Five Good Reads: Brian Wallace

This week’s list of Five Good Reads was submitted by Brian Wallace. Wallace is a fisherman, freelance photographer, world traveler and history buff who reads any and all history books on World War II, spy novels and adventure books.


“Zorba The Greek,” by Nikos Kazantzakis

This book about a great friendship and adventure saved the life of the man who would eventually help save mine. Stormy seas, an enchanting widow, tender love, brutal mob violence. When I meet Kazantzakis in the afterlife I will kiss his hand and thank him for the life his book granted me.

“My Search for Warren Harding” by Robert Plunket

I was in New York City looking for the perfect Reuben sandwich when I came upon Westsider Rare & Used Books on Broadway. I was taking an 11-hour flight to Argentina the next day and I needed a book. My hand was guided by divine providence as I reached for this book. It’s about the misadventures of an inept historian trying to research the 29th President of the United States. Perfect fodder for a funny book. I started to read it while the jet was taxiing at JFK International and laughed all the way to Buenos Aires. It is out of print, but you can find it with a little effort.

“Mission to Paris” by Alan Furst

I’ve read all 12 of Alan Furst’s historical spy novels several times; “Mission to Paris” is the latest book. The novels are set in Europe before and during World War II. The books are dark and moody, almost like a book version of the movie “Casablanca.” The protagonists are not warlords with millions of soldiers at their command, but more like tiny sparks of flame in the conflagration that was WWII — each doing their duty, trying to do the right thing from their perspective. There are many crossover characters that appear in multiple books; a main character from one book might make a cameo in another. My favorite such characters are Momo Tsipler & His Wienerwald Companions, a nightclub act that has “the oldest cellist in captivity.” I recommend the last book, but in reality you should read all 12 novels.

“A Solder of The Great War” by Mark Helprin

A big book about the long, thrilling and heartbreaking life of old soldier Alessandro Giuliani. The adventures are fantastic, the wars are hell and the love is warm as the first great day of summer. The story reaches its apotheosis in the last paragraph of the last page and will resonate for hours after you close the book the last time.

“Hornblower: Beat to Quarters” by C. S. Forester

This is the best novel of Forester’s 11-book series on Captain Horatio Hornblower. He starts out as a lowly midshipman in the first book and climbs the ranks with his derring-do on the high seas during the Napoleonic Wars. He is a captain in “Hornblower: Beat to Quarters” when he is on a mission to the waters near Central America “to take, sink, burn or destroy” a Spanish ship much larger and powerful than his own. I read somewhere that Star Trek’s Captain Kirk was based on Hornblower. I can see that; so many parallels, but instead of a transporter he has a rowboat. You won’t ponder great truths about humanity while reading the Hornblower saga like you would if you were reading a Nobel Prize in Literature-winning book. Pfffft! These are a lot more fun than any of those books anyway.


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