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History, biography, fiction on former mayor’s reading list

Saturday, July 13, 2013 - 12:01 am

Editor's note: This week's reader interview is with Paul Helmke, the former Fort Wayne mayor who is now teaching at Indiana University in Bloomington.

“I've learned that teaching takes a lot of time, and that has cut down on my reading-for-pleasure time somewhat. But I just finished Jon Meacham's book, 'Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power.' People seem to be a little down on Jefferson right now. You know, there have been bios on Hamilton, John Adams, Washington, and his (Jefferson's) star is sinking, but this book is very readable and paints an excellent picture.

“I have read 'Istanbul Passage,' by Joseph Kanon. I like him. He concentrates on the post-World War II era. Another of his books I've enjoyed is 'The Good German,' which I think has been made into a movie. It is a spy novel. He also wrote 'Los Alamos,' and he does a good job. His books are usually based in the European theater.

“One of the best books I've read recently is 'To End All Wars.' It's by Adam Hochschild and is concerned with the anti-war movement in England in and before World War I. Bertrand Russell was an influential person then, and Winston Churchill was Lord of the Admiralty. The suffragette movement was going on at the same time, but the women did not approve of the anti-war movement. There had been some battles, like Gallipoli, and after the recent history, many leaders felt war didn't make sense.

“A really good read is 'People of the Book,' by Geraldine Brooks. It is fiction, but it is based on a true story. It follows the history of a Torah from the Middle Ages, and the different people involved in writing it, adding the beautiful artwork and preserving it. You know that many manuscripts were saved, and this is a fictional version by a wonderful author.

“I use 'Urban America,' by John Levy, as a textbook for the course I am teaching. And I must include 'The Eve of Destruction.' The author is James T. Patterson, who is a professor emeritus at the university. I had taken a class from him when I was in school, and I heard about this book on C-SPAN. It is excellent; it is about what happened in America during the year 1965.

“It was a crucial year. It was LBJ's first year as an elected president. The Civil Rights Act was passed; there was the War on Poverty; there was a huge escalation of the war in Vietnam. Medicare became a reality, and many other changes took place. It was after Kennedy's assassination, and, in '64, people were still optimistic. The Beatles appeared on the 'Ed Sullivan Show' that year.

“In '65, big things were still being accomplished in America. Even the Beatles' music changed: It grew edgier. They went from the 'I Want to Hold Your Hand'-type to music with more depth. And as I said before, 1965 was a crucial year in our history.”