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Discussion in 'The Reading Room' started by Lancealot, Aug 13, 2006.
I look forward to an update when Ruth gets back to you.
Just finished a biography of George Whitefield. His voice was so loud he could be heard by 30,000 people with no amplification at all. Amazing.
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The Unlikely Spy by Daniel Silva published in 1996
Historical spy thrillers need to deliver an intricate espionage plot incorporating geopolitical events personalized by spies, spy masters and "average" people caught up in the game of intrigue.
Silva delivers all that in The Unlikely Spy by taking WWII's Normandy invasion as his geopolitical event, allowing him to weave in Nazi internecine intrigue, British and American coordination and tension, Winston Churchill (no WWII story would be complete without his outsized presence) and the preparation of the largest invasion force the world has ever seen.
It's amazing that the Nazis accomplished as much conquering as they did for a time as their hatred for other groups seems equal to their hatred for each other. Silva shows us one German spy agency trying to subvert another as Hitler played his usual game of pitting his senior officers against each other (the internal fighting between German spy agencies is historically accurate).
Despite that, in Silva's world, Germany tucked a small band of elite sleeper spies into England in the late '30s that are only first activated in '44, months before the Normandy invasion, in order to discover the invasion's plans and location.
Trying to thwart that effort is a modest history professor, Alfred Vicary, who was recruited early in the war by his friend Winston Churchill to identify and turn as many German spies as possible. Vicary is no James Bond -- a receding hairline, a professor's rumpledness and being a victim of both unrequited love and paralyzing seasickness forces this spymaster to use his outsized, subtle brain to succeed at a game where you never see the full picture, never have all the facts and where everyone is trying to deceive.
Having turned what MI5 believed to be all of the German spies in England at the start of the war - and running a "Double Cross" network where false information is fed back to those spies' handlers in German - Vicary is shaken out of his comfortable success when the sleeper spies' efforts to steal the Normandy invasion plans are revealed by indirect evidence. Vicary and his team are forced into a race against time to discover and stop the spy network from delivering the invasion site to Germany.
And Vicary has some worthwhile adversaries in the sleeper cell. First, is the ruthlessly cold, stunningly beautiful and searingly smart German, Catherine Blake, who uses her gun, wits and body with equally ferocious precision to steal classified Normandy documents from a senior Allied officer with whom she's sleeping. And second, there's Horst Neumann, a quiet and modest-in-stature German agent who is Caroline's contact for passing information to Germany and, ultimately, the one who leads her (and his) harrowing escape effort once they are discovered.
There are other characters - like Vicary's of-questionable-integrity-and-loyalty MI5 boss - and additional plot twists (how many times can the same spy be turned? ) - that amp up the action and drama. Also, there's plenty of sex - Ms. Blake is, basically, a bisexual Mata Hari. There's plenty of violence - the bodies start to pile up toward the end. Finally, there's a darn fine climax that has you wanting to skip ahead to see how it is resolved, but also held in the grip of its twists and turns.
More would give too much away of this fine effort. Does it rise to my personal gold standard of spy novels - Tom Clancy's Cold War classics like Red Storm Risingand the Cardinal of the Kremlin - no, but it also isn't as unnecessarily convoluted as the John le Carré ones with which I, at least with my small brain, am never really certain of what happened, even when it's all over.
I found my way to this one from a recommendation by FL member and author Mellisa Amities. Her excellent review is here: https://bestofww2.blogspot.com/search?q=an+unlikely+spy
Ruth adamantly remains her stubborn self. Spoke with her briefly today and I think I should have tendered
a dinner invitation this evening as she seemed to steer the conversation in that direction, but for some work
in the bag I would have bit. Hemingway's study and further argument await a more convenient time.
"City of Dreams: Dodger Stadium and the Birth of Modern Los Angeles," by Jerald Podair.
There are few sports topics that have been hashed and rehashed more in print than the relocation of the Dodgers, but nearly every book and article that's come out over the last half-century has focused on the New York side of the equation. Comparatively little of substance has treated the West Coast part of the picture, so I was looking forward to this book to fill in some of the gaps in my own knowledge of the story.
First off, this is not a "baseball book." It's more a study in the very peculiar sort of urban politics that characterized 1950s Los Angeles, and the individuals who controlled both public action and public opinion. And it's also a study of how a city, laboring under the burden of a whopping inferiority complex, tried to turn itself into a "world class" city and damn the consequences. Podair's essential thesis is that the arrival of Walter F. O'Malley and his ball club in 1958, and the construction of Dodger Stadium, were the catalysts that created the modern city -- thanks to an interlocking web of public and personal agendas that converged on the main goal of turning LA from a sprawling hodgepodge of neighborhoods to an Eastern-style metropolis built around a central Downtown hub. With that being the focus, the ball club itself is really little more than an instrument for the accomplishment of a larger purpose -- one which Walter F. O'Malley himself managed to swing to his own personal advantage.
This book is sanctioned by the O'Malley family, and portrays The Big Oom according to the family line -- a man more wronged than wronging -- so there's a tremendous amount of soft-pedaling going on here when it comes to many of the unsavory details of the Chavez Ravine Land Giveaway that led to a city referendum and a wrenching court case before the way was cleared for ballpark construction to begin. But there are still some fascinating facts here -- especially when dealing with the odd political coalitions which stood on both sides of the issue, with both opponents and supporters of the deal combining both left and right-wing voices. There were so many different agendas at play that you can't predict who is going to take what position. As an exercise in mid-century urban gamesmanship, it's fascinating.
Nevertheless, there are some interesting little sidelights that come out over the course of the story. There have often been allegations that O'Malley left Brooklyn due to his discomfort with the shifting racial demographics of the borough -- but it's flat-out stated here that a major factor in the move was that O'Malley was disturbed by the working-class alignment of the Dodger fanbase, and the consequent working-class image of the team -- something he could easily escape in a cosmopolitan city like LA. Evidence is also offered concering O'Malley's fixation on Disneyland as the ideal example of what seeing a ballgame ought to be like -- a sanitized, packaged, uniform and utterly controlled product for a nice middle-class clientele. He couldn't very well build "Dodgerland" in Flatbush, with a fanbase made up of the Frankie Germanos and Hilda Chesters of the world, but Los Angeles, again, offered the perfect environment for such a Disneyfied approach -- an approach which today has come to dominate the sport. And yet, it's also documented that even as late as 1959, W. F. O. was suggesting he might go back to Brooklyn if he didn't get what he wanted out of the city. Oh really? No, O'Malley.
Again, this is not a baseball book. You won't find colorful stories about Duke Snider wrecking his shoulder trying to throw a ball out of the L A Coliseum on a dare, but you will learn just how convoluted the law can be when it's being bent and wrangled and extruded and manipulated and thrown down into the dirt and stepped on in the name of money, prestige, and "Progress." In that sense, even with caveats about its point of view, it's fascinating reading.