Posts Tagged ‘nonfiction book’

Conflict echoes even through decades of peace in Mark Obmascik’s fascinating World War II history ‘The Storm on Our Shores’

December 1, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 1, 2019

Dick Laird was the fifth child born to a dissolute father. Frank Laird’s gambling and drinking led him to squander a modest inheritance. The Lairds moved from one coal town to another during Dick’s childhood, sometimes because there was no work for his father, sometimes because the locals forced the family out.

At age 14, not long after the start of the Great Depression, Dick quit school and went to work in a coal mine. It was a physically punishing way to make a living, assuming one was able to stay in the bosses’ graces and keep a job in the first place. It was also wildly dangerous: In the early 1930s, about one in 340 mine workers were killed on the job.

Laird, as he was widely known, was a strapping lad; at age 18, he was six feet tall and a well-muscled 160 pounds. He would have pursued a career as a boxer had not a doctor discovered a heart murmur that disqualified him from competition. At a buddy’s urging, he decided to join the U.S. Army. In the words of Mark Obmascik, author of the 2019 book The Storm on Our Shores: One Island, Two Soldiers, and the Forgotten Battle of World War II: “Could his odds of being killed in the peacetime Army really be any worse than his 1-in-340 chance at the Powhatan mine?”

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More radio memories! (In which I describe an author interview that may not have happened)

May 21, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
May 21, 2018

Memory is a tricky thing. People have all sorts of odd old things rattling around their brains; or I do, at least. Sometimes, these memories are spot on. Sometimes, they may — emphasis on may — have been made up from whole cloth.

On Friday afternoon, I spent some time searching the web for information on a book, the title, author and publication year of which I was completely unable to recall.

The good news was that I had a fairly specific concept of what the book was about. The work, which either had been written by a Raleigh resident or else centered on the city of Raleigh, was aimed at a general-interest audience of readers, and it described the systems that deliver electricity and drinking water and remove sewage and rain runoff from modern buildings.

Initially, I conducted a general web search using the terms “the four utilities”book and Raleigh. However, “four utilities” refers to a marketing concept, so I changed this search term to simply utilities. I also ran similar queries in the Library of Congress’s online catalog.

I was certain that the book had been released in the United States at some point after roughly 2010, but even after applying those filters, I was left with a lot of irrelevant results.

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McPhee aces Ashe’s victory: ‘Levels of the Game’ delves into a 1968 tennis match, and the lives of the two men playing it

January 16, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 16, 2014

In the summer of 1968, amateur American tennis players Arthur Ashe and Clarke Graebner met in a semifinal match of the U.S. Open tournament. At that point, no American man had won the singles title in 13 years.

Writer John McPhee was on hand for the contest and penned an account of it for The New Yorker magazine. That story is the basis for the 1969 book Levels of the Game, McPhee’s in-depth exploration that combines a stroke-by-stroke description of the sporting event with detailed profiles of the two men. This slender volume — the text runs just 150 pages — is clearly written and compelling, even to a tennis layman such as myself. (I’ve attended a few U.S. Opens, but I don’t play or follow the sport.)

Part of the appeal here is the two men whose game and lives McPhee chronicles, compares and contrasts. The privileged Graebner, the son of a Cleveland dentist, was a scion of the country-club establishment. His opponent, Ashe, came from a hard-scrabble background, the likes of which tennis literally had never seen before.

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