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Raft of Reads

January 1, 2021

Over the holiday month, I spent time with the Wisconsin Hospital for the Insane near Madison. Notice I didn’t write inside the facility! I ventured into the question of whether Lincoln belongs to the ages or to the angels. And I once again ventured with George Smiley where it all began on the printed pages. As the New Year starts I am in the heart of the Whiskey Rebellion.

In other words, our home is still abiding by the stay at home guidelines during the pandemic as Amazon continues to deliver books on the front stoop. From those boxes, James and I venture far and wide as we pick from the reading nooks here where James drinks tea, as I have my mug of coffee. One of my reading nooks is this window seat.

While I read The Best Specimen of a Tyrant because it had a Madison storyline, and the history of the Civil War is of interest, I was left wishing for a more compelling method of writing. Thomas Doherty did his research, which is not to be doubted. The first chapter swings hard and makes an impact as one can feel the mental health problems of a man, and the stresses placed on the family as they seek medical advice. But the Civil War writing in the book simply does not sparkle.

The story of Wisconsin soldiers in Louisiana and the methods of transport and illness suffered by them is a compelling story. I only wish it had been presented in a more entertaining narrative. But when it comes to portraying Dr. Abraham Van Norstrand there is no doubt Doherty allowed for a multi-faceted and accurate measure of the man. He became the superintendent of the state’s first hospital for the insane. There is no way not to utterly despise the man for his greedy actions.

A Wisconsin legislator from the early days of our state spent over 30 years in the state insane hospital In Madison. Page 154 is intriguing with this story, though I can not locate more information about him online.

Adam Gopnik, a noted and gifted writer in The New Yorker, wrote a series of essays for a slim but thought-provoking read about Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. Angels And Ages was a book that required reading and reflection–at times in almost equal measure. He offers reflections about these essential men in the lives of mankind.

With richness in writing Gopnik offers a view about how freedom and democracy were presented by Lincoln and the grand design of life itself from Darwin. The way they spoke and wrote as they articulated their views to the masses is quite a story. With monosyllables and step-by-step logic building, we watch Lincoln make his case. Meanwhile, Darwin writes so anyone with an inclination can read his Origin Of Species and come to a comprehension of the complicated theory of evolution. What binds these men are not only that they were born on the same day but also the family ties that engaged them, and personal tragedies that befell them as men. And of course the massive footsteps they left for all of us over the ages.

One of the saddest losses in 2020 was the death of John le Carré. To honor him and also take me back to a book I read decades ago I again picked up Call for the Dead. This is not only le Carré’s first novel, but it is also the start of the character the world came to love. George Smiley. The slim book is a fast-paced story about East German spies inside Great Britain.

As the New Year starts I am now reading for the first time a book by David Liss. Many have raved about his historical novels. With one-fifth of The Whiskey Rebels finished I can state his first-person writing for each of the two main characters is drawing me into the plot. I am enjoying not only the historical time frame of President Washington and his Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton but also the financial aspects of the overall plotting. The reader is dropped into the harsh society of western Pennsylvania at the same time the wealthy of Philadelphia are made part of the mystery and intrigue. The ‘two-halves’ are presented marvelously.

There is no better way to start another year of blogging than to write of books!

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