Monday, November 24, 2014

More catch up Part 2 Mrs Astor Regrets

"Mrs Astor Regrets" The Hidden Betrayals of a Family Beyond Reproach, by  author Meryl Gordon is fantastic.  What a great find for only 99 cents at the Goodwill Store.  I read this months ago and relished it, perhaps because recently Brooke Astor made the news again while her  89 year old son, anthony M Marshall, was  discharged from  his prison sentence  for abusing Mrs. Astor financially and otherwise by denying her  certain comforts. .  It is a tale of woe evidencing that the very rich are also plagued by greed and all sorts of family trials...In 2000 Brooke Astor, wealthy philanthropist, glamorous socialite, widow of Vincent Astor was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.  Somehow  with the best care money could buy she was able to continue on. She lived to be 105 and died in 2007.  

 Because I grew up back east and was familiar with old money families from tales I was intrigued by her life and this book covers all of that, the Oscar de la Renta's, the Rockefellers, Louis Auchincloss, the Kissingers, all the rich and famous and then some weave in and out of the memoir.  Brooke was more than a strong character; she was  demanding,  an old biddy, someone who insisted being in control well beyond when she could be, and yet very  generous financially to her pet to causes.  Her  best friend was the far  younger, Annette de la Renta,  who would try to rescue and defend the  aged matriarch from the grip of the evil son, Tony Marshall Brooke's child from her first marriage to Dryden Kuser who  became an alcoholic and whom she would divorce in 1930 in Reno.  Her second marriage to  Charles Marshall, from whom her son took his name, was successful and is commented on by Nancy Reagan as the love of Brooke's life but he died suddenly at only 50.  Six months later in November 1952 Brooke married Vincent Astor, son of the John Jacob Astors who perished  on the Titanic. Vincent who was moody and possessive but rich beyond statement died  5 1/2 years after they married, leaving her the famous surname and a trust fund of more than $60 million.  Luxury became hers for life.  She took that storied name and  rebranded the Astor image to respect and glamour; she renovated the Astor Foundation and made it worthy of great pride.  Meantime her son, Tony cowered always overshadowed by the strong dominant personality of his mother.  He was enabled by her and dependent, achieving little in life on his own.  At one point Brooke admits that she  ruined him by indulging him and allowing him to not be accountable, bailing him out financially and not allowing him to grow up.  I am surprised this has not become a bigger best seller because it is a sweeping saga of  big time money and could challenge trite soap operas that dominate television like  the Dallas series.  .

 The book references to how she maintained the image of elegance, always made up and dressed to the  9's of perfection to which she said particularly on charitable visits and events, "People expect to see Mrs. Astor and I shall not disappoint them."  She was easily bored with people and rotated friends in and out of her circle often on whim.  Still she was victim to the greed of her son, peculiar in itself as he was her only child and heir.  Speculation is that  perhaps his  wife urged him on out of her own greed, but  he  had to agree.  Brooke's tale is enriched and yet heartbreaking to  learn that at the end, this wealthy woman was so restricted.  It's paperback only 285 pages.  An excellent investigative report and memoir by the author, Meryl Gordon. 

On Page 229,  "Discipline" a poem written by Brooke paints an overview of her tragic life,
 I am old and I have had
more than my share of good and bad.
I've had love and sorrow, seen sudden death,
and been left alone and of love bereft.
I thought I would never love again
and I thought my life was grief and pain.
The edge between life and death was thin,
but then I discovered discipline.
I learned to smile when I felt sad,
I learned to take the good and the bad.
I learned  to care a great deal more
for the world about me than before.
I began to forget the "Me" and "I"
and jpoined in life as it rolled by:
This may not mean sheer ecstasy
but it is better by far than "I" and "Me"

Back cover
I give this 5 *****  Pick it up if you want to read about the lives of the truly rich and famous, a saga

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Catchup of books read Part 1

It's not that I have  not been reading, it's that I have little time to spend at keyboard.  Consequently I have accumulated quite the stack of books I have read since my last post.  These will be  rather abbreviated reviews while I clear the stacks for donations.

  Last read, first listed, the  one I just completed the other evening, "Killing Patton"  by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard. I admired the other Killing books by these two and because this is based on the famous General whom history shows may have been the most apolitical but the most patriotic of World War II, I knew I would want to read this.  I thought I might wait a while but couldn't resist dropping it into my cart as soon as it was released as I was in Sam's that day.  I verified some of the detail maps with historic information I inherited from my late Uncle Carl, particularly the maps as I had several from Uncle Carl who served with Patton part of the time.  Carl was  in the tank destroyers and also in a headquarters company so had access to lots of information which he gathered and saved.  I retain a keen interest in all things written about World War II as well and that may be why I was not overly impressed with this latest in the Killing books.  Yes the research is impeccable, but I felt this was partly about Patton and partly with other historical information and anecdotes, tales of Hitler, Stalin, Truman and more.Most of that miscellany information I read over and again in other more detailed books about that era and those individuals.  I did not  need to repeat read it here.  But then the book would have been about half it's 331 pages including the appendix.    Probably because I have  read so much else of this era,I should not have expected new information, but as usual in O'Reilly's books I learned a couple new tidbits, more about Patton's talks to his troops and more about his passions and discipline and his depth readings of Caesar including Gallic Wars which I  remember reading in my 4th year of high school Latin classes.  (Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres....I can still recite the opening paragraphs that we memorized way back then)  It  left me with multiple unanswered questions, what really did happen to General Patton in the fatal auto accident?  How much was cover up and deliberate sabotage?  I barely recall  hearing about it as a child but knew of the speculation.  There are no answers in this book which just raises the same questions that will be unanswered, was it the CIA, was it the Russians condoned by the CIA, was it from Ike's and or Truman's  disinterest or dislike of Patton or was it just the way it was?  .I give it only 4 ****.

 Another patriotic and perhaps political military expose "American Spartan" by Ann Scott Tyson is an excellent read  which raises speculation about today's tragically politicized military efforts.  This true documentation about Special Forces Major Jim Gant, hailed by some as a leader who could have really facilitated US victory in Afghanistan is written by an investigative reporter who becomes his wife.  While it is  positively complimentary about General David Petraeus, it raises serious question about the liberal bias that has reached from Academia to the halls and graduates of West Point and further demonstrates that watch your back must be the operative slogan of successful officers.  Major Jim Gant is a warriors warrior, and was always with his men, dubbed "Lawrence of Afghanistan" he befriended the Pashtan tribesmen, and became trusted by adopting their lifestyle while in the hills, mountains and caves of Afghanistan. 

 I learned a lot about that country and its history.  This is a well documented book and I would expect no less from  the reporter who engages with the major and then marries him.  My impression is that Gant surely had his personal demons, alcohol for one, as he drank about a 1/5th of booze a day in Iraq, but he certainly deserved better treatment than he received in the end from the US Army. His 2009  published brilliant strategy in his whitepaper, "One Tribe at a Time" went viral in DC and especially at the Pentagon catching the attention of many including General Petraeus who will ultimately be able to allow Jim to proceed only to be ultimately over ruled.  Pg. 60, "Afghanistan was still the Wild Wild West....Afghanistan, he had discovered as a 35 year old Army captain, was a nation of ancient warring tribes.  The largest tribe was the Pashtuns who make up about 40% of Afghanistan's population and inhabit the east and the south...."

When a West Point punk more interested in brown nosing than his own country  can instigate a means to undo the dedication and eradicate the thousands of strong steps forward proven by an officer like Gant, there is something dreadfully wrong with the military.  Likely that wrong reflects back to none other than Obama, the loser commander in chief foisted onto this nation whom I believe has a hatred of our military and seeks to descimate it. That's the political showing, although the book does not make that allegation, a discernable reader with perception and knowledge can derive their own conclusion.  I was curious about the reference to the Spartans but learned that Major Gant was also an astute student of military history and  admired the Spartans.  Pg. 100, "Jim's expectation, he said, was for his men to fight and show bravery together with the same warrior ethos that defined the Spartans.  He showed them the Greek letter, lambda he had tattooed on his left forearm shortly  before they left Ft. Bragg.  The lambda stood for Laconia, the Spartan homeland in ancient Greece and appeared on the shields that Spartan warriors wielded in an impenetrable phalanx.Together they were invincible he told them....The team later adopted the call sign, "Spartan", several. got labda tattoos identical to Jim's on their left forearms,,," 

Near the end pg. 232-233 when Jim is wrestling with the idea of arming insurgents in Kawer or the  Mangwel arbakai, their local police who are notoriously corrupt, a fact  which  is meaningless to Afghans.  They simply  accept  and believe that's the way it is and live with and around  betrayal and with hearty distrust.  Most revealing was the reference to arming Taliban and who was or was not Taliban, what the term means in that part of the world is extremely  different than what  average Americans understand based the media. It is revealing to read this documentation from people who were there and know what they say and this will be valuable knowledge to understand why we have a mess on our hands.

A most compelling read and one I avoided at first, but Jerry read it avidly and recommended I do so.  I am glad I did.  I learned as much from this as from the Pirates of Somalia about an alien tribal culture.  Gants techniques with acclimating into the tribal peoples and gaining their respect and acceptance are reminiscent of serious attempts to befriend villagers in  Vietnam, another strategy doomed to fail when the politicians over rode military tactics.    

I give this book 5 ***** nd recommend it to those who are willing to learn.  It is harsh in parts, bloody and not casual nor light reading.  The verdict of Major Gant's actions may be at odds with my personal beliefs and feelings; I am not surprised this book did not make those best seller's lists. It demonstrates the lack of wisdom by relying solely on information from the media.... 

The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt is a most serious tome of 771 pages that has been on the  best sellers lists and one I would not have bothered to read.  But a friend sent it to me saying she thought it was the worst book she had ever read.  She wanted my opinion and  after plowing through it, I disagreed fully with her assessment.  It is a tale of a boy and later the man who makes his way from  the most dysfunctional childhood to the upper levels of eastern society while holding onto a horrid secret and  working  to learn the trade of refurbishing antiques.  I had read somewhere that the author writes ala Charles Dickens and I concur. I have been a lifelong fan of Dickens since  I first read his works in school,  The in depth characters, the serious dysfunctions, the main protagonist who is not always on the side of the angels, the twists and the mystery are not something that can routinely be so successfully achieved as is done with The Goldfinch.  

The book begins and ends in Amsterdam.  It is philosophical in  parts and cynical in others. I  thought the first part up until the death of his alcoholic deceitful father about page 339, was not quite as intriguing as the latter part.  But then I tire reading of dysfunctional alcoholics and their problems as well as those they cause for others.  The information about refurbishing antiques and the tricks and artistry to fake them was revealing.  Among many well written thoughts, pg. 757..."corrosive to the soul...Idolatry.  Caring too much for objects can destroy you."   pg 509..."all that blind infantile hunger to save and be repeat the past and make it different.." pg. 758..."coincidence is just God's way of remaining anonymous."  Pg 760..."beauty alters the grain of reality....pursuit of beauty is a has to be wedded to something more meaningful...." and  last page 761,  "We don't get to choose the people we are..."  an acquiescence to fate?  I had not heard of this author but with the depth of this writing I can understand why she  has written very few works.  This had to take inordinate research and  deep thought to produce.  I can see this as a great panoramic movie which would detract immensely as  so very much would be condensed away.   Because of the mystery, the twists, the characters, I give this work of fiction 5 *****.

And those are but  3 that I hae had time to describe today,,,lots more later..