Book Review: The Splendid and The Vile

On Winston Churchill’s first day as prime minister, Adolf Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. Poland and Czechoslovakia had already fallen, and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away. For the next twelve months, Hitler would wage a relentless bombing campaign, killing 45,000 Britons. It was up to Churchill to hold his country together and persuade President Franklin Roosevelt that Britain was a worthy ally—and willing to fight to the end.

In The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson shows, in cinematic detail, how Churchill taught the British people “the art of being fearless.” It is a story of political brinkmanship, but it’s also an intimate domestic drama, set against the backdrop of Churchill’s prime-ministerial country home, Chequers; his wartime retreat, Ditchley, where he and his entourage go when the moon is brightest and the bombing threat is highest; and of course 10 Downing Street in London. Drawing on diaries, original archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports—some released only recently—Larson provides a new lens on London’s darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill and his family: his wife, Clementine; their youngest daughter, Mary, who chafes against her parents’ wartime protectiveness; their son, Randolph, and his beautiful, unhappy wife, Pamela; Pamela’s illicit lover, a dashing American emissary; and the advisers in Churchill’s “Secret Circle,” to whom he turns in the hardest moments.

The Splendid and the Vile takes readers out of today’s political dysfunction and back to a time of true leadership, when, in the face of unrelenting horror, Churchill’s eloquence, courage, and perseverance bound a country, and a family, together.

Expected publication: February 25th 2020 by Crown

What did I think?

Everything you ever wanted to know about Churchhill and everything you didn’t know about him at all in one 500 page tome. Details that until now were dormant and lost are all compiled together in this readable play by play historical account of WW2 inside Winston Churchhill’s closest circle.

I didn’t know anything about Churchill’s daughter Mary, and the sections of her diary gives you a side that history books skip over. As Larson states in his interviews Londoners lived through an entire year of the terror that New Yorkers felt on 9/11. It is intense.

I didn’t like it as much as his previous books and I don’t know if it was this subject matter or what, but this took me a long time to read and I read the whole thing before reviewing. I think you’d have to be a die hard fan of either this author or Winston himself to give this a 5 star rating.

Book Review: American Sherlock

Berkeley, California, 1933. In a lab filled with curiosities–beakers, microscopes, Bunsen burners, and hundreds upon hundreds of books–sat an investigator who would go on to crack at least two thousand cases in his forty-year career. Known as the “American Sherlock Holmes,” Edward Oscar Heinrich was one of America’s greatest–and first–forensic scientists, with an uncanny knack for finding clues, establishing evidence, and deducing answers with a skill that seemed almost supernatural.

Heinrich was one of the nation’s first expert witnesses, working in a time when the turmoil of Prohibition led to sensationalized crime reporting and only a small, systematic study of evidence. However with his brilliance, and commanding presence in both the courtroom and at crime scenes, Heinrich spearheaded the invention of a myriad of new forensic tools that police still use today, including blood spatter analysis, ballistics, lie-detector tests, and the use of fingerprints as courtroom evidence. His work, though not without its serious–some would say fatal–flaws, changed the course of American criminal investigation.

Based on years of research and thousands of never-before-published primary source materials, American Sherlock captures the life of the man who pioneered the science our legal system now relies upon–as well as the limits of those techniques and the very human experts who wield them.

 February 11th 2020 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

My thoughts:

Oh, how I adore CSI and all that goes along with it. I read this at an absurdly slow rate (for me). In this book, you get to know Heinrich’s life story and hear about his personal life as he basically invented crime scene investigation as we know it today.

 Heinrich’s methods of handwriting analysis, laboratory testing of trace evidence, blood evidence observation, deductive reasoning, and other techniques that made him a criminal investigator ahead of his time.

 He was also an early adopter of victim profiling, and victimology has taken on an increasingly important role in identifying unknown killers. He used photomicrographs –magnified photos were taken through microscopes — and turned them into comparison shots to be used in court to depict significant differences to juries, a method still used today.

All the science is fascinating, and then the narratives of each crime and trial made this book read like a marathon of Law and Order for me.

All in all, I’d give it 5 stars. (Note that I’m not going to rank in stars this year unless it is a 5 star ranking from me.)

Book Review: Disney's Land

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Disney’s Land tells the complete story of Disneyland from concept to the present day. This novel is one of the best histories of Disneyland that I’ve read (and there are quite a few out there.) The tone of the book is so friendly and readable that you feel as if you are listening to a friend tell the story.

One fact I hadn’t heard before reading this was that Walt was pretty bored making cartoon movies and wanted a new challenge. I also diagnosed Walt with ADHD just by reading his behavior descriptions. 🙂

There were so many challenges to create what was the first theme park anywhere, and to do it so well out of the gate was amazing. Not everything went as planned, and reading about the ins and outs of the details was fascinating.

I’m tempted to purchase the audio version of this book. The chapter containing the transcript of the live broadcast of Opening Day would be fun to hear. It sounds like Ronald Reagan wasn’t very happy that his role narrating the parade did not include a script.

Overall this book will appeal to not only Disney fanatics but to anyone interested in building a creative business from the ground up. There is a lot to learn from the process of creating Disney’s first Land.

Book Review: The Day It Finally Happens

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So, I strolled into my library intent of dropping off and then picking up my holds. Just minding my own business. When my eye strayed up to the Nonfiction Quick Pick Shelf. I pride myself on keeping current with new release books, especially in this subject matter: Tin Foil Hat subjects. If there is something that could happen, I’ve probably already mulled it over at 2 am. And so, this lovely tome made it into my tote bag without a second thought. (I’m sneaking in this review in between a towering stack of Cybils Nominees)

Mike Pearl works for Vice magazine writing a column titled: How Scared Should I Be? Anything that could happen falls under his purview. In this book, he gathered all the likely and unlikely scenarios that are the usual subjects of clickbait. You’d be surprised how many incredible things actually could happen and, conversely, how many I thought would be a given, and the odds are low for them. Jurassic Park could happen! That supervolcano out west? Not likely. Now, I would have guessed the exact opposite.

Mike ranks each event with the questions:

Likely in this century?

Plausibility Rating

Scary?

Worth Changing Habits?

He then backs up his one line findings with plenty of evidence and interviews with experts. You know I loved it. Buy it for the conspiracy theorist on your shopping list.

Publication Date: September 17, 2019

Book Review: When They Come for You: How Police and Government Are Trampling Our Liberties – and How to Take Them Back

The title alone is a mouth full. If you don’t think that you need to read this book, then you aren’t paying attention. It’s not a conspiracy theory book or some prepper manifesto. It is a study of actual events that have happened in the US in recent history. Well written, well researched, I’ve got nothing bad to say except that I wish it wasn’t right or needed.

You may have heard some of these stories; in the back of your mind, you might even be concerned that your civil liberties are in danger. The stories within this book won’t make you feel better about that.

Before you start thinking that this is biased toward one political party or the other, be assured that it is not. There are examples from all sides, in nearly all fields. From the published statistics of the number of people shot by police each year to removing children from their parents without cause. Your rights as a citizen have eroded almost yearly.

I was taking most of this book with a grain of salt until I got to the extensive endnotes. There is research to back up each claim listed within the text.

Although the stories can be frightening as it’s easy to see yourself in the face of these ordinary citizens, there are also many stories where people fought back against these civil injustices and won. No matter what you think about the way things are going in the United States today, this book is well worth your time to read.

Book Review: The History of the World in Fifty Dogs

I knew I’d love these essays. I’m a big fan of dogs and history, so I was enthusiastic about this book from the get-go. Then I got to this line:


“Good bois were all over Egypt- it’s Unde-NILE-able.”

I enjoy the right mix of internet punning with my history. Don’t be fooled by the cartoon appearance; this book is for teens. It turns out you can mix cute art, funny banter, and history in a book that YA readers can use as part of their studies.


We borrowed it from our library on release day. By the time I was halfway through reading it, I knew I’d be adding it to our homeschool reading list. The fifty essays are only a couple pages long each, but they are full of facts about dogs, the people who took care of them, and the period of history. I’d love to include this book as a spine for a World History course. It’s not quite enough on its own. But, paired with a good world history encyclopedia and some other interest-based nonfiction titles, and you could have a year of high school history.


The first chapter contains the origin of dogs’ domestication and ends with an essay about some breeds that are extinct now. Just about every significant civilization utilized dogs in some capacity and the way this reads, history comes alive through the dogs that we all love. What better way to get teens interested in historical events?


I’d give it one million stars if I could- engaging nonfiction is hard to find.

Book Review-The Body: A Guide For Occupants

My first Bryson book was A Walk in the Woods. It was hilarious, all the while sneaking in some education. I went to read almost everything he has in print. So when I saw this title on my ARC list, I was pretty excited, even though human anatomy might be my least favorite subject.

I could hold my own now if I needed to critique a television medical drama from the knowledge I gained in reading this ginormous 400-page tome of humanness. It’s a partial history of science and part straight-up anatomy.

It’s the owner’s manual that no one has thought to hand out. Only this isn’t some hard to understand volume; it’s in plain English. I didn’t take Anatomy at school and the only text I’ve encountered while homeschooling was nowhere near as readable as this is.

If you are a science geek, you’ll devour this. If you are a Bryson fan, he’ll drag you into being interested, and if you wanted to use this as a high school science text, I’d support you. I’m probably going to make it required reading at our house.