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Last summer I read It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell and was incredibly inspired by her journey of losing over a hundred pounds. She found joy in cooking her own meals and living in moderation as a key to her success. When I read the summary of Cravings on Amazon, I thought I would find a similarly inspiring read. While still an interesting book, this book was not what I wanted it to be.

Cravings by Judy Collins
Cravings by Judy Collins

Judy Collins struggled with food her entire life. Between her binge eating and crash diets, she estimates that she has gained and lost over a thousand pounds over the course of her life. After her music career began to take off, she began purging her meals in an attempt to balance her binge eating with her desire to keep the pounds off. In the midst of her eating disorder, she suffered from severe alcoholism. In the end, she found that extreme measured eating and elimination of grains, starches, and sugar could help her control her eating.

“I want to suggest to you that if you are at all inconvenienced by your relationship to food, you should find a plan that might help you live with joy around your meals and in your life.”

Judy Collins

Between chapters sharing her personal journey, Judy wrote about the lives of the “diet gurus.” These gurus were those who invented or tried different diets, many of which she tried. The gurus she wrote about ranged from those living hundreds of years ago to the creators of Weight Watchers. All of the stories she wrote about had her own experience with the diet sprinkled into the story.

Not the Diet Memoir I Anticipated

The Amazon description of this book says that Judy Collins had an overeating problem that “nearly claimed her career and her life.” It says that she started a strict diet that “allowed her to maintain a healthy weight for years,” among other things.

Without knowing who Judy Collins is, I assumed that she had been overweight at some point in her life. The Amazon description of the book makes no mention of her bulimia, which is a theme throughout the book. Although it mentions “compulsive eating” and a “fraught relationship with food,” it is easier for a reader unfamiliar with her to assume she had an amazing weight loss story.

Near the beginning of the book, she made the claim that through her compulsive eating and crash dieting, she gained and lost over a thousand pounds. At first, I still had in mind that she must have lost some large amount of weight at some point.

Upon closer inspection, I started to view that number with skepticism when I (1) found out her peak weight was 140 pounds and (2) when I started to think about how during the course of a day a person’s weight can fluctuate as much as a pound or two. Depending on how obsessively I was to weigh myself, I could make that same claim in two years, and that’s just taking into consideration food and water.

Judy Collins Still Had Eating Problems

While I’m probably being a bit too critical of this number, I am still skeptical of a person writing about weight loss who never weighed more than 140 pounds. According to a BMI calculator, she would have to be shorter than 5’3″ to actually be overweight at 140 pounds. While I am unable to find her height online, Judy Collins appears to be an average height and was unlikely in the “overweight” category.

But all of this does not negate the fact that she had real eating problems. Her cravings, binge eating, bulimia, and alcoholism are all serious problems. The problem I have with this book is its dishonesty in promoting her weight loss. Even the first half of the book makes great claims about weight loss (giving the “gained and lost 1000 pounds” number). It’s just frustrating to find out halfway through the book that her peak weight was only 140 pounds.

A Seemingly Unreasonable Solution

After spending most of the book writing about her disordered eating, Collins spent an unsatisfactory amount of time writing about the solutions to her problems. In addition, the solution she found seems inaccessible for the average person.

For Judy Collins, the answer to her binge eating and alcoholism is “Greysheeters Anonymous.” It is the most restrictive meal plan that “Overeaters Anonymous” uses. This plan does not allow gluten, starches, and sugars. All food is supposed to be strictly measured by weight.

In one chapter about the solution, Collins wrote that she owns several food scales. She travels with them so that she is always able to weigh her food. When she eats out, she weighs her food to make sure she is staying within the limits of her diet. While she claims that this diet brings her freedom, I cannot imagine taking a scale into a restaurant and weighing my food before I eat and thinking, “Wow, I’m so free now!”

I’m glad it works for her, but this book did not offer much hope for someone looking for a diet that might work with a busy lifestyle. Perhaps I have been unfair in comparing Cravings to Andie Mitchell’s It Was Me All Along, but had this book been more like Mitchell’s book I may not have been so disappointed.

Review Breakdown

Writing – This memoir was not terribly written. However, it was not very impressive either. I personally thought that the chapters about the diet gurus were written better. My husband suggested that perhaps her editor felt freer to edit chapters that weren’t about her life. However, different styles of chapters can also seem to have different “levels” of quality, too. It’s possible the difference I felt was all in my head.

Story – I found the short stories about the diet gurus very engaging. Although the author’s own story was interesting, I thought there were points where she was very repetitive. Reviewers who have read multiple books by Collins point out that there is overlap between this and her other books.

Mature Content – The author writes about her son’s suicide, her alcoholism, and her lifelong eating disorder. This book may not be appropriate for all audiences.

Likability of Author – Personally, I did not find Judy Collins likable in this book. I am unfamiliar with her music or any of her other work. Had this book’s advertising not been so deceptive I would have likely enjoyed it and her more.

Other Books by Judy Collins – Trust Your Heart (1987), Amazing Grace (1991), Shameless (1995), Singing Lessons (1998), Sanity and Grace: A Journey of Suicide, Survival and Strength (2003), The Seven T’s: Finding Hope and Healing in the Wake of Tragedy (2007) and Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music (2011)

Quick Review

Cravings was not the diet book that I was expecting at all. I was skeptical of her claims after finding out that her peak weight was only 140 pounds. Judy Collins did have an unhealthy relationship with food between her bulimia, crash dieting, and alcoholism. However, the book’s claims that her diet helped bring her to a healthy weight seems like a stretch. Had this memoir been more upfront about Collins’ specific dieting issues, it may have reached its intended audience better. The story was interesting, though repetitive with average writing. With all of these things considered, I would only recommend this book to those who are fans of Judy Collins or who are interested in reading more about eating disorders.

I Was Hitler’s Chauffeur

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I Was Hitler’s Chauffeur is a fascinating alternative look at one of the most hated men in history. In his memoir of his time in service to Hitler, Erich Kempka reflects on the work he did and the man he thought Hitler really was.

I Was Hitler's Chauffeur by Erich Kempka
I Was Hitler's Chauffeur by Erich Kempka

In his twenties, Erich Kempka became one of Hitler’s drivers. After some time in his service, Kempka gained Hitler’s trust and moved up in rank to become his primary chauffeur. It was in Hitler’s service that Kempka got a closer look at the man Hitler was. Kempka shares several stories of Hitler’s kindness to him. Often Hitler would bring a snack along for Kempka to make sure he had plenty to eat on longer rides. When Kempka’s father died, Hitler showed compassion and care for his grief.

Kempka, who wrote his memoir in 1950, stood in alliance with his employer. His support of Hitler’s work is apparent throughout the pages, although any mention of the violence done in his name is conspicuously absent. Kempka’s memoir is not without a villain, though: Martin Bormann, who he believes manipulated and used Hitler’s kindness for political advancement. After Hitler’s suicide and the end of the war, Kempka writes that time will likely show that Hitler’s biggest flaw was that he was too trusting and too kind to those who would use him.

Was Hitler saintly, evil, or somewhere in the middle?

Kempka was a devoted follower of Hitler. After his cultural upbringing and then having Hitler treat him so well, one can hardly blame him for his devotion to Hitler and his causes. However, Kempka paints Hitler as a saint who did everything he did for the sake of others, rarely thinking of himself. Unlike Kempka, history has painted Hitler as one of the most evil men to ever live. Hitler’s kind actions toward those who followed him confuse a “black or white” look at the man we know to be responsible for so many deaths.

Kempka viewed Hitler as a hero.

He believed that Hitler truly cared for those around him, and for his country. While I read some passages with skepticism, he wrote about kind things Hitler did in response to hardship. For example, in one situation Hitler had heard about an area that had been suffering from hunger. He ordered that a large amount of grain be sent there for relief. My skeptical brain thought, “Yeah, but did you actually see the grain get delivered, Kempka?” However, Kempka’s belief in Hitler’s kindness in response to suffering was steadfast.

In the end, he believed that Hitler’s biggest flaw was how trusting he was. He watched as Hitler was manipulated by Bormann. After Hitler’s suicide, Kempka mourned him as a hero.

Most modern readers view Hitler as evil incarnate.

Hitler was responsible for the deaths of millions of people. Children who draw swastikas get in trouble because of the evil that the symbol represents. Nearly a hundred years later, we are aware of the damage that was done.

Reading about Hitler being kind is hard for a modern reader who knows about the evil that was done by Hitler. Every time I read about something kind Hitler did, my mind could not process it. My brain either pretended it was someone else or thought he was manipulating the person he was interacting with.

When I was talking to my (incredibly smart) husband about this, he reminded me that even evil people are good to their friends. “Isn’t that in the Bible?” he asked. We ended up discussing it some more, and it makes sense. And it is, like my husband asked, in the Bible. In Luke 6:33 it says, “And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.” Hitler being kind to those in his care was necessary for him to gain influence and loyalty. Even an evil man can do good to those who do good to him.

Though evil, Hitler was human.

It is easier to paint Hitler with a broad brush and say he was all evil. I want to do that. And it would be so much easier for me to do that. The millions of lives he took make me want to stamp him with that label. However, like all of us, Hitler was still human. Although his evil was greater than the evil of most people we will ever hear about, to elevate him to a superhuman position is to give him more power than he deserves.

“Only later generations will be able to form a precise assessment of this man.”

Erich Kempka

Hitler was a real human. He fell in love and got married. His employees worked for and loved him. Hitler gained their loyalty by his kindness toward them. While we cannot lose sight of the fact that his kindness was in the context of a greater evil, we also cannot lose sight of the fact that a man as evil as Hitler was capable of kindness. I like to believe that the capacity for kindness that Hitler had means that those who commit evil deeds today are equally capable of kindness. Perhaps then there is also hope of rehabilitation for the most evil men and women of our day, since Hitler’s time has passed.

Quick Review:

I Was Hitler’s Chauffeur was an enjoyable read for a very different perspective. While I did not read the appendices, they are supposed to add additional historical and political context. Although some of the longer, German words made it slower to read, that is less of a problem except where it occasionally impacts comprehension and speed. While I am never going to say that Hitler was a good man, this was a good book to stretch me outside of my comfort zone. It forced me to humanize a figure that I have seen as superhuman for so many years. Because of this, I highly recommend it to anyone who loves history or anyone who is interested in stretching themselves.


What most surprised you about Hitler from Kempka’s memoir? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

The Girl Behind the Door

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I was browsing the biography section of The Ohio Digital Library when I came upon this book. It looked interesting, so I put it on hold and thought nothing else of it for a couple more months, until it showed up in my email account as available.

The Girl Behind the Door by John Brooks
The Girl Behind the Door by John Brooks

John Brooks wrote the heart-wrenching story of traveling overseas to bring home a baby girl who was unhealthy from not receiving the care and attention she needed to raising a troubled teenager who would eventually end her life by stepping off of the Golden Gate Bridge. Brooks shared in painful detail the signs he only saw after the fact of her struggle to find her place in the world, and a diagnosis the he would only find after her death to be attachment disorder.

This book broke my heart because of my desire to foster children.

In his writing about attachment disorder and how it impacted his daughter’s ability to love and feel loved, Brooks explained that many children who are adopted are impacted by this disorder. Even children who are adopted very young, like his daughter Casey, have this overwhelming feeling that they are undesirable and that no one could ever love or want them. They struggle to build deep or lasting attachments, and often act out in burst of anger or emotion. It is an absolutely haunting condition to imagine anyone going through, especially one you have chosen to bring into your home to love and care for.

I will not even pretend to know what that feels like because I have never been adopted and I have do not have many friends who were. However, my husband have known for several years that we wanted to at the very least foster children with the possibility of adopting them. Casey was not just one case of the grief caused by attachment disorder. So many children are suffering and need to be loved and cared for by people who are not going to hurt them. While there is a part of me that feels overwhelmed and not good enough for such a task, I know that some day my husband and I may come to love one such child. Maybe even more.

The number of people who jump of of bridges is heartbreaking.

It surprised and saddened me that so many people use bridges like the Golden Gate to commit suicide. At the time the book was written, about thirty people a year jumped off that bridge to die. There is a project underway, due to be completed in 2019, to build a barrier to try to prevent these kind of acts. That may prevent people from jumping from bridges, but it does not deal with the pain that makes them jump.

I am not entirely sure what to make of this book after reading it. I feel more aware. I feel more heartbroken. But I do not know what to do about it except to love those around me better than I did before. One of them could be hurting and I wouldn’t even know it. I do not want to have to come aware of a loved one’s suffering only when it is too late.