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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 5/25/20


Good morning and Happy Memorial Day,

Thinking of those who sacrificed for us in our country’s wars, as well as those whose voices were silenced in service of others.

 

HISTORY IN THE FORM OF A NOVEL—THE BOOKS OF ERIK LARSON


So many of you have spoken in glowing terms of the author Erik Larson. I have held off writing about Mr. Larsen’s books until I finished his most recent, about the Churchill family living through the London Blitz and the first year of Churchill’s tenure as Prime Minister. I finished it this week and it did not disappoint. Larson has mastered the ability of describing historical events in a way that reads like a novel. His books are page-turners with brilliant observations about the main events, but interspersed with interesting tidbits and side-notes about the time in which the events unfold.


Larson sets a goal of writing a page a day, beginning his writing before sun-up, powered by coffee and an Oreo cookie. He stops in mid-paragraph or sentence, so he knows exactly where he left off. He does this every day of the year other than Christmas, which he takes off. Here are a few snippets about his most popular works:


The Devil in the White City—This is the book that really put him on the map. The book intertwines the stories of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (which was described as the “White City” and a serial murderer of the time. Tiny tidbit: Besides various other “best” lists, ames Dyson, of the eponymous vacuum empire, named it one of his ten favorite books.

Thunderstruck—I felt this was brilliant as well. The story of the Marconi wireless, its development and popularization. This story also intertwines an historical event with a murder—committed by a milquetoast who then runs off on an ocean liner. Unbeknownst to him and his paramour, the captain of the ship recognizes him and radios shore about his presence. The world follows their travels and the story of their crime, reaching a denouement in their arrest upon arrival in America.

Dead Wake—We all know the story of the Titanic, but the story of the Lusitania arguably is more interesting and certainly of greater historical significance. Larson switches back and forth from the Lusitania and the German U-Boat in telling the story. He uncovered the captain’s papers at Stanford university. An interesting book but, in my opinion, not as strong as the others cited here.

In the Garden of Beasts—The story of the rise of Hitler in the mid-30s. Told through the experiences of the family of William E. Dodd, American ambassador to Germany. He took the job because he thought Germany would be a quiet posting. His daughter begins her stay in Germany as an anti-Semite who didn’t really understand the situation early on. The New York Times called this “…by far [Larson’s] best and most enthralling work of novelistic history…”

The Splendid and the Vile—As stated earlier, the story of Churchill’s first year as Prime Minister (May 1940 to May 1941), with some additional color on the periods prior and subsequent. While much of the story is known to those who have read much of the life of Churchill and the story of the Battle of Britain (“never have so many owed so much to so few”), the events, framed within the story of the Churchill family and Churchill’s confidantes, is told as if it is brand new. I loved it and devoured it in three days.


I haven’t read Isaac’s Storm, which describes the Galveston hurricane of 1900. But I’m told it’s good too.

 

A LITTLE FUN ART

From Roneet Kahan, some fun art (including blue roosters…): https://www.npr.org/2020/04/20/824445613/with-surprising-sculptures-katharina-fritsch-makes-the-familiar-fun

 

THE PENGUIN RACES

As we wait for the “real” professional sports come around, some have found a home following Korean or Taiwanese baseball. Some are watching reruns of great sporting events. Then there’s the British sports commentator Andrew Cotter, who previously was doing play-by-play on his dogs racing through dinner or fighting over a bone. Now, he’s found a calling in calling the penguin races: https://www.usatoday.com/videos/sports/sportskind/2020/05/15/bbc-commentator-narrates-hilarious-penguin-race/5201837002/.

 

FINALLY, A THOUGHT FOR THE DAY

I often think about how we look back on historic events and view everything that happened as inevitable. Wars, economic calamities, and other consequential historic events seem fated when seen from our vantagepoint. Even events in our personal lives often seem in retrospect “meant to happen.” Yet, we know that in our lives there were many small decisions—some guided by logic, some by hunch, some just serendipitous—that got us to where we are.

This is true with the events we are living through now. Nothing is inevitable—we are all actively engaged in this history. We can choose to cooperate with each other. We can choose to be kinder. We can choose to make tough decisions that might involve sacrifice. Nothing is fated. This quote reminds us all that we are living in history. One day everything will be etched in stone. Today it isn’t.

“History runs forward but is seen backward.”

--Soren Kierkegaard

Happy day,

Glenn


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