Category: Book Reviews

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany
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Published: October 23, 2011 (first published 1960)
William L. Shirer (February 23, 1904 – December 28, 1993) was a journalist and war correspondent. This book is a combination of Shirer's personal experiences as a correspondent in Nazi Germany, as well as a collection of memos, letters, and journal entries from the people involved in the rise and fall of the Third Reich.

It took me a couple of weeks to read through this book, the contents were just both riveting and at the same time so hard to stomach. It is a very engrossing book, and I will highly recommend it if you want to understand what the Third Reich was and what led to its rise and fall.

Shirer did a great job of documenting not just the events that he witnessed first hand as a journalist during that time, but also compiling memos, journal entries, letters, papers, and other documents that were not destroyed during the fall of the Third Reich. He also included portions of transcripts and other eyewitness accounts. This is a very robust book that is also quite easy to read, even for people who are not history buffs (like me). It's remarkable how Shirer was able to establish the historical and cultural context that led to the rise of Nazi Germany and Hitler.

Just a side note, it helped a lot that I purchased the Kindle version because the X-Ray feature came super handy for this book. There were a lot of names, dates, and places involved and it can be a bit challenging to keep track of them all.

The way that Shirer laid out the context in such an accessible language helped me understand how a nation as great and cultured as Germany could possibly come under the thrall of a madman such as Adolf Hitler. Shirer described the unfolding of events not just in terms of what happened in politics or the government, but also in terms of how society itself changed during this time. How it affected the academe, the church, the family. How it affected arts and culture. How it affected the economy. How the nation somehow found itself in a state of complicity to this gangster government's atrocities.

I had to stop reading the book once in a while because it really weighs on you. I got nightmares from reading it, and not just the parts about their atrocities but also the parts about how their propaganda machine was so destructively efficient.

The book is an authoritative account that takes the readers through the unfolding horrors of Nazi Germany. I highly recommend it. This wasn't required reading during my high school or college days, but I think it really should be.

Children of Nazis: The Sons and Daughters of Himmler, Göring, Höss, Mengele, and Others— Living with a Father’s Monstrous Legacy

Children of Nazis: The Sons and Daughters of Himmler, Göring, Höss, Mengele, and Others— Living with a Father’s Monstrous Legacy
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Published: February 6, 2018
In 1940, the German sons and daughters of great Nazi dignitaries Himmler, Göring, Hess, Frank, Bormann, Speer, and Mengele were children of privilege at four, five, or ten years old, surrounded by affectionate, all-powerful parents. Although innocent and unaware of what was happening at the time, they eventually discovered the extent of their father’s occupations: These men—their fathers who were capable of loving their children and receiving love in return—were leaders of the Third Reich,…

Here's something I've always wondered about. These men who played such a big role in Hitler's Nazi Germany, they were family men too. What happened to their families after the war? I bought this book since it popped up on my recommended reading list. Overall, I thought that it was a bit too thin, not too scholarly. The author did write in the introduction that she was only able to conduct one interview, and based the rest of her work on existing interviews. Given the timeframe, that's acceptable, but one comes away from reading this book feeling like it's a little too thin on the historical details and even the insights on the matter. It's not very scholarly. It reads a bit too anecdotal and very short, as if the writer had little material to work with and didn't want to stretch the book out unnecessarily.

That being said, this book is a nice, easy read if you want to learn about how the children of Himmler, Goring, Hoss, Mengele, Bormann, and others dealt with the legacy of being children of war criminals. Majority of them were very young during the years of the holocaust, some don't even remember their fathers, but the long shadow that they cast in their lives is undeniable.

I find it very surprising that many of these men provided happy homes for their children. I suppose that they really do not consider what they did during the Third Reich as immoral, but rather as essential to their service for their fuehrer. They went about their day, bringing pain and death to people (many of them are as young as their own children), they filled up their homes with items looted from other people's homes, and yet they fail to grasp how immoral that is.

This book, while far from being a satisfying read, offers enough usable insight on the subject.

Shot in the Dark

Shot in the Dark
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Clare Cosi returns! A smartphone dating app turns the Village Blend into a top meeting spot for its users. It's great for the business until someone gets murdered.

Cozy mysteries are quite new to me. I've only discovered this through my Goodreads feed (where I get a lot of great recommendations from what my friends are currently reading). Full disclosure, I binge-read all of Cleo Coyle's Coffeehouse Mysteries in a matter of days earlier this year. I was really excited for this new addition. I really like this series because of the coffee references, and I love that there's much emphasis on where the beans are sourced and how different factors affect how coffee tastes. I liked the details. There's also a lot of food references, so reading a Cleo Coyle book always makes me hungry after, haha.

This new book has less coffee and food references compared to previous books. I really miss that. Still, it's a pretty good mystery. Somehow the character of Clare Cosi straddles that fine line between justifiably curious and annoyingly nosy. The clues, the police interaction are all plausible. I've always liked the strong female characters of this series but I love how Esther Best's character shone in this story. The poems in the slam poetry session for horrible hookup stories were funny. The story also finds the sweet spot between being comfortable with using technology and understanding how this isn't a replacement for real-life relationships. Of course, there's the usual annoyances with Matteo's juvenile ways, which I had hoped would be toned down a bit. Not much interaction with Mike Quinn on this book, but that's alright. It's actually one of the things I like about the book. There's not much of that cloying, overly-romanticized, wishy-washy love story. They're both busy with their careers, they both try to balance their responsibilities and personal lives. I actually like how the series show the day-to-day challenges Clare Cosi face while managing Village Blend, and little tidbits about how she navigates relationships with suppliers, customers, and even her coffee broker.

Cleo Coyle succeeded in making a nice little world in this series, and despite the fewer coffee and food references on this installment, I still enjoyed it a lot.

Blood, Bones, and Butter

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef
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Published: March 1, 2011
This foodie memoir is an interesting personal account of a chef's journey from her childhood, where she learned how to cook in the kitchen of her mother, to the winding paths that took her to adulthood. Gabrielle is the head chef and owner of Prune Restaurant in New York. This is her story. PLEASE NOTE THAT THE REVIEW CONTAINS A FEW SPOILERS. I'll try not to drop a lot of them. 🙂

I admit that I only bought this book because it's written  by a chef (so I'm expecting a lot of food references) and because the alliterative title was cute. Yes, yes, I judged the book by the title, and the cover. I mean, an upside-down chicken, what's that about (there's an interesting story behind that, apparently)? The book turned out to be very engaging. I really enjoyed reading it. I find the approach very honest and no-frills, and a unique blend of wistful and realistic. I also like that the language she used was simple and accessible. The result was a book that I found easy to connect with.

The book opens with chapters about her childhood memories, and I found it very endearing. She described the sights, sounds, tastes and experiences that shaped her early years. She described the people in her life, with a tinge of the sadness of retrospection. She described her mother and her kitchen, and how these memories from childhood endured and made her the kind of person she is today. The way that she described  her childhood and the many wonders of it, actually made me emotionally invested in the story, which made it hard to read the parts where she described how the family broke down. There were parts in the book where I felt she was  being hard on her family, but that's what estrangement feels like. It almost always doesn't spring up on you out of nowhere.

The way that she described her estrangement from her mother, for example, is honest to the point of being slightly painful to read. It's not an emotional recounting of scarring events. It's an honest description of what estrangement looks and feels like. There's the judgment you need to endure from people who can't understand how these things happen. There's the stigma of estrangement that you carry around with you and tuck away from the new people in your life until you really can't hide it anymore. There's the passing of years and years of silence, and the surprise that comes with finding out that people can change. There's the regret of not sticking around to witness that change happen, but the reality that you also just couldn't possibly have survived it if you stuck around. There's the struggle to verbalize what went wrong. All the little micro cracks that made the relationship brittle. Hamilton did a great job at tracing those faint cracks, like vague memories that have become hazy through time.

She laid down the story of her childhood in such a way that you feel that thread throughout the book, the need to belong, to love, and be loved by family. As well as all the events in her life that have been shaped by this deep, then-unfulfilled need.

She detailed the many colorful challenges she encountered early in life, and these memories are punctuated by sensory details of food and drink, of noise and scents. It's a very descriptive book, sometimes it tends to run on in descriptions, but not in a way that makes you lose your thread of thought.

She manages to lay out her personal thoughts about being a "female chef" and all the baggage that comes with the "female" part of that description. The way she described her routines while working different jobs in the food industry shows how excellent her work ethic is and how tenacious she is. She has an iron stomach, capable of bouncing back from the daily demands, disappointments, and stresses of her chosen profession.

The book is more than just a series of events, though. It's not just a narration, but carefully crafted retelling of stories that show pieces of a complicated puzzle that is her self. For better or worse, she bares herself in all her flawed glory. This is a very interesting memoir, an absolute pleasure to read from start to end.

A Mother’s Reckoning

A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy
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Published: 2016
On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on a shooting rampage in their highschool, Columbine High, killing 12 students and 1 teacher, and inflicting harm on countless lives not just among students that day but among the members of a quiet, suburban community. Columbine would become a byword for school shootings, a sick kind of gold standard other disturbed young people aspire to. This book came 17 years after the tragedy, written…

"I had a short, vivid vision that I was standing with a multitude of spirits, all of whom suffered. They were all ages, sizes, and races; I couldn't tell who was male & who was female. Their heads were bowed and covered with tattered white robes. My old life had come to an end, and a new one had begun; a life in which joy, once so abundant, would simply be a memory. Sorrow, I understood with a painful clarify, would transport me through the rest of this life." - Sue Klebold

Nothing at all could have prepared me for this book. I wasn't sure at first if I wanted to read it, I was afraid of the usual money-grab that happens in the wake of a tragedy. But this book was published 17 years after what happened. Reading the official website for the book, majority of the profits go to charitable causes for suicide prevention, including including Mental Health America (MHA), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), American Association of Suicidology (AAS) and Brain & Behavior Research Foundation.

I came across this book in a roundabout way. I was reading Irresistible by Adam Alter, a book about behavioral addiction. He mentioned in his book that Eric Harris was textbook psychopath, but Dylan Klebold  had been suicidal, depressed. That surprised me. I read the book Columbine by David Coulter after that, curious about this piece of information. I read A Mother's Reckoning after, fresh from the insights I gleaned from David Coulter's book.

Sue Klebold's account is very simply written, it was like listening to somebody very carefully trying to recall that life-changing moment and the earthquakes that came after. Trying to balance being honest and avoiding retraumatizing the victims. I was on my junior year in college when the Columbine shooting happened, and honestly I never gave a thought to the parents of the shooters. In my mind they were just as guilty as their children for missing the signs of psychological deterioration that led to the massacre. David Coulter's book showed how Eric and Dylan lied and manipulated the adults around them, they lied even to people they consider their friends.

Sue Klebold's book is a rare peek inside a parent's perspective. It shows how she struggled with fear that her son was in the line of fire in a school shooting, and the horror that unfolded when she realized that it was her son who was doing the shooting. The book alternates pre-shooting and post-shooting memories, giving the readers an understanding that before Dylan became this monster, he was somebody's beloved son. In a very motherly, gentle way, she humanized him without removing his culpability in the shooting. It included not just tender memories of Dylan as a kind, precocious, emotionally demonstrative child, but also snippets from her journal entries before and after the shooting.

The book asks the question we all probably ask every time we read about a school shooting; how could the parents not know? Many people would like to think that they can spot a troubled child capable of horrific violence, and that only parents who don't have a good relationship with their children will miss the warning signs. We want to believe that we can easily pick out a monster from the crowd, but this book is a reminder that oftentimes, the signs are really easy to miss. In the same way that parents and other family members who had to suffer through another family member's suicide can often ask themselves how could I miss the signs? Children often manage their parents' expectations by showing them only what they want to show them. My own mother once told me that she realized how parents are often the last to know when something is not going right in their children's lives. The quality of a young person's inner life is often very well-hidden from the adults around them.

The book relates how Sue's family had to face the lawsuits that drove them to bankruptcy afterwards, how it affected her marriage, how she would spend her life both in a kind of solitary confinement and a public spotlight. The way that she described her grief, the guilt that she felt, the heartbreak of losing and grieving for her son and for the people he had hurt, it really touched me to the core.

This is an unforgettable book, and many times while reading it, I find myself crying and pausing because it's simply so emotionally overwhelming. The book ended with a recounting of how she tried to move forward with the new reality of what was now her life, and how she used the painful lessons to help other parents like her understand depression. In a community of suicide survivors, she finally found her bearings again.

The book is emotionally engaging, and written with a sensitive tone. It's insightful and honest, admitting the fact that in the end, it's quite impossible to make complete sense of tragedies such as this. It chronicles how she embraced the full immensity of grieving for the death of her son, and realizing that in spite of how she and her husband had raised him, he had done what he did.