I read a lot of books, and most don’t get reviewed here on the blog. The ones I spend the time to review are ones I find significant (or wacky) in some way. I don’t need to say Linda Nagata’s The Red: First Light is an excellent Sci-Fi novel, as it’s been reviewed many times and nearly captured a brace of prestigious awards. It’s cracking good adventure, has excellent character depth, a delightfully high stakes Alistair MacLean plot and even a believable and heartbreaking love story woven in–the latter not something usually found done well in a Sci-Fi book. I’m not the first to say it’s a worthy carrier of Haldeman’s The Forever War torch in theme, character and tone (yes, many f-bombs).
While intensely informative and alarmingly eye-opening in its expose of intrigue, deceit and thuggery by the political right, this is not an easy read. Brock is brilliant but he wields his mastery of detail as a blunt instrument. He needed a stronger editor. If the book was to be an expose of the Republican smear campaign against the Clintons, the web of cronies, deceit and hijinks he illustrates is compelling. If the book is a dish on his enemies, the details of their hypocrisy are dishy. If it is a tale of a gay man’s collaboration and later fallout with the political establishment most at war with the LGBTQ population, he has that covered. If it is to be an act of repentance for his own (very effective) acts to smear both Anita Hill and the Clintons, he does recount in excruciating detail how he wandered into that thicket and slowly, excruciatingly found his way out. Along the way there is much grief, recrimination and a few healthy dashes of self-pity.
Bob Woodward is a legend, yet I had never read one of his books. His famous breakout, All the President’s Men, came out when I was too young to be reading political heavyweights (I was not yet in middle school). He’s written many books since then but I admit I was not paying more than cursory attention to politics until things got weird in the Tea Party era. Anyway, I did not know what to expect.
Woodward is very organized, cogent and always clear in his recounting, but he is in this case not a natural story teller: in Rage, he does not spin a strong narrative. He is sparing with conjecture and weaves little of his own experiences or opinions in his reporting. He leaves a lot to the reader, which is appropriate for a reporter. He does not resort to partisanship or gonzo self-involvement in order to deliver a gripping, integrated tale as Hunter Thompson* would.
I bought this book in part to help me understand how close to authoritarianism we (in the U.S.) are lurching under Trump. Yes I understand the effrontery some find in comparing anyone to Hitler. This is not denying or belittling the Holocaust, it is examining how a republic failed and the key role a single personality played. Such understanding is critical to preventing fascist takeover of a republic.
It is a long entry, as it’s a long book: 758 pages of content with a stunning 187 pages of notes. I only read some of the notes, mea culpa.
So, why undertake such a behemoth? I always wondered, when reading about Hitler in general history texts, what they meant by “he seized power”—how did he do that, exactly? Well, Ullrich tells us how: legally, by playing on the fears of an electorate beset by crisis after crisis, and promising stability and order. We also hear the now-familiar tale of the ‘conventional’ politicians who thought they could surround and ‘control’ Hitler. It reminds one of Reince Priebus, John Kelly, H.R. McMaster, Jon Bolton, Dan Coats, James Mattis, Jeff Sessions and others. Trump steamrolled them all, and in Ascent, we see how Hitler did the same to his ‘handlers.’
Even though I found Blood Meridian tedious, I had already reserved All the Pretty Horses from the library plus, my wife had read it, so I figured I’d give it a go. It is better than Meridian. McCarthy lays off the heavy use of run-ons, got rid of his thesaurus (see my review of Blood Meridian for his obnoxious thesaurus-itis in that book) and the plot has enough elements to it (most of the time) that it kept my interest. There are several extended scenes that kept me reading later than I would have, wherein the fate of the protagonist is in doubt. Again, the descriptions are the forte, and in this case, the focus is not all on horror, but the beauty of a Southwest and Mexico which no longer exist.