Jack’s Books: Saints and Sinners

Once in a while, a historian will dive so deep and provocatively, that he or she takes us on a journey we didn’t know we wanted to take.

Such is Michael Heseman’s “The Pope and The Holocaust” (2022). Heseman is a Vatican scholar and, delves into primary source materials, inspired by a recent historical revisionism aimed at Pope Pius XII (1939-1958). Facts: Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli was a brilliant diplomat and scholar before becoming pontiff on the eve of WW2. Since he had represented the Vatican in Hitlerite Germany, he had insight and opportunity to be an early foe of the Nazis, and one they particularly recognized. Which makes the slander that he was soft on the Third Reich, or betrayed Jews, especially vile. As Heseman lays out, Pius saved many, many lives in Italy, and across Europe, in a number of often-creative ways. Those in the know revered him for it, but recent, agenda-driven detractors have given this great man a bad name.

Also these last few weeks:

“Caging The Raven” by William Heffernan (1981) This early Heffernan novel is clever and unexpected: a former president (seemingly modeled on Nixon) who left office in disgrace, is kidnapped by Puerto Rican nationalists. It gets complicated because the current administration has mixed feelings about getting him back, and he begins to do a psychological number on his captors.

“Shadow of a Man” by Doris Miles Disney (1965) Disney specialized over many years in what we used to call “drugstore (or dimestore) novels”. The murder of a young girl leads to suspicion falling on a slick local businessman with a lot of secrets.

“Great Stories of The Sea and Ships” edited by N.C. Wyeth. I had this book for most of my life, and never got around to reading it. Wish I hadn’t waited so long! A compendium of 19th and 20th century short stories, some well known authors like Jack London and some lesser-known (now, at least) writers, and almost every one of them a treasure chest.

“Chaos Under Heaven: Trump, Xi and The Battle for the 21st Century” by Josh Rogin (2021) Don’t read it if you can’t stand to hear anything negative about the former president. Do read it otherwise: Rogin’s no fan of Trump, but writes what I think is a fair comparison of China policies under Obama, Trump and Biden. Trump gets his due for the big-picture grasp of the China threat, but lower marks for keeping people and policies coherent. Despite the title, this is a pretty good explanation of Trump’s whole presidency—a strong-willed president with an undisciplined team of some very talented, and some very under-qualified, people around him.

“A Time to Speak” by Robert Bork (2008) A massive collection of briefs, articles and opinions from the long-time federal judge, former Solicitor General, and one-time nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. Bork was brilliant and prolific, and I found some of this very dense reading, but worth the time.

“Saints of The Shadow Bible” by Ian Rankin (2013) One of the “John Rebus” novels, the Scottish detective who could be Harry Bosch’s overseas cousin, is now back with CID, but demoted. Investigations into a car crash, the violent death of a senior government minister and possible police misconduct at a now-defunct precinct cross each other and test Rebus’ skills as well as some longtime friendships.

Hope you’ll let me know if you pick up any of these, and feel free to share book recommendations of your own: [email protected]


More about: