Known and Unknown: A Memoir by Donald Rumsfeld

My most recent read is about a very polarizing figure in the George W. Bush Administration – Donald Rumsfeld.  His book, Known and Unknown: A Memoir, chronicles his life – mainly his political life.  It is not a quick read by any imagination at 726 pages, but it flows well for the most part.

The book is divided into 14 parts which generally cover his childhood, Navy career, Congressional terms, various roles in the Nixon and Ford Administrations, private sector career, and stint as Secretary of Defense in the Bush Administration.  A majority of the book (close to 500 pages) covers his years in the Bush Administration.

One word describes Rumsfeld’s political life – fascinating.  He was obviously an important player in the Bush Administration, but I did not know how influential he was in his earlier political career – especially in the Nixon and Ford Administrations. He had relatively minor roles in the Nixon Administration until he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to NATO.  Under Ford, he was the Whitehouse Chief of Staff and then the Secretary of Defense.  In each of these roles, he brought his own style of leadership – allowing his subordinates to do their jobs without much interference from him unless they screwed up.

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Known and Unknown: A Memoir by Donald Rumsfeld

My most recent read is about a very polarizing figure in the George W. Bush Administration – Donald Rumsfeld.  His book, Known and Unknown: A Memoir, chronicles his life – mainly his political life.  It is not a quick read by any imagination at 726 pages, but it flows well for the most part.

The book is divided into 14 parts which generally cover his childhood, Navy career, Congressional terms, various roles in the Nixon and Ford Administrations, private sector career, and stint as Secretary of Defense in the Bush Administration.  A majority of the book (close to 500 pages) covers his years in the Bush Administration.

One word describes Rumsfeld’s political life – fascinating.  He was obviously an important player in the Bush Administration, but I did not know how influential he was in his earlier political career – especially in the Nixon and Ford Administrations. He had relatively minor roles in the Nixon Administration until he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to NATO.  Under Ford, he was the Whitehouse Chief of Staff and then the Secretary of Defense.  In each of these roles, he brought his own style of leadership – allowing his subordinates to do their jobs without much interference from him unless they screwed up.

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In the Mail: Looking East

–>Children of Dust: A Memoir of Pakistanby Ali Eteraz

Publishers Weekly

Eteraz, known for his blog Islamophere, opens his memoir with a vivid description of his father promising Allah that if God bestowed him with a son, that boy “will become a great leader and servant of Islam.” The rest of the book finds Eteraz, whose given name is Abir ul Islam (which translates as “Perfume of Islam”) trying to come to terms with his father’s mannat, or covenant, and understand the role that Islam will play in his life as well as the role he will play for Islam. Born in Pakistan but raised in the U.S. from age 10, Eteraz moves easily between describing the holy history and tenets of his faith while exploring and explaining the differences between the Islamic world and Western society. As Eteraz’s feelings for Islam change to fit his evolving personal, political and religious views, readers get a glimpse of all aspects of this hot-topic religion, from fundamentalism to reformism, salafism and secularism. A gifted writer and scholar, Eteraz is able to create a true-life Islamic bildungsroman as he effortlessly conveys his coming-of-age tale while educating the reader. When his religious awakening finally occurs, his catharsis transcends the page.

–> The Last Empress: Madame Chiang Kai-shek and the Birth of Modern China by Hannah Pakula

Publishers Weekly

Pakula, an experienced biographer of royal women (An Uncommon Woman: The Empress Frederick), looks at the imperious (if not imperial) wife of the Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, presenting a richly complex account of 20th-century China that, despite its length, remains thoroughly engrossing to the end. Born May-ling Soong (1897–2003) and educated in America, Madame Chiang and her five Soong siblings were wealthy, Christian, fluent in English and major players in Chinese politics. Marrying Chiang Kai-shek in 1927, the strong-minded and hot-tempered, shrewd and ruthless May-ling quickly became a partner in his efforts as Chinese leader until the Japanese invaded, and then in 1945 when Mao’s Communists drove him to Formosa (modern-day Taiwan), which he ruled until his death in 1975. From the 1930s to 1950s, Americans idolized Madame Chiang as a symbol of Chinese resistance to the brutal Japanese and as an anticommunist stalwart. But critics of her and Chiang’s ineffective, authoritarian, corrupt leadership soon became the majority. Pakula draws a vivid if often unflattering portrait of a charismatic Chinese patriot, her husband and family, in tumultuous and tragic times.

In the Mail: Out in Paperback

Cover of "The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and ...

Cover via Amazon

I hope to actually start to digging my way out of my read-but-not-reviewed hole this week.  In the meantime, checkout these well reviewed works coming out in paperback (or will soon).

–> The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington by Jennet Conant

Publishers Weekly

What could be more intriguing than the young writer Roald Dahl—destined to create such classics as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—assigned by His Majesty’s Government to Washington, D.C., as a diplomat in the spring of 1942, charged with a secret mission? Dahl’s brief was to gather intelligence about America’s isolationist circles (indeed, he infiltrated the infatuated Claire Boothe Luce in more ways than one) and propagandize for prompt American entry into the European war. The United States had technically been at war with Germany since December 1941. However, the U.S.’s attention was focused mainly on the Pacific theater—and such pro-German political figures as Luce and Charles Lindbergh meant to keep it that way. Dahl’s most important job was to influence public opinion generally and the opinions of Washington’s powerful specifically. As bestselling author Conant (Tuxedo Park) shows in her eloquent narrative, Dahl’s intriguing coconspirators included future advertising legend David Ogilvy and future spy novelist Ian Fleming. Most fascinating, though, is Dahl’s relationship with the great British spymaster William Stephenson, otherwise known as Intrepid. This all boils down to a thoroughly engrossing story, one Conant tells exceptionally well.

–> Hurry Down Sunshine by Michael Greenberg

Publishers Weekly

Columnist and author Greenberg’s heartbreaking and inspiring memoir details his daughter’s downfall into insanity one hot summer in New York City. Greenberg writes with a raw passion and intensity, capturing the essence of every detail and event as if they were occurring in real time as he types. His reading is a heartfelt and honest attempt to relate the experiences with as much restrained emotion as possible, offering it as part headline news story, part editorial. With perfect pitch, tone and pacing, Greenberg is a talented narrator, who will surely capture and hold listeners’ attention.

–> The Wrong Mother by Sophie Hannah

Publishers Weekly

Sally Thorning, part-time environment rescuer and full-time mother, struggles to maintain her sanity and juggle the overwhelming demands of work and home in this superior psychological mystery from British author Hannah (Little Face). During a week away from her husband and children, Sally has a brief affair. A year later a local headline tragedy—Sally’s lover’s wife appears to have murdered her six-year-old daughter then committed suicide—reveals that Sally’s lover was not who he claimed to be and she needs to find out why. After surviving a shove in front of a bus, Sally re-examines that unwise affair as she plays amateur detective and nearly loses all she values in the process. The story alternates between Sally’s confessional and a tight police procedural interspersed with evidence—pages torn from the diary of the alleged daughter-killer. Paced like a ticking time bomb with flawlessly distinct characterization, this is a fiercely fresh and un-put-downable read.

Are You Kidding Me? by Rocco Mediate & John Feinstein

Are You Kidding MeAs the players struggle to get their rounds in at rain soaked Bethpage Black what better time to take a look back at last years amazing US Open golf tournament.  Are You Kidding Me?: The Story of Rocco Mediate’s Extraordinary Battle with Tiger Woods at the US Open by Rocco Mediate and John Feinstein does just that and in entertaining and enlightening fashion.

For those of you not golf fans, or who inexplicably didn’t follow the amazing events of last year, here is recap.  Tiger Woods was coming of April knee surgery and hadn’t played a 18-hole round of golf before the US Open started.  Many wondered if Tiger would finish the tournament.  But if Tiger is in the field then he is the favorite; and he had won at Torry Pines, the US Open site, many times including earlier that year at the Buick Open.

Rocco Mediate was a successful PGA journeyman whose bad back had kept him from achieving the kind of success his talent might have brought him.  He was more famous for his talkative demeanor than for competing in majors. If you had to pick a player that would challenge Tiger Woods for a major championship, and in spectacular fashion, you would not have picked Mediate.

But last year these two very different golfers produced one of the most memorable US Opens in golf history.  Tiger mixed in some very ugly golf with the kind of shots only Tiger can make to storm to the lead after 54 holes.  Thirteen times before Tiger has taken the lead after three rounds and thirteen times he has won.  And yet Mediate pushed Tiger to the brink; twice forcing him to make birdie on the final hole to stay alive.

Mediate in turn frequently seemed about to fade away and let Tiger grab another spectacular win.  But on numerous occasions he pulled himself together and played remarkable golf in the most pressure cooker of situations (three successive birdies on the Monday playoff to take it too sudden death).  In the end it took Tiger 92 holes to beat Rocco.  Tiger may have had a bad knee, but Rocco still forced arguably the greatest golfer of all time, and one of sports most dominant competitors, to use everything he had to win.  And Tiger labeled it his greatest win ever.

You don’t have to be a golf or sports fan to appreciate the drama and appeal of this story.  But what Mediate and Feinstein offer in Are You Kidding Me? is not just a shot by shot recap of the tournament – although the coverage of the event is well done – but rather a better understanding of the person and golfer behind it. Continue reading