Thursday, March 18, 2010

Presidential Children

We are all aware of John Q. Adams and George W. Bush, for they followed in their father’s political footsteps; most are probably familiar with Margaret Truman, the noted author, but few are aware of many other notable children of US presidents.  Did you know that Ulysses S. Grant’s son, Fred Grant, rose to the rank of General?  He was an outstanding leader but was overshadowed by the fame of his presidential father.  Did you know that President Theodore Roosevelt’s four sons all served in the Army during WWI and that his youngest son, Quentin, a pilot, was shot down in a dog-fight and killed at the young age of twenty.  His remaining three sons also served again during WWII, with his oldest, Ted Jr., advancing to the rank of General and winning the Congressional Medal of Honor, our nations highest military award for valor.  Did you know that his cousin FDR also had four sons who served in the military during WWII?  Jimmy Roosevelt served in the Marine Corps with the famed Carson’s Raiders and fought on Guadalcanal and Tarawa, earning the Navy Cross and Silver Star (he retired from the Marine Corps at the rank of Brig. General).  FDR, Jr. commanded the USS Culvert Moore, a destroyer, during the war and won the Purple Heart, Navy Cross and Legion of Merit.  His son John, served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Wasp; his son Elliot rose to the rank of General in the Army Air Corps, flying 300 combat missions and receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Here’s a presidential son I bet you never have heard of – Webb Hayes, son of our 19th president, Rutherford Hayes.  This guy was a millionaire-adventurer and soldier.  He fought at San Juan Hill (Cuba), Puerto Rico and the Philippines in the Spanish-American War; he marched with the International China Relief Expedition during the Boxer Rebellion, and participated in the Russo-Japanese War as an observer.  During WWI Webb served on the Italian front.  He was awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in the Philippines during the Spanish-American war.  On the business side of life, Webb formed the company that later became Union Carbide Corporation!  What an exciting book a biography of Webb Hayes would make.
Did you know that Presidents Tyler and Taylor had sons who fought for the south during the Civil War?  John Tyler’s son Robert was the Registrar for the confederate treasury, and his son David served in the confederate army as a private at age 16, while son Alex enlisted in the confederate navy at age 14.  Richard Taylor, son of President Zackary Taylor, rose to the rank of Lt. General while serving with the CSA.  He commanded troops at the battles of Bull Run, Shenandoah Valley campaign, Seven Days Battles, Red River Campaign, Battle of Mansfield, and the Battle of Pleasant Hill.
Doug Wead has written an intriguing book about the men and women sired by US Presidents.  His work, All The Presidents’ Children is packed with the successes and failures of these individuals.
I have listed two other offerings that are biographies of a pair of extraordinary presidential offspring.  Paul Jeffer’s biography of Theodore Roosevelt Jr., In the Roughrider’s Shadow, if phenomenal and a must read.  Richard Taylor, Soldier Prince of Dixie, by Michael Parrish, gives a good account of this son of a US President who was also brother-in-law to the President of the CSA – Jefferson Davis.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mo Hayder crime drama author

Mo Hayder writes suspense in a perversely erotic style. I first became aware of this author when I read Tokyo (also published under the name The Devil of Nanking). In Tokyo, Hayder describes a young British woman obsessed with the Japanese atrocities perpetrated on the citizens of Nanking China during the early years of WWII. Following in Hayder’s own footsteps, the protagonist, Grey, takes a job as a hostess in a Tokyo men’s club to finance her continued research into the events surrounding the massacres at Nanking, and the possibility of the existence of an unreleased 16mm film that depict the atrocities. Grey is an emotionally disturbed women working through her own fears to uncover the truth about the present and the past.

Hayder tells the story by alternating chapters between present day Tokyo and Nanking in 1937. She reveals her characters as one would peel and onion, layer-by-layer, and often with the accompaniment of tears. The seedy nature of life and Grey’s dingy surroundings are captured vividly by Hayder, as she pulls the reader deeper and deeper into this crime drama the spans decades and generations.

I followed up Tokyo by reading Hayder’s first offering – Birdman, which proved to be almost as perversely erotic. Her characters have tortured souls and warped minds, social deviates looking at the world through dirty, or should it be, blood stained glasses. This novel about a sadistic serial killer is very suspenseful and emotionally troubling.  It centers around a London detective investigating a series of murders of young women who are sexually mutilated, and trying to identify and stop the twisted soul behind the crimes.

If you are looking for an author who stretches your imagination and writes in a style far from the norm, yet weaves a fascinating story about the fringes of society, Hayder may be someone to consider. I couldn’t put her books down, though they were troubling almost to the point of revulsion; I had to keep turning the pages to see what would happen next.

The Steel Wave - Part II of Jeff Shaara's WWII trilogy

The Steel Wave – Jeff Shaara

The second installment of his World War II trilogy, Shaara shares both the American and German perspective of the build up and execution of Operation Overlord – the Normandy invasion – D-Day – through the perspective of historical figures such as Eisenhower, Patton, Gavin, and Rommel, along with an assortment of fictional characters. Shaara intertwines the story of veteran units bloodied in North Africa and Sicily and newly formed divisions who will see their first action of the war on Omaha Beach and the hedgerows of Northern France, with the perspective of German units building the Atlantic Wall.

This historical-fiction offering humanizes the names and events we have read and studied associated with the Normandy invasion through fictional characters, some carried forward from Sharra’s first installment of the trilogy – The Rising Tide.

Shaara's works on WWII are a good read to accompany Rick Atkinson's - An Army at Dawn and The Day of Battle.

Reading The Steel Wave inspired me to also read Beyond Band of Brothers by Major Winters and Stanley Hirshson’s biography - General Patton, a Soldier’s Life.

Social Psychology - Outliers and Freakonomics

I recently read a couple of social psychology best-sellers that were a combination of trivia, statistics, and commentary on American culture --- Outliers and Freakonomics

Outliers - The Story of Success by Malcomb Gladwell

I had read Malcomb Gladwell’s first two offerings – Blink and Tipping Point – which were interesting but tedious. Outliers was different. In Outliers he moves from point to point sharing intriguing fact about everything from sports stars to school systems. Anyone who has ever studied statistics knows what an outlier is, something that lies outside the norm, either positive or negative. In this book Gladwell tries to define cause and effect on many thought provoking topics.

Freakonomics - A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven Levitt and Steven Dubner

Freakonomics, much like Outliers, deals with cause and effect of social problems and conditions. Most interesting was the correlation between Roe v Wade with the decrease in crime since the mid-90’s. The ‘name game’ at the end of the book got a little tiring, but overall very thought provoking and a good read.