Friday, January 24, 2014

Miracles and Massacres: True and Untold Stories of the Making of America

Author: Glenn Beck (in case you couldn't tell since his name is twice as big as the annoys me when authors do that)
Pages: 256
Rating: PG-13 (the title tells you why. Massacres)

Thomas Edison was a bad guy— and bad guys usually lose in the end.

World War II radio host “Tokyo Rose” was branded as a traitor by the U.S. government and served time in prison. In reality, she was a hero to many.

Twenty U.S. soldiers received medals of honor at the Battle of Wounded Knee—yet this wasn’t a battle at all; it was a massacre.

Paul Revere’s midnight ride was nothing compared to the ride made by a guy named Jack whom you’ve probably never heard of.

History is about so much more than memorizing facts. It is, as more than half of the word suggests, about the story. And, told in the right way, it is the greatest one ever written: Good and evil, triumph and tragedy, despicable acts of barbarism and courageous acts of heroism.

The things you’ve never learned about our past will shock you. The reason why gun control is so important to government elites can be found in a story about Athens that no one dares teach. Not the city in ancient Greece, but the one in 1946 Tennessee. The power of an individual who trusts his gut can be found in the story of the man who stopped the twentieth hijacker from being part of 9/11. And a lesson on what happens when an all-powerful president is in need of positive headlines is revealed in a story about eight saboteurs who invaded America during World War II.

Miracles and Massacres is history as you’ve never heard it told. It’s incredible events that you never knew existed. And it’s stories so important and relevant to today that you won’t have to ask, Why didn’t they teach me this? You will instantly know. If the truth shall set you free, then your freedom begins on page one of this book. By the end, your understanding of the lies and half-truths you’ve been taught may change, but your perception of who we are as Americans and where our country is headed definitely will.

My Thoughts: I thought this book was fascinating. If you like history at all, you'll enjoy this collection of stories as well. They are written as stories, not a collection of facts, and if you really care, at the end of the book, Beck lists which parts of the stories were fabricated for the sake of creating a coherent story line, and which parts are solid fact. I appreciated this, and thought it was pretty interesting.  

My husband didn't like the fact that each story is told from varying viewpoints, and it switches back and forth. I didn't mind it, but just wanted to put that out there.

Personally I learned quite a bit about history from this book, and how the US is certainly not perfect. That being said, I don't think Beck was trying to turn our country into some secretive bad guy, I just think he wanted to expose stories that the government tried to hide or at least gloss over for a while. There are also several stories about bravery and heroism that you just may not have heard of.

My personal favorite story was "Saboteurs: In a Time of War, the Laws are Silent." During World War II, Germany decided to send 8 "spies" over to America to bomb some key factories and bridges and hopefully make things more difficult for the US. The Nazis chose these "spies" based on the fact that they had previously spent time in the United States and would easily blend in to the environment. Unfortunately, they didn't think to check the loyalties of these men, who had no intention of following through with their mission. After a Nazi sub dropped the men off a few miles off the US coastline in the middle of the night, one of the men went straight to the FBI and told them everything, including that he and his comrades had no hard feelings towards the US and that they would like to help the US win the war. However, the United States felt that its citizens needed the morale boost from hearing that 8 would-be saboteurs were captured and kept from their mission. The men were arrested and put in prison, and ultimately, 6 were executed, including one man who was actually a US citizen. The other two were sentenced to 30 years in prison, but only served about 6 of those years. The war ended and a new president freed them and sent them back to Germany.

To me, the ultimate lesson I gained from this book is that you can't always trust every news story or press release you hear. People in power are very good at twisting the truth and convincing unsuspecting listeners that an entirely different truth exists. In at least two of the stories, the American people were convinced that the government was doing the right thing, blissfully unaware of the truth.

But you may get a different message. Like I said, not all the stories are about mistakes. I would give this one a read. It's very interesting, and a pretty easy read too, since the stories are told in a novelistic fashion.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Author:  Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Pages: 274
Rating: PG (It's a post-World War II novel, and some of the wartime descriptions are a little too graphic for it to be rated G)

Summary:  January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

My Thoughts: This book was recommended to me by both my sister and a former roommate, so I knew I had to eventually pick it up. I really enjoyed it! Sometimes I get annoyed with books written entirely in letter format, as this one was, but it really worked for this novel. The worst part is that there are no "chapters" so there's nowhere good to stop! I pretty much binge-read this book. I am already a sucker for novels and books about World War II, so of course, I was automatically interested.

This is a different novel than you have probably ever read about the War. It's all about this eccentric group of friends from a little island off the coast of England, who had to deal with the German Occupation of their Island in the best way they could. They were completely cut off from any news or contact with anyone from mainland England for the entire 4 years the Germans occupied their island. They had very little food, and eventually, the Germans didn't have any either; they were resorting to killing and eating stray dogs and cats. The only thing that kept these island friends sane during this Occupation was their Literary society. They did not have many books (most of the books on the island ended up being burned for fuel after all the wood and other methods of fuel ran out) and some members of the society read the same book over and over again. However, they were able to spend a few hours every few weeks discussing these books and ideas, and forgetting about the war.

I loved this book a lot because it was a simple and easy read, but you really got a feel for these people, who, although fictional, could just as well have been real. It's been so long since we have suffered from such a terrible war that my generation doesn't know what it is like, and we take all of our blessings for granted. For example, just to have good flour and sugar to bake a cake was an unheard-of luxury for most during the dark years of the war. The "Potato Peel Pie" part of the name of the society came because the society wanted to serve refreshments at their meetings. Having no sugar or other such necessities for sweets, a member of the club made up a pie made of mashed potatoes sweetened with strained beets with potato peels for crust.

Another aspect of this book I liked was that the members of the society were able to separate the collective character of the German Army from that of the individual officers. In fact, they made good friends with one officer, who was very friendly, and not at all supportive or pleased with what his country was doing during this war. They also related the small acts of kindness some German soldiers would discreetly and quietly carry out: "accidentally" pushing a few potatoes off the back of a cart for the starving children following behind, delivering desperately needed medicine to a woman with a sick child in the village, helping a man in a churchyard dig a grave.

This one I definitely recommend. I gave it the PG rating because some of the descriptions of wartime activities and the way the Germans treated their prisoners can be intense. Not terribly bad though, and it's not something they dwell on a lot in the book. Happy reading!