Prairie Boy: An Artist Tells of His Growing-Up Days on the Canadian Prairies

Prairie Boy: An Artist Tells of His Growing-Up Days on the Canadian PrairiesPrairie Boy: An Artist Tells of His Growing-Up Days on the Canadian Prairies by Harry Baerg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The life on the Canadian prairie a hundred years ago was one of adventure and hard work for a boy growing up, even without school to worry about. In Prairie Boy by artist -author Harry Baerg writes about events over 9 years of his life on and around his family farm in central Saskatchewan in an engaging autobiography geared towards young adults.

Beginning with purchase of his family’s farm outside the town of Waldheim in 1917 when he was 8, Baerg writes about many features of life over the next 9 years until his family left for British Columbia. As an avid nature writer, Baerg’s descriptions of the wildlife around his farm and his family’s farm animals are very well done as well as chores surrounding the latter. His descriptive illustrations, in both words and images, of various activities brought to life how farmers a century ago dealt with daily life without the technological developments that would occur over the course of the rest of the century. Baerg spends time on both his schooling and how modern inventions slowly started coming into town and into their family’s life, making one realize that even the faintest resemblance to our world today was barely visible a century ago.

Coming in under 130 pages, Prairie Boy is a very quick read but very informative and entertaining. Although intended for a young adult audience, Harry Baerg’s autobiography of his time growing up is something adults looking for an relaxing read would find interesting.

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Centuries of Change: Which Century Saw the Most Change and Why it Matters to Us

Centuries of Change: Which Century Saw the Most Change and Why it Matters to UsCenturies of Change: Which Century Saw the Most Change and Why it Matters to Us by Ian Mortimer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Throughout the later part of 1999, many programs were dedicated to showing the impressive change in the 20th Century over any other time in the previous 1000 years. Author Ian Mortimer thought this was presumptuous and decided to research to find which century of Western civilization in the previous millennium saw the most change. In Centuries of Change Mortimer presents the fruits of over decade worth of research to general audience.

From the outset of the book Mortimer gives the reader the scope and challenge about defining and measuring change, especially when focusing in specific 100 year periods. Avoiding the cliché answers of bright, shiny objects and larger-than-life historical figures from the get go, Mortimer looked for innovations of cultural, political, societal, and technological significance that fundamentally changed the way people lived at the end of a given century than when it began. Throughout the process Mortimer would highlight those inventions or well-known historical individuals that defined those innovations of change which resulted positively or negatively on Western civilization. At the end of each chapter, Mortimer would summarize how the ‘changes’ he highlighted interacted with one another and which was the most profound in a given century and then identify an individual he believe was ‘the principle agent of change’.

The in-depth analysis, yet easily readable language that Mortimer wrote on each topic of change he highlighted was the chief strength of this book. The end of chapter conclusions and identification of an agent of change is built up throughout the entire chapter and shows Mortimer’s dedication to providing evidence for his conclusion. Whether the reader agrees or not with Mortimer, the reader at least knows why he came to those decisions. When coming to a decision about which century of the past millennium saw the most change at the end of the book, Mortimer’s explanation of the process in how he compared different periods of time and then the results of that process were well written and easily understandable to both general readers and those from a more scholarly background, giving the book a perfect flow of knowledge and thought.

Centuries of Change was geared for the general reading audience instead of a more academic one. While I do not think this is a negative for the book, it did allow for those editing the book as well as Mortimer in reexamining his text to miss several incorrect statements on events and personages that while minor do to missing a word or two, just added up over the course of the book.

While looking at the progression and development of Western civilization is always a challenging process, Ian Mortimer’s Centuries of Change gives readers glimpse of how different types of innovations impacted just a 100 year period of time. Very readable for general readers and a nice overall glimpse for more academic readers, this book is a thought-provoking glimpse in how human’s bring about change and responds to change.

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The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire

The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American EmpireThe True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire by Stephen Kinzer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The internal debate within the United States about how the country should act around the world, to either avoid or intervene in foreign entanglements, has been going on for over a century. However, neither the arguments nor the situations that bring them on have changed over that time. Stephen Kinzer in his book The True Flag looks at when this debate began back at the turn of the 20th Century when the United States looked beyond the Americas in the “Age of Imperialism”.

The political and military history before, during, and after the Spanish-American War both inside and outside the United States was Kinzer’s focus throughout the book. Within this framework, Kinzer introduced organizations and individuals that opposed the actions and outcomes promoted by those more familiar to history, namely Theodore Roosevelt, as the United States was transformed into a “colonial” power. Yet, while this book is about the beginning of a century long debate it is more the story of those who through 1898 and 1901 argued against and tried to prevent the decisions and actions that today we read as history.

Although the names of Roosevelt and Mark Twain catch the eye on the cover, in reality Kinzer’s focus was on other important figures on either side of the debate. The biggest promoter of “expansionist” policy was Henry Cabot Lodge, Roosevelt’s long-time friend, who gladly let his friend become figure that history would remember. However, Lodge’s fellow senator from Massachusetts, George Frisbie Hoar was one of the fiercest opponents and critics of the “expansionist” policy that Lodge and Roosevelt promoted. One of the enigmatic figures of the time was newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, who openly advocated and supported war in Cuba but then turned against the expansion when the United States fought the insurrection in the Philippines. Businessman Andrew Carnegie was one of many prominent individuals who founded the American Anti-Imperialist League to work against the United States ruling foreign territory. Amongst those working with Carnegie were former President Grover Cleveland and imminent labor leader, Samuel Gompers, but the strangest bedfellow was William Jennings Bryan. In Bryan, many believed they had the person in the political sphere that could stem the tide against the “expansionist” agenda but were twice stunned by the decisions he made when it was time to make a stand.

Kinzer throughout the book would follow the exploits and opinions of both Roosevelt and Twain during the period covered, however there was is a stark difference amount of coverage each has in which Roosevelt is in the clear majority. It wasn’t that Kinzer chose not to invest page space to Twain, it was that he did not have the material to do so. Throughout most of the period covered, 1898-1901, Twain was in Europe and out of the social and political landscape of the United States. However, once Twain stepped back onto U.S. soil his pen became a weapon in the cause against imperialism that Kinzer documents very well. Unfortunately for both the reader and Kinzer, Twain only becomes prominent in the last third of the book whereas Roosevelt’s presence is throughout. This imbalance of page space between the books’ two important figures was created because of marketing, but do not let it create a false impression of favoritism by Kinzer on one side or another.

History records that those opposed to the United States’ overseas expansion lost, however ever since the arguments they used have been a part of the foreign policy debate that has influenced history ever since. The True Flag gives the reader a look into events and arguments that have shaped the debate around the question “How should the United States act in the world?” since it began almost 120 years ago. This book is a fantastic general history of an era and political atmosphere that impacts us still today, and is a quick easy read for those interested in the topic.

I received this book for free though LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.

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Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain’s Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War

Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain's Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of WarRogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain’s Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War by Ben Macintyre

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

During World War II many military strategies and tactics that are today standard around the world were first pioneer, including behind-the-lines special operation as done by the British Special Air Service (SAS). Ben Macintyre in Rogue Heroes relates the birth and evolution of the SAS from an ‘independent’ army in the North African theater to an integral part the Allied campaigns in Europe against Nazi Germany.

Macintyre’s history of the SAS begins with the man whose idea it was and who shaped it during its first years in existence, David Stirling who used his connections and his desire to actively participate in battling the Germans. Early on Stirling and his brigade went through several phases of evolution of tactics before fully becoming what Stirling had conceived in mid-1941. However, after Stirling’s capture in January 1943 and the change in theater, the SAS temporarily became a regular commando unit in the invasion of Italy before returning to their behind-the-line Special Forces status original purpose later in the Italian campaign and on the Western Front during and after D-Day.

The decision by Macintyre to not focus on all of the missions of the SAS, but only those that influenced and impacted the development of the Special Forces unit as well as to reduce repetitiveness in the book was a good one. The decision help keep the book at a readable length for the general reader, however other choices by the author didn’t make for a smooth read. While Macintyre did his best to cover the efforts of the various SAS squadrons across several theaters and locations within each once as well over the course of the war, at times the division and abrupt changing from one situation to the next made for stilted reading. Another important decision by Macintyre was who within the SAS to highlight and follow over the course of the brigade’s service in World War II. And for the most part, Macintyre did a good job on putting the focus on who needed it but some of the soldiers highlighted seemed to just add flavor for no real purpose than to seemingly check off a list of possible people this book could appeal to.

Overall, Ben Macintyre did a very good job in relating the history of the SAS. Unlike writing a biography or a specific event, a history of a military unit with its change of personnel and changing theaters of battle make it harder to write as the author has to decide who to follow in the unit’s development. Rogue Heroes if anything gives the reader at least a general history and career of the World War II-era SAS, for some it will be enough and for others it’ll be a wetting of the appetite. I would recommend this book to those interested in military history or in World War II over than just the general reader as a whole.

I received this book for free though LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.

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The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan

The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of ReaganThe Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan by Rick Perlstein
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The Invisible Bridge is an apt title for the latest installment of Rick Perlstein’s historical series on the rise of modern conservatism in American politics. After the scandal of Watergate, the Establishment of the Republican Party was desperate to repudiate its former head and his politics while the right wing looked to give American “a choice, not an echo”. The showdown between President Gerald Ford and Governor Ronald Reagan was thought a cakewalk by the political and media establishment who had not learned the lessons from 1964 and beyond.

Like the previous two book in the series, Perlstein shows that politics and history do not occur in a vacuum as cultural, entertainment, and societal issues during the middle part of the 1970s are covered and how they related to political scene of the time as well. In the wake of Watergate and the resignation of Nixon, the Democratic Party was so certain of victory in 1976 that numerous candidates entered to win the nomination and a sure term as President, only for a complete unknown to the Establishment—Jimmy Carter—to come out with the nomination. Yet the main thrust of the entire book is the 1976 nomination fight between Ford and Reagan; how it came about, how it was contested, and how it ended at the Kansas City convention.

Although history and politics are central to this book, Perlstein doesn’t shy away from giving biographies of the three important individuals of the period: Carter, Ford, and Reagan. The portraits those biographies provide are for the most part not very pretty, especially for those who idolize Ronald Reagan as Perlstein doesn’t pull any punches about his life. But for those who think Perlstein out to get Reagan, the image Perlstein shows of Carter is anything but rosy or positive and gives a hint about how he’ll portray the 39th President in his next book which will not make Carter fans very happy as well. Of the three major figures in this book, Gerald Ford comes out the best though in a way Perlstein gives the impression that Ford was more an individual desirous of pity than praise.

I began this review by saying that The Invisible Bridge was an apt title for this book and the reason was that not until looking back from the perspective of 1980 and beyond did anyone see that in 1976 when Ford won the Republican nomination that it was pyrrhic victory by a moderate conservative of a party increasingly controlled by the far right conservatives. Only in hindsight could the pundits and historians see the once hidden bridge of how the crushed right wing of 1964 had taken over by 1976, that bridge was one man who it turned out won by losing.

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Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America

Nixonland: America's Second Civil War and the Divisive Legacy of Richard Nixon 1965-72Nixonland: America’s Second Civil War and the Divisive Legacy of Richard Nixon 1965-72 by Rick Perlstein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Is Nixonland a time or a place? Back in 2008, Rick Perlstein stated that between 1965 and 1972 when Richard Nixon rose to not only the Presidency but achieving the third-largest percentage in election history that Nixonland was brought forth and has been our country ever since. Over the past 8 year, Perlstein has been proven correct.

After the catastrophic defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964, many assumed that the conservative wing of the Republican Party had been thoroughly reputed and would recede to the background of American political life. Then Watts occurred days after the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and liberalism started unravelling both domestically and in Vietnam. Watching these events was a man thought a political afterthought, Richard Nixon.

Through four elections cycles over seven years, Nixon used the remnants of the conservative insurgence still controlling the state party conventions and his own narrative message to achieve not only a political comeback but a historical reelection victory. But what ultimately helped Nixon the most was the division of nation in two between a progressive driven liberal “popular” culture and those reacting about how fast and how far those progressive steps had gone. It was this latter group that Nixon convinced to join him while the Democratic Party descended into chaos on the national level not once but twice over the course of two Presidential elections.

Over the course of 748 pages of text that covered mostly 7 years, showed how the political atmosphere of the time but of our time was born. The political rhetoric of 2008, 2012, and even 2016 is wholly seen in 1966, 1968, 1970, and 1972 born by the campaigns and speeches by one Richard Nixon and numerous Democrats. In fact the foolish of Democrats in response to this rhetoric that can sometimes still be seen today in 2016 is described in full detail within Perlstein’s text. Of the remaining 131 pages, it is stock full of notes and citations of a well-researched book about the birth of modern American political culture.

For those living the United States, we’re still in Nixonland and if you want to know how American politics entered this 24/7 heated political atmosphere then I recommend that you read this book.

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We the People: The Modern-Day Figures Who Have Reshaped and Affirmed the Founding Father’ Vision of American

We the People: The Modern-Day Figures Who Have Reshaped and Affirmed the Founding Fathers' Vision of AmericaWe the People: The Modern-Day Figures Who Have Reshaped and Affirmed the Founding Fathers’ Vision of America by Juan Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

What would the Founding Fathers think about America today? Is the question that Juan Williams looks at in his new book, We the People. Yet in trying to find the answer, Williams realized that the Founding Fathers would not recognize the United States of 2016 given what has occurred over the past 240 years, so he shifted his focus to those individuals who have shaped the nation since World War II by how they interpreted the words of the Founding Fathers.

Through 18 chapters, Williams examined numerous individuals and how they affected issues and movements that affect the United States today. These new members of the Found Father “family” as Williams calls them range from the notable such as Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King Jr., Ronald Reagan, and Earl Warren to the lesser known such as Harry Hay, Robert Ball, and Robert Morris. The issues these individuals range from immigration to gun rights to environmentalism to the debate between the living constitution and originalism.

In each chapter, Williams gives an unbiased history of the issue under discussion as well as a biography of the individual or individuals that contributed to how the issue became important for us today. Although this might sound like it could be a plodding read, Williams writes in a crisp and engaging manner that results in the nearly 400 pages of text to pass swiftly for the reader while so informing them of the issue and individuals that made them important for 21st century Americans.

If there is one thing I wish Williams had done was a concluding chapter that would have addressed how some of the issues he presented interacted with one another. This would have also afforded Williams the opportunity while showing the interaction between issues to parallel how the interaction of 21st century issues to show parallels about 21st century issues interacted with one another just as issues the 18th century during the Founding Father era interacted with one another. I personally believe this reinforcing of his argument as well as the synthesis of the previous chapters would have created a stronger conclusion to the text than just the normal chapter ending that the reader got.

We the People could be seen as one of those “popular history” genre books glosses over things, but Williams’ prose and material goes deeper to give the reader a better understanding as to how 21st century America came to be as it is. The nearly 400 page of text is very reasonable for the average reader and the information provided within them really packs a punch. I would wholeheartedly recommend this book for those interested in history and/or politics.

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