The World According To Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers (2003, Hyperion)
I’m not the target audience for this book for a variety of reasons. To start, I’ve never been a fan of Mr. Rogers. When I say “never”, I mean it; as a child, when Mr. Rogers came on I would typically leave the room. I didn’t like him, the mailman, or the land of make-believe (trolley was cool, though.) Secondly it’s a quote book: a compilation of aphorisms, snippets of wisdom and short speeches. I am enough of a cynic to recognize just how little content is provided by such books amidst their decorative borders and large margins. Third, it’s full of vague positive messages that don’t resonate with me. With all of those factors considered, and recognizing that I’m perfectly willing to review books I didn’t find to be worth their cost, one would be inclined to guess I’d pan this book.
Far from it, I find it nearly perfect – just not for me.
At this time of the year, I’m focused as much on gift recommendations as I am the standard reading recommendations, and this book is a perfect add-on gift for religious relatives estranged by Trumpism. Fred Rogers was a minister who specialized in children’s education, and he passed away in 2003. Many parents and grandparents have lingering positive images of him, and they predate Trump.
The snippets in this book are basic comments in favor of decency, of consideration for fellow human beings, of inner strength and of appreciation for good deeds. It’s ideal to be given as a gift to someone who was a fan. At worst, it’ll be a sign of appreciation in the post-Trump era. At best it may remind them of the type of person they used to be, and could be again.
The Green Berets by Robin Moore (1965, Crown)
This book, written by an entrenched reporter who lived among the Green Berets in Vietnam, was a bestseller in the mid-1960s and remains an excellent first-hand accounting of the Vietnam War. It is technically a work of fiction, in that the people and events in the book do not exist, but that is only because of editorial changes: names, exact places and specific times were modified to prevent exposing the secrets of the American Special Forces.
Moore recounts a series of incidents from his time with the Green Berets, and in so doing provides insight into the character of the men responsible for “unconventional warfare”. The stories are presented from the perspective of a man with deep respect for the soldiers, fostered in part by the necessity of passing full Green Beret training before being embedded. Unlike most other reporters, Moore kept a loaded rifle with him at all times, and admits to surviving only because of that weapon.
The book paints an unflattering picture of the South Vietnamese leadership, detailing some of the political factionalism, nepotism and favoritism which warned of dangerous ineptitude as early as 1964. It also demonstrates the problems associated with placing excessive restrictions on the actions of warfare specialists in the field. People who read this book when it was released, if they took it seriously, were likely warning others about the issues we would see in subsequent years.
Many subsequent efforts to address the Vietnam war would do so using hindsight following the pullout, through the prism of Hollywood screenwriters, or both. The Green Berets predated those books and revealed what the war was like while the conflict was still raging. It’s a good book both for those who are proud of their service during that era and for those curious about what life was really like for special forces at the time.