Jack’s Books: 78 Years And Still Not Settled

As we (re)learned on the show this week, the debates and hot takes over the U.S. dropping its first two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945 are still explosive.

Occasioned by a “Baghdad Bob”-style ABC News piece on the G7 summiteers laying wreaths at Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial, we had a lively and varied exchange on the show. Coincidentally, the fateful “Fat Man” and “Little Boy” devices also figure in the latest Jack’s Books blog entries.

“Day of The Bomb: Countdown to Hiroshima” by Dan Kurzman (1986) Written by an award-winning journalist and historian, this book tracks the personal narratives of a vast cast of characters, from FDR and wartime advisors like Henry Stimson, to the military and scientific teammates who were forced to work together in places like Los Alamos, to the weighty decision ultimately left to a brand new American president at the end of a long war. Meticulous and detailed, Kurzman makes clear that nothing was clear: there were contradicting opinions, values and intentions around and leading up to August 6, 1945, “the day of the bomb”.

“Perish Twice” by Robert Parker (2000) As I think I’ve indicated before, Parker’s late-in-life Sunny Randall series is so obviously derivative of his iconic “Spenser” books that he should’ve sued himself. But if you like Spenser, you’ll fall for Sunny too.

“The Giver” by Lois Lowry (1993) Many of you read this for school, but it came out after my schoolboy days. So, when I finally got around to it, and loved it, I found myself wondering why it doesn’t get mentioned in the same breath as “1984” and “Brave New World”? Lowry imagines a future utopian/dystopian society based on “Sameness” where all emotion, color (literally and figuratively), pain and even weather have been eliminated. A young boy shoulders the ultimate responsibility in the governing system, but then rebels, fatefully. More thought-provoking today, I would think, than when it first came out.

“World War I” by S.L.A. Marshall (1964) A definitive, “if you read only one book” history of the “Great War”. The legendary strategist and historian pulls no punches in excoriating the senseless waste of young men and widespread mediocrity among their commanders and politicians. It’s a dense, arduous read, as befits the subject, but fascinating nonetheless.

“Killer” by Jonathan Kellerman (2014) Another pairing of psychiatrist Alex Delaware and his LAPD detective best friend. Delaware, against his instincts, gets pulled into a child custody fight between sisters, and murders begin accumulating. Los Angeles-based noir in the best tradition of MacDonald, Connelly and Ellroy.

“The Scarlatti Inheritance” (r) by Robert Ludlum (1970) First read this as a young teenager and got hooked on all Ludlum’s top-flight espionage tales, most famously the Jason Bourne thrillers. This early effort is set in the years around WWI and WWII, delving into the “business” of backing and elevating the Third Reich. It lost nothing in a second reading, and if I live long enough, I’ll read it again someday.

“The Case of the Baited Hook” by Erle Stanley Gardner (1940) When you watched the “Perry Mason” TV series of the 1950s-’60s, you were often watching heavily modified adaptations of novels like this one by Mason’s creator, the lawyer-turned-prolific author, Gardner. A midnight phone call, a masked mystery woman, a ten-thousand dollar bill cut in half with scissors, and Mason accepting a case without knowing for most of the book who his actual client may be.

“The Greeks” by H.D.F. Kitto (1951) This slender unassuming volume is highly regarded as a definitive over-view of the most talked about civilization ever to leave its mark on our world. Kitto is a scholar, but most of the time he slows himself down so that we might keep up with him. Again and again, you realize how many of our organizational and governing basics we owe to the Athenians, Spartans,etc. etc. “The Greeks” is best read slowly and in small installments.

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