I find it very difficult to make a judgment on this book.
I read the blurb on the back cover and was put off by how it sounded like the sophisticated e...moreI find it very difficult to make a judgment on this book.
I read the blurb on the back cover and was put off by how it sounded like the sophisticated emptiness of a bad sociology paper. While she might have written that using the head that earned a MFA in creative writing, the book is significantly more authentic because it is mostly written from the heart. Once or twice she lapses into reciting statistics, but never so much that the book stops being a memoir and starts being advocacy. There are a lot of emotions and feelings here, and those who take the time work for it will be rewarded. To get the most out of it, you should really read the book twice (see issues below), once to outline the story, and another to realize that the characters and even the story are not as important as the story's lessons. Just focusing on the various emotions is work enough in itself: anticipation, nervousness, mania, depression, fury, jealousy, desperation, boredom, pleasure, gloating, whining, bargaining, acceptance, realization, mindlessness, extreme awareness - the list goes on and on, much too long to be anything but true because it's so different from the controlled messiness of a fictional account.
Unfortunately, a lot of work awaits, because the gems in this story are drowned out by the sheer mass of characters and events that span the author's life from middle school until after she gets her MA degree. In 210 pages, so many names are tossed out, so many anecdotes happen that it is near impossible to keep track. 2-3 times in the book, she rattles off the names of the men she had <1 week relationships with and names 4 people in as many sentences. I suppose this is intentional, as she differentiates those whom she merely slept with and those whom she tried to hang onto, but I was unprepared for this style and I lost track halfway through the book. I found it immensely helpful to make a character map illustrating the different relationships between people, because some people leave and enter the story, while others may be introduced casually only to later become major figures. Complicating the narrative is the author's choice to mark significant events in her life while ignoring other milestones that are less important to her but would make it easier for the reader to keep track of what is happening. For example, after she leaves high school, it is very unclear when she graduates from college. Thus, while the jumbled nature of this story is more true and more authentic (because it's a true representation of how she remembered things), it also makes it a lot more tempting to dismiss the work as incoherent rambling.
At the end of the book, things are wrapped up amazingly quickly and it looks like the author has a fairytale ending. While many readers have been unsatisfied by this, the author gave an interview, included in the book after the text, that she deliberately wanted to leave an ambiguous ending.
So how to rate this book? Setting aside things like giving credit to the author for being brave enough to write a book that would get her ridiculed, I honestly feel like a better and more enlightened person for reading this work. However, at the same time I have significant reservations about it because of the work I had to put into disentangling the story, and feel no interest in reading it more than twice. Nevertheless, there is definitely more good going for it than bad, so I rate the book 3 stars, which in my book means, "A good work, though something aside from the subject matter made it hard to enjoy." If I could, I would probably rate this book 3.5 stars.
TL;DR: Honest material and good insights marred by poor narration and unclear storytelling.(less)
Easily 4.5 stars. Not a perfect book because there are too many characters, but it is superior to other biographies by Freedman in that he manages to...moreEasily 4.5 stars. Not a perfect book because there are too many characters, but it is superior to other biographies by Freedman in that he manages to give callbacks to the people who reappear by reminding us of how they used to figure into the story. The events are described in heavy detail and can be divided into 4 sections: Crazy Horse himself, Indian life, negotiations, and battles. These are also hard to keep track of, but the strategic placement of pictures and especially the maps make it easy to follow along. Sometimes the pictures represent the actual event, while other times the pictures are representative of what might have happened.
As usual, Freeman succeeds in painting most of the whole picture, from all sides of view. Whenever possible, he tries to explain the motives driving each sides actions. For example, after a major peace treaty was signed, the US mostly left the Indians alone, though this might have been because of the Civil War going on. Later, when the US tried to buy the sacred Black Hills for $6 million, the Indians refused even though they neither knew nor cared that over $1B worth of gold was in that area. Throughout the history is a long trail of broken promises, fraudulent treaties and basic scumbaggery by the encroaching US. Though a few specific people are picked out for their exceptionalism (usually those who try to befriend the Indians or keep the peace), it is hard not to see the Indians in a favorable light. While attacks by the US Army are described in detail, in contrast the Indian raids are mostly glossed over with the exception of attacks that made headlines in the US. The Battle of Little Bighorn, for example, gets half a chapter for buildup and a full chapter describing the battle, along with one of the book's four great maps.
Collected mostly as an oral history from survivors, it was surprising to me that the stories did not conflict much. Crazy Horse is consistently described not only as a fearless and cunning warrior known to pop culture, but as one of the most serious, moodiest, and introverted of them all. CH doesn't enjoy revelry, shuns the spotlight, and rarely fails to help those in need. About the only time he breaks form is when he elopes with someone whom he had already laid eyes on, but who was already married (but the husband might have faked a toothache while on a hunting party with CH - it's complicated).
This book subtly raises an interesting question: was the encroachment of the settlers and the subsequent war and displacement of the Indians inevitable? The default answer is of course, yes. While the Indians were persuaded to leave emigrants on the Oregon Trail alone except for limited trading, tensions began brewing when the settlers were less than careful to preserve the environments they traveled through. Later events, such as the various gold rushes and construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, turned the stream into a flood and brought out people who didn't want to travel through Indian lands, but to live on and exploit it. Eventually, backed by the industrial might and superior numbers of the US, the remaining bands were disarmed and evicted. Some gave in early, including a chief who remained defiant until he traveled to Washington for a summit and was shown the grand arsenal of guns and artillery that could be unleashed upon them. However, the Indian War does not necessarily follow this traditional narrative. Though the Army usually prevailed in stand-up battles (or at least fought to a draw), the Indians were geniuses at luring the overextended Army into ambushes where they could be overwhelmed. Remember, the Army was fighting at the tail end of a supply chain that sometimes stretched to the East Coast, while the Indians were in their traditional hunting grounds. In places like the Bozeman Trail, outposts were isolated to the point where the soldiers could barely fight enough to feed themselves, let alone offer any meaningful protection to passing settlers. The Battle of Little Bighorn is self-explanatory, but the consequences are not. Following the battle, most thought that they could now negotiate from a position of strength or at least that the US would give up and try elsewhere. Instead, they were issued an ultimatum stating all Indians had to either surrender by January 31 or face military action. Regardless of how many Indians were still willing to negotiate, there were no serious advocates of traveling through the harsh winter where an untold number of young and old might have perished. Deciding to remain put in the tipis until Spring, they were hit by roving bands of soldiers who scattered their camps and forced them to either surrender or starve. Thus, the war's endgame ended with a whimper, not a bang. What if the Army had not acted that winter? Might there have been a more equal settlement?
Of note are the illustrations: photographs of drawings done by one of the Sioux who was chosen to be a tribal historian. Assigned to mark years by drawing 1 significant event, he took it on his own initiative to create a more detailed, more comprehensive set of illustrations that proved to be a treasure trove in preserving history at a time when that history was being forcibly erased. The usual listing of adult biographies on Crazy Horse's life and related events is included, as well as timeline and index. (less)
A very good book, but it's definitely shown to be geared for kids. There is a definite and jarring disconnect between the passages that were originall...moreA very good book, but it's definitely shown to be geared for kids. There is a definite and jarring disconnect between the passages that were originally written by the pilot, and those that have been dumbed-down by the coauthor to make the book readable for kids. The parts meant for kids are really meant for kids, because its here where O'Grady keeps coming across as one who is always in control, always calm, supremely prepared, and where everything in the world falls into a clear dichotomy of good/bad, safe/dangerous, cautious/foolish. Through a combination of goal of wanting to fly from early in life, to having his goals get derailed, and finally crawling back and worming his way into the Air Force, O'Grady presents himself as the very antithesis of the stereotypical and cocky fighter jock portrayed in "Top Gun." In fact, he comes across as a reformed stereotypical and cocky fighter jock, who drove more carefully after getting in a series of car accidents.
When O'Grady is left to speak for himself, the book quickly becomes more technical (when appropriate) and believable as he takes the reader through his emotional roller-coaster. In these few parts, O'Grady stops coming across as a recruiting poster for military conduct and more as a tired, scared and desperate pilot in enemy territory, relying on his training, wits and God to keep him self and bring him home. Additionally, these parts produce the best writing, as when O'Grady notes those buried at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier not only gave their lives for their country but also their identities, and for asking nothing while giving everything, theirs was the highest honor. A copy of the US Military's rules when conduct when captured and the poem "High Flight" (made famous when Reagan quoted it, saying those on the shuttle Challenger "slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God") caps the experience.(less)
Overall, this book is very readable, though it suffers from a lack of direction. There are simply too many personalities, stories and events that occu...moreOverall, this book is very readable, though it suffers from a lack of direction. There are simply too many personalities, stories and events that occur for a casual reader to keep up with without making notes. People such as Eleanor's many friends will accompany her for life and weave in and out of the story without warning. The author cannot be blamed for the fullness of his subject's life, but I wish he could have found a way to present it better. The only consistency in Eleanor's life is that she was very shy and afraid in her youth, until a few long experiences kickstarted her awareness for the less fortunate of the world, and her discovery of Franklin's affair caused her to take a more active role in...well, everything.
It is interesting to wonder how Eleanor and FDR would have turned out if their parents had lived longer. Though both were incredibly wealthy socialites, both also had huge shoes to fill. Eleanor would despair of not pleasing her father (dead of alcoholism at age 10) and later of debuting on the same level as her glamorous mother (dead not long after). Living in the shadow of the dead, she grew up to be very serious and seemed incapable of trivially having fun, eventually being nicknamed "Granny" by the grandmother who raised her. Years later, this would result in her playing bad cop to FDR's good cop on raising the kids, but would prove detrimental when she wasn't able to provide the carefree support that a wartime president needed. On the other hand, FDR also lost his dad early, but his mom lived and proceeded to try and live through him.
It wasn't until Eleanor lived abroad at a boarding school that she began to question things, and not until she joined a group of wealthy women dedicated to improving the community that she began to see another side of life. When she married FDR, she was content to be the typical subservient wife until she discovered his affair with Lucy Mercer and he developed polio. From then on, she began to push back against FDR's mother and she treated her marriage as more of a mutual partnership than a typical romantic item. By this time, she had given birth to her children, so she was able to concentrate on her own projects.
From visiting France post-World War I, she developed a lifelong hatred of war after seeing towns reduced to nothing but scattered stones and noticing that it seemed that almost every Frenchwoman was dressed in black (1/20 of French men of fighting age died in that war. Not wounded, or became a casualty - died). Interestingly enough, Eleanor began with the conventional belief that men were inherently better suited to politics until she was asked to join committees that advised legislators, whereupon she saw that women were grossly underutilized. When her husbands paralysis kept him from vigorously inspecting the places he visited (as he had done as Secretary of the Navy), Eleanor was sent in his place and quickly learned to be very thorough, looking not only at the menus, but looking inside the cooking pots to see what was actually being served.
Throughout this time, she developed into quite an extraordinary person for her time. She traveled everywhere, becoming the first to fly. Insisting on driving herself, and driving alone, she was asked to carry a pistol - and learned to use it well, having been trained by both NY prison guards and later the Secret Service. At her best, she would arrive too early for her hosts to spruce things up, allowing her to see things as they were instead of how they should have been. Keeping step with the new president's policy of holding the first free form press conferences, Eleanor started the first press conferences open only to female reporters. Along with all her activities, she kept up a prodigious stream of media output (a daily newspaper column, guest articles, a radio broadcast) and, before moving to the White House, taught classes in the humanities.
Her accessibility to reporters, to interviewers, to letters, and to other people made her one of her husband's best assets, and most importantly, made people think that someone in their government cared about their problems. One government official commented that she would often refer a letter to someone to address, and that that person had better do, because she never forgot anything. By seeing people from all walks of life and situations (an important thing to do during the Great Depression), she unwittingly became an early proponent for many social causes that either didn't exist or were in their infancy. From the point where the only blacks she saw were servants, she ended up being a proponent of civil rights at a time when that phrase hadn't even been coined. Though her views were left of the mainstream, FDR was able to use her as a trial balloon for potential ideas. If accepted, he could benefit politically, and if they didn't he could always disavow support or use her views as a sop to the groups whose support he could appreciate but were too politically risky to accept outright.
In the end, she generally proved better at pushing her own brand of advocacy than in serving in formal capacities. While the former allowed her to put her best skills to use, the latter often saw her run into too much political opposition or lambasted as a way of criticizing the President by proxy. Though she suffered her share, I found it inspiring that many of her critics who once excoriated her would later come around to sing her praises. Admiral "Bull" Halsey considered her another do-gooder until he watched her in action, speaking to an endless amount of wounded servicemen. Later assigned to the UN, she was stuffed on a Human Rights committee. When that committee was asked to decide whether refugees should be forcibly repatriated to their homelands, she somehow outspoke the Soviet delegate (who later came to her 70th birthday party to wish her well). Later, she pushed the committee to work 14-16 hour days to draft a Declaration of Human Rights. When a country begged her to remember that the delegates had human rights too, she replied that the work hours would be shorter if the speeches were briefer. Upon presenting the document to the General Assembly, she received an unheard of standing ovation.
Did you know that all four Roosevelt children served in the armed forces during World War II?
So the book clearly presents Eleanor that was interested in the problems of others, or at least was very good at pretending to be. What is not quite answered is why she was that way. It's easy enough to answer how she grew up to be a strong and independently-minded woman - a bit of going rogue, if you will. But how did she take a few small experiences that she had while young and translate that into a lifetime of advocacy and service? That's the question that goes unanswered in this book.
Eleanor lived a full life of events, experiences and friends. Considering that the contents of her life would be enough to fill dozens of books (and they do!), the author has done an admirable job of providing a sampler of the major highlights of her life, as well as going into some depth on selected items and setting up a framework for the surrounding events and attitudes, but social and political, of that time. However, none of this changes the fact that this book suffers from a severe lack of cohesion. While the author tries to separate personal and professional into different chapters, the contents of each chapter are still littered with dropped names, events, and the names of places and organizations. Fortunately, the photos which makes this a photobiography make it tolerable. A photo montage and a guide to her museum round out the book. (less)
Russell Freedman authored a biography of Abraham Lincoln that I hold in very high regard, so it was with high anticipation that I ordered this book so...moreRussell Freedman authored a biography of Abraham Lincoln that I hold in very high regard, so it was with high anticipation that I ordered this book so many years ago. I was disappointed.
By rights, the book should be like all sequels should be. The events are bigger, the conflict more epic, the events more recent, and the photos more numerous. However, like so many sequels tend to do, this book quickly became overburdened, clunky and jarring. The book is simply not as well written as in Lincoln: A Photobiography. While the early years of FDR's life are well covered, the book begins to decline once the Great Depression begins and later takes a nosedive after the outbreak of World War Two. After the stock market crash, there are simply too many events happening at once for the book to stay coherent. The events become more scattered, the transitions more jarring, and near the end the author starts to resort to what are essentially bullet lists (without the bullets). We don't even learn anything about the numerous Roosevelt children except though asides, and the point of view often shifts entirely towards other people (especially Eleanor). Too much knowledge, not enough heart.
Setting that aside, I learned two things about Roosevelt from this book. The first is that the story of FDR is essentially the story of two people: before- and after polio. Before polio, FDR was the consumate member of the privileged class and successful politician. The early part of the book becomes boring with story after story of how FDR grew up in a bubble of the rich, attending the best schools, rising to the top in everything, almost never failing (his only major disappointment was to not get invited to the most elite of Harvard's fraternities) and learning to evade his overbearing mother. However, it is after FDR is afflicted by polio, and while his is learning to adjust to an impending lifetime of paralysis, that he changes into a different person. With "nothing to do but lie in bed but think," he begins to think seriously about the troubles of others. While he had made gestures and speeches, it is only after polio that he starts to sympathize and actively fight for the less fortunate. "'Having been to the depths of trouble, he understood the needs of those in trouble.'" and "A man who could not stand up by himself knew that self-reliance can carry you only so far" stand out as the epitome of this attitude. It transformed him from agreeing with Hoover's hands-off policy during the early days of the Depression to pushing through a revolutionary increase in government through the New Deal and nudging America towards war by supplying increasing amount of aid to Britain and Russia.
The other thing I learned was that even after his disability, Roosevelt remained the consumate wheeler-and-dealer, manipulative and knowledgeable. He would manipulate others into arguing his points for him, put everyone at ease by telling a story (he told reporters that he understood them because he had worked his way up to becoming the editor of the Harvard student newspaper). Roosevelt could switch between 3-4 different personalities, so that no one, not his cabinet, not even his wife, knew what he was really thinking. He would separately assign 3-4 people to work on a project, then pick the best solution. By a lifelong habit of becoming deeply involved in whatever he did, he could speak equally well with bird experts (long history of budding naturalist), admirals (former assistant secretary of the navy), and doctors (having obsessively devoured all material concerning polio. While listening to the other side, he would nod as though he were agreeing, though in reality he was only showing that he was following the conversation. In this way, even his worst enemies found it hard to dislike him, even if they considered him a liar, traitor, communist, and fascist. Sometimes, if he didn't know what to say, he would just keep talking and talking, monopolizing the time and keeping his guest from speaking until time was up!
One thing I found to be especially relevant today was the perception of governmental actions during the Depression, compared to present day events following the recession. Hoover injected money into banks and businesses, hoping that the benefits would "trickle down", while Bush pushed forward TARP to stabilize the financial system. FDR's New Deal and Obama's stimulus plan/health care reform were both denounced as traitorous and socialistic, as the first step towards the destruction of America through the destruction of traditional values of thrift and self-help. Both programs were ridiculed as reckless expansions of government, both were paid for by large tax increases, and both were very popular with those who were helped. On the contrary side, both FDR and Obama were pilloried by the political left for not going far enough, while both told reporters (with whom both had a congenial relationship) that they were merely piloting a middle course. In response to the programs, both were challenged in the Supreme Court. In FDR's case, SCOTUS initially struck down cornerstones of the policy but reversed itself after Roosevelt tried to pack the court with his own justices. Interestingly, for the tax increases, Roosevelt was denounced by the rich as a "traitor to his [financial] class", who referred to him only as "that man in the White House."
One nitpick that I have with the book are the pictures. Specifically, it's all pictures. Sure, there's a wide variety of shots from various events and people, but I would have liked to see pictures of objects and things, such as relevant flyers or posters or campaign buttons. (less)
Reading this book again was like visiting a dear old friend who was as wonderful as I remembered. Picking this up 15+ years after I first encountered...moreReading this book again was like visiting a dear old friend who was as wonderful as I remembered. Picking this up 15+ years after I first encountered this as in elementary school, I am struck by how well the book has held up after all this time.
Some history books written for children are obviously geared towards children. They have short sentences, simple ideas, cover only the most basic ideas, and tend to focus on childhood issues, while omitting any of the more famous quotes, actions and personalities. Freedman (the author) rejects that approach, instead treating children as young adults, and to his credit, he takes that term seriously. Freedman uses digestible sentence morsels, large print and plenty of pictures (it is, after all, a "Photobiography"), but the content placed in there is definitely for mature readers. I read about how Lincoln grew up, going to school when he could (a winter here, a few weeks there), how his family constantly moved, his obsession with books that "doesn't seem natural." I follow Lincoln as he suffers through numerous business failures, makes up for it with unflappable work ethic, and through studying works his way up to becoming a surveyor and later lawyer. He runs for office, is defeated, gets elected, moves up, does nothing in office, retreats from public life, and is then aroused on the way to the White House, though not before states have begun to secede from the Union. The great conflict of a generation follows, as Lincoln is forced to shuffle commanders and endure castigation from pretty much everyone (overseas tabloids, domestic newspapers, members in his own party, his Cabinet, even himself) before the tide finally turns. Then, just on the day Lincoln turns cheery, he is shot and the story is over.
Again and again, sensitive topics are broached. Just as Lincoln ascends to the state Legislature, the place where he spent his early adulthood begins to decline, quickly becoming as ghost town. Numerous conflicts break out, and Lincoln is always involved, from being part of the local militia to fend off an invasion by Native Americans (surviving plenty of mosquitoes), to protesting the Mexican-American War, and eventually leading the Civil War. A short section departs from the book and weaves in the situation and perception of slavery and its spread. Lincoln himself is no saint. Far from the haigographied, impeccable figure, known by his peerless oration and famous beard, Freedman reminded me that Lincoln was very human. His office at both his law practice and White House become notoriously messy, with papers squirreled away everywhere, including his hat. His childhood of manual labor and lack of formal education (less than one year!) grants him a terrible lack of society manners and a strong preference for roughhousing with his boys. On the issue of slavery, Lincoln is not the expected crusader who fought for emancipation from the time he first held office, but one who recognized at the time that such a view was a political third rail, and therefore always was careful to watch his words. In fact, he was of the view that if it was contained in the states where it was, slavery would "die a natural death" until the Kansas-Nebraska act (remember that? I didn't) opens the way for slavery to expand, shaking Lincoln out of his self-imposed political exile and into the Lincoln-Douglas debates, whose format is used by forensics teams everywhere. He battles crippling depression and has to deal with the number of close relatives and friends that drop dead around him, from his sister and mother, to a business partner whose debt Lincoln made good over 15 years, to Lincoln's classic rival Stephen Douglas, and even to his own son. The stress of events gradually etch themselves itself into his face, until his features turn gaunt, his hair tusseled and his eyes sunken and locked straight ahead.
Rather than the clean and antiseptic view expected of war in a children's book, it begins with Lincoln's inauguration, with Washington being placed on full military alert, complete with snipers lining the rooftops and a battery of howitzers overlooking the unfinished Capitol building. It is clear that no one is quite sure of what to expect of the imminent conflict, as people ride to Manassas Junction (Bull Run) in carriages with opera glasses and stampede back, with Lincoln watching "his mud-splattered tropps straggling back into the capital through the fog and rain." War will be a dirty business. As Lincoln gradually takes a more active role in "commanding the commanders," his is stymied by generals who first drill their men endlessly, then years of bloody debacles, then isolated victories in far-flung theaters of war. In the midst, he issues the Emancipation Proclamation after a lengthy debate about whether it is even Constitutionally possible, allows thousands of executions of war deserters (though pardoning many on both sides), and gradually comes to see the war as a moral crusade. His Gettysburg address is so short that a photographer who set up as Lincoln took the podium did not have a chance to take a picture. Despite finally a few good generals, the nation is "weary of the constant calls for more men, the growing casualties list, the lack of progress." No one, not even Lincoln himself, thinks that reelection is possible until a sudden string of victories signals the turning of the tide. When Union troops finally enter the Confederate capitol, their first job is not to search for burning archives, or process prisoners, or do anything typically "military" - it is to put out the fires left by the fleeing defenders.
Along the way, we see how the Lincoln manages his day-to-day: working from dawn late into the night, meeting an endless line of visitors, well-wishers and opponents, always behind on paperwork, trying to relax by going on carriage rides with a calvary escort, visiting the military hospitals, and stopping by the War Department to read the latest telegraph dispatches before turning in. Resigned to the fact that a determined assassin will get him if there is enough effort, he fills an bulging envelope marked "ASSASSINATION." On the day that he tells someone "I've never felt so happy in my life," his bodyguard slips away to watch the play and history plays itself out. As Booth runs out of the theater shouting "Sic semper tyrannis!" most of the theater-goers recognize him as the well-known actor and wonder if that's part of the play. The description of the bullet's path is not minced, nor are the hopeless efforts of local doctors and the fact that Lincoln is so tall he has to be laid diagonally on the bed. As the spectators succumb to tears, Lincoln passes. In his pockets, opened in 1976, are a pair of spectacles with cleaner, a pocketknife, and a wallet containing 1) money depicting his Confederate counterpart and 2) 8 of the articles complimentary to a man "denounced, ridiculed and damned by a legion of critics."
Partly because Freedman can insert numerous pictures, he can introduce many of the minor characters that populate the story without losing the audience. How else would I still remember Lincoln's wrestling match with Jack Armstrong, leader of the Clary's Grove boys and a footnote in history otherwise? The contrast in heights between Lincoln and the Stephen "Little Giant" Douglas, whose differently sized photos are juxtaposed? That presidential campaigns posted victory posters with such grandiose sayings as - "Let the people rejoice! LINCOLN ELECTED! The people true to liberty. ILLINOIS REDEEMED! She votes for Lincoln. She chooses Republican Legislature. She repudiates Douglas. God bless the old Keystone!! GOD BLESS NEW YORK! Lincoln carries all the Atlantic States but New Jersey. An Avalanche of Freemen. Shout boys shouts, victory is ours, freedom is triumphant." - A picture of a typical soldier, looking for all the world like a 12-year old, killed at some battlefield known by name and date only? General Tecumseh Sherman's craggly face, looking so much like a demented Homer Simpson?
It is true, of course, that the book, at its heart, is a kid's book. The sentences are short, the pictures are plentiful, the words constrained. However, there is something different about the content found in this book that differentiates itself. Perhaps it is the fact that there are enough details and side details that it seems like a real biography, rather than yet another ripoff version targeted at grade school kids in history class meant to make a quick buck. Maybe it's the content: the maturity needed to fully understand what is meant by the worlds, the ability to stomach a field of those who have fallen. Or maybe it's the writing, how so many sentences int he middle of chapters seem to end a section without starting a new chapter, or how so many of the words, though short, still require a higher than average vocabulary. I don't know why it's magical. I just know it is. The collection of quotes at the end, plus a short list of recommended reading and list of historical tourist sites (complete with hours of operation!) tops the cake.(less)