Saturday, December 31, 2022

Review of "Bitch Planet Book Two," by Kelly Sue Deconnick and Valentine De Landro

 Review of

Bitch Planet Book Two, by Kelly Sue Deconnick and Valentine De Landro, ISBN 9781632157171

Five out of five stars

Hard dystopia based on some reality

 In the content advisory page, the statistic that 1 in 16 incarcerated females reported being sexually assaulted while in prison is stated. This is hardly surprising, anecdotal evidence indicates that the rate is higher in male prisons. Yet, it is a statistic that demonstrates that life in prison his hard, in many cases, the main threat is from other inmates.

 This is the second volume in a series about a dystopia where women are incarcerated in a very high-tech prison. There are AI holograms that simulate people and there are serious fights for dominance among the inmates. Yet, there is an underlying plotline that some of the inmates are political prisoners. Specifically, a woman named Eleanor Doane.

There are snippets of information to references to some form of massive games, extremely wealthy and powerful men that control the lives of most other people. One of those men is referred to as “high father.”

 While this graphic novel is entertaining, it is almost impossible to make sense of it all if you have not read volume 1. I encountered this book in a used bookstore and once I read it, began a search for the first volume. This is a great story, but there are enough holes in the understanding to both intrigue and frustrate you. There is no “story to date” leading page.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Review of "Stop-Action," by Dick Butkus and Robert W. Billings

 Review of

Stop-Action, by Dick Butkus and Robert W. Billings

Four out of five stars

The monster does not appear

 This book about “the most feared man in football,” Dick Butkus is surprisingly tame. There are several videos available online where opponents portray Butkus as a maniac with a killer nature on the field. In one video, he is proclaimed the all-time most feared tackler in the history of the NFL. Which puts him ahead of people such as “the Assassin” Jack Tatum and Ronnie Lott.

 There is almost none of that controlled fury in this book. It is a rather tame description of his family life as well as his frustrations in playing for a team that rarely won and even more rarely had a winning season. Most of the failures were on the offensive side of the ball, and Butkus is extremely critical of their performance. However, according to him, he rarely took them to task for their failures.

 If you are looking for the textual equivalent of the fury that Butkus demonstrated on the football field, this is not the book for you. However, it does show Butkus as a human outside of his profession as a human wrecking ball.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Review of "The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare Against Civilians," by Caleb Carr

 Review of

The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare Against Civilians, by Caleb Carr ISBN 9780375760747

Five out of five stars

Lessons have not been learned

 As any serious student of history knows and is well documented in this book, waging war on civilians is almost always counterproductive. In the modern world since the advent of aerial carpet bombing of population centers, the mass killing of non-combatants has never led to a capitulation. The first such instance was the Allied bombing of Europe in World War II, which did almost nothing to end the will of the Germans to keep fighting. It took a successful land invasion to force the surrender.

 In the American war in Vietnam, the United States dropped approximately 8 million tons of bombs on Indochina compared to approximately 4 million on Europe in World War II. Again, to no measurable effect. In the Vietnam War, the hawks constantly screamed, “Bomb them back to the stone age!” The North Vietnamese won.

 It is not well known, but in the Korean War, the United States carpet bombed all the population centers in North Korea, again to no effect. Other than to provide a reminder to the people what ruthlessness the U. S. is capable of. North Korea survived the war and is still a nation.

 There is a more recent example, and that is the Second Gulf War. Before the land invasion, the U. S. political and military leaders proudly proclaimed their policy of “shock and awe” against Iraq. They constantly boasted that their initial attack would be so overwhelming that all opposition would quickly cease. While the coalition forces easily moved over land to occupy Iraq, there was no pacification of the country, with a long-standing brutal war that was a combination of a guerilla and civil war. U. S. forces finally withdrew, leaving the situation worse than when they entered. Coalition forces also dropped a massive amount of munitions on Afghanistan, again to no effect on the willingness of the opposition to keep fighting. The ousted Taliban are once again in power.

 As Carr states so very clearly and accurately, killing the civilians never works, yet modern militaries have never learned this lesson. The historical record back to the Roman Legions is used as evidence to demonstrate the truth of this thesis. In this matter, the leaders are so enamored of their expensive weapons that they refuse to learn the obvious lesson of history, indiscriminate killing does not work.

 As a postscript of modern times, the Russian military is systematically reducing the cities of Ukraine to rubble, yet there has not been the slightest wavering of the Ukrainian people in continuing the fight. In fact, it has increased their determination to win the war. Demonstrating that the disease is not restricted to the American military and political leaders.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Review of "Not Another Teen Movie," DVD version

 Review of

Not Another Teen Movie, DVD version

Four out of five stars

The “Airplane” of teen movies

 This movie is so loaded with cliches’ and standard situations of teen movies that it reminded me of the classic comedy “Airplane.” There were so many bad jokes, many of which were predictable, that “Airplane” ended up being funny. By the time it was made, there had been so many airplane disaster movies that often recycled the same situations, there was plenty of well-known material to work with.

 The situation is similar with this movie, the case openly identifies several of the main characters in  a high school along with the roles they will fill. There is the popular jock, nasty cheerleader, the pretty girl masked by her attempts to be unattractive, a token black male with limited dialog and a female foreign exchange student that attends classes while being naked.

 There is the father that is an alcoholic veteran of Vietnam, young males trying desperately to have sex, males peeking into the girls’ locker room, the wild party when the parents are gone and a mushy airport scene at the end where the male professes his love for the girl about to fly away out of his life.

 Of course, there are several lame excuses for a young female to be naked, deliberate ham acting and dialog that is predictable. When watching the movie, it is easy to think that the writers had an easy time with the screenplay. For the scenes are standard fare and in most scenes, the lines to be uttered have to a large extent have already been scripted. Yet, the movie works as a comedy, as long as there is no anticipation of great art.



Review of "PT 109: John F. Kennedy in World War II," by Robert J. Donovan

 Review of

PT 109: John F. Kennedy in World War II, by Robert J. Donovan

Five out of five stars

The making of a President

 Starting with George Washington, many of the U. S. Presidents risked their lives in fighting for their country. This book is a reasonably accurate historical account of the wartime actions of John F. Kennedy. Even though he had a back condition that could have kept him out of World War II, Kennedy pleaded with his father to find a doctor that would certify him fit for duty.

 He eventually ended up as the skipper of PT 109, a fast boat that operated against the Japanese in the islands of the South Pacific around Guadalcanal. Like many members of the armed forces, much of their time was spent in routine tasks that bored them. Yet, one night the 109 was cut into pieces when it was rammed by a Japanese destroyer. This initiated a difficult fight for survival among the crew, it was here that John Kennedy proved his worth as a sailor.

 Although he only commanded a small crew on a small boat, Kennedy’s actions were truly heroic and all the men that survived the collision were eventually rescued. It is a story of perseverance against long odds in the presence of the enemy. Worthy of the song and movie that were made about it. Given the small margin of victory over Richard Nixon in the 1960 Presidential election, the wartime action of John Kennedy likely provided the margin of victory.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Review of "Sharing Good Times," by Jimmy Carter

 Review of

Sharing Good Times, by Jimmy Carter, ISBN 9780743270335

Five out of five stars

Retirement is not his thing

 Years ago, when former president Jimmy Carter was in the news I told a couple of my co-workers that he was a far better ex-president than he was a president. His list of accomplishments in the economic and political arenas are very impressive and he has met with many of the major world leaders. Especially interesting was his rendition of his time with North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung. There is the real belief that had Kim Il-Sung not died soon after, there could have been a comprehensive deal between the United States and North Korea.

 This book is a non-sequential memoir of Carter’s life, starting with his childhood in rural Georgia. While readers familiar with Carter’s boyhood will learn nothing new, those passages are short. What is really interesting are his travels around the world, his hunting and fishing in remote places and his activism in improving the lives of people in the Third World.

 The Carter Center is one of the leading advocates for human rights and one of the leading organizations in monitoring elections around the world. Carter is also a very hands-on person in building houses under the Habitat for Humanity program. As Carter mentions in this book, Habitat for Humanity is a world-wide organization, something that is not well-known.

 From climbing mountains to jogging in remote places to traveling to other countries and meeting with their leaders, Jimmy Carter and his wifeRosalynn Carter have indeed kept busy since he became an ex-president. It is clear that they have enjoyed their life since then, whether it be in events involving family or just the two of them on yet another adventure. Jimmy Carter also demonstrates once again that he is a very good writer, the prose is simple and understandable. This is a fun book to read, far more than a simple, “How I spent my retirement” synopsis.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Review of "The League," by Thatcher Heldring

 Review of

The League, by Thatcher Heldring, ISBN 9780385741811

Five out of five stars

Coming of age as a young teen

 Wyatt Parker is about to enter high school and he is small for his age. That is one of the primary reasons he is regularly bullied and lacks the self-confidence to stand up for himself. His father is an ardent golfer and wants Wyatt to feel the same way, even though he doesn’t have a passion for the game. Wyatt has a desire to play more energetic sports, but his parents are afraid that he will get injured.

 Wyatt’s older brother Aaron is a bit of a rebel, and he is a member of a sandlot football team that plays another team. While they have some rules, they bang each other up quite a bit. Against the wishes of their parents and lying to them about their whereabouts, first Aaron and then Wyatt are on one of the teams.

 At first, Wyatt is reluctant to put himself at risk, but suddenly he is belted by Aaron, who tells him that if he survived that, he could take it, so get into the game. Realizing that he enjoyed the contact, Wyatt finds himself enjoying the significant physical contact. Both boys lie to their parents about their activities, so there is an eventual day of reckoning.

 Wyatt is also friends with Evan, the girl next door. They bounce around the idea of “dating,” doing things together but being careful not to do date things such as holding hands. When Wyatt encounters the primary bully that torments him at school, he discovers that his willingness to take the punishment garners him respect and the bullying stops and there are movements towards actual friendship.

 Even though Wyatt deceives his parents and lies to one of his friends, this book succeeds, because ultimately it is the story of a boy chasing his dream and that pursuit has a very positive effect on his life.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Review of "100 Things Bucks Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die," by Eric Nehm

 Review of

100 Things Bucks Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, by Eric Nehm ISBN 9781629376189

Five out of five stars

100 key points in the history of the team

 The Milwaukee Bucks NBA franchise was formed in 1968 and they finished last in their division in the season that ended in 1969. They were fortunate enough to win the coin flip for the first pick in the draft and they selected Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after 1971.) They also traded for the great Oscar Robertson, allowing them to win the NBA title in only their third year of existence. A record for any major sports franchise.

 This book contains the facts of that achievement as well as the other highs and lows of the franchise up until the time of publication in 2018. There is a clear bias in the reporting, but nothing that will make the non-Buck fan revolt. All aspects of the franchise are included, from the trade of Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers, to the machinations of the ownership and the political entities that managed to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee to the mascot Bango. The entry about Bango doing a backflip slam dunk off a ladder will prompt all readers to look the video up online. I watched it and it is amazing.

 This compartmentalized history of the Milwaukee Bucks is very interesting, there are some insights that are not found elsewhere to this precision. You don’t have to be a Bucks fan to enjoy it.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Review of "The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts and More Beasts For Worse Children and A Moral Alphabet," by Hilaire Belloc

 Review of

The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts and More Beasts For Worse Children and A Moral Alphabet, by Hilaire Belloc

Four out of five stars

Humorous nonsense verse for children

 Using some made-up words and others that really do not go together very well, the author has created a book that will amuse and entertain children. Especially if it is read to them by an adult with any talent in theatrics. There are also many puns.

 For example, there is the brief segment:

“I shoot the Hippopotamus with bullets of platinum. Because if I use leaden ones his hide is sure to flatten ‘em.”

There is also a short segment called “The Camelopard.” It is about a giraffe.

 The book is divided into short sections of verse about living creatures, mostly animals. Detailed illustrations that often exaggerate the features of the referenced animals accompany each section of verse. The text is generally not simple, speaking it aloud will challenge the young reader both in understanding and speaking it.

Review of "Unknown Iowa: Farm Security Photos 1936-1941, A Classic Portrait of Iowa and Its People," John M. Zielinski

 Review of

Unknown Iowa: Farm Security Photos 1936-1941, A Classic Portrait of Iowa and Its People, John M. Zielinski, ISBN 0931014018

Five out of five stars

The faces and context of despair

 Those who understand history know that the Great Depression did not begin with a crash of the American Stock Market in 1929. It was an economic collapse that was over ten years in the making in the rural farming areas. Prices for farm produce rose dramatically during and immediately after World War I. Land prices also went up, leading to ease of credit for production.

In the years from 1920 to 1929, the prices for farm produce dropped dramatically. In the years from 1909-1914, the average prices received for corn and a hog from the feedlot were 83.6 cents a bushel and $7.24 per hog. By 1933, the prices had declined to 19.4 cents a bushel and $2.94 a hog respectively. Some farmers that sent livestock to a distant market ended up getting a bill, for the cost of the freight exceeded the value received for the livestock.

 This situation bankrupted nearly all small farmers in Iowa, and when they had no spending money and could not pay back their bank loans, local businesses also failed. This book is a collection of photos and captions that show the faces of the people that are broke with no hope of earning a living for themselves, much less their children. It was a time of struggle, where only government programs could offer any hope of putting food in front of people suffering from malnutrition and even outright starvation.

 The facts of the low farm prices are explained in the captions associated with the photos of the people. This is an excellent record of how so many people struggled during the Depression and why they ended up destitute.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Review of 'Iowa “The Land Between the Vowels",' by Bruce Carlson

 Review of

Iowa “The Land Between the Vowels,” by Bruce Carlson

Five out of five stars

Growing up in Iowa in the early twentieth century

 Books like this that are a collection of reminiscences of childhood and early adulthood raise interesting thoughts in modern readers. From autos that were becoming common possessions to the slow arrival of electric power and appliances, things were starting to change dramatically in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Yet, in most rural areas, the farmhouse was largely unchanged from the previous century.

 One of the most amusing stories is about four boys that somehow acquired the monstrous sum of $2. Even better, they were free to spend it any way they wanted. They hitched up a buggy and took a trip to Duffy’s General Store, where they gorged themselves on soda pop, ice cream and candy. Their indulgence was so extensive that all four of them got seriously ill on the way back home.

It is interesting to hear how they had to repair the buggy when wheels went bad. Nearly all farms had an old, parked piece of horse-drawn equipment, so when a wheel went bad, they were given a replacement wheel that they swapped out themselves.

 Another of the most amusing stories is when they convince their city friend that if you run around a roosting owl and get it to follow you with its’ eyes, it will twist its’ head off. An unusual modification of the classic Iowa story of hunting snipe.

 While they lacked the modern forms of entertainment, from books like this it is clear that boys in the first quarter of the twentieth century still had a lot of fun. It was necessary for them to create their own entertainment and it is clear that they were masters at it. Along with getting into some occasional serious trouble.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Review of "Japanese Fairy Tales," by Iwaya Sazanami

 Review of

Japanese Fairy Tales, by Iwaya Sazanami

Five out of five stars

Many similarities to European tales

 These six tales by the legendary Japanese storyteller Iwaya Sazanami have many characteristics of classic European fairy tales. In “Momotaro,” an old, childless couple have their wish for a son granted via magic. That son then goes off to fight a set of ogres that have terrorized the local people for years. As is usual in such stories, he comes back to his parents a hero, having vanquished the entire team of ogres.

 There are many sentient creatures that exhibit human traits, there are cruel and avaricious humans and others that are very kind. In many ways, the characters are similar to what appears in the European fairy tales. There are many reasons why Sazanami is called the Japanese equivalent of Grimm of Germany. Like the Grimm fairy tales, Sazanami simply collated and organized rather than wrote these stories of ancient Japan.

 Despite the large cultural differences between populations, when examining fairy tales, it is easy to recognize how similar humans are.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Review of "A Preface to Democratic Theory," by Robert A. Dahl

 Review of

A Preface to Democratic Theory, by Robert A. Dahl

Five out of five stars

Predicate calculus applied to voting

 This is one of the most unusual political science books I have ever read, for there is an occasional reference to mathematical formulas to express how votes are created and applied. Line graphs are also used to express percentages of eligible voters differentiated based on the strength of their preferences.

 For example, on page 39 there is the formula:

NP(x,y) > NP(y,x) ↔ x Pg y.

It is explained in the text. NP(x,y) means “the number of citizens that prefer x to y,” and x Pg y means “x is then chosen as government policy to y.” It is a mathematical way of saying that if the number of people that vote for option x over y is greater than the number that vote for option y over x, then the government accepts option x as policy.

 The author refers to the ideas of James Madison in describing the various ways that factions, both in the majority and in the minority can somehow seize power in a government. There is analysis of how more than one minority faction can align themselves into the equivalent of a majority in order to take and share power. Making it a very detailed analysis of just what democracy is.

 The three branches of the federal government are also described and compared. Of particular interest are the cases mentioned where the United States Supreme Court declared popular laws passed by the Congress unconstitutional more than once. These rulings were eventually overturned by a later court, albeit decades later. These sections of the book seem particularly relevant in the years of the Roberts’ court.

 A scientific examination of what democracy is and how it is implemented in the United States, one can see how the contents of this book can be applied to the presidential elections of 2000 and 2016, where the winner lost the popular vote by millions. The victory was in the Electoral College and not the sum of what was in the ballot boxes.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Review of "Burn This," executive producer Bill Kennedy

 Review of

Burn This, executive producer Bill Kennedy

Four out of five stars

Humorous pseudo-cards

This book is a collection of humorous pseudo-cards with the equivalent of a front and a back. They cover many different topics, from holidays, to satire to love. For example, on pages 65 and 66 there are the captions, “You create in me . . . a burning sensation.” On pages 117 and 118 the captions are, “Here is the secret of eternal youth . . . lie about your age.”

 An image amplifying the caption appears on each page and they all are a positive and humorous emphasis. Nothing profound, just base humor in a couple of short sentences.

Review of "The Russian Revolution: 1917-1932," by Sheila Fitzpatrick

 Review of

The Russian Revolution: 1917-1932, by Sheila Fitzpatrick

Five out of five stars

An event that still reverberates in the world

 While there is a clear start to the revolution that overthrew the Russian monarchy, it was centuries in development. The Romanovs held the title Tsar of the Russian Empire from 1613 until 1917. Therefore, there was a great deal of history of the monarchy in Russia before it ended. Fitzpatrick spends some time setting the historical context, just enough to establish an understandable background.

 Fitzpatrick is also correct in putting forward the proposition that the revolution lasted much longer than the years until the Bolsheviks consolidated their hold over the land that became the Soviet Union. After the Civil War ended, the nation was in a terrible condition. One of the amazing facts was that the Soviet Union in the early twenties was less industrialized than it had been before the start of World War I.

 The Soviet leadership understood that the nation had to rapidly industrialize if it was to survive in the modern world. Therefore, the drastic and ruthless actions directed by Stalin were rightfully considered a continuation of the 1917 revolution in how they changed what was the Russian Empire.

 This is an excellent description of one of the most transformative events of the twentieth century. In less than two decades, a prostrate country that was broke and agrarian was transformed into an industrial giant capable of fighting off the most powerful military machine on the European continent. Recent Russian history has its roots in what happened over a century ago.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Review of "A Treasury of Mark Twain: The Greatest Humor of the Greatest American Humorist," edited by Edward Lewis and Robert Myers

 Review of

A Treasury of Mark Twain: The Greatest Humor of the Greatest American Humorist, edited by Edward Lewis and Robert Myers

Five out of five stars

In only a few words, the best social satirists and humorists can make a point that other people need pages to express. There have been none better at this than Mark Twain, and that is demonstrated in this book. The comments are short, generally 4 or 5 to an eight inch by five inch page. Yet, they are packed with a very effective meaning.

 There is nothing highbrow about the messages, Twain was not known as a writer where the reader needed a dictionary to understand his work. A joy to read over and over again, Twain has often been called a master of folk wisdom. Clearly, the emphasis should be on the second word.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Review of "Defending a Ghost," by John P. Derryberry

 Review of

Defending a Ghost, by John P. Derryberry ISBN  9781365347580

Four out of five stars

A virtual, rather than a real ghost

 This largely autobiographical book features a male adolescent who lost his father and separate best friend within a short period of time. He goes through a great deal of extreme grief, even to the point where he is verbally abusive to his mother. Sports are somewhat of a release, yet since his father coached, talked and played sports with him, they were also a reminder of his loss.

 At times overwhelmed with anger at his situation, the main character finally reaches the point where he is enjoying playing basketball again. He is good enough to play at the small college level, and the rendition moves back and forth from his adolescent years to his first years of college ball.

 The ghost in this case is virtual rather than a “real” one. The main character struggles to emerge from the great sense of loss, looking and doing almost anything brings back a memory of his father. Anyone that has struggled to emerge from the grief process based on an early death will relate to this book.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Review of "Escape Through the Pyrenees," by John Dunbar

 Review of

Escape Through the Pyrenees, by John Dunbar

Five out of five stars

Great adventure story because it is true

 The duty of all soldiers in wartime is to do damage to the enemy. If captured or separated from their unit, their duty is to escape and rejoin their unit. The author was a member of an aircrew where they were forced to bail out over an island of occupied France in World War II. He was the only member of the crew that was not immediately captured and imprisoned by the Germans.

 This is Dunbar’s story, where with the help of some friendly French citizens, he was able to reach the mainland and then journey south to the border between France and Spain. Nearly all of his travels were on foot, and he hiked over the Pyrenees mountains on the border between France and Spain. Once in Spain, he was imprisoned by the guards of the Fascist Franco regime until he was finally taken to British Gibraltar, where he was flown back to England. Once there, he learned that very few of his aerial comrades had survived.

 The story is told in a very matter-of-fact manner, there are no dramatic scenes of wild flight from or fight with German soldiers. Most of the time when he encountered German soldiers, they ignored him. This was due to his very slovenly appearance, he kept himself dirty and unkept so the Germans would not notice that he was a young and fairly fit man. The fact that he hiked over the mountains while alone is a strong statement of his determination to survive and get back in the fight.

 Most of the members of the bomber crews on the Allied side did not survive the war, at one point the achievement of enough points to be sent home was a statistical impossibility. Dunbar’s story is one of survival against those odds, largely due to his extreme determination to return to England and then home to America. His story was so significant that Dunbar started lecturing air crews on how to survive after bailing out.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Review of "No More Mr. Nice Guy: A Life of Hardball," by Dick Williams

 Review of

No More Mr. Nice Guy: A Life of Hardball by Dick Williams ISBN 9780151667284

Four out of five stars

By admission, never was a nice guy

Dick Williams was a very successful manager in the major leagues. His highest moment was his first one, when he led the Boston Red Sox to the American League pennant in his first year as a manager in 1967. When the season started, the Red Sox were underdogs as they finished in ninth place the year before. They were competitive in 1968 and 1969 and would likely have challenged for the pennant if star pitcher Jim Lonborg had not broken his leg after the 1967 season. In 21 years as a manager, his teams won four pennants and 2 World Series titles, far better than some Hall of Fame managers.
This book is his autobiography, and he states his position on everything, including the all-important will to win as it has changed over time. Williams had a 13-year career as a player starting in 1951 before he began managing so he experienced the days when the pay was low and World Series money was relatively enormous compared to yearly salary.
Williams is very honest regarding his experiences with players and how he tried to motivate them any way he could. At times, the players resented his methods and other times they responded with better play. He is also candid about how drug use became a serious issue in the major leagues and how so many people in the upper management ranks simply turned a blind eye. Williams also calls out the whiners and complainers as well as the players that in his opinion lacked the guts and fortitude to be winners.
This is definitely a tell-it-like-it-was book, Williams also does not always spare himself in stating what went wrong and why. The best sections are those when he was the manager of the Oakland Athletics and had to deal with the most obnoxious owner of the time, Charlie Finley. Even though the team was winning, Finley was never satisfied and was a compulsive meddler. One thing is certain, Williams was never a nice guy.

Review of "Paul Bunyan Swings His Axe" by Dell McCormick

 Review of

Paul Bunyan Swings His Axe by Dell McCormick 

Four out of five stars

The tallest of the tall tales

There are many tall tales in American folklore, but the tallest is that of Paul Bunyan and Babe, the blue ox. Of all the versions of the tale of Bunyan, this is likely that tallest of the group. In it, you “learn” the origin of the St. Lawrence seaway, the thousand island group in the seaway and the Grand Canyon. Other wild stories are a fog so thick the fish swim in it, getting so cold that spoken words are frozen and need to be thawed before heard and griddle cakes so large that it took five men to eat one.
Liars contests have been a staple in local bars and lodges for a long time. It is hard to see how even the best of the participants could top these whoppers about the legendary lumberjack and his massive pet. I read this book for the first time when I was in elementary school and enjoyed it so much that I read it several times. Even more important, it prompted me to investigate how the legend of Paul Bunyan came about.

Review of "Walking Dead Man," by Mary Kittredge

 Review of

Walking Dead Man, by Mary Kittredge ISBN 0312083335

Four out of five stars

Too many villains, lost track

 This book literally starts with a big bang, but then moves much slower to an end that seems sluggish. There is a major confrontation towards the end, but with so many people, it comes across as cluttered. There are no innocents in the group, all of them are guilty of crimes, the question becomes of what and which person(s) specifically committed the murders.

 Edwina Crusoe is an ex-nurse that has turned to solving crimes. She has achieved a bit of a reputation and has dealt with some unusual cases. However, she is stunned when Theresa Whitlock enters her office and wants her help. Theresa claims to have murdered a man, but now he is trying to kill her. Edwina dismisses that as a case of insanity, but the situation escalates when Theresa is murdered outside her office.

 The plot is indeed thick with thieves, there was a man murdered when his car exploded, burning his body beyond recognition as well as over $100,000 in cash. With so many seedy characters involved along with a fortune in jewels and cash at stake, it is hard for Edwina and the reader to keep them all straight. At times, I found it difficult to follow which character did what. In some cases, having a lot of criminals guilty of many things advances your level of interest. In this case, it did not.  

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Review of "The Buddha’s Golden Path: The Classic Introduction to Zen Buddhism," by Dwight Goddard

 Review of

The Buddha’s Golden Path: The Classic Introduction to Zen Buddhism, by Dwight Goddard ISBN 9780757000232

 Five out of five stars

 Solid primer on Zen

 In reading this book it is clear that Buddhism is not a religion in the normal sense of the word. There is no active creator/supreme being watching over your every action that may or may not intervene in your life depending on the circumstances and the intensity of your request. Buddhism is more a combination of a philosophy and an associated code of conduct for the individual. The fundamental tenets of Buddhism all have the form “right ####”, for example Goddard lists the eight stages of the first adventure:

 *) Right ideas

*) Right resolution

*) Right speech

*) Right behavior

*) Right vocation

*) Right effort

*) Right mindfulness

*) Right concentration

 In reading this description of Zen Buddhism it is easy to understand the appeal that it has. With no supreme being, there can be no argument over the name that s/he should be called. There is room for Buddhism to adapt to scientific advancement as the principles lack the rigidity of those of many other religions and the ideals of all but the most unusual of religions can be found in the Buddhist way. In a world where wars are still fought over religious differences, this is a comforting thought.

 This book is suitable to be used as a textbook in courses covering religion as well as to satisfy the curiosity of one engaged in self-study. Some teachers of philosophy will also find content that they can use.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Review of "Star Trek The Next Generation: Mirror Broken," by David Tipton and Scott Tipton

 Review of

Star Trek The Next Generation: Mirror Broken, by David Tipton and Scott Tipton, ISBN 9781684051458

Five out of five stars

Great story in the evil Empire

 I have always believed that the episode “Mirror, Mirror” was one of the top two of the Star Trek original series. It was also the one that most screamed for a sequel. For it opened up a whole new universe where humans were ruthless against all enemies as well as each other. Expanding out from Earth, humans had created a galactic empire that seemed unchallenged and had somehow brought the Vulcans in as allies.

 This graphic novel has a great storyline that stars the crew of the Enterprise of the next generation. Picard is the leader of his hand-picked team, and they are about to engage in a massive gamble where they are going against their command. In an amusing moment, Geordi visits Leah Brahms with a proposal. However, before they can sit down to discuss it, she knees him in the crotch. That gambit works and they form an alliance.

 With everyone willing to kill those above and below them in order to advance themselves, it was always a curiosity to learn how advancement could be achieved without running afoul of people of both higher and lower rank. Some of that is answered in this book, the tactics are all thoroughly believable as Picard and his associates take an enormous gamble. For if they fail, they will almost certainly be put to death.

Review of "Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio? The Story of America’s Last Hero," by Maury Allen

 Review of

Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio? The Story of America’s Last Hero, by Maury Allen ISBN 0525232656

Four out of five stars

Over laudatory presentation of Jolten’ Joe

 While there is no question that Joe DiMaggio was one of the smoothest, most natural baseball players of all time, these descriptions of his life in and out of baseball often go over the top. This book is largely a collection of retrospectives of people that knew and played with him. From club owner Toots Shor to his fellow Yankees, they universally praise DiMaggio, his skill in all aspects of baseball to his behavior off the field.

 There is some mention of his marriage to Marilyn Monroe, which is where there is some negativity. DiMaggio is depicted as a very jealous husband that resented the attention Marilyn received as well as the expectations her managers and the public expected of her. There is even a hint that he physically struck her.

 This book was published in 1975, before the sports books describing professional athletes reached the complete tell-all phase. DiMaggio is depicted as a hero that did little wrong, both on and off the field. There is almost no mention of the times when he was booed by the fans at Yankee Stadium, something that happened to all of the stars, including Mickey Mantle.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Review of "Teddy Roosevelt: Young Rough Rider," by Edd Winfield Parks

 Review of

Teddy Roosevelt: Young Rough Rider, by Edd Winfield Parks, ISBN 9780689713491

Five out of five stars

Fictionalized, but still accurate enough

 Although President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt was born into privilege, he was still a self-made man. He was a sickly child born into wealth that worked hard at turning his body into something that he could use to get what he wanted out of life. Severely asthmatic as a child, he adopted a vigorous lifestyle, becoming among other things a big-game hunter, explorer, cattle rancher, soldier, crusader for justice, author, conservationist, trust-buster and the 26th President of the United States.

 This book is a fictionized version of his youth, capturing his exuberant and dynamic personality. Some of his childhood antics are typical of what a mischievous boy would do, if you were a member of a wealthy family. Roosevelt never seemed to use his social rank to gain advantage and the energy and courage he had as a child went with him into adulthood.

 This is a fun book to read, for it is a true story of a child with a weak body that turned it into a strong one by sheer determination. Making him a hero to all 98-pound weaklings.

Review of "How Many Next Years Do You Get In Baseball?," by Jeff MacNelly

 Review of

How Many Next Years Do You Get In Baseball?, by Jeff MacNelly, ISBN 0933893515

Five out of five stars

Great expressions of Cub fans frustration

 Published in 1988, this book predates by a great deal the Cubs triumph in the World Series of 2016, their first since 1908. Over the years, there have been a few good teams,  but for the most part, it has been a history of mediocrity. This book is a collection of cartoons by MacNelly that feature the Shoe character and the Chicago Cubs.

 The cartoons are about baseball, how some people love it, and others find it boring, and what it is like to root for a team that seems incapable of winning it all. They poke fun at many aspects of baseball fandom along with other aspects of life. Even if you are not a diehard Cubs fan, you will be amused by the situations depicted in these well-drawn and texted cartoons.

Review of "As Ding Saw Hoover," by Jay N. Darling

 Review of

As Ding Saw Hoover, by Jay N. Darling

Four out of five stars

Output from a cartoonist friend

Jay N. Darling (tagline Ding) was a very talented editorial cartoonist of the early twentieth century, he produced nearly one a day for many years. In that field, he created flattering and unflattering images and text of major figures of the day. One of those people was Herbert Hoover in his many iterations as an administrator and as a president.

 The book opens with an introduction and then a chapter called, “My Association with Herbert Hoover,” written by Darling himself. In it, he makes it clear that he and Hoover were very good friends, doing many things together. It is clear that Darling was a strong supporter of Hoover, even when his political fortunes were declining due to the deepening Depression.

 The cartoons that appear in this collection are but a sampling of Darling’s output, but they all are laudatory of Hoover. The timeframe begins in 1917, when Hoover was appointed by President Wilson to head the Food Administration. The cartoons then follow Hoover’s public life with the last dated November 3, 1932, right before the presidential election. In that election, Franklin Roosevelt won in a landslide. Each cartoon is dated and has an explanatory page of text associated with it.

 This book is interesting for the positive way in which Hoover is depicted. Popular when he was elected, Hoover was pummeled by the economic forces and left office with his reputation shattered. Which is unfortunate, for he was without question one of the most capable administrators to ever be elected President.

Review of "Women in the Civil War: Warriors, Patriots, Nurses and Spies," by Phyliss Raybin Emert

 Review of

Women in the Civil War: Warriors, Patriots, Nurses and Spies, by Phyliss Raybin Emert ISBN 9781932663198

Five out of five stars

A small portion of the female contribution

 Since women were officially forbidden from combat roles in the American Civil War, there is little mentioned regarding their contribution to the war effort. Unlike later wars when women moved into the factory jobs vacated by the men in combat and most nurses were women, most of what appears in the history books consists of their sitting at home and worrying.

 This book is an attempt to right some of those wrongs. Some of the most effective spies on both sides were female and there were a few women that posed as men and engaged in combat. At a time when most medical caregivers were male, a few women helped the wounded ease their suffering, or in the worst cases, aided their passing.

 While nearly all of the direct war effort was performed by men, there were some women that contributed. These 21 short biographies of women in the civil war demonstrate that there was a small, but significant contribution from women.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Review of "The Black Death and the Transformation of the West," by David Herlihy

 Review of

The Black Death and the Transformation of the West, by David Herlihy ISBN 0674076133

Five out of five stars

A quick look at a transformative event

 There is no question that the century-long rampage of the epidemic that is called the Black Death changed Europe forever. Entire villages were wiped out and an estimated 30 to 60 percent of the total population died. Massive areas of land were left untilled, and herds of domestic animals wandered free. There is still some debate as to the actual disease, some epidemiologists have questioned whether the disease was solely carried by fleas that fed on rats.

 Herlihy raises that issue and also points out that at the time when the plague hit, Europe was suffering from a food shortage. The tillage methods used at the time had led to soil exhaustion, with declining productivity and there was little additional land available for food production. Herlihy also uses naming records to argue that there was not an outbreak of deep religiosity, for the percentage of children being given biblical first names remained quite low.

 With a shortage of workers, there was a dramatic drop in economic productivity, and since it took approximately 200 years for the size of the European population to reach pre-epidemic levels, there was pressure to invent new labor saving machinery. Herlihy argues as most historians do that the shortage of labor led to extensive advances in technology. With the remaining humans having greater power over their work, there were also significant changes in the social and political order.

 As it generally does, humanity recovered from the mass death due to illness, when it did so many positive forces were set in motion. Many of those changes are explained in this book.

Review of "Shadow Ball: The History of the Negro Leagues," by Geoffrey C. Ward, Ken Burns and Jim O’Connor

 Review of

Shadow Ball: The History of the Negro Leagues, by Geoffrey C. Ward, Ken Burns and Jim O’Connor ISBN 067986749x

Five out of five stars

A brief synopsis of the black in baseball

 This is more than the history of the Negro leagues, for it begins in the early years of organized baseball, when a few blacks were able to play. The concerted efforts of several of the main players in the early game to freeze blacks out of white-dominated baseball are then reported. From this, the rise of the Negro leagues is explained. The reality that much of the refusal to allow blacks to play in the majors was due to the fact that they were better is also mentioned.

 Given the rich and extensive history of the Negro baseball leagues, this book is too short to do anything more than give a synopsis. Yet, there is enough here to highlight some of the greatest players in the segregated league, few of which were able to get a chance to play in the majors. Ted Williams was one of the white players that praised the skills of the black players and advocated for their inclusion in the baseball Hall of Fame.

Review of "The Double Helix," by James D. Watson


Review of

The Double Helix, by James D. Watson

Five out of five stars

Popular rendition of a scientific triumph

 Written in 1968, this book remains one of the best explanations of a scientific race for success and a near certain Nobel Prize. In the years immediately following the Second World War when scientists went back to working on non-military projects, one of the most outstanding questions was how genetic material could be reproduced in a nearly flawless way. Watson and his colleague Francis Crick were the first to elucidate the helical structure of DNA, winning out over some very talented rivals. This book is a popular explanation of their search, still engaging reading over a half-century later.

Watson demonstrates that he is a very good writer, giving minutiae when appropriate, including some of the personalities. It is a book that should be read by scientists in training, for it will help make them both humble and assertive. The only flaw is that Watson fails to give Rosalind Franklin her due credit. For it was her X-ray photograph of DNA that gave Watson and Crick the key insight to the structure of the complex DNA molecule.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Review of "Unstoppable," by Tim Green

 Review of

Unstoppable, by Tim Green ISBN 9780062089571

Five out of five stars

Rags to riches to rags and then to riches

 Harrison is a boy with a powerful body that has been in foster care for a long time. Unfortunately, he is in the home of a man that regularly beats him. Finally, in retaliation, Harrison strikes back and accidentally kills the man. Fortunately, another man on the farm supports Harrison so that he faces no serious criminal charges.

 To his surprise and initial disbelief, Harrison is placed in a superb foster family where the adults are kind, caring and supportive. He thrives in this environment and becomes an unstoppable force on his junior high football team. A routine football injury is at first disregarded but then flares up to the point where he is given medical attention. The attending physicians discover that he has cancer in his leg and the only cure is amputation. At first, Harrison is devastated, but once he is given a titanium replacement, he goes back on the field and the book ends with Harrison running down the field covering a kick-off.

 This is a great book for it is about despair, finding hope and a purpose, to be struck down with illness and then coming back and achieving once again. Written in Green’s superb style, he took much of inspiration from knowing cancer survivors and understanding the difficulties, both physician and mental, that they went through. It is a sports book contained within a book about life.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Review of "Grandma Trooley’s Old Fashioned Picture Book for Boys and Girls," by Americana Review

 Review of

Grandma Trooley’s Old Fashioned Picture Book for Boys and Girls, by Americana Review

Four out of five stars

The games children played

 This pamphlet is a collection of old-style prints depicting children at play. From the actions, clothing and backdrops, the scenes could be anytime in the nineteenth century. There are few, if any, manufactured toys, the activities are generally those where imagination transformed what the children had into toys. It is an interesting and accurate look back at how children amused themselves in the nineteenth century.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Review of "Day of Glory: The Guns at Lexington and Concord," by Philip Spencer

Review of

Day of Glory: The Guns at Lexington and Concord, by Philip Spencer

Five out of five stars

The day a nation was born

 I first read this book when I was in elementary school and re-read it several times. It is a work of historical fiction with great drama. It is an hour-by-hour chronicle of the day when American Minutemen faced off against British soldiers. As seems to happen so often, when the two sides faced off, both were uncertain as to what to do. When the men on both sides at Lexington were facing each other a shot was fired. No one knows what happened, it is very possible that it was an accident.

 Whatever the reason, volleys were then fired by both sides and the professional soldiers of the British were far more accurate, leaving some of the Minutemen dead and wounded. As is chronicled here, the situation rapidly escalated with men from miles away running to engage the British. Suffering significant casualties and demoralized, the British went on a looting and burning rampage, further cementing the growing bitterness.

 Although the dialog is generally fiction, this is a great book for the late elementary school student. It sets forward what was almost certainly the most significant day in American history. For on that day, what was a political opposition was transformed into an armed one. On that day, what is known as the American Revolutionary War began.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Review of "Class A Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere," by Lucas Mann

 Review of

Class A Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere, by Lucas Mann, ISBN 9780307907547

Five out of five stars

The year 2010 in Clinton, Iowa

 In the 1880’s and 1890’s, Clinton, Iowa was considered the lumber capital of the world. Trees were felled in Minnesota and Wisconsin and floated down the Mississippi river to be processed into lumber in Clinton. That lumber was then shipped to the many locations where people were rapidly building and expanding towns. At that time, Clinton had the highest per capita number of millionaires of any city in the United States.

 However, the forests were eventually exhausted, so the city turned to other manufacturing for its economic lifeline. Those factories continued for some time, but by the time the twenty-first century arrived, most of those factories were empty shells. There was one major production plant in the city that turned corn into ethanol. Like most towns with one major employer, that company dictated a great deal of the city political decisions.

 In the year 2010, Clinton was still home to the Class A LumberKings of the Midwest League. This book is a chronicle of that baseball season, a team of young aspirants led by men that have been in baseball for decades. While the players were working on their dream of playing in the major leagues, their coaches had often spent at least some time in the majors, so they knew what it was like.

 Mann does an excellent job in describing all facets of the city, the team and the small cadre of loyal fans. He chronicles the history of Clinton, from the time of great wealth down to one whose manufacturing was sent elsewhere. He gives the reader a sense of how the players feel as they toil in a depression era stadium, exist on very low pay, ride in a bus that is well past its prime and live in crowded conditions. Life is especially hard for the players from Latin America that have few support resources as they struggle in what is for them an alien environment.

 The fans that Mann describes are certainly described by the term “characters.” Loyal to the max, they overcome personal difficulties to make sure that their voices are heard when the LumberKings are on their home field.

 A classic book on minor league baseball in a city struggling to survive economically, this is a book about more than baseball. It is about how a city can go from being an economic powerhouse to one that barely manages to maintain basic services.

Review of "Jed Pays His Income Taxes," episode 28 of the Beverly Hillbillies

 Review of

Jed Pays His Income Taxes, episode 28 of the Beverly Hillbillies

Four out of five stars

One of the best casted shows

 It has been several years since I watched an episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies.” When watching this episode one conclusion in inescapable. The show was one of the best casted shows ever produced. Buddy Ebsen as Jed Clampett, Irene Ryan as Daisy Moses (Granny), Donna Douglas as Elly May and Max Baer Jr. as Jethro Bodine were made for their roles. While the humor is very dated in the sense that it appears childish to modern viewers, the body language of the main characters makes up for some of it.

 In this episode, an IRS agent arrives at the Clampett mansion and is driven away by Granny at the point of a gun. The agent then goes to banker Milburn Drysdale in an attempt to get an explanation of how Jed was suddenly earning millions after having nothing. The explanations involve flashbacks to how the Clampetts lived before they sold their land for the oil underneath. Again, the humor is rather corny, the characters are overplayed as ignorant hicks, yet there is something endearing about their simple lifestyle.

 In the middle sixties when the series was produced, there were still areas of the United States where people lived like the Clampetts originally did. Therefore, there was some truth to their origins and nearly everyone knew it. This made the deep country humor more realistic than it is now. Furthermore, there are few taxpayers in the country that would resist the opportunity to chase an IRS agent away by brandishing a gun.

Review of "Ghosts of War: Lost at Khe Sanh," by Steve Watkins

 Review of

Ghosts of War: Lost at Khe Sanh, by Steve Watkins, ISBN 9780545665872

Five out of five stars

A history lesson embedded in a ghost story

 Anderson is with his friends Greg and Julie in the basement of his uncle’s junk shop. They are there to practice for the upcoming band contest and there are many trunks of relics that no one has opened for some time. When curiosity gets the best of him, Anderson opens a trunk and finds an old grenade with an inscription on it. Once he shows it to his uncle, Anderson is ordered to set it down gently and the police bomb squad is called. They take care of the danger, but the act triggers the appearance of a ghost named Z.

 Z was an American soldier that was a Green Beret that fought in Vietnam, lost in an enormous fog of war during the siege of Khe Sanh. There is reference to his buddy called Fish, which triggers an extensive investigation by Anderson, Greg and Julie. They learn a great deal about the Vietnam War in general and the battle of Khe Sanh in particular. Collateral issues such as the declining public support for the war in Vietnam are also part of the explanations.

 After some in-depth exploration, the three sleuths learn all about Z and his buddy Fish. The mystery is solved to the satisfaction of all, including a surprise revelation. The reader is treated to a well-written historical rendition of an intense period in America. The plot device of a ghost appearing provides an effective backdrop for the history lesson.