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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Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible ThingsFuriously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny  Lawson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What strikes you about Jenny Lawson’s “Furiously Happy” first and foremost is the smiling raccoon adorning the cover of the book that just makes you want to pick it up and find out why it’s one there. However before Lawson explains about the smiling raccoon, she has succeeded in sucking you into her hilarious journey of living furiously happy.

While “Furiously Happy” is Lawson’s second book, one does not have to have read her first one to quickly find one entrapped in her fascinating misadventures that many a time bring a smile to your face. The degrees of amusement go from the mildly fun to cringe-worthy hilarity—think Ross in the last three seasons of Friends—in a rollercoaster of events from Lawson’s own childhood to being a wife and mother herself. Between the humor are chapters in which Lawson talks about her numerous mental illnesses and their resulting dark side. For those not aware of Lawson’s health, she is upfront at the very beginning on why she is writing this book and it’s her own dealing with her mental illness that makes her want to live as the book says furiously happy.

While this rollercoaster of emotion prevents reading this book in a single setting—it took me many in all honestly—that’s okay because Lawson wants her readers to think. Here is a woman who is many mental illnesses, she is taking medication and getting therapy but when she has one of her bad days or spells she can look back at all the funny things she’s done in her life by just living furiously happy to keep her from doing anything hurtful to herself. For readers dealing with some of the same issues as her, the knowledge that someone else is feeling like them and keeps on going is a positive. And for readers like myself who do not suffer any mental illnesses, this book is a challenge to take steps to help our friends and family who do deal with mental health if we aren’t already as well as taking advantage of our own good fortune to live “Furiously Happy” because you never know when you might need those humorous memories.

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Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans

Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New OrleansEmpire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by Gary Krist
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

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

The virtuous reforming of New Orleans over the course of thirty years is chronicled through the lives of a few reformers, but mostly through the lives of the purveyors of vice in Gary Krist’s “Empire of Sin”.  The book is a riveting history of the colorful life of the Crescent City that was, and still is, unique in both Southern and American cultural history.

Krist brings New Orleans of the 1890s into clear focus at the beginning of the moral crusade, detailing the how the city’s French and Spanish beginnings created a unique cultural atmosphere that created an environment that the social and business elite of the city found needing reform.  Krist’s narrative takes place in four phases (1890-1, 1896-1907, 1907-17, and 1917-20) in which he identifies one defining moment that resulted in a change towards the reformer’s goal of cleaning up the city.  Throughout the book, the vice career of Tom Anderson is highlighted and how his fortunes showed either the progress or staling of the reform movement in the city.

Throughout the book, Krist ably shows how on event that surrounded on group of individuals had ramifications on various aspects of life in New Orleans.  One examples is how when reformers concentrate prostitution and other vice industries into one area, they inadvertently created an incubator where jazz was able to be cultivated into a new musical art form.  In connecting his entire historical narrative together in readable prose, Krist hooks the reader quickly and never lets him go.

After the reformers finally succeed in their quest to clean up New Orleans, Krist gives a short aftermath which ironically saw the city eventually embrace it’s sinful past to market to tourists and conventions.  The irony isn’t lost on the reader who can understand some of the motivations of reformers, particularly ending political and police corruption, but cringe at the stripping of civil rights of numerous groups throughout the narrative.  “Empire of Sin” shows the uniqueness of New Orleans history that is an very enjoyable read and is highly recommended those who enjoy history.

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We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy

We Don't Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future TrilogyWe Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy by Caseen Gaines
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘Back to the Future’ hit theaters in late summer of 1985 and was massive blockbuster hit that spawns two sequels while made fans for life to many children, teenagers, and adults.  In “We Don’t Need Roads”, popular culture history author Caseen Gaines gives the backstory of the entire film trilogy with information for both super fans and those who just love watching the films.

Gaines jumps right into the biggest storm that ‘Back to the Future’ weathered as his jumping off point in the book.  Gaines developed the backstory of how the film got into production before the issue of miscasting of Eric Stoltz as lead character Marty McFly and how director Robert Zemeckis and writer Bob Gale handled the situation to get Michael J. Fox.  Instantly Gaines had hooked the reader by showing the challenges the production team faced in getting the film to screen.

Though interviews of numerous actors and crewmembers, Gaines gives a detailed account of how iconic scenes were created and how much people enjoyed the making the films.  One of Gaines biggest hurdles in the book was giving a well-rounded account of why Crispin Glover did not sign on for the sequels and how producers filled his absence, resulting in one of many lawsuits that ‘Part II’ endured.  Gaines also takes us behind the scenes of the famous hoverboard scenes, including the botched stunt that resulted in the second ‘Part II’ lawsuit.

Before wrapping his book, Gaines details how the ‘Back to the Future’ trilogy continued to live after it had left theaters through fan clubs and fan websites that connected thousands of fans across the world with one another.  Gaines included this chapter to explain why ‘Back to the Future’ continues to be a part of pop culture, while so giving an unstated reason for why this book was in part written.  The final chapter, which included how the ‘Back to the Future’ community at-large has rallied around Michael J. Fox’s fight to cure Parkinson’s Disease, shows how a production team of crew and actors got through so many challenges to create a pop phenomenon that endures until today.  After reading this book, one’s appreciation of the original film, and its sequels, will only grow.

I received a Advance Uncorrected Proof edition of this book through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

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Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes

MythologyMythology by Edith Hamilton
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The stories of Greco-Roman gods and heroes permeate our culture in some form or another, in Edith Hamilton’s anthological collection ‘Mythology’ all the original tales are presented in a concise and readable fashion for those discovering them for the first time.

Taking her material from poems and plays from Greek and Roman writers, Hamilton structures the books chronologically through the various ages detailed in Greco-Roman mythology and keeping everything linked together through family relationships.  At the beginning of every chapter Hamilton describes her process of choosing the source, or sources, of the tale giving the both the introductory reader and the knowledgeable one the basis for the next tale they are reading.  The mythology of the Greco-Roman world and it’s place in both Greek and Roman culture are described in general detail that gives the reader a sense of how each perceived the world around them.

The minor inclusion of the Norse mythology at the end of the book was the biggest failing of the book, Hamilton gave cultural reasons for including but it felt both incomplete and an afterthought.  Only Balder’s story was discussed and nothing of the adventures of Thor or others.

Edith Hamilton’s lifetime of research and teaching of Greek and Roman poetry and plays results in a very readable book of Greco-Roman mythology.  The book is definitely for casual readers along with those starting their journey into the overall world of Greco-Roman mythology and is not a substitute for reading The Iliad, The Odyssey, or The Aeneid.  If you fall into either of these two categories I wholeheartedly recommend this book, but I would look somewhere else if you’re interested in Norse mythology.

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Cities of Empire: The British Colonies and the Creation of the Urban World

Cities of Empire: The British Colonies and the Creation of the Urban WorldCities of Empire: The British Colonies and the Creation of the Urban World by Tristram Hunt
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I received an Advanced Reader’s Edition of this book via LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

The legacy of the economic and political practices of the growth of the British Empire and the implemented of those practices in colonial cities are at the root of Tristram Hunt’s “Cites of Empire”.  Instead of looking at the British Empire as either a good or bad “thing”, Hunt examines how it grew and the impact it has on our world today while not forgetting the motivations of those who implemented the policies in the first place.

Hunt examines 10 cities connected to the spread of Britain’s empire around the world, giving each city its own exclusive chapter.  While each city is given its own history, Hunt shows how the British experiences in one city affected their decisions in others he was writing about.  The history of a particular city is not the only thing covered with the individuals who impacted it; Hunt gives the reader a wonderful portrait of the cultural, social, and architectural developments along with those who promoted them.

While Hunt’s descriptive writing of the architectural are wonderful, the text would have been enhanced with illustrations of some kind of the building he was describing (thought as I was reading an advanced reader’s edition of the book there might be some in for sale edition).  The maps at the opening of each chapter helped to place the buildings and other geographical issues into context if one got confused for any reason.  Although Hunt’s insights into the society of the cities he writes about, at times the information he writes feels like a redux of previous cities’ and so slowed my reading as thought back on previous chapters.

Upon finishing “Cities of Empire” I had a better sense of the imperial history of British colonization, a topic in history that I have personally wanting to know more about.  Although not perfect, Tristram Hunt’s book gives the reader a history of the British Empire and its legacy in the 21st Century without judging or defending as good or evil.  I whole recommend this book to those interested in the spread of British culture around the world.

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Here is Where: Discovering America’s Great Forgotten History

Here is Where by Andrew Carroll
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.
Andrew Carroll’s chronicling of his search for, and travels to, little known locations of historical importance that have been forgotten or ignored was an intriguing concept upon seeing the cover for “Here is Where”.  Upon finishing the book, I can say that Carroll turned said concept into wonderful book that was a combination of investigative history and travel log that was hard to put down at the end of my lunch hour and work breaks.
Carroll’s begins the book by giving the reasons he decided to go cross country, numerous times it turned out, and write about places and individuals forgotten by popular history.  As Carroll learns on his travels, that just like that particular point in his life, it’s the circumstances surrounding the events in question that determined if they were remembered or not.  And without rehashing the entire book, Carroll is able to find interesting links between these forgotten facets of history that connect them to one another and even his own life and family.
Carroll is careful to write about the individuals and organizations that helped him to find the exact locations he was looking throughout his travels not only in the acknowledgements at the end of the book, but in the text itself.  Carroll highlights the local historical society volunteers or local history hobbyists that are sometimes the only individuals in a town that know the interesting facts of where they live.  And on rare occasions, Carroll is able to surprise even these individuals with what he’s discovered.
Although even this paperback edition have mistakes that weren’t corrected from the hardcover print namely some incorrect dates, spelling, and grammar; they are forgive able because their very few and far between which made them noticeable.  The biggest let down was the Carroll wrote about taken numerous photographs of the locations he visited, but none where in the book!  Even though Carroll did write very good descriptions, a picture is worth a thousand words.
“Here is Where”, is a wonderful read for anyone interested in history and takes out the big themes that academic historians seem to want to force fit things into.  Andrew Carroll reveals that important historical moments are not always remembered, but are nonetheless still relevant in the 21st Century by giving better perspective on events that are well remembered.  I can’t stress enough how much I recommend this book.