The Guns At Last Light

Rick Atkinson

This volume brings Rick Atkinson’s magisterial history of the US Army in Europe in World War Two to a close. Like its predecessors “An Army at Dawn” and “The Day of Battle“, it’s an impressively detailed but still readable history. Refreshingly, it doesn’t hide occasional incompentence and poor leadership under “greatest generation” rhetoric.

I’d characterize the book as traditional military history. The author’s focus is on the high command, not a “Band of Brothers” style narrative about individual soldiers. That said, he doesn’t completely ignore the GI experience.

The conluding chapter, which describes the often-ignored story of the recovery of US dead is especially interesting. Though I’ve been to the moving Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, I had never thought or read about the ships full of thousands of coffins that returned fallen soldiers to the United States so that they could be buried in their home towns.

Sundance

David Fuller

This novel is based on the premise that the Sundance Kid didn’t die in Bolivia but rather ended up in a Wyoming prison under an assumed name. On his relese in 1913 he confronts a changed world adn travels to New York to find his wife, Etta Place. All this is very promising, and parts of the book are engaing, even moving, but the plot, characters, and settings don’t quite jell.

Oh, and by the way, the Sundance Kid’s last name was Longabaugh, not “Longbaugh” as Fuller calls him. The author might have had his reasons for the seemingly gratuitous change, but it undermines the suspension of disbelief that a novel like this — that already asks the reader to accept an ahistorical survival — depends on.

Pope Francis : Untying the Knots

Paul Vallely

This short but detailed biography is a fascinating account of the events in the life of Jorge Mario Bergoglio that resulted in him becoming the man the world now knows as Pope Francis.

The sections of the book that deal with Bergoglio’s actions during Argentina’s “Dirty War” (1979-1983) are especially interesting. Vallely convincingly defends him against complicity with the state’s terrorism but suggests that the pope’s disattisfaction with his own actions remains a factor in his decision making.

I was left with the impression that Francis is more complex and more politically adept than the mass media narrative had lead me to believe.

The Unlikely Disciple : A Sinner’s Semester At America’s Holiest University

Kevin Roose

Kevin Roose, in his own words, “grew up in the ultimate secular/liberal family”. While he was a student at Brown he decided to spend a semester at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. The memoir he wrote about his time there is personal, thoughtful and sympathetic. He remains an outsider, but he doesn’t mock the school or his fellow students. What stands out was how his family held on to far more — and more negative — stereotypes about the Liberty students than the Liberty community had about the secular world.