Love and War in the Apennines (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Love and War in the Apennines, by Eric Newby (1971).  First, a word about how I came to discover this book.  In the course of internet surfing, I came across a website for Slightly Foxed, an independent British quarterly devoted to books, especially books that have been forgotten and fallen out of print.  Additionally, Slightly Foxed republishes worthy books that have fallen out of print.  Curious, I subscribed to the journal and for good measure ordered a few of its reprints.  Love and War in the Apennines is the first one I’ve read, and it is pretty good.  It’s a memoir in which Newby tells part of the story of his experiences as a young British soldier during World War II.  In August 1942, he was part of a woefully underpowered band of soldiers sent to knock out a Nazi base in Sicily.  The mission flopped, and the Italians took Newby prisoner and shipped him off to mainland Italy.  Most of the book is about what it was like to be a prisoner of war and then a fugitive hiding in the Apennine Mountains after the Italian government collapsed in September 1943, all the POWs escaped, and the Germans took over.  Also, shortly before his escape, Newby met and fell in love with a Slovenian woman living in Italy; thus, the title.  It’s a good read, and very impressive to a not-very-courageous couch potato like me.  Newby wrote another memoir about his life after the war called Something Wholesale, and I look forward to reading it someday.

From Fire by Water: My Journey to the Catholic Faith (book review)

Book review from The Movie Snob

From Fire by Water: My Journey to the Catholic Faith, by Sohrab Ahmari (2019).  The subtitle tells you most of what you need to know about this book.  It’s an autobiographical conversion story.  That may not be your cup of tea.  But if you give it a chance, I think you’ll find it interesting, because Ahmari is a good writer and has an interesting background.  He was born in Iran, and his childhood years there coincided with the early years of the Khomeini regime.  Then his mother moved to America (Utah!) and took young Sohrab with her.  His stories about growing up in America and trying out various left-wing ideologies are interesting.  At 207 pages, it’s a quick read.  I would have liked to learn more about Ahmari’s wife and what she thought of his becoming Catholic less than three years after they got hitched.

The Landmark Julius Caesar (book review)

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

The Landmark Julius Caesar: The Complete Works, translated and edited by Kurt A. Raaflaub (2017).  The complete works and then some – this volume contains not only the ten “books” Caesar wrote about the Gallic Wars and the civil war he fought with Pompey, but also four other books about Caesar’s campaigns that were written by other authors.  The translation is very readable (I’m in no position to judge its accuracy), and the stories are generally quite interesting.  Sure, I occasionally got lost among the many proper names for places, tribes, and people I’d never heard of before, but I didn’t sweat that.  One thing was a hoot – Caesar mentions the two soldiers at the center of the HBO miniseries Rome, by name, for their courage during a particular battle in the Gallic Wars!  They were real people!  Anyway, this edition is a massive chunk of a book because it contains lots of introductions, footnotes, maps, pictures, and appendices.  I read the introductions and lots of the footnotes, and they added a lot to the stories.  If you’re into the swords-and-sandals genre of history, this is a must-have.

I’ll Be Damned (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

I’ll Be Damned: How My Young and Restless Life Led Me to America’s #1 Daytime Drama, by Eric Braeden (2017).  If you’ve ever watched The Young and the Restless, you know that Victor Newman makes Montgomery Burns look like a boy scout.  Victor, played by the 77-year-old Eric Braeden, is a cutthroat cosmetics tycoon who doesn’t think twice about, say, having his business archrival kidnapped and replaced by a lookalike (who also happens to be a South American drug kingpin).  But Braeden’s real life story, told in this memoir, is almost as unlikely.  Born in Germany during WWII, Braeden (actual name Hans Gudegast) emigrated to America as a young man, bounced around for a few years, became a successful actor playing German heavies in shows like Rat Patrol, did a few movies (including a key role in Escape from the Planet of the Apes), and then found his niche on The Young and the Restless.  He’s a little defensive about being a soap star, and the book occasionally feels like an exercise in name-dropping, but I thought it was an interesting read nonetheless.

The Diary of a Young Girl (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank.  I had never read this famous book before, but when I signed up for a vacation trip to Amsterdam I figured I should read it first.  I got about halfway through before my trip rolled around, but that was enough to help give me some context when I visited the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam.  I finished the book over the course of the trip.  Anyway, it is an interesting book, and Anne comes across as a lively, spirited, and strong-willed teenager.  It does get a little repetitive, perhaps, but how could it not, given that Anne lived in hiding in a tiny space with the same group of people for two years?

Churchill (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Churchill, by Paul Johnson (2009).  This is a biography of Winston Churchill, and it is only 168 pages long.  If you think that sounds like an impossible feat of compression, you are correct.  It is just too short to give any sort of real flavor of perhaps the greatest man of the twentieth century.  I have enjoyed some of Paul Johnson’s other books, especially Modern Times, but this one just didn’t do it for me.  On the plus side, though, it is a very quick read….

Caesar: Life of a Colossus

Book review from The Movie Snob

Caesar: Life of a Colossus, by Adrian Goldsworthy (2006). This is biography at its finest. Goldsworthy truly brings Julius Caesar and all of ancient Rome to life in this roughly 500-page treatment of the great general’s life and career. It is exceptionally well-written, contains a sprinkling of helpful maps and diagrams illustrating some of the most important battles, and has some nice black-and-white photos in the middle of Roman artwork depicting Caesar and the other main players in the saga—Crassus, Pompey, Cicero, Marc Antony, Cleopatra, and of course Caesar himself. If you have any interest at all in ancient Rome, you will love this book.

The Life of Samuel Johnson (book review)

Book review from The Movie Snob

The Life of Samuel Johnson, by James Boswell. Okay, so I’m only a third of the way through this behemoth, but after all the thing is 1243 pages long. Johnson was a towering figure in British letters during the 18th century. He published hundreds of essyas, more than fifty biographies, a complete annotated edition of Shakespeare’s works, and almost singlehandedly wrote the best and most complete English dictionary of its time. He also hobnobbed with Edmund Burke and Adam Smith, and he crossed (literary) swords with David Hume. And his friend James Boswell wrote this tremendous biography of his life, including numerous reports of the great man’s conversations. He comes across as a bit of a contrarian, more interested in getting off a good one-liner than in making a consistent argument. Just a third of the way in I have already come across these gems:

“Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”

After an unknown gentleman left Johnson’s company, he remarked that “he did not care to speak ill of any man behind his back, but he believed the gentleman was an attorney.”

He was not an admirer of Americans. Once he remarked that failing to work for the spread of Christianity “is a crime of which I know not that the world has yet had an example, except in the practice of the planters of America, a race of mortals whom, I suppose, no other man wishes to resemble.”

And his famous response when a woman asked him how he had come to make a certain mistake in his Dictionary: “Ignorance, Madam, pure ignorance.”

Heloise & Abelard (book review)

Book review by The Movie Snob

Heloise & Abelard: A New Biography, by James Burge (Harper San Francisco 2003). In the immortal words of 70’s rock band Nazareth, love hurts, and nobody knew it better than the star-crossed couple of Peter Abelard and Heloise. I was familiar with the only bare outline of their story, which has survived through the centuries thanks to their preserved love letters, and I enjoyed learning more of the details in this well-written book. Abelard was the leading philosopher, professor, and rhetorician in early 12th century France, which apparently made him quite a celebrity in medieval terms. He became the tutor to the intelligent and attractive Heloise when he was about 36 and she about 20. The two fell madly in love, and she became pregnant. Despite their efforts to save her family’s honor, her uncle and guardian Fulbert eventually took action. He sent his henchman to attack Abelard in the middle of the night, and . . . well, if you want to know the rest, you’ll have to buy this book, or come ask me, or look it up on Wikipedia, or something.

My Fundamentalist Education (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob

My Fundamentalist Education: A Memoir of a Divine Girlhood, by Christine Rosen (2005). Another memoir from somebody who is right around my own age. Rosen’s parents divorced when she was very young, and her father and his new wife (a very sweet person, not a wicked stepmother type) raised her and her older sister in St. Petersburg, Florida. Fatefully, and apparently without full knowledge, they sent Rosen and her sister (and their new little sister) to Keswick Christian School, a private school run by a fundamentalist Christian denomination. Keswick was a distinctly odd place by secular standards, although its routines are not entirely unfamiliar to a graduate of Catholic schools like me. The students wore uniforms, went to chapel, sang songs about Jesus, were entertained by visiting Christian musicians and missionaries, and learned their King James Bibles backwards and forwards. Although Rosen is no longer a fundamentalist and pokes plenty of gentle fun at Keswick, her memories of the place (and the youthful anxieties it instilled in her, like worrying about the Rapture) are nonetheless genuinely fond ones. If you want to learn more about what fundamentalists really believe, or just want an enjoyable read about growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, this is the book for you.

Benedict XVI: The Man Who Was Ratzinger (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob

Benedict XVI: The Man Who Was Ratzinger, by Michael S. Rose (Spence Publishing 2005). This slim volume (155 pages or so) is a short survey of Pope Benedict XVI’s career as a cleric with an eye to predicting the direction of his papacy. In so small a space, obviously only a few issues can be covered, but Rose’s coverage of those issues is interesting nonetheless. For example, he discusses Cardinal Ratzinger’s disagreement with Pope John Paul II over the mechanics of the 1986 interfaith meeting in Assisi, Italy, at which many Catholic churches were turned over to non-Christian religions for their own religious ceremonies, and perhaps broader disagreement over ecumenism generally. Rose also debunks the popular myth that, as a cardinal, Pope Benedict XVI vigorously and unfairly persecuted dissenting Catholic theologians; the portrait that emerges is one of restraint, patience, and concern that due process be afforded anyone accused of teaching non-Catholic views under the guise of Catholicism. The Pope’s take on the sex-abuse scandals in America and the rise of radical Islam are briefly noted. On the whole, Rose leaves no doubt that Pope Benedict is not likely to introduce the innovations most agitated for by progressive quasi-Catholics in this country or abroad. A good, quick introduction to the thought of the new Pope.

The Tender Bar (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob:

The Tender Bar: A Memoir, by J.R. Moehringer (2005). I felt old reading this book. Since when did it become possible to pick up an autobiography that contains casual references to Tom Seaver, “Who shot J.R.?” and R2-D2? In other words, when did people my age (well, three years older) start publishing successful memoirs?

Anyhoo, it’s a good read. The subtitle could easily have been A Memoir of Fatherlessness, because that is the defining (missing) feature of Moehringer’s life. When he was an infant, his mother left his abusive father and took the baby with her. That meant a life of poverty, as she and he moved in with her parents (and her brother Charlie, and her sister Ruth, and Ruth’s five kids) in a ramshackle house in the Long Island suburb of Manhasset. To make matters worse, Moehringer’s father was a disc jockey in the New York area, so young Moehringer was addicted to listening to The Voice of the father who was otherwise not a part of his life at all. As he got a little older, he was more or less adopted by his Uncle Charlie, a bartender at a legendary Manhasset bar called Publicans, and his gang of barfly friends. The memoir takes the reader through Moehringer’s first 25 years of life, and affectingly tells the story of the author’s unending quest to overcome the insecurity that his upbringing instilled in him. There’s also a short epilogue about the events of 9/11 and its impact on the Manhasset community. The book is strongly reminiscent of Angela’s Ashes, which I also really liked. Well worth it.