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Thursday, June 30, 2016


Outof the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,

 And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

 It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.

 I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

 William Ernest Henley

Nelson Mandela (played by Morgan Freeman) survives 27 years of imprisonment. His guide is the Victorian age poem Invictus. He emerges to lead a reconciliation of blacks and whites into a new South Africa. Matt Damon plays the captain of the countries white dominated and beloved rugby team. The team is also a symbol of white racism and despised by the nations blacks. Clint Eastwood finds just the right touch, avoiding an over the top sports movie and a deep psychological analyses of character motivations. The result is exciting action in a sport that most American wouldn't have a clue about, and a truly dramatic portrayal of real political leadership. It was also something that I found downright inspiring. I recall teaching world history to my senior high students and feeling that the apartheid state in South Africa was as intractible a problem as the issue of Palestine, the Arabs and the Jewish state. Sometimes it's nice to be wrong.
The poem and the movie are both oldies but goodies.
I highly recommend them both.....

Saturday, June 11, 2016


He built the biggest empire history has ever seen.

He ruled one fifth of the planets landmass.

He shaped the modern world as we know it today.





The creator of the greatest empire since the fall of Rome was????

Kublai Khan

Scholar Warrior Brother

Read the epic story of the worlds less known conqueror by Conn Igguiden.

A rip-roarin’ read, and inspiration to go and sack a few cities on your own.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Gamble

Not that anyone really wants to relive the invasion of  Iraq but if you missed the part about how it all went even more wrong after the initial misjudgment of doing it in the first place, Thomas E. Rick's #1 New York Times bestseller Fiasco says it all in the title.   

Next came his  book The Gamble which is the definitive account of the insurgency within the U.S. military that led to a radical shift in America's strategy. Based on unprecedented real-time access to the military's entire chain of command, Ricks examines the events that took place as the military was forced to reckon with itself, the surge was launched, and a very different war began. His stunning conclusion, stated in the last line of the book, is that "the events for which the Iraq war will be remembered probably have not yet happened."

This accurate prediction is evidenced in the  horrors emanating today in the daily news from the Middle East. When it comes to military matters Mr. Ricks is as good as it gets for journalism and analysis. He clearly shows us in these two books the devastating consequences of an ill- conceived and ill-planned war….

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@Barrie Summy

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Home Waters

I just started reading Home Waters edited by Gary Soucie. It's a fly-fishing anthology. Home waters would be that place or places which the fly fisherman considers his own. Not in the literal sense, of course, but in the sense of being at home there. The place with which he is most familiar and most comfortable. A place to which he returns most often in body and spirit.
For me, it is the spring fed limestone creeks and rivers of Bluff Country, the karst region of southeastern Minnesota. There are several rivers and innumerable streams and tiny brooks in this unglaciated countryside. Over a forty year period I have fished most of them.
South Branch Root River

 The South Branch of the Root River is closest to my home and heart. It is the place to which I now return in my retirement years.
This is where I first learned how to entice the wily brown trout with the fly. Then taught my two sons the same art. Later, as they grew up, we wandered far afield to the fabulous waters of Montana and Yellowstone National Park. The Boulder, the Gallatin, the West Fork of the Madison, The Big Hole, The Lamar, Slough Creek and countless others became part of our vocabulary.
 Son Ted and I in Yellowstone

 Vertigo and other infirmities of aging limit my stream time now but the memories live on as strong as ever. Not to sound elitist but fly fishing for trout has produced among the sporting endeavors the closest thing to real literature  Thus  Home Waters whereby a host of writers take readers to their favorite fishing spots in a captivating collection of 55 pieces touched close to my heart and memories of similar places and experiences.

Monday, May 2, 2016

And Then All Hell Broke Loose

Richard Engel  is the chief foreign correspondent for NBC and has  spent much of his 20-year award-winning career  in war zones in the Middle East. As an enterprising freelance reporter,  he initially  got himself into Iraq as a “human shield” for a peace organization in early 2003, and struck a deal with ABC News; he would become the last American television reporter left in Baghdad.

In 2005, his Baghdad hotel was badly rocked by a truck bomb across the street, and as the entire region exploded into war and revolution, he would have other close calls — including being kidnapped in Syria in 2012. To characterize him ad an intrepid reporter would be more than an understatement.

Mr. Engel’s harrowing adventures make for gripping reading in his new book, “And Then All Hell Broke Loose,”.    He deftly uses them as a portal to look at how the Middle East has changed since he arrived in the region as a young reporter back in 1996. The result is a book that gives readers a brisk but wide-angled understanding of the calamities that have unfurled there over the last two decades — most notably, the still unspooling consequences of the careless and botched invasion by the United States invasion of Iraq, and the sad unfolding  of revolutions in Egypt, Libya and Syria
Engel has interviewed most of the key players in these tragedies writ large as well as having a good background in the history of the region. The book is relatively short and snappy  but one couldn’t do much better to gain good insights into the present chaos…..

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@Barrie Summy

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Ken Follet: The Century Trilogy

As a young author, beginning some three decades, ago he wrote suspense/thrillers. Although not a big fan of that genre, I liked Eye Of The Needle, The Man From St. Petersburg and Lie Down With Lions. Then, in 1989, he wrote something completely different. It was Pillars Of The Earth, a wonderful story of love and devotion surrounding the building of a cathedral in the early Middle Ages. That novel of historical fiction remains, to this day, as one of my all time favorites.

I write, of course, of Welsh author Ken Follet, who’s historical novel, Fall of Giants, I just reread.

It is the first novel in The Century Trilogy, and follows the fates of five interrelated families-American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh, as they move through the world-shaking events of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for women's suffrage.

So what did I think of the series? It’s well done on the vast scale of historical events. The cast of characters, ranging from the real to the imagined, keeps you interested. Follett  always tells good stories. Still, it's not War and Peace nor Pillars of the Earth. This somewhat lesser interest for me is fairly easy to explain . In Pillars I knew little about life in the twelfth century and even less about building a cathedral. The history in those two books, as well as the characters was quite fascinating. That combination was not quite there for me in Fall of Giants. The history of WWI and the countries involved were well known to me. And, of course, to Follets specialty is always the tale which pulls you along rather than the depth of characterization. He weaves the tapestry of people and events together extremely well.

In many ways this book reminded me a good deal of another authors great historical novels. That would be Herman Wouk, whose best sellers set in World War II, Winds of War & War and War and Remembrance, had the same format.

As a history teacher, I like to see good history accurately portrayed in an engaging story. If that’s your cup of tea, I’d recommend it The Century Trilogy most wholeheartedly......

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Revenant by Michael Punke

It was a few weeks before the Academy Awards show that Barb and I went to see the highly touted movie The Revenant starring Leonardo Dicaprio. I followed that up with a review post here on   Sunday, January 17, 2016.  I found the cinematography fabulous, the mostly true story interesting and the main characters lacking depth, especially the Oscar winning stars portrayal. Naturally  reading the book was the only way to find out of the impasse...

I suppose it was reading Dumas The Count of Monte Cristo as a youth that first peeked my interest in stories  of this genre. The Revenant by Michael Punke is a thrilling tale of betrayal and revenge set against the nineteenth-century American frontier, the astonishing story of real-life trapper and frontiersman Hugh Glass
The year is 1823, and the trappers of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company live a brutal frontier life. Hugh Glass is among the company’s finest men, an experienced frontiersman and an expert tracker. But when a scouting mission puts him face-to-face with a grizzly bear, he is viciously mauled and not expected to survive. Two company men are dispatched to stay behind and tend to Glass before he dies. When the men abandon him instead, Glass is driven to survive by one desire: revenge. With shocking grit and determination, Glass sets out, crawling at first, across hundreds of miles of uncharted American frontier. Based on a true story, The Revenant is a remarkable tale of obsession, the human will stretched to its limits, and the lengths that one man will go to for retribution. The movie was fun. The books depth even better...
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@Barrie Summy

Monday, March 21, 2016

My Sisters Keeper

In recent years I’ve returned a bit to fiction and found Barbara Kingsolver and Jodi Picoult to be two new (to me) favorites. My most recent was Picoult’s My Sisters Keeper. I picked it out because I knew it was one of the authors most popular and had also been made into a movie.
It tells the story of 13-year-old Anna, who sues her parents for medical emancipation when she is expected to donate a kidney to her older sister Kate, who is dying from leukemia. Actually, she was conceived and genetically programed for this purpose and has been “donating” various fluids and bodily parts for some time. As young teenagers are sometimes wont to do she rebels and a family crises of the worst and most heart wrenching kind ensues. If you feel drawn to books involving serious ethical challenges this one’s for you. And I both loved and hated this book at the same time….
It was, after a good start,  way too  contrived and manipulative.  An unbelievably precocious teenager who hires a lawyer and cracks wise? The perfect father who take sides in a court hearing against his wifes’ judgment. She, the mother who risks all to save all. Even Judge Judy couldn’t make sense out of this soap opera. Yes, I was very conflicted about this book reading it anxiously to the very end…..  

Thursday, March 10, 2016


I don’t often reread fiction but historical fiction, especially the really good thick ones, provide occasional exceptions. For example  Coleen McCullough’s Caesar. It had been 26 years since I’d read the  first in her series Masters of Rome,  the epic story of the last years of the Roman Republic

It was while at Yale that she wrote her first two books. One of these, The Thorn Birds, became an international best seller that in 1983 was turned into one of the most watched television mini-series of all time. It was that TV series that eventually turned me to her novels of Rome.

1. The First Man in Rome  (1990)

2. The Grass Crown (1991)

3. Fortune's Favorites (1993)

4. Caesar's Women (1996)

5. Caesar (1997)

6. The October Horse (2002)

7. Antony and Cleopatra (2007

Historical fiction at its very best. This goes for the whole series. McCullough brings it all to life: the characters, the politics, the battle scenes, the cultural dynamics...She does this by weaving in an amazing array of characters, major and minor, who ground every storyline. It is enough of a feat that she makes historical characters bristle with life and ancient events burst with excitement. It is even more impressive that she pulls this off while giving us a pretty serious history lesson. She often deviates from the main storyline to offer an anecdote or explanation concerning some arcane item such as the Bona Dea cult, or the function of the crossroads colleges. These sidebars are woven in seamlessly and the pacing doesn't suffer at all. Instead the whole story is enriched along with our appreciation of various facets of the historical context.  I just finished Caesar. Ok now I’m going to go back and read them all….: