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Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Alamo : The Anatomy of the Last Stand Myth

I just finished reading Exodus From The Alamo by Phillip Thomas Tucker. Mrs. T had dropped it off at our small local library and was asked what I thought of the book. This is not an everyday occurrence. My red flag alert immediately went up.
Turns out this book has been quite controversial. I wasn’t surprised to find this out since the author basically attacks and vilifies the "story" or "myth" of the Alamo as it has been presented to generations of schoolchildren and movie goers. Think John Wayne and Fess Parker. According to Tucker, the whole thing was about the spread of slavery into the verdant land of another nation. The leadership of the Texas rebels was flawed from top to bottom. The people who were already living in Texas (both Anglo and Mexican)were divided about the nature and causes of the rebellion. Santa Anna was akin to Napoleon as a military genius. Huh?
I had tended to agree with the authors basic thesis about the importance of slavery. Some of the details were new and interesting to me, since my basic knowledge of the documented facts about this event (particularly the fight itself and the deaths of Travis, Crockett & Bowie was limited. And some of the analysis was quite laughable.... Santa Anna another Napoleon?
In any case, it was evident the author had several, not very well hidden, agendas. One was that an appraisal of this historical event could do much to improve mutual understanding between Anglo and Latino residents of the Lone Star State. Perhaps.  The other was, by indirection, to bring to light the mind set of people like George W Bush. Thus the controversial nature of the book is brought to focus.
In the end the brouhaha is about politics. This is not helped by the fact that the book is very poorly written. It needed some serious editing and didn’t get it. There are pages and pages of redundancy and much hectoring. The author must assume his audience are all idiots. For this reason alone, I would not recommend buying this book. I would recommend obtaining it at your local library because it is interesting, that is if your interested in historical mythology. Then when you get annoyed with the poor writing, you won’t be tempted to burn it.
As to the politics, well, if this is where George W Bush and "bring em on" (especially in regard to his failed war policies in the Middle East) came from, I wish the myths of the Alamo had been debunked a long time ago. Imagine, if you will, Dwight D. Eisenhower or Abraham Lincoln saying something like that with thousands of dead and maimed soldiers lying on the battlefield.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Martian

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.
Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

 Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first.
But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him

No doubt, yes, it will be enough to  allow him to beat the impossible odds. I mean, really we can't have an unhappy ending can we. I like survival stories and I really like the premise here…..and a survival story with an unusual setting.  But to a non technologically oriented history teacher the never ending scientific jargon and complicated explanations were more difficult for me to understand than the manuals I can't decipher when trying to put together something large,  I bought at a Big Box Store,  written but someone  who was not very conversant in the English language.  On the other hand if you like this sort of thing you’ll love The Martian….:)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Dog Master - A Novel of the First Dog

As regular readers of my little book blog (Troutbirder II) probably know, my reading tastes are fairly eclectic but leaning a little to history and biography.  My latest read ( a novel) perhaps leans way too far back in human history,  like maybe thirty thousand years to the upper Paleolithic period.  The reason for this stretch is quite simple…. My lifelong love for dogs.

Set against the most dramatic time in our species' history, The Dog Master tells the story of one tribe's struggle for survival and one extraordinary man's bond with a wolf - a friendship that changed mankind forever

Thirty thousand years ago, ice was storming the planet. Among the species forced out of the trees and onto the steppes by the advancing cold was modern man, who was both predator and prey.

No stranger to the experiences that make us human-a mother's love and a father's betrayal, tribal war and increasing famine, political intrigue and forbidden love, joy and hope and devastating loss-our ancestors competed for scant resources in a brutal landscape.

Mankind stood on the cold brink of extinction...but they had a unique advantage over other species, a new “technology” - domesticated wolves.

Only a set of extraordinary circumstances could have transformed one of these fierce creatures into a hunting companion, a bodyguard, a soldier, and a friend. The Dog Master by W. Bruce Cameron is an evocative glimpse of prehistory, an emotional coming of age saga, a thrilling tale of survival against all odds, and the exciting, imaginative story of the first dog.

  The story follows three timelines: the present day life of a professor who believes humans succeeded because of their early relationship with dogs, the early life of Mal's mother, and Mal's attempts to survive with a wolf he names Dog. The story opens with Mal struggling to survive on his own after being cast out of his tribe. He finds a wounded wolf with three puppies and they bond together in a cave. I was instantly hooked by this premise. Every chapter ended with a cliffhanger that propelled me through the book. I cared deeply about Mal's mother and both of her sons. She is intelligent and resourceful, my favorite type of character. The pre-history setting was fascinating, in part because everything is truly life or death. I also loved Clan of the Cave Bear, which I read some years ago. This book is better. I highly recommend  it. Even to people who prefer cats….:)

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@Barrie Summy

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Wright Brothers

David McCullough, one of America's premier history authors,  has come up with another gem, the story of the famous but not well known Wright brothers.   A fascinating tale of family, ingenuity, competition, and even international intrigue.  I enjoyed it a lot....

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Complete Sherlock Holmes

Sometimes  in my regular reading habits I wander off into the classics.  It might have been a long time since I’d read a certain book.  Perhaps The Count of Monte Cristo.  Or an author whose work I’d passed by at a younger age. Think Jane Austin. Maybe a famous person of whom I’d read many biographies and history but wanted something in his or her own words.  Julius Caesars The Gallic Wars came to mind.  Then, quite recently,  I was scanning my ereader (Nook) for bargains and there was The Complete Sherlock Holmes for two dollars.  Not one to pass up a bargain, I took it.  Yes, I’d already read it in fulfillment of Mrs. Himmelbachs 12th grade English “outside reading” requirement. Was it as good as I fondly remembered all those years ago? I intended to find out…..

 From his first appearance in A Study in Scarlett , via his most famous adventures – The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Speckled Band – to his final appearances in the very short stories making up The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, his deductions never fail to bring a smile and that aha moment.

We see Victorian life brought to life in every story. Conan Doyle provides the clever villains & flustered clients flitting in and about  to create a portrait of fascinating characters. They are the heart and soul of each and every tale. And then most of all there is Holmes.    He is one of the most interesting characters ever written. It’s all there. The odd habits mixing with the brilliant deductions.  The quirky humor and single mindedness.   It  adds  up to a personality like none other and yet not fake nor seemingly contrived.   To top it off it’s all very well-written.    Elementary dear reader. Elementary.   I even remembered some of the "solutions" from long ago. Not too bad for a guy who can’t remember where he put his reading glasses half the time…...:)

Saturday, July 25, 2015

On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer's

From childhood on I’ve always loved books about outer space, astronomy and the planets, so when I plucked a book titled On Pluto off the shelf of our local small town library, I was more than a little surprised to find it subtitled Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s. I knew I had to read it for you see my grandmother & my mother had this affliction.

Alzheimers is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.A. and the only one of these diseases on the rise. More than 5 million Americans have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia. Chances are you already personally know of someone close or surely will someday.

Greg  O’Brien, an award-winning investigative reporter, has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's. One of those millions.  The short term memory, the basis of cognitive impairment, goes first but our long term memory and skill habits allow us to carry on.  Using that basis,  O’Brien decided to fight it by telling his own story of  using what remain of his lifelong journalistic skills.  O’Brien is a great storyteller. I’ve read lot of information about this disease in recent years but this book is different. It puts the reader   in the role of the “other” that is from the inside looking out.  This book is raw, painful, and soul searching. For my generation and others to follow,  it’s a roadmap to navigate the future. How to fight it. How to live with it and understand it.  And never give up….


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Love, Greg & Lauren

Early on the morning of September 11, 2001, Lauren Manning-a wife, the mother of a ten-month-old son, and a senior vice president and partner at Cantor Fitzgerald-came to work, as always, at One World Trade Center. As she stepped into the lobby, a fireball exploded from the elevator shaft, and in that split second her life was changed forever.

Lauren was burned over 82.5 percent of her body. As he watched his wife lie in a drug-induced coma in the ICU of the Burn Center at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Greg Manning began writing a daily journal. In the form of e-mails to family, friends, and colleagues, he recorded Lauren’s harrowing struggle-and his own tormented efforts to make sense of an act that defies all understanding. This book is that e-mail diary: detailed, intimate, inspiring
messages that end, always, as if a prayer for a happy outcome:
We share this story day by astonishing day. Greg writes of the intricate surgeries, the painful therapies, and the constant risk of infection Lauren endured. Through his eyes we come to know the doctors, nurses, aides, and therapists who cared for her around the clock with untiring devotion and sensitivity. We also come to know the families with whom he shared wrenching hospital vigils for their own loved ones who were waging a battle that some would not win. For those with eighty percent burn the odds of survival were very slim. I think spellbound best describes my reaction to the reading of this story.....

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Fort

So why did Henry Wadsworth  Longfellow make a national hero out of Paul Revere, when Revere was only one of the many riders sent our by Dr. Warren on that fatefull night? This in a poem written many years later just before the civil war.

And why was the biggest naval disaster to befall the American cause before Pearl Harbor, an obscure struggle unremebered in most history books?
And what were the British up to building a fort in the far north of Massachusetts at Majabogwadice (now Castine, Maine)?
Why was Paul Revere court martialed on charges of ineptitude, & dereliction of duty bordering on treason?
Should Massachusetts have demanded and ultimately recieved payment by the federal government for a $300 million dollars(in todays money) disaster solely of its own making?
What role did young Lt. Moore later play in driving Napoleon from Spain?
And on and on with many surprising twists and turns in a factually based historical novel, The Fort by Bernard Cornwell. After reading Cornwell previous gem, Agincourt some month ago, I praised his writing as some of the best of modern historical fiction. He lives up to that standard again in The Fort. If military history is your thing,  I would highly recommend this book without any reservation.

Monday, June 29, 2015


From the inside cover….

LAPD cop Scott James is not doing so well. Nine months ago, a shocking assault by unidentified men killed his partner, Stephanie, nearly killed him, and left him enraged, ashamed, and ready to explode. He is unfit for duty until he meets his new partner.

Maggie is not doing so well, either. A German shepherd who survived two tours in Afghanistan sniffing explosives before losing her handler, her PTSD is as bad as Scotts.
They are each others last chance. And they’re about to investigate the one case no one wants them to touch: identifying the men who murdered Stephanie. But what they find could ultimately break them both.

 Both man and dog are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Together this pair of wounded warriors must help heal each other, while searching for clues in a last-chance case that could be their salvation or their untimely end.
Robert  Crais' work, "Suspect" is an intense, fast-paced and thrilling page turner.

Needless to say, Scott will come to feel quite differently about Maggie. As she will to him. In fact, one of the riskier things Crais does is occasionally write from Maggie’s point-of-view. Attempting something that could easily come across as maudlin and manipulative, Crais succeeds in giving us a window into the thought processes of a sensitive, well-trained dog. Like Scott, fall in love with Maggie. She’s brave, resourceful, empathic, and loyal. A couple of chapters into the book I fell in love with her just like in real life I did with my Max, Ben, Chessie, Muffy, Baron, and now Lily.  A dog lover am l. And good stories too….:)
My two German Shepherds.....  Lily and Baron .