Saturday, November 18, 2017

Book Review: Reformations: The Early Modern Era, 1450-1650 by Carlos M.N. Eire

Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650 by Carlos M.N. Eire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Half a millennium after a lone monk began a theological dispute that eventually tore Western Christendom asunder both religiously and politically, does the event known as the Reformation still matter? In his book Reformations: The Early Modern Era, 1450-1650, Carlos M.N. Eire determined to examine the entire period leading up to and through the epoch of the Reformation. An all-encompassing study for beginners and experts looks to answer that question.

Eire divided his large tome into four parts: On the Edge, Protestants, Catholics, and Consequences. This division helps gives the book both focusing allowing the reader to see the big picture at the same time. The 50-60 years covered in “On the Edge” has Eire go over the strands of theological, political, and culture thoughts and developments that led to Luther’s 95 theses. “Protestants” goes over the Martin Luther’s life then his theological challenge to the Church and then the various versions of Protestantism as well as the political changes that were the result. “Catholics” focused on the Roman Church’s response to the theological challenges laid down by Protestants and how the answers made at the Council of Trent laid the foundations of the modern Catholicism that lasted until the early 1960s. “Consequences” focused on the clashes between the dual Christian theologies in religious, political, and military spheres and how this clash created a divide that other ideas began to challenge Christianity in European thought.

Over the course of almost 760 out of the 920 pages, Eire covers two centuries worth of history in a variety of ways to give the reader a whole picture of this period of history. The final approximately 160 pages are of footnotes, bibliography, and index is for more scholarly readers while not overwhelming beginner readers. This decision along with the division of the text was meant mostly for casual history readers who overcome the prospect of such a huge, heavy book.

Reformations: The Early Modern Era, 1450-1650 sees Europe’s culture change from its millennium-long medieval identity drastically over the course of two centuries even as Europe starts to affect the rest of the globe. Carlos N.M. Eire authors a magnificently written book that gives anyone who wonders if the Reformation still matters, a very good answer of if they ask the question then yes it still does. So if you’re interested to know why the Reformation matters, this is the book for you.

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Friday, October 27, 2017

Book Review: The Division of Christendom by Hans J. Hillerbrand

The Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth CenturyThe Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth Century by Hans J. Hillerbrand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Christendom, the social-political-religious definition of Europe for nearly millennium was shaken at the right moment and the right place to rend it asunder for all time. In Hans J. Hillerbrand’s revision of his own work, The Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth Century, the Reformation started by Martin Luther in Germany is seen first and foremost as a religious dispute that was not inevitable but due to political and societal factors as able to evolve until it became irreversible.

Hillerbrand began by setting the stage upon which Luther would burst onto the scene focusing not only on the condition of the Church, but also the political situation in Germany. Then Hillerbrand goes into what he calls “the first phase” of the Reformation in which Luther was the primary focus from 1517 to 1521, then after Luther’s stand at Worms the focus of the Reformation changes from a primarily religious controversy into one that politics begins to dominate in Germany. Yet, Hillerbrand doesn’t stop with Luther and Germany, as he begins describing the reactions to the German events in other territories before they lead to their own Reformation events. The Catholic Church’s response to the spread of Protestantism across Europe, the different forms of Protestantism besides Lutheranism, and the theological debates between all of them were all covered. And at the end of the book Hillerbrand compared the beginning of the 16th-century to the end and how each was different and the same after over 80 years of debate.

While Hillerbrand’s survey of the Reformation is intended for both general audiences and scholars, which he successes in doing, the epilogue of the book is what I believe is the best part of the text. Entitled “Historiography”, Hillerbrand discusses the various ways the Reformation has been covered by historians over the past 500 years and the trends in history as well. But in reviewing his own text, Hillerbrand emphasized the religious aspect that sparked as well as influenced the Reformation and the importance of the events in Germany which determined not only Luther’s but the Reformation’s fate in Europe. By ending the book on this note, Hillerbrand gives his readers much to think about on either to agree or disagree with his conclusion which is one of the many reasons to study history.

The Division of Christendom is a relatively, for 500 pages, compact survey of 16th-century Europe in which things both changed dramatically and yet stayed the same during a transformative time in Western history. As one of the foremost historians of the Reformation, Hans J. Hillerbrand knows this period of history as no one else and just adds to my recommendation to read this book for those interested in the Reformation.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Book Review: Blood Stain (Volume Three) by Linda Sejic

Blood Stain Volume 3Blood Stain Volume 3 by Linda Sejic
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beginning on Elly Torres’ second day on her new job after her long first day in Volume Two, she doesn’t know what to expect next or in fact what she’s actually supposed to do. Linda Sejic’s Blood Stain Volume Three completes the first book of Sejic’s webcomic as Elly, Vlad, and Serge have to decide if they can get along with one another or not.

Waking up late in the morning, Elly nervously hopes that Vlad has not been waiting on her only the reader to find out that Vlad himself has overslept. As Vlad desperately attempts to get ready for the class he’s teaching, his demeanor and instructions to Elly just confuse her. So interpreting her duties as best she can, Elly thoroughly cleans his lab while Vlad embarrassingly falls asleep in the middle of his class. Upon returning an upset Vlad can’t believe the pristine condition and angrily tells Elly she overstepped her duties. While Elly wonders about her future, especially as her family’s situation isn’t improving, Serge argues with Vlad about his behavior over the years and later Vlad realizes how much better the lab is organized.

Unlike the first two volumes, the description of what occurs in this particular volume is straightforward as some sort of resolution has to be made about Elly’s character. In addition, the working relationship between Vlad and Serge comes to fore as it impacts Elly and is used by Sejic to give both characters more development. Given that this chapter ends the first Book, or story arc, of Blood Stain the final panel is somewhat predicable but only if you’ve read the first two books but it’s a rewarding final panel because of the journey we’ve seen Elly go on.

As a longtime fan of Sejic’s webcomic, it was a pleasure to have on paper the story I’ve enjoyed online. While Blood Stain Volume Three might be an ending, but it’s just the beginning of the story that is finished and there is more interesting that will be happening with Elly, Vlad, and Serge to come. So if you haven’t read either of the first two volumes, then I encourage you to check them out.

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Book Review: The Stairway to Heaven by Zecharia Sitchin

The Stairway to Heaven (The Earth Chronicles, #2)The Stairway to Heaven by Zecharia Sitchin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The quest for immortality has a place in the myths and legends in nearly all the cultures of the world, is this a natural human longing or is it the result of the “gods” living among men for millennia? Zecharia Sitchin looks to answer the question through Sumerian, Egyptian, Biblical, and extra-Biblical texts and Middle Eastern stories and legends from Gilgamesh to Alexander the Great in his book The Stairway to Heaven.

The search for Paradise where the Tree of Life—or the Fountain of Youth or any other means to bring eternal youth or life—across cultures begins Sitchin’s second book in his Earth Chronicles series. Then he turns to those who claimed immortal ancestors which lead to recounting the tale of Gilgamesh and the afterlife journey of the Pharaohs to their ancestor Ra. All this builds to why all these tales are similar in their descriptions of locations to find the place where immortality can be found, the answer Sitchin proposes is the post-Deluge location for the Annunaki spaceport on the central plain of the Sinai Peninsula. In setting out his theory, Sitchin details the monumental architecture around Egypt and the Levant that not even modern equipment can create and how archaeologists have misidentified through mistakes, or maybe outright fraud, on who built them amongst ancient human cultures when in fact they were built by the astronauts from Nibiru for their rocketships.

Following the post-Deluge founding of civilization at the end of The 12th Planet, Sitchin focused on how the Annunaki rebuilt their spacefaring abilities after the destruction of their Mission Control and Spaceport in Mesopotamia. To do this he highlights the near universal search for immortality by humans and how it alluded to the new Spaceport in the Sinai that lead to the “realm of the Gods”. Yet in doing this Sitchin reiterated the same thing over and over again for a good third of the book, bogging down the overall text and could have been condensed down but would have made this 308 page book much shorter. But Sitchin’s argument that the mathematical relationship between numerous ancient cities, monumental architecture, and high mountains across the Middle East as well as stretching towards Delphi in Greece towards the end is the most intriguing for any reader, even if you are skeptical on Sitchin’s theories.

The Stairway to Heaven is not as well written as its precursor or its successor—if my memory is correct—as Sitchin needed a transition book and needed to fill it out. While not as “good” as The 12th Planet, this book gives the reader information important in following up the previous book and “setting” the stage for The Wars of Gods and Men.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Book Review: William Shakespeare's The Force Doth Awaken by Ian Doescher

William Shakespeare's the Force Doth Awaken: Star Wars Part the SeventhWilliam Shakespeare's the Force Doth Awaken: Star Wars Part the Seventh by Ian Doescher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The galaxy is on the brink of war as old and new heroes race to find the last Jedi against vile agents of the imperial First Order in William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken by Ian Doescher. The first film of the sequel trilogy returns us the Star Wars galaxy 30 years after the fall of the Empire as its successor strikes reclaim the galaxy while attempting to destroy those that could stop it but instead of screen or adaptation is translated wonderfully into fantastic Elizabethan prose by Doescher just like Shakespeare might have done.

Though the search for the lost Luke Skywalker is the focus and driving motivation of the entire book, the struggle for one’s own identity is the central theme. Doescher’s fantastic soliloquies by Finn, Rey, and Kylo Ren give depth to these new leading characters as they join long established characters of Han and Leia. One of the best surprises of the book is Chewbacca as Doescher “corrects” one of his oversights by “translating” the Wookie’s screams in the footnotes, which given the events during the battle of Starkiller Base is very poignant. The duel between Finn/Rey and Kylo Ren is very well-written with good balance of Chorus lines and character soliloquies that brings about a very complete and compelling scene. And additional nice touches were the humorous lines of the Rathtars and great use of using the small amount of dialog for Snoke to great use.

The Force Doth Awaken is a return by Doescher and all Star Wars fans to what made the franchise fun, but unlike some Doescher embraced the very homage to the first film and used the similarities to great effect in this book. As Doescher like every other Star Wars fan must await the next film, those that love his work will be eagerly awaiting each William Shakespeare adaptation from him.

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Saturday, October 7, 2017

Book Review: Renegade by Andrea Grosso Ciponte and Dacia Palmerino

Renegade: Martin Luther, the Graphic BiographyRenegade: Martin Luther, the Graphic Biography by Andrea Grosso Ciponte
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The life of Martin Luther, the man who sparked the Protestant Reformation, has been written about for centuries yet now it can not only be written about but visualized as well. Renegade: Martin Luther, the Graphic Biography by Andrea Grosso Ciponte and Dacia Palmerino is exactly what its title says about the man who sparked a change in history.

Depicting the life of Luther from his childhood to his death, the biography focuses on his time as a monk led up to and through his break with Rome. At 153 pages there is only so much that can be covered and only so much context as well through sometimes the visual aspect of the graphic novel does come in handy. While the short length of the book obviously foreshadowed only the barest minimum that could be covered on his life, yet the graphic novel aspect seemed to offer a way to enhance the chronicling of Luther’s life. Unfortunately the artwork looks like screen caps of a video game with so-so graphics with only a few great pages of art, usually at the beginning of each chapter.

The overall quality of the biographical and artwork content of Renegade is a mixed bag of a passable chronicle on Luther’s life and so-so artwork. While some younger readers than myself might find it a very good read and hopefully make them want to know more about Martin Luther and the Reformation, I found it a tad underwhelming.

I received this book through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

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Thursday, October 5, 2017

Book Review: Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

Going Postal (Discworld, #33; Moist von Lipwig, #1)Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ankh-Morpork’s primary communication system has become inefficient and is losing money, so Lord Vetinari decides to reopen the Post Office. The 33rd book in Terry Pratchett Discworld series, Going Postal introduces a new ‘main’ character Moist von Lipwig who would have rather not be involved but once he was couldn’t get enough of his new profession.

Moist begins his first book by dying—or rather one of his con-artist aliases does—and is given a job offer by Lord Vetinari to run the Ankh-Morpork’s long defunct Post Office. Moist accepts then runs away only to be recaptured by his parole officer, a golem named Mr. Pump, who joins him as part of the Post Office staff with a long time employee and a young pin collector who has “issues” who live in the Post Office building amongst the millions of undelivered letters pile around the building. As Moist figures out how to slowly begin operating the Post Office, he finds himself at odds with the Chairman of the Grand Trunk Company who Moist recognizes as a conman in his own right. Through the staffing of volunteer pensioners and the hiring of other golems, Moist starts getting the mail moving and becomes a target on a hit list but avoids death. Now in a fierce competition, Moist outduels his opponents and as Vetinari’s masterplan to solve the continuing breakdown of the Clack system which the city and many other’s rely on.

While the overall plot and many of the characters are entertaining, there was something missing when it came to the satire and overall humor of the book. While “deregulation” of the economy and “finance” seemed to be a part of it, there was possibly an undertone of against a particular philosophy as well. Yet even without a seemingly overarching satirical theme the book wouldn’t have felt different if Pratchett hadn’t attempted to through in so much early 21st century parallels or shadowed references in addition to everything else going on. The humor and satire were there, but it just didn’t seem really laugh-out-loud funny with a few exceptions.

While Going Postal is not only of Pratchett’s best work, it is still an entertaining installment in the Discworld series that finds one looking forward to seeing what Lord Vetinari might have up his sleeve for his government employed con artist.

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