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The Gulag Archipelago

These days, if you check social media, there are hordes of uninformed people who proudly proclaim a love of communism, claim it would be better than capitalism, and believe it would bring about a utopia on Earth.

Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, a man who lived under one of the most brutal excesses of that ideology brought to life, no doubt would scorn those people as ignorant fools, as he did in his account of the Gulag, the hellish prison camp system in which a near decade of life was spent alongside so many others who were robbed of freedom on behalf of an abusive system of corrupt people whose own beliefs let them justify the wrongful imprisonment of countless people.

As to those who blindly defended communism, he had this to say:

"All you freedom-loving “left-wing” thinkers in the West! You left laborites! You progressive American, German, and French students! As far as you are concerned, none of this amounts to much. As far as you are concerned, this whole book of mine is a waste of effort. You may suddenly understand it all someday—but only when you yourselves hear “hands behind your backs there!” and step ashore on our Archipelago."

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Watergate: The Corruption of American Politics and the Fall of Richard Nixon

Some events in history have become memetic. Just mention the name, and you instantly get people to comprehend what you are talking about. The Watergate Scandal is one of those events. It's been discussed at length many times by many people, but Fred Emery's narrative of the events of that time is still an excellent, albeit very slightly dated accounting.

Fred Emery was a reporter for the New York Times London branch office at the time of the story and notes his reactions several times throughout the text. He also writes his account in a narrative-like format, but the events and people are real, which makes the format brisk and easy to follow. With some edits, one could easily make a miniseries or two-part historical movie out of his writing, just to give an idea of the text.

Like most writers who cover Watergate, Emery focuses on three things. Richard Nixon, the president who was at the center of the entire scandal. The inner workings of the people Nixon had around him who planned, engineered, and later were caught for the Watergate break-in and related abuses of power and violations are also detailed at length. Finally, after the Watergate Hotel capture, Emery details in intricate detail the coverup, the differing accounts by all parties involved, the legal and political environment that complicated the matter, and continues until Nixon's resignation after he was found worthy of an impeachment he narrowly avoided.

Emery proceeds based on three overarching themes. One, while it's clear Nixon did not directly have a hand in Watergate, he is adamant Nixon's paranoia of political enemies and his hands-off command to stop them by any means necessary were responsible for the event and why he had to work so hard to try and cover it up. Second, he examines the immediate and long-term impact of the scandal on American politics, specifically how the event seriously damaged the credibility of the federal government, the office of the President of the United States, and the trust of the common citizen in the safeguards against abuses by elected officials. Finally, Emery draws a line between the "sheep and the goats" of the event, with the former being those who honorably served the American public and/or chose to admit their wrongdoing without expecting more than atonement for their crimes. The latter group includes those who lied and defied the legal system and abused the trust of the public and those who turned the state's witness merely to save themselves.

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Warren G. Harding

I've written reviews of other books in the American Presidents series, and one I believe deserves special attention is the book on the United States' 29th president. The subject of "Warren G. Harding" has been commonly portrayed as a corrupt man who was unworthy of the office, while my reading of history not tainted by this conception suggests otherwise. The book on him I am reviewing further confirms that.

It's worth noting the primary author of this book is John W. Dean III, the same one who was involved in the provable corruption of Richard Nixon, a fact he notes with obvious irony. According to Dean, Harding was nowhere near as corrupt and incompetent as others have claimed, and so he wrote about Harding to set the record straight. Specifically, "to get it right".

Like most books in the series, it covers Harding's birth, education, career path, his presidential record, and death. Given Harding's reputation of corruption comes mainly from the actual corrupt men who were in his administration, Dean takes extra time in the final chapters to exonerate Harding of their actions, making clear no proof Harding had any dealings in their misdeeds has ever been found, and oftentimes he was the first to act when he discovered their corruption.

Dean had three general goals in mind throughout this account. First, he sought to show Harding was far from a political hack who looked good but was not presidential timber. If anything, he goes to considerable pains to explain this is a false image. Second, while Dean has an obvious bias towards Republicans, he makes clear his views versus those of the actual Democrats who opposed Harding and how that shaped perceptions noted in the first point. Finally, as Dean states in the foreword, he extensively provides rebuttals of Harding being a corrupt and venal man, though candidly admits his actual mistakes, most of which are revealed to be more the result of naivety and loyalty to those he judged poorly as incorruptible.

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The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931

I am a big fan of history. So much so that while I'm sure some men my age may have far more unwholesome hobbies, my love of collecting history books is my far geekier and arguably much more wholesome alternative. One book I would consider a crown jewel for my history collection and that of anyone else is Adam Tooze's "The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931", which covers the transformative changes of economy and politics of the first World War.

Adam Tooze's stock in trade is economic history. While this text covers a considerable amount of that, it also examines the political aspects of the time in question as well. He starts his breakdown of the events in 1916 when the first World War had already transformed much of the world's politics and economic foundations and ends with the beginning of the Great Depression. The period in between is given an intricate breakdown, not only to show how the world reached that ending point but also, given its critical views, to show the tortured process by which the period changed the world stage both then and for future generations.

The book can be divided into thirds. The first portion is dedicated to how the World War had utterly upended empires and the system of financial support that had been taken for granted, which resulted in new political forces such as the rise of Bolsheviks, the declaration of the German Republic, and the preeminence of the United States as a decisive economic and military partner in the conclusion of the first World War. The second part details the Treaty of Versailles, the formation of the League of Nations, and how both not only fell short of ensuring a just peace, they also sowed the seeds of future conflict. The final portion shows how the remainder of the 1920s was held up by a fragile peace nominally based on economic stability until it was shattered by the Great Depression.

I came away from my readings of this exhaustive and detailed historical account with several conclusions. The first is that the United States, under Woodrow Wilson, made several missteps in trying to preserve its "moral" detachment from the rest of the World while paradoxically trying to mediate peace during the War. Their mistakes were complicated by the fact everyone else could little afford the idealism the US wanted to indulge and this led to the failure of a just peace. The diplomatic, economic, and political blunders of all sides in regards to Communism, the rise of proto-fascist movements, and the failure to support places such as the briefly democratic China while persecuting the Communists only created long-term political issues the world still deals with to this day. Finally, the Great Depression was inevitable as a result of all these blunders, though sadly could have been avoided or at least minimized through prudent statecraft, sounder economic policy, and a lot more goodwill and good faith than anyone involved had been willing to show at the negotiation tables.

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William McKinley

“Our faith teaches that there is no safer reliance than upon the God of our fathers who has so singularly favored the American people in every national trial and who will not forsake us so long as we obey His commandments and walk humbly in His footsteps”
-- William McKinley


As a fan of the American Presidents history series, I especially adore the books that cover our lesser covered presidents, and the book on William McKinley is one I enjoyed that told a lot about someone overshadowed by Theodore Roosevelt, who came after him.

Each book in the series tends to have a distinct style, as it's a collaborative series with many different authors covering different Presidents. The book on McKinley, while covering a lot of expected ground concerning the life and accomplishments of the United States' 25th president, also covers a lot of history of the changes he wrought in American politics.

The book has three main things it sets out to do. First, the author felt McKinley has often been given short shrift by other historians, who usually considered him one of the more forgettable Presidents. Second, the text serves to be a rebuttal of many of the claims that caused McKinley to be maligned by other historians. Finally, McKinley was President and before then a prominent member of the Republican party who was instrumental in the 1896 shift in the American electoral college that shaped US history for decades afterward. This last subject is given particular focus as a complement to the other two platforms the book sets out to cover.

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Walking the Line

I would like to thank Ascot Media for a copy of this book for review.

Of all things Christians should know, it's that the very name means to be "Christ-like". Pastor Alan Davey, while figuring that was obvious, decided it was a good idea to explore that concept and elucidate on its history and meaning as it regards to modern-day Christian practice. With that in mind, "Walking the Line: Embracing the Imperatives of Jesus" was written, and I found it to be an engaging text.

"Walking the Line" is a summation of the general theme, which is to walk the same line as the path of Christ. To that end, this book is split into three parts with several chapters each. It's meant to be read linearly, as it covers the life and ministry of Jesus. At the same time, it also has a linear progression because the individual chapters build on the overarching theme, which makes this a book easy to read, put down, and resume later for those who want to savor the message in portions.

Another interesting this I found remarkable is the author's decision to blend various historical facts and contemporary real-world situations into the text to both draw parallels to the time of Jesus, and to also emphasize how it can be applied in the reader's own life. It's clear the author is very literate, and they even weave in a lot of historical trivia to both entertain and inform.

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Benjamin Harrison

"He who wears worthily the honors of the Church of Christ cannot fail to be a worthy recipient of the honors of his country." - John Scott Harrison, in a letter to his son after hearing he had been elected deacon of his Church


I'm a fond reader of books on history, and I own many books in the "The American Presidents" series. One of my favorites is the book on Benjamin Harrison, a president who rose above the seamy and laissez-faire aspects of the time known as the Gilded Age.

The book in question is, like all other books in the series, about the life and deeds of the president it covers. It is written so reading any of the others in the series is not required, though I would recommend reading them regardless to get a better idea where the twenty-third American President ranks among his peers in that office.

The book starts by following Harrison in his youth, detailing his educational background, the beliefs he was raised with, and how he came to manhood. Later, it details his later career as a veteran in the Union Army of the American Civil War, his record in the practice of law, and his later positions in the public service of the state of Indiana and then within the federal government. Finally, it covers his nomination and winning the seat of the American presidency, including his triumphs and defeats. His post-presidency to his death is detailed immediately after.

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What if Jesus Were A Coach?

I would like to thank Ascot Media for providing a copy of this book for review.

Now, I adore reading, and while my favored topic is history, I'm not averse to broadening my knowledge in other regards. Accordingly, after reading Coach Micheal Taylor's "What if Jesus Were A Coach?", it's worth reading, but I heavily advise reading the disclaimers in this review before doing so.

The author claims to be a practitioner of the views of the Unity Church (not to be confused with Unitarianism), and since those views make up a prominent part of the text, their basic views need some elaboration.

First, they are for Christians who are "spiritual but not religious", meaning Christians who disdain organized religion and its practices while still conforming to the Bible. The book places a heavy emphasis on not getting tied down by dogma, which is not objectionable in and of itself, but my first area of concern is that their creed has a distinct avoidance of dwelling on the topics of sin, eternal consequences for falling away from God, and other "uncomfortable" topics. These things are not deliberately denied or rejected out of hand, but for those who consider God's admonitions against immorality a guidepost for their lives, this may be concerning. The author concurs the "commandments" (which they admit they find a harsh term) are ideal guidelines for our behavior but expresses disbelief a loving God would be so harsh.

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The Korean War

This Christmas, I was blessed with a copy of Max Hastings' 1987 book "The Korean War". Being an avid fan of history, I was overjoyed to get a new book to read, and given the subject matter, it proved to be an informative book on that war, albeit with a narrower focus than I expected.

Max Hastings is a renowned British journalist and author whose credentials are without peer in terms of history, with a sizable chunk of his bibliography being history texts. One thing I heard even before I got the book is that Hastings takes a more personal perspective when writing history, and I found out what that means with this text.

Like many books on the Korean War (circa 1950-1953), Max Hastings does cover the broad historical background and geopolitics that prompted the conflict in the early chapters of the text. Most of it, while continuing on a linear path forward through the history of the conflict, shifts between perspectives of those who fought in the conflict. This includes British, American, South Korean, and even Chinese perspectives. This was done to give the reader a better feel for how the events of those times were seen through the experiences of the people involved in the conflict proper and do a good job giving the historical account a personal feel.

Hastings did not seek any North Koreans at any level for their take on the conflict, noting he did not believe their government would provide any information or allow any account that was remotely honest and impartial, even taking into account their natural historical bias. Given the current state of affairs between all the nations in question and North Korea today, this is entirely understandable, both at the time of publication and now.

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The Wages of Destruction

When it comes to historical topics, the regime of Nazi Germany has been so extensively covered that it seems pointless to review the subject further. Adam Tooze, however, believed the economy of the period had gotten far less attention than it deserved, hence his writing of "The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy".

Most histories covering Nazi Germany, as Tooze asserts, pay far more attention to the humanities and politics while ignoring more technical and even "boring" aspects of the influence of the economy on the period stretching from 1918-1945. Believing it deserved a second look, the text he presents is three-pronged in its goals. First, it laser focuses on how the economy brought about the fall of the Weimar Republic, the rise of Nazism, and its even more ignominious fall. Second, it tries to separate fact from fiction, specifically just how solvent and powerful the Nazis were economically, a factor Tooze notes was distorted in many other accounts. Finally, it uses the economic data it discusses to explain how such things as the conquest Hitler planned and the Holocaust his regime was responsible for fit in terms of the economy, and how they played a role in the growth and failure of the Nazi solvency.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part discusses how the Weimar regime prospered until their fall at the end of the 1920s and how Hitler rose to power in their place, presenting key details to show how that transition was motivated by the economy and its influence on German politics. The second part covers the 1934-1939 period during which the Nazi regime shifted their economy to a wartime preparation phase and the changes this brought about, both on their internal affairs and the world markets at large. The final part covers the 1941-1945 period, during which the economic strengths and weaknesses of the Nazis were subjected to the demands of war. This last part goes into exhaustive detail on just how the Nazis managed to limp on for several years despite economic setbacks caused by the war.

In terms of prose, Tooze is very matter-of-fact and technical. He does not dwell much on the more emotional and sentimental aspects of the study of the period from 1919-1945, rather the book is entirely oriented around the economic matters of the period. Having some degree of economics knowledge is recommended, as this text contains lots of technical discussion of exchange rates, world credit, loans and savings policies, and various other subjects of interest to the more statistical social scientist. This text has extensive citations, and it does not waste time or space, filling each page with extensive references to economic events, persons involved, and their historical impacts. To be blunt, this is not likely to be of interest to the casual reader, but instead more to the in-depth historian wanting a far more detailed look at the economic aspects of Hitler's tenure.

On a personal note, I had three takeaways from this book. One, Tooze was definitely convinced a lot of people were suckered into believing Germany was doing far better especially during the 1930s than they actually did, and he went into exhaustive detail explaining why this is a myth. Second, while most history books make clear Hitler cozied up to business leaders for support, it's a lot more clear after reading Tooze's analysis just how integral they were to the Nazi regime. Finally, Tooze clearly had a fair degree of contempt for Albert Speer and his own account of how he tried to be a nonpolitical technician and industry supervisor. Tooze really tears the scab off what he considers fiction and lays out evidence to show Speer is far less pure and important than historians have been led to believe. I really came away from this with a much better understanding in general that Nazi Germany was outwardly vigorous but inwardly even more economically hollow than they seemed even before the latter years of WWII.

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Galveston Burning

Disclaimer: The reviewer is the nephew of the author of the book being reviewed. No compensation of any kind was exchanged except for due payment for a copy of the book. Nothing was promised in exchange except for an impartial review of the merits of the text.

Fire is humanity's multi-edged sword. While it is useful for heat, cooking, and metalwork, it does have a dark side. Arson, injury, and death by flame or the attendant smoke caused by fire have been and remain a constant danger. James Anderson's Galveston Burning is a look at how the city of Galveston, Texas has grappled with the dangers of fire and its history of dealing with flame-based disasters.

The text is a five-part breakdown of various historical aspects of how Galveston has contended with fire. The first part is concerned with the cultural and historical background of Galveston itself. The second part concerns the improvements made to the city of Galveston, both to secure better living conditions in general and to secure the city against the dangers of fire. The third part discusses the history of Galveston's fire prevention and fighting services from their early origins to the present day. The fourth part covers various prominent fires that have occurred in the many districts of Galveston. The final part focuses on particularly significant historical buildings that have been damaged or lost to fire.

In terms of prose and grammar, this is a very straightforward text. It comes equipped with many illustrations that were needed to show landmarks and buildings described, with many of them provided by the author as part of their personal research. Despite the coverage of a somewhat niche topic, the citations are numerous and detailed. I must admit the latter sections of the text are a tad bland, reading like a summarized collection of news articles on fire-related incidents, as opposed to the straightforward discussion of the historical background of Galveston itself.

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