My Life in Reading – 1990

In 1990 my life was up in the air. We were in SF but I was not focused. Nor was my reading. I did read two volumes of Robert Caro’s excellent biography of LBJ. For part of the year I worked as a wildland firefighter up in Marin County. I didn’t get to go to any big fires though. My main task was to survey and mark the boundary of the park. This was before GPS so I spent a lot of time walking through the woods with a map and a compass. I also always brought a book for some trailside reading during lunch. I had a great time up there and spent a lot of time on and around Mt. Tam. That experience led me to read “The Sleeping Lady.”

He Died with His Eyes Open, Derek Raymond
I can remember very little about this. My recollection is that it was a pretty grim and gritty British crime novel. I know I liked it because I went on to read several more of Raymond’s stories.

Invitation to an Inquest, Walter & Mirriam Schneir
The making of the atomic bomb, the stories of the atom spies, the Cold War – these have always been really interesting to me. I can’t recall what lead me to this book but I was glad I read it. I won’t go into details now but I will say my interest and scant knowledge of the Rosenbergs led – through an unlikely series of events – to an unexpected meeting in 1991 . . .

A Bright Shining Lie, Neil Sheehan
Again I don’t know what drew me to this book. It was the first history of Vietnam that I’d read. I recall it being good though and it led me to read a number of other histories of the conflict over the years.

Frogs at the Bottom of a Well, Ken Edgar
I have no idea what this book was about or why I read it.

Miracle at Philadelphia, Catherine Drinker Bowen
This was a holdover from my time at the JFK birthplace. It was something we sold there and I purchased it at some point. This book was a pleasure to read – especially the dross I had just finished. Thinking back, I think this was the first book I read on early US history. There have been several more that followed, as you will see in the future years.

Out of the Cold, Robert S. McNamara
Somehow I heard that Robert McNamara was going to be speaking over at Berkeley. For some reason I decided to go. I can’t recall if I went because I was reading this book or if I read this book because I went but I’m pretty sure there was a connection. This fit in with my Cold War and Vietnam reading.

About Face, David Hackworth
More on Vietnam. I recall enjoying this book very much. More than “A Bright Shining Lie.” Don’t get me wrong – both books were excellent – but there is something about
Hackworth’s voice that made this book more memorable for me.

The Path to Power, Robert Caro
My dad has been the greatest source of inspiration and recommendations when it comes to my reading. His library is easily over 10,000 volumes at this point – and probably far more. For as long as I can remember he’s given me books at every opportunity. And if he hasn’t given them to me he’s always offered great recommendations.

The Path to Power was a gift from my father and I enjoyed it very much. My time at the Kennedy birthplace resulted in an interest in presidential history and political history in general. Knowing this my dad thought I might enjoy the Caro biography. He was right on the money.

These books paint a picture of political power: how it is gained, developed, strengthened and exercised. Say what you will about LBJ but there’s no denying that he understood how to amass and use power. Master of the Senate, the third book, is particularly stunning in its illustration of how Johnson worked.

The first volume dealt with Johnson’s early years in Texas. It was an auspicious beginning but you get a sense of what drove the man.

There are a lot of books called Apollo as it turns out; and for the life of me I can’t recall which one this was. You probably don’t want to read it anyway . . .

Means of Ascent, Robert Caro
This, the second of Caro’s biography, deals with Johnson’s early days in Washington – and particularly his relationship with Sam Rayburn. I can’t recommend this biography enough. If you’re interested in politics you need to read it.

Sleeping Lady, Robert Graysmith
Were it not for the fact that I was spending a lot of time in the shadow of Mt. Tam in 1990 I probably wouldn’t have read this book. It was one of the first true crime books that I read and I do enjoy the genre but I don’t recall much about this one.

The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell
Certainly a classic. I watched several of the conversations between Bill Moyers and Campbell the formed the core of this book – and I went on to read one of the Masks of God. I tried reading the Golden Bough as well but that doesn’t have a very smooth narrative – it reads more like a simple catalog of curious behaviors.

The Deptford Trilogy, Robertson Davies
Robertson Davies was another gift from my father. This book in particular but just learning of him as an author. I recall little about this trilogy (partly because I read it so many years ago – and partly because I read so many of his stories). What I do remember is that they are written in a language so rich – and tell stories so involved – that I didn’t want them to end.