I make a habit of giving 5 stars to any book to which I've contributed, but this one deserves it beyond any need for self-promotion on my part. As mucI make a habit of giving 5 stars to any book to which I've contributed, but this one deserves it beyond any need for self-promotion on my part. As much as I may be loathe to admit it, there are much better writers than myself featured in this anthology and I encourage everyone to explore the stories. Bona Fide Books has succeeded in bringing together what may seem like an eclectic bunch of tales; but in that variety lies the strength of the book. The stories represent the wide, and very real, spectrum of lives present behind the scenes in the National Park system: there are Alaska backcountry adventures and sagas of slinging greasy fast food in the Yosemite Valley. We meet hermits and introverts, wild country poets, memorable visitors and the always-present pothead and alcohol-soaked contingent. If the millions of seasonal park visitors ever turn away from their screaming kids, campground WiFi and razor-narrow 'vacation schedules', they now know what to look for....more
I rated this book on the story it told and the hope that it engendered, not as a critical forum for its syntax or sentence structure. From that standpI rated this book on the story it told and the hope that it engendered, not as a critical forum for its syntax or sentence structure. From that standpoint, given the potential of this single person's efforts, I leave it at 5 stars. However, subsequent investigations have suggested that Mortenson's efforts were not as extensive as he may has implied in his books. It appears that while he's been instrumental and very successful in promoting women's education in some places, other parts of his myth are just that - myths. I only know what I've read and what I've seen on 60 minutes, but I wonder if this may be a case of Mortenson's big heart, vision and singular focus conflicting with his inability to effectively administer a complex non-profit organization (by his own admission, he's not suited for such things). It's unfortunate that this scandal is tainting what appears on the surface to be a cross-cultural win-win situation, in an era when such understandings between East and West are so desperately needed....more
My one-line rundown: anyone who thinks the scientific process is a dry affair, barren of drama, silliness, oddity or personality, should read this booMy one-line rundown: anyone who thinks the scientific process is a dry affair, barren of drama, silliness, oddity or personality, should read this book.
I started trying to keep up with the great quotes from this book, but eventually gave up; there are too many. Take the opening salvo of the first chapter: 'I have never seen Francis Crick in a modest mood.' Or Watson's contention, as a 24 year-old graduate student, that 'in contrast to the popular conception supported by newspapers and mothers of scientists, a goodly number of scientists are not only narrow-minded and dull, but also just stupid.'
Watson details a number of ridiculous sub-plots throughout the book, including forays into the sex life of bacteria, his attempt to set his sister up with Maurice Wilkins (to both keep her away from some 'mental defectives' and secure himself a direct line to Maurice's X-ray work on DNA), and deals made with disinterested lab supervisors which made it possible for him to live and work outside the institution required by his fellowship. Add I love the idea of cutting edge 1950s biochemistry revolving around people manipulating plaster-and-wire models.
I have utterly no interest in biochemistry generally, and even less in trying to understand the specific details of the X-ray crystallography technology from a half-century ago. I just enjoyed reading Watson's sardonic references to 'dressing for dinner', girls, and the necessity of growing his hair into a wild mop to avoid being mistaken for those other local Americans - Air Force personnel. It helps me remember that, while this discovery was arguably the most important contribution to genetics since Mendel, the scientific endeavor is rarely if ever free from that entertaining and most fallible entity: humanity....more
My one-phrase rundown: Read it if you don't already know it.
This iconic book was about biodiversity, plain and simple. What it is, what it means, howMy one-phrase rundown: Read it if you don't already know it.
This iconic book was about biodiversity, plain and simple. What it is, what it means, how it's created and how it's maintained. The prose is well-written and the ideas are typically Wilsonian in their insight.
So it's not as if I didn't think the book was good, or that Wilson isn't an impressive man in his accomplishments. I suppose the (minor) problem was that not much of it was news to me. Even back when I skimmed it - I believe they refer to that time period as The Day - I didn't consider it cutting edge.
But, to be fair, the market for the book was not eggheads and conservation types, it was the teeming masses of people who didn't (don't?) even realize that beetles or fungi could be considered important. Indeed, those who didn't (don't?) spend much time or energy thinking about the sixth extinction - and what it means to us - might find the sheer weight of his diversity estimates staggering. They certainly should.
If nothing else, it was a good reminder of how abundant and diverse the world around us really is. And it convinced me to read some more contemporary Wilson books....more
The one-phrase rundown: not bad, but not great, either.
I was intrigued by the story when I saw the book in the Canyonlands VC, as it seemed like a locThe one-phrase rundown: not bad, but not great, either.
I was intrigued by the story when I saw the book in the Canyonlands VC, as it seemed like a local myth. It is indeed, but more to the Grand Canyon than the upper Colorado or Green, where I was. The disappearance of the Hydes is a myth which has grown all out of proportion to its beginnings, and in that regard the book is well-researched and explains the reality of the 80-year old case: the contemporary (well, the 70s and 80s) twists and turns, what is known, and importantly, what is not. Some this was fun reading.
However, with the plentitude of historical facts and sometimes interesting sidelines came a tedium that was eventually too much for me. In retrospect, I would have been happy learning about 1/3 of the information contained in the book.
I suspected that I might get TMI when I started reading the book, so I can’t complain too much about reading about previous generations of the victim’s families. The author, a boatman himself, goes into detail about the scow (the type of boat the couple took), the hydraulics of the river, and the rapids the Hydes would have faced, as well as various locations in the Grand Canyon, which enrich the story but ultimately meant very little to me. I highly suspect that locals, canyon folks, and in particular river runners, would get more out of the story thus told. ...more
My one-phrase rundown: an amazingly well-researched account of a sad chapter in a sad era of American history
If one is not familiar with the story ofMy one-phrase rundown: an amazingly well-researched account of a sad chapter in a sad era of American history
If one is not familiar with the story of the Wallowa Band of Nez Perce, especially their flight of 1877, this book is a great introduction. Moulton’s book was well-received by some Nez Perce, and let’s face it, it’s a lot shorter than Greene’s Nez Perce Summer.
I have been to several Nez Perce Trail historical sites, and done my share of reading. I once entertained the though of violating the rules of Big Hole National Battlefield, to see what it felt like to be there at night. I didn’t do it, of course, because it would have been disrespectful, but I also feared that mere academic curiosity and sociocultural sensitivity might not actually prepare me for that experience. As a ranger for Yellowstone National Park, I was privileged to witness the improved relationship between the NPS and the Nez Perce leadership. While not perfect, the Nez Perce now (evidently) feel welcome enough to travel to Yellowstone, where they perform ceremonies honoring their ancestors' flight through the park. I also learned a lot from Moulton’s detailed and well-written addition to the American Heroes series.
I think that most people, though, regardless of their interest in Native American history, will likely recognize at least one Nez Perce. Just as the Ni-mii-pu are known to the world as the Nez Perce, this man, Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, was widely known as Chief Joseph.
The summer of 1877 was characterized by a desperate 1500-mile hegira in which ~750 Wallowa Nez Perce repeatedly outsmarted, outran, or defeated four different US Calvary units sent after them over four months. The events leading up to the flight were complex and served as a testament to Joseph’s skill as a leader: despite repeated broken promises and some Nez Perce deaths at the hands of settlers, Joseph managed to counsel peace. He maintained a tense peace between the non-treaty Nez Perce – those bands like his who had chosen not to go to the Lapwai Nez Perce reservation in Idaho – for six years. It was finally several young warriors, seeking revenge and unwillingly to listen to talk of peace or tolerance, who struck the blow that spelled the end for the Wallowa band.
After the revenge killings of several settlers, the non-treaty leaders knew that they had no choice but to run. Naively hoping that they could escape the Idaho territorial authorities, the Wallowa Nez Perce first planned to travel eastward to ‘buffalo country’ and possibly ally with Crow living east of the Absaroka/Beartooths. However, when traveling though Yellowstone National Park, designated as such only five years before, they learned that the Crow would not support them. Further, US Calvary troops under Miles and Gibbon were closing in from the east, even as Howard pursued them from the south.
The fateful decision was made. The Wallowa Nez Perce turned north, trying to reach Sitting Bull’s camp. After the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Sitting Bull had escaped to relative safety on the other side of the Medicine Line – the Canadian Border. If they Nez Perce could make it to his camp, they would be beyond the reach of the US government. It was not to be, however, and 30 miles south of the border, Calvary under the command of General Miles caught the Nez Perce at the foot of the Bear Paw mountains. After several days of close fighting, Joseph and other leaders discussed how the Nez Perce could slip away in the darkness and reach the border. To do so required leaving the remaining sick, wounded, young and elderly behind, and Joseph would not agree. Against the wishes of other leaders, he surrendered with the now-famous promise that ‘from where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.’ White Bird chose to slip away and successfully took some of the Nez Perce to Canada.
The eloquent surrender at the Bear Paw battlefield often ends the tale of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce, understood as it so often is from a purely military perspective. Moulton, however, goes on to describe the trials of the Wallowa Nez Perce on the reservations of so-called Indian Country in Kansas. Shipped to a region where they had never lived, the Nez Perce, like other peoples, suffered greatly from the hot, humid weather and warm-climate diseases like malaria; adults slowly died and infant mortality was high. For all the years leading up to his death, Joseph tirelessly petitioned for the Nez Perce to be allowed to return to Oregon.
Discussions involving the numerous US government promises which were subsequently broken are practically axiomatic in the recent histories of native nations. In the case of the Nez Perce, though, the events that landed them in Kansas seem uncommonly poignant. Journalists, lawyers, Indian agents, Army officers, missionaries, settlers and merchants repeatedly portrayed the Nez Perce in ways which might seem condescending to us, but are in fact notable for their complementary nature. That such a wide array of white people repeatedly described the Nez Perce with words like ‘well-dressed’, ‘handsome’, ‘honest’, ‘wealthy’ and ‘intelligent’, is striking for 1870s whites talking about Indians.
Joseph himself, highly regarded among his own people, stunned many white observers with his eloquence and abilities as a negotiator. General Miles regarded the Nez Perce with respect, and after carrying out his orders to capture them, later came to lobby for their return to Oregon. The one-armed General Howard, who also pursued Joseph’s band in 1877, called him a ‘great man’ and said the Nez Perce could ‘never be blotted out’. The man known as Joseph did not speak English, yet during the years he spent lobbying for the return of the Nez Perce to the Wallowa Valley, he orated to Congress and standing presidents and gained widespread public support.
It was this fame that led may people to attribute all the 1877 actions of the Nez Perce to Joseph. That was inaccurate, as the band fleeing from the Wallowa Valley had several leaders, such as Lean Elk, White Bird, and Joseph’s own brother Ollokot, who made many successful decisions at different times, especially in terms of military tactics. Joseph’s responsibility throughout the summer of 1877 was to keep the families of the Nez Perce organized and safe during the ordeal. It was that sacred duty which likely influenced his choice to surrender at Bear Paw; his people were starving, wounded, freezing and exhausted. The wealth of the Nez Perce – their shelters and supplies and the famous horse herd – had been all but spent during their trials.
Joseph’s friend General Miles was promoted to Brigadier General in 1880, gaining him political influence which he used to promote the return of the Nez Perce. In 1900, Joseph returned to the Wallowa to investigate the possibility of a reservation there, although civilian federal authorities stopped that plan. Eventually, some Wallowa Nez Perce were moved back to the reservation in the Lapwai, Idaho. In a final insult to the man that so many people deeply respected, Joseph was not allowed to live on the Lapwai Nez Perce reservation because he refused to convert to Christianity. Joseph and other Dreamers were forced to live on the Colville reservation in northeastern Washington.
In what turned out to be his last appeal for allowing his people to return to Oregon, Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt shared a meal of bison with Teddy Roosevelt in 1903. That meeting had no tangible results, and the man we know as Chief Joseph never again lived in the Wallowa Valley, where his father was buried. He died on the Colville reservation in 1904....more
The one-phrase rundown: a true, and therefore predictably sad and poignant, story of a Cheyenne woman and her world.
I bought this for my soon-to-be giThe one-phrase rundown: a true, and therefore predictably sad and poignant, story of a Cheyenne woman and her world.
I bought this for my soon-to-be girlfriend because I make a habit of giving interesting women books about other interesting women: mountain climbers, warriors, pilots, biologists and so on. Furthermore I was initially intrigued because I’d heard rumors, based on notions apparently put forth by some historians, that Calf could have struck the killing blow to Custer at the Little Bighorn (that could be considered kinda important). It’s well known that women warriors were not uncommon in various Nations, and Cheyenne oral history certainly seems to speak of Buffalo Calf Road as a courageous woman in battle.
Ultimately, though, this is not an academic investigation but historical fiction: it is the tale of Calf’s experiences during known events from 1864 (the Sand Creek massacre) to around 1880 (the establishment of the Northern Cheyenne reservation in Montana). Not being well-versed in these events, I can’t speculate as to how much or how little the authors embellished any given event or character. Obviously, no one can really know what anyone else was thinking in the 19th century. It does provide some historical context and references if one is inclined to find more information.
In the telling, it became repetitive because the reality was repetitive: attack by the US Cavalry, fight, retreat with survivors, hide, then get attacked again. Over and over. The story involved over 100 characters with various family and tribal relationships, which I found a little hard to keep track of after a while. But again that’s the reality of a relatively small, family-oriented society (hmm, I guess that says something about me).
Like Spielberg’s ‘Into the West’ TV series, Buffalo Calf Road was based on real events but doesn’t really provide new information: most of us are all too aware of the near-extermination of the various Nations of the Americas and the deprivations, brutalities and occasional nobility involved. It is a more personal, perhaps less dry, account occupying an interesting area of fiction between what we do know and what we never will. ...more
The one-phrase rundown: a well-written hell of a ride.
This, like Sunk Without a Sound, was a book I picked up in a VC at a national park, this time BiThe one-phrase rundown: a well-written hell of a ride.
This, like Sunk Without a Sound, was a book I picked up in a VC at a national park, this time Big Bend. Alan Tennant is a Texas-based writer whose numerous otherworks include a field guide to snakes. Someone from my old stomping ground who likes snakes? I thought. That was rare enough to warrant further investigation.
I found the book to a real page-turner. It details the author’s obsession with following several radio-tagged peregrine falcons from Alaska to central America. Alan and his barnstorming pilot George pull off some amazing exploits in this tale, including impersonating Texas DPS (state troopers), being mistaken for DEA agents, stealing US Army telemetry gear, and sneaking across international borders in a small plane with a broken radio. I was unable to ascertain exactly when these events occurred, but my suspicion was the late 80s to early 90s, since he probably had to wait to publish until the statutes of limitation had expired on some of his feats :)
Part of the fun of reading about their deeds of daring do was realizing how special those adventures really were; many of the things Alan and George did in the air will never again happen in our post-9/11 world. For me, it was also very entertaining to fly along with Alan and George to long-forgotten places from my adolescence. I wonder if I’ll ever read another book mentioning Poteet, Texas (it’s all about the strawberries in Poteet).
I highly recommend this book, even if you didn’t have the good fortune to grow up in Texas (it’s a frigging joke - just grin and don’t give me a bunch of crap). I think private pilots would really enjoy the aerial aspects and I’ve recommended it to some with whom I’ve flown, including my dad who plied the Texas skies. Basically, the story is wonderful and Tennant is a gifted writer. ...more
My one-phrase rundown: a dated but well-penned and addictive tale of suspense
I read this book for two reasons: one, it was escapism conveniently locatMy one-phrase rundown: a dated but well-penned and addictive tale of suspense
I read this book for two reasons: one, it was escapism conveniently located in the ‘free paperback’ bin at the library, and secondly as a minor nod to my father. My dad had a bookshelf brimming with cold-war and spy novels, and I vaguely remember him telling me about the plot of the book when I was a kid.
Associating it with my father probably places me in the last generation which can connect with the book, involving as it does a Jewish Nazi-hunter discovering diabolical Nazis plotting a 4th Reich from their South American strongholds in the late 1970s. To many young people, WWII is ancient history rendered irrelevant by 9/11 and the newest version of the iPhone. I was stunned when recent interviews with Japanese teens revealed that virtually none recognized the date when the A-bomb was dropped on Hiroshima; I should grudgingly admit that a similar survey in a US shopping mall would likely show the same response to December 7th, 1941.
Well, call me old and Twitter–illiterate, but I found surviving Nazis officers appealing as bad guys. Face it, Aryans in SS uniforms are pretty easy to vilify, and by extension, easy for readers of all cultures to virtuously despise, while our current social apprehensions revolve around ambiguity. It’s further chilling to think that the reprehensible Dr. Mengele was still alive in the jungles of Brazil and Paraguay when this book was written.
The slight jump in medical and biotechnology needed to create the premise was undoubtedly much more sci-fi in 1976 than it is today. While the debate still swings back and forth between ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’, it was not very long ago that the White House banned some biotech research based on fear and misunderstanding. From that standpoint, I can forgive some of the fears expressed by characters in the book, which sounded a lot like arguments made in 2003 by people who should have known better.
Even though the book involved detailing places, characters and organizations with which I was unfamiliar, the story progressed smoothly and quickly; Levin’s writing style is comprehensive without impeding flow. Stephen King compared Levin to a Swiss watchmaker. And despite the fact that I was only mildly sentient when the book was written, I’ll be damned if Levin didn’t write a fun, engaging, and slightly creepy, page-turner. ...more
My one-phrase rundown: vaguely interesting, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
I should acknowledge the likelihood that I’m just not smart enough for KerouacMy one-phrase rundown: vaguely interesting, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
I should acknowledge the likelihood that I’m just not smart enough for Kerouac. It took me longer than it should have to power through the book, and there were numerous places I almost threw up my hands in exasperation and quit.
Tellingly, the most difficult parts for me were the turgid and pretentious discussions of, well, the nature of everything. Which of, course, is nothingness. Except that nothing is everything, all of the aforementioned being a part of the greater wheel of pompousness. But then again, comparisons are odious. When one of these topics became a stream-of-consciousness passage which ran over half a page, I learned to skim through it quickly. Sadly, I suspect the text I skip is precisely what people who love Kerouac are enjoying. That may partially explain why I live in Montana and not San Francisco.
I enjoyed his traveling experiences. Hitching rides and hopping trains while camping along the way is a mode of travel with more than a little allure; that kind of fundamental freedom is so quaint that my modern sensibilities question the reality of it. Similarly, I found his time in the Sierras and the Cascades much more readable. Either the mountain landscapes reduced his posturing, or I simply connected with him better when he was in my context, I’m not sure.
The threat of safety and prosperity drove many people like Japhy and Kerouac, apologetically craving sensation and philosophies unrecognizable to the masses against which they were busy revolting. When we get bored, we create reality TV and extreme sports; they hitchhiked and studied Buddhism. Given those choices, I would honestly have to go with the latter, even if it meant the occasional self-important philosophy discussion. ...more
My one-phrase rundown: Trying to make geological, archeological, or paleontological work sound exciting is very difficult.
To be fair, these scientifiMy one-phrase rundown: Trying to make geological, archeological, or paleontological work sound exciting is very difficult.
To be fair, these scientific pursuits can really be very exciting, as I remember from a time in my life when I almost gave up biology for paleontology. The quintessentially American exploits of Marsh and Cope are an instructive example. Imagine, if you can, a combination of old-west dinosaur hunting, academic spy intrigue, and a circus of publicity hounds worthy of any modern reality TV show. Likewise, Jack Horner’s tales about the discovery of Maiasaura’s nesting behavior and the changing face of T. rex are also excellent reading, though without the Barnum and Bailey-style hijinks. And face it folks, without paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews there would be no Indiana Jones.
We should all recognize that, much like pro baseball and football players, anyone who gets to work with dinosaurs is living the life countless kids dream of. But there is the reality that this work takes place in two spheres: the lab and the field. The Field = months of digging. And brushing. And digging. And scraping with dental implements. The Lab = months of more scraping with really expensive dental implements. It’s hard to glamorize this stuff.
Unfortunately for this book, the same goes for the mental exercises it requires for a group of dyed-in-the-wool academics under the leadership of Smith, including a PhD student with an encyclopedic knowledge of dinosaur systematics and a visionary geologist with insomnia to collectively understand the importance of not only the fossils that the group found, but why they found them.
Overall, I congratulate the crew and celebrate their contributions. The story itself, though, suffers in the telling. The mystery of the missing sand? Geological noncomformity? Flaser bedding? Fossilized mangrove plants which would appear to the uninformed as xeriphiles? These things even bored me, and I kinda like this stuff!
The inclusion of Stromer’s detailed Egyptian itineraries are of debatable value. However, describing Stromer’s (honorably) aristocratic resistance against Nazi Germany, the RAF’s trial-and-error development of low-level bombing techniques, and the rivalry between British officers involved in the bombing of Munich in 1994 (?) left the impression that the main storyline simply wasn’t enough to fill a book.
In conclusion, these people succeeded despite adversity and made some valuable contributions to science. While it would have been cool to participate, I didn’t overly enjoy reading about this particular dig. I’ll have to check out the documentary and see if that flows better. ...more
I loved this book. Ok, I freakin’ loved this book. I will say that I’ve read more than a few ‘tales of sThe one-phrase rundown: exxxcellent, Smithers.
I loved this book. Ok, I freakin’ loved this book. I will say that I’ve read more than a few ‘tales of survival’, from classics like Shackleton to those lost at sea to POW escapes. Guy’s story, though less harrowing in some ways, is one of the best in the genre.
The whole things sounds like a recipe for disaster: a disillusioned Scottish exec, disturbed by the façade of modern life and wealth, decides to leave his family with relatives and spend a winter alone in Alaska for reasons he can’t actually articulate. He hatches this plan despite being a relative neophyte to the outdoors in general and to cold climates specifically. And from the start, he did almost everything wrong.
Honestly, I was not necessarily poised to like Guy at the beginning of the book. Although he was doing something that I’ve always dreamed of, he had little idea of what he was really getting into; he tried to prepare with NF gear and unsuitable boots but he could have easily ended up as just another chechako who made fatal, avoidable mistakes and died in the midst of a failed Alaska/Jack London/Farely Mowat fantasy. He also detailed how badly he felt being away from his family (a wife, one baked bun and another in the oven). At first, I was disappointed that we had little in common (I over-prepare and am not so family-oriented). But the more I read, the more I came to root for Guy. I now unabashedly count him among the few authors I’d stand in line to meet.
Guy succeeded in spite of his repeated misjudgments and, moreover, prospered, living a year that I would pay to experience (if I had any money). But you can’t deny that Guy made mistake after mistake, several potentially lethal, in one of the most unforgiving environments on Earth. He did things that made me cringe – my favorite was wearing a kilt to a backwoods Alaska bar – and I ended up lovin’ him all the more for it for it. Guy not only survives and gains valuable wisdom (about Alaska and life) but he tells the readers all about it, for goodness’ sakes. I would be unlikely to admit some of the things he did, but Guy gives it to us as a good writer should: with great wit and humility. So don’t get me wrong – if I ever tried something like this, I would want Guy with me. And Don. And Charlie. And Chris and Claudette and Carol. And Fuzzy.
The mention of that cast of characters brings me to what I thought was one of the central themes in this book: luck. Guy had the inexplicably good fortune to meet a number of incredible people, often at the moment he needed them. For instance: after discovering he’d cut down and peeled huge logs which he planned to use to build his cabin, he realized he had no way to move them to the cabin site. Poof! Two native guys randomly show up moose hunting and offer him the use of their beat-up ATV. Guy gives credit where credit is due, however, and it’s obvious that his friends made a big difference. I think it was ultimately Guy’s affability and humanity which gained him these friends.
Guy’s descriptions of his world book make it obvious why so many other musher/hermit wannabes end up crazy and/or dead in the interior. In that way, I found this a cautionary tale, as Into the Wild was when I read it years ago, but much more fun and accessible than Krakauer’s youthful reminisces of Devil’s Thumb. Guy makes us glad he went (yea! He found what he was looking for in Alaska, didn't go nuts, and he’s not dead!) And Guy, true to his honest, generous nature, gives all sorts of info in the back of the book about gear, how to avoid his mistakes, or how to make a good beaver rib dish.
Search Amazon and you’ll see another book that he recently put out concerning cooking: The Wild Gourmets: Adventures in Food and Freedom. Not adventure, but I’ll add it to my stack of unused cookbooks. ...more
My one-phrase rundown: a gripping tale that you may think you already know.
When I started Over the Edge of the World, I thought it would be intellectuMy one-phrase rundown: a gripping tale that you may think you already know.
When I started Over the Edge of the World, I thought it would be intellectually hip of me to get some more detailed insights in the historic round-the-world voyage of Magellan. Obviously, the tale of Magellan is exactly the kind of Eurocentric story which has been in recent years the object of often angry re-interpretation (Columbus, Lewis and Clark). While those interpretations are sometimes purposefully inflammatory, they do serve a purpose in bringing to light facts which were just as purposefully washed from our textbooks and cultural myths.
Over the Edge of the World is not a re-telling but a thoroughly complete and balanced historical examination of the voyage. Bergreen called upon many original sources, including some translated for this book and others which had historically been suppressed, and undertook world travels in order to weave the tale of the Armada de Moluccas. It featured the good and the bad, but as with so many stories of the Age of Discovery, there seemed to be a preponderance of bad.
I admit that I’d not given much consideration to this topic since high-school history classes, so I was prepared for some surprises. However, the sheer amount of privations and suffering that Magellan’s armada experienced, and the schizophrenic brutality and cruelty which that armada visited on the cultures they found, was staggering.
The lack of understanding about the true scale of the earth and its oceans led Magellan to take 460 men on five termite-infested, leaky wooden sailing vessels (egad, the west was a century behind the Arabs and Chinese) on a mission to find the fabled Spice Islands and thereby allow Spain to dominate the global economics of the sixteenth century. The sailors were exposed to scurvy, maggot-riddled and rotting meat, inedible bread and spoiled wine, as well as up to three months at sea without landfall. Following Magellan, they sailed headlong into the treacherous waters of South America during the worst times of the year, violated maritime treaties with Portugal, and kidnapped or killed or converted other cultures. Sound like good conditions to spark a mutiny? Far from a heroic band of intrepid explorers, Magellan faced mutiny during almost the entire eastward voyage, and resorted to torture (the Captain General was not kidding around) to punish those who attempted it.
Under his brilliant, tactically cunning and often fanatical leadership, three of the five ships did reach the Spice Islands (one wrecked in the strait and another mutinied and bolted back to Spain). Suffice it to say that hubris led to Magellan’s story ending in Indonesia, but the tale goes on for years. Of the three vessels that reached the Spice Islands, Victoria was the only one to successfully return to Spain, carrying 18 sailors. The political chaos that followed those men, and the returned mutineers, is another complex faucet to this voyage.
The voyage dispelled commonly held beliefs about the shape and size of the planet and the monsters and mermaids found at sea. What these men accomplished was akin to flying to the moon in a beat-up Chevy, finding out that it was not actually made of green cheese, enslaving a few moon people, and finally falling back to Earth in a heap. It would be a mess, but an incredibly meaningful mess that starts a revolution. ...more
In terms of full disclosure, I'm an author/contributor in this book. So it gets five stars from me, not only out of self-promotion but 'cause it contaIn terms of full disclosure, I'm an author/contributor in this book. So it gets five stars from me, not only out of self-promotion but 'cause it contains some very good work. Also, my experience with Jennifer herself leads me to believe that she's a rarity - a writer and a (gasp!) fair editor....more
My one-phrase rundown: often astounding tales that will mostly appeal to a certain thrill-seeking crowd.
That Others May Live was written at roughly tMy one-phrase rundown: often astounding tales that will mostly appeal to a certain thrill-seeking crowd.
That Others May Live was written at roughly the same time as The Rescue Season , the end result being something akin to the cinematic experience of suddenly noticing three new movies about gladiators, or the Civil War, or asteroids hurtling towards Earth. Generally speaking, the topic of both books is the specialized US Air Force rescue units known as PJs (parachute rescue = pararescue jumpers = PJ), comprising some 300-400 people at any one time. The primarily PJ mission is to recover stranded military personnel overseasand often as not behind enemy lines. In addition, however, they are called on for civilian missions both in and out of the US.
I found it fascinating that the PJ primary mission is to save lives, not take them, unlike the perhaps unspoken but traditional roles of the better-known members of the SpecOps community (Navy SEALs and Army Special Forces such as Green Berets and Rangers). I was further intrigued by harrowing mission tales that I heard about years ago, and in particular, how these virtually unheard-of soldiers were reputed to the some of the toughest guys around. According to one account by a former Navy SEAL, Indoctrination – the initial weedout training for PJs at Lackland AFB near San Antonio – was physically and mentally more demanding than UDT/BUD/S school. They wash out 90% of the class and there have been times when no one graduates Indoc. Since PJs are the last hope of a downed pilot who may die or be captured without their help, the USAF reasons, PJs have to be unwilling to give up. Period.
After graduating Indoc, PJs quickly go through the Pipeline, a succession of training schools that other soldiers sometimes wait 10+ years to complete. The Pipeline includes everything from paramedic-level medicine to combat diving to free-fall and skydiving to mountaineering. Since the US government has people everywhere, PJs are trained to operate in every environment on earth to rescue them: deserts, oceans, mountains, jungles, and space (well, ok, PJs sometimes help recover astronauts after splash-down).
Because the community is so small, the books overlapped and involved to some degree the same individuals. Sometimes missions from the 1990s are told from two slightly different perspectives in the two books, dependent on which PJ the author interviewed.
That Others May Live follows the life of John “Jack” Brehm, a PJ who was involved with the so-called Perfect Storm of Junger fame. Of the two, this is the better-written book, in my opinion. While recounting the unbelievable adventures he endured, he also manages with the help of journalist Pete Nelson to sound believably human. That is a tall order when writing about some of the things that PJs do for work and play.
The Rescue Season follows the adventures of the Alaskan-based 210th, the only PJ unit dedicated almost entirely to civilian rescue (Denali provides much practice in terms of extreme rescues and PJs stand in line to transfer to the 210th). The fun part here was that the PJs work closely with the Denali Park and Preserve staff; the mountain-rescue parkies described in the this book were a far cry from most of the people I knew in my 11 years with the National Park Service – adrenaline junkies and ex rodeo-clown mountaineers. I am more convinced than ever than I need to make it Alaska before I die, if nothing other than to meet some of these people. ...more