Book Review: I Am Malala by Malala Yousafai and Christina Lamb (Four Stars)

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Book Review: I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education for Children and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafai and Christina Lamb

(Four Stars)

“Dear God, I know you see everything, but there are so many things that maybe, sometimes, things get missed, particularly now with the bombings in Afghanistan. God, give me strength and courage and make me perfect because I want to make this world perfect. Malala.”

Unusually well-written topical book. Normally these “as told to” books are not worth the paper, just exploiting someone’s fifteen minutes of fame. I am Malala is distinctively different. Yousafai and Lamb deal in depth with the history of Pakistan and the Taliban, especially the Swat Valley, Malala’s home.

“The falsehood has to go and the truth will prevail.” (Quran) “If one man, Fazlullah, can destroy everything, why can’t one girl change it? I wondered. I prayed to God every night to give me strength.”

The story starts on the day Malala is shot, then backtracks to build her world. The detail is exhaustive and intimate. The reader is drawn into Malala’s world and time. Her hopes, fears and aspirations develop organically. It’s real; it’s like watching a slow-motion train wreck.

“I felt like the Taliban saw us as little dolls to control, telling us what to do and how to dress. I thought if God wanted us to be like that He wouldn’t have made us all different.”

Surprisingly—or maybe not—about the only part of the world which rejects Malala is her native Pakistan. Her story—this story—doesn’t fit the narrative which the government, church, and people of Pakistan have developed for themselves. To change that, she has a tough row to hoe.

“They are abusing our religion,” I said in the interviews. “How will you accept Islam if I put a gun to your head and say Islam is the true religion? If they want every person in the world tobe Muslim, why don’t they show themselves to be good Muslims first?”

Malala is the youngest Nobel Prize laureate.

“Rahanna told me that thousands and millions of people and children around the world had supported me and prayed for me. Then I realized that people had saved my life. I had been spared for a reason.”

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Movie Review: Tolkien, directed by Dome Karukoski (Four Stars)

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Movie Review: Tolkien, directed by Dome Karukoski

(Four Stars)

“Where you follow the rhythms of language, I have to tell you, Mr. Tolkien, I’ve never come across anything like it.”

This movie will bomb. Too intellectual and idea driven, like Tolkien’s stories. Little to no action. Solid performances by a cast of unknowns.

“No … you deserve magic.”

Having read much by and about Tolkien, I can attest that this accurately represents the formative years of the greatest story teller of the twentieth century, despite the Tolkien Estate disavowing the film. In fact, reviewing Tolkien’s biography reveals Karukoski et al. took many liberties with fact, hence my labeling this as historical fiction

“There are cakes.”

Like Disney’s treatment of Madeleine L’Engle’s  A Wrinkle in Time, all reference to Tolkien’s faith was excised. Tolkien wrote, “We have come from God and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed, only by myth-making, only by becoming a ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man ascribe to the state of perfection that he knew before the fall.”

“In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit.”

Book Review: The Printer and the Preacher by Randy Petersen (Five Stars)

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Book Review: The Printer and the Preacher: Ben Franklin, George White, and the Surprising Friendship that Invented America by Randy Petersen

(Five Stars)

“Franklin was a newspaperman and Whitefield was news.” John R. Williams

A remarkable study of the two men who most shaped the personality of American before the Revolution. Today one is a cultural icon, the other unknown; then Whitefield was better known than Franklin.

“Not only a sense of charity, but of empowerment.”

Sympathetic descriptions of the motives, actions and goals of all parties. He is especially positive to both explicate and reconcile the differences between Franklin and Whitefield. Both wanted the best for their fellow man, even though each had his own motives. The reader may feel Peterson occasionally protests too much, but Continue reading

Book Review: Lincoln’s Last Trial by Dan Abrams and David Fisher (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Lincoln’s Last Trial: The Murder Case That Propelled Him to the Presidency by Dan Abrams and David Fisher

(Three Stars)

“Ask yourself: what is the justice in this case?” A. Lincoln

Exhaustive review of a trial transcript with explanatory amplifications. By the authors’ own admission, Lincoln was already headed toward the presidency, and their work gives no indication how it “propelled him to the presidency,” rather how he dodged a bullet that could have killed his dark horse bid at the Republican nomination.

“I must say I do not think myself fit for the presidency.” A. Lincoln (1959)

Based on the recently recovered transcript of Robert Roberts Hitt. Telling the story from Hitt’s point of view saved the author’s from Continue reading

Book Review: Dickens: A Biography by Fred Kaplan (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Dickens: A Biography by Fred Kaplan

(Three Stars)

“He took special pleasure in disappointing expectations.”

A monumental work, in both the positive and negative senses. Like many modern biographers, Kaplan includes all manner of trivia and tangential material to pad the overall product. The result is boring to read, but fascinating to reflect on.

William Gladstone reported Dickens remarked that while his “faith in the people governing, is, on the whole, infinitesimal; my faith in The People governed is on the whole illimitable.”

“All crisis was a spur to creativity, all fiction a mirror of imaginative distortion in which the model of his own life became a portrait of his culture and his world.”

Charles Dickens was that rare man who was Continue reading

Book Review: Grant by Ron Chernow (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Grant by Ron Chernow

(Four Stars)

“I thought I could run the government of the United States as I did the staff of my army. It was my mistake, and led me to other mistakes.” US Grant

A readable and informative, if exhaustive biography of our eighteenth president, our nation’s youngest at the time. Though contemporaries viewed him as a unite-er and reconciliator, history has been less kind. Chernow raises and examines the charges of drunkenness, corruption, and insensitivity. The Grant who emerges is deeper and more human than even he described himself in his famous memoirs.

The Civil War was “largely the outgrowth of the Mexican War. Nations like individuals are punished for their transgressions.” US Grant

For a quarter century Chernow has redefined America through huge, deeply-researched biographies of prominent historical figures. His books are best sellers and award winners and one became a pop culture Continue reading

Book Review: A Pillar of Iron: A Novel of Ancient Rome by Taylor Caldwell (Four Stars)

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Book Review: A Pillar of Iron: A Novel of Ancient Rome by Taylor Caldwell

Four Stars

“Republics decline into democracies and democracies degenerate into despotisms.” Aristotle

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.) is probably the most important man in history most of us never heard of. That he was one of Rome’s greatest orators and writers is secondary to his impact on modern western political thought. “The influence of Cicero upon the history of European literature and ideas greatly exceeds that of any other prose writer in any language,” wrote classicist Michael Grant. Cicero’s thoughts undergirded much of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. America’s founders often quoted the Roman.

“His own existence was less secure because his father no longer existed. Another statue had crashed in his hall of life and its senseless rubble littered the floor.”

Taylor Caldwell tried to change that in 1965 with this historical fiction biography. Drawing on speeches and letters of Cicero and Continue reading

Book Review: Destiny of the Republic by Candace Millard (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candace Millard

Three Stars

“I have so long and so often seen the evil effects of presidential fever upon my associates and friends that I am determined it shall not seize me.” JAG

A fascinating excursion into the period of American history largely ignored. Everyone thinks they know, if they care, all about the series of inept Union generals who stumbled through the then-second floor Yellow Oval Room. Millard corrects our misperception with this very human inquiry into the half-year presidency of James A. Garfield. She explores his life and times and provides supporting vignettes of key persons whose paths to fame or infamy crossed that of the ill-fated Garfield, including Chester Arthur, Joseph Lister, Alexander Graham Bell, and Charles Guiteau.

“Future generations would never know the man [Garfield] had been.”

Well-written, but not as good as her later works. Though this book is well-researched history, Millard strays Continue reading

Book Review: Hero of the Empire by Candace Millard (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, A Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candace Millard

Four Stars

“There is an ambition I cherish so keenly, as to gain a reputation for personal courage.” WC

Winston Churchill wanted a war and after three missed attempts–India, Cuba and Sudan–he got it in South Africa’s Boer War. That it was a miserable shame of a war made no difference to Churchill, he was busy inventing himself and nothing short of public acclaim and military honors would do. He got them, and much more.

“Death stood before me. Grim, sullen Death without his light-hearted companion. Chance.” WC

Millard balances the very personal with the historic. Just enough background history and biography to give context without degenerating into a full-fledged biography. Well-researched and well-written.

“When hope has departed, fear had gone as well.” WC

England, on the verge of the Great War, seems to have learned nothing from the American War of Independence nor her colonial experiences in Asia and Africa. As if frozen in some fairy tale, the British army fought the Boer War as if they were facing Napoleon. The results were devastating to both the soldiery and the populace.

“The first time you meet Winston you see all his faults and the rest of your life you spend in discovering his virtues.” Pamela (Plowden) Bulwer-Lytton

Book Review: Doc by Mary Doria Russell (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Doc by Mary Doria Russell

Four Stars

“The entire criminal code of the state of Kansas boils down to four words: Don’t kill the customers.”

Revising history in a pleasant, readable way. Russell looks deep into the facts behind the tall tales surrounding this Wild West icon and comes up with an engaging story of what John Henry “Doc” Holliday may have been at his best.

“Serious as a snake bite.”

Have read enough of Russell to appreciate how her voice and idioms vary with the time and place of her story. Well done.

“The law can relieve a man of guilt, but not of his remorse.”

Russell also gives insight into the southern state of mind after Reconstruction. A lingering legacy of Radical Republican punishment of the South after the Civil War plays out today.

“Being born is craps. How we live is poker. Mamma played a bad hand well.”

Read the end notes to discover a possible connection between Holliday and Gone with the Wind.

“Dear Lord, please, give him time! Please, Lord, let him finish!” “Now. Now. Now. Take me now.”