Book Thoughts

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

Review of William Tecumseh Sherman by James Lee McDonough

William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of My Country: A Life - James Lee McDonough

William Tecumseh Sherman was one of those Civil War figures I had read a great deal about through biographies of other generals, but I had never read anything specific to him.  This book is a very comprehensive look at his time before and during the Civil War.  I thought the author was very fair presenting all sides of him, although he did seem to err on the side of assuming Sherman was always in the right when it came to military decisions.  I wish there was more detail about Sherman after the War as I would loved to have read more about that.  In terms of the battles, they are written very well, but there were not enough maps included to help me visualize the troop movements and the terrain.  Recommended for Civil War fans.

Review of Spirit Whisperers by Chick Moorman

Spiritwhispers: Teachers Who Teach to a Student Spirit - Chick Moorman

I really did not enjoy this book.  The basic premise of the book is that the role of teachers should not focus on teaching their students about the curriculum, but should be about teaching them self-empowerment.  To some degree, I think that is a great message.  But this book took the idea to the extreme, and did it in a way that made it sound simple.  I never really trust a message when there are multiple references to the author's previous work, and when the idea makes it seem like teachers who don't buy into the message are just not great teachers.  There is a chance I am being a bit overly critical and unfair to this book, but I did not find it very practical.

Review of A Self-Made Man by Sidney Blumenthal

A Self-Made Man: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, 1809 - 1854 - Sidney Blumenthal

This is one of the more detailed history books I have ever read. This is the first in what will be a series of books that detail the political life of Abraham Lincoln. Countless books have been written about Lincoln, but what sets this book apart is the almost overwhelming details given about seemingly anyone of importance at the national and local (for Illinois and Washington, DC) levels during the years of the 1820s through the 1840s. At times it was difficult to keep all of the people organized in my head while reading, but I have to say that I learned more from this book than any book I can remember reading in a long time.

I think the author was very fair showing us Lincoln as he was, warts and all. At times he was very biased against some historical figures including John C. Calhoun (who he basically blames for everything bad that happened in the country during his time as a political leader) and Joseph Smith. If I was Mormon, I would probably be offended by the chapters describing the early years of the Mormons and their leader Smith.

I most enjoyed learning about the real divisions in the anti-slavery movements of the time. We always have the idea that all Northerners were abolitionists but as this book makes clear, the abolitionists were considered extreme radicals and there was a real difference between being an abolitionist and someone considered anti-slavery. Within those groups there were sub-groups and like any real political movement, no matter how important the cause, politics and ambition drove most of the decisions.

Highly recommended but only for those that have a deep knowledge of of the antebellum era coming into the book.

Review of Unbelievable by Katy Tur

Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History - Katy Tur

What a fantastic memoir by Katy Tur - the NBC reporter who had the Trump beat for the 2016 presidential election.  There were many fascinating behind the scenes anecdotes that made this worth the read, but more than that, Tur wrote in a friendly and funny style that had me laughing out loud more than once.  I thought she was very fair in her evaluation of Trump, but she obviously was not a huge fan.  High recommended for a look at the most improbably campaign in presidential history.

Review of Victoria: The Queen by Julia Baird

Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire - Julia Baird

I had wanted to read a book about Victoria for quite some time.  It was a gap in my knowledge so to speak.  I really enjoyed this book.  Baird writes very well, and in many places this read like a novel.  I was a bit disappointed in Victoria the person and found myself thinking many times that she needed to get over herself.  She also played much less of a role in administering the British Empire than I would have thought. The biography focused mostly on her personal life, and while it was very interesting, I would have liked to have seen more on the international relations of the time. 

Review of The Triumph of Caesar by Steven Saylor

The Triumph of Caesar - Steven Saylor

A disappointing entry - the final entry if you don't count the prequels - to the Gordianus the Finder series.  The mystery in this novel was hardly anything, and it was finally "solved" in a lazy way in my opinion.  I feel like Saylor was out of ideas and just wanted to tell the history of Caesar's Triumphs and used the character of Gordianus to do it.  But he did not do it in an exciting way like most of his previous books.

Review of An Ethic of Excellence by Ron Berger

An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students - Ron Berger, Howard Gardner, Deborah Meier, Kate Montgomery

I really enjoyed this book on what makes for bringing a culture of excellence into the classroom.  I thought Berger's stories were inspirational, and loved many of his ideas.  Like many stories on great teaching though, his methods are virtually impossible to use in a big sense because his school basically allows him to teach however he wants.  At most public high schools, teachers would have to maintain a certain pace while covering a large curriculum.  However, I do like his technique of peer review and of making the work important to students.  Demanding more of students is something that sounds easy, but over time it can become difficult to maintain a high level of determination when teaching a class load of 130 kids through 180 days.  This book reminded me to never give up pushing each and every student.

Review of Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Scythe - Neal Shusterman

This book had so much potential.  I thought the premise was intriguing, and I actually thought the two main characters, and side characters, were engaging.  However, the story took forever to really get going, and the entire book from start to finish was very negative in nature.  I could live with that, but the premise of the world is that everyone is immortal and no one wants for anything, so it was hard to read a book where literally none of the characters seem to enjoy anything.  I also was disappointed in the ending because it felt far too simple after the long buildup.  I thought I would enjoy this more.

Review of A Revolution in Color by Jane Kamensky

A Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copley - Jane Kamensky

It has been a long time since I enjoyed reading a history book as much as I did A Revolution in Color by Jane Kamensky.  This book tells the story of John Singleton Copley, the master-painter who came to prominence during the years of the American Revolution.  It is much more than a simple biography though - the book also tells the story of Revolutionary Boston, New York City, and London as Copley moved around during his life.  It looks at the world of painting and how important it was considered by most people of the time both in America and abroad.  For me, this book took a period I have read a great deal about, and it make it exciting again with new information about aspects of the period I had never really thought about.

Review of Madam Secretary by Madeleine Albright

Madam Secretary: A Memoir - Madeleine Albright

I am a big fan of Madeleine Albright and this book did not disappoint.  This memoir tells the story of Albright's career in service, focusing mostly on her work in the UN and as Secretary of State in the Clinton Administration.  It covers a lot of ground, and was a great primer for all international issues of the 1990s.  I enjoyed her writing style and her wit, and felt that she was very open and honest with her successes and failures.  Highly recommended for those interested in a great woman or the time period.

Review of The Mist by Stephen King

The Mist - Stephen King

This novella is another Stephen King classic that has been turned into a movie and I believe two television shows.  I knew the basic story having seen most of the movie, but as all King books go, the reading is far superior to the movie.  This is a quick story but plays on people's worst fears of giant bugs and the unknown.  I wish the ending had more of a resolution, but overall it was a quick, entertaining read.

Review of Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

Cannery Row - John Steinbeck

This is a tough book to rate.  I think I would give the writing 4 stars because Steinbeck is such a beautiful writer, but I would give my enjoyment of the book 2 stars.  I found the story disjointed, really did not enjoy any of the characters, and there was no real buildup in the story at all.  It was just a sad expose of a small part of a town full of the poor and downtrodden.  That was likely the point, but I just found it tough to turn the pages.

Review of Theodore Roosevelt in the Badlands by Roger Di Silvestro

Theodore Roosevelt in the Badlands: A Young Politician's Quest for Recovery in the American West - Roger L. Di Silvestro

A fun, quick read about Teddy Roosevelt's time and love of the Badlands and the West.  I did not feel like there was very much new here that I did not know from pervious TR books, but I did enjoy the writing style and the fair way that the author treated Roosevelt.  It is difficult to blend TR's love of nature and conservation work with his seeming bloodlust for hunting, but the author presented both sides and included comments when appropriate.  A good read for fans of Teddy.

Review of Darth Vader: Volume 4

Star Wars: Darth Vader, Vol. 4: End of Games - Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larroca

A great wrap up volume to the Darth Vader story arc in this four book series.  It shows how Vader came to be the leader of the Empire (under the Emperor of course) after his failure to stop the destruction of the first Death Star.  It is classic evil Vader but it is one of those cases where you generally are rooting for the bad guy.  These Star Wars graphic novels are the first graphic novels I have ever read, and I am glad to have a new part of the world of literature opened up to me.

Review of Salems Lot by Stephen King

'Salem's Lot - Stephen King

It had been a while since I read Stephen King, it was like returning to an old friend.  This novel was the second he published, and one of the classics I had not read.  I really enjoyed this tale of vampires, and even though it was published more than 30 years ago, I think it has aged very well.  It is classic King with his writing style, character building, and combination of the real and the horror fantasy.  I look forward to continue my lifetime march toward reading all of his novels and short story collections.

Review of Darth Vader: Volume 3 by Kieron Gillen

Star Wars: Darth Vader, Vol. 3: The Shu-torun War - Kieron Gillen, Leinil Francis Yu, Kaare Andrews, Salvador Larroca

My favorite entry in the Darth Vader graphic novel series.  Vader finally gets to be smarter than everyone else, and more deadly when all of the fighting starts.  I am enjoying the storyline and think there is some great material here for a movie if they ever wanted to give Vader his own film.