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.”

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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.”

Book Review: The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

Three Stars

Star Wars was and is my job. It can’t fire me and I’ll never be able to quit, and why would I want to? (That’s both a rhetorical and a real question.)”

I really wanted to like Fisher’s unintentional swan song. The style is conversational and intimate–sometimes too intimate. But the lack of real substance and her frequent profanity detract. (Twenty f-bombs, most neither relevant nor necessary.)

“If I’d been in high school instead of doing shows with my mother … I would have lived life as a teenager [instead of] having crushes on gay men.”

Mostly this biography covers Carrie’s childhood through the immediate aftermath of the Star Wars phenomena, with reflections on fans and fandom thrown in as filler. And a strange life she lived. She grew up in the spotlight of Hollywood celebrity, was apparently raped by her stepfather when she was fifteen, and knew only that she never wanted to be in show business.

“Would he … forgive me for … being a nineteen-year-old who, despite using four-letter words with such ease and familiarity, didn’t turn out to be the pro … I seemed to be?”

The titular diary offers insight into her mind as a nineteen-year-old thrust into both a starring role and an adulterous relationship, one of which she knew would go nowhere. Here are samples:

“Heaven’s no place for one who thrives on hell.”

“You took my breath away. And now I want it back.”

“How perfect can he be if he can’t see through me?”

A 2017 Hugo Award “related work” finalist, which category is the World Science Fiction Society’s excuse to give more Hugos. If Hugos are nothing else, they’re promotional tools.

“I was always looking ahead to what I wanted to be versus who I didn’t realize I already was.”

An incredibly strong, talented person.

“Metaphor be with you.”