"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War

In 1971 I was in 8th grade. The Vietnam War was raging and it was an extremely unpopular war. Demonstrations against the war were held all across the nation. Four demonstrators at Kent State in Ohio were killed by the National Guard in May 1970. My best friend Rita's dad, a pilot in the US Air Force, was missing in action (MIA) somewhere in Vietnam. The draft was in effect and a lottery system, based on birthdays, was used to determine who would be called up to service first. My twin cousins had a low lottery number and the family feared they might be forced to enlist and fight in Vietnam. Two other cousins did serve in Vietnam with the US Navy and one came home seriously disturbed. He brought the war home with him and has never completely recovered to this day. Nixon and his administration were super unpopular as they led our country deeper and deeper into the war in Vietnam and even started bombing in Cambodia and Laos.

Suddenly, in this atmosphere of national anger and despair, Daniel Ellsberg is in the news because he leaked to the NY Times the top secret 47-volumes of the secret history of the Vietnam War, documents collected by the Department of Defense. People learned what they had suspected all along--- the administrations of four Presidents, back as far as Eisenhower, had been lying to the American people about Vietnam and our involvement there. The breaking of these documents, known as the Pentagon Papers, eventually led to Watergate and the downfall of Richard Nixon. Watergate, Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers were big news for days, weeks, months. I was a kid so I paid attention, sort of. Or more correctly, I thought I paid attention to the details of the case. But apparently not well.

I learned or relearned so much from reading Most Dangerous. Sheinkin put all the pieces together in a succinct yet informative format. As Greg Grandin, writing for the NYT, says:
Sheinkin’s book is a remarkably effective synthesis not just of Ellsberg’s life but of America’s long history in Vietnam. The author has a perfect ear for what might hold the attention of young readers, while at the same time gently educating them about war and governance. “Most Dangerous” balances drama, human interest (including Ellsberg’s romance with the radio journalist Patricia Marx) and analysis; it’s fast-paced, starting with a prologue in which Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy break into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office in search of discrediting information.---(NY Times, Sunday Book Reviews, Nov. 6, 2015)
The last half of the book reads like the best spy novel with all the intrigue and action one would expect from a fiction thriller, but this stuff really happened. The National Book Award has listed Most Dangerous to its short list of best books in the young people category, Publisher's Weekly named it as a top fifteen best books for middle grade readers. I disagree with that delineation. I think Most Dangerous would appeal to high school age students and should be marketed that way.

This year the Printz Award may very well go to the a nonfiction book. In my mind this book, Most Dangerous by Steve Sheinkin and Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege on Leningrad by M.T. Anderson are tied for the best YA books written this year. Both were impeccably researched and super well-written. I highly recommend them both.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Source: Audiobook, checked out from the public library and listened to on Overdrive.

3 comments:

  1. I don't know as much about the Vietnam War as I should, so this book intrigues me.

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    1. I learned so much. I really do think everyone who lived through those years, like we did, should read this book. It is very accessible information and, like I said, I learned a ton from it.

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  2. I was 9 years old in 1971. I had brothers who were 19 and 21.... a tense time for the family. They were not "drafted" but some of their friends were. I'm not familiar with this one, so thanks. I'm going to have to find it.

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