The National Parks: America’s Best Idea

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This book was a companion to a Ken Burns documentary on PBS that I caught a few years back. Dayton Duncan I believe wrote the book with Ken Burns.

I loved it. And I’m going to plug this project, and the Park Service, and the parks.

I am a citizen of the United States, for those who care, and I’m passionate about animals, the environment, and public lands. I loved the documentary, and the book, but I have not been to many of the parks. My current list of parks I’ve visited is:
Zion National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park
Arches National Park
Capitol Reef National Park
Canyonlands National Park
Acadia National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park
Muir Woods National Monument
Golden Gate National Recreation Area

I have never felt healthier than when hiking through Zion National Park. Visiting Acadia National Park was the highlight of my 2016. I snorkeled at Dry Tortugas earlier this year. I can’t wait to head to Shenandoah and the Great Smoky Mountains. I am planning trips to Glacier, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, Grand Teton, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and every other park I can possibly get to.

While I have always been interested in America’s great outdoors, this book and film combination really made me sit up and say, “I want to see America.”

The book, like the film, went into the details of how the parks came to be, who the major players were (John Muir, President Theodore Roosevelt, Stephen Mather, etc), and the changing role of the park service, focusing particularly on the first/oldest and some of the most visited parks: Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, etc…

Today, Americans overwhelmingly support their parks. Millions of visitors frequent the parks each year – more popular parks like Yellowstone are considering limiting visitor numbers because they’re so crowded and they have trouble keeping up. Even those Americans with no plans on visiting a national park believe they should be protected and preserved for future generations. And somehow, for some reason, the parks and the parks service are always under threat.

Americans have screwed a lot of things up over the years. It’s no secret. But we’ve done a lot of good things too. And this whole national parks thing? The idea that these fantastic places with these unbelievable landscapes and incredible wildlife belong to all of us, and not just to the privileged few? That is something we got right.

If you have the opportunity to take a good look at this book, and the documentary, do it. The scenery and wildlife aside, the National Park system, the fight for the common people to be able to visit the last wild places in America, to have a backyard to call their own, is the United States that inspires greatness, that dares the world to be better, that leads by example and says with an extended hand, “Come on, you can follow us.”

To know that country, to see what it is capable of when it’s being its best self, is well worth the time.

“There is nothing so American as our national parks…. The fundamental idea behind the parks…is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us.” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1936
“National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” – Wallace Stenger, 1983

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The Crooked Maid

How did I stumble across The Crooked Maid? I don’t remember exactly what I was doing but I think I was looking up something about The Quiet Twin, and found it on author Dan Vyleta’s website.

I had no idea that Vyleta had revisited Vienna, this time after the war in 1948, and bought the book immediately. It was the ebook version too, so it was near instant gratification. I started reading it that day.

The Crooked Maid isn’t a sequel to The Quiet Twin, exactly, but it does revisit some of the same places and characters. Anna Beer, wife of Dr. Anton Beer, who we met in the previous novel, is back in Vienna after separating from Beer before the war, but when she arrives back at the apartment she shared with her husband, he is nowhere to be found and in his place is a large stranger, Karel Neumann, who claimed to know Beer during the war.

Anna seems to be something of a fading femme fatale; the kind of woman men can’t resist but whose beauty, while still formidable, is beginning to fade with age. She’s smart and street saavy and quite capable of taking care of herself. Overall, she’s my favorite female character in both books.

Robert Seidel, whose first encounter with Anna opens the novel, is on his way home from boarding school to see his family when his stepfather is hospitalized after mysteriously falling out a window. When he dies, Robert’s brother, Wolfgang, a former SS officer, is charged in his death.

Eva, the hunchback maid of the title and working for the wealthy Seidels, is also interested in finding Dr. Beer.

And Vienna is working desperately at denazification, trying to purge itself of signs of its dark past, and convince the world, and itself, that it was a reluctant participant to the horrors of the Nazi regime rather than its willing cohort.

Unlike The Quiet Twin, there were likable characters in this book and the ending wasn’t nearly as bitter, although things didn’t work out quite the way I wanted them to. Ok, they worked out nothing like I wanted them to, but I guess that’s good right? I always complain about books and movies where I figure out the ending. Why should this be any different?

I did figure out Dr. Beer’s fate early on, though. I still liked the story, and getting to that point though, so that’s a plus.

As with the The Quiet Twin, I highly recommend The Crooked Maid. It can be slow in spots but gets better and better as it goes on and was a contender for my favorite book of 2016.

As a side note for anyone considering picking up the book, you don’t have to read The Quiet Twin before you read The Crooked Maid, but I recommend it. You will pick up a lot of extra info that makes finding little Easter eggs in The Crooked Maid more enjoyable.

2016: The Year of David Sedaris

Some time in 2016 I decided that I needed to switch from history to something funny. I think it was around the time the New York Islanders were knocked out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

So! I decided to give David Sedaris another shot. I originally read When You Are Engulfed In Flames by Sedaris back in 2010. I didn’t find it that funny at the time, but I said, “Maybe I’m missing something,” and the comedy selection on Overdrive leaves a bit to be desired. Unless I’m a big Stephanie Plum fan, there wasn’t as much choice as I would have hoped, so I gave Sedaris another go.

I’m glad I did. Listening to Sedaris read his own stories made a huge difference to me. They were witty, sharp, dark, and that’s kind of my style, so I got a lot of mileage out of them.

I listened to five books by David Sedaris in 2016:

1. Holidays on Ice
2. When You Are Engulfed in Flames
3. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk
4. Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls
5. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

And one book edited by David Sedaris:

Children Playing Before A Statue of Hercules.

Forget about Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules. It was an abridged production, it wasn’t that funny, and I only remember one of the essays which featured a (strained?) relationship between two sisters that I related to a little too well.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Sedaris writes essays about things in his everyday life and they frequently feature his life partner, Hugh, and his family. The aforementioned essays are frequently humorous but sometimes serious and usually dark, which doesn’t always bother me until you realize these are real people he’s talking about and you hope that Sedaris is taking a bit of dramatic license.

Long story short, Sedaris writes essays. All the books had their particularly bright spots, but Holidays on Ice was probably my favorite of these books, and my favorite essay in it was “The SantaLand Diaries” where Sedaris chronicles his time playing an elf in SantaLand in Macy’s Department Store one Christmas season. Having worked in retail over Christmas, it was striking how similar Sedaris’s recollections were to my own, minus the elf costume. It seems people are awful everywhere, which is sort of a comfort. It’s not just happening to YOU, it’s happening to EVERYONE.

Other highlights from Holidays on Ice included “Season’s Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!” (chronicling Mrs. Dunbar’s descent into madness brought on by, among other things, her husband’s infidelity, the prostitute stepdaughter she is forced to take in, and her own drug addicted daughter’s pregnancy out of wedlock) and “Dinah The Christmas Whore” (in which Sedaris goes with his sister, Lisa, to rescue an abused prostitute from domestic violence on Christmas Eve).

My favorite essay, however, did not appear in Holidays on Ice but in Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim and was called “Six to Eight Black Men,” which was about Santa in the Dutch traditions (and other cultural differences).

I don’t really do it justice here because, well, I can’t. It made me laugh til I cried. So I’ll let Sedaris read you the story himself.

The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and The Birth of Moving Pictures

Edward Ball’s The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and The Birth of Moving Pictures was another disappointing book to me. Not as disappointing as Last Words From Montmartre, but pretty disappointing all the same.

It wasn’t the quality of the information presented – it was interesting in that I learned a lot about the history of how moving pictures came to be. But this wasn’t the book I thought it was going to be.

One of my biggest issues with this book was that the title was really misleading. The inventor (Eadweard Muybridge, spelled by the man himself in several different places), the tycoon (Leland Stanford, founder of Stanford University), the murder, and the moving pictures had what felt like almost nothing to do with each other. The guy who invented motion pictures murdered another guy who had an affair with his wife. He also kind of knew the tycoon who used his invention and who largely ripped him off but with whom he also worked on some small projects. For example: does a horse’s four hooves leave the ground at the same time while running? Together, they solved this mystery.

There was also a lot of jumping around in time. The author jumped around in location and year and I thought he was going to bring the two things together at some kind of intersectional point. As I said, the two men barely had anything to do with each other, only met a few times, and the inventor spent most of his life trying to get money out of the tycoon, but not even consistently. It was almost like it didn’t matter.

The murder wasn’t even that interesting. Older man marries a younger woman and goes away a lot, ignoring her, and leaving her alone. She has an affair, and the husband kills the boyfriend. HOW SHOCKING. I do have to admit, it was impressive how nonchalant Muybridge was about it. Got up, went looking for the boyfriend, calmly, shot him, turned himself in calmly, etc… all very matter of fact.

But overall, I just wasn’t much impressed by  The Inventor and The Tycoon. It just wasn’t coherent or interesting or connected enough to justify writing a whole book about it. It could have a been a chapter in either of their biographies, but a whole book? Nah. 

Last Words From Montmartre

I saw Qiu Miaojin’s Last Words From Montmartre at the Strand Bookstore down in the city on one of their tables. I think it was pre-owned because it was super cheap ($6-ish) and I bought it because the back read like it was going to be an exciting psychological thriller.

This book also satisfied a requirement on the list I lost last year, but I really thought it was going to be super exciting from the blurb on the back cover:

When the pioneering Taiwanese novelist Qiu Miaojin committed suicide in 1995 at age twenty-six, she left behind her unpublished masterpiece, Last Words from Montmartre. Unfolding through a series of letters written by an unnamed narrator, Last Words tells the story of a passionate relationship between two young women—their sexual awakening, their gradual breakup, and the devastating aftermath of their broken love. In a style that veers between extremes, from self-deprecation to pathos, compulsive repetition to rhapsodic musings, reticence to vulnerability, Qiu’s genre-bending novel is at once a psychological thriller, a sublime romance, and the author’s own suicide note.

The letters (which, Qiu tells us, can be read in any order) leap between Paris, Taipei, and Tokyo. They display wrenching insights into what it means to live between cultures, languages, and genders—until the genderless character Zoë appears, and the narrator’s spiritual and physical identity is transformed. As powerfully raw and transcendent as Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask, Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, and Theresa Cha’s Dictée, to name but a few, Last Words from Montmartre proves Qiu Miaojin to be one of the finest experimentalists and modernist Chinese-language writers of our generation.

It wasn’t sublime. It wasn’t thrilling. It was 176 pages of a woman feeling sorry for herself and being pathetic. I hated it.

I was excited about all aspects of it – a genre and gender bending queer romantic thriller taking place in far away, exotic cities? Am I tall enough to get on the ride? Sign me up.

And when I got off the ride, I got the distinct impression that I was misled on purpose. I found the unnamed narrator (another aspect of the story I liked, as it was reminiscent of Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca, another romantic thriller with an unnamed narrator) whiny, self-indulgent, and as I said earlier, pathetic.

Maybe it’s because of who I am personally, but I have never liked self-pitying wallowers. I understand being depressed after a passionate relationship ends. Eventually, though, pull it together and get over it. Go on living. I always respected myself too much to let my relationship to a significant other define me. I never gave him that kind of power and I have trouble respecting women who do give their significant others, male of female, that kind of power. The relationship in the story, from what I remember now, wasn’t an abusive relationship of any kind, so it’s not that kind of inequality that would trigger someone being unable to leave or be truly damaged by abusive behavior. It was just some woman who couldn’t/wouldn’t get over a breakup.

I had no problem with the translation. Ari Larissa Heinrich did a great job. I can’t comment on the original language, but I thought it was beautifully written and therefore must have been beautifully translated.

My distinct reaction of dislike may be a defect of me personally because a lot of people love this book and comment endlessly on the genius of the author. She has other projects people rave about (though I have no inclination to discover them). Qiu Miaojin committed suicide, which, although I loathe admitting it, darkly fascinates me and is one of the reasons I thought this book would be good. It can be read as her suicide note? What does that mean? How interesting! Let’s find out.

I FOUND OUT. I HATED IT. I WAS GLAD THE NARRATOR WAS SETTING OFF TO KILL HERSELF.

Obviously I feel bad about the author because she was a real person, but the narrator? Nah.

This isn’t the first “great book” where my reaction was one of intense dislike to what I considered to be a whiny, pathetic narrator. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley really rubbed me the wrong way too, and I was only a 16 year old high school sophomore when I read that. But it was the same kind of thing. The narrator went on ENDLESSLY, wallowing in self-indulgent nonsense and oooooh poor him.

I can’t remember for sure 13 years later but I think that narrator commits suicide at the end too and I think my reaction was the same. “Good riddance.”

I would be more specific and look up more details of this book for this post, but I gave it to a friend and she never gave it back, which was fine. I haven’t asked for it back. I don’t want it back. It was $6ish, 176 pages, and 3 or 4 hours I’ll never get back.

It was disappointing enough without remembering all the specific details.

The War That Ended Peace: The Road To 1914

For the most part, I had a pretty good public school education. I did pretty well at most of my subjects and excelled in English and history.

HOWEVER.

There was (is?) one giant gaping hole in my history education. And that giant, gaping hole was European history from the French Revolution through the start of World War I.

No joke. I have no idea what happened. I barely remember them even mentioning it. Considering that World War I is still referred to as “The Great War” in Europe – or at least in Britain – I felt like this was a gaping hole I should start trying to fill, and this was a good opportunity to expand my understanding from “alliances! assassination of Archduke Ferdinand! powder keg!”

Seriously, that’s the extent of what I knew about World War I before listening to this book. Sooo, this book.

The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 by Margaret MacMillan required a lot more listening time than most books I listen to; in page length it was 784 pages, and it required listening in the car as well as at the gym and at work, and I think I actually drove around listening to it at some point.

Anyway, the book introduced me to some of the players – characters – that led to the most destructive war the world has ever seen (yes, even more so than World War II). MacMillan painstakingly chronicles the cultures and leaders of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, Russia, Britain, France, Bulgaria, Serbia, the United States, etc…in the years leading up to the start of the war.

Using quotes and correspondence, this book is thoroughly researched, and while I’ve seen a complaint that it could be repetitious, the repetition really helped me, because it’s hard to keep track of names you’re not familiar with.

I think what horrified me most as I got through this book was how easy World War I would have been to avoid if the personalities involved had just applied common sense and good judgement rather than ridiculous nationalism and a desire to have the biggest dick on the continent. Honestly, I could NOT believe how easy World War I could just have not happened. The entire 20th century would have been totally different.

This was an amazing book – well researched, informative, really laid the groundwork for me in understanding what caused the first World War. It was long, but worth the effort. I still don’t know much about 19th century Europe outside of this, but my public school education taught me that working backwards is a reliable method of problem solving. This book laid a really great foundation for further study of European history.

One Summer: America, 1927

My physics teacher in high school forced us to read a history book. That was the first time I’d heard of Bill Bryson. One of the books on the list was A Short History of Nearly Everything. That was not the book I read that year. I read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. Because it was the shortest. I probably would have enjoyed Bryson’s book more, looking back on it, but I was 17 and an idiot.

Bill Bryson kept popping up though – in college classes and bookstore tables. Given that history books are some of my favorites to listen to at work (where I can learn a lot, not hear EVERY detail, and not lose track of the story), I decided to finally give Bryson a try and went with One Summer: America, 1927. I have been fascinated with the 1920s for a long time, and it’s the loose theme for my upcoming nuptials. Hemingway and Fitzgerald are two of my favorite authors and two of my favorites of their books take place in the 20s, so this book as my introduction to Bryson was a natural choice.

I didn’t know anything about the book or Bryson (except that he kept popping up) going in, so the book, read by Bryson for the audio version, was surprisingly funny due to both content and Bryson himself.

Bryson uses several major events of the summer of 1927 as a lens through which to view American life, what it was and what it was going to become, while focusing on pop culture and the daily life of Americans during that time.

The major events focused on included:

+ Babe Ruth & the 1927 New York Yankees
+ Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight
+ the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 (the one event in the book I’d never heard of)
+ Henry Ford and the transition from the Model T to the Model A
+ Calvin Coolidge’s presidency the ascendance of Herbert Hoover
+ the trial and executions of Sacco & Vanzetti
+ the release of talking pictures with ‘The Jazz Singer’

…these were not the only topics touched, but they were a major focus.

I was pleasantly surprised with this book. It was a lot more interesting than I had thought it would be, and it was a lot funnier than I thought it would be. Bryson grew up in both the US and Great Britain, and his dry sense of humor was quite appealing to me.

These were topics we’d barely touched in school (Sacco and Vanzetti, Lindbergh’s flight), and in some cases not at all (they skipped over Mississippi Flood entirely, as well as anything about Henry Ford that wasn’t “hey the assembly line…”) and I found the detailed dive into these topics, and their impact on American life, a fascinating alternative high school history class.

The book also explored the contrast between the 1920s Jazz Age and the 1930s Great Depression that was looming not far down the road. Bryson also doesn’t just speak to an American audience. Babe Ruth and baseball are huge parts of the book, and so Bryson takes time to explain why Americans are so obsessed with Babe Ruth (even 90 years later) and at least the basics of baseball.

My next Bryson book will be A Walk In The WoodsOne Summer: America, 1927 convinced me that I should definitely read/listen to another Bryson book.

a few thoughts on Tolkien

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JRR Tolkien was born 125 years ago today, on January 3, 1892 (for the arithmatic-ly challenged).

My mother dragged me to see the Fellowship of the Ring in 2001. I was 13. She really did have to drag me, using the sound reasoning that she’d gone to every damn stupid god forsaken terrible film I’d ever want to go to as a kid, and I was going to come whether I liked it or not.

At the start I was outraged I was being dragged to a three hour film I knew nothing about and had no interest in.

By the end I was outraged I’d sat through a three hour film and they hadn’t answered any questions.

My mom wouldn’t tell me what happened next and said I’d have to read it or wait til the next film. I was outraged further.

But I started The Hobbit on December 21, 2001 and finished The Return of the King on August 22, 2002. I was a slow reader as a kid.

And man, those books and films changed my life.

Not in a “I’m a new person” kind of way, although I did adopt the “not all those who wander are lost” quote as a philosophy of life. I don’t think it changed my outlook on life. It did change my outlook on stories. I compare every epic saga to that of the Fellowship’s. I don’t even do it on purpose. But that’s the standard – from the personal, inner conflicts of the characters to the epic consequences of the struggle, other stories I’ve read lack the world building, the scope and the depth of Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson’s adaptations are also possibly the greatest films I’ve ever watched in terms of grandeur and scale and faithfulness to the source material.

I’m not so devoted I’ve done things like read The Simarillion or The Children of Hurin. Or The Appendices. DEAR GOD, THE APPENDICES. But I like that they’re there if I ever want to read them.

And I do recognize greatness when I read it, and Tolkien may be the greatest.

So happy birthday to an all time great and one of my all time favorites. Thanks for a story that has given me something to bond with my mom over. And my friends. And my teachers. And the rest of the world. It’s been the best gift.

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The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History

Of the books I read in 2016, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Rob Edsel (with Bret Witter) was one of my two favorites, and definitely my favorite non-fiction book.

The Monuments Men deals with the story of the newly created Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) section of the military. Early on, the group was comprised of a handful of men, led by Lt. Commander George L. Stout. As their role expanded and members grew, most of these men and women with art expertise were to protect as much European culture as possible during the war – art, architecture, rare & valuable texts, etc…

One major thing that worked in their favor is that the Nazis didn’t destroy art/culture/etc.. They hoarded it. There was some kind of twisted logic in why these artifacts belonged to the Reich even though they were French, Italian, etc…in origin. But the size of the hoard was status. Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring had a particularly expansive collection of stolen property (which wasn’t QUITE looted). Göring always left some small payment or promise there of, and even though he was never officially connected with Nazi looting organizations, he ended up with a lot of loot.

While it sounds very dull, this was actually a great challenge, particularly early on. Many people didn’t believe that art was something worth saving when faced with defeating an enemy like the Third Reich. Many of the Monuments Men assigned to units had trouble getting the resources they needed to do their jobs. It frequently took mandates from President Roosevelt and General Eisenhower to get the Monuments Men what they needed.

But it wasn’t just men, it was women too. The book particularly highlights the efforts of French art historian and museum curator Rose Valland. Being a French woman, the Nazis mistook her for a harmless not-quite-idiot. As a member of the French Resistance who understood German, she secretly and painstakingly kept track of the art the Nazis plundered from both the French national collection at places like The Louvre, and private (many Jewish) collections. She documented meticulously what was taken, where it was taken, to which Nazi officer it had been sent and reported back to Jacques Juajard, Director of the French National Museums, on the status of the ongoing Nazi looting. She and Cpt. James Rorimer, who slowly gained her trust and with whom she became friends, were instrumental in recovering over 20,000 stolen works from Neuschwanstein Castle.

With all the history and lore surrounding World War II, the fact that a lot of European culture and architecture was at risk of being destroyed is very easy to forget. With intercontinental travel easier than ever, it isn’t hard to take for granted the fact that the magnificent works of art from the Middle Ages and Renaissance eras is there every day in museums and that centuries old churches and palaces and architectural wonders are still standing.

But there was a time when this wasn’t necessarily going to be the case. And a lot of people, who frequently haven’t gotten the credit they deserve, worked very hard to make sure it was.

This was a fascinating, well written, satisfying non-fiction book, and like I said, definitely one of my favorites of 2016.

Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History

Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History is an autobiographical memoir by Tony Mendez and Matt Baglio, and was adapted by Ben Affleck into an Academy Award winning film of the same name. It was originally an article for Wired magazine, and was expanded after declassification of documents into a much more detailed story.

I go through phases periodically where I watch a bunch of movies and read their source material. In this case, it was was the other way around, where I audiobooked the source material first and then watched the film.

Mendez was a CIA technical operations officer in the 1970s, decorated and widely recognized for his work in evacuating 6 American diplomats during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Called “The Canadian Caper,” the effort took the cooperation of the CIA, the Canadian government, and several Hollywood professionals, including makeup artists John Chambers and Robert Sidell, and Sidell’s wife, Joan.

Spoiler alert: they get the stranded Americans out of Iran. That wasn’t the most interesting part of this story.

The most interesting part of this memoir was finding out 1. how the CIA operated at the time and 2. how the whole thing sounded like amateur hour.

IIRC, Mendez was hired into the CIA as an artist. He copied stuff, did forgeries, etc… if the CIA had any kind of super advanced tech it wasn’t in this book, or it’s so dated to 2016 that I didn’t realize it was considered advanced tech at the time.

Originally an artist, it was clear Mendez’s role grew by the time the Iranian Hostage Crisis took place. Mendez’s main job was getting the American hostages to believe their cover stories enough to get them out of Iran, which was no easy feat. The key to being a convincing liar was believing the lie, and it was difficult to get the scared Americans to believe what they were saying about themselves, which was total BS.

It was an incredibly dangerous operation, because if they had been discovered there was a good chance they’d be executed. But again, what was really fascinating to me was how incredibly low tech it was. It was drawing up passports that passed inspection and coming up with a solid cover story – the cover story being they were Canadians scouting film locations in Iran for a science fiction film, called “Argo.” (Duh, right?)

The film that came from Mendez’s memoir is a very good film but it didn’t do a good job with 2 things. It took a loooot of dramatic license. There were a lot fewer imminent danger scenarios than depicted in the film, however, this was a film and you have to keep an audience engaged.

The other thing was the film seriously downplayed the role of the Canadian government in the rescue of the hostages. The Canadian Ambassador and Embassy played crucial roles in rescuing the Americans. Mendez gives this credit, the film doesn’t. The film also makes it look as the British and New Zealand embassies turned the American hostages away – this isn’t what happened. The British, in particular, took a great risk taking in the hostages, only moving them because it was deemed too dangerous for them to stay there. The British Embassy, IIRC, was the target of attacks itself. New Zealand had organized a place for the Americans to stay if they needed to change locations and drove the Americans to the airport when it was time to leave Tehran.

It’s understandable why a lot of this was changed for film purposes – it would have been a 4 hour film – but it was hurtful to these countries anyway. Affleck tried to smooth things over but it wasn’t much help. President Carter even commented (paraphrasing), “This was mostly a Canadian achievement. Ken Taylor (the Canadian ambassador) is the real hero of the story.”

Anyway, flawed film aside, Argo was a really interesting “inner workings of the CIA” book, which I highly recommend if you’re interested in contemporary world history.

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