Jack’s Book Blog: A Pope and a President

In past entries, I’ve talked about all the things you find in used books: people leave behind boarding passes, love notes, shopping lists, store receipts and much more. Lots of interesting bookmarks, like a laminated set of West German postage stamps.

What I found in “Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World” by H.R. McMaster (2020) is probably not what the author intended to leave me.

Ostensibly a “here’s how I see the world” book by the retired Army officer and former National Security Adviser to President Donald Trump (for about a year), H.R. does a lot of P.R. for himself. He’s terribly, terribly smart, insightful, chivalrous toward women colleagues, just everyone’s favorite boss. OK. And he does have some good points to offer about how we view adversaries like China and Russia.

What really shines through every diplomatic mission and White House meeting, though, is his disdain and revulsion at Trump. Which is fine, that’s his prerogative. But, how many people did Trump hire, thinking they were his loyal instruments of policy, who felt the same way as H.R. McMaster? How much of that subtle undermining and soft bigotry helped stymie his presidency? It makes you wonder, and question the former president’s hiring acumen.

Also these last few weeks:

“The End and The Beginning: Pope John Paul II, The Victory of Freedom, The Last Years, The Legacy” by George Weigel (2010) One of the greatest papal historians, Weigel has written as much or more than anyone about JP2. If you can read only one of his books, make it this one, for great details on the late pope’s role in the Cold War, reaching out to the planet’s young people, and his battles in the Vatican system. Pope St. John Paul II was a dynamo of determination and burned with faith and devotion to God, and changed the world as much as anyone in the 20th century. It’s a dense work, research-wise, but very easy and compelling  to read.

“The Man Within” by Graham Greene (1929) It was his first published novel, and later in his life, Greene would despise it. Still, I loved the short, readable story of a man who’s party to smuggling, betrays his compatriots, is sheltered by and falls in love with a country woman who reforms him—and the aftermath of that.

“The Night Fire” by Michael Connelly (2019) One of my favorite authors brings together his two LAPD detective characters, Harry Bosch and Renee Ballard. Bosch’s elderly mentor from his rookie detective days dies and leaves behind a “murder book”—the complete file of an unsolved murder of a young drug user in an alley. Was the old cop trying to solve the case in his retirement, or trying to keep it from being solved. Naturally, Bosch and Ballard won’t let it go, and you won’t put this book down until you tear through the last page.

“The Promise of Joy” by Allen Drury (1975) This is the concluding book in the “Advise and Consent” series of novels about American politics over a period of several (fictional) years and presidencies. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been a fan or Drury’s since I was a teenager and he personally answered a letter I wrote to him. Besides being an accomplished D.C. journalist, when that was more of a profession than a cult, he wrote gripping novels imagining the worst things that could befall American democracy and the world it defends. Sadly, he aimed too low—when you read his “worst scenarios” now, the actual news of the day is much more grim. If you wish, Drury’s books can be had in used form, through online sellers, and really have to be read in order.

“The Subjection of Women” by John Stuart Mill (1869?) The English philosopher and member of Parliament wrote this book a century before “women’s lib” and decades before female suffrage, to make the straightforward moral and logical argument that there needed to be absolute moral and legal equality between the sexes. You may not need convincing, but it’s still an interesting read, and interesting to think about the debates Mill must have had at every dinner party.

“The New Adventures of Ellery Queen” by Ellery Queen (1940) Ellery Queen is the fictional detective, and the pen name of the men who wrote these novels, novellas, short stories and magazine pieces over decades. Here’s a collection of one short novella, “The Lamp of God”, and several other short stories. If you find this book, it’s a good way to sample Queen, to see if you want to read the book-length stories. I recommend them!

As always, please share your impressions of anything I may recommend to you, and let me know what books you like: [email protected]

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