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The rise of the West: A history of the human community
William Hardy McNeill
Progress: 545/896 pages
Leaves of Grass: First and "Death-Bed" Editions (Barnes & Noble Classics)
Karen Karbiener, Walt Whitman
Progress: 284/960 pages

A Tippy Canoe and Canada Too (Living Forest #4)

A Tippy Canoe and Canada Too - Sam Campbell

Sometime over the years an inanimate object becomes something more than it is, whether it is a car or in the case of Sam Campbell a canoe. A Tippy Canoe and Canada Too is the fourth book of Campbell’s Living Forest ranges from the Sanctuary of Wegimind to the wilds of Canada’s canoe country featuring not only animal adventures but also the last year of the Campbell’s durable canoe, Buddie. Sam and Giny Campbell return to their animal sanctuary in early spring 1945 and find their durable canoe, Buddie, in bad shape and because a concern throughout the book even though they’re able to repair it well enough. Recovering from the bad news of their canoe, they are happily surprised to find Still-Mo with a family only because they thought she was a male. Soon they learn their island home’s resident woodchuck has also become a mother. As they enjoy the new residents of the island, Sam and Giny have another new young neighbor boy, Hi-Bud, who met Sam in St. Louis years before and has moved close by. Throughout the spring and summer, Hi-Bud becomes a welcome guest and nature-enthusiast-in-training that the couple enjoys having over. Late in the summer they welcome their friend Sandy on leave from V-E Day injury before his deployment to the Pacific only for the war to end, suddenly allowing the three of them to take their long awaited journey to Canadian canoe country to find an isolated lake to observe and research animals without hardly any human interference. Unfortunately this is Buddie’s last trip as it’s damaged so much that after their return they decide to burn the canoe in a pyre at the end of the book. Although the book is the a little longer than the previous two books, Campbell packs a lot of stuff in this book though in his usual engaging and easy reading prose. Like the last book, a war-experience soldier brings some of philosophical thought to the front especially as he now is looking towards his future post-combat. With young Hi-Bud, youthful exuberance brings out another kind of philosophical thought from Campbell that is very enlightening especially in connection with the imaginative youngster. There is religious faith is written about, though not as prominent as the previous book. A Tippy Canoe and Canada Too while very much like the previous three books of Sam Campbell’s series, it is also different as it gives the reader an impression about how things changed for people after World War II ended as compared to when it was going on. If you enjoyed the previous books that Campbell has written you’d enjoy this as well.

The Wars of Gods and Men (The Earth Chronicles #3)

The Wars of Gods and Men - Zecharia Sitchin

It seems that Earth has always been a battlefield, from today all the way back to the beginning of history humans have been fighting one another, or maybe we learned from others in prehistory?  In the third book of his series The Earth Chronicles, Zecharia Sitchin examines ancient texts from cuneiform tables of Sumeria to Egyptian hieroglyphs to the Bible itself to reveal long memory and devastating results of The Wars of Gods and Men.

 

Sitchin begins the book going over the wars of the ancient world and how the chroniclers of those wars described that the gods intervened in those wars and determined the outcome, following this he went over the wars of the gods for supremacy of Earth from Horus against Set in Egypt, the generational wars of the Greek pantheon, and battles of the Indian gods.  Sitchin then set about showing that all these tales of battles reflect events in prehistory of members of the ruling house of the extraterrestrial Anunnaki, fighting for supremacy of “heaven” (Nibiru their homeworld) and Earth, with the rivalry between royal brothers Enlil and Enki extending into their children and grandchildren.  Soon these wars began to include the “gods” human followers joining them in battle after the beginnings of civilization in Sumer, Egypt, and the Indus valley.  Sitchin details that some of the Anunnaki put their personal interests above their own families resulting in various alliances with cousins against their own siblings, and parents in some cases, which began a chain of events that led Abraham out of Sumer to Canaan and how Sodom and Gomorrah were obliterated by nuclear weapons.

 

This book began as a more academic read like its predecessor, The Stairway to Heaven, but Sitchin quickly switched gears to more engaging prose as he brought forth his evidence for and the explanations of this theories.  Sitchin did not rehash his evidence and arguments from the previous two books, only alluded to his findings so as to allow the flow of the book to progress along the line of thought he had focused on.  Yet even though Sitchin did not rehash his arguments, he did contradict some of his findings in The 12th Planet in this book—namely with the identity of “ZU”—but did not state that further research had changed his conclusions which would have made a better book.  However, the most intriguing part of the book was Sitchin’s discussion about Abraham, his family history, and his journey to Canaan especially in light of his theory that extraterrestrials were the “gods” of the ancient world (though he does not specifically name which Anunnaki sent Abraham on his journey).

 

The Wars of Gods and Men is a very intriguing, well written book with a theory and evidence that Sitchin lays out in an engaging matter.  Even with the academic beginning and with some unacknowledged reversals in some Sitchin’s findings, this book gives the reader a worthy follow up to The 12th Planet that The Stairway to Heaven was not.

Unseen Academicals (Discworld #37, Rincewind #8)

Unseen Academicals (Discworld, #37) - Terry Pratchett

The wizards of the Unseen University love their food, alcohol, and tradition which Lord Vetinari exploits to ensure that the chaotic football matches taking place get under control.  Unseen Academicals is Terry Pratchett’s 37th Discworld book and the last focusing on Rincewind and the wizards of the Unseen University, even though it seemed that they were of secondary concern throughout the book.

 

The wizards at the Unseen University find out that their budget is tied to a trust fund that only pays out if they play at least one football match a year, after realizing this means a change of diet they decide to play a game of football.  This pleases Lord Vetinari who then asks the wizards to organize the sport so it can be taken from the street.  But this changing of the game has an effect on the rest of the city, especially four workers inside the University whose lives and identities turned out to be tied to the success of the new version of football.

 

Although the wizards do have their share of point-of-views, Rincewind hardly appears in the book as well as The Librarian but the focus on Ponder Stibbons somewhat made up for it, they turned out not to be the focus of the book.  In fact the most important character was Mister Nutt, an orc, who was “civilized” and was sent to Ankh-Morpork to change the minds of people about orcs.  Yet Nutt was pushed into the background several times for his friends Trevor Likely, Glenda, and Juliet who had their own story arcs.  All-in-all there was a lot of narratives that created the story, but it all felt unfocused especially when it came to the satire that felt more like painting the numbers than what Pratchett had previously done.

 

While enjoyable, Unseen Academicals is unfortunately all over the place with the narrative focus and set in and around the Unseen University the wizards took a back seat.  Overall the book was good, but it just didn’t grab me and it didn’t make me laugh like previous books.

Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Mo--and Still-Mo (Living Forest #3)

Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Mo... and Still - Mo Lessons in Living From Five Frisky Red Squirrels - Sam Campbell

What happens when you decide to adopt five baby red squirrels?  Based on the events in Sam Campbell’s Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Mo—and Still-Mo your life will definitely not be dull.  This third installment of the Living Forest series like its predecessors follows the misadventures of titular squirrels and other animals in the Sanctuary of Wegimind that entertain and provide life lessons, but is different in that main story revolves around a friend of the Campbells.

 

The events chronicled take place over two years at the animal sanctuary run by Sam and Giny Campbell during World War II, most likely 1942-43.  While the titular squirrels and their actions—especially early in the book—form a narrative thread throughout the book, the main person in Campbell’s narrative is his friend Duke.  Visiting the sanctuary just before his deployment of the South Pacific and during a convalesce stay, Duke cares for the young squirrels when they first arrive at the sanctuary and is latter pivotal in finding most of them after they had left the island during the intervening winter.  Yet his correspondence with the Campbells between his visits allows Sam not only relay the squirrels misadventures with one another but with other animals but Duke’s reaction to them, giving the reader a feeling of being a part of the experience ourselves.

 

Though being as long as the previous installment, this book’s focus on Duke and his experiences doesn’t take anything away from series focus on nature instead it provides greater depth to it.  Campbell’s contrasting descriptions of Duke before and after his first deployment shows the affect that war has on an individual and how he relates to things especially those he loves.  However Campbell also shows how nature can help those affect by war by providing a calming place to compose oneself, even if that individual knows he’s soon go back to “finish the job”.  Religious faith, Christianity in particular, is talked about more in this book than the previous two books but not prominently and not until very late in the book close to end of Duke’s visit.

 

Although Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Mo—and Still-Mo is a little different from the previous two Living Forest books, Sam Campbell’s engaging writing of animals and nature is given a different focus during a very different era in U.S. history, though it’s still relevant today.

Foundation (Foundation #1)

Foundation (Book 1) - Isaac Asimov

An Empire has begun to decline and one man had produced a plan to shorten the resulting Dark Age and found a Second Empire.  Isaac Asimov based his “Hugo Best All-Time Series” on this premise, one man setting up a Foundation for the future of mankind but not telling his successors about how to bring the plan to fruition.

 

Foundation is not one story, but several connected together because of the grand plan by Hari Seldon who mathematically deduced the decline of the Galactic Empire and its future fall then came up with a plan to reduce the resulting Dark Age to only a 1000 years.  Three of the five stories featured the two standout characters of the volume:  Salvor Hardin, the point-of-view character in “The Encyclopedists” and “The Mayors”, and Hober Mallow, the point-of-view character of “The Merchant Princes”.  It is through these two characters the reader gets an understanding of the political and social situations going on as the Empire declines and the Seldon’s Foundation politically evolve to meet the conditions known as Seldon Crisis.

 

Although Foundation is an interconnected collection of short stories, combined they create a history of a far off future of a declining Empire and an outpost meant to build up a future Second Empire for the betterment of all men.  While some might think space science fiction is all lasers and space battles, Isaac Asimov showed that it could be political, religious, and economic forces on a large scale used by individuals to pave the way for a better future.  It is because of this that many consider this a classic and frankly I can’t disagree.

A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists (Adventist Heritage Series)

A Brief History of Seventh-Day Adventists (Adventist heritage series) - George R. Knight

Condensing over 170 years of history of a religious movement and denomination into a readable 156-page book seems daunting and the recipe for a sketchy history.  Yet George R. Knight, one of the foremost historians of the Seventh-day Adventist church, produced a very readable summary of the Sabbatarian Adventism in A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists that is meant for an Adventist audience of both long-time members and those new.

 

Knight divides the book into 8 chapters that focus on different eras starting with the pre-Great Disappointment Millerite Roots of Seventh-day Adventists and with the maturity of the Church from 1955 to the present day with its achievements and challenges.  Focusing on high-points, both good and bad, and trends in each “historical” era, Knight gives the reader a barebones yet informative look at history and those who influenced the Church on both large and small ways.  Given the audience Knight is writing for, the book is filled with Adventist nomenclature but Knight ensures that newer members of the Church have an understanding of the terminology that is even helpful for those that have been Adventists all their lives.

 

If one is looking for an in-depth look at doctrinal developments and how the Church was structurally organized, this is not the book.  While both elements are discussed as part of the overall history, Knight makes it clear at the beginning of the book that those looking for emphasis on either need to turn to the other two book of the “Adventist Heritage Series”, A Search for Identity and Organizing for Mission and Growth.  Yet this book is an excellent first read to understand how each of those specific topics tie into the history of the Church in an overall scope.

 

A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists does not pretend to be more than it is.  George R. Knight gives the reader an overview of the history of Sabbatarian Adventism in a very readable and quick format.  However, Knight does not leave those readers wanting more information hanging as at the end of each chapter he provides numerous books that go more in-depth in relation to the topics covered.  This is a highly recommended book for Seventh-day Adventists interested in understanding how the Church came about.

Mirror Image (Op-Center #2)

Mirror Image - Tom Clancy, Jeff Rovin, Steve Pieczenik

Old guard elements in Russia look to reconstitute the old Soviet Empire, however their plans run into a stumbling block in the form of Op-Center and their Russian counterpart.  Mirror Image is the second book in the Op-Center series bearing that bears the name of Tom Clancy, but was actually ghostwritten by Jeff Rovin.  From the historic Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg to the streets of New York to the frozen wilderness of Siberia, the action spans across the world as forces and individuals battle to reignite or prevent a new Soviet era.

 

Nikolai Dogin, Russian Minister of the Interior and loser of the Presidential election, convinces his old guard coalition members to go along with “Plan B” which amounts to a military revolution to reignite the old Soviet Empire.  One of his most important pieces in the newly created Operations Center (ROC), a Russian crisis management center exactly like Op-Center, but its head General Sergei Orlov might not be the figurehead Dogin hopes.  The old guard’s plan begins with a bombing in New York to keep the United States out of Eastern Europe, but results in Op-Center zeroing in on its Russian counterpart that is Orlov and his second-in-command (a Dogin flunky) battling for control.  Yet Dogin’s dealings with the Russian mafia prove his undoing as a shipment of drug money to pay off Polish, Belarussian, and Ukrainian officials becomes the focus of the ROC and Op-Center on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

 

Written in the mid-90s when post-Soviet era Russia provided a lot of potential to the political thriller genre, Mirror Image took an interesting tack that could have provided an very good book however there was many unfortunate mistakes that made this seem a “set up” book for later events in the Op-Center series.  The first was the blurb on the back cover of the book itself which stated the hardliners wanted to return Russia to the days of the Czar, within the first 15 pages of the book this statement is proven false and things are just starting.  There are father-son issues dominating the Russian side of the book as Orlov and his son’s past that would play a major role at the book’s climax, which was very much telegraphed from the onset.  An important character dies at the climax, which is pretty much telegraphed throughout his point-of-views.  However, the most irritating thing with the book was that characters “magically” got information or knew things that the story didn’t support them knowing or characters didn’t act like they should of (Orlov not getting into contact with the new President seems to be the most glaring).  Although most of the book seemed paint-by-the-numbers, the British spy network subplot was the best of the book.

 

Mirror Image seemed to be a book meant to add elements to the overall “world” of Op-Center to set up future stories as Rovin relied on telegraphing the story’s direction and creating in-story plot holes.  While Sergei Orlov and British spy Peggy James are the two stand out characters, it’s not saying much because previously establish characters were in a holding pattern and other new characters were two-dimensional.  This book could have been very good, it just average and almost subpar.

Too Much Salt and Pepper (Living Forest #2)

Too Much Salt and Pepper: Two Porcupines with Prickly Spines Who Make You Laugh and Think - Sam Campbell

If one porcupine made for a good book then Sam Campbell thought that two would be even better.  In the second book of his Living Forest series, Too Much Salt and Pepper, Campbell describes the adventures and lessons surrounding the titular “porkies” Salt and Pepper along with wise ol’ Inky during a year at the Sanctuary of Wegimind.

 

The events of this book take place a few years after How’s Inky? as Sam and his wife Giny arrive at their animal sanctuary to discover the young porcupines Salt and Pepper eagerly awaiting them.  The two “porkies” are friendly, funny, and very mischievous especially when they want to play.  But as the year progresses, Pepper answers the call of the wild while Salt continued to want human companionship.  Most the book centers around the week-long visit of Carol, a young friend of the Campbells, who wants to experience the nature they describe in their lectures.  The experiences, stories, and lessons that Sam and Giny show Carol—along with a dose of porcupine mischievousness—as best they can in a week the lessons nature has taught them over the years.

 

With this book being twice as long as the previous Living Forest book, Sam Campbell fills it numerous stories of past adventures and misadventures while also detailing Carol’s weeklong stay during which occurs most of his famous philosophy.  Campbell uses an older Inky to be the mouthpiece of his lessons and teachings to the intended younger audience of the book, yet Inky’s “woodsy philosophy” can be very instructive to adults as well while not being preachy.

 

Though a longer read, Too Much Salt and Pepper is wonderful nature read and I highly recommend it readers of all ages.

Making Money (Discworld #36, Industrial #5)

Making Money (Discworld, #36) - Terry Pratchett

The financial sector of Ankh-Morpork is dire trouble and Lord Vetinari looks to his Postmaster General to solve the problem, however he doesn’t want the opportunity but somethings are out of his hands.  Making Money is Terry Pratchett’s 36th Discworld novel and the second to follow the conman-turned-civil servant Moist von Lipwig who is beginning to pine for thrills and suddenly finds himself in the midst of them.

 

With the Post Office running as smoothly as possible and facing plain paperwork every day, Moist von Lipwig is looking for thrills and excitement in a variety of ways including scaling the outside of the Post Office and breaking into his own office.  Lord Vetinari attempts to sell Moist on taking over the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork and the Royal Mint, but Moist is satisfied with his life.  However Bank chairwoman Topsy Lavish changes her will to make Moist guardian of her dog, Mr. Fusspot, to whom she leaves her controlling interest in the Bank to.  Suddenly Moist is taking care of a dog and running the Bank and Mint much to his annoyance and that of the Lavish family and Mr. Bent, the head cashier.  Moist begins thinking about changes to the banking system but then is inundated with numerous challenges first from Mr. Bent, the Lavishes including one that wants to become Lord Vetinari (not Patrician just Vetinari), a former partner blackmailing him about his conman past, missing gold from the bank vault, and finally his fiancée arranging for an army of golems to arrive in Ankh-Morpork.  Soon Moist past is exposed, though no one cares, after saving the city from the golems as well as using them to base his new paper currency and is still alive at the end of the book which is the least he wants out of each day.

 

Moist is one of the most original characters that Pratchett has come up with and like Going Postal, I enjoyed following his story.  However, like the previous mentioned book this one is not up to the quality that Pratchett is known for.  While Moist, Vetinari, and Adora Belle Dearheart were well written, the overall plot and the numerous subplots just seemed to meander.  Pratchett attempted to avoid Moist doing exactly what he did in Going Postal by having him deal with other challenges, but they were a mishmash of ideas that didn’t seem to come together and pages were wasted with the Cosmo Lavish subplot that took up pages without really accomplishing anything.

 

Honestly, it was hard to rate Making Money because while I enjoyed reading Moist’s point-of-view, the overall plot of the book was just serviceable as it twist and turned based on the questionable subplots intertwined with it.  If you are a first time Discworld reader, don’t read this book until you’ve sampled some of Pratchett’s other better quality writing.  If you are a veteran Discworld reader then focusing on enjoying the point-of-view of Moist even though the book’s quality is just okay.

Beowulf: A New Verse Translation

Beowulf: A New Verse Translation - Seamus Heaney, Anonymous

The oldest epic poem in English follows the feats of its titular protagonist over the course of days and years that made him a legend among his clan, friends, and even enemies.  Beowulf was most likely orally transmitted before finally be written down several centuries later by an unknown Christian hand in Old English that today is readily accessible thanks to the translation by Seamus Heaney.

 

The epic tale of Beowulf begins in the mead hall of King Hrothgar of the Danes which is attacked by the monster Grendel for years.  Beowulf, upon hearing of Hrothgar’s plight, gathers fourteen companions and sails from Geatland to the land of the Danes.  Hrothgar welcomes the Geats and feasts them, attracting the attention of Grendel who attacks.  One of the Geats is killed before the monster and Beowulf battle hand-to-hand which ends with Beowulf ripping off Grendel’s arm.  The monster flees and bleeds out in the swamp-like lair shared with his mother.  Grendel’s mother attacks the mead hall looking for revenge and kills one of Hrothgar’s long-time friends.  Beowulf, his companions, Hrothgar, and others ride to the lair and Beowulf kills Grendel’s mother with a giant’s sword.  After another feast, the Geats return home and fifty years later, Beowulf is King when a dragon guarding a hoard of treasure is awakened by a thief and goes on a rampage.  Beowulf and younger chosen companions go to face the fiery serpent, but all but one of his companions flees after the King goes to face the foe.  However, the one young warrior who stays is able to help the old King defeat the dragon though he his mortally wounded.  It is this young warrior who supervises the dying Beowulf’s last wishes.

 

This is just a rough summary of a 3000 line poem that not only deals with Beowulf’s deeds but also the warrior culture and surprisingly the political insightfulness that many secondary characters talk about throughout the poem.  The poem begins and ends with funerals with warrior kings giving look at pagan worldview even as the unknown Christian poet tried to his best to hide it with references to Christian religiosity.  Although some say that any translation deprived the poem of the Old English rhyme and rhythm, the evolution of English in the thousand years since the poem was first put down in words means that unless one reads the original with a dictionary on hand, this poem would not be read.  Heaney’s translation gives the poem its original epicness while also allowing present day readers a chance to “hear” the story in their own language thus giving it new life.

 

Beowulf is one of the many epic poems that have influenced storytelling over the centuries.  Yet with its Scandinavian pagan oral roots and Christian authorship it is also a melding of two traditions that seem at odds yet together still create a power tale.  Unlike some high school or college course force students to read the Old England or so-so translated excerpts from the poem, Seamus Heaney’s book gives the reader something that will keep their attention and greatly entertain.

Evita: The Real Life of Eva Peron

Evita: The Real Life of Eva Peron - Nicholas Fraser, Marysa Navarro

Having only lived 33 years and been in the public spotlight for the last six, one woman has become in the 60+ years since her death the most iconic and polarizing woman in her country without even holding political office.  Nicholas Fraser in his work, Evita: The Real Life of Eva Peron, navigates between the fantastical versions of her life to find the real woman and put her into the context of the Argentina of her time before during and after her life.

 

Given the multitude of circumstances that Fraser faced to get an accurate portrait of Eva Peron, including her attempts to cover up her family’s illegitimacy, the fact that he was able to give a full account of her is noteworthy.  Because of her short lifespan, the book was never going to be long but Fraser also had to contend with explaining the political atmosphere through Eva’s life especially after she became the First Lady of Argentina.  Along with all of that, Fraser had to contend with the legendary versions of Eva’s life from both pro- and anti-Peronist sources.  Yet the last 30 pages of the book are some of the most fascinating because it details the myth-creating journey that her corpse endured for almost 20 years through several governmental changes before finally being securely laid to rest in Buenos Aires.

 

Although the sensational accounts of Eva Peron’s life make for the ideal basis for musicals and films, the truth is just as fascinating.  Nicholas Fraser’s biography of the most iconic Argentine political figure of the 20th-century is as close to the truth of her life as one is going to get and still understand the political atmosphere without getting bogged down in minutiae that would have enlarged the book and drifted away from the subject of the book.

How's Inky? (Living Forest #1)

How's Inky? - Sam Campbell

When a little porcupine becomes the topic of conversation people want to talk to you about, you either accept it or become annoyed.  Nature writer Sam Campbell though thought the question, How’s Inky? the perfect title to title the first book of what would eventually become the Living Forest series.

 

Campbell wrote about the adventures of Inky the porcupine around his home in the animal sanctuary of Wegimind that he along with two other men supervised through spring, summer, and fall every year.  Inky was one of five orphaned baby animals that the sanctuary cared for and helped to survive before releasing them into the wild.  Although Campbell does talk about the other four animals, it’s Inky that is the one Campbell focuses on because of Inky’s view of life and what it can teach people.

 

How’s Inky? was not the first book Campbell wrote nor his first public exposure, which was a nature radio program first aired in Chicago in the 1930s.  Known as the ‘philosopher of the forest’, this book shows why Campbell was given that moniker as his lessons from nature are written in a down-to-earth style that readers of all ages will enjoy.  Campbell does speak of God as part of his lessons, but the book is does not ooze religion.

 

At a quick 127 pages, How’s Inky? is a fun read for all ages and highly recommended if you enjoy nature books and for a nice read for a rainy day.

Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past

Founding Myths: Stories that Hide Our Patriotic Past - Ray Raphael

The story of the American Revolution is well known and thought of as gospel by average Americans, but is that story more myth than history?  Ray Raphael in his book, Founding Myths, aims to tell the true patriotic history behind the stories told about the American Revolution.

 

Investigating thirteen prominent stories surrounding the Revolutionary era, Raphael attempts to put the actual people and events in context of their time while demythologizing the past.  Some of the stories are that of individuals like Paul Revere, Molly Pitcher, and Sam Adams or such events like Yorktown ending the war, the Continental Army surviving Valley Forge, and the events before Lexington and Concord.  While a few myths that Raphael covered have been demystified by some pop-history documentaries since before and after the publishing of this book and others that a well-read history enthusiast already knows are false, there was one that completely surprised me and that was the events of 1774 that led up to the Lexington and Concord.

 

Although I knew the actual history behind the myths Raphael covered, this book was still a pleasant read if you can persevere through the repetitious references to films like The Patriot and Raphael’s continual hyping of the Massachusetts revolution of 1774.  While I understood the reference to The Patriot given its prominence around the time of the book’s writing but it could have been toned down.  Raphael’s description of the events in Massachusetts in 1774 are really eye-opening but he keeps on bringing them up throughout the book and given he already written a book about the subject before this one it makes it feel like he’s attempting to use one book to sell another.  Finally, Raphael’s brings up how the mythical stories he is writing about are in today’s textbooks in each chapter and while I think this was book information, it might have been better if he had moved that into his concluding chapter alone.

 

Founding Myths is fascinating reading for both general and knowledgeable history readers which is a credit to Ray Raphael’s research, yet there are pitfalls that take some of the joy out of reading this book.  While I recommend this book, just be weary of the repetitious nature that I described above.

Western Civilization to 1500

Western Civilization to 1500 (College Outline) - Walther Kirchner

The story of Western Civilization centers in Europe but begins over 8000 years ago in Mesopotamia and Egypt and seems like a daunting task to cover in less than 300 pages even if one only goes to the end of the Middle Ages.  Western Civilization to 1500 by Walther Kirchner is a survey of the rise of society from ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt through the Greeks and Romans, the Middle Ages, and the beginning of the European Renaissance.

 

Kirchner spends less than 30 pages covering the Fertile Crescent and Egypt through 3500 years of historical development before beginning over 110 pages on Greco-Roman history and the last 130 pages are focused on the Middle Ages and early Renaissance.  This division clearly denotes Kirchner’s focus on Europe in this Western Civilization survey, though one cannot fault him for this as even now knowledge of the first three and half millennia of the historical record is nothing compared to the Greco-Roman sources, yet Kirchner never even mentioned the Bronze Age collapse and possible reasons for its occurrence.  The highlight of the survey is a detailed historical events of Greece and Roman, especially the decline of the Republic which was only given broad strokes in my own Western Civ and World History classes in high school and college.  Yet, Kirchner’s wording seems to hint that he leaned towards the Marxist theory of history, but other wording seemed to contradict it.  Because this was a study aid for college students in the early 1960s, this competing terminology is a bit jarring though understandable.  While the overall survey is fantastic, Kirchner errors in some basic facts (calling Harold Godwinson a Dane instead of an Anglo-Saxon, using the term British during the Hundred Year’s War, etc.) in well-known eras for general history readers making one question some of the details in eras the reader doesn’t know much about.  And Kirchner’s disparaging of “Oriental” culture through not only the word Oriental but also the use of “effeminate” gives a rather dated view of the book.

 

This small volume is meant to be a study aid for students and a quick reference for general readers, to which it succeeds.  Even while Kirchner’s terminology in historical theory and deriding of non-European cultures shows the age of the book, the overall information makes this a good reference read for any well-read general history reader.

Ancient Mysteries

Ancient Mysteries - Rupert Furneaux

The enigmas of history have spawned theories, either scientifically based or plain conjecture.  In Ancient Mysteries, Rupert Furneaux attempted to answer timeless questions covering the world through the use of science.

 

Furneaux covered over 30 “mysteries” that covered such subjects as Atlantis, several monumental architectural structures around the world, Biblical mysteries, several ethnic groups and cultures, mysteries centered in Britain and the Americas, hoaxes, and “soon-to-be” 21st-century enigmas.  Through all of them Furneaux attempts to give a description of why the topic in question is a mystery and then over the history of theories before giving as “definite” answer as possible.

 

Unfortunately for this book, Furneaux used scientific conclusions 20 years old by the time the book was published which are even more out-of-date today.  Yet, not all of his answers were based on science through they were not far out theories which he pretty much attempted to dismiss as much as possible.  For several topics, Furneaux attempted to straddle the line between “scientific consensus” and far-out theories, so mixed success at best and just plain bad at worst.

 

The background information Furneaux gives for each of the topics he writes about, though definitely not up-to-date, is the best part of the book.  However, the out-of-date science, the occasional stretch of the science that Furneaux, and sometimes condescending tone the author uses in some topics makes he want to caution people away from this unless they are really well read in history.

Atlantis: The Eighth Continent

Atlantis:  The Eighth Continent - Charles Berlitz

Atlantis has tantalized Western culture for millennia, but only since the 19th century has the topic of its existence become a touchstone of controversy between “believers” and “deniers”.  Atlantis: The Eighth Continent by Charles Berlitz is a book in support of the mid-oceanic Atlantis over Mediterranean candidates or being a legend.  Purporting to use the latest scientific and archaeological evidence—albeit in the mid-1980s—Berlitz looks to give strong proof that Plato’s Atlantis was real.

 

Bringing forth ruins and cultural evidence from both sides of the Atlantic, Berlitz began his argument by attempting to show a shared connection between numerous cultures across the world that seemed to be influenced by the same source.  Then he became chronicling the scientific discoveries of unwater ruins, dismissed by scientists as natural phenomena, that prove ruins of an ancient civilization having existed in the mid-Atlantic.  While a surface reading of this material is thought-provoking, Berlitz’s misunderstanding of geology undermined the book back in the mid-80s.  The science of plate tectonics is the biggest problem with Berlitz’s book and the fact that his understanding is so wrong would make you shake your head.

 

While there are a lot Berlitz’s theories that just don’t stack up, he did expression layman ideas that surprisingly have begun to be debated within the scientific community though for reasons close to Atlantis.  The first is that cataclysms can and do occur within the geological record, but his thoughts and evidence are nothing compared to Dr. Robert M. Schoch’s.  The second was suggesting that an impact event occurred at the end of the last Ice Age that caused a sudden melting of ice, while scientists are beginning to believe an impact did occur it actually resulted in sudden cooling instead of heating.  Yet these two ideas do not make up for all the incorrect assumptions Berlitz’s writes.

 

Atlantis: The Eighth Continent is packed full of cultural information from around the world that is its major appeal along with two ideas by the author that are now being debated by scientists but not to prove Atlantis.  Frankly the evidence doesn’t prove Atlantis in the mid-Atlantic, but it’s a curious read nonetheless.