Thursday Reviews: The Civil War: A Narrative Volume 3 by Shelby Foote; It’s Not About The Coffee by Howard Behar & Janet Goldstein; The Dark Tower II: The Drawing Of The Three by Stephen King

The Civil War: A Narrative, Volume 3

Shelby Foote

When last we left our intrepid Union Army, they’d just occupied Chattanooga and opened the Mississippi River. As we open, we find both sides are getting tired. Lincoln, sick of Napoleon wannabes getting timid on the eve of battle, calls Ulysses S. Grant east to take charge of the entire US Army.

Meanwhile, Robert E. Lee is fighting a war of attrition trying to hold Richmond, the Confederate capital. The new republic has been split in two by the opening of the Mississippi. Now Sherman is threatening Atlanta, tightening the noose. Food is running out. The Confederate dollar is worth only pennies compared to its Union counterpart. The only encouraging signs for the CSA are Nathaniel Banks’ failed incursion into Texas and Raphael Semmes’ high seas piracy aboard the CSS Alabama.

As Sherman closes in on Richmond after burning his way from Atlanta to the sea, then devastating South Carolina, Jefferson Davis goes into a state of denial. He believes the fight can be carried on, even with Grant patiently standing his ground at the gates of Richmond. It’s this rapidly deteriorating state of affairs that rejuvenates a demoralized Union Army and gets Lincoln re-elected. At the end, Lincoln is murdered just as Grant and Lee build a framework for Confederate troops to surrender with dignity. Davis, unrepentant and still considering Lincoln the enemy, is horrified, stating that Lincoln was not malicious toward the South, only defending an opposing cause. The slaying, and the resulting chaos that was Reconstruction, only proves that John Wilkes Boothe was a traitor not only to the United States, but the Confederate cause he claimed to cherish.

Foote’s narrative paints a portrait of a nation exhausted by war and ready to move on. In a long and detailed epilogue, focusing mainly on Jefferson Davis after his capture, Foote gives substance to what the struggle meant to the nation. Before Ft. Sumter, the name United States went from plural to singular, that, even in those first few months when the South was occupied territory, America was more a singular nation than a collection of competing states.

It’s Not About the Coffee: Life Lessons on Putting People First from a Life at Starbucks

Howard Behar & Janet Goldstein

Love them or hate them, Starbucks is a success story. Unlike many tech firms, where long hours and obsession with the product are considered virtue, Starbucks built its success on trying to be a great place to work. The attitude permeates the entire company. They do not have a corporate headquarters. They have a support center. Against retail convention, they pay more than minimum wage to their employees. Or rather partners. And ducking a scandal, a mistake, or a catastrophe is frowned upon. Behar points at Enron as an example of why a company should never do that.

Life at Starbucks is not perfect. But Behar illustrates how, if a company is much more than the bottom-line obsessed organization, those values will permeate the company and allow it to be more successful and more resilient.

The Drawing of the Three (Dark Tower 2)

Stephen King

The first volume of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, The Gunslinger, found Roland, the last gunslinger in a world that has “moved on,” wandering through a land that is part spaghetti Western, part Salvadore Dali painting. Picking up just hours after the end of that story, Roland is found asleep on the beach, attacked by vicious crablike things he dubs “lobstrosities.” In the first tome, the Man in Black (who is likely Randall Flagg of The Stand, as well as the magician from The Eyes of the Dragon) showed Roland that he will “draw” three people from another world. Wounded, injured, and sick, Roland finds a door to “our” world and “draws” Eddie Dean, a heroin addict who is in the process of delivering a shipment to his mobster boss. Roland emerges into our world after talking to Eddie’s mind (It’s a bit more complex than that) and winds up helping Eddie in a gunfight. His second draw is a legless black woman named Odetta Holmes. Or Detta Walker. She is the woman of shadows, and she is really two women. Odetta is the person born into that body, the daughter of a wealthy black dentist in 1960’s New York. Detta is her bat-shit insane alter-ego. Odetta is schizophrenic, and Roland soon discovers his third, The Pusher, is responsible the wounds to Odetta’s mind and her body.

While The Gunslinger was unfocused and a bit surreal, The Drawing of the Three, while episodic, is more straightforward. A self-contained story, albeit one with a clear sequel in mind, it is more of a true quest story, having much in common with The Fellowship of the Ring.