The Deserter’s Tale

The Book of the Week is “The Deserter’s Tale” by Joshua Key and Lawrence Hill, published in 2007. This is the intense story of Joshua Key, who was assigned to an outfit of the U.S. Army that he claims committed war crimes in Iraq.

Finding himself in a financially desperate situation with a growing family, Key decided to join the army. A promise was made to him that he would stay stateside. Instead, after training, he was sent to Iraq early on in the Second Gulf War. When posted in Ramadi, his unit was ordered to raid homes of civilians to search for contraband, weapons and signs of terrorists or terrorist activity, but never found any. He writes that all Iraqi males five feet or taller, regardless of age, were detained by his fellow soldiers. He was never told by his commanding officer where they were taken or what happened to them. The females were terrorized by the unnecessarily rough treatment of the males at the hands of the American soldiers. Not only did the soldiers use scare tactics, but they arbitrarily looted and then trashed the civilians’ residences.

Key says he participated in the attacks, but did the minimal damage he could, while still obeying orders. He writes, “My own moral judgement was disintegrating under the pressure of being a soldier, feeling vulnerable, and having no clear enemy to kill in Iraq. We were encouraged to beat up on the enemy… Because we were fearful, sleep-deprived, and jacked up on caffeine, adrenaline, and testosterone, and because our officers constantly reminded us that all Iraqis were our enemies, civilians included, it was tempting to steal, no big deal to punch, and easy to kill… I witnessed numerous incidents of needless brutality and murders of civilians.”

Read the book to learn what transpired when the situation became intolerable for Key.

Ben & Jerry’s: The Inside Scoop

The Book of the Week is “Ben & Jerry’s: The Inside Scoop, How Two Real Guys Built A Business With A Social Conscience and A Sense of Humor” by Fred Lager published in 1995.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, a couple of childhood friends who had drifted apart, resumed their friendship in their late twenties. Their work lives were aimless at the time, so they decided to go into business together. They settled on selling ice cream, based on Ben’s life philosophy, “If it’s not fun, why do it?”

Ben and Jerry worked around the clock in the couple of years it took to create a business plan and convert a gas station in Burlington, Vermont to an ice cream store. The 1978 Grand Opening saw the giveaway of free ice cream cones to the public. This book– the owners’ first– describes the trials, tribulations and triumphs they experienced in getting the business up and running, and growing.

Don’t Try This At Home

The Book of the Week is “Don’t Try This At Home” edited by Kimberly Witherspoon and Andrew Friedman, published in 2005.  This is a compilation of anecdotes from chefs who encountered some difficult situations during their careers. Some told of “making lemons from lemonade” and others gave a general overview of their experiences.

Four chefs whose stories were particularly intriguing, include Daniel Boulud, David Burke, Marcus Samuelsson and Geoffrey Zakarian.

Boulud recounted an episode in which, as culinary chairman of a fundraising event, he and his staff and extra hired help were required to make 1,200 servings of pea soup.  The “400 pounds of a variety of five peas” were to be stored in “25-gallon stainless steel containers set in ice water.”  Certain people failed to stir the soup hourly overnight, as they should have done, so it fermented.  The next morning, “All twelve hundred servings’ worth, was sour, useless garbage.”  The guests would be arriving that evening and were expecting high-end pea soup.

Burke is another chef who also saw a serious problem for which he had to come up with a solution quickly. He was supposed to cater a man’s fiftieth birthday party at which there would be a surprise dessert, envisioned by the wife.  She wanted a greatly enlarged, custom-made French dessert (“floating islands”) that would serve 200 guests. However, all of the meringues to be used in the dish collapsed, producing a very unprofessional look.  It could not be presented at the end of the meal.  What to do?

It was a language barrier that caused the Swedish-speaking Samuelsson excessive grief while he was working at a restaurant in Switzerland.  This was on New Years’ Eve, no less– one of the biggest nights of the year for business. He was asked to make terrine, which required proper setting of gelatine.  He had never used powdered gelatine before, could not understand the German, French and Italian instructions on the package, and did not ask anyone for help. The resulting concoction smelled bad, and resembled bathtub mold. Was it too late to salvage the situation? Samuelsson’s anecdote was the only one in the whole book that exhibited admission of error and true introspection. Kudos to him.

Zakarian tells of how he became a foodie. When he fell in love with France on a college assignment, he scrapped his academic plans to enjoy the fine food there instead.  Even so, as a starving student, he led a frugal existence, until two strokes of great good luck allowed him to partake of more luxury than otherwise.

Ogilvy on Advertising

The Book of the Week is “Ogilvy on Advertising” by David Ogilvy published in 1985.  The author was the co-founder of what has become a world-famous, worldwide advertising agency– a major feat, as he started his advertising career at 38(!) years old.  Perhaps his business has endured because he had the right idea.  He wrote that he did not care whether the viewer of an ad said “What a great ad!”  Ogilvy’s major goal was to get the viewer to say, “I must go out and buy this product!”  This way, he would make money for the client.  This book recounts his experiences in the field and provides tips on how to advertise.

Kitchen Confidential

The Book of the Week is “Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain, published in 2000.  This is the eloquent account of the author’s personal experiences as a worker in the restaurant business.  He provides anecdotes on the people, their personalities, problems and the kinds of behind-the-scenes activities and events that restaurant patrons do not see.

Bourdain describes one of his first kitchen jobs he held when he was a brash youth, and how his older coworkers put him in his place.  Other forms of entertainment that culinary workers enjoy include the initiation rite of sending the new kitchen help on a fool’s errand, and playing practical jokes on the restaurant manager.  Bourdain tells of his employment woes and others’.   He also reveals culinary dangers (dirty little secrets) about which diners may not want to know.  This book is educational for anyone wishing to enter the restaurant business as well.

The Tennis Partner

The Book of the Week is “The Tennis Partner” by Abraham Verghese, published in 1999.  This is the autobiographical account of the relationship between a medical professor (the author) and an intern at a teaching hospital in the United States.  The two play tennis against each other.  At the time, they are each going through traumatic personal problems; the professor, the aftermath of a failed marriage that produced two sons, and the intern, a struggle to beat drug addiction.  Verghese deftly describes these in engaging detail, throws in his perception of the playing styles of various professional tennis players, and recounts some interesting medical cases.

Lieutenant Birnbaum

The Book of the Week is “Lieutenant Birnbaum: A Soldier’s Story:  Growing Up Jewish in America, Liberating the D.P. Camps, and a New Home in Jerusalem” by Meyer Birnbaum, published in 1994.  This is the autobiography of a memorable character. He rose quickly through the ranks of the U.S. Army during WWII, though not without trouble.

In one incident, he was court-martialed for practicing his religion.  Religious law dictated that Birnbaum wear a yarmulke all the time, including meal times.  An Army rule prohibited the wearing of a “hat” while eating. Birnbaum’s  attorney was incompetent, so Birnbaum defended himself at his hearing.  He argued that a phrase in the oath he took upon his military induction indicated that his religion was more important than his patriotism:  ” …to serve God and my country …”  He was acquitted.

Read the book for further adventures of this clever military officer.

The Vineyard

The Book of the Week is “The Vineyard” by Louisa Thomas Hargrave, published in 2003.  It is a memoir about the first wine-grape farmers on Long Island in New York State.

In the early 1970’s, Louisa and her then-husband, Alex, wanted to grow grapes to make wine to sell.  “I [Louisa] decided that having a vineyard wouldn’t take much time, so I enrolled in chemistry and calculus courses at the University of Rochester while we scouted for vineyard property.”  They thought they would be able to spend more time with the children they planned to have, if they worked in the same place where they resided.  Running a winery seemed to fit the bill.  The endeavor turned out to be more difficult than they imagined.  The Hargraves had never managed a vineyard before, let alone any business, but prior to plunging in, they “did their homework” the best they could, were passionate about wine and were willing to work hard.

They purchased a plot in Cutchogue on the North Fork of Long Island.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were the first grape varieties they planted.  Fortunately for them, the soil was compatible with these high-quality varieties.  They released their first wine in July 1977, from fruit picked in 1975, aged in barrels.

Louisa provides a detailed account of the numerous risks grape farmers and wine makers face; the birds, bugs and weather, to name a few. She also recounts problems her family encountered, including educating their daughter and son and dealing with legal tangles concerning their business.   One particularly stressful episode involved fighting an extortion attempt by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Despite all the hardships, the Hagraves nurtured a successful vineyard because they possessed and/or acquired the passion, courage, focus, skills, talents and luck in sufficient amounts.