Sunday, April 26, 2020

America's First Ladies by Christine Sadler

Here is

The nice thing about our new house is that the books are all in a room far, far away from my little raptors.

America's First LadiesAmerica's First Ladies by Christine Sadler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book was written while JFK was president. It gives a brief biography of each First Lady up until then.

The writing style is dated, but in a good way. By that I mean that Sadler, while being honest about the flaws or criticism aimed at the different President's wives, she avoided the salacious gossipy tactic that seems to be popular today. She did not feel obligated to dig up dirt.

Overall, her presentation was a positive outlook on each wife with a focus on her accomplishments while she was First Lady. Prior to Eleanor Roosevelt, it seemed the primary function of the president's wives were to serve as hostess and entertain at the White House. We read a lot about each woman's taste in clothes and home decor. The White House got several renovations and re-decorations over the years.

Even though Eleanor Roosevelt started a new tradition of First Lady's being involved in the sociological conditions of the world, other First Ladies prior to her helped their husbands behind the scenes. Some wives were as politically adept as their husbands, and in some cases more so.

Each woman is presented as strong and unique in her own right in contributing to her husband's term(s) of office. I think Sadler also contributed in bringing attention to some of the lesser known wives.

She finishes with Jackie, which is bittersweet because this is written before her husband's assassination or the tragedies concerning the other Kennedy's.

All in all, an interesting book, although it ends abruptly with the death of Jackie's last baby.

It's valuable to read biographies from earlier eras because they provide another source of information where agenda's weren't quite so blatant.

View all my reviews

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator by Timothy C. Winegard

Here are the Vivaldi Mandolin Concertos.

The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest PredatorThe Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator by Timothy C. Winegard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Like the previous book I reviewed on Squid, I had a certain expectation that this book would keep to facts.

Again, where strict science was applied, what is the mosquito, what do we know about it based on what we can see, hear, touch etc.. with our senses...what kind of diseases are they known to carry...death rates due to malaria, yellow fever...this was very interesting.

I also found interesting the author's dive into history...the battles of Rome with the various barbaric tribes from Germany, northern Africa and Asia.

The book is definitely slanted towards finding the mosquito responsible for winning every ancient battle, directing Alexander the Great's course across Europe and Asia, the spread of Christianity...all due to the mosquito.

I have no doubt that armies plagued with malaria certainly helped shape the course of events, just like Russia's winter fended off the Germans.

But his version of history took too much license and wasn't based entirely in fact. Or rather he took an ounce of fact and inflated it with a pound of guesswork.

According to Winegard, Christianity spread because Christians were a "healing cult" and did not shy away from ministering to the sick and dying. Paganism was more selfish and fatalistic.

He also has nothing good to say about the medieval church or the crusades. Well, maybe I don't either, but he excises every good they did, initiating institutions of learning, providing sanctuary for the poor and marginalized and shows only the corruption. There was horrible corruption in the leadership of the church then, but the average monk or priest was not necessarily a party to that corruption. Many a lay Christian and small village priest sacrificed their lives in poverty and died with his congregation when disaster struck.

But I would not have minded the broad brush stroke except that Winegard brushes the Muslim world with an entirely different broad brush. It was the Muslims who enlightened Europe, the Muslims who were free of corruption, invented education etc...This is not exactly true either, although no doubt considerable contributions were made to Europe via the Middle East.

The biggest sweep he makes is when he asserts that people became Christians because they had to and converted to Islam because they wanted to because it was such a merciful, enlightened culture produced by Mohammed. Really? Think again.

This book was not written for someone with anything other than a cursory knowledge of the mosquito, and certainly not for anybody with an informed opinion of the history of the western world. So would I recommend it? I guess read it for yourself, but arm yourself with other sources of information.

View all my reviews

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Marilyn: the Classic by Norman Mailer

This is not classical music, but I love the masterful guitar playing of Leo Kottke in his rendition of Eight Miles High.

Marilyn: A BiographyMarilyn: A Biography by Norman Mailer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Norman Mailer was part of the group that changed the style of writing non fiction to make it read more like a novel.

In that respect, he does a great job. His writing is brilliant, if cynical and a little superior. It's also geared, I think, toward the "hip and groovy" set who think reading books like this puts them in a certain "cool" category.

Having said that, I still like the book. The photographs, if nothing else are worth the price of the book alone (which in my case was a used book in mint condition for five dollars, heh heh).

Mailer admits that his book is largely a compilation of previous biographies and speculation based on her movies and photographs. This is evident when he writes out the thoughts that Marilyn and others involved in her life could be thinking at any given time.

But much of what he writes can be verified. He certainly is successful in conveying what a complicated, tragic and fascinating person she was, and he also gives a thorough biographical time line of her life.

The only thing I found surprising was that he makes no mention of Marilyn having an affair with President Kennedy and barely hints at an involvement with Bobby Kennedy. Other sources I read declare that she was so involved with JFK she thought she was going to be the next Mrs. Kennedy.

But this was written back in the early seventies and maybe it was still too sacrosanct a subject to touch upon.

He explores all the possible reasons Marilyn could have died, overdose, either accidental or intentional...suicide or murder...who knows what really happened. Accidental overdose is the most likely cause based on her history of barbiturate addiction and previous close calls. Arthur Miller even wrote a play about it (After the Fall) and was censured for it. Listening to him talk about "the need to sacrifice others in order to save yourself-a justification for letting someone go ahead and kill herself- revealed a cold-hearted man.

Although Mailer actually portrays Miller as the victim of Marilyn's contempt and verbal abuse. Maybe he was, she was no angel. It is speculated that she had a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Her making everyone else wait hours for her on movies sets is one indication.

But ultimately she is a portrait of tragedy. Her persona was so powerful that it completely possessed her and when you act intimate with everyone, you can be close to no one.

Aficionados of Marilyn will enjoy this book.

View all my reviews

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; or the Escape of Ellen and William Craft from Slavery by Ellen and William Craft

Here is Concierto de Arnajuez, Allegro de Spirito by Joaquin Rodrigo.

One of my most popular postcards, that I send out all over the world.  

I feel that my last few reviews have been negative.  Here is a book I think everyone should read.

Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; or, the escape of William and Ellen Craft from slaveryRunning a Thousand Miles for Freedom; or, the escape of William and Ellen Craft from slavery by Ellen Craft
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is powerfully and eloquently written by a woman who did not learn to read or write until she was an adult and had escaped the monstrous oppression of slavery.

William Craft and his wife, Ellen were slaves in the South, but they determined to escape so they devised an extraordinary plan. Ellen, even though a slave, was as white as her masters, so they decided to dress her like a white man and William would pose as their slave as they traveled to the north.

How they attained their liberty is as harrowing and suspenseful a tale as any you could hope to read, all the more so because it is true.

Many things struck me when reading this story.

One, I finally understand where and why the "one drop" rule was invented. For those of you who don't know, the "one drop" rule states that if a person has any black blood in them, even 1/56th or less, any at all, they are legally black.

Think how convenient this was for the slave trade. There was so much interbreeding between slave masters and female slaves who many masters obviously viewed as their harem, that an increasing number of slave children were mostly white. In order to justify this, as well as increasing the number of free labor on a plantation, slaves had to be considered black, even if for all practical purposes they were as white as the plantation owners.

This also increased the amount of kidnappings among newly arrived immigrants from Europe who, not speaking the language, were sold as slaves as well as poor white families selling their own children into slavery for money. I don't think this part of the history of slavery has been given the attention it is due.

What I love about William and Ellen Craft's story is their lack of rancor and, more importantly, their discernment between real Christianity and the fake Christianity the slave owners espoused.

They used the Bible to justify slavery, yet they conveniently ignore the scripture that said an owner had to free his slaves every seven years, not to mention the strict guidelines as to caring for and not abusing slaves. An abuse that was to be severely punished if exercised.

Because of certain laws passed about returning slaves to their owners, even if they were in the north, the Crafts moved to England until after the Civil War.

This narrative is short but spellbinding and I highly recommend it.

View all my reviews

And with this corona virus keeping children home, here is one for all my homeschooling bloggers: