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Reaganland: America's Right Turn 1976-1980
Rick Perlstein
Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy
René Descartes

Bleak House

Bleak House - Charles Dickens

There are many curses that people place upon themselves and their descendants, some are the rest of their actions and others by their indecisions complicated by bureaucratic failures then sometimes it’s both. Charles Dickens shows the effects of both in his 1853 novel Bleak House not only on his main characters but also on secondary characters who are just unlucky to interaction with the afflicted persons.


Sir Leicester Dedlock and his wife Honoria live on his estate at Chesney Wold. Unknown to Sir Leicester, before she married, Lady Dedlock had a lover, Captain Hawdon, and had a daughter by him. Lady Dedlock believes her daughter is dead. The daughter, Esther Summerson, is in fact alive and is raised by Miss Barbary, Lady Dedlock's sister, who does not acknowledge their relationship. After Miss Barbary dies, John Jarndyce becomes Esther's guardian and assigns the Chancery lawyer "Conversation" Kenge to take charge of her future. After attending school for six years, Esther moves in with him at Bleak House. Jarndyce simultaneously assumes custody of two other wards, Richard Carstone and Ada Clare (who are both his and one another's distant cousins). They are beneficiaries in one of the wills at issue in Jarndyce and Jarndyce; their guardian is a beneficiary under another will, and the two wills conflict. Richard and Ada soon fall in love, but though Mr. Jarndyce does not oppose the match, he stipulates that Richard must first choose a profession. Richard first tries a career in medicine, and Esther meets Allan Woodcourt, a physician, at the house of Richard's tutor. When Richard mentions the prospect of gaining from the resolution of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, John Jarndyce beseeches him never to put faith in what he calls ‘the family curse’. Richard disregards this advice and his subsequent career endeavors fails as a result of his growing obsession while his personal relationship with Jarndyce deteriorates. Lady Dedlock is also a beneficiary under one of the wills and while looking at an affidavit by the family solicitor, Mr. Tulkinghorn, she recognizes the handwriting on the copy and almost faints, which Tulkinghorn notices and investigates. He traces the copyist, a pauper known only as "Nemo", in London. Nemo has recently died, and the only person to identify him is a street-sweeper, a poor homeless boy named Jo, who lives in a particularly grim and poverty-stricken part of the city known as Tom-All-Alone's. Lady Dedlock investigates while disguised as her maid, Mademoiselle Hortense. Lady Dedlock pays Jo to take her to Nemo's grave. Meanwhile, Tulkinghorn is concerned Lady Dedlock's secret could threaten the interests of Sir Leicester and watches her constantly, even enlisting her maid to spy on her. He also enlists Inspector Bucket to run Jo out of town, to eliminate any loose ends that might connect Nemo to the Dedlocks. Esther and Lady Dedlock see each other at church and talks at Chesney Wold without recognizing their connection. Later, Lady Dedlock does discover that Esther is her child. However, Esther has become sick (possibly with smallpox, since it severely disfigures her) after nursing the homeless boy Jo. Lady Dedlock waits until Esther has recovered before telling her the truth. Though Esther and Lady Dedlock are happy to be reunited, Lady Dedlock tells Esther they must never acknowledge their connection again. Meanwhile Richard and Ada have secretly married, and Ada is pregnant. Esther has her own romance when Woodcourt returns to England, having survived a shipwreck, and continues to seek her company despite her disfigurement. Unfortunately, Esther has already agreed to marry her guardian, John Jarndyce, who sees Woodcourt is a better match for her and sets not only Woodcourt with good professional prospects and sets the two of them up for an engagement. Hortense and Tulkinghorn discover the truth about Lady Dedlock's past. After a confrontation with Tulkinghorn, Lady Dedlock flees her home, leaving a note apologizing for her conduct. Tulkinghorn dismisses Hortense, who is no longer of any use to him. Feeling abandoned and betrayed, Hortense kills Tulkinghorn and seeks to frame Lady Dedlock for his murder. Sir Leicester, discovering his lawyer's death and his wife's flight, suffers a catastrophic stroke, but he manages to communicate that he forgives his wife and wants her to return. Inspector Bucket, who has previously investigated several matters related to Jarndyce and Jarndyce, accepts Sir Leicester's commission to find first Tulkinghorn’s murderer and then Lady Dedlock. He quickly arrests Hortense but fails to find Lady Dedlock before she dies of exposure at the cemetery of her former lover, Captain Hawdon. A new will is found for Jarndyce and Jarndyce that benefits Richard and Ada, but the costs of litigation have entirely consumed the estate bring the case to an end. Richard collapses and Woodcourt diagnoses him as being in the last stages of tuberculosis and he dies before the birth of his namesake son. John Jarndyce takes in Ada and her child, a boy whom she names Richard. Esther and Woodcourt marry and live in a Yorkshire house which Jarndyce gives to them. The couple later raise two daughters.


The above synopsis only covers the main plot, but expertly woven throughout are two subplots surrounding Caddy Jellyby and Mr. George Rouncewell who interact with the main characters at various times throughout the novel. Dickens masterfully crafts the cast of characters and the plot in an engaging and intriguing serious of plots that make the book a complete whole thus showing why his work is considered among the greatest of literature. Yet Dickens is also a bit too wordy resulting in scenes taking longer than they should and making some readers like myself, to start skimming through places in the later half of the book when a character that likes to spout off begins having a soliloquy of some indeterminable length at the expense of missing something connected to the slowly culminating climax.


Bleak House turns out to show Charles Dickens at his best as well as showing off what might be his one little flaw. The interesting characters and multilayered narrative keep the reader engaged throughout the book even as they must sometimes endure Dickens wordiness that might drown them in unnecessary prose. Though over 900 pages, a reader should not feel intimidated given that many Dickens books are an extraordinary length and the reader keeps on being engaged throughout their reading experience so that length does not matter.

Discovering the City of Sodom: The Fascinating, True Account of the Old Testament’s Most Infamous City

Discovering the City of Sodom: The Fascinating, True Account of the Discovery of the Old Testament's Most Infamous City - Steven Collins Phd, Latayne C. Scott

The Genesis 18-19 account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah has become part of the Western cultural zeitgeist and its location a mystery ever since the beginning of Biblical archaeology.  Discovering the City of Sodom: The Fascinating, True Account of the Old Testament’s Most Infamous City by Steven Collins and Latayne C. Scott goes into the decade-long excavation of a site in Jordan that Collins purposes the evidence points towards it being the location of the destroyed city.


Much of the book is written by Collins who first explores the everything around the account of Sodom in Genesis and denoting that it must be read “authentically” not “literally”.  One of Collin’s most important points early on is looking at the actual Hebrew wording of the text and what important words actually mean, this factors into where Collins believes the Bible locates the city of Sodom not at what is the bottom of the southern Dead Sea or on its southeast coast but on the eastern side of the Jordan River opposite Jericho.  After laying out what the Bible actually says about Sodom and the historical era the Bible describes it in—the Middle Bronze Age—Collins then goes into the what his numerous archaeological excavations at Tall el-Hammam have made him believes he’s found Biblical Sodom including the fact that after the large city that was located there was destroyed in the Middle Bronze Age, nothing was rebuilt there until the Iron Age around 700 years later.  Scott’s contribution was related Collin’s professional journey giving tours that located Sodom at the traditional southern Dead Sea location to his letting reading of the Bible lead him to look for a large prosperous city in the Jordan plain across from Jericho and the discoveries made at el-Hammam that made Collins realize he had found the city of Sodom.


Both Collins and Scott did a very good job with their respective parts of the book with Collins focused on the academic side and Scott doing a biographical look at Collins’ personal journey over several decades when connected to this subject.  The biggest positive of the book is Collins’ balance of keeping to the authenticity of the Biblical account and dealing with facts found in the dirt, not only at el-Hammam but across the Levant.  The biggest issue with the book is the same as another book by Collins’ and that is layout as the maps were placed in the back of the book and not nearer to the relevant text where they would be helpful.  However, given that there were two authors the change of font style denoting when each author was writing was a very choice.


Discovering the City of Sodom is an enlightening read with Collins’ engaging writing that made what could have been dry academic details lively while Scott’s biographical sketches give a more personal touch.  While the layout of the book is a bit of a mixed bag with differing fonts denoting which author was writing is a positive, the placing of maps in the back of the book instead of near the text that they illustrated is a negative.  Whether you agree with Collins’ archaeological discoveries and research, this is a informative read about the era of the Middle Bronze Age in the Levant.

Zero Hour (Power Plays #7)

Zero Hour (Tom Clancy's Power Plays, #7) - Tom Clancy, Jerome Preisler, Martin H. Greenberg

Precious stones, secret technology, and black-market deals plus New York City makes for an interesting combination that slowly finds UpLink getting involved via an unexpected source.  Zero Hour is the seventh book of Tom Clancy’s Power Plays series written by Jeremy Preisler who brings together secondary characters from previous books to join the main cast.


Patrick Sullivan leaves his mistress’ apartment to meet his buyer of artificially created sapphires as well as plans for a laser gun codenamed Dragonfly but is killed by his buyer and becomes a missing person.  Sullivan’s employer, a Pakistani national who doesn’t know Sullivan stole the plan, is planning to use the laser gun for a massive terrorist attack by releasing a deadly acid vapor cloud over New York City as well as sell the other prototype to Muslim freedom fighters in Kashmir.  Sullivan’s wife goes to an UpLink employee who was his last meeting and asked for Sword’s help—thanks to newspaper reporting on UpLink’s help to find the Russian conspirators who attacked Time’s Square—to find her husband.  The employee goes around the local Sword leader to Roger Gordian to ask for the favor forcing the new UpLink CEO to send Tom Ricci to New York to investigate the matter.  Ricci and the local Sword leader discuss her investigation into Sullivan’s employer on what to do with the Sullivan matter then Ricci goes to upstate New York to spy on Sullivan’s employer and sees men packing things into a U-Haul that he tails to a nearby motel and has a local Sword operative observe it while learning where it was rented.  Unfortunately, one of the terrorists make the lookout and arrange an escape, but Ricci meets with Sullivan’s murderer and learns about the Dragonfly that he connects with where the U-Haul was rented.  Ricci leads a Sword team that intercepts that van just before the laser gun was powered up.


Honestly the above synopsis is leaving out two subplots that at the end of the book amounted to just taking up space even though one was entertaining and had potential to add to the overall story but fizzled to nothing.  Upon ending this book it wasn’t hard to rate this the worst book of the Power Plays series as nothing really came together and Preisler focused on characters who in the end amounted to nothing in the overall scheme of things while a character study on Ricci was underwhelming.  And as one of the shortest books in the series it really tells and exposes one of the biggest weaknesses of Preisler’s writing.


Zero Hour is short and devoid of coherence in the various narrative threads while focusing on characters that in the end did not having anything to do with the endgame.  Jeremy Preisler has written some good installments of this series, but all the things he’s done wrong in the so-so installments were on display making for a disappointing book.

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicles #1)

The Name of the Wind  - Patrick Rothfuss

Some innkeepers are just friendly entrepreneurs, but some had lives before and one is a myth in his own time.  The Name of the Wind is the first book in Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicles as the mysterious innkeeper Kote recounts the actual events of his life to a chronicler whose come looking for him.


After dealing with polite bandits, a chronicler finds a man building up a fire off the road and the two are attacked by spider-like monsters and the chronicler is knocked out.  Waking up two days later the chronicler finds that the man is the innkeeper where he’s sleeping and who he was looking for to write down his life.  The innkeeper, Kote, says the chronicler has the wrong person only to be confronted by his real name, Kvothe, and agrees if he tells it over three days which the chronicler agrees to.  Throughout the next day around the events of patrons and Kvothe’s fae student Bast, Kvothe tells the events of his early life from travelling with his parents among the performing troop they led, their murder by the mythical The Chandrian, and his three years surviving in the streets of Tarbean before finding a way to the University and being admitted thanks to the yearlong schooling—in both mundane and “magical” disciplines—he had from an arcanist Abenthy who travelled with this troupe.  Once in the University, Kvothe gets on the bad side of several Masters and another student, Ambrose, in his first few days through he rises through the ranks of students quickly but is also banded from the University’s Archives.  Kvothe describes his studies and battle against poverty over several terms, as well as his rivalry with Ambrose, before adding the element of his lute and singing at a nearby tavern where he meets Denna who begins becoming an obsession to him.  After escaping an attempt on his life by Ambrose, Kvothe learns about a Chandrian attack and travels to the village meets up with Denna and has a run in with a drug-addled draccus to save the village.  Returning to the University, Ambrose destroys Kvothe’s lute which results in Kvothe using “the name of the wind” wounding Ambrose which results in his getting whipped though advanced in the standings of the University with a new Master sponsor.  The book ends with the leader of the bandits that stole from Chronicler come into the inn though it’s a demon in the man’s skin, killing one of the patrons while the blacksmith’s apprentice kills it.  Later that night, Bast confronts Chronicler that his job is to make Kvothe a hero again over the next two days or something unpleasant would happen to him.


The hype surrounding this book made me cautious as I began reading it not wanting to heighten my expectations, which resulted in me getting interested in the story until the scene shifted to the University resulting in the book become tedious until Kvothe finally left for his excursion and interaction with the draccus.  Frankly a lot of this book I felt was a different version of Harry Potter, which isn’t fair to Rothfuss especially when the action picks up in the flashback narrative or the Waystone Inn scenes of which the later I back looking forward too because they were more engaging.


The Name of the Wind is an overall nice book and hopefully sets up a lot more exciting stuff in the next two books of Patrick Rothfuss’ trilogy.  While I personally didn’t buy into the hype that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t finish the trilogy, at this point at least, because there are very engaging scenes that Rothfuss writes that make the book a page turner.

Let My People Go!: Using Historical Synchronisms to Identify the Pharaoh of the Exodus

Let My People Go!: Using Historical Synchronisms to Identify the Pharaoh of the Exodus - Steven Collins

The debate on if the Bible is historical comes down to one event for proponents on both sides, The Exodus, not only if it happened but when.  Let My People Go!: Using Historical Synchronisms to Identify the Pharaoh of the Exodus by Steven Collins combines what the Biblical text says with the historical record that Egyptologists and other historians have pieced together from numerous ancient sources in search of the man who Moses confronted.


Collins begins by examining the variables of the problem at hand from the actual Biblical account of events as well as the geographic extent of place names used, the propagandic nature of Pharaonic Egypt, and the on-the-ground facts that modern Egyptologists have constructed to get at actual history behind the propaganda.  Using the Biblical account of the events from the time of Joseph to Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, in particular the consequences and impact of the Exodus events on Egypt, Collins looked to see if they matched up with Egyptian and wider Middle Eastern history at anytime to see if the Bible was historically accurate.  Using this “synchronism” method, Collins pinpointed the 18th Dynasty’s rise as an anti-Semitic, due to the foreign Hyksos, empire that reached the Euphrates to it’s suddenly rapid fall internationally with domestic upheaval as seen with Akhenaten to the era that matched most of the points of reference.  Collins then eliminated one-by-one the established candidates of the 18th Dynasty, as well as Ramesses II given popular culture, that Biblical scholars and mainstream Egyptologists put forward as the Pharaoh of the Exodus then showed how the “synchronism” timeline didn’t match the historical timeline.  Collins ends the main body of the text with establishing Thutmose IV, the last Pharaoh of the powerful Thutmosid empire before it’s dramatic decline under his son Amenhotep III and grandson Akhenaten, as fitting perfectly the events of the Bible to go with the historical record.


In roughly 142 pages filled with text as well as tables and charts, Collins puts forward his case for the Pharaoh of the Exodus.  Overall the scholarly portion of this monograph is very good for familiar with the Bible and the general history of the era, yet Collins unfortunately tried to find a middle ground between his main audience of Christians (fundamentalists or otherwise) and general readers that did not work as he explained a tad too much for one and too little for the other.  The short length of the book and its layout between the covers were also problematic.  In lengthening the book to explain certain things like the avenue of mainstream research he was comparing the Biblical events to and the leading Egyptologists behind them, even if those same individuals find the Exodus dubious; the book’s layout was unfortunately a mess considering it had very informative tables and charts, but those items were times with the text explaining them and at others back in the appendixes resulting the use of numerous bookmarks or looking back and forth.


Let My People Go! is an informative look at the Biblical narrative of the Israelite sojourn in Egypt, the Exodus, and the beginning of the Conquest in comparison to the mainstream view of ancient Egyptian and Middle Eastern history.  While Steven Collins brings a lot of knowledge to the subject and does well to bring it across to the reader, his efforts are undercut by length and layout of the book which doesn’t do justice to his argument.


Harleen - Stjepan Sejic

She has become one of the most popular comic characters in the past few decades though her character began on the greatest superhero animated series of all-time.  Harleen is a character origin story written and drawn by Stjepan Sejic about Dr. Harleen Quinzel’s turn into Joker’s right-hand woman Harley Quinn.


Professionally struggling psychiatrist Dr. Harleen Quinzel doesn’t know what to do with her career as her theory on the suppression of empathy for too long as part of the flight or fight response results in losing it and being mentally unbalanced.  After a failed grant presentation and a late night of drinking her disappointment away, Harleen is walking home when she suddenly finds herself at gunpoint across from The Joker only for Batman to save her.  The next day she is surprised when Lucius Fox gives her a grant from the Wayne Foundation to pursue research on her theory at Arkham Asylum.  Harleen interviews the inmates, a who’s who of Batman’s rogue’s gallery, except Joker until she breaks down and does so.  All throughout this time, she can’t sleep which is affecting her perception and thinking.  The Joker quickly realizes she’s his ticket out and through his contacts gets her research to manipulate her in the future.  But Harleen’s theory doesn’t sit well with Harvey Dent who wants her to quit, which she refuses and days later he is attacked with acid to the face.  But the mob boss who attacked him is kidnapped by rogue police officers who execute him and release the video though it shows Batman and Robin coming in at the end.  The arrival of “the Executioners” seems to make the Joker’s interviews stand out and she focuses on him for her research, though he has nothing to do with the rogue officers.  Dent recovers though the acid also caused brain damage, ironically taking away his empathy, and he publicly derides the failures of the system which makes the Executioners come to him looking for instructions.  Dent’s plan is to release the inmates of either Arkham or Blackgate Prison to cause havoc in Gotham City to make the general pubic allow for literally executing offenders.  The coin toss lands in favor of Arkham and they stage a raid on the Asylum to release the inmates, but once free Joker tells his fellow inmates that the Executioners are there to kill them which sets them off on a rampage on their rescuers.  Harleen rushing into the Asylum to find Joker, not only her patient but now lover, kills a security guard to save Joker’s life then has a mental breakdown as a result and becomes Harley.


Sejic did a wonderful job in building upon the foundations that Paul Dini and Bruce Timm laid in Batman: The Animated Series of Harley Quinn/Harleen Quinzel’s origin as Joker’s doctor to his henchwoman-lover.  Taking advantage of the DC Black Label’s adult focus imprint, Sejic shows how Harleen’s slow mental spiral between reality and a living dream/nightmare develops throughout the book including a stunning final page that brings things into clear focus.  Sejic includes references to previous incarnations of Joker in various Batman media adaptations now and again as nods to the past, which do not distract from the main story adds to the enjoyment of fans of the franchise.  As a longtime fan of Sejic’s art, the book showcases it magnificently and frankly I wanted to go back through ignoring the text and study every panel again.


Harleen is the story of an earnest, dedicated psychiatrist slowly through her own actions and skillful manipulation of her patient joins those she wanted to help.  Stjepan Sejic’s wonderfully written and amazing drawn story is a must get for anyone that is a fan of the character or a fan of a well-constructed origin story.

A.G. Daniells: Shaper of Twentieth Century Adventism

A. G. Daniells: Shaper of Twentieth-Century Adventism - Benjamin McArthur

The man tasked with heading the implementation of a new administrative structure of a growing world-wide church and later to lead that church after the death of its prophet.  A.G. Daniells: Shaper of Twentieth Century Adventism by Benjamin McArthur follows the life of the longest-serving General Conference President in the history of the Seventh-day Adventist church which simultaneously corresponded with a rapidly changing world and church in the first two decades of the 20th Century.


McArthur efficiently covers Daniells early life in Iowa and his humble beginning in service of the denomination as a minister in the Iowa Conference and a missionary in Texas before being called to be a missionary in New Zealand.  Then beginning with Daniells time in New Zealand and then Australia, McArthur details not only how Daniells time in the Southern Hemisphere made him a strong supporter of world missions but also brought forth his administrative skill as this faraway branch of the growing worldwide church innovated in bureaucracy to compensate for the distance away from world headquarters in the United States.  Daniells return to the United States was the precursor to his election at the 1901 General Conference session to be President and the much-needed administrative overhaul of the church using the model Daniells had helped shape while overseas.  McArthur’s attention to detail examples how this overhaul not only shaped the overall church, but Daniells presidency which was early dominated with the controversy with John Harvey Kellogg and the medical establishment of the church then the resulting fallout and need to reestablish the medical wing of the denomination.  Among the biggest struggles McArthur’s book brought out was the budgetary reform to get the denomination out of debt, which played into the controversy with Kellogg, when building new institutions.  But one thing was always in the forefront of McArthur’s analysis of Daniells’ presidency—and before—his relationship to Ellen G. White, whose opinion mattered not only to church officials but regular church members.  And it would be his relationship with White and her prophetic gift that would end his presidency due to the rise of fundamentalism that crept into denomination and Daniells perceived lack of belief in her gift.  McArthur closes out Daniells life with how he became an advisor to his two successors as well as his authorship of two important Adventist books including defending White’s prophetic gift.


Given the significance of Daniells time as General Conference president, McArthur focused the bulk of his biography on the 21 years he served in that office with extensive scholarship as seen in the citations at the end of each chapter.  Though covering many topics over Daniells life, McArthur’s prose was engaging and allowing the reader to understand the interconnectedness of numerous issues Daniells had to deal without overwhelming them.  One of the interesting things McArthur did early in the book to give context to Daniells and his time was comparing him important non-denominational figures who had a similar impact in their professions as he did with the General Conference, one of which was Theodore Roosevelt.  But the most important facet of the biography was Daniells’ relationship with Ellen White and the gift of prophecy which McArthur’s scholarship is shown at its best.


A.G. Daniells: Shaper of Twentieth Century Adventism is not only the biography of one man but shows how the Seventh-day Adventist church’s administrative structure was reset to accomplish its mission to the world.  Benjamin McArthur’s excellent scholarship and engaging writing gives the reader an insight into how significant this time in the church’s history is important for today and how one individual was able to use his skills to help move the denomination forward.

Henry Clay: The Essential American

Henry Clay: The Essential American - Jeanne T. Heidler, David S. Heidler

One—if not the most—of the most influential politicians in American history who never became President, though he tried several times, was praised and vilified throughout his life then slowly forgotten in the century and a half after his death.  Henry Clay: The Essential American by David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler follows the dramatic political rise, the stunning setbacks, and tragic family life of the man who became Andrew Jackson’s great enemy and Abraham Lincoln’s great hero.


The Heidler’s begins moments after Clay’s death and describes the journey of his body to Lexington with the outpouring of honor along the way then turn their attention as to how Clay became so honored.  Born in eastern Virginia as a scion of a long-time colonial family and fatherless early in life, Clay was fortunate to have a stepfather and several mentors who gave him opportunities which he took hold off and used to establish himself in the legal profession in Kentucky.  Though idealistic early in his political career, especially on the issue of slavery in the state, Clay downplayed it sooner after to gain connections especially through marriage and accumulation of wealth in which slaves were an important facet though he would continue to advocate for his brand for emancipation throughout his life.  Clay’s time in the Kentucky legislature foreshadowed the parliamentary advancements he would bring to the House and later the Senate, especially the Committee of the Whole which allowed Clay as Speaker of both the Kentucky and U.S House to join debates.  A staunch Jeffersonian Democratic-Republican, Clay’s views and future policies would shift to include several Hamiltonian policies like a National Bank and tariffs but in Republican language.  Upon his arrival in Washington in 1811 until his death 41 years later, Clay would be the most influential man in the city even though he never resided in the White House which would be occupied by either his allies or his avowed enemies though he would campaign for the Presidency either actively or with the am to from 1824 to 1848.  Three times during his time in Washington, he championed the Union in the 1820 Missouri Compromise, the 1833 Nullification crisis, and the Compromise of 1850 his final political act as slavery threatened to ripe the country apart.


First and foremost this was a political biography which the Heidlers expertly detailed for the reader, however Clay was a family man with a particularly tragic tinge as all of his daughters predeceased their parents with Clay’s namesake dying in the Mexican-American War while another was to spend half his life in an asylum.  The issue of slavery is given significant space in various parts of the book as the Heidlers put Clay’s views in context of their time and how he was as a slaveowner, but don’t excuse him for hold human beings as property.  Though not stated explicitly this was also a light history of the Whig party primarily because, until slavery tore it apart, Henry Clay embodied the party even when younger members decided to jettison its ideological center for Presidential victory.


Henry Clay: The Essential American details the life of the most important politician of the Antebellum era.  The husband-wife historian team of David S. and Jeanne Heidler write a very scholarly yet lively history of the man and his times that gives the reader a view of how important their subject was during his time on the national scene.

Into the Fire (Op-Center #14)

Into the Fire - George Galdorisi, Dick Couch

The hermit kingdom is looking to take on an apparently limping superpower by once again scoring a propaganda coup by taking a naval crew hostage, but this time Op-Center and a resilient US Navy Commander have different ideas.  Into the Fire is Dick Couch and George Galdorisi’s second installment in the Op-Center franchise reboot which sees North Korea and the United States on a collision course for war and the crew of a US ship caught in the middle.


After finding substantial reserves of oil and other energy resources in the Yellow Sea, North Korea negotiates with China to get military equipment in exchange for said energy resources, so China doesn’t have to depend on the Middle East.  However, to get those energy resources North Korea needs to expand its claim in the area and plans to do so by taking a crew of a US Navy ship as hostage believing the U.S. would agree for something so simple as changing the lines of their territorial waters.  Masking their operation at sea with troop movements to the DMZ, the North Koreans target the minesweeper USS Milwaukee during a joint exercise with South Koreans.  The Milwaukee’s captain, Kate Bigelow, unknowing that she’s the target leads two North Korean ships on a chase before a missile strike cripples the ship forcing her ground it on a small South Korean island not far from the North Korean coast.  Just before the attack, Op-Center’s top Geek Aaron Bleich notifies Director Chase Williams and begins following the high-seas drama until the ship’s grounding.  Williams sends Op-Center’s Joint Special Operations Command team to Japan where it gets together with local SEAL team to find a way to get the crew off the island as the North Koreans and a US Fleet are at literal arms-length from the island on the verge of war.  Using an experimental minisub to ferry the crew from the island to waiting nuclear subs, the JSOC stops a North Korean commando unit before calling in cruise missiles to destroy the Milwaukee.  However North Korea’s supreme leader wants to send a message to the world and activates a terror cell in New York to destroy the UN, but Bleich’s Geek team finds out and notifies Williams who sends in a FBI Critical Incident Response Group team to New York to stop the attack.  After one of the North Koreans calls her mother to say goodbye, not believing her leader’s promise they’ll make it out alive, Bleich’s team gives the CIRG and NYPD a location near the UN to surround and prevent the team from accomplishing their mission though they commit suicide and takeout a CIRG helicopter with a quarter of the team.  The US and China come to an agreement about isolating North Korea and the energy resources in the Yellow Sea, but neither side is happy especially the Chinese at the loss of face at North Korea’s actions.


The focus on one plot was in instant improvement over the initial book of the reboot of the franchise helmed by Couch and Galdorisi, then add a quickly moving story that keeps the reader engaged throughout.  The Op-Center team in Washington headed by Williams and prominently featuring Bleich and his Geek Team was well executed, yet the Op-Center personnel with the JSOC team seemed a little heavy on direct involvement from office personnel like Mike Rodgers did in the original series.  Kate Bigelow was the character who did the heavy lifting through the book and was well written, unfortunately her first officer was a cliché out-of-his-depth liability that was a poor attempt to make Bigelow look better when she didn’t need it.


Into the Fire is a action-packed, quick moving thriller that keeps the reader hooked from beginning to end.  Overall Dick Couch and George Galdorisi brought together an intriguing plot and great cast of characters to bring forth a good book, though there are missteps it doesn’t hurt the book too much to make the reader lose interest.

Sahara (Dirk Pitt #11)

Sahara (Dirk Pitt, #11) - Clive Cussler

Within the vastness of the Malian Sahara hides numerous mysteries, some like the desert itself are deadly and some will change history.  Sahara is the eleventh book in Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt series as the titular character traverses back and forth across to save the world from a threat created from chemical pollutants.


A week before the surrender at Appomattox the ironclad CSS Texas runs the gauntlet of Union ships and artillery down the James River then heads out to the Atlantic after displaying their prisoner, Abraham Lincoln.  Secretary of War Edwin Stanton sets up a hoax assassination with the murder of an actor at Ford’s Theater by setting up John Wilkes Booth.  In 1931 Kitty Mannock is flying over the Sahara in quest of a new aviation record when a sandstorm takes out her engine and she crashes in the desert; she dies ten days later but after finding an iron ship.  In the present a convoy of tourists crossing the Sahara reach a scheduled stop at a village in the country of Mali where they are attacked by red-eyed savages who kill and eat them, with only the tour guide escaping.  Meanwhile, working in Egypt on an archaeological mapping of the Nile, Dirk Pitt rescues Dr. Eva Rojas, a scientist working for the World Health Organization, from assassins sent by the military dictator of Mali Zateb Kazim with the backing of French businessman Yves Massarde. Eva’s WHO team flies to Mali investigate a mysterious disease while Pitt, Al Giordino, and Rudy Gunn are ordered up the Niger River to find a pollutant that is causing red tide to mushroom out of control and where that pollutant is coming from.  The WHO team and the NUMA trio run afoul of Kazim and Massarde with the former captured and sent to a unknown gold mine as slave labor and the former running around Mali to find the source of the pollutant that Gunn has identified and escaped the country to report on.  Pitt and Giordino find out Massarde’s detoxification facility is the culprit but are captured and sent to the gold mine, but escape over the desert and only saved by finding Kitty Mannock’s plane and salvage the parts to escape to Algeria via land yacht.  Once in Algeria, Pitt and Giordino lead a UN rescue team on an assault on the gold mine to rescue foreign nations then battle the Malians in an abandoned French Foreign Legion fort until US Special Forces arrive in relief and kill Kazim in the process.  Pitt and Giordino capture Massarde, poison him with contaminated water so he dies as a savage madman.  The two then venture out into the Sahara using Mannock’s journal to locate the CSS Texas and find Lincoln.


The Lincoln subplot—including everything connected with it—is the major reason this book barely gets the rating it does, it’s bad and ruins an otherwise good book.  The next complaint is the “happy ever after” type ending which features the secondary characters introduced in the books, which along with the previous subplot soured the ending of the book.  Cussler’s female characters were an assortment of good and bad, the tertiary characters like soldiers in the UN rescue team who were actual soldiers not medics stood out because the major female character (Rojas) might have been a doctor but was two-dimensional.  The main plot with Pitt, Giordino, and the major antagonists was actually very good as well as the Kitty Mannock subplot, however everything else just brought it down the overall book.


Sahara is a book that was good but could have been better if not for subplot and characterization choices that Clive Cussler made.  Pitt is at his action-packed adventurer best, but it was fringe features that distracted me from enjoying things.

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye (Millennium #5)

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye - David Lagercrantz

Months after confronting her sister and feeling that she is become far to well-known, Lisbeth Salander can’t help but stand up for the underdog as well get revenge on those that made her childhood hell.  The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye is the fifth book of the Millennium series and second written by David Lagercrantz that follows Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist as they examine the twisted history of Sweden’s recent past.


Nearing the end of a two-month jail sentence for crimes committed while protecting August Balder, Lisbeth Salander observes that Bangladeshi prisoner Faria Kasi is tormented nightly by ruthless prisoner Beatrice "Benito" Andersson.  Already needing to use a computer after a visit from her former guardian Holger Palmgren informs her that she was involved in something called the Registry.  Suspicious, Salander forces the Warden to let her use his computer, where she learns the Registry is a secret project that places exceptional children in specific environments to test the effects on their growth.  Salander asks journalist Mikael Blomkvist to investigate in her stead, pointing him to wealthy businessman Leo Mannheimer. Blomkvist learns that Mannheimer had been acting strangely lately and comes to suspect that not only does he have a twin, Dan Brody, but Brody has been going around pretending to be Mannheimer.  Meanwhile Palmgren’s investigation alerts Rakel Greitz who poisons him and takes the file. Blomkvist arrives too late, but Palmgren tells him to find Hilda von Kanterborg, a former Registry agent whose initials were in the file, before he dies.  Blomkvist tracks Hilda down and, though she doesn't believe Dan stole Leo's identity, she confirms that they are twins. She also tells him that Greitz tried to take Salander away from her family as a child as part of the experiment, only for her to react violently and escape.  Blomkvist confronts Mannheimer who, after saving him from Greitz' henchman Benjamin, reveals that he is Dan and why he’s impersonating his brother.  While this is happening, the Warden of Flodberga makes plans to transfer Benito to another prison. Upon learning this, Benito prepares to kill Faria, which she reveals she was hired to do by Faria's brothers. However, Salander stops and severely injures her, sending her to the hospital.  After Salander is released, she investigates Faria's history, learning how she ended up in prison and that her brother Bashir hired Benito.  Salander tricks Bashir into confessing on video and convinces Faria’s younger brother Khalil to do the same to the police for a murder he committed. She then plans to go after Greitz after talking with Blomkvist, only to be kidnapped by Bashir and an escaped Benito. She gets an alert out to her hacker allies, who manage to track the truck they're in and alert the police. With Faria's help, the police find them just as Salander escapes and arrest Benito, Bashir, and their colleagues. After recovering from a wound sustained in her escape, Salander confronts and subdues Greitz and Benjamin, deciding to spare the former so she can suffer the shame of her reputation being ruined as she's arrested.  Faria's charges are lowered and she's presumably released. The people involved with the Registry are sent to prison as Millennium publishes Leo and Dan's story. Everyone who knew Palmgren gather for his funeral, where Salander makes a speech about her guardian.


While the novel is entertaining in areas, the plot is sluggish and the tension relying on an overreliance of annoying tricks. In fact, the book doesn’t feel like a Salander novel as it’s labeled because compared to the Larrson trilogy she’s only an instigator to the plot while Blomkvist feels to be more important of the two main characters.  Lagercrantz’s own created characters were focused on more than Salander thus making it seem like she’s only billed on the cover to sell books.  Its hard to know that if this book wasn’t connected with the Millennium what I would think of it, but given it is I’ve got to rate it the lowest of the series so far even after a good previous installment.


The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye feels off from the rest of the Millennium series and doesn’t measure up to David Lagercrantz’s previous effort in the series.  While some parts are entertaining and add to Salander’s mythos, she is in the background of a book that bills her as the main character.

White Sand (Volume I)

Brandon Sanderson's White Sand Volume 1 - Brandon Sanderson, Rik Hoskin

The desert planet of Taldain is locked between two suns so that that with one side is constantly in light and the other in constant darkness with powerful magic apparently only occurring amongst the sands on the dayside.  The first volume of Brandon Sanderson’s White Sand graphic novel trilogy is an introduction to a new world of the Cosmere and another unique magic system.


Kenton, a weak but skilled sand master, tries to earn a higher-ranking position in the guild of sand masters by running the Mastrell's Path, despite the disapproval of his father, the Lord Mastrell. The day after Kenton proves himself on the Path, the sand masters gather for a ceremony where new rank advancements will be granted. One man, Drile, is demoted for having attempted to sell out himself and others as mercenaries. Just as Kenton is grudgingly granted the highest rank, his father is shot with an arrow, and an army of Kerztian warriors attacks. The sand masters, being surprised and unprepared, are soundly defeated. Just before his death, the Lord Mastrell unleashes a wave of power that leaves Kenton buried beneath the sand.  After waking, Kenton is joined by Khrissalla, Baon, and two Darkside professors who are lost. They are searching for information about Khriss' late fiancé and the "sand mages" he sought. On the way to the nearest city, they are attacked by a small group of Kerztian warriors. Kenton's sand mastery suddenly proves to be inaccessible, but Baon drives the warriors away with his gun.  Upon arriving in Kezare, Kenton's powers return with greater strength than ever, and he stands before the Taishin, who plan to disband the Diem of sand masters. He is granted the position of acting Lord Mastrell and is given two weeks to convince the Taishin otherwise. Kenton returns to the Diem and drives away the rebellious Drile, who Kenton believes was responsible for betraying the sand masters to the Kerztians. Elsewhere, Trackt Ais works to catch a crime lord, Sharezan, amid threats to her family. The Lady Judge meets with Ais and asks her to spy on Kenton. Meanwhile, Khriss inadvertently locates Loaten, an infamous Darksider, in her search for information. He offers little direct help but sets her on a path to meet with the leaders in the city. Ignorant of the role of the sand masters, and of Kenton's new station, she arrives at the Diem just as Drile returns to do battle with Kenton.


The story has all the hallmarks of Sanderson book with excellent execution of character introduction and conflict amongst the important members of the cast.  The art of Julius Gopez and coloring of Ross A. Campbell bring this unique world and environment alive very well.  However, while the elements that makes Sanderson, well Sanderson, are there the book also doesn’t feel like Sanderson.  I do not want to blame scriptwriter Rik Hoskin for this, the change of format to graphic novel from the usual book could be the main factor and Hoskin could very well be the reason this story still reads like a Sanderson story but there is a noticeable difference from other Sanderson works.  The other main issue I somewhat have is more biological than story, the color pigmentation of the characters is reversed from what it should be given the planetary environment they are living in unless there was a cosmic shift that changed things.


White Sands Volume I is a wonderful addition to Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere and is given a unique place in it with the graphic novel format.  The art and color are amazing, yet the change from word medium to visual does have an impact on how Sanderson’s style comes across.  Overall a very good beginning with story, characters, and atmosphere.

Cutting Edge (Power Plays #6)

Cutting Edge - Tom Clancy, Martin Greenberg, Jerome Preisler

In equatorial Africa as a small nation attempts to become a leader in the region through its offshore resources and becoming headquarters to information revolution for all of Africa, but who is in charge is suddenly up in the air.  Cutting Edge is the sixth book of Tom Clancy’s Power Plays series written by Jerome Preisler, as Roger Gordian’s UpLink International takes over a pan-African fiberoptic network he unexpectedly finds himself against Harlan DeVane who’s attacked his company and tried to kill him already.


Offshore of Gabon two divers for a French technology company die after sabotaged by Harlan DeVane’s associates which leads to the company selling their fiberoptic network to UpLink and getting government approval even though DeVane bribed numerous politicians to stop it.  Pete Nimec leads the Sword team as UpLink moves into the country as DeVane plans to strike at UpLink and Gordian himself.  DeVane begins to harass UpLink’s buildup including an assault on a convoy, but as a distraction for his main strike against Gordian.  DeVane activates his mercenary agent who activates his sleeper sell in the United States that stalks the Gordian family before finding a target, his daughter Julia.  The DeVane’s crew abducts Julia from the greyhound rescue shelter she’s been volunteering at, killing one of the owners and her infant daughter in the process.  After the police visit UpLink headquarters, Tom Ricci begins investigating her kidnapping skirting around the police to get evidence that quickly leads to the conclusion it’s the same man who he faced off in Ukraine and Ontario.  DeVane sends Gordian a ransom message to dissolve his company immediately or his daughter dies, however before Gordian decides to do so Ricci finds where Julia is being kept and leads a Sword team that rescues her and kills the mercenary that’s trouble them for years.  In the end, DeVane slinks away from Gabon.


Preisler emphasize characters and technology throughout the book, not at the expense the plot but the narrative was quickly transitioned from one time period to another until towards the end during Julia’s kidnapping.  Though Preisler does a great job at exploring DeVane’s, Nimec’s, Ricci’s, and the mercenary’s characters in this book and keeps the reader hooked; yet the departures into technological explanations bogged the book down at times.  This book was longer than the previous installment which resulted in a overall better book.


Cutting Edge is a return to the very good standard that Preisler established in this series after the substandard previous installment.  With DeVane exit at the end of the book, the best subplot of the three of the last four books is finished with a bit of satisfaction for the reader that’s invested in the reading the series.

The Story of Wales

The Story of Wales - Jon Gower

The perception of Wales has changed over the past two millennia not only within its own borders, but also how others look at it.  The Story of Wales by Jon Gower follows the 30,000-year history of the land that would one day become Wales that’s story is still being told today.


Beginning with a prehistoric burial during a warm period of the Ice Age era, Gower takes the reader through the human occupation of the 8,023 square miles that would become Wales.  Until after the Roman occupation, the people within Wales were apart of the larger Briton culture, it was only after the Anglo-Saxons came that Wales came into being and the Welsh identity began to be formed.  While both the evolving English and the evolving Welsh had many petty kingdoms eventually the English unite while the Welsh didn’t not, resulting in the larger kingdom slowly beginning to influence its smaller neighbors.  After the Norman conquest, the Welsh were almost always on the cultural defensive until they finally were overthrown by Edward I.  As a conquered people the Welsh attempted to keep themselves united but the things changed with the Welsh-descended Tudors making their leaders important but also saw them annexed by England resulting in English laws and language being more and more forced upon them for the next 400 years.  Gower goes into the effects of the Reformation and later Nonconformity upon the Welsh as well as how the land, or more importantly what’s under the surface, lead to the nation becoming the first to be industrialized not England.  Yet even with all the work, the Welsh were still oppressed as outside—English—money and ownership dominated them resulting the rise of labor unions resulting in first Welsh liberalism then later Labour beliefs in the 20th Century.  Gower ends the book about how modern Welsh identity has been centered around saving the Welsh language and how it’s unique cultural traits are being revived and saved along with how the successes of Welsh Rugby have united the nation over the past century ultimately resulting the political devolution.


Boiling down millennia of history is not easy, but Gower does a remarkable good job at juggling the political, the cultural, and everything in between.  However, how accurate some of the details are is a little questionable especially in relation to other nations as Gower has several mistakes especially relating to English history—Henry Tudor is mentioned as both a Lancastrian and Yorkist claimant within a few paragraphs—thus making it not a perfect book.  Yet it feels that Gower, a Welshman himself, knows his Welsh history and facts thus making this a very reliable read.


The Story of Wales is fascinating read of a small nation that has survived its uniqueness throughout almost two millennia of facing a large political and cultural entity on its doorstep.  Jon Gower knows Wales and its history thus making this a very good read for anyone of Welsh descent—like me—interested about where their ancestors came from.


Warbreaker - Brandon Sanderson

Princesses, an atheistic god, two near immortals who have history, a zombie army, and an interesting magic system that involves color can only result in something very interesting happening.  Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker follows two princesses in a strange land, a grumpy near immortal, and a god that doesn’t believe in himself as politics, religion, and personal conflicts swirl together to either bring peace or war.


Idrian princess Vivenna has been prepared her entire life to marry the God King but at the last moment her father sends her unprepared and carefree youngest sister Siri instead. Vivenna follows hoping of save her sister and meets with Lemex, her father spy in the city, and a team of mercenaries in his employ led by Denth.  However, Lemex dies shortly thereafter, though not before bequeathing his large sum of BioChromatic Breath to her.  Vivenna and Denth’s team begin making guerilla attacks against Hallandren's supply depots and convoys that will hopefully give the Idrians an advantage in the seemingly inevitable war all the time watched by one Vasher, a mysterious man who can use his Breath to Awaken objects and wielder of a sentient sword called Nightblood.  Siri, after spending many terrified nights waiting for the God King to consummate the marriage, finds that he is not actually the feared entity that she thought, but has actually had his tongue cut out by his priests, making him nothing more than a figurehead. They bond as Siri teaches the God King to communicate, however she comes believes that the priests are secretly plotting to kill her and the God King if she produces an heir, and fears that Hallandren will soon launch a war against Idris. Siri finds potential allies in the unorthodox god Lightsong, who is plagued by nightmares of war and is struggling to discover his purpose, and the Pahn Kahl servants headed by Bluefingers.  After being temporarily kidnapped by Vasher, Vivenna discovers that Denth is not working for her but against her, having been hired by an unknown third party to instigate the war with Idris, and she barely escapes their custody with her life. Vasher finds her after weeks hiding and living destitute in the Idrian slums of Hallandren.  Together, Vivenna and Vasher work to undo the damage done by Denth and avert the war before Vivenna convinces Vasher to try and save her sister. However, Vasher is captured and tortured by Denth, who is revealed to have been working for the God King's Pahn Kahl servants, who are trying to incite war between the Idrians and Hallendren so that they can take gain their freedom.  The servants capture Siri, kill many of the God King's priests, and throw the God King in the dungeon along with several gods including Lightsong.  The Pahn Kahl, having gained the Commands to control the city's undead Lifeless army, send them to attack the Idrians and start the war. Lightsong sacrifices himself by giving the God King his Breath, which heals the king, giving him his tongue back and allowing him access to his godly cache of BioChromatic power and save Siri from being murdered. During this Vivenna uses her own budding powers to break into the God King's palace and free Vasher, who kills Denth.  Vasher reveals that he is actually one of the Five Scholars, ancient beings who originally discovered the Commands for using BioChromatic Breath, and bestows upon the God King the code to awaken the city's secret army of nearly indestructible D'denir Lifeless soldiers that sent to destroy the Lifeless army before it can reach Idris.  While Siri and the God King begin a new rule and life together, Vivenna joins Vasher as he sets out on another quest to a distant land.


The narrative of the story is divided between point-of-views of Siri, Vivenna, Lightsong, and Vasher thus giving a wide swath of the two distinct cultures and religions that have vast misunderstandings not only with one another but within themselves.  Sanderson’s creation of such a unique magic system is by itself a reason to read the book because of just how innovative it is and how it’s still not completely understood by those who use it even a long-lived individual like Vasher who helped shaped what is already known.  Sanderson’s princess swap at the beginning of the story caused instant character reexamination and growth that helps drive the narrative while at the same time Lightsong’s quest to figure himself out while the populous believes him to be a god was another unique perspective that helped pushed the narrative forward in many locations.  There is so much that was good, that it’s hard to find something to criticize.


Warbreaker is a unique standalone book within Brandon Sanderson’s larger Cosmere that blends fascinating characters and cultures with a stunning magical system to create an amazing narrative.  If you’re interested in reading a Sanderson book and don’t want to be stucked into a series, this is the book you should read.

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.