Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Book review - Courageous.

I saw the movie Courageous when it came out in theaters and enjoyed it. A coworker recently recommended I read the book. Generally I am not a big fan of books written based on a movie but I decided to give it a go.

Author Randy Alcorn has done a pretty good job fleshing out the movie characters and adding in a few as well. Alcorn brings in some of the characters from Facing the Giants and Fireproof as well as bringing some of the background folks to life. There are also details and events that aren't even hinted at in the movie.

The five main characters are still the main characters and they each make their own journey in faith and growth. As in the movie, some make the hard decisions and some decide to fall by the wayside. The depth of some of those decisions increases with the space provided in a book.

Courageous moves along well and is an interesting read. It keeps the original intent of the story intact. For me it was a much more emotional trip than the movie was.

All in all I give this book two thumbs up. A caution though, if you are reading this book as a family or plan to let your younger children read it you should read it before they do. There are some much darker themes that surface here than on the big screen. They are handled well but could raise some deep questions among the younger set.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Book review - Satch, Dizzy & Rapid Robert.

Timothy Gay's 286 page Satch, Dizzy & Rapid Robert is subtitled The Wild Sage of Interracial Baseball Before Jackie Robinson. With the exception of part of the last chapter, that's exactly what Gay covers.

Most casual baseball fans are aware of Jackie Robinson's role in breaking the color line in baseball. What they may not be aware of is the role interracial barnstorming tours composed of Major League and Negro League players played in preparing the way for Jackie.

While the book touches on several interracial tours it focuses on the tours featuring the pitching legend Satchel Paige. Paige was willing to play anywhere and for anyone, if the price was right. He even played on integrated teams in the Dakotas years before Branch Ricky had heard of Robinson.

The first of Satchel's regular white barnstorming partners was Dizzy Dean. Dean was fair with the Negro League stars who traveled with him and wasn't afraid to buck Commissioner Landis to do the traveling. Dean also wasn't afraid to loudly proclaim the black players he played with to be of Major League quality.

After Diz ruined his arm Satch was solicited by a young fireballer, Bob Feller. Feller and Paige would continue their tours until just after Robinson broke into the Majors. In spite of his later reputation as being opposed to integration, Feller was fair with the black players on his tours and often treated them better than the owners of the Negro League teams. He also lost a number of contests to them.

Timothy Gay has written an interesting book for any baseball fan or student of American history to read. Satch, Dizzy & Rapid Robert pulls back the curtain on a forgotten but vital link in the integration of Major League Baseball. It is well worth the reading.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Book review - Moneyball.

I have to confess, I saw the movie before I read Michael Lewis' Moneyball. Before the movie came out I had this book on my to-read someday list. The movie moved it up and I was recently able to pick up a copy.

Perhaps because of the Oakland A's recent successes, I must say I found nothing particularly controversial in Billy Beane's ideas of how to build a baseball team. I independently came to the conclusion years ago that on-base percentage is a more valuable stat than batting average. Of course, I'm not as good with numbers as Beane and Paul DePodesta nor am I involved in the management of a Major League Baseball team.

Being a tad mathematically challenged, there were a few parts of the book that flew over my head as Beane assembled his low budget - high win team. That didn't keep the book from being a real page turner and hard to put down. Michael Lewis writes well and makes concepts clear while holding the reader's interest. Even having seen the movie didn't spoil the read. Beane's not the sympathetic character he is in the movie and he appears to miss a few things along the way but he's still a striking figure.

If you are an A's fan, a baseball fan, a math or business whiz, or just interested in a good read then Moneyball would be well worth your time.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Book review - Sixty Feet, Six Inches.

Lonnie Wheeler's Sixty Feet, Six Inches is a frank 273 page discussion between Hall of Famers Bob Gibson and Reggie Jackson. At closer range than the actual distance from the mound to home, the two cover game situations, playing philosophy, great players, umpires, and cheating among other topics.

I found the book to be interesting and informative. The format is relatively unedited with no commentary by Wheeler. If Gibby or Reggie didn't say it, it isn't in here. The effect is a bit like being a fly on the wall while the two greats talk. The book is broken down by topic so it can be read a little at a time if needed.

As I read through the book I found myself learning much about baseball, Gibson, and Jackson. Think Willie Mays was the toughest hitter Gibson ever faced? Think again. Think Jackson didn't care what his teammates thought of him? Wrong. Who's most in favor of free agency and the player's union? Who would be most likely to have used steroids if they had been available when they were playing? The answers might surprise you.

If you're a baseball fan you owe it to yourself to read Sixty Feet, Six Inches. Lonnie Wheeler has compiled a classic and it's a must read.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Saying goodbye.

There's been a lot of upheaval in my family's life recently. At the first part of July I took a new job that is about 500 miles away from where we had been living. Since then I have been living with family members while Mrs. Spiff and the kids wait on the house to sell. A few trips to see Dad just doesn't seem to be the same as all living under the same roof. Couple that with the older two being a little upset about moving and the entire situation is tiring.

Needless to say, I wasn't thrilled when my wife called last week to tell me that one of the kids' dogs was sick. We have two miniature dachshunds. They are great with the kids and much loved. The smaller of the two, Ginger, was throwing up and had been for a few days.

Several trips to the vet and many phone conversations later things were not good. It was looking like just a matter of time before the worst happened and the kids had their first experience in losing a pet. Mrs. Spiff had warned them that this might be coming. I was still concerned when I got the late night call that Ginger had passed away.

Mrs. Spiff had been planning on coming to see me and decided to move the trip up a few days. Her thinking was that it might be better to bury Ginger on relatives' property close to were the family will land rather than bury her where they are now and then have the kids lose her again when the move comes.

The burial was on Tuesday. All did well while to box was laid in the grave. It was quiet as I shoveled the dirt on. Only when Spiff Jr. and I began to pile rocks on the grave did Sis really begin to cry. I had been concerned that this would be hardest on her. At five years old it's hard to say goodbye to a pet you can't remember not being there. Even harder when your whole life is in upheaval.

Too many goodbyes.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Book review - 500 Ballparks.

The 386 page 500 Ballparks by Eric Pastore covers just what the title implies - 500 American and Canadian baseball parks.

Moving in alphabetical order through parks old and new, Mr. Pastore leaves few parks out as he provides at least a paragraph and information on each. From college ball through the minors, independent leagues, the Negro Leagues and on to Major League parks, the entries are interesting and informative. At least half of the parks have accompanying photos and drawings. I found the defunct or demolished parks to be among the most interesting. I was also startled to discover several Negro League parks still in existence.

Overall I found the book to be interesting and very informative. It did drag from time to time but that was attributable more to the reader than author. Mr. Pastore has performed a service to baseball fans everywhere. All in all 500 Ballparks is a must have book. Even if you don't read it from cover to cover you will want to browse through it from time to time. I plan to do so and to keep it on hand for future reference.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Book review - Secure and Sure.

Robert N. Wilkin answers one simple question in Secure and Sure. Can I know for sure that I am saved and going to Heaven? To answer this question Dr. Wilkin urges his readers to follow the book's subtitle, Grasping the Promises of God.

In an easily read 206 pages Wilkin shows clearly and concisely that it is possible to be sure that one is eternally secure. He also examines why this security is in such disrepute within modern Christianity and why it is essential to understand how Jesus preached that believers could know for sure where their eternal home is. Dr. Wilkin examines the pitfalls of lacking assurance and the benefits of possessing it. He clearly demonstrates that the source for one's assurance of salvation is the promises of God, not anything done or felt by the believer.

To end the book Dr. Wilkin takes the time to examine two prominent evangelical leaders and their views on assurance. He uses quotes from conversations he has had with them along with information from their own writings to establish what they teach. He then carefully compares their teachings to Scripture to see if what they say is true.

For each assertion he makes or doctrinal position examined, Dr. Wilkin uses Scripture as his yardstick rather than any theological system. The reader is constantly pushed to examined the referenced passages for himself and see if the author is correct or in error. The included study guide, Scripture index, subject index, and annotated bibliography make such an examination accessible to most any reader.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is serious about studying the Bible or who is seeking assurance of their eternal home. It may cross up dearly held belief systems but it clearly examines the promises that God gives His people and how they impact our lives. Part of that impact is that we can be Secure and Sure in our salvation.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Book review - Every Thing On It.

Every Thing On It is a 194 page collection of Shel Silverstein's poems and drawings. The book was published in 2011. Silverstein died in 1999 and this collection was drawn from works he either had under way or had left out of his previous books.

This book follows in the grand tradition of Falling Up, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and A Light in the Attic. Mr. Silverstein may have not thought that all of these poems made the cut but they fit right into this collection. The drawings add to the already descriptive poems and sometimes help to make the connection. From the toilet troll to Professor Shore to Mustache Mo, Silverstein's characters come easily to life and relate well to all ages.

Perhaps the only downside to this volume is the realization that it is the final such work. To quote the final poem in the book:

When I am gone what will you do?
Who will write and draw for you?
Someone smarter - someone new?
Someone better - maybe YOU!

What will we do indeed. Any fan of Shel's or of just good reading would do well to grab a copy of Every Thing On It as soon as possible. That will go a long way towards keeping Shel Silverstein from leaving too soon.

Monday, April 23, 2012

After action report - Wichita, Kansas.

Went to Wichita this past weekend for Civil War Days at Old Cowtown. The setting for the event was unique with the camps being scattered throughout the cattle drive town. Last year we went down for just one day but this year we did the entire weekend.The chance to camp and fight in a mostly period town was too much to pass up.

Arrived on Friday evening with daylight still left. Got situated and everyone set up without trouble. Mrs. Spiff and the young ones were camped only a short distance from the Ninth but with a tall privacy fence between the camps there was a good separation between civilians and military. Our camp was between two houses along a back street in the town. The two other Confederate units were similarly located, one being quite a distance away on a farm on the outskirts of town. The Federal infantry was camped a block or so away from us with another unit near the civilian camp. Nothing in Old Cowtown is very far from anything else.

All through the evening on Friday the men of the Ninth trickled in. While I did not get official numbers I would estimate the unit topping out at between 13 and 15 men counting attached men. Captain Cox and the entire NCO staff were present. After catching up with the boys I decided to hit the sack as it had been a long week.

Saturday morning saw more men arriving. Drill commenced at 0900. After individual company drill we joined the 2nd Kansas (the Vertigree Militia for the weekend) and drilled together for a time. Just over an hour later we were dismissed. Drill went well and the winter rust knocked off quickly for all.

An early lunch was in order as the battle was slated to start at 1300. A short time before, we marched out to the farmstead. Several trenches had been dug in front of the farmhouse. We were initially stationed behind the house as a wagon load of civilians came down the road from town. The wagon was stopped by the militia and, for reasons unknown, the women and children aboard were taken prisoner. This sent a frightened lad scurrying back to town to alert the Yankee troops in the area. Thus the battle was perhaps caused as were many during the war - by chance.

As the Federal troops emerged from town they began to skirmish with some irregulars to our front. We occupied the trenches and waited. Several unsuccessful assaults later we emerged and confronted the Yankees in the open. There were still enough left that we could not drive them though.

Following the battle we cleaned up and visited with the members of the public who passed by and through our camp. Several old Ninth members stopped by and caught up with the current members of the unit. Later I visited Mrs. Spiff in her camp for dinner but did not eat much due to feeling less than stellar.

A company meeting after dinner resulted in a decision to reinstate yearly $20 dues. This money will pay for the Ninth's website as well as any other company expenses. Extra monies will be applied to help supply the men with powder and caps.

Following the meeting I escorted Mrs. Spiff to a dance being held in town. After just three dances I became ill and we had to leave. Spent the rest of the evening in my bedroll feeling the effects of an upset stomach. I was later informed that the rest of the company retired to the saloon to play cards and socialize. At least one enlisted man may have had a bit more refreshment than was wise as he was on sick call the next day.

Awakened Sunday morning feeling much better than the night before but still not completely up to par. Ate a very light breakfast as I did not yet trust my innards. Several of the other men inquired as to my health. As the company was cleaning up after breakfast several shots were fired just outside of camp. 1st Sgt. Downey bellowed a call to arms, the Federals had launched a surprise attack. The battle raged throughout the town and drew in all the Confederate units as well as all but one Federal unit. The end result was a draw I believe but the forces were so intermixed that a final determination of victory may be all but impossible.

At 1300 on Sunday we again tangled with the Federal troops. This time the encounter took place along a street. The result was carnage. Most of the Ninth ended up as casualties before the final gun sounded. The crowd seemed appreciative of the effort but it was noted that several females in the crowd cheered particularly loudly whenever a southerner dropped with a wound.

Following the battle the loading and leaving began. We got loaded smoothly and hit the road for the trip home. Looking back on the event I can say that it was a good one. With the presence of public restrooms no porta-johns were needed. Firewood was provided but did run low at one point. This was remedied however. All in all we were well taken care of by the staff of Old Cowtown. In fact, a member of the staff made a stop by Mrs. Spiff's tent solely to see if she needed anything and thank her for coming. If you missed this event as either a reenactor or as a spectator then you must make a note to correct that error next year.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Book review - Perfect.

James Buckley Jr.'s Perfect was re-released in 2005 and covers the then 17 perfect games ever thrown in Major League Baseball. Of course there have been three more such games thrown since then but they occurred in 2009 and 2010 and so are not included in the book.

Mr. Buckley begins his book by discussing the nature and rarity of the perfect game. He rightly points out that, while the pitcher gets credit for the game, the entire team must be perfect as well. Every play, every bounce of the ball, every pitch must be perfect. The odds against such an occurrence are staggering. After reading the introduction I found myself amazed that Mr. Buckley had any subject matter at all.

Chapter one of the book covers Lee Richmond's perfect game from 1880. The phrase perfect game was not then in use but that's what Richmond threw. A brief lead-up to the game covers Richmond's life and career to that point. The game is then recounted. A brief follow-up covers the rest of Richmond's career and life and discusses the impact of the perfect game on him.

Each of the other 16 perfect games covered receives the same treatment as the first in their own chapters. When possible Mr. Buckley includes information from interviews with players or family members of players. The reactions and views on the games are as varied as the players themselves. For some of the pitchers their perfect game was a mile marker in a Hall 0f Fame career. For others it was the shining moment in an otherwise ordinary career. For all it was (and is) something very special.

After the account of Randy Johnson's 2004 perfect game Mr. Buckley spends a chapter on the most heartbreaking aspect of perfect games - those that weren't. The near misses are as varied as the ones that made it. Mr. Buckley does just as well bringing them to life as he does with the 17 perfect games he covers.

Even though Perfect misses the last three perfect games thrown in the Majors it is a must read for any baseball fan. Mr. Buckley writes well and his accounts never drag. His rendition of the players and games makes for a perfect read.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Book review - Bringing up Girls.

So, I have three girls. Since at least before the birth of my youngest my wife has been after me to read Bringing up Girls by Dr. James Dobson. I finally got to it and read all 268 pages. Every page was interesting. Much of them were enlightening. Many were personally quite applicable and convicting.

This book can be viewed as either a follow-up to Dr. Dobson's earlier Bringing up Boys or as a stand-alone. Either way it's chock full of much needed information that every parent with a girl needs. Dobson breaks down loads of studies and medical research to explain why girls mature and act the way they do and why they're physically and emotionally different than boys. Of course that information impacts how parents interact with their girls.

After establishing a base of information, the book then moves on to the dangers facing girls in our modern society. These dangers are mental and physical. While some of those risks are applicable to both sexes, most of what is discussed here is of particular danger to girls. Once again, Dobson relies heavily on facts and figures as he outlines the risks girls face and how certain risky behaviors will increase those risks.

The final part of the book covers what parents can do to prepare their girls to face our predatory society. The importance of both a strong mother and father figure in every young lady's life cannot be overstated. The need for protection, guidance, and support are clearly outlined. As before, Dobson's positions are clearly supported by research and hard data.

Overall I found Dr. Dobson's book to be easy to read and easy to understand. I also found it very enlightening and challenging. A warning though, if you believe that there are no differences between boys and girls, this book is not for you. Dr. Dobson pulls no punches in making his case. If that warning does not apply then this book should be a must read for all parents engaged in Bringing up Girls.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Book review - Mr. Lincoln's Cameraman: Mathew B. Brady.

To finish up the two books I was recently lent, I read Mr. Lincoln's Camera Man: Mathew B. Brady by Roy Meredith. The version that I read was printed by Dover Publishing in 1974.

While not an in depth biography, I found Mr. Meredith's work to be fascinating nonetheless. Knowing a fair amount about the Civil War I had often heard of Mathew Brady and had even seen a decent number of his photographs. What I didn't know was the story behind the lens.

Mathew Brady was a world-famous photographer well before the Civil War broke out. He had won a most prestigious award at the 1851 World's Fair in London. That merely cemented his reputation though. Everyone who was anyone had their likeness taken by Mr. Brady. Many of those prewar photographs are included in the book along with the stories behind them.

Brady was at the height of his fame when the Civil War erupted. With his business prospering he was in a position to try and become the main recorder of the war. He largely succeeded. Many of his iconic Civil War images are included in the book along with lesser known prints. All are deeply interesting.

After the war Brady attempted to continue in business but his finances were in severe disarray. The government contract that he had expected did not come through. Competitors were multiplying. His health was failing. Until the end though Mathew Brady never lost the drive and vision that made him perhaps the most well-known photographers in American history.

Whether interested in the Civil War, American history, or photography most readers will find this inside look at Mr. Lincoln's Cameraman extremely interesting. Brady's pictures helped make Abraham Lincoln president, Roy Meredith's book helps bring Mathew Brady into focus. I cannot recommend it enough.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Book review - Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War.

Unlike most of the books I review, I do not own this one. It and the next book were both lent to me by a friend.

Alexander Gardner was a photographer during the mid-1800's. He began his career working for the famous Mathew Brady and then struck out on his own. The pictures he took during the Civil War made him a household name. After the war Gardner was in need of funds, the result was this book.

The version of Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War that I read was a reproduction of the original work that was put out by Dover Publications in 1959. With the exception of an introduction and an index, the work remained as it was when it was initially published.

There are 100 "plates" or pictures in the book with accompanying descriptions. While I had seen many of the photographs previously I found the descriptions to be interesting. Many of the pictures that I had seen were presented in other works as something different that Mr. Gardner labeled them. Also of note was the famous faked photograph from Gettysburg. In Mr. Gardner's book the same body is seen twice - once in an open area and once in a sharp-shooter's nest. The supposition has always been that Mr. Gardner moved the soldier in order to get a more dramatic shot in the second photograph. After comparing the pictures I would have to agree that something is fishy.

There's nothing fishy about this fine collection of Civil War pictures though. Whether one is an avid Civil War buff or is just wanting to take a glimpse into the past this book is well worth your time.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Book review - Alexander Hamilton.

Wow, it's been quite awhile since I last posted. I guess the best excuse I can come up with is that I was reading Broadus Mitchell's two volume biography of Alexander Hamilton. The two books that make up Alexander Hamilton were printed in 1962. The book subtitled Youth to Maturity covers the years from 1755-1788 and runs 465 pages. The second book is subtitled The National Adventure, covers the years from 1788-1804 and runs 555 pages.

Mr. Mitchell's writing style is thorough but at times is over detailed and less than gripping. Still, I found this set to be interesting and informative. Mr. Mitchell is obviously a Hamilton partisan but reveals Hamilton's warts along with his achievements. From the outset it is clear that Alexander Hamilton was a young man of great promise and talents. By the end of the book it is clear to see where that promise had been fulfilled and where it had not. Also clear are the examples in his life of both use and misuse of his impressive talents.

As one who has been less than impressed by Alexander Hamilton I was looking forward to reading the set to further round out my knowledge of the father of the American financial system. In some areas my doubts about Hamilton were enforced - his economic collectivism and his conduct towards John Adams. In other areas I was more favorably impressed - his energy and organization in financing the War for Independence and the young republic. All in all I remain less impressed with Hamilton than I am with the work of Mr. Mitchell. I recommend Alexander Hamilton with one caveat; to fully appreciate the read the reader must be familiar with the founding of the United States and must be interested enough in the subject matter to deal with the length of the combined works.