Book Review: Ike and McCarthy by David A. Nichols (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Ike and McCarthy: Dwight Eisenhower’s secret campaign against Joseph McCarthy by David A. Nichols

Five Stars

“Always take your job seriously, never yourself.” DDE

This is what history is supposed to be. Minutely researched, but cogently told. Facts clearly delineated from opinion. Yes, Nichols has and expresses his opinions, but he does not disguise them as facts.

“We can’t defeat communism by destroying the things in which we believe.” DDE

This book is only 400 pages, not 800 like the fashionable historical biographies being peddled today. The footnotes equal a third of the text.

“Eisenhower’s penchant for camouflage contributed to the myth that he would rather play golf than pay attention to weighty matters.” Nichols

Eisenhower may have been the last progressive Republican, of the ilk of Continue reading

Shooting Victoria by Paul Thomas Murphy (Three Stars)

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Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy by Paul Thomas Murphy

Three Stars

“It is worth being shot at to see how much one is loved,” Queen Victoria

An exhaustive history of the many men who shoot at Queen Victoria. While they varied in background, their motives were surprisingly (and sadly) similar … and usually had nothing to do with injuring the queen. Paradoxically, Victoria was only injured once, and the incident wouldn’t be in the book had Murphy stuck rigorously to his title.

“[Oxford] was pleased to find himself an object of so much interest.”

No bit of related trivia is too small or unrelated for inclusion. Therefore, the reader is subjected to the history of all the other monarchs shot at, the life history of the police, prime ministers, cell mates, the Great Exhibition of 1851, the Irish, with a cameo by P. T. Barnum. It’s that kind of book.

“Before, the Queen’s popularity stemmed from her doing; now, it stemmed from her simply being.”

Runs counter to several popular images. Victoria, for example, is usually seen as a shy, reclusive lady. Murphy explains when that image if and when it didn’t, and why. England’s modern image is of an almost gun-free nation. That certainly wasn’t true in the nineteenth century when even paupers could purchase pistol most anywhere.

“Victoria’s personal courage and her unerring sense of her relationship with her people were responsible for it all.” (It being “universal and spontaneous outpouring of loyalty and affection”)

The late nineteenth century seems to have been open season on royalty. Murphy relates several parallel shoots taken at other monarchs. By 1918, all the monarchies of central Europe were no more.

“Trust in her subjects was instinct to [Victoria.]”

Movie Review: Hidden Figures, written, directed and produced by Theodore Melfi, et al. (Five Stars)

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Theatrical release poster

Movie Review: Hidden Figures, written, directed and produced by Theodore Melfi, et al.

Five Stars

Outstanding movie, based on real people and real events, but dramatically presented. The story about African-American women mathematicians at NASA-Langley in the 1960s. Also, of course, a story about overcoming personal and institutional prejudice.

Doesn’t sugar-coat the issues, yet isn’t silly either. Some people road buses, some sat at lunch counters, some went to work and did the job, even though they didn’t get credit–often didn’t get permission.

As much about the barriers overcome by women as those by African-Americans. The protagonists suffered the double challenge of being both.

The journey isn’t done by any means, but people who didn’t live through the 1960s have no idea how far we’ve come. We have come a long way.

Good Entertainment; good message. Go see it.

Book Review: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave Five Stars

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Book Review: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave by Frederick Douglass

Five Stars

“The wretchedness of slavery and the blessedness of freedom, were perpetually before me. It was life and death to me.”

The straight scoop from the giant of abolition. Frederick Douglass’ life and words–not Abraham Lincoln, certainly not Stephen Douglas–mark the beginning of the end for slavery in America. Self-liberated, self-taught, read his words for yourself. His life illustrates the power of literacy to lift a man over apparently insurmountable odds.

“For her to treat me as a human being was not only wrong, but dangerously so.”

Conceived in the adulterous lust of his white master, born in the for-that-time moderate slave state of Maryland, owned by respected Christian men; Douglass puts to rest the many myths and lies surrounding the practice and impact of slavery on both the imprisoned and the imprisoners. It’s not pleasant reading. Yet the truth varies from the popular representations today spread by those both defending and condemning America 170 years ago.

“Mistress, in teaching me the alphabet, had given me the inch.”

Should be mandatory reading in every high school history course in the United States. Primary documents, such as this, tell the story far better than the propaganda that most states offer. Well written; short and to the point.

“Thousands would escape from slavery, who now remain, but for the strong cords of affection that bind them to their friends.”

Book Review: The Light and the Glory: Did God have a Plan for America? (Second Edition) by Peter Marshall and David Manuel Four Stars

Book Review: The Light and the Glory: Did God have a Plan for America? by Peter Marshall and David Manuel

Four Stars

As the cover asserts, the second edition is “revised and expanded.” (For a fuller review of the first edition, read here.) Some material has been deleted, some of which had doubtful providence, some perhaps to keep the book close to 500 pages. The result is a better, tighter argument of the author’s thesis.

As reviewed previously, this book presents an argument, that “Since the first Christian settlers entered into covenant with Him, God has called the people of this country to be ‘a City on a Hill,’” referring to John Winthrop’s 1630 quote from Matthew 5:14.

Thirty years elapsed between editions. This writing is tauter and reads better. While the cover art of the first edition is more striking, this edition is preferred for the text.

(Both authors are now deceased. The link in goodreads.com is erroneous, to Marshall’s father.)

Review: The Age of Alexander: Nine Greek Lives by Plutarch Four Stars

Review: The Age of Alexander: Nine Greek Lives by Plutarch

Four Stars

“War has an appetite that cannot be satisfied by quotas.” Hegesippus

Plutarch’s Parallel Lives was the primary source for the history of Rome and Greece during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, this volume covers the period after Athens fall from supremacy in the Greek-speaking world.

“… and deliver the state from the habit of pandering to the mob, a disease scarcely less pernicious than tyranny itself.” (Some things never change)

Plutarch’s Lives influenced art and literature as well as politics and history. Shakespeare based his ancient history plays on Plutarch, occasionally quoting him verbatim.

“The truth is that the great majority of mankind are more offended by a contemptuous word than a hostile action, and find it easier to put up with an injury than an insult.”

Ian Scott-Kilvert’s English translation is clear and readable, if occasionally colloquial. Every day English has evolved since the 1970s.

“To show kindness only to one’s friends and benefactors is no proof of having acquired such self-control: the real test for a man who has been wronged to be able to show compassion and moderation to the evil-doers.”

The serious student of history may look elsewhere for greater authority, but the rest of us are enlightened and entertained by Plutarch’s commentary on the lives of the movers and shakers during a time which reads to us like epic fantasy: Descendants of Heracles, mythic tasks, loyalty and betrayal, heroes and tyrants.

“One more victory like that over the Romans will destroy us completely.” Pyrrhus

Book Review: The Light and the Glory: Did God have a Plan for America? by Peter Marshall and David Manuel (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Light and the Glory: Did God have a Plan for America? by Peter Marshall and David Manuel

Four Stars

“God would provide grace commensurate with the call.”

An excellent development of one exceptionalist view of the founding of the United States of America. Written in 1977, some cultural references now seem either quaint or prescient. Like Evidence that Demands a Verdict, this book draws heavily from primary sources (eyewitness accounts, letters and journals, not just other histories), in this case to argue for divine participation in the discovery and development of America.

“What if God had conceived a special plan for America?”

This book has Continue reading

Book Review: Memoir of Benjamin Tallmadge (Four Stars)

Book Review: Memoir of Benjamin Tallmadge by Benjamin Tallmadge

Four Stars

“I soon left the paternal abode and entered the tented field.”

As a student of history I love primary sources. What letters and journals of participants suffer in bias they make up in immediacy. Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge was a Revolutionary War hero, known to viewers of AMC’s TURN: Washington’s Spies as Washington’s spymaster. (They got that much right.)

His brother along with thousands of other captured Americans “… perished in prison by severe usage, sickness, etc.”

He was also a participant in most major and many minor military actions in and around New York City throughout the war. Though these memoirs were written forty years after the fact, they provide a literate (Tallmadge graduated from Yale in 1773) record of American leadership and battlefield fortunes.

“At this time a very dense fog began to rise … I recollect this particular providential occurrence perfectly well.”

Twice Tallmadge recounts Continue reading

Book Review: George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger (Three Stars)

Book Review: George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger

Three Stars

“Slow but credible intelligence was better than fast but muddled–or no intelligence at all.”

A good (true) story, well told. A wealth of quotes from primary sources. Dumbed down for today’s readers, but you expect that from a reporter. The title hyperbole is typical. Several minor factual errors undercut credibility of things hard to verify.

“Washington, whom generations of schoolchildren would later know as a man who ‘could not tell a lie’ couldn’t help but be pleased” he’d misled Clinton.

At least as good as Alexander Rose’s Washington’s Spies. Read either book in preference to expecting history from Continue reading

Book Review: The Last Jews in Berlin by Leonard Gross (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Last Jews in Berlin by Leonard Gross

Four Stars

“There comes a point when life is so unredeemed that great risks seem of no consequence.”

The focal point of Nazi power and policy was Berlin. As soon as Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 he began to marginalize, deport and exterminate all Germany Jews. A special goal was to make Berlin Judenfrei. But a surprising number of jews went “underground” and illegally, miraculously survived one man’s approximation of hell on earth. How? This book explores that question. Published in 1982, it is based on interviews with the survivors. Well researched; well written.

“Make yourself invaluable to someone and you’ll survive.”

“None of the Jews who went underground in Berlin … would have survived without the help of at least one Gentile benefactor.” Jews found help among other Jews, Swedes, even Germans. The Church of Sweden had an official, but secret program to help Jews and political dissidents escape. There were German Gentiles who cared for them to the point of risking their lives. Gross seems to discard the notion that some of these “Gentile benefactors” did so out of Christian compassion. He posits guilt, but I can’t imagine someone risking death to assuage a guilty conscience.

Countess Maria von Maltzan‘s efforts Continue reading