Book Review: Hearts of Fire, edited by Voice of the Martyrs Four Stars

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Book Review: Hearts of Fire: eight women in the underground church and their stories of costly faith, edited by Voice of the Martyrs

Four Stars

Incredible stories of women over the last seventy years who faced persecution and death because of their Christian faith. Modern American readers will shrink back from the reality that such treatment is meted to women in this world today. It is.

Most of those featured did not seek attention. They were going about their lives as children or mothers with little concept of the world beyond their village. The world came to them, and it was angry.

Sobering. It’s happening today. In this world. In this country. (See Hiding in the Light)

Book Review: Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt

Four Stars

“Engineers make up the problems and we solve them.” Helen Ling

Despite the cringe-worthy title, an excellent history of the women who contributed to the unique successes of Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Superb concept and research. Too bad the storytelling falls short. With so large a cast, Holt often fails to identify her frequent shifts of focus character. Even as an advocacy work, her biases bleed through too obviously.

“As odd as it seems by today’s standards, the beauty contest was a result of JPL’s progressive hiring practices … unintentionally highlight the presence of educated young women working for JPL.”

Even with its shortcomings this book sets the record straight about the vital contributions of the “computers” as they were called Continue reading

Book Review: The Quartet by Joseph J. Ellis (Two Stars)

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Book Review: The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution: 1782-1789 by Joseph J. Ellis

Two Stars

“Americans needed to think continentally.” A. Hamilton

Revisionist history at is best … and worst. Making use of newly available correspondence and biographies of his principles, Ellis reconstructs the efforts leading up to the 1787 constitutional convention in Philadelphia and the battle to ratify the new charter. However, his uneven handling of its modern meaning exposes his biases.

“It is indispensable you should lend yourself to its [the government’s] first operation.” A. Hamilton to G. Washington, 1788

Writing history is tricky. The historian must present the truth in a way that the reader can understand, even though the world view and values of their time may differ. Even if sources are cited, the reader seldom has access to them. He must trust the integrity of the writer. And if internal evidence betrays bias or false reporting, then the reader Continue reading

Book Review: If a Pirate I must be … by Richard Saunders (Four Stars)

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Book Review: If a Pirate I must be …: The True Story of Black Bart, the King of the Caribbean Pirates by Richard Saunders

Four Stars

“If a pirate I must be, ‘tis better being a commander than a common man.” John Roberts (AKA Black Bart)

A well-written modern attempt to find the facts behind the fiction of the most successful, if not the most famous of the Caribbean pirates: Black Bart, whose real name was John Roberts. Saunders relates both the popular stories and the realities behind them as well as providing a primer on seventeenth century trade, of which slaves and sugar were among the foremost commodities. That freed African slaves made up as much as a third of successful pirate crews is part of the untold tale.

“Common men showed little enthusiasm for defending their masters’ property.”

With many official and contemporary sources unreliable as officialdom covered their incompetence, and occasionally complicity, dealing with Bart. John Atkin, a ship’s surgeon impressed recorder the courts martial of Joseph’s crew, uniquely and dispassionately recorded the more likely truth. The author’s principal source (with the caveat mentioned) was Charles Johnson’s 1724 A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates. Johnson is responsible for today’s swashbuckling pirate stereotype.

“The love of drink and a lazy life (were) stronger motives to him (the typical pirate) than gold.” Joseph Mansfield

The eighteenth century Triangle Trade (Africa, to North America and the Caribbean, to Europe and back) on which the pirates preyed—and which killed over half of the slaves, merchant and slavers crews (they were often the same), navy personnel and pirates each year was originally driven by the demand for sugar in Europe. (Much as contemporary North American consumption of South America drugs drives the drug trade through Central America.)

“The promise of unlimited alcohol may have held little appeal [to Roberts] but power did.”

Pirates drank prodigious qualities of punch, the recipe for which included fresh limes., before James Lind’s 1747 discovery that citrus fruit prevented scurvy. Another reason pirates were healthier, if not longer lived, than many of their civilian and military counterparts.

“A merry life and a short one.” John Roberts (AKA Black Bart)

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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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