Archive for June, 2020

The Splendid and the Vile

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020

By Erik Larson

The Short Take:

Larson penned a fascinating portrait of the first year Winston Churchill served as Prime Minister. It focused on him, his family, the people he worked with, and the true grit Great Britain showed when they stood alone against Germany.


I do not care for military histories but greatly admire the accessible non-fiction works of Larson, which focus on people instead of battles. At first I thought it was strange to include only a single year, but the events that both opened and closed the period from May 10, 1040 to May 10, 1941, made that choice a wise one.

I learned so much I knew nothing about, such as Mass Observation, a project where regular people recorded their emotional reactions to breaking events along with how others felt. I had never heard of Hess’s strange flight, or Churchill’s odd sartorial choices like silk robes or a light blue onesie.

Of course, Churchill was known for his oratory, but it was thrilling to read his words in context; to understand how he had the ability to present people with terrible news yet still leave them hopeful and even encouraged. He was a champion who could not envision defeat (and also could not accept that the USA wouldn’t help).

I also greatly enjoyed the inclusion of entries from the diaries of Goring and Goebbels. Their flat out disbelief that Winston’s government would not cave to them like every other country they had invaded was almost amusing now that we are so many decades removed.

Most important, Larson’s writing was so approachable it almost read like a novel. This might be why he stated upfront that every word in quotes was actually said or written. This is a history. And it is fierce, frustrating, and alive.

A Little Plot:

On the day Germany overthrows the governments of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, British PM Neville Chamberlain recommends to the king that Churchill be named his replacement. King George had his doubts but did as asked. That was the beginning of Great Britain’s darkest year, when over 45,000 died at home. Churchill was the man who kept hope alive.

For more about Larson and his work click here.

The Talented Mr. Ripley

Tuesday, June 16th, 2020

By Patricia Highsmith

The Short Take:

Over half a century old, this psychological thriller is unlike any other. Set largely in sun-drenched, languid Italy the frantic workings of Tom Ripley’s mind bring strife and death where least expected.


The plot of this book is very noir, however its setting, humor, and characters are anything but. Tom Ripley comes to Italy on a mission but soon his motivations change. A true sociopath, he carefully watches others, looking for any sign they might turn against him so he can act first.

He’s a young man in the company of two other young people: Marge, an aspiring poet, and the would-be artist Dickie, the object of Tom’s mission. Their days are awash in sun, martinis, boating trips, and pleasure. But Tom wants more — more of Dickie’s attention, more of Dickie’s lifestyle. So he begins to reinvent himself.

Highsmith keeps you on Tom’s side even as your horror at his actions grow. He’s a new kind of American dreamer–amoral, smart, ruthless. I could not imagine how this book would end. And the ending really surprised me. I’ll be reading more Highsmith in the future.

A Little Plot:

Tom is contacted by Dickie’s father, who is will to pay for Tom to go to Italy to convince his son to return to America. Tom readily agrees, but when he find his mission will not succeed, his plans change.


    Want to be notified when there is a new post? Sign up to the RSS feeds below
  • Entries


June 2020