Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Book Review: Wilson by A. Scott Berg

Wilson by A. Scott Berg
Paperback: 832 pages
Publisher: Berkley Trade; Reprint edition (September 2, 2014)

When this book was first printed in 2013, the United States quietly marked the 100th anniversary of Woodrow Wilson's presidential inauguration--most were focused on the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's tragic passing in 1963.

Berg is a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner.  He spent a decade researching and writing this biography of the nation's 28th President of the United States.

Wilson, who served from 1913-1921, rose from a Southern boyhood as the son of a minister through the ranks of academia and politics before leading the United States into the dawn of a new era.  Wilson's led the nation during World War 1 and would go on to institute many progressive reforms that shaped the country as we know it today.  These reforms would pave the way for the New Deal.  Wilson also laid the foundation of the country's foreign policy for the rest of the century.

Despite all of this, Wilson is one of the least-remembered of the great presidents.  He is often thought of as a rigid, dour figure who failed in bringing the United States into the League of Nations.  The League of Nations was the forerunner to the United Nations.

Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke, leading his wife to act as a de factor president.

In under 1,000 pages, Berg clears away the myths and misconceptions about President Wilson.  What he presents is a book on a man that was a statesman, intellectual, speaker, politician, and an idealist.

With access to hundreds of thousands of documents, including the letters of Wilson's personal physician and one of his daughters, this is easily the definitive biography of President Woodrow Wilson.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

American Pastimes: The Very Best of Red Smith

American Pastimes: The Very Best of Red Smith (The Library of America)
Daniel Okrent, editor. Afterword by Terence Smith
Hardcover: 560 pages
Publisher: Library of America (May 16, 2013)

When people think of great sportswriters, Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith is one of the first names that come to mind.  With a nationally syndicated column in both the New York Herald Tribune and New York Times, Smith was widely read from the 1940s through his retirement in the 1980s.  He was the first sportswriter to have won the Pullitzer Prize for commentary.

His sports commentaries came with literary panache and wry humor.

Writer and editor Daniel Okrent presents the best of Smith's columns.  His work, to this day, remains the gold standard in sportswriting.  It still shows many years later.

 Smith's profiles of some of the biggest figures in sports show how he can distill a career's essence in just one column.  There are the accounts of some of the most historic occasions in sports and they are joined by some of the more offbeat stories that display the writer's wit, intelligence, and feeling.

We get some personal glimpses into Red's life and work such as his passion for fishing.  "My Press-Box Memoirs", a 1975 reminiscence written for Esquire, is collected here for the first time.

Any aspiring sportswriter or sports fan in general will want to read this book.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Book Review - Men, Women & Children: A Novel

Prior to seeing Men, Women, & Children this weekend, I read the book written by Chad Kultgen.  It's not a pretty book even though I racked through it in only three days.  At just over 300 pages, it is a very quick read.

Not being familiar with Kultgen's work prior to reading, I had only known that he co-created the new NBC sitcom, Bad Judge.  While Bad Judge keeps things cleaner for TV, the book doesn't keep things clean.  Far from it, actually.  It's very graphic and even though Kultgen's message means well, it's certainly not a book I would read again or even recommend to anyone else.

Kultgen's book explores the sexual pressures of junior high students and their parents.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Searching for the Salzman Family

My great-aunt passed away in 2002.  She had built a family tree for many sides of the family going back a few generations.

Unfortunately, she also made some mistakes, too.  Unfortunately, some of these mistakes meant that it took longer to find some families--by which point some of the older generations have passed away.

What we do know is that Kassel Salzman immigrated to America in 1896 after traveling with his wife, Pauline, and children from Russia.  What we do know is that he had quite a few children: Charles, Max, Annie (Anna), Maurine (Mary), and Sadie.

We know that Kassel was convicted of larceny in the early 1900s and went to prison where he ended up dying in 1911.  We have managed to get in touch, finally, with Anna's descendants so as to update that branch of the tree.  But outside of that, we're stuck.  When it is a common name (Saltzman became Salzman or Solzman), it makes it harder with marriage records, etc.  I've found obituaries but when they don't mention siblings, it's hard to confirm whether that's the one I am looking for.

We know that the name was Saltzman in the 1900 census and Salzman when the 1905 census was recorded.

But we're stuck.  My only hope now is for a distant cousin to find this, get in touch, and help us rebuild this branch.

Book Review: Tradition!

Tradition!: The Highly Improbable, Ultimately Triumphant Broadway-to-Hollywood Story of Fiddler on the Roof, the World's Most Beloved Musical by Barbara Issenberg
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (September 2, 2014)

It was on this date in 1964 that the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, opened its doors on Broadway.  History would never be the same!  It may not be the behind-the-scenes movie that Mary Poppins got but it's the next best thing: the behind-the-scenes of both the Broadway production directed by Jerome Robbins and the movie directed by the not-Jewish Norman Jewison.

Since it opened 50 years ago today, there is rarely a time in which the sound of the off-tune violin is not heard somewhere on stage.  Whether it be a school, community theater, army base, Broadway revival, or countries from Argentina to Japan, the musical is being performed somewhere.

Isenberg weaves the tales and anecdotes of making the musical or film with thoughts on its cultural importance and why it resonates with such a diverse audience.

If they were still living in the author started researching and writing the book and worked on the Broadway production, the film, or significant revivals, Isenberg interviewed them.  This includes the likes of Harold Prince, Sheldon Harnick, Joseph Stein, Austin Pendleton, Joanne Merlin, Norman Jewison, Topol, and Harvey Fierstein, amongst others.

It's an amazing result.  Isenberg takes us on a wild ride as Fiddler worked its way to Broadway and later the big screen.  It's not just a look at how Fiddler became a hit on Broadway or the big screen but also how the musical became a hit across the globe!

If you love Fiddler or the soundtrack, this is a book you will enjoy!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Remembering 9/11: 13 Years Later

A poem written by Jack Buck

Since this nation was founded under God
More than 200 years ago

We've been the bastion of freedom...

The light that keeps the free world aglow.
We do not covet the possessions of others,
We are blessed with the bounty we share.

We have rushed to help other nations...

War is just not our nature...we won't start
But we will end the fight.
If we are involved we shall be resolved to
Protect what we know is right.

We have been challenged by a cowardly foe
Who strikes and then hides from our view.

With one voice we say, "There's no choice
Today, there is only one thing to do"

Everyone is saying the same thing
And praying that we end these senseless
Moments we are living.

As our fathers did before, we shall win
This unwanted war

And our children will enjoy the future,
We'll be giving.

Written by Jack Buck
September 14, 2001

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Book Review: Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin

Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin
Hardcover: 512 pages
Publisher: Touchstone (October 30, 2012)

Bruce is the first authorized Bruce Springsteen biography to have been written in the last 25 years with the full cooperation of the Boss himself.

This sweeping portrait is the latest in a series of musical biographies written by Carlin, who previously has written on Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson.

In writing Bruce, Carlin had unprecedented access to Springsteen, his family, friends, past and present bandmates, including one of the final major interviews with Clarence Clemons.  It all adds a vivid, initmate detail, and context to a groundbreaking picture of the Boss.

As a songwriter, Springsteen has voices hopes, triumphs, and heartaches of the working class.  His career has brought him 20 Grammy Awards, two Golden Globes, an Academy Award, and over 120 million albums sold.

Carlin follows the Elvis-loving grade student as he grows into that scruffy looking bandleader all the way up to the release of Wrecking Ball in 2012.  With the release of Born to Run, Springsteen rocketed into critical and commercial orbit.  No concert goes without the singing of "Born to Run."  The album is a keystone of Springsteen's musical legacy--one that would both reflect and shape the culture.

Along with years of meticulous research, Carlin has spent a countless number of hours in interviewing Springsteen, his inner circle, friends, musicians, and even ex-girlfriends. It all builds up to presenting the most revealing account of the American icon, even as he redefines his style and sound.

Until Carlin started writing the biography, not many family members had done interviews on the rocker.  The Springsteen family was impacted by mental illness and Bruce managed to avoid the fate of his father by years of therapy and even anti-depressant medications.

The E Street Band share their memories of the first time they met Bruce and their painful memories including in 1989 when Springsteen was disbanding the band.

Bruce's gradual journey towards being a committed and influential voice in politics was validated when President Barack Obama spoke at a reception for Kennedy Center honorees.

Carlin offers a nuanced analysis of every song and album that Bruce has made.  Five months before the release of Wrecking Ball, Bruce had played a dough mix in the studio.

This definitive biography is compulsively readable, and a must for all fans of the Boss.