Book Review of “Blood and Sand: Suez, Hungary, and Eisenhower’s Campaign for Peace” by Alex Von Tunzelmann

Note: This review is by my husband Jim.


A number of crises since 1945 have propelled the world to the brink of another global war, which is why it is so critical for a powerful nation like the United States to be led by someone of sound judgment and temperament.  One of those pivotal moments occurred on October 29, 1956, when Great Britain, France, and Israel all invaded Egypt in a concerted effort to reclaim the Suez Canal.  Simultaneously, the Soviet Union invaded Hungary, both complicating the developing crisis and deflecting international attention.  Alex Von Tunzelman’s Blood and Sand is a gripping retelling of those events, which took place during the closing days of an American presidential election.

Smoke rises from oil tanks beside the Suez Canal hit during the initial Anglo-French assault on Port Said, November 5, 1956.

Smoke rises from oil tanks beside the Suez Canal hit during the initial Anglo-French assault on Port Said, November 5, 1956.

Gamal Abdel Nasser had become the president of Egypt after deposing the pro-British leadership in 1952.  He compounded the offense in Western eyes by nationalizing the British- and French-controlled Suez Canal in July of 1956 in retaliation for the failure of Britain or the United States to finance his pet project, the Aswan Dam.

At the time, Britain was the largest single shareholder in the Suez Canal Company, one of Britain’s last remaining colonial possessions.  Some 1.5 million barrels of oil a day went through the canal, of which 1.2 million were destined for Western Europe.  According to the author, the British Treasury estimated the value of its assets in the Canal Zone to be 500 million pounds.  But even aside from the profits, Britain needed the oil.  In addition, though not measurable in dollars or barrels, Britain did not want to lose “its divinely and racially ordained place at the top of the world.”


When Nassar nationalized the Suez Canal Company, all of that was threatened.  British Prime Minister Anthony Eden treated the nationalization as a direct affront to British prestige and became so incensed that (according to Von Tunzelmann ) he ordered Nasser’s assassination.

But, as the BBC History Magazine reported:

“. . . for as much as the operation [seizing the canal from Egypt] was a success in military terms, it was a disaster politically. World opinion roundly condemned the three nations for their aggression and lack of respect for Egyptian sovereignty. Fury and outrage erupted across the Islamic world at Britain’s perceived neo-colonial behaviour.  . . . “

The United States was also opposed to the violation of Egyptian sovereignty.  Both Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles, the American Secretary of State, were somewhat incapacitated with health issues.  They were, however, able to exert not only moral and financial suasion, but also the threat of potential military force against the British, French, and Israelis.  When Eisenhower was warned by politicos that checking the Israeli advance might cost him New York’s electoral college votes in the coming election, Eisenhower said he would rather be right than president.  

British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden (left), and President Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles in 1956, (right).

British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden (left), and President Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles in 1956, (right).

To make matters infinitely more complicated, as Von Tunzelmann reported, “…the high point of the Suez crisis – From October 22 to November 6, 1956 – would coincide precisely with the biggest rebellion yet against Soviet power, which took place in Hungary from October 23 to November 4.”  The people of Hungary spontaneously revolted against the incompetent rule of their government, which was pretty much a puppet of the Soviet Union.  At first, the Russians tried to placate the Hungarians by installing a new set of puppets, but when that failed to quell the unrest, Khrushchev ordered a full scale invasion.  The Hungarian rebels fought bravely, but they had only small arms against tanks.

Russian tanks enter Budapest

Russian tanks enter Budapest

The author cogently summarizes the broader meaning of the crisis for the various players:

“The crisis would be intensely emotional for the nations involved.  For Hungary and Egypt, it would be about freedom.  For Israel it would be about survival.  For France, it would be about saving territory it considered integral to the republic.  For the Soviet Union, it would be about resistance to Western colonialism as well as reasserting and extending its own influence.  For the United States, it would be about decency and the trustworthiness of its allies.  And for Britain, as the then leader of the House of Commons Rab Butler admitted in his memoirs, it would be about the ‘illiberal resentment at the loss of Empire, the rise of coloured nationalism the transfer of world leadership to the United States.’”


All of these developments ratcheted up tensions among the major Cold War players, a dangerous situation given that the U.S., the Soviet Union, and Britain all held nuclear weapons.  The Americans felt powerless to aid the Hungarians militarily without starting a nuclear war.

Von Tunzelmann’s book gives a nearly hour by hour account of the actions at the highest levels of the Soviet, American, British, French, and Egyptian governments.  In the author’s account, Anthony Eden appears nearly unhinged and exceedingly unwise; Khrushchev is volatile; the Israelis are aggressive and unscrupulous; and Nasser is simply over his head.  Eisenhower is something of a hero in this tale:  his prudence and calm manage to avoid a worldwide catastrophe even though he was unable to help the Hungarians other than by leading the condemnation of the Soviets in the United Nations.

Positive Outcome:  Presidents Eisenhower and Nasser meeting in New York, 1960

Positive Outcome: Presidents Eisenhower and Nasser meeting in New York, 1960

Von Tunzelmann points out that the Cold War put the United States in an awkward position in seeking influence in the third world against the Communist powers.  Prior to the Suez Crisis, the United States had struggled to maintain a balance in world affairs in remaining allied to the French and British colonial powers while preaching liberal democracy and anti-colonialism to the rest of the world.  When push came to shove, Eisenhower upheld American ideals even though he had to chastise his closest allies and risk the wrath of Israeli’s supporters in the American electorate.  

Evaluation:  This is an even-handed, well-written account of a perilous time.  Perhaps the best lesson to come out of this history is how fortunate the world was to have an American leader who was experienced in battle, adept politically, and calm under pressure.

Rating:  4/5

Published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2016

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Kid Lit Review of “Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness” by Donna Janell Bowman

This is the true and amazing story about William “Doc” Key, born into slavery in 1833, and illegally educated by his masters.


Young William had a way with animals, and soon he was being sent all over Bedford County, Tennessee to help with injured or ill animals. Before long his skills extended to people, who started calling him Doc Key.


After Emancipation, Key started his own business and even created his own line of medicines, including “Doc’s Keystone Liniment,” which became a popular treatment for both people and horses.

One day Doc spotted a neglected and abused mare near a circus, and bought her for $40, naming her Lauretta. He nursed Lauretta back to heath and paired her with a racing stallion. Her first colt was sickly, but Doc nursed the colt back to health just as he had done with the mare. He called the colt Jim Key.


After a year, Lauretta died, but Jim Key still needed constant observation, so Doc moved the colt into his house. Jim began to act more like a dog than a horse, and when he grew too big for the house, he pitched a fit until Doc moved into the stall with him. Soon Jim began to accompany Doc on his trips to sell horse liniment. Jim would “act” sick and then instantly “recover” after getting the liniment.

Doc wondered what else Jim could learn, and began teaching him. After six months, Jim could pick out letters on cards when Doc said them. He learned to lick his name in sugar on a blackboard. After seven years of instruction, Doc took Jim to the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition in Nashville. Packed crowds were in awe as they watched Jim exhibit his learning.


Doc explained: “The whip makes horses stubborn and they obey through fear. Kindness, kindness, and more kindness, that’s the way.”

Doc and Jim went on the road, experiencing a great deal of racial discrimination. But humane societies, dedicated to ending cruelty toward animals, sponsored Doc and Jim, using a portion of ticket sales to help animals. In 1898, Jim actually started winning spelling bees! Professors from Harvard University who studied Jim concluded there were no tricks or hoax; “It is simply education.” Doc and Jim now drew record-breaking crowds. But as the author reports, Doc would not perform anywhere that had segregated seating.

The two retired when Doc was 73 and Jim was 17.

In the Afterword, the author tells about some additional accomplishments of Jim, and about the stray dog they both adopted, Monk, who served as Jim’s bodyguard, often riding on his back.


The author writes:

“Doc and Jim’s legacy lives on in today’s stronger humane movement, better enforced animal anticruelty laws, and greater societal compassion toward animals.”

Illustrations by award-winning Daniel Minter are charming. You can also see read photos and learn a great deal more about Doc, Jim, and Monk at the website “Beautiful Jim Key.”

For organizations that promote humane treatment of animals, a good resource is the website for MSPCA, Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals–Angell Animal Medical Center. One of the first humane organizations in America founded shortly after the Civil War, its mission is to protect animals, relieve their suffering, advance their health and welfare, prevent cruelty, and work for a just and compassionate society. You can also access their “Companion” newsletter, featuring pet-care tips and stories about people who love and care for companion animals. Another good site is “The Animal Rescue Site,” also dedicated to helping animals.

Doc Key and Jim Key

Doc Key and Jim Key

Evaluation: This incredible story should help all readers understand that animals are sentient beings, deserving of respect and care and love. The fruits of such treatment will be rewarding all the way around.

Note: Lee & Low features a great teacher’s guide, with more links, background, questions, and activities, here.

Rating: 5/5

Published by Lee & Low Books, 2016

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Review of “The Fate of the Tearling” by Erika Johansen

Note: No spoilers for this book, the third in the series.

This book concludes the fantasy/post-apocalyptic series that began with The Queen of the Tearling and continued with The Invasion of the Tearling.

In this future world, Kelsea Raleigh Glynn has just turned 19, and therefore is allowed to take over the throne of the Tearling (an area named for the person who established it several hundred years before).

Kelsea is beset by challenges left to her not only by her mother, the former Queen Elyssa, but by her less-than-savory uncle, who was serving as Regent until Kelsea came of age. The evils of her own kingdom aren’t her only problem; the neighboring kingdom, Mortmesne, has a dictator known as The Red Queen who would like to destroy Tearling, and there are also some dark supernatural forces at work in the world.

But Kelsea has a couple of aces in her pocket, or at least, a couple of magic sapphires, which she inherited when she became queen. They give her magic powers, and are highly coveted by The Red Queen. When a war started by Mortmesne threatens to overwhelm Tearling, Kelsea, determined to save her people, gives herself up to The Red Queen and turns over the sapphires.


As The Fate of the Tearling begins, Kelsea is on her way to prison in Mortmesne. Although she no longer has the sapphires, she still continues to see visions from 300 years ago during the time of Tear’s founding. From these visions, she hopes to solve a number of mysteries, the biggest one being: how does she fix the problem of so much evil in the world? Will finding out what went wrong with the original settlement show how it could have been averted?

As the story unfolds, Kelsea – locked in a cell – has plenty of time to contemplate the nature and nurturing of pernicious thoughts and behaviors. But when she finally has the chance to do something about it, she only has a short time to decide if she can pay the very steep price necessary to save her kingdom. The ending is definitely bittersweet.

Discussion: Like other trilogies of this ilk, this one has plenty of overused tropes and caricatures. And in case you noticed the similarities to Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, eventually a third jewel even shows up. Not all the questions are answered – in fact, few of them are. We never learn, for example, what is the source and extent of magic in the Tear. It’s an interesting strategy; one must simply accept it as given. The story includes other unique aspects, and is often engrossing and entertaining, perhaps explaining why it has been optioned for a movie and is set to star Emma Watson as Kelsea, the main protagonist.

Evaluation: This series has its faults, but it makes for irresistible reading. The books are definitely not standalones.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2016

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Review of “Try Not to Breathe” by Holly Seddon

This psychological thriller begins with the vicious beating of fifteen-year old Amy Stevenson, attacked on her way home from school in Edenbridge, Kent and left for dead. In a coma ever since, she is now 30, the same age as Alexandra (Alex) Dale, an alcoholic ex-journalist searching for a story to write to get her back on her feet. Alex decides to look into the latest research on coma patients, and to focus on Amy, whose case Alex remembers from when it happened. Amy’s attacker was never found, and Alex becomes curious enough to begin her own investigation.


In alternate chapters, we hear the points of view of Alex; Amy – who is stuck at age 15 in her mind; and Jacob, Amy’s boyfriend from high school.

As Alex looks into Amy’s past, a number of suspects occur to the reader, but I, at least, was never sure which one would turn out to be the guilty party. The author did a good job building up the suspense and keeping readers guessing. I found the author’s imagining of what it might be like for coma patients especially intriguing.

The ending was unexpectedly touching.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House, 2016

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Review of “Empire of Storms” by Sarah J. Maas

Note: There may be spoilers for previous books in this series.

This is the fifth book in the Throne of Glass series.


Aelin Ashryver Galathynius, Queen of Terrasen, is trying to make her way back to her country and her throne, but first she must fight the forces of darkness that have arrayed against her, and that threaten to destroy the world. Aelin is not without her own resources. She has mighty powers as does her partner Rowan, and her friend Dorian Havilliard. They are joined by Aelin’s cousin Aedion, the powerful shapeshifter Lysandra, and two of Queen Maeve’s warriors, Gavriel and Fenrys.

(Gavriel and Fenrys have a blood bond with Maeve and can only disobey her indirectly. But they chose to do what they could for the group after Gavriel found out he was really Aedion’s father.)

Manon Blackbeak also eventually joins their party, and the group finds that Manon and Aelin were brought together by some force for a purpose none of them anticipated.

In alternate chapters we follow the progress of Elide Lochan. The book begins with Elide struggling to make her way through a forest, with orders from from Manon Blackbeak to head north and find Celaena Sardothien, who is actually Aelin. Before long she is joined by the demi-Fae Warrior Lorcan Salvaterre, who has followed her. As Elide and Lorcan make their way north, they grow close.

Eventually, most of them discover they have been manipulated and betrayed by those to whom they gave their loyalty, their love, and their lives. Whether it is too late to come out from under the burden of these cursed paths is open to question.

Discussion: The sex scenes in this book were kind of cheesy – there was a little too much growling, biting, “claiming” each other,” and bodice-ripper lines like “She dragged her hands down his powerful, muscled back.”

The non-physical scenes of the growing feelings between Elide and Lorcan seemed much more erotic to me.

Evaluation: I am really enjoying this series in spite of a few complaints (see Discussion). The characters are quite good, and the struggles of the forces of good and evil are consistently compelling. These books are definitely not standalones, but should be read in order.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2016

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