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Lewis C. Sheafe: Apostle to Black America
Douglas Morgan
The History of the Peloponnesian War
Donald Lateiner, David Lateiner, Richard Crawley, Thucydides

World Mythology: An Anthology of Great Myths and Epics

World Mythology: An Anthology of Great Myths and Epics - Donna Rosenberg

Around the world numerous different peoples came up with explains about the natural world and their own cultural heritage, though separated by vast distances create obvious differences there is also many similarities.  World Mythology: An Anthology of Great Myths and Epics by Donna Rosenberg brings together the stories of different cultures both well-known and hardly known together for a mass audience.

 

Rosenberg covers all corners of the world from such the well-known epics of Gilgamesh, The Iliad, Beowulf, King Arthur of the Middle East, Greece, Northern Europe and Britain while also covering from the Segu in African, Bakaridjan Kone, and from the Inuit, Sedna.  Rosenberg also covered numerous creation and fertility myths from those same cultures or nearby neighboring cultures.  Before each piece, Rosenberg would give an introduction and historical background giving the reader better context for what they are about to read.

 

This collection brings together well-known myths and epics that “Western” audiences know as well as those not known from the “Western” perspective, with a few exceptions like The Ramayana.  From the standpoint of getting a large audience introduced to these myths, the book succeeds.  However, Rosenberg literally sets off alarm bells to any discerning reader when she says that she will be retelling these myths for the modern world.  While I didn’t expect the entirety of The Iliad or Beowulf to be republished in this collection, I expected a fairly authentic telling of these myths and the butchering of them made me appreciate less those myths and epics I hadn’t read before like The Aeneid or The Ramayana or that I hadn’t known of before like the aforementioned Bakaridjan Kone and Sedna because I knew it wasn’t a true representation of the myth.  To add further insult were Rosenberg’s introductions and historical background that were wrong on history thus making her explanations of the myth questionable especially when she wants to push forward the Great Goddess theory on every myth that has an important female deity or heroine—I don’t deny that there was important Great Goddess religions but not every myth Rosenberg claims is a patriarchal takeover of a matriarchal religious system.

 

While World Mythology is an okay introduction to numerous cultural myths from around the globe, but do not get this for the classics nor consider those other myths you’ll read as the definitive versions.

Peace and Turmoil (The Dark Shores #1)

Peace and Turmoil - Elliot Brooks

Forces are at work in the lands of Abra’am that will cause the end of peace and bring about turmoil that hasn’t been seen since the War of Fire.  Peace and Turmoil is the first book of The Dark Shores series by first time author and BookTuber Elliot Brooks, which follows four young people who are suddenly thrust from their peaceful lies into political turmoil.

 

Gwenivere, heir to the throne of Xenith, is expected to choose a suitor from amongst guest at a Peace Gathering even though her preferred choice of Roland, heir to the throne is Mesidia, is off limits because each is a Guardian of one of the fabled Artifacts of Eve.  Roland along with his father King Pierre is dealing with a long simmering succession feud with the rival Victorians.  Across the Dividing Wall mountain range in the desert kingdom of Sadie, the assassin-prince Dietrich is convinced by his younger brother to go to the Xenith Peace Gathering and find a way to get Roland’s Dagger of Eve to not only save their mother but give the family immortality in the face of insurrectionists that Dietrich has been killing.  In the southern continent of Eve, the long-lived X’odia sees a vision of Dietrich being stabbed by his younger brother with the Dagger which will lead to the destruction of her homeland, the High Council sends her to Abra’am to prevent this from happening.  By the end of the book, Gwenivere is on the run under the false assumption that she killed her father while Roland is in exile after the death of his family but with X’odia looking to find Dietrich to get the Dagger back not knowing his brother has already killed him, maybe.

 

Brooks divided her book into multiple point-of-views, dominated by the previous mentioned four characters plus numerous secondary characters.  Of the four main character arcs, X’odia is by far the best from start to finish followed by Dietrich, which was enhanced by his brother’s point-of-view chapters.  Brooks decision to indicate the location of where a chapter was occurring, including a section of the “world map”, was a brilliant touch.  The inclusion of little tidbits of letters, messages, diary entries, etc. by known and unknown characters in-between chapters were a nice touch to add context to the world as well as foreshadow without being heavy-handed about it.  And the magic system is something new and intriguing, but not overwhelmingly powerful.  With all these positives, why is the rating so low?  Unfortunately, the political developments occurring in the third quarter of the book that made no sense as well as the total incompetence of Gwenivere’s father King Gerard and Roland’s father Pierre just totally ruined the last half of the book after an interesting first half.  The primary issue is fallout from the Attack of Fiends and the desire of four nations to intervene in Mesidia’s succession issue—that has been going on for several generations but all of a sudden is a “problem”—resulting in Gerard kowtowing to their wishes and joining them to save as many lives as possible.  However, Pierre has the rebel leader—the she isn’t the potential new queen—in chains as a result of the Attack and confessed to her role while her daughter and the bloodline heir to the rival claim has become a voluntarily become a citizen of Xenith; Pierre has every right to behead the traitor then declare the four nations who support his rivals had declared war on his nation, Xenith—who’s capital was attacked—and the peace nation of Riverdee that Mesidian soldiers defended.  And why Gerard doesn’t do the same, or at least threaten, is beyond me as well.  Things just fall apart and frankly it’s hard not to see Gerard as a usurper of his own daughter because he was originally a Mesidian himself and married Gwenivere’s mother, who was Guardian and thus heir or reigning Queen at the time of their marriage but five years deceased at the beginning of the book.  While there were other little pet peeves, they were nothing compared to these political issues.

 

Peace and Turmoil is Elliot Brook’s first published novel and the first in The Dark Shores series, yet while there are many positives it is the nonsensical political developments in this fantasy political novel which undermine the overall narrative and thus the overall enjoyment of the book.

Line of Control (Op-Center #8)

Line of Control - Tom Clancy, Jeff Rovin, Steve Pieczenik

The most dangerous border on the planet is days, if not hours, away from potentially exploding in a nuclear fireball but suddenly finding itself in the middle of the crisis is Op-Center’s own Striker team.  Line of Control is the eighth book of the Op-Center series written by Jeff Rovin picks up right where the last book left off as Paul Hood deals with government spending cuts, Mike Rodgers and the Strikers are headed to India to help find Pakistani missile silos only to find itself in the middle of a secret Indian conspiracy to use Kashmiri terrorists to setup a preemptive nuclear strike.

 

Traitorous NSA agent Ron Friday is on hand in Srinagar, India when a terrorist attack destroys a police station, a Hindu temple, and a bus of Hindu pilgrims.  Friday realizes something isn’t right especially when the regular investigating agency is left out of the loop.  The cell of Kashmiri terrorists responsible for bombing of the police station know they’ve been set-up and take the young Indian woman they had been holding as a hostage with them towards Pakistan to prove they are innocent of escalating this into a religious war.  Op-Center suddenly finds its Striker team heading into dangerous situation especially once the new NSA chief gets in touch while on the phone with Friday who reports what he witnessed and the apparent sidelining of the usual Indian investigative team.  Satellite coverage shows the usurping Indian agency attempting to the capture the terrorists only to fail thanks to the Kashmiri terrorists finding the cellphone on their hostage, who happens to be a civilian operative.  Like Friday, the Op-Center team realizes this is a plan to set up a preemptive nuclear strike by elements in the Indian government and decide to have Striker help the terrorists get their hostage to Pakistan to tell her story.  However, the Indians and Friday have other ideas while the one wants their plan to go off without a hitch the other is serving his own interests.  Unfortunately for Op-Center, all but three members of their Striker team are killed while parachuting into the Himalayas by Indian groundfire but Rodgers is one of the survivors and kills up with Friday, the Indian young woman, and one of the terrorists then leads them to a secret Pakistani missile silo on the titular Line of Control where they use a communications link to get the young woman’s story out to the world thus preventing a nuclear exchange.  Rodgers, the young woman, and the Indians who were after them escape the Pakistani facility before it explodes, but the self-serving Friday dies.  The resulting international praise for Op-Center is nothing compared to the domestic as Striker is disbanded and it will be severely downsized.

 

Published in 2001 before the 9/11 attacks, Line of Control focused on what at the time was considered—and probably still is—the greatest risk of a nuclear confrontation in the world.  Like most of the books in the series Rovin has written a few implausible elements in the book—namely the new NSA chief not reprimanding Friday for some of the things he said to Bob Herbert or the young Indian civilian operative’s many personality changes throughout the book—however unlike the last book they were more forgivable.  Yet from the outset the Paul Hood point-of-views essentially gave away the fact that the series would be taking a major shift with a change in how Op-Center would function in the future thus when the Striker team was butchered it was the writing on the wall that Op-Center would have a paramilitary wing anymore and sets up how Rovin will make the agency unique compared to the CIA, NSA, and others.  Given all that, the action sequences throughout were well written and plotting was well down making a for an overall nice read.

 

Line of Control is a watershed moment in the Op-Center series as some of the elements that made the agency unique came to an end and Rovin decided to go into a new direction with the series.  Overall the book is good action piece and overall better narrative than the previous installment as well as making this one the high quality books of the series.

Vixen 03 (Dirk Pitt #5)

Vixen 03 - Clive Cussler

A deadly biological weapon thought long-lost is suddenly out in the world and a South African-planned black-op terrorist attack on the United States meant to discredit an insurgency to white rule intertwine with only one man finding himself at the crux to stop them.  The fifth book of the Dirk Pitt series, Vixen 03, by Clive Cussler finds the intrepid NUMA Special Projects Director racing to first solve a mystery and then racing to save the nation.

 

An Air Force transport plane takes off in a January Colorado blizzard carrying a deadly cargo, but the storm results in the plane crash landing on top of a snow covered lake then sinking.  The Pentagon, under orders from Eisenhower, alters the records of the plane to hide its deadly secret.  Thirty-four years later in South Africa, Scottish naval captain-turned-farmer Patrick Fawkes goes to a meeting with the South African Defense Minister and discusses the feasibility of a black-op, which Fawkes explains is impossible yet during the meeting his family is murdered during an attack seemingly by the African Army of Revolution run by an American-born black against the white South African government.  As a result Fawkes talks the Defense Minister into letting him do the black-op, which the AAR finds out about and gets the info to the American government though they regard it highly unlikely to take place.  Meanwhile in Colorado’s Sawatch Mountains, Dirk Pitt is at the cabin of his current girlfriend, Congresswoman Loren Smith, when finds parts from an old aircraft in the garage that Loren believes her deceased eccentric father found while hiking.  Bored while not having sex, Pitt begins investigating and stays at the cabin after Loren returns to Washington where she runs afoul of a black congressman who supports the AAR for his own political ends and attempts to blackmail her after getting racy photos of her and Pitt sleeping together.  Pitt’s investigation results in him identifying an aircraft that shouldn’t be in Colorado but in the Pacific and along with his friend Al Giordino and an Air Force Colonel Abe Steiger investigate a nearby lake and find the wreck along with the body of Loren’s father—he supposedly blew himself up.  Steiger is stonewalled in Washington while Pitt heads to his assignment raising a Union ironclad, but travels to Virginia to talk with the man who assigned the plane’s mission and finds out it carried a deadly biological weapon.  Pitt finally informs his boss Admiral Sandecker and NUMA raises the aircraft but find that 8 out of the 36 shells are missing.  Pitt, Giordino, and Steiger confront Loren’s neighbors who killed her father and sold them to an arms company for extra money.  After conning the arms company Pitt and Steiger track down six of the eight, but the last two were accidently purchased by the AAR but really the South Africans for their terrorist attack.  Fawkes with his unwitting black crew and the kidnapped AAR leader in an overhauled battleship go up the Potomac to within range of Washington and start bombarding the capital on December 7.  The U.S. government “warned” by the South African Prime Minister launches an attack on the battleship since Fawkes doesn’t know he has two biological weapons.  Pitt is able to get onboard the battleship and neutralizes one of the weapons, but the other was already loaded into a tube.  The shell is fired, but do to it being a biological warhead it parachutes and a helicopter piloted by Steiger intercepts it and flies it out to the Atlantic.  Pitt travels to South Africa to bury Fawkes and meets with the South African Defense Minister, who orchestrated the murder of Fawkes family and who sent the Prime Minister warning, is killed by a member of his own staff and a member of the AAR then buried in Fawkes’ grave.

 

Set a 1988, Cussler’s guess at the overall situation in the world was off but still made for interesting alternate history in which to set his book’s narrative.  The two main plots following Pitt and Fawkes were well written while the two main subplots of the AAR and Loren Smith were underwhelming.  Fawkes as a good tragic figure who setup by the Defense Minister was easy to guess, while Loren Smith’s first appearance as Pitt’s on-and-off girlfriend was just showing off Pitt’s sexual greatness and given his characterization in these early books isn’t surprising.  The science behind the biological weapon was a little farfetched if one really thought about it, but overall it wasn’t the worst thing in the book.  Critically nothing was bad, but there were a lot of things that alright.

 

Vixen 03 is a nice next installment in the Dirk Pitt series by Clive Cussler, building up on Raise the Titanic!  Overall it’s a good book with only a few bits that were unfortunately off putting but nothing compared to earlier books.  While the not the best book of the series I’ve read so far, it’s shows a lot of improvement on Cussler’s part.

Women Warriors: An Unexpected History

Women Warriors - Pamela D. Toler

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

 

The phrase warrior women evokes many images, most with “boob” armor as a prominent feature however history tells a different story.  Women Warriors: An Unexpected History by Pamela D. Toler covers millennia of historical records and new archaeological discoveries from Shang China to modern day examining the women who went into battle in numerous ways.

 

Toler covers not only the more famous warriors like Boudica, Joan of Arc, Lakshmi Bai, Hua Mulan, the Trung Sisters, and Tomoe Gozen among others but also spread her reach to lesser known historical figures of prominence as well as “every day” women.  Toler brings to light many reasons why women went to war including adventure, defense of family and home, and surprising cultural as well.  Also examined is how contemporary and modern-day historical accounts of these women use many of the same phrases like “she fought like a man” thus bring to the forefront the seemingly universal gender role that war is to many societies—though not all.  Many of the women that Toler relates in her book, disguise themselves in men’s clothing and several continued using men’s clothing after their military service and one was “crossdressing” before she entered military service.  Finally Toler covered the recent turn in archaeological findings that not all burials that contained weapons were men, but many women and the raging debate on if those women were actual warriors and if those weapons were ceremonial—though if men were buried with jewelry it showed they were rich.

 

The book’s text covered roughly 210 pages, but many of those pages having a considerable amount of footnotes that were both positive and negative in the overall quality of the book.  Toler does focus on the famous few warriors, but spreads her eye to all parts of the globe and showed the diversity and commonality that all women warriors had.  Her criticism of how women warriors were depicted over the millennia and across cultures showed many of the same trends with relatively few exceptions—China.  However the book is far from perfect and while Toler packed a lot in 210 pages, she kept on repeating the same things over and over again including in her numerous footnotes.  It was one thing to say something critically in a witty and sarcastically way once thus making an impression and making the reader aware to look for future instances of what Toler was criticizing, but to repeatedly make wisecracks over the same criticisms again and again just resulted in them losing their effect and become tiresome.  Unfortunately the many repeated comments and footnotes makes one wonder if Toler had cut them out, if she could not have moved some of the interesting things she put in the footnotes because she “ran out of space” into the actual text if the book wouldn’t have come out better.

 

The overall Women Warriors: An Unexpected History is a nice primer and introduction to the many women who fought throughout history and the complex history surrounding them.  While Pamela D. Toler does a wonderful job in bringing many women to the spotlight, her repeated phrases—including overdone wittiness—and almost overly expansive footnotes take away from the quality of the book.

E.J. Waggoner: From the Physician of Good News to Agent of Division

E.J. Waggoner: From The Physician Of Good News To The Agent Of Division - Woodrow W. Whidden

One of the pivotal figures at the 1888 Minneapolis General Conference sessions, he did not plan to follow his father into ministry but when he did he tragically followed his example.  Woodrow W. Whidden’s E.J. Waggoner: From the Physician of Good News to Agent of Division follows not only the life of the Adventism’s most controversial figures, but also the developments of his theological thinking which both contributed to Seventh-day Adventist thinking and to his separation from Adventist doctrines.

 

Whidden brought the most out of limited sources available to detail Waggoner’s life beginning with the troubled family life of his troubled Adventist minister father and egotistical, uncaring mother.  Waggoner’s family were encouraged and rebuked by Ellen White throughout the young E.J.’s childhood and his home life might have led to heartbreak later in his life.  Not wanting to follow his father into the ministry, Waggoner studied medicine and became friends with John Harvey Kellogg as he began his career in medicine which came to an end after a “vision” at a campmeeting in which Waggoner was impressed by Christ on the cross and began his lifelong theological study of justification and sanctification.  Upon entering the ministry, Waggoner became was prolific in preaching, lecturing, writing, and in editorial work for the next two decades in both the United States and Great Britain but that would later result in have no time to nurture his marriage resulting in a scandalous divorce after his family’s return to the United States.  The lead up and aftermath of the 1888 Minneapolis is hinge of the biography and Whidden analyzes Waggoner’s role thoroughly.  Yet the most interesting aspect of the biography was Whidden’s analysis of Waggoner’s theology on justification and sanctification throughout his life divided into four time frames by Whidden.

 

The difficulty of finding sources to chronicle Waggoner’s life did not deflect from Whidden’s achievement in revealing the numerous facets of his subject’s life especially in the lead up to the “biggest” scandal in Adventism at the time with Waggoner’s divorce.  The most important aspect of the book was Whidden’s in-depth discussing of Waggoner’s evolving theological beliefs, especially justification and sanctification, and how his bent towards mysticism as well as his slow moving away from distinct Adventist doctrines.  Another important aspect is Whidden’s analysis of Ellen White’s interactions with Waggoner both in encouragement and concerned rebuke as well as if Waggoner’s later theological beliefs takeaway his emphasis on his Christ-centered message before, during, and after 1888.  If there is on serious drawback is that Whidden’s study of Waggoner’s theology is very deep and can be a tad mindboggling.

 

E.J. Waggoner is an insightful look into the life of one of the most important second generation figures in Adventism.  Woodrow Whidden’s expert work on getting out the most from the few primary sources available as well as his theological analysis is a great asset for any reader in Seventh-day Adventist biography and history.

The Political Writings of St. Augustine

The Political Writings of St. Augustine - Henry Paolucci, Dino Bigongiari, Augustine of Hippo

The most important voice in political thought throughout the Middle Ages, influencing even St. Aquinas, was that of St. Augustine.  Through excerpts of sermons, letters, and selections from City of God, the 4th-century theologians’ view of the world of man is shown both in its maturity and development.

 

Covering almost 360 pages, the vast majority of it being the words of St. Augustine, this book’s quality comes down to the introduction by Henry Paolucci and the appendix containing a lecture by Dino Bigongiari.  Instead of helping set the stage for understanding the works the reader was about to encounter Paolucci’s introduction really didn’t do anything to give context just information about the man and his works overall.  However the lecture of Bigongiari opens the reader’s eyes to understanding what they had just read, but that’s only if they made it to the very end of the book after potentially giving up trying to figure out why some of these selections were included.  In fact the reader learns more in the last 15 pages of the book about St. Augustine’s political thoughts than the previous 340+ by the theologians own hand.  It would have been better to have Bigongiari’s lecture as the introduction so as it give the reader insights about how to understand the author’s thinking.

 

The Political Writings of St. Augustine is a nice selection of the theologian’s writings about political subjects, however because of the way the book is structured the reader will not understand the man until the very end if they even get that far.  I can only recommend the lecture by Dino Bigongiari presented at the end of the book, the rest is unfortunately worthless.

The Bone Clocks

The Bone Clocks: A Novel - David Mitchell

Everything that happens has consequences in the future and one weekend for a 15-year old teenager after a fight with her mother has unexpected consequences throughout the rest of her life.  The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell follows the life Holly Sykes through her own eyes and those four other characters during 60 years of her life.

 

The book begins with a 15-year old Holly Sykes leaving home after a fight with her mother, only to have a life altering weekend for herself involving a trip to a paranormal world that she forgets and her family as her younger brother disappears.  The book ends with a 74-year old Holly taking care of and wondering about the future of her granddaughter and foster son as climate change and resource depletion are sending the world towards a new dark age, though a surprising return of an old acquitance results in them having a future.  Between these two segments we follow the lives of an amoral political student Hugo Lamb, Holly’s husband Ed, author Crispin Hershey, and Marinus who is both a new and old acquaintance of Holly’s for a period of time in which they interact with Holly during different periods of her life that at first seem random but as the narrative progresses interconnect with one another in surprising ways including glimpses into a centuries long supernatural war in which Holly was directly involved in twice.

 

From beginning to end, Mitchell created a page-turner in which the reader did not know what to expect.  The blending of fiction and fantasy from the beginning then science fiction as the story went beyond 2014 (year of publication) as the narrative continued was expertly done.  The use of first-person point-of-views were well done as was the surprise that the book wasn’t all through Holly’s point-of-view but switched with each of the six segments of the book giving the reader a mosaic view of Holly’s life.  The introduction and slow filling in of the fantasy elements of the story were well done so when it really became the focus of the book in its fifth segment the reader was ready for it.  On top of that the layers of worldbuilding throughout the book were amazing, as characters from one person’s point-of-view had random interactions with someone in another and so on.  If there was one letdown it was the science fiction, nearly dystopian, elements of 2043 in which the political-economic setting seems farfetched—namely China who would be in trouble if there is an energy crisis and thus not dominate economically as portrayed in the book—that made the denouement land with a thud.

 

I had no idea what to expect from The Bone Clocks and frankly David Mitchell impressed me a lot, save for the final 10% of the book.  The blending of straight fiction, fantasy, and science fiction was amazing throughout the narrative and the numerous layers of worldbuilding, plot, and slowly evolving of the mostly unseen supernatural war that was instrumental to main points of the narrative.  If a friend were to ask me about this book I would highly recommend it to them.

The End of Days: Armageddon and Prophecies of the Return (The Earth Chronicles #7)

The End of Days (The Earth Chronicles, #7) - Zecharia Sitchin

When viewing history as cyclical past is prologue, so if that is the case how does the 21st Century compare to the past?  The End of Days: Armageddon and Prophecies of the Return is the seventh and final book of Zecharia Sitchin’s The Earth Chronicles examines the events of the present and comparing them the ancient past from the 21st Century B.C.E. to the start of the Christian era through numerous Biblical, extra-Biblical, and various other texts to bring his research to a conclusion.

 

Sitchin begins his examination of the “End of Days” by giving a quick overview of his research in the previous sixth books about the Annunaki and the beginning of human civilization before tying it into the expectation of a coming or return of a Messiah figure.  Sitchin then sets the stage for this expectation by reviewing the contention between the Enlil and Enki factions amongst Annunaki resulting in what he believes was a nuclear attack in the Sinai to take out of the Annunaki spaceport and Sodom & Gomorrah to stop Marduk from taking control but resulting in allowing him to take control due to fallout taking out his human opponents.  With this background, Sitchin then explains how the supposed “New Age” resulted in national gods and fighting between nations in the name of their particular God.  Yet throughout these wars objectives of the “Landing Place” of Baalbek, “Mission Control” in Jerusalem, and the important crossroads city of Harran were all pointed out due to the belief that soon the Annunaki home planet Nibiru would return and with it Anu might come to bring peace.  Sitchin reveals that instead of Anu bringing peace, nearly all the Annunaki left Earth disappointing their followers and leaving humanity on its own.  Sitchin then ends the book by showing the Israelite prophets continued to talk about the Return and how it connected to Elijah and Jesus before going over his theory of a waystation on Mars shows that the Annunaki do intend to return in the future.

 

Given this was the last book of his series, Sitchin went right into the review of his previous research and setting the stage from the human disappointment of the “failed” Return and then their new hope of a future one.  One of the obvious things that needed to be answered from Sitchin was when the Annunaki left—since we don’t see them on Earth now—and he actually gave a date not just a range of years.  Though the reviewing of material in the first third of the 300+ page book was a little annoying, Sitchin has over the course of this series about how to do it quickly while also adding new material throughout it so when he launched into the “new” material things were set up nicely.  However, it became obvious while reading that my opinion that the previous installment, The Cosmic Code, did not need to be written was correct as it was mishmash of material that could have gone into When Time Began and in this book.  But I believe that Sitchin wanted a seven book series because Earth was the seventh planet of the solar system in Annunaki thinking and he wanted that tie in.

 

The End of Days completes Zecharia Sitchin’s series with a conclusion with the Annunaki stay on the Earth and the hints of a possibly return.  Though I don’t adhere to Sitchin interpretations of Biblical text or his Annunaki theories in general, there are some things he conjectured that are actually intriguing to think about.  This book is a good finish to The Earth Chronicles that had been released over the course of 30 years and for his long time readers it’s highly recommended.

Shadow & Claw (The Book of the New Sun #1-2)

Shadow and Claw - Gene Wolfe

The classic story of a young man journey from the only home he’s known and finding himself interacting with the strange wider world.  Shadow & Claw by Gene Wolfe is the omnibus collection of the first two volumes of The Book of the New Sun tetralogy, The Shadow of the Torturer and The Claw of the Conciliator, following the life of the guild of torturer journeyman Severian.

 

The Shadow of the Torturer follows the last year of Severian’s life in The Citadel of Nessus and his few days after leaving into exile after breaking the greatest rule of the guild of torturers.  Severian finds himself challenged to a duel and explores greater Nessus in preparation while coming into contacting with numerous interesting characters.  The Claw of the Conciliator picks up a bit after the previous book with Severian performing his duties in a small mining town before going on a series of journeys going to the seat of government the House Absolute and leaving, all the while trying to figure out everything he’s involved in while trying not to dishonor his guild once again.

 

The first volume of the book, Shadow, was very intriguing and while somethings were clear—as might have been the plan—there was enough there to make me look forward to continuing on Severian’s journey.  However the second volume, Claw, was all over the place with quality, interest, and frustration as one the main problems from the first volume, namely the first-person narration by Severian was all over the place.  Add in an entire chapter that described a line-by-line recreation of a nonsensical play just to setup an attack by one of the characters on the audience in the next, much short chapter just added to my dislike of this particular volume.

 

I had high hopes for Shadow & Claw given that it was the first half of what is considered a classic tetralogy by Gene Wolfe.  While I did like the first volume of the omnibus, the second one has made me wonder why this is considered a fantasy-science fiction classic by many.

 

The Shadow of the Torturer (3.5/5)

The Claw of the Conciliator (2/5)

Miracle at Philadelphia

Miracle At Philadelphia - Catherine Drinker Bowen

A nation new to its independence dealing with issues internally and external, it’s nascent future hanging by a thread all comes down to 55 men from across its length and breadth to come up with a solution.  In her 1966 historical review of what became known as the Constitutional Convention, Catherine Drinker Bowen chronicles how the future of the young United States was saved by a Miracle at Philadelphia.

 

Though the majority of the book focuses on the four-month long Convention, Bowen begins by setting the stage for why and how the convention came about with the ineffectual government that was the Articles of Confederation and the movement to amend them, which was led by James Madison and endorsed by George Washington by his attendance in Philadelphia.  For those like myself not really versed in nitty gritty details of Convention it was interesting to learn that most of the work was done in ‘Committee of the Whole’ in which Washington while President was seated among the other delegates.  The familiar highlights of the Virginia Plan, New Jersey Plan, and the Great Compromise are covered but in the historical flow of the debates within the Convention and decisions in-between of important elements within the Constitution.  Throughout the Bowen introduces important personages and how their views remained constant or changed throughout the Convention resulting reputations being made or destroyed during and after the process of ratification.  Bowen ends the book with a look at the ratification process, in particular the debates in Massachusetts and Virginia.

 

Covering approximately 310 pages, the book is efficient in covering the events of the Convention overall.  However Bowen completely missed how the Great Compromise was voted in the Constitution, she just mentioned it.  Besides that big miss within the Convention, Bowen spends chuck of the middle of the book covering a “Journey in America” that had nothing to do with the Convention but was just giving a glimpse of the nascent country that felt like filler than anything else.

 

Miracle at Philadelphia is a very good historical review of the Constitutional Convention that does not analyze but just reports history.  Catherine Drinker Bowen does a wonderful job in juggling the various accounts of the Convention by the delegates and the official record to create very readable narrative.  I highly recommend this book for those interested in this closing piece of the American Revolution.

The Histories (Herodotus)

The Histories - G.C. Macaulay, G.C. Macauley, Donald Lateiner, David Lateiner, Herodotus

A generation had no living memory of the greatest danger that the Greeks had ever lived through, but one man decided to change all that and gift posterity with a new genre.  The Histories written by Herodotus details 80 crucial years from the rise of the Persian Empire to the defeat the remnants of Xerxes expedition and the events that led to the latter.

 

Using knowledge gleamed from extensive travel across the ancient world Herodotus begins his historical narrative by giving the ‘legendary’ encounters between the peoples of Europe and Asia before delving into the more ‘historical’ events that lead to Xerxes’ grand expedition.  Herodotus details the history of the kingdom of Lydia that was the first to conquer populations of Greeks, those in western Anatolia, and how its great king Croesus lost his war to Cyrus the Great thus placing those same Greeks under the rule of Persia.  The history of the Medes and their conquest by the Persians is related then the subsequent history of the Persian Empire until the Ionian revolt which led to the intervention of Athens and setting the stage for Darius expedition to Marathon.  Intertwined with the rise of Persia was Herodotus relating the events within various Greek city-states, in particular Athens and Sparta, that contributed to the reasons for first Darius’ expedition and then to Xerxes’.  Eventually his narrative would go back and forth between the two contending sides throughout the latter conflict as events unfolded throughout 480-479 BC.

 

The sheer volume of material that Herodotus provides is impressive and daunting for a reader to consider.  Not only does he cover the political and military events, but numerous past historical and general culture aspects as well as lot of biographies and antidotal digressions that add color to the overall piece.  Given that this was the first history ever written it’s hard to really criticize Herodotus—though Thucydides apparently had no problem later—but some digressions I wish Herodotus had left out or not heard at all.

 

The Histories by Herodotus is one of classic historical works that needs to be read by anyone who enjoys reading history.  Whether or not you love the style of writing or even the topic, this book is important because it literally is the first history book.

John Harvey Kellogg: Pioneering Health Reformer

John Harvey Kellogg, M.D.: Pioneering Health Reformer - Richard W. Schwarz

A pioneer of the Adventist health message and controversial figure that had a very public break from the Church, yet his life was whole lot more.  John Harvey Kellogg: Pioneering Health Reformer by Richard W. Schwarz details the long life of a man who wanted to teach and not become a doctor, but who became both in advocating healthy living.

 

Schwarz begins the biography in the standard way in relating the background of Kellogg family just before John Harvey birth then proceeded to follow the young Kellogg’s life until he became a doctor.  The biography then shifts into various facets of Kellogg’s life ranging from his appointment to head Battle Creek Sanitarium and developing it, his development of various health foods and later his efforts commercially, his family life with 42 adopted children and cool relationships with his siblings, his humanitarian efforts, his work and later break with the Seventh-day Adventist Church including his relationship with Ellen White, and many more.  The final chapter chronicles the latter events of his 91 year long life including the struggle to keep Battle Creek Sanitarium open.

 

In around 240 pages, Schwarz gives a thorough look into everything that John Harvey Kellogg did throughout his life but in a non-chronological manner save for his early and late life.  Given the start length of the book and the long life of its subject, this non-chronological look was for the best as Schwarz covered topics in a straightforward manner and avoiding attempting to cover all of them in a on and off if the biography was written in a chronological fashion.  This format also allowed Schwarz to reference big events that effected all topics and foreshadowing there importance for when he covered them later in the book.

 

John Harvey Kellogg: Pioneering Health Reformer is a well-organized and informative biography of a notable pioneer in the Adventist health system that also influenced the larger American health landscape.  Richard W. Schwarz work is outstanding and his prose presents a very easy read which makes this book a highly recommended one for anyone interested in Adventist health history.

Divide and Conquer (Op-Center #7)

Divide and Conquer - Tom Clancy, Jeff Rovin, Steve Pieczenik

Conspiracies abound in Washington and Azerbaijan as powerful political figures in the former hope events in the former will change the nation and the world.  Divide and Conquer is the seventh book of the Op-Center series written, and acknowledged, by Jeff Rovin as the newly returned Op-Center Director Paul Hood who is dealing with the aftermath of his daughter’s ordeal and the dissolution of marriage finds himself attempting to stop events political and diplomatic from spiraling out of control.

 

In Baku, Azerbaijan a CIA operative is knocked unconscious by the terrorist The Harpooner who injects the operative with a virus before joining his team of Iranians to set up and destroy an Iranian oil rig so as to blame the Azerbaijani.  The CIA operative goes to the U.S. Embassy and meets the local CIA officer and officer from Moscow when he falls sick resulting in his two colleagues are assassinated by a rogue NSA agent and one of The Harpooner’s contacts.  Meanwhile Paul Hood meets with the First Lady about President Lawrence who seems to not be himself, but a clue from the night before results in Op-Center finding something going on with the head of the NSA especially since he was secretly meeting with the Iranian U.N. mission.  Hood then learns about The Harpooner in Baku and calls his Russian counterpart to work to capture the terrorist, but the murder of the two CIA agents result in the Russian Op-Center getting an undercover agent to save the sick CIA operative who is recovering.  The two agents then track down The Harpooner and kill him.  Just then Hood and his team have found evidence that the Vice President and the Chief of Staff along with the NSA head have been giving the President false information so as to use the crisis in Caspian to force him to resign.  With the First Lady, Hood forces his way into the Situation Room and confront the conspirators though to a stalemate until the NSA head gets a call from a secure phone in The Harpooner’s possession from the recovering CIA operative.  Though the Vice President attempts keep his office, Lawrence forces him to resign along with his two co-conspirators.

 

Released in 2000, Divide and Conquer was a product of its time with an insider conspiracy against a sitting U.S. President.  The background of the Lawrence administration, which is retconned from Op-Center, and events in Washington were the major downfall of this book.  First Rovin apparently forgets the 22nd Amendment on term limits, Lawrence has won 3 of the 4 elections he was in, and fails to set up Hood connection with the First Lady in the previous six books.  Second, how the conspirators misinform the President is unlikely to happen since in real life they wouldn’t be able to do it and at no time were the Secretaries of State and Defense around especially in the Situation Room.  Add on top of this is the poor editing throughout the book especially in regards to the capitalization of titles, i.e. Vice president, and Paul Hood giving The Harpooner’s actual name when no intelligence agency in the world actually knows it.  However, I will give Rovin credit for the well written events and characters in and around Baku as well as the Russian Op-Center which are the most believable in the book along with subtle setup for the next book in the series.

 

Divide and Conquer is a mishmash of good and really bad but unlike previous books there is no intriguing plot for Jeff Rovin to underperform in writing.  If anything of the two arcs in the book’s plot, it’s the one that doesn’t include the titular institution and main character that is better written in story and characters.  Although this is a different issue than previous books, it keeps up the generally underwhelming quality of this series.

The Cosmic Code (The Earth Chronicles #6)

The Cosmic Code (The Earth Chronicles, #6) - Zecharia Sitchin

The balance between Fate and Destiny to the ancients not only effected man but also the gods for both good and ill that made them all look towards the heavens.  The Cosmic Code is the sixth book by Zecharia Sitchin in The Earth Chronicles that analyzes ancient megaliths, ancient mysticism, and ancient texts to reveal the secrets of the aforementioned code.

 

Beginning with an examination a mysterious circular stone structure on the Golan Heights that according to astronomical calculations is ancient, Sitchin reintroduces his research from previous volumes so as to build a framework to discuss this book’s main theme.  Always introduced through the use of his previous research, Sitchin covers the “creation” of the zodiac before linking it to the Golan site and its strategic location between the two main highways of the ancient Middle East.  The discussion turns to the death of demigods and why it was distressing before Sitchin recounted the Annunaki creation of man and why they did not give man “immortality” in his DNA.  Then Sitchin turned his attention to “secret knowledge” which he posited to be secret number codes that were the basis for languages and latter prophecies, especially in relation to the heavens and the ones who came from there.  This talk of prophecies brought Sitchin back to chronicling the history of the Middle East after Marduk/Ra rose to supremacy among the Annunaki and how his turbulent “reign” is recorded in the Bible and other ancient texts until finally his city Babylon captured by the Persians.  Yet, Sitchin makes clear that during this time the phrase “End of Time” was always mentioned but it was never specified when it would happen.

 

Beginning with an enigmatic ruin, Sitchin set the stage for this book in his usual academic approach and then woven in his own theories and research from previous books early on.  His examination of Fate & Destiny was interesting but even after the introduction of the beginning of languages, secret number codes, and connections to DNA it was hard to understand what the point was.  The further information on Marduk’s reign during the “Age of the Ram” was interesting and basically the highlight of the book though the reader had to wait to get to it.  While Sitchin avoided going into the evidence that went into his already written about theories—giving new readers the knowledge of which volume to look for them—he  still seemed to tread water in some places before fully moving on.  Yet in reflecting on this volume, it was hard to not feel that only half of this nearly 300 page book was new material and a fraction of that was gearing towards the next volume of Sitchin’s series.  At the end I felt that this book could have been combined split and combined with the previous volume and maybe in the next.

 

The Cosmic Code never felt like a cohesive book, it read like Sitchin meshed material from two different books to create another.  This overwhelming thought made it hard to focus on the evidence that Sitchin presented to prove his new assertions, but his reliance on flawed conclusions from When Time Began still makes it hard to keep an open mind.  If you’ve read all of Sitchin’s previous work then go ahead and read this, but be warned this one seems all over the place.

Raise the Titanic! (Dirk Pitt #4)

Raise The Titanic! - Clive Cussler

Deep in the North Atlantic is the rarest radioactive mineral on the planet that can power a strategically redefining missile defense shield, the problem is that it’s in vault of the most famous shipwreck in history.  Raise the TItantic! is the third published book of Clive Cussler’s series featuring Dirk Pitt, who accepts the challenge to bring the most famous shipwreck in history only to find himself in the middle of a shadowy Cold War encounter in the middle of a hurricane.

 

A secret U.S. government think tank, Meta Section, sends a mineralogist to Novaya Zemlya in the Soviet Union to look for byzanium that will power their new antiballistic missile defense system.  Unfortunately the scientist is discovered by Soviet security until he’s saved by Dirk Pitt whose “interference” of Meta Section’s plan upsets its chief, Dr. Gene Seagram who is married to a NUMA colleague of Pitt’s.  The mineralogist how has both good and bad news, Novaya Zemlya does have byzanium but only a tiny fraction that did because it was mined earlier in the century by Americans from Colorado.  Gene Seagram and his closest friend in Meta Section begin hunting down this new lead while Captain Prevlov of Soviet Naval Intelligence begins investigating the American incursion of Soviet territory both the recent and newly discovered mine from the turn of the century.  Meanwhile Gene Seagram’s quest to get his secret project completed results in his wife Dana leaving him just as he learns that large amount of byzanium was found on Novaya Zemlya by Coloradan miners who spirited from Russia to Britain and loaded it on the Titanic.  Gene Seagram finds Pitt and convinces him to lead the salvaging of the shipwreck.  Over the course of the salvage, both American and Soviet intelligence agencies have a shadowy back and forth that Pitt only learns about close to the end of salvage which comes to a dramatic end when they raise it to save one of their submersibles.  In preparing to tow the now risen Titanic, Pitt and crew learn that a mid-May formed hurricane is barreling towards them which for Prevlov is prefect for his plan to steal the ship and its “secret” cargo.  Prevlov and his strike force board the Titanic while it’s in the eye of the hurricane and take the crew hostage, save Pitt, who confronts the Soviet captain before several minutes before Navy SEALS take out the Soviet soldiers except for Prevlov.  The Titanic makes arrives in New York to fanfare, but Meta Section and NUMA learn that their efforts were for not because in the ship’s vault were only boxes of normal stones.  Gene Seagram, who had slowly been losing his sanity, has a complete nervous breakdown and attacks the mummified remains of the last American miner who by coincidence was also insane by the time he boarded Titanic.  Pitt travels to Scotland and makes his way across Britain until he finds a tiny village where one of the American miners was buried, with the bzyanium thus allowing the U.S. to create its missile defense system.

 

Written almost a decade before the Titanic was discovered, in two pieces, Cussler writes an intriguing narrative of underwater discovery and salvage with some nice Cold War intrigue thrown in.  The main plot was basically really fun to read even with the knowledge that Cussler’s details were wrong in every regard to the shipwreck.  While the Soviet spy subplot was completely fine as was Gene Seagram’s slow mental breakdown, the other subplots in the book were complete trash.  First was Dana Seagram’s independent woman angle in which was asserted herself and also bashed women’s liberation (which went hand on hand with the usual chauvinistic streak of these early books), the second was the President of the United States being persuaded by the CIA and NIA to let Meta Section’s secret project get leaked to the Soviets which was completely unrealistic (even in a story about raising the Titanic!).  Even with those I would have been fine, but Cussler for some reason had Pitt bed Dana Seagram after going the majority of the book seemingly like the Pitt later in the series.

 

Raise the Titanic! for the most part is a good book, which could have been better, but it’s better than The Mediterranean Caper and Iceberg especially since Dirk isn’t a complete jerk.  Cussler did write a solid main plot, but the biggest problems were some of the subplots which undermined the work plus some poor decisions around Pitt close to the end.  However, after Pacific Vortex this is the best early Pitt book so far.