Tag: Book Review

The United States in a Perilous Year

 

The United States is going through some hard times right now. Some might believe 2020 to be the most challenging year faced by the Republic. The oldest among us remember a year far worse than 2020 or even the 1960s.

“The Year of Peril: America in 1942,” by Tracy Campbell, recalls that year. The United States had been unexpectedly thrust into a war, one we appeared to be losing in 1942.

Campbell takes readers through that year. He reveals the fear stalking the American public, especially early in 1942. People expected the attack on Pearl Harbor to be followed up by a Japanese invasion of the American homeland. Air raids by long-range German bombers were also expected.

Janissaries Reaches a Satisfactory Conclusion

 

In 1979 Jerry Pournelle published Janissaries, a novel about a doomed troop of CIA mercenaries in Angola. About to be annihilated by a Cubans they are offered an escape: a one-way trip to the planet Tran. They and their leader, Rick Galloway, are expected to take over the planet and oversee production of a recreational drug that can be grown there every 600 years. Sequels followed in 1982 and 1987. Then, despite the third book ending with many unanswered questions, nothing.

Mamelukes, by Jerry Pournelle, Philip Pournelle, and David Weber, continues the series.

Jerry Pournelle made several announcements on his blog that he was continuing the series. As late as 2014, he announced 151,000 words had been written, and that only the final battle remained. Then he had a stroke. He never completed the book. Jerry Pournelle died in 2017.

A New Look at a Global Conflict

 

The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars was the world’s first truly global conflict. Although the Seven Years’ War and Wars of American Independence were fought globally, the round of fighting triggered by the French Revolution saw major campaigns on a wider geographic scale than seen previously or since. No war, including World War II saw major fighting in as many different continents.

“The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History,” by Alexander Mikaberidze examines the conflict from a global perspective.

Mikaberidze links all of the different wars fought between 1792 and 1815 into a greater global whole. It reveals answers to puzzles that seem inexplicable when focusing just on the wars directly involving France.

Book Review: ‘Strange Rites – New Religions for a Godless World’

 

Poll after poll demonstrates declines in religious observance in the United States today, especially in the Millennial age cohort. Some faiths and denominations are declining more quickly than others, with a few holding steady. Are people ceasing to believe any higher powers, or is something else at work? Tara Isabella Burton examines this issue in her new book, Strange Rites – New Religions for a Godless World, just out within the last week. Ms. Burton makes the argument that while adherence to traditionally recognized faiths (particularly Christianity) has declined precipitously, human beings still have a need to believe that the world is “enchanted” and human beings still need the community that shared rituals can offer. So even as adherence to particular faiths is declining, new religions are emerging to fill spiritual longings. Ms. Burton terms this the “Fourth Great Awakening.”

However, these new spiritual practices are at once radically different from anything that gone before, and yet radically American in their forms and ethos. They are also radically self-centered. Her basic thesis is this: the internet provides access to information on practically anything imaginable, and quickly connects like-minded people over any niche interest, allowing us to pick and choose our friends beyond the limited physical circles we have been limited to in the past, but this also allows us to concentrate ourselves, our interests, and our desires, creating a world of information and practice uniquely tuned to ourselves. In short, we can each pick and choose our own practices, rituals, and relationships, creating “remixed” faiths, and it is the “Remixed” whose worlds Ms. Burton illuminates.

This book is, in large part, about charlatans. It’s about capitalism and corporations and the new cutthroat Silicon Valley of spirituality. It’s about people who want to sell us meaning, brand our purpose, custom-product community, tailor-make rituals, and commodify our very humanity. It’s about how the Internet and consumer capitalism alike have produced experientially satiating substitutes – many, though not all of them, poor – for well-developed ethical, moral, and metaphysical systems. It’s about the denatured selfishness of self-care, and the way in which “call-out-culture,” at its worst, serves as the psychic methadone, providing us with a brief and illusory hit of moral belonging…

Minority Success in a Hard, Dirty Trade  

 

Whaling in the 18th through early 20th centuries was dangerous, required long stretches isolated from family and community, and required participants to live in squalor. Despite potentially high pay, few jobs were harder or less attractive. Except perhaps, slavery.

“Whaling Captains of Color: America’s First Meritocracy,” by Skip Finley, examines the lives of men who became whalers because it beat the alternatives. These included blacks, both runaway slaves and free-born, Native Americans, and Cape Verdeans: men marked by the color of their skin.

They turned to whaling because all other alternatives were worse. Finley reveals life on a whaling ship between 1750 and 1930: brutish, a cross between working on an oil rig and a slaughterhouse with the additional fillip of wretched food, crowded housing, and round-the-clock hours. It was also dangerous. There were many ways to die whaling and even more ways to get crippled.

An Atheist’s Come-to-Jesus Moment

 

Pat Santy was a NASA flight surgeon during the early years of the Space Shuttle Program. She is best known for her blog, Dr. Sanity, which ran from 2004 through 2012. For years she was an avowed atheist. “Prodigal Daughter: A Journey with Mary,” by Patricia A. Santy, MD, OP, recounts her return to the Catholic faith.

To outsiders, it seemed Santy had it all. She was a successful doctor, specializing in psychiatry. She became a flight surgeon at Johnson Space Center, on track to become an astronaut. She established a successful psychiatric practice. Later, she became a nationally-known blogger.

Her success seemed more remarkable due to an unpromising start. She was the child of divorce (when it was unusual, especially for Catholics). She financed her own way through college.

Future Law Through the Science Fiction’s Lens

 

There have been stories about lawyers and trials for as long as there have been lawyer jokes – maybe longer. So why would they not continue into the future? Why wait for that future to arrive before writing them?

Overruled, edited by Hank Davis and Christopher Ruocchio, is a collection of science fiction tales about lawyers and trials. Lawyers appear in all of them; guns and money in many.

This book presents legal-themed science fiction short stories written over a seventy-year period; from the late 1940s through this year.  The result reveals a history of science fiction style by showcasing a series of entertaining stories.

Stan the Man and How He Transformed Comics

 

Comic books started out in the mid-twentieth century. Originally they were “kid stuff.” As the twentieth century ended they had become a major cultural influence. No man was more responsible for that transformation than Stan Lee. Stan Lee: A Life in Comics, by Liel Leibovitz explores Lee’s life in a biography revealing the man and his influence.

Born Stanley Martin Lieber in 1922, Lee grew up in New York City. Good with words, Lee grew up a reader, retreating into books and writing as his father’s career collapsed during the Depression. After high school, deciding to become a writer, he shortened his name to Stan Lee. Comics were not adolescent Lee’s main interest. He read and enjoyed the newspaper comics, but his real love was literature. Shakespeare and movies fascinated him.

Lee drifted into comics. After high school, following a series of unsuccessful jobs, he asked an uncle for help. His uncle sent Lee to Timely Publications, owned by another relative. Timely published pulp – anything that sold. The newest hot seller was comic books. Lee became the errand boy for comic book illustrators Jack Kirby and Joe Simon.

Countering Domestic Spies and Saboteurs in WWII

 

The Duke of Windsor was rumored to have been a Nazi collaborator, supposedly on their list to take Great Britain’s throne when the Nazis conquered Britain. He was not alone.

Hitler’s Secret Army: A Hidden History of Spies, Saboteurs, and Traitors in World War II, by Tim Tate reveals pro-Nazi collaboration was widespread in Britain before and during World War II. The rot of fascism pervaded England’s best and beautiful.

The existence of a British Fifth Column has long been held wartime scaremongering. Tate reexamined the issue using Home Office and Treasury Solicitor files declassified between 2000 and 2017. These records expose a widespread network of espionage, sabotage, and subversion conducted by British subjects during World War II.

An Inquisitive Look at Naming Species: ‘Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider’

 

Looking for a good read? Here is a recommendation. I have an unusual approach to reviewing books. I review books I feel merit a review. Each review is an opportunity to recommend a book. If I do not think a book is worth reading, I find another book to review. You do not have to agree with everything every author has written (I do not), but the fiction I review is entertaining (and often thought-provoking) and the non-fiction contains ideas worth reading.

People like order, especially scientists. The naming of living things has even become a science called taxonomy.

“Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider: How Scientific Names Celebrate Adventurers, Heroes, and Even a Few Scoundrels,” by Stephen B. Heard, looks at the naming of things, specifically the hows and why of naming living creatures for individuals.

‘Three Good Leads’ Captures the Essence of Houston, Galveston During Spanish Flu Epidemic

 

It’s September 1918. Donald Brown is a photographer in Houston. His close friend Clara Barnes is a nursing student at John Sealy Hospital in Galveston. “Three Good Leads,” by Richard Cunningham, is their story, which unfolds as World War I is approaching its climax and the Spanish influenza is sweeping the world — and the Texas Gulf Coast.

Orphaned by the 1900 Storm, Donald was adopted by a white family living in Freedman’s Town in Houston’s Fourth Ward. He picked up photography and become a freelance photographer, selling photographs to local newspapers.

In ‘Three Good Leads,” Donald has made a name for himself through photographs he took to accompany a series on the effects of the influenza plague sweeping through Houston written by reporter and mentor Clifford Murray.

This Week’s Book Review – Starborn and Godsons

 

The Galveston County Daily News has gone to a five-day publication schedule. They dropped all print-edition book reviews and told me they no longer wanted book reviews from me. This is one of two reviews submitted to them I wrote prior to being told this. There will be a separate post later about my continuing printing weekly reviews later.

Book Review

The Last Novel Jerry Pournelle Wrote Among His Best

By MARK LARDAS

Member Post

 

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday. Book Review Murder, mayhem and dangerous secrets By MARK LARDAS Preview Open

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I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday. Book Review ‘Houdini’ reveals escape artist’s secret ambitions By MARK LARDAS Preview Open

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I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday. Book Review Eastern Orthodox Christianity Explained By MARK LARDAS Preview Open

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This Week’s Book Review – Catastrophe at Spithead

 

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.

Book Review

‘Catastrophe at Spithead’ examines loss of warship Royal George

By MARK LARDAS

Book Review: ‘Last Train’ Details Fascination with Railroads

 

Railroading was the great romantic adventure of the 19th century. By the 20th, although every boy seemed to go through a phase where railroading was mesmerizing, trains soon lost their place to aircraft, automobiles and spacecraft. Yet some boys kept their enchantment with railroads, and railroads remain a critical artery to our 21st-century economy.

“Last Train to Texas: My Personal Railroad Odyssey,” by Fred W. Frailey, illustrates both. Frailey was obsessed with railroads as a child and maintains that interest to this day.

He turned his obsession into a career, without ever working for a railroad, transforming a journalism career into one focusing on railroading. He documented the modern railroad industry’s impact on the nation over the last half-century in the business press and Trains magazine.

Member Post

 

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday. Book Review ‘How to Find a Higgs Boson’ is a big look into […]

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I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday. Book Review ‘Penric’s Progress’ a trilogy of demonic delight By MARK LARDAS Preview […]

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