Monday, December 18, 2023

Books That Are Sure To Delight The Readers In Your Life

It's now just a week before Christmas, and there is an eclectic mix of new books for the readers in your life. In this review, we will look at the following: To Rescue the Constitution: George Washington and the Fragile American Experiment, by Bret Baier; Gangsterland: A Tour Through The Dark Heart of Jazz-Age New York City, by David Pietrusza; The Queen: Her Life, by Andrew Morton; American Castle: One Hundred Years of Mar-a-Lago, by Mary C. Shanklin; Task Force Hogan: The World War II Tank Battalion That Spearheaded the Liberation of Europe, by William R. Hogan; Pele: My Story, by Pele; Joanna Russ: Novels & Stories, edited by Nicole Rudick; and Organized Living: Solutions and Inspiration for Your Home, by Shira Gill.

To Rescue the Constitution: George Washington and the Fragile American Experiment

By Bret Baier

Mariner Books; hardcover, 384 pages; $32.50

Bret Baier, Fox News Channel's Chief Political Anchor and gthe host of "Special Report with Bret Baier," has written this new biography of George Washington, focused on when he came out of retirement to lead the Constitutional Convention and secure the future of the United States.

After the victorious Revolutionary War, the nation was broken, as the states were no more than a loosely knit and contentious confederation, without a strong central union. They were in constant conflict, and Washington sent a note to James Madison that stated, "We are either a united people, or we are not...If we are not, let us no longer act a farce by pretending to be it."

At this time, Washington was set to retire to Mount Vernon, where  he had a happy family life and he was fully engaged in his farming enterprises. Those plans were set aside as he agreed to be a delegate at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. He was unanimously elected president of the convention. 

"Looking out on the gathering, Washington expressed his respect for the solemnity of the occasion," Baier writes. "He thanked his fellows for the honor they had given him, lamented his lack of qualifications for the position, and asked them to forgive him in advance for any errors his inexperience would cause. This wasn't false humility. He was sincere. But other delegates might have chuckled or rolled their eyes at the thought that a man so central to the creation of the nation, both in war and peace, would consider himself inexperienced.

"Washington's demeanor was grave. He was not optimistic about the convention's prospects. As he wrote to Thomas Jefferson, who was abroad serving as ambassador to France, 'Much is expected by some - but little by others - and nothing by a few. That something is necessary, all will agree; for the situation of the general government (if it can be called a government) is shaken to its foundation....In a word, it is at an end, and unless a remedy is soon applied, anarchy and confusion will inevitably ensue.'"

Washington ultimately rescued the country three times, with the first by winning the Revolutionary War, the Constitutional Convention next when he ushered the Constitution through a fractious ratification process, and finally by leading the country as its first President.

Gangsterland: A Tour Through The Dark Heart of Jazz-Age New York City

By David Pietrusza

Diversion Books; paperback, 320 pages; $19.99

David Pietrusza is an award-winning historian whose books include 1920: The Year of Six Presidents; Rothstein: The Life, Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius who Fixed the 1919 World Series; and 1948: Harry Truman's Improbably Victory and the Year That Transformed America's Role in the World.

In the engaging book Gangsterland: A Tour Through The Dark Heart of Jazz-Age New York City, Pietrusza brings the reader along for a site by site, crime by crime, outlaw by outlaw walking tour through the seedy underbelly of Roaring Twenties Manhattan. This is where gamblers and gangsters, crooks and cops, showgirls and speakeasies ruled the day and night.

At the heart of all the wickedness is a "Prince of Darkness" named Arnold Rothstein, the New York City gangland kingpin of kingpins, and known as the shady moneyman who bankrolled the fix of the 1919 World Series, which led eight members of the Chicago White Sox being banned from baseball forever.

This was a very small world of power and vice, of bright lights and big money, of murder and more murder circling around like a venomous snake. Names, places, and rackets intersect, with gambling and bootlegging; Tammany Hall and City Hall; Wall Street and sports and the theater all joined at the hip, or more likely, the hip flask. Filled with a cast of characters out of a thrilling noir film, and historical pictures throughout, it can't help but be an entertaining read.

In this excerpt, Pietrusza writes: "Once upon a time, in an enchanted realm we hereby dub Jazz Age Manhattan, there reigned a very smart and wealthy monarch...

...a very, very bad, smart, and wealthy monarch...

...a very, very, very bad, smart and wealthy monarch named Arnold Rothstein.

And once upon another time, yours truly penned A.R.'s royal four-flusher biography.

Which is why the blood-and-peroxide-drenched cement shoes walking tour before you will largely center upon his enterprises, crimes, and exploits.

But don't worry: there's plenty of room for other villains and villainesses.


History, literature, and Hollywood have all immortalized Mr. Rothstein as the shady moneyman who bankrolled baseball's infamous 1919 World Series fix, the underworld virtuoso, who as F. Scott Fitzgerald so famously declared, toyed 'with the faith of fifty million people - with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe.'"

To find out how to purchase this book for the lover of New York history, and that of the mob, please click here.

The Queen: Her Life

By Andrew Morton

Grand Central Publishing; paperback, 464 pages; $19.99

Andrew Morton studied history at the University of Sussex, England, with a focus on aristocracy and the 1930s. He has written extensively on the British royal family, including the #1 New York Times bestseller Diana: Her True Story, and bestselling books on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Meghan Markle, and Prince Andrew.

In The Queen: Her Life, now available in paperback with a new epilogue, Morton delivers the definitive, most comprehensive account of Queen Elizabeth II's legendary 70-year reign until her passing in September 2022. He takes an in-depth look at Britain's longest reining monarch, exploring the influence the Queen had on Britain and the rest of the world.

Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne at just 25 years of age, and this self-effacing monarch navigated endless setbacks, family conflict, and occasional triumphs. Painfully shy, Elizabeth's personality had been well-suited to her youthful ambition of living quietly in the country, raising a family, and caring for her dogs and horses. 

When her uncle, King Edward VIII, abdicated, she became heir to the throne, embarking on a journey that would test her as a woman and queen. She was tasked with leading a nation struggling to restore itself after the devastation of the second World War, but her greatest challenges were often inside her own family, which was always under intense scrutiny. There were rumors about her husband's infidelity, her sister's marital breakdown, Princess Diana's tragic death, and the recent departures of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. 

Queen Elizabeth was a reluctant but resolute leader who had an unflagging self-discipline, which helped her become one of the greatest sovereigns of the modern era. As her mettle was tested, she was determined to keep the monarchy relevant culturally, socially and politically, and she ultimately succeeded, as she will be remembered as the mother and grandmother to Great Britain.

American Castle: One Hundred Years of Mar-a-Lago

By Mary C. Shanklin

Journalist Mary Shanklin has written for decades about real estate schemes, housing busts, hurricanes, and government misdeeds, with her writing appearing in the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, among many outlets, and she won the Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism.

In the new book, American Castle: One Hundred Years of Mar-a-Lago, Shanklin looks at the history of something that is in the news every day as the residence of former President Donald Trump. This is par for the course, as it has had a century of controversy, politics, and lifestyles of the super-rich and powerful.

In the 1920s, the heart of the Roaring Twenties just before the country was sunk into the Great Depression, socialite heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post and financier E.F. Hutton constructed an estate to outdo all estates. It cost $4 million (around $68 million in today's dollars) and took four years to build the 118-room mansion in a conflated Spanish, Portuguese, and Venetian design over a coral reef in hurricane-prone Palm Beach County. 

Post and Hutton named it Mar-A-Lago, and it became a winter haven where corporate titans, the glitterati, and nobility gathered. After Post divorced Hutton over mutual adultery, it became a part-time residence and party place for Hutton.

An American royal who inherited a cereal company that became the General Foods Corporation, Post spent a lifetime in business, art collection, philanthropy, and the management of multiple estates, including what turned into a white elephant, Mar-A-Lago. Post could not offload the behemoth, despite trying time and time again, due to its massive maintenance costs, and the upper crust Palm Beach neighbors.

Shanklin draws from previously untapped interviews, documents, and recordings to follow Mar-A-Lago's evolution with a lot of familiar names in American lore, the Kennedys, the state of Florida, a potential makeover as The Mar-A-Lago Center for Advanced Scholars, Lady Bird Johnson, Richard Nixon, the National Park Service, and of course, none other than Donald J. Trump.

The list of things Trump tried to do with it in the nearly forty years he has had it is, like all things with The Donald, astonishing. he pursued subdivision, threatened to sell it to the Reverend Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church, hosted Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley, made it a for-profit club, received scandalous dinner guests, turned it into his Winter White House, and watched the FBI raid before holding a press conference there as the first former President to face criminal charges.

Please click here for more information on how to purchase this book for the news junkie and historian in your life.

Task Force Hogan: The World War II Tank Battalion That Spearheaded the Liberation of Europe

By William R. Hogan

William Morrow; hardcover, 320 pages; $32.50

William R. Hogan is a fourth-generation US Army officer who served as an artilleryman, then as a military diplomat across the world, in Bosnia, Haiti, and Afghanistan. Hogan has a deep and personal interest in World War II history. 

In the new book, Task Force Hogan: The World War II Tank Battalion That Spearheaded the Liberation of Europe, Hogan, the youngest son of Samuel M. Hogan, tells the story of his father's tank battalion, the Third Armored Division, known as the "Spearhead," that selflessly led the charge on the front lines from Normandy into Germany. 

Sam Hogan was one of the Third Armored Division's most colorful and successful combat commanders in the European Theater. At twenty eight years old, "Sam Hogan was one of the youngest lieutenant colonels in the US Army," William Hogan writes. "He was a lean six feet tall, with an aquiline nose, strong chin, and piercing blue eyes. A West Pointer, he was firm in personality and convictions; but to armchair generals and colonels pressuring him to move his people forward from the safety of a command post ten kilometers behind him, he would be irreverent and understatedly sarcastic. On the way into this first battle, in response to hectoring from the one-star general over the radio to 'get up there' through a sea of muddy road and backed-up traffic, Sam responded, 'You're coming in broken, over,' then squelched him off.

"But Hogan's 'war face' - all business, steely-eyed, with thin, downward-sloping lips - could and did relax into an easy, disarming, dimpled grin that betrayed his sense of humor and his kindness to others. He was buoyant and optimistic in spirit yet strong and unyielding in principles."

The West Point graduate from Texas stands in the commander's hatch of his Sherman tank, behind him a steel wedge of seventeen other Shermans of his tank battalion. Two weeks after the D-day landings, Sam is preparing to give the order to advance into the German defenses that enclose the Normandy beachheads. What Sam faces are impossible odds for survival, as the Nazis had technologically superior tanks, camouflaged anti-tank guns, and infantry armed with new anti-tank rockets. 

This is just the moment Sam has prepped for the past seven years. What begins with a guttural call to move out, accompanied by diesel fumes and the squeak of tank treads, Sam and his men begin their long journey to liberate Europe, one in which many would not return. 

Sam and his colorful band of tanker heroes battle on the front lines of some of the war's toughest fronts, from Normandy to the Elbe to the Battle of the Bulge. William Hogan tells their story like never before, as he is aided by never-before-seen letters, military dispatches, journal entries, and interviews with surviving members of the Task Force.

Pele: My Story

By Pele; foreword by Kelly Nascimento

Diversion Books; paperback, 320 pages; $18.99

Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known all over the world as Pele, is perhaps the greatest soccer player of all-time. He led Brazil to three World Cup championships, in 1958, 1962, and 1970. He was the youngest player to score a goal and win a World Cup at just 17 years old, and he holds the record for most goals for Brazil with 97. Pele scored nearly 1,300 goals in his career, and he passed away in 2022 at 82 years old.

In the fascinating new book, Pele: My Story, the soccer legend tells the story of his incredible life and career in his own words. With his characteristic charm and humility, Pele covers all aspects of his playing days and his subsequent careers as a politician, international sporting ambassador, and cultural icon. 

"Football is special," Pele writes. "You play in a group, you can't play it alone - there is something magical in the absolute harmony that exists among team-mates. A ball passed well to a striker is every bit as important as the goal itself. When it's well tuned, it all comes out beautifully, as though we were taking part in a cleverly choreographed dance. And it really thrills the audience when this happens, they can appreciate the tone of the game, its beauty. I feel the spectators should be like the twelfth player on a team, so important are they in the spectacle as a whole. And the spectators, the fans, must be aware that there are rules for them too - respect for the club, for your opponents, for the players on the pitch, for the women in the stadium, for the children who will ensure that football won't die out in the future. They should have the right to be exuberant, to burst with music, songs, banners and much more, as long as they don't offend anybody. Aggression is the one thing that is inexcusable.

"As players we get to befriend players from other clubs. Real friends. We're often invited to their homes, we get to know their families, and we are constantly searching for ways of improving football as a whole. The ambition should always be to play an elegant game. Because from that nucleus emerges an example that reaches everyone, in Brazil and beyond. This is what counts. We have to be worthy and competent to show the world that we're not just five-times champions, but also people with feelings and manners, obeying the number-one rule of every sport, and of life - to know how to lose."

To find out how to purchase this book for the soccer fan in your life, please click here.

Joanna Russ: Novels & Stories 

Edited by Nicole Rudick

Library of America; hardcover, 720 pages; $31.50

Joanna Russ was an incandescent stylist, who emerged out of science fiction's New Wave, with a dark sense of humor and a provocative feminist edge who was a LGBTQIA+ pioneer. 

The essential novels and stories gathered in this definitive Library of America edition makes a case for Russ not only as an astonishing writer of speculative fiction, but as Samuel Delany put it, "one of the finest - and most necessary - writers of American fiction."

The novels that are included in this beautiful collection include The Female Man, We Who Are About To..., On Strike Against God, and stories including "When It Changed," "Souls," and The Complete Alyx Stories.

The Female Man, from 1975, is a multivoiced, multidimensional voyage that challenges readers' sense of gender and reality, while introducing four remarkable women. Jeanine is a librarian from an alternate-reality New York in which the Great Depression never ended. Joanna is a 1970s activist who in some ways has characteristics of the author. Janet is from the utopian, all-female future planet Whileaway. Jael is a black-clad, steel-fanged warrior from embattled Womanland, who has brought the other three together to enlist them in a liberatory war against patriarchy in every dimension.

Who We Are About To...(1977) features a party of misfit space tourists who struggle to adapt and survive after crash landing on an unforgiving alien world. Some in the group even hope to build civilization anew. Russ's incisive but perhaps unreliable narrator is recording the castaways' daily progress on her pocket vecoder, and she begins to see each of them in a new light, and wonders if anything is worth saving at all.

On Strike Against God (1980) is Russ's fierce and witty final novel, and she boldly explores a world neither speculative nor utopian but no less uncharted. Esther is a small-town college English professor who is lonely and has been long-hemmed in by patronizing colleagues. She realizes she now has fallen in love, and to her surprise, it was with another woman. As Russ tells it, coming out becomes an ongoing fantastic journey, humbling, awkward, arousing, and ultimately joyous.

Organized Living: Solutions and Inspiration for Your Home

By Shira Gill

Ten Speed Press; hardcover, 288 pages; $32.50

Shira Gill is recognized around the world as a home-organizing expert, speaker, coach, and content creator with a less-is-more philosophy. Over the past decade, she has helped thousands of people reduce clutter and create more space for what matters. She is the author of Minimalista and her work and home have been featured in Vogue, Dwell, and Better Homes & Gardens.

In Organized Living, Gill found her inspiration in wanting to provide a glimpse into a rarely-seen world, as introduces the reader to the aspirational spaces of the most organized people in the world, the organizers themselves, and the passion that fuels that work. 

In this beautifully-produced book, Gill showcases the homes of 25 international home organizers, and it is filled with stunning images and absorbing interviews. There are expert tips and resources, loads of visual inspiration, and clever organizing hacks, which include ditching the packaging, choosing stylish storage, elevating the most neglected spaces, and putting things away, right away. 

Gill says the five reasons to get organized are: Efficiency, Clarity and control, Freedom, Tranquility, and Sustainability.

"If you're the type of person who has wondered about the inside of an organizer's home, chances are you've also asked the other most frequent question I get: 'Why did you become an organizer?'" Gill writes. "As my colleagues have become my close friends, I've learned that while we've all arrived in the same profession, our paths have varied widely. There is a common misconception that we are driven by a shared love of file folders and an affinity for stacks of matching, plastic bins. Here's the deeper truth: home organization is human-centered work, and we not only transform our clients' living spaces but often their lives, too. While most of us appreciate a row of neatly labeled bins, what unites us and fuels our work is a desire to help create order, ease, beauty, and flow and help improve other people's lives on every level. Many of us have gravitated to this transformational work because of our own trauma or grief, including difficult childhoods, divorce, or loss. We have deep empathy and a desire to help. Creating order and implementing functional systems are how we achieve these ends."

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