Book Review Thursday: Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War That Changed American History

Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade and Don Yeager team together again to write a compelling narrative about a key piece of early American history.  The Revolutionary War had ended, George Washington had resigned as commander-in-chief and bade farewell to his troops by the end of 1783. The Constitutional Convention wouldn’t convene in Philadelphia until 1787 and Washington wouldn’t be overwhelmingly elected the country’s first President until 1789.  America, deep in debt, was anxious to quickly grow its economy by exporting products across the Atlantic and beyond.  The first serious encounter with Barbary pirates occurred in 1785 when a U.S. ship was captured, its commander and crew imprisoned for several years. The pirates had been operating for years, but now that America was on its own after winning their independence she no longer had the protection of the British Empire.  Their mighty naval force notwithstanding, England had instead chosen to buy the pirates off rather than fight them. America’s leaders were divided, however — John Adams favored meeting the pirates’ demands, whereas Thomas Jefferson wanted more.  In 1795 the United States finally settled with the Algerians, but by the time Jefferson became President in 1801, the problem had only worsened despite the United States having finally agreed to pay tribute.  At this time America didn’t have much of a navy. but when the situation escalated Jefferson decided to take on the pirates instead of cow-towing. This book chronicles both the victories and missteps during the early years of the United States Navy and Marine Corps.  The opening lines of the Marine Hymn contain the phrase “to the shores of...

Book Review Thursday: Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America

In early America the English and Native Americans were clashing in a conflict which came to be called “King Phillip’s War”.  This book is based on the real-life experiences of Mary Rowlandson, wife of a Puritan minister, who is taken captive when their town was overrun by a band of Phillip’s warriors. Her husband is away at the time and Mary witnesses the horrors of the attack, watching several of her loved ones killed, and is then forced to march away into captivity.  She became the slave of a female sachem (chief), at first traumatized by her abrupt introduction to Native American culture.  Her youngest daughter died and the whereabouts of her other two children is unknown. She finds kindness and compassion in the person of James Printer, a Praying Indian, who had previously lived among the English and was a Christian convert at one time.  As time goes on she finds herself, surprisingly, adapting to life among the Indians.  Yet, it’s still a struggle for her to leave behind the English ways and her faith.  Mary is eventually returned to her husband, followed by the release of her children.  However, she knows things will never be quite the same. Although the book is fictionalized based upon Mary Rowlandson’s own account, author Amy Belding Brown manages to weave an emotion-filled tale based on an actual event, filling in characters and situations that were known to have been part of that historical era to bolster credibility.  I am cautious when I select books which are said to be works of “historical fiction” – I want them to have some element...

Book Review Thursday: The Missing Kennedy: Rosemary Kennedy and the Secret Bonds of Four Women

For years Rosemary Kennedy, the oldest daughter of Joe and Rose Kennedy, was sheltered from scrutiny by the general public and closely monitored by her family due to her intellectual disabilities.  I had heard about how her father made the decision to have her lobotomized, a procedure which instead of curing her as promised did irreparable damage and the remainder of her life was spent in various institutions.  However, I never had more than a passing knowledge of the story. Volumes have been, and continue to be, written about the Kennedy family.  This may be the one and only book devoted to Rosemary.  Many Kennedy family books treat Rosemary as a “peripheral member of the family”, according to author Elizabeth Kohler-Pentacoff.  This book is told from a unique perspective given that Kohler-Pentacoff is the niece of Sister Paulus (born Stella) Kohler who just happened to be Rosemary’s caretaker for thirty-five years. The book takes readers on a journey through not only Rosemary’s life but the lives of her parents and siblings who loved her dearly.  The book begins by telling the story of her birth and the circumstances which resulted in her mental deficiencies.  Joe and Rose spared no expense in order to make sure Rosemary had special attention in order to thrive and learn even during the years of the Great Depression. It was a years-long painstaking process but when Joe was convinced that a lobotomy would help balance out his daughter’s emotional state, things actually worsened and she was institutionalized.  There were, however, long periods of time it seemed when, for instance, her mother Rose had little...

Book Review Thursday: A Crack in the Edge of the World

Having lived in California for several years, and experiencing more than a few up close and personal, I thought I knew a fair amount about earthquakes.  I had at least a passing knowledge of the “big one” that struck San Francisco in 1906 when the “City by the Bay” was shaken to its foundations and then practically burned to the ground by the fires which erupted and raged for days. The April 18 earthquake wasn’t the first to shake the earth in 1906, nor the last, during that extremely geologically-active year.  Around 5:12 a.m. an unsuspecting city, the “jewel of the west” was leveled, humbled to its knees.  Author Simon Winchester wrote a compelling account of not only the cataclysmic event but provided a detailed geological history of our ever-shifting world. Winchester is a born story-teller and his knowledge of geological phenomena (he studied geology at Oxford) makes the book a compelling “page-turner” for anyone with an interest in going beyond the historical event and delving into the why, where and how aspect.  His use of technical jargon interspersed with related historical events made the subject easier to digest, although at times I found myself a bit overwhelmed and skimming through some parts. Still, I loved the book and found the side stories compelling – compelling enough to jot them down for blog articles someday – Joshua Abraham Norton as the self-proclaimed “Emperor of the United States” will make a great Far-Out Friday article.  Another Simon Winchester book, The Men Who United the States, was reviewed here.  From that book I wrote two Far-Out Friday stories:    “The Great Diamond...

Book Review Thursday: Orphan Train

This novel by Christine Baker Kline unfolds as a timeless story of two seemingly different individuals, one a teenage foster child who has been bounced around from family to family and the other an elderly woman with a compelling story of her own.  Seventeen year-old Molly is about to age out of the foster care system and after a streak of rebellion finds herself performing community service to atone for her misdeed. Her “project” is ninety-one year-old Vivian’s dusty old attic which is in serious need of organization and cleanup.  Vivian and her attic project are the only things standing between Molly and a stint in juvenile detention.  Molly, resentful at first, warms to Vivian as the two women begin to form a bond. As it turns out their backgrounds are strikingly the same in some ways and a bond develops between them.  So much of Vivian’s early life was marred by tragedy after she was orphaned and sent away on an orphan train to Minnesota in the 1920’s.  As Vivian begins sharing her story, Molly realizes she has the ability, and perhaps a bit strangely the desire, given her rebellious nature, to help Vivian find answers to the mysteries which have haunted her for years. It is historical fiction at its best, weaving a story from the distant past with the present-day challenges of a young woman with a chip on her shoulder.  Together they both find peace – Vivian with her past and Molly with her future. Molly’s attitudes and language are a bit rough in the beginning, but as the story progresses it’s evident a change...

Book Review Thursday: Last Bus to Wisdom

It’s with a touch of sadness I write this book review for Last Bus to Wisdom, the latest and final book published by Ivan Doig.  Sadly, he passed away earlier this year, leaving behind a stellar body of literary work, much of it inspired by his beloved home state of Montana.  He has become a favorite author of mine since discovering him a few years ago.  I still haven’t read all his books, but I’m working on it. This book is a coming-of-age story centered around eleven year-old Donal Cameron whose parents were tragically killed in an automobile accident.  Donal’s grandmother is his guardian and together they’ve made a life on a Montana sheep ranch where she works as a cook.  Donal’s world is rocked when Gram requires surgery and must send him away to Wisconsin to stay with her sister and her husband. She places him on the “dog bus” and sends him off to an uncertain world.  The bus ride across the prairies is just the beginning of his adventures, however.  On his own, Donal must fend for himself until he reaches Wisconsin.  Donal is fond of Gram, but his Aunt Kate is another story altogether – the two simply do not get along. Donal befriends her husband Herman (Herman the German) who barely tolerates Kate himself.  It’s a constant clash of wills, and when Kate decides it just won’t work out, Donal and Herman set out on an adventure of their own – oh the places they will go! The book is reminiscent of Doig’s recent trilogy (reviewed here, here and here LINKS) with a full...