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Best Books of 2019 – Chapter 5

It was attending the Broadway hit musical Hamilton last year that prompted me to read this book by Ron Chernow (the inspiration for the play as well).  While I thoroughly enjoyed the play, it made me realize that I actually knew very little about Alexander Hamilton.  As anyone who has heard of Hamilton, probably the most memorable fact is of his demise at the hand of Aaron Burr in a fateful duel.

Having read David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, John Adams, I thought I knew a good bit about the infancy of our country but now having read Alexander Hamilton, I never realized what an influential person Hamilton was.

Most Americans can readily list off the first five presidents without much difficulty (in Memphis, we are aided by the naming of five consecutive streets in presidential order) but rare is a thought given to the role Hamilton played in interacting with each of these men.  What amazed me was what an enormous influence he had with George Washington.  Serving as his right-hand man in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, he readily earned the enduring trust of his general.  Serving as his adjunct but more importantly his military strategist, Hamilton served his adopted country well.

Following the war, Hamilton was critical to the development of the Constitution and demonstrated his prolific and convincing writing ability through his main authorship of the Federalist Papers, written not so much to interpret the Constitution as to ensure its eventual ratification in New York and Virginia, two states that could have blocked its adoption.

Serving on President Washington’s cabinet as Secretary of Treasure, he was again most influential in his development of many of the financial institutions we know of today as well as the military and coast guard.  But what surprised me was his actions and writings to thwart civil rebellions within our infant country, a possibility I never considered but one very possible given the split factions within our young political system. I never considered the events of the French Revolution, occurring at that time, could have also occurred in the US but the beheading of President Washington and many of his loyalists was a distinct possibility feared by many.

Also, having professionally delved into the weeds during my career, I can appreciate Hamilton’s incredible attention to detail as many of his proposals were not just remarkable, but highly detailed.  But unfortunately, Hamilton’s stellar image is marred by his extramarital affair, one of the first political scandals in our country’s history and a storyline included in the play of which I was not aware.

Knowing myself as a slow reader, I was put off a bit by the book’s over 800-page length.  At times, its reading became tedious and in fact it took me nearly three weeks to finish reading it (although I did have a wedding going on that the time also).  At other times, I was so drawn into the plot, I couldn’t put it down and when I came to the climax of the story, I found myself hoping against hope that the story would end differently but sadly knowing that it could not.  But with the vast amount of new knowledge I gained, it was well worth the effort to read.  And if you are considering seeing the musical, I would highly encourage you to read the book first, as now that I have finished reading it, I want to go back and see the play again with a whole new understanding of the back-story.

Having thoroughly enjoyed the two James Bond books by Anthony Horowitz that I reviewed earlier, I really wished for more.  I don’t recall how I first discovered this but another author, John Gardner, had also been licensed by the Ian Fleming Publications Ltd to write Bond novels.  When I explored it further, I discovered that starting in the early 1980s, Gardner had actually written 14 novels, just as many as Fleming himself.  I purchased his first in this series, Licence Renewed, but was most disappointed.  However, I saw that he also wrote a novelization of the movie Goldeneye and so decided to give him one more chance.  I am glad I did.

Reading Goldeneye brought back exciting images from the movie and so once I finished it, I re-watched the movie as well.  So, having had a better experience, I then purchased the second book in Gardner’s series, For Special Services, a title that actually was based on Fleming’s own excursion to the US.

This episode, set in the US, paired Bond with the daughter of his close and dear CIA friend, Felix Leiter.  In this book, Gardner did an excellent job of interweaving into the storyline, certain events that had unfolded in previous Fleming novels, a fun fact for me having read all 14 of Fleming’s novels.  The plot was very believable and provided multiple periods of high intensity.  I found my heart accelerating several times as Bond maneuvered through the deadly challenges he faced.  And with the unexpected plot twist at the end, I was most satisfied with the book and knew I would continue to read Gardner’s other novels.

If you too are a Bond fan and have not read these Gardner books, I would start with this one.  And if you find yourself hooked again, I’m sure you will read more as well.

I try to read at least one classic each year since I somehow managed to miss reading many of them in high school.  Usually there is a bit of a story behind my selection and this one, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck is no different.  Several years ago, I read his classic, Cannery Row, and thoroughly enjoyed it so when this one came up on my daily BookBub, I thought I would give it a try.

In reading the Introduction by Susan Shillinglaw, I learned what probably everyone else learned in high school that this was the middle book in a trilogy Steinbeck wrote about California agricultural labor during the depression years.  It is a short novel, considered one of his best short novels, and I quickly found I was intrigued by George and the troubles of Lennie.  As the story progressed and as each potential bad situation arose, I noticed I would get nervous about what “bad thing” Lennie would unintentionally do.

In the end, I was surprised at what happened, but I can easily see how this story would make for very interesting discussions in a classroom setting.  Since I missed that, I might just have to get the CliffNotes version so I can gain some insight into the scholarly dissection of this novel.

I hope you enjoyed my book reviews this year.  If you are interested in reading more reviews, you can also go back through my 2019 posts and find individual posts for books I so thoroughly enjoyed, that they deserved their own post.  And if I piqued your interest enough to read one of these books, then my efforts have been worthwhile.  But if you read one and thoroughly enjoy it as much as I did, then I will have brought pleasure to both of us.  Because there is nothing better than a great book!

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