Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A More Elite Soldier by Chuck Holton

book cover

A More Elite Soldier
by Chuck Holton

Trade Paperback: 200 pages
Publisher: Multnomah
First Released: 2003

Source: Bought from Half.com

Book Description from Publisher Website (slightly modified):
The rigor of becoming an Airborne Ranger is exceeded only by the challenge of being one - but those who join their ranks find fulfillment in something bigger than themselves. In the same way, pursuing God's objectives energizes our everyday lives. Former U.S. Army Ranger Chuck Holton gives powerful vignettes that offer potent spiritual ammunition for the battles of every Christian serving in God's army. Find out what it takes to be a more elite soldier.


From the instant the alarm clock signals the beginning of your day, you’re jumping into a zone of uncertainty. Your survival depends on having a clear focus.


Get on mission as an elite soldier. Become part of something bigger than yourself.

Your Commanding Officer will oversee your training, honing your skills to a razor-sharp edge. God will lead you through the danger zone of today’s insecurity, equipping you to make a difference.


In A More Elite Soldier, Chuck Holton described in vivid detail his military training and missions. Interspersed in these accounts, he related the various spiritual lessons he learned on how his training reflected things in the Bible on how we are called to follow Christ. I found the descriptions of his training very interesting and enjoyed his insights on how God trains us for His missions.

I don't recall any bad language. A few parts of the book were written in present tense ('I see' vs 'I saw'), but most was in past tense. I'd recommend this book to Christians who are in the military, who are interested in learning more about the training that Army Rangers go through, or who want to become a "more elite soldier" for God (or at least see a Ranger's perspective on it).

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from pages 29-31
[He's just started Ranger training, and the instructors are trying to get rid of anyone not totally committed to becoming a Ranger.]

I knew they couldn't leave us in this position forever, but I was equally unsure that I could outlast the roughly twenty or so men who would have to quit before we could move on to the next ordeal. I had no intention of quitting, but I didn't know how long my body would hold out. The mental anguish of that prospect was almost more painful than the physical torture of the dying cockroach [position].


Twenty minutes.

I closed my eyes and tried to forget the intense pain in the muscles of my neck and abs. My hands and feet were numb from lack of blood and the cold, but the rest of my body was drenched in the sweet of exertion.

I thought back to a conversation with my mother as I was leaving for basic training. "I only want to know what you had for breakfast, Son," she had said with a pained smile. She was always worried about the difficulties I'd be facing on active duty. To her it was simply easier not to know. "I know that if this is in God's plan for you, you will be safe. But just remember what your grandmother always says, 'Thou shall not tempt the Lord thy God.'"

I grinned imperceptibly at the memory. Strangely enough, I did feel like this was where I was supposed to be. Why God wanted me here wasn't entirely clear to me a present. I had mused in my journal that perhaps He needed a hit man. More likely, I figured, the skills I was learning in the Army would be used in some far-flung mission field. Maybe He would call me to smuggle Bibles or undertake some other dangerous adventure for His purposes. Sounded like fun to me.

How did I know that God wanted me here? Since I was in the sixth grade, joining the military had been a passion. Our pastor had once said something that hit me like a stun gun: "God doesn't contradict Himself. If He wants you to go to Africa, then you won't find peace doing anything else. He will put a passion in you that corresponds with the plan that He has for you." The way I saw things, finding God's will for my life was simply a matter of pursuing the things that made me passionate, then looking for God to open and close doors along the way. So far, this plan seemed to be working.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Book Quotes: Differences in Israeli Jews

From When I Was a Soldier by Valerie Zenatti on pages 185-186:

In Israel all the extremes of society live side by side, though not always easily. There are some people who are too rich and others who are shamefully poor; shadows who rock as they pray to God, and silhouettes in miniskirts who dance, thinking of their own pleasure and living for the moment; militants who want peace now, and who know that to achieve that we would have to give the Palestinians the right to live as they want to; and others who swear their loyalty to the Land and to the Bible, who block their ears and cover their eyes to the fact that 3,000,000 Palestinians live--not especially well-in Gaza, in the hills of Judea and Samaria. The tensions also grow worse every day between the religious fanatics who insist on closing a particular cinema in Jerusalem on Saturdays and the laymen who criticize them for not doing military service; between the unemployed who demonstrate their despair outside Parliament and the high-tech engineers; between the Moroccan Jews and the Russian Jews; between the left-wing militants and the right-wing militants who hurl abuse and hatred at each other: 'Assassins!' cry the ones, 'Traitors!' reply the others.

And the blood flows, flows in the territories and in Jerusalem--where every now and then a Palestinian labourer throws an axe or a hand knife at Israelis, crying 'Allah Akhbar!', God is great. Some even say that we could do with a good war to wash away all this tension. But what exactly is a 'good' war?

In the country where I live, there are a thousand revolutions to be fought.

And from pages 108-109:

Yesterday evening after supper we had a really moving conversation with Kineret. Subject: what exactly is the link that connects us to Israel, this country which has only been going since 1948 and which is full of Jews from all over the world? Some said it was the land of our ancestors: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. Others felt that the extermination of the European Jews during the Second World War had proved that there was a need for a Jewish state where they could take refuge if they were threatened. A few girls whose reasoning was basically pretty sound said that they'd been born here and that usually people were attached to their native country.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Louisa May Alcott by Harriet Reisen

Louisa May Alcott cover

Louisa May Alcott:
The Woman Behind Little Women
by Harriet Reisen

Hardback: 384 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt
First Released: 2009

Book at Publisher Website

Source: Review copy from publisher.

Book Description from Publisher Website:
A vivid, energetic account of the life of Louisa May Alcott, whose work has delighted millions of readers.

Louisa May Alcott portrays a writer as worthy of interest in her own right as her most famous character, Jo March, and addresses all aspects of Alcott’s life: the effect of her father’s self-indulgent utopian schemes; her family’s chronic economic difficulties and frequent uprootings; her experience as a nurse in the Civil War; the loss of her health and frequent recourse to opiates in search of relief from migraines, insomnia, and symptomatic pain. Stories and details culled from Alcott’s journals; her equally rich letters to family, friends, publishers, and admiring readers; and the correspondence, journals, and recollections of her family, friends, and famous contemporaries provide the basis for this lively account of the author’s classic rags-to-riches tale.

Alcott would become the equivalent of a multimillionaire in her lifetime based on the astounding sales of her books, leaving contemporaries like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Henry James in the dust. This biography explores Alcott’s life in the context of her works, all of which are to some extent autobiographical. A fresh, modern take on this remarkable and prolific writer, who secretly authored pulp fiction, harbored radical abolitionist views, and completed heroic service as a Civil War nurse, Louisa May Alcott is in the end also the story of how the all-time beloved American classic Little Women came to be. This revelatory portrait will present the popular author as she was and as she has never been seen before.

This biography of Louisa May Alcott was a well-written, enjoyable read. Harriet Reisen gave a chronological account of the Alcott's lives while relating how the national events of the time effected them and how they influenced history (through their Transcendental movement, abolition movement, etc.). She also worked in many quotes taken from letters and the personal journals kept by each member of the family.

The first 87 pages were mainly about Louisa's parents (Abby and Bronson) and their friends. If you're interested in Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, and other famous Transcendentalists, you'll probably enjoy this section more than I did. I was continually exasperated with her parents and, while I saw the value of showing the influences Louisa grew up with and how they affected her writing, I didn't like her parents and wanted to get on to focusing on Louisa.

From page 88 to 302, Harriet Reisen focused on Louisa and, to a lesser degree, her sisters. This section was lively and very fun to read though Louisa didn't have a very easy life. I liked how Harriet Reisen tied Louisa's experiences to her books: Louisa would often take real life events and work them into fictional accounts.

The rest of the book was references and notes about the quotes and information. There were no pictures. I would have at least enjoyed a picture of Louisa.

There was no bad language. Overall, I'd recommend this enjoyable biography to anyone who loves Louisa May Alcott's novels and wants to know more about her.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter Four (page 54)
[Note: Abby is Louisa's mother.]

The Alcotts were slipping out of genteel poverty and into the grueling variety. When Abby's cousin Hannah Robie came at Thanksgiving in 1841, she brought a bundle of old clothes for Abby to use to make dresses for her girls. Abby could rip them apart, turn the pieces inside out, and resew them so the unfaded side of the fabric showed.

During the visit, Abby took Hannah to see an abandoned woman with four children. To help them, the Alcotts had reduced their own meals to two a day. Now the "sweetness of self-denial" was about starvation, not plumcakes. The urgency of the situation became clear: Abby entrusted Hannah with the sale of her silver teapot and spoons. Hannah Robie returned to Boston carrying the tale of Abby's troubles all over town.

Louisa, observing the adults from a corner of the kitchen while stitching a hem or playing with her doll, missed very little. At almost nine, hunger told her how dire things were; as an adult, she would give more of her money to feed children than to any other cause. Her raw hands reminded her that she and Anna performed dirty chores their playmates never thought about; in Little Women, she would give the March family a servant, and she herself would have ten when she died.

Friday, December 18, 2009

And the winner is...

It's time to announce the winner of A Woman's Civil War: A Diary with Reminiscences of the War, from March 1862 by Cornelia Peake McDonald. Using a random number generator and numbering the entrants in the order I received them, the winner is:


from Twitter. Congratulations! I'll be contacting you for your address.

For those who didn't win, you can always join in the fun by buying a copy of this book from your favorite bookstore.

Book Quotes: Life Through an Eternal Perspective

From A Passion for the Impossible by Miriam Huffman Rockness (preface, page 22):

Stamped on every page of [Lilia's] journals and diaries is a woman fully immersed in the practical realities of everyday living even as she is totally engaged in assimilating those realities through an eternal perspective.

It is from the tension of these two realities--temporal and eternal--that hard spiritual truths are hammered out which later appear in Lilias's devotional books, elegant and reasoned. Light-giving lessons are harvested through her common daily rounds, tested through crises, and sustained through a lifetime of change and growth.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

When I Was a Soldier by Valerie Zenatti

When I Was a Soldier cover

When I Was a Soldier
by Valerie Zenatti

Hardback: 240 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
First Released: 2005

Source: Won from Color Online.

Back Cover Description:
Like all young Israelis, Valerie Zenatti ceased to be a private citizen on her eighteenth birthday. As is the law, she then enlisted in the national defense service, where for the next two years she endured rigorous training, harsh living conditions, and, eventually, top secret missions with the elite secret service.

Between target practice and sentry duty, Valerie is an ordinary teenage girl. She wonders how her friends and family back home are coping with her absence. She can't stop thinking about her ex-boyfriend in Jerusalem. And, torn between her French heritage and her adopted homeland, she also begins to question how much she really believes in the nation she now defends with her life.

Here, in the arresting voice of a woman who has borne witness, is a thoughtful, compelling memoir of a young soldier--and a country--in turmoil.

When I Was a Soldier was an interesting memoir. Valerie was born in France in 1970, immigrated to Israel with her family when she was thirteen, and joined the Israeli army five years later when she turned eighteen. The memoir focused as much on her personal life as on her training.

The first fourth of the memoir was about the pressure of taking her bac exams...especially since her boyfriend had just broken up with her. The next part--about half of the book--was about her training. Most of this section described her basic training which occurred on an all-girls base. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences between the Israeli basic training and what I've read about American basic training. She also briefly described her training in intelligence work and the stress she was under to learn, learn, learn without mistake! The final section described some of what she did in her intelligence work. She mainly focused on the first year of her two years of military service.

What I found most interesting was her descriptions of the discussions she had with her fellow soldiers and other citizens about the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. A wide variety of views were briefly covered, giving a feel for the complexity of the situation. She also talked about the diversity among the Israeli Jews--their different cultural backgrounds, political views, and level of religious devotion. Valerie's French background was apparently a bit unique in Israel, but her secular view (she didn't believe in God) didn't seem uncommon.

The memoir was written in first person present tense ("I go" instead of "I went"), but this didn't bother me and I usually didn't even notice. There was a minor amount of bad language and some swearing. There was no explicit sex (though she and her friends were sexually active). Overall, I'd recommend this memoir to those interested in what life is like for Israeli eighteen-to-twenty-year-old girls.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
'We're three losers in a land of losers,' Yulia says, spitting her words out and raising her eyebrows in an expression no one would dare argue with. 'This is the arsehole of the world,' she goes on, 'and nothing special ever came out of the arsehole of the world.'

I look into those big blue eyes she's so proud of, especially since she got her contacts. She used to have horrible plastic glasses, with really thick lenses, and she squinted. Long-sighted, astigmatic and with a twinkle in her eyes, as my aunt would say. She carried the burden of it all through her childhood. Since she swapped her glasses for two tiny lenses, it's as if she wants to make the whole world pay for her past humiliations. She's getting her revenge. Sometimes all you can see in her eyes is anger and contempt, or--worse than that--she's lying and her eyes are dressed up in this immeasurable innocence, all blue and transparent, as she talks to one of her teachers, or to a boy. I hate her big blue eyes. I hate my best friend's eyes with a sneaky, furious, impotent sort of hate. And I feel just as much loathing for the way she sometimes speaks, deliberately foul-mouthed and hard, as if she's saying, 'I'm free now. I'm no longer my parents' nice little girl.'

She's my best friend, all the same...I have to admit it and she seems to agree. At school we've been classified as inseparable, no one could imagine bumping into one of us without the other. We've been sitting next to each other systematically for four years, and we phone each other on average eight times a day. When I'm not with her I'm with Rahel, my other best friend.

They were both born in what was once the USSR. Yulia's from Tashkent in Uzbekistan. She likes saying those names in front of me - Tashkent, Samarkand - as if there were treasure sparkling on every street corner back there. In front of other people from Russia she emphasises the fact that her father's of German origin and her mother Romanian; I can tell she's ashamed of Uzbekistan. Everyone else seems to think that that's where the arsehole of the world is. Personally, I haven't got very fixed ideas about the anatomy of our planet.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Book Quotes: Searching for Art

From The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel & Bret Witter (page 422):

...first impressions carry lasting significance....For example, several years ago I spoke with one of the key officers in charge of tracking down some of the 15,000 works of art looted from the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad during and following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. He acknowledged that he had never heard of the Monuments Men.

Today, dedicated Civil Affairs officers and soldiers along with civilian experts, including Colonel Mathew Bogdanis (ret.), Major Corine Wegener (ret.), and Professor John Russell, have gallantly and tirelessly attempted to repair the damage to this great museum, including finding and returning about half of the missing items to date. They also conduct training seminars for troops serving in the Civil Affairs section. But despite their efforts the first impressions of the United States' experience with handling the aftermath of the looting of the National Museum of Iraq remain indelibly etched in the minds of the public worldwide.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Giveaway: A Woman's Civil War

A Woman's Civil War cover


I really enjoyed this book and thought it would make a great Christmas gift, so I've decided to do a Christmas Giveaway for my copy of A Woman's Civil War: A Diary with Reminiscences of the War, from March 1862 by Cornelia Peake McDonald. The book is used, but looks like new.

To learn more about the book, you can read my review.

One copy is being given away. This giveaway is for USA residents only.

To enter the giveaway:

1) you can twitter me saying "Hi @genrereviewer Please enter me to win A WOMAN'S CIVIL WAR. I'd like to win because_______." Include the reason you're interested in this book. (You don't have to use the exact "I'd like to win because" wording.)


2) You can leave a comment to this post asking to be entered and leave some way for me to contact you if you win. Also share the reason you're interested in winning this book.

The winner will be randomly selected. I'll announce the winner at 9:00 AM (Central Time) on December 18, 2009 on this blog. (Yes, I'm sorry, but this does mean you'll likely not get the book by Christmas.)

If you entered using twitter, I'll send you a @ or DM telling you of your win and asking where to send the book. If you entered using the blog comments, you'll need to leave your e-mail address or check back to see if you won so you can e-mail me your shipping address.

I hope everyone has fun with this!

A Woman's Civil War by Cornelia Peake McDonald

A Woman's Civil War cover

A Woman's Civil War:
A Diary with Reminiscences of the War,
from March 1862
by Cornelia Peake McDonald

Hardback: 314 pages
Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
First Released: 1992

Source: Bought from Half.com

Back Cover Description:
On the night of March 11, 1862, as the heavy tramp of marching Confederate troops died away in the distance--her husband's regiment among them--Cornelia Peake McDonald began her diary of events in war-torn Winchester, Virginia.

McDonald's story of the American Civil War records a personal and distinctly female battle of her own--a southern woman's lonely struggle in the midst of chaos to provide safety and shelter for herself and her nine children. She relates the trauma that occurs when the safety of the home is disrupted and destroyed by the forces of war; when women and children are put out of their houses and have nowhere to go.

Whether she is describing a Union soldier's theft of her Christmas cakes, the discovery of a human foot in her garden, or the heart-wrenching death of her baby daughter, McDonald's story of the Civil War at home is compelling and disturbing. Her tremendous determination and unyielding spirit in the face of the final collapse of her world is testimony to this woman's will to preserve her family.

In the midst of the horror, she still conveys the delight of watching her children grow up, the joy and comfort of going to church, and even amusing moments. A Woman's Civil War is a captivating and moving story of a personal life lived through a great crossroads in history.

A Woman's Civil War was a fascinating view of the American Civil War through the eyes of a Confederate civilian. Cornelia lived in a town that was captured by the Union, then freed by the Confederates, then captured again by the Union, and then freed again. She described the events with vivid details that made me feel as if I were watching the events unfold.

There was a lot of suspense due to the constant uncertainty of what would happen in the next day, or even in the next minute. Would the Union soldiers take all of her food? Her house? How would she get more supplies when she refused to swear a loyalty oath to the Union general making his headquarters in town? How would they get firewood when their trees and all of their out-buildings were demolished for Union fires? Would the battle rolling over their front yard end in tragedy for the family or freedom from occupation?

Her diary showed what life was like near the battle fields and under occupation for a well-to-do gentlewoman with nine children and a husband who was a Confederate officer. Her expectations in how she would be treated by friend and foe alike showed the differences in manners back then...and how those manners changed over the course of the war. Her comments also showed how people at the time viewed the war and how the "why we're fighting" changed somewhat over time. Some of her remarks reminded me of things still being said today.

In the Reminiscences section (which picks up were the diary ends), she lived for a time in an area relatively untouched by war. It was interesting to see the contrasts with what she'd become used to.

Since she wrote this diary for her husband and later for her children, she sometimes didn't include information that they would have known. She also sometimes related news as she heard it that was incorrect. However, there were endnotes at the back that gave the correct or needed information on battles, events, who various people were, and information about them.

Cornelia did refer to God and think over Christian theology as it related to her dead child and events around her. I think most readers--unless dead-set again Christianity--would find her thoughts as an interesting part of the overall book.

I'd highly recommend this well-written and fascinating book to history buffs, those interested in the Civil War, and to anyone who thinks it sounds interesting.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

March, 1862--On the night of March 11th, 1862, the pickets were in the town; part of the army had already gone, and there were hurried preparations and hasty farewells, and sorrowful faces turning away from those they loved best, and were leaving, perhaps, forever. At one o'clock the long roll beat, and soon the heavy tramp of the marching columns died away in the distance.

The rest of the night was spent in violent fits of weeping at the thought of being left, and of what might happen to that army before we should see it again. I felt a terrible fear of the coming morning, for I knew that with it would come the much dreaded enemy.

I laid down when the night was almost gone, to sleep, after securing all the doors, and seeing that the children were all asleep. I took care to have my dressing gown convenient in case of an alarm, but the night passed away quietly, and when the morning came and all was peaceful I felt reassured, dressed and went down.

The servants were up and breakfast was ready. The children assembled and we had prayers.

I felt so thankful that we were still free, and a hope dawned that our men would come back, as no enemy had appeared. We were all cheerfully dispatching our breakfasts, I feeling happy in proportion to my former depression; the children were chatting gaily, Harry and Allen rather sulky at not having been permitted to leave with the army, as they considered it degradation for men of their years and dimensions to be left behind with women and children. Suddenly a strain of music! Every knife and fork was laid down and every ear strained to catch the faint sounds. The boys clap their hands and jump up from the table shouting. "Our men have come back!" and rushed to the door; I stopped them, telling them it must be the Yankees. Every face looked blank and disappointed.

I tried to be calm and quiet, but could not, and so got up and went outside the door. Sure enough that music could not be mistaken, it was the "Star Spangled Banner" that was played. A servant came in. "They are all marching the town, and some have come over the hill into our orchard."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Book Quote: Surgery in War Times

From Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq by Dr. Chris Coppola:

From the forward by Guy Raz (p. X):

The history of warfare has not been generous to soldiers wounded on the battlefield. In the First World War, a wounded infantryman faced an 80 percent chance of dying. By World War Two, that number reached 60 percent. In Vietnam, one out of three wounded never made it. But in Iraq, nearly 97 percent of troops injured in the field have survived. It's an unprecedented rate of survival and a statistic that owes much to the work of military doctors like Christopher Coppola.

And from page 178:

A sad fact is that nothing is better for the rapid advancement of surgical care than the severe and numerous injuries of wartime. With every war, the science of surgery has progressed by leaps and bounds. The Civil War demonstrated how amputation could save lives in the face of devastating tissue destruction caused by the high-velocity Minie ball bullet. In World War I, as the machine gun came into prominence, surgeons realized the importance of aseptic technique and began washing out wounds and debriding dead tissue. World War II brought the revolutionary results of penicillin for wounds infected by the fertile French soil, and prompted public health measures to reduce the lethal effects of malaria in the South Pacific. With Korea came the Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals made famous in Hooker's book MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors and helicopter evacuation to aid in the treatment of wounded troops who would have died on the battlefield in previous wars. In Vietnam, surgeons advanced the treatment of orthopedic and vascular injuries and developed the capability for effective trauma thoracotomy.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Longitude by Dava Sobel


by Dava Sobel

Hardback: 208 pages
Publisher: Walker & Company
First Released: 1995

Source: Bought from library book sale

Back Cover Description:
Anyone alive in the eighteenth century would have known that "the longitude problem" was the thorniest scientific dilemma of the day--and had been for centuries. Lacking the ability to measure their longitude, sailors throughout the great ages of exploration had been literally lost at sea as soon as they lost sight of land. Thousands of lives, and the increasing fortunes of nations, hung on a resolution.

The quest for a solution had occupied scientists and their patrons for the better part of two centuries when, in 1714, England's Parliament upped the ante by offering a king's ransom (£20,000, or approximately $12 million in today's currency) to anyone whose method or device proved successful. Countless quacks weighed in with preposterous suggestions. The scientific establishment of Europe--from Galileo to Sir Issac Newton--had mapped the heavens in both hemispheres in its certain pursuit of a celestial answer. In stark contrast, one man, John Harrison, dared to imagine a mechanical solution--a clock that would keep precise time at sea, something no clock had ever been able to do on land.

Longitude is a dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest and Harrison's forty-year obsession with building his perfect timekeeper, known today as the chronometer. Full of heroism and chicanery, brilliance and the absurd, it is also a fascinating brief history of astronomy, navigation, and clockmaking. Through Dava Sobel's consummate skill, Longitude will open a new window on our world for all who read it.

Longitude is an enjoyable, easy-to-read and understand overview of the events surrounding "the longitude problem," including the various solutions proposed, the political and scientific rivalry involved in the quest for the prize, and the scientific advances that occurred in pursuit of the solution.

The book doesn't really go into depth on how the clock was created. Apparently no one really knows how John Harrison solved each challenge in keeping perfect time while at sea. But we're told the solution found in his finished products even if we don't learn the process of how he got there.

I found very interesting the overview of sea navigation at that time and the scientific advances that came about while in pursuit of the longitude prize money. I also enjoyed learning why Greenwich became the 0 degree longitude line and time-setter for the world.

While I thought the author did a wonderful job describing what the various clocks looked like, I'm glad that pictures of John Harrison and several of his clocks were shown on the front cover of the book. The book doesn't contain pictures or diagrams beyond this. (I didn't mind, though, since the clock innards were apparently confusingly complex so pictures of that wouldn't have been enlightening.)

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I'd recommend this quick read to anyone interested in an overview of the longitude problem, the solutions proposed, and how Harrison's clock eventually came to 'rule the seas.'

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
As a child, I learned the trick for remembering the difference between latitude and longitude. The latitude lines, the parallels, really do stay parallel to each other as they girdle the globe from the Equator to the poles in a series of shrinking concentric rings. The meridians of longitude go the other way: They loop from the North Pole to the South and back again in great circles of the same size, so they all converge at the ends of the Earth.

Lines of latitude and longitude began crisscrossing our worldview in ancient times, at least three centuries before the birth of Christ. By A.D. 150, the cartographer and astronomer Ptolemy had plotted them on the twenty-seven maps of his first world atlas. Also for this landmark volume, Ptolemy listed all the place names in an index, in alphabetical order, with the latitude and longitude of each--as well as he could gauge them from travelers' reports. Ptolemy himself had only an armchair appreciation of the wider world. A common misconception of his day held that anyone living below the Equator would melt into deformity from the horrible heat.

The Equator marked the zero-degree parallel of latitude for Ptolemy. He did not choose it arbitrarily but took it on higher authority from his predecessors, who had derived it from nature while observing the motions of the heavenly bodies. The sun, moon, and planets pass almost directly overhead at the Equator. Likewise the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, two other famous parallels, assume their positions at the sun's command. They mark the northern and southern boundaries of the sun's apparent motion over the course of the year.

Ptolemy was free, however, to lay his prime meridian, the zero-degree longitude line, wherever he liked. He chose to run it through the Fortunate Islands (now called the Canary & Madeira Islands) off the northwest coast of Africa. Later mapmakers moved the prime meridian to the Azores and to the Cape Verde Islands, as well as to Rome, Copenhagen, Jerusalem, St. Petersburg, Pisa, Paris, and Philadelphia, among other places, before it settled down at last in London.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Book Quotes: Why We Love Fat

From The Science of the Oven by Hervé This (pages 22-23):

Fats are a bane to the health of westerners, and all the more formidable for being adored. Why are we so fond of them? First of all, because they dissolve odorant molecules; in the refrigerator, poorly wrapped butter "takes on odors." Thus, fats trap scents.

The captured odors are restored when the fats are consumed; when foods are warmed in the mouth, the odorant molecules and the fats serving as "solvents" are easily broken. Rising into the nose, the freed odorant molecules contribute powerfully to the taste of foods; hence our appreciation of fats. Additionally, fats lubricate the mucus membrane, contributing to a pleasing unctuous sensation.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Advanced Aromatherapy by Kurt Schnaubelt, Ph.D.

Advanced Aromatherapy cover

Advanced Aromatherapy
by Kurt Schnaubelt, Ph.D.

Trade Paperback: 138 pages
Publisher: Healing Arts Press
First Released: 1998

Source: Bought from Books-A-Million

Back Cover Description:
Aromatherapy, the hottest alternative healing method in the United States, is an effective and deeply pleasurable way to maintain well-being. While its concepts can be grasped intuitively, few people realize that scientific proof does, in fact, exist for many uses of aromatherapy. For the first time, Kurt Schnaubelt, a chemist and pioneer of the science of aromatherapy, provides a scientific basis for the efficacy of essential oils, explained clearly and logically.

Advanced Aromatherapy draws on broad-based research to demonstrate how essential oils interact with the different systems of the body and how they affect emotional states as well as physical ones.

In my opinion, anyone who wants to mix their own essential oils (rather than buy pre-mixed oils or follow proven recipes) needs to read Advanced Aromatherapy in order to safely do so. The book explains the science behind why the essential oils work the way they do and provides the results of scientific studies that show which oils are most effective at doing certain actions (like killing certain viruses or bacteria).

This book helps the reader to understand: why various essential oils act on the human body the way they do. Why some essential oils, when combined, are more powerful than when used alone and how to select oils to create this effect. Why different chemotypes of the same essential oil can have different effects. Which oils are safe to use daily and long term and which should be limited in amount used, duration used, or how they are administered. Which oils are safe to take orally or to use on sensitive skin like mucus membranes. Which medical conditions essential oils are very successful at treating and which conditions are less so or which require long-term use to create improvement. And much more.

The book also contains a section covering various medical conditions (from the 'flu to bruises and scrapes) and gives recipes for which oils to use to treat these conditions and how to most effectively administer the oils.

I found the book easy to read and understand, and I refer back to it frequently. Readers with little science education might be a little overwhelmed at times, though. Overall, I'd highly recommend this book to those interested in aromatherapy, especially those interested in the medical uses of essential oils.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from page 34, 36
Belaiche used the aromatogram, a testing method that allowed him to examine the effectiveness of essential oils against specific bacteria. These microbiological tests are used in aromamedicine (a term that refers to the medicinal uses of aromatherapy) to determine the most effective essential oil combination for combating a specific infection. Cultures of a patient's intestinal flora are exposed to various essential oils to determine which essential oils have the strongest antibacterial effects against the pathogens specific to a particular patient. From the information derived from thousands of aromatograms some generalizations can be made regarding the effectiveness of essential oils against various pathogenic bacteria. In his book, Belaiche examines the sensitivity of pathogenic germs to a variety of essential oils. His work contains comprehensive tables that list the degree of effectiveness of forty essential oils against the pathogens occurring most frequently in common infectious diseases: Proteus morgani, Proteus mirabilis, Proteus rettgeri (intestinal infection), Alcalescens dispar, Corynebacterium xerosa (diphtheria), Neisseria flava (sinus and ear infection), Klebsiella pneumoniase (lung infection), Staphylocossus alba (food poisoning), Staphylococcus aureus (pus-causing), and Pneumococcus, Candida albicans.

The effectiveness of essential oils against these germs was observed not only in laboratory tests. Belaiche also clinically treated numerous infectious illnesses, among them chronic and acute bronchitis, rhinitis (cold, catarrh), angina, sinus infections, childhood illnesses, tuberculosis, and malaria.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Book Quotes: Displacing the Natives

From The Making of a Human Bomb: An Ethnography of Palestinian Resistance by Nasser Abufarha (p. 42):

The central event in Palestinian modern history is the loss of Palestine in 1948 and the establishment of the state of Israel in it. During the Jewish militia war that year for the establishment of Israel and its aftermath, Israel had erased approximately 418 Palestinian villages from the six hundred Palestinian villages that fell under its control. The new state moved Jewish populations to occupy Palestinian homes in urban towns. Eleven Palestinian cities were settled by Jews and became Jewish cities after most of their Palestinian residents were evacuated, and in some cities all of the Palestinian residents were displaced. Over 800,000 Palestinians were displaced and exciled. Displaced Palestinians were and still are denied reentry into Palestine by Israel.

The events of 1948 were followed by systematic Israeli reconfiguration of Palestine into Israel directly after its takeover. The Israeli ethnic cleansing campaign against the Palestinian population that fell under the control of new Israel continued through the 1950s. Jewish Kibbutzim with Jewish names were erected on the sites of 121 Palestinian vllages (PASSIA 2002, W. Khailidi 1992).

The UN erected refugee camps for displaced Palestinians as temporary shelters awaiting resolution in the neighboring Arab states of Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. The exodus referred to by Palestinians as al-Nakbah (the catastrophe) represents the main "prescriptive event" in modern Palestinian history.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Aromatherapy by Kathi Keville & Mindy Green

Aromatheraphy cover

by Kathi Keville & Mindy Green

Trade Paperback: 156 pages
Publisher: The Crossing Press
First Released: 1995

Buy from Amazon

Source: Bought from Half.com

Back Cover Description:
Everything you need to know to enhance your health, beauty, and emotional well-being through the practice of aromatherapy. Kathi Keville and Mindy Green, who are masters in the fields of herbalism and aromatherapy, offer a fresh perspective on the most fragrant of healing arts.

Topics include:
*The history and theory of fragrance.
*Therapeutic uses of aromatherapy for circulation, digestion, respiration, immunity, and more.
*Instructions for creating personal beauty and skin-care products.
*Techniques for the home distillation and blending of essential oils.
*A materia medica listing the origins and uses of commonly available essential oils.

This book is about the medical and beauty uses of herbs and essential oils. Many years ago, I heard some tidbits about aromatherapy and bought some lavender fragrance oil from a store. I used it in my home office in hopes that it would relax me. The stuff made me dizzy (as perfumes often do) and didn't relax me at all. I thought "what a hoax" and gave the fragrance oil away.

Lately, I read the first chapter of a book about where spices and rare ingredients used in perfumes originally came from. I learned that true aromatherapy uses essential oils (oils distilled from a plant which happen to be strongly fragrant), not man-made fragrance oils that mimic the smell of the plant. I've occasionally used herbs for healing, so this made sense. I decided to learn more about essential oils.

This book gave suggestions for using both herbs and essential oils in health and beauty applications. It covered the use of herbs and essential oils in massage, in cooking, and in making perfume and beauty products like lip balm, lotions, daily skin care, shampoos, and so on. They gave enough scientific and detailed information that a person could safely and competently make their own mixes to achieve a desired effect. In the back, they also included quick-reference charts covering what essential oil was good for what. Overall, it covered a wide variety of information in good depth.

The authors kept to a fairly scientific approach to essential oils. Some books view essential oils in a mystical way, like they are a magical source of healing or courage/love/etc. potions. Essential oils are simply naturally-derived medicines, and very effective ones at that. Often, they're more effective and less harmful than the synthetic versions.

My one "complaint" is that the section detailing what each essential oil could do listed so many things for each oil that I couldn't believe they all did practically everything (at least, that's what it looked like on first reading). I wanted to know what each oil really did do, not all the uses people have ever used it for. So I bought Advanced Aromatherapy Kurt Schnaubelt (review coming next week), which clearly explains a number of scientific studies on what various essential oils do.

Oh, and I've bought some pure essential oils, and they really do work. I was expecting some small, barely-noticeable effect, but essential oils are powerful. My muscle-relaxing, sedative massage oil puts my parents (both the one giving and the one receiving the foot massage) into the best sleep they've had in years.

So if you can afford the initial outlay of buying essential oils and are interested in them, this is a good starting book.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Preface
Essential oils give plants their characteristic odors, enabling us to take deep drafts of a fragrant rose bloom or drink in the perfume of lilacs and lavender. It is because essential oils are by their very nature aromatic that the therapy involving their use has been christened "aromatherapy."

There are two main ways to use fragrance in healing. One is through inhalation alone, which has its most significant impact on mood and emotion, but also produces physical reactions, such as lowered blood pressure. The other route is the physical application of essential oils to the body--by massage, for example, or by applying antiseptic oil to stop infection. Of course, any time you use an aromatherapy oil medicinally it can't help but do double duty: the fragrance is also inhaled.

Exactly how aromatherapy works is still unclear. Some researchers speculate that odors influence feelings because the nasal passage opens directly onto the parts of the brain that controls emotion and memory. Others believe that fragrance compounds interact with receptor sites in the central nervous system. Psychic healers believe that fragrances work on subtle, still undiscovered energies in the body.

What we do know is that merely smelling a fragrance can influence us physically and emotionally by altering hormone production, brain chemistry, stress levels and general metabolism, as well as by affecting thoughts and emotions.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Book Quotes: Paintings in Salt Mines

From The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel & Bret Witter (pages 305-306):

Viennese museums had been the first to store their art treasures at [the salt mine at] Altaussee, but the mine was soon requisitioned by Hilter for his personal use. Worried by increasing Allied air raids, the Fuhrer ordered all the treasures destined for his great museum at Linz, scattered until that time in several locations, sent deep into seclusion. It wasn't just the remoteness, or the relative convience to Linz, which was only about a hundred miles away, that made Altaussee ideal.

Dug straight into the side of a massive mountain, the horizontal mine was impregnable to aerial bombardment--even if the bombers could locate it in the vast Sandling mountain range. The salt in the walls absorbed excess moisture, leaving the humidity constant at 65 percent. The temperature varied only between 40 (in the summer, when the mine was coolest) and 47 degrees Fahrenheit (in the winter). The environment helped to preserve the paintings and prints, and metal objects such as armor could easily be protected against its corrosive effect by a thin layer of grease or gelatin. No one, not even Hitler, could have devised a more ideal natural hideaway for tons of stolen loot.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq by Dr. Chris Coppola

A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq cover

Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq
by Dr. Chris Coppola

Hardback: 272 pages
Publisher: NTI Upstream
First Released: 2009

Author Website
Buy w/ 10% of price donated to War Child
Buy from Amazon

Source: ARC from publisher

Book Description (how it was pitched to me):
Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq is the fierce, true-life account of Dr. Chris Coppola’s two deployments in Operation Iraqi Freedom as an Air Force pediatric surgeon. Twice stationed at Balad Air Base, fifty miles north of Baghdad, in what was first a rude M*A*S*H*-style tent hospital and later became one of the largest U.S. military installations on foreign soil, Dr. Coppola works feverishly to save the lives of soldiers and civilians as word spreads among Iraqi families that, no matter what the infirmity, he can save their children.

Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq is a fascinating medical memoir that gives a unique look at the events in Iraq from the point of view of the medical staff who dealt with the injured in Jan. 2005-May 2005 and Sept. 2007-Jan. 2008.

Most of the book was about Coppola's first deployment. He recounted a variety of surgeries he performed--including those performed on American military, Iraqi policemen and military, terrorists, civilian adults and children. But it mostly focused on the children. If graphic descriptions of surgery make you queasy, then this is not the book for you.

He also described what life was like on the base during his down-time. Since most military memoirs are by those who worked "outside the wire," it was interesting to see what life was like for someone who worked "inside the wire."

In the second section of the book, Coppola described what life was like when he came home. In the third section, he described a few cases but mainly focused on the differences in the facilities and incoming casualties between his first and second deployments.

While there were references to God (mainly by the people he worked with), this book did not have any religious theme. And, while Coppola made his personal feelings about being deployed quite clear, he only briefly referred to his mixed feelings about the war. Whether you feel that going to war is right or wrong, I suspect this book won't offend your feelings.

Military and medical jargon was explained in the text so I was never confused about what was being said. However, the book was written primarily in first person present tense ("I see" instead of "I saw"). At times, this sounded awkward to me, but it wasn't too distracting.

There were several black-and-white photos of people, places, and things mentioned in the memoir. There was a very minor amount of bad language. Overall, I'd recommend this book to anyone who wants to get a look into the medical side of war.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

[From page 23] I am promptly summoned to the ER again, where I meet up with Trevor. Our patient is a young man who has been shot in the abdomen. He stares up at us with wild eyes and moans in pain. His face is pale. He gasps for air from an oxygen mask. A twenty-two-year-old Iraqi policeman, he has been shot on his right side, just were his ribcage joins the abdomen. The bullet has left a hole the size of a silver dollar, and eviscerated a loop of his small intestine. It protrudes from his abdomen like a swollen bloody bagel. The intestine still looks alive, but one end of it has been shredded by the projectile and leaks green fluid.

[They take him in for an operation, but he's lost a lot of blood so they call for a blood drive. Picking up on page 26:]

We have a limited supply of blood in the hospital. Just one patient with substantial loss can deplete our reserves. If a patient needs numerous transfusions, they become deficient in factors such as platelets, not found in stored blood. For these reasons, we use fresh whole blood transfusion. Whole blood isn't stored in the blood bank; it is stored in the "walking blood bank." Even though it is two in the morning, soon after the request goes out over the Giant Voice System, there are two-dozen troops lined up in the hallway outside the blood bank.

Back in the OR, Trevor and I work to repair the tattered vena cava.

Read more from the book.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Book Quote: Native American Fire Practices

From Ghosts of the Fireground by Peter M. Leschak (page 57):

...when European settlers arrived in North America, many adopted fire practices that Native Americans had employed for centuries. Tribes ignited and broadcast fire to herd and/or trap wild game, in some cases forcing deer onto narrow peninsulas, transforming the confined area into a shooting gallery. Or they burned off tree moss that deer favored as food, thus encouraging them to move into more open country where they were easier to hunt. Fires were set to smoke bears or raccoons out of dens. Indians used purposeful fire to harvest or nurture wild crops such as tarweed and various berries or to surround and roast insects such as grasshoppers. Burns could increase forage for wild and domestic animals; thus while driving deer or bison with fire, they were also rejuvenating the creatures' food supply as the fire released nutrients into the soil. They created firebreaks around villages, a popular and effective tactic to this day; a careful burnout or backfire (a deliberate counter fire set to deny fuel to another blaze) might buffer a single home or a subdivision being threatened by a wildfire. They employed fire as a tool of war, to remove the cover of tall grass or brush to preclude an ambush, or to destroy an enemy settlement.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

And the winner is...

It's time to announce the winner of "The Science of the Oven" by Hervé This (translated by Jody Gladding). Using a random number generator and numbering the entrants in the order I received them, the winner is:


Congratulations! I'll be contacting you for your address.

For those who didn't win, you can always join in the fun by buying a copy of this book from Amazon or your favorite bookstore.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Five Cities That Ruled The World by Douglas Wilson

Five Cities That Ruled The World cover

Five Cities That Ruled The World
by Douglas Wilson

Trade Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
First Released: 2009

Source: Review copy from publisher

Book Description (from publisher website, slightly modified):
History unfolds in a wide tapestry, but some patterns and threads stand out from the others for their brilliance and importance in the bigger picture. Five Cities that Ruled the World examines how and why a handful of cities—Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London, and New York—emerged in their respective times of influence to dominate the world stage, directing wealth and power, influencing faith and belief, commanding fear and allegiance, provoking wars and conquests, and shaping the world we live in today. Profiling their leaders, exploring their philosophies, following their armies into war, riding their merchant ships to ports of commerce, and watching as one eclipses the others, Douglas Wilson broadens our understanding and appreciation of these cities.

Five Cities That Ruled The World spent about 40 pages per a culture giving a quick overview of thousands of years of history for the Jews, Greeks Romans, and British, and hundreds of years of history for America. Each section was topped off with a very brief summary of the lasting legacy of the corresponding city.

The few pages covering each city's legacy felt more like an afterthought than the focus of the book. The author didn't really build a case for his chosen legacy nor how it impacted the world. These legacies can be easily be summarized as Jerusalem gave the world a spiritual legacy; Athens left a political, philosophical, and arts legacy; Rome gave the world justice under law; London gave the world literature; and New York will leave a commerce and baseball legacy.

Partly because the author tried to summarize each culture's history from its beginning until the present, his history lacks the details and nuances of various events--even the ones he gave the most detail for--so the reader could be left with wrong impressions. He also assumes an ancient chronology that not everyone would agree with (though he does assume the Bible is accurate).

The book was definitely aimed at a Christian audience. However, he often interpreted Scripture in a non-standard way, especially Biblical prophecies. For example, he stated that Rev. 13 referred to Nero's persecution of the Christians during his reign, whereas it's traditionally interpreted as referring to a world leader during the End Times.

The book was written in a very casual tone. For example, when discussing how Herod had "all the baby boys in the area of Bethlehem" killed, he says, "That kind of action will drive your poll numbers down every time."

One nice thing about the book was that it occasionally linked together what was happening in various parts of the world at certain, critical times. However, the book was so general and imprecise that I don't think it would interest history buffs. But those with little familiarity with history who want a quick, very easy-to-read history book might enjoy this book.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Page 165
This explosion was all due to the Erie Canal. Before the canal, it had taken three weeks at a cost of $120 to move a ton of flour from Buffalo to New York City. After the canal's construction, it took eight days and cost $6. [John Steele] Gordon remarked that, before the canal was even completed, "the Times of London saw it coming, writing that year [1822] that the canal would make New York City the 'London of the New World.' The Times was right. It was the Erie Canal that gave the Empire State its commercial empire and made New York the nation's imperial city."

Friday, October 30, 2009

Book Quotes: Suicide Bombers

From My Hope for Peace by Jehan Sadat (page 43):

Nor are suicide bombers necessarily Muslims: secular Palestinian groups have resorted to similar tactics, and it was a Sri Lankan separatist group, the Tamil Tigers, that perfected the use of the suicide bomb as an assassination tool in the 1980s and 1990s. The common denominator is not a shared faith, but rather an overwhelming sense of grievance, powerlessness, and hatred.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Book Giveaway: The Science of the Oven

The Science of the Oven cover

The Science of the Oven
by Hervé This
translated by Jody Gladding

Hardback: 216 pages
Publisher: Columbia University Press
First Released: 2007, 2009

I'm holding a giveaway for my hardback review copy of The Science of the Oven by Hervé This. You can learn more about the book by reading my review.

This contest is open to USA and Canada residents.

To enter the giveaway:

1) you can twitter me saying "@genrereviewer Enter me to win THE SCIENCE OF THE OVEN. The title of another book from @ColumbiaUP is ________." (Of course, you need to fill in the title of another book published by Columbia University Press. Hint: look here.)


2) You can leave a comment to this post asking to be entered and giving the title of another book published by Columbia University Press.

The winner will be randomly selected. I'll announce the winner at noon (Central Time, Daylight Savings Time) on November 4, 2009 on this blog. If you entered using twitter, I'll send you a @ or DM telling you of your win and asking where to send the book. If you entered using the blog comments, you'll need to leave your e-mail address. If the winner hasn't responded within four days of notification, a new winner will be selected.

I hope everyone has fun with this!

The Science of the Oven by Hervé This

The Science of the Oven cover

The Science of the Oven
by Hervé This
translated by Jody Gladding

Hardback: 216 pages
Publisher: Columbia University Press
First Released: 2007, 2009

Buy from Amazon

Source: Review copy from publisher

Back Cover Description:
Mayonnaise "takes" when a series of liquids form a semisolid consistency. Eggs, a liquid, become solid as they are heated, whereas, under the same conditions, solids melt. When meat is roasted, its surface browns and it acquires taste and texture. What accounts for these extraordinary transformations?

The answer: chemistry and physics. With trademark clarity and wit, Hervé This launches a wry investigation into the chemical art of cooking. Unraveling the science behind common culinary technique and practice, Hervé This breaks food down to its molecular components and matches them to cooking's chemical reactions. He translates the complex processes of the oven into everyday knowledge for professional chefs and casual cooks; demystifies the meaning of taste and the making of flavor; describes the properties of liquids, salts, sugars, oils, and fats; and defines the principles of culinary practice, which endow food with sensual as well as nutritional value.

For fans of Hervé This's popular volumes and for newcomers to his celebrated approach, The Science of the Oven fuses the physiology of taste to the molecular structure of bodies and food, expertly expanding the possibilities of the kitchen.

The Science of the Oven explored the chemistry and physics of cooking (and eating). The author's main focus was on how the scientific understanding of cooking and eating can lead to new possibilities in food experimentation. He discussed new scientific findings, explained how this information could be used to make cooking more effective or exact or varied in taste, and then sometimes offered experiments a reader could do in the kitchen to demonstrate the point or create a new taste for his/her eating pleasure.

The introduction was very chatty and funny with asides in the middle of sentences. The asides decreased in the main part of the book, but the author's enthusiasm for the subject still shone through.

The book is easiest to follow if you have at least a basic understanding of chemistry. However, he did explain scientific terms as he went along and assumed he was talking to a non-scientist. He generally kept the explanation simple or gave a summary statement in nontechnical language after giving the technical explanation. There was a short glossary of terms at the back to help with this.

Chapters 1-4 reported in detail on a series of scientific studies and so were a bit heavy on the technical language. Chapters 4-7 still focused on the science but were more conversational in language and easier for me to follow.

Chapter One explored how our various senses affect how we perceive taste. Chapter Two discussed some studies on how various foods affect our health. Chapter Three discussed how food growing conditions and different food varieties affect our taste.

Chapter Four and Five got into specific examples like how tannins in wine change over time and how that affects their taste, why some corks spoil the wine's taste, why eggs cook the way they do and some experiments one can do with eggs, and the science involved in kneading dough, making of noodles, and jelling liquids. Also, how to effectively tenderize squid, keep the "fresh" bright green color in vegetables when cooking, why re-heating can change the taste of meat, how to effectively flavor meat with liquids before cooking, the conditions where a lute seal does work, why lobster shells turn red when cooked, how food thickeners affect taste (like in yogurt), and experiments in making new sauces.

Chapter Six explored (among other things): how cooking in earthware changes food taste; "new" types of milk coagulants for cheese; the chemistry of making cheese, fondue, and spreadable cheeses; the chemistry of creating pickles; how bread gets stale and how this is prevented commercially; the optimal time to beat egg whites for meringues; the color of emulsions; how champagne bubbles develop; the color and taste of port wine; and preserving the smell of fruit jams.

Chapter Seven discussed cooking with hard water, how food color and smell changes when the pH changes, and future possibilities in cooking.

I enjoyed the book, but I didn't always agree with his opinions. (For example, he's down on people who prefer 'natural' sources in their foods whereas I can see how food chemistry has overall improved people's lives but I still think natural is better if you can get it.)

Overall, this was a slower read than normal, but I had many fun "so that's why!" moments. I think this book would be most interesting and useful to people who like to experiment with creating new dishes, industry professionals, and those who are both scientists and cooks.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from the Introduction (page 7)
In any case, what the first part of our provisions kit shows is that false ideas, as numerous as knowledge gaps, spread with regard to cooking and to tasting. If it is now clear to sensorial neurophysiologists that the number of tastes is not four, for example, books still contain "maps of the tongue" that claim that the tip recognizes sweet, and so on. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! To witness that all tongues are different, all you have to do is ask a group of individuals to stick their tongues into sweet or salty water. Which raises the questions: Why do we cling so to these false ideas on sensorial physiology?

Likewise, it is claimed--even by "specialists"--that smell constitutes 90 percent of taste, but this value has never been measured! Why do we swallow such nonsense? Is it because, with a cold, we sometimes lose all perception of taste? To those who might be tempted to take that as proof, let us remember that we also lose our sense of taste when we burn our mouths on excessively hot food.

....In these times of state-guaranteed citizen comfort, the term "food health and safety" is ubiquitous. We have forgotten that, first of all, a sufficient quantity of food to maintain the organism was the basic issue. That we are preoccupied with the flavor and quality of tomatoes in winter is striking proof of modern agronomy's success. As a result, science has been reduced to examining the details, losing sight of the bigger picture. It tracks the trace element, the antioxidant molecule that--we believe--will help us avoid our all too inevitable aging, it explores the virtues of foods, and it ends up establishing sometimes very limited observations as dogma.

Of course, restricting oneself to an insufficiently varied or unbalanced diet is not healthy.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Book Quotes: Supporting Death

From The Making of a Human Bomb: An Ethnography of Palestinian Resistance by Nasser Abufarha (p. 197):

The [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] recognized that if Hamas and Jihad were the only groups carrying out martyrdom operations [i.e. suicide attacks] and generating tremendous support by doing so, then leadership of Palestinian society would fall exclusively to the Islamic groups, and the PFLP, along with its programs for social change, would die. Martyrdom is the form of contemporary Palestinian resistance that has proved meaningful and captured the imagination of Palestinian public. To be recognized as a resistance faction, Palestinian groups are compelled to participate in the performance of martyrdom. The cultural discourse of martyrdom has achieved such power that the cultural dynamic is defining the form of engagement and resistance, forcing it on some groups and reorganizing society.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel

The Monuments Men cover

The Monuments Men
by Robert M. Edsel
with Bret Witter

Hardbackback: 496 pages
Publisher: Center Street
First Released: 2009

Book Website
Author on Twitter
Buy from Amazon

Source: ARC from publisher

Back Cover Description (modified by me):
In what is perhaps the last major story about World War II that hasn't been told, a little-known Allied division called the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section was given the mission to help protect important historical buildings from war damage and to find European art treasures and historical documents that had been looted by the Nazis at Hitler's command. The art included works from Michelangelo and Da Vinci to Van Eycks and Vermeers.

In a race against time, often near the front lines, and each man working on his own, they organized protection and rebuilding for historical buildings while also gathering and putting together the scraps of information needed to locate hidden caches of movable art. These unlikely heroes, mostly middle-aged family men, went from quiet lives (mostly involved in the art world) into the epicenter of war, risking--and sometimes losing--their lives.

This is their story.

The Monuments Men uses letters written by the Monuments Men and other documents to tell the story why the MFAA section was created and what eight of those men encountered while doing work in Normandy, France and in Germany.

The book assumes the reader doesn't know much about WWII and so fills in the details about the war occurring around them as we learn where they went and what they found and did there. The first part is mainly about how the MFAA section was formed and the problems they encountered in the field because no one else in the military seemed to know about them. The book picks up in excitement (at least, for me) once they get more organized and start tracking down the movable artwork. This part reads like a detective story with the fate of both the artwork and the men searching for it in question.

The story jumps around a bit in time and place as we switch from one Monuments Man to another. The author gives plenty of information so the reader will remember which man this is and what he was last doing, but this started to feel repetitious to me near the end. Also, some stories brought up small points that were never resolved (like a request from a priest to a Monuments Man to get several boys who where his fire brigade released from the Allies--we never know if he succeeded). But perhaps this was because that information was never given in the letters and documents used to make this book.

It would have been nice to have photos of the major pieces of artwork that are mentioned, but the Advanced Readers Copy didn't have them. The back of the ARC did say, though, that 16 pages of photo inserts are included in the final book, though, so likely these will be included among those photos.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I think it would most appeal to people who love artwork or who want to know everything there is to know about WWII.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter Thirty-Six, page 290
Slowly, the Monuments Men began to realize just how much was hidden in the Merkers mines. Crated sculpture, hastily packed, with photographs clipped from museum catalogues to show what was inside. Ancient Egyptian papyri in metal cases, which the salt mine had reduced to the consistency of wet cardboard. There was no time to examine the priceless antiquities inside, for in other rooms there were ancient Greek and Roman decorative works, Byzantine mosaics, Islamic rugs, leather and buckram portfolio boxes. Hidden in an inconspicuous side room, they found the original woodcuts of Albrecht Durer's famous Apocalypse series of 1498. And then more crates of paintings--a Rubens, a Goya, a Cranach packed together with minor works.

"There's no order," Kirstein said. "Time periods and styles mixed together, masterpieces alongside novelties, boxes from different museums. What happened here?"

"They were packed by size," Posey said, pointing out the uniformity of the paintings in one of the crates.

Read the first few pages of the book.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Book Quotes: Shia vs Sunni Beliefs

From My Hope for Peace by Jehan Sadat (page 36-37):

Because of their conviction that leadership of the ummah must remain in the Prophet's own line, Shia Muslims--Shi'at Ali, or Party of Ali--have not recognized the authority of elected Muslim leaders, following instead a line of imams, of which Ali was the first. The Shia imamate, in contrast to the Sunni caliphate, is a religious office as well as a political one. Whereas caliphs regarded their power as temporal, the imams were "divinely inspired, sinless, infallible, religio-political" leaders, according to Akbar Ahmed, author of Islam Today. There are other differences in Sunni and Shiite approaches to Islamic jurisprudence and their interpretations of history that are beyond the scope of this book to explore, but both Sunni and Shiite practice the five pillars of Islam and regard one another as Muslims.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ghosts of the Fireground by Peter M. Leschak

Ghosts of the Fireground cover

Ghosts of the Fireground
by Peter M. Leschak

Hardback: 271 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins
First Released: 2002

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Source: Bought from Half.com

Back Cover Description:
"On October 8, 1871, a wildfire of staggering immensity transformed the lumbering town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin (population 2,000), into a literal, burning hell. It was the deadliest fire in North American history. At least 1,200 people died, and the actual number of fatalities is unknown. Eighteen hundred square miles of wood, fields, and settlements were burned. By cruel coincidence, it was the very day and hour of the Great Chicago Fire....The unlikely simultaneity of the two infernos has rendered Peshtigo unknown to most Americans."

April of 2000: On the brink of one of the most ferocious fire seasons ever recorded, and faced with the challenge of commanding an elite attack helicopter team, wildland firefighter Peter Leschak discovers Father Pernin's written account of surviving the wildfire that devastated Peshtigo. As he takes us through Father Perin's dangerous clash with the Great Peshtigo Fire, Leschak recounts his journey from a life preparing for the ministry to a career dedicated to fighting fires. In doing so, he breathes life into one of the most astounding and little-known disasters in American history and captures the sacred and mysterious pull of the fireground.

From Father Pernin's struggle with an inferno so hot that not even the cold waters of the Peshtigo River guaranteed safety to the danger of today's frontline battles in America's wildlands, Ghosts of the Fireground weaves seamlessly between these compelling adventures, offering a breathtaking look at the awesome power of fire and the courageous and noble pursuit that is wildland firefighting.

Ghosts of the Fireground is an interesting book. It's partly Mr. Leschak's autobiography and partly a re-telling of what happened in the Pestigo fire as experienced by Father Pernin.

The narrative jumps around a lot and uses the author's experiences in the 2002 fire season as a frame for the rest of the stories. I sometimes found it difficult to keep track of what was going on in the 2002 fire situation since he would stop in the middle of his account to talk about several similar fires in his past that taught him something important or to continue his narrative about the 1871 Pestigo fire.

I found the narrative about the Pestigo fire very interesting and liked how the author explained what Father Pernin was experiencing based his knowledge of wildfires. I also found the parts about the training, techniques, work, and frontline experiences of the modern wildland firefighting to be very interesting, dramatically told (in a good way), and informative.

However, trying to wrap my brain about his every-changing religious ideas just made my brain hurt. He grew up as a Catholic. As a teenager, he heard Herbert W. Armstrong on the radio, converted to following him, and joined the Worldwide Church of God. Then he decided that Armstrong was wrong so it must all be wrong. He now worships nature, fire, danger, death, self, or whatever strikes him as sounding poetical at the moment. He states that when he dies he wants to be reborn as a great wild fire to test the worthiness of his fellow firefighters.

I worry a bit that someone will take Mr. Leschak's beliefs about what the Bible teaches as an accurate representation of what the Bible or mainstream Protestant Christianity teaches. It isn't.

There is a minor amount of cussing in the book. Overall, it' a good book if you're interested in learning more about wildland firefighting.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Heat can enjoy a surprisingly long life span in tightly arranged fuels such as sawdust, hay, forest duff, or peat. In some cases, such sleepers (pockets of latent fire) have survived for a years or more in peat and deep duff. It's common for a lightning-struck snag to quietly smolder unnoticed for days before bursting into flame.

The spot was quickly doused, but a gale arose from the north-west and a fresh wall of flame again peppered the town [of Peshtigo] with air-borne embers. The local fire engine was deployed, and hundreds of new wooden pails were commandeered from the factory. People scattered like dogs after birds, splashing water on each fresh start, shouting and coughing. Dense smoke and whirls of ash and dust brought tears to their eyes, aggravated by rivulets of sweat. Teams of horses hauled water from the river, and over three hundred people labored through the day. Buildings on the outskirts were evacuated, their furniture and other goods shifted toward the center of town. Wet blankets were draped over roofs, and smoldering trees were felled and slapped with water.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Book Quote: Discrimination

From The Weave of My Life by Urmila Pawar (pages 196-197):

This incident, however, also added fuel to the fire of resentment some people had already started feeling about me. They resented the reservation policy and my caste, because of which I got the promotion. In truth, my promotion hardly meant anything to me. There would be a meager raise in my salary, some fifty or sixty rupees. But I had achieved some power, and that was precisely what irked people. I had taken this job in 1966. During the ten years after that, that is, up to 1976, it was rare to hear people say, "Oh these low castes! No less than the sons-in-law of the government!" or "They are such a pampered lot!" or they would refer to low castes as "the arrogant," "the bigheaded!"

But in 1970 the roster system was introduced in government jobs, and it became mandatory to appoint Dalit and tribal candidates. The resentment against the Dalits and other reserved category people began to rise. This was the period during which such expressions began to be increasingly used against the Dalits! This was also around the time I had become the branch manager. Sitting in my chair at work would make me very happy. Up until that day I would have to ask my boss for his permission; now I would be the one to grant permission to my juniors! Those who felt happy about it congratulated me from the bottoms of their hearts, while some others just pretended to be happy, since they very much resented my promotion! The moment a man was promoted, he immediately became a bhausaheb or raosaheb. But women remained simply bai, without the saheb, even after their promotions! Besides I was a Dalit! "Why should she expect to be addressed as baisaheb?" "Why should we ask for her permission?" some people grumbled.

These days, however, every woman, whether a housewife or a working girl, has become madam, because of the tremendous influence of English, which has reached our kitchens. Because of this verbal promotion, even a woman peon is now addressed in the plural form, with a show of outward respect. This has generated self-respect, which finds expression even in the lowest of the low.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Making of a Human Bomb by Nasser Abufarha

The Making of a Human Bomb

The Making of a Human Bomb:
An Ethnography of Palestinian Resistance
by Nasser Abufarha

Trade Paperback: 296 pages
Publisher: Duke University Press
First Released: 2009

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Source: ARC from publisher

Back Cover Description:
In The Making of a Human Bomb, Nasser Abufarha, a Palestinian anthropologist, explains the cultural logic underlying Palestinian martyrdom operations (suicide attacks) launched against Israel during the Al-Aqsa Intifada (2000–06). In so doing, he sheds much-needed light on how Palestinians have experienced and perceived the broader conflict. During the Intifada, many of the martyrdom operations against Israeli targets were initiated in the West Bank town of Jenin and surrounding villages. Abufarha was born and raised in Jenin. His personal connections to the area enabled him to conduct ethnographic research there during the Intifada, while he was a student at a U.S. university.

Abufarha draws on the life histories of martyrs, interviews he conducted with their families and members of the groups that sponsored their operations, and examinations of Palestinian literature, art, performance, news stories, and political commentaries. He also assesses data—about the bombers, targets, and fatalities caused—from more than two hundred martyrdom operations carried out by Palestinian groups between 2001 and 2004. Some involved the use of explosive belts or the detonation of cars; others entailed armed attacks against Israeli targets (military and civilian) undertaken with the intent of fighting until death. In addition, he scrutinized suicide attacks executed by Hamas and Islamic Jihad between 1994 and 2000.

In his analysis of Palestinian political violence, Abufarha takes into account Palestinians’ understanding of the history of the conflict with Israel, the effects of containment on Palestinians’ everyday lives, the disillusionment created by the Oslo peace process, and reactions to specific forms of Israeli state violence. The Making of a Human Bomb illuminates the Palestinians’ perspective on the conflict with Israel and provides a model for ethnographers seeking to make sense of political violence.

I probably have a better understanding of the history and reasons behind the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than the average American, but I learned a lot from The Making of a Human Bomb. It's the best book I've come across on explaining the source of conflict. I knew the least about what apparently most Palestinians-in-occupied-areas assume Americans know: what daily life is like for the average person in Israeli-occupied Palestinian areas. Reading this book really helped me understand the deeper reasons behind the conflict, why peace seems unreachable, why suicide attacks are used, and why they're used against civilian populations.

While parts of this book are rather technical in language (especially the introduction and conclusion, which basically state what aspects the book covered and how the author went about his research), the great majority of the book is in conversational language and easy to follow. I found the conversational parts extremely interesting and enlightening.

Since the book intentionally focuses on how Palestinians view the conflict with Israel, Israel doesn't come off as looking very good. However, the author simply presents the facts and does a good job of leaving it up to the reader to judge whether the actions on either side are moral or not. I never felt like this was a "bash Israel" or "pro resistance" book. It came across as an objective look at the problem, how it developed, and the underlying cultural motivations behind the popularity of suicide bombs as a means of Palestinian resistance.

The author does a very good job of presenting a complex situation and making it understandable. It's a powerful book. I'd highly recommend it to anyone interested in the core reasons behind the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, understanding the Palestinian use of suicide attacks on civilians, and/or understanding some factors which drive the acceptance and use of suicide bombs in any culture.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter Six
[This is from page 208. Since the excerpt comes from such a late chapter, I'll define some of the language. "Martyrdom" here refers to suicide attacks. "In the imaginary" refers to in a person's mind. As in, they are constantly aware of the violence that might happen.]

Martyrdom is the form of violence that projects terror on the Israeli public as a whole. As Reda stated, an operation does not have to be "successful" to project fear. As long as some operations are "successful," any attempt has an impact as a form of violence in the imaginary that projects fear among Israelis. Strategies oriented to the "balance of fear" aim to bring a level of fear among the Israeli public similar to that prevailing among the Palestinian public under Israel's occupation. Anwar explained that there was a conscious decision in Hamas to achieve a balance of fear: "There are missiles, tanks, weaponry that terrify the public. The behaviors of the [Israeli] soldiers, the roadblocks, the militarized scene in general scares the public...Hamas's role in martyrdom operations, exploding buses and public places, is asserting to them as we are not safe in our homes you are not safe in your homes."