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tv   Stephen Harding Escape from Paris  CSPAN  November 16, 2019 5:45pm-6:31pm EST

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changed over the past 40 years in a book called pollution, politics and power. for this week in march for the authors in the future on the tv on c-span2. >> thank you for coming out this evening. he's the author of nine previous books, the new york times best saddam seller, the last battle. he's a captivating speaker, at least i say. he has tested stories full of
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encouraging stories that none of us have heard about. his hymnbook, escape from paris, the true story of love and resistance which is based on official american documents history and interviews with several others. it's a thrilling adventure story of american aviators. [applause] >> i like to thank you all for coming. i appreciate when people show up and i hope not to bore you. i want to give you a quick background on myself, people tend to wonder how you find military history. i was born and raised in socal a long time ago. my father and my uncles fought
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world war ii in the pacific. grew up hearing their stories fighting the japanese and the ocean and everything. when i was 19, i enlisted in the u.s. army in 1971. it was the best decision i ever made because six months later, i got run over by a personal carrier as a result, i am a disabled veteran. they are very heavy. they don't give much. i spent just over a year in hospitals in germany and the u.s. and this was way before the internet. there wasn't a whole lot else to do but big. i also couldn't sit up. every couple of days, we come from the library that the hospital was attached to.
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most of what they had was military fiction or military history. it kind of reawakened my interest in military history. i eventually got out of the hospital but wearing several times of braces. i still don't understand even as a journalist. i spent the last year of my time in the army during television and print journalism. in the late went to school after getting out. i like to serve. i have two recent history. i immediately went to work. as a historian. it was interesting, i was doing historical studies of indian tribes which i knew nothing about because i was not in military history.
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it was a wonderful place to work. staff historian for the air force in the army. this in the army i was working at the u.s. army history in d.c. that i heard this story that became the last battle. the story the only time in world war ii were americans and germans joined forces and fought together. they didn't to defend the castle in austria that was filled with irritating french vips who were about to be murdered by the ss. it's the only time in american you would military history u.s. soldiers defended a medieval castle. other books followed and bring us up to escape from paris, when i finished the last book, my
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agent said what's your next book? i said i'm not really sure i want to write another. do you have suggestions? he said yes, i have three suggestions. second terrorists, world war ii and americans. i said it was fascinating but there were not any americans occupied in france. he said i'm sure you will find some. [laughter] so 18 months later, i did find out there were americans. there were once shot down and they managed to come under the wing of resistance. they were generally moved to large cities. young americans who did not speak french would stand out
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like a sore thumb. at that time, 3 million people had people places to hide. the story i first found was on a particular day, 1943, july 14. there was a bombing by the 94th bomb group in london. they were just one group, there were several involved. over 100 airplanes bombing different targets around paris. it was the old aerodrome and airfield. from the 94th bomb group was shot down in about 20 minutes. that's actually not true. three were shot dead. i'll tell you what happened to the fourth in a minute. i found that right and i had
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wanted to do a story about the air force but i also wanted to do a story about the french resistance and i always wanted to write something that told world war ii. it's an overlooked concept. it just so happened that came together that this book sort of brings all this together. so i found the story about that pump group and i said i still don't have it yet. he was shot down, what's that about? i managed to find the one guy who became the focus of my story. he was a waist gunner. the aircraft, they generally carried a group of ten men. on his plate, there were 11 people that day. they have a guy named jefferso
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jefferson -- jeff dixon. he was a fascinating guy. i thought about writing the book around him. jeff had been in world war i and served in france and he had been photographic unit. after world war i, he and other young americans have never been to france but once they experienced it, they stayed in france and in the. , managed to become emulator. bicycle races, he owns a hippodrome in paris. he happened to be in new york city when pearl harbor happened and he immediately turned his back on his business, which was a little bit of germans. he enlisted in the u.s. army,
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specifically army air forces. seventeen and a bunch of others shoot aerial combat sequences for training purposes, documentary films, tell them it ended up in the original film, some ended up in clark gable's film which most people have never seen. if you google clark gable and b-17, you can watch it online. it's a brilliant documentary he made. he is a gunner on several missions. so i thought okay, he's an interesting guy. let me track down him, he's not in his late 70s and nate
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idolizes and truly loves his stepfather and when i contacted him california, if you have anything to show me, i would love to see it. i said i have a whole footlocker full of stuff. he said i am that. so i flew out there and sure enough, he had this all out on the table to his garage and it was photographs and metals and uniforms and letters and friends and relatives and all that. what really caught my on was a simple black leather bullet in one joe had been carrying on the day he died in 1978. i sent you mind if i look through this? i said sure, go ahead.
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his social security card and va health credits from it on the side on a very hard to see inside pocket, i saw a crinkled paper but pulled it out and opened it and there was a letter in french, written a couple of weeks after joe got out of occupied france and went back to europe, or england. okay, this just got a lot more interesting. so nate had never seen a letter, i showed him that he was not particularly interested in it. then i started digging into who this was. that took another five or six months. ninety-nine years old, she lives in a small town, which i won't
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attempt to pronounce. i speak german, my wife speaks french. it's not a language you want to use your with resistance fighters. so we went to france we researched paris and we were able to talk to her for the entire day. so that all came together and how this book jelled. i will tell you all about it because i hope you will read the book. to me it's an interesting story that combines the also concentrated camps.
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so it's a very involved book covers a lot of ground. the only negative review i've had so far was a gentleman who got a copy i don't know what you what a stupid love story in this great world war two. i think he missed the point. so if they are the key personnel in this book, he's a leading character. i'm sure you're familiar, a huge campus just south of the river, it, among other things, museums and a hospital for veterans houses napoleons, too. so when joe and several of his friends were taking to paris and he and one other guy were given
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over to a family, i apologize for the annunciation. the father was george and their daughter was event. usually in that situation, there would be on the ground occupied france for two weeks. just as long as it took for the french resistance to organize a way out. that was generally walking over to the mountains and trying to get from there back to england. spouse called a homerun if you made it back to england. in joe's case, there was some involving the stucco. they were there for several months living with them in their small apartment and they developed a deep relationship. they went to the local priest to get officially engaged and
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planned to be married after the war. when joe's time came, he went in a different way. the story continues from there. i will tell you that not long after he left, the family was arrested. that's sorting sort of the later part of the book. ... him i cross reference with one
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or two things about that i realized it was the same train same journey. that was the way i was able to describe something that yvette did not want to describe. in doing this history especially when people are still alive you have to be really aware of the sensitivities. one of which was a very deep and important relationship that this now very elderly woman have. she was 22 years old and she remembered that all of her life. when i realized that joe cornwell had carried that letter for 50 some years and he had been happily married after the war for reasons i had not gone to he cannot marry yvette. realized that i had hit on something when my wife mara and i were flying to california.
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i turned over and she was sobbing. i must've told the story in an understandable way. really without getting into too many things. this book i suffer from a very rare ãbactually not that rare, a lot of writers have is called research rapture. it means that you are so into fighting things out that it's very difficult to actually put it aside and start writing. it happened on this book too. there was a lot to be found out my wife with her french was incredibly help. we also i hired an american woman who'd been living in france the last 30 years he used to be associated press journalist. now very good friends of ours. who did a lot of the archival research because even though i
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have research rapture, a heat archives. especially any archive you have to put in an order in the morning and 80 hours until it comes. and don't you get it right before you're supposed to turn it back into the boat the archive. i tend to hire people to do that for me. but also i do a lot of my own and having worked at the u.s. army military history for a while as a staff historian and pretty good with army records. i'm pretty good with air force records. a lot of this was nonmilitary documentation. letters between people, one of the ways i flushed out the romance between joe and yvette was because several other american aviators and british aviators who had been hidden there briefly in the same time describe the relationship. they thought it was such an
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amazing thing. that's how you flushed out, that's always flush out a story when some of the principles are either no longer with us or not necessarily little orange all that forthcoming about it. i sent a copy to yvette and her daughter also named in east after her mother. unfortunately none of them read english. i think they are having somebody painstakingly read it to them. i think they will find it surprising in a lot of ways because yvette and joe sort of lost touch and this will fill in a lot for her. i also sent a copy to nate gagnon. and his wife has told me that he's fascinated by it and it makes him sad in a good way. because that's a part he literally never knew about joan
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cornwell's wartime experience other than that he got shot down over france. ultimately that's how this book came together. apparently there's a chance it might be a movie although my experience so far with books being optioned is sort of ãb is a term in the industry called development hell where they will option your book and write a script and start looking for actors and for some reason it takes years to do that. i don't know why. i'm hoping this will go a little bit more quickly because i think it's a great story. obviously i have a certain prejudice involved. i just really enjoy it. to me being able to write honestly and concisely and yet in an entertaining way about
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people who never met mess and do not alive were doing what they were doing can be very satisfying if you do it right. and i hope i've done it right. at this point i would like to open it up for questions. i have spoken a little less than i might have because when i do radio and tv interviews they always tell a story. [laughter] my point is always, don't tell the complete story because we want to have people read the book. i would be happy to answer any questions that you might have on this for my other books for life in general. >> i can make the assumption that you know the canada world war ii history pretty well. >> pretty well. >> in your perspective, how does this story and your telling of it give a different angle or add to what's already in existence. one of the things i didn't know when i started doing this book, there's a lot of books about the french resistance.
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several books about aviators shut down and being helped by the resistance not only in france but belgium, the netherlands, italy. i had not realized the european resistance movements between the british part of world war ii between 1939 and 1945 and for the u.s. between roughly 1942 and 1945 because 1942 is when the allied resistance movements or those working on behalf of the allies helped 6000 aviators evade capture by the germans and returned to allied territories. if you think about that to give an example between 1942 and 1945 talking about the u.s. air force which was the primary american aviation unit operating out of britain this was bombers, fighter planes,
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transport between 1942 in 1945 18,000 aircraft went down. some of those were excellent smokes were shot down or went down for reasons we still don't know. if you think about the b-17 as i said earlier, a 10 man crew for airplanes in one rate that's 40 people. most of whom are not going to make it back either because they are dead and i can tell you about doing without giving too much away that the little people on jordan joe cornwell's plane only three got out. which is about what happened. the film that we see these days from memphis belle to wherever were you see the planes cascading out of control and b-17 will only fly up to a certain point with a certain amount of damage and that it just becomes a big hunk of metal and it's going to fall no matter what. we saw this a few weeks ago with the b-17 carrying ãb
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crashed in connecticut and killed seven people. i had ridden on that plane 20 years ago. i sat in the plexiglas nose because by far it's the vestibule you will ever get flying. but i remember thinking, if we lose an engine or god forbid two engines, i don't want to be sitting here. unfortunately the people who were killed several weeks ago, most of them were in the front of the airplane. in combat, the people who generally tend to get out the b-17's and be 24's going down where the people in the half and of the aircraft, the way scanners, tailgunner, radioman because the people in the front office were trying to get the plane studies of the rest to get out. that was what happened in this case. so that was a long-winded answer but the ability to tell not only larger story about the french resistance but the majority of the resistance workers who were not carrying
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guns out in the countryside the majority of people working to help allied aviators were women. that was primarily because even by 1943 the majority of french men between 18 and 40 were either still in german pow camps or working as forced labor in germany or in hospitals. things naturally fell to the women. and they were very good at it. even though paris had 3 million people in it in 1943 there had been a mass exodus from the city when the germans rolled in in 1940. so there were a lot of empty apartments and warehouses there were a lot of places to hide people. it was the women primarily who moved them from place to place. once it was time to go they would give them the actual guides which must've been a grueling trip even in good
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weather. fortunately joe didn't have to go that way. i'm sorry i went on and on. anything else from anyone? >> i was curious about the back of your book ãbhow does that work? generally all the people who provided those snippets are not necessarily people i know. alan first the novelists. >> one of my favorite. >> i love his books. fortunately been able to get friends with be friends with them over the last several years. he is a novelist who writes about the interwar period in paris is very film noir and lots of skulking around. great meals and wine and stuff like that. i had read several of his books which is why part of the reason i wanted to write about paris. when you have the manuscript
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done your publisher will generally say, who would you like us to send this to? and they will send it to a lot of other people, reviewers, but who are the core people that you want in the book. in my line of work as a military historian and magazine author i've been able to meet a wide range of what writers and i picked these folks and i got mass copies of the book. and i do this for other writers. donald miller, the guy who wrote masters of the air, which is allegedly on its way to being a hbo miniseries for the last 15 years. he wrote this preeminent book about the eighth air force and he's also a fairly good friend of mine. i wrote him asking otto allen, ãbwas a british author i did not know but she had read one of my earlier books and was
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very happy to do it. in the business they are called blurbs. so you ask people you admire and also your friends to tell you honestly. i fortunately never had one go, i'll pass. so that's how that comes about. >> think you. >> i love to hear about your initial contact with yvette and how you want her over? >> that was quite an event. i started off with a belief that she was dead. joe had died in the 1970s and i figured ãbbut allen hampton this now friend of ours i had her initially going to the french archives which can be a mindnumbing experience because of the bureaucracy in france.
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she had been handling it as a journalist for years so she knew people, she went to the right people and i said, it would be really great if yvette was still alive because i look for her online and 90-year-old french women apparently don't spend a lot of time online. [laughter] one day i get this email from alan and she said, i found her she's alive. it literally just blew me away. i thought okay, can you go talk to her initially. here's some questions because allen was fluent in french, with a delightful southern accent as i remember. so she did she was able to find her. at that point she was living in this town so we set up a trip to go to paris because i needed to see the ground of the hotel
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ãi had been to napoleon's tomb several times i spent five years in germany. i had been to france several times. i was fortunate to be offered, we were offered the chance to go up on top of napoleon's tomb. i don't know how ãbpolian's tomb is covered by a good gigantic golden dome which you can see from everywhere in paris. it's connected to the cathedral that was built for these wounded veterans also the hospital was built for. the americans who were being hidden by the ãif they got it up early enough in the morning ãbwas open throughout world war ii. the museums were open, the hospital for invalids was open but there was a german garrison in the northwest corner they had taken over some german barracks. there were german guards walking around all the time, plus all the people coming in, a lot of them germans, as tourists to see a napoleon's tomb was incredibly popular
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with german soldiers, after hitler had his picture taken standing looking down at it and even to this day there are literally scratch marks from the hobnailed boots because every german soldier wanted to have his or her picture taken with ãbi didn't know what we were getting into when we were offered this opportunity. so seven or eight people and a gentleman who runs one of the military museums actually the museum of the french army he led us up there in the first part of it is up the stairways built in the 18th century and apparently have it but repaired since then. they squeak and crack and you finally get up you end up in the attic of the cathedral. it looks like an inverted boat because of the ribs of the roof. and kind of a broad walkway and we are walking around and things are rocking and then you come to a little covered hole
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and the gentleman said, this is really amazing, he opens his little trapdoor and there's a whole that look straight down onto the altar of the cathedral. he said back in the 18th century these disabled veterans were required to go to mass. at some point during math somebody up above would be shoving white doves down to this hold to sort of illustrate the divinity of the process. which i thought was interesting. he walked down a little further go down another flight of stairs and then open the doors and he walked out on an area at the base of that golden dome which is between 80 and 90 feet off the ground. it is an incredible view of paris, off to one side is the eiffel tower, you can see the madeleine, you can see all kinds of things. the problem is, what i didn't know was the wind blowing through there is moving along and there are no guard rails. these american airmen would
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spend days up there. you can't be seen from the ground especially if you are sitting down. they would read, drink wine, i'd imagine joe and evette got to know each other up there. it's an exhilarating place to stand. that was something we did in paris and then caught a train after buying a big bunch of flowers we took a train to the city that she pronounces well and evette stepped grand son-in-law or something picked us up, he'd been a chauffeur in new york for 15 years so is fluent in english, drove us up to the horse farm where yvette was living at the time with her daughter and literally we spent the entire day with her. she was delightful. absolutely delightful. the two of them got along like a house on fire. i'm the one sitting back there throwing questions into it.
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especially when you're writing military history, not to get too much into the technic of it and especially world war ii history in world war ii and the american army and most other armies anything that happened was documented almost immediately. either in narrative reports or technical reports or after action reports and all those had been preserved in the national archives or other places. so while you're talking to a veteran of world war ii is wonderfully interesting as i talked to my father and my uncles, lots of times their memories have been skewed by the passing errors or if you can get the after action report of the battle of ãbin austria it's much more accurate. you can talk to two gis literally 10 feet apart during
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a firefight and their descriptions of it sound like they were in different countries. because they are focused out that way. having these world war ii records is incredibly helpful when you write world war ii history. the problem is, now, and i learned this is a journalist in iraq and various other places a lot of the records are digital. frag orders were issued to units by cell phone or by encrypted tactical radio. but there reserved anywhere. more portly, for ãbespecially from the invention of writing up until about 10 years ago, soldiers always wrote home. they got letters from home. so you have those letters and a lot of it is just, i can't tell you where i am but you already know where they are because you done that research and are talking about conditions or their feelings or how their buddy just got killed or something like that.
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you don't have people riding home these days. the text company email, they skype but most of those are not preserved. the people who will end up writing the books about our current conflicts are going to have i believe a much more difficult time of it trying to track down those really kernels of information that take it from being an account to a story. anyone else? >> which of the characters struck you as the most fascinating as you work through history? did you have a favorite? >> that's a hard call. especially with this book. when i was writing the book about the last american killed in world war ii, a young italian-american guy until tony marchione from pennsylvania. the last american killed in combat in world war ii my wife and i went up and visited his
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sisters who were at that time in their late 80s and i got so into the story of tony marchione, hadn't been badly injured myself. this guy, like a lot of participants in world war ii essentially died by himself in the arms of a buddy but nobody else stop he bled to death. i still can't read the last chapter of the book myself without getting pretty emotionally involved. in this book, joe cornwell to me is a fascinating guy. yvette, obviously, is an amazing human being. but her parents, george and denise, were also fascinating. george was a disabled veteran in world war i. so i had a connection there. he also had a limp, he also had
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one of his eyes was bad and everything else. i kind of connected with him. and knowing what ultimately happened to all them i find all three of them very engaging. the long answer is, i don't think i could pick just one. at least not in this book. >> or any of the vets in the book still alive? >> number all of the immediate participants in the book, except yvette, were gone. one of the pilots in one of the airplanes shut down became a episcopal priest in florida. the rest of them like a lot of people yvette generation including my father, they were hard smoking, hard living guys a lot of them had emotional issues after the war.
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having had a traumatic brain injury and ptsd myself, in a time when you can actually get treatment for it, i can imagine what it was like for these guys, especially people who flew 25 missions over europe and saw planes explode and all that kind of good stuff or infantry men on the ground or combat nurses, these folks came home with some serious issues. a lot of them, as a result, joe did pretty well he was in the 70s when he died but he had parkinson's and a whole bunch of other things. it's unusual to find veterans and more unusual still to find world war ii veterans who can relate to you for the last battle book i did find that these two gis who had completely different firefight there sadly both gone now. i wrote that book eight or nine
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years ago. it's getting harder. those who directly participated in world war ii are getting very rare. which is unfortunate. >> from your perspective, how effective overall was the resistance in recovering these people and getting them out? >> the french resistance, speaking just about the french now it's kind of a dual answer. they were very efficient at bringing down allied airmen and making false documents giving them clothes and generally getting them out of europe probably the 70s, 80% success rate. the problem is that especially the last 15 years and is accounted a side issue but the french resistance and its reputation in world war ii has been sort of falling off.
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because all those films we see about the liberation of paris as we were talking about earlier, a lot of those people firing at the germans decided to be in the resistance the day before. a lot of the people and bear in mind that i love france and i love the french, date tend to be somewhat fractious people. the french resistance was not ever one monolithic thing. they were communists, socialists, monarchists. anarchists. sicilians who had lived in france for years. russians who lived in france for years and they had their own resistance groups. all these different groups occasionally found ways to work together but it was never one monolithic thing. and unfortunately a lot more french people collaborated with the germans then the french like to think. there been several excellent landmark books over that about that over the last 10 years. but it's true of every nation
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occupied by the nazis. they were french troops who fought the russians for the germans on the eastern front but also norwegians and swedes who were allegedly neutral who joined the germans in their fight. how effective in terms of the blowing up bridges and ambushing germans that got a lot better as the day came and went. because up to that point if you shot at a german you can get everybody in your village executed. . >> yes-man. >> can you tell us what you're working on now? >> i have a couple ideas. we've all written things right, writing is actually not my
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favorite thing to do. it's just what i do for a living. and i enjoy it while i do it but because i'm the editor of a magazine i read and write all day long so to come home and read and write more is not generally something i really like to get into. it has to be an idea that really captures me. i tend to find books my intent is to find books about a small group of people but whose actions or lives sort of informal larger story. and that's hard to do this was an 18 month search until i found joe cornwell and yvette. long way of saying applicable ideas but i'm sort of in kickback relax mode right at the moment. i'm sure it will come up with
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something. >> we can get you to science a book. thank you all very much for being here i do appreciate it. >> book tv has live weekend coverage at the miami book
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watch live coverage of the miami book fair in november 23 and november 24. on c-span2 booktv. >> tonight we are welcoming ãb author of five books and editor of another to discuss her latest. the problem with everything my journey through the new culture wars. diving into the debate surrounding political correctness in campo karcher most recently brought to national attention by president


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