The Mayor and His Books

Wilmington Mayor-elect Mike Purzycki in his library

To Mike – This is your book, not John’s! Best wishes, Lynne Olson – author, “Citizens of London

Since our days serving together on New Castle County Council, Wilmington Mayor-elect Mike Purzycki and I have discussed books we have read and sometimes swapped, which can be a risky proposition where Mike is concerned. To Mike, books are more than simply reading enjoyment or repositories of information, they are a piece of his life that he can put away on a shelf for a while until he needs access to them to affirm his conviction on a certain subject or idea – or like most of us because he can’t remember what he read.

On a few occasions over the years I have reached back for a book I loved only to realize I had lent it to the future mayor. One day while reminding him he still had my copy of Lynne Olson’s masterpiece on London during the Blitz, “Citizens of London” he shot back, “no way, that’s my book!” After reminding him of the facts, he agreed to surrender my copy at a future meeting.

It so happened that around this same time I had booked a trip to the WWII Museum in New Orleans for a symposium on Winston Churchill – in addition to celebrated WWII author Alex Kershaw and UD history professor Ray Callahan (“Churchill and His Generals”), one of the speakers was the author of our contested book, Lynne Olson. When I arrived at breakfast and sat down, Ms. Olson and her husband happened to be sitting at the same table. After telling her the story of how my friend and I had argued over the ownership of her book – which she found rather hilarious – she reached down and pulled out a fresh copy and autographed it, “To Mike – This is your book, not John’s!”

From the obscure to the best sellers, Mike Purzycki is a world class consumer of the printed word. Churchill happens to be one of our mutual favorite topics. So after recently completing “Hero of the Empire” by Candice Millard about Churchill’s time as a prisoner of war in South Africa during the Boer War, I suggested it to Mike as something he might enjoy. He responded by saying he had read a couple books by Candice Millard, “River of Doubt” about Teddy Roosevelt and “Destiny of the Republic” about President James Garfield – Teddy Roosevelt I understand, but who reads books about James Garfield! At least I was able to inform the mayor-elect that the city he was about to lead happened to have a statue of James Garfield located at an obscure site off Concord Ave at Jefferson Street.

Wilmington Mayor-elect Mike Purzycki Winston Churchill’s granddaughter Celia Sandys

And speaking of Churchill, it was at Mike’s suggestion that I read Gilbert’s thousand page biography of the late prime minister. Eventually we would both become owners of autographed copies of “Churchill by His Granddaughter” after having dinner with Churchill granddaughter and author Celia Sandys in the War Cabinet Rooms in London in 2011.

In book consumption I have never been able to keep up with Mike in volume or variety, and he has a far larger appetite for books on human behavior than I have patience for – but this, I believe, is a good thing as he begins his term as mayor.

One of his recent reads that impressed him was Simon Sinek’s “Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Other’s Don’t” – also, Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow,” which explains that while we like to think of ourselves as rational in our decision-making, the truth is we are subject to many biases. Mike is also a fan of books by “Big Short” author Michael Lewis including his recent “The Undoing Project,” which tells the story of Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky who wrote a series of original studies undoing our assumptions about the decision making process.

Anyone who knows Mike Purzycki well knows that he thinks deeply about the subject of race relations in present day America. Recent readings that inform his view on this complex and emotional topic include Ta Nehisi Coates’ best seller, “Between the World and Me,” considered by some to be a follow on to James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time,” a book Mike has also read. Coates’ book presents a pessimistic view of race relations, reflecting in part the message of the “Black Lives Matter” movement and some have argued that it does not recognize the progress that has been made by blacks in America. On the other end of the spectrum the mayor-elect has read “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis,” J.D. Vance’s tale about growing up in Appalachia, a book Republican leaders in Washington were scrambling to read in an effort to understand the white underclass that was driving the Trump candidacy.

Over lunch recently I asked Mike to name his favorite book and author. This led to a brief discussion of David McCullough – Mike declaring that he had read and loved all of his books. I regretted to remind him that he had not yet read “The Wright Brothers,” a great read he may have to postpone until he finishes his term as mayor. And while Mike had difficulty naming only one book as his favorite, I was not surprised that his favorite genre was biographies of some of his heroes – favorites being Gilbert’s Churchill, “The Great Melody” about Edmund Burke and Greg Weiner’s “American Burke: The Uncommon Liberalism of Daniel Patrick Moynihan,” about the late American politician and social scientist. Mike is the only man I know who might quote the late Senator in the middle of a round of golf.

As a passionate Democrat, some might find it odd that Mike speaks so admiringly of conservative leaders and thinkers like Burke and Churchill – I chalk it up to the mystery of Mike Purzycki, soon to be Mayor of Wilmington!

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About the Contributor

John Riley

John Riley

A native Delawarean, John Riley is retired and lives in Greenville. In addition to grandchildren and golf he pursues a passion for writing and military history.

7 Comments

  • WOW….I’ve known you both for more than half a century…and I’m just now learning that you’re both…serious readers and students of History….Very Impressive…!!!
    Actually, I’d like to learn what might prompt Mike to quote the late great Senator from NY… Daniel Patrick Moynihan… whilst on the golf course.

  • As always, Mr. Riley provides a well written and thoughtful piece! And a lovely view into the mind of our future mayor!

  • Talk about a serious reader, while playing golf one day with Mike, I sugessted reading “The Greatest Game ever Played” by Mark Frost. An Early history of golf in the US. . My God, it was as if I suggested he read a comic book.
    Have since learned to ask him for some suggested reading which I have enjoyed.

  • I like to learn about what public figures watch or read. Its sometimes more insightful than a regular interview. He seems like an interesting (and interested person). Good writing!

  • John: This is a great story! We need to appreciate the written word and use history as a guide to help us chart the future. At some point when things settle down, perhaps you and the Mayor-Elect would like to be a guest at an up coming meeting of the Tale and Ale Book Club. This is a group of about eight political and history junkies that get together six times or so a year to discuss a book we have collectively agreed to read. Interestingly enough, our next book is “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis,” by J.D. Vance’s, perhaps the Mayor can be our guest.

    Keep reading and keep leading!!

  • Mark. I was just given a copy of The Hillbilly Elegy as a get-well gift. I am fascinated by the book’s outline and concern for the loss of the American dream. Priscilla

  • Would you like a receipt? Franklin, Granville, Johnston, Lee, Person, Vance, Wake, and Warren. The mission of the Wake provider to submit claims in both electronic and paper formats. make any changes as necessary. Violations may be referred for further disciplinary the primary literature (scientific, admriistnation routes by minimal contact with others.