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Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Most people have probably never heard of Louis Zamperini.  But, prior to World War II, he was known across the country as the Olympic runner who was on pace to break the four-minute mile (an achievement at one time thought to be impossible to beat).  As with many other Americans at the time, Louis volunteered to join the Army Air Forces after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.  His story is not like most World War II veterans.  Laura Hillenbrand describes Louie’s phenomenal story in Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.

Briefly, the book follows Louie from his childhood (full all kinds of mischief) through his high school and college years as a track star.  It then chronicles his exploits in the Army Air Forces to the day his B-24 bomber crashed in the Pacific Ocean.  Forty-seven days later, he and the plane’s pilot (Russell Allen Phillips) were captured by the Japanese.  He then endured years of torture and slavery.  After the war, he tried to put his life back in order despite the experiences from the war that haunted him.

In the Mail: The Popes of Avignon

The Popes of Avignon: A Century in Exile

Library Journal

Mullins, an Oxford-educated journalist and visual arts and architecture specialist, spans the intriguing 70 years of the Avignon papacy with this highly readable narrative. By grounding the story in the architecture and artistic elements of Avignon and the surrounding area, he draws readers into this fascinating period of the church’s “Babylonian captivity.” Mullins effectively demonstrates the effects of the papacy on the area by contrasting current and past architecture. Although two standard works on this period were translated in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Guillaume Mollatt’s The Popes at Avignon 1305-78 and Yves Renouard’s The Avignon Papacy, and although the triumphs and excesses of the 14th-century church are also well documented in general sources, this focused treatment is an excellent addition to church history collections. Suitable for academic and public libraries.

Martin Luther King Jr.: A Life by Marshall Frady

I have long been a fan of the Penguin Lives series. I love history, and enjoy reading about fascinating and impactful people, but simply dont’t have the kind of time I used to have available.  Short interesting biographies allow me to dip into this genre without struggling through large tomes in short bursts over long periods of time.

I have  a number of the volumes in this series and I have often wanted to use the volumes I have as topical blog content for holidays, anniversaries, historical dates, etc.  But for the most part I have failed to get the timing right.

This year I once again determined to change that. So with the approach of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and February being Black History Month I decided to read the Penguin Lives volume Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Life by Michael Frady.

It turned out different than I might have imagined – fascinating and surprisingly balanced but with a writing style that made it slow going at times.

Overall, I found it to be a nice introduction to the life of this towering figure and one that eschews hagiography and acknowledges both the strength and moral courage and the moral weaknesses of Dr. King.

In the Mail: Nella Last in the 1950's

Nella Last in the 1950s: The Further Diaries of Housewife, 49

From the Publisher:

“I can never understand how the scribbles of such an ordinary person, leading a shut-in, dull life, can possibly have value.” So wrote Nella Last in her diary on September 2, 1949. Sixty years on, tens of thousands of people have read and enjoyed the first two volumes of her diaries, written during World War II and its aftermath as part of the Mass Observation project, now the basis for BAFTA-winning TV drama Housewife 49 starring Victoria Wood.

This third compelling volume sees Nella, now in her sixties, writing of what ordinary people felt during those years of growing prosperity in a flourishing and modernizing Britain. Her diary offers a detailed, moving, and humorous narrative of the changing experiences of ordinary people at a time that shaped the society we live in today. It is an account that’s full of surprises as we learn more about her relationship with her husband and their fears of nuclear war. Outwardly Nella’s life was commonplace, but behind this mask were a lively mind and a persistent pen. As David Kynaston said on BBC Radio 4, she “will come to be seen as one of the major twentieth-century English diarists.”

William F. Buckley (Christian Encounters) by Jeremy Lott

William F. Buckley (Christian Encounters Series)

Two things drew me to this short bio of William F. Buckley: the author Jeremy Lott is someone whose writings I have admired for some time and the subject, WFB, is something I have been interested in since high school.

So when I was offered a review copy it wasn’t a tough choice. As soon as I got it in the mail I breezed threw this brief biography – and promptly did nothing about it.  As with so many other books, I read this back in the summer but did not get a chance to review it until now.

And? It is an excellent introduction to one of the central figures of the post-war conservative movement. But it is important to keep in mind that it is just that: an introduction.

You can’t do justice to a man like Buckley in less than 150 pages. But this book does what this type of book should do: give an interesting overview of the life and times of the subject and prompt the reader to seek out more.

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