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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Saturday, September 30, 2017

Book Review: 500 Years of Protest and Liberty by Nicolas P. Miller

500 Years of Protest and Liberty: From Martin Luther to Modern Civil Rights500 Years of Protest and Liberty: From Martin Luther to Modern Civil Rights by Nicholas Patrick Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The upcoming 500th celebration of the Protestant Reformation has spawned numerous books focusing on the impact of the movement on particular facet of history. 500 Years of Protest and Liberty: From Martin Luther to Modern Civil Rights by Nicholas P. Miller is one of these books in which the author’s articles for Liberty are reproduced in an anthology to chronicle a link between Luther to MLK Jr.

The book is divided into four sections surrounding a central theme each reproduced article in that particular section can be related to. The section introductions and the articles are all well written and fascinating reads especially for those interested in freedom of religion and separation of church and state issues. However in relation to the subtitle of the book, I found the overall flow of the book did not link Luther to MLK Jr. The first and fourth sections definitely link Luther and to the present-day, but the third seemed to be just its own thing though very informative while the second is somewhere in-between.

So while the focus of showing a progression from Luther to MLK Jr., it thought it faltered enough to impact my overall rating, I still recommend this book to anyone interested in freedom of religion and separation of church and state issues.

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Friday, September 29, 2017

Book Review: The Epic of Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh: A New English VersionGilgamesh: A New English Version by Stephen Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Almost 4800 years after his reign in the city of Uruk, Gilgamesh is still remembered not only in his native land but now around the world even though his native language is long forgotten. In Stephen Mitchell’s English verse translation of Gilgamesh, the story of the demigod’s calming friendship with Enkidu and his quest to avoid his mortality.

The tale of Gilgamesh is not just about the king of Uruk, it is the tale of Enkidu and his civilizing by Shamhat, the friendship between Enkidu and Gilgamesh as well as their adventures, and finally the death of Enkidu that sends Gilgamesh in his vain search to stop death by asking the one man whom the gods made immortal. Yet while several aspects of Gilgamesh are similar to later tales of Greek and Germanic origin, there are clear differences as well especially when it comes to Gilgamesh expressing his fear in the face of very dangers and ends with accepting his own mortality in the end.

Unfortunately, the story of Gilgamesh that we have is not as complete as it was 4000 years ago. Several sections are fragmentary which Mitchell had to work around to make the book read well and keeping true to the narrative; in this he did a wonderful job. Yet, in a book that has around 300 pages only 123 covers the epic itself which while not dishonest is surprising about how short the tale is and how much analysis Mitchell provides the reader before and notes after.

Gilgamesh: A New English Version is a fantastic book both in the tale of the heroic demigod king and the translation done by Stephen Mitchell.

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Book Review: Republic by Plato

RepublicRepublic by Plato
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The writings of Plato have been one of the cornerstones of Western thought for two and a half millennia used for both secular and religious purposes, sometimes not as he intended. Republic is one, if not the, most famous piece of Plato’s philosophical/political writings and the translation by Robin Waterfield for Oxford World’s Classics adds to the debate that surrounds it.

During a thorough 60+ page introduction to Plato’s text, Waterfield most significant translation is “morality” instead of “justice” for the Greek word dikaiosune because of the definition provided by Aristotle of the word. With this word decision and with her discussion of Plato’s complete disregard to politics, Republic turns from a work of political theory into one of philosophy concerned about the improvement of an individual’s life and not that of a Greek polis. Using the cultural terms and norms of his time, Plato sets out to express his belief that individuals can improve and better themselves outside the communal structure of Greek life. This was a radical notion given that individualism—especially as we know it today—was not a part of respectable Greek political life, the individual’s life was bound up in the community and if they went off on their own it was dangerous to the civic order and with the relationship with the gods (the charge against Socrates).

While Plato’s overall thesis is thought-provoking, some of his supporting arguments via mathematics and his lack of details about how to improve one’s morality and thus goodness are detriments to Republic’s overall quality. Although later individuals, in particular early Christian fathers, would supplement Plato with their own supporting evidence for those in the 21st Century these elements can be stumbling blocks. Even though Waterfield’s translation provided to be very readable and her notes beyond satisfactory, the constant flipping to the back of the book to read them and provide myself with the context to what she was saying while at the particular place in the text was somewhat unhelpful but footnotes at the bottom of the pages might have been worse.

Republic is one of the most significant pieces of Western literature and whether you approve of Waterfield’s translation or not, it is a very good was to look at a piece of text long-thought to mean one thing and see it as something completely different.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Book Review: Op-Center by Jeff Rovin

Op-Center (Tom Clancy's Op-Center, #1)Op-Center by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A terrorist attack in Seoul raises tensions on Korean peninsula with war looking likely, but a new federal crisis management team is task to figure out who and why before things escalate too far. Op-Center through bearing the name of Tom Clancy, who along with Steve Pieczenik created the story, was ghostwritten by Jeff Rovin about a government agency tasked with handling both domestic and international crisis.

Renegade South Korean soldiers attack an official celebration of the founding of the country implicating the North Koreans. Op-Center director Paul Hood suddenly finds himself appointed head of Task Force by a President looking for a big foreign affairs accomplishment; however evidence and a cyberattack complicate Hood giving the President a clear go ahead to launch a war. On the peninsula, a former Ambassador to the country and his friend in the KCIA take their own individual routes to lessen the growing tensions between the two sides. But the renegade squad is racing towards their next attacks—the North Korean barracks at the DMZ and Tokyo—and the only thing that can stop them is Op-Center’s paramilitary response team, Striker with Hood’s deputy General Mike Rodger along for the action.

Set roughly around the time of book’s publication a little over 20 years ago, the plot reads almost like alternate history today but still holds up fairly well. While the primary plot is very good, the subplots connected with different characters were more of a problem. Hood is torn between crisis in Korea and with this son’s health that makes him look sympathetic while his wife appears too needy given that she knew something like this could happen, Rodgers appears to be in a mid-life crisis wanting to get back to his glory days instead of being at his post, and many of the female Op-Center personal are painted broadly with a brush in various stereotypes that back when I first read the book as a teenager didn’t pop out at me but certainly did now.

While the characterization of many of the principal characters is bland, the plot and the action are very well written making this a quick and fun read for the most part. While at the time Rovin wasn’t given his due as the book’s author, he did a good job in setting up a series that would eventually reach 12. While Op-Center is not the greatest book within the action and thriller genres but those that like those genres will find it a good read.

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Friday, September 8, 2017

Book Review: A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett

A Hat Full of Sky (Discworld, #32)A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The young witch of the Chalk downlands goes begins her apprenticeship not knowing that she’s being stalked by a long-lived lifeform that likes taking over “hosts”. A Hat Full of Sky is the 32nd book of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and the second following Tiffany Aching and her friends the Wee Free Men.

A year and a half after Tiffany Aching took on the Fairie Queen with only an iron skillet; she’s finally going to learn proper witchcraft as an apprentice to Mistress Level, who apparently has two bodies. However that is the only thing extraordinary about Tiffany’s experience with Miss Level because instead of magic, she’s just doing chores and learning practical knowledge. Yet unknowingly Tiffany is doing magic as she has immense power in “borrowing” just like Granny Weatherwax, but unlike the area’s most renowned witch Tiffany doesn’t know how to defend herself from those wanting to borrow her. While Tiffany doesn’t realize the danger she’s in, the Chalk Clan of the Nac Mac Feegles keep an eye on their “wee big hag” and know what’s stalking her and go racing to the rescue with hilarious results. But in the end it’ll have to be Tiffany who gets her body back from this immortal foe.

The second book of featuring Tiffany and Feegles goes right into the story quickly while also giving information about both early on without taking away from the narrative or unnecessary exposition. One doesn’t need to have read The Wee Free Men to learn information about the Feegle’s culture as Pratchett also included a nice little “article” about them before the story begins, mainly to allay fears from parents that the Feegles are cussing in a children’s book. Frankly the only negative from the point of view of an adult is that one could see the major plot points coming, it was just how Pratchett would make them entertaining—which he certainly did.

While A Hat Full of Sky is a young adult book, Terry Pratchett’s satirical and narrative writing makes it a great addition to the overall Discworld series. Both new readers and longtime fans will have a good time reading Tiffany learning about being a witch.

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Monday, September 4, 2017

Book Review: The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela

The UnderdogsThe Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anyone who has learned anything about the Mexican Revolution knows that it was a complicated era in that nation’s history that just seemed to continue without end. The Underdogs was the first novel about the conflict even as it continued to grind on and written by a former participant Mariano Azuela.

The majority of the narrative follows Demetrio Macias, who finds himself on the bad side of the local chief and is burned out of his home before feeling to the mountains. Gathering his friends, Macias begins battling the Federales becoming a local then regional military leader. Joining with a growing Villista army around Zacatecas, Macias and his men achieve a remarkable feat during the battle that leads to victory and a promotion of Macias to general. The main reason Macias journeys to Zacatecas is an idealistic Federales deserter, Luis Cervantes, who conveniences the leader to join the growing Villista force. But after the battle, both men become disillusioned with the overall Revolution leading to simply leaving—Cervantes—for the United States or just keep fighting until the odds become too much—Macias.

This relatively short, well-written, yet seemingly disjointed narrative is considered the greatest novel of the Mexican Revolution because of this final aspect. Although this was Azuela’s first novel, it reads very well—in translation—and gives someone not interested in history a little knowledge about the defining moment in Mexican history if only in a brief glimpse.

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Sunday, September 3, 2017

Book Review: Christianity by Roland H. Bainton

Christianity (American Heritage Library)Christianity by Roland H. Bainton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The history of Christianity spans over 2000 years, across three then five continents, and numerous individuals doing their best to follow the example of Jesus. Roland H. Bainton’s Christianity is a survey of the history, theology developments, and impact of the faith has had on society over the length of its existence since the ministry of Christ on earth.

Beginning with the various cultural backgrounds that influenced the life of Jesus and the society he lived and teach in, Bainton writes an easily read survey of Christianity. Everything from the Apostolic Age through the persecution by the Roman Empire then its long progression of conversation through the Western Empire’s fall is covered very well. However with Rome’s fall, the book’s focus begins to be firmly placed in Western Europe—later to expand to the Americas—with all the culture, historical, political, and theological developments that are well-known to anyone with a general knowledge of the history of Western civilization. Given the book is less than 400 pages in length, Bainton’s having to choose the best way to get through the history of Christianity meant having to neglect the developments of East Orthodox, Oriental, and Coptic Christianity in favor to everything connected to Western Christianity.

Though not all facets are covered, Roland H. Bainton’s Christianity is a well-written survey that covers the basics of everything related to Western Christianity. For anyone looking for general information of Christianity, I recommend this book to you.

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Saturday, September 2, 2017

Book Review: Daniel and the Revelation by Uriah Smith

Daniel and the RevelationDaniel and the Revelation by Uriah Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The prophecies of Daniel and Revelation have been a long studied by Seventh-day Adventists and their precursors for almost 200 years; one of the most prominent writers was Uriah Smith during his long tenure with the newsmagazine Advent Review and Sabbath Herald. Smith’s major contribution to Adventist theology was his verse-by-verse commentary of the books of Daniel and the Revelation.

This book is the most in-depth explanation of Seventh-day Adventist thought on end-time Biblical prophecies from the turn of the 20th Century, yet even though it’s mostly over 100 years old—there are some publisher insertions here and there—it is mostly what Seventh-day Adventist still believe today. However, the biggest difference is the focus of the Islam and Ottoman Empire—referred to Turkey—as being a major prophetic “player” in the past in particular in relation to Revelation 9 though in other places as well. While today Adventists do see the rise of Islam as playing a role in the prophetic past, it is only in affecting the Church at a particular time and nothing more.

Though Daniel and the Revelation is not an up-to-date book on what Seventh-day Adventists believe about those prophetic books, the great majority of Uriah Smith’s text is still relevant today. The only significant change has been an even more focused look at the history of the Church in prophecy than on another religion.

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Book Review: The 12th Planet by Zecharia Sitchin

The 12th Planet (Earth Chronicles, #1)The 12th Planet by Zecharia Sitchin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

How did civilization begin seemingly out of nowhere? And how did humanity evolve so fast in comparison to what had happened before? These are the questions that Zecharia Sitchin set to answer in his book, The 12th Planet, in which he purports that he found said answers in cuneiform text dating from time of Sumerians over 5000 years ago.

Sitchin begins by going over the spurts of cultural development that lead to the beginning of Sumerian civilization and how modern man appeared so soon in terms of evolution to even develop the civilization that we are a part of. Sitchin then describes all the firsts that Sumer did in, many of them were not continuous since then through to our day, and then asked where the Sumerians learned this knowledge to he responded that the Sumerians learned it from the gods. Using the Sumerian Creation myth, Enuma Elis, Sitchin details the beginnings of the solar system including how a rogue planetoid entered the developing solar system and began circling the sun in a 3,600 year long orbit. This planet, named Nibiru, created havoc in the early solar system resulting in the asteroid belt and Earth, seeded with the building blocks of life from this planet. Eventually humanlike beings eventually developed technology to explore the solar system and find Earth habitable and with resources they needed. These beings, the Annunaki or Nephilim, began travelling to Earth and mining for resources but bringing with them their own politics and grudges that eventually led to the “creation” of modern humans then the Deluge in an effort to destroy them. But in the aftermath were thankful that some survived so they could help them rebuild their operations.

Sitchin’s work was one of a number “ancient astronaut” books throughout 1970s and his influence within the community is immeasurable still almost a decade after his death. Yet, this book is rife with many scientific errors related to astrophysics, celestial mechanics, cosmology, and plate tectonics to name a few and is out-of-date in human evolutionary thought. While those are big drawbacks, Sitchin’s focus on Sumerian & Akkadian cuneiform on the reported Annunaki influence on early Earth and human history is very interesting and thought-provoking even if you disbelieve it. This focus on Sumerian myth, or record of history, is the most important part of the book as well as it’s relation to other mythological traditions along with the Bible.

While many might discount this book because of the incorrect scientific propositions put forward and disagree with the “ancient astronaut” theory. The best argument for reading Zecharia Sitchin’s The 12th Planet is the focus on Sumerian history and myth, which is one of the oldest and little known compared to many other cultures. Agree or disagree with Sitchin, this book is just one you have to say that you’ve read.

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Book Review: Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett

Monstrous Regiment (Discworld, #31)Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Polly Perks cuts her hair and leaves home to join her nation’s army to find her brother and bring him home; however her act of defiance against her country’s social norms turns out to have consequences geopolitically. Monstrous Regiment, the 31st book of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and the third of the Industrial subseries in which the vast majority of the book comes from Polly’s point-of-view in which gender, religious, and military issues play a big role in the narrative.

The nation of Borogravia is always at war in one neighbor or another, their god Nuggan is dead because they believe his Abominations more than him, and their ruler The Duchess is probably dead after not being seen for decades but is slowly becoming defied in replace of Nuggan. All of these things conspire to make Polly go to find her brother Paul in the Kneck valley and bring him home so that she doesn’t lose the family inn. After signing up, she and the rest of the new recruits become the new “lads” of legendary soldier Sergeant Jackrum but on the way to the front Polly finds that all the other recruits are also women having joined for their own reasons. Throughout the book, the regiment starts impacting the war on an international scale as the Anhk-Morpork Times details the adventures of the troop making them underdogs back home even as they oppose the alliance that Anhk-Morpork is a part of.

Although the geopolitical aspects of her regiments actions comes as a surprise to Polly, most of her concerns throughout the entire book is understanding a “woman’s role in a man’s world”, the insane religion they’re dealing with, and finally military culture between commissioned and non-commissioned officers. Pratchett’s use of real world issues into his fantasy world might annoy some readers but I thought it was handled well especially in his dry satirical style. The only really big irritation was that after a while the surprise of another woman-as-a-man in uniform lost its impact because you could basically guess who was going to be eventually revealed to be a woman, so it became less important and just Pratchett check off another reveal.

Monstrous Regiment deals with a lot of real world issues in a dry satirical style that Pratchett is famous for. Although the book’s long running gag of revealing women-as-men in uniform gets old and easy to predict as the book goes along, it doesn’t take away from the overall good quality of the book. If you’re a Discworld fan you’ll like this book but if you’re new to the series try another book first.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Book Review: Spy Schools by Daniel Golden

Spy Schools: How the CIA, FBI, and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America's UniversitiesSpy Schools: How the CIA, FBI, and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America's Universities by Daniel Golden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The openness of American colleges and universities for thought and research is seen by academics as the keystone to higher education. However Daniel Golden writes in Spy Schools: How the CIA, FBI, and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America’s Universities this is seen as opportunities to recruit agents and cultivate operatives as well steal technological innovations both by our own intelligence agencies and those across the globe.

Golden divided his book into foreign and domestic intelligence agencies exploitation of American universities. The first focused how foreign agencies, mainly the Chinese, have been exploiting American universities need of prestige and tuition money to gain partnerships between Chinese universities and their American counterparts resulting in an exchange of students and professors. Yet the most important focus of Golden’s investigation was on how the openness and collaboration within American university labs opens up opportunities for individuals to funnel research, including those paid by the U.S. government and American companies, to their home country to be exploit by their own government or to patient and start up a business. The second half was on the complicated relationship between American intelligence agencies and universities, some of who encourage a relationship and those that do not. The aspect of conflict between secrecy and openness is seen throughout the latter half of the book with 9/11 playing a pivotal role in each side’s views. Unlike the first half of the book, this section is seen over the course of 60 years compared to more near 2000 but in a way to show that past is prologue.

As an investigative journalist, Golden uses extensive research and a multitude of interviews in giving a full history and the scale of a front in the global spy game that many in the United States haven’t been aware of. Unfortunately for Golden the timing of this book while on the one hand current and on the other potentially dated. Nearly all his interviews take place no later than 2015, but since the election of Donald Trump with a seemingly nativist groundswell behind him and student demonstrations against conservative speakers might have begun a fundamental shift that could drastically change how both American and foreign intelligence services are seen on American universities especially as a post-9/11 “tolerance” on campus changes to hostility.

Even though the subject Daniel Golden has written about could be in the midst of a sudden sea change, Spy Schools is still a book to read in at least to understand an important part of the global spy game. Although no up-to-date, the recent and long-term history is significant for anyone who is concerned about national security and foreign intervention in American affairs.

I received this book via LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Book Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems

Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and PoemsEdgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Edgar Allan Poe is best known for his dark and psychological poems and short stories that have had an influence not only American literature throughout the world not only in literature but television and film. Yet while a number of Poe’s work has stood the test of time and made a large impression, a lot more expose stereotypical tropes and themes that repeat so much that they lose impact to the reader.

Before I go through the problems I have with Poe, I’m going to spend a little time praising his better pieces. “The Raven” is obviously the best known of Poe’s poetry and arguably his best, even though you’ve might have read it or heard it read before just reading it again makes you appreciate it before. The three Auguste Dupin short stories, the precursors to the detective genre, are wonderful reads in which Poe’s deductive reason is used well in written form to create fascinating mysteries and solutions. Although I could go on, the last story I will mention is “The Cask of Amontillado” which is a fantastic revenge story in which the narrator has no qualms with it afterwards.

Unfortunately this unrepentant narrator in “Amontillado” is unfortunately the exception to Poe’s trope of the narrator going crazy with guilt and admitting his crime which is featured in many stories Poe wrote. Along with a young woman always dying and premature burials, Poe’s writing is fraught with these tropes that after a while exhaust the reader with the almost predictable way a trope takes over a particular story to end with the same way. While these trope takeovers are discouraging, the tendency of Poe to begin a short story with a philosophical discourse only for the narrator to suddenly go off on a tangent (usually on a murder he committed) that had nothing to do with the discourse at the beginning. Frankly these literary quirks, or crutches, that Poe used throughout numerous compositions get tiresome while reading the entirety of Poe’s work and make one question his supposed literary greatness.

If you a true Poe fan, this complete collection of his tales and poems are for you. However, if you are someone who wants the best of Poe then avoid this complete collection and find a smaller collection that gives his best.

Story Ratings
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII
Part VIII
Part IX
Part X
Part XI
Part XII
Part XIII
Part XIV
Part XV

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part XV)

Eureka: A Prose Poem
My rating: 0.5 out of 5 stars

An essay on, well I’m not really sure to be honest and that was the first issue. Poe reused his “Mellonta Tauta” piece at the beginning of the essay and then went from there using or making up scientific information on a piece entitled “A Prose Poem” that had no poetry and might have been an attempt at humor that unfortunately was too serious for that.

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Poe’s only novel was a bit of this and a bit of that, namely an adventure on the sea and exploring unknown regions. Think of this book as a “dime novel” sorta feel with the American hero smuggled on his friend’s ship only for said ship to have a mutiny then a counter mutiny complicated by the ship being hit by storms then slowly drifting and sinking before Arthur and one fellow sailor are picked up by a passing ship then begin exploring the Southern Seas and finding habitable lands close to the South Pole. Obviously then story trends towards quasi-fantasy today, but as an very old school adventure tale is as passable, but ended abruptly when Pym (whom Poe was writing for) dies with the manuscript incomplete.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part XIV)

The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Mesmerism is once again the focus as well as the transition from life to death, the narrator is a practitioner of the mesmerism and the titular character is the dying man who is mesmerized on the edge of death and stays like that for seven months before being taken out and his body decays rapidly.

The Sphinx
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Every once and a while Poe springs a surprise by thinking he’s going to do down the same path with the only difference being the scenery when he twists things just at the end to make you enjoy the story though wishing he hadn’t waited until the end. The narrator’s eyes play tricks on him and makes him believe he’s going insane until his friend sets him straight.

The Cask of Amontillado
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This revenge classic is one of the highlights of the book, hardly any meandering for the narrator, just a plain straightforward story of a man getting revenge and never regretting it.

The Domain of Arnheim
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

This is a piece on a garden and the wonder of nature, even if it is created by man, but the beginning is bogged down by a biography of the narrator’s friend who shaped it. If it had been a straight piece and a fantastical garden I would have enjoyed it more.

Mellonta Tauta
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A journal written a 1000 years in the future describes the person’s view of their present and what they think of the past, overall a nice little piece.

Landor’s Cottage
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A “sequel” to The Domain of Arnheim, frankly it was over the top and made me glad to see the end.
Hop-Frog
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A fat dwarf jester, the titular character, gets his revenge on a King and his council after he embarrasses the jester’s only friend, his countrywoman who is also a dwarf.

Von Kempelen and His Discovery
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The narrator spends over half the piece talking about other people instead of Von Kempelen, but once he does we learn that the discovery was the philosopher’s stone and that value of lead and silver have increased as gold’s has decreased.

“X-ing a Paragrab”
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A newspaper starts up in a town with the editor attack the editor the rival established paper, who then retorts back. The new editor then works to make an excellent comeback but somehow the letter O is missing from the press and X is inserted instead making the comeback unintelligible. The public reaction is anger and the new editor is gone. All I can say is this was supposed to be funny, it wasn’t.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part XIII)

The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq.
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

An “autobiographical” account by Mr. Bob about how he began his literary career, which is basically Poe satirizing the American literary landscape of his time.

The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

After her husband does away with his law about killing his wives, Scheherazade begins telling the further adventures of Sinbad by describing things around the (then) modern world but the sultan can’t believe what he’s hearing and decides to kill her. Honestly when you start reading, you know how Poe is going to end the story but the Sinbad tale is pretty well crafted.



Some Words with a Mummy
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

A narrator gets a message from his friend that he is going to unwrap a mummy; the narrator accounts their progress when they decide to use a battery on him only it wakes him up. The mummy then proceeds to have a Q&A about the past and the present with the four men who unwrapped him.

The Power of Words
My rating: 0.5 out of 5 stars

Another afterlife dialogue, this time about God and creation, the few words about this the better.

The Imp of the Perverse
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A long introduction about phrenology before the narrator details killing someone and how it didn’t bother him until it does and he screams out his confession on a crowded street.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part XII)

The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A man visits a famed private insane asylum to learn about its “soothing system” from the asylum’s founder and director, but it turns out a new system is in place because the inmates (including the founder who went insane) have taken over the asylum. Although it was pretty obvious as the story went along that the inmates had taken over, it was somewhat humorous.

Mesmeric Revelation
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A conversation between a doctor and his mesmerized patient in which “the big questions about life, the universe, and everything else” are asked and given philosophical answers; couldn’t tell if it was a satire of the claims of mesmerism or a support, either way wasn’t impressed.

“Thou Art the Man”
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A wealthy citizen of Rattlesborough disappears and his neighbor leads the investigation into his death which leads to the conviction of the man’s nephew who was thought about to be disinherited by his missing uncle. But the narrator of the story figured out something was wrong and investigate on his own, find the deceased man’s body down the neighbor’s well and springs a trap on the murderous fraud.

The Balloon-Hoax
My rating: 2.5 out 5 stars

An account of a crossing of the Atlantic by balloon, although obviously a fake it was a nice little story with made up scientific facts and such.

The Angel of the Odd
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

A well-read businessman comes across an article about a man dying a odd way making him upset about the ridiculousness of newspapermen, which upsets the titular being that causes odd things to happen to people. The man insults the entity and then has a series of odd and humiliating incidents before apologizing to the entity to find relief. If the Angel of the Odd hadn’t been written with a heavy German accent making for slow reading, this would have been rated higher.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part XI)

The Spectacles
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

A humorous story of a young gentlemen who “marries” his own great-grandmother because he doesn’t want to wear spectacles because of how they look, which is great-grandmother and his friend use to their advantage to play this ruse on him. Overall the story was meh, but I might have enjoyed it more if the ending hadn’t been ruined by the anthology’s introduction but I might have figured things out at the story’s beginning anyhow.

The Oblong Box
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A man traveling by ship to New York from Charleston and discovers his artist friend is taking the same ship with his new wife and with his many rooms believes his friend has a fabulous new piece of art he has purchases. After unexpected delay, the ship sets off but the man’s friend was acting strange and his new wife was really beneath his standing but the man is happy to figure out his friend has a new piece of art in the large titular object that he has put in his room. It is only when a storm damages the ship that it begins sinking that the man discovers that his friend is obsessed with this box and dies with it only to later learn that it contained his actual wife. Another young woman who suddenly and tragically dies…at least it focused on what happens after.

The Tale of the Ragged Mountains
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A man with a certain condition goes on his daily walk and takes longer than he usually resulting in his personal doctor and servants to worry and collect the man’s friends to help search for him. But the man returns just as they are about to set out and gives everyone a most enchanting-turn-morbid tale that nearly all the listeners believe was a dream, except a doctor who relates the man’s dream is exactly how his friend died in India. Within a week, the doctor’s patient simply falls over dead.

The Premature Burial
My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Before reading this anthology of Poe’s work, the only person I knew from all my reading of not wanting to be buried prematurely was George Washington. The narrator of his story gives several “well known” incidents of premature burials with “happy” and “horrible” endings then proceeds to relate how he has a disease that makes it almost seem as if he has died if anyone who doesn’t know about it were to see him during an attack then relates his fear of being buried alive and measures he’s taken to survive. Young women tragically dying and premature burials, there is a reason Poe is stereotyped.

The Purloined Letter
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The third and unfortunately last Auguste Dupin detective story finds the Prefect of the Paris Police coming in search of Dupin’s aid. A letter has been taken by a Minister from a young royal woman that has given him significant political influence by just having it while not admitting he has it, the Prefect has been asked to recover it but after investigating the Minister’s home every night for a month hasn’t been able to find it. After Dupin tells him to investigate the entire home again, the Prefect returns shaking his head when Dupin gets the man to pay him his share of the reward money then gives the Prefect the letter. After the Prefect leaves without asking how Dupin got it, his unnamed friend (the narrator) asks how and Dupin gives his analysis of where the Minister would have hidden it then how he got it. While not as good as Rue Morgue, this story was significantly better than Marie Roget and sadly the last time we’ll see Dupin.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part X)

Morning on the Wissahiccon
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A romantic description of a piece of nature far enough away from civilization to be isolated, but close at hand to society as well.

The Tell-Tale Heart
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A man commits murder and is betrayed by his own imagination while the police are investigating a scream his victim uttered before his death. One of the classic Poe stories that upon reflection and with a subsequent story fails to live up to the hype.

The Gold Bug
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A pirate treasure short story on a small island off the coast of South Carolina near Charleston featuring a eccentric man without his former wealth, his almost inarticulate speaking old slave, and his friend the unnamed narrator. The title is a reference both to the insect that starts the chain of the events and what the narrator believes his infected his friend and later himself. A great story, unfortunately the racist speak for the slave has to deduct from the rating.

The Black Cat
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A man who loves animals, especially the titular pet, is unfortunately an alcoholic that has rages after he drinks including animal cruelty and eventual murder of his wife. The later event is discovered just like the Tell-Tale Heart, which deducts a lot from the rating even though this is definitely the better story.

Diddling Considered as One of the Exact Sciences
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Poe writes about the actions of con-men and their scams, the titular diddling, which is a very well written instruction guide to future con-men and for people who don’t want to be their marks.

Byron and Miss Chaworth
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A short piece about Poe’s hero Lord Byron and, I assume, his mistress which is only a page and a half long. Wondering what the point was really.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part IX)

The Pit and the Pendulum
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

A man in the clutches of the Spanish Inquisition in locked in a cell with a pit in the center of it and after avoiding falling in, he is drugged and strapped to a bed as a razor slowly descends towards him. Barely escaping the razor, the man wonders what will be next when he hears the French entering Toledo to bring him freedom. This is a fantastic piece of writing by Poe that had me glued to each page while reading.

The Mystery of Marie Roget
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A “ripped from the headlines” Auguste Dupin deduction mystery is unfortunately not as engaging as the first Dupin story. This story is mostly Dupin using his deduction to undermine all the theories that newspapers were putting out about the young ladies death, while it was good writing but sometimes in a detective story—yes even before the word was created—you want to see the main characters move.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part VIII)

A Descent into the Maelstrom
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A hiker and his guide climb to the top of Norwegian mountain to see the Moskoe-strom then the guide relates his escape from the whirlpool that killed his two brothers. Overall this is good story that meanders here and there pulling down the rating.

The Colloquy of Monos and Una
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A dialogue between a married couple in the afterlife. This is the second dialogue of this kind that Poe has written, but the first was why better even though this one is more romantic.

Never Bet the Devil Your Head
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

This is a “straightforward” moral tale that is also a little humorous even though the set up was obvious from the beginning. Could have been better if there wasn’t a introduction about the author not writing tales with a moral.

Eleonora
My rating: 0.5/5

Another first cousins growing up and marrying story with the young woman dying young, it was pretty obvious were this story was going from the beginning so this was quickly read.

Three Sundays in a Week
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This was a humorous little story in which a great-uncle can’t just willing do something even though he’s inclined to do so. Unable to get his consent to their marriage until there were “three Sundays in a week”; the two don’t know what to do until two sailor friends arrive back in the country after traveling around the world in opposite directions.

The Oval Portrait
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A young nobleman and his valet break into a cottage after he is injured during a hunt, the cottage has many portraits along with a little guide book for them. He comes across an oval portrait that feels like it’s alive and then reads the description, which gives credence to his unease that it’s alive.

The Masque of the Red Death
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

While this is a well written story, whether you’ve been spoiled or not before reading it, there is only one obvious outcome and frankly that takes away from the stories overall impact.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part VII)

The Man of the Crowd
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

While watching the crowds walk along London’s busiest street, the observer sees an old man that attracts his attention then follows him through the night and far into the next day before finally stopping. A nice piece that in the long run means nothing, but at least it was too the point of just following someone.

The Island of the Fay
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

An enthusiast describes the wonder of nature and then while enjoying a glade that has a view of an islet, he imagines seeing one of the last of the fay paddle on a boat around it. Another nice little piece with great descriptions that is almost completely different from anything Poe had written before.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The first Auguste Dupin detective story even before the word detective was created. Written as a study of deduction by an anonymous narrator who’s Dupin’s friend, he describes how Dupin deciphered his train of thought to the narrator’s amazement. A few days later, the Paris papers are filled with the ghastly details of a double murder in which none of the witness differ in their accounts. After a friend of Dupin’s is arrested, he uses his connections to study the crime scene and using his deductive skill figures out what happened and getting his friend released. So far this is THE best story so far the complete collection and the only reason it wasn’t a perfect five was the introductory essay which while giving background to the narrator’s thought process, just wastes the reader’s time.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part VI)

William Wilson
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A man recounts his life-long rivalry with person with the same name as him, the titular William Wilson, through various schools and across Europe until one day he confronts him, only to realize as he’s dying that it was always him. A 19th-century story on schizophrenia, which was obvious after William introduced the other William but was still very well written nonetheless.

The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Charmion asks Eiros how he died, Eiros describes a comet impact that killed everyone on Earth because the chemical makeup of the air was changed. Interesting afterlife story version of an apocalypse, science is completely wrong but given when it was written pretty well.

Some Account of Stonehenge, the Giant’s Dance
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A short article speculating on Stonehenge.

Why the Little Frenchman Wears His Hand in a Sling
My rating: 0.5 out of 5 stars

Written like the worst type of stereotypical Irishman, I could slowly read but decided I didn’t want to know about the Frenchman.

Instinct vs Reason—A Black Cat
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

I have no idea what the purpose of the piece was really.

The Business Man
My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

A man describes his various business ventures that are basically illegal or corrupt and is proud of it.

The Philosophy of Furniture
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

An interesting article on different cultures’ interior d├ęcor that then goes off the rails in the last quarter.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part V)

How to Write A Blackwood Article
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Signora Psyche Zenobia meets Mr. Blackwood to learn how to write his type of entertaining articles and afterwards goes and follows his advice to write an article. While the first part of the story was funny and entertaining, the second half just wasn’t because Psyche was too literal in following Blackwood’s advice.

The Devil in the Belfry
My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

This story is about a Dutch small town, with a really long name, with a big clock that is always on time. Then one day stranger walks into the clock tower, assaults the bell-ringer, and then suddenly beginning banging the bell whenever he wants and how many times he wants. Great descriptions at the beginning, but when the plot happens at the end it was pretty obvious what the stranger was going to do.

The Man That Was Used Up
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A man meets a famous general, but doesn’t know the details about the general’s campaign against the Bugaboo and Kickapoo Indians. The man goes around town to all his friends and acquaintances to learn about the general, but the conversations always turn away from the opening. Finally the man goes to the general’s residence and finds the man is literally “used up. “

The Fall of the House of Usher
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Unfortunately the ending was ruined by the individual that had written the collection’s introduction and even though I was looking for foreshadowing, this was a nicely paced and suspenseful story. The climax of the story will stick in your mind and might have (and will in the future) inspired numerous scenes in stories, plays, and movies since.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part IV)

Berenice
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Okay, a man with some sort of blackout disorder has an episode around the time of his cousin-wife’s death while focusing on her teeth. A little time later, the man learns that her grave had been disturbed then finds a shovel in his room and a container with her teeth. Um, I might have overrated this.

Morella
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Short story of a man whose wife is named Morella, who gives birth to a daughter that he is afraid to name Morella because when he does she dies as well. I’m starting to understand why there is a stereotype for Poe’s writing.

King Pest
My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

This could have been something interesting especially with the Pest Royal Family descriptions (thus why it’s higher rated than Morella), but then it fizzles.

Mystification
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

College practical joker Baron Von Jung sets up a duel enthusiast into a confrontation then defuses it by referencing a duel manual that appeases the enthusiast. Only it turns out Von Jung gave the man the book, which is actually a joke about two baboons having a duel when reading every 2nd or 3rd word. Nice funny twist to the story that makes it better overall than what it was trending.

Ligeia
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A man’s first wife, Ligeia, is a smart woman who helped him in his research but early in the story dies. The man remarries but his second wife has health issues until just before she dies he notices something putting drops in her medication. After her death, he is the only one at her all night wake but over the course of the night it almost seems like she’s still alive, but then suddenly the body of his second wife rises looking different before she says she’s “Ligeia!”. A bit meandering, but rather good nonetheless.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part III)

The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

An obviously fake news story written as a journal, but one that is entertaining even with the bad science. The titular character claims to have flown a balloon to the moon, but it crashes there leading to the question of how he got his account back to his native Rotterdam…but still really entertaining.

Lionizing
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Funny morality tale? Or something close? No idea.

Shadow—A Parable
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A funeral party by a bunch of friends for a fellow who died of a plague gets visited by the Shadow of Death. Very short and sweet.

Silence—A Fable
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

A demon details how he challenged a man with various things to make him run and in the end it was complete silence that scared him. An interesting little tale, but nothing really special.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part II)

Bon-Bon
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

The titular philosopher-restaurateur has a conversation with the devil about the souls of past philosophers that he’s eaten in the past millennia before they have an argument and Bon-Bon kicks the devil out of his establishment and then in anger accidently causes his own death. The conversation and the twist ending is pretty interesting, though the long set up of establishing Bon-Bon’s credentials at the beginning makes the reader wonder what the point is for half the piece.

Four Beasts in One—The Homo-Cameleopard
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

A journey to Antioch during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes during which a festival takes place during which the King appears amongst the revelers dressed as the titular Homo-Cameleopard and acting like the fictional animal. But then the carcasses of the dead animals he’s wearing attract the dangerous pets of the city and he sprints to safety to the amazement of the crowd. Overall the story is a tad weird and a little interesting, but not good enough to be average.

MS. Found in a Bottle
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A well-educated traveler is going from Java to the Sundra islands when his ship encounters a supernatural storm that takes the crew from his ship except for an Old Swede and himself. The two survive as best they can on the derelict vessel until a huge ship bears down on them and the traveler jumps from ship-to-ship just in time and hides. He later finds the crew is very old sailors who don’t seem to care if he is on board and continue to sail through the supernatural storm towards the south. A very intriguing story written like journal entries before being thrown overboard at the last instant the traveler thinks he’ll be able to write.

The Assignment
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A visitor to Venice witnesses an interesting scene between the goddess-like Marchesa di Mentoni and the famous English ex-pat living in the city after which he’s invited by the famous man to visit the next morning. As the two talk, the visitor can’t figure out why the famous gentleman is talking like he is until news arrives that the Marchesa committed suicide via poison and turns to his host to find him died by poison. A twisting tale that is nice, but not enough meat to be good.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part I)

Poems
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Frankly, I gave a better rating than the entirety of Poe’s poems deserves when really thinking back to everything I read the last few days. Honestly the highlight of the collection is “The Raven” and that’s probably were most of the rating comes from, but really besides a few other poems there isn’t really much here I enjoyed.

Politian
My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

This unfinished play is all over the place and one can barely make out the barebones of a plot. The highlight is some nice dialogue in a few spots beyond that, it’s an unfinished play with parts that don’t go together.

Metzengerstein
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Two noble rival families, a prophecy about both, and throw in supernatural horse. An intriguing short story that isn’t very coherent with an ending that weird. Probably over rated the story, but it felt painfully close to being good if only…

The Duc De L’Omelette
My rating: 0.5 out of 5 stars

The titular French nobleman sees a bird fly over him and dies then beats the devil in a card game, I think. A lot of French in the text and since I don’t know the language I’m guessing on everything, glad it was a short story.

A Tale of Jerusalem
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Three priests go to the walls of a besieged Jerusalem to pay the besieging Roman army for animals to conduct their sacrifices, after dropping the money they haul up the animal which turns out to be a pig. The twist ending ALMOST makes up for the stereotypical Jewish characters that borders, if not crosses into anti-Semitism.

Loss of Breath
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A wife-beater literally loses his breath while hitting her, but doesn’t die though throughout the story people believe he is when not seeing him move. A satirical look at “life” from a living corpse that would have been better if the reader didn’t get confused several times about what was going on, oh and of course if the jerk wasn’t a wife-beater.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Book Review: Heretics and Heroes by Thomas Cahill

Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our WorldHeretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World by Thomas Cahill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of the most pivotal periods of Western civilization occurred during the Renaissance and the Reformation, to culturally impactful events that overlapped one another across Europe. Heretics and Heroes is the sixth book in Thomas Cahill’s series “The Hinges of History” highlighting the artists and the priests that changed how Europe viewed creativity and worshipped God.

Cahill begins this volume talking about philosophical struggle over the ages between Plato and Aristotle, through it is the fourth time he has discussed this millennia-long debate during the series it allows Cahill to refer back to it in the text and gives the reader a basis to understand its importance during this era. Cahill continued setting up both the Renaissance and Reformation by highlighting moments during the Late Middle Ages, especially the effects of the Black Death, leading up to and allowed for these two important moments in Western history to occur. The ‘discovery’ of the New World by Columbus and rise of the humanists begin the look at the titular heretics and heroes that will dominate the book, using both events Cahill shows the changing trends in Europe just before both the Renaissance and Reformation completely change it. The Renaissance and it’s complete change of artistic creativity of the previous millennium is taken up first through the lives of Donatello, Leonardo, and Botticelli before focusing on its height and sudden stop as a result of the Counter-Reformation in the life of Michelangelo. Then, save for a brief look at the art of Northern Europe, Cahill turns to the Reformation of Luther and the Catholic Counter-Reformation with brief looks at the Reformed movements and the development of Anglicanism.

The entire book is packed with information in a very conversational style of writing which has always been one of the strengths of Cahill’s writing. As always with a popular history book, Cahill had to pick and choose what to focus the reader’s attention on while covering as much as possible about the subject he’s decided to write about. While Cahill is pretty successful at hitting the high points and pointing readers looking for information to the appropriate place to look, his personal opinions at times overwhelm the history and themes he’s trying to bring to fore. All history authors have their personal opinions influence their work; however Cahill’s armchair psychiatry and personal theological arguments that actually have nothing to do with the debate he’s writing about at that moment in the text. While Cahill’s personal opinions have been in all of the previous books of the series, this volume it seems to not be subtle but almost blatant.

Overall Heretics and Heroes is a fine addition to the “Hinges of History” series written in a very readable style by Cahill. However, unlike the previous books in which the reader was left with wanting more, the reader will be wishing less of Cahill’s opinion and more of actual facts. Yet even with this drawback and forewarning a reader will find this book very informative.

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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Book Review: Mysteries of the Middle Ages by Thomas Cahill

Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern WorldMysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern World by Thomas Cahill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In popular imagination the medieval period is a time of ignorance and superstition, fear and violence, and crushing religious intolerance of anything the Church was against. Mysteries of the Middle Ages is the fifth volume of Thomas Cahill’s ‘Hinges of History’ series, focusing on the individuals in the High Middle Ages who shaped Western society that we know today. Over the course of 300+ pages, Cahill sets out to give his reader a new way to look at the Middle Ages.

Cahill begins the book not during the Middle Ages, but in the city of Alexandria in Egypt looking at how the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions began their long processes of synthetization began before exploring how the Romans became the Italians as a way to differentiate between the Greek East and Latin West for the rest of the book. Then beginning with Hildegard of Bingen, Cahill makes the reader look at the Middle Ages in a vastly different way by showing the power and importance of 12th century Abbess who would one day be declared a saint then turned his attention to a woman of secular power, that of Eleanor of Aquitaine who held political power in a significant way while also allowing the developing “courts of love” evolve. This evolving form of culture spread into the Italian peninsula and influenced a young man from Assisi, Francis who would shift this emphasis of earthly love into spiritual love. The focus of the spiritual then shifted to Peter Abelard and St. Thomas Aquinas who became to emphasis the thoughts of Aristotle over those of Plato in theological discussions while Roger Bacon used Aristotle to begin examining the world around him and thus science that we see today. Yet the world around those during the High Middle Ages began to influence art and literature in both secular and spiritual ways from the Cathedral of Chartres to the works of Dante and Giotto would have influences even to today.

Although Cahill readily admits that he could have and wanted to discuss more individuals from a wider swath of Europe, he does an adequate job in showing that the Middle Ages were not what the popular view of the time period was believed to be. Cahill several times throughout the book emphasizes that the Middle Ages, especially from the 12th to the early 14th centuries, were not a time of stagnate culture that the humanists of the Renaissance began calling it. However, Cahill’s asides about Islamic culture as well as the Byzantines were for the most part a continuation of centuries-long mudslinging or a product of today’s ideological-religious conflicts and ironically undermined one of his best arguments, the role of Catholicism in shaping Western society. Cahill’s Catholicism was that of all the individuals he wrote about, who were Christians, not the Church and its hierarchy that over the course of the High Middle Ages became a point of embarrassment to both lay and cleric alike.

Mysteries of the Middle Ages shows the beginnings of the synthesis of the two strains of Western society, Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian, that Thomas Cahill has built up to in his previous four books. As a popular history it very well written, but its flaws of modern and centuries old prejudice undercut a central theme Cahill was developing and wrote about at the end of the book. Yet I cannot but call it a good book to read.

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