Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times

1400030722.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times by H.W. Brands
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Considered by some the most dangerous man to be President and others as one of their own that deserved the office, he ushered in a sea change in Washington and American politics. Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times by H.W. Brands follows the future President of the United States from his birth in the South Carolina backcountry to frontier town of Nashville to the battlefields of the Old Southwest then finally to the White House and how he gave his name to an era of American history.

Brands begins with a Jackson family history first from Scotland to Ulster then to the Piedmont region of the Carolina where his aunts and uncles had pioneered before his own parents immigrated. Fatherless from birth, Jackson’s childhood was intertwined with issues between the American colonies and Britain then eventually the Revolutionary War that the 13-year old Jackson participated in as a militia scout and guerilla fighter before his capture and illness while a POW. After the death of the rest of his family at the end of the war through illness, a young Jackson eventually went into law becoming one of the few “backcountry” lawyers in western North Carolina—including Tennessee which was claimed by North Carolina—before moving to Nashville and eventually becoming one of the founders of the state of Tennessee and become one of it’s most important military and political figures especially with his marriage to Rachel Donelson. Eventually Jackson’s status as the major general of the Tennessee militia led him to first fight the Creek War—part of the overall War of 1812—then after the successful conclusion of the campaign was made a major general of the regular army in charge of the defending New Orleans from British attack which ultimately culminated in the famous 1815 battle that occurred after the signing of the peace treaty in Ghent. As “the” military hero of the war, Jackson’s political capital grew throughout the Monroe administration even with his controversial invasion of Florida against the Seminole. After becoming the first U.S. Governor of Florida, Jackson left the army and eventually saw his prospects rise for the Presidency to succeed Monroe leading to the four-way Presidential contest of 1824 which saw Jackson win both the popular vote and plurality of electoral college votes but lose in the House to John Quincy Adams. The campaign for 1828 began almost immediately and by the time of the vote the result wasn’t in doubt. Jackson’s time in the White House was focused on the Peggy Eaton affair, the battle over Bank of the United States, the Nullification Crisis with South Carolina, Indian relations, and finally what was happening in Texas. After his time in office, Jackson struggled keeping his estate out of debt and kept up with the events of around the country until his death.

In addition to focusing on Jackson’s life, Brands make sure to give background to the events that he would eventually be crucial part of. Throughout the book Brands keeps three issues prominent: Unionism, slavery, and Indian relations that dominated Jackson’s life and/or political thoughts. While Brands hits hard Jackson’s belief in the Union and is nuanced when it comes with slavery, the relations with Indians is well done in some areas and fails in some (most notably the “Trail of Tears”). This is not a biography focused primarily on Jackson’s time in the White House and thus Brands only focused on the big issues that is primarily focused on schools instead of an intense dive into his eight years.

Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times is a informative look into the life of the seventh President of the United States and what was happening in the United States throughout his nearly eight decades of life. H.W. Brands’ writing style is given to very easy reading and his research provides very good information for both general and history specific readers, though he does hedge in some areas. Overall a very good biography.

The Twelve Caesars

0140449213.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

For the past two millennia Caesar has denoted the absolute ruler of an empire, a legacy of one man who ruled Rome and the men who succeeded him and used his name. The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius gives biographical sketches of the men who ruled the Western world for a century and a half, from the end of the Republic to the death of Domitian.

Each of Suetonius’ biographies follow the similar pattern in which the individual’s heritage, political-military career, private lives, personal habits, and physical appearance. Though the pattern is the same, Suetonius’ style is to slowly weave in elements of one section into another—except for physical appearance—thus not breaking a nice flow for the reader. As the main source of Caligula (Gaius in the text), Claudius, and Vespasian’s family history, Suetonius not only adds on top of Tacitus but covers what was lost from his contemporary’s works. Yet unlike Tacitus, gossip and innuendo features a lot in the work making this book a little bit racy compared to Suetonius’ contemporary.

The translation by Robert Graves—of I, Claudius fame—was wonderfully done and did a lot to give the text a great flow. Of Suetonius’ text the overwhelming use of portents and omens was a bit too much at times, though given the time period of the historian’s life this superstitious view was a part of everyday life.

The Twelve Caesars gives another view of the men who ruled the Western world. Suetonius’ writing style and subject matter contrast with Tacitus but only for the better for the reader of both who get a full picture of the individuals the two contemporary historians cover.

2019 Reading Plan (December Update)

Admittedly not the best picture.


November was a successful month with five completed books, four of which were on my original list.  I’ve tied for my third most yearly total of books read and tying my second most or surpassing it is possible in December (I won’t beat last year’s 83 books).  Let’s go to the stats:

Overall Total: 58/45 (128.8%)
Original List: 39/45 (86.7%)
Total Pages: 26091 (449.8)

The month started by continuing my reread of Tom Clancy’s Power Plays series with the fourth book, Bio-Strike.  It was an improvement in quality over it’s predecessor, but sudden ramping up of antagonist hate of the protagonist was stunning.  Next was To a God Unknown by John Steinbeck which was my first (not counting The Pearl in high school) fiction of his–Travels with Charley–and I thought it was a good read and I’ve decided to pick up more Steinbeck in the future.  Secrets of the Lost Races by Rene Noorbergen was an interesting book, way better than his Nostradamus though not necessary good.  I then returned to the Dirk Pitt series with Treasure and found it the best book of the series so far, it’s wasn’t great but it was good.  And I finished off the month with War of Eagles, the last book of the original run Tom Clancy’s Op-Center, which was a vast improvement over the previous book in the series but was alright overall.

The last month of the year will start off with a lot of activity, I’m currently reading about Domitian in Suetonius’ The Twelve Caesars so expect that post in the next few days.  Then sometime within the next week will be a post about H.W. Brands’ biography of Andrew Jackson.  Before the end of the month I’ll finish a biography of Uriah Smith, an Adventist pioneer, which I’m reading on the weekends but once Suetonius is finish I’ll read everyday at home.  After that I’ll have four book from my original list to read, whether I get to all of them will be questionable but I didn’t expect to get through as many books from my list in November so who knows?

Founding Rivals: Madison vs. Monroe by Chris DeRose
The Rise and Fall of the British Empire by Lawrence James
W.W. Prescott: Forgotten Giant of Adventism’s Second Generation by Gilbert M. Valentine^
Soldier, Sailor, Frogman, Spy, Airman, Gangster, Kill or Die: How the Allies Won on D-Day by Giles Milton#
Raise the Titanic! (Dirk Pitt #4) by Clive Cussler
The Cosmic Code (Earth Chronicles #6) by Zecharia Sitchin
Divide and Conquer (Op-Center #7) by Jeff Rovin- REREAD
John Harvey Kellogg: Pioneering Health Reformer by Richard W. Schwarz^
The Histories by Herodotus*
Miracle at Philadelphia by Catherine Drinker Bowen
Shadow & Claw (New Sun #1-2) by Gene Wolfe
The End of Days (Earth Chronicles #7) by Zecharia Sitchin
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
The Political Writings of St. Augustine*
E.J. Waggoner: From the Physician of Good News to the Agent of Division by Woodrow W. Whidden^
Women Warriors: An Expected History by Pamela D. Toler#
Vixen 03 (Dick Pitt #5) by Clive Cussler
Line of Control (Op-Center #8) by Jeff Rovin- REREAD
Peace and Turmoil (The Dark Shores #1) by Elliot Brooks+
World Mythology by Donna Rosenberg
The National Team by Caitlin Murray#
Sword & Citadel (New Sun #3-4) by Gene Wolfe
Politika (Power Plays #1) by Jerome Preisler- REREAD
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Night Probe! (Dirk Pitt #6) by Clive Cussler
Mission of Honor (Op-Center #9) by Jeff Rovin- REREAD
Lewis C. Sheafe: Apostle to Black America by Douglas Morgan^
English Constitutional Conflicts of the Seventeenth Century: 1603-89 by J.R. Tanner
Dune by Frank Herbert
Rebellion and Redemption by David Tasker^ (Power Plays #2) by Jerome Preisler- REREAD
The British Are Coming (The Revolution #1) by Rick Atkinson+
The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides*
Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner
Deep Six (Dirk Pitt #7) by Clive Cussler
Sea of Fire (Op-Center #10) by Jeff Rovin- REREAD
A.T. Jones: Point Man on Adventism’s Charismatic Frontier by George R. Knight^
The History of England (abridged) by Lord Macaulay
The Ghost, The Owl by Franco & Sara Richard+
The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
Between Worlds: Folktales of Britain and Ireland by Kevin Crossley-Holland#
Shadow Watch (Power Plays #3) by Jerome Preisler- REREAD
Redemption in Genesis by John S. Nixon^
Nostradamus Predicts The End of the World by Rene Noorbergen+
Three Kingdoms: Classic Novel in Four Volumes by Luo Guanzhong
Cyclops (Dirk Pitt #8) by Clive Cussler
Call to Treason (Op-Center #11) by Jeff Rovin
Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George H.W. Bush by Jon Meacham
Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle Earth by J.R.R. Tolkien
On Law, Morality, and Politics by Thomas Aquinas*
J.N. Loughborough: The Last of the Adventist Pioneers by Brian E. Strayer^
Shocking Secrets of American History by Bill Coate+
The Curse of Oak Island by Randall Sullivan+
Bio-Strike (Power Plays #4) by Jerome Preisler- REREAD
To a God Unknown by John Steinbeck
Secrets of the Lost Races by Rene Noorbergen^
Treasure (Dirk Pitt #9) by Clive Cussler
War of Eagles (Op-Center #12) by Jeff Rovin
Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times by H.W. Brands
Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
Cold War (Power Plays #5) by Jerome Preisler- REREAD
The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz
Dragon (Dirk Pitt #10) by Clive Cussler

The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius

*= Original Home Read
^= Home Read
#= Giveaway Read
+= Random Insertion

War of Eagles (Op-Center #12)

0425199622.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_War of Eagles by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A series of explosions around the globe has two Chinese rivals at each other’s throats and a launch of a plutonium-powered foreign-made Chinese satellite looks to be the next target, but which one and why is the question a suddenly restructured Op-Center must answer. War of Eagles is the twelfth and last book of the Jeff Rovin authored Op-Center series’ original run as Paul Hood is suddenly replaced by a three-star general as Director of Op-Center but as newly appointed intelligence troubleshooter for the new President, only to find himself working with his old command in the middle of China.

Explosions aboard a freighter in Charleston, a sugar refinery in Durban, and then at a night club in Taipei reveals a battle between the head of the Chinese secret police Chou Shin and the top general Tam Li. Yet early in the emerging situation, Paul Hood is called to the White House to become special intelligence envoy for the new President while his replacement General Morgan Carrie is on her way to takeover Op-Center. Both Hood and Carrie quickly assert themselves in their new positions much the consternation to the White House Chief of Staff and the remaining personnel of Op-Center especially Bob Herbert. After learning from Mike Rodgers that his company helped build a new Chinese communications platinum-powered satellite, which would benefit the military, the President sends Hood to China to speak with Prime Minister Le Kwan Po and expects Op-Center to help him in every way. Le, whose main job is keeping political factions at peace or the President will find someone who can, has a meeting with Chou and Tam that Chou leaves early makes Le think the Chou might target the satellite which happens to be the working theory that Hood, Rodgers, and Op-Center have as well. However, Tam plans to blow up the rocket killing Le and other Chinese ministers and bureaucrats as ruse to attack Taiwan then later “learn” it was Chou’s fault. Chou notices the unusual military activity Tam ordered and goes to investigate only for Tam to burn Chou’s plane on the runway. After meeting with Le, Hood goes with the Prime Minister to the launch while Rodgers meets with a team of Marines undercover in China to infiltrate the facility as a security team for his company. Upon learning of Chou’s death, Le becomes suspicious of Tam and decides to talk with his soldiers at the facility only to be conned by the General only to learn they’ve fled the facility. Outside the facility Rodgers helps capture the soldiers and relays where the bomb is that’ll destroy the rocket which Hood and the Marines help destroy preventing disaster. Le orders Tam arrest while Hood’s success gives the President a victory that upsets General Carrie’s superior who orders her to fire Herbert who worked outside the chain of command.

After a nice, arguably slow, setup at the beginning of the book Rovin quickly got the plot off and running along with some interesting subplots that complimented the main plot. Given this was thought to be the final Op-Center book, it was necessary to get the three big players of the organization fully out and the solutions to get Hood and Herbert gone were interesting to say the least. The three main Chinese point-of-view characters were well written and creating an intriguing counterpoint to the America POVs. Though only a secondary character, General Morgan Carrie was well written and would have been an interesting character to have led the series if it had continued, though to be honest if it had she wouldn’t have existed. While one of the better written books there were several big miscues that couldn’t be forgiven. The first was Mike Rodgers independently going after Tam escaping soldiers and not getting shot by other Chinese soldiers chasing after them as well and the second was the decision that Dr. Liz Gordon, Op-Center’s psychologist, to be a creepy lesbian—she starts formulating a plan to seduce a married General Carrie—instead of just simply a lesbian which had been hinted at earlier in the series.

War of Eagles wasn’t the best book in the original Op-Center run that was mostly lows with occasional highs, but after the awful previous installment at least Jeff Rovin sent it off well.


Treasure (Dirk Pitt #9)

0586074724.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Treasure by Clive Cussler
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

A late Roman ship locked in Greenland ice changes history, but a wax tablet describing its journey could bring the treasures of the Library of Alexandria back to the world. Treasure is the 9th book of Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt series as the titular hero goes from searching for a sunken Soviet sub to searching for a missing cruise ship with foreign heads of state and then looking for the fabulous remnants of the Library of Alexandria in Texas near the Rio Grande.

The last head of the Library of Alexandria finishes his inventory of the treasures he’s taken to be preserved in an unknown land only for his mercenaries to anger the local barbarians that attack and kill nearly everyone, except for the librarian and one ship that didn’t trust him cast off leaving him behind. Almost 1500 years later, archaeologist Dr. Lily Sharp finds a Roman coin in Eskimo village in Greenland while off the coast Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino help the U.S. Navy find a sunken Soviet sub when suddenly a commercial airliner with the UN Secretary General onboard flies overhead and crash lanes into the ice. The archaeologists, Pitt & Giordino, and the Navy personal launch rescues but find three survivors with most dead by poison but the 1st and 2nd officers killed by the missing pilot, one of the best assassins in the world. Using the equipment on the Navy ship, Pitt finds a late Roman vessel trapped in the ice with the crew preserved along with a log of the ship’s journey and why they were there. But Pitt, Giordino, and Dr. Sharp are sent to Colorado to talk with a Library of Alexandria expert and end up in a car chase after rescuing the UN Secretary General Hala Kamil from another assassination attempt, though an inept one, wanted by an Islamic cleric in her native Egypt because of her popularity. The Egyptian cleric, in an alliance with a Aztec religious fanatic in Mexico, orders his expert assassin to abduct the Presidents of Egypt and Mexico from their cruise ship at a Third World economic conference in Uruguay. The addition of Kamil who wanted to confer with both Presidents and Senator George Pitt, Dirk’s father, which the expert assassin views as both finishing his airplane job and leverage against the United States in the search. Pitt, Giordino, and Rudy Gunn takeover a NUMA ship in the south Atlantic and figure out that instead of sinking the cruise liner, a Mexican freighter was sunk and the cruiser made to look like the freighter for the benefit of satellites then wrapped in plastic that was covered in water so as to look like an iceberg to hide in the Strait of Magellan. U.S. Special Forces raid the ship, killing the Mexican terrorists who had secretly left with the VIP hostages to an old mining operation on a nearby island that the NUMA people were left only to be defeated by Pitt and others barely though the hostages saved. The expert assassin, blinded thanks to Pitt, wanting revenge kills the Egyptian cleric for setting him up for failure while he sends his deputy to kill Pitt. The NUMA computer using a map outline from the Roman ship and the journey log’s description locates the landing spot in Rome, Texas near the Mexican border. The Aztec religious fanatic inspires the poor citizenry of Mexico to gather at the border then invade the town of Rome only to be confronted by Pitt at the dig site then killed along the deputy assassin in a three-way fight before an explosion supposedly destroys the treasure and sending disappointed Mexicans back across the border. It is revealed that treasure was buried in another of the seven hills around the Texas town and that the Egyptian and Mexican religious fanatics were brothers from mixed race marriage of a three generation old crime family with tentacles around the world along with another brother who was being groomed to takeover Brazil.

Cussler takes a cue from era of the book’s publication, late 80s, and eliminates the Cold War cliché subplots instead going for Third World populism as well as religious fanaticism subplots that worked better from a story standpoint, yet the White House political and policy scenes felt like a drag to the story as a whole. If anything the Library of Alexandria element was probably the weakest subplot since beginning with Julius Caesar’s accidental partial destruction of the Library nothing from the original was left by the time Cussler’s “last librarian” buried the treasure in Texas and Alexander the Great’s mummy had probably been moved to an Alexandrian church under the false belief it was the Apostle Mark—and is probably in St. Mark’s in Venice if it was smuggled out by merchants centuries after the Muslims took over. As for the characters, the main antagonist was the expert assassin who was very formidable and almost got Pitt killed from the grave while the two religious fanatics were the typical “evil overlords” who were more secondary villains than anything else. Pitt was an over-the-top ladies’ man, having sex with both Kamil and Sharp, but got beaten up with all the fighting done over the course of the novel. However just because they had sex with Pitt doesn’t mean Kamil and Sharp weren’t interesting characters and showed an improvement of Cussler’s writing.

Treasure improved in areas over the previous Pitt installment through went back in another, but it’s overall quality was on par with Cyclops and the overall story was better. This a great adventure story with everything from treasure, assassins, political intrigue, and daring feats which is well worth your time if you’re interested in a light read over a few days.

Dirk Pitt

Secrets of the Lost Races

147960500x.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Secrets of the Lost Races by Rene Noorbergen
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The seeming roller coaster of the rise and fall of civilization is made even more questioning with “out-of-place artifacts” through into the mix. Secrets of the Lost Races by Rene Noorbergen examines these items and accounts from across the globe of modern-day technology to theorize that these are leftover knowledge from an antediluvian civilization that was slowly lost.

Using the early chapters of Genesis and very peculiar fossil finds, Noorbergen makes the case for the Biblical Flood then uses the same early Biblical chapters to make a case for a highly advanced civilization that the Ark survivors remembered enough to reboot civilization that would slowly decline as thousands of years past as the knowledge was slowly lost. Throughout the book Noorbergen tackles various issues from potentially ancient sourced maps of the globe before European explorers created their own, the apparent physical evidence of nuclear war in the ancient past along with texts describing it, and the supposed concurrent existence of Stone Age cave men and various civilizations that were suppose to be thousands of years apart.

To give this book a chance one must believe in the Biblical Flood or be willing to be open to it as well as be open to Noorbergen’s interruption with it; one also has to account with the fact that this book was originally published over 40 years ago with looking at the evidence especially since further research has discounted it (the Zeno brothers) or more of a question mark. Noorbergen is very insistent that the theories of von Daniken or Sitchin that advanced technology is from extraterrestrials doesn’t make sense even though his book is very much in their vain. Yet in trying to fit in so much in around 200 pages, Noorbergen misses out on better analytical explanations.

Secrets of the Lost Races is an intriguing use of evidence that “ancient astronaut” theorists have brought further to a different purpose. While Rene Noorbergen’s interest in the Flood and Noah’s Ark is various obvious, it doesn’t take away from his theory but adds emphasis to it. If you’re interested in an alternate view of history this is something you might be interested in.

To a God Unknown

858732a8bb6246d597a6b445451444341587343To a God Unknown by John Steinbeck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Belief in things seen and unseen is different for everyone, yet how one acts on that belief has ramifications to others and yourself. To a God Unknown by John Steinbeck follows newly arrived Joseph Wayne has he begins a family ranch believing his father’s spirit inhabits a tree that protects the land which scares religious individuals in and around the ranch.

Joseph Wayne receives the blessing of his father, John, to leave Vermont and go to California. Upon arriving and purchasing land, Joseph receives a letter from his religious brother Burton about the death of their father but after reading the letter Joseph feels his father in a huge tree next to the house he’s building. Joseph’s three brothers and their families arrive months later and start a growing cattle ranch with Joseph always interested in the fertility of the land and his cattle while giving reverence to the tree which gets noticed by Burton. The nearby town receives a new teacher which gets every single male’s attention, but Joseph somehow gets her to be his wife and the two have a “interesting” marriage that results in a son, young John, and ends with his wife’s death at a sacred rock that is on Joseph’s land. After the ranch hosts a fiesta in which Joseph’s behavior towards the tree alarms the local priest and Burton. Burton decides to leave for a safely Christian town but removes a ring of bark around the tree leading to its death. Almost immediately the weather turns and over the next year drought devastates the ranch leading to Joseph’s brother leading what cattle he can to greener pastures while Joseph’s stays with the land. Then as he watches the last water dry up from around the sacred rock. Joseph cuts himself and sees his blood moisten the ground then thunder in the distance. He then sacrifices himself for the land and feels the rain in his dying moments.

Belief and how it affects people is the central theme of the novel, though the connection between farmer/rancher and the land goes hand in hand with it. There are also clashes of belief, from Joseph’s paganism to the Christianity of Burton and the local priest who is also in conflict with local Indian beliefs. This theme is the essential to the entire book as every character has their beliefs which make them unique and how they relate to everyone else. But while Steinbeck goes into character beliefs, it doesn’t mean they’re all well rounded characters especially the women though Joseph’s sister-in-law Rama comes close.

To a God Unknown is the last of Steinbeck’s early works before his commercial and critical success but gives a glimpse of his later more well-known works. As my first non-school related (The Pearl) Steinbeck work, I found this thought-provoking and intriguing but still a tad “rough” in style. However, if you’re interested in getting to Steinbeck try this book and see if like myself, you’re figuring out which other Steinbeck books you’ll want to read.