Monday, August 24, 2020

Tic-Tac-Toe Challenge

Back at the beginning of the summer I posted a tic-tac-toe reading challenge to BHPL’s Facebook and website.  People were already reading more downloadable titles and it seemed like a good idea to suggest that readers expand their reading horizons.  I, for the first time ever, made a vow to read more non-fiction before Labor Day than I normally would.

The game categories included a book on any branch of science, a book based on something/anything currently in the news, a non-fiction title about an unfamiliar subject, and a biography or autobiography.    I started with John Dickerson’s The Hardest Job in the World.  Dickerson traces the evolution and expansion of the duties of the Presidency, both mandated by the Constitution and those expected by the public.  By discussing the management styles and philosophies of a variety of past and more current Presidents, he emphasizes the need to build a strong team, knowing when to delegate, and establishing priorities.  The time from campaigning to winning the election and taking office is so abbreviated and demands different skill sets from staff and a different mindset from the incoming President.  Dickerson uses anecdotes and quotes to keep the tone of the book more conversational than pedantic.  As the 2020 elections approach, this book definitely counted as a subject currently in the news.

My science choice was Countdown 1945 by Chris Wallace.  It seemed appropriate as we commemorated the 75th Anniversary of the atomic bomb dropping on Hiroshima.  I am still amazed that Vice President Truman didn’t know about the Manhattan Project until FDR unexpectedly died.  I am also still wondering how entire towns, such as Los Alamos, were secretly built during wartime.  I am perhaps most surprised that Wallace successfully added a dimension of suspense to a story when we already know the ending.  The cast of scientists, military personnel, foreign leaders, and U.S. politicians could have been overwhelming, but Wallace juggled the people and timeline to keep the story moving.  Again, the author used quotes and anecdotes to make the people involved more real and the decision, right or wrong depending your own opinion, even more difficult.

Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy by Larry Tye falls into the category of an unfamiliar subject.  I know only a basic outline of his actions, but nothing about his life or motivation.  Tye quotes Ethel Kennedy as describing McCarthy as a good man for a fun time.  Robert Kennedy attended McCarthy’s funeral even after JFK told him not to.  I am still reading this book.

You Never Forget Your First by Alexis Coe takes a good look at George Washington, warts and all.  I know more about his early life, family relationships, frequent illnesses, military career, and financial difficulties than I would have thought possible in a relatively short book.  Coe credits/discredits Washington with starting the first world war, mishandling Indian affairs, refusing to free slaves, and inconsistent relationships with foreign countries.  She also acknowledges how and why he seemed like the most logical and qualified first President.  Coe’s writing makes me think of Sarah Vowell’s  Layfette’s in the Somewhat United States.  Coe’s books have been described insightful and unconventional.  I consider that to be a recommendation.

I have not ignored my typical summer and beach reading, but that is another blog post.

~S. Bakos

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