The Stairway to Heaven (Book II of the Earth Chronicles)

The Stairway to HeavenThe Stairway to Heaven by Zecharia Sitchin
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

The quest for immortality has a place in the myths and legends in nearly all the cultures of the world, is this a natural human longing or is it the result of the “gods” living among men for millennia? Zecharia Sitchin looks to answer the question through Sumerian, Egyptian, Biblical, and extra-Biblical texts and Middle Eastern stories and legends from Gilgamesh to Alexander the Great in his book The Stairway to Heaven.

The search for Paradise where the Tree of Life—or the Fountain of Youth or any other means to bring eternal youth or life—across cultures begins Sitchin’s second book in his Earth Chronicles series. Then he turns to those who claimed immortal ancestors which lead to recounting the tale of Gilgamesh and the afterlife journey of the Pharaohs to their ancestor Ra. All this builds to why all these tales are similar in their descriptions of locations to find the place where immortality can be found, the answer Sitchin proposes is the post-Deluge location for the Annunaki spaceport on the central plain of the Sinai Peninsula. In setting out his theory, Sitchin details the monumental architecture around Egypt and the Levant that not even modern equipment can create and how archaeologists have misidentified through mistakes, or maybe outright fraud, on who built them amongst ancient human cultures when in fact they were built by the astronauts from Nibiru for their rocketships.

Following the post-Deluge founding of civilization at the end of The 12th Planet, Sitchin focused on how the Annunaki rebuilt their spacefaring abilities after the destruction of their Mission Control and Spaceport in Mesopotamia. To do this he highlights the near universal search for immortality by humans and how it alluded to the new Spaceport in the Sinai that lead to the “realm of the Gods”. Yet in doing this Sitchin reiterated the same thing over and over again for a good third of the book, bogging down the overall text and could have been condensed down but would have made this 308 page book much shorter. But Sitchin’s argument that the mathematical relationship between numerous ancient cities, monumental architecture, and high mountains across the Middle East as well as stretching towards Delphi in Greece towards the end is the most intriguing for any reader, even if you are skeptical on Sitchin’s theories.

The Stairway to Heaven is not as well written as its precursor or its successor—if my memory is correct—as Sitchin needed a transition book and needed to fill it out. While not as “good” as The 12th Planet, this book gives the reader information important in following up the previous book and “setting” the stage for The Wars of Gods and Men.

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Op-Center (Op-Center #1)

OpCenter1Op-Center by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

A terrorist attack in Seoul raises tensions on Korean peninsula with war looking likely, but a new federal crisis management team is task to figure out who and why before things escalate too far. Op-Center through bearing the name of Tom Clancy, who along with Steve Pieczenik created the story, was ghostwritten by Jeff Rovin about a government agency tasked with handling both domestic and international crisis.

Renegade South Korean soldiers attack an official celebration of the founding of the country implicating the North Koreans. Op-Center director Paul Hood suddenly finds himself appointed head of Task Force by a President looking for a big foreign affairs accomplishment; however evidence and a cyberattack complicate Hood giving the President a clear go ahead to launch a war. On the peninsula, a former Ambassador to the country and his friend in the KCIA take their own individual routes to lessen the growing tensions between the two sides. But the renegade squad is racing towards their next attacks—the North Korean barracks at the DMZ and Tokyo—and the only thing that can stop them is Op-Center’s paramilitary response team, Striker with Hood’s deputy General Mike Rodger along for the action.

Set roughly around the time of book’s publication a little over 20 years ago, the plot reads almost like alternate history today but still holds up fairly well. While the primary plot is very good, the subplots connected with different characters were more of a problem. Hood is torn between crisis in Korea and with this son’s health that makes him look sympathetic while his wife appears too needy given that she knew something like this could happen, Rodgers appears to be in a mid-life crisis wanting to get back to his glory days instead of being at his post, and many of the female Op-Center personal are painted broadly with a brush in various stereotypes that back when I first read the book as a teenager didn’t pop out at me but certainly did now.

While the characterization of many of the principal characters is bland, the plot and the action are very well written making this a quick and fun read for the most part. While at the time Rovin wasn’t given his due as the book’s author, he did a good job in setting up a series that would eventually reach 12. While Op-Center is not the greatest book within the action and thriller genres but those that like those genres will find it a good read.

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The 12th Planet (Book I of the Earth Chronicles)

The 12th PlanetThe 12th Planet by Zecharia Sitchin
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

How did civilization begin seemingly out of nowhere? And how did humanity evolve so fast in comparison to what had happened before? These are the questions that Zecharia Sitchin set to answer in his book, The 12th Planet, in which he purports that he found said answers in cuneiform text dating from time of Sumerians over 5000 years ago.

Sitchin begins by going over the spurts of cultural development that lead to the beginning of Sumerian civilization and how modern man appeared so soon in terms of evolution to even develop the civilization that we are a part of. Sitchin then describes all the firsts that Sumer did in, many of them were not continuous since then through to our day, and then asked where the Sumerians learned this knowledge to he responded that the Sumerians learned it from the gods. Using the Sumerian Creation myth, Enuma Elis, Sitchin details the beginnings of the solar system including how a rogue planetoid entered the developing solar system and began circling the sun in a 3,600 year long orbit. This planet, named Nibiru, created havoc in the early solar system resulting in the asteroid belt and Earth, seeded with the building blocks of life from this planet. Eventually humanlike beings eventually developed technology to explore the solar system and find Earth habitable and with resources they needed. These beings, the Annunaki or Nephilim, began travelling to Earth and mining for resources but bringing with them their own politics and grudges that eventually led to the “creation” of modern humans then the Deluge in an effort to destroy them. But in the aftermath were thankful that some survived so they could help them rebuild their operations.

Sitchin’s work was one of a number “ancient astronaut” books throughout 1970s and his influence within the community is immeasurable still almost a decade after his death. Yet, this book is rife with many scientific errors related to astrophysics, celestial mechanics, cosmology, and plate tectonics to name a few and is out-of-date in human evolutionary thought. While those are big drawbacks, Sitchin’s focus on Sumerian & Akkadian cuneiform on the reported Annunaki influence on early Earth and human history is very interesting and thought-provoking even if you disbelieve it. This focus on Sumerian myth, or record of history, is the most important part of the book as well as it’s relation to other mythological traditions along with the Bible.

While many might discount this book because of the incorrect scientific propositions put forward and disagree with the “ancient astronaut” theory. The best argument for reading Zecharia Sitchin’s The 12th Planet is the focus on Sumerian history and myth, which is one of the oldest and little known compared to many other cultures. Agree or disagree with Sitchin, this book is just one you have to say that you’ve read.

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Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern World (Hinges of History #5)

Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern WorldMysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern World by Thomas Cahill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In popular imagination the medieval period is a time of ignorance and superstition, fear and violence, and crushing religious intolerance of anything the Church was against. Mysteries of the Middle Ages is the fifth volume of Thomas Cahill’s ‘Hinges of History’ series, focusing on the individuals in the High Middle Ages who shaped Western society that we know today. Over the course of 300+ pages, Cahill sets out to give his reader a new way to look at the Middle Ages.

Cahill begins the book not during the Middle Ages, but in the city of Alexandria in Egypt looking at how the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions began their long processes of synthetization began before exploring how the Romans became the Italians as a way to differentiate between the Greek East and Latin West for the rest of the book. Then beginning with Hildegard of Bingen, Cahill makes the reader look at the Middle Ages in a vastly different way by showing the power and importance of 12th century Abbess who would one day be declared a saint then turned his attention to a woman of secular power, that of Eleanor of Aquitaine who held political power in a significant way while also allowing the developing “courts of love” evolve. This evolving form of culture spread into the Italian peninsula and influenced a young man from Assisi, Francis who would shift this emphasis of earthly love into spiritual love. The focus of the spiritual then shifted to Peter Abelard and St. Thomas Aquinas who became to emphasis the thoughts of Aristotle over those of Plato in theological discussions while Roger Bacon used Aristotle to begin examining the world around him and thus science that we see today. Yet the world around those during the High Middle Ages began to influence art and literature in both secular and spiritual ways from the Cathedral of Chartres to the works of Dante and Giotto would have influences even to today.

Although Cahill readily admits that he could have and wanted to discuss more individuals from a wider swath of Europe, he does an adequate job in showing that the Middle Ages were not what the popular view of the time period was believed to be. Cahill several times throughout the book emphasizes that the Middle Ages, especially from the 12th to the early 14th centuries, were not a time of stagnate culture that the humanists of the Renaissance began calling it. However, Cahill’s asides about Islamic culture as well as the Byzantines were for the most part a continuation of centuries-long mudslinging or a product of today’s ideological-religious conflicts and ironically undermined one of his best arguments, the role of Catholicism in shaping Western society. Cahill’s Catholicism was that of all the individuals he wrote about, who were Christians, not the Church and its hierarchy that over the course of the High Middle Ages became a point of embarrassment to both lay and cleric alike.

Mysteries of the Middle Ages shows the beginnings of the synthesis of the two strains of Western society, Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian, that Thomas Cahill has built up to in his previous four books. As a popular history it very well written, but its flaws of modern and centuries old prejudice undercut a central theme Cahill was developing and wrote about at the end of the book. Yet I cannot but call it a good book to read.

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The Millennium Bug: Is This the End of the World as We Know It?

The Millennium Bug: Is This the End of the World as We Know It?The Millennium Bug: Is This the End of the World as We Know It? by Jon Paulien
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

The world approached the year 2000, the threat of disaster due to a glitch in programming to our technological world was all the rage in the media only to fizzle out. However Jon Paulien’s The Millennium Bug is not about Y2K, but about how Christians—more specifically Seventh-day Adventists—should approach the then upcoming calendar change to 2000 when thinking about the “end times”.

Almost 20 years ago, the world was getting both excited and anxious about the upcoming new millennium. Besides the magically alluring numeral 2000, there were questions about if the change would adversely affect computers causing chaos and to many Christians if this change in millennium would see Jesus’ Second Coming. Paulien examines all the theories surrounding the millennium with the Second Coming and why Adventists with their history of Great Disappointment were even getting infected with “the millennium bug”. Yet while Paulien was informative with all the reasons why the calendar change to 2000 was just artificial especially in light of what occurred leading up to the year 1000, when he turned to what Adventists should concentrate on when thinking about “the end times” a lot of his writing would suggest checking out his a previous book of his on that subject instead of giving complete answers in this particular book.

While this fact was a tad frustrating, Paulien went a long way in answer many question dealing and surrounding various ‘end time’ theories in which millenniums are involved whether dealing with the age of the Earth or when the millennium of Revelation occurs. The Millennium Bug isn’t perfect and in parts a bit dated, it is still a good quick read of information.

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Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter (Hinges of History #4)

Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks MatterSailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter by Thomas Cahill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The foundations of what we call Western culture today seemingly sprung from one place, Greece, yet that is not the entire truth. Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, the fourth volume of Thomas Cahill’s Hinges of History, examines and explains the structure of Greek society and ideas as well as the reasons why it has permeated so much of what we know of Western culture. But Cahill’s answer to why the Greeks matter is two-fold.

Over the course of 264 pages of text, Cahill looks at all the features of Greek culture that made them so different from other ancient cultures. Through the study of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Cahill examined the Greek’s view of war and honor in their grand war epic then how the same man expressed how the Greek’s expressed their feelings. The contradiction of the Homeric works is part of a larger theme that Cahill explores in Greek poetry beyond Homer, politicians and playwrights, philosophers, and artists. Throughout each chapter, Cahill examines what the Greeks did differently than anyone else as well as relate examples that many will know. Yet Cahill reveals that as time went on the Greeks own culture started to swallow itself until stabilized by the Romans who were without the Greek imagination and then merged with newly developing Christian religion that used Greek words to explain its beliefs to a wider world; this synthesis of the Greco-Roman world and Judeo-Christian tradition is what created Western thought and society that we know today.

Cahill’s analysis and themes are for the general reader very through-provoking, but even for someone not well versed in overall Greek scholarship there seems to be something missing in this book. Just in comparing previous and upcoming volumes of Cahill’s own series, this book seems really short for one covering one of the two big parts of Western Civilization. Aside from the two chapters focused around the Homeric epics, all the other chapters seemed to be less than they could be not only in examples but also in giving connections in relevance for the reader today.

For the Western society in general, the Greeks are remembered for their myths, magnificent ruins, and democracy. Thomas Cahill’s Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea does reveal that ancient Greece was more than that and why a culture millennia old matters to us today. While not perfect, this book is at least a good read for the general reader which may be what Cahill is aiming for but for those more well read it feels lacking once finished.

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Voices of the Rocks: A Scientist Looks at Catastrophes and Ancient Civilizations

Voices of the Rocks : A Scientist Looks at Catastrophes and Ancient CivilizationsVoices of the Rocks : A Scientist Looks at Catastrophes and Ancient Civilizations by Robert M. Schoch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The question on how to view the physical changes of the Earth as well as how and if it effects civilization, dominates the discussion in Dr. Robert M. Schoch’s Voices of the Rocks. Looking through the geological record as well as numerous other sciences, Dr. Schoch puts forwards a different way to look at the history of the Earth and how mankind is affected.

The primary purpose of Dr. Schoch’s book is to propose a different way of viewing how natural laws and processes operate in the universe from the (then) dominate Uniformitarianism and the opposing Catastrophism. The result is a synthesis of the two viewpoints, uniformitarianism with periodic catastrophes which how now become dominate in scientific thinking, however Schoch attaches this synthesis with the Gaia hypothesis that at the time was still be debated but is now being included in larger scientific thought. Although this scientific terminology might seem daunting Schoch writes for the layman who might remember things for high school or college, but isn’t an expert.

Although Schoch’s main emphasis is scientific thought, the subtitle of his book “A Scientist Looks at Catastrophes & Ancient Civilizations” points to the fact that Schoch takes a look at human history as well. Schoch came to fame when he released his geological study on the Great Sphinx that dated it to 7000-5000BCE, much older than the 2500BCE that Egyptologists have dated it. Schoch defends his findings in the case of the Sphinx in terms for a layman but doesn’t go in-depth in detail and terminology as that is not his main purpose in the book. However, Schoch uses his study and the ensuing debate about the progress of civilization and societies to highlight how the rise and collapse of many cultures over time and around the world have been impacted by catastrophic factors both on Earth and from outside of Earth.

While Schoch admits that many of the theories about civilizations and events in Earth’s past are based on his interruption of the evidence proposed either by himself or others who’s work he agrees with, they are an invaluable read whether one agrees with Schoch or not. Yet Schoch also aims at debunking many, some would call them outlandish, theories proposed by von Daniken, Hancock, Stitchin, and many others by the same process of looking at the evidence. Overall while Schoch does incorporate a study of ancient civilizations and societies while looking at his overarching scientific premise, it is more a supporting role.

Overall Schoch’s handles the science very well, his handle on history and societal elements he brings up is unfortunately not so good with many glaring mistakes that even a causal reader will catch. Schoch’s writing style is very fluid and keeps the reader engaged throughout the text, even when his mishandles either history or ancient cultural references. I came to this book with an eye towards the ‘ancient civilization’ in the subtitle in researching for a story I’ve been planning to write for over a decade and while I didn’t get exactly what I was expecting, the scientific information and Schoch relating of his own theories or the theories of other established scientists more than made up for that. Yet I can neither recommend nor warn people way from this book because my purpose for reading is something different from the norm.

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