This post-election list has something for everyone.
The New York Times just landed in my driveway in its distinctive blue wrapper, which, in my Florida neighborhood, where even the alligators voted for Trump, is like having a big red “A” — or an “L” — on my chest. I wish it was hidden in a brown paper bag, like was once common with Playboy and smutty novels (or so I'm told).
Anyway, the Times Book Review, as it does every year about this time, features a huge “Holiday Books” section, listing the “notable” books of 2016, many of which, it is implied, would make nice gifts. Perhaps not as nice as a cooler full of Omaha Steaks, but that’s just my opinion. (Meaty reading or actual meat? Follow your conscience.)
I can’t compete with the Times, and just wrote a column about some of the books I’m reading or have just finished, so I will devote this one to books I believe everyone should read.
- Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler. Bet you never saw that coming! Even giving him some leeway for what probably was lost in translation, Der Fuhrer was a lousy writer. But it’s not HOW he said it, but WHAT he said, that is so fascinating. Many people argued that Hitler could not really mean the things he wrote and predicted. Sound familiar? So, to put that canard to rest, here’s the next book everyone should have in their library:
- The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer. A correspondent who, in Berlin, watched Hitler’s rise, Shirer later crafted a magnificent tome that has been imitated but not surpassed. He was there for the ascension of the Nazis, and after the war did incredible research to explain the unexplainable.
- Churchill by Martin Gilbert. Considered the touchstone of all the Winston Churchill biographies, this book may be a bit too lionizing about the old lion, but what the hell? The man, whatever his faults, did save Western Civilization. Moreover, he used the English language to batter a raging lunatic bully into submission. Bravo!
- The Glory and the Dream by William Manchester. A “history” of the United States between 1932 and 1972, the book is gloriously written and contains some fascinating chapters of long-forgotten incidents. Did you know that the Great New England Hurricane of 1938, which the U.S. Weather Service lost track of, cut Long Island in two? People sunbathing on the beach thought a fog bank was rolling in. It was actually the storm surge from a hurricane with 130-mph winds! People drowned in downtown Providence, Rhode Island, in 12 feet of water! The storm was quickly forgotten because of the Munich Crisis in Europe. Katherine Hepburn never forgot it. She floated away on her roof.
- Olivier by Terry Coleman. The definitive biography of the greatest stage and screen actor of the 20th century. A fascinating story that does justice to both Laurence Olivier’s art, and his marriage to Vivien Leigh, a great talent in her own right, but a voracious sexual athlete who almost destroyed them both.
- The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. Not what you may think. A history of science, politics, and personalities spanning the centuries leading up to the mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Interesting tidbit: One of the reasons Hitler did not press for his own atom bomb was that he did not want to preside over a world that was totally destroyed. Imagine. Something Hitler feared that some of today’s leaders don’t.
- Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Forget the racism. Forget the “Old South” nostalgia most people assume. Great writing, great story, tremendous love affair, and, if you read between the lines, cold-eyed cynicism about war and lost causes. The movie was terrific (I still don’t know how they did such a good job), but the book is a revelation.
- The Shipping News by Annie Proulx. The story of a man defeated by tragedy and life who finds himself by returning to his ancestral home in Newfoundland. Don’t take my word for it. This fabulous novel won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Proulx also wrote the short story "Brokeback Mountain," the movie version of which won an Oscar.
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service by Ian Fleming. The James Bond book that proved that Fleming still had it. Great research, wonderful plot and unexpected tragedy from a master wordsmith who never got the credit for that.
- Early Autumn by Robert B. Parker. An early Spenser novel that is a great example of how Parker turned the private-eye genre on its head. The Spenser books just before and after this one are also great. I had a hard time choosing (as I hope you will), but this is the one I’ve re-read the most. I wanted to kill Parker when he died.
Lawrence De Maria, once a Pulitzer-nominated New York Times reporter, has written more than a dozen thrillers and mysteries on Amazon.com. His most recent thriller, THAWED, is available at ST. AUSTIN’S PRESS (BOOKS BY DE MARIA). As for those Trump-supporting alligators, there is not a doubt in his mind that the anti-environmental folks now in charge will soon turn them all into pocketbooks.