As much as I’d like to keep that ridiculous picture of me with the obscene moustache at the top of the page, it’s time to move on.
I spent much of last year with my head buried in various books covering World War II. I’ve always been a bit of a history buff, but over the last, say, three years, I’ve done some pretty deep dives. In 2003 & 2004, there was the positively monstrous two-volume Theodore Roosevelt set, which covered a lot of the world’s events in the early 1900’s. That led me to a tour of Roosevelt’s boyhood home and it will eventually lead me to Oyster Bay at some point.
The World War II discovery mission last year led me through several terrific reads and also, to my utter astonishment, one of the world’s best-kept secret museums: The Museum Of World War II, right in my backyard in Natick, MA. I also ended up writing letters to several WWII soldiers I’d read about and seeing many film documentaries and exhibits. A horrific and fascinating era, really. One where you’d think we would have learned something about the costs of war from all angles. Clearly we have not.
So it should come as no surprise that I am now tackling the post-WWII era and I’m starting with David McCullough’s ridiculously large biography of Harry S. Truman. How big, you ask? Well, I’m on page 62 and I’m only 6% finished. That’s right, it’s a 992 page tome about a man who served as President from 1945-1953. This is actually my first McCullough book and I’ve been told by many friends about his meticulous research and crisp writing style. This has proven quite true thus far – the author has a knack for really taking you there.
I expect that the front half of the book will take me through the decision to drop the atomic bomb in Japan – one part of WWII I have not read much about yet and am very curious to find out. After reading so much about war, I’m really looking forward to the back half of the book, which will take me through the relatively peaceful few years after WWII. It will be a nice segue, hopefully, into less-bloody times.
Oh, when it rains it pours, though. Along with the Truman book, I’ve also bought Stephen Ambrose’s biography of Dwight Eisenhower and yet another biography on Joe McCarthy, which I’m really looking forward to. After that I suspect it’ll be on to Vietnam – of course, I’ve already purchased a book for that, also, but it’ll be some time before I crack that one open. Not ready to jump back into war yet.
For me, non-fiction is the best fiction there is. I think I’ve read three works of fiction in the last 5 years or so (all of which were excellent as well). Tonight’s blog post, though, was spurred by a passage I read earlier tonight in the McCullough book, regarding Truman’s love of history:
“He had a real feeling for history,” Ethel said, “that it wasn’t something in a book, that it was part of life – a section of life or a former time, that is was of interest because it had to do with people.” He himself later said it was “true facts” that he wanted. “Reading history, to me, was far more than a romantic adventure. It was solid instruction and wise teaching which I somehow felt that I wanted and needed.” He decided, he said, that men make history, otherwise there would be no history. History did not make the man, he was quite certain.