Since the first of the year I have finished three remarkable books on three distinct topics- the life of an Irish nationalist, World War II and the Pacific, and finally the tumultuous 1960s. Each book moves at a solid pace and is equally thought-provoking. It helps too that I am interested in each topic but regardless these books are truly really good reads.
The first book by Angus Mitchell, 16 Lives: Roger Casement follows the extraordinary life of Roger Casement- a man that probably lived the life experiences of a dozen men in his own lifetime. Executed by the British Crown at the ripe old age of 52 for his role in the Easter Rising of 1916 Roger Casement spent better part of his life working to bring international attention to the horrific blight of Africans in the Congo at the exploitative hands of the Belgians and King Leopold II as well as native Indians of the Amazon in South America. His extraordinary efforts in this capacity will get him knighted in 1911 by the British government. Born in Dublin, Ireland Casement is very unique in the annals of both Irish and British histories because he did exemplary work for the very empire that he will later attempt to challenge in its control over Ireland which he felt had a right for self-determination. The book is part of a series of books by various authors that are examining the lives of the 16 individuals that were sentenced to death by the British government as a result of the failed Easter Rising of 1916. Compassionate, accessible and well researched Mitchell’s Casement is a man of deep complexity and a life long champion of social justice issues. A true fighter for the underclass, Casement is also one of a kind because unlike many others that pushed for Irish independence Casement did so outside of a sectarian lens. It matter naught to Casement whether Irish nationalists were Catholic or Protestant; a unified Ireland free from British rule was most important. I will be writing a bit more on Roger Casement in the months ahead.
E.B. Sledge’s With The Old Breed gives an incredible first hand account of Marine combat life in the Pacific during World War II. A member of the 1st Marine Division Sledge documented his battle experiences at Peleliu and Okinawa. Considered by many to be one of the most authentic and genuine books of a soldier’s experience in World War II or any war for that matter, “Sledgehammer” as he became known by to his fellow Marines, spares no emotion in the details of his book. Anyone that is interested in purely a soldier’s perspective on combat needs to read this book. A powerful read, With The Old Breed acknowledges the need and the righteousness of the war but it makes sure the reader is aware that America paid a truly heavy, albeit necessary price in not only the lives lost but also in the transformation of young men as a result of the horrors of combat.
J. Harvie Wilkinson III’s All Falling Faiths: Reflections on the Promise and failure of the 1960s sheds light on how the many issues and divisions our country faces today had its roots firmly planted in the 1960s. Wilkinson, a federal judge argues that the 1960s addressed many long awaited issues including Civil Rights which of course was good and right, however, the later portion of the decade turned radically intolerant- destroying the environment of higher education, our respect for the rule of law and a sense of connectedness to each other as citizens. Through his memoir he highlights how America has seemed to have lost its ability for honest dialogue and debate. And yet too, Wilkinson a product of the 1960s, despite his acknowledgement of his generation’s mistakes possesses a deep affection for our country and a strong optimism for America’s future. Far from preachy, Wilkinson’s memoir is touching, heartfelt, intelligent and purposeful.