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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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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Apr 21

During my brief layover before getting back on my bicycle to resume the TransAmerica Route with Russ, I have had the opportunity to read books on cities that have influenced by life the last 50+ years. I plan on a 5-6 day bicycle trip the long way down to Portland, taking the train home, but have been interested in the history of both Seattle and Portland. Though I have lived in the Seattle area longer than Portland area, I still consider Portland my home. But, Seattle has a stronger “sex” appeal as a city. Though not exactly true, it has tried to paint itself as the most cosmopolitan and dynamic city. Contrariwise, Portland is the more artsy, colorful, environmentally friendly, and more comfortable place to live. True, it doesn’t have the Space Needle, but then, it doesn’t need a Space Needle. That’s my bias. It has nothing to do with the judgment of these two books. Both books paint a history of its city from its settlement by white man to the present day.

Skid Road: An Informal Portrait of Seattle, by Murray Morgan ★★
Murray Morgan grew up in Seattle, but lived for the most part outside of Seattle, and is most remembered in Tacoma, by having a bridge in Tacoma named after him. He also wrote a history of Tacoma, and is buried in Tacoma. Yet, Seattle consumes his interest in this book. Starting with settlement by Doc Maynard, a somewhat sleazy if not incompetent merchant, Seattle fought hard to achieve supremacy over rival cities of Tacoma and Portland for the ascendency as the “great” city in the Northwest. Morgan paints a very patchy history of the city, mostly dwelling on various personalities that shaped the city. Unfortunately, these characters were all somewhat dubious personalities, either more in the show business, disreputable souls, or socialists/communists. Perhaps Morgan’s choice of characters only represent his own thinking and personality, or perhaps Seattle is best described by these persons; I’d like to think the former and not the latter. From John Considine and his efforts to establish brothels in the Skid Road area to Dave Beck and his corrupt leadership of unions, one is left with a bad taste of the city. Morgan does a very poor job of describing Seattle, its development and expansion, its physical development (such as the building of the locks, or the dismantlement of several of its downtown hills), its more reputable founding fathers, and the factors that molded Seattle into the city that it is. Morgan writes well, and it was easy to get through the book, but one was left wondering about the actual history of Seattle outside of what Morgan describes. Perhaps Seattle truly is the sleaze town that Morgan describes, but I’d rather think otherwise. I long wistfully for a solid history of the city of Seattle. It is sad that Morgan suggests that this book has been sold to school children as a credible history of the city.

Portland in Three Centuries, by Carl Abbott ★★★
Portland in Three Centuries is a different sort of book than Skid Road, written in perhaps a bit drier style, and yet significantly more informative. The book could have used maps for those uninformed as to the geography of Portland, yet each region was familiar to me, with many familiar names of historical figures that form community place names, though I was unfamiliar with the historical grounds for those names. Abbott has written other histories of Portland, Oregon and the surrounding areas. In this account, he was able to carry through history into the twenty-first century. He occasionally compares the personality of Portland with that of Seattle, as they are two radically different towns, even though they are both Northwest cities. Particularly, Portland has been far more environmentally sensitive, and possessing a far more stable economic base. Both have had their issues with corrupt politics, with dealing with race issues, with issues regarding trade unions, with the sleaze element and red-light districts, with fires and natural disasters, but Abbott does not linger on the problems, but rather, presents a dynamic city, eager to confront problems before they become unsolvable. A simple example is transportation issues, where Portland has been able to build a quality public light-rail system while Seattle picks its nose. I was amused that even in the 19th century, Portland was known as a bicycle town, and today stands as one of the most bicycle friendly cities in the world.
Next week, I will be bicycling away from Puyallup, hitting the coast in Washington and riding down to Astoria, and then taking the Banks-Vernonia trail to Hillsboro, where I hop the MAX light rail to downtown Portland, and from there to Union Station (hopefully with a brief stop at cousin Dee’s world renown Ovation coffee shop) before coming back to Tacoma after the five day adventure. With my arrival in Portland, I will celebrate my love for that city, which I have known since moving there in 1964. In childhood, I dreamed of a bike trip from Portland to the coast, but now will be able to fulfill that dream, assuming I am not attacked by the weather, as my most recent other bicycle escapade.

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Jan 18

Too High and Too Steep: Reshaping Seattle’s Topography, by David Williams ★★★★
This is a wonderful historical accounting for how Seattle was massively reshaped, making it the city that it is. Large hills were completely removed, tide flats filled in, and the shoreline extended in the early reshaping of the city. Williams starts with prehistoric times, thenoffers an early history of the city including its founding by Arthur Denny. He notes Seattle’s original geography, and then details the decisions, and oftentimes absence of decisions, that led to the restructuring of the geography. It is now hardly imaginable that the shoreline was much further in, that many of the hills of the city existed that are now flattened or completely removed, that the drop in the Lake Washington shoreline by 3-6 ft with the placement of the ship canal completely changed the nature of the communities and industries that surrounded the lake, that the filling in of the Duwamish tide flats and many other flat lands adjacent to water now seem to be a natural part of a long pre-existing landscape. Williams takes a look back at all of this earthly rearrangement, and asks whether it was necessary or prudent, and whether the good was greater than the harm. These are questions that are not easily answered but always very worthwhile asking. Unfortunately, cities often get it wrong, Seattle with its audacious remodel of planet earth, as San Francisco’s grand decision to build the Hetch Hetchy reservoir. Hindsight is a curse. Williams details how Seattle is now engaged in multiple tunnel projects, as well as rebuilding its waterfront which seems to be deteriorating, the new waterfront taking into account massive hypothetical rises in sea level. Who knows whether a future author will equally past judgement on current Seattle decisions?
There is only one detail I really didn’t like about the book. Williams writes as though he was doing a television script, which would work best for how the text stands. Though he includes a moderate number of historical photos, he also assumes that the reader is very familiar with Seattle. In order for me to grasp what he was saying, I needed to sit in front of Google maps, and search for every location described in the book. This slowed the reading down considerably. Many geographical features, like some of the hills of Seattle, simply could not be found. Maps are sorely missing in this book, which makes it a much less fascinating text. Hopefully the second edition of this book adds the missing maps.
I wish to thank Sarah B for recommending this book. My love for history and the environment fit well with this text.

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Dec 12

Martin Luther, The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, by Eric Metaxas, 480 pages ★★★★★
A recent review reported on three other histories of Martin Luther, read in light of the 500th anniversary of the nailing of the theses to the Wittemburg castle church. This book arrived after Reformation Day, and so I was delayed in getting it read. I read it as an autographed hard cover text, and not on the Kindle. The book is well written, and the reading flows quite easily. The book has a different focus than Roland Bainton’s magisterial text on Luther, Here I Stand, one of the books reviewed a month or so ago. Metaxas was wonderful in providing a more detailed physical history of Luther than Bainton. You were told which towns he traveled through, which people he befriended, the content of the conversations and debates of the time, small details that color the story of Martin Luther. One was told more about the mindset and thinking of the man Luther in Bainton’s text. The two texts stand as complementary, supplementing each other on the life of Luther, and both are worth reading in order to grasp the man Luther.

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Sep 07

In preparation for the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I decided to read up on Martin Luther. I’ve read three books so far, the fourth is in the mail and will be reported later. One book, Here I Stand, I’ve read many moons ago, so it was like reading the book fresh.

A life-Martin Luther, by Martin Marty ★★★★
This is a short, easy to read biography of Martin Luther. Marty focused primarily upon Luther as a person, with no effort to show how ML changed and affected the world that he lived in. It is easy to read in 1-2 evenings, and leaves you a feel for knowing ML personally. He works through Luther’s life in a historical fashion, providing vignettes of his life that are often illuminating as to the nature of the person, often chummy, often quite irascible. The book definitely does not labor hard on Luther’s theology, but more on his personality, and leaves nothing to describe the Lutheran church that he formed. It is a fun book to read, though not an encyclopedia of his life.

The Legacy of Luther, edited by RC Sproul and Stephen Nichols ★★
This book is a hodgepodge. As an edited book, the style and quality is quite variable. Several chapters are informative. Many are misleading or mistaken in their information. The two editors provide very little input, with RC Sproul writing almost nothing save for a few brief meaningless summary pages of text. Written by a bunch of Presbyterians, they do Luther a serious disservice by trying to fit ML into a Presbyterian mold. Though Presbyterians pride themselves in vigorous and accurate scholarship, this book is anything but that, save for a few chapters. Many of the chapters try to paint ML as a near-Presbyterian with Presbyterian theology, something they are quite mistaken about. There is minimal discussion as exactly how Lutheran thinking affected the minds of Reformed thinkers, such as Calvin, Zwingli, Bucer, Cranmer and others. Such discussion might have made the book an informative read. There is so much left out that the entire book, that it is a travesty. They fail to grasp how the liturgical reforms of ML in Wittemberg during the years 1522-1528 so heavily influenced Reformed practice. They fail to describe exactly how the formulations of the doctrines of grace in Lutheran thought affected Reformed thought. They failed in their attempts to compare and contrast Lutheran from Reformed thinking. All of these issues were responsible for affecting the world after Luther and forming his legacy.
The book is in three parts, the first being the history of Luther, portrayed in a very abbreviated fashion. It does have some historical inaccuracies, and was a little too brief to be meaningful. The second part was an attempt to describe Luther’s thought and theology from a Reformed perspective. This section was weak, and often completely misreads Luther by trying to make his words that of a Reformed thinker. This section would be best skipped altogether. The last section was on Luther’s legacy, which contained some good chapters. Particular were Luther’s work at translating the Scripture, Luther as a musician, and Luther as a preacher. One chapter, “Luther in the middle: Luther among the Reformers” was just plain odd, in that Luther, in the space of just a few years, had to completely re-invent the liturgy, while refusing to totally trash the Roman Catholic liturgy. For the most part, though there was Huss and Savonarola and few others before Luther, their legacy was not strong. Contemporaries such as Zwingli did not survive long enough to leave a lasting imprint on the church. Only Luther remained as, not the man in the middle, but the man at the head, serving as the model and example for all of Christendom, including the Lutheran, Reformed, and Anabaptist faith, as model of the church, worship, and christian behavior. Indeed, Luther affected German culture in toto, down to the very language now spoken in Germany. To call him a “man in the middle” is not only insulting but inaccurate.
The few good chapters in this book do not justify its purchase or time to read. I generally pride Sproul as a great scholar, yet this book is a shame to his name. I certainly hope that he either quits writing, or that he return to his older standards of excellence in scholarship.

Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, by Roland Bainton ★★★★★
There is very little that I could possibly say critical of this text. It is no wonder that Bainton’s biography of Luther remains the top English text on this giant. Bainton’s writing style holds one fixed to the text, even when laboring over minute (but important) aspects of Luther’s life and teaching. Bainton provide a wonderful mix of the history of Luther, but also of the thinking and mind of Luther, providing many quotes, some even lengthy quotes, to help one understand the man ML. This text was a delight from the first to last page. It is detailed but not excessively so, giving one a feel as to Luther as a person, as a genius, as a scholar, as a husband and father, and mostly as a leader of the Reformation. Luther’s faults are all too well known, but Bainton does not labor on those, and shows the beauty of this man, making him proper to be labeled first among many to lead the charge against an evil and corrupt Catholic church. This book should be a must-read among Christians who wish to know their heritage.

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Jul 26

Puyallup-A Pioneer Paradise, by Lori Price and Ruth Anderson ★★★★
Now that I have lived in Puyallup for over 25 years, I decided that it would be nice to read a history of our town. This book became available at the local Costco, and at a most reasonable price. The book is organized mostly in a chronological fashion, starting from the early 1800’s and going up to the end of the 20th century. The focus is nearly entirely aimed at the central town itself, and the settlers who built the town. Many details are missing, which I presume are facts which might never be known. The book does provide brief sketches explaining why Puyallup was built the way it is.
My greatest complaint with the book is its brevity. The authors will use flowery language to explain town struggles during the war years and hardship times, such as with the hops aphid crisis. Reading past the flowery language, one wonders about the true nature of the settlers of the Puyallup valley. My second gripe relates to the focus entirely on Puyallup. In a way, it is good that Price and Anderson held to their stated topic, so, I can’t complain. Yet, Puyallup was developed in a much larger context. An explanation of the development of Sumner, Orting, Eatonville, and the (now ghost) towns that dot the banks of the Carbon River and Puyallup River are all of intense interest to me, and provide a greater understanding of the town of Puyallup. What about the Indian wars, and other relations with the Indians. Satulik? Other famous Indians of the area? Where were they? What about the railroads? Puyallup and the surrounding towns were bustling railroad towns, and how where they developed? Even details such as when the Puyallup River was given a straight course are left out.
The book is a fascinating read, and I was delighted in reading about my town history. It has piqued interest in further exploration of the Puyallup valley and its history.

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Jul 01

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, A History of Nazi Germany, by William Shirer ★★★
This book was read on my iPad. It is a fairly large book, taking me a while to complete it, thus, the absence of many other book reviews on my blogsite. Shirer was a journalist in Berlin, leaving Berlin approximately 1940-1941 (he doesn’t say exactly when), and then observing from the sidelines. The book is fairly well researched, and heavily referenced. After the end of the book, a 1990 afterthought is included by the author. He had noted that the book was on the best sellers list for a number of years, and purchased in many countries except for Germany itself. This Shirer felt was a sign that the German people still remained clueless as to the nature of their goose-stepping militaristic nature, and he expressed fears that the re-unification of Germany was going to lead to yet another rise to power and German world war. Perhaps the person the most clueless is Shirer himself. Throughout the book, Shirer writes not as an objective historian, but as an opinionated, biased journalist. Shirer seems to let his thinking and emotions get in the way of solid historical reporting. As an example, he shows his bitter disdain for the personality of Von Ribbentrop, rather than seeking to describe his personality and then letting the facts speak from there. He describes many episodes of secret meetings where he seems to be cognizant precisely what transpired. He makes warrantless broad assumptions about the German people that don’t serve his commentary. Here is an example, quoting the book, ” One gets the impression that … many … “Good Germans” fell too easily into the trap of blaming the outside world for their own failures, as some of them had done for Germany’s misfortunes after the first lost war…”. Excuse me, but the blame does spread around to all the European nations as well as the US. Or, of speaking of Mussolini, “…as dictator, he had made the fatal mistake of seeking to make a martial, imperial Great Power of a country which lacked the industrial resources to become one and whose people, unlike the Germans, were too civilized, too sophisticated, too down to earth to be attracted by … false ambitions. The Italian people, at heart, had never, like the Germans, embraced fascism.” Such comments leaves one feeling whether they could take anything that Shirer says seriously. He truly couldn’t be serious in implying that the mass of German people were uncivilized, unsophisticated, not down to earth?  There are many more examples throughout the book.
Shirer provides a nice flow through the book and it is very readable. There is a wealth a facts that need to be selected out in writing any historical account, and the fact that huge numbers of texts have analyzed the Nazi phenomenon attest to the fact that even 60 years after the fact, we are still grappling with the problem of made Germany do what it did. Shirer provides a completely wrong explanation, but feeds western, and especially US arrogance in the matter. To divorce himself from the reality of Germany, Shirer had to paint the Germans as a different creature, perhaps even a different species or genus. To this date, political situations are so often compared to that of Hitler and Nazi Germany. The left and right of politics continually hurtles the accusation at the other of being just like the Nazis. Why isn’t Stalin and the Communists equally brought up as a examples?Or Mao Tse Tung? Or the Japanese emporer? Or Napoleon? The list could go on at length. Germany is used as the example because sub-consciously, they are a people the most like us. They, more than any other modern country, developed the ideas of ethics that shape our world. They developed our philosophy, our music, our culture, etc. They, more than even England, gave us our work ethic, and our sense of obedience to authority. The rise of Nazi Germany seems to be a great puzzle, yet it isn’t. We see ideas in politics today reinforce that the events of the rise of the Nazi state happen on a smaller scale every year in Washington, D.C. We claim that the German people should have known and risen up, yet we don’t rise up, as our freedoms are constantly eroded, and our government increasing behaves in a dictatorial fashion that we have no control of. We claim a moral superiority to the Germans of the first half of the twentieth century, yet truthful soul-searching suggests that we aren’t much different than they.
To end it, Shirer ends with the execution at Nuremberg of the main Nazi officials. Specifically, Ribbentrop, who Shirer completely despised,  is reported as to have flippantly blurted out to the American Military pastor, “See you later” as though he was making a colossal terminal joke. Actually, the full quote is as follows… “I place all my confidence in the Lamb who made atonement for my sins. May God have mercy on my soul”. Then he turned to Gerecke (the Lutheran pastor) and said “I’ll see YOU again”. In the book “War and Grace”, Don Stevens recounts the story of Henry Gerecke, a Lutheran Pastor in the military from Missouri, who was assigned to be the chaplain to the Nazi war criminals. In the process of his encounters with Goering, Rosenberg, Ribbentrop, etc., he noted that not a few felt genuine remorse for their actions, and found faith in Christ, including Keitel, Fritzsche, von Schirach, Speer, Raeder, and after much struggle, Ribbentrop. Many Americans sent Gerecke hate mail, detesting the fact that he would minister to the Nazi war criminals. Yet, the additional story from Stevens only strengthens the impression that the Nazis are us. We might have done exactly what they did in the circumstances. The story of the Nazis is a sobering story that should make all of us weep, and not arrogantly state that “they” are a breed of another kind. For that end, a book like this is worth reading.

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Jun 10

For All the Tea in China, by Sarah Rose ★★★
Sarah Rose provides a most interesting story of the adventures of a Mr. Robert Fortune of the British East India Company in China during the 1840’s and 1850’s, stealing prized tea plants from China and exporting them to the Himalayas, under the immediate control of Great Britain, to permit them to compete with China in the tea industry. Also taken was the technology for growing and processing the tea leaves into great tea. It is a most fascinating story that is not often told. Fortune had several very unfortunate attempts, in part from bungling up the tea plants and leaves in the process of shipping them to the Himalayas, as well as incompetence and ineptitude on the part of arrogant British horticulturists, even when told by Chinese coolies what they were doing wrong with the plants.  Sarah’s writing style attempts a mix of pure historical reporting and historical fiction, leaving one certain that the tales of Fortune’s adventures were probably just approximately recounted in this book. Sarah maintains a heavy pro-British bent in her reporting, going very light on the evils of the British empire in their dealings with China (such as with the Opium Wars), as well as the Indians. This poor historical accounting even goes to British competitors in the west. When she speaks of the development of porcelain in the west to compete with fine “china” from China, she drools over Wedgewood and British porcelain manufactors, she blindly forgets the role of the Germans (especially the town of Meissen) in re-discovering and developing the European porcelain industry). A perfect example her Western blindness can be quoted from near the end of the book…
” By the time the Chinese realized that Fortune had stolen an inestimable treasure from them [the Chinese], it was many years too late to remediate their loss. His theft helped spread tea to a wider world at lower prices. He democratized a luxury, and the world has been enjoying it ever since”
That quote sounds warm and fuzzy except for a few glaring details. Now that China is reportedly “stealing” technology from the West, I suppose that they can use the same justification, since they are simply spreading Western technology at a much lower price. It is hard for me to have a sympathetic ear toward the west when they rail on China being an aggressive competitor in the markets. We are simply getting our own medicine back on us 150 years later. Most of the world has a better memory than Amerikans.

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Apr 28

Cambridge Illustrated History of China, by Patricia Buckley Ebrey ★★★
I purchased this text from Amazon.com as a used book to read before and during my trip to China with Betsy and Dr. Liao. It arrived very heavily marked up with multiple pages folded over, not exactly what the seller suggested. This text is fairly comprehensive of all aspects of history,  and includes many  beautiful illustrations and helpful maps, unlike many Chinese history texts. The author attempts a newer style of history taking, focusing on “the man/woman in the street”, and de-focusing on the rulers and leadership. Unfortunately, it leaves the history of China seriously poorly explored, since the actions of the emporers had an immediate effect of the man in the street. Ebrey spends much time discussing the development of Chinese art and poetry, yet even that is poorly explored. I was left with a very poor impression of having learned much from this text about Chinese history.

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