Search for the Truth and Grit Take Down a President in "All the President's Men", by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein

This was my first time reading All the President’s Men. For those of you who read it twenty-five years or more ago, it warrants a second read. For those who have never read it, pick it up.

Written by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, journalists for the Washington Post, it chronicles their development of the Watergate story from hotel break-in to the exposure of systemic fraud, deception, and illegal recording carried on by the Nixon administration. What started off as a story about a low-level burglary resulted in the resignation of the President of the United States.

All the President's Men
By Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein

Long before email and the internet, Woodward and Bernstein were knocking on doors and making phones calls. Though initially rivals at the Post, they eventually realized that they were stronger together. Bernstein was the better writer, Woodward had grit. Woodward’s clandestine relationship with his White House informant, Deep Throat, was spy novel worthy and proved to be paramount in the unraveling of the full story.

As the story was being developed, the White House issued repeated statements accusing the writers and the Post of false, biased reporting. They remained undeterred, though, and continued investigating and reporting. Through their relentless search for the truth, in the end, they got their men.

At the time of the book’s publication, some of the President’s men had pled guilty to crimes, many had resigned, and others were singing like birds. Less than two months after its publication, President Nixon resigned.

This book is full of facts, dates, and names so extensive that you cannot possibly keep it all straight. It reads like one long newspaper article and while sometimes tedious, it is fascinating. It is also at times barely believable, both in the lengths the reporters were willing to go to uncover the truth and the level of corruption that they exposed teeming through the Nixon administration.

Whatever side of the political aisle you’re on, this book supports the notion that this country has survived, and will continue to survive, times of severe political unrest which, while in the midst of it, might seem insurmountable. It also acts as a litmus test for how important our ‘free press’ was and is.

Published: 1975
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Elizabeth's rating: 5  stars   

Delightful and Sophisticated: “A Gentleman in Moscow”, by Amor Towles - Book Review

Moscow of the 1920’s is haunted by years of shifting political philosophies. The Bolsheviks are in power, “liberating” wealth from the aristocrats, nationalizing property, and advocating for the working class, while it works its way to a formal communist society. It is here in Moscow where we are introduced to the young gentleman Count Alexander Rostov, whose family estate is confiscated, and the Count is sentenced to house arrest in the grand hotel Metropol. 

What a lovely man author Amor Towles creates in Count Rostov - unrepentant, light-hearted, with a child-like curiosity. Rostov is condemned to live in an attic room of the hotel and must never set foot outside its doors. The Metropol is truly a grand hotel with fine dining, a lively bar, and animated cast of guests and employees, where Rostov finds a way to thrive within its confines. His imprisonment allows him to build deep and lasting relationships with the staff and guests alike, including an actress, American diplomat, a Bolshevik officer, journalists, as well as the hotel seamstress, chef, and maitre d’, among others.

One of the most important characters is a precocious child living as a guest in the hotel, Nina. The Count becomes Nina’s de facto mentor and co-conspirator, and they help each other explore the hidden nooks and secrets of both the building and its guests.  Eventually Nina leaves for school and marriage, but years later, she returns with a daughter of her own. Nina must travel in search of her missing husband and leaves her daughter, Sofia, in Rostov’s care. What happens next is an emotional awaking and benevolence that surpasses anything he’s known before.

For decades, we follow the Count’s exploits and daily routines, and we discover how each of the people he’s encountered throughout his forced stay at the Metropol influence and affect his life and actions. We see Rostov grow wise and clever, yet never lose his humor, kindness, and aristocratic air. The novel is not a brief one, and I have to admit, the first half took a bit of perseverance. Once Sofia came on the scene, however, I couldn’t put A Gentleman in Moscow down. Here is where his friendships deepen, his wisdom develops, and the plot thickens.

Towles’ writing is above all elegant in its delivery. He writes with affable sophistication - a true gift that is such a pleasure to dive into the depths of each page. His heartfelt accounts of the alliances, community, and love that develops over the course of the story are genteelly conveyed. In the end, I loved it.

Published: 2016
Publisher: Viking

Vickie’s rating: 4.5 stars 

“Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist”, by Sunil Yapa - Book Review

The World Trade Organization negotiations in Seattle of 1999 were memorable for their controversy, protests, and stark violence that took place. Delegates from around the world tried to gather to discuss free trade agreements amongst nations, while thousands (40,000+) of protesters halted the opening day ceremonies through acts of civil disobedience. Months of planning took place by opposition groups to influence or halt the talks, culminating in violent clashes with police. It was a very dark event, that went out of control.

Author Sunil Yapa has written his debut novel from the perspective of those attending these WTO events. Part historical fiction, part  political commentary, Yapa’s retelling of the opening day deftly moves from person to person, with vivid descriptions of each attendee’s viewpoint. We hear first from a runaway teen who had no intention of getting involved in the protests, but somehow got swept up in it; from two protestors and their own fears, joys, and sense of purpose; three police officers, including the Seattle Chief of Police; and finally, a Sri Lankan delegate attending the meetings.  Each chapter moves to a different character, checking in with them throughout the day - from the peaceful and festive atmosphere of early morning, to forceful clashes between police and protestors chained together to block streets from passage; of tear gas, police brutality, and the combination of cruelty and love that can exist simultaneously in our hearts.

There is subtext for each of the characters as well, including the source of anger behind an officer’s venom, our runaway’s search for deep meaning in life in the face of his mother’s death and his father’s cynical view of the world, and the delegate’s recognition of his place as merely a cog in the world stage wheel.  Here is where you’ll find the true interest in the story, and where I imagine the title of the book is born - the heart is not a simple vessel, but one of complex emotion capable of great affection and equal devastation. 

Yapa’s book is a quick read and illuminated for me what my memory of the event had long lost. My only disappointment was the consistent and extensive flowery style - descriptions lasted paragraphs, verging on rants. Though this shouldn’t be a reason not to pick this one up.

Published: 2016
Publisher: Lee Boudreaux Books

Vickie’s rating: 3 stars

"Lethal Passage: How the Travels of a Single Handgun Expose the Roots of America’s Gun Crisis", by Erik Larson - Book Review

Lethal Passage is equally one of the most fascinating and terrifying books I have ever read. As the title indicates, author Erik Larson follows a specific gun, a Cobray M-11/9, from manufacture to its penultimate ending point, in the hands of sixteen year old Nicholas Elliot, who took it to school for a shooting spree that resulted in the death of one teacher and serious injury of another.

Throughout the gun’s journey, Larson takes a hard look into the "gun problem" that exists in this country. The most shocking part about this book is that it was written over twenty years ago and, despite the stark realities he presents, if anything, things have only gotten worse.

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