Friday, October 17, 2014

"After all, it's a desk job."

"I suppose of all those [candidates] mentioned he will be the easiest one to beat."  Herbert Hoover, 31st US President
"I do a lot of things I can't do." 
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd US President

We live in a world that is vastly different than it was a hundred years ago.  The crippling diseases people feared back then aren't even in the back of our minds now – if we even know what they were or what they did.  True, we have new diseases to fear, but how scared are you really of contracting Ebola?  Contrast that with the threat of polio which could leave its victims handicapped for life.  And this was before handicapped parking stalls and the Americans With Disabilities Act.  Being "crippled" could ruin your ability to work and provide for yourself or family.  It made it difficult to get around and made you dependent on others, and in some ways it took away your privacy.  It made people look at you differently, as if you were "unclean."  That was the reality.  And yet, the American people elected a polio victim as president in 1932.
 
“Eleanor Roosevelt and others said polio changed Roosevelt, that it made him more compassionate. That may be so. But the first impact of the disease was to call forth elements of his nature that no one had seen before  elements that even he may not have known he possessed. His decision to defy polio was a critical moment in his life perhaps the critical moment.” pg. 132

Franklin Roosevelt wasn't much like his uncle, Teddy Roosevelt, the "rough-rider" with his bully pulpit and big stick philosophy.  In fact, Franklin was a bit of a "dandy;" tall, handsome, charming, full of life, and with a very promising political career ahead.  In his excellent book The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency, James Tobin explains how FDR probably contracted the polio virus at a Boy Scout retreat.  He tells what it does to the body and why Roosevelt may have been especially susceptible to its harshest effects.  It was uncommon for a 39 year old man to contract the disease, and he went undiagnosed and improperly treated for weeks.  But he also tells of his efforts to walk again, and how he overcame the public stigma attached to the disease.  And the account of how he eventually ascended to the presidency is quite inspiring, convincing people he could do the job.  "After all," his son Jimmy said, "it's a desk job."
 
And this is the crux of the book.  I've often read that FDR tried to hide his disability, and even the recent PBS special said photographers were "forbidden" to take pictures that showed his vulnerability.  Tobin describes how FDR actually used it to his advantage, promoting the progress he had made and his fight to overcome its effects.  He points out the many times he was seen in public – by huge gatherings at the Democratic conventions – and the letters that were written to him.  He tells of his efforts to connect with other sufferers and his business venture at Warm Springs, Georgia to develop a sanctuary where polio victims might recuperate and regain some of their abilities without having to worry about how they appeared to others.  People may have overlooked his handicap, and photographers may have declined to take his picture while being carried or lifted out of a car, but that was out of respect for his privacy and dignity (another thing that has changed dramatically in 100 years).

I don't know a lot about President Roosevelt.  He did a poor job of handling the Great Depression, and some credit him with making it last as long as it did.  As an economics student myself I've wondered at some of his stranger policies.  And yet, I've always been surprised at how absolutely revered he was by so many!  Tobin does an excellent job of explaining the illness and bringing a humanity to Roosevelt's suffering, despite the lack of a personal record (which Tobin laments more than once).  His accounts of how it affected his family and how FDR still managed his presidential aspirations are fascinating.  Having seen friends deal with debilitating medical conditions, I think I have a small idea of how discouraging it might have been.  Yet, as Tobin points out, FDR refused to be beaten by it and used his bright personality and ready smile to encourage others.  Tobin even makes a strong case that Roosevelt became president because of his disability.  It's an argument I found convincing, and it gives a lot more depth and meaning to his famous quote that "we have nothing to fear but fear itself."

Friday, October 10, 2014

A "Sweet" giveaway

So you might have noticed that I've started reviewing cookbooks lately.  Yes, it makes sticking to the diet that much harder, but I can't help myself.  Honestly, I should get cookbooks for healthy food, but where's the fun in that?  At any rate, BloggingforBooks is giving away a copy of Food Network's Sweet: Our Best Cupcakes, Cookies, Candy, and More through the Read it Forward program - which apparently gives away a new book every week.  I loved their Treat Yourself cookbook, full of recipes for classic snacks (I loved the oatmeal cookie recipe so much I haven't moved on to try any of the others!).  If you're interested, click here, and if you win let me know - or better yet: bake some cookies and come share them with me!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Sweet and Salty diet

A few years ago my sons and I were in New York City.  When I asked Taylor what he wanted to see - Statue of Liberty, the WTC/Ground Zero, the Empire State Building? - he said Carlo's Bakery.  What?  That annoying reality show?  So, we figured out the subway routes and schedules to get to Hoboken (it's across the river in New Jersey) and read somewhere that you need to get there early, which we did.  And there were a few people standing around in front, but not what we were told to expect.  'Where's the line?' we asked, and someone pointed across the street to this huge mass of people.  By the time we found the end of it over a block away we decided it wasn't worth the wait and bought a cannoli in Little Italy instead - and no waiting! 

But one thing I learned from that is that New Yorkers (or maybe it's just the tourists) go overboard about bakeries.  One that might be making a legitimate bid to be the 'next-big-NY-bakery' is Ovenly in Brooklyn.  A couple of friends, Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin, got together and have turned their passion into what sounds like a very popular place.  And I was fortunate enough to receive their hot-off-the-presses cookbook, Ovenly: Sweet and Salty Recipes from New York's Most Creative Bakery, from GoodReads.  And their signature seems to be the mix of sweet and salty in their mouth-watering goodies.  When they use chocolate they prefer it to have at least 60% cocoa content, so it's on the bitter side, and many of the recipes are topped with a light sprinkling of coarse sea salt. 

I'll admit I was skeptical.  Some of the recipes are a bit involved and intimidating for a novice like me, so I found some of the easier ones and dove in - and they were very good!  One in particular, the "Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies," which they claim is not just "the perfect vegan chocolate chip cookie," but "the perfect chocolate chip cookie.  Period."  Okay, that might be stretching it a tad, but it was really good!  The chocolate didn't taste bitter at all, and - although I didn't put salt on all the cookies - it's an interesting and perhaps even addicting combination.

The book gives some background on Agatha and Erin and how they got started, as well as some "essential tools and ingredients," which is kind of nice for really ambitious bakers.  Recipes fall under the following categories: scones & biscuits; quick breads & coffee cakes; muffins; cookies & shortbreads; pies & tarts; brownies & bars; cakes & cupcakes; baking for the holidays; fillings, frostings & sauces: and bar snacks.  Some recipes (like the above mentioned chocolate chip cookie) specify to follow the instructions exactly, while many others suggest variations and encourage experimentation.  The pictures are beautiful (as is the book) and make me want to try lots of recipes (although many of them contain coffee and alcohol, and I abstain from both).  Nonetheless, I plan to keep working my way through the others as well as I can and hopefully still stick to my diet and lose weight.  But that shouldn't stop you from making them!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Return of the romance

A friend recently suggested I ought to read romance novels.  My first reaction was "huh?" followed quickly by "why?!?"  But after thinking about it (and knowing my friend was just joking), I realized I have read a few books that I think qualify.  I really liked Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, and Sweet Misfortune and The Final Note by Kevin Alan Milne were both quite good.  I was told that The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: A Novel and Major Pettigrew's Last Stand don't really count, but surely Wuthering Heights does?  I don't think anyone who's read Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd would argue it wasn't a romance, and I just finished The Return of the Native by the same author, although it took me two tries to get through it.

The "native" is Clym (Clement) Yeobright, who returns home to Egdon Heath, a small village on the English moorlands.  He's grown disillusioned by a business career in Paris, and wants to become a teacher for the poor instead.  But the love interests in this story go far beyond a simple triangle - it's more like a... a love-pentagram, I guess.  Clym's cousin, Tamsin (Thomasin) was engaged to marry a local innkeeper named Damon Wildeve, who suffers from a wandering eye.  In fact, Wildeve had something of an illicit relationship with Eustacia Vye, a dark-haired beauty who longs to escape the heath for a more adventurous life.  The final piece of the story is Diggory Venn.  Venn is a "reddleman," a traveling salesman of a red chalk used for marking sheep, and the hazard of his trade is that the chalk also colors his skin red.  But in spite of making him look like a devil, Venn is actually a very decent guy, and the story opens with his return to Egdon as well, bringing the unfortunate Tamsin, whose wedding to Wildeve in a neighboring town didn't happen due to a mistake with the license - and, of course, Diggory had unsuccessfully proposed to Tamsin a year before.

So, just to sum it up: Diggory still carries a torch for Tamsin, who feels obligated and honor-bound to Wildeve, who is really in love with Eustacia, who sees Clym as a possible escape from a dreary and provincial life on the heath.  Got that?  Naturally, no one marries the right person.  What a boring story that would've made!

I don't usually worry about revealing the plot and outcome with classics, but in this case I suspect the story isn't widely-read or familiar to most, and I've probably said too much already.  But as easy as it is to like the noble Venn (who reminded me of the solid Gabriel Oak), Hardy depicts each of the characters in such a way that you can relate to and sympathize with all of them.  Eustacia seems so beautiful and exotic (as well as aloof) to the villagers that some of the women believe she's a witch, and yet you can't help but feel her longing to escape for something more exciting.  I even felt bad for the fickle Wildeve, who is kept from the woman he really loves by the social expectations and customs of the community.  Even the setting of the fictional Egdon Heath, which is almost pagan-like with its bonfires and traditions, adds a layer of fascination and appeal to this ill-fated love-... um, pentagram.

And yet, as interesting as that all may sound, it still took me two tries to get through it, because - after all - it's a romance.  The tragic nature lends some interest - and I've enjoyed others like Main Street, O Pioneers, and The Good Earth, that have elements of a romance in them.  But honestly, romances aren't really my thing, and I mostly enjoyed the well-developed characters and the very human dilemmas they face which we sometimes see echoed in our own lives.  Plus, there's Hardy's beautiful language which can bring a place alive with so many subtly-nuanced words that you'll want a dictionary at hand to truly understand and see the color in his story.

So, while I won't be cracking any steamy bodice-rippers or the more circumspect "bonnet-rippers" (aka Amish romances), don't be too surprised if I come back with another classic that borders on romance.  Although, I think it's a safer bet that I'll be reading a history, maybe even one that recounts a long-ago love story.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Let them eat bread

The joke at my house has long been that all dad knows how to cook is oatmeal and French toast (and don't expect him to fry bacon at the same time).  And yet, over the last year or so, that's been changing.  I think it was when my mom sent her recipes for chocolate-chip cookies and zucchini bread.  After that I started making sweet cornbread muffins - on a regular basis - and the kids laughed at me.  Then I pulled out the bread maker we bought a couple years ago but never used, and now some mornings we wake up to the smell of freshly-baked bread.  Now I've started getting cookbooks and actually trying some of the recipes.  I think I might even be turning into something of a "foodie."  

Last month I mentioned the "classic snacks" cookbook I've been having fun with, but recently I received Bread: The very best recipes for loaves, rolls, knots and twists from around the world by Anne Sheasby from GoodReads Giveaways (in exchange for an honest review).  It's a very beautiful book with great pictures that accompany most of the recipes.  And there's a range of recipes from regular breads to gluten-free options to bread maker recipes to seasonal favorites (and more).  Since I'm still new to baking I appreciated the instructions and tips in the beginning, and it's helped me understand better how to use the bread maker.  I had no idea how important it was to keep the salt, sugar, and yeast apart when loading the bread maker - especially for delayed bread-making - and I think it's made a difference in the quality of my bread.  I had tried several different recipes from the bread maker manual and some I found online, but they all came out a bit on the dry side.  But the "simple brown bread" recipe in this book has instantly become my favorite - much softer, moister, and better-tasting than any of the others.

Another was the marbled chocolate-banana bread.  It's a very pretty bread but it wasn't quite sweet enough for my sweet-tooth.  Everyone I shared it with at work, however, appreciated that it wasn't so sweet!  Nobody could tell it was a banana bread though, because the cocoa ends up being the dominant flavor.  I've made a few notes for some changes to try the next time I make it.


Although a number of the recipes can be made in the bread maker, it's not just a bread maker recipe book.  It also explains how to do regular dough-recipes, and there's one for rosemary ciabatta rolls I'm eager to try.  Some of recipes surprised me, considering it's a bread cookbook: there's recipes for pancakes (the book calls them "drop-scones"), French toast (a much fancier recipe than I usually make), and pizza dough (well, the recipe is for much more than the dough).  And there's a lot of "seasonal favorites" that seem very European, like bread pudding and such.  It's a very nice cookbook (hardcover and hardbound, not spiral), and although I think my family is getting tired of my baking, I'm having a lot of fun with it (even though it's interfering with my diet).  So, don't be too surprised if I show up at the beach or a church meeting and offer you some homemade baked goods.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"You must survive!"

"There are times and places where children do not dream any more about how to commit pranks, but about how to take the government to task." 
 Stephan Hermlin

Our first home was in the Rose Park area of Salt Lake City.  It was a humble neighborhood but most people took great pride in their homes and yards, and we loved it and still count many friends there.  We got to know most of our neighbors through church and many of the older members were a source of inspiration, some of whom had made great sacrifices to come to the United States following WWII.  One of these neighbors was Sister Wobbe, and my wife remembers her as one of the hardest working people she ever met.  Her husband, Rudi, had passed away about a year before we moved in, and although I sometimes heard stories about him, they seemed almost too much to believe.

Rudolph, or Rudi, Wobbe grew up in Nazi Germany.  As a boy his family joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (also known as the LDS or Mormon Church) and he eventually became friends with two other LDS boys, Helmuth Huebener and Karl-Heinz Schnibbe.  But as they watched the Nazis exercise power and control over they people, they recognized it for the evil that it was.  Rudi resisted joining the Hitler Youth despite the intense pressure, but with Helmuth he began listening to BBC radio broadcasts that gave a very different picture of how the war was going than what the government said.  Eventually the friends began secretly distributing leaflets (written by Helmuth) denouncing Hitler. 

“It may be easy with the retrospect of history to see how bad the Nazis were. But to grow up in the midst of that environment, being taught every day that Germany had the best and finest government on earth and still to have the insight and courage to break free of the propaganda, took a man of a high and special caliber. ”
— Rudi Wobbe (speaking of his friend Helmuth) 

Three Against Hitler by Rudi Wobbe (and Jerry Borrowman) tells his story of how the teenage boys were caught by the Gestapo and put on trial for "Preparation to High Treason" against the nation.  Helmuth bravely defended himself and his friends before the "Blood Tribunal," but the sentences handed down were harsher than others because of the political nature of their crimes.  Wobbe tells of the time he spent in prisons and concentration camps, of the brutality he faced as well as the kindness of some fellow prisoners and even a few guards and wardens. 

I never met Brother Wobbe but through this book I felt like I got to know him.  He shares how his faith helped him in times of trial and it's very moving.  It's not a long story or as polished of an account as you might expect to find in professional biographies, but it comes across in his own words and feels that much more powerful because of it.  At times it made me ache inside for what he and others faced in such a difficult time and place, but it also made me very grateful for the life I've had.  This is a book I can eagerly recommend for anyone interested in WWII history.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The best lies

Kim Philby rose easily through the ranks of MI6, England's foreign intelligence organization.  In a group made mostly of the upper class of British society, they prided themselves on being part of an elite group - a club, actually - that traded in secrets.  And Philby was as charming as they came, easily making friends of nearly everyone, but especially those with information.  Unfortunately, he was also passing that information on to the enemy - the Soviet Union - and did so for about 30 years!

I found A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben MacIntyre both frustrating and infuriating, and yet I couldn't put it down.  Philby became friends with another member of MI6 who joined about the same time he did, Nicholas Elliot, and an American counterpart in the CIA, James Angleton.  And while the men drank (and drank, and drank) together, Philby listened to all the information his friends shared.  Whether it was about internal matters or operations that involved communist nations, he passed it all along to his Soviet handler, and the volume of information was such that even the KGB wondered if he was stringing them along.  And yet his information lead to the deaths of numerous people: anti-communist Catholics in Germany (and their families), Albanians sent to foment rebellion (and their families), and British and American spies in Russia.  It is estimated that thousands of people died because of Philby's friendships... and their willingness to share their knowledge over drinks.  And even when circumstantial evidence pointed to their friend, Elliot and Angleton couldn't believe that the guy they thought they knew so well could possibly be a Soviet spy.  It's said that the best lies are the ones we tell ourselves, and nowhere was that more apparent than in this case.

MacIntyre knows how to tell a good spy story, especially when the story is true.  I enjoyed Operation Mincemeat and have more by him on my to-be-read list.  This isn't exactly a biography in the traditional sense, but also profiles Elliot and Angleton, and focuses on the friendship of the three men.  And as frustrating as this one was to read (how could they not know?!?), it was a great story I just couldn't put down. (I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A boy and his tiger

My hometown newspaper was one of the original 35 newspapers that ran Calvin and Hobbes when it debuted on November 18th, 1985 (eventually it was in over 2,400 papers).  Reading the funny pages was a daily ritual, and I loved strips like Bloom County and Peanuts.  And honestly, I didn't think much of Calvin and Hobbes that first day, or even the second.  The art was a little rough and the jokes weren't especially creative.  But on day 3, I was hooked.  That's when you first glimpse the dual-reality of Calvin and Hobbes – Calvin's view compared to everyone else's.  Some people make the mistake of thinking Hobbes is only "alive" when he's alone with Calvin, but that's wrong.  The truth is that Calvin sees and believes Hobbes is real, not just a stuffed tiger; that is his REALITY.  It's the same as when he thinks he's Spaceman Spiff, Tracer Bullet, Stupendous Man, or even Safari Al (yeah, I know - Safari Al was only in one strip, but I loved that one!).

Can you tell I'm a little passionate about Calvin and Hobbes?

I've had Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and his Revolutionary Comic Strip by Nevin Martell on my to-read list for quite a while, and always been put off by the negative reviews.  But when Watterson recently emerged from his self-imposed exile to contribute to several days of Pearls Before Swine, I decided it was time to check it out (and those few days were the only times when Pearls Before Swine was actually worth reading), and what I realized was that many of the negative reviews were missing the point.  Everyone knows Watterson disliked the fame and hates being interviewed, so why would you complain when the book doesn't have an interview with him?  And if you're already aware of Watterson's abhorrence of licensing and merchandising his product, why would you expect this book to be full of reproductions of the strips?

What Nevin Martell did - despite his best but failed efforts to interview Watterson - was to talk to a lot of other cartoonists and those who knew or know Watterson.  That's about as close as we get folks.  A few words from Watterson's mom, some friends, his agent, and those cartoonists who wish they could be as good as Watterson.  He chronicles what is known about the reclusive artist, his ordinary upbringing, and a few jobs before Calvin and Hobbes debuted and became an instant classic.  He talks about the strip's evolution, as well as the artist and the struggles he had with his syndicate.  He explains what is known of Watterson's views (from what he's written and said in a few interviews and other speaking engagements), especially as it relates to his wish not to see his creations plastered all over calendars, t-shirts, coffee mugs, post-its, television commercials, etc. etc. etc.  Watterson could have made a FORTUNE, and we'd all have stuffed Hobbes' in our homes and suctioned to the back windows of our cars (remember the ubiquitous Garfield dolls?).  But he didn't.

See, to him, his art was special, and he worked hard to make it something worthy of being called art.  Remember all those strips where Calvin talks about art, usually in relation to his snowmen?  That's likely Watterson talking, and the way the artwork improved and became something special is because of his commitment to it – not to making a buck.  Take a close look at the furniture, the trees, the movements and facial expressions of the characters – then compare it to other strips.  There is no comparison.  He transcended all the others, and it took a huge toll on the man.

So, maybe you've already obsessively read everything about Calvin and Hobbes online that you can, and you own every single book that ever came out (as well as the rare calendar and t-shirt), and you read it all over and over again.  If so, there might not be much new here for you – and you might very well be a stalker.  This book isn't amazing, but it's good enough, and for those of us who admire and applaud Watterson's decision NOT to cash in and make a FORTUNE, it's a fun and interesting little insight into the ten years of absolute joy in the funny pages – even though we desperately miss Calvin and Hobbes (and would have bought the calendars and t-shirts and everything else).  Thanks Mr. Watterson – it was fun.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"What happened to Chocodiles?"

Whenever I'm trying to lose weight, I always have the most intense cravings for baked goods like bread and sweets.  I come by it naturally: I come from a long line of inveterate "sweet-tooth's."  I frequently make my mom's recipes for chocolate-chip cookies and zucchini bread.  When Jamie was pregnant and wishing for Chocodiles, I was a more-than-willing accomplice (and even after she wasn't pregnant anymore).  And, not a sugary treat, but I think one of my dad's favorite snacks when I was a kid was Coke and a box of Cheese Nips (and the rest of us were happy to share).

So, when I saw Treat Yourself: 70 Classic Snacks You Loved as a Kid (and Still Love Today) by Jennifer Steinhauer, I couldn't resist.  She's experimented to discover the recipes for lots of classic treats that we all loved as kids, and she's tried to make them as close to the originals as possible.  You can make your own Oreos, Nilla Wafers, Nutter Butters, or Chips Ahoy cookies; Hostess Twinkies, Cup Cakes, or Sno Balls; even Fig Newtons, Pop Tarts, and Twix.  She's even got recipes for a couple of Girl Scout cookies.  Some of the recipes are a bit involved, and I wonder if it's worth the effort when I can get an Almond Joy for less than a buck, and store-bought marshmallows are a lot easier, but I guess a lot of people prefer the challenge of making them at home (she says many people say her recipes are even better than the real thing).  We've only tried a few recipes so far, and not all of them were as delicious as we expected, so the fun nostalgia-factor is certainly at play here - but still, everything was eaten rather quickly regardless!

Still, this is a nice cookbook for those of us who love goodies (maybe not so good for my diet, however).  And I really like the comments she has for each recipe and section - the bits of information she provides are helpful as well as entertaining.  And as someone who's not known for his kitchen skills, I also appreciate the section where she talks about equipment that's nice to have even if it's not entirely necessary.  It's a beautiful cookbook with lots of great pictures, so if you're like me this might be the most "fun" cookbook you'll want to have.  (I received a free copy from BloggingForBooks in exchange for an honest review.)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

"They will be driven to become soldiers"

August 24, 2014 marks an important event in American history.  It is the 200th anniversary of the burning of Washington D.C. by the British. It's probably an event remembered by very few and not one you were planning to celebrate, and yet because of it and the events that followed, we got one of our most enduring symbols of America... and you might even say it saved our country.

Most histories I've read treat the War of 1812 almost as an extension of the Revolutionary War. But in Through the Perilous Fight: From the Burning of Washington to the Star-Spangled Banner: The Six Weeks That Saved the Nation, Steve Vogel takes a slightly different approach.  He emphasizes the more immediate causes, namely the impressments of American sailors by the British into the Royal Navy, and the opportunistic invasion of Canada by American forces. Britain was fighting Napoleon and France at the time, and when they began to run low of manpower they simply grabbed Americans on merchant vessels under the guise that they were still 'British citizens.' To combat this violation of rights, America attacked Britain along the Canadian border, believing that the Canadians would willingly and enthusiastically join the U.S. The timing seemed ideal - Britain was distracted with another war - but the Canadians fought back. But using those attacks as justification, the British navy sailed into Chesapeake Bay and burned many towns, culminating in the conquest and burning of government buildings in Washington, including the president's house and the Capitol and sent James and Dolly Madison running.

Vogel also carefully weaves the story of Francis Scott Key, an attorney, into the greater history. Key was sent as a delegate to win the release of an American who had been captured by the British. Admiral Cochrane agreed to release him, but not until after the planned destruction of Baltimore, which they decided needed to be a more strongly received message than Washington had been, and Key ended up being an eye-witness to the bombardment of Fort McHenry from the middle of the British fleet. Fortunately, American militias were in a better state of readiness this time, and the British were driven back. Upon seeing the American flag still flying the next morning, Key came up with the words to "The Star Spangled Banner." Vogel explains how it was printed in newspapers and its popularity in short time prompted a greater pride in the American flag (although it took a while before it was adopted as the national anthem).

Vogel does an excellent job in telling the story of the battles for Washington and Baltimore. Key is never the central figure of the narrative, which focuses more on the actual leaders, but his part in it provides an element anyone who has stood to sing the national anthem can identify with. I'm not sure that the point of the subtitle - "Six Weeks that Saved the Nation" - is explicitly proven, but it certainly proved as a wake-up call to the new nation and drove certain changes that helped to strengthen it - as well as giving Americans an anthem to bind them together (although not all, as he explains). And Vogel tells the story in a rousing and uplifting way. His descriptions of the battles are exciting and you get a feeling for the personalities involved in the events. There's a good deal of well-researched information in this book and it's an exciting read. (I received this book from the GoodReads "FirstReads" program.)

If you're interested in some other good books that deal with the War of 1812, these are ones I can recommend: Perilous Fight: America's Intrepid War with Britain on the High Seas, 1812-1815 by Stephen Budiansky and Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy by Ian W. Toll.