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How to Destroy America in Three Easy Steps by Ben Shapiro

How to Destroy America in Three Easy Steps shows that to be a cohesive nation we have to uphold foundational truths about ourselves, our history, and reality itself—to be unionists instead of disintegrationists. Shapiro offers a vital warning that if we don’t recover these shared truths, our future—our union—as a great country is threatened with destruction.

How to Destroy America in Three Easy Steps by Ben Shapiro

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I thought this was a really interesting read.

Certain terms, phrases, dates, historical figures, and U.S./world events can get confusing to me, some things I forget over time, some I don’t always feel I can articulate well to other people much less sort them in my mind when engaging in conversation. So I’m always trying to find ways to stimulate my mind, move from vague notions and memorization to practical application and meaning to daily life. This book helped to clarify and connect a lot of concepts for me.

Here’s how I organized this review.

Readership recommendation. Audiobook. The writing style. Tone. Book organization. Personal interest/relevancy. Credibility. Subjects of interest. Questions to ask.

Readership recommendation.
I’d recommend this book to anyone. Whether you’re seeking to understand U.S. history as a citizen, expat, or foreigner, a student, a casual learner looking for an accessible review of history or historical refresher, anyone looking to solidify their thoughts and knowledge of certain subjects, or anyone seeking clarification of how U.S. history, founded on certain principles and culture, plays out in today’s climate.

Audiobook.
I listened to it via audiobook, narrated by the author, which was excellent and I’d highly recommend. There was a lot packed into this 6-hour long book. He talked rather fast, as in running words together, but it was clearest for me at 0.9x speed, so I actually quite enjoyed listening because I did like the fast pacing of concepts as they come to his mind in the way he explained them following up and qualifying instantaneously if that makes sense. Though I did find myself still hitting replay of the previous 15 seconds button several times throughout the book so I could grasp the words and absorb the sentiments better. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if I understood exactly when he was stating opposing viewpoints/opinions or not, though some were quite animated by impressions or quotes that were easier to pick out, though some were a bit silly, both hilarious and silly I suppose.

The writing style.
It was a very inviting, conversational approach to writing. Proposing questions, exploring alternative/opposing viewpoints/endings from a philosophical standpoint, rationales. I liked the format.

Tone.
Based on my interpretation of the title and description, I thought there possibly could be an underlying negative tone, is the U.S. doomed to fail, feeling throughout the book, possibly focusing on negative or opposing opinions of today and debating them into an oblivion of despair.

But it was actually quite hopeful and refreshing to explore U.S. philosophy, culture, and history and what the founders wanted to achieve at the time and what can be celebrated today. And to whom, in essence, achieved a certain timelessness to the principles, time they spent putting their ideas and words into a physical document to stand for the foreseeable future as a society moving forward in an era where such concepts were actually quite unique, radical, and well-developed for the time, even compared to other countries today.

Book organization.
I liked how the book was organized. It outlined in both a time-wise fashion and topical discussion simultaneously, depicting key dates and principles and culture that were key to the founding and development as a country we know today. With a recapping of ideas for each chapter conclusion, letting me know I absorbed something.

Personal interest/relevancy.
When it comes to certain key events in history, I like to know what other people around the world were doing. I like to know what my grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents were doing. I also like to connect pop culture, certain advancements, novel ideas, and inventions to events of the time and he touched on some of these things I seek out which made the social outlook and political reasoning much more personal and solidified in my mind. I’d like to see more maps and timelines cross-referencing and depicting things like this, I don’t know if there were any in the book because I had the audiobook version, maybe I missed out.

Credibility.
I’m a cross-checker and I love research. The author did a good job providing supporting data, citing them, and then explaining what about U.S. history is true, both in realities and intentions of forethought, and what was actually applied. What some of the myths and misnomers are. I liked the multiple historical and relational examples he gave, which were detailed enough to bridge the concepts, but also weren’t academically dry or belabored to read.

Subject matter.
I gleaned a lot and you may glean a lot from the book if learning about any of these topics appeal to you:

Speech policing/censorship, emotional sensitivity, religious freedom/protection, racism, affirmative action, tribalism, tyranny, secular universalism, monopolies, union power, risk aversion, boycotting, shifting policies pressure, Industrial Revolution, white/black women income gaps, The 1619 Project, 3/5th Compromise, social media mobbing, the human soul, reason, natural law, and eternal ideals.

Questions to ask.
I gained understanding and you may gain understanding in the interpretation of founding documents (especially as it relates to legal interpretation and social implications), by asking questions such as:

-Why did founders seek to build the country in such a way anyway?

-What is meant by Western civilization settling and who determines what that society should look like?

-Does humanity have a need for community and thus a need for communal standards?

-How is freedom and virtue defined?

-Should the government be enforcing virtue?

-What should the expectation be for individual rights VS communal self-control?

-How does bringing forth the freedom and prosperity of the past and today compare to any other country or civilization in history?

-What is the theme of The Declaration of Independence?

-What does it represent at the very core?

-Was it intended to be an allegiance to ideals?

-What was the intention of the U. S. Constitution? Was it mean to be the protector of rights or the source of them?

-Where/how are rights sourced?

-What is the difference between the scope and capacity of rights?

-What does it mean to have a democracy with limited government involvement?

-What is the role of government in our lives?

-How can society achieve a balance of power between people and the government?

-What internal checks are in place to prevent imbalance of power?

-What about competing values?

-What is the difference between a backdrop of an event or figure compared to the motivating idea put forth?

-Was U.S. wealth dependent on slavery?

-What was the first country to abolish slavery? The last? First existence and what forms of slavery exist today?

-Why exactly did the South lose the Civil War?

-Why did it occur/what were the contributing factors to the Civil War in the first place?

-Why was slavery not a written abolishment in The Declaration of Independence?

-Is the U.S. embracing diversity more than ever?

-What is the difference between disparity and discrimination?

-What is the difference between restorative discrimination and equal protection of the law?

-What are the liberties and requirements of mankind?

-What is the measurement of success in obtaining freedoms as written in the constitution and is it a moving target?

I’ll leave it at that and say I learned a lot. I think other readers will glean a lot from this book and find it to be stimulating no matter what origin, background, worldview, or position held on any of the subject matter.



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The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

Five devastating human stories and a dark and moving portrait of Victorian London – the untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper.

Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers. What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888. The person responsible was never identified, but the character created by the press to fill that gap has become far more famous than any of these five women.

For more than a century, newspapers have been keen to tell us that ‘the Ripper’ preyed on prostitutes. Not only is this untrue, as historian Hallie Rubenhold has discovered, it has prevented the real stories of these fascinating women from being told. Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, revealing a world not just of Dickens and Queen Victoria, but of poverty, homelessness and rampant misogyny. They died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time – but their greatest misfortune was to be born a woman.

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This was really interesting.

I listened to this one via audiobook, narrated by Louis Brealy whose voice, tone, accent, pronunciation, and pacing fit the story well, I’d highly recommend.

The focus of untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper was different than what I thought it was going to be. It actually told in parallel, each woman’s life with the societal norms of the time and gave tribute to their personal lives which I thought was typically unique for true crime books.

It took on a different angle, distinguishing formal versus informal acts of prostitution, views on homelessness, poverty, marriage, sexuality, social expectations and achievements, and told compelling stories of murder victims and ideas that I was less familiar with.

Sometimes I wasn’t sure if it was bogged down with speculation, phrases like “this would imply… which would have been… likely this or that…” but I actually found myself appreciating this stance the more I read on. Perhaps it was because I think that it was somewhat of a risky, bold choice and took a unique skill, often a difficult one for nonfiction authors to convey when trying to tell a story in which we really don’t know all the facts, but know enough facts to support certain theories and show a likelihood of certain premises to make for a readable story that can be turned into a book.

Then tell a compelling yet information heavy piece without being overly speculative or watered down, overly bias, conveying agenda driven tones, or presenting overly academic narratives, in which I wondered thoughts one might have when deciding whether to change a powerful nonfiction story depicting true injustices toward women into historical fiction that may or may not be just as powerful.

But this book stuck to it, presenting true stories and interjections of theory that I felt was incredibly interesting and engaging, though not completely seamless because the phrases had to be there, but they all made sense and helped me gain an entire perspective of society of the time, what the thought process was, and evoke a relatability factor to today’s issues of importance, which was actually quite timeless.

The press time was given to the victims instead of the killer and the main argument was whether or not they were sex workers and whether that made them a target in exploring other vulnerabilities to crimes against them and whether empathy on either front made the crimes less tragic and the women less worthy.

And I think this took great skill not only from a research level but the writing took it to the level of daily living, from what they ate and drank, a pint and potatoes, infusing details, depictions of humanity, finding common ground in struggles, community living, to make the stories of these women strong and explore the inaccuracies in which these women are often mislabeled.

Which almost in a statistical sense could be seen as dismissive and contradictory to what the author was presenting, yet proposed the question of ideal and deserving victims, dark figure of crime, coercion, isolation, stigmas, reparations, and then what has become of moral, social, and political response and how outlooks may or may not have changed over time.



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In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides

On July 8, 1879, Captain George Washington De Long and his team of thirty-two men set sail from San Francisco on the USS Jeanette. Heading deep into uncharted Arctic waters, they carried the aspirations of a young country burning to be the first nation to reach the North Pole. 

Two years into the voyage, the Jeannette’s hull was breached by an impassable stretch of pack ice, forcing the crew to abandon ship amid torrents of rushing of water. Hours later, the ship had sunk below the surface, marooning the men a thousand miles north of Siberia, where they faced a terrifying march with minimal supplies across the endless ice pack.

Enduring everything from snow blindness and polar bears to ferocious storms and labyrinths of ice, the crew battled madness and starvation as they struggled desperately to survive. With thrilling twists and turns, In The Kingdom of Ice is a tale of heroism and determination in the most brutal place on Earth.

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Super comprehensive and I loved every bit of it.

I listened to this one via audiobook, narrated by Arthur Morey, which was excellent.

Loved the questions of wonder. What animals would be present around the Arctic. Mammoths, ancient civilizations, passageways that would lead to the bowels of the earth, so much undiscovered and I loved the telling of it all.



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Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Educational Featured Historical Nonfiction Mystery Nonfiction Thriller

The Truffle Underground: A Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and Manipulation in the Shadowy Market of the World’s Most Expensive Fungus by Ryan Jacobs

Beneath the gloss of star chefs and crystal-laden tables, the truffle supply chain is touched by theft, secrecy, sabotage, and fraud. Farmers patrol their fields with rifles and fear losing trade secrets to spies. Hunters plant poisoned meatballs to eliminate rival truffle-hunting dogs. Naive buyers and even knowledgeable experts are duped by liars and counterfeits. 

This exposé documents the dark, sometimes deadly crimes at each level of the truffle’s path from ground to plate, making sense of an industry that traffics in scarcity, seduction, and cash.

The Truffle Underground: A Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and Manipulation in the Shadowy Market of the World’s Most Expensive Fungus by Ryan Jacobs

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


An absolutely fascinating account about everything the truffle has to offer. The story went into great detail about this delectable treat.

Satisfying the curiosity behind understanding and better appreciating the experience and taste, status and glamour, told as it relates to a symbol of class, wealth, and refinement, taking a journalistic approach into the cultivation, the industry, the demand, food culture, food fraud, organized crime, and the sense of identity, pride, and accomplishment around this highly-prized fungus that is unlike any other thing you could ever eat, much less grow to highly proper standards accordingly.

I listened to this one via audiobook, narrated by Ari Fliakos, who spoke so clear, direct, well-paced. His delivery of the story, so well-suited for true crime in the most classic way, really made the story, I’d highly recommend the audiobook version.

The story. It covered it all, from the science behind the fungus to truffle hunting dogs. And I’m not at all ashamed to say I spent some time looking up photos of these little Ewok faces, breeders near me, how to train them properly. “Butterscotch” and “Macchiato” are the names I have picked out.

With that, the writing was excellent. It revealed like a thriller. Informative at times, a slow-burn then punchy when it needed to be. It took the approach to include the author’s realtime journalistic experience which made it all that much more personal and intriguing. It added to the depth as each product and the lore behind each truffle story was told without reservation with the goals outlining the fulfillment of culinary promises, insight into the mysterious inner-workings, and the network of people behind them.

I’d recommend this book to everyone.

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N —– by Dick Gregory, Robert Lipsyte

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I understand there are a good many Southerners in the room tonight. I know the South very well. I spent twenty years there one night…”

Nigger by Dick Gregory

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Such an impactful story. This was a reread for me, having read it in high school, a suggested reading from my history teacher who always said “Know history and know it well.” I would highly recommend this to anyone.

You might question the title, it’s controversial, you might be put off to reading this book by it, you may be curious. I can tell you that the author addresses this in the first part of the book and explains that he was not careless in his choice. As an autobiography, it’s a deep look into the author’s personal life, growing up, navigating life, his observations, all of it, profoundly relevant to today’s climate.

It’s a book I’ve had on my TBR for a while now, one that I’ve been wanting to reread as an adult, comparing the social context and my initial thoughts of when I first read it to a future time in my life, much like rereading Orwell’s 1984. So when I saw it was published as an audiobook this year, I moved it up on my list, and with the current events, it became even more pressing on my mind. It put a lot of the pressing issues into greater and deeper context revisiting it.

The audiobook is narrated by Prentice Ongyemi and Christian Gregory, which I’d highly recommend.

The story.

The book is based off of the author’s individual experience, but expands on an experience that was not all his own. It was powerful and impactful, his story told with honesty, humility, and optimism. He wrote about his childhood and journey through adulthood, which included historic events such as the March on Washington and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, both of which took place in 1963.

I enjoyed the introductory piece, by his son, Dr. Christian Gregory. It set the pacing for the story.

The writing.

All I can say is that the writing is touching, moving, and beautiful. There was a lot of detail, but it also remained to the point, much like a conversation, drawing in such a personal way that I felt intertwined with his life achievements, joys, disappointments, and struggles.

The tone was rich in sentiment, that words mean things and that context matters. And even more so he brought such a great understanding to what it meant and how it felt to be called a word so hurtful, so crushing. At the same time disregarded, semantic overload, often unaddressed, sometimes replaced by a euphemism because of the implied racism when used in and of itself, connotation of anger, bitterness, all going back to the ability to destroy someone with a single word.

The story and writing took shape as he elaborated on finding, understanding, and owning his identity in the way he advocated for himself and humanity. While observing and experiencing racial injustices along the way of self discovery, world view, and how he fit in it, he became an activist for respect, dignity, and freedom, and this book, his life journey through it.

FAVORITE LINES:

“Every door of racial prejudice I can kick down, is one less door that my children have to kick down.”

“When you shoot right and truth and justice down, the more right and truth and justice will rise up.”



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Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

On May 1, 1915, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months, its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds” and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. He knew, moreover, that his ship – the fastest then in service – could outrun any threat. 

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small – hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more–all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history. 

It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour, mystery, and real-life suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope Riddle to President Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love. Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster that helped place America on the road to war.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the LusitaniaDead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent account of the Lusitania. I listened to this via audiobook narrated by Scott Brink, who had a soothing, deep voice, also excellent.

The Lusitania, described as a luxurious transatlantic passenger ocean liner with a hull of a battleship, sank on May 7, 1915. It only took 18 minutes to sink. Over 1,000 innocent people drowned. A maritime disaster, changing the course of WWI.

This book described the surrounding events in great detail, from the design of u-boats, the U-20 in particular, from the making and outfitting of the torpedo that hit the ship, characteristics of a zig-zag course in question as the Lusitania made its way through the Celtic Sea. The book also covers events of the time including parties, the oppression of war, German naval policy, President Woodrow Wilson’s decision-making process, and a dynamic love story.

I liked the organization of the book, integrating backstory with current events of the time. I really enjoyed the additional tidbits of sailors’ superstitions such as unlucky days to sail and the thought-provoking presentation to better understanding of English supremacy of the seas.

Cleverly done were the inclusions of multiple inquiries of the time as well as today such as how such a sinking of sorts could have happened to such a large, sturdy ship, with so many lives lost, its course of action, course of sailing, and the major questioning of the additional contents on board: weaponry and its role in the 2nd explosion that happened on board after the torpedo hit. It offered explanations and alternative theories about the curious circumstances.

What I really appreciated about this book were the tributes to individual victims. The book also discussed the emotion felt between loved ones attempting to find closure in the absence of a victim’s body and being caught between hope and grief, as well as the overall aftermath of the disaster and how their lives went on.

I highly recommend this one to anyone, especially those who may be less clear as to how the sinking of this ship played a major part in leading the United States into WWI.

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Tolkien’s Worlds: The Places That Inspired the Writer’s Imagination by John Garth

A lavishly illustrated look at the locales familiar to J. R. R. Tolkien, the creator of Middle-earth.

This book takes you to the places that inspired J. R. R. Tolkien to create his fictional locations in The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and other classic works. Written by renowned Tolkien expert John Garth and prepared with the full cooperation of the Tolkien estate, Tolkien’s Worlds features a wealth of breathtaking illustrations, including Tolkien’s own drawings, contributions from other artists, rare archival images, and spectacular color photos of contemporary locations across Britain and beyond, from the battlefields of World War I to Africa.

Garth identifies the locales that served as the basis for Hobbiton, the elven valley of Rivendell, the Glittering Caves of Helm’s Deep, and many other settings in Middle-earth, from mountains and forests to rivers, lakes, and shorelands. He reveals the rich interplay between Tolkien’s personal travels, his wide reading, and his deep scholarship as an Oxford don. Garth draws on his own profound knowledge of Tolkien’s life and work to shed light on the extraordinary processes of invention behind Tolkien’s works of fantasy. He also debunks popular misconceptions about the inspirations for Middle-earth and puts forward strong new claims of his own.

An illustrated journey into the life and imagination of one of the world’s best-loved authors, Tolkien’s Worlds provides a unique exploration of the relationship between the real and the fantastical and is an essential companion for anyone who wants to follow in Tolkien’s footsteps.

The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien: The places that inspired the writer's imaginationThe Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien: The places that inspired the writer’s imagination by John Garth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Quarto Publishing Group – White Lion for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

This book was awesome.

From gorgeous illustrations to the impressive amount of research, it’s a must have book for any Tolkien collector out there. It will make a beautiful coffee table book in my home and one I’d also recommend as a companion piece to anyone reading one of his pieces or for those just being introduced to the world of Tolkien.

I loved the organization, the range and amount of photos and illustrations, and the amount of detailed discussion of the origin and inspiration that Tolkien depicted in his writing style and world-building mega feat of what I think is the epitome of writing genius.

This book packed so much punch, I admired every bit of information covering the incredibly detailed influences of his work such as geographical processes, ancient architecture, even his recurring nightmares of a wave engulfing the land, bereavements to shipwrecks, and the Elvish language creation which ranged from onomatopoeic words and his studies of Latin.

His imagination was incredible. Some of which also being rooted in a multi-cultural, Gothic atmosphere incorporating unusual caricature from backgrounds of Celtic, Welsh, English, South Africa, and Icelandic tradition, folklore, and wartime events. This book covered it all.

I’ve been a fan of Tolkien since first picking up my first read, The Hobbit, in the 5th grade, and this gave me an even greater appreciation for the creativity that went into his writing.

It was also compelling in the way it made me want to visit all the glorious places, exhilarating locations as some of the foundations for settings in his books, a Tolkien tour.

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Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America’s Most Notorious Pirates by Eric Jay Dolin

With surprising tales of vicious mutineers, imperial riches, and high-seas intrigue, Black Flags, Blue Waters vividly reanimates the “Golden Age” of piracy in the Americas.

Set against the backdrop of the Age of Exploration, Black Flags, Blue Waters reveals the dramatic and surprising history of American piracy’s “Golden Age”―spanning the late 1600s through the early 1700s―when lawless pirates plied the coastal waters of North America and beyond. Best-selling author Eric Jay Dolin illustrates how American colonists at first supported these outrageous pirates in an early display of solidarity against the Crown, and then violently opposed them.

Through engrossing episodes of roguish glamour and extreme brutality, Dolin depicts the star pirates of this period, among them towering Blackbeard, ill-fated Captain Kidd, and sadistic Edward Low, who delighted in torturing his prey.

Also brilliantly detailed are the pirates’ manifold enemies, including colonial governor John Winthrop, evangelist Cotton Mather, and young Benjamin Franklin. Upending popular misconceptions and cartoonish stereotypes, Dolin provides this wholly original account of the seafaring outlaws whose raids reflect the precarious nature of American colonial life.

Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America's Most Notorious PiratesBlack Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America’s Most Notorious Pirates by Eric Jay Dolin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Loved this book! I listened to it via audiobook, narrated by Paul Brion who was excellent. He was easy to listen to, being well-paced and unstrained, which was perfect for this book. I did miss the illustrations in the physical copy unfortunately, but I felt like the audio version was way to go for informationally dense, topically focused subject matter.

It followed pirate chronicles, mostly those sailing around the Caribbean during the 17th and 18th century, covering a vast amount of interesting material from their goals and accomplishments, the pursuits, intention, tactic and missions, flag identification, penalties, colonization, the weaponry, and even clothing, busting the myths and telling the truths of widely known events and biographical detail.

I liked how it was organized that being both chronological and topical as to not double back over certain points and being easy to follow, keeping the story going in a direction where there was focused story building and climax unique to most nonfiction books.

I also liked the outlook the author brought into the history, taking speculation and known facts into context for the time, even when it came to brutality and forms of entertainment as understood by the people living it whether observer or participant.

I’d highly recommend this well-researched book for anyone interested in a general overview of pirate life as a whole or for anyone wanting to gain insight into a specific pirate, time, or place and build from there.

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The Peasants’ Revolting Lives by Terry Deary

‘Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets. The rich and the poor.’ – Benjamin Disraeli

Today we are aware of the habits, thoughts and feelings of the rich, because historians write about them endlessly. The poor are largely ignored and, as a result, their contributions to our modern world are forgotten.

Here, skilled raconteur TERRY DEARY takes us back through the centuries with a poignant but humorous look at how life treated the ordinary people who scratched out a living at the very bottom of society. Born into poverty, their world was one of foul food, terrible toilets, danger, disease and death – the last usually premature.

Wryly told tales of deprivation, exploitation, sickness, mortality, warfare and religious oppression all fill these pages. Discover the story of the teacher turned child-catcher who rounded up local waifs and strays before putting them to work. Read all about the agricultural workers who escaped the clutches of the Black Death only to be thwarted by lordly landowners. Follow as hundreds of children descend into the inky depths of hazardous coal mines.

On the flip side of this darkness, discover how cash-strapped citizens used animal droppings for house building, how sparrow’s brains were incorporated into aphrodisiacal brews, and how extra money was made by mixing tea with dried elder leaves. Courtship, marriage, sport, entertainment, education and, occasionally, achievement briefly illuminated the drudgery; these were the milestones that brought meaning to ordinary lives.

The oppressed and disempowered have lived on the very outskirts of recorded history, suffering, sacrificing and struggling to survive. The greatest insult is that they are forgotten; buried often with no gravestone to mark their passing and no history book to celebrate their efforts. Until now. The Peasants’ Revolting Lives explores and celebrates the lives of those who endured against the odds. From medieval miseries to the idiosyncrasies of being a twenty-first-century peasant, tragedy and comedy sit side by side in these tales of survival and endurance in the face of hardship.

The Peasants' Revolting LivesThe Peasants’ Revolting Lives by Terry Deary

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Pen & Sword for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

This book was fascinating! I’d recommend it to anyone. After reading this book I feel especially well prepared for a night of trivia. It was incredibly perceptive as it explored daily life and personal practices, living situations, origins of certain folklore, and social implications of peasantry, leading up to their revolt.

I loved the beginning question about choosing to live in any time in history and the answers that followed.

In referencing the Golden Age, comparing its perils to today, it was an enlightening exploration of how the impoverished experienced a certain way of life that only illuminated today’s strides in addressing social injustice, occupational hazards, sanitation, animal cruelty, entertainment, death, marriage, childbirth, child labor, legislation, literacy, technology, educational systems, captivity, and even sports.

Occupations themselves, such as matchstick girls, stood out to be one of the most shocking to me as far as risk for safety is concerned especially because of how far we have come in this world. It really gave a lot of perspective, respect, and value to our advancement in civilization.

The writing style was upfront clear and honest which I liked and further emphasized the very matter of fact tone and subject matter. The content showed a stark contrast as far as how humanity and social norms in general have come, which also lended itself to some humor since some of the concepts back in the day were quite absurd. There were bits of personal interjections that were lighthearted and confirming to my feelings which made this an amusing book to read.

I won’t comment too much on the writing in more detail or the organization itself because I did receive an ARC that was more in somewhat of an outline form than a final, cohesive piece. I do think from that standpoint the final form will likely be supportive enough to deliver such great content.

The quotes from historical figures and summarizations of points in time brought so much enrichment and credibility. References to classic literature, various philosophers, and playwrights such as Shakespeare was incredibly satisfying to me.

I think that each topic could also be expanded to provide further historical context and rationales of the time in a series type form, so I will be looking forward to reading more from this author.

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Educational Featured Historical Nonfiction

Earth Almanac: A Year of Witnessing the Wild, from the Call of the Loon to the Journey of the Gray Whale by Ted Williams

From winter candy and spring quackers to summer’s scarlet farewell and autumn reveilles, noted nature writer Ted Williams invites readers along on a year-long immersion in the wild and fleeting moments of the natural world. This beautifully crafted collection of short, seasonal essays combines in-depth information with evocative descriptions of nature’s marvels and mysteries.

Williams explains the weather conditions that bring out the brightest reds in autumn leaves, how hungry wolf spiders catch their prey, and why American goldfinches wait until late July or August to build their nests.

In the tradition of Thoreau, Carson, and Leopold, Ted Williams’s writing stands as a testament to the delicate balance of nature’s resilience and fragility, and inspires readers to experience the natural world for themselves and to become advocates for protecting and preserving the amazing diversity and activity found there.

Earth Almanac: A Year of Witnessing the Wild, from the Call of the Loon to the Journey of the Gray WhaleEarth Almanac: A Year of Witnessing the Wild, from the Call of the Loon to the Journey of the Gray Whale by Ted Williams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Storey Publishing for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

This was such a relaxing read that gave me a sort of feeling of gratitude and peace. I’d recommend it to anyone, especially nature lovers and anyone looking to unwind and learn a bit about plants, insects, and animals in the process.

The cover and title drew me in, piquing my interest by bringing back memories of reading the Farmer’s Almanac on my grandparents coffee table. I loved learning about the life cycle of species and their contribution to the circle of life, even folklore, superstitions, the rationales behind them, and it was all well-suited to bring such awesome wonder contained in this book.

The writing was steady, poetic at times. It read like I was a nature observer on the ideal expedition where time was not pressed, allowing me to take it all in. With the organizational divide into seasons, the descriptions of critters, plant life, and their habitats allowed the content to really highlight the most interesting and sometimes humorous attributes that made each one stand out in the environment.

And I really appreciated that the author did not dwell on perilous, doomsday, global warming issues, but rather pointed out species that have since dwindled in number and celebrated ones that have made a comeback.

Loved the delicate sketches. I would have loved even more, even just simple schematics.

I would like to see another one like this, even a series, perhaps specific to region.

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

The Warship Tyger: The Master Shipwright’s Secrets Behind a Restoration Warship by Richard Endsor

A magnificent illustrated history of HMS Tyger, a fourth-rate ship of the Navy of Charles II.

Inspired by the recent discovery of mathematically calculated digital plans for a fourth-rate ship, written by the Deptford master shipwright, John Shish, The Warship Tyger is an illustrated history of the HMS Tyger, one of the smaller warships of the Restoration period.

Tyger was originally built in the middle of the 17th century and served in the Anglo-Dutch Wars. It was sent to Deptford for rebuilding at the end of the wars in 1674, but the ship was left to deteriorate over the next few years and ended up as a sunken wreck at the bottom of the great double dock. Eventually, the yard officers at Deptford wrote that there was “no such thing as the Tyger” and wanted to pay off the last warrant officers belonging to her. However, King Charles II decided otherwise and kept her on the books to eventually reappear as a “rebuilt” but in fact, entirely new ship in 1681.

This book is replete with beautiful and detailed illustrations of the construction of the Tyger and explores both its complicated history and its complex rebuilding, complete with deck plans, internal sections, and large scale external shaded drawings. The title also explores associated ships including another fourth-rate ship, the Mordaunt, which was purchased into the navy and had a dimensional survey made of her at the time by John Shish. A rare contemporary section drawing of another fourth-rate English ship and constructional drawings of Shish’s later fourth-rate ship, St Albans are also included.

The Warship Tyger: The master shipwright's secrets behind a Restoration warshipThe Warship Tyger: The master shipwright’s secrets behind a Restoration warship by Richard Endsor

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Osprey Publishing for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

This book was outstanding both in content and narrative! I love anything maritime so this one was like candy for me.

It was filled with interesting details of ship building, particularly centered around those built in the 1600s, portraying the star of the show, Tyger.

The ins and outs of what it took to acquire materials, calculate, design, and build a ship that was seaworthy at that time was just incredible.

Woven into the organizational and technical feats were personal diary entries, old documents with their characteristically fine penmanship of elegant swoops of Ws, Ys, and Cs, inventory lists, maps, and beautiful illustrations showing ornate designs such as cherubim and lion faces carved at the bow. The pictures were pretty to look at and the addition of people characters to show scale was a nice touch and I liked that the illustrative style was consistent with the paintings of the day.

I really appreciated the extensive research put into this, it was super comprehensive!

This book would make a great study reference and conversational piece as both a coffee table book and for any private or public library.

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

Mesopotamia: Civilization Begins by Ariane Thomas, Timothy Potts

Mesopotamia, in modern-day Iraq, was home to the remarkable ancient civilizations of Sumer, Akkad, Babylonia, and Assyria. From the rise of the first cities around 3500 BCE, through the mighty empires of Nineveh and Babylon, to the demise of its native culture around 100 CE, Mesopotamia produced some of the most powerful and captivating art of antiquity and led the world in astronomy, mathematics, and other sciences—a legacy that lives on today.

Mesopotamia: Civilization Begins presents a rich panorama of ancient Mesopotamia’s history, from its earliest prehistoric cultures to its conquest by Alexander the Great in 331 BCE. This catalogue records the beauty and variety of the objects on display, on loan from the Louvre’s unparalleled collection of ancient Near Eastern antiquities: cylinder seals, monumental sculptures, cuneiform tablets, jewelry, glazed bricks, paintings, figurines, and more. Essays by international experts explore a range of topics, from the earliest French excavations to Mesopotamia’s economy, religion, cities, cuneiform writing, rulers, and history—as well as its enduring presence in the contemporary imagination.

This volume is published to accompany an exhibition on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa March 18 to July 27, 2020.

Mesopotamia: Civilization BeginsMesopotamia: Civilization Begins by Ariane Thomas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Getty Publications for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

Fascinating! This book captured the fascinating work, with all the exciting elements of discovery adventure of many of the world’s firsts in both documentation of earliest civilization and supportive artifacts.

I think most people would say that they have wanted to be an archeologist or paleontologist at one point in their childhood and the discovery of Mesopotamia is ultimate. As an adult I get a bit of that recurring excitement when gardening, wondering what I will dig up, year after year. Wondering what it would be like to happen upon evidence of a lost civilization, to find buried treasure, pottery, dinosaur bones. This book took me there.

I love how it was organized, opening up with beautiful geographical maps, followed by timelines of settlement and people group chronology. More history books should model this just to set the stage for easing the reader in.

It felt like I was stepping into a museum. Everything was well-curated and flowed in ways that made sense with respect to both the timeline and subject matter. Occasionally some of the writing was a little bit dry, but I didn’t mind too much. I don’t know much about the behind the scenes/interworking of museums and how artifacts gets acquired and curated. So when this book covered how items have been strategically placed to form full-fledged museums and as featured pieces in others, I felt my interest becoming much more immersive into this type of content as I read on.

The catalogue of exhibitions and mentions of modern and futuristic contributions such as 3-D printing at the end of the book was stellar. I will look forward to visiting the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa and this will make a great conversational/coffee table book!

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