Dhaller

Advanced Member
Nothing too lofty at the moment (I think I last mentioned my forays into Herodotus and Hesiod?)

Getting back to my "comfort reading" roots with Kelly Link's short fiction collection "Pretty Monsters" (horror, more literary than shock), and Gene Wolfe's "Shadow & Claw" (sci-fi in the mannered vein of Jack Vance). Genre, but "the good stuff".

Feeding my head with Yuval Harari's "Sapiens" and Burton Malkiel's "A Random Walk Down Wall Street".

I'm also behind on magazines (I subscribe to too many, but mainly follow London Review of Books, The Economist, Harvard Business Review, MIT's Technology Magazine, Nature, and Men's Health) - I think I may take a stack on the porch and just coffee my way through them.

DH
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
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Montauk by Nicola Harrison published in 2019

This was my second attempt at a "beach read" this summer (however, read not at the beach, but in a NYC apartment during the pandemic).

Highly touted (as all books seem to be today, hmm), it's an adequate effort, but nothing more. Set in the late '30s, the story follows the life of a young New York City society woman, Beatrice Bordeaux, who decamps with her husband, Harold, for the summer to an oceanfront hotel, the Manor House - a new hotel "palace" for society - in the fishing village of Montauk. He comes for the weekends, while she stays out there all summer.

Their marriage is stressed as five years has produced no heir for hubby Harold and the Bordeaux dynasty. While alone during the week and bored with the society women and their endless luncheons and charity committee meetings, Beatrice befriends a local woman who takes in some of the hotel's laundry. From there, she meets outdoorsy handsome and stoically gentlemanly-in-a-not-society-way lighthouse keeper Thomas.

Yup, this is an author who has no shame in living out her fantasy life in cliches in her book, but hey, I wanted a beach read, so all's fair so far. The rest of the novel is Beatrice realizing that she doesn't really love her husband and being "in society," and wants to live a "truer" life with Thomas and the Montauk locals.

Okay, that too is fair enough and has happened. But of course, being a modern novel, the author can't help virtue signalling all her politically correct views stuffed anachronistically into her 1930s' heroine and plot. So, we have a MeToo moment as Beatrice's husband rapes her one night after they've stopped having sex, but Thomas, the lighthouse keeper, of course, only touches her after getting positive consent.

Also, most of the men are two-dimensional cliches that range from mansplainers to misogynists, except for the few women-fantasy-perfect men like the lighthouse keeper. However, the women are sensitive, smart and, usually, abused or dismissed by men - except for a few wealthy white women who seem fair game for condemnation by this author.

And perhaps the favorite cliche of all time of progressive movies and books going back many decades - that wealthy people do not enjoy their parties as they are all posturing and backstabbing, but poor people only have genuine fun and good will at theirs - is trotted out. Anyone who's been to both kinds of parties knows the cliche is nonsense, not worthy of any serious writer. It's not that the reverse is true; it's just simply that each group has its good and bad parties, its good and bad people, its good and bad intentions.

There are a lot of twists and turns and secrets revealed as Beatrice plans her escape from her rich husband and society to join the "real" people of the fishing village and her hunky but, of course, sensitive and supportive lighthouse keeper. At times, it's a fun page turner, but the too-easy-to-guess plot and completely not-of-the-period politics weighs down the effort. I'm done with "beach reads" for this summer.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
^^
Having picked up more than a few such disappointing reads myself, over the past several years, I have felt the pain that you describe. The problem seems exacerbated by the unfortunate reality that when I pick up and start reading a book, I feel compelled to read that book to it's very end, whether I like it or not. Egad, I am a victim of my very own internal nag! :crazy:;)
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
^^
Having picked up more than a few such disappointing reads myself, over the past several years, I have felt the pain that you describe. The problem seems exacerbated by the unfortunate reality that when I pick up and start reading a book, I feel compelled to read that book to it's very end, whether I like it or not. Egad, I am a victim of my very own internal nag! :crazy:;)
It's frustrating as I used to enjoy a quick read of a new period novel, but almost all of them today jam modern politics in, in an aggressive and obvious way. Period movies and TV shows are doing the same thing more and more.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
The Horse, the Wheel and Language, the story of the steppe people's migration into Europe. It is not light summer reading and I am nibbling my way through it, along with trying geezerfully to catch up on my months long backlog of periodicals.
Back when I was working full time, and then some, I was always able to keep up with my periodicals, but now that I have become a man of leisure, many of those periodicals are discarded unread! Odd, for sure. :(;)
 

Dhaller

Advanced Member
It's frustrating as I used to enjoy a quick read of a new period novel, but almost all of them today jam modern politics in, in an aggressive and obvious way. Period movies and TV shows are doing the same thing more and more.
My go-to author for Quick Period Novels is Bernard Cornwell, a seeming firehose of well-researched historical fiction. Not a speck of modern political jam to be found in the lot.

I always have a Sharp novel or the like in the hopper (I have to keep a spreadsheet of what I've read to keep track, though!)

DH
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
Earlier this week I finished reading another of Newt Gingrich and Pete Early's novels, Vengeance...the third book in their "Major Brooke Grant" series. Putting it all in perspective, recall if you will Islamic Jihadist The Falcon issued a FATWA against Major Grant. Vengeance opens up with a suicide bomber driving a caterer's van filled with explosives, blowing up himself and over 300 guests at Grant's wedding ceremony, including the sitting President of the United States, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Stall and a litany of other government officials. Now, if you dare, tell me you didn't see this coming...everyone at the wedding, except for Brooke Grant and her adoptive daughter, die in the blast! The Falcon's next threat is to destroy three American cities and perhaps bring to an end our way if life with his "nuclear sword!"

USMC Major Brooke Grant finds herself appointed to serve on a four man/woman CIA Hit Squad assigned to hunt down the Falcon. There are two important points to take note of at this point. First, the assignments to the hit team never goes beyond three; a Saudi Agent, a female Mossad agent and Brooke Grant. Clearly the Director of the CIA struggled with his numbers! And secondly,The Squad does indeed run the Falcon to ground in a mountain cave in Afghanistan, but it takes them 383 pages to do it. As in Gingrich and Earley's earlier books, this book leaves the reader hanging, with an unexpected and highly improbable plot twist at the very end. If you want to know what that is, you have to read the book.

Sit back and relax...Vengeance is a long and a very interesting read! ;)
 
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The Irishman

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
I'm still following the Mortimer J Adler reading list. With, as before, some small changes.

Right now I am about one third of the way through Voltaire's 'Candide'.

I also listen to audiobooks when I am commuting to and from work, and draw from the same list. I have just finished Rousseau's 'The Social Contract' and about to begin Smith's 'The Wealth of Nations' (...Which will take a while by the looks of it).
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
I'm still following the Mortimer J Adler reading list. With, as before, some small changes.

Right now I am about one third of the way through Voltaire's 'Candide'.

I also listen to audiobooks when I am commuting to and from work, and draw from the same list. I have just finished Rousseau's 'The Social Contract' and about to begin Smith's 'The Wealth of Nations' (...Which will take a while by the looks of it).
"Candide" is one of those books that has stayed with me my entire life. It's been almost thirty years since I read it, but I still think about it regularly.

I was gifted a very old copy of "The Wealth of Nations" years ago (see pic below), but like "Candide," it's been a long time since I've read it. But I have read excerpts from it regularly since.

IMG_5974.JPG
 

The Irishman

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
As far as Candide goes, I agree, there is something striking about it. I wish I could read it in French but I am not up to that.

I must admit the scale of The Wealth of Nations is daunting.

However, this is not the first time in my adventures with this reading list that I have listened to a behemoth of 40 hours plus... It just takes a substantial amount of time.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
As far as Candide goes, I agree, there is something striking about it. I wish I could read it in French but I am not up to that.

I must admit the scale of The Wealth of Nations is daunting.

However, this is not the first time in my adventures with this reading list that I have listened to a behemoth of 40 hours plus... It just takes a substantial amount of time.
I've considered reading "Candide" in French too, but what's stop me is that I'd first have to learn French. :)

If "The Wealth of Nations" wasn't an assigned Economic course read, I doubt I'd have ever read it all, but am glad I did. I have read substantial excerpts of it since. It's much more readable than modern economic journals, IMO.
 

The Irishman

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
So many of the great books are more approachable than might be expected .. Adler suggested it was around the 1920s or so that academics began to write for their peers only. I’m paraphrasing, but I think his point is broadly correct.

I’ve started book 1 of TWON and yes, the discussion of division of labour is very clear.
 
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Fading Fast

Connoisseur
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Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra by George Jacobs and William Stadiem

I periodically read books about Frank Sinatra, in part, because the sites I buy books from keep sending me Sinatra-book recommendations as, in truth, I'm not that fascinated with the guy. That said, the books usually engage because the man did have a, well, fascinating life.

This one's written by George Jacobs, Sinatra's "valet" (basically, Sinatra's key personal servant) from 1953 - 1968, so a man who definitely had access to Frank. But, like all these "tell-all" books, it's just another view leaving you to decide how much of it you believe.

There's a lot here in this breezy and fun account that focuses mainly on Frank's personal life - his emotions, drinking, gambling, smoking, whoring and dating (the last two were usually in motion at the same time as Frank's views on fidelity were fluid), all of which were done to an excess worthy of a superstar with all but no financial or moral constraints.

Portrayed here, Frank is a man of many contradictions. He genuinely cared about family but divorced his devoted first wife and was erratically involved in raising his children whom he loved. He wanted to win an best-actor Oscar (he won a supporting-actor one for From Here to Eternity), but only took less than half of his acting roles seriously. He sincerely hated racism/antisemitism and showed it in his public support and private actions time and again, but constantly made horribly foul racist/anti-semitic comments in his personal life.

He was capable of great warmth and charity, but could also be violently mean and vindictive, able to carry a grudge with Olympic-style skill and duration. He would ping from highly confident about his abilities to moments of great doubt time and again; although, he was consistently confident (rightfully so) in his voice and singing ability.

And he was massively insecure socially and intellectually as it bothered him that he was only a high-school graduate. Thus, he was constantly looking for acceptance from society types and self-conscious around college-educated adults (doubly so if, like the Kennedys, they had social prominence and an Ivy-league degree). Even his 1960s' hunt for a wife - he bedded half of Hollywood in this quest - was driven by his desire to find "class." Meanwhile, the one seemingly great love of his life - ex-wife Ava Gardner - rejected his decade-plus-long effort to reconcile.

Which leads us to all the big-name people who make an appearance in Frank's world. So, in no particular order, here are the Cliff Notes on each according to Mr. Jacobs (to emphasize, these are his opinions):
  • Dean Martin - genuinely nice guy, much more stable than Frank
  • Sammy Davis - Passionately driven to succeed / talents not fully appreciated
  • Peter Lawford - skinflint, mediocre talent
  • Yul Brynner - amazingly, cheaper than Lawford
  • Ava Gardner - As sexy IRL as on the screen, very confident in herself, very down to earth
  • Marylin Monroe - Hygienically filthy (kinda disgusting), massively insecure, very nice and kind, had sex with many men to, pathologically, prove her worth to herself
  • JFK - Good man, treated most people well, would bang almost any woman that moved
  • Joe Kennedy Senior - Certified baster, bigot, cheater, manipulative and vindictive
  • RFK - Prig
  • Mia Farrow - smart, but truly spacey, selfish with a mean streak, ambitious

And a few other "fun" things that spill out of the book:
  • Ava Gardner might have delivered two of the best raunchy quotes ever in the recorded history of time. Neither can be written here, but if you want to see them (you've been warned, they are rude) Google:
    • "ava gardner frank sinatra manhood quote"
    • "ava gardner frank sinatra mia farrow spectator" (click on The Spectator's article "Franks World," you have to read a few paragraphs, but you'll get to Ava's quote about Mia Farrow that starts "Frank always wanted...")

  • Dean Martin, when he and Frank were nearly fifty and years after Dean had stopped carousing with Frank, came over to Frank's house one morning around 11am for a scheduled meeting about an upcoming movie project. When the front door is opened, Dean sees the living room chockablock with empty booze bottles and filled ashtrays, while six disheveled whores were splayed out sleeping here and there only to be told by author Jacobs that "Frank and the boys" were still asleep. Dean's response to Jacobs: "You'd think they'd be sick of the same old sh*t by now, wouldn't you George?" Can't you just hear Dean's voice, half smirking, saying those words? And as a reader, exhausted at this point from just hearing about all the partying and whoring, you'll all but agree.

  • Frank did some business with the mob and did "run" with mob bosses socially, but was never in the mob. Contrary to the mob in movies, some people, like Frank, were able to partner at times with the mob without becoming one of them - but of course, being Frank Sinatra probably made this possible.

There are a bunch more tidbits and anecdotes in this fun and tawdry view into Frank's life. Definitely not the biography if you are either a serious scholar or someone looking for a comprehensive overview, but if mid-century-Hollywood-and-society gossip plus star-ego-driven partying is your thing now and then, Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra is a darn good choice.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
View attachment 48390
Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra by George Jacobs and William Stadiem

I periodically read books about Frank Sinatra, in part, because the sites I buy books from keep sending me Sinatra-book recommendations as, in truth, I'm not that fascinated with the guy. That said, the books usually engage because the man did have a, well, fascinating life.

This one's written by George Jacobs, Sinatra's "valet" (basically, Sinatra's key personal servant) from 1953 - 1968, so a man who definitely had access to Frank. But, like all these "tell-all" books, it's just another view leaving you to decide how much of it you believe.

There's a lot here in this breezy and fun account that focuses mainly on Frank's personal life - his emotions, drinking, gambling, smoking, whoring and dating (the last two were usually in motion at the same time as Frank's views on fidelity were fluid), all of which were done to an excess worthy of a superstar with all but no financial or moral constraints.

Portrayed here, Frank is a man of many contradictions. He genuinely cared about family but divorced his devoted first wife and was erratically involved in raising his children whom he loved. He wanted to win an best-actor Oscar (he won a supporting-actor one for From Here to Eternity), but only took less than half of his acting roles seriously. He sincerely hated racism/antisemitism and showed it in his public support and private actions time and again, but constantly made horribly foul racist/anti-semitic comments in his personal life.

He was capable of great warmth and charity, but could also be violently mean and vindictive, able to carry a grudge with Olympic-style skill and duration. He would ping from highly confident about his abilities to moments of great doubt time and again; although, he was consistently confident (rightfully so) in his voice and singing ability.

And he was massively insecure socially and intellectually as it bothered him that he was only a high-school graduate. Thus, he was constantly looking for acceptance from society types and self-conscious around college-educated adults (doubly so if, like the Kennedys, they had social prominence and an Ivy-league degree). Even his 1960s' hunt for a wife - he bedded half of Hollywood in this quest - was driven by his desire to find "class." Meanwhile, the one seemingly great love of his life - ex-wife Ava Gardner - rejected his decade-plus-long effort to reconcile.

Which leads us to all the big-name people who make an appearance in Frank's world. So, in no particular order, here are the Cliff Notes on each according to Mr. Jacobs (to emphasize, these are his opinions):
  • Dean Martin - genuinely nice guy, much more stable than Frank
  • Sammy Davis - Passionately driven to succeed / talents not fully appreciated
  • Peter Lawford - skinflint, mediocre talent
  • Yul Brynner - amazingly, cheaper than Lawford
  • Ava Gardner - As sexy IRL as on the screen, very confident in herself, very down to earth
  • Marylin Monroe - Hygienically filthy (kinda disgusting), massively insecure, very nice and kind, had sex with many men to, pathologically, prove her worth to herself
  • JFK - Good man, treated most people well, would bang almost any woman that moved
  • Joe Kennedy Senior - Certified baster, bigot, cheater, manipulative and vindictive
  • RFK - Prig
  • Mia Farrow - smart, but truly spacey, selfish with a mean streak, ambitious

And a few other "fun" things that spill out of the book:
  • Ava Gardner might have delivered two of the best raunchy quotes ever in the recorded history of time. Neither can be written here, but if you want to see them (you've been warned, they are rude) Google:
    • "ava gardner frank sinatra manhood quote"
    • "ava gardner frank sinatra mia farrow spectator" (click on The Spectator's article "Franks World," you have to read a few paragraphs, but you'll get to Ava's quote about Mia Farrow that starts "Frank always wanted...")

  • Dean Martin, when he and Frank were nearly fifty and years after Dean had stopped carousing with Frank, came over to Frank's house one morning around 11am for a scheduled meeting about an upcoming movie project. When the front door is opened, Dean sees the living room chockablock with empty booze bottles and filled ashtrays, while six disheveled whores were splayed out sleeping here and there only to be told by author Jacobs that "Frank and the boys" were still asleep. Dean's response to Jacobs: "You'd think they'd be sick of the same old sh*t by now, wouldn't you George?" Can't you just hear Dean's voice, half smirking, saying those words? And as a reader, exhausted at this point from just hearing about all the partying and whoring, you'll all but agree.

  • Frank did some business with the mob and did "run" with mob bosses socially, but was never in the mob. Contrary to the mob in movies, some people, like Frank, were able to partner at times with the mob without becoming one of them - but of course, being Frank Sinatra probably made this possible.

There are a bunch more tidbits and anecdotes in this fun and tawdry view into Frank's life. Definitely not the biography if you are either a serious scholar or someone looking for a comprehensive overview, but if mid-century-Hollywood-and-society gossip plus star-ego-driven partying is your thing now and then, Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra is a darn good choice.
An exceptional review...it definitely leaves the reader with an unrequited desire to read the book! We always make time for reading a good book. ;)
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
This months community book club selection was Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created The Worlds Most Dangerous Man, written by Mary L. Trump, PH.D. The author is indeed a clinical psychologist, but frankly she does a poor job of separating her personal prejudices from life's realities. Marys father was the first born Trump son and he was named after the family patriarch Fred Trump. Freddy, as he was called, was arguably a troubled child, engaging in a broad variety of activities that many would conclude were the acts of a confirmed juvenile delinquent (drinking/public drunkenness, vandalism/property destruction, vehicle theft and joyriding around the neighborhood, absent any drivers license, etc) and is relegated to the status of "a loser who has not the makings of a first born son.
The Donald is elevated to the status of the families favored son and Fred's heir apparent, or so says Mary Trump tell us. Donald is groomed by his father, Fred to one day take over the reins of the Trump Management Company and planted the seeds for his misogynistic perspective, his arrogance, his pathological dishonesty and on and on. Marys father, mother, her brother and she were essentially excluded from the Trump family and she is of the opinion that a 20% share of close to a billion dollar inheritance was fraudulently taken from her (Mary's) nuclear family. Many of Dr(?) Trumps conclusions pertaining to The President, may have merit, but this book raises significant questions pertaining to her credibility and authority to reach such conclusions! This book is a fast read and based on sales seems to have captured the public's interest! ;)
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
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The Human Comedy by William Saroyan, first published in 1943

"'The world's gone Mad,' he says. 'In Russia alone, so near our own country, our own beautiful little nation, millions of people, millions of children, every day go hungry. They are cold, pathetic, barefooted - they walk around - no place to sleep - they pray for a piece of dry bread - somewhere to lie down and rest - one night of peaceful sleep. And what about us? What do we do? Here we are in Ithaca, California, in this great country, America. What do we do? We wear good clothes. We put on good shoes every morning when we get up from sleep. We walk around with no one in the streets to come with guns or to burn our houses or to murder our children or brothers or fathers. We take rides out into the country in automobiles. We eat the best food. Every night when we go to bed we sleep - and then what are we? We are discontented. We are still discontented. The grocer shouted this amazing truth at his little son with terrible love for the boy.'"

- First generation American grocer to his son, but really, to no one in particular


The Human Comedy is a slice of life from America's home front during WWII. Ithaca California represents America in this tale imbued with spirituality and religion tempered by skeptical pragmatism. Much less a story than a series of related vignettes, we see life in this town, mainly through the preternaturally observant and pensive fourteen-year-old Homer Macauley who just started working as a messenger for one of the two telegraph companies in town.

And the telegraph office offers Homer a shortcut to all of life's ups and downs as celebratory new-born-announcement telegrams come in as do U.S. Military ones notifying a family of a son's, husband's or father's death. The telegraph's dispassionate beeps become words on paper which become messages of the human comedy, that, upon delivery, Homer quickly learns results in a welter of emotions.

Homer grows up fast in this job. But he also grows up just observing and participating in life like when his slightly older sister begins to show interest in boys as a few soldiers on leave spontaneously take her and a girlfriend to the movies. And he grows up just a bit more when a high school coach plays obvious favorites in a track event dispelling the notion that all adults are honest, virtuous and promote fair play.

Regular life in the community also goes by. Boys swim in the nearby lake, play pickup games of baseball, tease a bit, but also protect (what today we'd call) a mentally challenged boy - children can be alternately cruel and kind. Games of horseshoes get played, apricots get "stolen" from a neighbor's tree (the tree's owner loves that the boys do this), while Cokes get drunk and lemon pies get eaten.

Homer's four year old brother - who is given free rein in the town (his good and loving mother for the times would be in jail today on child-abuse charges) - takes joy in waving to the men on passing trains (hurt when they don't wave back, ebullient when they do) or watching his brother work at the telegraph office or his mother hanging clothes out to dry.

With Homer's older brother, whom he worships, away at war, Homer connects the tragedy of the telegrams he delivers to the fear his mother feels and he begins to feel. But the family carries on enjoying dinners, playing piano and singing together or just walking into town to run errands.

Homer's boss is a wealthy young man who manages the telegraph office out of a passion for the business not a need to work He introduces Homer to the economics of business, the nuances of relationships - will he marries his pushing-for-a-proposal girlfriend - and respect for the elderly as Homer and his boss take care of the old telegraph operator, a functioning alcoholic who's been kinda broken by life.

Homer has a crush on the pretty girl at school, irrationally acts out at another boy she shows interest in, stirs the pot in class and then genuinely apologizes to the teacher. He inconsistently practices for the community's annual big running competition, races around town like mad on his bicycle and ignores injuries, rightfully confident in his adolescent body's ability to heal itself. Basically, Homer is a fourteen-year-old boy.

Meanwhile, back at his job, Homer sorta discovers the town brothel when he delivers a telegram to one of "the girls." Separately, he also intuitively and kindly plays surrogate son for an hour to a mother who just learned, from a telegram Homer delivered, that her own son was killed in the war.

Harvests come, prisoners from the local jail take exercise in the town square, the hardware store gets in a newly invented trap for catching animals that proceeds to trap only Homer's four-year-old brother, the telegraph office gets held up, the wonderfully name Mary Arena, Homer's away-at-war brother's girlfriend, becomes a de facto part of Homer's family and on it goes.

There's no plot other than real life moving forward for the year or so the book covers. But you feel the 1940s, the home front, Ithaca, California, people, life, goodness, decency, some mendacity, a little corruption and people's hope, dreams and fears - you feel America during World War II. You also feel, as the quote above avers, a materially fortunate America, with many of its men fighting overseas, a bit discontent, but soldiering on. Taking it all in, you feel in Saroyan's book - just gotta say it - the human comedy that is life.
 

The Irishman

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
Listening to 'The wealth of nations'. I'm at a section where Smith discusses why it will always be easier for 'masters' to organise in comparison to workers around labour conditions, profits etc. Still feels quite contemporary.

In terms of reading I have finished 'Candide' and now about to start on Samuel Johnson's 'The Lives of the Poets'.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
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The Divine Miss Marble: A Life of Tennis, Fame and Mystery by Robert Weintraub

Alice Marble might be the most-famous twentieth-century athlete that almost no one today has heard of. She is a tennis great with a long list of 1930s National titles who, also, sang at famous nighclubs and on the radio, overcame tuberculosis in the middle of her career, was bi-sexual when it was neither chic nor easy, edited early Wonder Woman comics and boldly used her fame and pen to open tennis up for black athletes. Oh, and she might have been a spy in World War II.

But before all that, Alice Marble was born in 1913 into a hardscrabble Northern California farming family who fortunately moved to San Francisco when Alice was six, thus giving her exposure and access to municipal tennis courts. However, even prior to taking up her life-defining game, her preternatural athletic skills revealed themselves early as, by fourteen, tomboy Alice was shagging practice flies for the local professional baseball team the San Francisco Seals.

But it was on those pedestrian city-sponsored tennis courts where Alice found her future in an amateur sport that favored wealthy kids with early access to good equipment, courts, coaching and sponsorship. All things that young Alice lacked.

A book could be written about the craziness, at least to our modern-day perspective, of amateur sports. While it might sound noble on paper - athletes pursuing excellence for the love of the game, not money - the most salient feature of amateur sports is that it keeps the money away from the athletes who generate it. So even superstar amateur athletes, unless independently wealthy, need to scrounge for sponsorship and outside work.

During her career, Alice wound up with an interestingly eclectic but uncertain mix of sponsorship and work that ran the gamut from occasionally being her coach's secretary to a modestly successful effort as a nightclub and radio singer owing to her genuine vocal talent and tennis stardom. That she headlined at the Waldorf Hotel in New York City, when that was a thing, tells you she had some singing chops to compliment her tennis fame.

But she only achieved that tennis fame, like every elite athlete, by overcoming several obstacles with some combination of arrant grit, passionate drive, out-sized talent and timely serendipity. And Alice had more than her share of obstacles - lack of funds, lack of coaching, lack of guidance and a crushing early career illness (the aforementioned tuberculosis). But she did have an, overall, supportive family with older brothers who, despite limited means themselves, early on came through with funds at critical times as did, later, wealthy sponsors and her coach.

And it is that coach who proved to be the single biggest obstacle smasher and life-impacting deus ex machina for Alice. Eighteen years her senior and a former tennis star herself, Eleanor "Teach" Tennant became Alice's tennis coach, life instructor and maybe lover.

They met in 1932 when Alice, after some losses in prestigious east-coast tennis events, realized she needed a coach to take her game to the next level. And as with all good relationships, Tennant saw an equally auspicious opportunity in Alice as the athlete she could coach to reach the pinnacle of tennis, which would also drive more top-tier students Tennant's way.

Under Tennant's tutelage, Alice's career took off. Author Weintraub does a serviceable job of taking us on the journey of Alice's playing career, including her initial defeats on the East Coast - the locus of U.S. tennis then - her nearly career-ending bout with and recovery from tuberculosis followed by her success at the sport's highest venues and events. Those heights saw Alice win eighteen National titles (the equivalent of Grand Slam titles today), including five singles titles, two of those at Wimbledon.

On her way up, owing to some connections of Tennant, her rising fame, blonde good looks and bi-sexuality, Alice, like many athletes today, found herself hobnobbing with that era's Hollywood royalty including power couple Clark Gable and Carol Lombard at famous glitterati retreats like San Simeon and Palm Springs. Perhaps not crucial to her career - although Gable and Lombard became good friends providing timely emotional support for Alice - the exposure to that world is fun for Alice and the reader.

But with World War II breaking out and shutting down most international tennis competition, and after two years of completely dominating amateur women's tennis, Alice turned pro to, finally, earn some money at a career that had provided her with fame but no wealth. And Alice made good money, effectively, barnstorming around the country playing exhibition matches with a few other well-known amateur-turned-pro athletes.

Alice then spent her war years doing some sponsorships, some radio announcing and a lot of selfless fund raising for the war effort. She tried to join the "women" branches, but her former tuberculosis made her medically ineligible.

Toward the end of the war and quite dramatically, Alice either did or did not perform a spy mission for the US government which involved going to Switzerland to revive an old romantic relationship with a Swiss banker now controlling money for bigwig Nazis. She either did or did not sleep with him to gain access to his files so that she could obtain photographic evidence. Finally, she either did or did not get shot trying to escape with that evidence at night, during a high-speed chase on a dark and winding Swiss road.

In one of her biographies, Alice tells this incredibly gripping tale in believable fashion, but author Weintraub is unable to produce almost any supporting evidence leaving this reader leaning toward disbelief but open to new evidence being found. Also hurting Alice's credibility here, and in general, is a penchant for exaggeration and fabrications that makes you suspicious of this and other of Alice's claims.

Also during the war and continuing for many years after, Alice had a long running affair with wealthy scion William Du Pont - he wanted to marry, she didn't - that provided her with often-needed financial support and high-level connections. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, assuming they were honest with each other, but as a feminist icon, this is not Ms. Marble's most ennobling and independent act.

Away from that and following the war itself, Alice's activities included traveling the country giving inspirational speeches, performing tennis exhibitions, coaching young players, doing radio work and writing columns and articles. Her writing efforts included some editing work on the early Wonder Woman comic strip and typing scripts for Rod Serling of The Twilight Zone fame.

Somehow or other, Alice touched many twentieth-century cultural icons in her long and atypical life. But it was one article she penned - really an editorial - that changed the game of tennis, the life of Althea Gibson and showed Alice at her moral and fighting best.

After the American Tennis Association, in 1950, rejected Althea Gibson's application to play at the Nationals on a technicality, but effectively, because she was black, Alice wrote a powerful and scathing pro-Gibson editorial. In American Lawn Tennis, "the bible of the sport," Alice passionately, logically and morally argued on behalf of Ms. Gibson's application challenging the sport of tennis to live up to its own ideals and accept players of all races. This editorial broke the dam leading to Gibson and other black players competing in American Tennis Association events.

As the fifties and sixties moved along, Alice's name faded (but, fortunately, Du Pont's necessary-to-Alice's-lifestyle money did not) and her health deteriorated, but she kept active and even managed a doctor's office for a while - there's little this woman didn't do. And by the seventies and eighties, with her health declining further and with not much more to live on than the modest income from a trust set up by the now-deceased Du Pont, Alice struggled to make ends meet. She lived the final years of her life in a nondescript home in Palm Desert California, with the sport she loved occasionally remembering her with an award or ceremony.

The best biographies read like novels while transporting you to an almost different world. Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand and The Greatest Game Ever Played by Mark Frost are two outstanding biographies of athletes that do this: they entwine their subject in his or her (or the horse's) cultural, social, economic and political zeitgeist. You almost forget that you're reading a biography as those books take you to another time and place.

The Divine Miss Marble: A Life of Tennis, Fame and Mystery doesn't do this as many parts read like a very thoughtful and well-researched straight timeline of Alice's life where the surrounding cultural, political and social context is competently noted, but not seamlessly weaved into Alice's world. Notwithstanding its limitations, it is still an outstanding recounting of one of the twentieth-century's top athletes and all-around charismatic figures.
 
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