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The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
by Ken Burns
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $36.00
52 used & new from $32.00

62 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magestic book for a larger-than life family..., September 9, 2014
I was in high school when Eleanor and Franklin by Joseph P. Lash was published, and it started me on a life-long fascination with the Roosevelt family. I have quite an extensive collection of Roosevelt books, and I never tire of reading anything new. I found out last year that Ken Burns and Geoffrey Ward were going to debut a 14 hour mini-series on Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor in September 2014 and I have been counting the days ever since. Well, that time is finally here! Their companion book, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, was published today to supplement the series, and I am thoroughly enchanted. Although this coffee table-style book has over 700 photos, it also contains a strong and well-written narrative about the lives of these three remarkable people.

The Roosevelts were a noteworthy and prolific family, descended from Claes Martertenszen van Roosevelt who settled in New York in 1644. Two branches of the family were the Oyster Bay Roosevelts (Teddy’s family) and the Hyde Park Roosevelt’s (FDR’s family). Eleanor was the bridge between to two branches, being the niece of Teddy and the wife of FDR. Although the branches were different in many ways, including political affiliation, they both had a love of the land, a sense of duty to others, family tragedies, and great ambition. The Roosevelts: An Intimate History covers the large lives of Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor. Teddy and FDR were natural leaders, and FDR set his career path to emulate that of his older cousin. Eleanor was a more reluctant leader, taking on a bigger role only after FDR came down with polio. In reading this book, I was haunted by so much of the Roosevelt history. Teddy’s first wife and mother die on the same day, two days after the birth of his daughter. Eleanor’s parents and her younger brother die young. Both branches were plagued by alcoholism. Franklin, a mama’s boy, was unwilling to cut the apron strings and was unfaithful to the emotionally fragile Eleanor. Teddy’s youngest son, Quentin, was killed in World War I. The Oyster Bay and the Hyde Park branches had a falling out when FDR went into politics as a Democrat, and they continued to feud long after Teddy was dead. And although Eleanor and FDR might have been a power-couple in many ways and loved each other more than they would admit, they found the most happiness in other people.

The photographs in The Roosevelts are worth the price of the book. Many of them have never been published before and I thoroughly enjoyed them all. It is especially haunting to see modern-day pictures of intimate objects owned and worn by the Roosevelts. There is Eleanor’s engagement ring and her engagement pendant with teeth-marks from her babies. There is a photo of the lucky campaign hat worn by FDR during all four of his presidential campaigns. It was raffled off after the third election, but returned to FDR in time for the fourth. There’s a glass case with a bullet hole that most likely saved Teddy’s life. And there is a beautiful Cartier watch given to FDR’s mother when his father found out she was pregnant with FDR. There are campaign buttons and posters, wedding and baby pictures, maps, magazine and newspaper articles, postcards, political cartoons, formal portraits and candids, pictures of Roosevelts at work and at play, houses and the White House, family pets, etc. This book is also filled with fun stories and ironic anecdotes. Someone asked Teddy why he couldn’t do anything to control his wayward daughter, Alice. “’I can be President of the United States,’ her exasperated father once told a friend, ‘or I can attend to Alice. I cannot possibly do both!’” Another story has FDR visiting Grover Cleveland in the White House when he was five. “As they were leaving, the weary president shook Franklin’s hand and said, ‘My little man, I am making a strange wish for you. It is that you may never be president of the United States.’”

After the publication of The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, I can’t wait to watch the series. I’m sure that I will go to this book again and again throughout the coming weeks, and beyond.
Comment Comments (16) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 21, 2014 11:06 AM PDT


Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood
Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood
by William J. Mann
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.14

4.0 out of 5 stars Would make a blockbuster movie..., September 7, 2014
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If any book should be made into a blockbuster movie, it’s Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann. Tinseltown has it all—murders, rising and falling stars, movie moguls, Prohibition, extortionists, civic reformers, etc. Just add hooch and illegal drugs and stir. It makes for an explosive combination.

The centerpiece of Tinseltown is the murder of famed director, William Desmond Taylor—still unsolved to this day. His killing brought out his many secrets including the fact that his name wasn’t even William Desmond Taylor. Two female stars were directly linked to Taylor and they were suspects for a time. During this same period, Fatty Arbuckle is on trial for the brutal rape and death of Virginia Rappe at a wild party. Some of Hollywood’s biggest stars are addicted to illegal drugs and alcohol (also illegal). Adolph Zukor and his colleagues run their companies with iron fists. During the days of silent films, big stars belonged to studios, who not only produced the films but then showed them in their theaters (something the FTC will eventually target). During this same period, a group of “church ladies,” flush from their success in finally pushing through Prohibition now feel it their duty to regulate morality through Hollywood movies. Zukor knows that for the film industry, “the greatest threats it faced were in those civic reformers and church ladies who saw the handiwork of Satan in silvery shadowplays that flickered across the nation’s screens. Movies glorified sex and sin, these bluenoses charged, and the movie players, with all their affairs and divorces, were agents of the devil.” The effects of their efforts will be felt for over 35 years.

One of the most fascinating men in Tinseltown is Adolph Zukor, president of Famous Players-Lasky and Paramount Studios. This movie mogul had a vision of the future. “Zukor envisioned longer, more complex narratives for films. He took the movies out of their makeshift storefront theaters and enshrined them in grand palaces of entertainment.” He also saw movies moving beyond silent, and beyond black and white. “What if someday they could be synchronized with music scores? What if they could be shot in color? What if movies could talk?” He also imagined a time when movies could be seen at home “on devices not yet invented.” Zukor lived until 1976, when he died at the age of 103—ultimately seeing his dreams become reality.

I know very little about the early days of Hollywood, and Cann gives us a fascinating look at this particular window in time. Most of these stars who were very big names are now mostly forgotten. I found Cann’s tabloid-style writing well suited to this story. And although some have complained that it is too long, I disagree. It’s not just a story about Taylor’s murder—it’s so much more. Think Devil in the White City or Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. There are a lot of patches in this quilt.

I only have two complaints about Tinseltown. First, there are no photos in the Vine edition, although there are plenty to be found online. I assume the published book will include many. The second and more serious charge is that Cann does not solve the murder of William Desmond Taylor. Although he speculates on who may have committed the crime, he has no hard evidence or concrete proof. Otherwise, I found Tinseltown to be thoroughly enjoyable and learned a lot about the early days of the film industry.


Lincoln's Bishop: A President, A Priest, and the Fate of 300 Dakota Sioux Warriors
Lincoln's Bishop: A President, A Priest, and the Fate of 300 Dakota Sioux Warriors
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $12.74

5.0 out of 5 stars Another tragic chapter in our history..., September 6, 2014
I am always amazed at how many stories there are about Abraham Lincoln that have yet to be told. Gustav Niebuhr provides the reader with a fascinating but tragic tale of the Dakota War of 1862 in Lincoln’s Bishop: A President, A Priest, and the Fate of 300 Dakota Sioux Warriors. As with most histories of the American Indian, Lincoln’s Bishop does not have a happy ending, although things could have been worse.

Bishop Henry B. Whipple was an Episcopal priest who became the first bishop of Minnesota. A new state, Minnesota needed a bishop and Whipple actually took a decrease in pay to minister to the residents and the Indian population. Unlike many Americans at that time, Whipple believed that Indians had souls and he spent time traveling through Indian territory, converting, preaching, and worshipping with these natives. It also did not take him long to realize that the Office of Indian Affairs “was brutally, dangerously corrupt and needed a thorough reform in the name of peace and the nation’s standing with God.” He also believed that bad treaties, ignorant agents, and greedy and self-serving traders had turned the Dakota into a tribe beset by poverty. Niebuhr details the Dakota War of 1862 which was caused by the very things that Whipple warned about. Unlike President James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln returns Whipple’s letters and even meets with him in the White House. “What the bishop managed to do was set the war [Dakota War of 1862] within the context of federal government corruption and ineptitude. He created for Lincoln a lens through which to view the war.” Unfortunately, Lincoln didn’t live long enough to live up to his promise to Whipple “to address America’s other racial sin after first dealing with slavery and secession.”

As an Episcopalian, I was also fascinated by some of the Civil War history of the Episcopal Church. I did not know that the national church was split in two, north and south, just like our country. I also never knew that Lincoln sent Bishop Charles McIlvaine of Ohio to Great Britain to convince his fellow Anglicans against recognizing the Confederacy as a sovereign nation.

You will have to read Lincoln’s Bishop to discover what happened to those 300 Sioux warriors. But I think it’s good that Bishop Henry Whipple is finally getting his due. It’s about time someone recognizes his accomplishments and brings them to light.


The Rough Guide to New Orleans (Rough Guide to...)
The Rough Guide to New Orleans (Rough Guide to...)
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Good go-to guide to the Crescent City..., September 6, 2014
I am starting to plan for a trip to New Orleans in 2015, so I decided to check out Rough Guide to New Orleans by Samantha Cook. This guide is wonderful in almost every aspect except for hotels. Otherwise, it’s a go-to book for almost every aspect of visiting New Orleans.

My husband and I love the Crescent City and have been there several times. After doing the usual things in the past, we’re looking to expand our experiences. Rough Guide certainly provides a lot of choices and a lot of suggestions. It also provides a good knowledge-base post-Katrina. It includes everything from tours, to historic buildings, to boat rides, to music, to clubs, to cemeteries, to modes of transportation, etc. For those who loved the HBO series, Treme’, you will find many of the sights and sounds and restaurants and clubs and even musicians that are featured in this wonderful show. Cook also doesn’t sugar-coat the crime in New Orleans and gives suggestions for keeping safe. My only complaint is that I thought the hotel section a bit light. Since my husband and I will be traveling with our mini-poodle, I am especially interested in pet-friendly hotels. I will have to use one of the pet-friendly websites on the internet, instead.

Still, Rough Guide to New Orleans is a great book to travel with, and having it on my Kindle will allow me to keep it at my fingertips for our entire trip.


Top Secret Twenty-One: A Stephanie Plum Novel
Top Secret Twenty-One: A Stephanie Plum Novel
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $10.99

4.0 out of 5 stars More entertaining than she's been for awhile..., September 6, 2014
As a long time fan of Janet Evanovich, I’ve been less than happy with her later efforts. For this reason, I have stopped purchasing her books, and instead, pick them up from my local library. After reading Top Secret Twenty-One, I’m happy to report that at least this novel is more entertaining than probably the last 4 or 5 books that she’s written in her Stephanie Plum series. And isn’t that why most of us read the exploits of the Trenton bounty hunter?

As with most of Evanovich’s books, Stephanie Plum stumble-bumbles through the apprehension of her bail skips. Plum is on the hunt for Jimmy Poletti, a used car dealer who is selling a lot more than used cars. Unfortunately, Poletti has gone AWOL and his closest friends are showing up dead. When Poletti’s bookkeeper barely escapes the firebombing of his apartment, short and obnoxious Randy Briggs, shows up on Plum’s doorstep—looking for a place to stay. Plum plans to use him as bait to capture Poletti. At the same time, someone is using sophisticated methods to kill Ranger. He uses Plum to find out who is behind the danger.

Ok—most things are still the same. Lula still wears Spandex outfits too small and dyes her hair outrageous colors. Grandma Mazur still packs heat and spends major time at viewings. Plum’s mother cooks nonstop and takes a nip when Plum’s world is out of control. And there still is the unresolved question of whether Plum wants Joe Morelli or Ranger. But I thought that there were a lot more laughs in Top Secret Twenty-One, and one scene caused tears to roll down my cheeks from laughing so hard. Plus I thought that novel 21 was a little less stupid. Well, then again—there were those Chihuahuas and the rocket launcher.

So, I’m a sucker. I’ll keep reading Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. I just won’t be rushing out to buy them when they’re first published.


Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America
Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America
by Murray Dubin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $25.84
54 used & new from $9.62

5.0 out of 5 stars A masterwork that will haunt you long after you've finished reading..., August 28, 2014
I was born in Philadelphia and have lived my entire life in her shadow. I thought that I had a good knowledge of Philadelphia’s history—that is until I read Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America by Daniel R. Biddle and Murray Dubin. What I discovered is that when it came to the treatment of blacks in 19th Century Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love was rarely brotherly and certainly not loving. This magnificent book was outrageous, haunting, heartbreaking, and yet uplifting. It’s a book that you will think about long after you’ve finished reading. It’s that good.

Today when we think of civil rights heroes, we think of 20th Century activists like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. Most don’t realize that the battle for civil rights reaches back into the 1800s. Philadelphia had a large population of free blacks, and they worked hard for equal rights. Although the book centers on Octavius Valentine Catto, the authors showcase many local heroes including Jacob C. White, Jr., Charlotte Forten, Caroline LeCount, Henry Garnet, Fanny Jackson Coppin, William Still, etc. They fought for the end of slavery. They pushed for quality education for black students by black teachers. They waged a battle to integrate streetcars. They lobbied for the right to vote (something denied free blacks in Pennsylvania since 1838). They played baseball and petitioned to have their teams recognized by local and national groups. They were highly educated, were leaders in their churches and participated in literary, scientific, and social clubs. They were the rock stars of their time. Yet their successes were often negated by Irish-mob rule that was backed by the Democratic Party. Feeling threatened by the growing rights of blacks, the Irish mobs resorted to violence, intimidation and even murder. These actions usually went unpunished and were often supported by the police. This is a very black mark on Philadelphia history.

Biddle and Dubin give their readers a finely crafted and meticulously researched story that benefits from their many years working for the Philadelphia Inquirer. They have a way of turning a sentence into a well-crafted work of art. In describing the relatively new Democratic Party, “Founded in the 1830s, the party stretched one arm to Southern slaveholders and the other to Northern workers, a surprisingly good fit in the same coat of white supremacy.” They also include some amazing quotes and stories from journals and letters and diaries and speeches. On Emancipation Day, Colonel Thomas W. Higginson wrote of a gathering in Port Royal, SC of white soldiers, black freemen, and former slaves. After the Emancipation Proclamation was read, three people (an old man and two younger women) started singing My Country ‘Tis of Thee. Higginson writes “I never saw anything so electric; it made all other words cheap, it seemed the choked voice of a race, at last unloosed; nothing could be more wonderfully unconscious; art could not have dreamed of a tribute to the day of jubilee that should be so affecting; history will not believe it; and when I came to speak of it, after it was silent, tears were everywhere.” Yet, there is a sadness to Tasting Freedom in that the words of those 19th Century orators are still relevant in 2014.

I had the pleasure of seeing Daniel Biddle and Murray Dubin recently for a Juneteenth Day event in Beverly, NJ. The passion that they show for Tasting Freedom and the characters that they wrote about is just as strong as when this book was published four years ago. We owe the authors a great debt for introducing these brave Philadelphia civil rights heroes from the 1800s to a new generation.


Boy21 (Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults)
Boy21 (Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults)
Offered by Hachette Book Group
Price: $7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Boys to men..., August 28, 2014
Matthew Quick’s Boy21 is published as a book for young adults, but that shouldn’t keep regular adults from reading this moving novel about two teenage boys moving toward manhood. As with all Quick novels, his characters are engaging, their issues are moving, and his writing is first-rate.

Finley McManus lives in fictional Bellmont on the outskirts of Philadelphia. “Bellmont’s too complicated for me to explain in a sentence. The drugs, the violence, the racial tension, the Irish mob—how do you explain who runs the town when you could get killed just for saying the words Irish job? I keep my mouth shut.” In fact, McManus spends most of his life just keeping his mouth shut. Living with his father and grandfather, he lives to play basketball and dates the star of the women’s team, Erin. Before his junior year, Coach comes around to ask McManus a favor: Russell Washington Allen, an unbelievably talented high school basketball star lost his parents in a tragic way. He is coming to Bellmont to live with his grandparents under an assumed name. Coach asks McManus to take Allen under his wing. McManus and Allen are a strange pair. McManus is white, Allen is black. McManus works tremendously hard at basketball, but for Allen, it’s a natural gift. But McManus was also exposed to tragedy, which he has never properly death with. This unusual friendship will help boy boys to heal and teach McManus that there are more important things than basketball.

At first, Allen tells everyone that he is from outer space and calls himself Boy21, although he has to suppress is “otherworldly” self when at school. Told in the first person, McManus has to tip-toe through his evolving friendship with Allen. And while McManus does help Allen move past the loss of his parents, Allen returns the favor in ways McManus never expected. As a retired teacher, I am always amazed at the process whereby a boy becomes a man, and Boy21 shows how two young men navigate the shoals of their teenage years as they move forward to become adults. Matthew Quick is a master at taking a peek inside the brain of a male teen and sharing it with his readers. We are much richer for his efforts.


The Levy Family and Monticello, 1834-1923: Saving Thomas Jefferson's House
The Levy Family and Monticello, 1834-1923: Saving Thomas Jefferson's House
by Melvin I. Urofsky
Edition: Paperback
51 used & new from $1.43

4.0 out of 5 stars The Levy family finally getting their due..., August 27, 2014
I was 14 the first time I toured Monticello, and I was enchanted by Thomas Jefferson’s Little Mountain. It wasn’t until many years later that I was surprised to learn that another family owned Monticello much longer than the Jefferson family did. Also, we owe the Levy family a great debt in helping to save Jefferson’s home from ruin. Melvin I. Urofsky tells of this fascinating saga in The Levy Family and Monticello, 1834-1923: Saving Thomas Jefferson’s House.

When Thomas Jefferson died in 1826, he was deeply in debt. Visitors reported on the dilapidated state of the house and grounds. Jefferson’s daughter, Martha, had to auction Monticello as she didn’t have the finances for its upkeep. It was first purchased by James Turner Barclay, who tried to raise silkworms (and destroyed much of the landscaping in this unsuccessful venture). Then in 1834, Monticello was purchased by a career naval officer from New York City, Uriah Levy. Levy revered our third president and gave him credit for advocating for religious freedom. Uriah Levy was a character in his own right—surviving six court martials, fighting to outlaw flogging on naval vessels, and making a fortune in real estate speculation. Upon his death, he willed Monticello to the federal government to create an agricultural school for the orphans of sailors. But problems with the will and the Civil War kept anything from happening until Levy’s nephew, Jefferson Monroe Levy purchased the house at auction in 1879. By this time, the estate truly was in a ruinous state and Jefferson claims that he pumped over $1 million to restore the former president’s home.

The story of the Levy’s and Monticello is a fascinating one. It “is a story of the blending of cultures and personalities, of Yankees and Virginians, of Jews and Christians, of city folk and rural people. It is the story of the power of a symbol, and how in America such symbols cut across the lines of religion and class and ethnicity.” It is also a story about historic preservation, which was rather new at this time. Unfortunately, it is also a tale of anti-Semitism, much of it perpetuated by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. The very organization that purchased Monticello from Jefferson Levy tried to erase the almost 9-decades of Levy ownership. Things are now much better, but I think there is still room for improvement.

The Levy Family and Monticello is a lovely book with fascinating information, interesting photographs and drawings and is printed on very heavy paper stock. Published by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, I actually found another book on the same topic, Saving Monticello: The Levy Family’s Epic Quest to Rescue the House that Jefferson Built by Marc Leepson, to be a little more informative. Still, this book is a must for any Jefferson-fan and it’s good that Uriah and Jefferson Monroe Levy are finally getting their due.


The Heist: A Novel (Fox and O'Hare)
The Heist: A Novel (Fox and O'Hare)
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $7.69

2.0 out of 5 stars Lame..., August 12, 2014
I am a big fan of Janet Evanovich and her Stephanie Plum-series. Unfortunately, I have found her novels getting stale. I picked up The Heist, thinking that a new character and a co-writer, Lee Goldberg, would help spice things up a bit. What I discovered instead was that The Heist is just plain lame.

Kate O’Hare is an FBI agent and former Navy Seal. She has been chasing a major con-man and thief for a number of years, Nick Fox. But after being adversaries for so long, they find themselves on the same team. Together, they orchestrate a major op (con) to find a man who swindled millions of dollars from his customers and then fled the country. O’Hare and Fox are tasked with finding the location of Derek Griffin, bringing him back to the US, and recovering the money. They recruit a cast of misfits to help them with the con. The entire plot is just too much of a stretch and O’Hare behaves more like a kid in junior high than an FBI agent. Some of the flirting was nauseating.

Lee Goldberg is an author and screen writer for many shows including Monk and Spenser: For Hire. It was almost as if The Heist was written with the big (or little) screen in mind. With Stephanie Plum, even the worst books are at least good for a few belly-laughs. There are a few chuckles to be had in The Heist, but overall, the characters and the plot were just way too over the top.

Evanovich and Goldberg have one other O’Hare/Fox novel, plus a short e-story, but I think that I’ll take a pass.


Secret Lives of the Tsars: Three Centuries of Autocracy, Debauchery, Betrayal, Murder, and Madness from Romanov Russia
Secret Lives of the Tsars: Three Centuries of Autocracy, Debauchery, Betrayal, Murder, and Madness from Romanov Russia
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $9.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Good for a neophyte, not much new if not..., August 6, 2014
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I have had a long obsession with the Romanovs, and I always make a point of purchasing any new book that comes out about the Russian royal family. Secret Lives of the Tsars: Three Centuries of Autocracy, Debauchery, Betrayal, Murder, and Madness from Romanov Russia by Michael Farquhar is a good book if you know little about this dynasty that ruled Russia for over 300 years. Unfortunately, if you’re well-versed in the history of the Romanovs, you won’t find any secrets or much of anything new here.

The Romanov Dynasty began in 1613 with the selection of 16-year old Tsar Michael I to the throne. Farquhar tries to dedicate a chapter to each ruler, spending the most time with the big three: Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, and Nicholas II. The hapless Nicholas II actually rates three chapters. Yes, this was a gruesome bunch, and many were known for their brutality, their bloodlust, their dalliances, their betrayals, and their eccentricities. Tsars killed sons, and sons supported the murder of their ruling fathers. Two rulers were actually spouses of tsars, Catherine I and Catherine II. Petty jealousies were present in almost every court. Empress Elizabeth never allowed the women who came to her affairs to wear the same gown twice. “To ensure this, gowns were marked or tagged during a ball to ensure they would not be seen again.” When Peter the Great found out that his wife’s secretary might also be her lover, he had the man charged with corruption, executed, and “he ordered his head preserved in a jar and sent to Catherine [his wife]—apparently as some kind of perverse keepsake.” One of the saddest of stories is that fate of the last tsar, Nicholas II, and his family. The Romanov Dynasty came to an end in 1917 when Nicholas was forced to abdicate, a situation that was brought about by his inability to lead, his strong-willed but misguided wife, his son’s hemophilia, Rasputin, and World War I. This is definitely a case of the truth being more bizarre than fiction.

I found it most interesting reading about the more little-known tsars, such as Alexander I and Nicholas I. Otherwise, most of the book is a rehash of other, more extensive works. Farquhar liberally quotes Robert K. Massie, who wrote Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and The Romanovs: The Final Chapter. If you’ve already read these books, which I have, you will already know most of this information. So my recommendation is to skip this book if know quite a bit about Romanov history. Otherwise, this might be a good place to start.


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