Friday, December 2, 2016

Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz (2011)

Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz

                Years before the South seceded from the Union, John Brown attempted to hold Harper’s Ferry in the slave state of Virginia. What did he want from the raid? He wanted to spark a revolution and the war to come. He wanted to arm the slaves in that town, empty the armory and begin making his way down South freeing the slaves. John Brown was an abolitionist who completely believed that slaves should be free and that the institution of slavery should not exist. Brown was willing to take lives and die for the cause as was evident on October 16, 1859 and through the thirty six hours that followed.
                Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War is the story of John Brown. Divided into three parts, Horwitz takes his time dissecting the life of Brown looking at his upbringing and belief system, the raid itself and the aftermath. This book was very well rounded and showed a very in-depth look at a man who had a passion for ending slavery. It is brutal, honest and straightforward with its delivery. Horwitz provides fact along with quotes from not only Brown himself, but those that surrounded him, fought against him, family members and politicians. This was extremely well developed, well executed and powerful.

                I chose this book because I wanted to educate myself on what happened the night of the raid and the days that followed. This offered so much more than just a look at what happened that night. I don’t if anyone can ever truly understand Brown but there was something so amazing about his conviction and his need to free the slaves. He was determined and he committed heinous acts in his quest to end slavery but he was convinced of his calling and he died for it. That’s what made this book so extraordinary. It did a great job in highlighting these aspects of Brown’s life and his need to make a difference. I enjoyed learning about him, and the events that led to that fateful night in October of 1859. Knowing that the events at Harper’s Ferry would make the country ripe for a Civil War made it even more interesting. Horwitz did a great job extending the story. If you are interested in the events that lead up to the Civil War then this is definitely a book I can recommend. I give it 4 out of 5 stars. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010)

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

                Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1951. While on the operating table receiving treatment, the surgeon on duty took two samples from Henrietta without her knowledge. Those samples were then sent to another doctor where her cells were grown in a lab. The cells were labeled HeLa, from the first two letters of her first and last name. Her cells would continue to be grown and distributed to labs around the world. HeLa cells behaved unlike any other cells and would be flown into space, tested numerous times and would help in research against some of the most virulent and well known diseases. HeLa cells changed science. But Henrietta Lacks wouldn’t know about any of that. She would die in October 4, 1951. Her family wouldn’t learn about her “immortal” cells until two decades later.
                The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a comprehensive look at Henrietta’s life, the affect the HeLa cells had on science, and the family that is still struggling to make ends meet even though millions of dollars have been made off of Henrietta’s cells. This brings into question the moral responsibilities doctors have in taking tissues from their patients and the ethics involved as well. It covers racism and the treatment of black people by the medical community in the mid 1900’s and how Henrietta’s treatment is a direct result of that. Skloot also takes a lot of time gaining the trust of the family and discusses that in this book. It’s an emotional read that really examines the scientific community and how one family has been detrimentally affected by it.

                This book has the ability to tear someone apart. There were quite a few moments when I found myself extremely upset while reading this book. I was infuriated by not just Henrietta’s treatment but the treatment of her family and other patients like her. There is an issue of trust that has to be examined in situations like this. You put your trust in doctors and the idea of them taking tissues without your knowledge for “research” and having them ultimately profit from them is extremely unsettling. I thought Skloot did a really great job with balancing the science with the human element. It is well researched and thorough. I feel like it’s an ode to Henrietta. I give this 4 out of 5 stars. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Our Man in Charleston: Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War South by Christopher Dickey

Our Man in Charleston: Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War South by Christopher Dickey

                When people look back on the history of America’s Civil War often the focus is solely on the effect this war had on the United States and its ability to own slaves. Rightfully so. The idea of a country splitting itself in two so half of that country can own human beings is extremely problematic and questions not only the morals of that country but where it will continue to stand in history. What makes Our Man in Charleston stand out from other Civil War historical books is that the focus is towards Britain and the man partly responsible for keeping Great Britain out of the war. That man was the British Consul in Charleston, South Carolina, Robert Bunch.
                I can honestly say that the majority of the information provided within these pages, is information I had never been privy to. It’s interesting and scary to imagine how different the outcome of the war may have been if a man like Robert Bunch hadn’t been front and center and able to honestly report to the British Crown the activities taking place in Charleston. As a man opposed to slavery, Bunch was in a precarious position. He had to live in South Carolina and maintain relationships with people who condoned slavery and in many instances praised its existence. His letters to other consuls and to London showed his true feelings toward the South. Bunch was disgusted by slavery and was afraid, as were many in London, that those in the South were trying to open the African Slave Trade again in the South. His reporting both before and during the war would be a saving grace in keeping the crown out of the war.

                I really enjoyed this book. It was well written, extremely well researched, with great world building and an abundance of information. The tension was believable and the problems laid bare. I think Dickey did a great job constructing the life of Bunch by using his letters and his own opinions as often as possible. I can easily recommend it to anyone interested in Civil War history. I give this 4 out of 5 stars. 

Thank you Blogging for Books for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Columbine by Dave Cullen (2009)

Columbine by Dave Cullen

                On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed thirteen people at their high school before shooting themselves. The footage was shown on every news station for hours. Rumors began immediately about them being bullied, members of the Trench Coat Mafia, outcast, Goths. For a while the police weren’t sure if there were only two shooters, maybe there was a possible third. At the end of the day, 12 students and a teacher were murdered, many others were injured and the two young men who committed the crimes turned the gun on themselves and took their own lives. One young man escaped by pushing himself out of a window, even though he was horribly injured, into the arms of the Swat team. I learned later of the young girl who professed her faith before being killed. I remember the footage and I remember the horror and the fear that came from that day. I also remember the accusations and the focus on bullying. I even remember Marilyn Manson being dragged into the argument and violent video games being blamed. Years would pass before I heard anything about Harris and Klebold’s true plan and even then I wasn’t sure if it was true because it didn’t fit the narrative I remembered. Cullen destroys the original and false narrative that has been so widely accepted for well over a decade. Through research and interviews with survivors Cullen provides a look at not only the killers but the media that covered the story, the police that hid information and the survivors that tried to move on past this tragedy.
                Columbine is a well written and extremely well-researched non-fiction book about a tragedy that many people think they are familiar with. Cullen wanted readers to know the true story behind the shooting. As a reporter Cullen was very well aware of the storm created by the media regarding the tragedy. He was also very aware of the impact this shooting had on later school shootings where people for various reasons tried to emulate Harris and Klebold. This book is full of all the information you could ever want to know about the events at Columbine and the events that transpired after. He takes his time with the narrative constantly changing from before, during and after the shooting. Cullen looks at each avenue as well, from the investigation that took place, the media outcry, the parents of the killers and the survivors.

                I couldn’t stop reading this book. Part of it was because there was so much information regarding Columbine that I didn’t know or understand. When I first started reading and realized the extent Harris and Klebold had planned to go, I almost felt betrayed. This was never about being bullied or being a Goth or violent videogames. Once I realized that, I realized how much I wanted to know about what really happened. My hat comes off to Cullen because he did an incredible job handling this subject and being respectful to everyone involved. It’s difficult expelling the myths that have pervaded through society, whether it’s about a myth regarding professing one’s faith before dying or having a target list. I found the actions by the police during and after the investigation to be the most disturbing and I was glad Cullen spent time discussing what happened and why. I thought this book was incredible and disturbing in many ways. I give it 5 out of 5 stars. If you want to understand the events at Columbine this would be the book to read. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (2008)

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

                Enzo isn’t afraid of what comes next. He knows that when he dies, he will leave his canine body behind, and become a human. He saw that on a documentary and believes it to be true so he isn’t afraid. He will miss Denny though. Denny chose him out of all the puppies at the farm. He took him home and loved him. Taught him everything there is to know about racing and then expanded the family to include his wife Eve and their daughter Zoe. But when Eve got sick things began to change. Their schedule became completely different. Denny was afraid to leave and race. Enzo saw everything and it’s their story that he is telling now. The story of his family, the love they shared and the life he lived with them.
                This is one of those books that make you think about every single relationship you have and how it affects everyone around you. The idea of having the dog narrate the story was brilliant. Enzo is an amazing character, rich with detail and an amusing personality. This is a dog with a wide plethora of information, witty and charismatic. I loved the way he focused on the nuances of being human. The simple changes in body language, dialect, even hormones that can give off so many signals to the persistent observer or dog. I couldn’t get enough of Enzo’s narrative. It was so straight forward and so matter-of-fact that it almost caught me off guard at times. The emotions Stein was able to portray through Enzo was absolutely amazing. It might be because (many) humans find dogs so trustworthy and intuitive that it was easy to trust Enzo regardless of the fact that he was bias towards Denny. Enzo could easily detect and convey the emotions of other people, whether they were genuine, deceitful, loving or trifling and in this story his instinct was always correct.

                I loved Enzo’s depth and the depth of the story. I read this is one sitting and I genuinely could not stop turning the pages. The narrative flowed so easily and the story, while slightly predictable at times, was so well done that I had to finish. There was so much about what is great about the human spirit and what could be inherently selfish about human beings. And again this was all through the eyes of a dog. Stein executed this plot so well. I needed a book to get me out of a stagnant reading spell and this was it. I applaud him for developing these characters so well and creating a story that while simple at first, held so many intricacies. This is a sad story but not because Enzo was in any way mistreated or unloved. But because he was loved and loved those around him and had to watch them experiencing, as he did, devastating loss and trials. Well done. I give this 5 out of 5 stars. Easily recommended to dog lovers and people who consider their pets to be family. Because they are in so many ways. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers by Stephen Shames and Bobby Seale

Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers by Stephen Shames and Bobby Seales

                Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers is a collaborative effort between photographer Stephen Shames, Bobby Seale and other members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense to tell their story. Their efforts are extremely successful with the amazing photography and the gripping oral history within this book. The images speak for themselves. They are extremely powerful, reflecting the life of a member of the Black Panther Party in the sixties. The oral history provided by the many members gives the necessary context for the photos so one can truly understand the message they were trying to convey and their purpose. This book isn’t meant to be an in depth look at the entire history of the Black Panther Party. It does though provide a great introduction to leaders of the party, their goals, struggles, ideologies and their community outreach. An all-around great read with amazing visuals and poignant historical details. I give this 4 out of 5 stars. 

Thank you Netgalley for this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (2007)

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

                Mariam was born in Herat. A harami or bastard child born to maid and a rich businessman. Her mother warned her of the type of man her father really was. A man who could send his child and her mother to live in a shack miles away from the city to hide his shame. Laila was born in Kabul to a loving mother and father. Her two older brothers would fight for the Taliban to defeat the Russians. Her brothers wanted a free Afghanistan. Death would surround both Mariam and Laila. Their stories would intertwine as the bombs fall around them and as Sharia Law begins to take over their land.
                Mariam and Laila’s story is told in four parts. Every single part is amazingly done and so well written. Hossieni dedicated the first part to Mariam and the second part to Laila and that ended up being a great decision. He really focused on building each characters lives and circumstances. Mariam and Laila were both extremely well rounded characters with such depth and emotion. I was almost brought to tears on more than one occasion because of their situations. I could never imagine living in a war torn Afghanistan but Hosseini did an amazing job creating this world, the fear, the bombings, the distrust and the confusion. Everything was done with such mesmerizing detail. It made for such an enjoyable reading experience that I didn’t want to put this book down.

                I’m giving this book 5 out of 5 stars. This was amazing. Hosseini was able to focus on two women in the middle of a war torn country and managed to focus on their strengths and their spirits in a time when no one could blame them for breaking down. I always had hope while reading this book. Even when it seemed like nothing was going to get better, even when Hosseini was describing body parts laying in the middle of the road. I had hope because there was something about Mariam and Laila and the relationship the two women formed with each other. I heard amazing things about this novel before I ever laid my hands on it and I must admit that none of it was unfounded. This was a great story.