Lust & Wonder (Memoir #3), by Augusten Burroughs

Nine stars

In the final volume of his personal memoir, Burroughs explores matters of the heart. Readers of the previous volumes will know the difficult personal journeys Burroughs has explored through writing; daunting struggles as a youth and battling alcohol addiction. While those journeys may not be something to which all readers can relate, the struggle to find love is one that many will have faced, even if each person has their own narrative. Burroughs recounts of an early love that began strong and blossomed, only to fade when the compatibility waned and fidelity became an issue. From there, the journey took him into a relationship that had not only merit, but also longevity; one that could have been ‘the one’ and, for a time, might certainly have been. However, when issues arise and are shelved, leaving a stagnant sludge, love can (and usually does) wither, leaving both parties husks of their former selves. While it was a painful struggle, the epiphany that Burroughs undertook led him to love himself most and to choose Augusten over a life of shattered dreams and ill-fitting awkward pauses. When he resurfaced, somewhat an awakening in and of itself, Burroughs was faced with a decision that his heart had made long ago, but his brain was only now coming to realise. With a humourous narrative to offset some of the painful truths to which many readers can relate, the book offers a well-rounded approach to the man and his innermost thoughts. It also permits the reader to get a better understanding of how Burroughs got into advertising and eventually writing, which is sure to pique the curiosity of some who have fallen in love with Augusten Burroughs in their own way. Not to be missed, but best read after RUNNING WITH SCISSORS and DRY.

Of the three memoirs, this one speaks most personally to Burroughs and a set of inner struggles to which the reader can relate. It superimposes a collection of sentiments that many have faced in their lives and personalises them, to the point that the reader can walk away and feel that much closer to Burroughs. I felt myself saying, ‘yes that reminds me of a issue I faced with X’ or ‘I remember when Y left me wondering the same thing’. While painful realities permeated throughout RUNNING WITH SCISSORS and DRY offered hope and despair in equal measure, this instalment, by no means the end to Burroughs’ life, offers a piece that connects it all together. There is hope after such darkness, though perfection through emotional attrition is never achieved. The narrative pulls no punches and forces the reader to wade deeply into rawness, but it is the fine-tuning of fourteen years of writing that leaves Burroughs finally able to push through to these most sensitive areas and make the most of them. 

I would be remiss not to offer sincere thanks to Rae Eddy at this point, yet again. While the previous two books were her way of introducing me to Augusten Burroughs and helping me develop an addiction, it is this final volume that spoke most to me, especially as it relates to her. I have been through the trenches and seen my fair share of detritus. To have found her at the end of all this, when the dust settles, leaves me no doubt that I had to reach this life and reading journey only to find her smiling face at the end. I owe much to her and am eternally grateful that she stuck it out, both as I found her and discovered Augusten’s magic of the written word.

Kudos, Mr. Burroughs for this powerful end to the personal memoir. I look forward to returning to devour some of your other work soon, offering more praise where it is due.

Dry (Memoir #2), by Augusten Burroughs

Eight stars

Continuing the memoir trilogy, Augusten Burroughs takes the reader through his struggles with addiction as a young man. Living in New York City, Burroughs is busy with an advertising firm, making six-figures, and having little to rein him in. He recounts how his drinking got in the way of his job, where he would turn up randomly reeking of alcohol. After embarrassing himself and the firm on numerous occasions, Burroughs is offered a choice; go into rehabilitation or lose the job. Struggling to come to terms with his drinking, Burroughs choose rehab, though stands firm that he does not need it. He departs for a facility in Minnesota, where he encounters a number of other addicts as various points in their sobriety journey. In the early stages, Burroughs feels that he can overcome his drinking by choice, the “if I want it, I will do it” attitude. He pushes back against the services offered and program presented, finding them silly and somewhat overbearing. However, he has an epiphany while in treatment and as his thirty days come to an end, he develops a new-found respect for sobriety and its fragility. The true test transpires when he’s released, sent back to New York City armed with a small dose of program and the requirement to attend an outpatient facility for six months. Though not mandatory, Alcoholics Anonymous is also recommended, a lifelong support that could only help him stabilise in the outside world. As the memoir continues, Burroughs explores life back in New York, a special someone he meets in his outpatient group, and a lingering connection from his rehab days that tries not only to vie for his attention, but to keep him from falling off the deep end. Highly humerous throughout with strong passages of heartfelt angst, Burroughs serves up a stellar second volume to his memoirs as he forces the reader to think and feel in ways they may not have thought possible. 

With a better understanding of both his writing style and approach to the memoir mechanism, Burroughs’ second instalment had me captivated from the outset. His use of concrete examples in the narrative combined with flashbacks offers the reader a wonderful combination of fresh material and poignant events that shape the man he became. Burroughs presents a close to seamless story of his struggles and the depths to which he sunk before pulling himself out, only to come crashing back to earth in a moment of weakness. He does offer extensive thanks to those who played a role in his recovery, but does not let the battle facing him go without crediting his own willpower. That he slipped up in numerous ways is not lost on the attentive reader, but this goes more to present Burroughs as a fallible man, rather than portraying an individual who can rise above the fray. Shocking in its honesty and clear in the pathway on which this journey developed, Burroughs provides the reader with insight and hope for a man who came close to losing it all.

Again, a special thank you to Rae Eddy, who recommended the Augusten Burroughs memoirs. She has been a great help as I realise my need to deal with some of the blurry portions of my past to develop stronger and more solid bonds to the present, as I peer into what the future has in store.

Kudos, Mr. Burroughs for this wonderfully raw piece of work. I am curious to see how you tie things off in the final volume of this entertaining memoir.

Running with Scissors (Memoir #1), by Augusten Burroughs

Eight stars

In the aptly titled first of his memoir trilogy, Augusten Burroughs takes the reader down the rabbit hole of his youth. Set in rural Massachusetts in the 1970s, young Burroughs struggles with the deterioration of his parents’ marriage and the larger familial dysfunction this invites. He must turn inwards and master the art of self-discovery in order to fill his days, which he does while honing his own personal style and sense of fashion. As these quirks emerge in the early chapters, Burroughs seeks not to hide them from the reader, but places them on a pedestal, as if to air everything out, in a break from the traditional memoir, chock full of explanations for less than perfect behaviour. When Burroughs accompanies his parents to their psychiatrist, Dr. Finch, a bond is formed, which is a platform for an entirely new avenue of adventures in the teenager’s life. After his parents divorce, Burroughs is shipped off to live with Dr. Finch and his less than traditional family, a major turning point in his life. This presents new hurdles and added levels of oddity for the young and impressionable Augusten. With little formal education and no adult impetus to attend school, Burroughs becomes a creature of his surroundings and succumbs to some of the outlandish happenings within the Finch household, from “Bible-dips” to non-sanctioned home renovations, through to toilet bowl life interpretations . Left there to integrate and eventually becoming legal enveloped into the family, Burroughs must struggle to find himself again, while wrestling with the behaviours of those around him. Powerful in its delivery with a sense of dry wit that will keep the reader from lamenting the situation too forcefully, Burroughs begins spinning the complex narrative of his life and the situations that shaped him in adulthood.

Being used to the more formal memoir reading in the past, I struggled in the early chapters to grasp the Burroughs narrative. Fragmented and full of editorializing, I asked myself if this was a story or a smattering of ideas sewn together with the odd piece of properly-placed punctuation. However, after reorganizing my mind, I could better adapt to the writing style, a non-fiction Stephen King of sorts, allowing absorption of the book’s crux. While it tells horror stories of what happened to a young boy who was shipped off when his mother felt he was too much of a burden for her fragile state of mine, Burroughs offers a softer side to these happenings in a collection of vignettes that create a patchwork quilt of a young life, one event building off another. The reader may cringe or even wonder if this is a piece of fiction, but when fully digested, this memoir can be appreciated as truth, told through the prism of a young boy’s recollections. No fiction writer could come up with so many tales and place them at the feet of a single boy in such vivid fashion. Burroughs has the ability to pull the reader in a number of directions and leaves nothing as too personal or private. He fears no judgement and can sometimes indulge in self-mockery as he trots through the shards of his memory bank, laying the groundwork for the following two parts, sure to use this piece as a strong foundation. Not for the straight-laced memoir reader, but ideal for those who want to be shocked, surprised, and especially astounded. Burroughs knows how to sell himself, however the reader wants to interpret it.

A special thank you to Rae Eddy, who recommended I step well beyond my comfort level in trying this book. She sought to introduce me to not only a new author, but a new way of looking at life and enjoying it for all it has to offer. You may have created a new Augusten Burroughs fan with your gentle nudging. Keep it up for the long haul we have ahead of us!

Kudos, Mr. Burroughs for this wonderful first of three memoirs. I am eager to see how things develop in DRY, the next book on my list.

Patriot (Alexander Hawke #9), by Ted Bell

Seven stars

Ted Bell returns with another Alex Hawke thriller, full of espionage and political drama. When spies around the world turn up dead, Lord Alex Hawke and his partner, Ambrose Congreve, begin investigating. What looks like an old CIA vendetta may have larger implications for Hawke and his entire family, especially after an attack at his home in Bermuda and a potential honey trap by a mysterious woman who matches the description of someone seen at each of the murders. With the investigation heating up, there is a covert attempt to poison young Alexei Hawke, leaving Alex no choice but to place his son in protective custody. As Hawke approaches Russian President Putin, who is close to one of the murdered spies, the power-hungry leader shows off a new and powerful weapon that he’s recently added to his cache. Meanwhile, an American mercenary is summoned to the barren wastelands of Siberia to meet with a Russian known only as ‘Uncle Joe’, with plans to build an international fighting force to do Putin’s bidding, while offering plausible deniability to the authoritarian. Hawke soon discovers that Putin’s interests are sinister and that the weapon he was shown is at the heart of a land-grab that could see NATO countries fall and a return of the Soviet Empire, all while putting the blame on the United States. Can Hawke stop things before a new war emerges, sure to bring the West to its knees? Bell amps up the action and casts Hawke in the light of a determined saviour of freedom in this latest instalment to the series.

While not his best work, Bell has an effective means of transmitting the Alex Hawke character to his readers. While I have mentioned that the entire Hawke persona grates on my nerves at times, the story does advance well. Use of a handful of key characters, some of whom suffer mortal peril, allows the larger series story to advance, while not detracting from the novel’s impetus. Bell has a handle on the narrative and can spin numerous storylines before having them converge in a seamless manner. That he parachutes famous political figures into the middle of the story and treats them as just another character shows how relaxed he has become with his own writing, which may intrigue or annoy the reader. I remain a fan, though find myself trying not to get caught up in the minutiae as Bell seeks to create a new James Bond out of his protagonist.

Kudos, Mr. Bell for another successful novel. You capture the idea of a new Cold War effectively, in a time when other authors remain obsessed with ISIS and and cross-cultural terrorism.

Concorde: The Rise and Fall of the Supersonic Airliner, by Jonathan Glancey

Seven stars

In an era of fast-paced travel and a desire to arrive before departure, Jonathan Glancey offers a biography of Concorde, the airplane of the future. While this juggernaut had a short-lived existence, just over a quarter century, Concorde changed the playing field on many levels. Glancey posits that it was extremely futuristic, something Captain James T. Kirk might have used to usher his family to the in-laws between intergalactic missions. In a thorough analysis, Glancey examines three areas of significant importance related to Concorde: its unique approach to aviation, the political undertones of its existence, and the strong ‘anti’ movement it garnered. With both technical and intuitive arguments, Glancey provides the reader with a stellar narrative to better understand Concorde and its place in the annals of aviation history. Not to be missed by aircraft enthusiasts and the curious layperson alike, in which I strongly put myself in the latter category.

Concorde was unique in its approach to aviation on so many levels. Its aeronautical design differed greatly from anything else on the market, appearing more like the plaything of a science fiction novelist. A sleek body and oddly shaped nose served a highly scientific purpose, but to the lay traveller, this uniqueness turned the eye towards it, no matter where it taxied. Glancey mentions in Chapter 7 that,“[t]he wonder of it is that its beauty…was not the work of an artist, but of the artistry of aerodynamics. The subtle curvature of Concorde’s wings is alone a study in elegant design and functional beauty, and a thing of beauty is truly a joy forever.” Additionally, the fact that it broke the sound barrier during flight, pushing up to speeds of Mach 2, led Concorde to challenge the norm in an era when flight was becoming an everyday occurrence for the common person. First seen in 1969, it was the culmination of decades of scientific calculations and trials, seeking to push past its subsonic airline competitors, while also offering a level of comfort that passengers could enjoy, in sleek and silent style. Glancey uses some of the early chapters to elucidate the numerous attempts in the military realm to perfect the speed of flight, with little interest in comfort. However, after Air France and British Airways came together with their respective governments to fund the development of Concorde aircraft, production and further testing came to fruiting, eventually leading to public displays as Armstrong prepared to leap across the Moon. Glancey illustrates these discussions and the gamble taken to push the envelope before selling this unique means of travel in a fraction of the time. However, with all this inherent uniqueness comes a price unique to other forms of air travel. This is, perhaps the downside to the sleek ‘aircraft of the future’ as it sought to compete on a burgeoning market, where the casual traveller could only marvel. Glancey does not shy away from the individualised nature of Concorde, standing alone in many comparative categories.

Concorde was surely a political instrument, from its nexus through to its ongoing presence in the airline industry. Few might see this on the surface, but Glancey argues that the Anglo-French Union required to bring Concorde to fruition is nothing short of stunning. Two allies whose respect remained tepid, though essential in a post-War era, needed to come together not only to produce these aircraft, but to fund their ongoing costs and commercial presence. Air France was significantly funded by the government, seeking millions to ensure Concorde not only made it into the air, but remained afloat, having to twist the arm of General de Gaulle. British Airways, equally, sought money from Her Majesty’s government in an era when subsonic airlines were slashing costs and Conservative mandates saw cabinets try to shuffle away from signed agreements. In a humours aside, Glancey mentions that there was a strong dispute between the French and British over the use of the ‘E’ in Concorde, with the stuffy British seeking to sweep this excess letter under the rug. The French prevailed, adding another layer to the unique nature of Concorde. This Anglo-French union was only the beginning of the politicized nature of Concorde, whereby both Cold War superpowers wanted in, seeking to create their own programs to benefit their respective populations. Both the USA and USSR sought to create commercial supersonic flight programs, but required significant monies to do so. On the American front, Congress balked at the offer and shut down any funding in 1971, leaving NASA to turn back towards travel outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Soviet attempts to match their sworn enemies led to the creation of Tupelov. In a county where the ruble could only go so far, this fast airliner stuck strictly to mail delivery for a period! thereby shelving any Communist equivalent to serve behind the Iron Curtain. That Concorde soared between these two great powers serves to support its determination to make a mark on the world, entering the political realm even if it tried to circumnavigate turbulent skies.

While Concorde was loved by many for its speed and sleekness, there were many who wanted it grounded before it caught on. While the science of aeronautics were heavily studied before any of the fleet rose into the sky, the environmental critics attacked it from all sides. Be it chemicals in the fuel that would lead to the depletion of the ozone layer to sonic booms that could destroy ecosystems and material items, Concorde did not have carte blanche acceptance during its tenure in the skies. Glancey mentions that the environmental lobby helped the US Congress scrap any supersonic funding and led various airports to close their gates to any Concorde presence, due to destruction of property caused by sonic waves. When Concorde entered the Asian market, countries banned it from entering their airspace, leaving flight plans to be redrawn while still keeping costs down. Another detractor to Concorde was the inherent cost to fly aboard its fleet, as mentioned above. While the speed was surely a selling point, fuel costs and the fact that the slightest alteration in weight changed the aerodynamic nature of this behemoth meant that cabin sizes could not be as large as the jumbo jets capable of making the same flights, albeit in a much longer time. Concorde came up against much friction, though its engineers could not alter these impediments to the point of creating the perfect aeronautical experience.

Where does that leave Concorde now, in 2016? Early forecasts when it soared into the commercial airline industry saw the first planes only retiring in 2017. It was after a decision by Airbus in 2003 not to build replacement parts needed for Concorde that saw the fleet grounded. British Airways and Air France would not sell their fleets, even to private buyers, choosing to use some in airline museums and let others gather mothballs in hangars. The future is still uncertain when it comes to supersonic air travel, though Glancey illustrates many scientific studies underway to push past Mach 2 and into the realm of Mach 10, 15, or even 24 (as one German company has been trying to do). For now, Concorde acts as the glimpse into the future and what may one day be the norm, a peek at Star Trek in our modern lives, where flight will be more about how fast one can get there over the travel experience. However, as long as discount airlines can offer dirt cheap flights, the ultra-superclass traveller will be too closely aligned with the dodo bird to make it cost effective, therefore keeping the general public from enjoying Concorde travel. Until these, and many other nuances can be rectified, the future of Concorde is, if you pardon the pun, up in the air.

Kudos, Mr. Glancey for this wonderful piece of work and insightful arguments on both sides. I am curious to see where Concorde finds itself in the decades to come, especially as I have its biggest fan in my own family.

Jacket Man, by Linwood Barclay

Nine stars

In this coffee-break brief short story, Barclay shows how he can spin a tale and get the reader drawn in after a few pages. Sam is minding his own business at a gas station when he is approached by a Gian Catelli, who is running late for a flight back to his native Italy. Wanting to be the upstanding citizen, Sam offers directions before Gian can race off. However, out of a sense of gratitude, Gian offers Sam an Italian leather jacket for his trouble. Taking things one step further, Gian, who has been in America as a fashion consultant, offers to sell Sam additional jackets far below their retail value. Intrigued, Sam barters and ends up with four additional jackets. It is only when he returns home that Sam realises that things were no quite as they seemed. In true Barclay form, this is only the beginning of the drama that ensues…

While the story itself was brief, I cannot curtail taking the time to extol the virtues of Linwood Barclay and his many wonderful stories. He is a master at his trade and keeps readers hooked with his numerous tales, many of whom spin out of control in that eerie psychological thriller way. One thing the reader can expect with any Barclay piece is to expect the unexpected at the least opportune moment, which only heightens the reading experience. Quick narratives with insightful dialogue, Barclay knows what he is doing and expands his reader base with each published piece.

Kudos, Mr. Barclay for another great addition to your collection. I cannot say enough about your work and how much I enjoy it.

The Presidents and the Constitution: A Living History, edited by Ken Gormley

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Ken Gormley, and NYU Press for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Ken Gormley edits this compendium of short historical summaries that permit the reader to better understand the forty-four presidents (Cleveland’s two non-consecutive terms are treated as two, rather than one presidency) that have taken up office in the United States and the connection they had to the U.S. Constitution. As a collection of authors present, the Constitution was not simply a document that oversaw these administrations, but acted as a thread to connect them, as well as to guide these men in the daily task of overseeing America. While no two presidents were alike, neither were the struggles or victories they had with the Constitution, as each interpreted the rules by which they had to abide in unique ways. In numerous chapters, the author will also exemplify the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of key cases that shaped the presidency or the delivery of laws by the president, sometimes expanding on powers and at other times curtailing them significantly. Placing each presidency in a historical context and then overlaying the constitutional hurdles before them, these authors summarize events in a cogent manner while giving the lay reader a better understanding of how America has progressed through more than two centuries of constitutional evolution. A stellar primer for anyone interested in presidential politics and constitutional law, without the highly technical legal jargon to muddy the waters.

Gormley has not only gathered a wonderful collection of authors to pen poignant chapters about each of the American presidents, he also offers a powerful argument to show that the U.S. Constitution is a living document whose interpretation varied throughout the country’s history. While there are threads seen throughout the collection, as Gormley presents in the conclusion, there are also numerous instances where presidents have used precedents set by their predecessors to shape their own ideas and desires while running the country. While a constitution is the set of rules by which the country governs itself, the nuances found therein require insight higher than the political leader of the country. Enter the U.S. Supreme Court, whose voice echoes through all the chapters in the collection. Gormley has ensured that all those who have contributed have kept the Court’s presence known and clear to the reader. Be it to uphold, dismantle, or interpret laws, the Court does not shy away from colouring the discussion, nor should it. No book on the constitutionality of forty-four presidents would be complete without a peppering of judicial interpretation. Gormley has done a wonderful job, so much so that a non-American like me (albeit with a strong passion for politics and constitutions) cannot say enough about this collection.

Kudos, Mr. Gormley for this wonderful collection. I hope that many take the time to better understand the nuances of the American presidencies and the constitution that reined them in.

Monsoon (Courtney #10), by Wilbur Smith

Seven stars

Smith continues the final collection of Courtney novels, developing some of the early ancestry of the family he has made famous in nine previous novels. The novel opens with an adult Hal Courtney, who has taken up a life as a farmer in rural England. Courtney has four sons from a few marriages: William, twins Tom and Guy, as well as Dorian. These boys have their own quirky characteristics, which are exemplified throughout the novel. When the English summon Hal to take up a nautical voyage to contest an Arab pirate who has been plundering ships, the elder Courtney seeks the assistance of his sons, who have been told of their fathers many voyages from years before. Tom and Guy find themselves in love with the same woman, though she is unable to admit her love for them because of her caste in life. When Guy agrees to a mission in India, he follows the woman he loves, causing grief for the other twin. William, much older than his other siblings, also refuses the mission, choosing to continue his life in England, where he is fostering business and political contacts. This leaves Tom and Dorian, who become the central characters in the novel and whose lives prove fundamental. While on the high seas, Dorian and Tom help their father seek out the Arabs, but trouble befalls the ship and Dorian is captured by the Prince of Oman, who takes him back to his settlement off the African coast. Dorian’s appearance echoes a prophecy in Islam, leaving the settlement to believe he is a direct descendent of Muhammad. While in captivity, Dorian meets one of the Prince’s daughters, Yasmini, in whom he develops strong affections. This forbidden love is discovered and the Prince banshees Dorian to death for incestuous behaviour. He is able to escape with Yasmini, though the Arabs in the settlement choose to deem him dead and erect a tomb to substantiate the story. Meanwhile, Hal suffers a horrific fate, leaving Tom in charge of the English ship. The search for Dorian continues, though when Tom is convinced his brother died at the settlement, he agrees to stop looking. Years pass and Dorian has become extremely acclimated to the Muslim way of life, which does not bode well when Tom Courtney returns to finish the mission on which Hal was originally sent. Facing off, Tom and Dorian must fight for their respective honours, where only one side can prevail. Smith tells a powerful tale that develops the multi-generational flavour of the series and plants plots that are sure to be developed in novels to come. An interesting addition to the Courtney saga.

As with the previous novel, the nautical flavour of the story left me less than enthralled, but the theme was not lost, nor was the character development built throughout the narrative. Smith effectively keeps the political and social actions of the day at hand as he develops a wonderful story that spans years and sees his sons grow into their own personalities. The battle of the twins over one woman foreshadows the storyline of Sean and Garrick Courtney in the first collection of novels, which will likely also play a role in future novels, should the child be raised in India under Guy’s tutelage. The ties and animosity developed throughout this novel between Tom and Dorian will play an interesting role in upcoming novels, especially as they head to the African continent. One other aspect worth noting is Smith’s use of the Muslim pirates as the central enemies of the novel. While the book was penned at a time when Muslim fundamentalism began to emerge as the new ideological war in the world, Smith is able to use this clash at a time when the high seas were the ultimate battleground. How nice to see this spin on the hero-aggressor storyline that does not include mention of al-Qaeda or suicide bombers. The subtle discussion of the religious beliefs and tolerances exemplifies that the seventeenth century was also a time when Christianity battled Islam and both tossed ‘infidel’ monikers on one another, while surviving together. Smith’s trademark use of Africa as a backdrop also comes to pass in small part throughout the novel, which will soon develop into a major setting for future novels, as the Courtneys settle on the continent and begin making a name for themselves.

Kudos, Mr. Smith for another interesting novel. Perhaps settling in Africa will allow the characters to make roots and settle, leaving seafaring storylines off the starboard side. 

The 14th Colony (Cotton Malone #11), by Steve Berry

Nine stars

Berry offers readers another wonderfully crafted piece of fiction, peppered with factual information, sure to impress long-time fans and newbies alike. Imagine the Vatican and US were working together to bring down the U.S.S.R. Such is the premise of this latest Cotton Malone adventure. In June 1982, US President Ronald Reagan met in private with Pope John Paul II. This unprecedented meeting led to a number of secret discussions and negotiations to bring down the powerful Soviet empire from two fronts. Their mission proved successful in 1989, leaving a power void in the world and disaster for Russia, who had not seen anything close to democracy for over 800 years. In the present day, Cotton Malone is again on contract with the Magellan Billet, which is set to be defunct, this time on a reconnaissance mission in Siberia. Malone’s plane is shot down and he is left as a temporary captive. While in custody, he learns scraps of a plan to punish America for destroying the USSR, though he cannot decipher what’s to come. Armed with phrases “Zero Amendment” and “Fool’s Mate”, Malone escapes and is rescued by a former flame, Cassiopeia Vitt. They follow their mark across to Canada and into the United States, where Washington is preparing for the Presidential Inauguration. In a separate plot-line, Stephanie Nelle and one of her Billet agents learn about the Society of Cincinnati, a secret collection of individuals that dates back to the Revolutionary War. Within some of their journals is a collection of plans related to something called The 14th Colony. Further exploration determines that a KGB operative may have seen these plans with an interest in the nuances found therein. With time running out before the change of power, Malone uncovers that the inauguration might be the key to the Soviet retaliation and complete chaos for America, which has political, social, and constitutional ramifications on par with the end of the Cold War. Time is of the essence, though no one can be sure if this spells the end of everything that Berry has built up over the past ten novels. In true Berry form, the reader is sucked in and forced to wonder where fact ends and fiction begins in this explosive thriller.

Steve Berry has a knack for overlaying obscure meetings or documents with a powerful plot that seeks to understand said event. Placing Cotton Malone and the larger Magellan Billet in the middle of the story, the reader can relate to a cast of characters whose backstories continue to grow as the series continues. It is only when the reader reaches the end of the novel that Berry’s famed “author’s note” helps to sift through the truth from that which he has spun to fuel the story. This novel’s strength lies in the duel plots and historical events, the Zero Amendment and the 14th Colony. Seeped in history and potential chaos, Berry uses them to keep the story fresh, even as the Danny Daniels era as president comes to an end. One can only hope that Berry has new twists to keep Malone in the story and these constitutional conundrums at the heart of the series. Crafted with precision, adventure, and always propelling the characters forward, Berry shows that he is a master at fiction writing, amassing new fans with each new novel.

Kudos, Mr. Berry for another wonderful story. I anticipate your annual additions to the Cotton Malone series and all the intricacies you have to offer.    

Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., by Ron Chernow

Nine stars

The life and times of John D. Rockefeller (Senior) are in good hands with Ron Chernow at the helm. While many will know the Rockefeller name as synonymous with money and American business acumen, Chernow seeks to provide the reader with a more thorough understanding of the man, his beliefs, and how he started a multi-generational familial investment in business and political power. In this wonderfully researched biography, Chernow explores John D Rockefeller from three primary perspectives: the grounded family man, the business giant, and the philanthropic juggernaut. Using many sources and a detailed narrative, Chernow brings to life the Rockefeller name and argues that it was not a silver spoon wedged in the man’s mouth throughout life, but a fierce determination to succeed at all he tried running through his veins.

Chernow masterfully offers up a perspective of Rockefeller that includes a deeply-rooted family life. Spanning back to early childhood, Chernow weaves a tale of Rockefeller’s upbringing, with a doting mother and an absent father. The latter parent is presented throughout as one who chose the bottle, live for over five decades as a polygamist, and presented himself as two personas, one of which was a snake oil salesman of sorts. This left Rockefeller without the quintessential role model that any young man needs in his formative years. However, with this familial impediment, Rockefeller did not repeat the faults he witnessed, choosing a life of independent motivation that created a passion for self-improvement, both in business and as a man. In adulthood, he learned the keen trait of loving others, growing to cherish the love he had to offer, marrying Laura Spelman “Cettie” Rockefeller and beginning a family. While he was without paternal guidance in his own youth, Rockefeller fostered a wonderful ability to parent and his children grew to respect him, as the elder Rockefeller instilled virtues in them, while respecting their independent ideas. Chernow shows how Rockefeller used his amassed wealth to offer his children a better life, but did not let them ride on his coat tails and live off his blood and sweat, keeping them on financial leashes while supporting their life choices. That is not to say that Rockefeller did not seek to steer his children along the path he thought best, weeding out those from his children’s (and grandchildren’s) lives who might not be best suited for them. Chernow offers vignettes of Rockefeller’s compassionate side, while contrasting this with a determined push to ensure future Rockefellers made their mark on history and kept the family name from any taint. Unfortunately, Rockefeller’s hands-off approach to his children in their adulthood left at least one daughter, Edith, whose lavish lifestyle clashed with that of her wealthy father, to falter repeatedly and with some significance. That John D. Rockefeller was a family man cannot be disputed throughout this book, though Chernow does not shy away from showing a man who expected much from his offspring. 

Rockefeller’s business acumen is likely what has made him and his subsequent generations well-known to the general public. Chernow does not shy away from promoting this throughout, but through his paced narrative, the slow and continual rise of Rockefeller’s fortune can be exemplified. From his childhood understanding of resale value (by purchasing a pound of candy, dividing it, and selling it to siblings for a substantial mark-up) through to his capitalization of new and emerging markets in oil refineries, Rockefeller carved a niche out for himself in order to amass substantial wealth in a shorter period of time. Rockefeller used his gut intuition and significant risk-based trust in the market to forge into unchartered territory. This trust reaped many rewards, both by cementing the Rockefeller name in the business world and with copious amounts of money, on which Rockefeller could continue to build his empire. At the centre of this empire was Standard Oil, whose importance pulses through Chernow’s book, both the increase in its prominence in America and the monopoly that it became, which turned the federal government against him. Rockefeller’s shrewd business sense, based not on an educational background in the area, helped vilify him in the eyes of many, but did not impede him from seeking more with significant financial investment in a market rife for expansion. Beginning his business life in Cleveland of all places, Rockefeller went to where the commodity could be found, rather than sitting in an ivory tower on Wall Street and pulling strings in his three-piece suit. Chernow does explore in a thorough manner the business sense that Rockefeller undertook, as well as the hunger for an increased footprint in the economic and business worlds of a burgeoning America, at times to the point of excess. When the courts began dismantling his empire, through poignant rulings based on Congress’s numerous bills limiting monopolies and putting the millionaire in the crosshairs of anti-trust legislation, Rockefeller remained calm, choosing to focus on his success rather than those who sought to dismantle him. Even when his competitors and the US Government sought to break him, Rockefeller did not act with malice, taking things in stride and forging on. With a passion for business and the nuances of industrial development in America, John D. Rockefeller sought to become a business tycoon, but never forgot those who needed assistance.

Rockefeller’s philanthropic gestures are scattered throughout the biography, showing that the man had little interest in amassing wealth and sitting on it. While Rockefeller did want to give back, never forgetting the degree of poverty from which he came, he could be quite selective in his charitable ventures. Rockefeller valued the importance of a dollar and use of one’s mind to advance in life. His endowments to such places as the founding of the University of Chicago and other post-secondary institutions fuelled the belief that Rockefeller sought the betterment of man (and woman) through learning. Growing up and coming to maturity during the Civil War, he saw the importance of removing the barriers between the races, as well as the sexes, and would actively promote the idea of women and minorities in the colleges he supported. Additional philanthropic ventures included support for the Protestant churches throughout America, tapping into the memory of his Baptist upbringing. Rockefeller sought not only to donate money into projects, but use his investments to churn out results that could benefit the largest segment of the population. As Chernow explores in some detail, Rockefeller’s underlying charitable focus was not only the advancement of the person, but their health and well-being. Medical advancements and monies to promote medical research began a lifelong interest in helping those who looked to help others. However, one caveat that Rockefeller appeared to instil in his acts was to offer foundational support rather than continuous or ‘expected’ funding, whereby the organisation would lean on Rockefeller’s kindness and become a ‘tin cup beggar’. By the time he retired, he had taught his children, specifically John D. Rockefeller Jr. the importance of divesting himself of the money he had in his business operations to help those in need.

In an era when business in America was growing and those with money saw their fortunes flourish exponentially, Rockefeller was not the miser that many may presume he must have been. Compared to the likes of Andrew Mellon, JP Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Andrew Carnegie, Rockefeller may have seemed happy to amass outrageous sums of money, in the upwards of billions in today’s dollar. However, he never lost touch with the humble beginnings from which he came, while always wanting to offer new and innovative ideas for America to explore, keeping it on pace with worldwide industrial innovation. Chernow offers a biography that is both easy to read and thorough in its presentation of the man, which offers modern readers a better understanding of a time when a true philanthropic nature was not only recognised but somewhat expected. While the name of Gates, Buffett and even Bono are bandied about, without the limelight or 24-hour news cycle, it is hard to believe that these men would understand the true meaning of amassing wealth and sharing their profits with those who need it. Be he a villain, lifesaver, or somewhere in between, Chernow pulls no punches as he leaves a well-crafted biography in the hands of readers to make the final decision for themselves.

Kudos, Mr. Chernow for providing me with this comprehensive piece on which I can base my own opinions. I knew so little about the man, the family, or the mark left on early American business life, but feel so enriched with what you had to offer. As always a stellar biographical piece.

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https://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com/The life and times of John D. Rockefeller (Senior) are in good hands with Ron Chernow at the helm. While many will know the Rockefeller name as synonymous with money and American business acumen, Chernow seeks to provide the reader with a more thorough understanding of the man, his beliefs, and how he started a multi-generational familial investment in business and political power. In this wonderfully researched biography, Chernow explores John D Rockefeller from three primary perspectives: the grounded family man, the business giant, and the philanthropic juggernaut. Using many sources and a detailed narrative, Chernow brings to life the Rockefeller name and argues that it was not a silver spoon wedged in the man’s mouth throughout life, but a fierce determination to succeed at all he tried running through his veins.

Chernow masterfully offers up a perspective of Rockefeller that includes a deeply-rooted family life. Spanning back to early childhood, Chernow weaves a tale of Rockefeller’s upbringing, with a doting mother and an absent father. The latter parent is presented throughout as one who chose the bottle, live for over five decades as a polygamist, and presented himself as two personas, one of which was a snake oil salesman of sorts. This left Rockefeller without the quintessential role model that any young man needs in his formative years. However, with this familial impediment, Rockefeller did not repeat the faults he witnessed, choosing a life of independent motivation that created a passion for self-improvement, both in business and as a man. In adulthood, he learned the keen trait of loving others, growing to cherish the love he had to offer, marrying Laura Spelman “Cettie” Rockefeller and beginning a family. While he was without paternal guidance in his own youth, Rockefeller fostered a wonderful ability to parent and his children grew to respect him, as the elder Rockefeller instilled virtues in them, while respecting their independent ideas. Chernow shows how Rockefeller used his amassed wealth to offer his children a better life, but did not let them ride on his coat tails and live off his blood and sweat, keeping them on financial leashes while supporting their life choices. That is not to say that Rockefeller did not seek to steer his children along the path he thought best, weeding out those from his children’s (and grandchildren’s) lives who might not be best suited for them. Chernow offers vignettes of Rockefeller’s compassionate side, while contrasting this with a determined push to ensure future Rockefellers made their mark on history and kept the family name from any taint. Unfortunately, Rockefeller’s hands-off approach to his children in their adulthood left at least one daughter, Edith, whose lavish lifestyle clashed with that of her wealthy father, to falter repeatedly and with some significance. That John D. Rockefeller was a family man cannot be disputed throughout this book, though Chernow does not shy away from showing a man who expected much from his offspring. 

Rockefeller’s business acumen is likely what has made him and his subsequent generations well-known to the general public. Chernow does not shy away from promoting this throughout, but through his paced narrative, the slow and continual rise of Rockefeller’s fortune can be exemplified. From his childhood understanding of resale value (by purchasing a pound of candy, dividing it, and selling it to siblings for a substantial mark-up) through to his capitalization of new and emerging markets in oil refineries, Rockefeller carved a niche out for himself in order to amass substantial wealth in a shorter period of time. Rockefeller used his gut intuition and significant risk-based trust in the market to forge into unchartered territory. This trust reaped many rewards, both by cementing the Rockefeller name in the business world and with copious amounts of money, on which Rockefeller could continue to build his empire. At the centre of this empire was Standard Oil, whose importance pulses through Chernow’s book, both the increase in its prominence in America and the monopoly that it became, which turned the federal government against him. Rockefeller’s shrewd business sense, based not on an educational background in the area, helped vilify him in the eyes of many, but did not impede him from seeking more with significant financial investment in a market rife for expansion. Beginning his business life in Cleveland of all places, Rockefeller went to where the commodity could be found, rather than sitting in an ivory tower on Wall Street and pulling strings in his three-piece suit. Chernow does explore in a thorough manner the business sense that Rockefeller undertook, as well as the hunger for an increased footprint in the economic and business worlds of a burgeoning America, at times to the point of excess. When the courts began dismantling his empire, through poignant rulings based on Congress’s numerous bills limiting monopolies and putting the millionaire in the crosshairs of anti-trust legislation, Rockefeller remained calm, choosing to focus on his success rather than those who sought to dismantle him. Even when his competitors and the US Government sought to break him, Rockefeller did not act with malice, taking things in stride and forging on. With a passion for business and the nuances of industrial development in America, John D. Rockefeller sought to become a business tycoon, but never forgot those who needed assistance.

Rockefeller’s philanthropic gestures are scattered throughout the biography, showing that the man had little interest in amassing wealth and sitting on it. While Rockefeller did want to give back, never forgetting the degree of poverty from which he came, he could be quite selective in his charitable ventures. Rockefeller valued the importance of a dollar and use of one’s mind to advance in life. His endowments to such places as the founding of the University of Chicago and other post-secondary institutions fuelled the belief that Rockefeller sought the betterment of man (and woman) through learning. Growing up and coming to maturity during the Civil War, he saw the importance of removing the barriers between the races, as well as the sexes, and would actively promote the idea of women and minorities in the colleges he supported. Additional philanthropic ventures included support for the Protestant churches throughout America, tapping into the memory of his Baptist upbringing. Rockefeller sought not only to donate money into projects, but use his investments to churn out results that could benefit the largest segment of the population. As Chernow explores in some detail, Rockefeller’s underlying charitable focus was not only the advancement of the person, but their health and well-being. Medical advancements and monies to promote medical research began a lifelong interest in helping those who looked to help others. However, one caveat that Rockefeller appeared to instil in his acts was to offer foundational support rather than continuous or ‘expected’ funding, whereby the organisation would lean on Rockefeller’s kindness and become a ‘tin cup beggar’. By the time he retired, he had taught his children, specifically John D. Rockefeller Jr. the importance of divesting himself of the money he had in his business operations to help those in need.

In an era when business in America was growing and those with money saw their fortunes flourish exponentially, Rockefeller was not the miser that many may presume he must have been. Compared to the likes of Andrew Mellon, JP Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Andrew Carnegie, Rockefeller may have seemed happy to amass outrageous sums of money, in the upwards of billions in today’s dollar. However, he never lost touch with the humble beginnings from which he came, while always wanting to offer new and innovative ideas for America to explore, keeping it on pace with worldwide industrial innovation. Chernow offers a biography that is both easy to read and thorough in its presentation of the man, which offers modern readers a better understanding of a time when a true philanthropic nature was not only recognised but somewhat expected. While the name of Gates, Buffett and even Bono are bandied about, without the limelight or 24-hour news cycle, it is hard to believe that these men would understand the true meaning of amassing wealth and sharing their profits with those who need it. Be he a villain, lifesaver, or somewhere in between, Chernow pulls no punches as he leaves a well-crafted biography in the hands of readers to make the final decision for themselves.

Kudos, Mr. Chernow for providing me with this comprehensive piece on which I can base my own opinions. I knew so little about the man, the family, or the mark left on early American business life, but feel so enriched with what you had to offer. As always a stellar biographical piece.