Friday, October 7, 2016

Trump This!: The Life and Times of Donald Trump, An Unauthorized Biography, by Marc Shapiro

Marc Shapiro sets out in this biography of Donald Trump not to just regurgitate the well known, but, instead, to present "the moments in his life, good and bad, large and small, that combined to make Donald Trump something special in a whole lot of different worlds and, currently have made him a legitimate candidate for one of the biggest jobs on the planet…President of the United States." Even so, there is not much in this biography that has not already been written about in prior Trump biographies or autobiographies. We know, for example, about Spy Magazine's 1988 article on Trump where it described Trump “as a short fingered vulgarian. A bombastic, self-aggrandizing un-self-aware bully with a curious relationship with the truth.” We also know about Trump's multiple marriages and affairs, his business successes and failures, as well as his numerous threats of lawsuits and his famous line: "If you hit me, I will hit you back 100 times harder.”

What sets this book apart from the others, however, is Shapiro's focus on the human being beneath the Donald Trump brand. While I find the Trump brand and Trump's bombastic personna distasteful, Shapiro still made me feel sorry for Donald the child who was exiled at 13 to a brutal military academy. It is this childhood, I think that will be of interest to sociologists, historians and others for generations to come, whether Trump wins the presidency or not.

Shapiro posits that the lack of hugs and kisses in Trump's childhood may have contributed to turning him into a bully. And a bully he was. As Shapiro notes: "The young Trump soon became a literal menace to the neighborhood. Parents had taken an immediate dislike to him and, in several instances, had forbidden their children from associating with him." Trump himself states in The Art of the Deal: "In the second grade I actually gave my teacher a black eye. I punched my music teacher because I didn’t think he knew anything about music. I’m not proud of that but it’s clear evidence, even early on, that I had a tendency to stand up and make my opinions known in a very forceful way.”

There are other interesting tidbits the book, such as the fact that Trump's family name was Drumph, not Drumf; and that it was Donald's father who set the record straight about his ancestry being German, not Swedish. Apparently, he had told people they were Swedish "because, at the time, he was renting apartments in a building he owned to predominantly Jews who he feared would not rent from him if they knew he was German." Shapiro also pulls no punches about the first business of Trump's grandfather during the 19th century gold-rush: brothels and bars.

At the end of the day, no one can deny that Trump is one most colorful personalities of the last fifty years. Whether you like Trump or not, Shapiro does an excellent job of presenting the real man behind that personality and this is a book worth reading.

(In exchange for an honest review, the publisher provided me with a review copy of this book via NetGalley.)

Print Length: 131 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: Riverdale Avenue Books (February 25, 2016)
Publication Date: February 25, 2016
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

The Woman on the Orient Express, by Lindsay Jayne Ashford

Lindsay Jayne Ashford, takes us back to 1928, when thirty-eight year old Agatha Christie traveled under a pseudonym to Mesopotamia aboard the Orient Express. For the first time in her life, Christie "was traveling abroad on her own. Everything she would do in the next two months would be entirely of her own choosing. She would find out if she could do it. If she could stand being alone," and if she could finally banish the ghost of her ex-husband who had betrayed her in every possible way.

The Orient Express, itself, connotes a time where passengers dressed for dinner, slept in luxurious compartments, and travelled undisturbed from Calais to Damascus. Ashford captures the excitement and elegance of travel aboard this train starting with her depiction of the moment Christie decides to take this trip. It was at a dinner party, one of the few that Christie attended as a newly single woman. After learning that one of the guests, a military man, had been stationed in Iraq not far from a famous archeological dig, Christie exclaimed, "I've always been fascinated by archaeology, I do envy you, living there. I’d love to visit Baghdad.” His response, "Oh, you must go! You can get there by the Orient Express," had a "magical effect" on Christie and she told the guest that the Orient Express represented a pinnacle of elegance to her ever since she "had seen this train as a child, catching sight of the distinctive blue-and-gold livery when her mother took her to live in France before the war. She had watched men and women walking along the platform with rapturous faces, greeted by immaculate stewards standing to attention outside every carriage. She saw boxes of oysters glistening on ice, whole sides of bacon slung on hooks, and cartloads of every kind of fruit being loaded on board."

Aboard the Orient Express, Christie learns that she is not the only one hiding secrets behind the luxury of the Wagons-Lits train cars. A loner most of her life, she finds herself befriending two women whose friendship will change her life. It is through the eyes of these three friends that Ashford shows us parts of Middle East as it was in 1928, a time when Aleppo and Baghdad were busy, whole and cosmopolitan, and the Yezidis live peacefully on their mountain- Jebel Sinjar.

As Christie cleverly demonstrated in her mystery novels, dark secrets can be harmful. Ashford brings such dark secrets to light when Christie is called upon to solve real life mysteries involving her friends. Never having solved a real life mystery before, Christie screws her courage to the sticking place and thinks, "what would her little Belgian detective do in a situation like this? The answer came back in a flash. You must use the little gray cells."

Agatha Christie as a young woman

Through this fictionalized biography, Ashford paints a magnificent portrait of Christie as a woman of great depths, with a plethora of emotions and moods. This is a novel that will engage both your heart and your little gray cells.

(I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Paperback: 330 pages
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (September 20, 2016)
Language: English