Good Reads: From Normandy, to a Biden profile, to McDonald’s ‘Subway buster’

This week's round-up of Good Reads includes an essay on Normandy 1944, driving with (and interviewing) Vice President Joe Biden, a profile of Glenn Greenwald, the power of PBS sponsors, and what it takes to be a menu item at McDonald's

US soldiers waded ashore on June 6,1944, at the Normandy landing.

New light on Normandy

“For more than any other human enterprise, war revealed the mettle of men’s souls,” writes Rick Atkinson in his latest book on World War II, which Foreign Affairs excerpts in its July/August issue.

What is most revealing in this 13-page essay, “The Road to D-Day,” is the amazing level of detail that Mr. Atkinson musters to illuminate the oft-told tale of the preparations behind the historic crossing of the English Channel on June 6, 1944. For example, the men on whom so much depended were not large by today’s standards: The typical soldier stood 5-feet, 8-inches tall and weighed 144 pounds. The troops were told they were the best paid in the world: A private earned $50 a month. A Medal of Honor winner would get $2 extra a month.

The essay is drawn from “The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945,” the final installment of Atkinson’s trilogy on the war, the first part of which won a Pulitzer Prize for history.

A revealing SUV ride with Biden

“I can die a happy man never having been president of the United States of America,” Joe Biden tells Jeanne Marie Laskas in GQ’s July issue. “But it doesn’t mean I won’t run,” the vice president adds. 

For that reason alone, it is worth reading Ms. Laskas’s illuminating view of Mr. Biden’s personality as he gives her a tour in his armored sport utility vehicle of his boyhood haunts in Wilmington, Del. As his friend former Sen. Ted Kaufman says in the piece, “For Joe, it all goes back to character – character coming from having really wonderful things happen to you, but also really awful things happen to you.” 

Laskas got the vice president to open up about dealing with the challenges life has thrown him. Those include a major problem with stuttering as he grew up, the death of his wife and infant daughter in an auto accident, and overcoming what Biden says is voters’ “sense that there’s an inconsistency in being able to relate to people personally and being ... innovative.”     

Controversial journalist Glenn Greenwald

Love him or loathe him, Glenn Greenwald has had a major effect on the national debate about government surveillance of American citizens. Harper’s Alex Mierjeski interviews Mr. Greenwald, the controversial journalist and privacy advocate who first reported on the classified documents leaked by National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. 

Greenwald is caustic about Democrats and progressives who have attacked him for his recent stories, noting they “were my loudest cheerleaders when I was writing this stuff about the [George W.]Bush Administration.” More revelations about government surveillance are coming, Greenwald says. “[T]he stuff that has shocked me the most is the stuff we haven’t written about.” 

The reporter for The Guardian offers a spirited argument on the need for privacy. “[I]t’s only when we know we’re not being watched that we can engage in creativity, or dissent, or pushing the boundaries of what’s deemed acceptable,” he says. “A society in which people feel like they’re always being watched is one that breeds conformity, because people will avoid doing anything that can prompt judgment or condemnation.” 

PBS: more than a word from our sponsor

“PBS has become more and more dependent on viewers nothing like you,” comedian Stephen Colbert quipped while summarizing Jane Mayer’s investigative story in The New Yorker about the effect major donors have on public television’s programming decisions. 

Ms. Mayer tracks the fate of two PBS documentaries that explored the political influence of David Koch, a politically active conservative billionaire who has donated $23 million to public TV at a time when federal funding has been dwindling. 

In the case of the first documentary, the local PBS station’s president called Mr. Koch to warn him about the contents and ran an unedited statement from Koch immediately after the film aired. 

Despite that unusual kid-glove treatment, The New Yorker says Koch was so unhappy he canceled a plan to make a large donation. And the public TV unit that funds and distributes documentaries canceled a previously approved project on money and politics titled “Citizen Koch.” 

Behind a new dish at McDonald’s

Tracking the development of the Premium McWrap, Bloomberg Businessweek offers an appetizing look at what it takes to get on the 145-item menu at McDonald’s. 

The McWrap, for those not among the 69 million people a day who stop by the golden arches, is a 10-inch, white-flour tortilla wrapped around 3 ounces of chicken and a variety of vegetables. A secret McDonald’s memo called the McWrap a “Subway buster” – a reference to the sandwich chain that McDonald’s battles for customers between the ages of 18 and 32.

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