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.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Review of "A Pass and A Prayer," by Clair Bee

 Review of

A Pass and A Prayer, by Clair Bee

Three out of five stars

The worst book in the series

I have read most, if not all of the Chip Hilton books by Clair Bee and this one is the worst that I have read. The basic plot premise is that football Coach Henry Rockwell, the Rock, comes down with a serious illness and has to be hospitalized. A man named Tom Bracken takes his place and he is someone with no scruples, little understanding of the subtleties of coaching and he considers himself infallible. Furthermore, Bracken has the backing of most of the powerful people in town.

 Even though Chip has proven himself on the football field, that means nothing to Bracken. When Chip stands up for his teammates and the good of the team, he is demoted. Things move along in an erratic way until the Rock returns. Bracken is such a despicable person that he physically assaults the Rock. Eventually, Chip finds the solution to the problem and a reasonable order is restored, even though the football team no longer has the opportunity to play for the state championship.

 The problem with this book is that the plot is convoluted and difficult to believe. Even under the most unusual of circumstances, no coach would be allowed to do what Tom Bracken does. There is no big game at the end. While there is a game, there is no climactic rendering, it is simply the way the story ends in a lackluster manner.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Review of "The Last Nine Days of the Bismarck," by C. S. Forester

 Review of

The Last Nine Days of the Bismarck, by C. S. Forester

Four out of five stars

The first British victory of WWII

 In September of 1939, German forces rapidly overran Poland. In April of 1940, German forces assaulted Norway and Denmark, easily defeating them. In May of 1940, German forces attacked and defeated the forces of Holland, Belgium and France, as well as the British Expeditionary Force. That campaign essentially ended with the mass evacuation of Dunkirk.

 German forces then began their air attacks against England and for some time, it appeared that the German air force would prevail. In April of 1941, German forces invaded Yugoslavia and Greece, adding to their victories and Allied defeats. After all of this, the most powerful battleship in the world, the Bismarck, sailed out from Germany in the middle of May in 1941.

 The first engagement of British forces with the Bismarck was a disaster for the British, their battleship the Hood was completely destroyed and only three of her crew survived. However, as happens so many times in war, the British air force was able to get off a lucky shot. Even though the Bismarck took a torpedo his in the side early and was able to shrug it off, a torpedo hit the rudder and torpedo mechanism, slowing it down and preventing it from making a run back to port. Crippled with no hope for air cover, the Bismarck was a sitting duck for the British forces that converged for the kill. It was the first real victory of British forces against the Germans in the war.  

 This book is a semi-fictional rendition of the last days of the Bismarck, the actual events are real, the supposed conversations between German commanders is fictional. The author does an excellent job in making it clear how great the tension was during the hunt and how relieved the British leaders and public were when the Bismarck went down. There are also some hints regarding how foolish the German leaders were. If the Bismarck had stayed within their air cover, it would have been almost impossible for the British to have sunk her. The sinking of the Bismarck was also the first clear evidence that the days of the battleship fighting alone were over.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Review of "Tonight Show Memories," starring Johnny Carson DVD

 Review of

Tonight Show Memories, starring Johnny Carson DVD

Five out of five stars

Great glimpses of the greatness

 At only 28 minutes in length, it is not possible for there to be more than a sampling of the 25 years that Johnny Carson was hosting the Tonight Show. Yet, the editors have done a masterful job at pulling out some of the classic events featuring Johnny at his best. From the earliest black and white and fuzzy skits to the high definition color at the end, they are still as entertaining as they were when first delivered.

 Most of the guests appearing in these clips have long passed, as have Johnny and Ed. It is pleasant to see them again at their prime, they are truly some of the best memories of the people that were the entertainment industry when Johnny Carson hosted the Tonight Show.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Review of "TV’s First Family," by Louis Solomon

 Review of

TV’s First Family, by Louis Solomon

Five out of five stars

History of a revolution

 When Norman Lear developed the hit show, “All in the Family,” he revolutionized network television. For the first time, pressing social issues became the subject matter of a prime time situation comedy. Specifically, the racism and ethnic prejudice that was so much a fact of American life. Ethnic, racial and religious slurs were as much a part of Archie Bunker’s life as was eating and breathing. On the opposite side, there was son-in-law Michael Stivic, a pure liberal that was often as thick-headed as Archie. Somewhere in the middle were Archie’s wife Edith and his daughter Gloria Stivik. As is almost always the case in revolutionary works of art, all the characters are played to extremes. Edith is portrayed as of limited intelligence and hopelessly devoted to Archie.

 The show was extremely satirical, with the prejudices of Archie portrayed as objects of ridicule rather than as role models. To many, it was a breath of fresh air in a medium that was sometimes referred to as “the bland leading the bland.” “All in the Family” was controversial, yet it was a hit and was the forerunner of other hits that stretched the limits of what could appear on network television. Often lost is that this show was the first fiction show on television to depict an attempted rape. It was dramatic television at its’ best, Jean Stapleton should have won an award for that scene only. There is no more dramatic scene in the history of television.

 A change agent of the largest type, Normal Lear was the first to give us reality television. Not the scripted nonsense now called reality TV, but television drama that reflected the difficulties and hardships of real life. This book is an excellent, brief history of this incredible show.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Review of "Buchanan’s Big Showdown," by Jonas Ward

 Review of

 Buchanan’s Big Showdown, by Jonas Ward

 Four out of five stars

Buchanan as a noble western hero

 The mighty Tom Buchanan and his boxing pal Coco Bean are traveling to Dodge City to meet with gambler Luke Short. Their goal is to stage a prizefight between Coco and a massive soldier at the local military fort. While the governor has given permission for the fight to take place and there are business interests in the town that stand to gain a great deal, there are many that still oppose it. The Colonel commanding the local fort is a pompous incompetent and a brutal outlaw gang led by a deserter is gathering nearby.

 Buchanan is once again forced to override his peaceful nature and deal with the outlaws in the only way they understand, with violence. He also shows his tender side in interacting with a widow whose son is in love with a local girl where her father opposes the match. The action moves quickly, the evil ones plot and Buchanan counters their every move, all of which is typical of a Buchanan story.

 Jonas Ward’s Buchanan stories are western hero fiction at its best. Buchanan always does good, even when it appears that he is doing bad when shooting down a man.

Review of "Ghosts of War: The Secret of Midway," by Steve Watkins

 Review of

Ghosts of War: The Secret of Midway, by Steve Watkins, ISBN 9780545665858

Five out of five stars

Quality history lesson wrapped in ghost story

 In the history of World War II in the Pacific theater, there is no question which battle was the turning point. It took place on June 4-7 in 1942 and some have called it the “most decisive battle in the history of naval warfare.“ In the span of only a few hours, the power of the Japanese navy to project air power from carriers was largely destroyed. Not only did they lose four carriers, but the planes, pilots and highly trained crews could not be replaced.

 Anderson and his friends Greg and Julie want to conduct the practice of their makeshift band in the basement of the junk shop of Anderson’s family. While rearranging for space in a room, they open an old trunk and find memorabilia of a sailor in World War II. The act of removing a navy peacoat from the trunk triggers a supernatural event where the ghost of a long-dead sailor appears. An old letter from the sailor is found in the peacoat and that leads the three friends to the person the letter was addressed to. While doing that, they learn a great deal about the battle of Midway and the consequences.

 This story has many features, a sound history lesson on the battle of Midway, the human cost of war when men leave home and their friends and lovers to fight and die in war and the general trials and tribulations of being a teen in the modern world. All of these features are put together very well in order to make a great book for young adults.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Review of "Incognegro Renaissance," by Matt Johnson and Warren Pleece

 Review of

Incognegro Renaissance, by Matt Johnson and Warren Pleece, ISBN  9781506705637

Five out of five stars

Great historical mystery

Much has been written about the Harlem Renaissance, where an area of New York City that had formerly been white became a dynamic black neighborhood. Such ethnic changes were part of what is known as the great migration, where blacks fled the segregated south in search of jobs and more economic opportunity. Many of the more talented ended up in Harlem and there began a flowering of what became black pride, a separate artistic thread as well as some intermingling of artistic and cultural works.

 One of the milestones was a party for the 1924 novel by Jessie Redmon Fauset called “There Is Confusion,” a party attended by some of the most powerful white publishing executives. After this party where rising black writers and editors attended, works by black writers began appearing in mainstream magazines.

 A party similar to that forms the opening scene of this graphic novel. Zane, a low-level reporter for a black newspaper, and Carl are attending a party for writer Arna Van Horn, celebrating his latest work. Zane is very light skinned black man that can pass for white and when there, they meet Xavier, a very exuberant black man that is also a writer. There is reasonable mingling of the races until Xavier is found dead in the bathtub, his wrists cut.

 The police show no interest in considering the death of Xavier as being anything other than a suicide, their concern is more with cleaning up the social mess. Yet, Zane is convinced that it was a murder, and his main lead was an actress that was at the party. He follows the leads and on occasion passes for white when the situation is advantageous. Hence, the word “incognegro” in the title.

 The storyline involves many instances of how the members of the black culture use their knowledge to come to the aid of Zane when he gets into difficulties. It is a very revealing look back into the days when blacks were relegated to secondary roles and doors were opened for the light skinned that simply would not have existed otherwise.

 The murder/exploitation crimes are eventually solved by Zane and his allies. That solution is almost a subplot to what is more interesting, how smart blacks navigated the borders between the white and black cultures as they existed in the 1920’s and ‘30’s. You conclude that there is a great deal of truth in this rendition.

Review of "Cloak and Dagger: The Secret Story of the OSS," by Lt. Col. Corey Ford and Maj. Alastair McBain

 Review of

Cloak and Dagger: The Secret Story of the OSS, by Lt. Col. Corey Ford and Maj. Alastair McBain

Four out of five stars

A bit laudatory, but still some key history

 The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was the main US organization that engaged in clandestine warfare and spying against the Axis powers. It was headed by William (Wild Bill) Donovan and it sent agents all across the globe on missions ranging from the simple gathering of intelligence and radioing in to the sabotaging of key facilities such as factories, bridges and roads to rescuing captured Allied personnel. While they generally avoided direct combat with enemy forces, some of them were quite spectacular in taking the fight to the enemy.

 Written in 1945 and 1946, shortly after the end of World War II, several of the more spectacular missions are described. This would have been after the OSS was disbanded and before the Central Intelligence Agency was formed. Therefore, it serves as a point of patriotic pride in the people that made the OSS an effective tool in the Allied arsenal. In later years when the OSS records were declassified, some of the people that worked for the agency were surprising. For example, famed chef Julia Child worked directly under Donovan.

 While only the successful missions were chronicled in this book, there is enough history to convince the reader that the OSS made major contributions to the Allied victory.

Review of "Old Mills in the Mid-West," by Leslie C. Swanson

 Review of

Old Mills in the Mid-West, by Leslie C. Swanson

Four out of five stars

A look back at a key industry

 When people began settling in the midwestern area of the United States, certain industrial activities arose rather quickly out of necessity. We commonly think of the village blacksmith, freight lines and trading posts, but one that was generally the first industry was the mill that ground up grain. Crops such as corn and wheat are almost undigestible in the original form, only when it is ground up does it provide significant nutrition.

 Therefore, once there was a population base, significant capital was expended in building large and solid buildings near the only available power source, which was a dammed river or creek. The buildings were made of thick stone, as they were designed to withstand all but the most torrential of floods.

 Since they were often the largest building in town and housed the most important and sometimes only industrial activity in the area, many of the mills still exist. Although they have generally been repurposed for other uses. This book is a brief explanation of the importance of the mill for local farmers, the significant effort it took to build the dam to divert the water for power as well as the building and capital equipment and a listing of some of the most prominent mills still in existence.

 The states covered are Iowa and Illinois and I have toured the Costello Old Mill Gallery in Maquoketa, Iowa. Repurposed as an art gallery and living quarters, you can still see the machinery. If you are interested in how the Midwest was settled and how the people banded together to create necessary infrastructure, then this short book will tell you a great deal.