Last week I enjoyed a vacation with my family. As with most of my vacations, I spent quite a lot of time reading. Along the way I managed to finish several books and thought I’d offer up brief reviews of each of them.
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson - Every summer I try to read a good history book (or 2 or 3). The first book I read on vacation was In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin. The book offers an amazing portrait of Berlin during the first years of Hitler's reign. Larson accomplishes this through the stories of William Dodd, the American ambassador to Berlin, and his socialite daughter, Martha. While Dodd begins to discover what Hitler is up to (the book is set in 1933), Martha is socializing, dating and sleeping with a succession of Nazis, Communists and other notables. Between them, father and daughter offering a fascinating glimpse of the nation as Hitler began to turn his country against the Jews and began to gear up for war.
Decision Points by George W. Bush. I had been wanting to read President Bush’s memoir for some time now, and being on vacation gave me the opportunity. The book is structured around 14 critical decisions Bush has had to make, most of which came during his presidency. He is feisty at times, remorseful at others. He certainly shows that he is not the unthinking, fundamentalist moron the press so joyously and consistently portrayed him as. I was particularly interested in the many portions of the book in which he speaks of his faith—portions which unfortunately often left me quite confused and with no better sense of what he truly believes. Overall, though, the book is well-written and quite enjoyable, even if it feels a chapter or two too long.
Inside Scientology by Janet Reitman. Scientology is an interesting religion—one that appears to have been fabricated more as a money-maker than a life-changer. Its doctrine defies any kind of sense or logic and its followers ultimately find themselves enslaved to the system. Society has justifiably turned on the church, even banning it in some countries. My concern with this is that many of the arguments used in opposition of Scientology could quite easily be turned against Christianity (“They indoctrinate children!”). Thus my interest in reading this book was largely to familiarize myself with the tenets of the religion and to seek to understand how people are battling against it. Reitman does a good job of exposing it as a secular kind of cult.
Three Cups of Deceit by Jon Krakauer. Greg Mortensen (Three Cups of Tea) authored two bestselling books before being exposed as a fraud. While he portrayed himself as a great humanitarian and while he told stories of all his heroics, he has since been shown to be a liar (or chronic exaggerator at the very least). In this Kindle Single, Jon Krakauer does the research and thoroughly outs Mortensen. I read it largely because I had read Mortensen’s two books and was interested in seeing where I had been led astray. If you haven’t read either of Mortensen’s books, this one will probably not be of much interest.
A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard. I actually bought this book by mistake (I hit the wrong button on the Kindle). I had no idea what it was or who the author was—only that it was the #1 seller on Kindle which probably means it is also destined for the New York Times list of bestsellers. Since I bought it, I began reading and learned that Jaycee Dugard is that woman who was in the news a short time ago, having been kidnapped at 11 and kept as a kind of sex slave for 18 years. I read only the first couple of chapters. When she began to describe the sexual abuse she was subjected to, I immediately stopped reading. Somewhere it seemed to cross a line that I found quite literally sickening. I learned that you’re actually able to return a Kindle book once you’ve bought it; I took advantage of the policy.
Finally, I read a book called Living Free in Enemy Territory and wrote an endorsement for it. It will be available in the fall.