The Doctors Mayo

Author: Helen ClapesattleThe Doctors Mayo

Personal Rating: 5/5

I read this biography some years ago and enjoyed it very much. I had a hard time finding it again because it is out of print. But, of course, Amazon helped.

This biography of two brothers who grew up observing and assisting in their father’s surgery is about a time that will never happen again. As Will Mayo said “We grew up to surgery with our father the same as a farmer grows up with his.” They entered the field just as antiseptic surgery with anesthesia was starting. This opened huge opportunities for new treatments.

The brothers were extremely bright, extremely dedicated, willing to spend multiple months a year to travel and learn the techniques of others and humble enough to share credit and information widely and freely.

The history of medicine embedded in this biography is interesting in its own right, but the personalities that shaped the Mayo Clinic in the 1920’s and 1930’s is also compelling.  Their organizational creation has after nearly a century left Mayo Clinic the #1 ranked hospital in the US again last year. A great read.

Washington

Author: Douglass Freeman

Personal Rating: 5/5

Washington is the fundamental figure of the Revolution. Revolutions are plagued by their leaders converting their prestige into dictatorship. The institutions that we have in the United States exist because of Washington. He was continually mistreated by Congress during the Revolution yet he consistently respected and supported their authority. Cromwell did not do as well. He was harshly vilified by Jefferson’s publicity machine yet refused to curb the press or attack is opponents. His army wanted to make him king but he refused. His power and integrity allowed our country to escape the consequences of so many revolutions.

John Adams

Author: David McCullough

Personal Rating: 4/5

John Adams was a patriot that sacrificed his life for the cause of founding the United States. He sacrificed it not in dying for it but by working for it for decades. He was honestly a flawed human being with problems with anger and self importance. However, his effort and hard work cannot be denied. He was the loser in the political battles with Jefferson but still an important figure. A great read.

Alexander Hamilton

Author: Ron Chernow

Personal Rating: 5/5

I have always been a fan of Thomas Jefferson. However, I was concerned about Jefferson’s treatment of Washington and his non-involvement in most of the Revolution. Hamilton is always portrayed as the “royalist” defeated by the “populist” Jefferson.

Chernow’s book sheds a lot of good light on this subject. He clearly points out that Hamilton, the “royalist”, was the one who worked his way up from nothing to eventually establish the economic basis of our country’s treasury and never owned a slave. Jefferson, the “populist”, inherited wealth that he ran into debt and lived off of slaves who he never freed.

Allan Quatermain

H. Rider Haggard wrote many stories, mostly about Africa. The Allan Quatermain stories are the ones I enjoy the most. They are pure escape adventures in east Africa. I like older novels because there is none of the gratuitous sex and graphic violence in modern novels.

The one downside of his work is the obvious view of other ethnicities as being second class. Blacks and Arabs are fundamentally assumed to be wicked and/of lazy and unteachable. It is interesting, however, that despite this second class view the protagonist repeatedly finds respect and capability in those same people. Haggard is almost mocking the prejudices of his day by repeatedly having his hero surprised by unexpected qualities and abilities in black people. It feels a little bit like Mark Twain. “They” are not supposed to be as good as experience regularly shows us “they” are.

David Copperfield

Author: Charles Dickens

Personal Rating 5/5

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show”

Thus begins my favorite Dickens book. I cannot really tell you why I like it so much. Maybe it is relating to little Davy, though my own life is very much unlike his. I think it is the underlying theme of the shear goodness found in otherwise ordinary, quirky people. I just feel good living in David’s world, even through his trials and dark days. All those great characters: Agnes, Uriah Heep, Steerforth, Dora, the Peggottys, Traddles and Aunt Betsy.

Cry the Beloved Country

Author: Alan Paton

Personal Rating 4.5/5

A good, black man living in South Africa tries to deal the the pressures of poverty and race. He works so hard to save his son from the death penalty but in the end is unsuccessful.

In many ways this the a companion book for To Kill a Mockingbird. Like Harper Lee’s book, this is not an angry or protesting book. It is the sharing of the sorrows of people trying to live good lives against a background of unthinking, casual bigotry.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Author: Harper Lee

Personal Rating: 5/5

This is one of my personal all time favorite books. I grew up in the 1960’s and I remember the unrest at the time. I remember when blacks had separate drinking fountains and I remember when Martin Luther King was killed. These things did not happen in my little part of Central California, but they were on the news.

What I love about this book is that it reaches into the heart of a very difficult time of race relations. This is not an angry book. It is not a shouted protest. It is the view of a child watching a very good man try to do a very good thing and in the end he both lost and won. It shares a tone and theme with Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country.

I have read this many times and enjoy it every time. The movie with Gregory Peck is equally powerful. In my mind he is always Atticus Finch.

George Marshall

Authors: Debi and Irwin Unger with Stanley Hirshson

Personal Rating: 3.5/5

George Marshall is one of the most underappreciated generals in American history. He never generalled armies in combat and fought no battles. His role was to organize the vast resources of the United States to win World War II. He is frequently slighted as a “managing general”. However, his vast personal integrity and dedication was respected by all. He was able to bring together huge egos so that collectively the war might be won. MacArthur never could have done it. He protected Eisenhower so that he could succeed.

I really like the topic, but I lowered the rating because the authors kept dropping out of their story to prove their credentials as historical skeptics. It is so easy to pick at flaws after the fact and they succumbed to this temptation a little too often.