The weekend is almost here, and with it comes two, brand-new, feature-length articles from me in AND Magazine!
Both articles will spend time on AND Magazine’s cover page this weekend, but my loyal followers here on Dead Presidents don’t have to wait. You can check them out now, in their entirety.
¿Viva La Revolucíon? looks at the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, its impact on his country, and Chávez’s influence on Latin America and the regional leaders who came to power during (and often because of) the Chávez era. ¿Viva La Revolucíon? also examines the life and legacy of Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution and Hugo Chávez’s relation to that movement as well as his connection to one of the Revolution’s enduring symbols, Ché Guevara.
In my other new article, Sede Vacante: Historic Happenings at the Vatican, I focus on the Papacy in transition following the surprising and extraordinarily rare resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and write about what we might be able to expect, from a historian’s point-of-view, as the College of Cardinals meets in a Conclave to elect a new Pope under almost unprecedented circumstances — a perfect storm of uncertainty in which a Papal vacancy, scandals in the Church, a shift in worldwide Catholic demographics, and a Conclave held in the wake of a voluntary resignation rather than under the solemnity and sadness of a Pope’s death may result in a far more political process (at least openly) than usual.
Check my articles out now, before they even hit the cover page at AND Magazine! And, if you do read ¿Viva La Revolucíon? or Sede Vacante, please take a moment to click the Facebook “like” button near the top of each page. In fact, even if you don’t read the articles, just go to the page and click that “like” button because it helps me a whole lot. Seriously, you don’t even have to read the articles right now, just go to those links and click the Facebook “like” button and I’ll be your friend in real-life, be the godfather to your children, hide your murder weapon like Robert Kardashian (allegedly) if you pull an O.J. Simpson (allegedly)…whatever you need, I’m there if the Faceboook “likes” on each article gets over 100, okay? Cool.
Speaking of suits, that last question, about whether I would wear a suit as President, reminds me of my favorite Presidential book, Bob Greene’s wonderful Fraternity: A Journey In Search of Five Presidents (BOOK•KINDLE). In the book, Greene sets out to visit with five former Presidents who are in different stages of retirement. Although he is unable to see the ailing Ronald Reagan, Greene spends time with Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush and gives the reader interesting insights on how they live and what their lives are like after being the most powerful and recognizable person in the world.
Nixon is the first former President that Greene visits and the author is surprised to find out that Nixon never took off his suit jacket while in the Oval Office and, nearly 20 years after his resignation, the former President still worked in a suit jacket and tie — even if he was sitting in his home office all day and working alone on a book that he was writing. ”It isn’t a case of trying to be formal,” Nixon told Greene, “But I’m more comfortable that way. I’ve done it all my life. I don’t mind people around here in the office, particularly younger people — they usually take their coats off. But I just never have. It’s just the way I am. I work in a coat and tie — and believe me, believe it or not, it’s hard for people to realize, but when I’m writing a speech or working on a book or dictating or so forth, I’m always wearing a coat and tie. Even when I’m alone. If I were to take it off, probably I would catch cold. That’s the way it is.”
In a way, however, Nixon’s formality isn’t all that surprising. After all, there are many photos of a relaxing Nixon walking the beach along the Pacific Ocean near his home in San Clemente, California, La Casa Pacifica sans suit coat and tie, but in suit pants and wingtips.
Later in Fraternity, when Bob Greene visited with former President George H.W. Bush, he was struck by how down-to-earth and relaxed the supposedly-patrician, WASPish 41st President was. Greene decided to tell Bush about Nixon’s personal suit-and-tie rule and get another President’s opinion, so I’ll share that excerpt from Fraternity, a book that I’ve recommended countless times and will undoubtedly recommend again:
“Mr. Nixon said that he permitted the men in his office to take their suit coats off, but that he never did, because he wouldn’t like the way it made him feel,” I (Greene) said.
“I never did, in the Oval Office,” Bush said.
“You didn’t take your suit coat off?” I said. Bush was still jacketless as we sat and talked.
“No,” Bush said.
“When you were alone?” I asked.
“THAT’S what you’re talking about — Nixon wouldn’t even take his jacket off when he was alone?” Bush said.
“Yes,” I said.
“Oh,” Bush said, looking toward the ceiling as if trying to picture this. ”I see,” he said, sounding as if he found the notion quite peculiar.
He thought for a second. ”I might have taken it off when I was alone in the Oval Office,” he said. ”But when people were there, I put a jacket on.”
“But Mr. Nixon said that wherever he was, not just in the Oval Office, when he was alone working on a speech by himself or something, he would keep his suit jacket on,” I said. ”He had to have it on.”
“No,” Bush said, remembering his own routine in the White House. ”I think I would go in there to the Oval Office on a Saturday morning when nobody was there, and I wouldn’t wear a jacket. At he house, the living quarters part of the White House, that’s different, too. I mean, I’d walk around there in a bathrobe. I mean, you know, the bedroom? You’re not going to wear a suit.”
So, there you go, more than you’ll ever need to know about Presidents and suits. Again, you’re missing out if you’ve never read Bob Greene’s Fraternity: A Journey In Search of Five Presidents (BOOK•KINDLE). It is my favorite Presidential book because I love how Greene presents the Presidents he visits as people. Instead of simply looking at what they did or did not do, Greene asks the Presidents he talks to — Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Bush 41 — exactly what I would want to ask a President: ”What did it feel like?” I am confident that it is a book that many of my readers would really love.
On average, I would say that I read 3-to-5 hours per day. No matter how busy I am or how tired I might be, I have always made a point to read for at least 2 hours before I allow myself to go to sleep.
Of course, it’s easier for me to do this now as opposed to before I started working for AND Magazine. Since reviewing books is part of my job, I have the luxury of spending most of the day reading because I’m getting paid to do it. It wouldn’t be nearly as easy if I was still doing the work I did when I was younger.
Awesome, I’m glad to hear that! I’m fortunate enough to get a ton of great books to review for AND Magazine, so I love being able to share my thoughts and make recommendations for my fellow history fans.
Everyone is welcome to connect with me on Goodreads, as well. Since I don’t always have the time to write a full-scale review on all of the books that I read, I’m going to try to remember to at least use Goodreads to post a short review (or a star rating at the very least!). I’m training myself to go to Goodreads daily so that I am consistent about it, but you’ll have to be patient with me because, as anyone who follows me on Facebook and (especially) Twitter knows, I tend to go through phases.
You made a solid choice with The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace (BOOK•KINDLE). I think it was one of the best books of the year, and that’s no surprise since H.W. Brands always delivers. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that it’s the best book written about Grant other than the one that General Grant wrote about himself.
Wow, I don’t really know how many books I have that focus on the Civil War or that era. If I were forced to make a guess, I’d say that I probably have about 90 or 100 books on the Civil War. Most of them focus on specific aspects of the Civil War or the crises that led to the war or the important individuals and events. Few of the books try to tell the complete history of the war and that’s good because it really can’t be done in one volume. So, if you were to dig through my Civil War library, you’d find a lot of biographies of people like William Tecumseh Sherman and Jefferson Davis, as well as books like William J. Cooper’s recent released We Have the War Upon Is: The Onset of the Civil War, November 1860-April 1861 (BOOK•KINDLE) which takes a detailed look at the country from Lincoln’s election to the firing on Fort Sumter as President Buchanan’s lame duck administration does nothing while states begin to secede from the Union.
I don’t think they get redundant at all. Sure, you’ll cover some common ground, but each writer tells the stories in a different way, spotlight different people or events, and bring the history to us in their own voice. I actually prefer to read several books on the same subject because it really drives home the history, breaks through any potential biases or inconsistencies of individual authors, and helps complete the story.
I never think of common history that I read from different authors as redundancies. It’s more like a validation of the information. I truly believe that you can always get more out of a story, whether it’s through research that reveals new information, or the perspective of the writer, or just the way that something is written. Just as an example, if an editor asked me to write a different story every day for a week but that I had to detail Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in the story as the centerpiece each day, I could easily do it by shifting the narrative or approaching the details a little differently or with a totally different voice. That’s how I look at multiple books about a common subject.
I actually finished two books today — (1.) Six Months in 1945: FDR, Stalin, Churchill, and Truman —From World War to Cold War (BOOK•KINDLE) by Michael Dobbs and (2.) Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man (BOOK•KINDLE) by Walter Stahr.
Now I’m wavering back-and-forth about which book I want to read next. My plan was to read Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 (BOOK•KINDLE) by Ian W. Toll. However, on Friday, Simon & Schuster sent me Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story (BOOK•KINDLE) by my former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. As good as Pacific Crucible looks and promises to be, I’m leaning towards reading Governor Schwarzenegger’s autobiography first because it looks pretty fascinating and entertaining.
Yes, I did read Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (BOOK•KINDLE) and I thought it was one of the better FDR biographies that I’ve read, which is saying something because there are some damn good books about FDR in print. I personally thought that Brands should have won the Pulitzer that year (2009, I believe) for Traitor to His Class, but the award instead went to Jon Meacham for American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House (BOOK•KINDLE). That’s not to say that Meacham didn’t deserve the prize. American Lion was also an excellent book and there are far less in-depth biographies of Jackson than FDR, so it’s not as if Brands was robbed of the Pulitzer or anything; Traitor to His Class was just more of a personal preference of mine than American Lion.
If you’re looking for a recommendation, I give it without hesitation. There are two other books about FDR that I would also highly recommend. The first is Doris Kearns Goodwin’s No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II (BOOK•KINDLE), which is more of a dual biography of the First Couple and their extraordinary partnership rather than a traditional biography focusing mainly on the President. The other book I would recommend is the massive, exhaustively-researched Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom by Conrad Black.
For the second weekend in a row, I spent some quality time plowing through the articles queued up in my Instapaper account, so I figured I’d share some recommended articles with you. I also went back and tidied up articles I had left in there after reading, so many of these were actually read early in the year, if not earlier. Since I didn’t start linking my suggestions until recently, I figured I might as well toss those older articles on to this list, as well.
When I posted recommendations last week, someone asked me where I find the articles that I read. There are three great websites that consistently link really fascinating, in-depth articles: Longform.org (probably my favorite of the three); Give Me Something To Read (which has the benefit of being a Tumblr site for easy following); and Longreads. These three sites also are posting some of their “Best of 2011” lists this month as well, so check them out.
I also have a few go-to magazines or publications that I regularly visit for good reads. Some of my favorites are The Atlantic, The Economist, The American Scholar, The New Yorker, Sports Illustrated’s SI Vault, Esquire, GQ, Vanity Fair, Guernica, New York Magazine, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, Washingtonian Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, National Georgaphic, SF Weekly, Grantland, and many, many more.
If you haven’t done so already, I strongly encourage you to register for an Instapaper account. It’s free, it’s easy, it’s painless, and it is the best tool for saving intriguing articles to read later without being bothered by annoying ads or too many graphics. As an added bonus, I am told that my lengthier essays on Dead Presidents look particularly good when you read them through Instapaper.
Okay, enough of that, here’s the bigger-than-usual list of reading recommendations:
•THE KING OF COOL: MOHAMMED VI OF MOROCCO (Time Magazine, June 26, 2000)
I remember reading and loving this article when it came out nearly a dozen years ago. I don’t think King Mohammed VI is quite as cool and popular with his people anymore, but he did make some reforms and hold on to power throughout the Arab Spring. Either way, Mohammed VI was kind of a badass when he was younger at least, and certainly less oppressive than his father, King Hassan II, who died in 1999. If nothing else, he has an awesome nickname: “M6”.
•THE KING AND THE “CABBY” INSPECT JORDAN INCOGNITO (New York Times, August 9, 1999)
•JORDAN’S KING OF DISGUISE (BBC, July 30, 2001)
•DO YOU REMEMBER? KING ABDULLAH IN DISGUISE (The Black Iris of Jordan, December 7, 2005)
•KING GOES UNDERCOVER AGAIN (The Jordan Times, May 28, 2009)
Like Morocco’s Mohammed VI, King Abdullah of Jordan ascended at a young age to the throne of an Arab kingdom upon the death of his long-ruling father in 1999. And, like “M6”, Abdullah has some unique, pretty awesome touches. At various times throughout his reign, Abdullah has donned disguises, shunned his security, and attempted to get a feel for what life is like as an ordinary Jordanian. I don’t know about you, but I’d totally watch a reality show of a King who disguised himself and tried to blend in with average citizens.
•WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO STRAUSS-KAHN? (The New York Review of Books, December 22, 2011)
One of the most sensational stories of 2011 is also one of the most mysterious. With the charges against DSK being dropped, there’s something deeper about this story that we’ll probably never learn.
•THE FINAL COMEBACK OF AXL ROSE (GQ, September 2006)
It’s Axl. If you’re like me, you probably still know all the words to everything from Appetite For Destruction, Use Your Illusion, and Use Your Illusion. If you’re like me, you also probably tried to do Axl’s snake dance for 3 years straight, or put a towel over your head and pretended to play a broom everytime you heard Slash’s solo at the end of “November Rain”. What…no one else did that?
•LEAVING REALITY (GQ, JULY 2005)
John Jeremiah Sullivan takes a look at what happens to cast members after their stint on MTV’s The Real World ends. A major personality in this article is Mike Mizanin, who would become arguably the most famous former Real World cast member a few years later as a legitimate star in the WWE with even a bit of mainstream crossover celebrity appeal.
•BACK IN THE DAY (GQ, SEPTEMBER 2009)
John Jeremiah Sullivan remembers the old Michael Jackson, which happened to be the young Michael Jackson.
•WELCOME TO THE FAR EASTERN CONFERENCE (GQ, MAY 2011)
Former NBA star Stephon Marbury’s basketball career in China.
•WHATEVER HAPPENED TO ALTERNATIVE NATION? (The A.V. Club, October 2010-February 2011)
•PART 1, 1990: “ONCE UPON A TIME, I COULD LOVE YOU”
•PART 2, 1991: “WHAT’S SO CIVIL ABOUT WAR ANYWAY?”
•PART 3, 1992: PEARL JAM, THE PERILS OF FAME, AND THE TROUBLE WITH AVOIDING IT
•PART 4, 1993: SMASHING PUMPKINS, LIZ PHAIR, AND URGE OVERKILL FORSAKE THE UNDERGROUND
•PART 5, 1994: KURT COBAIN IS DEAD! LONG LIVE SOUNDGARDEN!
•PART 6, 1995: LIVE, BUSH, AND ALANIS MORISSETTE TAKE THE POP PATH
•PART 7, 1996: LAYNE STALEY AND BRADLEY NOWELL ARE THE LIVING DEAD
•PART 8, 1997: THE BALLAD OF OASIS AND RADIOHEAD
•PART 9, 1998: YOU’RE EITHER WITH KORN AND LIMP BIZKIT, OR YOU’RE AGAINST THEM
•PART 10, 1999: BY THE TIME WE GOT TO WOODSTOCK ‘99…
Steven Hyden’s retrospective of what alternative music was, how it was born, how it evolved, and how it seemingly died is one of the best stories of the year, in my opinion. Hyden recounts the era in historic, yet somewhat autobiographical way. If you were old enough to have been devastated when Kurt Cobain killed himself or to have taken a date to go see Reality Bites, this story is right up your alley. Hyden recently added an exclusive new essay to his original ten-part series and made the whole story available for download from Kindle.
•THAT’S NOT FUNNY, THAT’S C.K. (GQ, August 2011)
Louis C.K. is prominently involved in this article. That’s all that need to be said for it to be a must-read.
•SCOTT STORCH RAKED IN HIP-HOP MILLIONS AND THEN SNORTED HIS WAY TO RUIN (Miami New Times, April 22, 2010)
Scott Storch is a douche and I thought his production style was overrated at best, and unlistenable in many instances.
•THE MAN WHO SAILED HIS HOUSE (GQ, October 2011)
This sounds like an analogy for something, but it’s not. It’s literally a story about a man who was rescued after the massive Japanese earthquake and tsunami. When he was spotted, he was floating in the sea several miles from shore on the roof of his house.
•WHO KILLED CHE? (Guernica, October 15, 2011)
Forty-four years after his death, Guernica focuses on Ché Guevara’s final days and his last revolution. It’s no surprise which shadowy government agency had a hand in the manhunt for Ché which ended with him being summarily executed in Bolivia.
•INSIDE OBAMA’S WAR ROOM (Rolling Stone, October 13, 2011)
The President, his decision to support the Libyan uprising, and the battles within his own Administration over the situation.
•ELIZABETH ECKFORD AND HAZEL BRYAN: THE STORY BEHIND THE PHOTOGRAPH THAT SHAMED AMERICA (The Telegraph, October 9, 2011)
A profile of the two principal figures of a photo of an angry white girl (Bryan) screaming at a peaceful but frightened black girl (Eckford) as the Little Rock Nine attempted to integrate Little Rock Central High School in 1957.
•FREE JOHN HINCKLEY (Washingtonian Magazine, October 2011)
In 1981, John Hinckley shot and nearly killed President Ronald Reagan and three other people outside of the Washington Hilton. When it was revealed that Hinckley tried to assassinate President Reagan to win the love and admiration of actress Jodie Foster, the would-be assassin was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. After 30 years, his doctors argue that Hinckley is cured and ready to be released.
•I CAN FIND AN INDICTED WARLORD, SO WHY ISN’T HE IN THE HAGUE (Mother Jones, September 28, 2011)
Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda is wanted for war crimes, and hiding in plain sight next to a United Nations peacekeeping force.
•THE CONVICTIONS OF CONRAD BLACK (Vanity Fair, October 2011)
The legal troubles of the British media magnate. Oddly enough — to tie it into Dead Presidents — Conrad Black has written two really good, really expansive, and just downright massive biographies about Presidents: Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom and Richard Milhous Nixon: The Invincible Quest.
•THE SHAME OF COLLEGE SPORTS (The Atlantic, October 2011)
An extraordinary indictment of college sports by one of the preeminent historian of the Civil Rights Movement, Taylor Branch.
•“THE WRESTLER” IN REAL LIFE (Grantland, August 24, 2011)
The sad case of Ric Flair — a professional wrestling legend who is one of the most beloved and respected members of his profession. Despite being one of the most successful wrestlers in history, the 62-year-old Flair is forced to continue wrestling as personal problems have drained his finances. Flair’s story is eerily similar to that of Mickey Rourke’s character in The Wrestler.
•JON STEWART AND THE BURDEN OF HISTORY (Esquire, October 2011)
A profile of Daily Show host Jon Stewart from a different perspective.
•THE RARELY NOTICED CASUALTIES OF SEPT. 11th (Boston Globe, September 6, 2011)
The airport security workers haunted by the fact that the 19 hijackers of September 11, 2001 passed through their lines of defense.
•GLEN CAMPBELL: ONE LAST LOVE SONG (The Guardian, August 26, 2011)
A singer tries to tour and make music as Alzheimer’s Disease begins to encroach.
•A DEITY GOES INTO RETIREMENT: TIBETANS FACE UNCERTAINTY IN POST-DALAI LAMA ERA (Spiegel, August 25, 2011)
The Dalai Lama and his plans to slow down.
•JON HUNTSMAN: THE OUTSIDER (Vogue, August 2011)
One of the earliest profiles of the best hope of defeating President Obama in 2012.
•?UESTLOVE: 15 YEARS (Pitchfork, August 19, 2011)
An interview with the frontman of The Roots on life, hip-hop, and Jimmy Fallon.
•SPIEGEL INTERVIEW WITH MIKHAIL GORBACHEV (Spiegel, August 16, 2011)
An interview with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev by the German magazine Spiegel in which the questions are asked in an oddly provocative, abrasive manner.
•FRESH AIR: JAY-Z (NPR, November 16, 2010)
A transcript of Terry Gross interviewing Jay-Z for NPR’s “Fresh Air”.
•KAMALA HARRIS: THE DEMOCRATS’ ANTI-PALIN (Politico, December 24, 2010)
A profile on Kamala Harris who had just been elected California’s Attorney General at the time. Kamala was San Francisco’s District Attorney and I had the opportunity to work with her on numerous occasions during the 2008 Presidential campaign. Kamala was an early supporter of Obama and frequently stood in as a surrogate at campaign events and fundraisers in Northern California. If anyone is a sure thing to be a success in politics, it is Kamala Harris.
•MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCES (The Atlantic, November 1879)
No, that’s not a typo…it’s an article from 1879.
•SUPERMODERATE!: THE NEW GOVERNOR DAZZLES THE CELEBRITY-STRUCK LEGISLATORS OF SACRAMENTO (The New Yorker, June 28, 2004)
A look at the honeymoon period following California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s election. Shortly afterward, the legislators and Gov. Schwarzenegger degenerated back into California politics as usual.
•RANDY (MACHO MAN) SAVAGE’S FIRST LOVE WAS BASEBALL (Sports Illustrated, May 23, 2011)
The promising professional baseball career of Randy Poffo, who was injured in the minor leagues and eventually left baseball to become one of the most recognizable and successful professional wrestlers of all-time — “Macho Man” Randy Savage.
•SQUID HUNTER (The New Yorker, May 24, 2004)
The hunt for the elusive, but very real giant squid.
•GOODBYE TO ALL THAT (The New York Review of Books, July 17, 1997)
Christopher Hitchens on Ché Guevara
•THE SHADOW SUPERPOWER (Foreign Policy, October 28, 2011)
The effect of the black market on the global economy.
•OAKLAND RAIDERS CEO AMY TRASK DRIVEN LIKE HER MENTOR, AL DAVIS (ESPN, November 3, 2011)
A profile of the only female CEO in the National Football League, shortly after the death of Raiders owner, Al Davis.
•THE HUNTER BECOMES THE HUNTED (Esquire, March 2011)
The life of an Iraqi terrorist hunter
•MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE GO TO CAMP: INSIDE THE BOHEMIAN GROVE (Spy Magazine, November 1989)
The bizarre annual gathering of wealthy, powerful, and elite men in a private grove of Redwoods north of San Francisco.
•THE SUICIDE CATCHER (GQ, May 2010)
A Chinese man who dedicates his free time to single-handedly try to curb suicide attempts on the Nanjing Bridge over the Yangtze River.
•SAN FRANCISCO KILLER GROUPIE SAMANTHA SPIEGEL (SF Weekly, December 8, 2010)
To say that this girl has problems or “daddy issues” is an understatement. Samantha Spiegel was 20 years old at the time of this story’s publication. Basically, she writes letters to notorious criminals, such as Charles Manson, “Nightstalker” Richard Ramirez, and the man who kidnapped, raped, and murdered Polly Klaas, Richard Alan Davis, who is one of the most reprehensible human beings on the planet. Spiegel writes these people because she gets some sort of thrill out of the attention. Remember that REALLY creepy guy John Mark Karr who confessed to killing Jon Benet Ramsey even thought he didn’t actually do it? Samantha Spiegel started communicated with him and they were even engaged at one point. I won’t ruin why they didn’t make it to the altar for you; I’ll let you go ahead and read the story.
•THE TIGER’S REVENGE (Men’s Journal, September 22, 2010)
In case anyone forgets, tigers > human beings.
•A RIVER RUNS THROUGH HIM (Intelligent Life, Spring 2010)
Mark Twain’s Mississippi River
•CARY IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS (Vanity Fair, August 2010)
Cary Grant and LSD
•THE AGNOSTIC CARTOGRAPHER (Washington Monthly, October 2010)
“How Google’s open-ended maps are embroiling the company in some of the world’s touchiest geopolitical disputes.”
•INSIDE THE SECRET WORLD OF TRADER JOE’S (CNN Money, August 23, 2010)
Trader Joe’s RULES. I miss living within walking distance of a Trader Joe’s.