I am an avid eclectic reader.
Robert Gates has a Ph.D. in Russian and Soviet History. He served as the head of the CIA , been a member of the National Security Council under eight different white house administration, was a Air Force officer in the Strategic Air Command. He knew the pentagon better than most Defense Secretaries. “Duty” is a typical of the memoir genre, declaring that this is how the writer saw it, warts and all, including his own. Gates offers a catalogue of various meetings based in part on notes that he and his Aids made at the time and a review of some of the official reports. I thought he did a fairly good job of writing about the positive as well as the negative remarks about different people. The media seems to want to pick out only the negative comments. For example, Gates did make numerous negative remarks about Joe Biden but also said he and Biden were in agreement about the use of the military in Libya and that he likes Biden. Gates had only glowing remarks about Condoleezza Rice and Hilary Clinton. What came across clearly in the book was his fury with having to deal with a dysfunctional congress, his frustrations in dealing with the bureaucracy of the Pentagon, and the feelings of lack of understating of protocol, respect and distrust by white house staff who had never served in the military. Gates writes that Obama was very thoughtful and analytical, wanted to hear all points of view but then made up his own mind. The author also said that he admired Obama for making some very difficult decision as President. He writes about his concern about the welfare of the troops and how he felt his concern was interfering with his ability to do his job. A good deal of the book deals with battles over the budget and his fight with the Pentagon to get rid of programs, equipment that they no longer need only to have the congress reinstate them because the program had direct effect on their State. Over all it is an interesting look into the workings of our government. George Newbern did an excellent job narrating the book.
I learned so much from this book. I must admit I had not read or studied anything about the history of the first amendment before. This absorbing book is about the law and also about change, how one man's thinking evolved nearly 100 years ago. For 125 years the first amendment was essentially dead until Holmes wrote his dissent in 1919. Thomas Healy shows us how Holmes was educated/persuaded to change his mind about the meaning and reach of our most fundamental safeguard. His friends, Justice Brandeis, Judge Learned Hand, Harold Laski, Felix Frankfurter, Zechariah Chafee (all teachers at Harvard) and others had discussion, letter exchanges and loaned or gave him books to read. Holmes was a voracious reader and during his summer breaks he devoured books that challenged his thinking. Holmes also had a habit we should all learn, he listened to people who didn't agree with him and set about to learn more about the topic from all view points.
The rule, at the time, borrowed from British practice, was that you could speak and publish freely without fear of prior restraint, but once you had spoken, the State had the freedom to prosecute you. Holmes had written the majority opinion in Debs V U.S. upholding the conviction. Eugene Debs was the Socialist candidate for President. He gave a campaign speech and was arrested after for violation of the Sedition act and sentence to 10 years in prison. I found this interesting because via Audible I had read "1920: The year of six Presidents" by David Pietrusza and "Clarence Darrow" by John A. Farrell. Darrow was Debs attorney. Both these books provided a great deal of information about Debs and the above mentioned case. Holmes had been a defender of the power of government to punish controversial speech. He was a Boston Brahmin and his friends were owners of big business so he dismissed the fight of and for unions and the problems of the workers.
I found it fascinating how Holmes's friend educated him at age 78 to change his mind. . When the Court reconvened in the fall they heard the case Abrams V U.S. Holmes decided to write the dissent opinion in the case and changed the Frist Amendment forever. He provided guidelines to help determine when the speech crossed the line, he stated "clear and present danger of public harm" to be the key. The Abrams case is covered in-depth in the book so I will not spoil it by going into it. Danny Campbell did a good job with the narration. This is a book I am going to read again.
Amity Shlaes has produced a scholarly look at Calvin Coolidge. It is well documented but not a dry boring story that some scholars write. The book came along at a perfect time for me as I had Coolidge on my list of people to read about in 2013. The book covers Coolidge from birth to death. He was born on July 4 1972 in Plymouth Notch Vermont and died there on January 5 1933. The Coolidge family was one of the founding families of Vermont and had the frugal hard working values of New England. He went to Amherst College and met a group of men that he maintain a lifetime friendship and appointed some to government positions. For example I was surprise to learn that Dwight Morrow was an Amherst buddy of Coolidge and he appointed him to the study the role of aviation and then appointed him Ambassador to Mexico. Morrow was the father of Anne Morrow who married Charles Lindbergh. I have a book in my wish list on Anne Morrow so I was pleased with the connection. I love it when one book provides information to another I am to read. Coolidge chose to "Read the Law" rather than go to law school. Then opened up his own practice. He was active in politics and was elected to local, then state positions. He married Grace Anna Goodhue in 1905 and she was outgoing and he was shy so she was a great first lady. She was a teacher at a school for the deaf and a good friend of Elizabeth Reeve Cutter who married Dwight Morrow. When He was governor of Massachusetts he had to deal with the Boston police strike in 1919. When president he not only balanced the budget he had a surplus which he used to pay down the national debt. He had to battle Congress as they wanted to spend the money. But his basic philosophy was to leave business alone and unregulated and all would be fine. He thought aviation was the future but thought that commercial aviation should lead the way not the military. The press noted he was key to healing the country after the scandal of Harding's presidency. I will not give away any of the story you are going to enjoy reading how and why he handled all the above plus more. Terrence Aselford did an adequate job narrating the book.