Ancient Mysteries

Ancient MysteriesAncient Mysteries by Rupert Furneaux
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The enigmas of history have spawned theories, either scientifically based or plain conjecture. In Ancient Mysteries, Rupert Furneaux attempted to answer timeless questions covering the world through the use of science.

Furneaux covered over 30 “mysteries” that covered such subjects as Atlantis, several monumental architectural structures around the world, Biblical mysteries, several ethnic groups and cultures, mysteries centered in Britain and the Americas, hoaxes, and “soon-to-be” 21st-century enigmas. Through all of them Furneaux attempts to give a description of why the topic in question is a mystery and then over the history of theories before giving as “definite” answer as possible.

Unfortunately for this book, Furneaux used scientific conclusions 20 years old by the time the book was published which are even more out-of-date today. Yet, not all of his answers were based on science through they were not far out theories which he pretty much attempted to dismiss as much as possible. For several topics, Furneaux attempted to straddle the line between “scientific consensus” and far-out theories, so mixed success at best and just plain bad at worst.

The background information Furneaux gives for each of the topics he writes about, though definitely not up-to-date, is the best part of the book. However, the out-of-date science, the occasional stretch of the science that Furneaux, and sometimes condescending tone the author uses in some topics makes he want to caution people away from this unless they are really well read in history.

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The Separation of Church and State: Writings on a Fundamental Freedom by America’s Founders

The Separation of Church and State: Writings on a Fundamental Freedom by America's FoundersThe Separation of Church and State: Writings on a Fundamental Freedom by America’s Founders by Forrest Church
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

During my lifetime the so-called “culture war” has seen a debate about if the United States was founded as a Christian nation or not, however it turns out that this debate occurred during the nation’s founding. In The Separation of Church and State: Writings on a Fundamental Freedom by America’s Founders the issue of religious liberty and if the United States was a Christian nation was presented in 14 chapters of original writings of Founding Fathers and other Americans of the Revolutionary period, compiled by editor Forrest Church.

Covering a thirty year period, between 1772 and 1802, Forrest Church provided to the reader 14 writings from a variety of authors. The most famous are Presidents George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison with material before, during, and after their times in office. Other writers including not as well-known Revolutionary figures Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams as well as largely forgotten Founding Fathers now George Mason and Oliver Ellsworth. However while the well-known and historically prominent were well represented, Church also included the writings of average citizens Isaac Backus, Caleb Wallace, and John Leland to show that not only the ‘political elite’ were debating issue of religious liberty.

The strength of the entire book is the writings presented in this volume and need not be reviewed or critiqued. Although Church does his best to introduce and give context to the writings he presents, these little introductions are in fact that the only compliant one can really have with it. Given the amount of material available during this time period, Church does an admirable job in complying a number of texts from a variety of individuals to present what America’s founders thought and is a must read for anyone interested in the church-state debate in the United States.

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Outlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail

Outlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of SailOutlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail by Marcus Rediker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

The common man, whether he be a sailor, a slave, or a pirate is the focus of Marcus Rediker’s “Outlaws of the Atlantic”.  Rediker shows how the lowest individual influenced not only the culture of their day, but shaped the world into what it is today.

Through seven essays Rediker looks at how the daily lives of individuals who worked the Atlantic’s waters, both willingly and unwillingly, and how their experiences affected their own time and ours.  The first was the common sailor who informed “men of learning” who only went to the docks about the all the new places opening up to the European mind.  The next was following the career of a individual sailor who left a memoir of his experiences, showing the ups and downs of an average sailor’s life.  The sailor’s response to his life took many forms, some of which was social revolution in various forms.  Other individuals who lived below decks were those who did not want to be there, either convicts or enslaved individuals, who responded to their predicament by trying to escape by either running away or willingly ending their life.

Throughout the book, the term “motley crew” is used by middle- and upper-class individuals throughout the time period of Rediker’s history.  As the author explains, this was term used for a multiethnic crew of individuals.  These motley crews were involved in many “rebellions” or violent protests against what they saw as unjust practices or laws, many of these were connected to the various protests of the late 1760s and early 1770s leading up to the American Revolution.  As Rediker explains, the more well-known Sons of Liberty organizations were formed to present a better image than the low class and mixed crews.

The most informative sections of the book featured the life and public views of pirates.  Rediker details how and why piracy occurred as well as the counterculture it fostered away from the expected one that English foreign and economic policy demanded.  The most surprising element was how the Amistad Rebellion’s public reaction was influenced by the newly “romantic” image of the pirate in popular culture.

Upon finishing “Outlaws of the Atlantic” the reader has a better understanding of how the common man experienced the age of sail, either willingly or unwillingly, and how it still influences our world today.  Rediker’s essays make the reader want to know more about certain events he covered because of his thorough research and writing style, and luckily for Rediker he has written some of the books those readers could be exploring to learn more about sailors, or pirates, or rebel slaves.  I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn about how life was for the majority of individuals who call the sea home during the “Age of Sail”.

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The World Wars Episode 3

The World Wars
Episode 3: “Never Surrender”

The Good: The battle scenes and the camera work is wonderful and the best thing that’s been consistent throughout the entire series. The use of Patton in leading the phantom army that would invade at Calais. The Holocaust is dealt with responsible, yet powerful way. The debate on the use of the Atomic Bomb was good (it would have been a tad better if the estimated Japanese civilian deaths of an invasion would have been stated).

The Bad: The chronology is all over the place as they merge events that happened a year apart to happen at the same time (the initial drive to Moscow in ’41 and Stalingrad). They show FDR being the decision maker when it came to Midway. When Italy surrendered the show indicated that the allies occupied the entire country instead of having to fight the Germans up the ‘tough old gut’.

The Ugly: The North African campaign is ignored. The Pacific War is the fall of the Philippines, Midway, and then the retaking of the Philippines by island hopping. The Soviet Union’s contribution to the war was horribly neglected. Patton apparently didn’t return to command until the Battle of the Bulge, completely forgetting his leadership of the Third Army over the French countryside.

No Opinion: No mention of Harry Truman’s service during WWI, which I thought would have been an important item to include. Promo that an extended version of the series will be see on H2 in June with “never before seen footage.”

Grade: C

The World Wars Episode 2

The World Wars
Episode 2: “A Rising Threat”

The Good: The paths to power of Hitler, Roosevelt, and Churchill were well done besides the fact they stumbled on chronology for Churchill. The various battle scenes were another great part of this episode like the previous one. The opening scene of the Stock Market crash and then the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ were very well done.

The Bad: The various chronology errors and double backs, which went hand-in-hand with asserting that political or military decisions were based on leader’s opinions of their opposites in enemy nations (save for Churchill’s warnings about Hitler). Asserting the Emperor Hirohito was more politically involved then he likely was.

The Ugly: The repeat of awful retelling of the Communist takeover at the beginning of the Stalin segment. Patton is completely ignored this entire episode even though he is one of the characters featured in the title sequence.

No Opinion: The path and motivations behind the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor seemed off, especially their economic/military strategy in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. However I’m not too sure if it’s part of the chronology errors listed above or just wrong history.

Grade: B+

The World Wars Episode 1

The World Wars
Episode 1: “Trial by Fire”

The Good: The bio portions on Hitler and Churchill were the standouts for the entire episode. The battle scenes for the Western Front were very excellent for the most part, including the opening scene which I thought was a brilliant move. I liked the decision to view both World Wars as one single event because let’s face it, they were.

The Bad: Uber-America in WWI. Apparently British and French commanders didn’t learn anything between 1914-17 before the Americans entered the battlefield in 1918. Also the US invented the tank apparently (I thought it was the British) and how to use it in combination with infantry to push the Germans back…I could have sworn the British did it first, at Amiens.

The Ugly: Stalin would have loved how the program made him Lenin’s right hand man in the October Revolution even though they completely messed up how the Czar fell and the Communists rose…10 months apart. BTW, Stalin was down in Georgia (the country not the state) during the events in Petrograd (aka St. Petersburg).

No Opinion: FDR is mentioned a few times, but since he was Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the time he really didn’t do much. The sections on Mussolini were very interesting, I would have put them under “The Good” however I don’t know if they are historically accurate.

Grade: B-

Eastern Air Lines: A History, 1926-1991

Eastern Air Lines: A History, 1926-1991Eastern Air Lines: A History, 1926-1991 by David Lee Russell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

The history of Eastern Air Lines is one of innovation and enterprise as well as one of how bad decisions are hard to overcome, especially when compounded.  In relating the history of one of the major commercial airlines of the last century, David Lee Russell also told the history of commercial aviation in the United States up until early 1991 which until deregulation during the Carter Administration was entirely different than it is today.  Eastern’s history is not only that of a company, but also of individuals.  Russell writes brief, yet informative biographies of  Harold Pitcairn, Edward “Captain Eddie” Rickenbacker, and Frank Borman who led the company throughout it’s history as well as other figures who contributed to Eastern’s successes or failures.  While Russell does a tremendous job in describing how Eastern rose to the heights of its success, the strongest part of his writing is in describing how Eastern died and summarized the reasons at the end of the book.

Disclaimer: I received this book through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

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