Orbit of Discovery: The All-Ohio Space Shuttle Mission

1937378721-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Orbit of Discovery: The All-Ohio Space Shuttle Mission by Don Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the beginning of the 20th-Century the state of Ohio has seemingly been on the forefront of manned flight from the Wright Brothers to Neil Armstrong to the flight of an “All-Ohio” crew of STS-70 aboard the shuttle Discovery. Don Thomas in Orbit of Discovery relates the entire history of the mission from his assignment to the crew to the post-mission events as well as the event that is it best known for, the woodpecker attack that delayed the launch.

Thomas begins his book with the sudden halt in his pre-flight routine when a love sick woodpecker drilled holes in the foam of the external tank forcing weeks of delays that put him and the other four members of the crew spinning their wheels. This pause allows Thomas to give an account about how he personally got to this point through his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut to his course of study in school to achieve that dream then his three time failures to join the program until finally succeeding on this fourth try. He then goes into his time in the program before his flight on the shuttle Columbia and quick turn assignment to Discovery soon after his return. Thomas then related the year long process of training and preparation for the mission until the sudden halt in the process when a woodpecker used the external tank to attract a mate. After NASA was able to repair the foam, the mission returns to normal save for the humor inclusions of Woody Woodpecker throughout the flight in space and the numerous post-mission events that Thomas relates in detail.

The uniqueness of the mission’s delay as well as the fact that the crew was entirely made up of astronauts from one state—well one was given honorable citizenship—made for a good hook for any general reader who might have an interest in the space program. Thomas with the assistance of Mike Bartell gives a very reader friendly look into what it was like to be an astronaut and the course of shuttle missions from assignment to post-flight events without becoming bogged down in technobabble. At the end of the book is included an appendix for profiles for all the astronauts that came from Ohio which is in the spirit of the book and adds a nice bit of history for those interested.

Overall, Orbit of Discovery is a well-written and easy to read book that gives a first-hand account of everything that went into a space shuttle flight. Don Thomas’ own story of his journey to finally getting to the program adds to the account in allowing the read to see how much dedication goes into becoming an astronaut. For those interested in any way in the space program, this is a highly recommended book.

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Agricola and Germany

019953926x-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Agricola and Germany by Tacitus
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Every one of Roman’s greatest historians began their writing career with some piece, for one such man it was a biography of his father-in-law and an ethnographic work about Germanic tribes. Agricola and Germany are the first written works by Cornelius Tacitus, which are both the shortest and the only complete pieces that he wrote.

Tacitus’ first work was a biography of his father-in-law, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, who was the governor of Britain and the man who completed the conquest of the rest of the island before it was abandoned by the emperor Domitian after he recalled Agricola and most likely poisoned him. The biography not only covered the life of Agricola but also was a history of the Roman conquest of Britain climaxed by the life of the piece’s hero. While Agricola focused mostly one man’s career, Tacitus did give brief ethnographic descriptions of the tribes of Britain which was just a small precursor of his Germany. This short work focused on all the Germanic tribes from the east bank of the Rhine to the shores of the North and Baltic Seas in the north to the Danube to the south and as far as rumor took them to the east. Building upon the work of others and using some of the information he gathered while stationed near the border, Tacitus draws an image of various tribes comparing them to the Romans in unique turn of phrases that shows their barbarianism to Roman civilization but greater freedom compared to Tacitus’ imperial audience.

Though there are some issues with Tacitus’ writing, most of the issues I had with this book is with the decisions made in putting this Oxford World’s Classics edition together. Namely it was the decision to put the Notes section after both pieces of writing. Because of this, one had to have a figure or bookmark in either Agricola or Germany and another in the Notes section. It became tiresome to go back and forth, which made keeping things straight hard to do and the main reason why I rate this book as low as I did.

Before the Annals and the Histories were written, Tacitus began his writing with a biography of his father-in-law and Roman’s northern barbarian neighbors. These early works show the style that Tacitus would perfect for his history of the first century Caesars that dramatically changed the culture of Roman.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir)

LawsonLet’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes you want to forget very embarrassing things that happen in your life and a few of those times you’ll ask your friends to pretend it didn’t happen, now think about that being the majority of your life. Jenny Lawson, aka “The Bloggess”, recounts her life from childhood through school, romance, marriage, and motherhood in her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir.

Lawson starts off the book by throwing the reader into the deep end of her humor and really doesn’t let them resurface until after finishing the book. Beginning with her childhood in Wall, Texas, Lawson goes through her quirky life from one embarrassing moment to another especially since her own father was a quirky taxidermist whose business was in the backyard AND that was before she even started school. Misadventures in high school—mainly dealing with a cow—and college follow, and it is in the latter where she meets her husband in which the most hilarious moments of her life begin. And through her marriage with Victor, the birth of their daughter, and move out into Texas countryside the misadventures only continue with predictably hilarious, yet embarrassing results.

It’s hard to really evaluate a humorous memoir, except grading it on the content of its own humor. Honestly, given how much I looked forward to reading this book each day and the fact I had to stop reading out of either laughing or just being embarrassed at the author’s own embarrassing situations means it succeeded. Yet on top of that is Lawson’s faux notes from her editor(s) just add to the overall experience of the book. And the added bonus chapter of the paperback of notes from her promotional tour is a cherry on top of everything.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened is a hilarious memoir of a woman who owns up to her embarrassing moments, cherishes them, and knows they made her who she is. Though this wasn’t the first book by Jenny Lawson that I’ve read, yet now I can see why it became a bestseller and has led to a few more books by Lawson.

Furiously Happy

William Miller and the Rise of Adventism

William MillerWilliam Miller and the Rise of Adventism by George R. Knight
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Great Disappointment in October 1844 appeared to have brought the end of Millerism and Adventism; however it proved to be just the end of the movement’s initial rise. William Miller and the Rise of Adventism by George R. Knight follows the life of William Miller and then the development of the movement that sprang up from his preaching of the imminent Second Coming of Jesus in ‘about the year 1843’, including the men who helped shape the movement with him and then influenced the believers after October 22, 1844.

Knight begins the history by placing the Christian theological background that influenced the rise of Biblical prophetic study as well as revivalism, including showing that Millerism was the last gasp of the Second Great Awakening. He then delves into the life of William Miller, the events of which would later influence his abandonment and later rediscovery of his Christian belief before his studies brought him to his monumental belief that Jesus’ Second Coming would occur ‘about 1843’. While Miller’s message was engaging from the start, his preaching was only in rural New York and Vermont until chance brought him in connection with younger men who found the truth of his words but knew how to use the day’s modern methods to spread it farther than Miller ever knew possible. Knight relates the growth of the movement among believers in numerous denominations which later leads to a reaction from those same denominations as well as the Millerite leaders attempt to keep down fanaticism amongst believers. The meat of the book covers the “Year of the End” from March 1843 to October 1844 with all the internal and external tension that occurred during that time as the expectation of Jesus return was a daily hope until the date of October 22 was accepted. The final section of the book relates the histories of the Millerites that kept their Adventist hope after the Great Disappointment.

Given the subject matter and Knight being the most prominent Seventh-day Adventist historian today, one could have expected prominence of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist church. However, save for Joseph Bates who was a prominent Millerite in his own right, the future Seventh-day Adventists are kept until the last two chapters of the book. If anything this was a story of the Millerites and Adventists who didn’t become Seventh-day Adventists, which is important for both those within and without the SDA denomination to learn about and especially for the former to learn lessons from history. For the general Church history reader, this book reveals the last big gasp of the Second Great Awakening that occurred in the United States as well as the ramifications of it over the past 170+ years.

I had expected this book to be a pure biography of William Miller; however the history of the movement named after him turned out to be a far better surprise. William Miller and the Rise of Adventism is for numerous audiences for those interested in Adventist history, American religious history, Christian history, and many more. While George R. Knight is a prominent Seventh-day Adventist historian, his scholarly approach gives the reader a full, unbiased picture of this time.

Evita: The Real Life of Eva Peron

EvitaEvita: The Real Life of Eva Peron by Nicholas Fraser
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having only lived 33 years and been in the public spotlight for the last six, one woman has become in the 60+ years since her death the most iconic and polarizing woman in her country without even holding political office. Nicholas Fraser in his work, Evita: The Real Life of Eva Peron, navigates between the fantastical versions of her life to find the real woman and put her into the context of the Argentina of her time before during and after her life.

Given the multitude of circumstances that Fraser faced to get an accurate portrait of Eva Peron, including her attempts to cover up her family’s illegitimacy, the fact that he was able to give a full account of her is noteworthy. Because of her short lifespan, the book was never going to be long but Fraser also had to contend with explaining the political atmosphere through Eva’s life especially after she became the First Lady of Argentina. Along with all of that, Fraser had to contend with the legendary versions of Eva’s life from both pro- and anti-Peronist sources. Yet the last 30 pages of the book are some of the most fascinating because it details the myth-creating journey that her corpse endured for almost 20 years through several governmental changes before finally being securely laid to rest in Buenos Aires.

Although the sensational accounts of Eva Peron’s life make for the ideal basis for musicals and films, the truth is just as fascinating. Nicholas Fraser’s biography of the most iconic Argentine political figure of the 20th-century is as close to the truth of her life as one is going to get and still understand the political atmosphere without getting bogged down in minutiae that would have enlarged the book and drifted away from the subject of the book.

Renegade: Martin Luther, the Graphic Biography

RenegadeRenegade: Martin Luther, the Graphic Biography by Andrea Grosso Ciponte
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

The life of Martin Luther, the man who sparked the Protestant Reformation, has been written about for centuries yet now it can not only be written about but visualized as well. Renegade: Martin Luther, the Graphic Biography by Andrea Grosso Ciponte and Dacia Palmerino is exactly what its title says about the man who sparked a change in history.

Depicting the life of Luther from his childhood to his death, the biography focuses on his time as a monk led up to and through his break with Rome. At 153 pages there is only so much that can be covered and only so much context as well through sometimes the visual aspect of the graphic novel does come in handy. While the short length of the book obviously foreshadowed only the barest minimum that could be covered on his life, yet the graphic novel aspect seemed to offer a way to enhance the chronicling of Luther’s life. Unfortunately the artwork looks like screen caps of a video game with so-so graphics with only a few great pages of art, usually at the beginning of each chapter.

The overall quality of the biographical and artwork content of Renegade is a mixed bag of a passable chronicle on Luther’s life and so-so artwork. While some younger readers than myself might find it a very good read and hopefully make them want to know more about Martin Luther and the Reformation, I found it a tad underwhelming.

I received this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program.

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Travels with Charley: In Search of America

Travels with Charley: In Search of AmericaTravels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the fall and early winter of 1960, John Steinbeck packed up a camper-converted pickup truck and along with his dog went in search of America. Travels with Charley finds Steinbeck making a round trip around the United States with his dog, the titular Charley, looking to rediscover the voice, attitude, and personality of the characters he peoples his fictional work with. Yet like all journeys this one takes unexpected turns that the author doesn’t see coming.

Save prearranged meetings with his wife in Chicago and then in Texas for Thanksgiving, Steinbeck and his loyal canine Charley traverse various sections looking to get back in-touch with other Americans that he’s missed by flying over or traveling abroad. Quickly though Steinbeck learns that the uniqueness of speech and language was beginning to disappear into a standardize English in many sections of the country. He finds the Interstate and Superhighway system a gray ribbon with no color in comparison to state roads that show color and local character of the area. And his amazement about how towns and cities have begun to sprawl losing local character as they became mini-versions of New York or Los Angeles which includes his own home town in the Salinas valley, highlighting the changes the country had occurred to the nation during his life time alone by 1960.

Yet Travels with Charley isn’t gloom or despair, Steinbeck writes about the national treasure that is the various landscapes around the country that help give locals their own personality even in the face of “standardizing”. His interactions with people throughout his trip, whether friendly or hostile, give the reader a sense of how things remain the same yet are changing in the United States at the time of Steinbeck’s trip. But Steinbeck’s interactions and observations of this travel companion Charley are what make this book something that is hard to put down. Whether it’s Charley’s excitement to explore that night’s rest stop or Steinbeck’s amazement at Charley’s nonchalance at seeing a towering redwood or Steinbeck’s concern over Charley’s health or Charley’s own assessment of people, Steinbeck’s prose gives Charley character and lets the reader imagine the old dog by their side wherever they’re reading this book.

Written later in the author’s career, the reader is given throughout the entire book the elegance of Steinbeck’s prose that embeds what he his writing about deep into one’s subconscious. Though there is debate about how much of Travels with Charleyy is fiction or if an individual is a composite of several others or even if events are ordered correctly, what the reader learns is that Steinbeck’s journey is unique to himself as theirs would be unique for them as well.

Written almost 60 years ago Travels with Charley details a changing America through the eyes of one of its greatest authors, even today some of Steinbeck’s passages resonate with us in today’s cultural and political climate. But if like me you wanted a book by Steinbeck to get to know his style and prose than this is the book to do so.

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