Friday, March 7, 2014


by Laurent Binet

The book jacket description says this is the story of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich (The Hangman of Prague) and the two men who succeeded in that mission. I'm not convinced the person who wrote the description actually read the book. HHhH is more accurately described as a bit of a history of Heydrich, some speculation on the guys who executed him, mixed together with many musings of the author who wants to be writing history but doesn't really have enough facts to do so. It's not for lack of trying, it's just that so little is actually known about those two men and their commission that he doesn't have much to draw from.

The good: this book is full of interesting information on the life of Reinhard Heydrich, from early childhood through his succession to Hitler's "protector" of Prague. For Hitler, Heydrich represented the perfect Aryan, the blonde hair, blue eyes, slender nose and build. And Heydrich also had a mind toward evil, which apparently instigated much that went on within the concentration camps. The title of the book, HHhH, which in German stands for "Himmler's Hirn heisst Heydrich" translates to "Himmler's brain is Heydrich" and supports the idea of Heydrich's evilness.

The bad: very little of the book actually dealt with Operation Anthropoid and too much of the book dealt with the author/narrator, who vacillated from whining to bragging to fantasizing. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants

by Malcolm Gladwell

A few years ago I read Gladwell's book Outliers, which seems to attribute success to exceptionality and practicing 10,000 hours. In this novel he is back to examining successful people, but this time it is those who beat the odds. David and Goliath examines people who have the deck stacked against them, but come out on top. His claim is that their success is not in spite of their challenges, as tradition dictates, but because of those trials in their lives.

Gladwell begins this book by taking a fresh look at the Biblical story of David and Goliath. Rather than accepting convention, that David's size and lack of battle skill was a tremendous handicap, Gladwell suggests that his experience with the sling allowed him to confront the giant in an unconventional manner thus providing his victory. While his theory has some validity, he does a great deal to discredit Goliath by making him out to be somewhat incapacitated. The stories that follow look at individuals and groups of people who seem weak physically or emotionally, yet they use those handicaps to adapt, which in turn leads to their triumph. There is a fun story of a championship basketball team that consisted of a bunch of nerdy preteen girls, numerous CEO's who struggled with dyslexia and people in war zones.

Don't expect you'll learn any secrets to success in this book. While it is chock full of underdogs it is lacking in explanation. The conclusion is that you simply can't determine who will adapt to overcome their giant and who will be swallowed up. If you liked Gladwell's other books you'd like this one too. It is a fast, fun and uplifting read.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The People of the Book

by Geraldine Brooks

In all my years involved in book club, The People of the Book was the only selection I failed to read. My lame excuse is that I was too cheap to purchase it and my library reserve did not come up before our meeting. When it was finally my turn to check it out, I was on to other things and passed, always intending to read it. I think my book club disbanded in 2010.

The "book" is the Sarajevo Haggadah, which is an illustrated manuscript of the Jewish Passover ceremony containing significant pictures from creation through the death of Moses. Brooks takes us on a reverse journey of the tome as Hannah Heath, a chemist and fine arts conservator goes through the restoration process. In this version, the book is discovered in a library in Sarajevo, having arrived there from Venice, Vienna, Tarragona and Seville. In each location the book is protected from destruction by sometimes surprising individuals whose stories are told alongside the book's.

The story alternates between the life and research of Dr. Heath with the stories of the book's journey and rescuers. Personally, I didn't care at all for the Heath character and wished for a lot less of her, but I did enjoy the imagined expedition of the Haggadah.

I've been informed by a follower that I seem to be stuck on the historical fiction & mystery genre's lately. I'll take that into consideration for my next choices. But, I'm still behind on posting!