Nov 28

Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals, by Saul D. Alinsky (★)

Saul Alinsky became well known as a “community organizer” in Chicago, Illinois. He was responsible for helping form the political ideology of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. This book is still being quoted heavily, and instrumental in directing a new generation of “progressives” in government. To best understand the movement, it is of value to have read the book. It is difficult to offer it any sort of rating since it is written in a world to which I am alien, but to which many of our youth are living in without a sense of angst or discomfort.

Alinsky begins the book by delighting in the fact that he follows in a long line of rebels, the first of which was Satan himself. Yes, he actually proudly says that! A lengthy prologue sets the stage for his thinking. He is not promoting violent radicalism and disowns the Weathermen and like groups. Rather, he considers the best option for Radicals is to infiltrate the system. In discussing his purpose, he wishes to make clear that there are only three groups in society, the Haves, the Have-nots, and the Have-a-little;-want-mores. The Have-nots are obviously the poor, and the Have-a-littles are the middle few, which Alinsky notes there are relatively few of, yet even fewer of the Haves. Alinsky disclaims any dogmatic approach to revolution. He is correct in noting that the Christian “revolutionaries” have been inconsistent in their ideology, though Alinsky seems to be a poor judge of ideology and morality. Alinsky does not label himself a Marxist, yet his argument and desire to level the playing field between the Haves and Have-nots seems to be written straight out of the Marxist playbook. Perhaps Alinsky is slightly disoriented? Later, Alinsky shows how he plays semantic games, and when a word triggers bad connotations, a different word is used. The most used example is the label of “community organizer”, which actually means “communist revolutionary”. Read that into any time Alinsky (or Obama or Hillary Clinton) speaks and you will understand what they truly mean.

Alinsky spends a chapter on clarifying the purpose of his mission. Actually, he’s not sure as to his purpose, except to generate unrest and anger with the Have-nots. He then spends a chapter telling us the means of achieving his purpose, but spends most of the time justifying the ethics of his means. Most his justification comes from historical examples when prevailing ethical standards were violated for the so-called common good. For Alinsky, that justifies the ability to act without the sense of defined morality, as the ends always justify the means. His eleven rules of ethics summates in the tenth rule, which is to do whatever you want, and then engulf your actions in a moral cloak. (…really! That’s essentially what he said!). To help, the eleventh rule is to label your ethics with a general but appealing term such as “For the Common Good” or “for Liberty”. Yup. Sure.

Alinsky pauses for a chapter to define certain words such as power, self-interest, compromise, ego, and conflict. What he means to say is that you play the system to best accomplish your momentum of the moment—there is no accomplishing of an “end” since the revolutionary leader (community organizer) isn’t usually sure as to the end for the revolution. One needs to educate budding young educators, and Alinsky will spend a chapter discussing how to train a young rebel (without a clue). The virtues necessary for a revolutionary include curiosity, irreverence, imagination, humor, a very blurred vision of the perfect world, an organized mind, a strong ego, political schizophrenia that is not set on a single political ideology. Communication is the prime virtue according to Saul. Saul even gives an example from the Bible how Moses told God to “cool it”, and get control of himself, shaming God for always wanting to be #1. So Moses (according to Alinsky) won an argument with God through effective communication. Saul gives abundant examples of how he used communication to get his way with people. Among his clientele were a host of religious types, especially Catholic priests, who didn’t seem to realize exactly who they were speaking to.

The “community organizer” needs to start a movement when the organizer sees a perceived need. Often, the so-called oppressed person doesn’t see that need, and so agitation and anger must be generated. Oftentimes the solution is simple by just asking an authority to correct a problem, but that is not the best way to manage the situation according to Alinsky. A group needs to show outright anger with persistence before accepting resolution of the problem. Sometimes, criminality needs to be rationalized away, such as when Alinsky led multiple efforts at voting fraud in Chicago, justified since it accomplished its end (I’m surprised Alinsky even discussed this issue!). Often, Alinsky’s tactic includes displaying “power”, another euphemism for bullying a subject to the point of exhaustion. Starting a crisis by creating a problem is Saul’s first issue of necessity. After that, tactics to maintain an air of crisis and tension must occur.

The longest chapter is on tactics, the techniques that the Have-nots can use to take power from the Haves. Many of these techniques are quite obvious and need not be listed, such as appearing bigger or stronger than you really are, shaming your opponent by their own rules (especially if they are religious), use lots of ridicule, persist, divide your opponent whenever possible, and, know your opponent so that you can make their life as miserable as possible. Forcing your opponent to live by their personal moral code while you conduct yourself without a moral code is a standard tactic. Time in jail, if short, helps create a martyr syndrome. Then, mutter epithets such as “The right to a job transcends the right of private property” to further shame your opponent. Alinsky gives multiple examples of how he exercised the above tactics to win cases, and most of the time, others with more sense would consider those tactics as quite immoral, though perhaps not illegal. Though not said by Alinsky, many of these tactics could kick back and actually lead to worse consequences to the revolutionary.

Alinsky offers a short summary. Actually, Alinsky really doesn’t know what his goals are. Often, he describes material envy with the Have-nots, such as gaining possession of cars, tvs, and other convenience items of life. Never does he suggest legitimate means of acquiring “stuff”. Alinsky proposes stirring additional unrest in lower middle class people in order to agitate for revolution. Class envy, class discontent, status anger, are all necessary for Alinsky to get his ends.

Alinsky is left with a dilemma. His entire thesis is based on pitting the Have-nots against the Haves. Social status (in Alinsky’s mind) necessarily must be fixed. The Have-nots cannot become the Haves. The lower middle-class cannot become the upper middle-class. If that were possible, it would leave Saul with a dilemma: as soon as his revolution sees success, the Have-nots become the Haves, and thus become the object for revolution. Alinsky doesn’t want that to happen. So many of Alinsky’s pupils are now filthy-rich, and yet must be defined as remaining Have-nots.

Alinsky is totally devoid of any social or personal ethic. Alinsky comments on this boldly and proudly. His is not the revolution of a Biblical sort, even though he frequently quotes (and always misquotes) Scripture. It is a revolution straight from the pit of hell. Which ultimately leads me to a most relevant and vital question to be asked. Many Christians are quite aware that Obama, H. Clinton, and others in politics are disciples of Alinsky. Alinsky offers them the rule book to play by. Hillary Clinton wrote a thesis on Alinsky, idolizing concepts that he expounds. Obama worked with Alinsky’s community, personally naming himself a community organizer. Their association and affection to Alinsky are NOT a secret. Yet, somehow many Christians (and many never-Trumpers like the Bush clan) are persuaded that these are people worth supporting or voting for. They argue the need to opt for the lesser of two evils, or that Alinsky (in some very strange way) really stands for “Biblical” social justice. The intentional naiveté of these “Christians” is most damning—I can only pray that God have mercy on them. If you don’t believe me, please read this book. With multiple examples more that I could have quoted, the book is far more damning than I made it out to be.

When Patton was asked early in WWII how he was able, as an immature tank commander, to overcome the superior tactics of Rommel, Patton’s reply was simply that he had read Rommel’s book on tank warfare. Alinsky provides us a look at the playbook of the left, including the progressives in congress (and possible president/vice-president), the deep state, the BLM and Antifa movement, and many other revolutionary groups. Know that they intentionally deceive, they intentionally seek to create unrest and strife. More importantly, know for certain that they secretly have no clue as to where they are going, and exactly how they wish to end up. Alinsky had no clue as to his ultimate destination and states that fact repeatedly. If they accomplish their “goals”, they have no idea what to do with their accomplishments. Ultimately their greatest desire would be to see the fall of the whole of society. Whereas now there is a small group of Have-nots, they will not be happy until everybody is a Have-not. Please realize that Have-nots actually have a lot, certainly vastly more than those that you would call poor in third-world countries. Alinsky’s vision would eventually lower the Have-not’s status to a third-world condition. To those with more sense than Alinsky, be aware, and don’t be afraid to challenge the revolutionaries. Truth will win in the end.

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Nov 12

The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict, by Donald Hickey ★★★★★

If anybody has been following the recent books that I’ve been reading and reviewing, many of them are centered around history, and recently, of early United States history. The war of 1812 has not been well taught in school, and so I decided to fill in a few of the gaps in my education. Hickey’s text has been well reviewed on Amazon, and, not wishing to read all the books available on this war, settled with this book. It is quite condensed, without wasted words, but very complete and detailed. Hickey especially points out the conflict of Americans regarding this war, which was not strongly supported by the nation as a whole.

Hickey outlines the events that led up to the war. It was mostly complaints about British control of the seas, and their interference with American merchant vessels. Britain was fighting a war with France and needed as many sailors as possible, yet many of their sailors were “jumping ship” and working on American merchant vessels since life was safer and the pay was much higher. Britain would confront American ships, and make off with any sailor that was British, leaving some merchant vessels devoid of sufficient sailors. Britain also imposed highly restrictive areas to which American vessels could sail and thus limit American trade to Britain’s enemies, while America wished to maintain neutrality with both Britain and France. This was not a new problem but had been an issue since the end of the Revolutionary War.

The nation was quite split on whether or not war should be declared. The northern Federalists were very opposed to war, while the southern Republicans were more than eager to engage in battle. (Please note, the Republican Party of 1812 was NOT the Republican Party that we know of today). Madison, being a Republican, was eager for war. There were just three problems. 1) Half the nation was dead set against war, 2) The USA at that time had essentially no army or navy, nor constitutional means of building an army or navy, and 3) nobody, Federalist or Republican, showed interest in financing the war. Such issues needed to be addressed before declaring war, but not to either Madison or the Southern Republicans. War it will be and war it was.

The war was really broken down into three years of battle, 1812, 1813, and 1814, though the last year extended into 1815, the peace treaty was signed by the Brits on Christmas eve of 1814. The year 1812 began with high hopes, with plans for the invasion of Canada on three fronts, as well as assertion of control of the high seas. The invasion of Canada went poorly, and in the end, more land was lost than gained. Fort Dearborn (Chicago), Detroit, Mackinac Island, Niagara, Queenston Heights all fell, owing mostly to inept generalship, but also to the extensive British use of Indians throughout the war. It is no wonder that further Indian problems persisted in America; the Indians were definitely not the peace-loving innocent natives that popular imagery paints them to be. On the seas, the tide went the other way for the US, with victories from the US Constitution, as well as other smaller ship battles. This was unexpected, being that the British were considered an impregnable force on the seas. Additionally used were privateers (pirates), small quick ships with a few guns which acted independent of the US government, and which raided British merchant ships. This was a significant cause of grief for the British. In all though, 1812 was a bad year for the USA. New taxes were needed since outgoing trade was no longer taxed, and embargos (especially to Canada and Britain) only led to massive smuggling operations, free of taxation. The British were quite humored to note that American loyalty to their country quickly disappeared when a good financial deal could be offered.

The year 1813 showed a bit more promise to the USA, though it was quite mixed. Canada invaded US soil, taking Detroit. In return, the US sought to control Lake Erie, and had successful sea battles to that end. William Harrison was successful in re-taking Detroit, followed by the victorious battle of the Thames, where the Indian chief Tecumseh was killed. Lake Ontario battles were a mixed success, with the greatest defeats being from the weather. The battle of York was a success for the US, though the Canadian town was thoroughly looted and then burned. In return, Fort Niagara was captured by the British, and Buffalo burned to the ground. Attempts to take Montreal were failures owing to the greater defenses in that town. Southern battles also took place, which were mostly against the Indians. The Indians in conjunction with the British led to the massacre of Fort Mims. Andrew Jackson took command of the southern US army and multiple battle successes then ensued. The seas were quieter. The British now traveled in convoys, avoiding battle. They formed a blockade of the Atlantic coast, blocking most heavily the south since the Brits knew that it was the South and not the New England states that produced the war. The Brits commenced raids in the Chesapeake bay area. The only real US navy accomplishments were from the continued harassment on the high seas from privateers. Meanwhile, an unacceptable peace treaty was offered by Britain. The US enforced a more strenuous trade embargo, which was impossible to enforce, and violated by both the Federalists and Republicans. The US approached bankruptcy, and a national bank was unsuccessfully proposed.

The year 1814 was also a mix of losses and successes in battle. In Europe, the French were defeated at the battle of Leipzig, and though Britain still needed troops in Europe, was able to free up more ships and troops for the American campaign. Successes for the Brits in overrunning Prairie du Chien (in Wisconsin), as well as gaining control of lake Erie and Mackinac Island were countered by the Americans re-occupying Detroit. Multiple battles around Niagara were indecisive, some being quite bloody. Attacks from the British on and along Lake Champlain eventually resulted in American victories, with battles both on the lake and at Plattsburgh pushing the Canadians back into Canada. In return, the British extended their sea blockade into the New England waters. Eastern Maine was occupied by British forces. Chesapeake raids led to the burning of Washington DC, though the battle for Baltimore was a small victory for the US. It was at this time that the bombing of Fort McHenry was unsuccessful for the Brits, leading Francis Scott Keys to pen the Star Spangled Anthem. This battle was not necessarily a victory for the US. Meanwhile down south, Andrew Jackson was successful in his campaigns, including battles for Mobile and Pensacola (then officially owned by Spain), as well as the major battle of New Orleans. US sea losses included the US President and US Constitution.

Though the year 1814 had a mix of losses and successes, it was going horribly on the home front. Recruitment for the military was largely unsuccessful, and desertions frequent. Though illegal, there was massive trade occurring with the enemy. Congress was recalled to emergency session, but splits between the Federalists and Republicans made any compromise impossible. Tax increases to pay for the war with a failing economy was futile at best. The New England Federalists held a convention titled the Hartford Convention to solidify Federalist opposition to the war. Recommendations were presented to Congress. Though well-meant, the Hartford Convention was quickly spun as a traitorous movement.

A peace treaty was becoming increasingly important, since this war was hard on both the economies of Britain and the US. In addition, other nations were affected such as Russia, who depended on US shipping and thus eager to see an end to the war. Initial British propositions were found completely unacceptable to the US. The book’s author Donald Hickey notes that of all US successes, that of diplomacy to end the war was the U.S.’s greatest success. The ultimate decision was to return to status quo ante bellum, i.e., simple return to all conditions before the war started, including lands occupied by one or the other nation, and by return to all of the high seas policies which triggered the war in the first place. Interestingly enough, those high sea policies quickly became irrelevant following the war, since war also ceased in Europe, and so impressment (the British forcing return of sailors) and trade restrictions were no longer relevant. In my estimation, if the US would have waited, those problems would have solved themselves earlier.

Quickly after the war, the US spin doctors were able to frame the war as a victory to the US. The Republicans sold the war as a second and affirmative Revolutionary War against Britain. In reality, the war accomplished nothing but greater division in the US. Both political parties (the Federalists and Republicans) were on their last gasps. The US was plunged into deep debt. The Indian problem was probably made worse (for the Indians) through it all. Good did come from the war. The US realized the futility of trying to bring Canada into the fold of these United States. The US realized the necessity of having a standing army and strong defense system. Several US presidents were victorious generals of the war— William Henry Harrison and Andrew Jackson. Thankfully, the death toll was more from disease than from combat fatalities.

We were taught in grade school that before the Viet Nam war, the USA had never lost a war. Yet, the war of 1812 was a war that was essentially lost, since it accomplished nothing but lost lives and lost property. The issues at stake before the war were not resolved. It was a futile effort of the young USA attempting to assert themselves in a crazy world. Yet, it leaves one wondering about all the wars that the US has engaged in. The war of 1812 was a war that never should have been fought. What about the other wars? The civil war essentially started at the birth of our Republic in 1789, and continues to this day. Massive lives were lost both on the side of the North and the South, yet we are rapidly retreating into another form of slavery at this time, and race relationships have never been worse than now. The Spanish-American war was a strange animal that didn’t serve many purposes except to change the hands of several islands. The first world war should never have been fought, yet WWII was the expected child of WWI. We created more misery than good in those two wars. The USA did achieve world hegemony, though it is uncertain (in my mind) whether that was really a good thing. The Korean and Viet Nam wars were either the result of the outcome of WWII or a consequence of European colonization of the world. Others view American history as showing a particular proclivity of Americans to go to war, yet that simply isn’t true, as every nation has a tendency to war, especially when they gain (or desire) military hegemony. It is intrinsic to fallen human nature to fight. Even the most outspoken anti-war Pacifists ultimately find excuses to defend themselves or their honor when challenged. There is only one Prince of Peace to whom we should all be bowing, and, outside of Him, we will know no peace.

This book is a wonderfully written book, hard to put down, chronicling of a very stupid and unnecessary war. It is no wonder that it is a forgotten war, or, when remembered, remembered in such a fashion as to distort history into saying something contrary to the truth. Reality does sometimes hurt, but it is a better alternative than living in a fantasy world.

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Oct 21

Hollywood Propaganda; How TV, Movies, and Music Shape Our Culture, by Mark Dice ★★★★★

Mark Dice has been making a series of books about modern culture, the most recent being The True Story of Fake News, Liberalism: Find a Cure and the Liberal Media Industrial Complex. The format of these books are all the same. I’ve written reviews on each of them already. In this book, Mark attacks the entertainment industry, showing how they have intentionally written script into their shows to persuade the public toward a particular end. Mark covers various things, such as making the public accepting of abortion, LGBTQ issues, Feminist issues, immigration issues, and political issues, such as painting a negative spin on Donald Trump. Hollywood is deeply influenced and affected by the state, including the military, FBI and CIA, and other government agencies. Hollywood has been very strong at promoting an anti-USA agenda, and stirring up race issues, creating a war against white people. There is no corner left unturned, and even sports have become political via Hollywood. Mark laments how late-night comedies have gone from equal opportunity attacks against both Republicans and Democrats with Johnny Carson to a full all-out attack on conservativism by recent talk show hosts. The book contains hundreds of examples of how Hollywood has intentionally scripted its shows with the intent to influence the beliefs and thinking of the general public. He doesn’t offer solutions, save for turning off your tv. That is what our family has done, beginning about 1995. We couldn’t have been better off.

This is a great book. It doesn’t have a plot. It doesn’t have progression in a storyline. But, it is a concerted attack against what the radio preacher Oliver Greene would call “the sewer pipe from Hollywood”. What was amazing to me was Mark Dice pointing out how deep this Cesspool of filth was in the Hollywood circuit, and how seriously it may be affecting how we think and what we believe. This is a good book to read, which I highly recommend. I’m sure my brother Dennis would stand with me on this one.

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Oct 18

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, by Jon Meacham ★★

I published this book review on 10/18/2020, but after some forethought and starting yet another period history book on the War of 1812, am realizing that this book does not deserve the faint praise that I gave to it. I also added additional reasons why I truly disliked this text.

This book unsurprisingly details the life and thoughts of our third president, Thomas Jefferson. I had already read the biographies of Washington, John Adams and Hamilton before attacking this book. I had awaiting me yet a history of the war of 1812, Andrew Jackson, as well as that of Madison and Monroe. After that, I will return to studies on the Civil War. This book was not as well liked by me, and does not stand up to the standard set by the other biographies mentioned above. I realize that this book might have been a NYT best seller and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, yet truth be told, such accolades are essentially meaningless. This text is much shorter than other period biographies in several ways. There are multiple short chapters, each chapter named in standard fashion by some brief snippet of text found within that chapter. This book has a lengthy reference section, yet the text itself is only 505 pages, and the type face is 12 point on 15 point leading (larger than the typical 10/13 or 11/14 point type found in most texts), in narrower than typical columns, thus deceptively making the reader believe they are getting as much content as a typical biography text.

As would be expected, Meacham starts with the birth and early years of Jefferson’s life, being born on his father’s land at Shadwell, VA which lies in the shadow of Monticello. He attended college in Williamsburg, and there demonstrated some of his brilliance that led him to rise to echelons of power. His teachers and acquaintances at William and Mary college eventually put him into revolutionary circles. Meacham does not point out any illustrative traits that would suggest Jefferson’s greatness, and instead avoids laudatory praise at this stage in his life. Jefferson was eventually assigned the duty of writing the Declaration of Independence, though with the help and corrections of other founding fathers. During the Revolutionary War, there are large lacunae in Jefferson’s life, save for an episode in 1781, where Benedict Arnold and a troop of Redcoats moved on Monticello, with Jefferson running for his life, branding him a coward by many. Jefferson, having a love for all things French, became involved as an ambassador to France, and was assigned to be the secretary of state by Washington. Meacham omits much of the struggles between him and Hamilton while serving on Washington’s cabinet. Jefferson’s time in France and his interactions with John Adams in England are chronicled.

Jefferson was described repeatedly as a man that loved agriculture and loved the land. He designed and built, and then rebuilt the mansion at Monticello, and had his best moments while at Monticello, or at his vacation home at Poplar Forest. Jefferson was non-confrontational. He was not a Trump. Jefferson enjoyed the art of hospitality while at Monticello. Meacham speaks about Jefferson’s family. Jefferson lost his wife fairly early on and never was remarried. Jefferson’s sexual escapades included Sally Hemings, one of his “slaves” (though more white than black) who he took to France with him. He had a number of children from his real wife, though only two survived early childhood. With Sally, Jefferson also had children who were freed at Jefferson’s death and then went on to productive lives in the north as whites.

The presidency of Jefferson was notable for three events. First was the Louisiana purchase. Almost simultaneously was the commissioning of Lewis and Clark for their expedition. Thirdly was the trade embargo with England in hopes of avoiding a war with England. Sadly, many details were missing from each of these episodes. This is true of many other events in Jefferson’s life, making it very frustrating to read this book. Meacham did not master the art of story-telling.

Up until now, Jefferson’s life had not been portrayed by Meacham in glowing terms. Meacham was open about the many inconsistencies of Jefferson and tended to disparage him all along. Most notable was Jefferson’s inability to remain consistent with his ideology. Jefferson soundly condemned Hamilton’s banking system, yet realized he could not live without it and left it essentially unchanged. Jefferson condemned strong federal functions, yet purchased the Louisiana territory from France almost independent of the congress. Jefferson deployed the navy against the Barbary pirates, again in contrast to his arguments against Hamilton in forming a strong military. Jefferson remained a Francophile, blinding himself to the French revolution and its associated atrocities. Jefferson remained forever duplicitous regarding slavery, both wishing it gone, but finding that he couldn’t live without it. Jefferson was a brilliant, convivial man of great contradictions.

The last few years after his presidency was spent back at Monticello. Jefferson engaged in starting the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in valley below Monticello. This was intended to deter Virginians from needing to go up north to Harvard and Princeton for their education.

There are several reasons why I have problems with this book.

  1. Many of the events in Jefferson’s life are mentioned by starting the event story, but never completing it. This made the reading of this book to be very frustrating. A side story was started, and one expects that the story will perhaps be completed later in the book, yet it doesn’t happen. There are huge silent periods. What was Jefferson doing for most of the Revolutionary War? How was he aiding the war effort, and did he have any input into how congress or the war conducted itself? Meacham starts the story of the commissioning of the Lewis and Clark expedition, yet one is left with Lewis and Clark somewhere in the Rockies, presumably hunkered down for the winter after sending gifts back to Washington. Did they ever make it to the Pacific and back to the east coast? How did it affect Jefferson and further development of the country? The Louisiana purchase is briefly mentioned, but then one if left dangling. And then what happened? How did it go through congress? How was it received? How was it paid for? How did Jefferson justify the purchase as it seemed to go against his small-government Republican principles? At the end of Jefferson’s life, he started to build a university in Charlottesville and would watch its construction from Monticello. What became of that? How far did the university go in Jefferson’s lifetime? What was distinctive about it? How did it become the University of Virginia? How was it financed, since Jefferson was stone broke at the end of his life? I could mention many more examples of Meacham leaving the reader dangling.
  2. Details of importance related to many of the events of Jefferson’s life are glossed over. One misses the struggles of the Federalists vs. the Republicans, thus failing to show how Jefferson altered politics at the beginning of his term. One misses how Jefferson’s British policies were responsible for the eventual War of 1812. One loses the fanatical Fracophile leanings that Jefferson possessed that blinded him to tragedies such as the reign of terror in the French Revolution. One is not filled in how Jefferson’s enlightenment world view affected his religion and his decisions as President. The embargo enacted by Jefferson toward the end of his second term had colossal effects on America’s relationship to England and France, yet this is barely discussed.
  3. There is offered no serious analysis as to how Jefferson’s decisions and life affected the world to come. I don’t expect Meacham to offer his personal opinions, but I would love to know how the various controversies of Jefferson’s life, and how they were analyzed from and 18th and early 19th century perspective. Jefferson truly hated Hamilton for his system of banking, yet almost nothing was mentioned about it, even though it was a very big deal to Jefferson. Regarding Jefferson with his stance with the Indian populations; what were they? There was no serious analysis of Jefferson’s thinking regarding slavery, and how he justified his stance. Books of this sort should lead the reader in deep thought about the nature of our government and issues that existed in Jefferson’s time that persists today. Meacham does not compel the reader to think seriously about anything, and perhaps he is simply catering to the mentality of the readers of the New York Times?

One is left with an enormous question as they come to the close of reading this book. What was so great about Thomas Jefferson? Yet, the last two chapters of this book were an apotheosis of the man. The events surrounding his death, his worship by his friends, and his legacy were not well explained by this text. Is the book worth reading? Perhaps, in that, you do receive a brief history of the man, Thomas Jefferson. My advice would be to seek out other texts on Jefferson if you are indeed seriously interested. You will be disappointed with this text. What you will be missing is the development of the greatness of the man. Perhaps there is a better biography of Jefferson out there; this book is not the definitive text of Thomas Jefferson’s life.

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Oct 01

Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow ★★★★★

This is the third book that I’ve read by Ron Chernow, Washington and Grant being the other two. Chernow is a superb biographer and is capable of giving one the history and times of a given person, but also a strong flavor as to his character. Of his books so far, Grant has been by far the best and most enjoyable read. Hamilton has been a wonderful story but is a much darker tale than either of the other Chernow books, as well as biographies in general. Hamilton was a tragic hero, and Chernow paints a picture of Hamilton’s life that describes his greatness, but also his flaws which ultimately led to his untimely death. It has been said that Washington gave us a country, Madison gave us a constitution, but Hamilton gave us a government. There is great truth to that statement.

Hamilton started his life in the West Indies, being born of parents that did not play a lasting role in his life. His father disappeared from the scene when Hamilton was quite young, and in fact, it still remains uncertain exactly who his father was. Of his mother, there was more certainty, though she did not remain an integral person in her son’s life. Hamilton proved to be precocious as a child, with French as his native tongue, though he quickly mastered English. He was of sufficient brilliance that when he was ready for advanced schooling in America, he had an offer of support from a wealthy patroness. Hamilton ended up in New York City, which was to remain his primary residence for most of the rest of his life. Initially applying to Princeton, his traditional British temperament ended him studying at what is now known as Columbia University. Though an immigrant and a foreigner, he became fiercely patriotic and in support of the Revolutionary War. Hamilton excelled in writing and became the indispensable aide-de-camp to George Washington. Much of Washington’s war correspondence was handled by Hamilton. Frustrated by Washington not allowing him to lead battles, Hamilton resigned his post, returned to New York, and completed studies in law, and began his career as a lawyer. Toward the end of the war, Washington finally consented to give Hamilton leadership of a unit which played a major role in the final victory at Yorktown. Hamilton returned to NYC and developed a very thriving law practice, but could not keep his fingers out of politics. Hamilton’s political leanings were toward a very strong central government, for which his opponents accused him of seeking for a monarchy. A constitution finally written, Hamilton, with Madison and John Jay produced a large series of articles called the Federalist Papers in which Hamilton goes to great lengths to explain the meaning and rationale for each section of the constitution. The Federalist Papers are still referred to today and we have Hamilton to thank, who wrote the overwhelming percentage of the articles.

Washington was voted in as the first president and John Adams as the vice president. Washington formed a cabinet, of which Hamilton was selected to be the treasury secretary and Jefferson as the secretary of state. The animosity between Hamilton and Jefferson accelerated during this time, with Hamilton coming under fire for establishing the US financial system to the basic form that we have today, a strong central economic system. Jefferson preferred a simple to non-existent economic system. Hamilton fought hard to establish a standing army and navy and developed the coast guard to protect against tariff-avoiding smuggling. Once Adams became president, the cabinet, consisting of Hamilton-leaning federalists, essentially had Hamilton controlling the country. Hamilton stepped down as treasury secretary and became Inspector General, making him now in control of the military. Adams, as the last Federalist party president, poorly managed the presidency, and when Jefferson became president as a Republican (not the same as our current Republican party), the nation had essentially flipped sides and voted Republican with the ultimate death of the Federalist party, Hamilton being its last great defender.

With Jefferson now in control, Hamilton returned to NYC as developed his law practice. He had a home built called the Grange on a large plot of farmland, that still exists in Upper Manhattan. Earlier in life, Hamilton and Aaron Burr started as good friends, both Federalists, but time and chicanery by Burr, with Burr switching to the Republican Party to foster a political advantage, caused a progressive falling out. Never-the-less, Hamilton remained amicable with Burr who served as vice-president under Jefferson for four years. Burr and Jefferson became bitter enemies, and on Jefferson’s second term, Burr opted to run for governor of New York state. Hamilton was against and made statements at a party which eventually got back to Burr, who felt deeply offended. Burr failed to win the governorship and blamed Hamilton. Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel, and in order to protect his honor, Hamilton accepted. Hamilton had no intention of killing Burr and fired his shot intentionally off into the trees. Burr, being of dispossessed mind, fired a fatal shot at Hamilton. Ultimately, this was political suicide for Burr, who lived as a pariah and scoundrel his remaining life.

Chernow is not remiss to discuss Hamilton’s many downfalls. His personality is possibly best described as similar to Donald Trump’s, aggressive, very goal-oriented, brilliant, impeccably honest (though endlessly accused of fraud), and not worried about political correctness. He was a non-politician politician. Hamilton had an affair for several years with a married woman, which ultimately was exposed to the public. Hamilton repented dearly of this affair, living out the remainder of his life committed and endeared to Eliza, his wife.

What I found most interesting in this book are the events that Chernow described in early America. Chernow (I assume) was faithful in describing the Revolution and the birth of our country as a very tumultuous event. There was serious disagreement about going to war for independence, about replacing the articles of confederation for the constitution, about the interpretation of the newly written constitution, about developing the character of our country (was it to become an industrial giant or preserve its agrarian roots?), about the nature and character of the military and the court system, about the nature of foreign policy (the choices were to be either pro-British or pro-French) and essentially about everything that we still dispute to this day. Hamilton was militant antislavery but surrounded by slave owners, including Washington, Madison, Monroe, and even Aaron Burr. Hamilton was an outspoken Christian man though he rarely attended church; Eliza his wife was a very devout church-goer. I’ve left out many details of this complex and fascinating man. It is sad that we are taught so little about him in school, as his influence on the development and character of our nation to the character can be attributed immensely to Hamilton’s writings and actions during his truncated lifetime. It is most surprising that in spite of the very different ideologies of our founding fathers and the contempt that they held for each other, that they managed to assemble a constitution that has lasted up until today. Graft and corruption were rampant in early America, though some of the people most accused of corruption (like Hamilton) were the most innocent. The press was very inflammatory and deceptive in those days. Fake news is NOT a recent event—it is amazing how little has changed since the inception of our country.

It took me longer than usual to read this biography. It has a dark character to it from the beginning to the end. Chernow is a master at developing Hamilton’s personality and character, of seeing through the smoke of history and discovering what Hamilton and events in America’s birth years were all about. We owe Hamilton a great deal for setting America on a course that it has taken. This is a book that I highly recommend. It will take the reader down from the fairy tale version of the founding of our country that we were taught in school, and give the reader a grasp of our deeply flawed but also noble founding fathers.

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Jul 06

A. Lincoln, by Ronald C. White, Jr. ★★★★

This is a delightful 676 page biography of Abraham Lincoln, well studied and well written, describing Lincoln’s life from birth to death. The book reads quite easily, and inspires one to appreciate the greatness of the man who was to be our 16th president. I appreciated that the book was also heavily illustrated, and that the illustrations were not to be found in the center-of-the-book glossy pages, but abundantly mixed with the text.

I shall not detail and reiterate Lincoln’s life, being born in Kentucky, moving then with his family to Indiana, and then to central Illinois. White details how Lincoln was mostly self-educated, including studying law and passing the bar exam on his own. Lincoln dabbled in politics, winning a 2 year term in the House, mixing that with maintaining a highly successful law practice. Several failed attempts to achieve elected office ultimately led to his improbable but highly fortuitous win of the presidency.

Lincoln was considered an amateur in politics. He came under severe criticism for being inept and misguided. This continued on through the entirety of his presidency. Lincoln achieved an immortal status mostly after his death. Unfortunately for Abe, he entered the presidency during the onset of the rebellion with the South. Lincoln held preservation of the union as most important. Sadly, he was bedeviled by truly incompetent generals, the first (McLelland) was pompous and completely inadequate as a general, though he had the audacity to run against Lincoln for Lincoln’s second term in office.

It is odd that so much of the discussion regarding the civil war, that it was not over slavery, that it was a question of state’s rights, that the question of how to deal with the negro, the question of dealing with internal rebellion, suspension of habeas corpus, etc., remains questions that persist to today. Sadly, so many contemporary Confederate sympathizers of today present these issues as issues that were only critically analyzed and resolved by the South. I can appreciate the worn-out, hackneyed sympathies of the South but consider these assertions as mostly contentious rather than thoughtfully critical. Likewise, contemporary assertions that the South tended to be the most “Godly” against a heathen North, fail to recognize the deep religious convictions of Northern Generals and northern folk. Lincoln himself, though he grew up a Baptist and had no church affiliation for much of his life, attended a Presbyterian Church in Washington DC with Phineas Gurley as the pastor, a reverend who studied under none other than Charles Hodge. Many of Lincoln’s speeches bore witness to the heavy influence of Reformed thinking.

White excelled at providing analyses of Lincoln’s speeches, pointing out the literary techniques that made Lincoln uncannily exceptional as an orator. Indeed, White has written an entire book on the 2nd inaugural address, truly one of the greatest speeches of all mankind. Lesser minded folk will heap criticism on many of Lincoln’s greatest speeches, such as his Gettysburg Address; these very criticisms only attest to the absence of value if casting one’s pearls before swine.

Lincoln, toward the end of the war, was much concerned about the restoration of the south in acts of reconstruction. Sadly, he was assassinated before that could ever happen. We don’t know how things might have evolved differently had he been able to serve out a full second term as president, and speculation is unwise. What is tell-tale is how so much of the north, just like the south, really had no vested interest in the negro. True, many in the north detested slavery, and that, out of religious convictions. Both the north and the south refused to look on the negro as equal in value to any other human being. Whether they were most fit to be either slaves or second class citizens, there was little interest in helping the negro achieve a foot in society, only to have Woodrow Wilson’s segregationist policies extremely exacerbate the problem. Lincoln was correct in his 2nd inaugural address that blame is affixed to the entire nation, and not just the south, for the negro problem. Sadly, the problem hasn’t gone away.

I highly recommend this book. It is well written, though a touch tedious to read at times, and sometimes missing in details that I would have appreciated reading about. White paints Abe Lincoln as one of a few truly great Americans and Ole Abe deserves that distinction, regardless of those who would challenge otherwise.

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Jun 16

Mount Rainier: A Visitor’s Companion, by George Wuerthner ★★★★

Within the next few years, I plan on doing volunteer work within Mount Rainier National Park (MRNP), and hopefully, being a trail walker. This means that I walk the trails in popular spots in the park, and tell people to stay on the trails and leave their pets in the car, as well as answering their questions, and offering help and guidance. I have hiked essential every trail in the park, as well as climbed the mountain twice via the Disappointment Cleaver. In a way, I feel that it is my backyard park, and it is! Thus, I wished to read a summary of information that might be helpful to those who would be curious about the park.

The book does offer a very superficial summary. It starts a very brief history of the park, the weather, the climbing history, as well as how the park was made a national park and then developed. Next discussed is park geology; it’s a volcano! Surprise, surprise! The geography of the park has changed a bit over the years, since glaciers, mudflows, and extreme weather has had an influence on the mountains. Wuerthner then has several lengthy chapters discussing the flora and fauna in the park. The chapter on plants in the park offers a page summary of the common trees, flowers, and shrubbery; the summary is not thorough enough to offer an identification guide. Fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals all have their own chapters, with descriptions accompanied by editorial comments. The last chapters are on hiking in the park, and nearby attractions to the park.

The book is most superficial in its detail so that any detailed information on any of the topics in this book must be found elsewhere. There are major books on the geology of the Northwest. Abundant histories of the park exist and can be obtained at Amazon. Climbing history of the park is best detailed in Dee Molenaar’s The Challenge of Rainier; this book is truly an excellent classic text on the history of climbing the mountain. Tree, flower, and animal guides would better serve the visitor than this book, though the summary of the main park plants is very well done. Hiking in the park is best guided by one of many hiking books specific to MRNP, such as the classic Harvey Manning and Ira Spring’s 50 Hikes in MRNP.

If one wishes for a brief summary of MRNP, this is a good place to start. If there is a particular area of interest, my advice is to look elsewhere, including a few of the texts I had mentioned above.

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Jun 09

Grant, by Ron Chernow ★★★★★

Having just finished a biography of WT Sherman (see recent previous review), I had waiting on the bookshelf the biography of Ulysses S. Grant by Ron Chernow. As mentioned in my book review on Sherman, Sherman stands as one of the greatest of all the American generals to have lived and possessed an unsurpassed brilliance at tactical strategy on the battlefront. Working in close cooperation with US Grant, Sherman was able to achieve battlefield victories with remarkable skill. Grant and Sherman remained very close friends throughout the war and shared very similar strategies toward warfare. They also shared very similar opinions on the nature of war itself, both being very reluctant to have anything to do with war. This story now focuses on US Grant. Chernow weaves a spell-binding account of Grant’s life from birth through to his death.

Ulysses was the first of several siblings, born in the backwoods of Ohio, near to Cincinnati. He was a quiet kid like his mother, and did not like the aggressive boistrous egotistical personality of his father. Because his father was mostly self-educated later in life, he insisted that his son get a good education. His father Jesse, using the influence of political friends, was able to land Ulysses a spot at West Point, a bit to Grant’s chagrin. Grant had a very mediocre performance at West Point, excelling mostly at horsemanship, but not doing so well at most other subjects. He had gotten to know a number of other officers at that time, many of whom became lifelong friends, even though some of them ended up as confederate officers that he eventually needed to confront in battle. After West Point, Grant was stationed just south of St. Louis, where he met his wife-to-be. Grant was soon to be deployed in the war against Mexico where he served with distinction and began honing his skills as an army officer. After the war, he was deployed to Fort Vancouver (WA), and eventually to Fort Humboldt on the northern coast of California by Eureka. Out west, Grant tried a number of business ventures, all of which he did very poorly. In addition, the weather and minimal activity led him to drink heavily, Grant being a person who could not hold his alcohol, which made him behave quite drunkenly. This led him back to St. Louis and discharge from the military, where he and his wife tried out several businesses, again resulting in dismal failure. Finally, Grant moved to Galena, Illinois to work in a family leather store, where he was able to pay off past debts, but was bored silly. At this time, the civil war broke out, and through family connections, Grant was able to move up quickly in the western campaign, starting as a brigadier general. The biggest struggles were against incompetent superiors and a malignant press who continually harped on Grant’s incompetence and addiction to alcohol. Grant was able to win a major battle at Fort Donelson, leading him to be promoted to major general, and then turned a near-disastrous encounter with the enemy at Shiloh into a rout. In further battles heading south, Grant finally achieved fame through his victory at Vicksburg, a challenging campaign that pitted the offense at an extreme disadvantage against the enemy. Turning east, Grant then achieved a challenging but decisive victory at Chattanooga, leaving him as the most talked-about General of the Northern army. Lincoln decided to pull him off of the Western campaign and assigned him as commander-in-chief of all forces, but stationed in the east, which was plagued by incompetent, indecisive, timid generals. Grant assigned his friend General Sherman to be the General in charge of the western army, a story told elsewhere. In 13 months, Grant was finally able to encounter his foe, General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox where surrender occurred. Because of Grant’s very lenient, fair handed deal with Lee, Grant later in life remained deeply respected in the south.

This brings a few comments to mind. Grant was a very taciturn, quiet, humble man. At no point in his life did he promote himself. He was not ostentatious, and when he would drift into towns, he usually was confused as an aide to someone in his vicinity. His problem with alcohol was endured by having his chief aide Gen. John Rawlins tenaciously guard him against the bottle. It was mostly effective, save for brief lapses when battles seemed to be dragging out. Grant was quite a religious man, regularly attending the church of his youth, the Methodist church. Much is often made of Grant doing well at war only because he had unlimited resources at his disposal. That is most untrue. Firstly, the witness of the numerous failed generals that preceded Grant attest to Grant’s superior ability to lead an army into battle. Secondly, the confederates had a massive home-field advantage, which most military strategists admit requires 2-5 times the attacking force to overcome. A look at Grant’s and Sherman’s field strategies attest they truly were the greater generals. One distinction of note for the confederate generals was their superior air, best seen at Appomattox. General Lee arrived with a freshly laundered uniform and freshened appearance, while Grant slogged in coated with mud and grime. Grant attempted friendly small talk but was rebuffed by Lee desiring a terse exchange and communication of the terms of surrender. This difference was seen not only with the folk of the north vs. south but also noted when Grant visited Europe, where he would generally show up for a state engagement on foot, while the royal host expected Grant to show up in a coach surrounded by servants and great flair.

Abe Lincoln was assassinated 6 days after the end of the war, and replaced by Andrew Johnson. Johnson was a southern democrat from Tennessee, and most reluctant to engage in the reconstruction of the south. During his tenure, the 13, 14, and 15th amendments to the constitution were enacted by congress, giving the freed negroes the right to vote on an equal basis with whites. Grant grew increasingly disenchanted by Johnson, who went through an impeachment trial that nearly removed him from office. At the end of Johnson’s term, Grant was easily ushered into the office of the presidency without applying for the office or campaigning. Grant did not have a problem with alcohol in the presidency or afterwards though he was occasionally accused of drunken flings. A summary of the main issues that Grant as president had to contend with were as follows.

Corruption was a continual issue with President Grant. It wasn’t that Grant was corrupt, in that he was known throughout his life to be impeccably honest and forthright with people, even when it served to his disadvantage. Grant had a horrible time choosing people that did not mislead or bamboozle the president. His numerous failed business ventures attested to Grant’s total inability to sort out and manage people in peacetime. Though the presidency of Grant is often referred to even to this day as a corrupt presidency, close analysis shows that there was not a presidency starting with Washington that was free from corruption. It was just more apparent during the Grant years.

Foreign policy: Grant realized that the USA was emerging on the international scene as a power to be reckoned with. Among his triumphs was the ability to negotiate a fair treaty with England regarding the Alabama, a Confederate warship that England harbored and costly to American shipping during the Civil war. This event nearly led to war with England. Grant fought hard to annex the Dominican Republic, which proved to be a failed venture that Congress would have nothing to do with.

Reconstruction and Indian problems: Grant’s most vexing problems related to restoring the south to a situation where blacks were not considered second class citizens and treated equally under the law. This also applied to the western Indian populations, who were not ready to give up their nomadic lifestyle and settle down. Regarding the south, blacks seemed to be tipping the vote in favor of Republicans and the southern response was to threaten blacks that went to the polls to vote. Blacks were harassed by the Ku Klux Klan, and later by white Rifle Clubs, and essentially rendered to a subservient status. The Ku Klux Klan was subdued, but other southern vigilante elements worked without end to undo Reconstructive efforts of the south. The North became increasingly dominated by Democratic elements and Liberal Republicans, who wished to undo all aspects of Reconstruction, a move that Grant felt would undo the Civil War and return blacks to a new form of slavery. This state of quasi-slavery was not essentially dealt with until the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and beyond.

The Lost Cause movement in the south started immediately after the end of the Civil war. Its’ basic thesis is that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, but about state rights. I would have thought that this discussion would have silenced over time, but it hasn’t, and still has its’ adherents vociferous that the Civil was about state rights, economics, and a host of other things. Regarding state rights, what was the chief “right” that the South contended that they lost after the Civil War? It was the right to own slaves. Did the South really care for those slaves? A lot is made out of how slaves were treated as family and loved by their owners. The slave owner’s love lasted only as long as they could still maintain possession of black-skinned people as chattel. When the ability to own another person was lost, the love of slave and owner was immediately lost. Sadly, the North was not as loving toward ex-slaves as they pretended to be before and during the war, and a deep-set prejudice towards blacks had set in that remains a problem to this day. Those who boast moral superiority of the south, who fly confederate flags or boast of a lost virtue, the virtue of their generals and southern gentry, are living in a fictitious world that doesn’t offer true remedies to solve racial issues. Sadly, when one looks at established Democrat and Republican politicians then and even today, I see an air about them that views me as a less knowledgeable, hoi polloi, a serf of their system. Grant and Sherman were among the few men that had insight into the race problems that would be so problematic in years to come.

Grant was at his wits’ end toward the end of his presidency, and though his wife Julia wished for a third term, Grant had more than enough. Retirement for Grant entailed a two year tour of the world, starting in Europe, then going to India, China, Japan, and then back to the west coast of America. His visits to foreign capitals proved Grant to be a master statesman, though soft-spoken and always humble in his approach, as he had been throughout his life.

Finally returning to the east coast, the Grants ultimately decided to settle down in Manhattan, and was able to afford this through the generosity and appreciation of many of his wealthy friends, like the Vanderbilts. Grant entered into a banking deal with a friend that ended up being a total unmitigated failure, costing Grant and his children nearly every penny of their wealth. Left destitute, Grant then discovered that he had an oral cavity cancer that was incurable. In the face of excruciating pain, Grant sought to earn some revenue to provide for his wife, and was coaxed by Mark Twain and others to write his memoirs. Soon after completing this masterpiece, Grant quickly deteriorated in health, passing away at a resort provided by loving admirers in upstate New York. He was buried in Manhattan, only to have President McKinley authorize and fund a giant memorial at the site where he and his wife Julia are now buried.

Grant truly was an honorable man. He was admired by both the North and the South, beloved by negroes, and the chief friend of western Indian populations. In life, he had many enemies and many folks that took advantage of Grant and cheated him out of great wealth. Yet, Grant always maintained a composed posture, and even in the heat of battle or at his most stressful moments, did not flinch or cower. He is a statement of what is great about America, a person that could arise from an obscure family, gain prominence solely on merit alone, could be great at some things, and yet a disaster in so many other things. He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth like his opponent Generals in the civil war, or his political opponents. He maintained a solid integrity throughout his life. He acknowledged his problem with alcohol, eventually overcoming alcoholism. Indeed, it is people like Ulysses S. Grant that certainly made the USA a great nation. Sadly, there are few people like him today.

Finally, some comments are in order about the book and its author. This book is a wonderful read. Though it is lengthy, at 959 pages, much of it is written in a suspenseful fashion that compels the reader to not put the book down. It is very detailed. It offers a character sketch of US Grant that is intimate in its details. It truly is a masterpiece worth reading.

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May 17

The Origins of the Second World War, by A.J.P. Taylor ★★★★★

It is often said that history is written by the winners, and certainly such is the case with World Wars 1 and 2. At least for the second world war, there was a sense of public shame in Germany regarding Hitler and the events of his era, and memory of the Hitler era was understandably suppressed. Should Germans write a war history at this time, it would be meaningless and probably concur with everything written in the past by the “victors”. Yet, one cannot expect the English speaking world to write a fair and balanced history of the war. From the inception of the Great War (World War 1), the British masterminded propaganda regarding the Germans. Germans were painted as blood-thirsty savages that raped women and slaughtered babies, and who had absolutely no regard for human life, being brute beasts that lacked any form of dignity or humanity. The hypocrisy of the English was profound in painting the Germans as such, since their own lineage of Queens and Kings were of German origin, even resulting in them quietly changing their name from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to that of Windsor. Their royalty was more proficient at speaking German than English. Oh well! This fact must be securely hidden and forgotten. Perfidious propaganda and defaming characterizations persisted well after both wars against the Germans. I was reading about the meeting of some British and German climbers high in the Himalayas in the 1970s, and a German noted to a Brit that the Brits were recently beaten by the Germans in their national sport of soccer, to which the Brit replied that they just beat the Germans twice in their national sport of war. This ignores the fact that the Brits had been in constant war for at least the past two centuries in their attempt to rule the world. Oh well again! This current book was written in the early 1960’s by a Brit that has gone against the standard line which started back then and persists. This book is not revisionist history since it was written soon after the end of WW2 and based entirely on documents made public and publicly available evidence.

AJP Taylor provides a slightly different type of history of the events leading up to WW2, in that it is history almost entirely spent in recounting the work of ambassadors and statesmen from England, France, Germany, the Soviet Union, and other involved European countries. In this book, you are told what was said, and just as importantly what was not said in trying to negotiate a lasting peace. What is clear (but often vehemently denied) was that the second world war reallystarted in 1918/19 at the signing of the treaty of Versailles and was just a continuation of what we call the first world war. The British and French both eventually developed a sense that the treaty of Versailles was pathologically flawed, yet flailed at resolving how to undo this treaty as well as other treaties that were made in the interim before the world war resumed in 1939.

Taylor notes that we have abundant documents from Germany since they were left in the rubble after the war and used in the Nürnberg trials. He also notes that we don’t have that luxury of obtaining essential documents from the Soviet Union since they have kept to this day most of their records as secret. The British and French have been selective in what records they have allowed to be seen. Thus, there will remain an intrinsic bias to any account as to the cause of world war 2. Regardless, the unearthed German documents tell a much different story than the current party line as to why there was a continuation of the war into what we call world war 2.

It would be weary for me to recount on a chapter by chapter basis the reiteration of what was said so eloquently by AJP Taylor. But a summary of the main thesis is simple. It is clear that Versailles demanded another war. It is clear that there was massive ineptness on the part of ambassadors and their states in trying to resolve the slow unraveling of the Versailles treaty, which by this time was looked on dimly by all parties. Hindsight is a wretched curse on all of us, yet we can now see that the war could have been prevented or made far more limited would the British and French had not wished to maintain their illusion of their being the prevailing super-power in Europe and honestly sought for reconciliation of the bad decisions at Versailles. The Germans were accused of frequently lying to the Brits and French, though Taylor has been able to show that both sides maintained an equal wealth of lies in their statesmanship. Most importantly, it can be shown quite clearly that the Germans (and especially Hitler) did not have a plan to conquer Europe or the world, and for that matter, had no interest in going to war with either Great Britain or France. Most certainly, the records from Germany demonstrate quite adequately that much of what happened in the events of 1936-1939 was unplanned and happened off the cuff; they were not the demonstration of a well thought out over-arching plan to stepwise conquer Europe. That the teaching still exists that Hitler was some evil mastermind going by a well-crafted script is testimony of how people wish to retain their own narratives regardless of the factual content of those narratives.

I’ve been told that the above recounting of the origin of WW2 is only one man’s opinion, and the debate continues and will never be resolved. It seems strange that those who say that simply wish to deny the evidence out there, their thinking being cemented in place by the fictional narratives that have created both world wars. Other authors have supported the thesis of Taylor by writing of the grave errors in the statesmanship of the Germans, British and French, specifically referring to Patrick Buchanan (Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War) which I had previously reviewed. Unfortunately, because we refuse to see the past clearly, we most certainly will persist in our errors in the future. More world wars can be expected, and blame will be fixated on the vanquished, regardless of the actual facts.

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May 03

J.I. Packer: A Biography, by Alister McGrath ★★★★★

I was recently given a biography of JI Packer written by Leland Ryken, and written within the last few years. It was an excellent account of the man Packer, but Ryken frequently referred to an earlier biography of Packer written by Alister McGrath, and that is the book that I’ll be reviewing now. McGrath wrote his biography in 1996, at the time of Packer’s retirement from Regent College (and the time that I took Systematic Theology from Packer), thus leaving out the last 24 years of Packer’s life. Within the last 24 years, Packer did not remain inactive, but was quite busy in a number of activities including writing, leading a protest against the Canadian Anglican Church for their stance on gender confusion and LGBTQ+ issues. Also, he was the lead for the new translation of the Bible presented as the English Standard Version of the Bible. McGrath will definitely need to write an addendum or second edition to this book!

McGrath takes a completely different approach to JI Packer than that of Ryken. In McGrath’s text, the chapters are entirely chronological. McGrath’s biography is much shorter, but provides better detail into the thought processes of Packer, as well as detailing the events that transpired with the major controversies and battles that Packer needed to contend with. I was left with a much better feel for the legacy of what Packer left us through his various battles. Specifically, McGrath did a wonderful job of outlining Packer’s fight for the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture. McGrath also gave a much better feel for Packer’s desire to stay in the Anglican Church (much to the chagrin of Martyn Lloyd-Jones) and desire to maintain a rapport with “co-belligerents” in the Catholic Church, leading to a falling out with RC Sproul and many others. I have a far greater sympathy for what Packer stood for by reading McGrath’s book. McGrath can correctly state that the current status of the evangelical world today has been influenced greatly by Packer, and perhaps it was Packer that most heavily influenced how Evangelicals now behave and think. Certainly, Packer led the charge for doing theology well, noting that many heresies are the natural result of zealous Christians who are not interested in theology.

In my life, I owe much of my Christian thinking to two people, Francis Schaeffer and J.I. Packer (St. Francis and St. James!). As far as I can tell, the two men lived somewhat contemporary to each other (Schaeffer dying in 1984 and Packer being still alive but now completely incapacitated by blindness and hard hearing) but probably never met each other. Both men are giants in resetting “fundamentalism” and “evangelicalism” from being a description of brain-dead, only-believe morons, to re-energizing a scholarly, thoughtful Christian faith community, capable of contending with the secular world at large. Both men rose above their own circumstances to influence the world around them. Just as almost nobody realizes that Francis Schaeffer was a devout, committed Presbyterian, few people think of JI Packer as a devout, committed Anglican. Both men had an extraordinary ability to interact with the broad Christian (and secular) world out there. Both were humble men, and extraordinary in their ability to treat those who were even their “enemies” with kindness, graciousness, and love.

I do not view either McGrath’s or Ryken’s text as a better biography. They are both complementary descriptions of the life and thinking of James Innes Packer, both honor him as truly one of the great Christian thinkers of the end of the 20th century, but both books provide a different flavor to Packer — the man. Thus, I highly recommend reading both biographies to better understand St. James.

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