Book Thoughts

A place for me to give my thoughts on books, history, and their influence on my life.

Review of On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century - Timothy Snyder

A very short, yet incredibly important read.  Snyder uses historical examples of the rise of tyranny from the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and the fall of Communism to make potential comparisons to the United States and Europe of today.  While he does not necessarily come right out and say the rise of Trump is heading toward a state of tyranny (I don't believe he actually ever uses Trump's name), he does point out some scary parallels.  I think the lesson of this book is for all of us, as citizens of the nation and of the world, to be aware of what is happening and to takes steps as individuals and members of society to prevent all forms of tyranny.

Review of Women and Power by Mary Beard

Women & Power: A Manifesto - Mary Beard

This book is a simple collection of two speeches that historian Mary Beard gave on Women and Power.  the lectures look at how the role of women in positions of power have been viewed beginning in ancient times with parallels that can still be seen today.  I think this is a very important book for all people to read, and my only regret is that she did not take her themes and expand them into a full book.  However, I understand that is not the point.  With that said, it does make me want to read more in this area and it does give me a new perspective when thinking about the role of women in history.

Review of Washington's Revolution by Robert Middlekauff

Washington's Revolution: The Making of America's First Leader - Robert Middlekauff

A deeper look at George Washington and his leadership and vision from his early years through the end of the Revolutionary War.  This was an academic look at how Washington was able to always view the big picture throughout his life and while was not perfect, he was able to keep above the immediate issues of the day to outlast and outperform everyone else.  There were parts of this book that were a bit dry, but overall I enjoyed the read and developed more of an appreciation for Washington.  Oddly, I loved the chapter early in the book that looked at Washington's years as a planter after his experiences in the French and Indian War but before the issues with Britain.  The challenges of trying to run the plantation and make money through the economic system of using British agents was fascinating and not an area I had read much about.  I would recommend this book only for those that already have a solid background in the life of Washington.

Review of Redshirts by John Scalzi

Redshirts - John Scalzi

This was a fun read that played on the traditional science-fiction tropes but did it in a way that was tongue-in-cheek and fun. Scalzi is a very entertaining writer and this was the first stand-alone novel of his that I read. Recommended for anyone that enjoys a good yarn and who may have watched an episode of Star Trek back in the day.

Review of Searching for and Maintaining Peace by Jacques Philippe

Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart - Jacques Philippe

This book was a gift from a friend at a time when I really needed to read it.  It is a collection of insights on faith that I think any Catholic would enjoy.  It's Biblical references led me to want to read more and study my faith more in depth.  Very happy I read this book at this time.

Review of Without Remorse by Tom Clancy

Without Remorse  - Tom Clancy

An entertaining read from Ton Clancy that tells the back story of John Clark and even a glimpse of a young Jack Ryan.  The plot twisted together two main stories about American POWs in Vietnam and the drug war back at home.  It had all the traditional Clancy techniques and conservative viewpoints, but as a reader you know that going in so I enjoyed it.  My plan was to try and read all of the Jack Ryan books in order, rereading quite a few, and I will certainly do that over time.  This was a good one to start.

Review of Theodore Roosevelt by Nathan Miller

Theodore Roosevelt - Nathan Miller

Another fabulous biography of one of my favorites, Teddy Roosevelt.  This single volume biography does a nice job of covering all of the major political events of Roosevelt's life, while also being sure to cover his family life and relationships.  The author is obviously a fan of Roosevelt, and while he does admit when Roosevelt was flawed, he perhaps too often explains away his shortcomings.  However, it was an engaging read and recommended.

Review of American Heroes by Edmund Morgan

American Heroes: Profiles of Men and Women Who Shaped Early America - Edmund S. Morgan

As many other reviewers have written, the title and cover of this book do not accurately depict what this collection of essays are about. The essays generally cover the colonial period in New England, with a few sprinkled in about Washington and Franklin late in the book. The idea that the central thesis of the essays is about Heroes is also not true as the essays generally handle a topic or specific aspect of an historical person but do not focus on whether or not those action are heroic.

 

I enjoyed a few of the essays, but there were too many that were too narrowly focused for my tastes. I think Morgan writes well, but most of these essays were obviously written for other scholars and for academia and not for the general public (even those of us who are well-read in the time period).

Review of Pedro by Pedro Martinez

Pedro - Pedro Martinez, Michael Silverman

Pedro Martinez is easily my favorite pitcher of all time.  He was must watch any time he took the mound.  This was a fun look into his career and to hear his strong opinions on his teammates and coaches throughout his playing years.  I wish there was a bit more on individual games, and I wish there was a bit more about his personal life, but overall if you are a baseball fan (especially a Red Sox fan), this will be a very enjoyable read.

Review of Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb

Assassin's Apprentice  - Robin Hobb

That was a fun story that had me turning pages - especially in the second half of the book.  This is a classic fantasy story, with a bit of magic mixed into a medieval world setting.  I thought it took just a bit too long to really get going, but I couldn't stop turning pages toward the end.  The story itself wrapped up nicely, but obviously left enough to continue what has become quite a long series.  Looking forward to the next one.

Review of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen, Anna Quindlen

I can't believe it took my until age 39 to read my first Jane Austen.  I enjoyed the read even though it wasn't exactly in my wheelhouse for books I usually enjoy.  There is literally no plot outside of who is going to marry and fall in love with whom, but the story was a fascinating look into upper-middle class Victorian England.  I can see why Austen is so popular as a writer.

Review of Jefferson the Virginian by Dumas Malone

Jefferson the Virginian: Jefferson and His Time, Volume 1 - Dumas Malone

This was the first in a six volume series on the life of Thomas Jefferson. This was a wonderful read that took us from Jefferson's birth to the day he left for Europe following the Revolutionary War. The detail was incredible, but it was written in a way that it never felt overwhelming and the story never felt stale. The reader develops a real appreciation for how Jefferson later became the famous and even legendary American figure.

My only criticism would be that I felt the book did not look at Jefferson's personal life in enough detail, but as a political history, this will be a series to treasure.

Review of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Yellow Wallpaper - Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Elaine Hedges

This was a short story told from the point of view of a woman who was suffering what we would today call postpartum depression.  Her husband and family force her to stay on bed rest in a strange room where she slowly loses her mind based on her surroundings - especially the wallpaper in the room.  While short, the story does a nice job making the reader feel for the main character, and gives us a glimpse of what it might be like to suffer from that type of depression.

Review of the Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian - Andy Weir

This is one of those very rare times where I enjoyed the movie more than the book.  That might not be fair considering that I saw the movie first, but I thought the movie truly brought to life the size and scope of the book.  In addition, I thought the movie gave more personality to the characters than the book did.  The book was solid, with a major focus on the science part of the story.  Perhaps I would have enjoyed the book more if I did not already know how the story was going to end.

Review of The Dead Zone by Stephen King

The Dead Zone - Stephen King

I always love returning to Stephen King.  This was one of his earlier novels and I had not heard too much about ti.  Apparently there was a movie made out of it many years ago.  I think this story has aged well.  It is classic King with his ability to tell a story, foreshadow, and really get into the minds of his characters.  This novel follows a person with supposed psychic abilities, and while fantastical, the story does seem plausible.  I enjoyed the read. 

Review of Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit by Chris Matthews

Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit - Chris Matthews

First book of the year! I love Chris Matthew's passion for politics, and I find his enthusiasm for the Kennedy's to be infectious. I enjoyed this short book through Bobby Kennedy's life, and while I don't think there is anything new here, I do think that Matthew's does a nice job showing the excitement and emotion running through America during the political times of the Kennedy leadership. I will certainly be reading additional books on Bobby and have a greater appreciation for his role in John F. Kennedy's success.