Summer reading, pt. 2 of 3 – non-fiction

Persist by Massachusetts Senator and failed Democratic Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is the kind of memoir that breathes life into a policy tract.  Warren’s campaign mantra was that for each of society’s problems, she had a plan.  She still does, and this memoir of her political career is laced with synopses of her most significant plans, for childcare, preschool education, student loan forgiveness, free community college, health care, economic development, green jobs, and more.

But Warren is a master storyteller, and every deep dive into policy analysis is informed by her own life’s experiences or those of people she met while campaigning, personal narratives that illustrate why the policies she is pushing are so important.  Warren is refreshingly candid about her strengths and weaknesses as a candidate, what she learned along the trail (often by missteps) and the politicians and regular folks who make up the country’s political landscape. She is kind to her Presidential campaign opponents, except for Michael Bloomberg, whom she decimates as she did in the Democratic debates. 

Persist is a very human story about a woman who has accomplished a lot and has much more to contribute to the political process in the years ahead.  In the book, she is much warmer (dare I say more “likable?”) than the times I have been with her in person, and the telling of her story could be an image booster, even if not for another Presidential run.  The memoir holds only the tiniest hint of the hardball she is playing in slowing the nomination of Biden nominee James Kvall to be Under Secretary of Education,  in order to extract more support from President Biden for greater student loan forgiveness than he seems to want. One wonders, indeed, how long she will “persist” and how far she will go.

The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, published in 2010 by Jonathan Schneer, is a well-researched look at the 1917 letter from British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Rothschild supporting the idea of a national homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine. The declaration also noted that “nothing shall be done that may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities of Palestine.” The missive’s language was obviously vaguely worded and without adequately acknowledging the practical difficulties of meeting the dual objectives. The letter, only 67 words long, was written relatively early in the Zionist movement and watered the seed that three decades later would flower into the modern state of Israel. Not long after the declaration, the British government also offered to the Ottoman Empire the ability to keep all of Palestine under its control. 

The Zionist movement was driven by Chaim Weitzmann, a Russian-Born scientist living in Manchester, England who encouraged the British to believe the centuries-old anti-Semitic trope that, behind the scene, Jews held worldwide power and controlled the money supply.  According to Schneer, the double-dealing British were looking for help financing WWII and also thought Weitzmann could persuade the Americans to enter that conflict.

There was duplicity all around. At the same time, a secret diplomatic document (the Sykes-Picot Agreement) would have divided Palestine between Britain and France. The British were also envisioning regime change in Turkey, in exchange for which Turkey would remain in Control of Palestine and would, as part of the deal, come into abundant American dollars.  Most of the different schemes to determine Palestine’s fate proved fantasy.  But for years the British did permit Jewish immigration to Palestine and the establishment of Jewish settlements before the founding of the state of Israel.  The book is a fascinating dive into the colorful characters and personalities behind the scenes and a compelling look at some of the modern (post-Biblical) foundation for the enduring intractable problems between Israelis and Palestinians.

The Greek Connection: The Life of Elias Demetracopoulos and the Untold Story of Watergate-  yes, yes, I’ve written about it enthusiastically before, but it is by my husband, James H. Barron, and you know how that goes. It was launched during the pandemic, it has gotten rave reviews (thegreekconnectionbook.com) from many others, and it is terrific summer reading. I should know: I’ve done it four times, in its different iterations.

In a word or three: A controversial journalist relentlessly battles for democracy, honor and survival against abusive Greek and American governments trying to destroy him. “The Greek Connection” is a non-fiction political thriller involving international intrigue, Cold War confrontations, foreign invasions, civil war, dark money, espionage, disinformation campaigns, crooked elections, military coups, bold escapes, kidnapping plots, brutal tortures, strange friendships and betrayals, whistleblowing, audacious truth-telling and heroism in the face of relentless attacks.

It’s the saga of audacious Greek freedom-fighter and journalist Elias Demetracopoulos, who in 1968 uncovered that the Greek military dictatorship was trying to influence the American presidential election by secretly funneling to the Nixon-Agnew campaign today’s equivalent of millions of dollars, money that began as “black budget” CIA money sent to its Greek counterpart. Elias tried unsuccessfully to get top Democrats to expose the plot. Timely disclosure of this illegal transaction, in the 20th century’s second closest American presidential election, could have changed the course of history: meaning a Hubert Humphrey victory, no President Nixon, no Watergate.

Stunningly, this is just a small part of the Elias Demetracopoulos story, and to get the rest, along with the back stories involving high-profile political figures with which I know you are familiar, well, you’ll just have to read the book.  Of course, you could also wait till next year and get the Greek edition, which will be published in 2022 by Athens-based Kaktos Publications.

My next blog will focus on a very different and especially intriguing book that combines fiction and non-fiction.

I welcome your feedback and book recommendations in the comments section below. To be alerted when a new blog is posted, click on “Follow’ on the home page on marjoriearonsbarron.com.

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