Life and Books Part 4; and Interview with Edward Riegelhaupt

 

 

In this final part of the interview we discussed the shift in his reading that occurred when he decided to stop traveling so much and focus his life at home in New York City and Western Massachusetts. While this part of the interview is the shortest it actually covers the last thirty five years of his life.

S: When you stopped traveling so much what were you reading? When you started Taconic Consultants you were pretty much, your life was New York, Plainfield, work, Sarah Lawrence what were you starting to read when your life was shifting a lot?

E: I was reading a lot of American literature, that’s when I started reading a lot of Wallace Stegner and Peter Taylor. Picking up all the American books, picking up Harper Lee, I can’t even remember all the books I read.

S: You don’t need to talk about specific books.

E: I was also reading history. A lot of non-fiction. Some of the best non-fiction books I’ve read. If people would ask me to give a list of five or six top nonfiction books. I would start out with The Wise Men by Isaacson and Evan Thomas, the history of the State Department and politics from the 1940s through the 1960s and 1970s. The Prize by Yergin, the history of the petroleum industry, going back to the 19th century all the way up to present. The subsequent book, The Quest, isn’t as good.

Another book I loved which had to do with New York City was The Greatest American Newspaper, the history of, the founding of, and the sale of The Village Voice, which included all kinds of people.

S: So when you made the conscious decision to stop being part of international banking and settle into New York City your reading shifted to represent that.

E: Lots of things like that. I’ve been reading many things about the Middle East and the Middle East War. Another book called Lawrence in Arabia, and another book called A Peace to End All Peace, by David Fromkin, probably the best consolidated book about Middle East history that goes from 1919 to 1925. I’ve been reading lots and lots of history of that region and time period. Cold War history as well.

S: What about the last 20 years? Has anything shifted again?

E: I’m reading novels all the time. I read Judy Rossner, Waiting for Mr. Goodbar and seven or eight of her novels, many authors like that I read all their works.

S: It hasn’t been like when you are young and take on a chunk of what you are reading? Like when you were reading the Paris and London writers.

E: I’m reading lots of German writers. Josef Kanon who wrote beautiful stories about everything from the atomic bomb to spies in Sons and Daughters (Sons and Fathers ?), right now I’m reading his Leaving Berlin which is about Berlin in 49-50. Wonderful writer, serious writer. I recently read Gertrude Bell who worked in the Baghdad government in 1914 to 1920 when she died. In the British government, managing Iraq. I read Lawrence in Arabia which is about all the people reorganizing the middle east.

I recently read to large studies of Kim Philby one was by McIntyre who talks about Kim Philby and his relationship with Nicholas Peters who he went to school with, who never knew he was a spy. And was his colleague at MI-6 and was fooled the whole time. And another one about Kim Philby and St. John Philby and their relationship to the British government. Very exciting books about British and American secret service and their relationships with what was going on during the Cold War.

S: Lets shift again, I was talking with a customer about the prevalence of stories about World War II right now. This gentleman’s observation was that any time there were a lot published about Jews and World War II it had to do with American foreign policy and public policy towards Israel. This was a Jewish man, like many liberal Jews that were around when I was growing up, and now, who are anti-zionist, anti-settlements in the West Bank. His opinion was that every time a lot comes out there is an issue. It felt like it was conspiratorial, the idea that there would be stories about World War II and the pogroms just to press US policy about Israel. Do you think that’s relevant?

E: I think it is younger writers discovering the matter. They are younger writers in their 30s and 40s and many of them are discovering things we knew about the concentration camps. All during World War II.  Morgenthau, Secretary of the Treasury then, couldn’t get Roosevelt to bomb the concentration camps, bombing of the railroad lines, and there was a great deal of antisemitism in the government during the 1940s. And nobody wanted to talk about this or talk about the interment of the Japanese from the West Coast, and other similar things, and therefore they also didn’t want to talk about the lack of interest in rescuing the Jews before they were all killed. Twenty million people were killed; only five or six million were Jews. Many many Catholics, many Russians were also killed. And killed by the Russians as well as the Germans, not in warfare.

Many recent books are coming out. That’s why the older books were exploring them more gently, more carefully. There are more books coming out now about the lack of interest in the American government because they were afraid, because the American people each time they had to go to an election. Roosevelt had to be elected in 1940, 44, 36: he didn’t want to be accused of going to war because of the Jews. He feared, it wasn’t that he had any dislike of the Jews, he feared that the other parties would accuse the Democrats and Roosevelt’s New Deal Party of going to war only because of the influence of Jews. Therefore he was always caught on this balance of if I expend American effort, send bomber pilots over the concentration camps and destroy certain things or the rail lines people will be say the only reason you’re entering World War II is because of the Jews. And that whole wrestling match of Jews, World War II, election cycle, just like today with Ted Cruz from Texas and Trump. All the anti-Muslim, even anti Hispanic language, they are making this an election issue when it really is a humanitarian and practical issue.

S: So do you feel as someone who grew up during World War Two that any of the writers today are getting anything right? Are we getting too much of our emotions?

E: It’s a combination.

S: I know in my experience, Kate and I have talked about this a lot, that we grew up in New York where World War II was….

E: History.

S: No, it wasn’t history, it was very present. And then we moved out here and when people talked about The War they meant the Vietnam War and they talked about World War II as it was just something from the history books. Do you see that just from the history books, when you read the younger writers do you see the nostalgia within the stories about World War II that is inaccurate or do you think they are doing the research and getting the tenor of the time right?

E: Yes, I think what’s happening now are the writers are less afraid of the politics of the time. There are less McCarthys around and less Tydings Committees around, and less Hollywood groups banning directors. The writers have less fear to delve in and do more research on what the attitudes were. World War II is not just nostalgia or history or romance it is really very seriously new research and new politics (?). They are bringing World War II forward  there today the younger people who are in their 20s, 30s, 40s who do think of it as history are even reaching back to World War I and what happen to the period from 1918 to 1925 when they were negotiating all the peace treaties which laid the groundwork for causing war again and causing the advent of Hitler.

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