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Ralph Stayer

Brett Baier has written three previous entertaining and informative history books regarding critical periods in our nation’s past, and the actions our presidents took to resolve the situations. His current book, To Rescue the Republic, is a look back into the Crisis of 1876 that faced President Grant at the end of his last term. Baier’s description of Grant’s childhood and early years brings to light a depth of character to the man that might be unfamiliar to most readers. The traits that would make him as great as or greater than any other general this country has ever produced were revealed and sharpened in the crucible of war. This is a study of an exceptional human being. He saved the union—not just once, by winning the war, but twice, by also winning the peace.

The sadness and fear that engulfed the entire country during the war morphed into a sense of relief and cautious optimism after the surrender of the Confederacy. People hoped that the country could be unified again. That hope was short-lived. Some historians tell us that the war was fought to preserve the union. That is true in a broad sense, but the Civil War was fought over slavery. The right to own slaves drove the South’s secession. Southerners accepted defeat by the North, but they absolutely refused to acknowledge that their former slaves now had the same rights they had. Shortly after the war ended, veterans in southern states banded together to intimidate and murder former slaves and deny them their rights. This forced the federal government to send in troops to enforce the peace, which in turn, ratcheted up the hostilities. The mutual rancor had grown to a fever pitch by the presidential election of 1876 between Samuel Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes. The corruption in the south resulted in a contested election because there were two different results in three states. Grant feared that any action on his part to resolve the issue would result not in the rebirth of the union, but the rebirth of hostilities.

Was the compromise he helped engineer good or bad? Read the book and decide for yourself. I was so inspired by Baier’s description of Grant that I ordered a copy of Grant’s personal memoirs. I can’t wait to read it.

Peter Thiel is widely recognized as one of the founders of the Silicon Valley technology revolution. His early forays into venture capital led the way to funding many of the applications that enabled the digital revolution rapidly reshaping the world we know and the way we live our lives. The Contrarian by Max Chafkin, which traces Thiel’s life from his high school years to the present, is a very detailed look into his personal beliefs and his business dealings, stumbling start with a currency hedge fund to incredible success as a venture capitalist.

We have all read about Thiel, especially since he came out as a gay Republican and supporter of Donald Trump, but the extent of his business dealings was not apparent. This book is aptly titled; Thiel has never been afraid to go against the grain. His political philosophy is a great case in point. He is gay and he supports conservative causes. This does not generate an outpouring of love in Silicon Valley. It certainly hasn’t from this author, whose worldview appears more attuned to Bernie Sanders’ vision for our country than much of mainstream America. In fact, one wonders who the contrarian is. Is it Thiel, or is Chafkin simply contrary to everything Peter Thiel does or says? You may ask, “If that is the case, why should I read it and why did you read the entire book?” I am as fascinated by Peter Thiel as I am by Elon Musk. These are driven people who are not looking at how the world is and adapting to it. They picture the world they want to live in and go about creating it. Chafkin has done a diligent job of research and there is much to learn in reading this book. It is well worth reading, just take it with a grain of salt. Remember that it is just as easy to ascribe negative intentions to a person’s actions as it is to impute positive motives, depending upon the observer’s point of view. Read this book, and you decide.

Ralph Stayer, an avid reader and former CEO of Johnsonville Sausage, leads a book club in Naples with about a dozen other high-power friends. The group only reads non-fiction as a way to keep learning and sharpening the mind. Every month, Stayer shares the latest page-turners earning a permanent spot on his ever-expanding bookshelves.

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