Thursday, June 28, 2012

Lords of the Sea by John R. Hale


The Athenian city-state lived and died by its navy.  They were remarkable, innovative ship builders in the early years giving them an edge in control of the sea.  Rival Sparta was always more comfortable with feet on solid ground.  The Navy used citizen rowers not the slaves so often depicted in Hollywood drama.  Those came later with the Romans, Barbary pirates and others.  Hale recounts the naval history of the Peleponessus over the course of several centuries with the focus kept squarely on the sea and largely leaving the land wars to others.

What I liked: I learned a lot about Athens culture, history and tradition from this book.  Democracy can be a brutal system of government when practiced in its true form (here in the US, we are a republic).  The hero of the hour quickly becomes the scapegoat of tomorrow and lives his life in exile.  There is no buffer for people to cool down or see the long term effects of actions.  They love ya or they don't.  Second, with an eye on our own immigration issues, I read with interest the ways Athens tried to limit its population to keep immigrants and mixed citizenship people from outpacing the resources of the city-state.  Third, at times the citizenship requirements were quite strict.  At their strictest, their leader Pericles experienced complete tragedy during a plague and lost all of his legitimate children.  The city immediately came forward with an exception just for him so he could legitimize and give citizenship to one of his children by a foreign mistress.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Finally, I learned a lot about sea tactics, the life of sailors and the building and manning of ships.  Since I read this for a 12x12 category about life in or on the sea, this aspect was perfect for my goal.

What I didn't like:  It felt like this book was about 100 pages too long.  I don't get into politics and Hale spent a fair bit of time explaining Athenian politics and power struggles.  Perhaps he felt it was necessary to understanding the stages of life of the Athenian Navy, but it didn't fit into my goal in reading the book.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

★ ★ ★ ★
Ishmael Beah was a young man of about 12 years growing up in Sierra Leone in the early 1990s when civil war broke out.  He was caught away from home with some school friends when the rebels got to his home village.  The boys traveled together for several months trying to find their families, roaming from village to village, sometimes able to work for a bit of food.  More often they had to steal it and run because of the villagers' fears of them because the rebels were forcibly recruiting young men of their age group into the rebel army.  Eventually they found some safety in a village controlled by the national army.  That safety ended when the Lieutenant there forcibly recruited their group into the national army.  One of those recruited was only 7 years old and couldn't even lift his rifle to a firing position.  Beah served in the army for about a year from my best guess, the timeline was a bit iffy in his memoir.  Then the boys were given freedom and sent to the national capital for rehabilitation.

This book was a quick read and a page turner.  I kept being amazed at the way the boys were treated by various adults in the towns they passed and by their army leaders.  The whole country had gone crazy and any stranger had to be mistrusted.  In addition, boys subjected to that kind of violence and forced to kill other boys they know have been forced into uniform for the other side do not rehabilitate quickly or easily.

It reminded me of a quote out of All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque: "It will go pretty hard with us all.  But nobody at home seems to worry about it much.  Two years of shells and bombs--a man won't peel that off as easy as a sock."

Certainly not.  Ishmael and his friends didn't; in fact some of them never did.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Pirate Hunter of the Caribbean by David Cordingly

★ ★ ★
Read for the non-fiction adventure challenge and I'll eventually figure out how to make this post a link from that book in the list.  In the meantime, a review of Pirate Hunter of the Caribbean.

David Cordingly writes about pirates.  I enjoyed his Under the Black Flag from 2006 very much so I was excited for this one.  I only rated this three stars because I didn't feel like most of the book pertained to the promised subject based on the title.  The Pirate Hunter referenced there is Woodes Rogers.  Rogers became Governor of the Bahamas with a special commission from the King to help the colony become more profitable and to take care of the pirate menace operating out of Nassau.  A significant part of the book is devoted to Rogers past as a privateer who circumnavigated the world in an attempt to capture the Spanish treasure galleon coming from Manila to Acapulco.  Assorted other adventures of his are told and much is made of his money problems.  Once he gets to Nassau, Rogers tries to rebuild the colony and commissions several captains to hunt pirates.  Over time the pirates are thinned but Rogers becomes disillusioned by lack of communication and pay from England.  He abandons Nassau to go to South Carolina for rest and then travels back to England.  After initially losing his governorship he finally regains it and goes back to Nassau again.  By this time the pirates are largely gone from the area.  So far so good, but not much 'pirate hunting' by Rogers himself.

Another large part of the book is taken up with the life and adventures of Alexander Selkirk who may have been part of Daniel Defoe's inspiration for Robinson Crusoe.  Selkirk spent large parts of his life on privateers (definition: pirate commissioned by one government to attack settlements and ships of another nation).  He chose to be marooned on an island alone and spent over four years there before another English ship came along and rescued him.  His life is followed in several different chapters and while interesting, I kept wondering what it had to do with the presumed subject of the book.  At the end of the book a substantial number of pages were employed in speculation on whether Selkirk was indeed Defoe's inspiration and if not, which other marooned men might be likely candidates.  Again, interesting but seems off-topic.

Finally, there was a whole section devoted to the life and death of Blackbeard.  Interesting but not enough detail to provide any new insights for a reader who has previous knowledge in the area of pirates, so like Selkirk it became a distraction.  Pirate Hunter of the Caribbean was not a bad book, I just felt like it lacked focus on the presumed theme.

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Non-Fiction Adventure

Most challenges are about genre fiction or literary fiction.  I was delighted to find one for non-fiction.  This post is my entry into the
Grab the Button

My List of 100 Non-Fiction books to be completed by 26 Apr 2012 (I'm putting titles completed in red text until I learn how to link from this list to the review):
In the Land of Invisible Women Ahmed, Qanta
Tuesdays With Morrie Albom, Mitch
Nothing Like It in the World: Men who Built the Transcontinental Railroad Ambrose, Stephen E.
Imagined Communities Anderson, Benedict
Eichmann in Jerusalem Arendt, Hannah
The Confessions Augustine
City of God Augustine
Meditations Aurelius, Marcus
The Great Influenza: Story of Deadliest Pandemic Barry, John M.
Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flod of 1927 Barry, John M.
Mythologies Barthes, Roland
A Long Way Gone Beah, Ishmael
Closing of the American Mind Bloom, Alan
The Discoverers Boorstein, Daniel
A Walk in the Woods Bryson, Bill
Hero With a Thousand Faces Campbell, Joseph
Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 Clark, Christopher
Pirate Hunter of the Caribbean Cordingly, David
The True Cost of War Crenna, Michael
Batavia's Graveyard Dash, Mike
Tulipomania Dash, Mike
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Douglass, Frederick
Gandhi: The Man Easwaran, Eknath
Misquoting Jesus Ehrman, Bart D.
Lost Christianities Ehrman, Bart D.
The Crimean War: A History Figes, Orlando
A Life of Charlotte Bronte Gaskell, Christine
We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will All Be Killed Gourevitch, Phillip
Thinking in Pictures Grandin, Temple
The Hidden Reality Greene, Brian
Templars: History and Myth From Solomon's Temple to the Freemasons Haag, Michael
We Is Got Him: The Kidnapping that Changed America Hagen, Carrie
Lords of the Sea Hale, John R.
After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam Hazleton, Lesley
Dispatches Herr, Michael
The Marne, 1914: The Opening of World War I Herwig, Holger
To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 Hochschild, Adam
Godel, Escher, Bach Hofstadter, Douglas
The Forge of Christendom Holland, Tom
Will Love for Crumbs Ivin, Jonna
Maphead Jennings, Ken
Shooting the Boh Johnston, Tracy
Wherever You Go, There You Are Kabat-Zinn, Jon
The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag Kang, Chol-hwan
The Man Who Knew Infinity Kanigel, Robert
Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris King, David
Ishi in Two Worlds Kroeber, Theodora
Taste of Conquest: Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice Krondl, Michael
The Basque History of the World Kurlansky, Mark
In the Garden of Beasts Larson, Erik
The Dressmaker of Kahir Khana Lemmon, Gayle Tzemach
Survival in Auschwitz Levi, Primo
Letters to Malcom: Chiefly on Prayer Lewis, C. S.
Miracles Lewis, C. S.
The Golden Ratio: Story of Phi Livio, Mario
Behind the Berlin Wall Major, Patrick
1493 Mann, Charles C.
e: The Story of a Number Maor, Eli
1776 McCullough, David
No Man Is an Island Merton, Thomas
Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations Montgomery, David R.
Dying To Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing Moorjani, Anita
The Emperor of All Maladies Mukherjee, Sidhartha
Book of Awakening Nepo, Mark
Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy Norwich, John Julius
Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account Nyiszli, Miklos
Gnostic Gospels Pagels, Elaine
Adam, Eve and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity Pagels, Elaine
In the Heart of the Sea Philbrick, Nathaniel
The Better Angels of Our Nature Pinker, Stephen
Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance Pirsig, Robert
A World Without Ice Pollack, H. N.
Code to Joy: 4 Step Solution to Unlocking Your Natural State of Happiness Pratt, George
Old Books, Rare Friends Rostenberg, Leon and Madeleine Stern
Ancient Iraq Roux, Georges
The Outfit: The Role of Chicago's Underworld in Shaping Modern America Russo, Gus
The Demon-Haunted World Sagan, Carl
Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild Sandlin, Lee
Citizens Schama, Simon
The Devil's Gentleman: Privilege, Poison, and the Trial that Ushered in the Twentieth Century Schlecter, Harold
Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938 Scotti, R. A.
The Monks of War: The Military Religious Orders Seward, Desmond
Lightning Man: The Accursed Life of Samuel F. B. Morse Silverman, Kenneth
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Skloot, Rebecca
The Life of the Cosmos Smolin, Lee
A More Perfect Heaven Sobel, Dava
The First World War Strachan, Hew
The Tin Ticket: The Heroic Journey of Australia's Convict Women Swiss, Deborah J.
The Lives of a Cell Thomas, Lewis
Pirates of Barbary Tinniswood, Adrian
Death by Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaries Tyson, Neil deGrasse
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World Weatherford, Jack
Black Lamb and Gray Falcon West, Rebecca
Infidels: A History of the Conflict Between Christendom and Islam Wheatcroft, Andrew
Anatomy of an Epidemic Whitaker, Robert
Night Wiesel, Elie
Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded Wincheser, Simon
The Man Who Loved China Winchester, Simon
A People's History of the US Zinn, Howard
Lost in Shangri-La Zuckoff, Mitchell