500 Years of Protest and Liberty: From Martin Luther to Modern Civil Rights

500 Years500 Years of Protest and Liberty: From Martin Luther to Modern Civil Rights by Nicholas Patrick Miller
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

The upcoming 500th celebration of the Protestant Reformation has spawned numerous books focusing on the impact of the movement on particular facet of history. 500 Years of Protest and Liberty: From Martin Luther to Modern Civil Rights by Nicholas P. Miller is one of these books in which the author’s articles for Liberty are reproduced in an anthology to chronicle a link between Luther to MLK Jr.

The book is divided into four sections surrounding a central theme each reproduced article in that particular section can be related to. The section introductions and the articles are all well written and fascinating reads especially for those interested in freedom of religion and separation of church and state issues. However in relation to the subtitle of the book, I found the overall flow of the book did not link Luther to MLK Jr. The first and fourth sections definitely link Luther and to the present-day, but the third seemed to be just its own thing though very informative while the second is somewhere in-between.

So while the focus of showing a progression from Luther to MLK Jr., it thought it faltered enough to impact my overall rating, I still recommend this book to anyone interested in freedom of religion and separation of church and state issues.

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Gilgamesh: A New English Version

GilgameshGilgamesh: A New English Version by Stephen Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Almost 4800 years after his reign in the city of Uruk, Gilgamesh is still remembered not only in his native land but now around the world even though his native language is long forgotten. In Stephen Mitchell’s English verse translation of Gilgamesh, the story of the demigod’s calming friendship with Enkidu and his quest to avoid his mortality.

The tale of Gilgamesh is not just about the king of Uruk, it is the tale of Enkidu and his civilizing by Shamhat, the friendship between Enkidu and Gilgamesh as well as their adventures, and finally the death of Enkidu that sends Gilgamesh in his vain search to stop death by asking the one man whom the gods made immortal. Yet while several aspects of Gilgamesh are similar to later tales of Greek and Germanic origin, there are clear differences as well especially when it comes to Gilgamesh expressing his fear in the face of very dangers and ends with accepting his own mortality in the end.

Unfortunately, the story of Gilgamesh that we have is not as complete as it was 4000 years ago. Several sections are fragmentary which Mitchell had to work around to make the book read well and keeping true to the narrative; in this he did a wonderful job. Yet, in a book that has around 300 pages only 123 covers the epic itself which while not dishonest is surprising about how short the tale is and how much analysis Mitchell provides the reader before and notes after.

Gilgamesh: A New English Version is a fantastic book both in the tale of the heroic demigod king and the translation done by Stephen Mitchell.

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Republic

PlatoRepublic by Plato
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The writings of Plato have been one of the cornerstones of Western thought for two and a half millennia used for both secular and religious purposes, sometimes not as he intended. Republic is one, if not the, most famous piece of Plato’s philosophical/political writings and the translation by Robin Waterfield for Oxford World’s Classics adds to the debate that surrounds it.

During a thorough 60+ page introduction to Plato’s text, Waterfield most significant translation is “morality” instead of “justice” for the Greek word dikaiosune because of the definition provided by Aristotle of the word. With this word decision and with her discussion of Plato’s complete disregard to politics, Republic turns from a work of political theory into one of philosophy concerned about the improvement of an individual’s life and not that of a Greek polis. Using the cultural terms and norms of his time, Plato sets out to express his belief that individuals can improve and better themselves outside the communal structure of Greek life. This was a radical notion given that individualism—especially as we know it today—was not a part of respectable Greek political life, the individual’s life was bound up in the community and if they went off on their own it was dangerous to the civic order and with the relationship with the gods (the charge against Socrates).

While Plato’s overall thesis is thought-provoking, some of his supporting arguments via mathematics and his lack of details about how to improve one’s morality and thus goodness are detriments to Republic’s overall quality. Although later individuals, in particular early Christian fathers, would supplement Plato with their own supporting evidence for those in the 21st Century these elements can be stumbling blocks. Even though Waterfield’s translation provided to be very readable and her notes beyond satisfactory, the constant flipping to the back of the book to read them and provide myself with the context to what she was saying while at the particular place in the text was somewhat unhelpful but footnotes at the bottom of the pages might have been worse.

Republic is one of the most significant pieces of Western literature and whether you approve of Waterfield’s translation or not, it is a very good was to look at a piece of text long-thought to mean one thing and see it as something completely different.

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Op-Center (Op-Center #1)

OpCenter1Op-Center by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

A terrorist attack in Seoul raises tensions on Korean peninsula with war looking likely, but a new federal crisis management team is task to figure out who and why before things escalate too far. Op-Center through bearing the name of Tom Clancy, who along with Steve Pieczenik created the story, was ghostwritten by Jeff Rovin about a government agency tasked with handling both domestic and international crisis.

Renegade South Korean soldiers attack an official celebration of the founding of the country implicating the North Koreans. Op-Center director Paul Hood suddenly finds himself appointed head of Task Force by a President looking for a big foreign affairs accomplishment; however evidence and a cyberattack complicate Hood giving the President a clear go ahead to launch a war. On the peninsula, a former Ambassador to the country and his friend in the KCIA take their own individual routes to lessen the growing tensions between the two sides. But the renegade squad is racing towards their next attacks—the North Korean barracks at the DMZ and Tokyo—and the only thing that can stop them is Op-Center’s paramilitary response team, Striker with Hood’s deputy General Mike Rodger along for the action.

Set roughly around the time of book’s publication a little over 20 years ago, the plot reads almost like alternate history today but still holds up fairly well. While the primary plot is very good, the subplots connected with different characters were more of a problem. Hood is torn between crisis in Korea and with this son’s health that makes him look sympathetic while his wife appears too needy given that she knew something like this could happen, Rodgers appears to be in a mid-life crisis wanting to get back to his glory days instead of being at his post, and many of the female Op-Center personal are painted broadly with a brush in various stereotypes that back when I first read the book as a teenager didn’t pop out at me but certainly did now.

While the characterization of many of the principal characters is bland, the plot and the action are very well written making this a quick and fun read for the most part. While at the time Rovin wasn’t given his due as the book’s author, he did a good job in setting up a series that would eventually reach 12. While Op-Center is not the greatest book within the action and thriller genres but those that like those genres will find it a good read.

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A Hat Full of Sky (Discworld #32, Tiffany Aching #2)

Discworld32A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The young witch of the Chalk downlands goes begins her apprenticeship not knowing that she’s being stalked by a long-lived lifeform that likes taking over “hosts”. A Hat Full of Sky is the 32nd book of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and the second following Tiffany Aching and her friends the Wee Free Men.

A year and a half after Tiffany Aching took on the Fairie Queen with only an iron skillet; she’s finally going to learn proper witchcraft as an apprentice to Mistress Level, who apparently has two bodies. However that is the only thing extraordinary about Tiffany’s experience with Miss Level because instead of magic, she’s just doing chores and learning practical knowledge. Yet unknowingly Tiffany is doing magic as she has immense power in “borrowing” just like Granny Weatherwax, but unlike the area’s most renowned witch Tiffany doesn’t know how to defend herself from those wanting to borrow her. While Tiffany doesn’t realize the danger she’s in, the Chalk Clan of the Nac Mac Feegles keep an eye on their “wee big hag” and know what’s stalking her and go racing to the rescue with hilarious results. But in the end it’ll have to be Tiffany who gets her body back from this immortal foe.

The second book of featuring Tiffany and Feegles goes right into the story quickly while also giving information about both early on without taking away from the narrative or unnecessary exposition. One doesn’t need to have read The Wee Free Men to learn information about the Feegle’s culture as Pratchett also included a nice little “article” about them before the story begins, mainly to allay fears from parents that the Feegles are cussing in a children’s book. Frankly the only negative from the point of view of an adult is that one could see the major plot points coming, it was just how Pratchett would make them entertaining—which he certainly did.

While A Hat Full of Sky is a young adult book, Terry Pratchett’s satirical and narrative writing makes it a great addition to the overall Discworld series. Both new readers and longtime fans will have a good time reading Tiffany learning about being a witch.

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The Underdogs

AzuelaThe Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anyone who has learned anything about the Mexican Revolution knows that it was a complicated era in that nation’s history that just seemed to continue without end. The Underdogs was the first novel about the conflict even as it continued to grind on and written by a former participant Mariano Azuela.

The majority of the narrative follows Demetrio Macias, who finds himself on the bad side of the local chief and is burned out of his home before feeling to the mountains. Gathering his friends, Macias begins battling the Federales becoming a local then regional military leader. Joining with a growing Villista army around Zacatecas, Macias and his men achieve a remarkable feat during the battle that leads to victory and a promotion of Macias to general. The main reason Macias journeys to Zacatecas is an idealistic Federales deserter, Luis Cervantes, who conveniences the leader to join the growing Villista force. But after the battle, both men become disillusioned with the overall Revolution leading to simply leaving—Cervantes—for the United States or just keep fighting until the odds become too much—Macias.

This relatively short, well-written, yet seemingly disjointed narrative is considered the greatest novel of the Mexican Revolution because of this final aspect. Although this was Azuela’s first novel, it reads very well—in translation—and gives someone not interested in history a little knowledge about the defining moment in Mexican history if only in a brief glimpse.

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Christianity

ChristianityChristianity by Roland H. Bainton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The history of Christianity spans over 2000 years, across three then five continents, and numerous individuals doing their best to follow the example of Jesus. Roland H. Bainton’s Christianity is a survey of the history, theology developments, and impact of the faith has had on society over the length of its existence since the ministry of Christ on earth.

Beginning with the various cultural backgrounds that influenced the life of Jesus and the society he lived and teach in, Bainton writes an easily read survey of Christianity. Everything from the Apostolic Age through the persecution by the Roman Empire then its long progression of conversation through the Western Empire’s fall is covered very well. However with Rome’s fall, the book’s focus begins to be firmly placed in Western Europe—later to expand to the Americas—with all the culture, historical, political, and theological developments that are well-known to anyone with a general knowledge of the history of Western civilization. Given the book is less than 400 pages in length, Bainton’s having to choose the best way to get through the history of Christianity meant having to neglect the developments of East Orthodox, Oriental, and Coptic Christianity in favor to everything connected to Western Christianity.

Though not all facets are covered, Roland H. Bainton’s Christianity is a well-written survey that covers the basics of everything related to Western Christianity. For anyone looking for general information of Christianity, I recommend this book to you.

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