SG_67

Connoisseur
14,577
United States
Illinois
Chicago
Machiavelli - The Prince (Must be tenth re-read, or listen in this case)
If you’re going to read The Prince, I would also recommend reading some of the companion books written by Machiavelli scholars. It really will enrich your experience of reading this little pamphlet. Harvey Mansfield comes to mind as does Erica Benner.
 

The Irishman

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
249
Ireland
Leinster
Dublin
If you’re going to read The Prince, I would also recommend reading some of the companion books written by Machiavelli scholars. It really will enrich your experience of reading this little pamphlet. Harvey Mansfield comes to mind as does Erica Benner.
Yes, I've read quite a bit on Machiavelli. First came across him 19 years ago and he and the milieu in which he wrote continues to fascinate me.

Sebastian De Graza's Machiavelli In Hell is a favourite. It's very accessible (for the general reader, in fact) although Harvey Mansfield gave it his stamp of approval...
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
8,111
United States
New York
NY
220px-The_Unlikely_Spy.jpg


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 a friend and history writer, Melissa Amiteis. Her excellent review of the book is here: https://bestofww2.blogspot.com/search?q=an+unlikely+spy
 

richard warren

Senior Member
543
United States
Louisiana
covington
I’m reading Lippmann’s Public Opinion and Bernays’s Propaganda which pretty much confirm my worst fears. If you think it’s the proper role of an invisible government to make your decisions for you, you will like what they have to say. It sure seems that many, many who read their message did find it agreeable to their ends and went on to implement the project.
 

richard warren

Senior Member
543
United States
Louisiana
covington
I finally figured out le Carre was so confusing not because of the writing or the plotting, but because he was playing for the other team.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
8,111
United States
New York
NY
9781250110251.jpg


The Guest Book by Sarah Blake, published in 2019

If you've ever wondered what a summer read mashed up with a modern political screed would be like, here it is.

The Guest Book's summer read part is solid - in the 1930s, a WASP family purchases an island with a large house off the coast of Maine and, as with many a good page turner, the purchase is cloaked in a possible original sin tainting and cursing the generations that follow.

The book's political screed takes a modern view of both race and WWII and, with other than a nod here and there to the complexity of the issues in their day, weaves in a narrative that loudly and smugly passes muster with today's accepted political pieties.

How did Ogden Milton (not since Clark Kent has a name left no doubt of its American "tis of thee" roots), senior partner at the fictional investment banking firm of Milton Higginson, raise the money to buy an island in the middle of the Depression? Was he one of those horrible Wall Street capitalists who financed Nazi Germany when there was money to be made or had he simply invested based on a friendship dating back to well before the Nazi takeover of Germany?

Did his wife, Kitty, selfishly leave a window open in the Sutton Place apartment (almost every WASP redoubt gets a shout out eventually) for her infant son to find or was a good mother left forever wounded by a sad accident.

And if those two events were't enough, in a coincidence only a novelist on a political mission could love, the Miltons, really Kitty, has an opportunity to save a Jewish boy, incredibly, offered to her care the first day she visits the Island in 1936. Her refusal, perfectly aligned to a modern view of why she would, haunts her the rest of her life.

With those secrets tucked away until they aren't, Ogden and Kitty raise their family - a family that refuses to quietly and seamlessly play its part in the great American WASP dream.

First, an heir apparent son is more interested in playing music than investment banking while also showing a sensitivity to race and religious issues all but perfectly aligned to how a self-satisfied modern mind would fantasize it would have envisioned race and religious issues if transported back to the mid century. Also buffering the senior Miltons is a daughter with epilepsy who falls in love with, hold your breath, a young Jewish man who, unrelatedly (coincidences come fast and furious) becomes her father's favorite young star at Milton Higginson.

All of this drama will play out, in yet another incredible coincidence, during one concussing weekend at the Milton's island - loudly proclaimed as a perfect world by the Miltons and a ring-the-bell metaphor for the author denouncing a WASP-dominated mid-century America.

As a summer read, it's fun - sand, sunsets, tides, sailing, damp houses, affairs, secrets, lies, cocktails and big money push each page and generation of Miltons forward - a perfect companion to your own cocktail under a beach umbrella. But The Guest Book ruins itself because it aspires to be more in our modern age in which everything is political - especially everything "intellectual". The result is a too obvious and preachy virtue-signaling of modern race and religious views.

Just when you're settling into a good soap opera moment, you're pulled out of the forbidden sex, dirty business deal or withering WASP look to be told how wrong every view on race and religion was then and, by proxy, how right certain forward-thinkers are today.
 
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Shaver

Connoisseur
10,801
England
.
Manchester
I have a galley copy of Gibson's soon to be released novel, Agency.

Set in an alternate 2017, in the aftermath of HRC winning the 2016 presidential election - somewhat far fetched even by Gibson's standards. However, I am a fan of this author (possibly the only truly great scifi writer publishing in the 21st century) and so I remain certain that I will enjoy the book enormously.


 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
8,111
United States
New York
NY
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Padlocked by Rex Beach, published in 1926

Beach was a popular novelist in his day (roughly most of the first half of the 20th century) who wrote smart page turners - not "literature -" that, today, give us a contemporaneous window into his time period.

Two things come clear from every Beach novel (I've read four or five by now) - the past was not as black and white as we sometimes like to think and what liberals and conservatives passionately believed has changed a lot over the years - sometimes flipped completely.

A wealthy, hard-core social "reformer -" on the "correct" side of every moral issue (he views prohibition as the reform movement's crowning achievement) , "charitable" in that "I'll lift you up way -" cannot accept the moral "failings" of his wife and teenage daughter. Though tame "failings", even by the standards of that day, they lead to the daughter all but running away from home upon the death of her mother.

Alone in New York City - with no money, family or friends - the daughter, Eddie, survives by singing in a cabaret (to the horror of her father), while trying to find the funds and a path to leverage her one special asset, her voice, into a respectable singing career.

A wealthy benefactor, a society kinda-sorta boyfriend, a from-the-streets-of-Brooklyn girlfriend and a decent booking agent - combined with some unwanted involvement from her fire-and-brimstone father - push and pull her every which way, leading to a calamitous misunderstanding landing genuinely decent girl Eddie in dire straits with the law on, of all things, a mistaken morals charge.

Today, our culture screams at us that there are no differences between the sexes resulting in many TV shows and movies having women enthusiastically initiating random and all but, anonymous sex; but in the '20s, women wanting/initiating/trading in sex, especially young women, out of wedlock, were considered wanton. Decent men were expected to protect women from predatory men. This was simply part of the public view of morality at the time (what really happened is what always happens - people had sex and then covered-up, as best they could, whatever society required them to cover-up).

Eddie's long sentence in a women's reform prison provides the book's climax. Failing physically and mentally in prison, and desperately in need of rescue, almost none of Edith's friends and family behave as expected. Some prove to be surprisingly faithful while her father, manipulated by another reformer and romantic interest with her own nasty agenda, all but destroys his daughter. (Public service announcement: always beware of the do-gooders passionately telling others how to live their lives because they, the reformers, claim to have those others' best interest at heart.)

Beach is a first-rate story teller who keeps the pages turning, which can be enough, but he also weaves social and philosophical views and opinions into the story making it more than just a plot-driven affair; it's a view into some of the prevailing bents of the day.

Effectively, for us, it's time travel to the 1920s - a '20s that can feel quite modern. To wit, note this comment from a young woman arguing with a young man that she can handle moonshine as well as he, "How Old-fashion you are!...remember, there's no longer a weaker sex. Independence has dawned for us girls."

Of course, that doesn't "prove" anything other than that few things were as black and white back then as they are often portrayed today. And "new" ideas tend to look less new when seen in the true sweep of history. And while all that is interesting and engaging, Beach's best skill is one that has had value all throughout history - he tells a good story.


N.B., For those interesting in reading his or her first Beach novel, I would recommend:

Son of the Gods #7878

Mad Money #7897



#7878
 

Mr. B. Scott Robinson

Super Member
1,778
Atlanta, Georgia
United States
Georgia
Atlanta
Two books at the moment:

The Dictators Handbook

What Happens Now, by my favorite contemporary female author Sophia Money-Coutts. She is one of the funniest and sharpest young English writers on the scene.

Cheers,

BSR
 

Peak and Pine

Honors Member
4,317
United States
Maine
Mars Hill
The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters. Every single page a steam punk delight. Problem, it's 760 pages long ( I'm on 504) and while it's never boring and each page relished, I don't like to commit this much time to a single novel. (Not when there's a new Danielle Steele in the wings. Pretend I'm using 16 laughing emojis here.)
 
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