Steve's and Mike's Recommendations!
From time to time, Steve and Mike come across something that our followers may enjoy. As we see something or read something or hear something, we'll list it out here with why we think it's special.
(We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. For those recommendations that involve a sale, all sales go directly through Amazon.com...we see no customer information whatsoever.)
Enigma and World War II Code Breaking
World War II is still yielding great stories about all the efforts that were parts of defeating the Axis Powers. Our radio show, “The Enigma Covenant”, describes in docu-drama fashion the top secret work of breaking the German codes, intercepting messages, and turning that information into weapons against the Nazis. A forty-five minute show, though, only skims the surface of this amazing story. To learn more about Enigma, Alan Turing, the Bombe, Bletchley Park, and more, check out these recommendations available on Amazon.com.
Moe Berg & Werner Heisenberg
After all these years, World War II still has stories that have yet to be told and heard. A couple of those stories, those of Moe Berg and Werner Heisenberg, come together in our radio play, “The Catcher in the Spy”. In this spy thriller, we follow our fictional heroine, Catherine McPherson, as she teams up with major league baseball catcher, Moe Berg, to find out how close the Nazis were to developing an atomic bomb. The leader of the German nuclear scientists was Nobel-prize winning Werner Heisenberg. Although, McPherson is a fictional character, Berg, Heisenberg, and the circumstances of their meeting in 1944 are all factual including Berg’s orders to kill Heisenberg if he felt that the Germans were close to getting the bomb.
Both of these men were mysteries. Berg was a major league catcher and played for the White Sox, Red Sox, and Yankees over his career. He held a bachelor’s degree in foreign languages and studied seven of them including Latin and Sanskrit at Princeton. He later went on to Columbia Law School during the off-seasons to earn his law degree and passed the New York bar. He began playing baseball in school and eventually played professionally. During an all-star trip to Japan in 1934, Berg went to a Japanese hospital, snuck up to the roof, and photographed the Tokyo skyline for the U.S. government. Those pictures were later used to assist American pilots in their bombing runs. He worked for the Office of Strategic Services during the war (and a bit for the CIA afterwards) and was obsessed with learning about Germany’s progress in atomic fission.
Heisenberg won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1932 and later went on to be part of and lead the team of German nuclear scientists. A protégé of the Danish physicist, Niels Bohr, Heisenberg visited Bohr in Copenhagen during the war. It is a mystery to this day what exactly happened at that visit. The two men went for a walk, had an argument, and never saw each other again. Neither men nor Bohr’s wife would speak of the details. This mystery was brought to life in 2000 in the Broadway play, “Copenhagen” which won the Tony Awards for best play, best featured actress, and best director. Both Steve and I have seen the play – twice! – and found it riveting. Who would think that I would be on the edge of my seat fearfully pondering if Heisenberg really knew how much plutonium it took make a bomb? And what ended the friendship between these two great scientists? Did Heisenberg ask Bohr for help or was Bohr horrified that Heisenberg was close to his goal?
Steve and I have been fascinated with this story and the intersection of it with Berg and Heisenberg. We have selected some items that we would recommend to our followers if they would like to join us in this interest. Included are some books and also the screen version of “Copenhagen”. My guess is that you, too, will feel like you are only getting at the surface of these men and the story of their lives.
We included a copy of the Farm Hall transcripts. When under British arrest, Heisenberg and his team were kept at a house where they were secretly recorded. It was in the reading of these transcripts that I came to my conclusion of whether Heisenberg knew how to build the bomb.
Did you think I would tell you?
"Sisterhood of Spies" & "Undercover Girl"
Many years ago, Steve Brown met Elizabeth McIntosh to help him research a screenplay that we were writing about American women spies in World War II. She had written these books about her time and that of others in the Office of Strategic Services (the "OSS"), the precursor to the CIA, during the war. The books are fascinating and tell truly little known stories about the women who willingly enlisted into the spy organization and took on the very dangerous work of going into the battlefronts and behind enemy lines to report on German and Japanese activities, decode enemy communications, deceive the enemy through "black ops", coordinate with the undergrounds, interrogate enemy prisoners and collaborators, and do whatever they had to to defeat the fascist regimes. These were young, well-educated women -- rare in that day remember! -- who left behind their lives of privilege to serve their country in the most dangerous of ways. Charlie's Angels had nothing over these women!
We are very excited about this recommendation! One of our actors, Bret Houdek, appears in this movie!
A few years ago, he co-starred with Kevin Sorbo and Stephen Baldwin in a film called "The UnMiracle". It was finally released in August, 2017. Based on a true story, the full-length feature focuses on the dangers of teen addiction to alcohol and drugs. As described on the Amazon.com site, the story is about "[a] town [that] struggles to put itself back together after the drug overdose of the most popular girl in school, in this faith oriented ensemble piece of interweaving storylines exploring the values of Christian faith". For proof, that's Brett in this picture from the Netflix page!
Here’s how you can watch this movie (with full disclosure).
- Buy or rent the movie on Amazon. If you click on the picture to the left, you can order the movie on Amazon and the Brown-Ullstrup Foundation gets a commission on the sale. (As of this writing, the movie was not available on Prime Video.)
- Watch it on Netflix. Sorry, but you must subscribe to Netflix to do this. We get no commission from your sign-ups.
- Buy or rent the movie on Vudu. Sorry, but you must subscribe to Vudu to do this. We get no commission from your sign-ups.
(Click on the images to purchase these items through Amazon and help support our foundation!)
"A Handmaid's Tale"
I recommend both reading the book and watching the series on Hulu. There is no difference between the two other than that the series does add scenes and background and ends its first season allowing for additional seasons of the show. I thought the characteristics of the series matched the book.
The basic story: in the near future, humans have a difficult time conceiving children (probably) due to environmental and climate problems. The fertility problem is so bad in fact that the constitution of the United States is overthrown and a religious, return-to-basic-values regime takes place that essentially imprisons fertile women and forces everyone into “traditional” roles. Women cannot own property, hold jobs, or be part of any real decision-making process. The fertile women – the handmaids – are forced to have sex (the “ceremony”) in order to conceive by way of the male leaders of society. There are plenty more “rules” but I’ll let you discover those yourselves.
As I watched the series, I was very disturbed and uneasy about the story certainly because of the situation that unfolded on the screen before me and then, thinking later about it, societies do exist today that pretty much run this way.
The book, too, provided this same disturbing feeling but from a first-person perspective because the book is more of a narration by the main character, Offred. It offers her insights to the reader about the world she finds herself in and explains further the plight that she and other women are in.
What caused by head to explode and me to write this recommendation, though, were two scenes: when Offred speaks privately to the Mexican ambassador in the series and when Offred contemplates the Jezebels in the book. It is here that I would like to hear from other viewers and readers about their own views and emotions about those scenes. If there is enough interest I would be happy to organize and facilitate online discussion groups or in-person events if local to me in western Kenosha County, Wisconsin. I was that affected by those scenes that I want to know the reactions of others: is it me, are those two scenes any different from the rest of the works, or are those two scenes pointing something particularly dark about us?
Here’s how you can read and watch (with full disclosure).
- Buy the book. If you click here, you will go to our website where you can order the book on Amazon and the Brown-Ullstrup Foundation gets a commission on the sale.
- Borrow the book. If you are an Amazon Prime member, you can borrow the book through Prime Reading. To become a Prime member, you can click here and go to our website where you can order the book on Amazon and the Brown-Ullstrup Foundation gets a commission on the sale.
- Sign up for the Hulu streaming video service. As of this writing, it’s $7.99 per month and you can try it for free for 30 days. Click here for the Hulu webpage. We get no commission from your sign-ups.
(Click on the image to purchase this item through Amazon and help support our foundation!)
"Man in Profile"
I’m an alumnus of St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin and serve on the Alumni Board. At one of our meetings, the then-president of the college, Thomas Kunkel, mentioned that he had just published a book, “Man in Profile.” I thought to myself, “Hmmm, I should buy the book and have him sign it at our next meeting. Wouldn’t that be cool to have a book signed by an author whom I know and who knows me?” So, I did just that and brought the book with me to the next meeting. I left the book with his assistant for his signature and Tom mailed the book back to me with a very thoughtful note and his signature.
I got to thinking later, though, that it would just be my luck that I would be at some event where I would be at some college networking event (read “cocktail party”) and be stuck with him in one of those awkward little groups and he’d say to me, “So, what did you think of my book?”. To be honest, the topic the book, the life of some dead writer for The New Yorker, a Joseph Mitchell, did not exactly grab me and I didn’t jump at the idea of reading the book. But the thought of standing in that little group responding to Tom with a lame, “I really enjoyed it! No, I REALLY enjoyed it! VERY interesting perspective!” as I try and fake my way to the (mercifully) next topic of small talk in said little group filled me with dread. So, I picked up the book – out of fear – and read it.
And, oh yeah, St. Norbert College is a Catholic institution and there’s that whole Ten Commandments and lying thing and having to go to confession, etc., etc.
Executive summary: I could not put the book down.
Joseph Mitchell was a reporter for publications such as the Herald Tribune and The New Yorker. His reporting was about people, their stories, and how the times and locations affected them and them they. This book follows Mitchell from his boyhood home in North Carolina to his calling as a writer in New York City.
Yes, the book is a biography and sometimes biographies can indeed be dry and tedious. Tom’s book, though, is not just that dry, written-out list of articles, subjects, dates, and facts but is rather a story about Mitchell and his life. Tom has woven a wonderfully crafted narrative about what North Carolina was like living on a cotton and tobacco farm in the early 1900’s and then being in New York at its fabled best in the 20’s through the 50’s. Tom makes the times and characters that Mitchell met along the way palpable. I could see and smell that old New York bar that Mitchell frequented and could see the fish mongers at the dark, early morning fish market. I could understand the world that Mitchell lived in and the stories he wrote about it.
As I read the book, I could not imagine how much time it actually took for Tom to compose all of those sentences knowing that they were the result of an amazing amount of research! The research is deep and vast and covers every aspect of Mitchell’s life and yet, the book is not ponderous and jam-packed full of facts for fact’s sake.
If you’re looking for a trashy romance novel (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), this book is not it. On the other hand, if you like history, you will enjoy reading about this very special time in America’s past and about a man who documented it. If you like well-written prose, you will delight in each sentence of this book.
And yes, it has pictures.
"The Great War"
Over the last year or so, I have been watching the videos on the channel, "The Great War", and I whole-heartedly recommend this series to all of you other history lovers out there. We now stand one-hundred years from the time of the fighting of World War I. The premise with this channel is to present a video each week describing what was occurring one-hundred years ago that week. These videos started in 2014 or one-hundred years from when Archduke Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated and the start of the war. Additionally, there are other videos that focus on special aspects of the war like battle tactics and strategies, the royal houses, the generals, the armaments, the revolutions, the personalities, and viewers' questions and answers. These videos are all well done: they are professionally produced, are jam-packed with compelling information, and are very entertaining...not at all a droning-on of facts and figures.
It's my opinion that World War I gets a bit overlooked by us Americans because of our limited involvement compared to that of the Europeans and yet, this war set the stage for the world we have lived in since: World War II, the rise of the United States and the Soviet Union as superpowers and the Cold War, and the mess in the Middle East. This series will help its viewers understand this watershed event in world history and the implications we are still dealing with today.
What's also great about these videos is that they only run from about 7 to 12 minutes -- not a huge commitment of time.
What made me think of recommending "The Great War" was a review I saw in June 13th issue of Forbes Magazine. I pasted the review below.
"WORLD WAR I (1914–18), rightly called "Armageddon" by Winston Churchill, was history's greatest man-made cataclysm. It undermined faith in Western civilization and the optimistic idea of progress, while bringing in its wake the police-state totalitarian horrors of communism, fascism and Nazism. (Ample traces of those ideologies' poisonous brews can be found in many of the scribblings of today's Islamic terrorists.)
"An excellent way to begin to fathom what the world underwent a century ago is to watch a series on YouTube appropriately entitled The Great War. Each week there's a 9- to 10-minute segment, ably hosted by Indiana "Indy" Neidell, which covers the battlefield as well as the political and diplomatic events that were occurring exactly 100 years ago. Neidell, an actor and musician who was raised in Texas but has been a resident of Stockholm for 20 years, not only does the narration but also conducted most of the prodigious research involved. In addition to the weekly episodes, Neidell and his crew turn out numerous specials on weaponry, culture, aspects of trench life, notable individuals and much more.
"This is an impressive achievement. Take a look--and then help out financially."
Click on the picture at left to go directly to the YouTube page to start watching.