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Parallel Lives
Arthur Hugh Clough, Plutarch, John Dryden
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Brandon Sanderson
A. G. Daniells: Shaper of Twentieth-Century Adventism
Benjamin McArthur

The Thirty Years War

The Thirty Years War - Cicely Veronica Wedgwood

War is hell, just imagine it lasting for an entire generation with armies crisscrossing the same ground again and again producing famine, depopulation, and disease all in the name of religion, nationalism, and then finally simple greed.  C.V. Wedgwood’s The Thirty Years War covers nearly a half century of history from the causes that led to the conflict through its deadly progression and finally it’s aftereffects.

 

From the outset Wedgwood sets the German domestic and the continental political situations in focus by stating that everyone was expecting war but between Spain and the Dutch while the German economy was on the decline due to the rise of new trading patterns over the course of the last century.  It was only with the succession of the Bohemian throne and the ultra-Catholic policies of the Ferdinand II after his election that started the war everyone knew was coming, sooner and further east than expected.  The war began as a purely religious conflict that saw the Catholic German princes led by Emperor Ferdinand crush the Protestant opposition because many of the Protestants decided not to help one another until it was too late due to political conservatism that Ferdinand used to his advantage.  It wasn’t until Gustavus Adolphus and the Swedes entered the conflict a decade later that the conflict turn slowly from religious to international and an extension of the Bourbon-Habsburg in which the former used first allies then their own troops to prevent the encirclement of France by both branches of the Habsburgs.  The negotiations for the end of the war took nearly five years and would change as events in the field would change strategies until finally allied members of the Bourbon and Habsburgs would cut deals with the other side to quickly break deadlocks and achieve peace but how it took almost six years to stand down the armies to prevent chaos.

 

Wedgwood’s narrative historical style keeps the book a very lively read and makes the war’s progress advancing even when she’s relating how the continuous fighting was affecting the German population.  She is very upfront with the men, and a few women, who influenced the conflict throughout it’s course from the great kings of Ferdinand II, Christian IV of Denmark, and Gustavus to the great princes Maximillian I of Bavaria, John George of Saxony, and Frederick Henry of Orange to the mercenary generals that gained in importance as the conflict continued like Albrecht von Wallenstein to finally the political masterminds of Richelieu and Mazarin.  With such a large historical cast, Wedgwood’s writing keeps things simple and straight for the read thus allowing the conflict’s long drawn out nature to fully impact the reader and how it affected those out of power.  And in describing the aftereffects, Wedgwood disarms many myths about the effects of the war that over three hundred years became considered fact.

 

The Thirty Years War by C.V. Wedgwood is an excellent narrative history of a conflict that saw the end of one kind of conflict and the beginnings of another with interesting personalities that fought and conducted policy around it while also showing the effects on the whole population.  If you’re interested in seventeenth-century history or military history, this book is for you.

On the Dignity of Man

On the Dignity of Man: On Being and the One : Heptaplus (Hackett Classics) - Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola

The Renaissance was a time of reevaluation of philosophical and theological teachings in various forms and the results at times were interesting and strange.  On the Dignity of Man contains three treatises by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola including the titular treatise has been called the “manifesto of the Renaissance”.

 

The “Oration on the Dignity of Man” is Pico’s justification of the importance of the human quest for knowledge within a Neoplatonic frame as well as an introduction to his unpublished 900 thesis in which he believed provided complete and sufficient basis for the discovery of all knowledge.  The second treatise, “On Being and the One”, is an attempted reconciliation between Platonic and Aristotelian writings on the relative place of being and “the one” and a refutation of opposing arguments.  The finale treatise, “Heptaplus”, is a mystic-allegorical exposition of the creation according to the seven Biblical senses, elaborates on his idea that different religions and traditions describe the same God.

 

The titular treatise of this collection is the best of the bunch as Pico is eloquent in his thoughts, justifications, and introducing his thesis.  The other two treatise are a combination of Christian, pagan philosophy, and Jewish thought which ultimate stretches credibility even though Pico tries his best to bring forth his ideas.  However even thought I’m not truly well read in Plato and Aristotle, even I know they do not agree while Pico tries his best to make them agree.  Pico’s belief that all other traditions and religions were pale imitations of future Christianity and thus worthy to be combined with Scripture to bring forth quasi-theological ideas like St. Augustine.

 

On the Dignity of Man is a collection of treatise by Giovanni Pico in which the titular treatise is the best of the bunch while the other two are well written but utterly worthless due to Pico’s thinking.

Out of the Ashes (Op-Center #13)

Tom Clancy's Op-Center: Out of the Ashes - Tom Clancy, Tom Clancy, George Galdorisi, Dick Couch, Steve Pieczenik

The combination of the refocusing of intelligence after 9/11 and Congressional budget cuts shuttered the original Op-Center, fifteen years later after the worst terrorist attack since 9/11 the new President decides to reestablish it.  Out of the Ashes by Dick Couch and George Galdorisi relaunched Tom Clancy’s Op-Center series as former four-star admiral Chase Williams is tapped by a new President to relaunch Op-Center to avenge the latest terrorist attack and work to prevent the next one.

 

A rich Kuwaiti couple are assaulted in New York by upset Giants fans after a game resulting in the wife being braindead, her husband hires a Indonesian engineer/terrorist-for-hire that results in a attacks on four NFL stadiums and hacked other stadium’s PA to cause panic.  In the wake of thousands of dead, the new President and his National Security Advisor decide to reform Op-Center are surprised when Paul Hood turns them down only to learn he has ALS, but did bring his recommended pick former Admiral Chase Williams who the President approves after along discussion.  It takes Williams three months to get a skeleton version of Op-Center up and running with the focus on the Kuwaiti and the Indonesian who are taken out by Joint Special Operations Command team under Op-Center’s control.  Almost a year and a half later, a Saudi prince in charge of a oil pipeline through Jordan and Syria finds the new Syrian government an obstacle and decides to have the U.S. get rid of it.  Hacking a military drone, he makes it appear that the Syrians have missiles that can take out the newly arrived U.S. carrier group which sets off the U.S. military to begin planning an attack on Syria.  The new leader of Syria goes to Iran to ask for help and the new Grand Ayatollah mines the Strait of Hormuz adding fuel to the Saudi prince’s plan.  However, a civilian analyst realizes there is issue with the drone footage and send it to her former colleagues at the NRO who agree and determine the site is in Saudi Arabia but the captain of the ship she is on refuses to send the information up the chain of command.  However, Op-Center intercepted the emails and redirected their JSOC team from investigating Syria to the site in Saudi Arabia only for the civilian analyst and a Navy helo pilot to take it upon themselves to go to the site and get shot down by the prince’s on-site leader and captured.  The JSOC team rescues the two women, “interview” everyone on the site, and send the information to Op-Center which is sent to the White House stopping all plans for an attack on Syria.  But the President orders a strike on Iran’s mining capabilities, which results in the Iranian leader to order a Sarin attack in Washington as retaliation.  Even though Williams warns the FBI Director repeatedly, the attack still occurs.  After Williams gives the President the information his team had collected, the President orders the death of the Grand Ayatollah and destroys the Iranian navy as retaliation.  The civilian analyst loses her job and the helo pilot her wings, but both are recruited by Op-Center.

 

The book suffered not from two authors but two different stories that could have each made a good book being shortened and mashed together.  This resulted in the actual Op-Center portions of the book being shafted with only Chase Williams the only character connected with it being given depth and character interactions shown being stilted and dry in comparison to the scenes in the Middle East were the characters and dialogue were more rounded and livelier. Yet despite the mashed together stories, Couch and Galdorisi did one other “mistake” and that was the helo pilot and civilian analyst’s rogue trip seemed more Hollywood than reality which the author’s were at pains to portray actually though there was a goal in mind as seen at the end of the book though it had been telegraphed the entire second half of the book.  Yet the book was fast moving and kept the reader interested if you were able to figure out quickly that it was essentially set up for the future books.

 

Out of the Ashes restarts the Op-Center franchise though a book that contained two stories that would have been good books on their own but were forced together by either the decision of the authors or by the publisher.  Dick Couch and George Galdorisi gave an interesting preview of what they might bring the series though it could also very easily make one not continue given the issues with the book.

K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches

K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches - Tyler Kepner

Baseball is a simple game; a pitcher throws a ball towards a batter who swings either missing or hitting the ball to put it into play.  K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches by Tyler Kepner explores the how the importance of the pitcher and the tools he uses has grown over 150 years of the sport as strategy has evolved along with and against it.

 

As the title of the book says, Kepner divides the book into ten chapters focusing on the different types of pitches that have endured throughout baseball history and some that have risen in prominence but have nearly faded away by the time of publication of the book.  Through interviews and anecdotes from current and past players—both pitchers and hitters—that Kepner conducted himself or researched from past articles written as far back as the first decade of the 20th Century, the story of each pitch’s evolution and the prominent players that used them is discussed through particular careers and game situations that defined baseball history.

 

Kepner is extensive in his research in showing the history and the importance to the game that each pitch, through the careers of Hall of Famers or players that had spectacular runs for year but not an entire career.  Yet Kepner had an issue with distinguish pitches that are very close to one another in one way or another though he tried his best, it wasn’t that I was looking for a tutorial on how to pitch but definitive elements about why pitches that appear similar to the casual fan are completely different and to me he didn’t quiet accomplish that.

 

K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches is a very good look at one of the most important positions in American sports over the course of 150 years and how the players who played the position were able to gain an advantage over their competitors.

Western Civilization since 1500

Western Civilization Since 1500 - Walther Kirchner

Covering over 450 years of history in a little over 300 pages seems a daunting task, even more so when it begins in Europe and slowly spreads across the globe.  Western Civilization since 1500 by Walther Kirchner is a survey of the rise of European global dominance from the beginnings of “modern times” to the generation after World War II when the periphery powers of the United States and Soviet Union rose to dominance.

 

Kirchner spends the first 20 pages doing a quick recap of Western Civilization from its Sumerian beginnings to 1500.  Then over the course of the next 300 pages, Kirchner divides the approximately 450+ years of history into 20 chapters of specific “eras” whether political and/or cultural developments and happenings.  Unlike Kirchner’s previous survey, there was no real “highlight” for the general reader though the significance of some cultural individuals—writers, painters, composers, etc.—that in my own Western Civ and World History classes in high school and college were never mentioned or those that were mentioned that Kirchner didn’t thus showing the difference 30-35 years makes in historical studies.  Kirchner obvious adherence to the Marxist theory of history was on full display, but it did not necessarily mean a favorable view of Communist regimes or leaders.  As study aid for college students in the mid-1960s there were some interesting miscues (the misdating of the Battle of Yorktown stands out), omissions (the genocidal famine caused by the First Five Year Plan), and downright lies (that the U.S. citizens were sympathetic to the British from the beginning of WWII).  Given that this book is over 50 years old there is dated terminology that wouldn’t be used today, not all for politically correct reasons, that would make the reader do a double take if they didn’t know when this book was published.

 

Though this small volume is meant as a study aid to college students and a quick reference for general readers, to which is essentially succeeds, it is pretty old and should be used by astute history readers to learn how the study of history has changed over time.

Dragon (Dirk Pitt #10)

Dragon (Dirk Pitt, #10) - Paul Kemprecos, Clive Cussler

The Cold War seems to be winding down, but a new economic war appears to be on the horizon with the added element of nuclear blackmail.  Dragon is the tenth book of Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt series as the titular hero finds himself sucked into a espionage war between the U.S. and fanatical ultranationalist Japanese businessmen and criminals looking to create a new empire.

 

On 6 August 1945, a B-29 Bomber “Dennings Demons” takes off from the Aleutians with an atomic bomb headed for Osaka without knowing the “Enola Gay” is headed for Hiroshima and vice versa; however a Japanese pilot shots down the bomber which lands in the water not far off from a little island off the Japanese coast.  Forty-five years later a Norwegian cruise ship in the Pacific finds an abandoned Japanese cargo ship and find a car leaking radiation moments before it detonates destroying the cargo ship, takes out of the cruise ship in the shockwave as well as a British research vessel.  Underneath the surface a British submersible is also damage from the nuclear shockwave is found by an experimental NUMA ocean floor crawler—piloted by Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino—from an underwater research facility that must be evacuated due to earthquakes caused by the nuclear explosion.  After getting to the surface, Pitt and Giordino are flown to D.C. and are “volunteered” to join a task force to tackle the nuclear threat from Japan due to them smuggling nukes in the country in cars.  The two go outside the process and give the task force big clues that tips off the Japanese that their plan has been found out.  Undercover agents in both Japan and the U.S. take on security forces with both sides, but things hit the fan when the Japanese kidnap Pitt’s on-off love interest Congresswoman Loren Smith along with an influential U.S. Senator.  Thanks to a British undercover agent, the task force is able to locate the Japanese command center and launch a two-prong attack with Pitt & Giordino acting a decoys to let the rest of the task force get in and destroy the command center but both teams are surprised by robots upsetting their plans.  The five task force members are forced run for their lives in a human hunting game, but Pitt as the first to be the prey tricks his hunter and turns the tables on him.  The task force escapes with Loren, the Senator, and the mastermind behind the Japanese plot but their attempt to cause damage to the command center doesn’t work.  The Japanese decide to set off a nuke in Wyoming, but the task force has found the wreckage of “Denning’s Demons” and plan to use the NUMA crawler to get the atom bomb and set it off in a nearby fault to take out the little Japanese island that the command center is built in.  Pitt keeps Giordino from joining him and is able to fulfill the plan to detonate the bomb, but the escape route doesn’t workout making everyone think he doesn’t make it until a month later when the crawler comes up out of the ocean on a little island in front of a resort with a haggard Pitt asking for some fresh food.

 

At the time of publication (1991) the Cold War was over and with it the clichés of earlier Pitt novels, so Cussler compensated with Japanese business takeover on steroids.  Overall the plot was solid with none of the scenes really dragging the book down, unlike the previous book.  Of the characters, the main antagonists were a tad on the cliché side but were written well enough to still be a little rounded.  Dirk Pitt was less of a lady’s man this time around, but to offset that Cussler made Pitt be perfect at everything including beat the author himself in a classic car race.  Though I’ll give credit to Cussler for having Pitt referencing Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game before he was hunted and doing homage to it in his own book.

 

Dragon is a product of its time, an overall fine book that kept the reader hooked but also not the best in the series in my opinion.  Clive Cussler keeps on going back and forth in how to describe his main character from book to book, but at least he isn’t the jerk he was in the earlier books in the series.

The Girl in the Spider's Web (Millennium #4)

The Girl in the Spider's Web: A Lisbeth Salander novel, continuing Stieg Larsson's Millennium Series - David Lagercrantz

The triad of Big Brother, industrial espionage, and organized crime suddenly find themselves in the crosshairs of a very intelligent young woman who has the means to make their lives difficult.  The Girl in the Spider’s Web is the fourth book in the Millennium series but the first written by David Lagercrantz in replacing the late Stieg Larrson as Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist find themselves racing to save the life of an 8-year old boy savant from a dark triad of corruption wanting him dead.

 

Uber-intelligent computer scientist Frans Balder leaves his Silicon Valley job, returning to Sweden to take custody of his autistic son August. He later learns from several sources his life is in danger but ignores the warnings until his paranoia makes him call Mikael Blomkvist.  But as Blomkvist, who is intrigued with Balder since he hired Lisabeth Salander to find who stole his research, arrives just as Balder is murdered in front of his son who can draw picture to appear lifelike while also a mathematic genius.  The group that killed Balder is already being tracked by Salander, who had hacked the NSA to get information on them and their “allies”, and after learning of Balder’s death starts following the case when she learns there is a leak in the murder investigation and that August is targeted because of his skill.  Shot in the act of saving August, Salander takes the boy with her to keep him safe thanks to the efforts of Blomkvist and others including one of his young colleagues.  But then the group comes after Salander they target Blomkvist first and he comes face-to-face with Camilla Salander which wards him from the trap, but his younger colleague isn’t so lucky and after lengthy torture divulges Lisabeth’s location.  Camilla and her gang attack, but Lisabeth takes out three of them—though not her sister—allowing August and she to escape.  An NSA employee comes to Sweden and uses Blomkvist to out his corrupt coworkers and leadership, but Lisabeth gives Blomkvist the information she got from the NSA to add to the “whistleblower” interview.

 

Though it’s been several years since I read the original trilogy, I did notice a difference in this book with my memory.  Both Lisabeth and Blomkvist are similar but more brooding than what I remember which made a difference as the book went along.  Lagercrantz’s writing style compared to what I remember of Larrson’s was noticeable, while not bad it changed the feeling of the “world” Larrson created and how the narrative was structured.  There was similarities and stark differences that this both a familiar and weird at the same time.  Overall, the fact that I’m still interested in reading the fifth book should give an indication that it’s a fine continuation of the series.

 

The Girl in the Spider’s Web is a good continuation of Stieg Larrson’s Millennium series with David Lagercrantz taking the reins in writing.  While there are noticeable differences to go along with some similarities, the latter was enough to keep me interested in reading the next book and to see how it goes.

Treasures of the Lost Races

Treasures of the Lost Races - Rene Noorbergen

Buried treasure whether coins or artifacts made of gold—though silver isn’t bad either—are being found by archaeologists and normal everyday people is an allure for more to go out to be the one to have the next big find.  Treasures of the Lost Races by Rene Noorbergen chronicles some of the amazing discoveries of treasures found around the world, searches for lost treasures, and theories about how advanced artefacts were from “primitive” cultures.

 

While a good portion of Noorbergen’s writing is about amazing treasures found over the years and were interesting, another large portion was about the search for various treasures which is where some of the major problems with the book were located.  While Noorbergen’s discussion on the Copper Scroll treasure list from either Solomon’s Temple or the Second Temple was fine as was his search for the remains of Pharaoh’s army of the Exodus, it was the Ark of the Covenant and lost Incan treasure were things got mindboggling.  In the former, Noorbergen focuses on a story of a US Army chaplain who supposedly glimpsed the Ark while his unit was chasing German soldiers in Palestine after their retreat from Egypt which absolutely makes no historical sense; in the later Noorbergen goes off on underground tunnels in the Andes that the Inca might has used to stash gold from the Spaniards and goes off on a tangent from his previous book.  At a length of 174 pages, one wonders if Noorbergen was just padding the book though it resulted in it being disjointed.

 

Treasures of the Lost Races had its interesting sections, but Rene Noorbergen wrote a book that was disjointed and in some places completely inaccurate making it not a very good follow up to Secrets of the Lost Races.

Cold War (Power Plays #5)

Cold War (Tom Clancy's Power Plays, #5) - Tom Clancy, Jerome Preisler, Martin H. Greenberg

The cold barrenness of Antarctica is about to become a battleground as an international uranium consortium aims to take out UpLink’s research base to hide their illegal activities.  Cold War is the fifth book of Tom Clancy’s Power Plays series written by Jerome Preisler as UpLink security chief Peter Nimec journeys to Antarctica when a prototype Mars probe and recovery team goes missing only to find himself battling mercenaries employed by consortium with tentacles stretching to such places around the world like Scotland and Switzerland.

 

Three personnel from UpLink’s Antarctic base, Cold Corners, are attacked by an unknown group while searching for a missing Mars rover prototype, prompting Roger Gordian to Peter Nimec to the base to find the missing people.  Having to quickly get use to the living conditions, Nimec deals with a storm that also contains a group do mercenaries that attack the water usage plant making Nimec want to strike back and find their missing people.  A huge solar flare storm interferes with communications with both the Sword assault team and the mercenaries, but Nimec’s team was able to overpower the mercenaries.  In Scotland, a series of accidents, murders, and suicides gets the attention of a detective that gets a tip from UpLink security after following a hacker and finding suspicious emails about a hit on one of the dead individual’s from the head of the UK’s nuclear authority.  In Switzerland, Gabriel Morgan the head of the consortium whose mercenaries attacked UpLink is looking to take out Cold Corners, get rid of his UK partner for her mishandling of the events in Scotland, and arranging to buy Picassos the world didn’t know exist after verification from his favorite forger.

 

All three subplots are interesting and slowly threads connect each one of them making this a very intriguing book until suddenly it was over, all three plots cut short.  Of the three subplots, the Scottish plot was the best even though it ended abruptly (not counting the tacked-on Epilogue) and frankly due to how it was cut short the Morgan subplot was worthless.  Given that the previous installment was over 100 pages longer, this book was too short and really hurt the overall product of the book that was shaping up to be a great page turner.

 

Cold War is probably the most disappointing book in the series so far, Jerome Preisler’s creation and set up of all three subplots were great and as they slowly twisted together the book was hard to put down then suddenly it ended with a thud and empty feeling.  While this book isn’t the worst in the series, it was a major letdown given how it started off.

Elantris (Elantris #1)

Elantris - Brandon Sanderson

The city of Elantris was home to magical individuals that ruled Arelon for centuries then the magic died and there was chaos.  Elantris the first novel by Brandon Sanderson follows a cursed Prince, his “widowed” Princess bride, and a foreign Priest come to Arelon to convert it from it’s pagan ways before judgment falls.

 

Raoden, the beloved Crown Prince of Arelon, wakes up to find himself transformed in a “cursed” Elantrian and escorted into the city by the priests with funerary offering as he is considered already dead.  Days later, Princess Sarlene arrives from Teod to find out that her betrothed is dead and due to the marriage contract she is now the daughter of the Arelon King but sees the arrival of the Derethi priest Hrathen came to convert the Arelon in three months or it would be destroyed.  As Raoden comes to grips with is now fallen home, Sarlene and Hrathen duel one another for the future of Arelon until eventually Elantris and its residents become part of their political game.  Meanwhile Raoden has used his political savvy to begin “New Elantris” within the city to make life worth living among the cursed inhabitants and gives him time to find out the old magic still works but weakly and begins trying to figure out what went wrong.  Through numerous interactions with another Raoden figures out what happened to the magic and begins “repairing” it thanks to Sarlene falls in love with him then learns who he is only to be separated thanks to Hrathen who is almost able to convert Arelon and Teod only to learn they were meant to be murdered because only citizens from those two nations can become Elantrians.  Raoden is able to “cure” the Elantrian magic and now empowered goes to Teod to save Sarlene and battle the Derethi warriors alongside Hrathen who feels betrayed by his religious superiors.

 

Unlike Sanderson’s future books, the plot literally starts at the book’s beginning without a little buildup which was both different and nice.  Yet this is a first novel and has problems that go along with it as Raoden and Sarlene are essentially perfect with any mistakes they make coming back to work out in the end while Hrathen’s inner struggle between having faith in his god and the leaders of his religious shows the maturity of writing that Sanderson would show in future books.  Another quality that Sanderson is known for is connecting everything together at the end is present here making a very engaging finish to the book.

 

Elantris is the first novel of the prolific career of Brandon Sanderson that has an engaging plot that has a quality climax.  While having some problems that are typical of a first novel there are the wonderful writing elements that Sanderson is known that makes you want to read the next book he writes if this is your first.

Uriah Smith: Apologist and Biblical Commentator

Uriah Smith: Apologist and Biblical Commentator - Gary Land Ph.D.

The man who came to personify the Review and Herald over 50 years of working on it going from one of the young pioneers to elder statesmen of the Second Advent movement.  Uriah Smith: Apologist and Biblical Commentator by Gary Land chronicles the life of this indispensable yet very opinionated man who was influential with Adventist readers around the United States.

 

Land quickly covers Smith’s early life in New Hampshire including the two biggest events of that time, the loss of his leg at age 12 and his conversion to Millerism.  This latter event eventually led to Smith’s joining the then small Sabbath-keeping Adventists led by Joseph Bates and the Whites, the latter Smith would impress when he submitted a 3,000-line blank verse poem about the foundation, rise, and progress of the Adventist movement leading to James White offering Smith a position at the Review and Herald.  Smith did everything for the magazine from typesetting to editorials during his early years before James White took a backseat, letting the younger Smith take the lead.  Throughout his tenure Smith would constantly cover Adventist doctrines and how present-day events had prophetic implications especially when it came to other Christians attempting to get through Sunday legislation on various levels of government.  Yet Smith flirted with controversy throughout his time at the magazine and in denominational work from Battle Creek College to the 1888 Minneapolis meeting to confrontations with the General Conference leadership and getting admonished by Ellen White.

 

With a text of almost 250 pages, Land is quick and concise in his writing but not in his research as seen in his chapter endnotes.  While the reader does get a very informative look at Smith’s life, there seems to be a rushed feeling with the biography.  Unfortunately, this seems to be a consequence of Land working between cancer treatments to complete this and two other historical works that he finished just before his death.

 

Uriah Smith: Apologist and Biblical Commentator is the first biography of its kind in over 35 years through with a different perspective than previous books.  Gary Land’s informative and concise wording gives the reader a better look at the man whose name is known in Adventist circles but his life is not.

Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times

Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times - H.W. Brands

Considered by some the most dangerous man to be President and others as one of their own that deserved the office, he ushered in a sea change in Washington and American politics.  Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times by H.W. Brands follows the future President of the United States from his birth in the South Carolina backcountry to frontier town of Nashville to the battlefields of the Old Southwest then finally to the White House and how he gave his name to an era of American history.

 

Brands begins with a Jackson family history first from Scotland to Ulster then to the Piedmont region of the Carolina where his aunts and uncles had pioneered before his own parents immigrated.  Fatherless from birth, Jackson’s childhood was intertwined with issues between the American colonies and Britain then eventually the Revolutionary War that the 13-year old Jackson participated in as a militia scout and guerilla fighter before his capture and illness while a POW.  After the death of the rest of his family at the end of the war through illness, a young Jackson eventually went into law becoming one of the few “backcountry” lawyers in western North Carolina—including Tennessee which was claimed by North Carolina—before moving to Nashville and eventually becoming one of the founders of the state of Tennessee and become one of it’s most important military and political figures especially with his marriage to Rachel Donelson.  Eventually Jackson’s status as the major general of the Tennessee militia led him to first fight the Creek War—part of the overall War of 1812—then after the successful conclusion of the campaign was made a major general of the regular army in charge of the defending New Orleans from British attack which ultimately culminated in the famous 1815 battle that occurred after the signing of the peace treaty in Ghent.  As “the” military hero of the war, Jackson’s political capital grew throughout the Monroe administration even with his controversial invasion of Florida against the Seminole.  After becoming the first U.S. Governor of Florida, Jackson left the army and eventually saw his prospects rise for the Presidency to succeed Monroe leading to the four-way Presidential contest of 1824 which saw Jackson win both the popular vote and plurality of electoral college votes but lose in the House to John Quincy Adams.  The campaign for 1828 began almost immediately and by the time of the vote the result wasn’t in doubt.  Jackson’s time in the White House was focused on the Peggy Eaton affair, the battle over Bank of the United States, the Nullification Crisis with South Carolina, Indian relations, and finally what was happening in Texas.  After his time in office, Jackson struggled keeping his estate out of debt and kept up with the events of around the country until his death.

 

In addition to focusing on Jackson’s life, Brands make sure to give background to the events that he would eventually be crucial part of.  Throughout the book Brands keeps three issues prominent: Unionism, slavery, and Indian relations that dominated Jackson’s life and/or political thoughts.  While Brands hits hard Jackson’s belief in the Union and is nuanced when it comes with slavery, the relations with Indians is well done in some areas and fails in some (most notably the “Trail of Tears”).  This is not a biography focused primarily on Jackson’s time in the White House and thus Brands only focused on the big issues that is primarily focused on schools instead of an intense dive into his eight years.

 

Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times is a informative look into the life of the seventh President of the United States and what was happening in the United States throughout his nearly eight decades of life.  H.W. Brands’ writing style is given to very easy reading and his research provides very good information for both general and history specific readers, though he does hedge in some areas.  Overall a very good biography.

The Twelve Caesars

The Twelve Caesars - Suetonius, Michael Grant, Robert Graves

For the past two millennia Caesar has denoted the absolute ruler of an empire, a legacy of one man who ruled Rome and the men who succeeded him and used his name.  The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius gives biographical sketches of the men who ruled the Western world for a century and a half, from the end of the Republic to the death of Domitian.

 

Each of Suetonius’ biographies follow the similar pattern in which the individual’s heritage, political-military career, private lives, personal habits, and physical appearance.  Though the pattern is the same, Suetonius’ style is to slowly weave in elements of one section into another—except for physical appearance—thus not breaking a nice flow for the reader.  As the main source of Caligula (Gaius in the text), Claudius, and Vespasian’s family history, Suetonius not only adds on top of Tacitus but covers what was lost from his contemporary’s works.  Yet unlike Tacitus, gossip and innuendo features a lot in the work making this book a little bit racy compared to Suetonius’ contemporary.

 

The translation by Robert Graves—of I, Claudius fame—was wonderfully done and did a lot to give the text a great flow.  Of Suetonius’ text the overwhelming use of portents and omens was a bit too much at times, though given the time period of the historian’s life this superstitious view was a part of everyday life.

 

The Twelve Caesars gives another view of the men who ruled the Western world.  Suetonius’ writing style and subject matter contrast with Tacitus but only for the better for the reader of both who get a full picture of the individuals the two contemporary historians cover.

War of Eagles (Op-Center #12)

War of Eagles - Tom Clancy, Jeff Rovin, Steve Pieczenik

A series of explosions around the globe has two Chinese rivals at each other’s throats and a launch of a plutonium-powered foreign-made Chinese satellite looks to be the next target, but which one and why is the question a suddenly restructured Op-Center must answer.  War of Eagles is the twelfth and last book of the Jeff Rovin authored Op-Center series’ original run as Paul Hood is suddenly replaced by a three-star general as Director of Op-Center but as newly appointed intelligence troubleshooter for the new President, only to find himself working with his old command in the middle of China.

 

Explosions aboard a freighter in Charleston, a sugar refinery in Durban, and then at a night club in Taipei reveals a battle between the head of the Chinese secret police Chou Shin and the top general Tam Li.  Yet early in the emerging situation, Paul Hood is called to the White House to become special intelligence envoy for the new President while his replacement General Morgan Carrie is on her way to takeover Op-Center.  Both Hood and Carrie quickly assert themselves in their new positions much the consternation to the White House Chief of Staff and the remaining personnel of Op-Center especially Bob Herbert.  After learning from Mike Rodgers that his company helped build a new Chinese communications platinum-powered satellite, which would benefit the military, the President sends Hood to China to speak with Prime Minister Le Kwan Po and expects Op-Center to help him in every way.  Le, whose main job is keeping political factions at peace or the President will find someone who can, has a meeting with Chou and Tam that Chou leaves early makes Le think the Chou might target the satellite which happens to be the working theory that Hood, Rodgers, and Op-Center have as well.  However, Tam plans to blow up the rocket killing Le and other Chinese ministers and bureaucrats as ruse to attack Taiwan then later “learn” it was Chou’s fault.  Chou notices the unusual military activity Tam ordered and goes to investigate only for Tam to burn Chou’s plane on the runway.  After meeting with Le, Hood goes with the Prime Minister to the launch while Rodgers meets with a team of Marines undercover in China to infiltrate the facility as a security team for his company.  Upon learning of Chou’s death, Le becomes suspicious of Tam and decides to talk with his soldiers at the facility only to be conned by the General only to learn they’ve fled the facility.  Outside the facility Rodgers helps capture the soldiers and relays where the bomb is that’ll destroy the rocket which Hood and the Marines help destroy preventing disaster.  Le orders Tam arrest while Hood’s success gives the President a victory that upsets General Carrie’s superior who orders her to fire Herbert who worked outside the chain of command.

 

After a nice, arguably slow, setup at the beginning of the book Rovin quickly got the plot off and running along with some interesting subplots that complimented the main plot.  Given this was thought to be the final Op-Center book, it was necessary to get the three big players of the organization fully out and the solutions to get Hood and Herbert gone were interesting to say the least.  The three main Chinese point-of-view characters were well written and creating an intriguing counterpoint to the America POVs.  Though only a secondary character, General Morgan Carrie was well written and would have been an interesting character to have led the series if it had continued, though to be honest if it had she wouldn’t have existed.  While one of the better written books there were several big miscues that couldn’t be forgiven.  The first was Mike Rodgers independently going after Tam escaping soldiers and not getting shot by other Chinese soldiers chasing after them as well and the second was the decision that Dr. Liz Gordon, Op-Center’s psychologist, to be a creepy lesbian—she starts formulating a plan to seduce a married General Carrie—instead of just simply a lesbian which had been hinted at earlier in the series.

 

War of Eagles wasn’t the best book in the original Op-Center run that was mostly lows with occasional highs, but after the awful previous installment at least Jeff Rovin sent it off well.

Treasure (Dirk Pitt #9)

Treasure - Clive Cussler

A late Roman ship locked in Greenland ice changes history, but a wax tablet describing its journey could bring the treasures of the Library of Alexandria back to the world.  Treasure is the 9th book of Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt series as the titular hero goes from searching for a sunken Soviet sub to searching for a missing cruise ship with foreign heads of state and then looking for the fabulous remnants of the Library of Alexandria in Texas near the Rio Grande.

 

The last head of the Library of Alexandria finishes his inventory of the treasures he’s taken to be preserved in an unknown land only for his mercenaries to anger the local barbarians that attack and kill nearly everyone, except for the librarian and one ship that didn’t trust him cast off leaving him behind.  Almost 1500 years later, archaeologist Dr. Lily Sharp finds a Roman coin in Eskimo village in Greenland while off the coast Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino help the U.S. Navy find a sunken Soviet sub when suddenly a commercial airliner with the UN Secretary General onboard flies overhead and crash lanes into the ice.  The archaeologists, Pitt & Giordino, and the Navy personal launch rescues but find three survivors with most dead by poison but the 1st and 2nd officers killed by the missing pilot, one of the best assassins in the world.  Using the equipment on the Navy ship, Pitt finds a late Roman vessel trapped in the ice with the crew preserved along with a log of the ship’s journey and why they were there.  But Pitt, Giordino, and Dr. Sharp are sent to Colorado to talk with a Library of Alexandria expert and end up in a car chase after rescuing the UN Secretary General Hala Kamil from another assassination attempt, though an inept one, wanted by an Islamic cleric in her native Egypt because of her popularity.  The Egyptian cleric, in an alliance with a Aztec religious fanatic in Mexico, orders his expert assassin to abduct the Presidents of Egypt and Mexico from their cruise ship at a Third World economic conference in Uruguay.  The addition of Kamil who wanted to confer with both Presidents and Senator George Pitt, Dirk’s father, which the expert assassin views as both finishing his airplane job and leverage against the United States in the search.  Pitt, Giordino, and Rudy Gunn takeover a NUMA ship in the south Atlantic and figure out that instead of sinking the cruise liner, a Mexican freighter was sunk and the cruiser made to look like the freighter for the benefit of satellites then wrapped in plastic that was covered in water so as to look like an iceberg to hide in the Strait of Magellan.  U.S. Special Forces raid the ship, killing the Mexican terrorists who had secretly left with the VIP hostages to an old mining operation on a nearby island that the NUMA people were left only to be defeated by Pitt and others barely though the hostages saved.  The expert assassin, blinded thanks to Pitt, wanting revenge kills the Egyptian cleric for setting him up for failure while he sends his deputy to kill Pitt.  The NUMA computer using a map outline from the Roman ship and the journey log’s description locates the landing spot in Rome, Texas near the Mexican border.  The Aztec religious fanatic inspires the poor citizenry of Mexico to gather at the border then invade the town of Rome only to be confronted by Pitt at the dig site then killed along the deputy assassin in a three-way fight before an explosion supposedly destroys the treasure and sending disappointed Mexicans back across the border.  It is revealed that treasure was buried in another of the seven hills around the Texas town and that the Egyptian and Mexican religious fanatics were brothers from mixed race marriage of a three generation old crime family with tentacles around the world along with another brother who was being groomed to takeover Brazil.

 

Cussler takes a cue from era of the book’s publication, late 80s, and eliminates the Cold War cliché subplots instead going for Third World populism as well as religious fanaticism subplots that worked better from a story standpoint, yet the White House political and policy scenes felt like a drag to the story as a whole.  If anything the Library of Alexandria element was probably the weakest subplot since beginning with Julius Caesar’s accidental partial destruction of the Library nothing from the original was left by the time Cussler’s “last librarian” buried the treasure in Texas and Alexander the Great’s mummy had probably been moved to an Alexandrian church under the false belief it was the Apostle Mark—and is probably in St. Mark’s in Venice if it was smuggled out by merchants centuries after the Muslims took over.  As for the characters, the main antagonist was the expert assassin who was very formidable and almost got Pitt killed from the grave while the two religious fanatics were the typical “evil overlords” who were more secondary villains than anything else.  Pitt was an over-the-top ladies’ man, having sex with both Kamil and Sharp, but got beaten up with all the fighting done over the course of the novel.  However just because they had sex with Pitt doesn’t mean Kamil and Sharp weren’t interesting characters and showed an improvement of Cussler’s writing.

 

Treasure improved in areas over the previous Pitt installment through went back in another, but it’s overall quality was on par with Cyclops and the overall story was better.  This a great adventure story with everything from treasure, assassins, political intrigue, and daring feats which is well worth your time if you’re interested in a light read over a few days.

Secrets of the Lost Races

Secrets of the Lost Races - Rene Noorbergen

The seeming roller coaster of the rise and fall of civilization is made even more questioning with “out-of-place artifacts” through into the mix.  Secrets of the Lost Races by Rene Noorbergen examines these items and accounts from across the globe of modern-day technology to theorize that these are leftover knowledge from an antediluvian civilization that was slowly lost.

 

Using the early chapters of Genesis and very peculiar fossil finds, Noorbergen makes the case for the Biblical Flood then uses the same early Biblical chapters to make a case for a highly advanced civilization that the Ark survivors remembered enough to reboot civilization that would slowly decline as thousands of years past as the knowledge was slowly lost.  Throughout the book Noorbergen tackles various issues from potentially ancient sourced maps of the globe before European explorers created their own, the apparent physical evidence of nuclear war in the ancient past along with texts describing it, and the supposed concurrent existence of Stone Age cave men and various civilizations that were suppose to be thousands of years apart.

 

To give this book a chance one must believe in the Biblical Flood or be willing to be open to it as well as be open to Noorbergen’s interruption with it; one also has to account with the fact that this book was originally published over 40 years ago with looking at the evidence especially since further research has discounted it (the Zeno brothers) or more of a question mark.  Noorbergen is very insistent that the theories of von Daniken or Sitchin that advanced technology is from extraterrestrials doesn’t make sense even though his book is very much in their vain.  Yet in trying to fit in so much in around 200 pages, Noorbergen misses out on better analytical explanations.

 

Secrets of the Lost Races is an intriguing use of evidence that “ancient astronaut” theorists have brought further to a different purpose.  While Rene Noorbergen’s interest in the Flood and Noah’s Ark is various obvious, it doesn’t take away from his theory but adds emphasis to it.  If you’re interested in an alternate view of history this is something you might be interested in.