Creator of ‘The Americans’ On Russia

Joseph Weisberg, a former CIA officer and the creator of the terrific TV series The Americans has written a new book entitled Russia Upside Down An Exit Strategy for the Second Cold War. Weisberg challenges commonly held American assumptions about Russia. Weisberg was interviewed about his book on an episode of SpyCast, which is produced by the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC.

In October of 2021, Weisberg was interviewed on the excellent SRB Podcast, produced by my alma matter, the University of Pittsburgh.

Martin Walker Mysteries

Charming murder mysteries set in in the Périgord region of southwestern France

Om Malik recommended a series of mystery books by Martin Walker. Malik said Martin’s “tales of a provincial policeman in the South of France are like a nice glass of chilled wine.” Eric Asimov, The New York Times wine critic, described Mr. Walker’s books as:

rich in atmosphere and personality, with characters bound by the tenacious strictures of history and memory. And almost without fail, everything stops for lunch. It’s impossible to read a Bruno novel without getting hungry and thirsty.

That sounded like a great break during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Martin is a journalist. He divides his time between Washington DC and the Perigord region in the southeast of France.

Martin’s Bruno, Chief of Police series of novels depicts a village policeman named Benoît “Bruno” Courrèges. Bruno is a gourmet cook and former soldier who was wounded on a peacekeeping mission in the Balkans. Bruno loves his region of France. He’s also a compassionate and moral police officer who has a gun but never wears it.

I started with the audiobook version of the first novel in the series entitled Bruno, Chief of Police. This is historical fiction. I learned a lot about the French resistance during WWII (Le Maquis). The descriptions of life and food in rural France are fun and refreshing. The mystery is good. And there is a touch of romance to boot.

There are 13 audiobooks in the series so I am happy to have 12 more audiobooks to mine.

All the books in the series are narrated by Robert Ian Mackenzie, an English actor who did a fine job narrating the first audiobook in the series.

I’m happy that Malik brought this series to my attention through his fine blog. I needed a nice glass of chilled wine.

‘Sea Stories: My Life in Special Operations’

Tales from an American Hero

Retired Admiral William H. McRaven was involved in high profile special operations missions, including the capture of Saddam Hussein, the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips, and the raid to kill Osama bin Laden. 

Admiral McRaven narrates his audiobook entitled Sea Stories: My Life in Special Operations skillfully. I felt as though I was sitting in my living room hearing a brave, articulate person tell tales that made me feel proud to be an American. This is among the best audiobooks in my library.

You can get a sense of the author in this podcast.

James Taylor Recounts his Early Years

In ‘Break Shot: My First 21 Years‘ James Taylor recounts his first 21 years in very personal and moving terms while interspersing his wonderful music.

The audiobook is only 90-minutes long and worth every minute. Here are a couple of highlights that really resonated with me:

  • “Memory is tricky. We remember how it felt, not necessarily how it was. Songs grow out of memories.”
  • “We want to go back and fix something that has already vanished and can never be corrected. But we can correct it in a song . . . .”

‘The Liberation of Paris’

How Paris Avoided Destruction

The Liberation of Paris is a gripping book that is packed full of interesting details about Nazi-occupied Paris and its last commander Dietrich von Choltitz.

Dietrich v. Choltitz – Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R63712 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE via Wikimedia Commons

At the end of WWII, Adolf Hitler ordered Choltitz to hold Paris, but if that wasn’t possible, to destroy it. Although General Choltitz had been very loyal to Hitler, he could not bring himself to obliterate the City of Light. He ultimately surrendered Paris to French forces on August 25, 1944. He’s been called the “Saviour of Paris” for preventing its destruction.

After his surrender, Choltitz was held for the remainder of the war in London and the United States and was ultimately released from captivity in 1947. He died in Baden-Baden in 1966.

The author of this exceptional book was the distinguished political scientist and biographer Jean Edward Smith. Smith’s work includes highly regarded biographies of Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower. He died on September 1, 2019 at the age of 86.

The audiobook is ably narrated by Fred Sanders, who has narrated many fine audiobooks including Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance.

’21 Lessons for the 21st Century’

What are today’s greatest challenges and choices?

Yuval Noah Harari is a history professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. But he’s no ordinary history professor. His current research focuses on big picture questions including:

  • What’s the relationship between history and biology?
  • Does history have a direction?
  • Have people become happier over time?

Harari does not tackle easy questions and always has something thoughtful to say. Only time will tell if he’s right.

Bill Gates included Harari’s book entitled, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century on a list of five books he loved in 2018. Gates found it offered “a helpful framework for processing the news and thinking about the challenges we face.”

Harari helped me put the day-to-day news in context, especially on the topic of the degree to which automation will affect the job market. Harari believes that artificial intelligence will have an enormous impact on the job market. For example, he argues that artificial intelligence will replace doctors in diagnosing common ailments.

The book helped me to think about the forces at work and the impact they will have on the world. To me, that’s more important than the accuracy of specific predictions.

The audiobook is ably narrated by Derek Perkins, who is British but now lives in Boston. He still sounds quite British. I found his narration easy to follow.

If you’d like to see what Professor Harari is like, he gave a one hour talk at Google in 2018: