Thursday, October 25, 2012

Killing Kennedy by Bill O'Reilly ad Martin Dugard

I could not wait to  receive this book as a gift because I loved the Killing Lincoln by the same authors and  yet I did not think they could do it again.  They have!  This is a wonderful book, all 311 pages including the references and I  devoured it.  I was a Kennedy kid in college, he was my first exposure to politics, I adored JFK and the Camelot mystique.  When he was assassinated I was devastated.  Over the years I have read everything about the  Kenndys and the investigative reports, I even have Sotheby's massive tome published when Jackie's Estate was being settled.  I was a Kennedy junkie with JFK  and Bobby; that stopped with Ted Kennedy especially his Chappaquidick adventure. 

I was intrigued, what could they write that I did not already know?  But they did. Some  small details such as pages 135-137,   the bringing and transporting the Mona Lisa, Lisa Gherardini, not sure I ever knew her name before.  I well recall the publicity in  January 1963 about bringing her to the White House, then again, I remember  most of the events described in this excellent work.

I read  this book accompanied by a nagging feeling of impending doom; yes I knew what would happen, but I knew what would happen with Lincoln as well and did not experience that same sensation reading Killing Lincoln.   Perhaps the feeling stemmed from the history that I lived.  The same old questions rattle through my mind, what if Oswald had not bee permitted  back to America?  What if JFK had not gone to  Dallas?  What if this never had happened?  But what if's are fantasy and all that pondering is meaningless.  Today in our polarized country with the poorest excuse of a President in my life time, I loved reading about JFK and how he was the President of the country, of all the people.  O'Reilly and Dugard write that JFK stopped defining himself  by party affiliation, yes he was a consummate politician, but he was the people's man, for the entire nation.

I learned that he was far worse a philanderer than I ever knew with his various bimbos escorted to the White House in Jackie's absence; he outdoes Bill Clinton.  I imagine today he would not get away with that conduct.  He as a faithful Catholic attended mass regularly; I wonder if he confessed or did not consider his trysts sinful.   I also learned that JFK suffered far more from physical complications than I ever imagined and even used crutches sometimes to walk, though not in public.  It sounds odd to read about JFK taking a bath, when showers predominate today.  I remember huddling with the other girls from our 4th  floor in the  TV room, (we shared a room and did not have our own TV's back in those dark ages!), October 22, 1962, and I remembered  the JFK TV speech about the Russians and missiles in 117 " The 1930's taught us a clear lesson:  Aggressive conduct if allowed to  grow unchecked and unchallenged, ultimately leads to war.  This nation is opposed to war.  We are also true to our word.  Our unswerving objective, therefore, must be to prevent the use of these missiles against this or any other country and to secure their  withdrawal or elimination from the Western Hemishpere."   On page 119, the authors  say that  most  Americans today who lived through that event  remember where they were and what they were doing...just as their parents remembered  Pearl Harbor and the death of President Roosevelt.  "The terrible news that he now delivers to the public, will make this moment stand forever in the minds of everyone who is watching."  We in the east  were sure the end was near; the depth of detail in this  book confirms, had those missiles gone off most of the East coast and inland would have bee decimated.  He ended that  speech as his 1961 inaugural, "grabbing his listeners by the heart--or by "the nuts" as he often likes to say--and rally their emotional support."  That closing line,  "Our goal is not the victory of might but the vindication of right.  Not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace and freedom--"" 
   On page 242 the authors pose how and when the "destruction of Camelot" might have started--the Bay of Pigs, the  anger of Fidel Castro, and the furious reaction in the CIA,  or when JFK severed his ties  with Giancana, Sinatra and the Mafia and allowed his brother, Bobby to prosecute them as Attorney General.   

George de Mohrenschildt, a shadowy Russian college professor who befriended the Oswalds when they arrived in Dallas in 1962 also had ties to Jackie  Kennedy; he  was a new character to me.  He committed suicide in March 1977 just as O'Reilly a young reporter knocked on his door.  It adds to the pondering. 

The book ends powerfully   Page 262  "..each person has dreams about the future--dreams that sometimes come true.  Such is life.  Yet life can end in less time than it takes to draw one breath."  Loved this book.

It is clearly 5 ***** +

Monday, October 15, 2012

The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Connor

A benefit of a book club, is to learn about books that  I would not otherwise hear of, books that are not all the current rage, books I have missed over the years.  That introduces "The House at Sugar Beach"  published in 2008, an autobiography of Helene Cooper, a journalist with whom I was not familiar. But having read this, I look  for her columns now.   One of the women in our club has teen age Liberian grandchildren adopted by her  pastor son in law and wife so she found this book in her quest to learn about Liberia.

What little I knew of that country  is the history of how some of  the freed blacks prior to the Civil War migrated back to Liberia and how President Lincoln among others advocated  sending the freed slaves to Liberia.  Helene covers this history and traces her ancestry back to the initial migration in 1822, certainly far ahead of the time in history I knew.  In only 345 pages, Helene writes fully about the history of Liberia, the culture from the 1800's to today and the privileged  family life she experienced there, in a 22 room mansion, as the daughter of wealthy Liberians.  She vacations in America, Spain and Switzerland and a sister is attending school in America.  But in a moment with political uprisings life changes, turns hard and will never be the same.

I so  enjoyed learning about Liberian customs, phrases, and the political unrest and turmoils.  The phrase, "I hold your foot" conveys deepest admiration and is always said when sincerely pleading for something, even as a child.  She traces their ancestry back to Elijah Johnson a free black man in New York in 1787.  This book would be an eye opener for those who do not know much about the history of free blacks in this country and are under the impression that all blacks were slaves.

 The characters in her family are richly described and their experiences are touching and humorous.  The accepted practice of Liberian men having many wives or commonly more than one, or bouncing readily leaving one for another touches her own family although her mother  does not approve, they are a mixed household of children from her father's other wives.  They also "adopt" Eunice, a girl from a nearby village to be a "sister companion to Helene.  The Cooper family treat Eunice nearly as well as their own children, educating her and giving her a private room, which is beyond anything this child could have imagined.  However, when the family flees to America in 1980, following another political revolt, and the rape of Mrs. Cooper while her daughters huddle upstairs, they are not able to take Eunice along.  While Helene will never forget  Eunice, twenty three years pass until she returns to Liberia and they reunite. 

Back cover of paperback edition
As a journalist, she writes her story in a compelling way that made me turn the pages quickly.  I could offer many examples of excellent writing here, but one in particular touched me, page 187,"..  It was the same thing I would do for the rest of my life when something bad happens, I focus on something else.  I concentrate on minutiae.  It's the only way to keep going when the world has ended."  That demonstrates her wisdom.  She weaves all her experiences into the person she becomes, a strong woman, without a grudge.  Someone I know I would enjoy talking with.

Page..344..." In a few days, I would be packing up and leaving Monrovia.  I would bribe my way out of Robertsfield and onto Ghana Airways to Accra, and then onto British Airways to London and then to Washington, where Marlene would meet me and take me back to my house in our nice neighborhood with its quaint front porches and picket fences.  I would leave Eunice with the new Liberian cell phone that I had purchased, so she would never be unreachable for me again.  But phone or not, I would still be leaving her.  Eunice  would return to Firestone, to her husband, to her foster children and Sugar Beach would again be a memory.  Still, I knew which memory would prevail--the Sugar Beach of my childhood,....."

 She does not hide the gruesome  brutality, details of the revolts and the jealousy amongst the different native sects, making for some raw reading.  Yet  a mature reader will recognize this is all fact, truth, not sugar coated.   There are a series of discussion questions at the end and  an interview with Helene  who is a successful White House correspondent for the New York Times and who started after college as  a Wall Street Journal reporter becoming a traveling foreign correspondent which takes her all over the world.

 I give this book 5 ***** and recommend it for book clubs or anyone who wants to learn.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Valley of Decision by Marcia Davenport

Front cover, paperback
It took me some time to read through this wonderful, massive 640 pages, historical epic  novel about the Pittsburgh area and the founding of the steel mills, the Scott family over generations from 1870 through 1940. Add to that the parallel life of Mary Rafferty, their servant who comes up the hill from Irish town and home again on Sundays to care for Dad. It was a saga to savor.  Not fast reading, much consideration as books used to be written.  Such great work, such great writing. 

A friend recommended it long ago but it was out of print for years, first published in 1942.  Now the University of Pittsburgh Press has reprinted it with an introduction written by the author in 1988.  It is an indescribable sweeping tale, Irish immigrants,  the hunkies (a term for the Slavic immigrants stolen by blacks to refer to white people as honkies), the wealth of the Scott family as the steel industry changes directions in war effort and through the ups and downs of the economy.  Perhaps because I know the area, I was smitten with this novel.  The characters and the way people lived back then, the development and the growth.  I had not heard of this novel before a few years ago and wonder how I could have missed it being an avid reader and having spent so much time at our local library in PA when I was growing up.  I am better informed now having read it.  I had forgotten how the European immigrants were enticed to come work in the mills and factories by unscrupulous "human traders",  these immigrants fared no better than the black slaves but our history has been  ignoring the plight of the early Caucasian immigrants, exploited beyond imaginable. 

Back cover
There is so much excellent writing that I cannot select only a few and I offer only one,  Page 466,  (The Twenties), "Why,"  people sometimes asked Mary Rafferty, "do you go on living all alone in that museum of a house?"  She never answered that question, never gave a reason.  She would smile quietly, or raise her bony shoulders to a delicate shrug.  When she was seventy years old, she still carried her white head erect, at a certain proud angle that belied the quiet unobtrusiveness of her clothes.  It was difficult for any person to read her eyes."  Yes Mary is a strong woman.  I like strong women, not whiny characters much as I like good writing.  It seems to me we have lost the art...yes, there are novels worth reading and yes there are many books of interest.  But novels like this, in the same line as Gone With the Wind are seldom if ever written today.  Today, people just  do not read for entertainment as they did back in the day.  And, that comes from lesser education, lesser interest and the availability of television, the preferred mode for ever so many.  I hope I never lose my love of reading.  It transports me and continues to educate me.  It nourishes my imagination, when I read I see the happenings, I am not just brushing over words.  Enough.

The  revised 1988 preface first page by the author...

 5 star ***** no doubt. I may take this back to PA and donate to the local library or I just may keep it on my shelf. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

God's Hotel by Victoria Sweet

I chose this book on our book club reading and may have made a mistake, considering the preferences of the other readers, but I enjoyed it. It is a book I'd have  read with or without the book club. It has depth and value; I learned while reading it.  To me, that is important in books.  A curious reader will  enjoy it.  Someone who wants just light reading,  sheer entertainment will not.  I will pass this book along to my own doctor who does practice spending time with patients, a rarity.  But then I go to Mayo and it is different. 

 Early reviews gave me the impression that "God's Hotel"  was about treatments of  aids patients at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, but it is far more than that. Infact, there is little about aids patients.  It  has comedic parts including the chicken of the ward which of course had to be removed when state inspectors arived.  Yes, a real live chicken that kept the patients happy. 

 A fast read at 348 pages, published in 2012 and authored by Victoria Sweet,MD, it is more than aids, it is a history of the medical and non medical treatments at what is one of the last almshouses in the country.  Laguna Honda has cared for the poor, the homeless, the alcoholics, those without resources for a long time.  The city of San Francisco has heavily supported it.  Dr. Sweet  goes there after  med school unaware that she will spend her career there.  Her  sort of memoir of these times describes the changing healthcare system and processes and depicts the plight of the "residents."

I was familiar with  the issues between governmental  bureaucracy, regulation and funding of  Laguna Honda from my career at the state Department of  Health Services.  However, after reading this book, I have to agree with Dr. Sweet, there has been unnecessary  tampering and tinkering by bureaucrats that has not contributed to effective care for patients.  Laguna Honda had a mission from it's founding to care for  those without  resources.  It desperately clung to that.  Dr. Sweet tells the history of Laguna Honda along with her own maturation in medicine.   Page 38,  "Slowly the two of us came to understand that Dr. Fintner had the temperament of the physician and I, although I was an internist, the temperament of the surgeon.  I was interested in action, or not; she was interested in the mos precise action and would spend quite  a bit of time to get it right...."   Pg. 39,  "...seemed to be sleeping.  But as we stood there, waiting or maybe just watching, I gradually became aware of a quality I'd felt before with patients, though never consciously--the quality of shared, peaceful silence.  It was a healing space,, I realized at that moment, and not only for the patient.  For the doctor too, a quiet space of non-asking and non-answering of non-doing."  The techniques, relying on old school time spent and sensing are emphasized and as she admits, not techniques covered in today's medical training which emphasizes technologies. 

Page 98 describes a recurrent theme of treatment, "a tincture of time." "...Not only did her healing take a long time and need a long time, but time was the most important ingredient in her treatment.  Premodern medicine knew about that special ingredient; it was called "tincture of time." Almost everything it had observed, healed in time under the right was watching her healing that was miraculous, that reformed my practice of medicine.  In this day of efficient health care, no one ever gets to see such a process...It seemed to me more than mechanical; it seemed magical a sleight of hand....."

There is detail in the history of medicine going back to Hippocrates and the anima, spiritus, physics.  There is a lot of information as Dr Sweet continues her studies in the practices of  a 12th century healer, Hildegard who knew the essence of spirituality and time.  Pages 160-162 describe her work in the dementia ward and the distinct difference between various dementias and Alzheimers.  However today every dementia is termed Alzheimers when that is not accurate.  Dr Sweet's journey is marked by time off to study early Hildegard, to make pilgramages in Spain and Europe, to learn the lesson of pilgramage is to (pg. 244) "expect the unexpected." 

I was fascinated by her deep historical descriptions and alayses of terms of words.  On page 228 she  describes hospitality, community and charity as the  3 principles of Laguna Honda.  Then  continues to trace the word, "charity" thru history, bringing it bcack to Laguna with a description of "eleos" and alms.    Page 253 she emphasizes an important distinction, "the practice of medicine had become the delivery of healthcare....."  This book weaves a tale of the difference between those two concepts as well as distinguishing between  nursing and medicine. he reorganizations that Laguna uses to react and work along with political and fianancial decisions are also interesting.  My sympathy rests with the worker bees who become entrapped by these changes all in the name of efficiency.

 I give this book a 4* and recommend it to people who are interested in medicine, healthcare, history, words.  I hope my bookclub enjoys it, and will learn about that  in a week or so when we meet.  It  would be a gret text for aspiring doctors but unlikely to be acknowledged in today's training which emphasizes technology, rapid diagnosis and moving on to the next patient.