First, this is an unusual book that may strain credulity, depending on your belief system. It is full of stories of "miraculous coincidences," healingFirst, this is an unusual book that may strain credulity, depending on your belief system. It is full of stories of "miraculous coincidences," healings, and other unusual occurrences. It is also a record of the author's obsession with his guru, his continual need to have his guru's attention, and the ongoing stream of psychological baggage that he experiences. The book is also a bit disordered--chronological, but not really, mixing narrative with teaching.
However, the book is also heartfelt and wise. I found some of the things he said soothed the ache in my heart, and he offers many bits of wisdom about how to step away from the dysfunctional obsession with self and into a deeper love for others and for life. It also helps when he explains that "guru", "God," and "self" are ultimately interchangeable, so on one level, his obsession with his guru is simply a desire to connect with Brahman, with the greater sense of Being that enfolds all in Hindu belief. His discussions of chanting showed me how it can function much the way that meditation functions in Buddhism: it can loosen your sense of self and absorption in the inner dialogue that causes suffering, and introduce a greater "spaciousness" wherein we can act in life rather than simply react. His descriptions of self (atman) and Brahman, of love, were poetic and moving, in contrast to the simply more academic discussions of Hinduism that I've read before.
So in the end, I found it an incredibly personal, helpful devotional discussion of Hindu belief and practice....more
This book is filled with beautiful renderings of a vast array of different swords and related items. Though it is a juvenile book, there is a reasonabThis book is filled with beautiful renderings of a vast array of different swords and related items. Though it is a juvenile book, there is a reasonable amount of information about different weapons and parts of those weapons, what purpose they served, how they were used, etc. Nicely, a good variety of cultures were represented beyond European cultures--particularly some of the African swords were quite interesting. Definitely a fun "coffee-table" book!...more
First of all, this is not my typical sort of book. But, working in a library, I figured I should give a soft romance/chick lit book a chance, and theFirst of all, this is not my typical sort of book. But, working in a library, I figured I should give a soft romance/chick lit book a chance, and the backpacking premise drew me in.
The book was breezy and easy to read, and it even had some nice moments of wisdom, such as, "Happiness is more about appreciation than acquisition" (p. 164). I found myself liking the main characters, which always helps. However, I did stumble over some of the obvious plot contrivances, such as their "bet" where, if Jake won, Helen had to "teach him how to kiss." It just seemed a rather obvious and eye-rolling moment. Maybe that's typical of this genre... I wouldn't know.
Now, my quibbles, as I knew I would have when I came to a backpacking book! (I do at least one major backpacking trip every year). First, even though she was going with guides who emphasized minimalism, the book says her pack weighed 79 pounds (p. 80)! That's an *incredible* amount of weight! ("Monster"--Cheryl's backpack in "Wild"--only weighed 75 pounds). And if she carried a backpack that heavy, that would be all the rest of the story should be about, for hefting that thing for 3 weeks would be all you would have energy for. Other parts of the book make me think the author does know about backpacking (she mentions using a 'rest step,' which is a somewhat technical climbing technique), but this detail defies all credulity.
Next, though set in the wonderful Absaroka Mountains of Wyoming, the setting is a near non-entity in this book. Very little is said about the scenery and its effect upon the characters. That took away much of the enjoyment, as a strong sense of place would really ground the book. The only scene that gets some reasonable description is the meadow, but that could be anywhere. Incidentally, the cover art features a large body of water off in the distance... which couldn't be in Wyoming! But I know the publisher probably selected this cover image.
Still, I enjoyed this book on the whole. I just don't know what "fair" expectations are for a book of this genre. ...more
First, this story is simply a good adventure! It features a ship journey with threat of hostile boarding, wicked storms, and (view spoiler)[ an ultimaFirst, this story is simply a good adventure! It features a ship journey with threat of hostile boarding, wicked storms, and (view spoiler)[ an ultimate showdown with some indigenous people where the ship gets purposely blown up just as the hostiles climb aboard! (hide spoiler)]. It also features an overland journey with mountain passes, raging rivers, threat of native attack, and near starvation.
Secondly, it is historically important and is likely completely unknown to many readers (it was to me!). What was attempted was a colony on the west coast of North America that was even more remote than the original Jamestown and Plymouth Rock colonies were from England! At the time, Astor and Jefferson thought they may very well be starting a new country , let alone a unique colony! Jefferson hoped it would be a beacon of democracy on the western part of the continent; Astor hoped it would be the linchpin in a global trade empire. At a time when most Americans hardly thought of the world west of the Mississippi, Astor imagined a circuit of global trade where ships would trade trinkets to the natives of the Pacific Northwest in exchange for sea otter and beaver furs; those would then be taken to China and traded for silk, spices, and tea; then those would be brought back to Europe and eastern America for sale. In this process, a ship would journey for approximately 2 years circumnavigating the globe, gaining profit at each stop. As the author says, in the day, this was roughly equivalent to imagining a trade route to and from the moon! I'm still amazed by the great vision of Astor, tragic though it would prove to be.
The story, as it unfolds, is very fascinating, a rich interplay of well-drawn historical characters (with their nobility and their flaws alike), harsh and beautiful nature, still-powerful indigenous peoples, and vast historical circumstances (like the War of 1812, which kicked off partway into this colonizing venture). The author does a terrific job of describing the locations and hardships faced; some of his other books deal with the psychological and physiological dimensions of stress and survival. You can see the imprint of that knowledge here, as he describes the effects of scurvy, or being in cold water, in a vivid and scientifically-rich way.
In the end, the colony did change the trajectory of settlement of the west coast, and paved the way for the Oregon Trail, coming as it did just a few years after the Lewis and Clark expedition and actually finding a more viable route across the Rocky Mountains. It should also be noted that it was the indigenous people who saved the settlers' lives on innumerable occasions, a painful irony given what the colonists ultimately portended for the indigenous people.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Most non-fiction books--and indeed, most of us--attempt to assemble a relatively integrated, competent, and put-together narrative of ourselves. In thMost non-fiction books--and indeed, most of us--attempt to assemble a relatively integrated, competent, and put-together narrative of ourselves. In this book, Dunham is willing to let the messy reality of life simply be. I found this book very refreshing in that regard, and though my experiences have been different than hers (obviously, me being a near-middle-aged man!), it caused me to ponder the rough edges of my life and experiences, bringing to mind little stories that I've yet to integrate into the smooth narrative of "my life" that I usually tell to people I meet. For me, that was the main message of the book, how we try to force a clear "metanarrative" onto our lives, when really, they're jagged things that don't easily conform. Instead, we're all just sort of making it up as we go along.
I found Dunham's book to be honest, funny, self-deprecating but not self-pitying, self-aware, humble, and even occasionally insightful and wise (such as when she says, "You've learned a new rule and it's simple: don't put yourself in situations you'd like to run away from." -p. 262)....more
I've read a number of the recent SEAL books now, and this one seems to be in the middle of the pack. In some ways, it's a nice complement to the otherI've read a number of the recent SEAL books now, and this one seems to be in the middle of the pack. In some ways, it's a nice complement to the others. Owen includes very little of his personal background and only some narrative of the training process to become a SEAL. Most of his focus is on the missions and culture of the special forces. He does add some interesting details that I hadn't known about, such as the use of dogs in combat. He also has much to say about his gear, how they organize and use it.
Some criticize the book, saying it "wasn't well-written." I guess I don't read these types of books expecting them to be literature. The writing conveyed the events and perspective adequately. At a few points, Owen does dip into political comments about the president, which I guess he's entitled to, but again, I don't read a special forces book for astute and nuanced political analysis. All in all, it was simply interesting to hear about the mission to assassinate bin Laden from someone who was front-and-center....more
Having recently read (another) nonfiction book about pirates, I was impressed how many historical details, events, and locales this novel worked in. IHaving recently read (another) nonfiction book about pirates, I was impressed how many historical details, events, and locales this novel worked in. In that regard, it was enjoyable to read a rather fantastical work of fiction grounded in actual historical events. I don't think I was prepared for how much magic factors into this book, which was probably just my oversight. But it was pretty "out there" in that regard. Still, if you accept that, it was a pretty fun, rollicking read--just nothing profound. I do like how the book humanized pirates, showing the thin line between "ordinary" people and pirates, as some people in that time were pressed into being pirates.
As an aside, I listened to this as an audiobook, which was quite well-done and enjoyable. I particularly liked the voice the reader did for Phil Davies... now I just need to learn to talk like him!...more
This is a fun, fascinating book! It doesn't go into this aspect quite as much as I would like, but the book does nicely delve into the political aspecThis is a fun, fascinating book! It doesn't go into this aspect quite as much as I would like, but the book does nicely delve into the political aspects of the Golden Age of Piracy. In many ways, it was a rebellion against the abuses of Empire, the horrible treatment of sailors in the British Navy and merchant marine, and the racism of the day. Though sometimes pirates treated captured slaves as "booty," often they would allow black slaves to join their crew as equals. In an era of harsh authoritarianism, pirate ships were little experiments in anarchist principles of organization: they would collectively elect their captain and could recall him any time except for in the midst of battle, and they mutually agreed upon their course of action. They usually restrained from excessive violence, keeping to their word, and only using the threat of violence to ensure the surrender of targeted ships, which often reduced the amount of violence used in the long run. Blackbeard was perhaps the prime example of this, using intimidation tactics to reduce the fighting needed. Lastly, the pirates largely shut down the machinations of Empire (British, Spanish) in the Caribbean for a period of time, and they had the beginnings of their own democratic "republic" (hence the book's title) before the forces of State and commerce crushed them.
This is a well-researched book, and you'll find a lot of stereotypes of pirates to be torn down. Here are many details about the lives of Blackbeard, Charles Vane, Calico Jack, Bellamy, etc., drawn from primary materials. An excellent book!...more
Given the book's brevity, this is an interesting read. It contains some useful thoughts on the importance of quiet and space in one's life, in the midGiven the book's brevity, this is an interesting read. It contains some useful thoughts on the importance of quiet and space in one's life, in the midst of our tendency towards frenetic busyness and noise. With the dramatic increase of the availability of information in our age, in light of the technological revolution, what we need is quiet and the clarity of mind to properly sift that information. The photos in this book are beautiful as well, nicely complementing the ideas of the text. Still, this is a brief and merely suggestive text; it does lack a certain depth....more