Jack’s Books: Ronald Reagan, Revealing Russians, Rich Asians

Last Tuesday was the 113th birth anniversary of President Ronald Reagan, “Ronaldus Maximus”, as Rush dubbed him.

He’s in our thoughts as much as ever these days, from comparisons to his aging in the presidency, compared to President Biden, to his unappreciated (until later) prescience on foreign policy, considered as “dangerous” in its time as Trump’s foreign affairs impulses are today.

“A Covert Action: Reagan, the CIA and The Cold War Struggle in Poland by Seth Jones (2018) is a small but superb slice of that history. Reagan’s vision for bringing the struggle against Soviet Communism to a victory, not containment, plus perilous events of the day (the declaration of martial law, the Solidarity labor movement, the election of a Polish pope), added up to a decade of revolutionary change. Here the story unfolds with clean lines, primary sources and respect for all the players on all the sides.

Slightly related was “Through The Eyes of The Enemy” by Stanislav Lunev (1999) At first glance, this book might seem dated, with its references to Boris Yeltsin as the president of Russia. It certainly was a sensation when first published, throwing off headlines about suitcase nukes and secret Soviet weapons stashed around the United States and NATO. Fact is, the high-ranking GRU defector, Lunev, wanted everyone to know that Russia’s perpetual paranoia made them dangerous even after the Cold War. It could only be more true under Putin. As you read Lunev, it’s good to remember that many of Russia’s leaders today, from Vlad to the oligarchs, are both alumni of and products of the now defunct system.


“Crazy Rich Asians” by Kevin Kwan (2013) He’s a remarkable storyteller working with a rich (in more ways than one) cast of characters and exotic Pacific Rim playgrounds. What I was pleasantly surprised by: you don’t have to be Asian (or wealthy) to recognize these families and their dynamics. Whether you’re Italian, Iranian or Indian, you’ve been here and seen that. This novel would be fantastic airplane or vacation reading.

“Three Sisters” by James Doss (2007) One of the best of the “Charlie Moon” series. Moon is a former (and still parttime) tribal policeman and Colorado rancher, who first gets pulled into a gruesome murder of a woman who’s been mauled beyond recognition in the bedroom of her mansion. Turns out she’s one of three sisters, another of whom is a famous TV psychic. It goes, entertainingly and suspensefully, from there.

“A Passage to India” by E.M. Forster (1924) This classic reads as freshly as if the ink was still wet. Its recipe:  late days for British colonial rule, racism and tension, and a shocking allegation that gets out of the control of everyone involved, from accuser to accused. I see now why Forster’s classic is often taught in tandem with “To Kill A Mockingbird”, which is “Passage” set in America.

“Damage” by John Lescroart (2011) I love turning new readers on to Lescroart’s “Dismas Hardy” novels. They’re fast reads and great plots. In this one, defense attorney Hardy’s colleague, Wes Farrell,  has just become San Francisco D.A. when he tangles with a powerful local family, the Curtlees, whose sick-puppy son, Roland (“R0”) has done time for rape and murder, and is now out and seemingly on a homicidal spree of revenge. The author’s “universe” of regular characters each get drawn in to the danger and race for evidence that will either stop Ro for good, or reveal something even worse than a clan of rich enablers.

As always, if you try one of these books, please let me know. And share your books at [email protected]

More about: