Book Review: Faster by Neal Bascomb (four stars)

Book Review: Faster: How a Jewish Driver, an American Heiress, and a Legendary Car Beat Hitler’s Best by Neal Bascomb (four stars)

“To win the prize, it is necessary to take great risks.” René Dreyfus

Excellent history of inter war auto racing in Europe emphasizing the struggle of Lucy Schell to a field competitive French Grand Prix car against the Silver Arrows of Mercedes and Auto Union in the gathering dusk before World War Two.

“There was only one thing wrong, [Redacted]. The others drove like mad, but you drove like … a night watchman.”

Ostensibly about Lucy Schell’s Écurie Bleue team headed by René Dreyfus driving Delahaye racers, the book traces the fortunes, genius, and compromises of many teams and drivers pursuing their sport while civilization teetered on the brink. As much about Rudi Caracciola as René Dreyfus.

Races were increasingly a battleground between nations rather than individual drivers, and the Nazis were clearly investing to dominate.

Photos and maps enhance the reader’s appreciation. Name and nickname changes muddle the narrative. Skip the self-serving introduction bogs the story. The prologue is fine. Appropriate 30s style cover.

“We cannot go on this way … One of us will die.” Bernd Rosemeyer

Book Review: Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton (five stars)

Book Review: Last Train to London: A Novel by Meg Waite Clayton (five stars)

“It’s the problems you fail to anticipate that defeat you.”

Extraordinary historical fiction. Deep personal stories woven into the tapestry of a horrible two years of European history. Intense first-person narrative of the principal actors. The historic people and actions as dramatic as the fiction. Several main characters are historic and reported as they really were, even if immediate actions and words are invented.

“I’m a woman who can’t bear a child in a world that values nothing else from me!” “You are a woman doing important work, in a world that badly needs you.”

What historical fiction should be: takes the reader deep into the lives of people trying to navigate a time of upheaval and horror. Americans are largely ignorant of what happened in Europe—especially eastern Europe—as the shadow of Nazi Germany snuffed out whole countries and peoples.

‘It was an honor, to be listened to closely, to be heard. One could honor someone without agreeing with them.’

Individuals—women in a time when they were ignored if not outright discriminated against—dare to oppose the terror and make a difference.

Foreign Secretary Halifax said that any British response could provoke war.”

Obvious parallels to contemporary history.

“We haven’t begun to see the extent of his man’s capacity for cruelty.”

Quibbles: Got the baby on the train all wrong. A baby small enough to fit in a picnic basket won’t be saying “Mama” to anyone. And won’t stay quiet for 36 hours. And will need to be fed.

The Last Train to London is Truus’s story, and that of the children and their families. I hope it does them all justice, and that it will inspire readers as surely as they all have inspired me.” Meg Waite Clayton

Review: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer (Five Stars)

Review: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany by William L. Shirer (Five Stars)

“Once we have the power we will never give it up. They will have to carry our dead bodies out of the ministries.” Joseph Goebbels

I should have read this book fifty years ago. You should read this book now. Shirer dug deep into the public and private and secret words of Hitler and his cronies documenting who said and did what during the two-decade advent and destruction of Nazism.

“Never in my life have I been so well disposed and inwardly contented as in these days. For hard reality has opened the eyes of millions of Germans to the unprecedented swindles, lies and betrayals of the Marxist deceivers of the people.” AH on the Great Depression

Shirer was a reporter in Germany during the 30s and again after World War Two. He accessed the unprecedented written records the Allies won from the Axis powers in Europe. His not being an academic improves the book’s readability. Footnotes aren’t to the opinions of other academics.

“This burning hatred, which was to infect so many Germans in that empire, would lead ultimately to a massacre so horrible and on such a scale as to leave an ugly scar on civilization that will surely last as long as man on earth.” (Yet only sixty years later some deny the Holocaust happened.)

Twenty-first century American Republicans and Democrats will see parallels in the opposite party but will be blind to those within their own. They’re there. Our unwillingness to see ourselves in this mirror suggests our vulnerability to repeating this horror. Is it a paradox that the totalitarian left which America saved from the totalitarian right in the 1940s bedeviled us the rest of that century as do now the totalitarians (right and left) from within?

“In spite of the hardness and ruthlessness I thought I saw in his face, I got the impression that here was a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word.” Neville Chamberlain. (How many American politicians delude themselves into thinking they can “work with” international liars and bullies?)

Serious reading for a serious time. I recorded seventeen pages of notes; your mileage may vary. Quotations abound which echo into the twenty-first century.

“As an American citizen of German birth I finally testify that I am painfully familiar with certain political trends. Spiritual intolerance, political inquisitions, and declining legal security, and all this in the name of an alleged ‘state of emergency.’ … That is how it started in Germany.” Thomas Mann

Book Review: When a Nation Forgets God; 7 lessons We Must Learn from Nazi Germany by Erwin W. Lutzer (Four Stars)


Book Review: When a Nation Forgets God; 7 lessons We Must Learn from Nazi Germany by Erwin W. Lutzer

(Four Stars)

“The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory than man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment—or as the Nazis likes to say, ‘Of blood and soil.’ … prepared not in some ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.” Viktor Frankl, holocaust survivor

A distinctly Christian work. Lutzer, who has written dozens of books about Nazism and American popular culture, explores how Adolph Hitler effectively neutralized Germany’s Christians in his quest to create his Nazi paradise. Lutzer explores seven areas—such as the church itself, education, propaganda, the economy, etc.—where Hitler’s plans eviscerated opposition, leading of course to Continue reading

The Book Thief (movie)

The Book Thief

(Five stars out of five)

One of the dubious benefits of economy transcontinental air travel is the opportunity to watch “free” movies. I spent so much time with my knees in my face that I viewed several I wanted to see and a couple I tried (and quit) out of boredom.

The Book Thief was the best of the lot. Based on the book by the same name (which I also rated five stars). The movie evokes the same childlike—not to be confused with childish—innocence as the horrors of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust develop around Leisel, the “book thief.” The movie follows the book closely enough, but what sets it apart is the cinematography and the performances by Sophie Nélisse and Geoffrey Rush. Nélisse performs the magic of aging half a dozen adolescent years. Rush, as usual, steals every scene he’s in. The man is chameleon and a wonder.

Recently released on DVD and Blu-Ray, it’s worth watching.