Robert Louis Stevenson, the great Scottish writer, is said to have always kept two books in his pocket: one to read and one to write notes in.

I find that useful for some of the more dense or philosophical books–I need to take notes, and I don’t like writing in the book itself. One of this list definitely required that notebook.

Here’s what I’ve been into the last few weeks:

Drop Zone Sicily: Allied Airborne Strike July 1943″ by William Breuer (1983) He’s one of my favorite WW2 historians, and Sicily is one of the most underrated chapters of the war. For its time, this first Allied landing on European territory shattered many records, and was nearly a catastrophe. Very little about the plan survived the crashing gliders, drifting paratroops and numerous friendly-fire accidents. Breuer holds your attention like a masterful novelist. Yes, it’s an amazing story, but his telling of it and research to back it up is first-rate.

“The Edge” by Dick Francis (1988) So many murder mysteries are set on trains that you don’t dare get your hopes up for this one, but Dick Francis never disappoints. A train full of dysfunctional rich people, the horse-racing set (and their horses) is crossing Canada while a set of actors is supposed to be staging an on-board mystery dinner theater. Let’s just say they get upstaged.

“The Patriot Threat” by Steve Berry (2015) Sweeping historical consipiracy-theory thrillers always run the risk of pushing it too far to be credible. This one, involving the real-life hatred between Franklin Roosevelt and Andrew Mellon, who served FDR’s three GOP predecessors as Treasury Secretary, also tying in the design of the dollar bill and the ratification of the Constitution, is a gem that steps right up to that line.

“The Four of Hearts” by Ellery Queen (1938) Queen is on the wrong coast, working for a Hollywood movie studio, but I always love the minimalist plots and snappy dialog, deployed here to solve the murder and intrigue between two feuding royal families of movie stardom, and the mystery of who’s mailing playing cards whose suits, faces and pips constitute coded threats.

“We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition” by John Courtney Murray, S.J. (1960) Father Murray was a renowned theologian and scholar who made the cover of TIME shortly before this book. I won’t sugarcoat this: it’s a very hard read, deep, and intellectual. A series of essays, some of which you need to read and read over, and I was taking notes like I was back in college. The founding and ratification of the Constitution, natural law, the relationship between the Catholic faith and the “American proposition” are among his topics. A rewarding study.

“Dead Simple” by Jon Land (1998) Terrorism isn’t always the province of “terrorists”—Land gives us a bizarre villain who was a ’60s radical and now has a plan for terror, revenge and ransom. Land’s duo of Blaine McCracken and Johnny WarEagle, along with a former FBI agent who has a personal angle, ride to the rescue.

“It’s News to Me” by R.G. Belsky (2022) This former NYC newspaper editor and NBC News exec keeps turning out his “Claire Carlson” series, and as good as the plots are, such as the mystery around a murdered college co-ed, I also enjoy his pulling-back the curtain on newsrooms, news-gathering and the business itself. Our conversation is available on the 11/3/2022 podcast.

“The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, The Cold War and The World On The Brink” by William Inboden (2022) One of the best presidential histories, and certainly, one of the best Reagan books, I’ve ever read. The author is walking you day-by-day, event-by-event, through Reagan’s vision and management of the Cold War. Before the 40th president, the “conservative” position was to contain the Soviets. Reagan could see a future in which Moscow’s communists were defeated, not frozen, and he pursued that future with a blend of Midwestern, 20th century optimism and s fervent Christian faith. Along the way, he had almost as much trouble with his fellow Republicans as he would ever have with a Brezhnev or a Gromyko.

As always, I love hearing if you pick up any of these, or getting your recommendations from your reading. [email protected]

More about: