Tag Archives: Lincoln

My Eight Favorite History Books of All Time

by Rick Bretz

Cover of "Fortunate Son: The Healing of a...
Cover via Amazon

1. Fortunate Son: The Healing of a Vietnam Vet

By Lewis B. Puller, Jr.

For autobiographies and a book that makes you empathize with and respect the author, this one is at the top of the list for me.  This book earned the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 and it deserved it.  He was the son of Marine General Lewis “Chesty” Puller, a hero to every Marine that ever served.  His son followed in his footsteps and served with distinction as a Marine Corps officer in Vietnam.  The Vietnam War handed Puller a challenge he fought his whole life when he lost both his legs, part of his arm, hand and part of his stomach.  The chapter that tells the story of his father visiting him in the hospital is a gut wrenching read.  The rest of his life story is riveting and he fights to come back.  In a sad ending, three years after earning the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, Puller took his own life. The book is inspiring and an example of the fight that most wounded warriors go through when they come back from the fight.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_Burwell_Puller,_Jr.

2. John Adams

By David McCullough

McCullough has written several books that I have enjoyed throughout the years.  He’s a pleasure to read and always tells me something new about the subject.  He’s tackled subjects as diverse as Harry Truman and the Brooklyn Bridge.  For Adams, McCullough gave us glimpse into the Adams personality and reminded us of how important this founding father was to American history who for a while was lost among the others stellar figures like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. I wasn’t expecting an interesting read but what I got was a page turner.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_McCullough

3. TR: The Last Romantic

By H.W. Brands

This epic biography takes you from Teddy Roosevelt’s young days, through college, his heart aches, and his triumphs through to the end of his life.  The book discusses his adventurous travels, his bombastic personality as well as his knack for being in the right place at the right time.  Once he got his opportunities, he makes the most of them.  The book also discusses his mistakes and his relationships with his sons and daughters.  There are several books about this larger than life President but this is one that portrays the era and how a go-getter lives in it.

http://books.google.com/books/about/T_R.html?id=J7jMw0bwRy8C

English: Brigadier General Chuck Yeager
English: Brigadier General Chuck Yeager (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4. Yeager, An Autobiography

By General Chuck Yeager and Leo Janus

A first-hand account of the pilot who was pilot that ushered in the supersonic age.  Yeager is an interesting autobiography of a first pilot to break the sound barrier.  However, it is much more than the story of that feat.  It tells the story of his younger days and his World War II combat dog fights.  He writes about his friends, family and his days as commander of several Air Force units and how he handled some delicate situations as commander and as a top-notch pilot.

http://www.amazon.com/Yeager-An-Autobiography-Chuck/dp/0553256742

5. Unbroken: The World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption

By Laura Hillenbrand

The story of Lt. Louis Zamperini who joined the war as an aviator bombardier and was part of crew that ended up in rubber raft trying to survive days and then weeks.  Little does the reader know that this is only the beginning of a story that includes brutality at a POW camp and starvation for him and his crew mates. A few years earlier Zamperini was running in the Olympics and then the War.  This is an all to real story of about what Prisoners of War have had to endure.

http://www.amazon.com/Unbroken-World-Survival-Resilience-Redemption/dp/1400064163

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Zamperini

English: Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth Presid...

6.  A Team Of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

By Doris Kearns Goodwin

Today’s politicians could learn a few things concerning how President Lincoln handled his victories and as well as his defeats.  Once he gained the Presidential Office, instead of isolating his rivals, Lincoln invited them into his inner circle.  He did this because he was confident in himself and his abilities.  He knew how to handle difficult personalities.  He wanted the best minds available to weather the coming storm of the Civil War and its complications for the United States economy and standing among other nations.  The Doris Kearns Goodwin book covers this subject expertly.  After finishing the book, you will get a perceptive look into the genius that was President Lincoln.

http://www.amazon.com/Team-Rivals-Political-Abraham-Lincoln/dp/0743270754

Peter I of Russia
Peter I of Russia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

7. Great Rivals in History: When Politics Gets Personal

By Joseph Cummins

This is a read that explores why certain people throughout history hated each other.  In fact, some of these people despised each other.  They took it to a point where they ruined their countries and their lives.  It analyzes the relationship among several of history’s colorful and despised personalities such as the rivalry between Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky.  Other rivalries include Charles XII of Sweden and Peter the Great of Russia. There are many with many reasons why each were against the other.  It provides an analysis as to why leaders and generals clashed to form historical events.

http://www.amazon.com/Great-Rivals-History-Politics-Personal/dp/1607108658

8. What if? The World’s Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been

Edited by Robert Cowley

This book poses fascinating questions has to what might have been.  Would history have taken a left turn instead of right if certain meetings had occurred or if wrong decisions hadn’t been made by leaders and generals?  For instance, would Germany have fared better in World War II if Hitler hadn’t invaded the Soviet Union?  Would there have been a better way to handle Cuba and Fidel Castro?   Some of these questions are pondered and answered.  It’s a fascinating travel log through history and what might have been.

http://www.amazon.com/What-If-Foremost-Military-Historians/dp/0425176428

That is my list.  There are several others books I like  but for sheer enjoyment, these are my eight favorites.  Do you have any to add to the list?  Leave me a suggestion.

Planes, Trains, Automobiles And The Sea

by Rick Bretz

A look back at transportation modes throughout history tells us that when using new technology is left to humanity, moving from one place to another can bring joy or pain.  The horse could carry someone coming back to see their family or someone to conquer their homelands.  A plane can bring needed supplies like the Berlin Airlift or drop bombs bringing devastation as the world saw at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Civilization has sought to contract space and time so now a person or country’s military can move across the globe in a few hours or days.

Grand Canyon in Winter
Grand Canyon in Winter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Driving across a country also gives the passenger a different perspective than say flying and looking down at the same landmark or land mass.  Driving and stopping makes the experience more personal while flying and looking down presents someone with a spectacular view but distant.

Two perfect examples of two different personal experiences are flying over the Mississippi River or the Grand Canyon before landing at the Las Vegas McCarran International Airport.  The two land marks look awe-inspiring from your window seat in the airplane but seem are breathtaking when driving and seeing them up close, especially when you consider where you cross the Mississippi River. Let’s compare are primary ways to get from point A to Point B.

First flight of the Wright Flyer I, December 1...
First flight of the Wright Flyer I, December 17, 1903, Orville piloting, Wilbur running at wingtip. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Automobiles

Trains

Planes

Sea Travel

First True Automobile (Internal Combustion Engine) 1885/1886 (Karl Benz) 1804-First Steam Locomotive for the road hauled freight in Wales 1903-Wright brothers achieve sustained flight flying a properly   engineered aircraft in NC 4000BC-First sailing boats built from reeds in Egypt.
Steam Engine Auto (1769) 1825-The Stockton and Darlington Railroad company hauls freight and   passengers over 9 miles using George Stephenson steam locomotive for tracks 1904 First airplane maneuvers (Turn and Circle) Wright Brothers) 1000BC-Vikings build long ships using oarsmen.
Electric Carriage (1832-1839) 1826-Col John Stevens demonstrates the feasibility of steam   locomotives on experimental track in Hoboken, NJ. 1905 First Airplane Flight over a half hour (33 minutes, 17 seconds) Orville   Wright 1100AD-Chinese build junks with watertight compartments and strong   sails using a rudder to steer.
1886 (First Four Wheeled, four Stroke Engine) Daimler/Maybach 1830-Peter Cooper operates the first American built steam locomotive   on a common carrier railroad. 1908-First Airplane fatality Lt. Thomas Selfridge, US Army Signal   Corps. During evaluation flight propeller hit bracing wire. 1400s-Three and Four Mast ships introduced for cargo transportation,   military power, and passenger travel
1876-1895 George Baldwin Seldon combine internal combustion engine   with carriage 1857-George Pullman invents the Pullman sleeping car. The first   comfortable overnight sleeper. 1910- First licensed woman pilot. Baroness Raymonde de la Roche who   learned to fly in 1909. 1819-First Steam ships used to cross Atlantic using steam and wind   power.
1893-Charles and Frank Duryea set up first Car manufacturing company 1881-Mary Walton receives patent for an elevated train noise   dampening system. 1914-First Aerial combat between German and allied pilots 1845-First ocean-going liner using engine power and propeller driven built
1908-Henry Ford introduces Model-T 1855-First land grant railroad completed, The Illinois Central 1910-First Flight from shipboard 1914-Panama Canal opened
1913-Ford Motor Company perfects moving assembly line 1856-First Railway bridge across the Mississippi completed between   Rock Island, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa 1927-First solo nonstop transatlantic flight (Charles Lindbergh) 1825-Erie Canal Opens
1921-Italy constructed first limited access road (Auto Strada) 1932-German   Bonn-Cologne Autobahn Constructed, 1922-First Blue Print for US National   Highway System, 1956 The Federal Aid Highway Act allocating funds for   extensive US Highway System. 1862-President Lincoln signs the Pacific Railway Act authorizing the   construction of the first Transcontinental Railroad 1929-First blind flight using instruments. Took off and landed using   instruments. (James Doolittle) 1811-First steamboat used on Mississippi River.
1938-1940-Merritt Parkway opened as first US fully controlled access   parkway (Barrier Toll Plazas) from Hartford to New York City. 1869-The Central Pacific and Union Pacific meet at Promontory Summit,   Utah for the driving of the Gold Spike. 1932-First woman to fly transatlantic solo. (Amelia Earhart) 1900-First cruise ship, the Prinzessin Victoria Louise, built for the   Hamburg America Line, begins moving passengers using 120 first class cabins.
1899-First Speeding infraction in NYC committed by Cad Driver going   12 MPH in 8 MPH zone. 1872-George Westinghouse patents the first automatic air brake. 1933-First round-the-world solo flight (Wiley Post) April 15, 1912-RMS Titanic Sinks crossing the Atlantic
1868-First Traffic Light used in London operated by Gas Lamps 1970-Congress passes the Rail Passenger Service Act creating Amtrak 1952-First Jet Liner Service between London and Johannesburg, South   Africa. (23 hours, 38 minutes) 2012-Oasis of the Seas, largest cruise ship in the world
1913 photograph Ford company, USA
1913 photograph Ford company, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most people have a favorite way to get to their destination.  What determines the final decision? A fellow traveler bases where to place his soul thinking about several factors–time, money, convenience and the fear of travelling by certain modes.  Phobias can play an important role when travelling, sometimes more than funding.  Beyond a person’s individual preferences, the comparison chart above shows that each form has benefited from the creativity, intelligence, courage, sacrifice and fortitude of many people to arrive where we are today.

Other Modes: Walk, Jog, Bicycle, Tricycle, Motorcycle, Scooter, roller-skate, inline skate, Skateboard, escalator, surfboard, swimming, snowmobile, four-wheeler, Riding Lawn Mower, Farm Tractor, Public Bus, Horse, Camel, Llama, Oxen, Donkey, Mule, space shuttle, space capsule, hang gliders, trolley cars.

Notable Links:

http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/auto.html

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aso/databank/entries/dt13as.html

http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2011/05/the-first-speeding-infraction-in-the-u-s-was-committed-by-a-new-york-city-taxi-driver-in-an-electric-car-on-may-20-1899/

http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blrailroad.htm

http://inventors.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http://www.sdrm.org/history/timeline/

http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0004537.html

http://www.seahistory.org/

http://sea-transport.wikispaces.com/Sea+travel+timeline

Eight Great Presidential Performances

By Rick Bretz

In recognition of the inauguration this week, I have listed what I consider the best presidential portrayals on film and the small screen.  My criteria are simple.  Did the actor capture the spirit of the President’s personality?  And, was I able to watch the presentation without being aware that someone was trying too hard to play that particular president? Most of the performances on this list present a narrow window in a President’s life.  The more difficult portrayals involve playing the person over a lifetime.  A good example of this is Paul Giamatti’s portrayal of John Adams and Barry Bostwick’s performance in the George Washington miniseries. Below is the actor followed by the President portrayed and then the  film or television title.

1.  Kenneth Branagh-Franklin Delano Roosevelt-Warm Springs

I was skeptical before making time to see this show that the actor could pull it off.  I was wrong.  Kenneth Branagh captured the force of Roosevelt’s personality and his physical and emotional fight with the crippling polio disease.  He also does a great job of relating to the people who have the same disease while rehabilitating at Warm Springs.  His supporting cast is terrific and he shows us why Roosevelt related to so many people.

2.  Daniel Day Lewis-Abraham-Lincoln-Lincoln

Enough has been written about Lewis’ choice concerning how Lincoln sounds when he speaks compared to other portrayals. If you watch Henry Fonda’s “Young Mr. Lincoln”,  the voice pitch comes close to what Lewis used in Lincoln.  What cannot be disputed is that he does capture Lincoln’s modest confidence and his sharp political mind.

3.  Paul Giamatti-John Adams-Johns Adams

 Paul Giamatti captures Adams from all directions.  He is spot on in his portrayal in many aspects.  His love for his wife Abigail, his mercurial temper, his difficult personality, his love for his family, his ego, and most of all, his sense of duty, fairness, and love for his country. Giamatti’s choices show the president from all sides while weaving his multi-layered personality into the presentation of Adams. He also plays him as he ages from a young man to his death which is difficult to accomplish.

4.  Frank Langella-Richard M. Nixon-Frost/Nixon

 Langella’s acting puts a human face on Richard Nixon in this Ron Howard directed film.  He sparred with David Frost through a majority of the movie and showed Nixon’s toughness, intellect, political savvy and his personality weaknesses.  This performance is remarkable because it keeps the audience interested despite knowing the outcome.  It explains history without getting into the minute details so the audience’s eyes don’t glaze over like sitting in 9th grade history class memorizing dates.

 5.  Jeff Daniels-George Washington-The Crossing

 Jeff Daniels does a terrific job showing people what it must have been like serving under George Washington.  Daniels gives us a performance that shows Washington cool under fire, a master at finding quality people to serve under him and how to manage them, and how to get soldiers to fight for him in the most extreme circumstances. Daniels as Washington shows the General as calm leader looking to find answers instead of assessing blame.

6.  Anthony Hopkins-John Quincy Adams-Amistad

 My favorite scene in this movie is when Adams is supposedly sleeping during a congressional session.  Then the speaker asks him to comment on the previous discussion. Adams speaks up immediately repeating the last exchange and giving his own caustic opinion about the matter and the current session itself.  Hopkins is a master at losing himself in roles and this is one.  His other Presidential portrayal of Richard Nixon is good as well but this one is fascinating especially with the final summation in court at the end.

7.  Randy Quaid, Lyndon B. Johnson, LBJ; The Early Years

 Randy Quaid shows Lyndon Johnson with his loud voice, over-the–top personality and his energy to accomplish his own goals and fix what needs to be fixed.  This is another performance that shows the actor aging through several years from a young man to his days in congress.  Quaid gives an outstanding performance showing how Johnson dealt with people and how Johnson used his force of personality to get his legislation passed when he was a leader in congress.

8.  Henry Fonda-Abraham Lincoln-Young Mr. Lincoln

This movie was released in 1939 and it shows a young Henry Fonda at his best. Fonda gives us the Lincoln personality in the salad days of his lawyer career.  He takes on a case early in the movie that everyone believes is a lost cause.  Throughout the movie, Fonda shows the audience the Lincoln wit and his art for storytelling.  He shows us why Lincoln became President while  using his political savvy and intelligence.  Fonda’s acting also shows us an underlying sadness to his personality and an innate understanding he might be destined for great things.

Those are my favorites.  Do you agree? Leave a comment?

 More great characterizations:

David Morse-George Washington-John Adams; Edward Herrmann-Franklin Delano Roosevelt-Eleanor and Franklin; Barry Bostwick-George Washington- George Washington (The Mini-Series);  Bill Murray-Franklin Delano Roosevelt-Hyde Park on the Hudson; Gary Sinise-Harry S. Truman-Truman;  James Whitmore-Harry S. Truman-Give ‘Em Hell Harry; Raymond Massey-Abraham Lincoln-Abe Lincoln in Illinois; Brian Keith-Teddy Roosevelt-The Wind and the Lion