Maggie Hope, back in the U.S.A.

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

MRS. ROOSEVELT’S CONFIDANTE. By Susan Elia MacNeal. BOT (Random House). Read by Susan Duerden. 10 ½ hours; 9 CDs.  Also available in paperback from Bantam, $15.

This is the fifth novel in Susan Elia MacNeal’s Maggie Hope mystery series, and, like the others, it combines the intrigue of a mystery, a bit of romance and a good measure of mostly credible World War II history. And this time out, Maggie returns to the United States while this country is reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor.

If you enjoy fiction that incorporates real people and real events, as well as a spunky female heroine, you’ll probably like these books.

Maggie, fans will recall, is a bright young woman, a recent college graduate, who is British by birth but was raised in the United States by a spinster aunt after her parents were killed in an automobile accident. At least, that’s what she had always been led to believe. When the series begins, she has gone to England after inheriting a house there from her grandmother, only to find herself in a nation at war, with almost nightly German air raids. She decides to stay and help out, taking a job as a secretary. She finds herself working in a lowly position for Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Over the course of the previous four books, Maggie’s talents are noticed, and she becomes a spy rather than “just” a secretary. She handles vital assignments, including protecting the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, and even heading to Berlin, into the heart of Nazi territory. She also makes and loses friends, falls in love and discovers that what she had always believed about her family is far from the truth. Both parents, it turns out, are still alive, and her mother is a Nazi.

Never fear, though, you need not have read the previous books to enjoy this latest one. MacNeal covers enough background to help a reader who’s new to the series or one who may have forgotten some of the details of the earlier stories.

In the new book, Maggie, the man with whom she may or may not be in love and another friend and colleague accompany Churchill to Washington, where he will confer with President Franklin Roosevelt now that the United States has joined the war.

Almost immediately, she stumbles onto a mystery involving the death of a young woman who worked for Eleanor Roosevelt and an apparent plot to discredit the First Lady. Churchill assigns her to help out Mrs. Roosevelt. Working with Mrs. Roosevelt gets Maggie involved in one of the First Lady’s causes, this one the plight of a young black man who is about to be executed in Virginia despite the belief of many supporters that he did not get a fair trial.

There’s a lot going on in this book: the mystery surrounding the young woman’s death; the plot against Mrs. Roosevelt; the meetings between FDR and Churchill, and associated negotiations and war strategies; Maggie’s love life; the looming execution and what it reveals about racism in America. MacNeal works hard to include plenty of details about life in the United States in December 1941. At times, she borders on weighing down the story with too much historical detail, and some of it raises questions: Just a couple of weeks after Pearl Harbor, in December as winter is just about to start, would there really have been signs in D.C. promoting Victory Gardens?

But, for the most part, the wartime setting is interesting, as are the portrayals of the Roosevelts, Churchill and even Walt Disney, who is rushing to produce movies to boost the war effort. And, despite the grim setting, MacNeal always works in a bit of fun and humor, in a life-goes-on sort of way.

MacNeal manages the plots and subplots well, although a few developments, most notably what transpired (and didn’t) at the execution strain credulity. The mystery is resolved satisfactorily, with the stage set for another exciting book as Maggie heads back across the pond.

This is the first time I’ve listened to an audio book version of a Maggie Hope novel, and for the most part, the lively story lends itself well to a dramatic recording. I did think in the opening chapters that Eleanor Roosevelt spoke with too British an accent, but either Susan Duerden adjusted or I grew used to it. Also, MacNeal often includes Maggie’s unspoken thoughts, but those hearing the audio version don’t have the benefit of the italic type that clues readers in to this device – something that listeners should keep in mind.

All in all, No. 5 is a welcome addition to the Maggie Hope series, and I look forward to the next one.


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The inside story

Much has been written about the morality, efficacy and safety of drones. But what about the pilots of those unmanned killer planes? Paul O’Connor reviews a first-hand account about what it’s like to be the person who flies deadly drones for the Air Force.

Reviewed by Paul T. O’ Connor

HUNTER KILLER: INSIDE AMERICA’S UNMANNED AIR WAR. By Lt. Col. T. Mark McCurley with Kevin Maurer. Read by Holter Graham. Random House Audio. 9 hours and 30 minutes; 8 CDs. $40. Download, $20.

Air Force officer Mark McCurley was on a typical remotely piloted aircraft, or RPA, mission. For weeks, through his Predator drone’s cameras, he had shadowed a Taliban agent in Afghanistan, watching the man, his wife, his children, his home, his daily routine. One day, when his commanders gave him the order, he fired rockets into a field where the agent and his bodyguard were standing, killing them both.

McCurley then finished his shift at Nellis Air Force Base and commuted to his apartment in Las Vegas, getting caught in a traffic jam along the way.

In what his publisher says is the first inside account of the USAF’s remotely piloted, unmanned air campaign in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and other dangerous places, McCurley tells the story of the schizophrenic life of drone pilots: A 12-hour shift on base, immersed in a mission above a combat zone, often flying in direct support of American ground forces, followed by a commute home, cable TV and a general public, including neighbors, who have no idea, nor understanding, of what he’d been doing.

McCurley was an early RPA volunteer. A graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, he aspired to a career as a combat pilot but was a victim of circumstances. His career prospects were dim when an opportunity arose that few others wanted. Most RPA pilots at the time were washouts from other piloting programs, he writes, and they weren’t enthusiastic about their new assignments.

In Hunter Killer, McCurley, now retired as a lieutenant colonel, takes us through his career, from his training, to numerous surveillance and combat missions flown from the relative comforts of an American base, through bureaucratic wars and finally to a monumental mission from a base in the Horn of Africa.

It’s a compelling story, if at times a tedious one. Those of us who aren’t pilots will have trouble following his often-prolonged stories of flight challenges. And there are times that the dialogue simply grates. Maybe military people really speak like that, but it doesn’t make it any easier to read.

There is plenty to learn, however, of the evolution of the warrior drone, from its relatively minor role to its widespread use today.

Then there is the story of the traffic jam, and of the unusual combat stress that RPA pilots undergo. Daily movement from war zone back to shopping malls and backyard barbecues has created psychological stresses that only this year forced the military to reduce drone missions. There aren’t enough pilots; too many are simply worn out.

McCurley successfully maneuvers between the various worlds, and writes a memoir worth reading. Graham’s narration is competent, but his voice doesn’t sound appropriate for a veteran military man from Mississippi. It’s too young, too sweet, too naïve, almost.


  • Paul T. O’Connor, contributing editor, is a university lecturer who is available for freelance writing assignments. Contact him at
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A simply delicious novel

It’s quite evident that Bob Moyer read this latest Bruno novel with relish.

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

THE PATRIARCH. By Martin Walker. Knopf. 321 pages. $24.95

When Martin Walker concocts a Bruno, Chief of Police novel, he tosses in so many appetizing ingredients — French culture, French history, his love of cooking, Bruno’s love life — that the reader might miss the mouthwatering stock he stews everything in: the plot. Always serviceable, sometimes profound, Walker’s narrative uses murder as well as meals to bring his theme of how the deep traditions of the Dordogne region affect, and are affected by, current events. In Bruno’s world, the past is never past; it’s always present — and there’s no time like the present to have a good meal.

The past in this episode manifests in THE PATRIARCH, a French World War II hero who flew for the Russians and served as a liaison between the governments during the Cold War. The present appears in his daughter-in-law, the lovely Madeleine, about to throw herself into the national political fray.

The plot starts brewing when the Patriarch’s good friend Gilbert dies after a reception at the estate. Everyone thinks it’s accidental. Everyone except Bruno, that is. In spite of denial, intercession, and an outright attempt to kill him, Bruno collects clues others overlook, asks questions in places and of people no one else would consider, and follows threads of inquiry into international affairs. Before long, the brigadier in charge of national security descends, and once again, St. Denis becomes a hub of international attention.

Meanwhile, meals break out wherever Bruno appears:  a light luncheon for the Red Countess he saved in a previous event, a French meal cooked by the daughter of an English ex-pat intelligence officer, a hasty lunch thrown together at Bruno’s cottage for the Brigadier and others, and even a post-coital snack commandeered out of a refrigerator. Every meal provides a feast for the culinary imagination, and usually some fodder for Bruno’s investigation. The past may never be past, but the police chief never stops probing either.

Cooking, however, is not the main dish here — Madeleine is. Bruno starts salivating after her from the opening pages. His attraction to her, and her flirtation with him heat up with each turn of the page and plot. It’s unlike Bruno to dally with a person of interest in the narrative, and he has reason to be concerned. As Bruno plunges forward to a solution and a resolution of his relationship, Walker draws an intricate web that makes the village of St. Denis a culinary hotspot and a converging point for international intrigue, seasoned in the past but flavored with the present. It’s an epicurean Francophile’s literary extravaganza.

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Deprivation, survival and life lessons

Paul O’Connor takes a break from his readings of history to review a book about something that, unfortunately, is as contemporary as it is terrible: life in North Korea.

By Paul T. O’Connor

IN ORDER TO LIVE. By Yeonmi Park. Penguin Audio. 9 hours and 30 minutes. Read by Eji Kim. 8 CDs. $40. Download $20.

Readers of Frank McCourt’s fabulous 1996 memoir, Angela’s Ashes, were astonished by the deprivations that the Irish-American author endured in his earliest years. Yeonmi Park’s In Order To Live reminds us that McCourt’s experiences were not unique to this world.

In this memoir, Park tells the almost not believable story of deprivation, terror, authoritarian control and naivete that constitutes life in North Korea.

Growing up in the northernmost region of North Korea, within sight, sound and smell of China, Park experienced hardship difficult for Westerners to imagine. For that matter, it was hardship unknown just a few miles away, across the Yalu River in China.

Food, clothing, heat, even love, were always scarce. Families survived on minuscule portions of rice, while wearing rags and shivering in the cold. In a land of arranged marriages, love was an emotion reserved for The Dear Leader in the capital of Pyongyang, not for a boy in one’s school.

But naivete was plentiful. Park and her neighbors had been brainwashed into believing the government’s depiction of North Korea as the world’s most prosperous country, even on days when the winds brought the aroma of luxurious food – food Park and her family would never find in their city – cooking just across the Yalu.

It is a story of a government in complete control, one that limited opportunity to all but the most privileged and which would take that privilege away from an extended family for any transgression committed by any member of that family. The government controlled all thought, all entertainment, all conversation, all love.

It isn’t giving away any great secret that Park escapes to the West. How, otherwise, would she have told her story? And that escape through China is as suspenseful and terrifying a tale as she tells in her chapters about North Korea. The final chapters, however, from the days she arrives in South Korea to early days of 2015 when she wrote this book, amount to a plot twist right out of Horatio Alger.

The audio production is superb. Eji Kim has a delicate, young and innocent voice, and her reading adds to the pathos. Her accent – she often mispronounces even common English words – only adds to our endearment for Park.

The beauty of Angela’s Ashes arose from the insights into life McCourt drew from his poverty. Much the same can be said of Park and what she, at such a young age, can explain to the rest of us.

  • Paul T. O’Connor, contributing editor, is a university lecturer who is available for freelance writing assignments. Contact him at


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Elizabeth George back in top form with her new novel

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

A BANQUET OF CONSEQUENCES. By Elizabeth George. Read by John Lee. 18 CDs; 21 ½ hours. $50. Also available in print from Viking.

Fans of Elizabeth George’s long-running British detective series starring Inspector Thomas Lynley and company can rejoice. A Banquet of Consequences is the best novel in this series in quite a while.

The series turned dark when Lynley’s pregnant wife, Helen, was murdered on their doorstep and got even darker in What Came Before He Shot Her, a grim novel about the family that produced the boy who killed Helen. Then came novels in which Lynley and his sidekick, Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, seemed to spend more time making bad choices than solving crimes. Havers, in particular, went so far off the rails as to cause the reader to all but lose sympathy for her.

But in this novel, George, Lynley and Havers are all back to doing what they do best: solving a complicated crime the details of which reveal a great deal about human nature in general and several fascinating characters in particular.

The story moves through time, taking us first back more than three years, to the time when a young man committed suicide in Dorset. Then we jump to two months before the present, and then a few weeks, and finally to the crime and investigation.

After her recent transgressions, Havers is being kept on such a short leash by the department’s superintendent, Isabelle Ardery, that she’s more or less useless as a detective. Barbara’s strengths include her instincts, her dogged stubbornness and her willingness to take chances when she believes she’s right. Now she’s just trying to keep Ardery from carrying her transfer her out of London to a distant village. She’s more or less behaving, but getting little done. Lynley and others are worried enough to try to intervene. Dorothea Harriman, the department secretary, thinks Barbara needs a man, and she takes on remaking Barbara as a project, often with hilarious results.

What Barbara really needs is a good case to get her back into form, and one of Dorothea’s outings inadvertently leads to Barbara meeting Clare Abbott, a noted feminist author, and her editor and longtime friend, Rory Statham. When Clare dies not long afterward, Rory is suspicious of the ruling of natural causes, and turns to Barbara fore help.

Lynley, working behind Ardery’s back, pulls strings to get the team involved in the investigation, and sends Barbara, along with Detective Sergeant Winston Nkata, to Dorset, where Clare had a second home. Lynley takes care of things in London, where he’s also, tentatively, working toward more of a committed relationship with Daidre, the veterinarian he met not long after Helen’s murder.

Clare Abbott’s assistant, Caroline Goldacre, is a thoroughly obnoxious woman who seemed to have an odd relationship with her employer. She also, we learn, is the mother of the young man who killed himself in Dorset three years earlier, as well as of another son, a London psychologist whose marriage has faltered because of his inability to deal with his brother’s suicide. Caroline’s second husband, not the biological father of the sons, is having an affair with a woman who works with him. Rory Statham is haunted by her own sad history. And the dead son had a girlfriend who now loathes Caroline.

A story this long and complex, moving across several years and involving so many complex characters with stories of their own, might seem a poor choice for an audio book. But it’s another mark of George’s skill that never once, over several days of listening whenever I was driving somewhere, did I grow confused or wish that I had a print copy of the book so I could refresh my memory about some character or plot twist.

George weaves it all together skillfully, developing the characters so completely that the reader feels as though they have stepped out of the book and into real life. And by book’s end, she brings it all together in a way that’s utterly believable. Once again, as she does in her best books, George raises questions about the essential nature of truth and justice.

She also, happily for her fans, lays the groundwork for at least some elements of the next novel. Now that she’s back in top form, we’ll find it hard to wait for that new book.



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The deepest mystery of all

Bob Moyer takes a look at a new stand-alone novel by the author of one of his favorite series, and he likes what he sees.

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

THE MURDERER’S DAUGHTER. By Jonathan Kellerman. Ballantine Books. 364 pages. $28.

Early in this one-off, stand-alone book, the new kid, The Murderer’s Daughter, meets with Alex Delaware, the protagonist of 28 Kellerman novels. The meeting is not coincidental; she once took class with him, both are successful therapists, and both work for the University of Southern California. The meeting is also significant to the plot; he provides her with self-protection advice (get a gun) and the name of a martial arts trainer, information that will serve her well later in her adventures. The connection here, however, goes deeper than mere plot development.

It’s the psychology, stupid.

Delaware fans have wound their way through myriad plots over the years, ranging from adequate to awesome. They come back not for car chases and carnage (Delaware drives an ancient Cadillac sedan) but for Delaware’s knowledge of the deepest mystery of all —human behavior. His intuitive dissection of the criminal mind, coupled with his innate empathy for the victims, makes him the master of the genre. The Murderer’s Daughter, Grace, manifests all those same qualities — in a brand new package!

And what a package it is. Orphaned at the age of 5 by the murder/suicide of her parents, passed through numerous foster homes, she survives by her sizable intellect until someone notices her precocity, and provides her the means to nurture her genius. By dint of her ability to understand what people need, and what she has experienced, she matures into a successful therapist specializing in rebuilding victims’ lives. She has a thriving practice, a hefty income, professional prestige — and a few lingering afflictions from her past. She lives alone, she sucks her thumb when she sleeps, and she has sex only (once) with men she picks up in L.A. bars. She balances her breathing and sex life quite adequately until one of those men — well, that’s a spoiler that should not be allowed to spoil the reader’s surprise.

Someone is after her, and what ensues is a fast-paced game of cat-and-deadly-mouse in which the tracked becomes the tracker.

Kellerman intersperses action with the story of her life. We see where she comes from, but the bad guys don’t see her coming. Both in her past and in the lethal present, she makes a series of intuitive deductions that in any other book would defy belief, but, as Kellerman points out, “First guesses are often right on, maybe because they spring from a deep, intelligent place in the unconscious.”

Hers are “freakishly acute,” because Kellerman is freakishly good. It all makes for some rip-roaring action that leaves the typical Delaware plot in the dust, like her Aston Martin DB7 would leave his Cadillac Seville behind.

It’s a raging good read that leaves at least one reader hoping for a return engagement.

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Not ‘Hitler’s Pope’

Chances are, you’ve heard more than once the criticism that the Pope was silent while Hitler was perpetrating the Holocaust. Paul O’Connor reviews a fascinating book that tells the story of what was going on behind the scenes.

Reviewed by Paul T. O’Connor

CHURCH OF SPIES: THE POPE’S SECRET WAR AGAINST HITLER. By Mark Riebling. Read by Fred Sanders. Penguin Random House Audio. 10 hours. $20. Also available in hardcover. Basic Books. 384 pages. $29.99

During World War II, the Vatican was curiously silent about Nazi atrocities, especially toward the Jews. For 75 years, the question has persisted: What wasn’t Pope Pius XII speaking out?

Mark Riebling, in Church of Spies, has an answer. Pius XII was otherwise occupied trying to kill Adolf Hitler.

Pius’ silence on Nazi persecution of the Jews after the second month of the war led to generations of accusations that he was “Hitler’s Pope.” While historians have since refuted that accusation, Riebling says he’s the first to uncover a concerted Vatican effort, operated with the full approval of Pius, to murder Hitler.

The fuhrer’s hatred of the Catholic Church was second only to his hatred of Jews. He planned to destroy the church in Germany and the lands he conquered. In Poland, Riebling says, Hitler’s machine killed 2.4 million Catholics, intentionally executing priests and church officials at the start of the war.

Inside Germany, there was a small, but powerful, cadre of Germans who wanted to end the war and find peace with Europe. Killing Hitler was a prerequisite for any such peace.

Adm. Wilhelm Franz Canarsis, head of German intelligence, and a number of Wehrmacht generals and officers, many German Catholics, were instrumental in the numerous failed attempts to kill Hitler, including the most famous, Operation Valkyrie, conducted by Col. Claus von Stauffenberg. (Think Tom Cruise in the 2008 movie, Valkyrie.)

The pope came into play for a number of reasons. First, the generals tended to be religious men. (Honest. I’m not making that up.) The Lutheran plotters could not morally justify any assassination of a commander. (Nor that.) They handed that responsibility to Catholics because Pius determined that Catholic doctrine allowed for an assassination in such an extreme case.

Also, the British and Americans were rightfully suspicious of anyone claiming to speak for a new German government. The plotters, therefore, needed an intermediary, a channel of communication with the Allies. Pius was the obvious choice for that role because Roosevelt and Churchill trusted him.

Pius’ silence, therefore, was necessary for two reasons. The first was to avoid further enraging Hitler, who was likely to retaliate against Catholics in his military and otherwise under his dominion, and second, to keep Hitler from coming after Pius, who, was holed up in the Vatican surrounded first by Mussollini’s regime and then, after the Italian surrender, by German divisions.

While a number of characters worked the channels between Germany and the Vatican, chief among them was lawyer Josef Muller, a devout Catholic who traveled back and forth between Munich and Rome as a triple agent. As a prominent German Catholic well known in the Vatican, he had access to Pius and others. Canarsis, head of the intelligence services and a fellow plotter, therefore sent him to Rome supposedly as a secret German agent ordered to infiltrate the Italian peace movement and report to the Nazis. But he was really there to communicate with the church regarding efforts to kill Hitler.

This is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the history of the time, or the history of the church, or simply in espionage and intrigue. And Fred Sanders does a wonderful job narrating the audio version.

As one reviewer has already said of this book, it was obvious to any child who attended parochial school that the church was full of spies and snitches. You couldn’t do anything that a nun didn’t hear about within three minutes.

Church of Spies only confirms that and should, at last, put to bed the libel that Pius XII was Hitler’s Pope.

  • Paul T. O’Connor, contributing editor, is a university lecturer who is available for freelance writing assignments. Contact him at


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Another romp with Fox and O’Hare

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

Some books are perfect for listening while driving on long interstate stretches or crammed into an airplane seat. Janet Evanovich’s various series fit this category well. They’re highly entertaining, and they don’t require deep thinking.

Stephanie Plum, Evanovich’s intrepid bounty hunter and endearing klutz, is by far my favorite, but I’ve also begun to enjoy the Fox and O’Hare series she writes with Lee Goldberg, a screenwriter and author who’s worked on various TV detective series, including Monk, one of my all-time favorites.

Scam is the fourth book in this series.

SCAM. By Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg. Read by Scott Brick. Random House Audio.  6 CDs; 7 hours. $35. Also available in print from Bantam Books.

In case you haven’t read any of the previous books in this series, a bit of background: Kate O’Hare is a beautiful FBI agent and former Navy SEAL who spent several years tracking down Nicolas Fox, a charming con man and thief who was high on the agency’s most-wanted list. Then she caught him.

But to her surprise, the powers-that-be decided to let Nick go free – if he’d agree to collaborate secretly with Kate. Together, the two now work to topple big-time criminals who manage to evade more conventional law-enforcement efforts.

Kate and Nick go undercover whenever necessary, traveling the globe to thwart sophisticated bad guys. Nick is working with the good guys now, but he’s not at all hesitant to use some of the questionable strategies and tactics that made him such a successful criminal. Kate spends a lot of time being exasperated by him, and more worrying that she’ll lose her job and go to prison if the schemes he talks her into don’t succeed.

Kate’s father, Jake, is retired from an Army job that involved covert ops. One of the few people who know Kate and Nick’s secret, Jake helps them out when he can, often securing the help of an old buddy or two. Jake is fond of rocket launchers and other deadly weapons.

This time out, Kate and Nick are after Evan Trace, a ruthless Las Vegas casino owner who’s running an international money-laundering ring through his other casino, in Macau. Trace is surrounded by criminal types who love to hurt people

Oh, and our fearless twosome also have to rush off to Hawaii to help Jake deal with the islands’ version of the mob. Eventually, Jake, a semi-retired Somali pirate, a movie stuntman, and other interesting characters help Kate and Nick attempt a major sting to bring down Trace and some of the low-life types who do business with him.

If you’re looking for three-dimensional, soul-searching characters and explorations of ethical issues, look somewhere else. Even Kate and Nick, the main characters, are pretty superficial. Kate seems awfully unsophisticated, but then she was raised by a military dad and has spent her adult life in jobs that don’t leave much time for socializing.

Nor should you come to these tales worrying about verisimilitude. For starters, only in the late summer of 2015 did real-life Navy officials start talking seriously about allowing women to try to become SEALs. Who knows how much of the rest of the book is exaggeration?

These novels follow something of a formula, but there’s enough variety in settings, characters and plot lines to keep things interesting. Of course, there’s the strong attraction between Kate and Nick, which moves to a new level in this book. There’s also plenty of danger and suspense.

The money laundering operations and the scam that Nick concocts to break them are complicated and require more concentration on the part of the listener or reader than does most of the rest of the book.

The Fox and Hare books are pure entertainment, sometimes amusing, sometimes action-packed.  Scott Brick reads the book with all the appropriate inflections and drama.

There have been rumors that Evanovich and Goldberg might keep this series fairly short. One version of the rumor said there would be only four books. The way No. 4 ends, however, makes it clear that there are more adventures in store.


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History with a lesson

Paul O’Connor reviews a history that can tell many Americans much they don’t know about the Eastern Front in World War II, including an important lesson about how to wage a war.

Reviewed by Paul T. O’Connor

THE DEVIL’S ALLIANCE: HITLER’S PACT WITH STALIN, 1939-1941. By Roger Moorhouse. Tantor Audio (through, $22.04. Read by Derek Perkins. Also available in hardback from Basic Books. 432 pages. $29.99.

On the day U.S. forces invaded Iraq in 2003, a pair of twenty-something Republican operatives beamed at a Winston-Salem Journal colleague and me as we entered a pub. As if to say, look how smart and effective our side is, one smugly cheered, “Iraq.”

I responded, “Barbarossa.”

He didn’t understand.

Most Americans wouldn’t. They wouldn’t know to draw the parallel between invading Iraq unnecessarily in 2003 and Hitler’s unnecessary invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 – Operation Barbarossa. The young GOPers didn’t know that attacking a new enemy – Iraq and the Soviet Union – before defeating a first one – Afghanistan and Great Britain, respectively – was simply stupid.

Much of the eastern perspective of World War II is as lost on us today as it was on those two legislative staff assistants that day. Americans think they won the European war – with a little help from England – all by themselves, right after the Normandy landings.

But it was on the Eastern Front that the Wehrmacht bled to death, and it was there that Hitler’s folly was most obvious. He did not need to fight the Soviet Union. To the contrary, when he attacked on June 22, 1941, he broke a nearly two-year old friendship treaty he’d negotiated just before he attacked Poland in 1939.

In this book, Roger Moorhouse, a British historian, provides the story of the Nazi-Soviet alliance, one that appeared to the world to make little sense when it was announced in August 1941. Hitler had made Bolshevism the target of his vituperation for years, linking Bolshevism to the Jews. Stalin had behaved similarly toward Germany; the two nations had been vicious enemies during World War I.

But the pact had advantages.

For Hitler, it neutralized his concerns of a two-front war when he attacked Poland and it gave him access to the vast natural resources of the USSR.

For Stalin, the pact was a notice of free hand in his sphere of influence, a wealthy market for his natural resources, a source for high-end industrial goods and a chance to watch his capitalist enemies destroy each other. The pact also stabilized his western front while he was still concerned about the Japanese to his east.

But no matter how attractive all that might have been, the two sides detested each other and exhibited little mutual trust. When the Soviets moved forces into Eastern Europe and became involved in regional politics, Hitler decided the pact could survive no longer and began to plan Barbarossa.

Moorhouse is true to his title in The Devil’s Alliance. He meticulously details the atrocities, lies and deceits of both sides. There was no lesser of two evils in this pact. Satan’s twins were working with each other.

This spectacular history opens a new front for the American reader. Moorhouse is right in his opening pages. Few in the West today have any knowledge of the pact and how it played in the Barbarossa attack.

For that matter, the man in the White House in 2003 clearly didn’t understand the lesson of the Eastern Front from 1941-1945. You don’t make new enemies until you’ve dispensed with the old ones.

▪   Paul T. O’Connor, contributing editor, is a university lecturer who is available for freelance writing assignments. Contact him at


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Money and power

Thank goodness Tom Dillon has wide-ranging tastes in books. He reads and reviews some fascinating ones we might otherwise overlook.

Reviewed by Tom Dillon

THE RICHEST MAN WHO EVER LIVED. By Greg Steinmetz. Simon and Schuster. 283 pages. $27.95 hardback.

Augsburg in Bavaria, my home for much of the 1960s, is a middling-size German city about 70 miles north of the Alps. From parts of town, you can see the mountains on a clear day, shining white on the southern horizon. The city is blessed with wonderful churches, a long history – it was founded as a Roman outpost in approximately 15 B.C. – and great rivers flowing from the mountains; a slalom run off the glacier-fed Lech was the site of whitewater canoe-kayak events during the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Augsburg today plays second fiddle to Munich, its much larger neighbor, home of the famed Oktoberfest and gateway to almost all of the German alpine region. But it wasn’t always so. At the turn of the 16th century, Augsburg was a world power to rival Venice and Vienna. “Few cities matched the energy and excitement of Augsburg,” writes Greg Steinmetz in this illuminating book.

All that was primarily due to the enterprise and business savvy of a family named Fugger and in particular a son named Jacob, a textile merchant turned banker who may well have been, at least measured by the size of the economy in which he operated, “the richest man who ever lived.” Yes, there is some argument, and figuring out the answer is not an exact science. Fugger must be compared to such people as Nathan Rothschild, John D. Rockefeller and a Roman general named Marcus Licinius Crassus.

Still, consider a letter than Fugger wrote in 1523 to Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and indisputably the most powerful man in Europe. Calling in a debt, Fugger wrote, “It is well known that without me, your majesty might not have gained the imperial crown.” And this from a commoner who could well have been clapped in jail had the emperor not feared the consequences. Jacob Fugger, to say the least, had nerve.

Or consider the matter of Pope Leo X’s selling of indulgences, a way to let people supposedly buy their admission to heaven. This was one of the issues that so inflamed Martin Luther, leading to his famed 95 Theses and eventually to the Protestant Reformation. All that is known; what isn’t common knowledge is that the Pope resorted to selling indulgences in part because of the massive debts the church owed Jacob Fugger in connection with the appointment of a new archbishop of Mainz, Germany.

“The Reformation had many causes,” Steinmetz writes. “Vatican corruption, lustful priests and church meddling in secular affairs all fed the rebellion against the Catholic Church. But Fugger lit the fuse.” Luther “recognized indulgences for what they were,” writes Steinmetz, “a scam Rome invented to cash in on popular fears of damnation.” For the record, Luther covered the Pope’s sale of indulgences in Item 67 of the 95 he nailed to the door of the cathedral in Wittenberg.

“Most people become rich by spotting opportunities, pioneering new technologies, or besting opponents in negotiations,” writes Steinmetz, a longtime journalist who today works as a securities analyst for a money-management firm in New York. “Fugger did all that through a mix of gumption, chicanery and intellect.” But he had the extra quality of that nerve, and that made the difference. It’s not easy to stare down a head of state.

It is perhaps odd that so few Americans know the story of Jacob Fugger, whom Germans know as the “German Rockefeller,” or perhaps the German version of Lorenzo de Medici, financier of Renaissance Florence, Italy. Steinmetz was no different. He first heard Fugger’s name in freshman history at Colgate University, he says, but didn’t really appreciate the man until becoming a regular visitor to Germany. Indeed, the major sourcebook of information about Fugger has never been translated, he says.

But Fugger’s importance cannot be overstated. His career paralleled the rise of the both the banking industry and the Habsburg family, rulers of Austria-Hungary — and indeed of much of the Holy Roman Empire — through World War I. At his death in 1525, Fugger’s net worth was nearly 2 percent of the European economic output, or in today’s dollars a whopping $400 billion, Steinmetz has calculated.

Fugger’s success inevitably led to mistrust and scheming by others, and Steinmetz says he likely suffered from it. “He had few friends, only business associates,” Steinmetz writes. “His only child was illegitimate.” But Fugger succeeded on his own terms, and is indeed the only businessman in Walhalla, a kind of German hall of fame in the Bavarian city of Regensburg.

And in a final irony, he’s probably best remembered, at least in Augsburg, for the creation of the Fuggerei, a home for the working poor and elderly that still survives – and is still supported by Fugger family money – after all these 500 years. The settlement was badly damaged by an American air raid on Feb. 24, 1944, but it was rebuilt by family members using materials from American occupying forces. The settlement looks today much as it probably did in Fugger’s day.

So what’s Fugger’s legacy? Is it the Fuggerei and his support of the poor? Or is it the business acumen of a man who “wrote the playbook for everyone who keeps score with money,” in the words of Bryan Burrough, co-author of Barbarians at the Gate? You’ll have to develop your own answers to those questions, but you’ll learn a lot of history in doing so. And you will, perhaps, have a little better insight into both Renaissance Germany and the origins of modern banking.

  • Tom Dillon is a freelance writer in Winston-Salem.




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