Friday, March 27, 2015

Book Review - Lincoln and the Jews: A History by Jonathan Sarna and Benjamin Shapell

Lincoln and the Jews: A History by Jonathan Sarna and Benjamin Shapell
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (March 17, 2015)

Abraham Lincoln is one of my favorite presidents and being a member of the tribe, I very much looked forward to reading and enjoying this book.  Enjoy it I did--except for the part where it is said that Lincoln's killer was the son of a member of the Tribe.

From the time that Lincoln was born in 1809 until his tragic assassination in 1865, the number of Jews living in America skyrocketed from 3,000 to 150,000.  This is mostly due to Jews escaping horrid conditions in Europe.

Because of Jonathan Sarna (When Grant Expelled the Jews) and Benjamin Shapell, we know a lot more about President Lincoln's meetings with those in the Jewish community and the consequences of said meetings.  The duo have managed to uncover the complex relationships between the president and the Jews of his era.  The effects of these connections continue to be felt to this day.  Lincoln was the first president to really give the Jews the respect and courtesy that they deserved.

Their discoveries are accompanied by a number of photographs and original manuscripts--letters, appointments, pardons, personal notes, and humble requests.  Because of President Lincoln, the Jewish people living in America were able to overcome the prevailing anti-Semitism of the Civil War period.  This was a president who befriended, protected, and admired Jews despite the tense climate in which Jews were seen as suspicious or scapegoats.

This is the same president who overturned General Orders No. 11 when Jewish leaders came to him with complaints.

Almost 150 years to the day after Lincoln's death, this book gives us a new perspective on one of American history's dynamic time periods in which there was a fight over slavery.  Lincoln's relationship with the Jews is one that should offer lessons in history, tolerance, and the development of our current society.

For Jews with an interest in politics, this book being a must-read is a no-brainer.  It's a chapter in our freedom that has so rarely been explored.  This book is a classic that will be looked upon for years to come.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Peace in the Middle East

The comments from the White House today are not surprising given the President's remarks of late.  All I have to say in response is this:

No duh. Arafat and Abbas both walked away from the best deals that they were ever going to get. No Israeli Prime Minister will ever agree to any deal with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas in its government.

There was a point in time in which I did support a two-state solution but that went out the window the moment that Hamas joined the PA unity government. Time and time again, Hamas has shown that they have no interest in peace with Israel. If the Palestinians are truly committed to peace, they ought to arrest every member of Hamas and put them in jail.

White House at odds with Jewish Establishment

The rhetoric coming from the White House is leading to a rift with the Jewish Establishment, be it the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, Rabbical Assembly, and Orthodox Union.

It's certainly one thing to see rhetoric coming from the left but when it comes from the White House, it makes me start to seriously consider whether pro-Israel Democrats such as myself still have a home in the Democratic Party. I'm going to keep an eye on the Democratic Party platform and see if there's another fight relating to Israel like there was in 2012.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Book Review - You Can't Make This Up by Al Michaels

You Can't Make This Up: Miracles, Memories, and the Perfect Marriage of Sports and Television by Al Michaels with Jon Wertheim
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition/First Printing edition (November 18, 2014)

Al Michaels is one of the legendary broadcasters of our time.  A longtime sports broadcaster for ABC and NBC Sports, Michaels takes to print as he shares his memories of a career in broadcasting.

Michaels takes us on a highly entertaining and insightful behind-the-scenes tour as he takes us back through time through some of the most memorable sports telecasts of which he was on the call.  It isn't just the thrilling games that Michaels revisits, it's also those figures who had an impact on Michaels career.

Michaels has been on the call for eight World Series, two NBA Finals, nine Super Bowls, eight Olympics, and hosted three Stanley Cup Finals.  He's never taken his eye off the ball in forty years as a broadcaster.  He's never become jaded nor has he taken his career for granted.  It was almost over before it begun.  Michaels was hired by the Los Angeles Lakers as a broadcast partner for the great Chick Hearn but it didn't last at all.  This false-start would soon lead Michaels to broadcast Minor League Baseball games in Hawaii.

We all grow up dreaming of a sports career.  Not Al Michaels.  He knew from a young age that he wanted to broadcast sports for a career.  His career took him to Hawaii and that was followed by a brief stay with the Cincinnati Reds, where Michaels became friends with both Pete Rose and Johnny Bench.  From Cincy, Michaels moved cross country to broadcast the San Francisco Giants.  It was with San Francisco where Michaels would be hired to be a broadcaster for ABC Sports' Monday Night Baseball.  Working with ABC Sports later led to a full time career, including years on Wide World of Sports and two decades as the voice of Monday Night Football.  Working for ABC also meant working with Howard Cosell.  Cosell wasn't the easiest person to get along with and if you crossed him, you likely never talked with him again.

When NBC Sports won MNF, Michaels would go with them.  He's now been there for nine seasons but he shares his thoughts on what it was like to work with John Madden for seven years.  There was the brief Dennis Miller era and Michaels writes about those years, too.

Michaels' work at the Olympic Games saw him in the broadcast booth for the greatest hockey game ever played and it wasn't even aired live!  The 1980 hockey game between Team USA and Russia was aired live to tape and Michaels shares the stories behind his call of the gold medal run.

Michaels was in the booth for the 1989 World Series and he takes us behind the scenes of the earthquake that hit.

Because of the earthquake and O.J. Simpson, Michaels wasn't limited to just sports reporting.  He also did a bit of journalism, too.  He's no fan of the "You heard it here first" type of broadcasts, which often leads to misinformation.

Through it all, Michaels covers his broadcasting philosophy and the nuances that come with the trade.  He shares what it was like to work with Cris Collinsworth, Bob Uecker, Bob Costas, Jim McKay, Roone Arledge, Tim McCarver, Doc Rivers, Frank Gifford, and Dick Ebersol, to name a few.

This book is highly recommended for sports fans.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Book Review - The Secret Game by Scott Ellsworth

The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball's Lost Triumph by Scott Ellsworth
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (March 10, 2015)

The Secret Game is a book that comes highly recommended by the likes of Bob Ryan, Mike Krzyzewski, and Roland Lazenby.  Ryan says that it "is much more than a story about basketball."

A full decade before the Civil Rights movement began, Ellsworth exposes not just the history of basketball but the bravery of the African Americans and whites fighting against segregation in the South, especially North Carolina.

At the North Carolina College for Negroes, John McLendon, the future Hall of Fame coach, was borrowing from James Naismith as he worked to invent a fast-paced form of basketball.  A group of former college players at the all-white Duke University had formed a team at the medical school and didn't just defeat the Duke varsity team, they beat everybody that played them.  All but one team.

Standing in Duke's way was McLendon's team in the spring of 1944.  These two teams were risking it all--their futures, their freedom--to play a game that was unheard of in the South.  Think about it.  Brown had yet to be decided.  The bus boycotts in Montgomery hadn't started yet.  Jackie Robinson's Major League debut was a full three years away from happening.  Before all those events even happened, two teams of basketball players made history on their own.

Until now, there story hadn't been told.  Ellsworth tells their story in the vein of Seabiscuit and The Boys in the Boat.  This book is researched and sourced.  In both daring and dangerous ways, two groups push back against segregation in order to play basketball.  Ellsworth reminds us who heroes are and what they can be.

Book Review - The Global War on Morris by Steve Israel

The Global War on Morris: A Novel by Congressman Steve Israel
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (December 30, 2014)

When a member of Congress pens a book, it usually means that they are running for higher office, mainly President.  This is not the case for Steve Israel.  Instead, he writes a political satire that isn't just witty but also ripped from the headlines.

This is a guy that's met the characters and heard the conversations, not to mention the government dysfunction, too.

In The Global War on Morris, Israel takes us back on a time machine to 2004 when George Bush was running for re-election against Democratic nominee John Kerry.  President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and Scooter Libby play a big role in the novel.  It may be fiction but I could certainly see them using such dialogue.

The principal character in the book is Morris Feldstein, a pharmaceutical salesman that lives and works on Long Island.  He loves the Mets, Turner Classic Movies, and his wife, Rona.  Morris prefers things stay how they are.  He's not a guy who prefers to watch the news and he hates to argue.  His wife, Rona, may want to change the world but he prefers life as it is.

"If Morris clung to any philosophy," Israel writes, it is "'Don't make waves.'"

Seduced by a lovesick receptionist while making a visit to a doctors' office on his sales route, Morris succombs to a moment of weekness and ends up charging a non-business expense on his company credit card.  It's easy to see how this isn't a big deal.  Not in the eyes of the government.  It's a very big deal and changes Morris' life as he knows it.

NICK, the giant supercomputer that is part of a top-secret government surveillance program, has other plans for Morris.  NICK puts Morris' life together--friends, family, friends' friends, traffic violations, his daughter's political activism, his wife's patients, and even failures in romance--and suddenly, Morris is the target of every federal agency with an acronym.

This debut novel from Congressman Israel is hilarious and the rights have been acquired by Rob Reiner and Royal Pains co-creator Andrew Lenchewski and they will develop it as a cable comedy series.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Book Review: Dirty Rush by Taylor Bell

Dirty Rush by Taylor Bell
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Gallery Books (January 13, 2015)

The creative minds behind the best-selling White Girl Problems are back with an all-new book, described as being the first true glimpse of "real" sorority life in all it's fucked up glory.  Co-creators Tanner and David Olivier Cohen have manged to write another hit book.

Rebecca Martinson, responsible for a very harsh email, pens the foreword, authenticating the book's depiction of what it means by "going Greek."  Her original email is included in the book.

To put it lightly, if Mean Girls were set in a college sorority instead of in high school, it would be this book.  Tom Rothman’s TriStar has optioned the film rights with Brownstone Productions’ Elizabeth Banks & Max Handelman set to produce.

Author Taylor Bell gives us an account of her freshman year at Central Delaware University and gives us an unfiltered look at what goes on behind closed doors in Greek Life.  The Beta Zeta legacy has no interest in becoming the fifth member of her family to pledge the sorority but the BZ sisters aren't about to let her not join.  The sisters might drink, act crazy-cool, and come off as hilariously bitchy but they somehow are able to lure her in to the jacked-up world with one party after another.

She finds a way to deal with the fast-food ban and even some of the other rules imposed on her by Collette Winter but still finds herself having the time of her life.  Some of the BZ sisters turn out to be true friends.

During winter break, Taylor finds out what really happened to her sister in college and that paves the way for the final third of the book, where things start to become really interesting.  A sex tape is leaked and the girl looks like Taylor and shit--go figure--hits the fan.  Her boyfriend doesn't have her back.  Collette wants her to resign.  Taylor has to find a way to survive the scandal and she soon finds out which of her sisters are her true friends.

I'll be honest.  This book isn't really something that I would normally read but when I saw that Elizabeth Banks was set to produce a film adaption and the Mean Girls comparisons, I knew that I had to give it a chance.  I'm glad I did because it was one of those books that you just can't put down.  Call it a guilty pleasure but what Cohens did here is genius.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Book Review: Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

Funny Girl: A Novel by Nick Hornby
Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover; Unabridged edition (February 3, 2015)

Acclaimed novelist and screenwriter Nick Hornby is back with a new novel.  This time, he takes us back to London in the 1960s.

Starring the intrepid Sophie Straw, Funny Girl is a charming tale of ambition, creativity, and self-identity with an interesting cast of characters including actor Clive Richardson, producer Dennis Maxwell-Bishop, and comedy writers Bill and Tony.

Straw, formerly Barbara, is the winner of Miss Blackpool but she quickly decides that she wants to move to London and become an actress.  She becomes a television comedienne and gets cast in a leading role on her first audition.  Crazy, right?

Hornby has given us a book with both humor and heart.  He has managed to endear us to a small cast of characters--flawed, funny, and unforgettable as they may be--by doing what he does best.

I don't know whether this book will be adapted into a movie or television series.  Given the amount of behind the scenes that take place over a period of a few years, it's really hard to see this as a movie.

Hornby's wit and storytelling has proven time and time again that he can do no wrong.  Funny Girl is no exception.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Book Review - Veronica Mars (2): An Original Mystery by Rob Thomas: Mr. Kiss and Tell

Veronica Mars (2): An Original Mystery by Rob Thomas: Mr. Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Vintage; Mti edition (January 20, 2015)

Our favorite private investigator returns with a case that takes us into the Neptune Grand and exposes the hidden workings of the hotel.

The Neptune Grand is the ritziest hotel in Neptune, California even though there have been shady dealings and high-profile scandals that somehow seem to follow the hotel's guests.

When a women claims that a staff member assaulted her and left for her dead, the hotel hires Veronica Mars to disprove or prove her story.  It's a complicated case and not helping are those witnesses that refuse to cooperate.  The hotel doesn't want to turn over their reservation list and the victim refuses to say who she was meeting that night.

The attack happened months ago and the victim claims to have a fuzzy memory of the night.  The hotel's surveillance system doesn't really give us a complete idea of what happened.

It's a mess of a case for Veronica and she is consumed by it.  She knows that somebody is lying but doesn't know who.

I don't want to say too much.  After all, we're talking about a mystery here but it was a quick read for me.  I started on a Friday and finished on a Sunday.  Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham leave us waiting for more.