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review 2021-11-13 13:33
BIRDS FOR BEGGINERS: BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA IN PICTURES by Pippa Cloverdale
Birds for Beginners: Birds of North America in Pictures - Pippa Cloverdale

Book of birds with characteristics and photos of the birds. I learned about some birds I had never heard about. I liked learning which birds were state birds as well as what were native species and which had been introduced to North America.

 

There were a few typos. I wish some of the photos would have been bigger. While seeing some of the birds in flight, I would have liked to see them at rest to get a better idea of what they looked like.

 

This is good for learning about the most common birds in North America and your back yard regardless of your age.

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review 2021-02-21 02:22
COYOTE AMERICA by Dan Flores
Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History - Dan Flores

Tells the story of the coyote in America through the Native tribes stories to its journey from west to east, south to north, across borders and how it has survived all attempts to eradicate it from the United States. The coyote is found in both rural and urban areas. They are adaptive like humans are. They have managed to learn and outsmart those coming after them.

 

I enjoyed the book. It took me a little while to get into it but then I got sucked in and learned a lot. I knew very little about coyotes but found their history and how the government and ranchers tried to destroy them fascinating. I chuckled over the Nixon administration's passage of laws protecting the environment hoping the youth vote would come his way. They turned out to be some of the strongest laws passed to protect the environment and no one read them until after passage then they had a lot to say. So much is in this book that reading was slower than usual but it is worth reading and savoring this history of a much maligned but necessary animal.

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review 2020-08-25 21:30
El Norte by Carrie Gibson
El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America - Carrie Gibson

This is a very informative book about the Hispanic role in North American history, from the first arrival of the Spanish in the western hemisphere, through their colonization of what is today Florida, Texas, California and much of the rest of the American West, to the U.S.’s wars with Mexico and Spain and its troubled relationship with Puerto Rico, to the role of Hispanic culture in the U.S. and the treatment of Hispanic citizens and immigrants. At 437 pages of text (followed by endnotes etc.), it covers a lot, though it also has to keep moving fairly quickly to get through it all. It’s written to be accessible to the general reader, though I found it more interesting when I was able to devote larger amounts of time to keep all the facts straight.

There are a lot of facts here, and not a lot of analysis, which is a little bit too bad because I have the feeling the author has a lot more to say but was trying to keep her opinions out of it. It’s definitely a big-picture approach, a view of all of post-contact American history side-by-side with the history of the nearest Spanish-speaking colonies and countries, but with a fair amount of detail about key events and players. The author also accomplishes a rare feat in a book focused on a particular disadvantaged group in American society, which is that she doesn’t forget about the others: some of this history overlaps quite significantly with the U.S.’s treatment of Native Americans and African-Americans, which Gibson doesn’t shy away from (and treatment of Asians is touched on as well). While little of the history was entirely new to me, I was still struck by, for instance, the extent to which southern slaveowners hoped to take over Cuba, several Mexican states, and possibly other southern neighbors in order to extend slavery. My biggest complaint is that the book could have been clearer about the implications of how the Mexican-American War got started. But I particularly appreciated the way the author relates the history of Mexico side-by-side with the U.S.; although we're neighbors, I'm not sure I've actually seen these histories in the same work before.

Overall, this is an interesting and accessible history that provides as comprehensive a view of the long history of Spanish-speaking people and their descendants in the U.S. as I’ve ever seen. It’s a useful perspective and a worthwhile read.

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review 2020-05-03 07:04
Review: Has China Won? by Kishore Mahbubani
Has China Won?: The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy - Kishore Mahbubani

***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Public Affairs!***

 

I stopped reading this book about 150 pages in, roughly halfway. I make an effort to not put down a book less than halfway through in order to be fair. Sometimes things start to look up after a rocky beginning. To be clear, I did not put this book away because it was poorly written. Indeed, it was excellently written. But I felt like the author has gotten it wrong when it came to his starting thesis. And unfortunately, if your starting thesis is incorrect, then some or all of your conclusions probably will be too.

 

The author has a very big bias in favor of China. This was evident throughout the Introduction when he basically said that China is the victim of cultural misunderstanding and that America was mostly afraid of powerful “yellow” people (his words, not mine) and mistakenly thinks that all Communism is the same as the Soviet Union was. But I carried on in spite of this obvious bias because the next two chapters were about the biggest mistakes so far that each of the world superpowers has made. I thought, maybe here is where we get a more evenhanded approach.

 

Unfortunately we did not. According to the author, China’s biggest mistake is that it gives too much power to local governments and Beijing is largely powerless to control them. For example, the author mentions that businesses are very wary of working in China because they feel that China takes advantage of them and threatens them with access to the Chinese market if they don’t comply to outrageous. His example is a business that states they had a contract with a Chinese company that they would utilize their services for a set number of years and then buy the company outright for X price at the end of that period. When that date came the company refused to sell. The business petitioned to the courts in Beijing and were told “well pay them more money then and buy the business”. The author attributes this to a lack of centralized leadership. That is blatantly false and biased. That is called extortion. If the courts had said “Sorry, this is an issue with the local jurisdiction” that would prove the author’s point. But they acted like a mob enforcer “Pay more money, then they’ll sell.” The author gives this kind of leniency to the Chinese government over and over again.

 

And still, I continued. I thought that perhaps when the author was describing the largest mistake by America that we would see the same leniency. We did not. The author spends the entire chapter demonizing President Trump and demonizing businesses for blaming it on American war culture. And then throwing in some demonization of America’s lack of social justice for good measure. Americans just want to believe that all Communism is bad, so that’s why we demonize China. Again, this is a flawed premise. The Chinese Communist Party is bad. They have upwards of 1.5 million people imprisoned in labor camps, another half million in re-education centers. Stories abound from survivors of these camps of the rampant abuse and rape that goes on. Defectors from the CCP are executed silently and immediately, potentially thousands of people per year. The CCP has  launched genocidal massacres on Tibetans, Buddhists, Christians and Muslims within the past decade. Don’t try and blow that particular sunshine about good Communism up my behind, thanks all the same!

 

In the end, this author thinks China is a great place and America is inherently racist with a psycho for a President. To me, that indicates that all conclusions that he draws will be flawed. So while the author asks a lot of interesting questions, the answers will likely be unsatisfying.

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review 2020-03-23 11:14
Blackbeard - The Birth of America
Blackbeard: The Birth of America - Samuel S. Marquis

by Samuel S. Marquis

 

The introduction to this got me excited because a lot of historical information was consulted by the author that shows Blackbeard very differently than pop culture has painted him and among the sources was David Cordingly, who wrote one of the best non-fiction books about pirates I've ever read.

 

Having established that the author did his research, this is presented as Historical Fiction so I was prepared to settle back and enjoy a good pirate story, but secure in the knowledge that it was based on facts as far as they are known. The one problem was that a lot of those facts were shoehorned in and made the flow of the story a little awkward.

 

Still, Blackbeard comes over as a mostly sympathetic character. The early chapters read more like a history book than historical fiction, but I did get caught up in the story a few chapters in. The events and chance meetings that led Edward Thache to turn from honest naval service to piracy are put into context in a way that demonstrates that he had little choice, as so many characters from history have found themselves on the wrong side of the law through circumstances of their times.

 

I enjoyed getting a look inside the sequence of events that actually happened and how Thache morphed into the pirate Blackbeard and obtained the Queen Anne's Revenge. With historical fiction about real people, you already know how it ends. It's reading about the sequence of events that lead up to what history tells us that makes it interesting and I came out of this feeling real sympathy for Blackbeard and his reasons for turning pirate, not least of all because he preferred taking his prizes without hurting anyone when he could.

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