I recently finished two books that bear mention here on the blog.
One Minute to Midnight is a detailed biopic of The Cuban Missle Crisis, specifically the week leading up to “Black Saturday” – the closest our world has ever come to nuclear war. Previous to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the crisis, I only knew who the key players were politically and the basics of the story – that the Soviets had put nuclear-armed missles into Cuba, aimed at the U.S. The book, written by The Washington Post’s Michael Dobbs, is terrific. Now that I know the whole story of that week, I am amazed on many different levels. For example, the story of two United States U2 planes. One of them was shot down over Cuba by the Soviets in a hit NOT ordered by Moscow or Khrushcev, but essentially someone much lower in the pecking order who, in the heat of the moment, made a pretty shitty decision. The second US U2 plane was a bi-weekly air testing flight that went horribly awry when it took off from Alaska and flew north. The US regularly sent U2’s north of Alaska to test the air because that’s where the Soviet’s would regularly explode nuclears as a testing ground. This particular pilot simply made an error in direction (he was using the stars as his guide) and ended up over Russia and was subsequently chased by several fighter jets. Now, this was a standard mission, had nothing to do with the missle crisis at all, but the Russians didn’t know that. They believed the US was sending a nuclear-armed jet to drop a bomb over Russia in response to the U2 that had been shot down over Cuba. These two events were the catalyst in our almost engaging in a nuclear war – a Russian decision made at low levels to shoot down a U2 and a U.S. pilot error up in Alaska. Wild! My favorite quote in the book was Kennedy, upon hearing both stories that fateful weekend – “there’s always some son of a bitch who doesn’t get the word.”
The other book was far different in topic, but no different in weight. The Omnivore’s Dilemma was tremendous, educational and fascinating, but now am I going to feel guilty if, in a pinch, I have to run to the grocery store and pick up industrial grade ground beef? If you knew the story behind how things like chicken and beef end up neatly packaged on your supermarket shelf, you might have a self-imposed crisis on your hands. This book has little to do with PETA and more to do with where your food comes from and how it gets there. And it is a stunner. It will make you want to start a farm and only eat your own food. That’s how I felt – until I realized how much work a farm would be. Anyway, the book – you just HAVE to read it. The author, Michael Pollen, travels around the country to different farms and food organizations – industrial, organic, others, etc and he spends time working at each one a little bit, documenting his experience and discussions with the owners and workers. His week on a farm in Virginia with an eccentric and smart farmer is the highlight of the book – and the book is chock full of highlights. The chapter where the author shoots a pig in preparation for a meal nearly made me sick (and him, too). But he wanted to experience what it felt like to literally put your meal on the table. So yeah, some of it will make you cringe. It will make you stop and think for a second when you’re standing in a supermarket. But in the end, your decisions are your decisions. It will be next to impossible for me to go totally rogue and only eat what I know is safe, clean and sound. But I’ll do my best where I can and I suspect you’ll feel the same way if you read this book.