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The Money Men: Capitalism, Democracy, and the Hundred Years' War over the American Dollar (Enterprise)
The Money Men: Capitalism, Democracy, and the Hundred Years' War over the American Dollar (Enterprise)
by H. W. Brands
Edition: Hardcover
77 used & new from $0.01

21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brands Doesn't Disappoint, December 31, 2006
I am a big fan of Bill Brands' work. He's one academic historian who can make complex subjects understandable to Average Joes like me. Unlike the previous reviewer, I don't have much background on the Money Question, which, as Brands explains, so deeply divided the nation for the first dozen or so decades of its existence. So this book was a learning experience for me.

In "The Money Men," Brands elucidates five pivotal stories in America's economic development:

*Hamilton's efforts to establish a national bank and his program to finance the developing country's growth through national debt

*The Jackson-Biddle "War" in which Pres. Jackson prevailed in killing off the Second Bank of the United States

*Jay Cooke's role in financing the Civil War

*The failed attempt of railroad barons Jay Gould and James Fisk to corner the gold market

*J.P. Morgan's role as the nation's de facto central banker.

Of these, I was particularly drawn to the story about Cooke's innovations in selling Union war bonds to the general public. Major bankers, especially New York bankers, had shown only tepid appetite for such bonds amid Union battlefield setbacks. Indeed, except for Lincoln, Cooke may have been the man most responsible for keeping the Union army in the field.

I was also surprised to learn -- as apparently were his contemporaries --of the relatively modest size of Morgan's estate: $68 million. By comparison, Andrew Carnegie amassed a $225 million fortune.

Brands wraps up with the resolution to the Money Question -- the establishment of the Federal Reserve Bank in 1913. The Fed system was a compromise that combined elements of Hamiltonian capitalism and Jeffersonian democracy. With a couple of glaring exceptions (late 20s/early 30s and 1970s) the Fed system has served the nation's economy well across nine decades now.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 4, 2012 9:05 AM PDT

The President, the Pope, And the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World
The President, the Pope, And the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World
by John O'Sullivan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.13
165 used & new from $0.01

74 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Three "Misfits" Who Changed The World, November 26, 2006
They were unlikely world-changers. As the 1970s dawned, writes John O'Sullivan, they were leaders with uneven prospects, each weighed down by fundamental flaws: Cardinal Wojtyla, too Catholic; Governor Reagan, too American; Lady Thatcher, too Conservative.

The Cardinal, an "orthodox rebel" in O'Sullivan's term, was seen as out of step with the increasing liberalization of the Church in the wake of Vatican II. As a non-Italian practicing behind the Iron Curtain, his chances of ascending to the Papacy seemed nil.

Reagan was a successful politician, then in his second term as California Governor, and a darling of the Right. But his free-enterprise convictions, can-do optimism and stalwart anti-Communism seemed an anachronism in an age of stagflation, perceived limits to growth (misperceived it turned out) and détente with the Soviets. Being the "first off the treadmill" was "the only victory the arms race had to offer," wrote the chief U.S. arms control negotiator in 1975, reflecting widely held bi-partisan opinion at the time.

Thatcher was the education minister in a weak Tory government that increasingly ceded economic policy to radical labor unions and presided over the continued diminution of Britain on the world stage. Thatcher's message of fiscal prudence, privatization, monetarism and individual initiative/self-reliance ran counter to the prevailing Keynesian economic standard of the time. As a woman, the highest office thought possible for her was Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister), and even that was considered a long-shot.

O'Sullivan tells the story of how each of these "misfits" (my word, not his)rose to greatness in spite of their handicaps. They did not so much overcome obstacles, as changed the terms of the debate, and by the dawn of the 1990s, left the world a markedly better place - freer, more secure and prosperous - than it was 20 years earlier.

I've read many books on this era (and lived through it) and can tell you that O'Sullivan's is one of the best. Recommended.

One Square Mile of Hell: The Battle for Tarawa
One Square Mile of Hell: The Battle for Tarawa
by John F. Wukovits
Edition: Hardcover
48 used & new from $6.23

42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tarawa Vividly Revealed, November 4, 2006
Tarawa was one of the bloodiest engagements of the Pacific War. The Marines' successful invasion set a precedent for amphibious assaults to come -- including Normandy, seven months later -- and provided the Allies with a crucial staging area for the drive on Japan.

It's a wonder why Tarawa is not better remembered today. The ferocious three-day battle resulted in nearly as many casualties as SIX MONTHS of fighting on Guadalcanal.

John Wukovits brings the horrors and heroics of Tarawa to a new generation of readers. Like Stephen Ambrose, Wukovits relies on vivid, first-person accounts to describe the harrowing amphibious landing and the vicious, close quarter combat that followed. Wukowits offers up some of the most engaging writing on warfare I've ever encountered, surpassing even Ambrose.

In late 1943, Tarawa was not without its controversies. The high death toll had some people questioning the strategic necessity of taking the atoll as well as the tactics employed in capturing it. TIME correspondent Robert Sherrod wrote a highly acclaimed book about Tarawa in part to rebut criticisms of the campaign and bolster home-front morale. Can you imagine a journalist with such motivations today?

The battle's aftermath also saw Frank Capra direct an Academy Award-winning documentary, using footage shot by Norman Hatch, a cameraman who, like Sherrod, accompanied the Marines in the Tarawa campaign. Both Hatch and Sherrod are central players in Wukowits' excellent book.

America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It
America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It
by Mark Steyn
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.96
361 used & new from $0.01

496 of 560 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Serious, Sober & Funny, September 22, 2006
Mark Steyn is an astute observer of today's geopolitical scene, especially the rising tide of Muslim fundamentalism in Europe. This is a sober subject with ominous implications for the free world. Yet Steyn consistently leavens his commentaries with razor-sharp wit and trenchant one-liners.

On Russia's abominable 70% abortion rate: "Russian women are voting with their fetuses."

On opinion polls showing 49% of Egyptians believe the Mossad is responsible for a recent terrorist resort-hotel bombing: "Denial is more than a river in Egypt."

How about this anecdote (my favorite): In the fall of 2003, a mass panic swept Sudan. Foreigners were shaking hands with Sudanese men, causing them to lose their masculinity. One merchant reported that a west African entered his store and shook his hand powerfully until he felt his [male organ] melt into his body. "I know the feeling," Steyn writes. "The same thing happened to me when I shook hands with Senator Clinton."

Humor aside, Steyn raises serious questions about the West's willingness to confront virulent Muslim fundamentalism (on display once again with the reaction to Pope Benedict's recent comments) and capacity to prevail in the "long war."
Comment Comments (14) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 7, 2008 2:43 PM PDT

The General and the Jaguar: Pershing's Hunt for Pancho Villa: A True Story of Revolution & Revenge
The General and the Jaguar: Pershing's Hunt for Pancho Villa: A True Story of Revolution & Revenge
by Eileen Welsome
Edition: Paperback
58 used & new from $1.77

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Not-So-Familiar Tale, Well-Told, September 17, 2006
A surprise attack on U.S. soil. Civilian casualties. Faulty intelligence. A hastily-organized punitive expedition. A "dead or alive" vow. The chief perpetrator gets away, but loses key confederates. And his ability to threaten the U.S. again is greatly reduced.

Sound familiar?

It's the story of Poncho Villa's attack on Columbus, NM ninety-years ago and the Wilson Administration's response via the Pershing Expedition. Eileen Welsome brings to contemporary readers this long-ago story of foreign terror against U.S. citizens. She constructs a vivid, fast-paced narrative (I read it in two sittings) full of colorful characters. Not just celebrities like Villa and Pershing and his aide, a guy named Patton. But also the ordinary folks of Columbus and the combatants on both sides. The Army officer responsible for protecting the town, Colonel Slocum, is roundly criticized.

Welsome does an excellent job of reviving a compelling story that, unfortunately, has fallen into obscurity.

The Other War: Israelis, Palestinians and the Struggle for Media Supremacy
The Other War: Israelis, Palestinians and the Struggle for Media Supremacy
by Stephanie Gutmann
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $23.52
53 used & new from $1.10

15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even More Relevant Today, September 17, 2006
This book was published a year ago, but it has even more powerful resonance today in light of the recently concluded (for now, anyway) hostilities in southern Lebanon. That conflict was widely deemed a PR "loss" for the Israelis, an outcome that author Stephanie Gutmann cannily anticipates in her review of media coverage of the Second Intifada.

She presents in copious detail the international (especially European) media's favoritism toward the Palestinians. One acclaimed photojournalist won't take pictures of armed Palestinians because "he would not want me to." The Middle East correspondent for the BBC (a news organization singled out for particular anti-Israel bias) wept openly over Arafat's death. More distressing is media complicity in allowing terror groups to control news coverage: children throwing rocks is okay; but an adult goading the kids to do so is off-limits. Often, the control is through intimidation. The AP cameraman who videotaped Palestinian celebrations of the 9/11 atrocity had his film confiscated at gunpoint. The Italian TV crew that filmed the mob lynching of two IDF soldiers in a police headquarters violated an unwritten "understanding" prohibiting such coverage -- revealed through another Italian journalist's public apology for the incident. He did not want his network blamed for the coverage.

Gutmann also sharply criticizes Israeli (especially IDF) media relations efforts, which can charitably be described as "ham-handed." The initial press conference after the seizure of the Karine A was conducted in the late afternoon before the Sabbath in a remote port location far from the media centers. International journalists who bothered to attend were kept far away from the munitions (no "photo-op") and had to cope with a press briefing conducted in Hebrew only.

Two years into the intifada, Gutmann credits the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Government Press Office with improving its ability to fight the Media War, facilitating media access to images that make "good television." However, the IDF has been slower to improve communications, as recent events in Lebanon underscore.

Spy (Alexander Hawke, Book 4)
Spy (Alexander Hawke, Book 4)
by Ted Bell
Edition: Hardcover
215 used & new from $0.01

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Irresistible Tale Built on Current Events, September 2, 2006
I'm normally not very fond of popular fiction, but found "Spy" to be an irresistible read. Ted Bell builds a captivating plot around the intersection of many current events: Islamic jihadists, border security, Iran, illegal immigration, Hugo Chavez's "Bolivarian" movement, the illicit drug-trade. These all figure prominently in the storyline, as a Texas border-town sheriff and British secret agent thwart the diabolical aspirations of a polyglot group of America's enemies in a fast-paced, action-laced thriller.

The Detonators: The Secret Plot to Destroy America and an Epic Hunt for Justice
The Detonators: The Secret Plot to Destroy America and an Epic Hunt for Justice
by Chad Millman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $24.99
119 used & new from $0.01

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't Judge a Book by its Author, August 13, 2006
The title of my review is not meant as an insult to the author. Indeed, I wish to praise him. Whenever I'm intrigued by a book, I'll check out the author's bio on the dust jacket. Chad Millman's credentials: Sports Illustrated, CNNSI, ESPN The Magazine. I thought: What's a guy like this doing writing about history?

My skepticism proved groundless. Millman has produced a well-researched, highly engaging, elegantly written chronicle about the German Fifth columnists who operated in the U.S. prior to America's involvement in WW I. The German sabotage campaign culminated in the explosion of the munitions depot on Black Tom Island in New York Harbor in 1916. Millman vividly re-creates the events that led up to this sordid incident, and the decades-long quest to hold the German government to account for it.

The complex storyline involves a long cast of characters, and the author helpfully publishes a list of them at the outset of the book. One of them, the German military attache who masterminded a counterfeit passport operation, would go on to briefly lead the German government in the waning days of the Weimar Republic. However, the most famous of Black Tom's characters is John McCloy, the intrepid lawyer whose indefatigable pursuit of justice (aided by two other attorneys) was a springboard to a prominent role in military intelligence during WW II, as a senior aide to War Secretary Henry Stimson. McCloy was later appointed the first High Commissioner in West Germany after the war, and served as an advisor to Presidents until his death in 1989.

Millman writes in a captivating narrative style that makes "The Detonators" a quick, pleasing read. But I ended the book still wondering how and when he became interested in the long-forgotten Black Tom story. I wish he would have told us.

Patriotic Fire: Andrew Jackson and Jean Laffite at the Battle of New Orleans
Patriotic Fire: Andrew Jackson and Jean Laffite at the Battle of New Orleans
by Winston Groom
Edition: Hardcover
54 used & new from $0.73

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wellington's Finest Humbled, June 3, 2006
Many people will recognize Winston Groom as the creator of "Forrest Gump." But Groom is also an accomplished chronicler of military history, and here he applies his considerable narrative talents to the climactic engagement of the War of 1812, the Battle of New Orleans.

Sadly, many Americans have little or no knowledge of this epic battle, one of the most consequential and lopsided victories in U.S. history. Andrew Jackson and a polyglot band of Tennessee and Kentucky "brown shirts," French Creoles, Indians, Free Men of Color (many of them refugees from the slave revolt in Haiti), Privateers, and ordinary New Orleans citizens did not just repulse a vastly superior force of British invaders. They decimated Wellington's Finest, fresh off their victory over Napoleon. The British suffered some 3,750 casualties, including 850 killed, as compared with 55 Americans killed and 333 total casualties. Included among the 850 was Wellington's brother-in-law, General Sir Edward Pakenham, overall commander of the British ground forces. Pakenham, whose remains were shipped back to England preserved in a vat of rum, inherited a bad strategic situation and, Grooms says, made it worse.

Groom maintains there may never have been a New Orleans victory -or thus a Jackson Presidency - without Jean Laffite and his Privateers from the island of Barataria. Rejecting British offers of cash and bounty, the Baratarians provided the Americans with desperately needed munitions, especially gunpowder; an intimate familiarity with the terrain and waterways leading to New Orleans; and a skill in handling artillery that may have been decisive. What's more, it was Laffite who convinced Jackson to strength and extend his left line, prescient counsel that helped to thwart the British attack plan. Overall, Groom says, the Baratarians' contributions to victory "were substantial, if not crucial."

The New Orleans triumph came at a time of extreme peril for the young nation. To that point, The War of 1812 had largely been a series of ignominious setbacks or worse, punctuated by the torching of the nation's capital. Secessionist fever gripped New England. And the British invasion of New Orleans was clearly the first move in a land grab designed to cut the U.S. in half. None of this transpired, thanks to the stalwart defense of New Orleans mounted by Jackson, Laffite and their compatriots. This is a terrific story of patriotism and heroism, which Groom recoounts masterfully. A very worthwhile read.

Kingfish: The Reign of Huey P. Long
Kingfish: The Reign of Huey P. Long
by Richard D. White
Edition: Hardcover
66 used & new from $4.27

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rx for Joe Klein, May 20, 2006
I haven't yet read Joe Klein's "Politics Lost." But from skimming reviews and catching glimpses of interviews, I understand his thesis to be that political strategists have made today's major party candidates into inauthentic, poll-driven automatons, given to an excess of caution and risk avoidance.

If that's true (and I agree it is), then Huey P. Long was the antithesis of today's listless politicians. According to Richard White's new book, Huey was nothing if not authentic, and audacious, and bombastic, and corrupt -- and ruthless, most of all. Few politicians could deliver a rhetorical stem winder like Huey. And it did not much matter if his deeds didn't live up to his words. Even while barnstorming the country championing radical social welfare policies, White says, Huey never pushed to enact a minimum wage, establish old-age pensions or reform child labor laws back in Louisiana. He built up LSU and did much to promote higher education - only for the children of his supporters. Like most demagogues, he never let facts get in his way. He lambasted millionaires for his state's economic plight, even though no one living in Louisiana in the 1930s was earning a million dollars a year, according to White.

Nevertheless, Huey's brand of combative populism had wide resonance with sharecroppers and poor rural whites, many of whom he enfranchised by repealing the poll tax. White says Huey contemplated a third-party run against FDR in '36, hoping to siphon enough votes from the Left to allow the Republicans to re-take the White House. As the Democratic nominee in '40, Huey felt he would then be in a strong position to capture the Presidency as the nation remained mired in the Depression. A bold, perhaps fanciful, scheme -- one that an assassin's bullet prevented from being put to the test.

Beloved by half of Louisiana, reviled by the other half, there was no middle ground with Huey P. Long. The name still evokes strong feelings more than 70 years after his violent death.

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