Adams, Washington, Franklin

Two books and a miniseries.

Duel in the Wilderness is a historical novel about young George Washington’s mission to bring a message from the English king to the French commander in Ohio. An enormous responsibility for a twenty-one year old man, the trip requires physical stamina, diplomatic savvy, and acumen under pressure. Several more experienced officers declined the job, fearing it would lead to certain death. Washington, though, wanted to make a name for himself. You will find no sword or pistol duel. The duel—full of thrusts, parries, feints—is between two nations over control of the continent.

Poor Richard’s Almanack is a collection of Benjamin Franklin’s proverbs and aphorisms. Thrift, diligence, humility, attention, temperance, cleanliness, and resolve are praised and encouraged; I believe the Almanack is the basis of the stereotypical Yankee thrift. Franklin’s economy of words makes these pithy sayings easy to remember.

Fish and Visitors stink after three days.

Eat few Suppers, and you’ll need few Medicines.

Little strokes fell great Oaks.

Death takes no bribes.

Keep flax from fire, youth from gaming.

Dost thou love Life?
Then do no squander Time;
for that’s the Stuff Life is made of.

I found it curious to read Franklin’s Almanack in light of John and Abigail Adams’ opinions of Franklin.  David McCullough writes:

[John Adams] found Franklin cordial but aloof, easygoing to the point of indolence,
distressingly slipshod about details and about money….Franklin acknowledged that
frugality was a virtue he never acquired. p. 198

John Adams, a 7-part HBO series based on David McCullough’s masterpiece, John Adams, was excellent. Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney shine as John and Abigail Adams. The heart of John Adams’s life story is his marriage with Abigail, a woman both beautiful and brilliant. If you are a bit hazy on the Federalist/Anti-Federalist debate, watching this will help set the stage for this struggle. The best part of this series, though, is the Special Feature: David McCullough, Painting with Words.  Happily, Painting with Words is available to watch on YouTube in four parts.

 

Understanding the 1950s

I’m going to undertake a new direction in my reading.  I want to understand the post-war generation, the 1950s and Korean War.  I have several books on my shelf which have been waiting for my interest to align with their subject matter.

 

This is surely the most intimidating book of the bunch. The Forgotten War: America in Korea, 1950-1953 is over one thousand pages of small print.  The Washington Post says it is “far and away the most authoritative and comprehensive one-volume military history of the war, and…rattling good narrative as well.”  I’m counting on the rattling; I’m depending on the rattling.  My knowledge of the Korean War is akin to my knowledge of The Great War (WWI) before I plunged into Passchendaele and environs three years ago: gauzy, thin, about the substance of cheesecloth.  My father-in-law’s older brother was killed in Korea.  I hate that I don’t know why.  Why we were in Korea in the first place.  Korea is also one of those places that captures my imagination.  

One of my lifetime reading goals is to read all the books that David McCullough has written. I have currently read four of ten titles. Thus reading his 1993 Pulitzer Prize winning Truman will help me achieve two goals. This book was not on my shelf, but used copies are selling for .13 + 3.99 shipping.  Ahem. I just realized that it is 1120 pages. If it is like any other McCullough book, the pages will turn quickly.

My friend told me about Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure; her short summary had me salivating. Harry and Bess Truman took a road trip after his presidency, the two of them in their Chrysler with no Secret Service.  They stopped at roadside cafés, filled up at gas stations, and were pulled over by a Pennsylvania state trooper…five months after he left the highest office in the country. I know so little about Harry Truman, but I know road trips.  A trip in the car with my husband is one of my favorite activities.  

Eisenhower: Soldier, General of the Army, President-Elect, 1890-1952 may not be the best biography to read on Ike, but it’s the one on my bookshelf.  Lately I have read more varied opinions of Eisenhower’s presidency that I am curious.  I have appreciated other books Ambrose authored, particularly Band of Brothers and D Day: June 6, 1944.  Ambrose holds Eisenhower in high esteem; he’s been accused of being too generous with him in this book.  We shall see!

I’ll let you know how it goes.  So many times I make a commitment (even if only to myself) and suddenly – suddenly! – a latent fascination, be it Dostoevsky, Flannery, Spurgeon or Solzhenitsyn, tries to nudge into first place.