Book Reviews

These are the book reviews that I’ve included in my monthly newsletters. If you want a book recommendation, give me a call!

Killing Kennedy

Book Title: Killing Kennedy (2012)

Author: Bill O’Reilly

JP Review:This has all the features of a tabloid newspaper – and without the guilt! It’s a quick read, it’s very well-written, and honestly I couldn’t put it down. The book is about the key players in the Kennedy assassination including Lee Harvey Oswald, Oswald’s wife, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, and Kennedy’s wife (Jackie O.) and parents. The feeling of the book is that of sitting at bar after work listening to someone tell a really good story. This is the second book I’ve read that Bill O’Reilly has written and whatever your opinion of O’Reilly – he is a fantastic history writer…I would even go so far as to put him up there with David McCullough.

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Emperor MaladiesBook Title: Emperor Of All Maladies (2011)

Author: Siddhartha Mukherjee

AK Review: The catalyst for me reading this book was fear. I am fearful of cancer – it has affected my family in many ways, my grandmother, aunt and father-in-law are all cancer-survivors and my grandfather died of lung cancer. Part of my fear of cancer lies in the unknown — it is such a mysterious and multifaceted illness — I figured I would take an opportunity to learn more about it.

The author, Siddhartha Mukherjee is himself a cancer physician and professor and set about to gather together the unofficial history of cancer. The project turned into a huge undertaking and that is evidenced by the 600+ page book he ended up publishing.

I thought the book was excellent – it’s very thorough and it’s very well written, he doesn’t belabor anything and so you never get the feeling that things are dragging. I especially like all the serendipitous moments in the book; how chemotherapy came about because of textile chemicals & mustard gas and numerous other examples like that. You really gain an appreciation for just how far our modern understanding of cancer has come in a very short time (and how much there is left to learn) – and you also gain an appreciation for the human cost of the research and testing that has been done to get us where we are.I thought overall the book demystified cancer for me – it’s still a scary subject, but I feel like I know more about it and that’s comforting in and of itself.

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Book Title: Outlaw Platoon: Heroes, Renegades, Infidels, and the Brotherhood of War in Afghanistan (2012)
Author: Sean Parnell

JP Review:
This is the best book I’ve read in the last 5 years. I liked it so much I bought a couple of copies and gave them to other people I know. The author, Lt. Sean Parnell, describes his experiences on the Afghan-Pakistan border in 2006 including almost-daily firefights with the Taliban. In addition to the fast-paced action of this book, the thing I liked most about it was that each man he describes in the book comes off as a hero (and rightfully so). The high-water mark of the book is when the author and his unit are pinned down by an ambush; they get out of their vehicles and go on the offensive, attacking the Taliban and eventually winning the battle. This is a very clean-cut book, it’s not overly full of machismo or bravado. I definitely recommend it, it’s a quick read.

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Book Title: The Hunger Games (2008)
Author: Suzanne Collins

AK Review:
I should preface this by saying that it takes a lot for me to read a work of fiction. 99% of the books I read are of the non-fiction variety, and yet because of a number of recommendations – I decided to read this trilogy. The book is set in a post-apocalyptic world in which the people of this world (Panem) have been divided into 12 districts after a civil war nearly led to the annihilation of all people. These districts are all under the brutal rule of “The Capitol” and each year, as a reminder that The Capitol has ultimate power over the Districts, each district is required to give up 2 children, one male and one female between the ages of 12 and 18, to play in “The Hunger Games”. The Games take place in The Capitol and are a fight to the death – 24 enter and only 1 leaves as victor. Even thought the plot sounds rather vile (children fighting one another to the death) the story is refreshingly complex and unique. As someone who likes books that are grounded in reality, this one is plausible enough with very few sci-fi type elements.

Even if you aren’t a big fiction fan (like me) I would highly recommend this book. It’s a very interesting and well-written story and even beyond that, it’s an interesting social commentary. In my opinion, this is going to be the next big thing culturally when the first movie “The Hunger Games” hits theaters on March 23rd.

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Book Title: Brute: The Life of Victor Krulak, U.S. Marine (2010)
Author: Robert Coram

JP Review:
This book is about one of the most dedicated U.S. Marines in the history of the United States. Victor “Brute” Krulak graduated from Annapolis in 1937 and was subsequently stationed in Shanghai from 1937-1939. ‘Brute’ Krulak quickly became a 3-Star General only to be passed over for the role of Commandant of the U.S. Marines because of his many disagreements with President Lyndon Johnson over how the Vietnam War was being waged. Krulak’s biggest accomplishments were the following: creating an amphibious assault fleet during WWII, he opposed Truman and McArthur who wanted to decimate the Marine Corps in 1948, brought helicopters into combat in the 1950s and introduced them as assault-capable, and finally, he tried to win the Vietnam War by swaying the hearts & minds of the Vietnamese rather than bombing them into submission. The book is, at times, dry and overtly pro-Krulak but it is a well-written book and is worth the time to read.

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Book Title: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden (2011)
Author: Mark Yoshimoto Nemcoff

JP Review:
This is a brand-new book which gives gripping details about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden leading up to the day the U.S. Navy Seals killed him. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re into military books, this one is good.
The Seal team was put together in short order with Osama Bin Laden’s courier being the lynchpin for the U.S. Military’s intelligence regarding Bin Laden’s location and daily movements. The most exciting part of the book is when the mission takes off – 25 Seal teammembers flew to the location in quiet helicopters and once inside the compound where Bin Laden was located, the mission itself was over in 22 minutes. The neighborhood was rocked by an explosion when the gates to the compound were blown off and one of the helicopters crashes (one of the choppers blades hit a wall). Bin Laden hid behind his wife and engaged the Seals with gunfire.
10 large garbage bags of materials were taken out with the Seal team and they left just as quickly as they had come.
I really enjoyed this book – it’s fast-paced and hard to put down. I have so much respect for the dedication that this Seal team put into making this mission a success.

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Book Title: We Die Alone, WWII Epic of Escape & Endurance (2007)
Author: David Howarth

JP Review:
This book is about 4 Special Forces soldiers who are dropped into Nazi-occupied Norway, in bitter cold conditions, and whose mission was to train Norway civilians in espionage, fighting, and to cause civil unrest. Out of the gate, 3 of the soldiers are killed and the remaining soldier is befriended by Norwegians and fights his way out of Norway. This is a page-turner and kept me up reading late into the night on a few occasions. Stephen Ambrose called this one of the 5 best books he’s ever read and I think it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a while.

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Book Title: The Man He Became (2013)
Author: James Tobin

JP Review:
The focus of this book is how Franklin Roosevelt contracted polio and how he dealt with it as President of the United States. FDR contracted polio at age 38 while speaking at a Boy Scout Camp – this camp was a newly built camp and had poor sanitary conditions – it is thought that he contracted the disease from the drinking water at the camp. The interesting part of the book to me was how he and his family kept the disease a secret, not only when he came down with polio, but throughout FDR’s presidency. I’ll be honest, this book is a little slow at times – might be a good bedtime book.

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Book Title: Elvis: My Best Man (2011)
Author: George Klein

JP Review:
This is a really heart-warming positive look at Elvis’ life from someone who knew “The King” since they were in the 8th grade together. George Klein and Elvis met as kids and he and Elvis remained best friends up until Elvis’ death. Unlike other Elvis biographies, there is no trash talk in this one. You can tell GK (as Elvis called him) really loved Elvis as a person. Elvis would often send George extravagant gifts including cars and jewelry. With that being said, he wasn’t on the Presley payroll and instead served as a confidant to The King. Klein had a front-seat to Elvis’ rise to stardom and was often hanging out with Elvis when James Brown or Jerry Lee Lewis would come by to jam.

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Book Title: Joker One (2010)
Author: Donovan Campbell

JP Review:
This book is a gripping, heartfelt tale written by Lt. Donovan Campbell who was a Princeton Grad and had a Harvard MBA before deciding to join the Marines. It is a story about the transformation of a regiment of 40 ‘green’ Marines with no combat experience. They end up being assigned to Ramadi which is a city of 350,000 people and the story is about their time there. The book is full of ups and downs, as you might imagine, but is ultimately about how he wins the hearts of the men under his command.

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Book Title: The Trident: The Forging and Reforging of a Navy SEAL Leader
Author: Jason Redman

JP Review:
This book is about the author, Lt. Jason Redman, who served in Columbia, Afghanistan and Iraq as a U.S. Navy Seal. After being wounded several times, he kept going back. I don’t really have a whole lot to say about this book other than that I really enjoyed reading it. It’s a rare glimpse into the psyche of a Navy Seal. I guarantee you’ll feel like you don’t work hard enough or you’re not tough enough after you read this book. One interesting note is that the foreword was written by Marcus Luttrell who’s book “Lone Survivor” is being released in movie-form today.

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Book Title: A Cold, Clear Day (2000)
Author: Frank Murphy

AK Review:
As we watch marathon records fall on a regular basis and we see the sport of running becoming more and more of a business, it’s nice to be reminded of a time when elite-level runners ran because of something other than money. This book, “A Cold, Clear Day” is about an American runner, Buddy Edelen, who wanted to become one of the best runners in the World. At the time, Americans were simply not very competitive on the World stage, so Buddy left the U.S. and went to live in Britain. He trained there and ran against British and World competition and quietly became the top American runner in the World. In 1963, at the very height of his running career, Buddy set what was then the World Record in the Marathon distance with a time of 2:14:28.

Buddy didn’t make much money as a world-class runner and he certainly wouldn’t have been able to make a living doing it. He had a full-time job as a teacher and used donated-money to help him pay for travel and gear. He ran because he loved running and he pursued excellence for the love of the Sport. This book is a great reminder of how the World of running used to be and as a runner, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Escape fromBook Title: Escape from Camp 14 (2012)
Author: Blaine Harden

JP Review:

About a month ago I saw a story on CNN.com about this man (Shin-Dong Hyuk) and about how he was the only known person to have been born in a North Korean work-camp and escaped. I was intrigued and so I purchased this book which is basically his biography. This book was truly an eye-opener for me and I kept saying to myself, “I can’t believe this sort of thing still goes on in the world today.”

I think most people know that North Korea is not a nice place, it essentially a military-state whose people are poor, oppressed and trapped. North Korea has several political work camps spread out across the country where it puts political dissidents and other law-breakers. Those people are made to work hard-labor jobs and many are worked to death. Shin-Dong was born into one of these camps and has a somewhat miraculous story of escape. Of particular interest to me was the difficulties he has had since escaping – but you’ll have to read the book to see what I’m talking about. I highly recommend this book, it’s not very well written, but it tells an amazing story and really opens your eyes to the horrible situation in North Korea.

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BookStorming Las Vegas Title: Storming Las Vegas (2009)

Author: John Huddy

JP Review:

I simply could not put this book down – it’s about a Cuban American who robbed a Brinks truck in broad day-light in Las Vegas (true story) in 1998. The author provides several different perspectives on the events throughout the story which is what makes the book so interesting. He describes the events of that day as well as the history of the robber (Jose Vigoa) who has one of the craziest life-stories I’ve ever heard. You’ll have to read the book yourself to get the rest of the story but I highly recommend this book.

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Book Title: Baptism: A Vietnam Memoir (1999)
Author: Larry Gwin

JP Review:
This book was action-packed with no holds barred. This is a book about the Vietnam War from 1965-1967 and its written through the eyes of the author, Larry Gwin, who arrived in Vietnam in 1965 as part of the 2nd battalion, 7th Calvary Division of the U.S. Army. His assignments in Vietnam included those in the Delta region, another with the 1st Calvary in the city of An Khe and a 3rd in the Central Highlands region. In 1965 Gwin was 23 years old and his unit ended up losing 2/3rds of it’s soldiers. He gives gripping accounts of the fire-fights, smells, and identifying the remains of fellow soldiers.

I loved this book; it’s fast-paced and it shows what true heroes these young Americans were. Mr. Gwin does an excellent job placing you right next to him in Vietnam by giving you the sights, smells and vivid descriptions of what it was like to be there.

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Book Title: Napoleon (2002)
Author: Frank McLynn

JP Review:
This is the longest book I’ve ever read and also the most interesting, I hated to have it come to an end. Throughout Napoleon’s campaigns to defeat Italy, Egypt, Germany, Austria, Russia and England he never gave up. One highlight of the book is when he was banished to the Island of Elba by the Allied Forces. He hired a ship and crew, sailed back to the southern coast of France and was met by the French Arm under King Louis XVIII (adversary). They had Napoleon in their sights and in response, Napoleon threw off his coat and yelled, “Kill me if you must, but I am the true Emperor of France.” At that point, the soldiers threw down their guns and carried Napoleon back to the throne. He re-entered the battle with the Allied Forces only to be defeated at Waterloo. Again he was banished to another Island (Sr. Helens Islands off the coast of Africa). Napoleon ultimately died there due to arsenic poisoning at the hands of the French.

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Book Title: The Lone Survivor (2007)
Author: Marcus Luttrell

JP Review:
Written about events that took place in 2005, this is an excellent non-fiction story of 4 US Navy SEALS who were dropped into Afghanistan during the ill-fated Operation Redwing. It has all of the elements of a great novel: discipline, action, and Afghani tribal people befriending U.S. Forces. This is a feel-good book, but I don’t think it is for all audiences as there are some pretty intense descriptions of real-life battle. For those who can stomach it, this is a must read.

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Book Title: Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer (2006)
Author: James L. Swanson

JP Review:
I found this book to be very intriguing, giving minute details of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. It’s about the 12-day hunt for John Wilkes-Booth and about the other two people who were assassinated that same evening. The book is written in modern language and told of what it was like to be hunted (from Wilkes perspective) and what it was like to be the hunter. The climax of the book details the capture and psyche of Booth.

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Book Title: Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Rain That Sparked the Civil War (2011)
Author: Tony Horwitz

JP Review:
I loved this book because it gives you a comprehensive look at all the events that led up to the start of the Civil War. John Brown, who was the son of an evangelist, felt that it was his predestined duty to free the slaves in the U.S. During his life he traveled through Iowa and Kansas where he organized a small militia and subsequently attacked pro-slavery farmers in Kansas and Missouri (referred to in the history books at “Bloody Kansas”). He gathered supporters as he went, some of whom were wealthy families in the Northeast who provided him additional funding which allowed him to expand his militia. He went on to raid the U.S. Armory in Harper’s Ferry, WV – most of his militia members (including two of his own sons) were killed by the U.S. Government. Brown was ultimately hung for his crimes after a lengthy trial. His death wasn’t for nothing though, he brought the issues of slavery to the forefront of the early American conscience which led to the succession of the Confederacy from the Union.

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Book Title: Citizen Soldiers
Author: Stephen E. Ambrose

JP Review:
This is the best book I’ve ever read about the D-Day Invasion, from June 6th, 1944 to the time of Germany’s surrender. Ambrose covers D-Day from German, American and British perspectives, detailing what it was like to be in the action during that time. He has such a way with words and really brings you, the reader, into the scene.

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Book Title: An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa (2013)
Author: Rick Atkinson

JP Review:

This is, by far, the best book on WWII history that I’ve ever read. My uncle, who was a Lieutenant in the Army and served under General Patton, was in this campaign (and later was involved in the Invasion of Sicily) and I so I have a somewhat personal connection to this. The book starts in June of 1942 which was about 5 months prior to the invasion of North Africa. What I enjoyed most about this book was its unvarnished look at the troops that were involved in this particular theater. For example, the book talks about soldiers going AWOL, being disciplined for drinking and prostitution, and all sorts of other debauchery that other books on WWII don’t really mention. It’s easy to forget that “The Greatest Generation” was made up of people just like you and I.

In November 1942, the invasion of North Africa started and it is a little known fact that the first adversary of the U.S. was the French. The French quickly capitulated and after that, the U.S. was fighting against General Rommel’s German forces. I highly recommend this book if this is a subject that interests you. This book is actually part of a series, Atkinson also wrote about the invasion of Sicily and the invasion of Normandy.

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http://sofrep.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/fearless-st-6-sofrep-250x357.jpgBook Title: Fearless (2013)
Author: Eric Blehm

AK Review:
This book is on par with “Lone Survivor” and has a very similar feel. Adam Brown was well-liked in high school and was one of those people that goes full-throttle all the time. After high-school, he struggled to find his way and fell into a life of drug addiction. What ultimately saved Adam was the U.S. Navy where he excelled. Brown became a U.S. Navy SEAL and rose to an even more elite group within the SEAL organization, becoming a member of the ultra-elite SEAL Team Six. The story of Adam Brown is truly inspiring and really served to re-energize my gratefulness to our fellow Americans that serve in the Military. It also gave me a deeper appreciation for the families for our service men and women. This book doesn’t have a happy ending, but it is an excellent tribute to a man who loved his country deeply and served it according to the highest standards of the Navy. There is a movie coming out about SEAL Operator Brown in 2015 and it’s half as good as the book, it will be a great movie.

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Book Title: I’m Staying With My Boys – The Heroic Life of Sgt. John Basilone (2010)
Author: Jim Proser & Jerry Cutter

JP Review:

I know I always say this about the books I review, but I really did LOVE this book. If you’re looking for a hero, read about this guy. Sgt. John Basilone served in the Army in the Philippines, before World War II, got out, took civilian jobs that he hated, and then went back in to serve with the Marines in WWII. He was a champion boxer in both the Army and Marine Corps and was well-liked by all the men he served with. Sgt. Basilone seems to be the kind of guy who loved to fight for his country. At one point, in the midst of WWII, he was already a decorated war hero and so the military tried to make him the poster-child to sell war bonds…well, that didn’t sit well with Basilone so he begged and pleaded and was eventually sent back into the fight. Like I said, I really enjoyed this book and even though it’s about someone who isn’t very well-known today, it’s these types of heroes that I enjoy reading about.

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Hunting the JackalBook Title: Hunting the Jackal (2001)
Author: Bill Waugh with Tim Keown

JP Review:

This book is gripping and hard to put down. Written by Special Forces soldier Billy Waugh, this book is about Billy’s experiences in the U.S. Army and CIA from 1947 to 2001. Billy was one of the first troops on the ground in Vietnam in 1962 and stayed in Vietnam from 1962-1972 including participation in covert military actions in Cambodia and Laos. Billy was the CIA’s contact spy on Osama Bin Laden while he was in Sudan and was also the key figure in bringing in Carlos “The Jackal” Sanchez who was an International terrorist.

This is a really enjoyable book – this guy has pretty much seen everything.