In her latest book, “The Second Coming of the KKK,” Linda Gordon admittedly abandons her scholarly discipline and tries to warn Americans just how strong the racist movement has been and possibly can still be.

“In my discussion of the Ku Klux Klan, I am not neutral,” the New York University historian confesses. “I am offering an interpretation, not a scholarly monograph.”

The book focuses on the Klan’s amazing power in the 1920s, power built on an estimated membership of several million, limited to native-born white Protestant citizens. It was a highly respected membership drawn mostly from small business people, farmers, craftsmen and professionals, most of them opposed to America’s  growing urban society.

As Clay Risen writes in his New York Times review of the book, the Klan had “a surprisingly small footprint in the South--it’s highest per-capita state memberships were in Indiana and Oregon.”  It proudly nicknamed Anaheim, California “Klanaheim.”

Risen adds it was not just a social organization in which racists paraded beneath white sheets,”it was a means of career advancement for political-strivers” such as Hugo Black and Harry Truman. For some, it was a door into the middle class.  Until its leader went down in scandal, it maintained “machine-like control over city councils and state legislatures.”

Gordon illustrates the Klan power of that period on the cover of her book with a photo of a Washington, D. C. parade in which an estimated 30,000 Klansmen marched up Pennsylvania Avenue before huge crowds.

The KKK opposed not only African-Americans, but also Catholics, Jews and liberals.

Yet, Gordon says the organization was “mainstream” in the 1920s.

“Examining it also reveals continuing currents in American history, currents at times rising to the surface, at other times remaining subterranean,” she writes.

Risen adds: “The 2010s may not be the 1920s, but for anyone concerned with our present condition, ‘The Second Coming of the KKK’ should be required reading.”



    Looking at books through the eyes and words of the pros and critics.


    As pointed out in “America’s Civilian Armies,” President Franklin Roosevelt referred to the Soviet Union as an “absolute dictatorship,” Charles Lindbergh called Russians “the most dangerous yellow people of the world,” and General George Patton referred to them as “all-out sons-of-bitches, barbarians and chronic drunks.” That was at various times before and during World War II.

    After the Soviet Union switched sides and joined the Allies in the fight against Germany, at least some Americans sang the praises of Commissar Joe Stalin in a song titled “Stalin Wasn’t Stallin.”

    Princeton scholar Stephen Kotkin covers all those bases in his new 1154-page biography of Stalin, summarizing the dictator’s sheer brutality as well as his single-minded and unwavering determination to promote international communism.

  • But what kind of personality would you expect from a man who reportedly drove his wife to suicide and who didn’t attend his mother’s funeral?

    “Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941” is the second of Kotkin’s three planned Stalin biographies. They aren’t pretty. NY Times critic Mark Lawrence refers to Stalin’s three-decades as a “reign of cruelty.” He adds that the lengthy second book “is no easy read,” but will be considered “a seminal account of some of the most devastating events of the 20th Century.”

    Lawrence interprets Kotkin’s analysis of Stalin as a man “steeped in paranoia but capable of impeccable self-control.” His review of the book is mostly positive but focuses more on his (Lawrence’s) own views of Stalin and employs few of Kotkin’s own words and quotes.


America's Civilian Armies" provides a new, realistic look at the USA's homefront in WWII plus the challenges in a similar WWIII effort.

The World War II home front was much more than rationing a few foods and salvaging old metal.
It was a civilian army producing miracles in weaponry. 

It was living with greed, uncertainty, secrecy and fear of unwanted telegrams.  It was long work hours.  Massive cheating.  Bigger paychecks. Air raid shelters. Watching kids go off to war. Draft dodging. 

 It was higher taxes.  Worry over spies, sabotage, enemy planes and submarines off our coasts. 

It was air raid drills. Limited food.  Stretching four gallons of gas a week. Price controls. Jammed buses and trains.

Endless obits for young people. Neither silk nor nylon stockings.  Wage controls. 

We had gang wars.  Violent labor strikes.  Massive discrimination. Sudden female power.  Unprecedented teamwork.  Huge bureaucracies.  War camps . Teacher shortages. 

 It worked, but it wasn't always pretty.

It was an army, composed of millions of civilian warriors, dedicated to winning the war. They didn't carry guns.  They made guns, as well as war planes, warships,  tanks, anything  the military needed.  

They didn't wear military uniforms, but thousands of women wore pants for the first time so that they could work in defense plants. Millions of men and women wore safety helmets for the first time.

They weren't drafted.  They volunteered, to learn new skills, to move to new jobs,  to new towns. They knew they were at war and accepted their roles.

How will the next home front be?  Can we come together again?  United, but still unequal?

Can we optimize production?  Share commodities? Control greed and inflation? Let our kids go off to war again?  Persist while losing thousands ol lives? 

Maintain justice?  Live with constant fear?  Accept secrecy? Provide the financing needed for another global war?

"America's Civilian Armies" recalls the realities of the WWII homefront and examines new civilian challenges in the next global war. 

What would your role be?


    As everyone seemed to agree, Arturo Toscanini was a musical genius with a photographic memory. And as everyone, including his wife, seemed to know, he was also a “serial philanderer.” But, then, as Robert Gottlieb writes in a New York Times book review, the handsome composer “came by his life of compulsive adultery honestly,” from his Italian father. Besides that, Gottlieb points out, Arturo was “a good-looking man. Women went after him. And what’s a young man to do?”

    We learn, however, that Toscanini was not against meeting them at least half way, writing an estimated 240,000 words to one pianist with whom Gottlieb said Toscanini was “besotted for seven years” and composing what bordered on pornography for another lady he liked.

    With that kind of subject, Harvey Sachs could hardly miss with his 923-page biography: “Toscanini: Musician of Conscience.” Why did the world have to wait so long for the defining work on history’s most famous composer? After all, Gottlieb and others put “The Maestro” in the same genius class as Picasso, Einstein and Edison. Actually, this is Sachs’ second Toscanini biography, expanding on the first with considerable new research.

    Toscanini was known as modest, even self-deprecating, but NBC, RCA and Victor Records made up for it with avalanches of promotion. He was also famous for his baton-flinging in rehearsals.


    Steven Levingston's “Kennedy and King” continues the darkening of Camelot, contrasting the president’s political strategies to Martin Luther King’s moral leadership in the civil rights arena.

    The full title is “Kennedy and King: The President, the Pastor and the Battle Over Civil Rights” in the last half of the 20th Century.

    Best-selling author Douglas Brinkley labels it “an unqualified masterpiece of historical narrative.”

    But Steve Donoghue of the Christian Science Monitor calls it a “lopsided” book, which compares King’s “vision and courage” with a Kennedy “imbalance” that “not even the most sympathetic writer can fully right.” In what some might call a “lopsided” review, Donoghue portrays Kennedy as “a man whose pragmatics are constantly at war with his idealism” and as a president who “viewed all proposed civil rights legislation with the fishy eye of a career politician.”

    Levingston reminds us that Kennedy and King “towered over the national landscape and their interactions defined the early years of the civil rights area.” To put it mildly, their relationship was “complicated.” As Donoghue writes:

    “JFK wanted to use King to help maintain order at least as much as King wanted to use JFK to advance his cause.”

    In his book, Levingston suggests that the infamous Kennedy and King “sexual indiscretions were irrelevant to their public conduct.” But as the Washington Post says, “neither man appreciated the risk his reckless behavior posed for the millions of people whose hopes were invested in them.”


    True friendships seem to have been rare among America’s foremost politicians, although Barrack Obama and Joe Biden appear to have developed a genuine one in the past decade.  But if we go back to the 18th and early 19th Century we find John Adams and Thomas Jefferson sharing a relationship that stretched, with some bitter interruptions, over 51 years even as they were guiding a new nation through tumultuous growing years and historically divisive decisions.
    Brown University historian Gordon S. Wood brings new insight into  those years in his 502-page Penguin Press book, “Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.”
    He also paints the contrasting personalities and philosophies of the two men, leaving us to wonder how they ever could be friends. He sees Adams, the Federalist, as a grim pessimist with little faith in humanity less hope for equality and no vision of "American exceptionalism.”  To Wood, Jefferson, was “the pure American innocent” who had “little understanding of man’s capacity for evil and had no tragic sense whatsoever.”
    “Despite or perhaps because of his innocence and naïve optimism, he (Jefferson) offered his fellow Americans a set of stirring ideals that has carried them and their country through all of their many ordeals,” Woods wrote.
    In his New York Times review of the book, Richard Brookhiser reminds us that both men served in the Continental Congress, Adams representing Massachusetts and Jefferson representing Virginia. In George Washington’s administration, Adams served as vice president and Jefferson as secretary of state. Then Adams defeated Jefferson in the presidential election by three electoral votes, leaving Jefferson, according to the law of that date, as vice president.  Four years later, Jefferson defeated Adams for president and Adams refused to attend the inauguration, highlighting the first break in their friendship. They died, friends again, five hours apart on July 4, 1826.


We don’t know just how much influence Manal Al-Sharif and her book had on Saudi Arabia’s decision to allow women to drive, but the timing for “Daring to Drive” has to be more than a coincidence. The book was published in June 2017 and the lifting of the driving ban was announced three months later.

Since women still won't be able to drive until June 2018, the book should enjoy a long sales window. 

“Daring to Drive” details the author’s long protests against the driving ban, including her arrest in 2011 and confinement in what was described as “a  filthy jail.”  She has since moved to Australia, probably a wise decision since many Saudi’s still harbor strong anti-female opinions on a wide range of behaviors.

But Al-Sharif covers more than the Saudi ban on female driving.  She writes that “every public and most private spaces were saturated with radical books, brochures and cassette sermons.

“These pieces of religious propaganda were overwhelmingly intended to enforce the compliance of women.  Taboos included wearing pants, styling one’s hair and even parting one’s hair on the side, because doing so causes a woman to resemble the infidels.”

Religious scholars warned that allowing women to drive would lead to huge increases in prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce and the disappearance of all virgins.

Al-Sharif’s book is promoted as “a rare glimpse into the lives of women in Saudi Arabia today. Her memoir is a remarkable celebration of resilience in the face of tyranny, the extraordinary power of education and female solidarity, and the difficulties, absurdities, and joys of making your voice heard.”

On the other hand, on his trip to Saudi Arabia in May, Donald Trump became the first American president to join in the all-made dance of the swords, accepted flowers and announced a multi-billion dollar weapons deal.





Among the unsung and almost forgotten home front heroes of World War II were several thousand young women who helped decode enemy messages and write codes for the American military, including phony messages prior to the D-Day landing in Normandy.  Their heroics and challenges are finally detailed in “The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II,” a 416-page book by Liza Mundy.

I feel guilty that their story eluded me in research for “America’s Last Real Home Front” and “America’s Civilian Armies.”

The “girls” were academically-superior young women originally recruited by the U. S. Navy upon graduation from Seven Sister colleges and young school teachers recruited by the U. S. Army from small towns.

They helped the American military “to sink enemy supply ships, shoot down enemy planes and blunt attacks on American targets.”

These were what Mundy calls “eureka moments when the women succeed in cracking codes, relying on a mixture of mathematical expertise, memorization and occasional leaps of intuition.”

Mundy says their duty "was often mind-numbingly tedious and frustrating as the women spent 12-hour days and seven-day weeks in steamy (Washington D.C.)  offices staring at incomprehensible columns of numbers and letters and trying to decipher patterns. They learned to recognize ciphers — where one letter is substituted for another letter or number — and to interpret “additives,” extra numbers thrown in to stump prying eyes.”

Mundy adds the work also “was emotionally fraught” because the women sometimes learned, but could do nothing about, the Japanese targeting of ships “in regions where their loved ones were serving.”

All this occurred “at a time when even well-educated women were not encouraged to have careers — much less compete with men to demonstrate their mastery of arcane, technical skills.”
In her review of the book, Meryl Gordon says “Mundy paints a vivid portrait of the daily lives of these energetic single young women — the upheaval and challenges of adjusting to the high-pressure military environment, the condescension and sexism from male colleagues and superiors, the cramped living quarters, the constant anxiety over brothers and boyfriends in harm’s way, the wartime romances, weekend high jinks and stress-related breakdowns.”

Ironically, “Code Girls” was inspired by Mundy’s husband, a Justice Department official who came across a declassified World War II document about a counterintelligence operation.


    It takes a true history buff to get excited about the allegedly peaceful German occupation of Belgium during World War I, yes, the first world war, the so-called “war to end wars, ”now a century in the past. But, then along comes a 280-page volume titled “An English Governess in the Great War: The Secret Brussels Diary of Mary Thorp,” to bring out the historian in many of us. Miranda Seymour encourages us even a little more in her very positive New York Times book review.

    For one thing, Thorp’s diary, found and edited for publication by Tammy M. Proctor and Sophie de Schaepdrijver, warned of what World War II would be like, brutal. And her diary is a contemporary view of that brutality, not a writer’s research report about it. It is also the view of neither a Belgium native nor a German occupant, but that of an English governess working for an obviously privileged Russian-Belgium family in Brussels. Such histories are seldom found.

    Thorp innocently warned us of much of what was to come in WWII. Proctor and de Schaepdrijver labeled it only as “a regime of measured coercion,” but Thorp wrote of:
    --Electrified wire fencing which killed hundreds of civilians;
    --Thousands of Belgians being killed;
    --More than 100,000 schoolboys and workmen being deported to Germany in cattle trucks;
    --Slave labor;
    --Feared house inspections by the German “Boches;”
    --Long lines for food and supplies;
    --Harsh punishments for individual artists, musicians and people who kept diaries.

    Thorp referred to it as “a return to the medieval ages.”


    The Colorado River, the 1450-mile stream that runs from the Colorado Rocky Mountains to Mexico, is no longer red. And it no longer runs freely, creating such natural wonders as the Grand Canyon. It now stops, rises and falls at 15 man-made dams (including the gigantic Hoover) which are ruled by so-called “Water Buffaloes,” who aren’t buffaloes at all, but people with the authority to control the rise, fall and flow of the river for a variety of purposes, including irrigation, diversion, hydropower, flood control and municipal purposes. That’s serious power in a section of the nation where water is precious and has sometimes been a matter of life, death, theft, corruption and war.

    The value of some of these man-made interruptions is questioned by David Owen in his 274-page book titled “Where The Water Goes: Life and Death Along the Colorado River.”

    For a closer examination of the book, see David Biello’s New York Times review titled “Time and the River.” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/24/books/review/where-the-water-goes-david-owen.html


    Okay, here’s one that will understandably not be appreciated by many Americans. “Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World,” was written by Suzy Hansen, a Jersey journalist who moved to Turkey after the 9/11 attacks on the United States. At that point, she writes, Americans “lost all their marbles.”

    Her thesis is that Americans do not recognize their nation’s position as a world empire or its violent role in international affairs, which she enumerates.

    In his New York Times review of the book, Hisham Matar, a New York-born Pulitzer Prize biographer. says we do not recognize “The Empire in the Mirror.”

    It is a particularly sensitive subject to tackle in the Donald Trump era since we do not seem to know what role we want to play in world affairs.

    Matar’s review is available at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/28/books/review/notes-on-a-foreign-country-suzy-hansen.html


Jack E. Davis, an environmental historian, devoted 592 info-packed pages and 26 illustrations to his sweeping history and description of the Gulf of Mexico. He probably could have added more.  The Gulf is that massive a story, a 150-million-year history basically untold until 2017. It teaches amazing lessons we should have been taught in school, but weren’t.

Davis extends “THE GULF: The Making of an American Sea” from the Pleistocene Age to the Petroleum Age and the 21st Century.  He says the recent story is a “tragic collision between civilization and nature.”

The Gulf has been one of the world's richest marine environments.  Its 615,000 square miles provide huge supplies of commercial fish and shellfish to feed millions, as well as sportsfish such as tarpon to support a huge recreational industry.  It also supports a multi-billion dollar tourist industry along its Mexican, Cuban and Florida-to-Texas American borders. It is also an immeasurable source of crude oil and gas, which has enriched many but has contributed immensely to its recent problems.

It is annually spoiled by agricultural and industrial wastes pouring in from mid-America via the Mississippi River.

But wastes, overfishing by both commercial and sports interests and the exploitation of its oil and gas riches may pale in comparison to the fears associated with potential climate change in the Gulf.

This should be a must-read for our leaders, but probably won’t be.

  • There was no Bell to answer iPhone's first call

    One of the great stories to come out of Brian Merchant's book, "The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone": 
    Andy Grignon, the engineer who received the iPhone's first call, didn't answer the call.  He just let it go to voice mail. 
    Where was Alexander Graham Bell when they needed him? 
    In his 407-page book, Merchant debunks the one-man (Steve Jobs) myth about the invention of the iPhone.


    "The list of professions and sectors soon to be obsolete grows steadily by the day."--Sendhil Mullainathan

    "Once we recognize that human capital, like technology, needs refreshing...we need the kind of in-depth education and training people receive routinely at age 13."

    To read article, copy the following url


  • Bronte Sisters wrote three classics after selling only 2 copies of their first book

    The Bronte sisters, writing as the Bell sisters, sold only two copies of their first book in 1847. But then, writing separately, they sold three classics that have survived 170 years:
    --Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, writing as Currer Bell

    --Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

    --Agnes Grey, by Anne Bronte.


Kurt Andersen’s “Fantasyland,” which he calls a 500-year history of “How America Went Haywire,” documents many of the myths, half-truths, fairy tales and “comforting lies” that we live by. The list, which refers to such normally untouchables as the Pilgrims, Buffalo Bill, Christianity and George Washington’s cherry tree, is generally seconded by author Hanna Rosin in her New York Times review of the book.

Start with the Pilgrims, who are routinely considered “gentle robed creatures” praying enroute from Europe to Plymouth Rock.  Anderson and Rosin tell us the Pilgrims generally preached Hell on that voyage and “vowed to hang any Quaker or Catholic” caught on their American shores. Not something to ponder at Thanksgiving.

Fake news, we’re told, really began with the charming story about little George Washington admitting to cutting down a highly-cherished cherry tree. As usual, American businessmen figured out how to make money off that little tale.

Bill Cody, aka Buffalo Bill, not only entertained his Wild West show audiences by pretending to scalp Cheyenne warriors, he actually scalped and killed an Indian and exhibited the scalp in his show. That’s probably not the story you’ll hear at the Buffalo Bill Museum in Colorado, but then this is the era of alternative facts, so choose the story you prefer.

It’s no surprise that both Anderson and Rosin extend their chronicle of delusions and untruths to the Trump era.


    The authors of "One Nation After Trump" offer an optimistic title, but they say our political system "is now biased against the American majority" because:

    --Partisan redistricting distorts the outcome of legislative elections;

    --Equal representation for each state in the U.S. Senate creates under representation for residents in larger states;

    --The growing role of money in politics empowers a very small economic elite;

    --The Electoral College seems increasingly out of sync with the distribution of the population;

    --State Legislative use of such measures as voter ID laws and denial of voting rights to former felons.

    The conditions, the authors say, favor Republicans and are protected vigorously by the GOP.

    The book was written by three veteran Washington political observers: E. J. Dionne Jr., Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E Mann.


    This is the horrible story of what happens to many people who cannot afford medical treatment. The author, Dr. Rachael Pearson of Galveston, Texas, writes that many of them just die for lack of proper care.

    It's a harsh indictment of the medical profession, the insurance industry, government and even some of our voluntary services.

    In her New York Times review of "No Apparent Distress," Dr. Danielle Ofri says "a segment of American society has been casually cast aside, left to scavenge on the meager scraps of volunteer health services, and failing that, left to die."

    Read at the risk of outrage.


    'Poets lives are seldom eventful or interesting. There's a great deal of looking out the window, pacing around, reading, writing, drinking, gossiping, complaining, especially about money and neglect, and more often than not, ill-advised romantic attachments."--August Kleinzahler in his latest book, "Sallies, Romps, Portraits, and Send-Offs."

    That's a mighty generalized, far-reaching statement, but then Kleinzaher is himself a poet, so he has some knowledge on the subject and he explores more about them in these 299 pages of "Selected Prose."

This Non-Fiction Better Than Fiction

Because Ann Hood was a published author and he was a wanna-be writer, Michael Ruhlman just up and shouted her name at a Vermont writers conference in 1988. After that awkward intro they did not meet for 20 years, while she gained more fame and he became a writer. Then at a 2008 writers conference, where they were both scheduled to speak, he stunned her again, announceing to a room crowded with writers that he had been in love with her for 20 years. They married in NYC  after he gave her an engagement ring with an oyster pearl he bit into last year. Their romance is a 3/4-page story in the NYT and probably a book in the making. Even for writers, it's hard to make up such stuff.

We should argue...

We should argue not to win, but to learn...

If only to learn how little our opponent knows.-cpt

Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX, and the investor Warren E. Buffett are said to be avid readers. Mr. (Bill) Gates once said that “reading is still the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding.”

In a recent interview with Forbes, Mr. Gates’ father, William H. Gates Sr., said his son devoured all kinds of books as a boy, including encyclopedias and science fiction. “I was thrilled that my child was such an avid reader, but he read so much that Bill’s mother and I had to institute a rule:

"No books at the dinner table,” he said."--"Where the Richest Come From" by Michael Corkery, "The York Times, Feb. 26, 2017

"I try to keep deep love out of my stories because, once that particular subject comes up, it is almost impossible to talk about anything else. Readers don’t want to hear about anything else. They go gaga about love. If a lover in a story wins his true love, that’s the end of the tale, even if World War III is about to begin, and the sky is black with flying saucers."--Kurt Vonnegut,in The Paris Review, Courtesy NY Public Library) Read more at http://www.historyniche.com

2016 sales of "traditionally published" books: Print 793.1 million; E-books 221.5 million; Digital audio books 30.9 million--From "Author Earnings"

While some of us are still trying to get a grip on the past, Yuval Noah Harari has written what he titled "A Brief History of Tomorrow." All about algorithms. Ambitious.

The Library of Americahas offered a two-volume collection of writers who covered WWII. It includes nearly 200 pieces by 80 writers recording events from Munich to the birth of the atomic bomb. Included are works by Bill Mauldin, Ernie Pyle, Margaret Bourke-White, John Hershey, William Shirer, Edward R. Murrow, Martha Gellhorn, and dozens of other outstanding journalists, $60.

Dr. Christina Vella of New Orleans, author of five histories and adjunct professor at Tulane, died 3/22/17. She wrote
• “Intimate Enemies,”a biography. The New York Times said “Christina Vella has done a spectacular job of excavating the historical record” of New Orleans’ Baroness de Pontalba.
• “The Hitler Kiss,” a memoir of a Czech resistance fighter;
• “Indecent Secrets,” an account of a 1901 murder trial in Italy;
• “George Washngton Carver: A Life,” a biography of the celebrated scientist;
• A biography of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk the founder and first president of the Republic of Turkey
Dr. Vella was the 2016 recipient of the Louisiana Writer Award from the State Library of Louisiana