Picks and Pans of 2013

BloodlandsBloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, Timothy Snyder A comprehensive history of how the two dictators rolled back and forth over the Polish-Ukrainian territories, from the Soviet purges and famines of the 1930s, to the devastation of Operation Barbarossa in 1941, the subsequent imposition of the Final Solution and the final Russian juggernaut. No region of the globe underwent as much violent ideological conflict during the Twentieth Century.

Moscow 1941: A City and Its People At War, Rodric Braithwaite Personal accounts from the Russian capital’s fending off of the Nazis; less of an overall historic study as a more intimate insight into the lives of average Soviet citizens.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, Laura Hillenbrand Sweeping and absorbing true-life tale of an American flyer’s adventures after being shot down in the Pacific and his later capture and treatment in Japanese prison camps. I read it in one or two sittings.

The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe The classic New Journalism document of the early years of the US space program was less self-indulgent and more informative than I expected.

The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History, John Ortved Gossipy backstage quotes rather than the big-picture cultural analysis I’d hoped for.

Who I Am: A Memoir, Pete Townshend Readable but not overly surprising autobiography of the Who’s guitarist and songwriter. Too many rock star life stories start to blur together after a while.  https://georgecaseblog.wordpress.com/category/music/page/4/

Dracula, Bram Stoker A re-read of the vampire classic, which today says as much about Victorian social customs as about undead Romanian noblemen. Clunky in places, but the set-pieces are deservedly immortal.   https://georgecaseblog.wordpress.com/2013/10/page/2/

Orwell: The Life, D.J. Taylor A fresh angle on the author’s career, notable for introducing the recollections and insights of Orwell’s literary contemporaries of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.

Rolling StoneLike a Rolling Stone: The Strange Life of a Tribute Band, Steven Kurutz Funny and poignant anecdotes of living on the fringe, and in the shadows, of rock ‘n’ roll greatness. Thoughtful perspectives on fame, pop music, and fandom.     https://georgecaseblog.wordpress.com/category/music/page/3/

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Sam Harris Heavy but accessible consideration of the harm done by unsubstantiated beliefs through the ages, both to real human beings and to our moral evolution.

MiddlebrookThe Nuremberg Raid, Martin Middlebrook Hour-by-hour document of a disastrous RAF bomber mission of 1944, in which the German Luftwaffe claimed some 94 British and Canadian planes. Very clear details on the theory and practice of air combat during World War II.  https://georgecaseblog.wordpress.com/category/film/

All That Is, James Salter Sprawling novel of one man’s life and loves in postwar America. Nice prose, but a bit of a soap opera.

MansonManson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, Jeff Guinn A long view of the sad and bad exploits of Mister Helter Skelter himself, who never directly killed anyone but who was (probably) the prime mover of nine brutal murders. Not much breakthrough research, but plenty of social context.    https://georgecaseblog.wordpress.com/2013/09/page/3/

Doctor SleepDoctor Sleep, Stephen King The ghostly redemption of Jack Torrance at the climax doesn’t save this pedestrian sequel to The Shining. King really seems to be stuck in a rut of recycling his most tired stylistic and narrative techniques. Doctor Disappointment.  https://georgecaseblog.wordpress.com/2013/06/page/2/

Burnt Offerings, Robert Marasco A 1970s novel which was cited as an inspiration for King’s The Shining. A similar family-in-a-haunted-house story, though not nearly as scary or as memorable.

JFKPresident Kennedy: Profile of Power, Richard Reeves Very carefully researched detailing of JFK’s presidency, drawing on very private White House tapes and memos. There’s some dirt here (Angie Dickinson, Judith Exner, Ngo Dinh Diem), but a lot of what emerges is that the leadership of the US was a very tough job undertaken by basically well-intentioned people, especially from 1961 to 1963.   https://georgecaseblog.wordpress.com/2013/11/page/4/

BasilThe Basil and Josephine Stories, F. Scott Fitzgerald Lovely collection of short fiction, describing the adolescences of two American kids during the early Twentieth Century, more innocent but no less emotional than today. No topping Fitzgerald’s sensitivity, for my money.

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