5 Recommended Reads For March

By Rob Levy
In Culture

Keep your literary resolutions this month with one of these selections.

Photo by João Silas/ Unsplash

Photo by João Silas/ Unsplash

1/ “The Cardinals Way”
By Howard Megdal, Thomas Dunne Books

“The Cardinals Way” is not just the story of a town and its relationship with its baseball team. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the St. Louis Cardinals and how it has achieved lasting success.

Setting aside the recent hacking scandal, Megdal digs in deep, examining why the Cards have been so successful in recent years. The team’s dedication to analytics, a strong farm team and a fiscally austere business plan have made it a model for other franchises.

The title stems from a philosophy of conduct and attitude that the team holds dear, from its veterans to the raw talent coming up from the minors. This belief system has gone a long way in developing leadership skills in former players like Chris Carpenter and current stars like Adam Wainwright.

For the team, player development on a physical, emotional and professional level is the key. Of course, having a winning attitude doesn’t hurt either. In addition to giving an overview of the Cardinals history, Megdal’s fourth book benefits from unprecedented access to Owner Bill DeWitt and GM John Mozeliak. Thus allowing fans of baseball, and not just the Redbirds, an opportunity to see how all the nuts and bolts of the organization come together to form one cohesive unit from the front office down to the games on the field.

As the Birds on the Bat prepare to enter a very difficult 2016 campaign, this book serves as a manual of sorts for understanding their thinking. It also is a great read for any baseball fan who wants an idea of how a pro franchise is run.

 

2/ “Creatures On Display”
By Wm. Stage, Floppinfish Publishing

William Stage’s latest book, published late last year, further solidifies his stature as a writer who can easily maneuver from genres without sacrificing style, technique or narrative. It also is a mighty fine read.

For his latest work, he draws upon his own experiences as an STD Epidemiologist in St. Louis to weave a noir filled with plenty of underhandedness and ill-gotten treachery.

Set in 1981 St. Louis, his protagonist, Shaun Malloy, is tracking down a new disease that is affecting the gay community. His quest leads to a confrontation with a dubious men’s club owner named Trey Vonderhaar, who is determined to make as much cash as possible despite the dangers posed by this new virus.

An acclaimed photographer and journalist, Stage again uses his passion for history to tell a gripping story. Using the AIDS epidemic of the early 1980s as a template, he has again used his personal experiences as a means to bolster the bleak realism he portrays on paper. He also is at ease in creating characters that, although they are neither black nor white, are completely enthralling. The result is a clash of wills and ideologies that isn’t pretty.

It is here, in this struggle, that we can see Stage returning to his penchant for black-eyed and bruised fiction that holds nothing back in creating the story he wants to tell on his terms.

“Creatures On Display” is not a morality tale per se, but the actions and deeds of its characters drive the reader to persevere onward despite their flaws. This results in a very human and very real page-turner that is not for the faint of heart.

 

3/ 1916: A Global History”
By Keith Jeffery, Bloomsbury

As we discover in Keith Jeffrey’s “1916: A Global History,” the world of 1916 was dangerous and incendiary. It was a bloody year that saw the entire world locked in a global conflict, the effects of which are still being felt politically, geographically and culturally to this day.

Facing the challenges of squeezing the many decisive historical events of this important and cantankerous year into one volume, Jeffery manages to eschew the easy path of brevity in favor of delving into the causes and factors of why these key events happened and how they remain relevant.

World War I dominates this tempestuous year. The author opens the book with the bloody mess of Gallipoli, then moves on to the 303 days of slaughter at the Battle of Verdun. He then turns his attention to revolution, focusing on the Easter Rising in Ireland and how the disastrous Eastern Front campaign doomed Russia to revolution a year later.

Meanwhile, there was also a presidential election in the United States where the sitting president, Woodrow Wilson ran, on a populist platform of neutrality that would become meaningless less than six months later. As Jeffrey notes, the ramifications of his narrow victory helped shape not only the outcome of World War I, but also reached across the century to the present day.

 

4/ “A Doubter’s Almanac”
By Ethan Canin

At first glance, a book about the breakdown of a math genius may not seem the stuff of great fiction. However Ethan Canin’s “A Doubter’s Almanac” is a story so full of madness, genius, hubris and tragedy that it nearly impossible to put down.

Beginning in the 1950s and spanning subsequent decades into the 21st century, the novel follows the life and legacy of Milo Andret, a protagonist riddled with an abundance of holes, flaws and deficiencies. Yet, somehow he is a thoroughly intriguing character whose past troubles him and cripples his future. Born an isolated kid with all the talent and aspirations one could hope for, Milo has great promise. Sadly his avarice and ambition get the better of him as he grows into adulthood.

Although his work at Berkeley is groundbreaking, his people skills suffer greatly. Milo’s pride comes before the fall, when his research creates a bitter rivalry that will adversely affect his relationships with others, including his family.

As the book progresses, Milo becomes more and more of a maelstrom that destroys everything in his wake. Oppressive and tyrannical, his obsessions deepen, becoming a black hole at the center of Canin’s universe. As the pages turn, his savant’s life digresses into a simmering stew of regret, misfortune detachment and darkness.

For the reader this unraveling is initially hard to stomach. However, Canin’s compelling prose rises to a crescendo, which eventually sticks in your craw long after you close the back cover.

 

5/ “SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome
By Mary Beard, Liveright

As British classicist Mary Beard points out, Rome wasn’t built in a day.  The title of her book, “SPQR,” translates into Senate and People of Rome, and refers specifically to the early days of the Roman Republic, which, as Beard points out, began to gestate at the same time as its rival Greek Republic.

This early period, when Rome was ruled as a body politic rather than a lone charismatic leader, has often been glossed over historically in favor of more glamorous version of historical fact. This is where Beard steps in and turns things around. Under her hand, Rome comes to life, revealing an interesting bundle of facts often overlooked by archaeologists and historians.

Rome was not an easy place to live. Yet Beard digs beneath the folklore and popular misconcenptions to give her readers  a real feel for what its citizens went through in their daily lives.

There have been scores of books written about Ancient Rome, however Beard’s is different in that it focuses mainly on the first millennium of the city.  This allows her to cover a lot of ground and tell readers about the heavy-hitters (Julius Caesar, Hannibal, Spartacus, Nero, Caligula and Caligula just to name a few) of the age while also focusing on the importance of Cicero in creating what would become an empire.

While it is in no shape or form a light read, Beard’s book delves deeply into the social aspects of Roman society, most notably slavery, judicial power and the role of women. and children.

Completely exhaustive and fascinating, “SPQR” delivers a fresh perspective on the ascension of Rome as a military and political dynasty which sheds new light on the power and glory that would become the Roman Empire.

Rob Levy is a freelance writer who works at a local library. Each month he recommends five books for ALIVE Magazine readers.

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