Strong Historical Exposition Marred By Back Half Of Epilogue. This is a book that was an absolute 5* read… until potentially the last few pages. It is well documented at 31% of the text, and even claims to have a handful of previously unreported facts – which given just how *libraries* have been filled with even solely nonfiction tomes on everything to do with WWII, would be quite a feat indeed if accurate. As with most histories of its type, it spends a few chapters both before and after the period directly in question, setting it in its context and showing its aftermath, respectively, with the bulk of the narrative focused on the core thesis. Through all of this, and even through the first half of the epilogue, this book truly is remarkable.
But then… Shinkle just *had* to put his thoughts on more recent events, particularly political events of the last few years, in the same tome, and in its last pages to boot. This is *worse* than being a “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” scenario where the tale should have ended *shortly* after the coronation of Aragorn, as in this instance it is more akin to ending Return of the King with a few pages discussing the events of Star Wars: Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi and trying to tie the two together. Yes, there are some *very high level* similarities. But if you’ve just spent 300 ish pages discussing the very *minutia* of the one thing, and then you try to zoom out to an International Space Station level to get a view that *might* *maybe* support linking this other thing to that first thing… it ultimately sours the taste of the overall meal.
Still, ultimately this narrative *is* a strong and interesting one that anyone seeking to more fully understand WWII should read. Just ignore the final few pages. You’ll know them when you encounter them. Recommended.
This review of Uniting America by Peter Shinkle was originally written on October 4, 2022.
Powerful Examination Of Oft-Ignored Areas. Know up front that there is a LOT going on in this book, and to me it absolutely warrants the 400 page length. The book begins and ends in Galveston during the Depression, when one family had absolute control of the island. In between, we see a lot: the burlesque shows of the era – including their seedier sides engaging in open pedophilia, the dance marathons that were cheap entertainment for so many in this pre=television era and the marathoners that endured so much just to stay off the streets, the politics of the era (where your mileage is absolutely going to vary, but was true to the period at minimum), the treatment of homosexuality in the era, a new surgery meant to cure so many mental health issues – including homosexuality – that was just as barbaric as described late in the text here, and so much more. For those that care about precise historical fact in their historical fiction – I personally tend to give authors at least a touch of leeway, depending on particulars including overall story – know that this surgery was real, and the details provided about both it and the doctor that originated it – Dr Walter Freeman – are real. Bird simply moved up the timeline by about 15 years or so, and used it to great effect within the confines of her story. Truly a remarkable work, and very much recommended.
Note: For those seeking more details on the real horrors of the transorbital lobotomy described in this tale, My Lobotomy by Howard Dully – which I first encountered as a late night NPR broadcast – is truly tragically horrifying.
This review of Last Dance On The Starlight Pier by Sara Bird was originally written on April 23, 2022.
Those That Do Not Know History… The time period is (basically) a century ago. Most of the action is taking place within about 3 years either side of 1920. And you have a nationally popular and very rich business tycoon running in an election that ends with allegations of fraud and demands for recounts. Sound familiar? This is only *part* of the story of a piece of American history that despite having a tangential connection to (my step-grandfather – the only second grandfather I ever knew – was from the Muscle Shoals region and was born there during the period discussed in this text), I had never heard about before seeing this book. I’ve known of the TVA, I’ve even considering applying for jobs there in my professional career. But this story of how they began – really nearly a decade *before* the Great Depression and FDR’s New Deal – is quite fascinating on so many levels. Hager does a tremendous job of showing the breadth of what was happening and why as it relates to his central thesis, and people would do well to learn the lessons of this particular episode of American history. While the Bibliography was a bit lacking (at roughly 9% of this text vs a more common 20-30% or so), the author explains that much of his research was from original records and correspondences not captured in any previous volume, so that makes a fair amount of sense. On the whole, this seems well done and well balanced, and is very much recommended.
This review of Electric City by Thomas Hager was originally written on January 11, 2021.