Small Gods (Discworld #13, Gods #2)

Small Gods (Discworld, #13)Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The divine order of Discworld is put under the microscope by Terry Pratchett in “Small Gods” as we follow focus of Omnian religion, the Great God Om, and his only believer, Brutha.  Pratchett takes on not only organized religion, but also atheism, philosophy, and how militaries find a new technology and turn it into a killing machine.

The main story of the book is about the once powerful Om, who once had thousands upon thousands of followers but now only has one, Brutha.  Both Om and Brutha discover that while many claim to be worshipping Om, they don’t believe in him because their religious experience is basically the rituals of the Church.  These rituals are alright to one Vorbis, Head of the Quisition (the Omnian version of the Inquisition).  Vorbis thinks only fundamentally about religion and not belief, just like Brutha’s grandmother does which if he succeeds means that Om will find himself cast into the desert with other failed gods.  All the while, many professed Omnians believe that their world is not a sphere circling the sun but a flat disc on top of four elephants standing on top of a turtle moving through space.  These atheists have their own plans, especially after discovering the creator of their philosophy who seems to be put off by the whole semi-religious movement based on his writings of fact.

This Discworld installment does not seem as humorous has previous books, however because “Small Gods” is satire Pratchett’s humor is more finally tuned to suit the genre.  Its only after you’ve read the book that you get the overall metaphysical discussion Pratchett has just had with you in a fun way.

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Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans

Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New OrleansEmpire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by Gary Krist
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

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

The virtuous reforming of New Orleans over the course of thirty years is chronicled through the lives of a few reformers, but mostly through the lives of the purveyors of vice in Gary Krist’s “Empire of Sin”.  The book is a riveting history of the colorful life of the Crescent City that was, and still is, unique in both Southern and American cultural history.

Krist brings New Orleans of the 1890s into clear focus at the beginning of the moral crusade, detailing the how the city’s French and Spanish beginnings created a unique cultural atmosphere that created an environment that the social and business elite of the city found needing reform.  Krist’s narrative takes place in four phases (1890-1, 1896-1907, 1907-17, and 1917-20) in which he identifies one defining moment that resulted in a change towards the reformer’s goal of cleaning up the city.  Throughout the book, the vice career of Tom Anderson is highlighted and how his fortunes showed either the progress or staling of the reform movement in the city.

Throughout the book, Krist ably shows how on event that surrounded on group of individuals had ramifications on various aspects of life in New Orleans.  One examples is how when reformers concentrate prostitution and other vice industries into one area, they inadvertently created an incubator where jazz was able to be cultivated into a new musical art form.  In connecting his entire historical narrative together in readable prose, Krist hooks the reader quickly and never lets him go.

After the reformers finally succeed in their quest to clean up New Orleans, Krist gives a short aftermath which ironically saw the city eventually embrace it’s sinful past to market to tourists and conventions.  The irony isn’t lost on the reader who can understand some of the motivations of reformers, particularly ending political and police corruption, but cringe at the stripping of civil rights of numerous groups throughout the narrative.  “Empire of Sin” shows the uniqueness of New Orleans history that is an very enjoyable read and is highly recommended those who enjoy history.

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We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy

We Don't Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future TrilogyWe Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy by Caseen Gaines
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘Back to the Future’ hit theaters in late summer of 1985 and was massive blockbuster hit that spawns two sequels while made fans for life to many children, teenagers, and adults.  In “We Don’t Need Roads”, popular culture history author Caseen Gaines gives the backstory of the entire film trilogy with information for both super fans and those who just love watching the films.

Gaines jumps right into the biggest storm that ‘Back to the Future’ weathered as his jumping off point in the book.  Gaines developed the backstory of how the film got into production before the issue of miscasting of Eric Stoltz as lead character Marty McFly and how director Robert Zemeckis and writer Bob Gale handled the situation to get Michael J. Fox.  Instantly Gaines had hooked the reader by showing the challenges the production team faced in getting the film to screen.

Though interviews of numerous actors and crewmembers, Gaines gives a detailed account of how iconic scenes were created and how much people enjoyed the making the films.  One of Gaines biggest hurdles in the book was giving a well-rounded account of why Crispin Glover did not sign on for the sequels and how producers filled his absence, resulting in one of many lawsuits that ‘Part II’ endured.  Gaines also takes us behind the scenes of the famous hoverboard scenes, including the botched stunt that resulted in the second ‘Part II’ lawsuit.

Before wrapping his book, Gaines details how the ‘Back to the Future’ trilogy continued to live after it had left theaters through fan clubs and fan websites that connected thousands of fans across the world with one another.  Gaines included this chapter to explain why ‘Back to the Future’ continues to be a part of pop culture, while so giving an unstated reason for why this book was in part written.  The final chapter, which included how the ‘Back to the Future’ community at-large has rallied around Michael J. Fox’s fight to cure Parkinson’s Disease, shows how a production team of crew and actors got through so many challenges to create a pop phenomenon that endures until today.  After reading this book, one’s appreciation of the original film, and its sequels, will only grow.

I received a Advance Uncorrected Proof edition of this book through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

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Washington: A Life

Washington: A LifeWashington: A Life by Ron Chernow
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The life of George Washington is not the stoic, myth-laden journey most people have fixed in their minds.  As revealed in Ron Chernow’s excellent biography, the stoic man in paintings hid an emotional complex man who went from being a loyal British subject for the first two-thirds of his life to the individual who brought a new nation into being over nearly a quarter century.

Chernow beings by putting Washington not only into the context of his times, colonial Virginia, but also into the family dynamic he grew up and developed in.  The first son of his father’s second marriage, Washington’s father died young like many of his forbearers leaving a void in his life that he filled with his oldest half-brother Lawrence.  It was his brother’s service in the Royal Naval that would direct Washington to desire military success when he was a young man.  However, Washington would lose his brother at an early age in a string of emotionally sting but ultimately fortuitous deaths that shaped his life.

Beginning with his brother Lawrence, Washington had the good fortune of finding and befriending influential people throughout his life.  Learning early on, in trial and error, to be willing to service while not appearing to strive for service, Washington was able to climb into more influential circles than it had been thought possible at his birth.  Even as he cherished getting military glory, Washington quickly took advantage of business opportunities throughout his life but especially land speculation and purchases.

Chernow faithfully follows the course of Washington’s life, but instead of just going from one high or low point to the next he fills in the details thanks to the massive amount of material he researched through Washington’s papers.  Beginning in the French and Indian War, that he essentially started, Washington never truly found the glorious military moment he aspired to but the lessons he learned in his first war would be put to good use in the Revolution as he kept his ever rotating army together through one hardship after another.

Throughout all of his public life, Washington was plantation owner of a vast estate and holder of numerous slaves.  Throughout his time in the Continental army, the Constitutional Convention, and as President, Washington thought of Mount Vernon and how it was run.  At first attempting the try and true Virginia crop of tobacco, Washington switched to other crops and aimed to be a scientific innovative farmer to make his farms profitable but wasn’t able to establish his dream due to his public life.  Chernow did not shy away from Washington’s slavery record; instead it was a major recurring theme throughout the book that was returned to numerous times including the lead up to Washington’s final days.

In examining Washington’s last quarter century, Chernow showed how Washington’s dissatisfaction with Great Britain being with little things but eventually grew into his becoming a leader in Virginia against British taxes.  Chernow took Washington’s time leading the Continental Army to not only show his military decisions, but also his interactions with Congress which would shape his political outlook not only during but after the war for a strong central government.  Finally, Chernow proved a look into Washington’s creation of the Presidency in relation to Congress and the Judiciary, to foreign and domestic affairs based on  his experiences throughout the war and afterwards.

After finishing the book, the reader sees how Washington was uniquely qualified for the times he lived in and also a normal human being.  Chernow gives the reader not a waxwork life, but a moving one that shows it was only Washington who could have done what was needed during the last quarter of the 18th century.  If you want to find out who George Washington was beyond that he “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen” then this is the book you need to read.

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