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God and the Astronomers (New and Expanded Edition)
God and the Astronomers (New and Expanded Edition)
by Robert Jastrow
Edition: Paperback
30 used & new from $36.98

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I expected a little bit more..., March 31, 2009
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What is God and the Astronomers? It's an excellent laymen's resource for understanding the Big Bang as a physical cosmology. What isn't God and the Astronomers? It isn't as concerned with religious cosmology as one might expect from the title.

Jastrow, an agnostic, is by no means compelled to include theological ramifications, nor would it necessarily enhance his Big Bang narrative. But, citing God in a title, he should be prepared to offer more than tacit affirmation of the basic cosmological similarities. A layman unaided can spot the simple stuff.

The brief, though ubiquitous, biographies of participants such as Einstein, Hubble, Humason, et al. were welcomed, but strangely disonnant. I just couldn't shake the notion that the book embraced the supporting cast to the detriment of the declared headliner.

But, don't get me wrong. I loved the book. It is quick, concise, easily processed, and a welcome addition to my library. I just expected something a bit more transcendent, delving a few inches deeper, and am only moderately disappointed I didn't find it. 4 stars.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 30, 2012 10:46 PM PST

On the Rez
On the Rez
by Ian Frazier
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.53
143 used & new from $0.01

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Important..., February 20, 2009
This review is from: On the Rez (Paperback)
Ostensibly, On The Rez is a tale of life on the Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux reservation in South Dakota. Its essence, however, is a comparison of two people: Le War Lance and SuAnne Big Crow. War Lance, a product of desolation, is an aging vagabond, a hanger-on, a man tethered to his past unable to chart a future. Frazier befriends him and portrays him with uncompromising candor. Big Crow, a high school basketball phenom, is everything that War Lance cannot be. Progressive, proactive, hopeful, and charming, she encourages those around her to act, to expect, and to achieve.

It is the dichotomy of Le and SuAnne that serves to paint the picture of contemporary Pine Ridge, of the mired and the motivated, of the past and what can be. SuAnne lost her life in an auto accident at the age of 17. Frazier's telling of this tragedy is poignant beyond words.

This isn't a happy story, nor should it be. Though light-hearted in part, it provides a solemn, thought-provoking experience. It is all too easy to dismiss American history with the acknowledgment of places, dates, and summaries. It is quite another to ponder seriously the repercussions such a history reaps. 4+ stars.

The Dull Knifes of Pine Ridge: A Lakota Odyssey
The Dull Knifes of Pine Ridge: A Lakota Odyssey
by Joe Starita
Edition: Paperback
Price: $17.79
77 used & new from $9.25

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling..., February 3, 2009
Perhaps, one of the more intriguing ways to view history is through the sequential generations of family. With this device, history becomes personal, it has essence, it is more than places, dates, and outcomes. Joe Starita accomplishes exactly this with The Dull Knifes of Pine Ridge. One can't help but be pulled into the story through the disarming capacity of empathy.

Though tragic, it is also a story of perseverance and the unconditional commitment to freedom. It is the absolute refusal to lie down. The Lakota, like all Native Americans, were caught in the buzz saw of Manifest Destiny. A new nation, built on the concept of freedom, explicitly and categorically denied it to the people it found.

Starita has chosen an exemplary family to share this history. They lived it and live it still. I don't agree with every author assumption and spotted a faulty premise or two, but this in no way changes the fact that The Dull Knifes of Pine Ridge is required reading for anyone with an interest in the Native American story. It is a 5 star reading experience.

One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West before Lewis and Clark (History of the American West)
One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West before Lewis and Clark (History of the American West)
by Colin G. Calloway
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.45
82 used & new from $8.36

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well done..., January 29, 2009
One Vast Winter Count is an impressive effort that possesses a scope both expansive and easily traced. Typically, one is presented French, British, and Spanish regional influence upon local indigenous populations. Calloway provides this, but also discusses the impact of each regional upheaval on the whole. One sees how the Iroquois could affect the Comanche and the Frenchman rattle the Don.

Equally refreshing is Calloway's impartiality. He is no one's apologist. His narrative is matter-of-fact and free of any apparent agenda. The book's subtitle is a bit of a misnomer as Calloway expounds quite frequently upon peoples and events substantially east of the Mississipi. But, no matter, for this serves to complete a remarkable story.

Occasionally dry, but fundamentally entertaining, One Vast Winter Count is a comprehensive survey deserving the attention of anyone interested in the Native American story. I received an education worth the price of admission. 4+ stars for a job well done.

Roads to Quoz: An American Mosey
Roads to Quoz: An American Mosey
by William Least Heat-Moon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.66
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47 of 48 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not his best..., January 5, 2009
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I've been an avid fan of Heat-Moon's since I first picked up Blue Highways and Prairy Erth many years ago. Whether it's his melancholy wanderlust or the ability to make the commonplace come alive, William Least Heat-Moon is one of America's finest travel writers. I pre-ordered Roads to Quoz with much anticipation. It came, I read it, I let it stew, and in the end find I'm a bit underwhelmed.

It's not that the book isn't entertaining. It is. Heat-Moon once again has much to tell his audience. But, there is something naggingly absent. Roads to Quoz is a series of roundtrips that Heat-Moon makes with his wife. Gone are the solitary miles stretching before him to be replaced with hotels and eateries. It isn't a journey so much as a jaunt and Heat-Moon's prose suffers because of it.

"Q", his mono-initialled wife, is a complete enigma. She is quick with a quip, but not much else and remains indistinguishable throughout. She's a void beyond her sardonic comments. Furthermore, Heat-Moon, never shy about his politics, is so inclined to the point of repetition. Yet, those new to Heat-Moon might find this book adequately pleasing. I would challenge them to read Prairy Erth and Blue Highways. One simply can't come away thinking that Quoz compares favorably with anything previously written. 3+ stars.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 14, 2009 8:11 AM PDT

With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa
With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa
by E. B. Sledge
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.99
119 used & new from $1.17

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars War with the shine rubbed off..., December 22, 2008
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December 29th, 1980, I arrived at the same Marine Corps boot camp which welcomed EB Sledge nearly 40 years before. With the Old Breed (WTOB) makes it perfectly clear why the stress and hardship of the Marine Corps boot camp experience is necessary. Thankfully, my generation was spared the subsequent horror that Sledge and his fellow marines witnessed on the islands of Peleliu and Okinawa.

Unlike other WWII books, WTOB truly brings home the misery and insanity of the Pacific theater slugfest. Death is imminent on nearly every page. The broken, shredded, mangled bodies of friend and foe are always close at hand. The filth, the stench, the mania of combat are unapologetically laid bare. There are passages so unforgettably gruesome that any romantic view of warfare is crushed beyond recognition.

WTOB reads as a personal journey through hell from which EB Sledge emerged against extraordinary odds. One marvels that he wasn't emotionally scarred beyond recovery. These were impressive men, iron-willed warriors, all of whom deserve our undying gratitude. We benefit from their unbelievable bravery and would be mistaken not to read this book. 5+ stars.

The Princes in the Tower
The Princes in the Tower
by Alison Weir
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.31
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It worked for me..., December 7, 2008
Clear, concise, and extremely readable, Weir's The Princes in the Tower clips along at a very agreeable pace, yet it seems some are eager to pan this book based on its conclusions. There are two options: either Richard III usurped the throne and murdered his nephews or he didn't. Weir is forthrightly in the tyrant camp as her conclusions drawn from source materials reflect. These are the same source materials used by those who champion Richard's innocence. Good books can emanate from either viewpoint, if one avoids the glowering pedant.

In evaluating Weir's conclusions, reviewers here should note that a contemporary source is any source able to cite witnesses during their lifetime. It matters not that Sir Thomas More was 8 years old when the murders took place. It's the age of the witnesses that matter. Furthermore, if we dismiss the narrative of the *subsequent* regime for fear it is too negative, we must dismiss the narrative of the *subject* regime for fear it is too positive. Key to extracting probabilities from both is discretion.

In a very brief 258 pages, I thought Weir did a tolerable job of evaluating events and presenting a considered analysis. But, more importantly, she's authored an entertaining book. I haven't always been so generous with Weir. Her Eleanor of Aquitaine I found too agenda-driven, the type of history that merely assuages the author's present-day sensibilities. Not so, The Princes in the Tower. It is a straightforward narrative history, a centuries-old "whodunit", which I eagerly ripped right through. 4+ stars.

The Sunne In Splendour: A Novel of Richard III
The Sunne In Splendour: A Novel of Richard III
by Sharon Kay Penman
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.92
72 used & new from $3.92

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very much worth your time..., November 28, 2008
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I've collected most of Penman's books over the years, though this is the first I've read. And, while, I'm not immediately going to tear into another, Sunne in Splendour is nearly as good as historical fiction gets. It's the story of Richard III, the princes in the tower, and the coming of Tudor rule. Richard III faced many tragedies during his short and turbulent reign and the author employs these to create an inner turmoil, a self-doubt, a crisis of conscience that adds remarkable depth to this Yorkist sovereign.

Penman's characters are well-formed, her narrative skills excellent, and her research clearly outstanding, (though her conclusions are no less controversial). I enjoyed Sunne in Splendour and always looked forward to returning to it after I'd set it down. There are, however, a few issues that keep me from rating the book higher. Penman's attempt at period English begins to grate with her liberal substitution of the verb "be", as in: "Be you annoyed if I continue to write such sentences?". In addition, she could have implied half the heavy petting and been ahead of the game. That kings, too, have intimate relations I think we all understand.

In the end, though, these complaints merely deflate a 5-star rating to one of 4+. Regardless of my literary predilections, I believe the book well worth the reader's time.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 25, 2009 7:23 PM PDT

Titan : The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.
Titan : The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.
by Ron Chernow
Edition: Hardcover
24 used & new from $14.75

4.0 out of 5 stars Solid biography..., October 28, 2008
America's Industrial Revolution created unprecedented collections of wealth within the portfolios of a limited few. Chief among them was John D. Rockefeller, Sr. Born in an unassuming, clapboard house in upstate New York, Rockefeller's business acumen would take him from rural backwater to the pinnacle of Wall Street success. It's a story that is naturally compelling and the author's competent narrative moves it briskly along.

On one hand, Rockefeller's take-no-prisoners business approach created lifelong detractors who demonized his very existence. On the other, his phenomenal levels of charitable giving were evidence of a commitment to give back a large portion of the wealth consequently derived. This dichotomy creates a common thread throughout Ron Chernow's book.

Of additional interest is the ideological transformations that occur between the originator of wealth and the heirs of affluence. As each wave of offspring attain adulthood, evidence of the progenitor's hand becomes harder and harder to see. It takes a certain set of principles to create wealth. It takes an entirely different set to fritter it away.

There's disappointment when Chernow expects fin de siecle society to conform to 21st-century racial sensibilities, but, thankfully, his condescension ends there. Well-paced and expertly written, Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. is a solid biography and recommended to anyone interested in the Gilded Age giants of American industry and the legacies they left behind. 4 stars.

Mao: A Life
Mao: A Life
by Philip Short
Edition: Paperback
50 used & new from $3.60

4.0 out of 5 stars Ultimately effective..., September 27, 2008
This review is from: Mao: A Life (Paperback)
It took a while to warm to Philip Short's Mao, A Life, though it begins traditionally with his ancestry and birth. It is what comes after and lasts through the first third of the book that saps any attempt at momentum. Mao's early political career was as chaotic as the country that gave rise to it. Fledgling communist groups split, reorganized, collaborated with the elitist Guomindong, spurned the Guomindong, split again, reformed, obeyed the Comintern, ignored the Comintern, seemingly ad infinitum. It is Short's job to capture this chaos and present it to the reader with some semblance of order and intrigue. For roughly 200 pages, Philip Short fails to do so. Indeed, his ricochet manner perplexes the reader until Mao's power in China is consolidated.

As Chang Kai-shek flees for Taiwan, Short's biography begins to grow wings. Now, soberly told, is the Mao megalomania, the seeming psychosis, the atrocious social experimentation. Mao's ridiculously arbitrary to-and-fro policies led to the deaths of millions. Snapping this way and that, his manipulative, scheming, whims du jour left his comrades alternately humiliated, imprisoned or dead and the powerless proletariat victims of famine.

Short adds nuance to the retelling of Mao's lunatic purges by referring often to the Chairman's poetry, intellect, brinksmanship, and military genius. Yet, even as Short employs a biographer's moderation, he moves one to embarrassment that a creature such as Mao once existed. I trust this isn't unintentional. 4 stars.

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