The Doomsday Machine by Daniel Ellsberg – a Review

This review was originally posted on Goodreads…

The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War PlannerThe Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner by Daniel Ellsberg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I very rarely give 5-star reviews to books. However, just in the past few weeks, I’ve done just that to two related books; this one by Ellberg, and the previous one being Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control, which is also reviewed on this blog.

This book that I’m reviewing here should be required reading for everyone, not just citizens of the U.S. It should be required in schools, for citizenship, maybe even to get a damned driver’s license. I’m not kidding here.

I’m over 50, so not much surprises me these days. I’ve had my suspicions for decades about the topics of the two above mentioned books. I’ve even read many other books in the same vein. One in particular that you should also peruse if you have the opportunity is American Ground Zero by Carole Gallagher.

The difference with Mr. Ellsberg’s book is that it is one of the few written by a true insider; a man who was there, who participated, who created plans and scenarios that are actually still in use to this day. Visit Ellsberg’s website also. There you’ll find interesting information that relates to the topics from the book.

I cannot express upon you the importance of taking a few hours away from your busy day spent posting inane drivel on Facebook or Twitter and READ THIS BOOK! It’s that importance. The general public probably has no idea of the awesome and critically important subject that this man is writing about. Your life, the lives of your children, and most everyone else on this planet depends on making changes to our current world situation.

I’ve been known to kid around a bit in my reviews. This is not one of those times. There is NOTHING humorous about what Daniel Ellsberg is trying to warn us about in this book. NOTHING!

Sadly, my over-50 cynicism will not allow me to have many hopes that this will all turn out wonderfully warm and happy. There’s a relatively decent chance that it will turn out REALLY HOT, and eventually, REALLY COLD AND DEAD. I still have a little faith and hope in the human race, though… a little.

I’ll close this review the same way Ellsberg closed out his book…

with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King:

We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world — a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter — but beautiful — struggle for a new world.

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Command and Control by Eric Schlosser – a Review

This review originally appeared on GoodReads…

Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of SafetyCommand and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I ran out of stars to rate this book. It should have been a 10 star review, easily. This book should be studied in schools. It should be mandatory reading for all adults anywhere in the world.

This is a story of fallibility, human inanity, foibles of technology/machines, and the total mind-blowing insanity of the nuclear arms race and the Cold War of the post WWII era.

Eric Schlosser is an extremely talented writer. This was a page-turner, even though it wasn’t some Stephen King horror thriller. It was worse. It was a true story of horror; a horror that could have ultimately meant the total and complete end of humanity and most other species of life on this rock we call Earth. And the real scary thing… it’s still a possibility.

Schlosser did an outstanding job of researching the material for this book. When you read it, as you most definitely should, do NOT skip the Afterword, Notes, or the excellent Bibliography included in the back of the book.

Take a moment from your silly little online social networking, soccer practice, bowling with the boys life and READ THIS BOOK. What you don’t know can most definitely hurt you. I guarantee you’ll be astounded, amazed, and extremely disturbed by this book.

It has a somewhat happy ending (for now, anyway). It’s happy because I’m still here to write about it and you’re still here to read this. Tomorrow? No one really knows…

Also, you can watch the very well made documentary on American Experience (PBS) that was based on this book. Note, though… the documentary is nowhere near as detailed or complete as the book. The documentary is primarily concerned with the Damascus Accident. The book has much more to say.

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The Greatest Show on Earth – R. Dawkins

Just a little quickie review copied from GoodReads…

The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for EvolutionThe Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was my first experience reading anything by Dawkins. I should not have waited so long. This book was an excellent read. Anyone interested in Evolution, Darwin, etc. should take this one up and sit yourself down in a nice quiet place for a good long read. It’ll be worth your time. Dawkins is a superb science writer.

I likes this one so much that I have The God Delusion on order from my local library. 🙂

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In Sunlight and in Shadow – a GoodReads Review

In Sunlight and in ShadowIn Sunlight and in Shadow by Mark Helprin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve said this before, but I must say it again…

Mark Helprin is a Master Wordsmith and story teller.

In Sunlight and in Shadow is a beautiful thing. Helprin tells his story by constructing sentences as though he were delicately placing brush strokes in oil on a canvas. He brings the characters to life so intensely that you become their friends as you read the words. They live initially in this book, later in your heart.

I cannot even tell you here what this book is about. I’m so awed by Helprin’s talents that my words here by comparison couldn’t even begin to explain to you how this story and its characters live and struggle and find love, joy, sorrow, and strength in their journeys. It’s something only Helprin can tell you about.

I’ve been reading since I was about four years old. My mother instilled in me her love of books. I’m forever grateful. And it’s true that I’ve read thousands of books in my life, from cheesy science fiction to the Classics. However, I can probably count on one hand the number of authors as adept as Helprin at telling a story and making you be part of it as you read it.

I’ve never been to New York City. I’m a Florida boy born and raised. Yet, I can see the sights, smell the smells, watch the mass of humanity as it walks down the street or rides the subway. I can hear the clanking of the street cars, smell the scent of the ocean, and feel the cool fall breeze on my face while I read Helprin’s words printed in black on the off-white pages of this book.

This is the kind of book that sucks me in and won’t let go. Helprin’s masterful writing tugs directly on my heart. I’m suspended in time and seem to be sitting in the chair at the same table where the characters are enjoying a lunch together. I can smell the food, hear the low hum of the conversations around us and the squawking laughter of the woman at the far end of the dining room. I hear the tinkle of silverware and crystal.

All this happens when I read a Helprin book. It lasts beyond the folding down of that back cover, as it should with any truly good book. Unfortunately, books are very subjective things. This particular one may not be as wonderful for you as it was for me. That’s the nature of reading. I would suggest you give it a try just to see.

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July, July by Tim O’Brien – A GoodReads Review

July, JulyJuly, July by Tim O’Brien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book of stories… sad, very sad stories of some fifty-somethings at a thirtieth (one year late) college reunion in the summer of 2000. These are children of the late 60s. They are all FUBB, each and every one. However, they’re all wonderfully human in their FUBBness.

O’Brien is a masterful character creator. He manages in three-hundred or so pages to make you feel as though you were at this reunion and knew all these folks back in the day. I was more a child of the early 70s than the late 60s, but I have an older brother, so I was exposed to that turbulent Nam era. I could relate in many ways to these folks at this reunion. Many of us who came from that era would.

O’Brien’s book had a taste of Stephen King to it. The only difference is that O’Brien is writing about real human horror here; the kind we all experience and pile up in our wake as we go through life. I’ve officially added Tim O’Brien to my list of authors I would love to have dinner with and spend the evening talking. If they all showed up for the same dinner, Tim would find himself in fine company.

Read this book. It’ll remind you of something in your own life… or you’ve been living under a rock for fifty years.

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Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam – a Goodreads review

Huế 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in VietnamHuế 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam by Mark Bowden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is another of those “must read” books that should not be passed by. If you have any interest in the era or this war, you should read Bowden’s book. It’s long. It’s heavy (in hardcover), but it’ll be worth the effort.

A true understanding of events during this era (or any era, for that matter) in history requires effort on the part of the reader. There are many excellent to mediocre to downright bull-feces books out there on the topic of the Vietnam War that have been written since the 60s. This particular book falls into the excellent category.

While no book, movie, or memoir will ever put you in the shoes (boots) of those who were there, you will learn from their experiences and empathize with their plight during those tumultuous times.

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A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo – a GoodReads Review

A Rumor of War: With a Twentieth Anniversary PostScript by the AuthorA Rumor of War: With a Twentieth Anniversary PostScript by the Author by Philip Caputo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As with many of these wartime memoir books, they are difficult to read. They bring out your anger, your fears, your disgust in government, your hatred for war in general. They also heal. They help you to understand, to empathize, to reach into yourself and wonder… wonder how you would have handled these situations. Ultimately, they sadden you. They sadden you because you realize that so many gave their lives during these events. So many lived through them and carry their burdens still. And why?

I’m no pacifist by a long shot, but really… what was the point of Nam?

My feelings about this era in U.S. history don’t even one iota lessen my respect for those who suffered (and are suffering still) through it; soldiers, civilians, families, etc. The words on the page can inform you. They can make you see, understand, even feel a hint of the suffering: however, no words can ever take you there and let you experience what soldiers like Mr. Caputo experienced.


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Chained Eagle – a GoodReads Review

Chained EagleChained Eagle by Everett Alvarez
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Commander Alvarez,

I must start this review by saluting you, sir.

This book should be read by every politician and citizen of any country. It’s the story of the longest-held POW of the Vietnam War era. Commander Alvarez endured EIGHT AND ONE HALF YEARS of deprivation, torture, filth, vermin, parasites, sadistic jailers, insects, cold, heat, fear, starvation; and through all that, he didn’t lose his faith or his mind. He made it home, finally.

You cannot even begin to know what this man endured for his country. Only those who were there with him can understand. The ones who did manage to make it home arrived as changed men. They were not the young, idealistic boys they had been in the earlier stage of their lives.

Regardless of your beliefs or feelings about that era in our history, Everett Alvarez –and all the others who suffered as POWs, grunts in the jungles, nurses in the field hospitals, and their families– deserve the utmost respect and gratitude from the citizens of the United States of America. They were called. They obeyed. All gave some; some gave ALL.

Read this book!

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Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes – a GoodReads Review

MatterhornMatterhorn by Karl Marlantes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s cliche to say, but there weren’t enough stars available to properly rate this book. It was definitely 5+, though.

I was 7 years old in ’68 with an older brother who was 18. The Vietnam Era is something that looms large in my memories of childhood. I can still remember the fear I had that my brother would have to go to war. I still remember the news every evening and the discussions at the dinner table afterwards. I was young. I wasn’t stupid. As the war dragged on, I even began to worry at my own fate regarding my possible participation in that war. Fortunately, for both myself and my brother (high lottery number), we got lucky. My parents’ fears never came to fruition.

For someone — even someone like myself with an avid interest in Military History — who has never experienced a battlefield or a jungle ambush or a shelling/bombing, there is just no possible way for them to fathom such an experience. You cannot watch movies or read books to understand what it’s like to be shot at by someone who is intent upon killing you. It’s just not possible. There are many authors who have written books or movie makers who have created epics on film (documentary and fiction) that can bring a tiny inkling, a safe and sterile view, to the uninitiated.

Karl Marlantes has written this story about a group of young boys whose lives change forever as a result of their experiences in Vietnam. This is a fiction, but it is 100% based in reality of that time period. It could easily be a non-fiction narrative; and probably is close to the experiences of many, many men who were there then. I would even think it would be painful for them to read a story such as this; similar to my godfather once telling me that he and his American Legion cronies had to walk out of the theater during Saving Private Ryan because they’d been there and done that and the memories were still close to the surface even 60 years later.

I was never a hawk when it came to this war. I’ve studied it extensively since my teen years to my middle age. It was a part of the fabric of my childhood. I think that’s why it fascinates me so. It was an unbelievable political cluster-screw. So many lives were wasted or altered completely by this event. Regardless of my beliefs about this war, I have always respected and been awed by the sacrifices that young men (and women) in the U.S. Military and its support system made during this time in history.

Again, nothing can put you in their shoes. Nothing can impress upon you what they endured. Nothing. It’s that simple. Total immersion is require for total understanding. This book by Marlantes will take you there. It will make you want to shower and search for leeches on your legs and neck. It will give you a hint of the fear these kids experienced. It will break your heart. Yet, it will only do this to you for brief instance in time while you sit in your easy chair under the reading light.

That being said, experience this book. Experience it two or three times. It’s worth the read. I don’t care if you don’t have an interest in the Vietnam War. Read it, anyway. If you’re human, it will have an effect on you. It will get you to feel. It may bring tears to your eyes. It did this to me.

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Enduring Vietnam by James Wright – a Goodreads Review

Enduring Vietnam: An American Generation and Its WarEnduring Vietnam: An American Generation and Its War by James Edward Wright

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hmm… this book is a bit difficult to describe. It’s a lot of things…

  • historical
  • political
  • cultural
  • painful
  • cathartic

If you grew up in the era of this war, this book will be painful to read, yet therapeutic in its presentation of the affects that this war had on many of us from this time in our lives.

I did not serve in this war, but I have the utmost respect for those young men and women who did. I was just a bit too young. Had it lasted just a few more years, though, I would have been a candidate for the draft.

My father and uncles all served in WWII. My brother was of draft age during the height of the Vietnam War, but had a high lottery number and lucked out; otherwise, his life could have been seriously changed by his experiences had he served.

Because of my brother’s age and the fact that this war was the first televised war, it was a daily conversation in our home then. I remember the fear my mother expressed over my brother’s situation. I remember my father’s comments about the news stories on the evening news.

I’ve had an interest in military history since I was a small child, but my focus has always been on the Vietnam War, possibly because I grew up in the midst of all of it. If you have an interest in the era and would like to try to understand what the young men and women of that time period were dealing with, read this book.

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