Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Fidel Castro Is Not What You've Been Led to Believe

Ronald Radosh has written for The Weekly Standard a intriguing book review of Juan Reinaldo Sánchez’s The Double Life of Fidel Castro: My 17 Years as Personal Bodyguard to El Líder Máximo.

Here’s a couple of passages to draw your interest.

Fidel Castro has often told Cubans and the world press that he is an exemplary revolutionary leader who works day and night for the revolution and lives as simply as the poorest Cuban, taking only a meager official salary of $38 per month (in American dollars). Sánchez finds this myth “highly comic,” since, in reality, Castro was the CEO of what might be called Cuba Holdings, an entity with sums in the millions, all of it available for Castro’s personal use at a moment’s whim.

Sánchez details how Castro uses this wealth for his personal comfort, a state secret carefully hidden from the people he led until his recent official retirement. For the first time, Sánchez exposes the secret properties Castro owns, giving exact locations, using maps and Google satellite imagery. The leader who preaches the need to sacrifice for the revolution has, in addition to 20 homes throughout the island, a private island called Cayo Piedra, where he and his entourage would go each weekend in June and for the entire month of August. It was, writes Sánchez, a “millionaire’s paradise” where Castro kept his private yacht, Aquarama II, and had his own ecological underwater sanctuary…

The revelations here are important for Americans to read, just as President Obama has restored full diplomatic relations with Cuba, with the opening of an embassy in each country. Many believe that this step, along with the restoration of American tourism, will lead to a relaxation of the dictatorship in Cuba as Western values (and dollars) begin to transform the country…  

Two years away from retirement age, and growing more disillusioned by the day, Juan Reinaldo Sánchez made a formal request to retire early. Immediately, he was arrested by Castro and spent two years in harsh prison conditions. He was released in 1996, 40 pounds lighter than he had weighed upon entry. After a dozen attempts to escape Cuba, he succeeded in 2008. Hoping to devote the last chapter of his life to working for freedom in Cuba, he died just as this American edition of his book was published. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

What's Denny Been Reading?

With our schedule, it’s sometimes hard enough to find time for reading books, let alone reviewing those books and passing along recommendations for The Book Den.  That’s why I end up with “catch-up” posts like this one – a listing of books recently read with some quick assessments of their value.  

By the way, if you care to note only the books I really liked, just look at the titles I printed in bold.

Hilter’s Master of Dark Arts by Bill Yenne.  This history concentrates on Heinrich Himmler, the Gestapo, and the weird neo-pagan philosophies embraced by high-ranking Nazis.  It wasn’t the best written text but it did pack in a lot of useful, fascinating information.  For students of the period, I would recommend it.

Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow.  This was a real gem.  I didn’t agree with everything and there were a couple of areas the author didn’t address as much as I would have liked, but his insights were often quite provocative, helpful, and extremely relevant.  I have thought through his major points frequently since reading the book and I have brought them up in numerous conversations with other men (like myself) who also find the feminized, inactive, church life of modern times difficult.  Certainly the performance-based, entertainment-oriented, over-emotional music of most church services is a major turn-off but there’s a lot more that needs fixing and Murrow deftly addresses them.  I recommend this one highly.

* The Man from Indiana by Booth Tarkington.  One of our Notting Hill Napoleons selections – and an excellent read it turned out to be.  Recommended.

* Adventure by Clyde Brian Davis.  Don’t bother.  I mean it – don’t bother.

Cloak of Darkness by Helen MacInnes.  One of her typically-fine thrillers.

The Coming of Cassidy and Bar-20 by Clarence E. Mulford.  These were two of the early Hopalong Cassidy novels.  There were a dozen or so of these written in the first couple of decades of the 20th Century.  I found them interesting but ultimately less satisfying (and much less wholesome) than the William Boyd western movies I so enjoyed as a kid.  Indeed, Boyd portrayed an inspirational, heroic cowboy whereas Mulford's Hopalong was a wild, uncouth, and amoral killer.

A March to Liberation by Warren Van Demplas as told to Norm Penner.  A very brief recounting of an American P.O.W.’s suffering in Nazi Germany.  It was a moving read, especially because I knew the late Mr. Van Demplas personally.

Tom Brown’s School Days by Thomas Hughes.  This account of a “public
school” education in early 19th Century Britain was a fascinating read.  Recommended.

No Time for Sergeants by Mac Hyman.  This humorous novel was the basis for Andy Griffith's most successful movie but I didn't care for it much. It was a comic novel but with only one basic joke. And that joke got pretty old after awhile.

Mr. Standfast by John Buchan.  The third of the Richard Hannay adventure series is a book I’ve read several times.  A stunning story and wonderfully told.

The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan and D-Day: The 6th of June by David Howarth.  Both are excellent histories -- inspiring, infuriating, challenging, and extremely informative.  Both make excellent reading for students of history and for those interested in the historic deeds of one of the West’s very best generations.

I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norm Geisler and Frank Turek with an introduction to this revised edition by David Limbaugh.  This is Christian apologetics at its very best.  In fact, this book forced its way into my list of Top Ten Indispensable Books for Christians.  But it is also eminently readable and relevant for non-believers too.

Mistress Wilding by Rafael Sabatini.  A fine adventure novel and with Sabatini’s insight and skill, it reaches into the realm of fine literature as well.  Recommended.

The Bridge Over the River Kwai by Pierre Boulle.  Not a comfortable novel to read but still a valuable one.  I’m glad I read it and I would recommend it...with some reservations.

 * Golden GateThe Guns of Navarone, and Force 10 from Navarone by Alistair MacLean.  Typical adventure novels from one of the masters of the genre.  If you’re in the mood for such, MacLean is a good one to go to.

* Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie.  The novel form of the story written after the play had already been produced.  I like the play but I liked this too – very much.  Recommended.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Lewis On Re-Reading

In the first place, the majority never read anything else twice. The sure mark of an unliterary man is that he considers "I read it already" to be a conclusive argument against reading a work. 

We have all known women who remembered a novel so dimly that they had to stand for half an hour in the library skimming through it before they were certain they had once read it. But the moment they became certain, they rejected it immediately. It was for them dead, like a burnt-out match, an old railway ticket, or yesterday’s paper; they had already used it. 

Those who read great works, on the other hand, will read the same work ten, twenty, or thirty times during the course of their life.

(C.S.Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism)

Monday, May 25, 2015

On the Post-Literate Culture

"You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture.
Just get people to stop reading them." (Ray Bradbury)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Maltese Falcon Quiz

For fans of the great movie, this quiz can be fun. But it will appeal even more to the readers of Dashiell Hammett's fine detective novel. Have at it...and, of course, don't look for the answers until the end!

1) Does the story of the falcon tribute have any factual basis?

2) Who was originally cast for the film role of Sam Spade? A) Ronald Reagan B) Robert Taylor C) George Raft D) Alan Ladd E) Gary Cooper

3) The Shakespeare reference at the end of the film (“Ah, the stuff which dreams are made of”) was suggested by A) Director John Huston B) Jack Warner C) Peter Lorre D) Humphrey Bogart

4) What previous occupation made Dashiell Hammett so effective in writing The Maltese Falcon? A) Detective B) Screenwriter C) San Francisco Probation officer D) Cleaned cages at an aviary

5) Which actor in the cast was playing their first film role?

6) How many successful novels did Dashiell Hammett write in his long career?

7) Hammett’s novel was dedicated to Jose. Who is this?

8) The Maltese Falcon was a major Hollywood hit, both with the public and the critics. How many Academy Awards did it win?

9) Where was Dashiell Hammett buried? A) Colorado B) Virginia C) California D) His ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean.

10) After Hammett sold the rights to the Sam Spade character (at a bargain price), a very popular radio series was created called The Adventures of Sam Spade. It starred: A) Howard Duff B) Orson Wells C) Humphrey Bogart D) Jack Webb E) William Conrad


1) Yes, according to Dashiell Hammett’s own introduction to the 1934 edition of the book ---- “Somewhere I had read of the peculiar rental arrangements between Charles V and the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem.”

2) C. George Raft. Raft was one of Warner’s contract players and was originally offered the part. He apparently turned it down because a) he didn't want to be directed by new director John Huston, and b) it was to be a low-budget, “unimportant” film. He had also turned down the starring role in High Sierra (which eventually fell to Bogart) because he didn't want to die at the end. In fact, Raft would go on turning down roles that Bogart would play and subsequently make famous, including the cynical and unforgettable hero of Casablanca.

3) D. Humphrey Bogart

4) A. Hammett was a detective for the Pinkerton agency.

5) Sydney Greenstreet. To play the part of sinister Fat Man Gutman, the film’s producer Hal Wallis suggested that Greenstreet do a screen test. Huston liked it and cast the longtime character actor of the stage. Greenstreet was thus 61 years old when he made his movie “debut.”

6) Only 5: The Dain Curse, The Maltese Falcon, Red Harvest, The Thin Man, The Glass Key. Besides a few other short stories, Hammett’s career was largely a disappointment. The causes? TB and a generally dissolute lifestyle, complete with drunkenness, lack of discipline and self-control, abandonment of family, and the influence of radical leftists (especially Lillian Hellman).

7) Jose was Hammett’s first wife and mother of his two children.

8) None

9) B. Virginia. More specifically, in Arlington National Cemetery.

10) A. Veteran actor (and husband of Ida Lupino) Howard Duff. Duff's most famous roles were in television, especially Mr. Adams and Eve (1957-58), Felony Squad (1966-69), and a whole gang of guest spots.

The Shadow Is a Passing Thing

Frodo sighed and was asleep almost before the words were spoken. Sam struggled with his own weariness, and he took Frodo's hand; and there he sat silent till deep night fell. Then at last, to keep himself awake, he crawled from the hiding-place and looked out.

The land seemed full of creaking and cracking and sly noises, but there was no sound of voice or of foot. Far above the Ephel Duath in the West the night-sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while.

The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was a light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. His song in the Tower had been defiance rather than hope; for then he was thinking of himself. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master's, ceased to trouble him.

He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo's side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.

(J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Had the World Listened to Churchill, the Orwellian Century Might Never Have Happened

...Orwell can imagine that future so clearly because he has schooled himself in some of the worst things that men have actually done. No one else has gone so far in predicting how inhuman ideas will ultimately be translated into action. And it is possible that Orwell was right in divining the end result of totalitarian practice: absolute power will so deform the masters that they will forget any humanitarian pretense and will live for power alone—not only the god-like power over life and death that every sound Machiavellian wishes to exercise, but the even more monstrous power to control what the regime’s subjects think and feel…

But for all his probity and his clear-sightedness about some matters, he never quite left the Platonic cave of 20th-century politics; really he exchanged one cave for another, fleeing the redoubt of the respectable capitalist and imperialist English middle class, which he staggered his way out of by his mid-twenties, and finding sanctuary in the sweetest fantasy of socialism, which he defended even as he condemned the worst socialist realities and the lies that sustained them, but which left him in semi-darkness…

These two histories of Churchill’s [the six-volume The World Crisis and Marlborough: His Life and Times] were the most important works of political art to appear between the two wars, and if Churchill’s vision of honorable and prudent political life had been more widely recognized and seen into action the Soviet terror state might have been stopped before it started, Hitler denied his opportunity to sow devastation, and the Second World War averted. Nineteen Eighty-Four deserves its esteemed place in the post-World War II literature, but its searing horror reflects an experience of political evil that mankind could have avoided. Winston Churchill knew better than George Orwell what needed to be done in order to secure a decent and democratic world in which no one would even imagine such a definitive political catastrophe as the one that made Orwell famous. It needn’t have been Orwell who defined the 20th century. The world should never have been allowed to become Orwellian. 

From Algis Valiunas’ excellent essay “Orwell in the Orwellian Century” over at Claremont Review of Books.

Monday, May 11, 2015

More Answers to Twelve Tantalizing Questions for Book Readers

The first answers to the book questionnaire posted last week ("Twelve Tantalizing Questions for Book Readers") have shown up and I post them below. They come from 1) USAF Lt. Col (Ret.) Quint Coppi, a Vital Signs Board member and founding member of the Notting Hill Napoleons; 2) Barb Malek, one of the Directors of Assure Pregnancy Center, another original Napoleon, and author of Soft Like Steel; and 3) Pat Eberly, celebrated wit and a longtime colleague in pro-life ministry.

First, Quint's answers:

1) List ten of your favorite books in five minutes.
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni, The Song of Roland translated by Dorothy Sayers, Bleak House by Charles Dickens, Ivanhoe by Walter Scott, The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers, Adam Bede by George Eliot, Barnaby Rudge and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, and The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G.K. Chesterton.
2) What's the last really good book you read?
The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy.
3) Do you finish every book you start?
4) Do you re-read books? Do you re-read any books more than once or twice? Like what?
Yes. The Chronicles of Narnia. Lord of the Rings books. Pied Piper by Nevil Shute.
5) Are there any authors whose work you have read completely? Or almost completely? Who?
Dickens, Sir Walter Scott, JRR Tolkien.
6) Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction? Why?
Fiction stirs my imagination and I love a well told story. I also love excellent writing.
7) Do you recommend books? If you do, give an example or two.
Silas Marner. The Betrothed. Les Miserables.
8) Do you read books that are more than one hundred years old?
9) What's more important to you: the way a book is written or what the book is about?
Both. A good plot is enhanced by excellent writing.
10) Have you ever written a fan letter to an author?
11) Do you keep track of the books you read?
12) Okay, take a look at the list you made at the beginning.  Any changes you'd like to make?
No, maybe later; once I've had a chance to go over the books I've read in total.

Now Barb's:

1) List ten of your favorite books in five minutes.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy, C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy, Les Miserables, Pride and Prejudice, All Creatures Great and Small, Winds of War, War and Remembrance.
2) What’s the last really good book you read?
Mysteries help me relax, and I enjoy them. But I wouldn’t define them as “really good” especially compared to the classics.
3) Do you finish every book you start?
No, I don’t. Especially modern books I get on Kindle. Sometimes they are so badly written I can’t make myself keep reading.
4) Do you re-read books? Do you re-read any books more than once or twice? Like what?
Yes, I do. Especially my favorites. I think I read the Lord of the Rings books at least a dozen times. I may have read the Space Trilogy that many times as well. I have reread all my favorite books, except for Les Miserables (but I have seen most of the movie versions and the musical several times).
5) Are there any authors whose work you have read completely? Or almost completely? Who?
I think I have read most of C.S. Lewis’s works, and much of Tolkien's. I have also read most of the books by Leon Uris. There are a few mystery writers that I have read almost all of their books as well.
6) Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction? Why?
I have a preference for fiction, because they are easier to read, but I usually have one of each that I am actively reading on my Kindle.
7) Do you recommend books? If you do, give an example or two.
I think everyone should read the Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis. He is so brilliant and insightful and those books are amazing. And, even if people have seen the movies, they should read the Lord of the Rings books as well.
8) Do you read books that are more than one hundred years old?
Yes, many.
9) What’s more important to you: the way a book is written or what the book is about?
By far, the way a book is written. If a book is badly written, I don’t care what it is about.
10) Have you ever written a fan letter to an author?  No.
11) Do you keep track of the books you read?  Not officially.
12) Okay, take a look at the list you made at the beginning.  Any changes you’d like to make?

And Pat's:

1) List ten of your favorite books in five minutes.
Isaiah by Isaiah...Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe...The Great Divorce by CS Lewis...The Cloister and the Hearth by Charles Reade...Lorna Doone by Richard Doddridge Blackmore...Victory by Joseph Conrad...Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim...Peace Child by Don Richardson...Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain...A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean...Cancer Ward by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
2) What’s the last really good book you read?
A Peace to End All Peace by David Fromkin.
3) Do you finish every book you start?
Nearly all…..some after putting them down for months……some for years.
4) Do you re-read books? Do you re-read any books more than once or twice? Like what?
Have read some 7-8-9 times.  All on my top ten at least twice, most three times or more.
5) Are there any authors whose work you have read completely? Or almost completely? Who?
Most of Conrad, Wolfe, Sherwood Anderson, C. S. Forester, Anthony Burgess, Dos Passos, Dreiser, Orwell, Twain, Larry McMurtry up through Lonesome Dove (gaccck), all but one of Kerouac's, Wells, etc. Also with some I read all that I happen to come across. (A good portion of my books are from thrift stores.)
6) Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction? Why?
Ficton when I was younger, nonfiction for the last 15 years.   Why?  1. Ran out of fiction I wanted to read.  2. Wanted to see if reality matches ideas/ideals.
7) Do you recommend books? If you do, give an example or two.
Have recommended all on my 'favorites' list above, and many more.
8) Do you read books that are more than one hundred years old?
Yes, as long as the cover isn't falling off, or there are missing pages.  Hard to find them that old, tho.
9) What’s more important to you: the way a book is written or what the book is about?
Both, but if I am going to waste my time, I would rather read a well written book about nothing, than a great subject poorly written. Shakespeare, for example.
11) Do you keep track of the books you read?
I keep a big majority of books I read.
12) Okay, take a look at the list you made at the beginning.  Any changes you’d like to make?
Yes. I need to get up earlier, and cut back on sweets.