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

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Book Review: The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain

(Four Stars)

“Travel is fatal to bigotry and prejudice and narrow-mindedness.”

In 1867 young Samuel Clemens joined one of the first cruises for an extended voyage from New York City to the Holy Land. He serialized his impressions as they went, then sold the aggregate as a book. It was his best-selling book during his lifetime.

“The impressible memento-seeker was pecking at the venerable sarcophagus [inside Cheop’s Pyramid] with his sacrilegious hammer.”

Regular readers of Twain will enjoy this cynical, but less bitter younger version. Despite distancing himself from the “pilgrims” (conservative New England Christians who were the bulk of the party), Twain betrays many of the prejudices of the day. He was particularly critical of the Americans defacing ruins, taking mementos.

“One must travel to learn. Every day now old Scripture phrases that never possessed any significance for me take to themselves a meaning.” (at Beth-El)

I affirm that many of his impressions of the Mediterranean and Levant are Continue reading

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

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