I will list books that I think are worthwhile here.
First, my Amazon Reviews are here.
Here is a superb review of War and Decision, one of the books I reviewed on Amazon and is worthy of study.
1. Of course I will list my own book first. This is a history of medicine for medical students and young physicians. It has been recommended for pre-med students and was used as a text for a summer program for AP high school biology students.
2.Imperial Grunts is a book that should be read by anyone interested in our problems with radical Islam and asymmetrical warfare. It is the story of Army Special Forces which are scattered all over the world.
3. Hog Pilots is a sequel with the story of the Navy in the new form of warfare.
4. The Looming Tower is mandatory for anyone who wants to learn the origin of this war we are in. It is a history of radical Islam by a former professor at the American University in Cairo.
5. My Grandfather’s Son is the life of Clarence Thomas and an inspiring story of love and accomplishment.
6. Craig Venter’s memoir is the story of the decoding of the human genome. He is an entrepreneur who challenged the government supported program and started a race to the finish. It requires some science knowledge to appreciate.
7. Heart of a Soldier is the story of Rick Rescorla who served in Vietnam in the American Army even though he was a British subject and who ended his life while saving the employees of his employer in Tower Two of the World Trade Center on 9/11/01. He had left the Army and was director of security for Goldman Sachs. He got everyone out and then went back to check for stragglers. He saved 3,000 lives that day.
I am a fan of WEB Griffin’s stories about the US Military.
His best of recent years are:
3. Brotherhood of War is the first series with Special Ops as the most recent in the series. It concerns Special Forces campaigns in Africa in the 1960s and the development of Army aviation. The Lieutenants is the first of this series and is excellent.
1. Above Suspicion was her first novel, set in 1938 before the war. It became a 1943 Joan Crawford movie.
2.The Venetian Affair is probably her best. It is a bit dated now but makes a nice travelogue. Her settings are fun to explore. Paris and Venice are the locations. The plot is an attempted assassination of De Gaulle.
3. The Double Image is the other of her best two novels. Like the first, it begins in Paris and this one ends on Mykonos. Lots of action and romance in both.
4. The Salzberg Connction is set in 1966 and is another Cold war spy novel. This one is set in Salzberg and the Austrian lakes region plus Switzerland. Again, the story is a bit dated but the plot is good and the story worth while.
Neville Shute is another favorite. I have read most of his novels but those that have held up the best are his stories about Australia and about flying.
1. No Highway is his timeless novel of aviation. The story is about a shy engineer who has a theory that a new airliner will have a metallurgical failure in the tailplane after so many hours of flight. Shute was an aeronautical engineer with patents from the early days of flying. Not only is this novel accurate in its technical details but, about six months after it came out, the British Comet, the first jet airliner, began to crash. The culprit, just as in Shute’s novel, was a metallurgy failure, metal fatigue. An excellent Jimmy Stewart movie was made from the novel.
2.On the Beach was his third prophetic novel and it threw me for a loop when I read it as a college sophomore. The story is of the end of the world as a result of a nuclear war. He had written a 1930s novel called “Ordeal” about aerial bombing that predicted the Blitz. Here was the third of his prophetic novels and the first two had come true! I almost dropped out of college and the effect lasted for a year or more. Children today have no idea how real the threat of nuclear war was then.
3. A Town Like Alice is everyone’s favorite Neville Shute novel. His story about how he came to write it is interesting. The story is about an English girl trapped in Malaya at the beginning of the war. She survives the war and goes home to England but is haunted by the memory of an Australian POW who was murdered by the Japanese as punishment for stealing food for the women prisoners. She inherits some money and uses it to return to Malaya where she finds that the Australian soldier survived after all. Most of the rest of the story takes place in the Australian Outback. A British movie was made of the story but the Australian part is omitted and only half the story is told in the movie.
4. Trustee From the Toolroom is his last novel and was published after his death. It is the most heartwarming of all and I reread it from time to time. It is also one of the very few good sailing novels set in modern times. The story is of a man who designs model machines and writes about them for a magazine. He lives a quiet life with his wife. they have no children, doing the thing he loves. His sister is married to a naval officer who decides to emigrate from postwar England to Canada. Currency restrictions don’t allow emigrants to take their money with them. The brother-in-law converts his assets to diamonds and secrets them, with Keith’s help, in the keel of the yacht they plan to sail to Vancouver. They leave their daughter in the care of Keith and his wife until they can send for the child. Unfortunately, the sailing couple encounter a typhoon and are lost on an island reef. Keith, the toolmaker, must now decide whether he will try to recover the diamonds for the benefit of the couple’s daughter. The sailing scenes are among the best in fiction and the story is one of friendship and sacrifice.
5. Round the Bend is another, more recent, favorite. It is about a young man who is an aircraft mechanic during the war and then, after the war, he decides to start a small air cargo business in the middle east. He buys a war surplus plane and ends up at an RAF station in Bahrain. He uses a hanger that is not being used by the RAF, in fact there are no planes there when he arrives. He builds up his small airline by adding staff from local Indian and Arab residents, some of them having served in the war as pilots. This is a great novel and now one of my favorites. It has an interesting theme of religion, as well.
6. Requiem For a Wren is a somber war time and post war novel. The main character is an RAF pilot who is badly injured in a crash late in the war, losing his feet. He loses his brother who is killed shortly before D-Day in a special operations mission on the Normandy beaches. The brother’s fiance becomes his interest as he tries to find her after the war. Most of the story is told in flash back after he returns to Australia to care for his aging parents. It is also excellent although somber in mood.
7. Slide Rule is Shute’s autobiography although it concerns his life up to the war and not after. Most of it is about his engineering career and his early time writing.
Samuel Shellabarger was the headmaster of a girls’ school when he began writing historical novels. He had previously done work for his PhD on the Renaissance period and the novels were mostly set in that period, which he knew so well.
1. Captain From Castille was the first and became a huge success with a successful movie made from the first half of the story. There were plans to make a sequel with the second half of the novel but it was never made. The book is the story of the conquest of Mexico by Cortez, who is a major character in the novel. It continues beyond the movie in the telling of the decision by King Charles V to appoint Cortez the governor of Mexico in spite of court intrigue.
3. King’s Cavalier tells the story of the Bourbon revolt against King Francis I of France and is set about the same time as the Castile novel. Chevalier de Bayard, a famous French soldier, appears briefly in both novels. Shellabarger had written a non-fiction biography of him.
4. Lord Vanity is another historical novel this time set in the 18th century. It begins in Venice and the hero is condemned to the galleys over a fight with a nobleman. He is rescued by his famous father who was unaware of this illegitimate son. He is then made over as the son of an English lord and enters the army after a small scandal about a duel derails his career at court. He is present at the battle of Quebec and is later sent by Pitt to Paris as an envoy and spy. The story is first rate.
Unfortunately, Shellabarger died in 1954 although he was still writing and his career was still young.
Magnificent Obsession– This novel, written in 1929, has been the inspiration for two movies and, while dated, has been a favorite of mine. The hero is a wealthy young man whose life is saved at the same moment that a famous neurosurgeon is lost due to the fact that the pulmotor (an obsolete form of respirator) is in use across the lake to save the young man. The young man, Bobby Merrick, then decides to go to medical school in an attempt to replace the man whose life was lost as his was saved. There is a romance and the story has been distorted by the movies made from the story. In fact, Douglas, a pastor in Ann Arbor, Michigan who wrote other famous novels (The Robe) wrote the story based on the life of a neurosurgeon at University Hospital named Edward Kahn, whose life was marked by his charitable works that resemble those of the hero of the novel. Knowing that the story is, in many ways, true makes this especially enjoyable for me.
I just read a biography of Mary Renault, whose novels of ancient Greece are very accurate and very readable and still all in print 25 years after her death.
1.The Last of the Wine is her first novel set in ancient Greece during the period of Plato’s young manhood and the end of the Peloponnesian War. There is a theme of a homosexual relationship between the two principle characters, typical of Athenian gentlemen during the Classical Age. At that time, women were closely restricted in harem-like circumstances and male bonding became mixed with homoerotic overtones. Greece, at that time, had a theme of male companionship going back to the Iliad where Achilles and Patroclus were depicted as very close, if not lovers. Mary Renault was one of the first writers to explore the theme of Greek male relationships.
2. The King Must Die became her most successful novel and is still in print. Here, the hero, the legendary figure Theseus, is heterosexual and the few gay figures are treated less sympathetically although the period is of the Bronze Age and not Classical Greece. Her novel, and the sequel, The Bull From the Sea tell the story of Theseus and his trip to Crete where the mythology has him slaying the bull-headed Minotaur. She reconstructs the myths with plausible conclusions about what might actually have happened and her reconstruction has been praised by classical scholars as the most likely origin of the myths. The amount of material available for such work is small and she was required to delve deeply into archeology and pottery images to reconstruct life in Bronze Age Greece.
3. The Mask of Apollo is once again set in classical Athens and has the theme of homosexual love plus considerable detail about the theater of the period. She became an expert on classical Greek theater in her research and she was friends with actors all her life. In this novel, Plato appears as an old man and Alexander the Great appears as a boy. The main story is about Dion, a noble student of Plato who tries to establish a philosopher kingship in Syracuse after the death of the tyrant, Dionysius. This is one of my two favorites of her books.
4. Fire From Heaven is her novel about the childhood of Alexander. She had an unhappy experience with her mother, and was not fond of females in general, which probably had some influence on her depiction of Olympias, Alexander’s mother.
5. She wrote two more novels about Alexander, The Persian Boy, which has the most overt discussion of homosexuality in her historical novels, and which describes Alexander as conqueror of the Persian Empire. This is well done and the sexual content does not detract from the rest of the story.
6. The third novel of the Alexander trilogy is Funeral Games, which takes place after the death of Alexander. It is very downbeat and I have not reread it as I have others of her novels.
7. The Praise Singer is her last and smallest novel but is one of my two favorites. It tells the story of Simonides, poet of Athens and composer of the epitaph of the Spartans of Thermopylae. It is also the story of the last Atheian tyrants, the Pisistratids, one of whom was assassinated by Athenian heroes, Harmodius and Aristogeiton, whose statues were erected by the later democrats and were stolen by the Persians.
She had earlier novels that were more concerned with nursing life in 1930s, England, and had a theme of lesbian love. Mary, and her companion Julie Mullard, lived in South Africa from 1948 until Mary’s death in 1983. All her Greek novels are still in print.
More Sailing Novels
These are rare.
1. The Shipkiller,now unfortunately out of print, is probably the best modern sailing novel I have read. The author, Justin Scott (a pseudonym) has written many other novels, some about sailing including a sequel called, Fire and Ice, which is written under another pen name. The story is of a doctor who has invented a digital thermometer. He decides to take a year off and cruise to Europe with his wife in their yacht. They are run down by a huge tanker in the English Channel. He survives but his wife is lost. He tries to prosecute the tanker owners, because it was not keeping a watch and running too fast for conditions, but they are too powerful and above the reach of the law. He then decides to get revenge by sinking the tanker, the world’s largest. It is an exciting story, although dated (to the 1970s) and the sailing is authentic.
2. Overboard by Hank Searles, is excellent although again a bit dated. Searles lives aboard his yacht and the sailing is authentic. Contrary to one of the Amazon reviews, a movie (screenplay by Searles) was made from the book but is awful and should be avoided. The book, however, is excellent.
3. The Voyage, by Philip Caputo, is very good although set at the turn of the century. There is a mystery in the story that the boys, who are ordered to sail off into the ocean by their father for no apparent reason, eventually uncover. The sailing is good and the story is a good mystery.
4. Trustee From the Toolroom, by Shute, should also be in this list as it has an excellent section, nearly half the book, about sailing.
I was a science fiction reader as a teenager but have lost much of my enthusiasm for this genre in recent years. My all time favorite is Needle, by Hal Clement who apparently wrote the novel to show that a science fiction mystery was possible. A few years ago, he marveled that the book, written in 1950, was still popular. He even wrote a sequel, called Through the Eye of a Needle, in 1978. He was an astronomer and chemist so the science is good.
Another sort of science fiction that appeals to me is The Woodrow Wilson Dime, by Jack Finney who also wrote The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which is not a favorite of mine. The “Wilson” story is a short story, later expanded into a novel, that concerns a young man who is bored with his life when he discovers that another life, consisting of all the choices he might have made but didn’t, is in reach through a newspaper stand where he buys his paper every day.