My previous post on some good books I have read recently is here.
Now I am going to talk about three old hands.
First up, Ward Just. An American realist, author of some 18 novels, and the four or five I have read are all excellent. Just finished Rodin’s Debutante, about Chicago just after World War II. About race, class, and corruption. It’s Chicago, right?
Next up, Thomas Mallon. A favorite of mine, who has embarked on a series of novels about our recent presidents. I haven’t read the ones on Reagan and George W. Bush—and don’t know if I can bring myself to have to relive those years, even in fiction. But Watergate, his novel about the Nixon scandal, is excellent, while Henry and Clara, about the couple who were in the box at Ford’s Theater with Mary and Abraham Lincoln the night of the assassination, is one of the best novels of the past twenty years. The story of Henry and Clara Rathbone is unbelievable from start to finish—but it’s all true. Credit to Mallon to finding this tale that was hiding in plain sight.
Finally, the Australian novelist Thomas Keneally, known as the author of Schindler’s List, but strangely neglected otherwise. He’s also an historical novelist, writing about both the US and Australia. The ones I just read are set in Australia during World War II: Office of Innocence and Shame and Captives. The first concerns the encounter between the Aussies and American troops who arrived in early 1942 as Australia braced for what seemed the inevitable invasion by the Japanese. The second is set in 1944 in a prisoner of war camp where the Japanese internees mount a suicidal escape attempt. (This one is based on—and follows closely—the historical incident that is its inspiration.) Also highly recommended by Kineally are Daughters of Mars (about Australian nurses during World War I), The Playmaker (about the use of Australia as an open air prison by the English), and Confederates (about soldiers in Stonewall Jackson’s brigades).
Another recent read: John Kaag’s American Philosophy: A Love Story. Kaag joins his discovery of a treasure trove of books left by a Harvard philosopher who was the last torch-bearer for the greats—William James, Josiah Royce, and Charles Sanders Peirce among them—who founded American philosophy in the late 19th century with his own personal journey toward a rejuvenating love. A sweet book.