Saturday, August 18, 2012

Summer Reading

In the summer of 2010 I completed my goal of reaching the high point of each of the lower 48 states and I set a new goal – to read all of James A. Michener’s writings. Many of his books are very long and the print is very small.  I completed The Covenant (1235 pages) this summer, but not without a lot of breaks reading something else to rest my eyes.  Here are some of the other books I’ve been reading:

The Wrecking Crew – Kent Hartman
The story of the musicians who recorded much of the Roll & Roll music of the 60s and early 70s. In some cases they replaced members of groups such as the Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel during recording sessions. Some members of the wrecking crew, such as Glen Campbell went on to become famous on their own.
102 Minutes – Jim Dwyer & Kevin Flynn
The 9/11 story from the perspective of survivors and rescuers. It was 102 minutes from the time the North Tower was hit until it collapsed; the South Tower was hit later but collapsed sooner than the North.  I was surprised to learn that building codes had been weakened over the years so that the Trade Center towers had fewer stairways than the Empire State Building, and they were enclosed in drywall rather than concrete.  
A Tale of Two Subs – Jonathan J. McCullough
The USS Sculpin and the USS Sailfish (originally named the USS Squalus) were sister subs; built side by side. The Sculpin had helped rescue Sailfish crew members after a test dive accident and in 1943 both were involved in the war against Japan. The Sculpin was damaged by a Japanese Destroyer and forced to surface. Survivors were taken prisoner and divided between two Japanese aircraft carriers; Chuyo, and Unyo. The Sailfish attacked and sank the Chuyo, unaware that American prisoners were aboard.
The book also talks about the intelligence gained by breaking the Japanese code, and about the problems with American impact and proximity torpedo fuses.

Monstering – Tara McKelvey
Subtitled “Inside America’s policy of secret interrogations and torture in the terror war”, this book in centered on the problems at Abu Ghraib. It seems that “enhanced interrogation” was justified as a way to get lifesaving intelligence from high value captives, but was used on prisoners randomly. Official approval at the top, lack of direction and control in the middle, and depravity among some at the bottom resulted in prisoner’s injury and death.  Many Iraqis who might have looked favorably on the US became enemies as a result of mistreatment by the US military, the CIA, and contract interpreters and interrogators.
McKelvey says, “The vast majority of prisoners at Abu Ghraib had no information about the insurgency or about possible future acts of terrorism. Yet American interrogators, guards, and contractors applied harsh techniques and then used some of their own methods that did not appear on the approved list.”
Terminal Event – James Thayer
This is a novel about a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and FBI investigation into the crash of an airliner. It is well written and kept me guessing. It was loaded with authentic sounding tidbits about investigative techniques and aircraft systems. For example, after a crash the most common words found at the end of the recording from a cockpit voice recorder are, “Oh shit!”
Gabby – Gabrielle Giffords & Mark Kelly
This is a biography of Gabby and Mark going back to their childhood, but concentrating on the period after she was shot, through her appearance in Congress to vote for the debt ceiling bill. It covers the behind-the-scenes events that mesh with what we were hearing on the news. There is a very interesting chapter on Mark’s final space flight, STS-134. The emcee at their wedding reception, Robert Reich, toasted to “a bride that moves at a velocity that exceeds that of anyone else in Washington, and to a groom who moves at a velocity that exceeds seventeen thousand miles per hour.”

I’m continuing to read Michener, and I’ll talk about his books at another time.

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