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David Crumm "Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine" RSS Feed (Canton, Michigan)
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Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden
Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden
DVD ~ Cate Blanchett
Price: $26.99
10 used & new from $16.00

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars True Story: The Perils of Escaping to the Ends of the Earth, September 8, 2014
Ever since the late 1800s when Jules Verne began publishing his international best-sellers, the world has been fascinated by the idea of dramatically escaping from civilization. Flash forward to 2014 and a dozen popular TV series are fueled by that same desire. In late September, the National Geographic Channel will debut another one: Live Free or Die, a series that looks at Americans trying to survive in remote woods and swamps.

Now, Zeitgeist Films brings us one of the strangest true stories of escaping adventurers. This mixed bag of misfits converged on a remote island in the Galapagos chain between the two World Wars. Their tale is so wild that a writer for the Smithsonian Institution, reporting on the Smithsonian’s extensive archives about this strange adventure, described the story as “a screwball farce peopled by eccentrics” that “abruptly turned to tragedy.”

During the heyday of this Galapagos experiment, lurid magazines around the world published fanciful dispatches from this little colony with headlines that included: “The Nudist Empress of the Galapagos” and “Mad Empress in the Garden of Eden” and “The Insatiable Baroness who Created Her Own Paradise.”

As it turns out, the real pioneer in this “paradise” was a German doctor with a grandiose vision of his role as a philosopher and naturalist. He apparently was a very effective wilderness pioneer, building many hand-made devices to make his island home a pleasurable place to live. But he also was motivated by a selfishness that amounted to loathing other people. When an odd-ball mix of other adventurers showed up on this doctor’s remote island, trouble was all but certain.

The adventurer who was chiefly responsible for the island’s global acclaim was a woman with even more grandiose visions than the doctor. She called herself a baroness (even though she wasn’t) and very publicly set up a household with a rotating series of male lovers. She even began production on a silent film with herself starring as a savage, scantily clad pirate! Some footage of this bizarre movie is included in the documentary.

This new documentary was directed by Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller, the folks who brought us the acclaimed documentary, Ballet Russes, which also dipped back into this pre-World War II era in its vivid portrait of the world-famous Russian troupe.

As a journalist, most of my career has focused on interreligious and cross-cultural issues. So, why am I reviewing this film? Because dreams of finding a remote paradise run throughout the long and tangled history of the world’s great religious movements, from some of the founding communities in what is now the United States (Remember the Pilgrims, the Puritans and the Shakers?) to tragic cults like Jim Jones’ Jonestown in Guyana where more than 900 people died in 1978.

Perhaps most fascinating about this cautionary tale from the Galapagos is that the German doctor’s master work of philosophy was ultimately of no interest to publishers in the civilized world and, instead, in 1935 his lover Dore Strauch published her own version of the island experiment, Satan Came to Eden: A Survivor’s Account of the Galapagos Affair.

This definitely is a mesmerizing two hours! It’s also a good choice for sparking conversation in any small group that enjoys discussing either new films or global issues.


Mahavira: The Hero of Nonviolence (Wisdom Tales)
Mahavira: The Hero of Nonviolence (Wisdom Tales)
by Demi
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.19
50 used & new from $10.09

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rare Opportunity to Celebrate Religious Diversity, July 7, 2014
I’ve been a journalist covering religious and cultural diversity for more than 30 years, both in the U.S. and overseas, and I am aware of the great importance of the Jain religious tradition—and the lack of good materials to learn about Jainism here in America.

Jainism may be a small in numbers, but it is one of the oldest and most influential of the world’s great faiths. Jainism was founded roughly in the same pre-Christian era when Buddhism was born (historians aren’t sure whether the founders of Jainism were exact contemporaries of “the Buddha” in India). Over the millennia, while Buddhism tended to spread far and wide, Jainism primarily remained centered in India. Some American communities, today, have substantial Jain communities, but because most Jain clergy remain in India, this is not a well-known faith in the U.S.

Historians agree, though, that the Jains absolute commitment to nonviolence and the peaceful preservation of life influenced such modern heroes as Ghandi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This small group’s influence is far larger than its numbers.

As a journalist covering these issues over many years, I have never seen an American children’s picture book on Jainism. Some may have been published, along the way, but I’m not aware of them. So, I consider the publication of “Mahavira” a landmark in cross-cultural publishing. This is, indeed, a rare opportunity for you and your family to celebrate religious diversity in your home and community.

What’s most important is the sheer WOW factor of opening these pages with a curious child. The book’s illustrations are colorful and are full of beautiful, exotic plants and animals. Just as important, the book does a masterful job of distilling Jainism’s complex teachings to core principles. One page summarizes three main beliefs of Jainism in just a few sentences. A journalist couldn’t have done a better job of it!

Most of this story is short and exciting and, in this case, the real enjoyment for younger children will be the expansive illustrations. They’re delightful! I highly recommend this book for your family, school or community reading program.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 21, 2014 3:41 PM PDT


Jubilee!: One Man's Big, Bold, and Very, Very Loud Celebration of Peace
Jubilee!: One Man's Big, Bold, and Very, Very Loud Celebration of Peace
by Matt Tavares
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $12.62
63 used & new from $0.42

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing American Hero at War … and at Peace, May 19, 2014
As a journalist who has circled the globe in my reporting, I am always amazed to discover enormous, inspirational gatherings of people. Vast inspirational movements of men and women have been a part of American life since the First Great Awakening arose in the 1730s. Thanks to Alicia Potter and the folks at Candlewick Press, we all are now discovering another in the pages of Potter’s delightful children’s book about musician Patrick Gilmore.

Patrick Gilmore was a complex man. He was one of the greatest military musicians in U.S. history, AND he was the architect of two of America’s largest peace festivals. During the Civil War, Gilmore’s music and his bands served the Union cause under special arrangement with the state of Massachusetts. In the years after the Civil War, Gilmore became America’s PT Barnum of peace.

Today, Gilmore’s contribution to American life is largely missing from our history books. That’s partly due to Gilmore’s own ambivalence toward personal fame. His most famous song, When Johnny Comes Marching Home, was published under a pseudonym. Thomas Edison managed to capture his band in a couple of early wax recordings. A few carefully posed photographs exist of Gilmore, his band and the 1872 event. Artist Matt Tavares used this source material in smart ways for his superb illustrations that are sure to capture eyes—young and old.

Something about the man was charismatic—to say the least. For his two peace jubilees, he managed to organize the most famous men and women in the musical world. Think of the great global music events of the late 20th century—Woodstock, the Concert for Bangladesh, Farm Aid—and you’ll envision the sheer star power assembled by Gilmore.

Since reading Potter’s book, I’ve now read a whole lot more about Gilmore and I can highly recommend her picture book to all adults who love children and who yearn for peace.


John Muir: Candlewick Biographies: America's First Environmentalist
John Muir: Candlewick Biographies: America's First Environmentalist
by Kathryn Lasky
Edition: Paperback
Price: $4.99
45 used & new from $2.16

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Meet John Muir Through the Eyes of Children, May 19, 2014
John Muir is such a household name that, as a journalist for 40 years, I had neglected to read much about him. Someone might say to me, “You know John Muir, of course.” And I’d answer, “Certainly.” I thought I knew him.

Then I opened up Candlewick Press’s new biography of Muir for young readers and, I must confess, I really met this inspiring man for the first time. Sure, I knew that he had founded the Sierra Club; that he was responsible for helping to establish our first national parks; and even that he was famous for hiking incredibly long distances with minimal provisions in his shoulder bag. But this fun-to-read overview of his life by Kathryn Lasky really gives us a glimpse of Muir’s life in a fresh and detailed way, including lots of details I had missed.

I wasn’t aware of his childhood in Scotland, which Lasky covers. I had no idea that Muir was involved in early research on receding glaciers. I didn’t know that he was a conscientious objector during the Civil War. I had no idea that he personally guided Theodore Roosevelt and Ralph Waldo Emerson in treks along his favorite trails.

The truth about the best of children’s books is this: They’re for children—but they’re just as much for the adults who love them. That’s certainly true of this book!


Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today
Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today
by Adam Hamilton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.34
79 used & new from $11.60

44 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Faithful and Intelligent Introduction to the Bible, April 22, 2014
As a lifelong journalist covering religion in America, I have been skeptical of Adam Hamilton's rapid rise in popularity nationwide. How was he doing this in a mainline Protestant church? Why were so many people, now 20,000 members, flocking to his Church of the Resurrection? Then, recently, I had an opportunity to do solid journalistic research into his history, his work today and specifically this new book as well as its related study materials. Turns out: He's a brilliant and faithful pastor with a heart, and a writing and speaking style, that welcomes and respects his audience.

I see themes in this book that echo N.T. Wright as well as Marcus Borg. I hear Brian McLaren's compassionate evangelical voice echoing here. I see Rob Bell's passion for the Bible, coupled with top scholarship, echoed here. If you're a fan of any of those authors, you'll find yourself comfortably enjoying this book. You may not agree with every conclusion Hamilton draws in this book, but his scholarship is rock solid and his invitation to think about the Bible in new ways is clear and inviting.

Research has long shown us that America is distinctive in the world for the intensity of our faith, as a culture, and for our outspoken desire as Americans to express ourselves. Unfortunately, research also shows that a majority of Americans, when asked, can't name the four Gospels. Whether that describes you as you read about this new book, or whether you've been involved in a congregation all your life, reading this book is sure to make you think about the Bible from new perspectives.

In addition to an excellent opening section that provides a sweeping overview of the Bible, its history and its timeless power, about half of the book looks at individual topics that have troubled people of faith over the centuries. The sections on violence and on slavery and on gender are fascinating and make great choices for small-group discussion in your community.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 13, 2014 4:14 PM PDT


SterlingPro 8 Cup (4 oz each)- Durable Coffee & Espresso Maker with Stainless Steel Plunger & Heat Resistant Glass
SterlingPro 8 Cup (4 oz each)- Durable Coffee & Espresso Maker with Stainless Steel Plunger & Heat Resistant Glass
Offered by SterlingPro
Price: $65.00
10 used & new from $27.17

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Choice for a French Press, April 18, 2014
I love coffee. As a journalist for more than four decades, coffee has fueled every newsroom and every major project I've undertaken throughout my career. So, I'm very picky about what I drink and I make a lot of coffee.

I already own several French presses, but wanted to try this one because I wanted this size (I do enjoy my coffee) and I liked the fact that it came with multiple wire meshes for the bottom of the plunger. I use coffee ground for a French press from my favorite coffee shop and I found that this press does produce a really nice, full-bodied coffee without grounds. In other words, it works very well!

I especially like the ease with which I can completely take this French press apart. I've had some in the past that were more fragile and quickly breaking them down for washing was a chore. This French press? Super easy to break down and thoroughly wash.

Looking to try a French press with a good capacity? You'll do well with this one. If you're new to the French Press, be sure to purchase coffee ground for this mode of coffeemaking. Enjoy!


Photography and the American Civil War (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Photography and the American Civil War (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
by Jeff L. Rosenheim
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $31.49
47 used & new from $24.82

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More than a picture book, we learn how truth about tragedy can unite us, November 17, 2013
If Vietnam was the first war televised in American living rooms, the Civil War also was a media first. As Rosenheim writes, “For the first time ever, the camera recorded a long and ferocious war from beginning to end.”

Most Americans may assume that Mathew Brady was the only man with a camera crisscrossing war-torn America. Certainly, a half dozen of Brady’s iconic photos are the images widely known from that era. Rosenheim points out that there were roughly 1,000 photographers on the move during the war, producing hundreds of thousands of images. What’s more, Rosenheim argues, it was in the capturing of these photos that Americans collectively were able to mourn the enormous losses. Suddenly, all Americans could see the youthful faces of all of those young men—now dead and buried. Plus, all Americans for the first time could see a realistic image of the carnage left on battlefields.

“In the creation of this vast treasury of photographs—a national visual library of sorts—the camera performed a key role the opposing armies and their leaders could not: It defined and perhaps even helped unify the nation through an unrehearsed and unscripted act of collective memory-making,” Rosenheim writes.


The Civil War and American Art (Metropolitan Museum, New York: Exhibition Catalogues)
The Civil War and American Art (Metropolitan Museum, New York: Exhibition Catalogues)
by Eleanor Jones Harvey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $46.55
47 used & new from $31.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History, yes. Fine arts, yes. But this is a page-turner of a book., November 17, 2013
You won't see the actual exhibition from which this coffeetable book was drawn, but this volume still is a remarkable gift for any American history buff. It goes far beyond reproducing large-format prints of remarkable paintings and photographs from the Civil War era. It provides a great deal of thoughtful reading related to these works of art, as well.

Eleanor Jones Harvey draws on her decade as the senior curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum to tell readers the story of these startling paintings, including Winslow Homer’s 1865 “The Veteran in a New Field.”

Using that section of the book as a good example: At first glance, Homer's canvas seems to be a nostalgic rural scene—striking in its beautiful colors and simple design. Yet, in Harvey’s accompanying prose, she points out this design was anything but simple!

Most Americans think of Homer as the nation’s favorite seaside painter and forget that he began as a visual journalist—sent to the front lines of the Civil War by Harper’s Weekly, the TIME magazine of its era. Virtually the moment the war ended, Homer began this more-than-3-foot-wide canvas and, before it was finished, reworked the imagery in several ways. Readers of Harvey’s large-format book can easily discern the discarded Union uniform in the lower right of Homer’s canvas.

This crumpled uniform made the painting a vividly familiar image for Americans nationwide as Union soldiers returned to farms to discover, at least across the North that year, an especially abundant harvest. Then, as Harvey explains in the book, Homer deliberately painted a style of scythe that 1865 viewers would have immediately recognized as an ancient model. Even then, contemporary farmers cut with more modern tools.

As 1865 viewers pondered this painting—especially as Civil War veterans looked upon it—they would have realized that Homer was evoking The Grim Reaper, even then a stylized figure with this kind of scythe. What’s more, any veteran would have shuddered at the scene, remembering countless battles fought in fields just like this. The harvester in the painting was moving through a field, mowing down the wheat as he once had mowed down opposing troops. And, even as they recoiled from such a memory, Harvey tells us, they might remember, too, the biblical references all of them would know about beating swords into plowshares.

It may sound surprising, but this lavish art book is a real page turner!


Who Was Dracula?: Bram Stoker's Trail of Blood
Who Was Dracula?: Bram Stoker's Trail of Blood
by Jim Steinmeyer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.26
160 used & new from $3.14

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Immerses Readers in the Eerie World of Dracula's Birth, August 27, 2013
As a journalist for more than 40 years, I've reported my own share of vampire stories -- too many to count and continuing into the future, I'm sure, given the durable power of vampires to sell books, draw theatergoers and motivate channel changing on TV. I go back far enough that I vividly remember the first "big" Dracula books in the 1970s that supposedly documented the history and the pop-culture waves on which vampires seemed to surf forever. In 1975, I bought my copy of Leonard Wolf's now classic, The Annotated Dracula. Eventually, as I got chances to report from other parts of the world, I was thrilled to spend time in Transylvania and I read with interest all of the original reports that Dracula was based on Vlad the Impaler. For example, I read Florescu and McNally's popular Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and His Times. (Of course, later scholarship as noted in Steinmeyer's new book, shows us that Bram Stoker new very little about the original Vlad. Stoker knew his name and a bit about Transylvania, but not much more than that.)

So, with that huge weight of Dracula and vampire books already making my bookshelves groan -- why buy this new book? Some of the other Amazon reviews, I think, are critical of the new book partly because of its seemingly narrow focus. And, I agree that, if you're looking for your first big book about the long history of vampires in popular culture -- this isn't your best choice. Even if you're looking for a single book to begin exploring the ever-changing myth of Dracula, then this isn't the perfect choice to meet that goal, either. There is very little material in this book, for example, about the later evolution of Dracula in theatrical productions and film-making.

Why do I give this book 5 stars?

As a journalist, I am fascinated by moments in the world's creative history when new ideas come to full flower. As in the case of Dracula, Brom Stoker was drawing on an already existing array of vampire sources, which already had become popular money-making ideas for theatrical companies. But his full expression of Dracula in the definitive novel does represent a fresh idea. As Steinmeyer describes it, Stoker's novel was both his personal masterpiece and it defined the Dracula character and rules in an innovative and powerfully compelling way. Naturally, I'm fascinated -- and I think a lot of readers will be fascinated -- to discover what led an otherwise rather pedestrian theatrical professional to create an enduring landmark in world literature? What caused Stoker to conceive and develop (it took him years to finish) this fully flowered Dracula novel?

That's the intent of Steinmeyer's book and, if you understand that's the story between these covers, then this definitely is a 5-star book. I think Steinmeyer has an advantage here, as both a veteran writer and biographer AND a theatrical professional himself. Steinmeyer has a long list of credits in designing large-scale illusions for stage magicians. He's worked with Broadway-level productions. He understands Stoker's world.

We meet Stoker, the theater manager, and we meet his larger-than-life associate -- the actor Henry Irving, who today is forgotten but once commanded the aura of a Robert DeNiro or Al Pacino today. Then, Steinmeyer introduces us to a really surprising series of personal connections Stoker had with everyone from Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde -- to a man who just might have been the real-life Jack the Ripper.

In welcoming us into this tour of the London literary and artistic world as Dracula was created, we finally can see the many rich associations Stoker was toggling together, piece by piece, as he plotted his master work over a series of years. I've read widely in the literature about vampires and Dracula and I can't recall a book like this. Frankly, I wasn't aware that Stoker actually knew all of these infamous leading lights of his day.

I loved this sometimes eerie and always intriguing journey through Bram Stoker's dark realms.

If you're intrigued by this review and references to Steinmeyers work in the world of stage magic, I also can highly recommend his earlier book: The Last Greatest Magician in the World: Howard Thurston Versus Houdini & the Battles of the American Wizards. And, if you're looking for a lavish gift book -- a true whopper of a gorgeous coffee table book -- I can recommend the Steinmeyer-co-written volume Magic. 1400s-1950s


Polishing the Mirror: How to Live from Your Spiritual Heart
Polishing the Mirror: How to Live from Your Spiritual Heart
Price: $9.44

51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Spiritual Sage to Baby Boomers Reflects on the Aging of His Generation, August 6, 2013
Baby Boomers know Ram Dass as an American celebrity from the 1960s who came back from India in 1971 to publish a strange square-shaped book: Be Here Now. Some call that book "the Baby Boomers' Bible"--and there is a good argument behind such a claim. It wasn't until the era of Be Here Now that millions of Americans could immerse themselves in full-scale Asian spirituality and the rest of the world's spiritual diversity.

Since its debut, Be Here Now has racked up a stunning total of 2 million copies sold--and counting. Ram Dass has built on his original message in 11 additional books, a series of audio recordings, documentary films and short videos. Ram Dass also is famous for his 1978 establishment of the Seva Foundation, a highly respected charity that primarily focuses on curing illnesses of the eye in Asia, Africa and Native American communities.

Then, in 1997, Ram Dass made headlines once again for suffering a devastating stroke. As Baby Boomers, we were confronting our own looming mortality as we watched this perennially smiling genie of the `60s utterly humbled by his own body. As Ram Dass puts it himself: "I went from driving my sports car wherever I wanted to go--to being a passenger."

Now, flash forward 16 years to 2013 and in the opening pages of his newest book, Ram Dass briefly retells the dramatic story that many Baby Boomers know so well: As a rising star in the Harvard faculty, 30-something psychologist Dr. Richard Alpert teamed up with psychologist Dr. Timothy Leary. Ram Dass understates their titanic collision: "Meeting Tim was a major turning point in my life." No kidding! The two Harvard scholars experimented with psychedelics, beginning with the mushrooms common in ancient Native American cultures. Leary and Alpert, later to become Ram Dass, were twin lightning rods, interacting with a Who's Who of leading spiritual lights, from Aldous Huxley to Alan Watts and far beyond. They grabbed hold of the forces they were discovering; Ram Dass soon studying in India with his Hindu guru. Collectively, they pumped high-octane spiritual fuel into Baby Boomer culture.

Now, at age 82 as this book is released, Ram Dass is old. That's not an insult. In fact, he says it that way in the book: He's old. He's noticeably slower and more deliberate in choosing his words.

If you read his earlier book Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying and thought that was his last word on the issues in that title, the fact is: He didn't know half of what he knows now. He freely admits that. There is great inspiration in the 2013 life and work of Ram Dass, especially in the pages of this new book, whether you are drawn toward Eastern religious traditions or not. As Baby Boomers, we take heart in seeing one of our most colorful mentors take old age and disability in stride. Sure, he's a passenger these days--but, whatever seat he's occupying in that sports car, he's still speeding ahead of us toward our collective horizon line.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 8, 2013 5:10 AM PDT


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