At a panel discussion in Salt Lake City, I once heard a BYU Philosophy professor suggest that the Adam-God Doctrine may have been something Brigham Yo...moreAt a panel discussion in Salt Lake City, I once heard a BYU Philosophy professor suggest that the Adam-God Doctrine may have been something Brigham Young used for the purpose of trying to drive Orson Pratt out of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. My brow furrowed. I had never before heard that notion, nor for that matter was I aware that a serious conflict had occurred between the two men. I left the matter unexplored until I found Gary James Bergera's book Conflict in the Quorum.
Orson Pratt, one of the great theological voices of early Mormonism, had run-ins with both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. His rift with Joseph occurred over the practice of polygamy and claims that Joseph attempted to take Pratt's wife in plural marriage. His conflicts with Brigham Young covered a great deal of ground, including questions of authority--should Church rulings be made by a First Presidency or a majority of the Twelve--and issues of theology, such as the nature of the Godhead.
This work is a magnifying glass held up to two men who were fiercely devoted to Mormonism in excruciatingly different ways. Young was a manager. Pratt was a theologian. Bergera's book is not for the beginner. This book is not a primer. It is a close examination of original records. It moves fast and is laden with footnotes.
One of the great values of Conflict in the Quorum is in providing the reader extended excerpts taken from meeting transcripts. At times, the reader has the chance to picture being in a closed-door meeting of the Twelve. Bergera provides enough depth and breadth of material so that, whether one is partial to Young or Pratt, it is possible to appreciate the perspective each man had.
For me personally, I strongly valued the candid discussion of Brigham Young's Adam-God Doctrine--in which Young taught that Adam was a resurrected polygamist when he entered the Garden of Eden, and also the Father of our spirits. Pratt became an outspoken critic of this odd doctrine that did not stand the test of time. Pratt and Young also repeatedly butted heads over the question of how God's omniscience omnipresence should be understood in light of Mormon belief that God has a physical body. In these matters, Bergera lets Pratt and Young speak for themselves.
As Young and Pratt grapple with each other and deep doctrines, the reader has a chance to learn a lot about human nature and also 19th Century Mormonism. The goal of this book is not to disprove Mormonism, nor does it come down unequivocally in favor of Young or Pratt. I recommend it for people engaged in a serious study of Mormon history, and who are interested in examining source material not as often examined.(less)
I was introduced to The Monster of Florence through a unique program sponsored by my public library: Blind Date With a Book. On the basis of minimal d...moreI was introduced to The Monster of Florence through a unique program sponsored by my public library: Blind Date With a Book. On the basis of minimal descriptions, I had to choose a book covered in construction paper, check it out, and take it home before seeing the cover. Even after learning which book I had chosen, I did not experience love at first sight.
This book details a serial killing spree in the recent history of Italy. While the material was unavoidably engrossing, it took me about half the book to truly connect with the players and the struggle. Part of the challenge, pointed out by coauthor Douglas Preston, is the issue of the killer never being revealed or caught. However, I also felt Part One of the book relied too much on impersonal fact recitation. The cumulative effect was a sense of detachment from the personal tragedy in deference to an exhaustive outline. The considerable upside is the comprehensive nature of the authors' research.
The Monster of Florence almost could be understood as two books. The first provides a straightforward rendering of the history. The second part deals with the emotional and professional fallout for the authors. If Part One is the chalk outline of the victim, Part Two is the victim's remains. Moving and spine tingling interviews occur in the second half which enabled me to develop a strong emotional connection. Perhaps the most mesmerizing passage occurs in Chapter 36, as coauthor Mario Spezi recounts a monk offering penetrating insights into mental illness and the nature of evil. Here is only a snippet:
"Madness is the renunciation of all efforts to be understood."
Was my blind date with The Monster of Florence good enough to merit another date? Yes and no. It definitely rekindled my interest in the true crime genre. It also reminded me how this genre is a bay window view of our whole society. I may not return to the works of these two authors right away, but they have succeeded in strengthening my enthusiasm for excellent long-form journalism. This book is worth getting to know.(less)
This isn’t so much a biography as a book-length op-ed piece about the most reviled Titanic survivor. Author Frances Wilson editorializes with abandon,...moreThis isn’t so much a biography as a book-length op-ed piece about the most reviled Titanic survivor. Author Frances Wilson editorializes with abandon, sometimes ascribing collective motives for whole groups of people. She also fixates with panache on nationalistically driven hearings that took place in the United States and Great Britain. It is often fascinating discourse. Still, it’s important to recognize that the top priority is not academic, rigorously objective biography. Chapter after chapter, spin after spin of the conflicting historical record, Wilson's top priority is rendering J. Bruce Ismay as a literary figure worthy of a cerebral Conrad novel. History may be the means, but iconography is the end. As such, the strongest presence in the book is not Ismay but the author herself.(less)
By way of confession, I approached Robert Redford the biography in an attitude of hero worship. Since childhood, I have unquestionably regarded him as...moreBy way of confession, I approached Robert Redford the biography in an attitude of hero worship. Since childhood, I have unquestionably regarded him as an iconic American actor. The first time I watched he and Paul Newman go into haunting freeze frame at the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is etched in my mind. My parents used The Natural as a practical tool for schooling me in allegory. While a college student in Utah, I felt the Redford mystique grow during regular trips into Salt Lake City to watch indie films, including a Sundance Film Festival screening.
Robert Redford the book provided big discoveries for me. Author Michael Feeney Callan spent years drumming up over 300 interviews in addition to many sessions with Redford. He also gained access to notebooks, journals and other original research. Initially the book was mesmerizing. Redford’s roots seamlessly interwove with 20th Century American history.
After about 100 pages, my reading slowed. The book became less fun--not less worthwhile--just less recreational. It turns out Redford isn’t much like what I assumed. His silver screen gravitas belies the reality of an often erratic and stubborn personality. In fact, I found the early Redford to be arrogant and annoying. Still, whether deflating or ingratiating, Callan’s study effectively peeled back the glossy Hollywood veneer. I came to see Redford and his colleagues as real people engaged in risky creative endeavors.
As a work of serious biography, Robert Redford has a couple of weak points. At times Callan’s narrative feels soupy and convoluted. Some passages combine a dizzying list of names and minutia with an 'Oh by the way' quality, leaving me unsure of their particular significance. On a related note, the passage of years is not always apparent. At times I felt disoriented as some major developments were mentioned off the cuff. The variable pace of Redford’s career was difficult to track.
In fairness, some of these criticisms probably boil down to the challenge of delivering a cohesive account of a disjunctive professional life. From the days of his “breakthrough” performance as the Sundance Kid, Redford’s acting career took on a Sugar Ray Leonard quality. He has seemed ever on the verge of retiring or staging a comeback.
Ultimately, I have great admiration for Callan’s stalwartness as a biographer. This is no slapdash expose. And if Robert Redford the book is sometimes a rough read, it is in large part because Redford the man is hard to read. About two-thirds of the way through I sent an e-mail to my Mom saying how much I was enjoying the book, even as it chopped Redford down to eye-level. I summed up my newly seasoned appreciation for him this way: "Oddly, I respect him just a bit less but identify with him a great deal more."
Viewing Recommendation: Obviously a reading of this biography benefits from having seen Redford’s major films. I strongly suggest watching both Jeremiah Johnson and Downhill Racer before or while reading this book. These films are often revisited by both Callan and Redford as major touchstones in “Bob’s” artistic development.(less)
“Voters have come to expect dirty politics and negative ads…” reads a line from the back of Professor Kerwin Swint’s Mudslingers: The Twenty-Five Dirt...more“Voters have come to expect dirty politics and negative ads…” reads a line from the back of Professor Kerwin Swint’s Mudslingers: The Twenty-Five Dirtiest Political Campaigns of All Time. I wonder if it would be more appropriate to say that voters have come to settle for negative campaigning. Such injurious behavior seems to constitute not the underbelly, but rather the bareback of American politics. At any rate, Dr. Swint provides a stimulating highlight reel of sorts with Mudslingers. Whatever spin you take, dirtiness and negativity have been status quo since the founding fathers started bitterly founding alongside each other.
As it turns out, our nation almost foundered while John Adams and Thomas Jefferson fought it out for the presidency. The vicious back and forth of their campaigns culminated in a disputed election. Ever since, the political process has played out in vitriolic fashion. For example, according to Swint the last explicitly racial campaign was just a few decades ago. And implicitly racial campaigning? Turn on your TV.
Mudslingers is not deep scholarship. Doing justice to 25 different campaigns in less than 300 pages takes a lot of summarizing. The upside of this approach is that it results in an accessible and informative work that political laypersons like me can sink our teeth into. Furthermore, the author does not limit himself to presidential campaigns. Campaigns for senate, governor and mayor are explored, including a chapter dedicated to a primary instead of a general election. This gives the reader a chance to peer inside political machines while also getting a palatable dose of American history.
This book isn’t a veritable masterpiece of scholarship. The content is sometimes cursory and in at least one case outright underdeveloped. Swint asserts that the 1934 gubernatorial race for California actually brought the state to the brink of civil war. But his physical evidence for this nearly-martial crisis is lacking. However, by and large I found myself broadening my perspective via a great deal of compelling material. So I do recommend this book. And if you are in the market for well-informed political ruminations, consider looking up @KerwinSwint the next time you are on Twitter.(less)
As a space enthusiast, I sometimes encounter opponents who argue that my priorities are misplaced. They criticize my cosmic fixation by reminding me t...moreAs a space enthusiast, I sometimes encounter opponents who argue that my priorities are misplaced. They criticize my cosmic fixation by reminding me that, without leaving the surface of the Earth, one can reach a vast and largely unexplored frontier: the ocean. Their argument has great merit. So, having read and enjoyed Simon Winchester’s Krakatoa, I was very excited to see Atlantic show up on the new release shelf in my public library. Here was an irresistible chance for me to give the oceans their due.
To use Winchester’s word, this book is a romance, with the Atlantic being the object of adoration. But as he says elsewhere in the Preface, this is also a biography. And just as Melville was the right author to pen Moby Dick, having lived so much of it, Winchester proves the right person to pen this work. His life has literally spanned the Atlantic many times. I especially enjoyed the tale of his first passage in 1963, taken on the ocean liner Empress of Britain. I could picture this young man scraping together all his savings to purchase a rare ticket across the deep.
In this book, the Atlantic Ocean is the protagonist, which makes us humans something else: sometimes friend and sometimes foe. This perspective underscores Winchester’s thesis, a notion I’d never considered. He asserts with great persuasion that the Atlantic Ocean has played the same defining role in recent human history that the Mediterranean Sea played in ancient human history. It is the hinge, or even the entire wheel, on which our very existence has pivoted.
Atlantic presents the biggest possible picture of its subject. It is multidisciplinary and broad in scope. One gets to see how everything from geology to art weave together to relate the total story of this great ocean. I have a deep conviction that this is the type of book we should read much more than we do today. At a time when we are overwhelmed by huge tidal waves of information--most of it superficial--these panoramic yet accessible renderings of our planet are especially worthwhile.
I’ve seen the Atlantic from shore many times, but I’ve never crossed it or spent substantial time on it. So this book was a wonderful chance to do so by proxy. It was eye-opening, inspiring and haunting--just as the author must have intended. If you don’t love the Atlantic now, there is a good chance you will before finishing this very good read. (less)
“Soon I shall be meeting an old friend for the first time.”
So ends Arthur C. Clarke’s introduction to The Odyssey File, a compilation of primitive "el...more“Soon I shall be meeting an old friend for the first time.”
So ends Arthur C. Clarke’s introduction to The Odyssey File, a compilation of primitive "electronic correspondence" that passed between Clarke and filmmaker Peter Hyams beginning in late-1983. Hyams was in preproduction for the film adaptation of Clarke’s novel 2010. I bought this literary pastry on eBay to celebrate the non-fiction decadal 2010 (the year we didn’t make contact, again, and it continues not to be Clarke’s fault).
Here’s the essential background. Mr. Hyams adapted Mr. Clarke’s novel without ever meeting him in person. The endeavor was nevertheless highly collaborative, and the resulting screenplay and film received much direct input from Clarke. This was possible thanks to their extensive e-mail correspondence using analogue modems and landlines.
I believe this book is only of value to two groups: 1) Hardcore fans of Arthur C. Clarke; 2) Internet historians. Frankly, and with no disrespect intended, any other persons attempting to read this book would find themselves lost and uninitiated. In a nutshell, The Odyssey File is tailor-made for serious fans of the movie. But I stress again that it also has real value as a piece of early Internet history.
I was delighted with The Odyssey File. It took a single Sunday afternoon to read. And it was a joy, sometimes to the point of laughing out loud, to read as Hyams and Clarke bantered back and forth about the film, about life, about parents and friends. There is a lot of good-natured ribbing that goes back and forth.
I also learned how some of the key elements of one of my favorite movies came together. Among these, it was a treat to read a few anecdotes involving one of my favorite actors, the late Roy Scheider, who came to play the lead role of Heywood Floyd. This book also provides valuable glimpses into how Clarke collaborates. He’s quite hands off, but you can feel the weight of his authority when he gives input to the younger writer.
Lastly, this book contains a well-worded summation of the key differences between the novel 2010 and the film adaptation. This is written by Steven Jongeward, who served as a joint-assistant to Clarke and Hyams as they communicated via their ancient Kaypro-II computers…and by ancient I mean now 27 years old). (less)
Not too long ago I was forced to hide in the basement of my local public library during a tornado warning. During the two hours the staff and several...moreNot too long ago I was forced to hide in the basement of my local public library during a tornado warning. During the two hours the staff and several of us patrons hid from the twister that never came, I snooped through the library’s stockpile of used books. This yard sale collection is rolled out every couple of months to provide much-needed funds for library operations. Anyhow, while snooping I discovered a copy of Arthur C. Clarke’s hard-to-find opus The View from Serendip.
I asked a library volunteer if, in the event we survived the non-existent tornado, I could take this out-of-print book upstairs and buy it right away…Y’know, instead of waiting for the next book sale when someone else might grab it first. The library volunteer uttered a rather curt reply: “No. And don’t take books off these shelves. I’m trying to keep them organized.” Smarting from her rebuke, I put the book back and resolved to hide in a friendlier part of the library’s basement while no tornados touched down anywhere in the county.
A couple of months later there was a properly sanctioned library book sale. Brushing past several suspicious elderly women, I nabbed the book first. (I’m sure those grandmothers were headed towards it. I saw that “Sir Arthur C. Clarke is dreamy!” look in their eyes.) And that’s the story of how I scored a good-condition hardcover of The View of Serendip for a single dollar. Hooray for used book sales at public libraries!
I’ve shared the above story in lieu of a review that would inevitably wind up being a love fest for one of my favorite authors. But I’ll add this: The View From Serendip is one of those great books that reminds me of the worthy writings of the late Carl Sagan. In contrast to the stereotype of godless scientists performing insidious research, this book reveals the scientific mind I more commonly encounter: one which is ethical, hope-driven, and which has a passionate desire to see humanity grow, mature, and prosper. (less)
I have to confess I was nervous about reading Common Sense. I am a fan of Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason. Frankly I was worried that Paine might di...moreI have to confess I was nervous about reading Common Sense. I am a fan of Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason. Frankly I was worried that Paine might discredit my current political beliefs. Instead, I found that Paine’s Common Sense is more complex than right and wrong or left and right.
In 1776, Thomas Paine said, “a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right…” Paine said this to argue against hereditary rule by kings, especially kings claiming divine approval. Government, as Paine describes it, is “a necessary evil”. Devotees of the Tea Party movement will likely feel vindication in that assertion from a leading voice of the American Revolution. So it is a good thing Thomas Paine’s argument proves more nuanced.
Granted, I found some of Paine’s arguments dismaying. In particular, he fosters Anglo-Saxon/Christian entitlement in his effort to popularize revolutionary fervor. Among other things, he says, “The reformation was preceded by the discovery of America, as if the Almighty graciously meant to open a sanctuary…” Those who believe--in outright error--that we were founded as a Christian nation may take that statement for more than it is worth.
Thomas Paine also cites Christianity as an enabler of tyrannical government and civil war in Europe. "The Heathens paid divine honors to their deceased kings, and the christian world hath improved on the plan by doing the same to their living ones." Paine is also not a strict fiscal conservative. He speaks of national debt as acceptable and even useful. “The debt we may contract doth not deserve our regard if the work be but accomplished. No nation ought to be without a debt.”
Paine, like other Founding Fathers, proves more nuanced and fascinating than many people today give him credit for. Being non-denominational myself, I was turned off by how much he utilized Biblical/Christian references. It’s not that Paine should have abstained from appeals to Christian society. Doing so demonstrated political savvy. He gave Christian society—as opposed to the religion itself—due respect for the integral role it played in the richness of 18th Century culture. Still, I am worried contemporary readers may read such passages and mistakenly assume we were founded as a Christian nation. We weren’t. In any case, Paine’s approach is ultimately secular:
“Kings are not taken away by miracles, neither are changes in governments brought about by any other means than such as are common and human; and such as we are now using.”
Anyone who claims to love the principles and documents on which our nation was founded ought to read Thomas Paine. His arguments played a key role in prodding the colonies toward independence. Personally, he reminds me that Americans are at our best when we cultivate a self-reliant society while pragmatically utilizing government. I highly recommend Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. (less)
The title of this book, excellent for marketing purposes I'm sure, is misleading. Simon Winchester's book is not just about the volcano, nor is it jus...moreThe title of this book, excellent for marketing purposes I'm sure, is misleading. Simon Winchester's book is not just about the volcano, nor is it just about the day of the infamous eruption. On the contrary, this book is vast in scope, delving into long discussions of the history, zoology, geography, and geology of the entire region surrounding Krakatoa. To put it bluntly, if what you are hoping for is some gritty disaster porn, this ain't the book for you.
Mr. Winchester does work to make this volume accessible to the casual reader. So don't mistake my above criticism as an assertion that this is a science textbook. It's not. Rather, Winchester is interested in showing how everything from plate tectonics to colonial politics played into the first major volcano eruption to be covered through a form of mass media--the telegraph. One of the most interesting sections demonstrates unmistakably how studies of the origin of species inadvertantly paved the way to discovering plate tectonics.
It is connections like the above, made through generalism and interdisciplinary study, that are the heart and soul of this book. If that sounds interesting, grab a copy and start reading. If it doesn't sound interesting at first, I still recommend giving this book a try. Depending on your interests, some chapters will grab stronger than others. That was my experience. But when I climbed to the top of a cinder cone in the final chapter, I felt like my reading time had been very well spent. (less)
There are three reasons that I purchased this copy of the U.S. Constitution:
1) I have a deep and abiding love for democracy in general, and my country...moreThere are three reasons that I purchased this copy of the U.S. Constitution:
1) I have a deep and abiding love for democracy in general, and my country in specific. 2) With midterm elections coming up, and with Tea Party frenzy increasing, I felt a personal responsibility to refresh my knowledge of the nation’s most important governing document. 3) I had three bucks left to kill on a Barnes and Noble Gift Card.
The U.S. Constitution is certainly a good read. And I was way overdue to read the original text in its entirety. This edition, offering supplementary notes, bridges the gap between contemporary English and the legalese used by our Founding Fathers. I found the explanatory material helpful, to the point, and delightfully brief. Honestly, I wasn’t looking to make a deep study of this document. I simply wanted a user-friendly refresher course. That is precisely what this edition provided.
The explanatory notes offered historical context, a sense of what the framers were attempting to create/protect in each clause, and a thumbnail sketch of how specific sections have been revisited in the courts over the last two-plus centuries. I highly recommend purchasing this edition. And I am ashamed to admit only realizing after this read that the U.S. Constitution is not a long document. With an edition like this one the Constitution is easily reviewed-- especially during election years, when we the people help shape the nation’s future.
I’ll be reading this again from time to time. (less)
I had the great opportunity to read this book while taking a writing class from the author: Gordon T. Allred. This book may have never made it into th...moreI had the great opportunity to read this book while taking a writing class from the author: Gordon T. Allred. This book may have never made it into the pantheon of World War II classics such as Night by Elie Wiesel, but it is worthy company.
In terms of style, Hungry Journey reads like other non-fiction novels including In Cold Blood. The plots are not similar, but the delivery is. Mr. Allred reports a non-fiction event in the style of a novel. The reader gets a personal retelling of two men searching for food amidst war-torn Europe. They make the journey on foot at great personal risk. Their Holy Grail?--a handcart full of potatoes if they are lucky.
As a student, it was engrossing to hear Dr. Allred describe interviewing the protagonist, reconstructing the search for food, and the peril that was ever present. Still, the book is engrossing enough on its own, and I am confident that had I read it without firsthand access to the author in college, I would still have been taken in by the human story. It's a quick read, and well worth the journey if you can track down a used copy. (less)
The author, Jo Carson, was recommended by fellow writer and NPR talent Peter Sagal on his blog. Mr. Sagal and Ms. Carson are friends. Recently, Ms. Ca...moreThe author, Jo Carson, was recommended by fellow writer and NPR talent Peter Sagal on his blog. Mr. Sagal and Ms. Carson are friends. Recently, Ms. Carson was diagnosed with cancer. As a truly successful, but not NY Times Bestseller-mainstay, Ms. Carson is of course not rich. So as a gift, Peter Sagal asked those of us who read his blog to chip in by donating to a special fund and/or buying one of her books. After browsing through her various books, all of which looked interesting, this is the one I settled on.
Last night, I read through the whole thing in a couple of hours. It is a fast read. The book is actually two plays, written in a two-voice reader’s theatre format. In a nutshell, both plays cover events and historical figures living in and around the Great Smoky Mountains in the late 1700s. The dialogue style is distinctly Southern, giving the feel that these stories are being told to you on the porch of a rural home in North Carolina or eastern Tennessee. As such, the book is filled with wit and wisdom, blunt discourse, and a zest for irony.
Given the above, this book has the ability to tickle the fancies of both theatre and historical fiction lovers, as it owes evenly to both genres. Having roots in the South on my mom’s side, I enjoyed a chance to experience historical events from an authentically southern perspective, with all the Dixieland nostalgia that stirs. The book also does justice for Cherokee Indians struggling to hold their own prior to the Trail of Tears. (less)
This book reads like a carefully written response to the State of the Union Address by the party not in power. I suppose its greatest value would be a...moreThis book reads like a carefully written response to the State of the Union Address by the party not in power. I suppose its greatest value would be as a jumping off point for people who want to move beyond Shaara's great novel into the realm of serious historical study.
This book also rode on the crest of a strong backlash against the movie Gettysburg and the myths/misconceptions it fostered in popular culture. As a reenactor friend once told me, at least one battlefield tour guide refuses to take visitors back to the 20th Maine Monument where the mythical "right wheel charge" is believed to have occured.
Regardless of where a person stands on the finer points of history, this book is part of a larger discussion of great value. It's one of many good resources for people seeking to understand the Battle of Gettysburg.
Whenever I go on a roadtrip I ask myself this question: "What Stephen Ambrose history books have I not tried yet?"
As a big fan of the movie Memphis B...moreWhenever I go on a roadtrip I ask myself this question: "What Stephen Ambrose history books have I not tried yet?"
As a big fan of the movie Memphis Belle, I decided it would be a good idea to take in a non-fiction treatment of WWII bombers. And as he always does, Mr. Ambrose pulled me in with the real stories of the real men who undertook these perilous missions. It isn't all glamour and glory. But it's a story worth taking in. (less)
One of now three Stephen Ambrose histories I've done on audio while driving cross country. Honestly, I have a hard time imagining that reading Ambrose...moreOne of now three Stephen Ambrose histories I've done on audio while driving cross country. Honestly, I have a hard time imagining that reading Ambrose in print could be more fulfilling.
This book is a great record of the real soldiers on the ground doing the hard work. If you think you know what World War II was like because you watched Saving Private Ryan, you are mistaken. This book is more thorough and comprehensive than any film could hope to be. But like great film it grabs your interest and gets you caring about the cast of characters.
At Weber State University in Ogden Utah, Dr. Gillespie is perhaps best known for his "anti-Claus" lecture. I personally saw him give this colorful add...moreAt Weber State University in Ogden Utah, Dr. Gillespie is perhaps best known for his "anti-Claus" lecture. I personally saw him give this colorful address a few times. He should turn it into a book. But when he is not discussing the downside of teaching kids to believe in Santa Claus, he also serves as an authority on capital punishment as administered in Utah.
Dr. Gillespie has personally witnessed several Utah executions, and served on the Utah State Board of Pardons. In this book, he traces legal execution from it's connection to Blood Atonement, an Old Testament doctrine taught (at least in rhetoric) by Brigham Young and other Mormon leaders.
Among the interesting facts discussed in this book, beheading was a sanctioned form of execution in Utah for a time. Apparently no convicts opted for it. Though the book focuses on Utah, it's a good read for anyone wanting to learn more about the death penalty.(less)
This is a enjoyable read. It is light enough that one can make a case for calling it a coffee table book. The chapters/articles are short and palatabl...moreThis is a enjoyable read. It is light enough that one can make a case for calling it a coffee table book. The chapters/articles are short and palatable. It also piqued my interest and got me trying out movies I hadn't before.
Try the following quote. Historian Richard White is talking about why The Last of the Mohicans is far from accurate.
"It is not that all the details are all wrong; it is that they never were combined in this fashion. It's like having George Washington, properly costumed, throwing out the first ball for a 1843 Washington Senators baseball season opener. Sure, there was a George Washington; sure, there once were Washington Senators; sure, the president throws out the first ball; sure, there was an 1843. So what's the problem?"
I love it! This book isn't designed to make readers despise Hollywood or its loose approach to historical accuracy. On the contrary, it is calculated to make film buffs more savvy when it comes to watching film adaptations of historical events and people. (less)
My first introduction to Johannes Kepler came through Carl Sagan's television documentary Cosmos. Mr. Sagan presented Kepler as proverbial scientific...moreMy first introduction to Johannes Kepler came through Carl Sagan's television documentary Cosmos. Mr. Sagan presented Kepler as proverbial scientific hero--like Galileo, a man under intense pressure to recant or revise his work to satisfy prevailing worldviews of the day. Yet Kepler was also a devout Lutheran who stood up to the Counter-Reformation even as his own church dismissed him. Through this book, that sense of Kepler as a brave scientific pioneer was reinforced for me, and I gained new empathy for his tumultuous and often tragic life in the early 17th Century.
James A. Connor's book is not strictly a biography. He invests whole chapters of this book discussing the violent religious/political climate against which Kepler made seminal discoveries in orbital and optical mechanics. At times I felt Dr. Connor got carried away in narrating various battles and political upheavals that didn't involve Kepler directly. But overwhelmingly, these sections provided an intense sense of the volatile social climate Kepler had to navigate. At times I all but lost my breath realizing how close Kepler came to not living long enough, or well enough, to complete his pioneering calculations--calculations that prepared the way for Isaac Newton's later, and more famous, successes.
Ultimately, Dr. Connor's book is an emotional and spiritual portrait, which given that Kepler likely went to his grave with a firm hope in Christian salvation, is entirely appropriate. It also makes Kepler more accessible to non-scientists like me. Dr. Connor is a former Jesuit priest, and that sensibility serves him well in humanizing Kepler. Though the sometimes wandering narrative structure of this book stalled my reading at times, I felt an expanded gratitude for Kepler and his work. (less)
A couple years ago I started a new tradition for myself. Every year on July 4th, I dust off my Thomas Paine book and read The American Crisis. For stu...moreA couple years ago I started a new tradition for myself. Every year on July 4th, I dust off my Thomas Paine book and read The American Crisis. For students of the American Revolution, this stirring tract is essential reading. It begins with those words, “These are the times that try men’s souls…” In my opinion an even more powerful line occurs later in the work when Mr. Paine says, “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, so my children may have peace.” On my reading this year, I was struck by the wrath that Mr. Paine wanted to call down on both British and British sympathizers. A historian I saw on The History Channel indicated Mr. Paine is rightfully a founding father, but has a lower historical status because he was too extreme. Truly, he was a polemic writer, but a damn good one who helped galvanize support behind Gen. George Washington at a critical time. Though portions of this piece detailing specific battlefield engagements may be unfamiliar, and therefore less meaningful today, the bulk of the work resonates powerfully today. Thomas Paine, on his literary merit, is rightfully a founding father. (less)