Skimmings

2013-03-31T00:00:00Z Skimmings Arizona Daily Star
March 31, 2013 12:00 am

"Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941"

By Lynne Olson

The tumultuous time between the invasion of Poland and the attack on Pearl Harbor gave rise to a conflict at home that pitted isolationists against interventionists. Larger-than-life figures, from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to aviator Charles Lindbergh, were leading players in that ferocious battle in which the stakes couldn't have been higher.

In "Those Angry Days," journalist-turned-historian Lynne Olson captures the period in a fast-moving, highly readable narrative punctuated by high drama.

It's an ideal complement to her previous books about Britain's Tory rebels who brought Winston Churchill to power and Americans who assisted England while it stood alone against Germany.

The question of whether to intervene on Britain's behalf, and even to amend neutrality laws by shipping vitally needed supplies to the beleaguered nation, divided families and friends.

Olson presents as a prime example the poignant story of celebrated author Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who was caught between her husband's leadership of the campaign to keep America out of the war and the efforts of her mother and sister on behalf of intervention.

Roosevelt, according to the author, was overly cautious and hesitant, preferring to follow public opinion rather than lead it. "He was intimidated by congressional isolationists, whose strength he tended to exaggerate, and was loath to challenge them," Olson writes.

The book is filled with profiles of fascinating figures on both sides of the debate: syndicated newspaper columnist Dorothy Thompson, a leading voice for intervention; Burton Wheeler, a progressive Democrat who broke with Roosevelt over the war and led the isolationist cause in the Senate; and British ambassador Lord Lothian, who promoted support for his country and helped get the president to devise the Lend-Lease program that kept Britain afloat.

Arrayed against the interventionists were many high-ranking military officers and the America First movement, whose anti-Semitic strains came to the surface in a Lindbergh speech that discredited him among many Americans.

The fight over intervention mobilized the public to take part in the debate and, in the end, helped to educate Americans about the need to prepare for entry into the war.

"Those Angry Days" is popular history at its most riveting, detailing what the author rightfully characterizes as "a brutal, no-holds-barred battle for the soul of the nation." It is sure to captivate readers seeking a deeper understanding of how public opinion gradually shifted as America moved from bystander to combatant.

Jerry Harkavy, The Associated Press

"The Burgess Boys"

By Elizabeth Strout

Jim and Bob Burgess, the brothers who are the title characters of Elizabeth Strout's new novel, grew up fatherless in a small Maine town after an accident in the family car when they were young.

They were smart, though, and became lawyers in New York City. Now Jim, at 55, is a high-powered corporate attorney who once gained national media attention. Bob, at 51, is a legal aid lawyer with a more modest sense of himself. As the novel unfolds, both are drawn back to their hometown.

This is Strout's first book since her 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "Olive Kitteridge," and her extraordinary narrative gifts are evident again. "Olive Kitteridge" is built on the scaffolding of separate short stories. "The Burgess Boys" follows a more traditional, more sweeping novelistic track, with the marital discord and conflicted feelings of the Burgess brothers set around their attempts to help a young nephew avoid jail.

The brothers have their foibles from the start: Bob, who is divorced and a bit sloppy, drinks and worries too much; Jim, married to a discontented heiress, is self-absorbed and belittles Bob.

Their sister, Bob's twin Susan, also divorced, lives in a cold, quiet house in Maine with her friendless teenage son, Zach - who may face a hate-crime charge after throwing a frozen pig's head into the mosque of Somali immigrants.

The cultural chasm between white Maine locals and dark-skinned Muslims, along with efforts by both sides to bridge the distance, is a developing element throughout the book. But the distance between Bob and Jim - turning on "a terrible secret" from childhood - gives the novel a level of intrigue and human depth with lasting impact.

It's not clear why the narrator is a woman from the Burgess hometown in Maine, the fictional Shirley Falls, who was younger than the brothers but heard gossip about the childhood accident that killed their father. But Strout knows and vividly evokes the territory of Maine and New York City, her characters, their inner lives and fears and - beyond the saga of a family in crisis - the healing power of mercy.

Kendal Weaver, The Associated Press

"Ice Cold Kill"

By Dana Haynes

Dana Haynes departs from his previous thrillers involving the aeronautics industry and takes on the alphabet agencies in "Ice Cold Kill," a surprising and intriguing page turner.

Daria Gibron, a minor character in both "Crashers" and "Breaking Point," takes center stage. The former Shin Bet agent now works as an interpreter, but when her old handler arranges to meet her at Grand Central Station in Manhattan, she drops everything to see him.

After she lands in New York, a coded message warns her of a trap. It turns out that her former handler has been murdered, and she's been linked to a much sought-after terrorist. She cleverly manipulates the situation to her advantage and puts her pursuers on the defensive.

Knowing that she's been burned, Gibron must use all her resources without help from her former allies. Shockingly, her best bet lies in teaming up with the terrorist to stop the real enemy. Together they learn the target on their backs is a distraction from the real operation that involves a deadly virus that's been genetically modified to kill select individuals.

Can they stop the plot in time?

The bullets fly and the action never stops in "Ice Cold Kill," Haynes' best book yet.

Jeff Ayers, The Associated Press

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