Monday, May 31, 2010

Book Review - Autobiography.

Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography runs 235 pages in the 1923 edition that I read. It is an inside look at Franklin's early life from his perspective. Well, maybe his perspective. With Benjamin Franklin you can never be sure, he may have been writing what he thought people would want to read.

Dr. Franklin never finished his Autobiography. The book ends at the firing of colonial Governor Denny by the proprietaries of Pennsylvania. It still gives a fascinating look at Franklin's rise from poverty to the renown which most associate with him. Of course there is also the man's personality and belief system peeking out through the pages.

The Autobiography is referred to in any major book about Benjamin Franklin. For that reason alone it should be read by anyone interested in this founding father. As an added bonus it is well written and gives an insightful look into the formation of one of the leading personalities of the revolutionary era. A recommended read for anyone wanting to meet Benjamin Franklin.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Book review - The Sinking of the Bismarck.

William L. Shirer's The Sinking of the Bismarck is a 169 page account of the sea battle that ended with the destruction of the German battleship Bismarck in 1941. The book was published by Random House in 1962. Mr. Shirer explains what sources he drew from in writing the book but since it is primarily aimed at the younger set he does not have footnotes.

The book begins with the notification to the British naval command that the Bismarck has sailed. What follows is a broad search for the elusive ship as it breaks out into the Atlantic Ocean. Mr. Shirer does a good job of setting the stage for the coming confrontation as the German ship is located and the British close in.

An initial battle results in the sinking of the Hood with almost all hands and the crippling of the Prince of Wales. Things look grim for the British. What follows is a chase on the high seas as more British ships converge and the Bismarck attempts to return to port.

The final showdown is well written from both perspectives on the battle. Using captured German records Mr. Shirer is able to partially reconstruct what was going on with the Bismarck as the battle progressed. Of course, the outcome is given in the title.

The Sinking of the Bismarck is engaging and well written. The style is such that it will easily hold the attention of its target audience. Serious scholars of World War II will likely find little to hold their interest. However, those not familiar with the war or those just beginning to delve into history will find themselves learning much.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Book review - To Try Men's Souls.

Received Newt Gringrich and William Forstchen's To Try Men's Souls for Christmas. This is a 336 page historical novel covering the Trenton campaign during the Revolutionary War. Unlike the pair's previous offerings, this book is not an alternate history. It is along the lines of Jeff Shaara's offerings and while good does not quite reach to his level. Nevertheless it is still a fine book.

The book follows four characters through the Continental Army's attack on the Hessian outpost at Trenton, New Jersey. Much of the narrative takes place on December 25th and 26th of 1776 although there are several flashbacks. Care must be taken to note the dates and locations that head each section.

Most of the flashbacks involve Thomas Paine and his writing of his pamphlet The Crisis. His wrestling within himself and doubts about what to write are the focus of his character. He is also at least partially intoxicated for most of the book. With the assistance of Dr. Benjamin Rush he finally gets the pamphlet into print just days before the campaign opens.

The second character the book follows is General George Washington. I actually found this to probably be the least interesting part of the book but it was well done. Washington has so much exposure that it is difficult to bring him to life without dropping into cliches. Gingrich and Forstchen make an admirable effort however and the result is a well done picture of a commander under the gun and out of time.

The third character is a well-drawn fictional member of the New Jersey militia from Trenton. This young man is dealing with some doubt but still believes what Thomas Paine has written. He is also struggling with his physical weaknesses as the march drags on and his body breaks down. Lastly, there is a terrible family conflict that he must face as the army attains victory. This young man could perhaps illustrate many members of the Continental Army.

The fourth character is perhaps a puzzling choice at first glance but is one that I truly enjoyed reading about. Colonel Johann Rall was the commander of the Hessian garrison at Trenton. He was a professional soldier who had been born and bred to the profession. I know little about him from history. In this book he emerges as a rigid man who demanded much of his men but tried to take care of them as well. He has the professional's disdain for the American army and is sick and tired of America in general. This isn't his war and he longs to return to Europe and the land and people he knows.

All in all To Try Men's Souls is well-written and is an enjoyable read. The narrative sticks to the historical facts while putting a human face on them. The story is interesting and flows well. Anyone interested in the founding of the United States would be well-served by reading this book.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Memorial Day.

May 15th is Law Enforcement Memorial Day. This year it caps off National Police Week. During the past week ceremonies have taken place at various memorials to fallen officers around the United States. Sadly, new names have been added to those memorials since last year's observances. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, line of duty deaths are up by 36% over this time last year.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Book review - Six Secrets of the Christian Life.

Recently picked up a copy of Six Secrets of the Christian Life by the late Zane Hodges. I had read several of Hodges' books on a couple of other topics and enjoyed them so I looked forward to reading this book. I am always a little leery of books that purport to show some magic formula for instant success in living. Knowing how Zane wrote I doubted this was the case but decided to keep an eye open anyway.

In the 75 pages of this small book Hodges shares what he feels are six important concepts regarding victorious Christian living. There are no quick fixes and no snappy slogans. What is shared are down to earth Biblical principles. In fact, most believers probably already know at least one or two, if not more, of the "secrets" outlined. There is really very little earth-shattering information here. Instead Zane clearly shows from Scripture how to move towards a more Christ-like life. I found the book to be challenging and helpful.

At the end of the book there is a helpful index of the passages cited. This is very helpful in re-enforcing that Hodges' is not out on his own here but is drawing what he says from Scripture. That is crucial in determining if he is on the right track or not. It seems that he is. Six Secrets of the Christian Life is a thought provoking read that I highly recommend to anyone who finds themselves struggling in their Christian walk.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Book review - The Critical Period of American History.

Just finished up John Fiske's book The Critical Period of American History. This 350 page book was published in 1888 and covers the time in American history from 1783 to 1789. Mr. Fiske does an excellent job with his topic.

The book starts off with a brief summary of the effects of the Revolution on both the United States and Great Britain. Mr. Fiske then explores the weaknesses and problems that were associated with the Articles of Confederation. Soon it becomes obvious that something must be done. The last part of the book covers the Constitutional Convention and the battle to ratify the United States Constitution. George Washington is inaugurated as the first president on the final page. I found one passage in the book to be of particular interest:

While speaking of the fear of a centralized government, "To the familiar state governments which had so long possessed their love and allegiance, it was super-adding a new and untried government, which it was feared would swallow up the states and everywhere extinguish local independence. Nor can it be said that such fears were unreasonable. Our federal government has indeed shown a strong tendency to encroach upon the province of the state governments, especially since our late Civil War. Too much centralization is our danger today..." Very interesting coming just 20 short years after the close of the war and over 120 years before the present. Seems to solidify the contention that the war effectively ended states rights and that the Federal Government has been broadening its power since.

All in all The Critical Period of American History was well written and flowed smoothly. Mr. Fiske wrote a book well worthy of anyone interested in the founding era of our nation. This book gets two thumbs up.