ANN PATCHETT’S, “THESE PRECIOUS DAYS.”

Ms. Patchett’s, “These Precious Days: Essays,” is very simply PRECIOUS. Whether it be her nonfiction, fiction, or essays, her work contains the one quality that all great writers are able to achieve and that is ‘honesty.’

Her insights into human behavior and how we humans interact with the environment we are a part of is reminiscent, in the strangest of ways, to Joseph Conrad’s works. Their styles of writing are completely different, but the affects of their work is very similar. Joseph Conrad is my favorite writer, and when I compare someone’s works to his that is the highest compliment I can pay to a writer.

Their is not an essay in Ms. Patchett’s collection that I did not like, but there are quite a few I found to be outstanding, such as the one titled ‘These Precious Days,’ which deals with Tom Hanks’ assistant Sooki Raphael’s fight with pancreatic cancer, during the Covid pandemic, and the amazing friendship that springs up between Ms. Patchett and Sooki over a three year period.

Another is “To The Doghouse,” which is about Peanut’s cartoon character, the amazing Snoopy and his transformations into Joe Cool, and into a World War 1 flying ace and his dogfights with the Red Baron, and his love of reading such classics as “The Heart Of Darkness.” Snoopy is a writer who often ends up on top of his doghouse with his typewriter typing “it was a dark and stormy night.”

Ms. Patchett started reading Peanut cartoons when she was still a child, but like Snoopy she followed his example that one does not have to write in a beautiful studio to be a great writer but anywhere you might get inspiration like on your kitchen table, and that even though Snoopy got rejection notices from publishers he never gave up and why, because like Mr. Patchett his imagination is too great and his brain is full with too much information and stories not to put down in writing.

Ms. Patchett seems like the kind of person you would meet and come away with the impressions of her, she leaves you to believe in these essays: a caring, loving, dedicated lady, with a big heart.

Sadly, if I ever did have a chance to meet her I would decide not to unless I could be around her for an extended period of time. I worked in a very famous restaurant (which was more like a saloon) with the best food in town. When given a chance to meet two of my idols, Paul McCartney and Frank Sinatra, I decided not to and the reason why is because if they seemed standoffish or unpleasant that experience would have an affect on me every time I heard their music. I simply could not take that chance.

Yet, some of the best pieces of writing I did were about superstars like Sam Shepard, Don Rickles, and Ray Liotta but with them I had the pleasure of talking to them for long periods of time and over years.

“These Precious Days: Essays,” are a must read for those familiar with Ms. Patchett’s works, and even for does who are not.

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“FLASHMAN,” BY GEORGE MACDONALD FRASER

Satire at its best, is masterful but sadly not many artists have achieved this and many who have tried repeatedly have failed repeatedly. Lord Byron, one of my favorite, if not my favorite, poet of all times was a master of satire and to read his “Don Juan,” is like a journey to heaven.

“Flashman (The Flashman Papers, # 1) were discovered during a sale of household furniture at Ashby, Leicestershire in 1965. They are the the personal memoirs of a celebrated Victorian soldier, Harry Flashman, who was born in the early Eighteen twenties and died in 1905.

Those collection of papers have been turned into eight novels by writer/ editor George MacDonald Fraser. Harry Flashman, the main character in all the novels, is a cowardly, lying, thief, and womanize and the real Harry Flashman is a master of satire, not Byron, but still a master.

The first novel takes place mostly in Afghanistan during the British invasion and occupation of the country in the middle eighteen century. Flashman survives his military incompetence, ambushes, snake pits, vengeful women, torture, warlords, and cowardly behavior and somehow survives and becomes, against all odds, a bona fide hero.

Naturally, the main character is fictionalized, and he is hilariously funny, but the actual events during the British occupation of Afghanistan as described by Harry (Flashy) Flashman rank right up there with the best biographies I have read on this period of British history and the incompetence of their military leadership in Afghanistan.

This series of books were recommended to me by my friend Dmitri, and I can’t wait to read more about Flashy Flashman in book 2. I highly recommend.

“WIZARD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF NIKOLA TESLA,” BY MARC J. SEIFER

My journey into the world of “Electrical Science,” started off with me reading the historical fictional novel, “The Last Days Of Night,” by Graham Moore. As I would soon learn the book was much more fiction than actual history and it, more or less, covered Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and Nikola Tesla, but I did come away with a small understanding of the difference between AC and DC electrical currents and enough interest to pursue the topic further.

I went on to read a number of nonfiction books that covered the history of electrical science which also dealt with the three main people associated with the science: Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla. But, it was not until I read “Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, and Westinghouse and the Race to Electrify the World,” by Jill Jonnes that my interest peaked.

So, from there I decided to read biographies dedicated not to the three men, but biographies on each individual, and I started with the most fascinating of them all, Nikola Tesla.

“Wizard: The Life and Times of Nicola Tesla/ Biography Of a Genius,” by Marc J. Seifer was where I started and believe me I was not disappointed. The word ‘genius’ is often thrown around quite easily, but throughout this book I kept going through famous names who I thought were comparable with the genius of Mr. Tesla. After reading two-thirds of the book, I came up with two names who I thought Nikola Tesla was comparable too: Leonard da Vinci and Ben Franklin. And in a strange occurrence, a couple pages further into the book, a number of magazines and distinguished individuals said, “That Nicola Tesla deserved to be included in the select group of da Vinci and Franklin.”

Nicola Tesla was born in Croatia and was of Serbian decent. He was able to speak up to ten different languages, and was profoundly affected by literature and poetry. Aside from being the genius behind the Niagara Falls Project that send electricity over greater areas than ever before imagined and lighting up much of the Chicago World’s Fair in the middle 1890’s, he also invented the first robots, wireless telegraphy, the radio (which was originally attributed to the Italian inventor Marconi who literally stole his ideas and was forced by courts in Europe and America to acknowledge his theft) and laser bean technology which the U.S. government refused to buy the patents for but was quick to get hold of the 87 trunks stored in Manhattan after his death.

Eighty years later, much of that material in those trunks are still considered highly classified and the material and designs have never been seen.

Mr. Tesla lived a life a luxury, residing at the Waldorf Astoria for over twenty years and other famous hotels throughout Manhattan. His only problem was his inability to keep up with the payments at these hotels. His associates included Mark Twain, John Astor, J.P. Morgan, George Westinghouse, the Rockefeller’s, and the list goes on and on. But, it was J.P. Morgan who caused him the most headaches and destroyed his biggest dream The Wardenclyffe Tower that he built on Long Island and promised to deliver wireless telegraphs across the Atlantic.

Tesla, out of generosity, simply gave Morgan 51 per cent of the Wardenclyffe project for his investment, but once Morgan figured out that such a powerful device would cost some of his current businesses to go bankrupt he held back much of the investment and it was never completed and eventually destroyed.

Nicola Tesla was a complicated genius, generous, trusting, and was the first to admit that all inventions were simply the byproduct of ideas and creations that came before. He was a conservationist whose inventions he felt would keep the air and nature clean and would lessen the hard labor of the working class.
In summary Goethe’s lyrics from “Prometheus.”

Cover your heaven, Zeus,
With cloudy vapours,
And test your strength, like a boy
Beheading thistles,
On oaks and mountain peaks;
Yet you must leave
My earth alone,
And my hut you did not build,
And my hearth,
Whose fire
You envy me.

Did you suppose
I should hate life,
Flee into the wilderness,
Because not all
My blossoming dreams bore fruit?

Here I sit, making men
In my own image,
A race that shall be like me,
That shall suffer, weep,
Know joy and delight,
And ignore you
As I do!

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“MADAME FOURCADE’S SECRET WAR,” BY LYNNE OLSON

I have read many biographies on World War 2, and almost all of them have taught me a few things I have not known. But when it comes to the quantity of events and the individuals involved, I have no doubt that Ms. Olson’s biographies on World War 2 and the European theater have enlighten me to more people and events that were extremely significant but that I had no idea about. I have read four of her biographies on World War 2 (each between four and five hundred pages) and the knowledge that I have come away with is amazing, and it doesn’t hurt that her writing style is beautiful.

“Madame Fourcade’s Secret War,” is about Marie-Madeline Fourcade and her leadership of the French spy network, “Alliance,” that lasted as long as the occupation of France by the Nazis and supplied critical intelligence to M16 (the British spy network) that would save hundreds of thousands of lives and especially help with the liberation of France and the victory over the Germans.

Despite the Gestapos relentless pursuit of them, executing hundreds of its agents, it refused to lay low and continual to supply information to General Patton toward the end of the war as he pushed the Germans out of France and back into Germany.

“Alliance,” led by fearless and courageous leader Madame Fourcade had as many as three thousand agents. For those allied geniuses that were originally taken aback that a beautiful female agent was running such an organization, their doubts were quickly erased as the intelligence information kept on flowing. Sadly, after the war it was mostly the men that were recognized as heroes, and Madame Fourcade and her network were virtually left out of the spotlight and it wasn’t until recently that her and her network of spies are receiving the recognition they so richly deserved.

A SIDE NOTE: For those who believe it’s no big deal that our former president took highly classified documents down to Mar-a-Lago, let me remind you that it is the information in those documents that put the lives of our agents in jeopardy, and the security of our country and our allies at risk. Senator Rubio, besides being a cowardly traitor and a despicable human being, it is not simply a ‘storage issue,’ but an issue of life and death for individuals who have more courage in their pinkie finger than you have in your entire being.

“EMPIRES OF LIGHT,” BY JILL JONNES

Jill Jonnes’ “Empires of Light,” Is by far the best book I have read about Edison, Tesla, and Westinghouse and the electrifying of the world. Granted, I have only read a few books that cover all three of these geniuses.

Like so many people, I have been captivated by geniuses and by the types of lives they led, their social encounters and groups of friends, their heroes, and what makes them strive so ardently to achieve what they achieve. Not surprisingly, it is very seldom about money. It is usually a fascination with nature, with making the world they live in a better place (but not always), a burning desire to explain the unknown and to find answers to it, and they are usually very competitive.

Electricity has been around since the beginning of time, and was probably mentioned over a thousand years ago by a Greek inventor. Electricity, very simply, is part of nature and is witnessed anytime you see a thunderstorm. Neither Edison, Tesla, or Westinghouse were the first to come up with the idea of harnessing electricity and making use of it, but they were among the first to successfully shackle it’s energy safely and to light up the world and make night into day and to forge ahead with what many consider the second industrial revolution.

The three men were quite familiar with each other, fighting over patents, occasionally working together, and in the case of Tesla and Westinghouse forming a partnership and creating the machinery to harness AC (alternating current) and lighting up the World’s Fair in Chicago, and then using the power of Niagara Falls (AC and DC/Direct current) to light up the city of Buffalo that was over thirty miles away and by doing so changing the world, and making possible the reality of one main power station lighting up tens of thousands of businesses and homes miles and miles away.

The contributions of all three men can not be overstated, but without the talented engineers working for them none of this would have been possible so quickly. Edison and Westinghouse literally housed many of their workers and in the case of Westinghouse he treated his workers like family. Tesla was more like a loose cannon and when he first came to America from Serbia he worked for Thomas Edison who at that time was considered the greatest inventor of his time. He asked for a raise and was fired by Edison. He became a free agent and was picked up by Westinghouse and together, and with a group of highly talented engineers, they picked up where Edison left off. Edison refused to acknowledge the advantages of AC over DC current, and where he continued to use DC current to light up single homes and small city blocks it was AC current and the engineers’ ability to transform it into direct current as it entered work places and homes that transformed the world.

Both Edison and Westinghouse died rich but the really big winners when it came to money was the WALL STREET INVESTORS who bought out their companies and made billions, if not trillions. Inventing is a costly business and without investors you are not usually going to have much of a chance. Tesla, who arguably was the greatest genius and inventor of the three, died penniless.

“CARNEGIE’S MAID,” BY MARIE BENEDICT

Clara Kelley is a fictional character playing the role of a non-fictional character, called an immigrant.
She works as a lady’s maid to Andrew Carnegie’s mother, Mrs. Carnegie. She actually has it good, an Irish immigrant just off the boat, mistaken for another Clara Kelley who died on the boat ride over.

She lives among the sumptuous luxury of the Carnegie Mansion in Pittsburgh, Penn. and as a Lady’s maid she is belittled, sleeps in box size room, cleans and dresses Mrs. Carnegie, and probably cleans her butt after using the bathroom.

Andrew Carnegie takes a liken to her and we are to believe falls in love with her. Andrew Carnegie, in real life was a complicated individual, a brutal businessman who had no problem paying his workers’ the bare minimum under terrible working conditions, and later in his life literally transforming himself into one of the greatest philanthropist of his time…just take a walk around NYC and see how many libraries and concert halls are named after him. Ms. Benedict captures the true Mr. Carnegie in her delightful novel, but what she truly captures is the inhumane conditions that immigrants, in this case Irish immigrants, had to live through after arriving in America not for a few years but decades after decades.

The biggest lie in American history is engraved in our ever revered Statue of Liberty: “Give me Your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” Emma Lazarus

MARIE BENEDICT’S, “THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM.”

A Wonderful book about the brilliant, mesmerizing, scientist and actress Hedy Lamarr (Hedy Kiesler) who by the age of nineteen was already married to the riches, arms manufacture in Austria, Friedrich Mandl. The marriage, partially set-up to protect her parents, from the impending threat of the Nazis and their hostilities toward Jews.

Overhearing the Third Reich’s plans while her husband, at one of their homes, has a business meeting with Hitler and associates, she devises a plan to escape from her abusive, obsessive husband and his new found business partners.

Disguised as a maid, she escapes and lands in Hollywood where she changes her Jewish name, Kiesler to Lamaar. Hollywood and Americans are not too crazy about Jews either, even though almost all the Hollywood moguls are Jewish and have changed their names.

Knowing a few secrets about the Nazis’ flaws in their war machinery, she and a musician friend, George Antheil, invent a ground breaking device that would eventually revolutionize modern communications and enhance American’s military capabilities.

Ms. Benedict’s novel, “The Only Woman in the Room,” is beautifully written, captivating, and suspenseful. I highly recommend. 

“LIKE A ROLLING STONE,” BY JANN S. WENNER


Reading Jann Wenner’s memoir, “Like a Rolling Stone,” was like taking a tour back in time to a happier, more soul-searching time in my life. I was a child of the seventies but when it came to music it was always rock and roll for my friends and I.

After playing hours of basketball late into the summer evenings, we would walk to the closest deli and buy cases of beer (Back in the Bronx they didn’t ask for identification) and drop or smoke whatever illegal substance was available. We would sit on the benches right above the basketball courts, drink our beer, and listen to the music of Dylan, The Doors, The Who, The Beatles, The Stones, Elton John, Pink Floyd, etc. We would converse about the meanings of the lyrics, and more often than not we agreed. Rock and Roll was our anthem, and to this very day, 50 years later, it is still the dominant music force in my life.

Mr. Wenner’s memoir is the history of his famous magazine “Rolling Stone,” and whereas it was most certainly one of the major driving forces behind the music of rock and roll, it was a magazine that went beyond just the music, and won many awards for outstanding articles on politics, wasteful military spending, the issue of segregation, women’s rights, climate change, sexuality, gun safety, etc.

In a sense, it was a magazine, under the leadership of Mr. Wenner, that one might want to compare to 1927 Yankees. He assembled an all-star staff…many of who started at the lowest levels and worked their way up, and Mr. Wenner is not shy in giving credit to the outstanding work that they did.

The memoir is full of the many famous people Mr. Wenner interviewed and who became lifelong friends, but the memoir shines brightest when he recalls the more extensive conversations and friendships he had with Jackie Kennedy Onassis, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Mick Jagger, Bono, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Douglas, and Hunter Thompson.

Mr. Wenner mostly stays away from bad mouthing any one group or individual. He is at the core a conscientious reporter and editor, and his magazine and the causes he funded and supported is a legacy that will forever live on and yes, “Rock and Roll will never die.” I highly recommend.

GRAHAM MOORE’S, “THE LAST DAYS OF NIGHT.”

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A simply wonderful historical fiction novel that deals primarily with the patent fight between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse over control of the electric bulb. Edison’s bulb that runs on D/C (direct power) and Westinghouse’s bulb that runs on A/C (indirect power).

Add J.P Morgan, Nikola Tesla, and a young lawyer, Paul Cravat, a little romance and you have an enchanting, exciting, and hard to put down book. I strongly recommend

“THE PERSONAL LIBRARIAN,” BY MARIE BENEDICT AND VICTORIA CHRISTOPHER MURRY.

“The Personal Librarian,” by Ms. Benedict and Ms. Murray is an absolutely wonderful novel, uplifting, unsettling, educational, despairing, a refection on a time that should have been glorious for all Americans, and yet the Supreme Court ruling in 1885 tore down “the Equal Rights Amendment,” passed in 1872 that was an outcome of the Civil War. Suddenly, slavery was replaced by segregation and the Jim Crow Laws, and its effect was not only in the southern states but in northern states such as New York.

The novel is about Belle da Costa Greene, who is hired by the powerful J.P. Morgan to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books, and pieces of art for the newly built Pierpont Morgan Library. This amazing and talented lady never would have been hired, except for the fact that she was so fair skin she passed for white. A secret she would keep her whole life, always conscious that people would find out that she was a colored lady. Her mother raised her children, who were all fair skin, to be white and always on guard when around people. She knew what it was like to live as a colored woman after 1885 and she did not want that for her children.

The inter-play and affection felt by Ms. Greene and Mr. Morgan, working side by side in the library, is nothing short of fantastic, and in many ways it dominates most of the book. Mr. Morgan is Anti-Semitic yet he never says anything against colored people, and yet Ms. Greene goes to great lengths to cover her true background, insisting she is of Portuguese.

Ms. Greene becomes world famous for her intellect, ability to bargain for priceless articles, her wit and her beauty. If she was ever found out she would lose everything, despite her undeniable abilities and talents. Sadly, it is impossible to read this novel and not make comparisons between the world Ms. Green lived in and today’s America where white supremacists are back at it, and the Confederate flag has once again trespassed the halls of our capitol.