By Rob Whittle
I haven’t read a book in years; however, I listen prolifically. I here offer a list of books I’ve “read” fairly recently. It’s an eclectic bunch, to be sure, but you may find some gems. I promise not to use any book reviewer phrases like “sparkling prose,” “cracking good story” or “reads like a sonnet.” I’d love to hear your favorites.
“The Covenant of Water” by Abraham Verghese
Set in south India starting at the beginning of the 20th century, the book begins with the marriage of a 12-year-old girl to a 40-year-old man. While not as creepy as it sounds, it marks the beginning of several generations of families, including major characters who are Scottish and Swedish, in addition to Indians. It covers, as great novels do, love and death, famine, war and revolution. I’ve never read so quietly poetic prose. I think it helps that the audio version is read by the author in lightly accented English. I sort of surprised myself by my affection for this book as I normally stay inside my lane, which is composed of American authors, but this novel is – to employ an overused word – transformative.
“Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance” by Herman Wouk
Remember the television mini-series starring Robert Mitchum as the patriarch Victor “Pug” Henry? These two novels cover just about all you need to know about World War II. If you’re looking for entertainment for, say, the next three months, this may be it. Fat and juicy, filled with details of the war that even a history professor can’t assail, these books are worth the investment. We meet virtually every world leader from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Winston Churchill to Joseph Stalin. It has at least five love stories to keep the action spicy. I highly recommend you read or reread them.
“The Cartel Trilogy:” “The Power of the Dog,” “The Border” and “The Cartel” by Don Winslow
These books about Mexican drug lords and the Drug Enforcement Administration’s failed War on Drugs are not for the faint of heart. Anything Winslow writes carries the stench of realism. Hangings, beheadings, slit throats are the coins of Winslow’s and the murderous drug lords’ realms. You would swear you’re reading a real – however lurid – news account of these greedy, incredibly rich bad guys. And, such is Winslow’s research, you’d vow that all his tales are absolutely true. The books portray courageous DEA agents in a doomed quest to stem the flow of drugs. Kill or put one skell away and there are two waiting to take their place.
“Benjamin Franklin: An American Life” by Walter Isaacson
Isaacson achieves a remarkable feat in this thoroughly researched biography. Franklin comes across as the remarkable eccentric down the street who knows what’s best for the neighborhood, state and the entire country. But Franklin actually did know best. Today, we throw around the moniker of genius way too freely. A football coach. A politician. A scientist. If you want to know a real genius, get to know Ben Franklin. Not only would he win Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes, he’d be a best-selling author, Secretary of State and our greatest patriot.
“Lincoln Highway” by Amor Towles
This is the third book by Towles I’ve read, and it couldn’t be more different from, say, “A Gentleman in Moscow,” which takes place entirely in a hotel. This best-seller brings vividly to life a coterie of young men in Depression-era America who survive on their wits and their grit. We’re introduced to the blue highways, the shanty towns and the railyards of the country, all the while trying to figure out who’s scamming whom. A wonderful look at Americana through the eyes of one of our cleverest writers.
“Chesapeake” by James Michener
This is the MACDaddy of American historical fiction. As Michener does, he starts from the beginning with, in this case, Native Americans. Set on the eastern shore of Maryland, we learn about our agricultural beginnings, the American Revolution, slavery and our history of race relations, among other topics of great import to how we got to where we are. Michener is underrated as an observer of nature in all its grandeur and beauty, but his storytelling gifts, which make learning go down like molasses on grits, pop off every page in this epic novel.
The writer is CEO of Williams Whittle Advertising and is the author of two historical novels, “Pointer’s War” and “Pointer and the Russian.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.