Reviews: Biography

March 17, 2005

Catch Me If You Can - Frank Abagnale


Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale is an amazing true story of the adventures of a master con artist and check forger. Of all the books I've "read" from, this is among the most enjoyable. In his late teens, Abagnale posed as a PanAm co-pilot, getting lifts on airplanes for free to take him all around the country and the world, allowing him to pass bad checks behind the guise of a respectable airline pilot. By the time he was caught, at age 21, he had managed to bilk his victims, mostly PanAm, of over 2 million dollars. At that was 2 million in the late 60s, when the story took place. Posing as Frank Williams, Robert Conrad, Frank Adams, and Robert Monjo, Abagnale also managed to teach sociology at a college in Utah with a fake diploma, pass the bar exam and work in an attorney general's office, pose as a pediatrician and become a temporary resident supervisor at a hospital in Georgia.

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June 3, 2004

Benjamin Franklin - Walter Isaacson


Walter Isaacson's highly readable Benjamin Franklin: An American Life tells the story of the extraordinary life of our most colorful founding father. One cannot help after reading this book that Ben Franklin would have fit right into today's urban society. Wonderfully open-minded, witty, curious, practical, and incorrigibly flirtatious, he would have made the most interesting company even today. Reading Isaacson's book, I was struck not only by Franklin's accomplishments and his contributions to the success of our revolution and our constitution, but also by his contributions to the set of values that define what is an American.

In Isaacson's words,

Benjamin Franklin is the founding father who winks at us... He was, during his eighty-four-year-long life, America's best scientist, inventor, diplomat, writer, and business strategist, and he was also one of its most practical, though not most profound, political thinkers. He proved by flying a kite that lightning was electricity, and he invented a rod to tame it. He devised bifocal glasses and clean burning stoves, charts of the Gulf Stream and theories about the contagious nature of the common cold. He launched various civic improvement schemes, such as a lending library, college, volunteer fire corps, insurance association, and matching grant fund-raiser. He helped invent America's unique style of homespun humor and philosophical pragmatism. In foreign policy, he created an approach that wove together idealism with balance-of-power realism. And in politics, he proposed seminal plans for uniting the colonies and creating a federal model for a national government.

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April 29, 2004

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt - Edmund Morris


Edmund Morris' Pulitzer Prize winning The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt is a fast and fascinating read from beginning to end. First published in 1979 Morris interviewed many who knew Teddy well, including two daughters and a son, to paint a vivid picture of the man. The Rise starts with the birth of Theodore to a wealthy New York family, descendents of some of the first Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam. The book follows Teddy through his sickly but precocious childhood, his years at Harvard, his first and second marriages, his entrance into politics as a state assemblyman, his years out west as a cowboy and rancher, his return to politics as a federal civil service reform commissioner, his return to New York as a reform police commissioner, back to Washington as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, his bravery as the colonel leading the regiment of "Rough Riders" to victory in Cuba, his election as Governor of New York, and finally his election as Vice-President of the United States. All accomplished before the age of forty-five.

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April 2, 2004

Theodore Rex - Edmund Morris


Theodore Rex is the second installment of a three part series on the life of Teddie Roosevelt by Edmund Morris. Following Morris' Pulitzer prize winning The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Theodore Rex examines Teddie's years as President starting with his journey to Washington after upon learning of the assassination of President McKinley. This well researched account covers in colorful detail Roosevelt's political brilliance in concluding the Panama Canal Treaty, his tactful negotiations to broker and end to the Russo-Japanese war, his political courage in invoking the Sherman Act and pursuing anti-trust judgements against the most powerful industrial trusts in the land, his Pure Food bill, and finally the environmental legacy Roosevelt left to this country with the establishment of most of the national parks and monuments we enjoy today. Theodore Rex clearly shows why Teddie Roosevelt is considered one of our greatest presidents and well deserves his place at Mt. Rushmore among Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln.

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August 26, 2003

Memories, Dreams, and Reflections - Carl Gustav Jung

In the late 1950s, while in his eighties, Carl Jung sat down to write his autobiography, his story of how he evolved and developed insight into the pysche that now forms the basis of so much of modern pyscholgy. One cannot help but share the awe with which he holds the inner world as it unfolds before him. He writes,

"Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. Its true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome. The part that appears above ground lasts only a single summer. Then it withers away - an ephemeral apparition. When we think of the unending growth and decay of life and civilizations, we cannot escape the impression of absolute nullity. Yet I have never lost a sense of something that lives and endures underneath the eternal flux. What we see is the blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains."
Memories, Dreams, and Reflections is a classic, first published in 1961 and every bit as modern and relevant today as then.

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