This year, my annual “Best Books” post is coming to you in three parts. Not just because I read so many good and interesting books that I wanted to share with you, but also, because rather than just provide a brief glimpse into the books, I wanted to share with you what attracted me to the book in the first place and what I found of most interest in it. Recognizing that over our lifetime, we can only scratch the surface of the universe of books out there, I feel I spent my limited reading time this year with worthwhile reads.
My book reading year started out early with Walt Disney: An American Original by Bob Thomas, a book I actually started in 2014 but didn’t finish until January 2015. I first became interested in reading about Walt Disney after watching the movie “Saving Mr. Banks.” I wanted to learn more about the woman behind Mary Poppins, and how she interacted with Walt in his obtaining the rights to make the movie. In researching books about P.L. Travers, author of the Mary Poppins stories, I ran across this book by Bob Thomas that seemed to be an authoritative history of Disney since he wrote the authorized biography of this creative individual. Unfortunately, it was not available from my usual book source, Amazon.
Fortunately when I went to Disney World with my brother in December 2014, I was able to find a copy, the last one, in a bookstore in one of the four Disney parks, Hollywood Studios.
It was an extremely enjoyable book tracing Disney’s life from early childhood all the way through to his death just a few years before the opening of his dream park, Walt Disney World in Florida. His drive, his almost nonstop hard work and his creativity came through in the writing and it was a pleasure to learn more about the man who was behind it all. Since this trip to Disney World was my first, I was most impressed with how so much of the details were taken care of everywhere I turned. Having learned so much from this book, I can now appreciate that it was Walt’s own attention to details that came through in my visit.
Next up of particular note was a $1.99 find from Amazon. Each month, Amazon makes available 100 books for $3.99 or less. I always peruse what is on their virtual markdown rack and one that caught my eye was Liberty’s Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty by Elizabeth Mitchell. If you have read my posts about books before, you know I love reading books about building things. And this book did not disappoint.
This was a most interesting history about the man, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, who created the Statue of Liberty and the difficulties he encountered in bringing this now iconic structure to the shores of New York City. Of particular interest was how he first tried to sell the idea to the Egyptians to stand at the mouth of the soon to be completed Suez Canal. Failing in that effort, Bartholdi envisioned the statue in America but met with much indifference from the French and American governments. To help sell the idea, he actually displayed the arm and torch in Philadelphia and then in New York, the latter fact playing important in another great book I’ve read, Time and Again. While I’ve been to New York many times and flown close to the statute, I’ve never been to see it. But after reading this book, a must visit on my next trip to the Big Apple will be to the Statue of Liberty.
Another most enjoyable book I read was, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize winner. This book was recommended to me by my wife and positively reviewed by my daughter so I knew it would be a safe investment of my limited reading time. But I must admit, I was a little taken back when I discovered that it was 770 pages long considering how slow a reader I am. However, I just loved how this book interwove such an interesting and believable story around a famous painting that is probably much more familiar to everyone now with the publishing of this book. And I could not believe it when I turned the last page and realized that I had read it in just three weeks (I know that is slow for some of you but really, really fast for me). It is the kind of story that you will want to luxuriate for hours at a time reading and soaking up the intriguing plot.
Another great book I read was Thunderstruck by Erik Larson. If you are like me and loved his book, Devil in the While City, then this is a must read for you. Thanks to his extensive research, Larson narrates this true story as if he were witnessing it himself weaving a tale that reads more like a novel than an exhaustively detailed historical documentary. As with “the Devil”, this plot develops from two different perspectives alternating between them—one the inventor of wireless telegraphy and two a murderer almost as infamous and well know at the time as Jack the Ripper—two individuals totally unrelated as the story unfolds, yet uniquely intertwined in the climax of the story.
A book my wife gave me for Christmas, The Chunnel by Drew Fetherston, was an intriguing tale of the building of the tunnel beneath the English Channel. I very much enjoy reading books about building things, a topic which I have written on before. I was vaguely aware of the novelty of the Chunnel’s building in the early 1990s but was amazed to learn in reading this book that the idea for tunneling between the two countries dated back to the 1800s.
After reading this book, I was even more amazed that it was actually built. Between gaining consensus between two countries that had warred with each other over the centuries, to disparate construction syndicates based in England and France agreeing with each other, to the multitude of politics and financial uncertainty that occurred during the construction, even to the fear of rabid dogs running through the tunnel from France to England, it truly was an “amazing” story. I started out reading this book thinking that the technological challenges encountered tunneling under the channel would be the focus of the book, but in the end, it was the sheer determination of the individuals involved that were the stars of the story to bring this project to completion. Thanks to reading this book, I now have a new European destination in my future, riding a train through the Chunnel.
To be continued…