Book Reviews

M. L. Stedman
Simon and Schuster -- You can buy The Light Between Oceans on Amazon here.

He traced the constellations as they slid their way across the roof of the world from dusk to dawn. The precision of it, the quiet orderliness of the stars, gave him a sense of freedom. There was nothing he was going through that the stars had not seen before, somewhere, some time on this earth. Given enough time, their memory would close over his life like a healing wound. All would be forgotten, all suffering erased.

from  The Light Between Oceans

Who among us lives without guilt? Probably only the very young and the morally insensitive. Yet some people just seem made for guilt. It fits them like a custom tailored hair shirt.

Tom Sherbourne is a decent, thoughtful and principled man who feels his guilt—for having betrayed his mother when he was a small boy, for what he had to do in the Great War, and perhaps most, for returning unscathed when so many came back badly maimed, or didn’t return at all. Perhaps it is the most decent among us who feel their guilt the sharpest.

Tom becomes a lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, perched between the Indian Ocean and the Great Southern Ocean, and a half day’s journey from the West Australian coast. In time, he meets and marries Isabel, a spirited, young woman, and they share an idyllic life together, in time and tune with the tides.

However, after two miscarriages and the still-birth of her baby boy, Isabel falls into a deep depression. Then something miraculous happens: a boat bumps up against the rock, carrying a dead man and a squalling baby girl. Tom wants to report the occurrence, but Isabel convinces him that the infant is theirs, a gift from God, to replace their dead son.

Out of his love for Isabel and concern for the infant—How could they turn her over to the authorities to be placed in an orphanage?—Tom buries the man, sets the boat once more adrift, and they pretend the baby is their own, naming her Lucy (from the Latin word for “light.”)

The joy the three find together continues until several years later when Lucy is a toddler. Visiting the mainland on a vacation, they learn the story of the boat, and of the mother, still devastated by the disappearance of her baby daughter.

Tom wrestles with the moral dilemma: What is best for Lucy? What is best for Isabel? And what about the grieving mother who has held on to a fragile hope that her child still lives? For Isabel, the answer is clear: Lucy is now their daughter.

A number of reviewers have described this story as “heartbreaking,” “heartrending,” and “heart-wrenching.” What’s left for me? They took all the best words. [Hint: Don’t look for a happy ending.]

The Light Between Oceans is a beautifully written, poignant story of the choices good people make for good reasons, and the guilt they must live with when facing the consequences of those choices.


This review first appeared in The Columbia River Reader (June 15-July 14, 2013.) Reprinted with permission.

You can buy The Light Between Oceans on Amazon here.

Susan Cain
Random House 

You can buy Quiet on Amazon here.

…in 1921 the influential psychologist Carl Jung had published a bombshell of a book, Psychological Types, popularizing the terms introvert and extrovert as the central building blocks of personality. Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling, said Jung, extroverts to the external life of people and activities. Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them; extroverts plunge into the events themselves. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don’t socialize enough.

from  Quiet


We have become an “Extrovert Nation,” says Susan Cain, believing that “the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight,” and that introversion is “a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology.”

She says we shifted from being a Culture of Character, defined by virtue (think Abraham Lincoln) to a Culture of Personality, defined and propelled largely by self-promotion (think Tony Robbins).

She attributes this change to the rising cult of the salesperson at the beginning of the 20th century, particularly Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

A self-confessed introvert, Cain asks, “How did we go from Character to Personality without realizing that we had sacrificed something meaningful along the way?” and she examines the contributions of famous introverts, like Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Albert Einstein, quiet, self-effacing people who changed history. As a lifelong, card-carrying introvert, I found this a compelling argument.

Of course, introversion-extroversion is on a continuum, similar to masculinity-femininity, gay-straight, liberal-conservative, and there probably never was a person who was 100% extroverted, except maybe my Uncle Al, and he was insufferable.

She offers a quiz that helps the reader assess where he or she is on the “introvert-extrovert spectrum.” For example, extroverts get energy from being with people, while introverts feel their energy drained by being around people and need to recharge by being alone. When my extrovert brother and I were children and sent to our rooms as punishment, Gary suffered the torments of prolonged isolation (30 minutes), whereas for me—happy as a clam!

Cain is not saying there’s anything wrong with extroverts (I mean, they’re fun at parties, I suppose) but asks what is lost? She examines the impact on our decisions in business, education, and politics when energy and action are favored over reflection and thought. How many times have we seen situations where a group adopted a plan, not because it was the best idea, but because it was the most loudly expressed? (“Hey, let’s invade Iraq! We’ll figure out the justification later—WMDs or Al Queda or, something…”)

Nor is she saying that everyone should be introverts—Imagine 20,000 people quietly watching a SeaHawks game; or thousands at a political convention murmuring their approval of a candidate—but that introversion should be as valued as its loud and confident cousin.

I foresee a new political movement emerging—Introvert Pride!—flying a rainbow banner of subdued colors, proudly though unobtrusively proclaiming, “Introverts of the world, unite!...quietly.”


This review first appeared in The Columbia River Reader (May 15-June 14, 2013.) Reprinted with permission.

Buy Quiet on Amazon.

Lyndsay Faye
G. P. Putnam's Sons
Buy The Gods of Gotham on Amazon.

“He asked me if I thought that God could forgive any act, no matter how vile. You know why, naturally. And of course I said yes.”

My eyes fell shut as I blessed the world entire for that one tiny grace. “And then,” Thomas Underhill continued, “he asked if human beings were capable of the same.” 

“What did you tell him?” I whispered.

“I said to keep trying and find out.”

from  The Gods of Gotham

It is 1845, and New York City has just formed its first police force. Timothy Wilde is one of these “copper stars,” a job he has received through his older brother’s political connections.  One night as he’s ending his beat, a ten-year-old girl runs in to him as she is dashing through the dark streets. She is dressed only in her nightgown, and the gown is covered in blood.

So begins Lyndsay Faye’s 2012 novel, Gods of Gotham, recently named best mystery novel by the American Library Association, and nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America (winners will be announced May 2.)

Lyndsay Faye is the pseudonym for Lyndsay Farber Lehner, who with her husband, Gabriel Lehner, graduated from R. A. Long in 1998, and now lives in Manhattan.

The New York City that she depicts is a grimy, seamy, violent world that operates through well-oiled corruption (Some things never change.) Wilde is an uninspired cop, just walking his beat “until someone wanted arresting,” but he soon becomes drawn into the girl’s life. The blood on her nightgown is not her own, but of a boy who is (was) her friend. Both of them work at Silkie Marsh’s brothel—and we don’t mean scrubbing the floors.

Wilde enters this sordid world, and it only gets more and more sordid. The girl, Bird Daly, tells him of a dark-masked gentleman who visits the house, and when he does, one of the children disappears. Eventually, Wilde will discover the remains of nineteen of these children buried on the outskirts of the city.

As he begins his investigation to find the brutal child-killer, Wilde runs up against party politics (no surprise, Silkie Marsh is a major contributor), as well as the Nativist rage against the swelling numbers of Irish immigrants arriving each day, “plentiful as fleas.”

Like most of the characters, Wilde is himself wounded and brutalized in this rough and tumble world where there is little difference between the “coppers” and the thugs they are supposed to control. Yet he engages us because of his self-awareness, which seems often lacking in many of the other people (“I’ve done mad things myself. Stupid things. Never quite that mad or quite that stupid, but after all it wasn’t for lack of trying.”)

Almost against our will, we, like Wilde, are drawn down the gritty, squalid alleys of life we would rather not think about.

[Watch the Book Chat interview with Lyndsay Faye, discussing her first novel, Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings, with her former teacher and mentor Jim LeMonds at]

This review first appeared in The Columbia River Reader (March 15 - April 14, 2013.) Reprinted with permission.

Click her to buy The Gods of Gotham  on Amazon.

Timothy Egan
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - Buy Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher on Amazon

Curtis had pulled his punches with Custer, and kept his views to himself about the brutal mistreatment of the Navajo…Even in his description of the Cheyenne, aside from the account of the Sand Creek massacre, he’d shown restraint. But—damn all!—he would not hold back on the Nez Perce. If a reader could look into the face of Chief Joseph, could hear the story of the long retreat, the broken promises, the imprisonment in Oklahoma, the decimation of a superior band of human beings, and not feel some anger, then Curtis would have trouble living with himself.

from  Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher


It is unlikely that you have never seen a “Curtis Indian”—one of those striking, black and white, or sepia portraits of Native Americans created in the early part of the twentieth century by Edward S. Curtis.

Timothy Egan, author of the National Book Award-winning The Worst Hard Time, has written a fast-paced biography of Curtis that also eloquently and movingly relates the systematic destruction of the cultures of the people who once occupied this country.

Curtis came out to Seattle from Minnesota at a time when the city was in its raw and ungainly adolescence. Within a decade the city grew from 10,000 to nearly 100,000, and would double that within another ten years. A man of enormous energy, ambition, and confidence, he quickly learned photography and set up a studio. Within four years, he had moved from a homesteader’s shack on Puget Sound to a large gracious home in Seattle, and had become a celebrity in the Northwest for his portraits.

As his business was prospering, he took a photograph of the 80-some year old daughter of Chief Sealth (Seattle)—“To look at the face and not see humanity is to lack humanity,” states Egan.

What started as a commercial venture for Curtis became a life passion: to create a proposed 20-volume photographic record of the North American Indian cultures. His goal, he said, was that he “wanted people to see human beings in the faces of Indians, and he wanted those faces to live forever.” His task would take on a heightened urgency as he realized “the subject was dying.”

He was able to secure financial backing for his project from mega-financier J.P. Morgan, but the attitudes toward Native Americans were still far from enlightened (Theodore Roosevelt: “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”)

He was told not to get “political” in his project—addressing injustices and broken treaties. This became more and more difficult as he uncovered the extent of the injustices and the vast number of broken treaties, and when he met the aging Chief Joseph and studied the dying Nez Perce, and found in them a culture superior in many ways to his own, he had to speak out.

Curtis’s passion would drive his life, eventually consuming him, his business, and his marriage, but through this passion he captured the souls of dying cultures, and faces that would live forever.


This review first appeared in The Columbia River Reader (February 15 - March 14.) Reprinted with permission.

Click here to buy Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher on Amzom

Will Schwalbe
Alfred A. Knopf/Borzoi Books - 
Buy The End of Your Life Book Club on Amazon.

Of course, we are all dying and none of us knows the hour, which could be decades away or tomorrow; and we know that we need to live our lives to the fullest every day. But I mean, really—who can play that mental game or live like that? And there’s a world of difference between knowing you could die in the next two years and knowing that you almost certainly will.


                      from  The End of Your Life Book Club


“Plenty of people are willing to talk about death but very few about dying.”

In 2007, Mary Anne Schwalbe was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Though resigned to her prognosis, she was also a fighter, determined to live as fully and as long as possible.

While waiting at Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s outpatient care center for her treatments, she and her son, Will, would read and discuss favorite books. Both had been lifelong readers; Will was a book editor, and herself, one of the founders of the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children.  Her work had often taken her to war-torn areas of Africa and Afghanistan, and during the remaining two years of her life she worked tirelessly to build a library in Kabul.

In this “book club” of two, they read broadly and eclectically, from Jane Austen and E. M. Forster to Ken Follett and Stieg Larsson. I was initially disappointed that there wasn’t more about the books they were reading—some barely receive a mention—but then realized that, like book clubs everywhere, the books themselves are often just the opportunities people create to come together and to share their lives, literary bridges that we use to cross over that gulf that separates us one from one another.

In spite of the mortal pall hanging over them, there are delightful moments of humor. Mary Anne had the habit of starting a book by reading its ending. “I was very surprised by the ending. Were you?” asks Will, referring to William Trevor’s Felicia’s Journey. She responds, “Of course not—I’d read it first. I don’t think I could have stood the suspense if I hadn’t known what was going to happen.”

They don’t so much talk about the books as talk around them, the book becoming the occasion for their time together, deepening their understanding and their love as mother and son, as one dying and the other one (temporarily) surviving. These become important times for both. Will reflects, “I was learning that when you’re with someone who is dying, you may need to celebrate the past, live the present, and mourn the future all at the same time.”

The End of Your Life Book Club is one son’s loving tribute to his mother, and to books and their power to transform our minds, and thereby, our world. No doubt, Mary Anne Schwalbe would have enjoyed it, reading the ending first to see what was going to happen.

This review first appeared in The Columbia River Reader (January 15-February 14, 2013.) Reprinted with permission.

Click here to buy The End of Your Life Book Club on Amazon.



Yann Martel
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - 
Buy Life of Pi on Amazon.

I put a message in the bottle: “Japanese-owned cargo ship Tsimtsum, flying Panamanian flag, sank July 2nd, 1977, in Pacific, four days out of Manila. Am in lifeboat. Pi Patel my name. Have some food, some water, but Bengal tiger a serious problem. Please advise family in Winnipeg, Canada. Any help very much appreciated. Thank you.”


                                                from  Life of Pi

I have a story that will make you believe in God.

Yann Martel’s 2001 novel, Life of Pi, opens with a challenge. Winner of the Man Booker Prize, Britain’s top literary award, it tells the strange and fantastical story of a 16-year old Indian boy on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

Although raised by secular parents who dismissed religion as so much superstition, Pi is one of those souls who feel the urge toward the divine. Born a Hindu, he also explores Christianity (“I knew very little about the religion. It had a reputation for few gods and great violence. But good schools.”) and then later, Islam, which “had a reputation worse than Christianity’s—fewer gods, greater violence, and I had never heard anyone say good things about Muslim schools.” Sensing the spiritual reality lying behind each religion, Pi becomes a practicing Hindu, Christian and Muslim, seeing them as different paths toward the same destination.

With growing political unrest in India, his father decides to sell their zoo in Pondicherry and move the family and some of the animals to Canada. Caught in a Pacific storm, their ship sinks and Pi is the sole human survivor on a lifeboat he shares with a zebra, hyena, orang-utan, and Richard Parker (“Welcome to Pi’s ark.”) For reasons understandable, the survivors soon become reduced to the tiger and the boy.

The recently released film by director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) is a wondrous visual spectacle, and remarkably faithful to the book. Martel’s novel is a fable wrapped within a true-to-life survival epic, and both book and film have a fantastical quality, mixing real and surreal.  Suraj Sharma, in his first acting role, endows Pi with the ingenious and ingenuous temperament of a teenage boy drawn to the spiritual while faced with the more practical concern of not being eaten today.

Elie Wiesel once said that God invented man because He loves stories. In perhaps much the same vein, the novelist in the opening narrative, muses, “That’s what fiction is about, isn’t it, the selective transforming of reality? The twisting of it to bring out its essence?” Which is perhaps also what religion is truly about: finding the essence of reality.

At the end of the book and film, faced with the insurance investigator’s disbelief in his story, Pi gives them—and the reader—a second account of what happened, and we are left to choose between the fantastic and the horrific.

If the book doesn’t fully live up to its promise to make the reader believe in God, it will certainly make us believe in the power of fiction to transform our reality, and occasionally to reveal its essence.

This review first appeared in The Columbia River Reader (December 15, 2012-January 14, 2013.) Reprinted with permission.

Click here to buy Life of Pi on Amazon.



Felix J. Palma 
(Translated by Nick Caistor)
Atria Books
  --  Buy The Map of Time on Amazon.

Noticing that Andrew continued to look at him nonplussed, [Wells] added: “It is as though your action has caused a split in time, created a sort of alternative universe, a parallel world, if you like. And in this world Marie Kelly is alive and happy with your other self. Unfortunately, you are in the wrong universe.”

                                               --from The Map of Time

Felix J. Palma’s The Map of Time is a big, ripping yarn, a fantastical mix of history, science fiction, and metaphysical musings on the nature and meaning of time,

It is 1896, and London is a-buzz with the publication of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and the possibility of travel through the fourth dimension.

The book is not only set in the Victorian age, but resembles a Victorian novel, the story sprawling with a multitude of characters and plots and subplots and coincidences worthy of Dickens—characters accidentally bump into each other just at the right moment, London being such a small city after all. Actually, time travel is less implausible than a number of the plot’s twists and turns.

Yet this is a fun story where the author performs gymnastics of the imagination, playing with the idea of time and parallel universes and going into the past to alter the future, with unforeseen complications—One character receives a letter addressed to him from his future self!

Palma provides much historical detail about London at that time (pollution from thousands of cars may still be preferable to pollution from thousands of horses), and introduces into his story real people from the past: Jack the Ripper, once again dissecting prostitutes in Whitechapel; Bram Stoker, author of Dracula; Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, appearing in a very moving chapter that shows the “hideous monster” to have been an intelligent and gentle soul; and Palma plays with the friendly rivalry between Wells and Henry James (“If Wells recognized any merit in James, it was his undeniable talent for using very long sentences in order to say nothing at all.”)

There is also some quite beautiful writing  (“she had stepped with infinite care, almost reverentially, into the waves that looked like the ocean losing its petals.”)

Some may find the narrator almost too chummy at times, as he addresses the reader directly (“Yes, I know that when I began this tale I promised there would be a fabulous time machine, and there will be …”), but I enjoyed this style, as if the author was sitting right there, telling us his story.

Eventually, the reader discovers that much of the plot has been a trick conjured with smoke and mirrors, which, however, doesn’t lessen the enjoyment of the magic Palma has performed for us.


This review first appeared in The Columbia River Reader (January 15-February 14, 2012). Reprinted with permission.

Buy The Map of Time on Amazon.

Justin Torres
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt  -  Buy We the Animals on Amazon.

“We’re never gonna escape this,” Paps said. “Never.”
We didn’t know who he was talking to, but it hushed us …
“You talking about escaping?” Ma asked.
“Nobody,” Paps said. “Not us. Not them. Nobody’s ever escaping this.” He raised his head and swept his arm out in front of him. “This.”
Finally we were silent.
Ma stood and grabbed his outstretched hand with both of hers and pulled it down and buried it in the space between them.
“Don’t,” she said in a voice more steady than we knew. “Don’t you dare.”

--from  We the Animals

Tolstoy began Anna Karenina with his famous observation on families: that all happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. He might have added that it’s from the unhappy families that we get our best stories.

Imagine Catcher in the Rye as the tale of a well-adjusted, happy teen who gets good grades, admires his parents, and all adults for that matter, because they’re such great role models; or The Sound and the Fury as the story of a down-to-earth, tightly knit and loving family more resembling The Waltons; or Henry VIII, where the kind and faithful monarch enjoys a life of matrimonial bliss with his one beloved wife (You choose which one of the six.)

We the Animals provides glimpses of another unhappy family being unhappy in its own way. Though half white, half Puerto Rican, this family’s life is comprised of events and experiences that could be from anyone’s story.

If you were sitting alone for an hour, without distractions, and asked to remember your childhood, this is the kind of book you would probably come up with, evoking moments—some painful, some humorous, some tender, others transcendent—that together are like pictures at an exhibition entitled Your Life, which, like the Smithsonian’s, is too vast to experience on any one visit.

The narrator of We is recalling when he was seven years old. He and his two brothers are little hellions exploring and having adventures in their own world. The brief episodic chapters reflect a meandering mind recollecting events from his past, unconnected except by the ephemeral string of memory (The final chapter explains the circumstances of the narrator’s remembering.)

The book also testifies to the resilience of young children who haven’t learned that violence and abuse and going hungry aren’t the norm.

Appearing on a number of Best Books of 2011 lists, We the Animals packs a wallop for such a slight work (125 pages), with moments that can be both visceral and profound (“What happens when you die?” I asked. “Nothing happens,” he said. “Nothing happens forever.”)

Contrary to Tolstoy’s observation, We suggests that all families are happy and unhappy, each dysfunctional in its own way, and each discovering its strengths in its own way.



This review first appeared in The Columbia River Reader (December 15 - January 14, 2011/2012). Reprinted with permission.

Click here to buy We the Animals on Amazon.

Jussi Adler-Olsen

He’d thought it would make his life easier, having an assistant. The man would have plenty to do while Carl kept busy counting off the hours behind his closed eyelids. The floor had to be washed, coffee had to be made, and documents needed to be added to the case files, which then had to be put away There would be more than enough tasks to occupy him, he’d thought at first. But now, a little more than two hours later, the man was sitting there, staring at him with his big eyes, and everything was nice and neat and tidy…

“Do you like solving Soduku puzzles … ?” he asked, handing Assad the magazine.

from  The Keeper of Lost Causes


Jussi Adler-Olsen has been called “Denmark’s Stieg Larsson”—which you just know has to be irritating to Jussi Adler-Olsen.

Olsen is Denmark’s #1 crime writer and the author of a number of international bestsellers (I’m going off the book blurb here because how would I know?)

Full disclosure: Detective fiction is not my genre of choice. I think I am one of maybe five people in the northern hemisphere who were not absolutely enthralled with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Nagging questions of plausibility keep interrupting my involvement in these kinds of stories.

But I was drawn to The Keeper of Lost Causes by its title. Spending most of my life in social services, I suppose I identified with it.

Olsen’s detective is grumpy, grouchy, ill-humored Carl Mørck, recuperating from being shot in an incident that left one of his colleagues dead and the other paralyzed. We may wonder that his anti-social moods are the result of the trauma he suffered, but no, we learn Carl was like this before the shooting.

Mørck returns to duty and, due to his personality deficit, is given a do-nothing job in the basement by himself, responsible for closing dead cases, the “lost causes” of the title.

One of these cases is the mysterious disappearance five years ago of Merete Lyngaard, a member of parliament. Merete was bright, beautiful, vivacious and popular, so of course she had many enemies.

But she is not dead. She is being confined in some mysterious chamber (I am not giving anything away here. You learn this in the prologue—and in the blurb.)

Mørck is saved from being bland and boring through his assistant, Assad, an immigrant who has been assigned to clean up after him. Assad is lively, curious and hyper—everything Carl is not. Just as Larsson’s Girl trilogy was elevated above the norm by the fascinating character of its tattooed hacker Lisbeth Salander, what sets Keeper above the norm is Carl and Assad’s relationship.

While Keeper lacks the grisly murders and torture that so delighted Larsson’s readers, discovering where Merete is being held is good for at least a horrific shudder, maybe even a gasp.

As Lincoln diplomatically observed once when asked about a popular book of his day, people who enjoy this kind of book will probably like it.

And I highly recommend the title.





Erik Larson
Crown Publishing Group

At the Katakombe cabaret, Werner Finck continued poking fun at the new regime, despite the risk of arrest. During one show a member of the audience called him a “lousy yid,” to which he responded, “I’m not Jewish. I only look intelligent.” The audience laughed with gusto.

from  In the Garden of Beasts


You know you’re on the other side of history when Dachau is referred to as “a charming village.” Within a few years, it would become one of the most infamous concentration camps in a chapter of appalling infamy.

Seattle author Erik Larson (The Devil in the White City) has written an account of what it was like to live in Germany just as Hitler was coming to power. For us, looking from this side of history, it’s like watching a train accident about to happen.

Larson builds his story primarily around William Dodd, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, and his lively, rather dashing daughter, Martha, who had a series of affairs with, well, whoever seemed to be available at the time.

The ambassador is not an especially appealing or noble figure (his enemies in the State Department called him “Ambassador Dud”), though he gains respect in the readers’ eyes as he tries in vain to halt the violence and warn his government about Hitler’s threat.

In 1933, the Dodds shared many of the prejudices common to that time (Martha notes in her diary: “We don’t like Jews too much.”) They arrive with a view of Germany that is all edelweiss, alpine villages, and blond children in lederhosen, something out of The Sound of Music—and we know how that ended. They seem naïve now when viewed from the self-righteous perspective that history affords. It’s easy to call a game after it’s over.

In the space of a year, the Dodds’ romantic view of Germans and Germany had changed to one of growing alarm as they watched a civilized and cultured society slipping into barbarism.

Perhaps the true hero in the book is George Messersmith, America’s consul general for Germany, who continued to try and convince the ambassador and the U.S. State Department that “all this violence represented more than a passing spasm of atrocity. Something fundamental had changed in Germany.”

Messersmith became an irritant with his frequent and lengthy dispatches warning of what he saw emerging: “With few exceptions, the men who are running this Government are of a mentality that you and I cannot understand. Some of them are psychopathic cases and would ordinarily be receiving treatment somewhere.” Messersmith was eventually transferred.

If there is a lesson for our time here, perhaps it is to beware of demagogues, promising too much and playing to our fears and prejudices.

And as we approach an election year, they are everywhere.