History and Political Biography recommendations from Rudy Boschwitz

Working in the family business all of these years I have had the fortune to learn a lot about business from my dad, Denny Magers, and been able to sit in on many business discussions with others, be it in the office or over a good beer.  From time to time over the years he would illustrate a decision he was making with a Yiddish phrase that he picked up from working for Rudy Boschwitz many years ago at Plywood Minnesota.

I had the opportunity recently to tell Rudy that I picked up a little Yiddish from him, indirectly.  The little I know has led to a fondness for the language and a belief that what takes us a few words to say in English can be said in a word in Yiddish.  Born in Berlin, Germany, Rudy’s family escaped the Nazis and came to the U.S. when Rudy was a young boy. Hopefully, one day, Rudy will write about his story and all he has done.  In the meantime, he has given us recommendations from his interest in reading history and political biographies.  Thanks, Rudy.  Mary 

President Harry Truman always said: “Read your history.” Harry had done so and had quite an encyclopedic knowledge of both American and world history. The books I have enjoyed and read that I list here are principally American history and some world history, and are all modern history starting with the founding of North America.   Rudy Boschwitz

1. A History of the American People, by Paul Johnson. A wonderful book, a bit long I know, but a lot has happened and much has been accomplished by the American people in what is a comparatively short period of time in terms of history. Paul Johnson is the eminent British historian who is also eminently readable and very direct in expressing the facts and his thoughts about America’s role.

2. His Excellency – George Washington, by Joseph Ellis. Of the Founding Fathers only Washington was absolutely essential. He was the “sine qua non” – the man without whom America would not have happened. As the title “His Excellency” indicates he could have been a king or emperor of the new nation, but he very explicitly chose not to be, surrendering his sword and command as General of the Armies to the Continental Congress (“If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world,” said the defeated King George II), flawlessly chairing the Constitutional Convention, and then voluntarily stepping down from the Presidency after 2 terms. And through it all he maintained his humility.

3. American Sphinx – The Character of Thomas Jefferson, by Joseph Ellis. This enigmatic President, who in his life probably made fewer than 5-6 speeches, is considered to be the father of today’s Democratic Party yet is credited with saying “That government that governs least governs best.” It was the Federalists (Washington, Adams, Hamilton et al) – considered the patron saints of today’s Republican Party – who wanted a strong central government. The Louisiana Purchase was handed to Jefferson who had the sense to buy and make the premier real estate deal in all of history. But his second term was a disaster (as most seem to be) due to a tariff that also lead to harsh civil rights abuses.

4. Abraham Lincoln – Prairie Years & War Years, by Carl Sandburg, the 1 volume abridgement. Of all the biographies of Lincoln, Sandburg’s is really the classic. He was born in 1878 (the same year as my Dad) in Galesburg, IL (also thought of as Grant’s home town) and so he was able to speak to people who knew Lincoln and many Civil War veterans. Sandburg was a poet making his writing a joy to read. Lincoln is so worth knowing and after you read this volume he will be your friend for life. Lee surrendered to Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865. Sadly, Lincoln was assassinated just 6 days later – a great loss to the nation of a wonderful man who would surely have begun the healing of the North and South far sooner than actually occurred. I am thankful for the life of Lincoln but always saddened when I think of him.

5. Storm Over the Land, by Carl Sandburg. This is a Civil War history. The Civil War is studied by some battle for battle – day by day. It has been written about and detailed in every conceivable way. I never got into that. This is Sandburg again – a short history of the war and all you need to know. Indeed if you read Sandburg’s Lincoln (above) you may not have to read this. But Sandburg writes so well and this book is quite short, that it’s worth the read.

6. Partners in Command, by Joseph T. Glatthaar – this is one of the most insightful books I know on the Civil War (written by a friend!). It covers the relationships between Jefferson Davis and his generals and Lincoln with his, and how the generals worked with one another, and the impact of those relationships to the war’s outcome. Emphasis is on McClellan & Lincoln (Lincoln was waiting at McClellan’s home to talk to the General who came home, bypassed the President and went upstairs to bed), Grant & Lincoln (“I cannot spare this man. He fights,” said Lincoln. “But he drinks too much whiskey,” some people whispered. “What kind,” Lincoln is said to have asked because “I’ll send every general in the field a barrel of it”). Fun book – a different slant – and as I said: insightful.

7. The History of the English Speaking People Since 1900, Andrew Roberts. The book begins: “As the first rays of sunlight broke over the Chatham Island, 360 miles east of New Zealand in the South Pacific, a little before 6:00 am on Tuesday, January 1, 1901, the world entered a century that for all its warfare and perils would nevertheless mark the triumph of the English-speaking peoples. Few could have suspected it at the time…” Winston Churchill’s magisterial 4 volumes of The History of the English Speaking People ends in 1900. This beautiful 5th volume brings it up to date. It is the most important book I recommend. If you read this you will an excellent start in fulfilling President Harry Truman’s command: “Know your history.”

8. The World America Made, by Robert Kagan. This slim very recent volume covers our country’s role in the 68 years since WWII. That 68 years is the longest period of history without a shooting war between major powers – the kind of war that kills millions and sets civilization back. History is largely a story of wars, poverty and disease. But since 1945 democracies have grown in number from 10 to 100, capitalism-free enterprise have grown apace, and for the first time in history fewer than half (now about 1/3) of the world’s people live in poverty. This book is about America’s role in bringing this about. This is the second most significant book I recommend.

9. The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister – Three Who Changed the World, by John O’Sullivan. This book is about the 3 most significant and interesting people of the second half of the 20th century: President Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Margaret Thatcher. These 3 are the leaders who won the Cold War – the 50 year nuclear stand-off between the Soviet Union and the western nations. It was a dicey period. A nuclear attack – an exchange between the U.S. and the Soviet Union – could have ended the human experience as we know it. I – and most I knew – expected the Cold War to continue through our lives, but with great suddenness in the late 1980’s and very early 1990’s Communism collapsed. Much of this result is attributable to these 3 leaders. It’s a great and insightful read.

10. The Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle – forget all the nonsense about history. Sherlock is my hero. It was his stories and the series of Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder that started me on a career in reading. I would go to a branch library in New Rochelle, NY, where I grew up and read and borrow the Wilder series. I forget how I got started on Sherlock. My other more recent hero is Snoopy. Snoopy’s favorite story, of course, is The Adventure of Silver Blaze where, as Sherlock was about to return to London, Inspector Gregory asked:
“Is there any other point to which you wish to draw my attention?”
“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time,” replied Sherlock.
“The dog did nothing in the night-time,” responded the Inspector.
“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

Rudy Boschwitz
U.S. Senator (R – MN, 1978-1991)
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Human Rights
Commission (Geneva Switzerland – 2005)
President G.H.W. Bush’s Emissary to Ethiopia (1991)
Founder and Chairman of Plywood Minnesota/Home Valu Interiors