3 out of 4 stars
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Having read the book, The Indestructible Man by Don Keith with David Rocco, I couldn't help but recognize how much of an opportunity each one of us has over influencing our legacy positively. Commodore Dixie's biography brought an emphasis to a quote that is attributable to the former Secretary of Health under President Lyndon Johnson, John W. Gardner, who said, "Excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well."
When he was born in Blackfoot, Idaho, on April 4, 1896, Dixie Kiefer's birth was uneventful. Even more, the landlocked location of his birth would make him an unlikely hero of the sea. A distinguishing feature from his ordinary way of doing things was the constant initiative he took of looking for new opportunities. His extraordinary, on the other hand, can be exemplified by this citation that he received from his superior in the Navy, Major Malcolm Elliott, which read, "You not only performed all tasks assigned to you with energy and resourcefulness but were exceptionally diligent...." This was after Kiefer's role in the 1927 humanitarian aid to what was then billed as the most destructive flooding in the nation's (Arkansas') history. Moreover, he would later go on to receive numerous citations and medals from his superiors (among them the POTUS). In fact, his description of "The Indestructible Man" would come as a result of one of these citations.
A key feature in Don Keith's novel is how he perfects suspense through foreshadowing. In the Prologue, for example, he starts by giving the geological features of the area the story revolves around. This includes the Hudson Highlands (Mount Beacon) and the Hudson River. Early on in my reading and relating to the twin peaks (Mount Beacon), he would speak of newspaper accounts that described the place as "The Aerial Graveyard." This, naturally, caused my pace to quicken in anticipation, as I looked forward in knowing more in the subsequent pages. In the same vein, a picture of Commodore Dixie Kiefer in a cast on his arm and right before the beginning of the First Chapter conveys a thousand words in suspense.
David Rocco was inspired to write this nonfiction story after he'd taken to volunteering work at the Hudson Valley historical landmarks. From his writing style, I could tell he took to this project as passionately as his restoration efforts at the landmarks (he talks of "surprise and excitement" when he first stumbled upon Dixie's story).
Through their writing, the two authors were able to touch me at the heart level. What I found stimulating about their writing was the sentimental tone employed. It was thoughtful, yes, but talking about the past, the authors came across like they had been there and were now simply reminiscing about those feelings again. In hindsight, perhaps this is what they allude to in the Prologue when they talk about "hanging the bells throughout the story and at the end ringing every one of them" (as they've observed, this description is attributed to an editor of "Sports Illustrated" while he was recounting the work of the late writer Frank DeFord). Lastly, on this point, I could detect the writers' reverence for native culture (the Iroquois and Algonquians) which, sadly, was overlooked by the Europeans when they set foot in that part of the region. A few Europeans, such as Pete Seeger, would much later, however, become active in preserving the history and natural state of the region.
Overall, I can unequivocally say the book has done justice to Captain Dixie's story. The authors have managed to portray convincingly his good qualities as a good-natured man. They have, further, illustrated his cool leadership style, self-confidence, capability and bravery in "two of the most unique, intense and momentum-changing sea battles." And more importantly, they have been able to show what Dixie Keifer (and others mentioned) contributed and the sacrifices he (they) made to the freedom of all people of different races.
The only observable downside to the book was the relatively high number of editing errors. These comprised of misplaced commas, a missing period, two cases of wrongly used words, some missing words in a sentence and a wrongly structured sentence. Regrettably, this is the only instance that will make me rate the book lower. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it so much that I recommend it to mature fans of war memoirs (it is not suitable for those who are underage because of the violence depicted). It can also make a good case study for leadership styles and its effect on employee morale or performance. On the other hand, those who distaste military jargon or acronyms may find the book least suited to them. I rate the book 3 out of 4 stars.
The Indestructible Man
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