Book Thoughts

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

Review of Grant by Ron Chernow

Grant - Ron Chernow

There is not much I can say that has not already been said about Chernow and about this instant classic book on Grant. I have read a handful of biographies on Grant and this one clearly is the best. Chernow's writing style is smooth yet detailed and it somehow doesn't feel like I just finished a book with almost 1000 pages of narrative text.


I think Chernow is fair in his praise and in his criticisms of Grant - especially in his personal life and in his Presidency. I think my only criticism of the book is that I think Chernow spent too much time discussing Grant's alcohol problems. I realize it is an important part of his story, but it felt to me like the author went back to it too often. Other than that, this book is one of the best.

Review of Lincoln's Last Trial by Dan Abrams

Lincoln's Last Trial - Dan Abrams

Just when you thought there was not another angle to find to write a new Lincoln book, here is a book that looks at the last major trial Lincoln was involved with as a lawyer before he became President. The story tries to work like a novel and uses transcriptions from the trial in an attempt to do that.

The trial itself is a self-defense/murder trail so there is never any mystery other than whether or not the accused will be found not-guilty by reason of self-defense. The story itself was not all that interesting for me to be honest, but the historical bits I loved were about how the law was viewed and handled at that time. I loved the discussion of the stenographer and his trade would loved to have read more about him.

Lincoln is one of my favorites and there is nothing really new here about him in this book. It was good to read about his reputation as a lawyer from the local people that knew him, but other than that, the focus wasn't necessarily on him in this story.

Review of Benjamin Franklin by Edmund S. Morgan

Benjamin Franklin - Edmund S. Morgan

I really enjoy reading about Ben Franklin, but this particular biography was difficult for me to get through.  Edmund Morgan is one of the top scholars of the period, but the writing style just dragged for me with this read.  I felt it was repetitive and focused too much on the same idea that Franklin was simply a master negotiator Europeans loved and American leaders didn't always understand.  There were parts I enjoyed, but overall I feel there are better biographies of Franklin out there.

Star Wars Rebel Jail by Jason Aaron

Star Wars Vol. 3 - Jason Aaron, Mike Mayhew, Leinil Yu

This is the third in the Star Wars series filling in the story after the first movie. Sadly, I feel that the stories have gotten progressively less interesting. They keep adding new characters that I don't know much about their back story (I did know who Dr. Aphra was, but for people that did not it must have made this novel even less interesting) and it simply was not as exciting.


With that said, I did appreciate the leadership of Leia in thus particular story. First time she really had the central role in one of these stories.

Review of The Spy Who Came In From the Cold by John le Carre

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold - John le Carré

This was a really great spy-thriller!  I read my first two le Carre novels last summer - the first two George Smiley books - and I was not that impressed.  I thought they were slow and not worth the payoff.  This third book was superb and far better than the first two in the series.  Without giving away anything, it is basically a long-con played out between British and East German spy agencies during the era of the Berlin Wall.  Very well done!

Review of Star Wars Volume 2 - Skywalker Strikes by Jason Aaron

Star Wars Vol. 2: Showdown on Smugglers Moon - Jason Aaron, Simone Bianchi, Stuart Immonen

While not as good as the first entry in the series, this was another solid read that continues the story of the major characters of the original Star Wars.  I felt the story in this one dragged a bit, and it introduced a few new characters that I didn't necessarily love right away.  With that said, it continues to fill in the gaps between the movies and the overall story is strong.

Review of Endurance by Alfred Lansing

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage - Alfred Lansing

I can't believe I had not read this book before now.  What a gem of a story!  Most people have a general idea about Shackelton and his incredible tale of survival, but I had no idea how utterly miserable and hopeless most of their experience was in the Antarctic.  What these men overcame and endured is almost short of believable.  This book was incredibly well written and tells the story with great detail, suspense, and excitement.  Highly recommended!

Review of Star Wars Volume 1 - Skywalker Strikes by Jason Aaron

Star Wars Vol. 1: Skywalker Strikes - Jason Aaron, Laura Martin, John Cassaday

I rarely read graphic novels, but enjoy Star Wars and love how these graphic novels fill in the gaps between the movie.  This novel picks up immediately after the original movie and shows us what the characters did next and how their relationships developed.  It was a very quick read, and the art was nicely done.  Looking forward to the next one.

Review of The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan

The Comfort of Strangers - Ian McEwan

Another stinker from McEwan.  Not sure why I keep going back to him.  I think overall he writes well, but he had to have had some terrible experiences growing up or something to write these random stories.  This is a short book and difficult to review without giving anything away, but let's just say the main characters were not that bright, and the ending was (I thought) incredibly stupid.

Review of Death of Kings by Bernard Cornwell

Death of Kings - Bernard Cornwell

Another solid entry in the Saxon Stories series by Bernard Cornwell.  I thought this book was a bit slower than the earlier ones in the series as much of the fighting doesn't take place until the very end.  I also think I waited too long between reading books in this series as there were many, many names and I had a bit of trouble remembering and keeping track of them all.  However, with that said, Cornwell is an outstanding writer that keeps me turning pages and his ability to stay true to characters makes for a lot of fun.

Review of Fascism by Madeleine Albright

Fascism - Madeleine Albright

This was an important book by one of my favorite political statesman Madeleine Albright.  Albright uses her experience as a professor and international diplomat to trace the origins of fascism from the years leading up to World War II through the 20th century and today.  The parallels are scary to what I can see happening in our country right now, but I refuse to believe it can happen here (which probably goes directly against the thesis of the book).  An important read for anyone who wants to be informed about our world and country today.

Review of The World As It Is by Ben Rhodes

The World As It Is - Ben Rhodes

I really enjoyed this memoir by Ben Rhodes who was a speechwriter a national security advisor to President Obama for eight years. This book is basically a history of the foreign policy and international relations of the Obama administration. There is very little time spent looking at domestic issues outside of how international issues impact the administration politically.

Rhodes writes very well (he has an MFA so that makes sense) and does a great job of mixing his personal story with the story of Obama. I find it annoying that in many memoirs, there is far too much name-dropping but I did not see that in this book.

My political lean left so I was very sympathetic to the struggles and frustrations discussed in the book. With that said, I didn't find that Rhodes went out of his way to attack the other side, and I think that anyone who enjoys politics and recent history could find enjoyment in this book and not think it was overly negative.

Review of The New World by Winston Churchill

A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Vol. 2: The New World - Winston S. Churchill

This second volume of Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples was fantastic. I love the way Churchill writes, and I think for these historical works, he mixes in just the right amount of information with his personal touch and opinions. I think he is biased toward the greatness of England (in his mind), but I find this gives more character to the books. This volume covered the Tudors and the Stuarts and filled in some gaps in my knowledge (particularly with the Stuarts). Looking forward to the next one.

Review of Out of My mind by Sharon Draper

Out of My Mind - Sharon M. Draper

My 7th grade daughter has read this book multiple times and encouraged me to read it as well.  What a wonderful story whose main character and narrator is a young girl who has cerebral palsy and cannot communicate.  However, she has a photographic memory and in telling the story, we can read how she has a brilliant mind.  When she reaches the 5th grade, she buys a computer that allows her to talk through it.  It opens up her world, especially with her family, but she still struggles to find acceptance with peers at school.  I won't say more so as to not give away spoilers, but my only disappointment with the book is that it did not have the ending I would have wished for.  

Review of The Dying Animal by Philip Roth

The Dying Animal - Philip Roth

This is my fourth Roth novel and I am not sure how I feel about it.  The narrator/main character is an old professor who basically discusses how his sexual desires have been the central part of his life.  He spend most of the story talking about an affair he had with a 24 year old Cuban student and how he became obsessed with her (which was different than the many other liaisons he had throughout his life).  The writing is well done, but I couldn't help but think that Roth was projecting his own desires through his character.  While I don't think a man's sexual desire should end by the time he is in his 70s, I am not sure the obsession with it is entirely healthy - or at least something I want to think about at this point in my life.

Review of Camino Island by John Grisham

Camino Island: A Novel - John Grisham

First time in a couple of years I grabbed a John Grisham novel and I enjoyed it. I am not sure exactly what it is about his writing style that I enjoy, but I always keep turning pages when I read one of his novels. His earliest novels were all fantastic stories, but like many authors of yearly thrillers, his later stories were not as engaging. This particular novel is not a legal thriller, but it is about a rare book heist. I wouldn't necessarily call it a mystery as we know exactly who is doing what the entire time, but I did enjoy reading how the story played out. I will probably pick up anther of his novels at the library in the near future.