Christ Centered Gamer Blog

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Best Windows 11 Start Menu replacers comparison guide

I start up Windows 11, and a horrifying sight that would make Lovecraft's skin crawl greets my eyes. A depraved mockery of a user interface that looks like the illegitimate child of GNOME, macOS, and a knockoff touch phone has replaced a sensible Start menu. What was once understood by the human brain has been replaced by a horrifying nest of icons and poorly tiered menus with drop-downs as a belated afterthought. What used to be comprehensible to find programs to use is now an aggravating mess. As I see what Microsoft hath wrought, despair almost creeps upon me and strangles all hope in my heart.

But then, I found replacers for these horrific searing mockeries of a good interface, and angels begin to sing as the ability to purge this offense from God's world saves my sanity and thus my soul.

.....Okay, in all seriousness, the Windows 11 Start Menu is horrible. What was originally straightforward and sensible has, over the years, become a worse and worse-looking way to access common programs. Even the Windows 10 Start Menu looked horrible, but at least that was navigable and rendered to the left side of the screen with a scroll-down menu I could read. Windows 11, in Microsoft's questionable wisdom, was them deciding to rip off some of the worst ideas from the GNOME desktop, macOS, and some bizarre interpretation of a touch phone to make their worst menu yet.

Thankfully, there are solutions to these eye-searing horrors to restore a menu that is not a center-aligned mishmash of bars, icons, and poorly selectable menus into something that makes actual sense. Note, in one of the latest updates they finally let you put the menu back to the left, but all the other flaws remain. Read on for the potential fixes.

1. Start11

Price: 5.99 USD (single user), 14.99 (multi-device license), 39.99 (Object Desktop combo), business prices variable depending on need

Start11 by Stardock is a great way to fix most of the agony that is the horrible Start Menu UI. It allows the start menu to be left aligned, can be much more readable like the Windows 7 and earlier versions, and I found it very easy to install and configure.

Best of all is that its features work great alongside the rest of Windows 11 and it's very easy to customize it, the taskbar, and the search feature and replace them with nicer versions that are less clunky.

The only downside is that, unfortunately, it does cost money, but for a single user it's not a large price to pay. Even the multi-computer license is far from unreasonable. It can be downloaded from Steam or Stardock's own website, with a free trial, home and business pricing solutions, and full support for all versions.

While not required, a companion program they also offer is WindowBlinds, which allows remaking the rest of the interface not touched by Start11. They have an Object Desktop suite that offers even more options for remaking the entire Windows 11 interface however you like, but Start 11 already injects a huge dose of much-needed sanity for the worst of it.

2. Open Shell

This is a free and open-source program not meant for Windows 11 at this time, but it can be used regardless due to overlapping UI code between 10 and 11. This is the ideal "quick and dirty" fix, but far from ideal.

Open Shell will have all features work fine on Windows 10, but on 11, it will be limited. You will need to do some tweaks to make the left-aligned start menu show up (enable a custom icon, it provides one already or you can supply your own), and the original is still there in the center of the Windows 11 taskbar.

The OpenShell Menu generally works the same as it did on Windows 10, but configuration options outside the Start Menu itself will be a coin flip if they work, most of the time silently failing.

There is still good support for this unofficially which makes it an acceptable fallback option if you want to spend nothing, but the other options mentioned here will be better for functionality beyond the bare basics.

3. Start Menu X

Price: Free (freeware version), 9.99 (Professional)

This is a somewhat more compatible free (though not open source) alternative to Open Shell. It does what it says remaking the Start Menu in the image of older Windows versions.

Interestingly, it comes in a freeware and "Pro" paid version. The free version is already pretty good, providing a lot of Start Menu customization features out of the box, with the "Pro" version only offering some marginal improvement.

Unfortunately, unlike Open Shell, which does have some other, non-Start Menu tweaks that can function on Windows 11, Start Menu X is strictly confined to modification of ONLY the start menu and nothing else. Essentially, you trade off features for compatibility between it and Open-Shell.

4. Start All Back

Price: 4.99 (1 PC), 8.99 (2 PCs), 14.99 (3 PCs), business price variable based on need

This is the last of the options currently available, and it's something like a potpourri of the good and bad of the other versions.

On the good side, it has great compatibility, can configure more than just the Start Menu like Open-Shell but with more working like File Explorer and Control Panel tweaks, and has a freeware version.

On the bad, it has a nagware screen after the 30-day trial expires (though the license price is fairly cheap), it is not open-source, and I found its support website, while better than Start Menu X, to be a bit hard to navigate for support.


If you want to have a good idea of what I consider ideal, these are my suggestions.

The worst but cheapest option is Open-Shell. While it will require some tinkering, you pay nothing and it still provides better-than-nothing improvements.

Start Menu X is somewhat better. The paid version can be skipped as the freeware version is more than acceptable, but its options for anything beyond the Start Menu itself are basically nil.

Start All Back is the second-best choice. Cheaper than Start 11 and offers more features, but support for it is not as transparent as Start 11. Freeware with a nag screen after the trial expires (with a very minor functionality hit) is still good even after the trial expires, but can still be annoying.

Of all the options, Start 11 is my recommendation for plug-and-play, fire-and-forget sanity to the Start Menu. It's for money, but it's lavishly supported by Stardock and can be further enhanced to tweak even the most minor parts of your UI to your preference, provided you'll pay Stardock for the extensions.

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RPG Architect Game Developer Interview


I (Daniel Cullen) recently contacted the maker of RPG Architect, which is currently in Early Access on Steam. Locke, the head developer, was gracious enough to respond to my queries about their game engine, and on top of sending us review keys for the engine, for which we will be providing a complete review, he requested and we were happy to grant an interview to learn more about their engine.

Before we continue, I want to make it clear that, aside from formatting needed to make it appear legible in print and any needed grammatical adjustments, this interview is formatted exactly how I sent the questions and how Locke responded.

1. First, ChristCenteredGamer would like to thank you, Locke, for consenting to this interview. We've reviewed products like RPG Maker, which provides a full suite of options to make turn-based role-playing games, and we are curious about what will make your product stand out by comparison?

Hi Daniel, thank you for reaching out. Y'all will be the first official curators to review RPG Architect!

RPG Architect is going to be massively different than other makers for several reasons. As a RPG Maker veteran, I was frustrated that RPG Maker never really evolved -- it feels like it has been constantly adding features and removing them, never appending them -- and as soon as plugins were added, they relied on the community to "fix" the problems they had. Further, once the latest version or [sic] Maker is released, it never really adds features -- just bug fixes (if you're lucky).

RPG Architect is largely a response to this. You shouldn't have to upgrade an entire edition to get a "new" feature. RPG Architect is planned to be updated for a decade after official release. I'll be obviously sorting out the bugs, but also adding features. Once the core feature set is built, the big ask from the community has been a tactical or simulation RPG battle system -- so that'll be next. After that, it'll be up to the community to decide. My goal is to make RPG Architect the last RPG creation engine you will need (within reason). Since I'm the only developer, I can respond quickly to the community's needs/asks without any red tape. If you look at our reviews and comments in our forums or discord, you'll see that is one of the strengths many have noticed already.

Further, I have no desire to make RPG Architect 2. The goal is to have continual iteration on RPG Architect. If there is desire after a decade and a new engine rewrite is warranted, I might consider it, but only with the blessing of the community.

2. Your product is currently in early access, so some teething pains are inevitable, but your Steam page already advertises it can be used for more than just making RPGs if needed. Ultimately, will this become a more general framework and SDK for game development, or will it still primarily be devoted to role-play gaming?

This is a good question. Most games ultimately have RPG elements in them -- even Mario. Mario collects coins and can "equip" power-ups. The same could be said of action/adventure games as well. Since RPG Architect boasts a fully-fledged physics engine, it's not impossible to make these types of games and track different scores, power-ups, etc. We actually have an internal "Platformer" sample that is in the works (coming soon)!

The better question -- is RPG Architect ideal or suited toward this? I think that will be for the community to ultimately decide. I certainly don't mind adding other features to make other game types possible.

3. You provide native support for Microsoft Windows, and experimental support for macOS and Linux. Will this be supported for Steam Deck or other third-party operating systems?

Actually, we're a bit past experimental support for macOS and Linux -- we have full-fledged support for them. Steam Deck will be supported for published games (as will consoles, and the aforementioned platforms), but I don't know that it will be ideal for an editor. If there's enough interest and compelling arguments for it, I could be agreeable to try it eventually.

The only piece missing for support on Steam and consoles at the moment is controller support -- which the platform supports, but RPG Architect doesn't have implemented/connected just yet. Coming soon!

4. Currently, your engine is generally 2D based with 3D support. What kinds of 3D support do you anticipate providing via your engine ideally?

The physics engine (and everything internal) is all represented in 3D, so the sky will (mostly) be the limit. I plan on supporting 3D models in glTF format. Maps will still ultimately be built from tiles. However, with Doodads and Entities supporting 3D models, you'll be able to build non-blocky houses, cliffsides, trees, and so forth.

I hope we see (at best) some PS3-era style games in the lifetime of RPG Architect.

5. The system requirements for all supported systems are quite modest at present. Do you anticipate this changing over time, or is the intention to keep base requirements geared for more modest requirements as a baseline?

The editor itself doesn't need a whole lot -- and neither does the engine. When you start pumping in larger resources with higher polygon counts, etc, it might change. At the end of the day, though, the engine is highly optimized and the goal is to make something that works with really bad and old hardware.

Fun story -- before I released into Early Access, I actually borrowed a friend's laptop from 2008, which had Windows 8, 2GB of RAM (not even enough to run Windows), and no disk space. My internal 3D test project ran at 40 FPS with lighting turned on (though it did take a while to load). At that moment, I knew that RPG Architect had the potential to be something really accessible and special.

6. We at ChristCenteredGamer understand some stock resources will ship with your current program, and we were wondering what ages they would be most appropriate for? We also would like to know how freely we use and adapt resources from other engines and what general limits this will include for the immediate future.

I think most of the resources are suitable to all ages, minus small, small children. Inherently, RPG's have violence (there is a battle system, after all). However, there are no scantly clad men, women, or monsters, nor do I really anticipate there being any of such.

Adapting resources from other engines is a very nuanced question/problem. Some engines and resources are distributed to be used with a specific ENGINE only (the licensing terms). RPG Architect is similar -- you cannot use our resources in RPG Maker, etc. That said, the format is largely similar to other RPG Maker tilesets/character sets (we do support user-defined frames of animation, as well as 1, 2, 4, and 8 directional sprites). We have an import tool on our website and Steam (under Tools) that will help you import RPG Maker-style tilesets for use with RPG Architect, since the format is a little different.

RPG Architect's volunteer resource makers are all pretty wholesome -- Final Boss Blues (Jason Perry), Jason Martin, and Bit by Bit Sound (Bert). We're always looking for more volunteers!

7. Your Editor uses C# and AvaloniaUI. The Engine uses C# and MonoGame. Is the product going to remain proprietary or will some or all of it it eventually become open-source? If it will become the latter, to what degree?

Some of the verbage I have listed may be old -- the engine actually uses FNA now (it is comparable to a "cousin" or "sibling" of MonoGame, as they both are implementations of Microsoft's XNA). The core engine is abstracted enough to be easily ported (part of the strategy to support consoles, if necessary, though FNA seems to port natively on all of them right now).

I have no desire to let RPG Architect go open source -- except for maybe at the end of its life (see above -- that'll be in the 2030's sometime, perhaps later). It needs to remain closed source and generate revenue in order for it to get the active development it deserves.

In fairness, though, the engine isn't obfuscated whatsoever.

8. Finally, what are the future ambitions you have after this product reaches a mature state? Do you foresee other types of development software you might develop, or is it too early to say?

That will ultimately be up for the community to decide. I'd like to work on RPG Architect full time, but that'll depend on the community's support/investment of it. If it gets community investment comparable to other big-name makers, it wouldn't be hard to make it my full time job. Pie in the sky, for me.

As far as other tools -- it might be something I eventually humor. However, it has to make sense to do such, since the goal of RPG Architect is to make ONE tool that you'll buy and use for years. I don't want users to have to pay someone to port their game to a console -- or pay money for a plugin to fix a shortcoming of the engine -- that seems contrary to what an engine should do. I imagine we'll see little features pop up here and there (or Templates) that will help the engine tackle a different genre of game.

One idea I've humored with some of the resource makers -- I may eventually release a DLC for a Character Maker/Tool (this would need the blessing of the community) to basically fund resource development to the artist volunteers I have. The revenue for that would basically continually flow to the resource makers to push content out, not too dissimilar to what Final Boss Blues does with his Patreon account -- but you would buy-in once. As people do that over the months and years, it will pay for resource development.

The financial goal/strategy for RPG Architect and its sub-products will ultimately be volume. If we can get enough support to do things, then that will fund other endeavors, features, and upgrades. Kind of like the world's longest Kickstarter, but hopefully without the stigma of missed deliveries (and awful pitches).

However, this all requires me to repeat this again -- it HAS to be supported by the community. If there is no community, there will be no volume of sales -- and there will be no good input/ideas on how to grow the engine.

Ultimately, having a connected, involved, passionate community is paramount to RPG Architect's success.

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Guts & Glory: The Vikings

When it comes to the people known as the Vikings, their history, both internally and externally, is known by a mix of fact and fable. They were a warlike people who left an undeniable mark on history for good or ill, and that mark had some exciting highlights. Ben Thompson, a man who enjoys such topics, thus wrote the second book of the Guts and Glory series to explore the topic in some detail.

A bit of background is required. Ben Thompson is a historian who started out with a website called "Badass of the Week", where he would detail the aforementioned figures, both real and fictional, and explore their histories and exploits. Having branched out into writing, he wrote the Guts and Glory series for younger readers, foregoing most of the earthy language his more mature work is known for. At the same time, he delivers generally the same information in his typically bombastic style, so parents who want their children to learn something can be assured the work is reasonably educational and child appropriate while still being entertaining.

His book on the Vikings covers terrain both broad and deep. Its general structure is chronological, covering the roughly 350 or so years the Vikings made a historical impact and some of their most noted figures. In between these entries are often many other factoids and trivia about the Vikings, separating inventions like the horned helmets (which come from opera, not actual Viking tradition) from fact (Vikings did in fact beat Columbus to exploring North America). Finally, like any decent historian, he provides an extensive bibliography for further reading on subjects his own text may have glossed over for more detailed instruction.

It's worth noting the Vikings and the Christian religion have had extensive overlap, with each shaping the history of the other in many respects. Thompson helpfully provides a summation of each notable figure and discusses their impact on the Christian faith (and whether they remained pagan or converted). For those seeking to study the history of both topics, this is a rather helpful guide. Thompson also does not neglect other topics, detailing the impact the Vikings have had on world culture, politics, economics, and other topics of interest. Admittedly, his preference is to center mostly on the great deeds of the people discussed, both good and ill, but there is still plenty of other useful historical datum included as well.

I had three things I took from my reading in particular. While aimed at younger readers, this is still quite good reading for the older crowd as well, providing simple, clear, yet detailed accounts of many historical facts about the Vikings. Another takeaway is a much greater appreciation for the Vikings and their impact on history, as Thompson makes clear such countries as Britain, Russia, and sizable portions of mainland Europe owe a profound debt to the Vikings for their historical foundation. Finally, I was gratified to find Thompson made very clear what was fiction and what was fact, as Viking history is often embellished (even internally in their own accounts, as Thompson notes), and I was left with a much clearer picture of what the Vikings actually were like as a people.

Overall, this text comes highly recommended. Not only is it suitable for parents hoping to give their child something educational yet entertaining, it is also a good work on the subject of the Vikings in general. It can be purchased on Amazon in Audiobook, Kindle, softcover, hardcover, and Audio CD formats.

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Guts and Glory: The American Civil War

When it comes to the War Between the States (or War of the Rebellion if you are pro-Union), it's hard to find a good book on the history of the American Civil War that is not politically charged in some way. Ben Thompson, while he does not deny the checkered causes and motives of the participants, instead, per his usual remit of covering great deeds and people, decides to cover the less politically charged aspects of the conflict in his first Guts and Glory book.

A bit of background is required. Ben Thompson is a historian who started out with a website called "Badass of the Week', where he would detail the aforementioned figures, both real and fictional, and explore their histories and exploits. Having branched out into writing, he wrote the Guts and Glory series for younger readers, foregoing most of the earthy language his more mature work is known for. At the same time, he delivers generally the same information in his typically bombastic style, so parents who want their children to learn something can be assured the work is reasonably educational and child appropriate while still being entertaining.

It's worth noting, for concerned parents, that the only language considered remotely profane is limited to direct historical quotations, such as Willian T. Sherman's "War is Hell" commentary. The text is otherwise free of anything a parent might object to their children reading.

Thompson sets out to do three things. The book is in roughly chronological order, covering the general scope of the historical conflict (1861-1865), and he does cover all the general high points most history books do concerning the conflict. Second, given his goal of covering great deeds and the people who did them, his work is very excitingly written, wanting the reader to feel the intensity of the action that took place. Finally, in between all these sections are various trivia and additional facts about the war and its impact, both during its own time and on history in general.

I had three takeaways from this work. First, Thompson is concerned less with all the politics and social background of the conflict (though this does get covered), his work instead focuses on the people involved. If you want a less dry historical retelling and want to read something that covers the parties involved on a more personal level, this is sure to satisfy you. Second, Thompson, an admitted Civil War reenactor of both sides of the conflict, strove to keep an even hand describing both sides. For those wanting a history text that doesn't shirk away from admitting it was a conflict fought for mixed motives yet does not stop to overly moralize, they will be refreshed to read this. Finally, this text does have some mild glossing over historical facts in places where history would be too boring if described in detail, but Thompson does provide an extensive bibliography for further reading that should give the details he glosses over.

Overall, this text comes highly recommended. Not only is it suitable for parents hoping to give their child something educational yet entertaining, but it is also a good work on the subject of the American Civil War in general. It can be purchased on Amazon in Audiobook, Kindle, softcover, hardcover, and Audio CD formats.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Battle Operations 2 - First Impressions

Note: Due to the fact the PC open beta of Gundam Battle Operations 2 had some features restricted, this article will not cover all aspects, it will merely cover what was available during my experiences with the open beta period.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Battle Operations 2 is the second iteration of the MMORPG-styled third-person shooter set in the Universal Century franchise of the Gundam universe. Despite being a longtime fixture on consoles, it was oddly not playable on the PC platform. A failed launch of the open beta for the PC port on Steam further did not herald good fortune for those who wanted to play versus others on their computers in 2022. Thankfully, the second attempt at an open beta on January 16th, 2023 went better after an initial issue with logins, and most of the game, albeit in restricted form, was available for play.

The story is by necessity somewhat vague. You are a new member of a mercenary corporation that can pilot practically any unit in the UC Gundam canon, and aside from definitely being set after the original Gundam and its One-Year War, it's not exactly clear when it takes place otherwise. Further, units from both the Earth Federation and Zeon factions are available for piloting, which was certainly not unusual for both sides, especially later in the Universal Century. The exact reasons you are fighting are mostly an excuse to have giant player-versus-player battles where shooting down mobile suits, and their pilots, and destroying their base camps and sources of resupply will be your bread and butter. Combat will take place both in terrestrial (land) and space environments, much as it did in the Gundam TV series, manga, movies, and so on.

For PC players, it uses a Free-To-Play model, as the game itself can be downloaded for free from Steam provided they meet the system requirements. It uses a "gacha" model for providing enhancements to units and pilots. Gacha machines in real life are a form of Japanese capsule toy machine that can grant rewards randomly for payment of real-world currency, resulting in a chance to earn certain rare capsule toys and other prizes. In-game, both in-game currency earned through various events and real-world money can be spent for similar reasons to acquire new mobile suits, equipment, pilot outfit upgrades, and various other enhancements. While the game is perfectly accessible to newcomers and those who do not wish to spend real-world money, it is much easier to acquire certain high-end prizes for payment.

The game itself starts in the mercenary camp of your employer, which serves as the main player hub. Here is where players can start matches, upgrade units, do training missions for various game mechanics, join clans (not available during the beta period), and otherwise rest in between sessions of online combat. There are options for both auto-saving and manual saving of progress during this part of the game, allowing the player to resume progress at any time in case they shut the game down at any point or if they suffer a sudden loss in internet connection.

The combat modes are where the game gets a bit complex. There is a "rock-paper-scissors" style balance for mobile suits, revolving around General, Raid, and Support Machines. Each type is strong and weak against one of the other types, so proper knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of your equipment and the units piloted by others will be essential. Mobile suits can be further customized for different load-outs and mission profiles for different styles of play as well. Pilots may also dismount their machines or be forced to do so by the destruction of their current mobile suit. In this mode, they must either commandeer another unit or perform certain actions only accessible on foot, such as setting bombs on enemy base camps or calling in fire support.

Player versus player can get VERY chaotic as a rule. While some players wind up serving one side, some will fall on the other, and the goal is to score the most points before the timer for the mission sortie runs out. The overall goal is to make the player less a one-man army and more emphasize they are just one more soldier on the battlefield, so careful play with allies serving to support one another and prudence in taking on enemies lest the player be overwhelmed is strongly encouraged. While players and suits will respawn after a time, it's best to avoid blindly charging at enemy lines and preserve one's own combat health as much as possible. Respawn points can also be seized by enemies or attacked while the player is calling in another suit or fire support, further making this a game where wits are required to survive matches with the least casualties.

On a graphical level, this title derives heavily from the franchise models and designs for mobile suits and areas but renders it all in a fairly gritty, realistic style to fit the wartime aesthetic. Mobile suits are typically rendered as lumbering war machines vulnerable to the laws of physics to further hammer home these are pilotable machines with great power that requires great skill to handle effectively. The terrain and backdrops are generally gritty and slightly bleak looking to capture the wartime feel of the franchise, though even on higher graphical settings look a bit under-detailed at times.

The sound and music all crib heavily from the licensed series that comprise the franchise and for the most part are 1:1 accurate to their sources. There is full voice acting for several languages, all of which is clear and distinct, though players generally are restricted to certain limited dialogue selectable from lists for commenting towards another during play. Most of the voice acting is heard in the player hub from the NPC characters who handle various services and explain various game mechanics.

The controls are accessible via either keyboard and mouse or any Steam-compatible controller, there is full support for both. I found the keyboard and mouse to be just as well implemented as the controller for accessibility, but it is heavily advised to play the tutorials to get used to the mechanics before doing anything else. There is also the option to remap controls to player preference in case certain controls feel counterintuitive.

Stability is, given this is the first open beta to let people actually get as far as the lobby and beyond and still function, uneven. Despite having a PC that easily cleared the recommended requirements for high-end play, I had to turn down some graphics settings to maintain a reasonable framerate. Connections remain stable most of the time, though I had some server timeouts on occasion. Saving periods between certain events also can take a bit long to complete as well. This should hopefully improve as the official launch implements lessons learned from the open beta period.

Certain features were not available, either partially or fully, during the open beta period. Clan creation and joining clans of other players was not available, and while crossplay between PC and the console versions has been highly desired, there was no crossplay ability at this time, due to the fact the open beta for the PC version was a limited access event to PC only to evaluate technical issues and server load balancing.

This open beta event left me hopeful this will become just as popular and develop just as dedicated a player fanbase as the console versions when it launches officially. Regardless, it will still need a fair amount of technical polish if it wants to do this when it launches officially.

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James Buchanan

James Buchanan. When the average American with a passing familiarity with American history thinks of this name, they usually call him one of our most inept, incompetent, if not completely unsuitable Presidents. Rarer few are those who even bother to dig deeper than that, but Jean H. Baker, writing about the titular president for The American Presidents series, believed a closer look into why he earned the scorn of history was warranted.

Like all books in the same series, this one can be read independently of the others. It more than adequately makes the arguments it needs to on its own, but I highly recommend reading the last few books before it and the one immediately after on Abraham Lincoln This is mainly because they give even more detailed perspective after reading this one.

That said, this book is a fairly comprehensive and straightforward experience. It covers Buchanan from childhood to manhood. It details his increasingly large involvement in politics and public life. It exhaustively details his presidency and why it ended in public disgrace. And finally, it covers the period after until his death, noting in those final years Buchanan devoted his time entirely to try justifying his presidency as anything but a failure of his own making.

It has three questions it sets out to ask, then answer. First, what shaped Buchanan into the man who would become our fifteenth president, and how did that lead to his failed administration? Second, what did he do well, and why were his failures more known to history as opposed to his success? Most importantly, it asks how such a man considered so qualified for public service became President, and how under that office he did so much to gravely injure the union of the United States he alleged he held so dear.

In my reading, I came to a few conclusions of my own. Not only was Buchanan a nakedly partisan political figure, but his partisanship was also such it gave him tunnel vision to the point he could not begin to try to understand those who disagreed with him, and that this failure led him to fail to take the pulse of the people to a catastrophic degree. Second, Buchanan was certainly qualified for public service, and had he been President after the period slavery divided the public discourse, history might have looked on him more favorably, as he was ill-equipped to deal with that issue despite all his experience. His being grotesquely out of touch, his inability to compromise, and his unwillingness to change any of his opinions no matter how badly they served the people did no one any favors, least of all himself. Finally, he had once claimed the President should be a just and wise arbiter of the national discourse, but he utterly failed to heed his own counsel to the injury of a nation he nearly left too damaged for his successor to save.

Overall, I would consider this book very educational, straightforward, and suitable for any serious student of American history. It wastes little time, filling each page with as many relevant facts as possible, and has simple-to-understand prose. For anyone needing to have the resources for a research paper or book report, this is a well-researched volume on the 15th bearer of the title of US President I recommend highly.

If this book sounds like a worthy purchase, it can be bought on Amazon in Hardcover and Kindle format.

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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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