want to feel insignificant.
  • The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski. For when I want to feel better.
  • The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Gathering dust, of course, but it looks good.
  • Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand. A really good book by a master storyteller. The movie was topnotch, too.
  • Madison’s Gift by David O. Stewart. All his historical works are excellent.
  • This Is War by David Douglas Duncan. Korea, in pictures, by a great photographer.
  • Why the Allies Won by Richard Overy. He makes a compelling case that victory in WWII was not as assured as many historians would have us believe. For example, at the Battle of Midway, the American fleet was far inferior to the mighty Japanese. And American planes were slaughtered. But just 10 American bombs on target destroyed Japan’s carriers and turned the tide.
  • Iwo Jima by Bill D. Ross. It will leave you shaken.
  • High Noon in the Cold War by Max Frankel. The Cuban Missile Crisis as told by my old boss at the New York Times.
  • History of the English-Speaking Peoples by Winston Churchill. As Churchill acknowledged, the victors get to write history. But rarely has it been so well done!
  • Churchill: A Life by Martin Gilbert. The definitive biography.
  • Truman by David McCullough. Do you believe we once had a president who walked with his wife (and almost no one else) to the Washington train station to go home after leaving office?
  • Olivier by Terry Coleman. Laurence Olivier was the greatest actor of the 20th century. And a nice guy who suffered debilitating illness in his later years while still turning in some of his best work.
  • The Glory and the Dream by William Manchester. His informal history of the United States, with some terrific, and largely unknown, vignettes. The section about “The Long Island Express,” a hurricane (which forecasters somehow missed) that devastated Long Island (cut it in two!) and New England in 1938, is stunning. Imagine if Superstorm Sandy had taken everyone by surprise.  
  • The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer. There have been a million more books about the Nazis since this classic was published in 1959. But none have surpassed it. I have a 1960 edition that I found at the famous Strand bookstore in Manhattan. It still has the power to frighten — and warn. If anyone cares.

Lawrence De Maria, once a Pulitzer-nominated New York Times reporter, has almost completed his 18th thriller. (Promises, promises!) His books, some now in print, are available at ST. AUSTIN’S PRESS (BOOKS BY DE MARIA).

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