"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read." - Jules Verne
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Sunday, November 29, 2015


Published by Tantor Audio in May of 2015
Read by Tom Perkins
Duration: 8 hours, 16 minutes

If you are a person that likes to debate on the internet than you have undoubtedly experienced Godwin's Law. Godwin's Law states that if you debate long enough on the internet, someone will inevitably make a comparison to Nazism, Hitler, the Holocaust ("You don't like Donald Trump's hair? What are you the hairdo Nazi?!?"). 

A similar rule exists when discussing American politics - eventually someone will refer back to the Founding Fathers. It is especially easy to quote Thomas Jefferson - he was so prolific and well-written that it is easy to break out a quote to support your point of view. In the case of Jefferson, it is often too easy because he was extremely inconsistent in his political views. To start easy, he did write "
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." And, he also owned a whole lot of people and certainly did not allow them liberty or the pursuit of happiness. He was also advocated strictly following the letter of the Constitution...until it suited him not to when he became President, like with the Louisiana Purchase.

So, Jefferson is quoted all of the time because, likely as not, he has written or uttered a very lofty-sounding quote that supports your point of view, no matter what it is. In short, the man was so inconsistent that he was, at one point or another, on your side and and at a different point he was also against it.

Sehat uses this as a jumping off point to look at two general phenomena. The first is the traditional big activist government vs. small strict constructionist government argument. In the Washington Administration this was personified with Alexander/Washington on one side and Jefferson on the other.

But, the argument continues throughout American history and Sehat looks at some of the high points in his study, including the debate on slavery, the two crises with secession, The New Deal, the Civil Rights movement, The Reagan Revolution, The War on Terror, Obamacare and the Tea Party movement. 

In his second point, he notes that politicians have always referred back to the Founders and referred to them as if they were a united front, despite the ugly split in the Washington Administration itself. Also, the image of the Founders is changed as needed by current politicians.

I found the whole book to be fascinating and a well-told tour of American history. There were times when I thought Sehat was surprisingly harsh on the liberal side of things than I found him to be equally harsh on the conservative side. To be fair, I think Sehat is harsh on politicians in general and finds them all, no matter their political stripe, guilty of the same sin when it comes to referring to the Founding Fathers.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon here: 
The Jefferson Rule: Why We Think the Founding Fathers Have All the Answers

Monday, November 23, 2015

GREAT GAMBLES of the CIVIL WAR by Philip Katcher

  Disappointing Collection

Originally Published in 1996.
Re-Issue Published by Castle Books in 2003.

Great Gambles of the Civil War focuses on those moments when a general took a risk to give himself an advantage.  One could argue that all of war is a risk, including every battle and every maneuver but Author Philip Katcher has limited his book to just thirteen events. Some are battles, some are campaigns but all demonstrate risk. Philip Katcher has written numerous books on the Civil War so this has all the hallmarks of being a great book.

While there is no doubt that Katcher knows his stuff, most of these thirteen stories are just not interesting, or at least not told in an interesting manner. It's not that the stories aren't fact-filled, it's just that some are paced so poorly ("Mulligan Defends Lexington" comes to mind - it just drug on and on and almost made me quit the book entirely) that the story itself is lost in the telling. I think Shelby Foote demonstrated in his own histories of the Civil War that the stories crackle and shine if told well.
The CSS Arkansas. Drawing by R.G. Skerrett

It's not that there are no good stories in the collection. I especially enjoyed "Brown Takes the CSS Arkansas to Vicksburg" - it was paced well and had the feel of a grand adventure.  Sadly, too many of these stories felt like a tedious lecture rather than tales of "great gambles."

I rate this book 2 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon here: Great Gambles of the Civil War

THE HEIST (Fox and O'Hare #1)

  Takes too Long to Get Started

Published in 2013 by Bantam

Janet Evanovich, the famed author of the fun and sexy Stephanie Plum series, and Lee Goldberg, succesful author and screenwriter of the fun and quirky television series Monk (and too many other shows to list here) team up in a new series. 

The premise is fairly simple. A super-slick con-man, Nicolas Fox, creates elaborate ruses involving teams of like-minded criminals are successful over and over again in stealing prestigious pieces of art and the like. They are being pursued by a beautiful FBI agent, Kate O'Hare, has literally dedicated her life to the capture of Fox.

Once Fox is captured he quickly escapes and Fox uses her personal time (saved up over the years of dedicated pursuit) to track him down. She discovers that Fox has cut a deal with the government and is going to use his talents to help the government take down bigger and badder bad guys than himself in order to stay out of prison. All of this work will be done without government approval. If he is caught, he will do time for his previous crimes. And, his number one pursuer, Kate O'Hare is to be his minder and partner-in-crime, so to speak. If she is caught with him she will also be on the hook for criminal conspiracy.

Kate is reluctant but she soon sees that this is a chance to effect some real justice on those who are simply too rich and too connected for the normal rules. Plus, she is strangely attracted to Nicolas Fox...

Photo by Niels Noordhoek
This is a simple twist on a familiar story and it shows potential. But, this book just takes forever to take off. Too much of the book is spent introducing the reader to all of the characters that you will meet throughout the book series and the situation that Fox and O'Hare find themselves in. I blame this on Goldberg's experience in TV - it just felt like a slow-moving pilot episode. You meet all of the characters, you get a quick taste of what a regular show will be like and then you see if you can get them back to the the second episode. But, the pilot is never really like the rest of the series. It wanders around establishing characters and trying to set the tone for the series. 

So, what happens once the story gets going in The Heist? Fox and O'Hare build a team to help in their cons, but they cannot be criminals. So, Fox digs up a team of amateurs with specialized skills and they go after a corrupt investment banker so vile that he even ripped off his own parents before he headed off to a tropical island where he cannot be extradited. 

Because of the poor pacing of this book I have to give it a score of 3 stars out of 5. The Stephanie Plum series rocketed off in the first few pages. This book just kept trying to establish one new character after another and when it finally got going it was just not worth the long wait.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Heist: A Novel (Fox and O'Hare)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

ALONE: THE JOURNEY of the BOY SIMS by Alan K. Garinger

Published in 2008 by The Indiana Historical Society Press

In the great state of Indiana 4th grade is the year that the social studies classes focus on Indiana history. My youngest daughter is in 4th grade and her entire class read this book.

The book is set in 1833 and even though it has been a state since 1816, in many ways Indiana is still a wild frontier, especially in northern Indiana (the Ohio River was often the route that settlers took to Indiana in the early days and it forms the southern border of the state). Road crews are working on building Michigan Road - a "road" that will connect the Ohio River to Lake Michigan, a distance of more than 250 miles.

Photo by DWD
While somewhere in the vicinity of what will eventually be Logansport, Indiana a thirteen year old member of the crew is sent to Detroit all by himself for more ink to draw out the maps and keep track of the surveys that the crews were taking. This trip is well more than 200 miles one way and it is already late October...

I found the book to be interesting but loosely constructed. Sometimes the plot generated lots more questions than it answered and the book was desperately in need of lots and lots of maps. The author wanted to make the book a learning experience for Hoosier children but the number of people that Sims meets on his trip and their symbolic (or actual) significance to history got a bit tedious to me. The parade of runaway slaves, slave catchers, soldiers, Indians avoiding the soldiers and even a cameo by Johnny Appleseed (he was a real person) made the story move into the range of impossibility.  If I were rating the book as an adult I would give it 3 stars out of 5.

But, this is not a book aimed at adults and my daughter thought it was very interesting. She would recite any number of things that Joshua Sims encountered on his trip as she rode home from school. She would give it 5 stars out of 5. This is a book that is designed to introduce frontier Indiana to school children and it does that quite well.

So, let's split the difference and call it 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon here:  Alone: The Journey of the Boy Sims


Published in 2012 by HighBridge
Multicast performance
Duration: 1 hour, 7 minutes

NPR has searched its archives for stories about America's National Park System for this enjoyable collection. These stories don't just tell us about the park but tell us an interesting story in the park.
Thaddeus Kosciuszco  (1746-1817)

The stories vary from the humorous (the story about the smallest National Park - Thaddeus Kosciuszco National Memorial in Philadelphia which consists of a single room and covers .02 acre to honor this figure from the Revolutionary War) to the wondrous (Death Valley in full bloom after a once-in-a-lifetime rainstorm). The listener learns about the small city of employees that run Grand Canyon National Park, spooky tales of love at White Sands, an effort to preserve the music of New Orleans and a park employee who charts and maps the roadkill that he finds as he goes about his work. 

The audio quality is, of course, excellent since these stories were originally produced for broadcast on NPR. Besides that, this is an interesting collection - the stories are not repetitive, they alternate in mood and length and come together to make an excellent listening experience.

I rate this collection 5 stars out of 5.

This CD can be purchased on Amazon here: NPR Road Trips: National Park Adventures: Stories That Take You Away . . .

Saturday, November 7, 2015

SPIDER-MAN: DROWNED in THUNDER (audiobook) by Christopher L. Bennett

Published by GraphicAudio in August of 2013
Multi-cast performance
Duration: Approximately 5 hours

Marvel Comic's Spider-Man swings into action against a robot attack against New York's Diamond District in a scene that was very reminiscent of the classic Superman cartoon "The Mechanical Monsters." But, Spider-Man always has a different take on things than the Man of Steel. Spidey's comments and tendency to not quite have everything under control give this caper a unique twist.

Of course, J. Jonah Jameson continues his media barrage against the webslinger, Peter Parker and M.J. are working through relationship issues and Spider-Man continues to struggle with his work/superhero/home life balance. But, in this story he faces other issues, including robot attacks from an undetermined source, a messed up Spidey Sense and a non-stop rainy weather pattern that make his webs a lot less effective and make it hard to swing through the city.

This is an interesting story. The partnership Spider-Man forms with an old adversary is entertaining as they try to work together and the GraphicAudio treatment of the story is professionally done and top-notch (as always). They add special effects and have a whole troupe of actors tell the story much like an old-fashioned radio play.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.
This audiobook can be found on Amazon here: Graphic Audio Spider-Man Drowned in Thunder Audiobook Story