Founding Rivals: Madison vs. Monroe–The Bill of Rights and The Election that Saved a Nation

159698192X.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Founding Rivals: Madison vs. Monroe, The Bill of Rights, and The Election that Saved a Nation by Chris DeRose
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

The future of the young United States hangs in the balance as two friends and rising statesmen travel the roads of eight Virginia counties to become a member of the first Congress under the newly adopted Constitution, depending on who is elected the new Constitution will succeed or fail. Founding Rivals: Madison vs. Monroe—The Bill of Rights and The Election That Saved A Nation by Chris DeRose follows the lives of future Presidents James Madison and James Monroe lead up to the election the two men faced off in Virginia’s 5th Congressional district and why the result was important for the future of the nation.

The lives of the young Virginians James Madison and James Monroe were both different; one was sickly and served in legislatures during the Revolution while the other was healthy and a soldier during the war. But there were similarities as well as both were wholeheartedly behind the success of the new nation and deeply troubled about the ineffectiveness of the Articles of Confederation, wanting those similar of mind to come together to bring changes. After the failed Annapolis Convention, Madison coaxed George Washington out of retirement to the Philadelphia Convention and the result was a new Constitution that was sent to the states for ratification. Monroe, though wanting a better government than the Articles, found the new Constitution too much and joined other Anti-Federalists in Virginia hoping to reject the new document in the face of Madison and the Federalists. The heated Virginia Ratification Convention went back and forth before Virginia passed the new Constitution, but the Anti-Federalists stuck back in next session of the House of Delegates putting Madison in a seemingly Anti-Federalist district and convinced Monroe to stand for election against him. If Monroe were to win, the Federalists who would be the majority would be without a leader and not support any amendments (i.e. the Bill of Rights) that Monroe and the Anti-Federalists wanted thus possibly leading to a second Constitutional convention that would undo the new government. However, Madison’s victory came about because of his support for a Bill of Rights especially his long support of religious freedom for dissenters in Virginia.

Coming in around 275 pages, Chris DeRose’s first book was a nice read with good research and nice structure to show the parallel lives of his subjects before their history defining election. Yet the fact that the vast majority of my synopsis focused on the last half of the book shows that while DeRose had a nice structure he didn’t use his space well. Several times throughout the book DeRose would insert his opinion on what he believed Madison or Monroe were thinking at some moment in time which came off looking amateurish that fact that wasn’t helped when DeRose would also insert asides alluding to current (as of 2011) political event several times as well.

Overall Founding Rivals is a nice look into the early lives of James Madison and James Monroe along with a crucial election they stood for with the new Constitution in the balanced. While Chris DeRose did admirable work, it is still his first book and in several places it is never evident. Yet with this caution it is still a good read for history buffs especially interested in this critical period in American history.

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James White: Innovator and Overcomer

2cdb53c0442e9ea596d67307267444341587343James White: Innovator and Overcomer by Gerald Wheeler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The primary force behind the organizational formation of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination himself came from a denomination that resisted organization, but today’s Seventh-day Adventist church has his fingerprints even today. James White: Innovator and Overcomer by Gerald Wheeler, examines the life and times of one of the three main founders of the church whose drive was both a blessing and a curse.

Beginning and ending this biography at the funeral of James White, Wheeler highlights an important theme throughout White’s life, his seemingly paradoxical personality that drove him to everything he could for the church he helped to found but that could also cause friction with others from coworkers, friends, and family. Wheeler then shifts to White’s early life in Maine, a tough place that made tough people who endured the harsh climate of the area. Though encouraged to just become a farmer though he yearned for education, White became convinced the message of William Miller and soon felt the call to preacher the 1844 message while becoming accredited with the Christian Connection, whose views would influence him for years and decades to come. After the Great Disappointment, White was among those who believed something occurred on October 22 but shied away from the fanaticism of others through he was drawn to the encouraging visions of Ellen Harmon and began escorting her to various groups of Millerites before social conventions led the two to wed. The couple along with others, most notably Joseph Bates and Hiram Edson, began development the theological underpinnings of the future Seventh-day Adventist church and Ellen’s encouragement lead to White beginning ‘Review and Herald’ which would eventually place White at the forefront of the movement and eventually the main proponent of organization for almost a decade before it became a reality. Once organized, White wanted others to lead the church with him—famously refusing to become the denomination’s first president—but given his drive for its creation and want of its success he wasn’t the easiest to work with and would butt heads with many in the final 20 years of his life that grew worse as his many strokes would magnify his personality’s positive and negative traits. Throughout his endeavors with the church, Wheeler described White’s personally frugal nature that would make him squeeze out all he could with his money for himself and his family while at the same time being generous to less fortunate believes and church institutions. Though busy running two to three periodicals and a newly formed church, White was a business man and real estate investor so as to provide himself and family economic security but this led to accusations that he enriched himself with church funds that dogged him even after his passing.

In almost 250 pages of text and references, Wheeler provided an eye-opening look into the life of James White through the use of White’s own autobiography but also letters written by himself and others as well as other sources from individuals who knew him throughout his life. Wheeler fleshes out James White into a real person that like us today had strengths and flaws that he used and dealt with his entire life while getting closer and closer to Christ, something every Adventist—or any Christian—should identify with today. Though information and use of primary sources is excellent, the structure Wheeler used in the book was sometimes questionable. While the not so strictly chronological layout of the chapters was fine, some of the content of the chapters resulted in several short chapters that could have been merged into other chapters to make the book flow better to the reader.

James White: Innovator and Overcomer is a very good book for those Adventists looking to learn about one of the three founders of the church. Gerald Wheeler helps take White from being a picture on the wall, or book cover, and make him flesh-and-bone man who struggled just like us today with strengths and flaws. I highly recommend this for those interested in SDA church history.

Kings & Queens of England and Scotland

0789442450-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Kings & Queens of England & Scotland by Plantagenet Somerset Fry
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Kings & Queens of England and Scotland by Plantagenet Somerset Fry is a 96-page concise reference book about the monarchs of England, Scotland, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom. Though is primarily focused on the monarchs of England (and successor unions) with each ruler getting their own individual article from 1066-to-present, while the Scottish monarchs were only briefly covered in comparison. Not all the information given in monarch articles is correct, at least to those readers well versed in history, but overall the book is a good reference book.

Joseph Bates: The Real Found of Seventh-day Adventism

41s96pjypgl-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Joseph Bates: The Real Founder of Seventh-Day Adventism by George R. Knight
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While those who would eventually form the Seventh-day Adventist Church were Millerites, only one was influential in both that his work after the Great Disappointment would standout and provide the underpinnings of the eventual largest Adventist denomination. Joseph Bates: The Real Founder of Seventh-day Adventism by George R. Knight is a comprehensive look at one of the most important men in the Adventism movement before and after October 1844.

Beginning with a young boy looking for adventure as a sailor, Knight fully covers the life of Joseph Bates until his death as a senior statesman of the Church he helped to found still looking to serve Christ. In covering Bates career at sea, Knight pulls out traits—both potentially benefital and harmful—that would serve him as he preached the soon coming of Christ as part of the Millerite movement and later his development of Sabbatarian Adventism. After retiring, Bates who had already shown a keen interest in reform, firstly himself and then his own ship’s crew, launched himself into numerous reform movements until he heard Advent message of William Miller and seeing it as the ultimate reform movement wholeheartedly went to spread the good news. Though not a primary leader, he was a major secondary leader within the Millerites that both chaired conferences and went out preaching. After the Great Disappointment of October 1844, Bates began studying and joined those Adventists that believed something did occur though not the fanatics that tainted this group of post-Disappointment Millerites. It is at this point in which Knight carefully covers Bates life over a decade, though focused on a four year span in particular, in which Bates became both the first theologian and then first historian of Sabbatarian Adventism and would lay the foundations of essentially all major doctrines that set the Seventh-day Adventist Church apart from other denominations. Knight covers Bates relationship with both James and Ellen White in full during this period and after as the trio would guide the “little flock” over the next two decades until his death.

In approximately 220 pages of text and reference, Knight use Bates’ own autobiography as well as research first discovered others including two of his own students to give the reader a full sense of the life of Joseph Bate as can be expected. Though the book is not strictly chronological, Knight structures the book in such a way as to give an overview in a certain period of Bates life in one chapter and in the subsequent one focus on a particular aspect during that period with it most typically being theological in nature. This keeps the book engaging for the general reader and not getting them bogged down or overwhelmed with detail of having a strictly chronological book from beginning to end. Yet while these choices by Knight create a very good and readable book, there just seemed to be something off with his writing that made me feel that it was up to other books that he had authored.

Joseph Bates: The Real Founder of Seventh-day Adventism is a very good book for those, whether Seventh-day Adventists or not, looking to understand the history of denomination that Bates helped to found. As the preeminent Seventh-day Adventist historian, George R. Knight presents the Bates the man of both virtues and flaws and how he shaped the Advent movement. I highly recommend this book for those interested in SDA Church history.

William Miller and the Rise of Adventism

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.

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