Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal: This is another outstanding book by naval historian James D. Hornfischer. His first book, The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, told the almost unbelievable story of one of the greatest feats of the American Navy — the battle between a small task force of destroyers and destroyer escorts who fought off a massive (ten times its strength) Japanese fleet that included battleships. This occurred off the Philippine island of Samar in 1944 as the Americans were opening up the liberation of the Philippines. That book read like an action novel, leaving the reader with a profound respect and admiration for the bravery and sheer “we-will-stand-our-ground-no-matter-the-costs” attitude of the sailors and officers (many of whom were not regular Navy) who sacrificed their lives in that epic battle against overwhelming odds.
Hornfischer’s newest book is about the naval battles in the Solomon Islands, particularly off Guadalcanal, between the U.S. Navy and Imperial Japanese naval forces. So many destroyers, cruisers, and battleships were lost that the waters became known as “Ironbottom Sound.” Three times as many American sailors were killed as Marines died on Guadalcanal. Again, it is an exciting (and sometimes infuriating story) about American bravery as well as the behavior of the Navy’s officers under very trying conditions. That behavior ranged from brilliant (using the new technology of radar to tactical advantage) to absolutely stupid (ignoring the advantage of new technology with the resultant deaths of thousands of sailors). Both books are great reads.
The Complete Jack Benny Radio Shows: Jack Benny had one of the longest running radio shows in history, from 1932 to 1955. He was the most popular radio comedian in America, and there was a good reason for that — his shows are really funny and very entertaining even seventy years later. He had a great cast, from his rotund announcer Don Wilson to his always-drinking band leader, Phil Harris, to his black butler and valet, Rochester van Jones (played by Eddie Anderson), who was almost as popular as Benny himself. His cast was always giving Jack a hard time, including Rochester, who in a time of racial stereotypes was constantly ribbing his boss, including with his famous line “Oh, Boss, come now!” And if you want to know why there is a statue of Jack Benny in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., it is due to a long-running gag on Benny’s show. Every time he was in a train station, the railroad station announcer (played by Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny) always had the train departing “on track five” for Cucamonga no matter where Benny was headed.
All of the stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood were guests on Jack’s show at one time or another. If you want to hear Frank Sinatra, Ronald Coleman, Bing Crosby, Jimmy Stewart, Barbara Stanwyck, George Burns and Gracie Allen, or just about any other Hollywood celebrity in their prime, then the Jack Benny Show is for you. I listen to his shows whenever I travel or often when I drive to work and get caught in Washington’s miserable traffic. You can get his over 600 shows in MP3 format, so all of his radio shows fit on only seven discs. A great gift idea.
— Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, is a former member of the Federal Election Commission and former counsel to the assistant attorney general.