Book Review: Three Days in January by Bret Baier (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Three Days in January: Dwight Eisenhower’s Final Mission by Bret Baier

(Four Stars)

“Is it good for America?” Ike

A welcome contrast to most books by reporters. The norm is shallow, sensational and political, like their reporting (despite their leaning). This is an informative, in-depth look at our 34th president’s last days in office.

Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re: Gently in manner, strong in deed. (Displayed in Oval Office)

Baier telescopes Dwight David Eisenhower’s biography into the first third of the book, focuses on the titular three days during the middle, and devotes the end to Ike’s relations with Continue reading

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Book Review: Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare by Giles Milton. (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat by Giles Milton.

(Five Stars)

“The whole art of guerilla warfare lies in striking the enemy where he least expects it and yet where he is most vulnerable.” Colin Gubbins

The best World War Two history I’ve read in years. One blurb claims, “The last untold story of World War Two.” And a critical story it is. An unlikely collection of English men and women, working outside normal channels but with cover by the Prime Minister, develop and field weapons which solve many problems critical to England’s survival and eventual victory.

“A job is a good one if it looks like an accident, an act of God, or has no explanation.” Cecil Clark

One point can’t be overemphasized: as messy and repulsive as unconventional warfare is, it is more efficient, more effective, and–in the end–more humane than Continue reading

Book Review: The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama XIV, Desmond Tutu, and Carlton Abrams (Five Stars)

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Book Review: The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama XIV, Desmond Tutu, and Carlton Abrams

Five Stars

“The purpose of life is to find happiness. From the very core of our being, we simply desire joy and contentment.” Dalai Lama

A monumental conversation between two spiritual giants of our age. This book is a four-star treatment of a five-star topic. I rounded up because I am confident readers will sort the gems from the plaster.

“We are fragile creatures, and it is from this weakness, not despite it, that we discover the possibility of true joy.” Desmond Tutu

The reader is invited into a celebration of life by two of the wisest men in the world. They have been friends for decades despite differing world views. Both their friendship and their wisdom shows through.

“Those who say forgiveness is for the weak haven’t tried it.” Desmond Tutu

You expect this book to be full of epigrams; it Continue reading

Book Review: And Then There Were Nuns by Jane Christmas (Four Stars)

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Book Review: And Then There Were Nuns: Adventures in a Cloistered Life by Jane Christmas

Four Stars

“Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” G. K. Chesterton.

What might a wantabee-nun have to say to us normal people? A lot, and not all of it about faith or religious institutions. An honest, introspective foray into the contemplative life in the twenty-first century by a woman of the world. A good starting point for a lay person wondering how the other half–no, not half; a vanishingly small percent–lives and worships.

“You don’t rewrite Shakespeare’s sonnets to make them more understandable, you grow in your understanding of the words.”

Folksy, but wordy prose. Her narrative sucks the reader in and propels you along, but Continue reading

Book Review: Through Five Administrations by William H. Crook (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Through Five Administrations: Reminiscences of Colonel William H. Crook, Body-Guard to President Lincoln by William H. Crook

Four Stars

“The newspaperman, then as now, was on the outlook for a sensation. There was less regard for the truth then ….”

I’m a sucker for primary sources, even when–especially when–the writer reveals more about himself and his stop than he intended. Such is the case with this book. Crook takes you into his mind. You experience six presidents from the perspective of one who worked with them closely and personally, but was not involved in the politics of the day.

“It must be taken as for granted that I am somewhat prejudiced.”

Not surprisingly, Crook sees the best of each man, though some reviled each other. He defends each president, even as he acknowledges that some (especially Andrew Johnson) poured burning coals on their own heads.

“A narrow circle of New England theorists who, with their inheritance of inflated ideals and incomplete sympathies, had come to replace, by way of aristocracy, the social traditions of colonial times.”

Snowflake warning: This was written more than a century ago. Crook’s attitudes and expressions will offend modern sensibilities, even of those who agree with him. But if we are denied his point of view, the whole work would be suspect.

“Speeches in both House and Senate … filled with wild alarm, not for the country, but for [their] party.”

Book Review: View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman (Three Stars)

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Book Review: View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman

Three Stars

“If you don’t know it’s impossible it’s easier to do.”

A few good insights into art and culture scattered among five hundred plus pages of drivel. When Gaiman writes very good drivel, but it’s still a hodge-podge of introductions, essays and reflections.

“Those of us who write fantasies for a living know that we are doing it best when we tell the truth. Truth is not in what happens but in what it tells us about who we are.”

The best single item was “Make Art Good,” his 2012 commencement address at the University of Arts in Philadelphia. Lots of life lessons for the rest of us.

“It’s time for creators to accept that we are becoming dandelions. Dandelions just let their seeds go to the wind, and do not mourn the seeds that do not make it.”

Another “related work” finalist for a 2017 Hugo Award. This category will be hard to score because all of the entries are mediocre. Apparently related works is Continue reading

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: Traveler of Worlds by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

Three Stars

“I thought I would create ‘enwonderment’ as a kind of analogous noun [to enlightenment and empowerment] that explains what science fiction is supposed to do.”

Another “related work” finalist for 2017 Hugo Awards. This one is at least a coherent whole, unlike almost all the others. A multi-day interview with Silverberg highlighting where he came from, how he got into writing, and where he is now.

“New experiences happen all the time, not always pleasant ones, but the ones that shape you, the ones that define you, happen early.”

Far-ranging dialogue touches on art, horticulture, theory of art and films he likes. A Grand Master of Science Fiction, Silverberg also produced non-fiction on Continue reading

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 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.”