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“Savage Peace” Is A Must Read

November 18, 2007

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I have been enthralled with a recent book that brings 1919 to life with the varnish removed and the roughness of the times exposed.  Ann Hagedorn treats history the way we want to read it.  With a bold passionate narrative she moves her story across the landscape of America showing that all was not well after the end of World War I.   “Savage Peace” is one of the best books I have read in several years.   

To read about the explosion of fermenting molasses that resulted in a viscous wave 25 feet high, and 160 feet wide that moved through the streets of Boston was truly interesting.  I had never heard this story before.  To see a picture of the aftermath was unbelievable.  To understand the reason it happened will not be shocking for those of us who know the ways of business.

To read of the American forces that were ordered to keep on fighting after the end of World War I in an effort to destabilize the Bolsheviks makes one very leery of the military.  To travel with President Wilson over the ocean in search of a new world order while uplifting in spirit, also underscores how naive in real political terms many were in that era. 

The book helps better understand the difficulties of black soldiers who fought in Europe only to return to a land that continued lynchings.  Those portions were bitter, but needed reading.  However, what resonated with me most were the actions of Supreme Court Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. as he struggled with the need for free speech at a time when the government felt restrictions were needed for national security purposes. 

On and on and on the topics unfurl…..

When I first picked it up at the library I glanced at the back cover and saw Walter Isaacson had written a few words of praise for the book.  I sometimes wonder how effective those words from others are in getting a book sold or read.  I have great respect for Isaacson so his words added heft for a book that already held my attention given the subject.

“Savage Peace reads like a wondrous and sprawling novel, except that it is all true. Thoroughly researched and insightful, it spins together the fascinating threads of 1919. And what a wonderful cast of characters! From Eddington to Einstein to Du Bois and Wilson, they all come alive. This book is so joyful you’ll forget that it’s serious history.”
–Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life and Einstein: His Life and Universe

While reading Hagedorn’s book I was struck that her narrative flows effortlessly as she weaves so much research and factual material into her text.  While reading the book the subject matter jumped out at me, but so did her style.  It was a pleasure just to read for the intensity of her writing.

“At New York harbor, during the first half of 1919, dozens of ships coming from France delivered thousands of soldiers who, leaning over guardrails, reached out for their homeland as if touching it as soon as possible might transport them, just as quickly, back to the world they had left behind. New York harbor was the place where prayers were answered as soldiers and their loved ones spotted each other across the slowly narrowing gap between ship and shore. It was there that the rolling wave of hope from the Western Front met the rising tide of fear and intolerance back home.”

If there is only one book you read this year, let it be “Savage Peace”.

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