Book Review: Up In The Air, the real story of Life Aboard the World’s Most Glamorous Airline

Up in the Air by Betty Riegel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Here we have a wonderful dream-come-true story, wherein a young woman in the UK with few prospects, no money, fairly pedestrian expectations, and only a vague dream ‘to travel the world’ finds herself doing just that, and being well paid for it into the bargain.

Betty Riegel (nee Eden) wasn’t particularly dissatisfied, or wretched, or restless growing up in wartime London, but once the war was over, and she went looking for work, she understood that there was much more to the world than her little burg could offer. She took a position with a small, puddle-jumping airline when she was just 18, and despite a bad case of airsickness, learned a lot more about what she wanted from life.


When the chance arrived to interview with Pan Am, at the time the world’s premier airline, she entered the interview with those same lowered expectations, but found herself in short order a newly hired ‘stewardess,’ which is, of course, what young women flight attendants were called in those pre-feminist days.


Betty Eden lived her dream thereafter, training in New York, passing one after another test, graduating from the Pan Am academy, and finally—pinching herself, and determined to be the best employee she could be—took her place in the cabin as a proud worker for Pan American Airlines.


The book outlines her charmed existence as a stewardess, her choice of domicile in San Francisco in order to fly the Pacific routes, and her interaction with other young women as they pioneered the business. After reading of Betty’s exploits on flights to Honolulu, Sydney, Tokyo, and even exotic places like Indonesia and Wake Island, we have a real picture of what early airline travel was like, and why it held so much appeal to young people like the author.


Also, reading of the way passengers were pampered in those early days highlights and contrasts with modern passenger air travel: The crowded cabins, minimal extras, shrunken seats, and especially the perfunctory attempts at inflight feeding compared with the lavish gourmet fare offered by Pan Am. Those truly were times when only the wealthy could afford air travel, and Betty Eden upheld the reputation of Pan Am as she pampered them, while she fulfilled her dream to see the world.

In the contrasting vision the author offers between air travel then and now, it’s easy to see why, with its laser focus only on passengers who could afford their service, the world’s premier airline no longer exists. Up in the Air




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Book Review: Robert E. Lee and Me

At some point in all of our lives there comes a time of reckoning. A time when we understand that we have no choice but to look at a long-cherished belief, to see its false promise—indeed, its pernicious grip on us—and to realize that we must let it go, as painful as that process might be. Robert E. Lee and Me is about one man’s arrival at that point, and his brutally honest exploration into the effects of his former creed, his past associations, and his cherished beliefs, indeed his conception of who he was. His conclusion is that all of that must be questioned and addressed. This is not an easy, or a casual reading experience. For any American, regardless of ideology, religious bent, acculturation, skin color, or social stratum, this is a book that will disturb any thoughtful reader. It should be used in early classroom situations, as we struggle with the ugly, the still deep seated racism that pervades this country.


The author’s background informs his writing. A historian by education and training, he spent many years in uniform teaching history at West Point. He describes his early life’s ambition as the traditional rise in society as, ‘a christian gentleman’ in the southern understanding of that term. In other words, Ty Seidule was a white man immersed from top to toe in the southern lost cause myth. He spent most of his previous life in adulation of Robert E. Lee ‘more deity than man’, and in full throated defense of the heroes of the insurrection against the U.S., despite his own dedication to the country as a member of its armed forces.

Seidule describes how, at every turn, whenever the idea of slavery as the true cause of the Civil War pushed forward for recognition, evil forces of southern tradition, the ‘sweet tea on the verandah’ narrative brutally suppressed that truth.


As if he’s peeling a particularly pungent onion, the author winces as each new revelation of this countries brutal racism shimmers into his view, and pens its way onto his pages: The retrocession in his hometown; his families frantic rush to change schools when integration loomed; the silence that surrounded lynching in proximity to his boyhood home in Georgia; finally, his awakening to the egregious presence of confederate souvenirs, monuments, and regalia adorning The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, items that glorified men who, in Seidule’s words, ‘killed U.S. soldiers’. Perhaps his most painful revelation is the realization that northern, progressive politicians—men like Franklin D. Roosevelt—pandered to powerful racists to curry favor, and to win legislative battles.


The author describes the beatification of Robert E. Lee, his history as ‘a southern christian gentleman,’ his rise through the ranks in the U.S. Army, and Lee’s seemingly inexplicable abandonment of a promising future as a true leader of that institution. Seidule writes that Lee’s path, however, was not so inexplicable after all; Lee resigned his commission, and walked away from the U.S. Army that had given his life purpose, and meaning, and potential, for one simple reason: Like his southern peers, Robert E. Lee was enmeshed in the sordid business of enslaving men & women for profit. As clearly painful as it was for him to do so, the author calls Lee out for what he truly was: A traitor.


Finally, the book is about the mandatory reckoning we Americans must have with our racist past. For white Americans, we simply must face this brutal and ugly part of our history, or it will haunt us forever. So long as we refuse to face it square, call it what it was and is, remove the symbols that contribute to the perpetuation of the damaging ‘lost cause’ myth, the southern ‘tea on the verandah’ tradition, we will never move forward as one country.


Robert E. Lee and Me is not an easy book to read, especially if one’s background is based in the south. It is, however, a book that should be read by anyone who loves the United States of America as its author clearly does, and by anyone who has the courage to dredge up our racist past, and subject it to the cleansing sunshine of truth.

An afterthought: This reader wondered, in a bit of counterfactual questioning, where America might be today had Robert E. Lee followed his oath, and marched against those rebels that he instead chose to lead? Our history could have been truly glorious. And Lee’s position could have been truly exemplary and heroic, instead of the tawdry, carefully cultivated chimera of heroism that it is.

Book Review Dusk, Night Dawn

I love Annie Lamott. I really do, she’s a treat. And this little book is as well. Almost a hymnal, like many of Ms Lamott’s works, Dusk, Night, Dawn is the ‘adorably ageless’ Anne Lamott’s way of helping us all through the current crises: the pandemic, the trump debacle, loss of incomes, and homes, and jobs, and hope. It was written as Lamott, in her own words, ‘awaits the rain of frogs.’ (She adds that York Peppermint Patties also help. See why I love this woman.)

The setting for the book is (roughly) a Sunday school classroom, with Lamott as the teacher, a kind of convict returns to prison to warn others scenario. Like every Sunday school scene, there are prayers, and these prayers, otherwise known as Lamott-isms, take the form of snippets of wisdom that we’re asked to recite, short pearls of wisdom Lamott has gathered along the way. Referring to the healing need to tell others what’s going on with us, she writes ‘stories can be our most reliable medicine.’ If we’re feeling bad about ourselves, ‘the hardest work we do is self love & forgiveness.’ Hard to argue with any of that.

As one of her credentials, Lamott claims a ‘PhD in Morbid Reflection’, which qualifies her very well to write this book, at this time. We learn here that she’s been married now for two years to Neal, and their navigation of the relationship is another layer atop the blanketing of woes, another green downpour in that rain of frogs. Here’s a tip: If you happen to encounter Annie Lamott in the airport, or the public market, or in Sunday school, don’t ask her how married life is. You’re welcome.

Despite her own penchant for retreating into past destructive behaviors and negativities, the author encourages readers to avoid that: ‘if you want to have loving feelings, do loving things,’ she writes. And here’s the thing about the lurking hypocrisy in Lamott’s seemingly glib pronouncement: She’s not afraid to listen to accusations about that seeming hypocrisy, because she’s done the hard work required to hear them, and that ability has made her the wonderful writer she is. Here’s proof, in another Lamott-ism: ‘Perfectionism is the most toxic condition for the soul.’ Don’t you feel better already? I do.

Lamott refers to ‘forgiving ourselves’ (a common Lamott theme) as ‘senior lifesaving.’ Always looking for simplification, she quotes Ram Dass: ‘You only have to remember two things, your Buddha nature, and your social security number.’ Sounds easy enough. After writing that, she returns to her Sunday school class venue where, with her students, she celebrates ‘the sacrament of shrimp chips,’ Lamott’s students apparently approve, even though we’ve read that it’s a tough room.

Lamott writes of her quest to always ‘do Jesusy things,’ and how the nautilus shell is the perfect metaphor for growth, and how dealing with our restless, squirming, endlessly-seeking selves is ‘like putting an octopus to bed.’ She writes about ‘Dread’ as her constant companion, and as we’re attempting to get all eight octopus legs under the covers we must understand that ‘laughter is a holy and subversive battery charge.’

Opening a deeper vein than perhaps she ever has, we learn that Lamott has survived a lot of crises in her life. That’s not to say the current ‘flung-fecies fest’ is less deserving of her pen, because it certainly deserves every inch of ink she devotes to it. But reading about her past difficulties, her drunken sojourn, her near death at Esalen while ‘capital I inebriated’, her slogging recovery, her search for resolution with her estranged parents, and her interactions with, ahem, sinful men, we feel how far she’s come, and realize that we have come a ways as well. (See self-forgiveness i.e. senior lifesaving above)

Leave it to Anne Lamott to rely on a comedian for what may be the best takeaway from Dusk, Night, Dawn. This is Duncan Trussel: ‘When we first meet someone, we’re really meeting their bodyguard.’ Somehow meeting this author, either at Dusk, Night, or Dawn, we feel we’ve met the real deal. In conclusion, we’re offered a tender branch of hope in these parlous times, when she says, ‘The center may hold after all.’ As long as we have forgiveness, and York Peppermint Patties, and don’t ask Lamott about her married life, we’ll be fine.

Book Review: The Go-Giver

Here we have a simple little book, with an even simpler message, the secret to astounding success. What is it? Giving. That’s it. Full stop.

The Go-Giver took this reader an hour to finish, and its message affirmed a lot of what I already suspected & knew.


The authors have crafted a narrative about ‘Joe’, a young-ish stockbroker heavily enmeshed in the hamster wheel of corporate climbing. Joe’s metric for success is based on the standard wisdom, and oriented around the standard marker, namely money, its acquisition, and its relentless, soul-killing pursuit. In other words, ‘getting.’


Then Joe is introduced to Pindar, a yoda-like master of success, who takes Joe under his wing like Master Po to the young grasshopper, teaching him in ways no B school ever did, or perhaps ever could. Joe is astonished, not only that the wealthy, lavishly-successful Pindar has deigned to even meet with him, but that the wealthy man is anxious to share the true secret of his success.


We meet graduates of the Pindar school of success, and the ‘connector’ who brings all of the protagonists together, and various Pindar acolytes who have embraced his teachings, and spread their success like pebbles on a pond.


No spoiler alerts, but of course there’s a happy ending. Even if ‘giving’ is the true secret of success, I’ll not ‘give’ the ending away. You’ll have to ‘get’ a copy of The Go-Giver and find success for yourself, grasshopper.