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review 2015-10-25 07:23
The Notorious Benedict Arnold : A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery / by Steve Sheinkin
The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery - Steve Sheinkin

I think that we have all known someone like Benedict Arnold.  Not like the Benedict Arnold that was an amazing, brave to the point of reckless general.  Not like the Benedict Arnold that was this country's most infamous traitor.  In other words, not many of us actually ever get to know people who are larger than life history-makers.  But we all know people like the Benedict Arnold who was plagued by entitlement, vanity, insecurity, and an easily wounded pride that lead him to hot words and rash deeds that he just couldn't climb down from.   We all know people like that Benedict Arnold, because that Benedict Arnold is like the rest of us mere mortals; flawed, imperfect, defined by our past and our experiences, human.  One has to wonder, if Benedict Arnold had had a good psychotherapist to help him gain a little self-knowledge and internal insight, would he have never committed treason?


The life of Benedict Arnold reads like a Greek tragedy, or like Macbeth.  Like figures in Greek tragedy, or like Macbeth, Arnold soars to glorious heights.  He is an undisputed hero.  The Americans found him to be a great warrior.  Even the British feared him.  But Arnold's fall comes about because of his own fatal flaws.  Benedict Arnold's story is kind of sad, actually.  His name did not have to be remembered for treason.  But he sabotaged himself.  He was his own worst enemy, and he made a lot of enemies.  In the end Arnold not only betrayed his country, but also the legacy he should have, and could have had.  He may never have had all of the praise and fawning admiration he wanted in his own lifetime.  But if he had just not been such a hot head, his name would have been an honored one in American history.  He would have had glory and accolades 200 years later.  Instead, his name is synonymous with the stain of dishonor.  His story is above all, tragic.



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review 2015-10-03 07:45
Escape From Camp 14 : One Man's Remarkable Odyssey From North Korea to Freedom in the West / by Blaine Harden
Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West - Blaine Harden

Escape from Camp 14 is the story of Shin In Geun, now Shin Dong-hyuk, the only person known to have been bred and born inside a North Korean labor camp, indeed, its most infamous labor camp, and to have escaped and survived to tell his story.


So here's the thing.  I can't wrap my head around this story.  It is impossible for me to imagine living conditions so bad that a human being doesn't really know how to feel like a human being.  Shin grew up viewing his own mother not as a mother, but as a competitor for food!  He says, "sometimes I try to cry and laugh like other people, just to see if it feels like anything."  Brutality, cruelty, torture, dehumanization were normal to Shin.  What was not normal, or even known to him was love, generosity, kindness.  I cannot comprehend a human child being torn down to the point that his humanity is virtually non-existent.  What is even harder for me to comprehend is that the humanity in this child was dismantled before he was even born!  His parents were literally bred together.  Like animals.  He was born into the world lower than a slave, lower than livestock.  Born in no better than a beast.  I can't comprehend that!  


Shin didn't escape from his labor camp because he had finally had enough, and imagined a better life beyond the fence.  He didn't know there was a world beyond the fence--I don't think he could imagine, really.  He had heard stories from newly incarcerated prisoners that there was food beyond the fence.  He escaped because he wanted to eat.  That's it.  It was the allure of stories of roasted meat that made Shin run and propel himself at an electrified fence, made him risk being shot down like he was nothing, made him risk public execution if caught, made him risk dying of exposure, starvation, or murder.  It wasn't because of his humanity.  It was because he wanted to have food in his belly.  Basic animal survival instinct.  


You know what this book made me think of?  Victor of Aveyron, a French feral child who was found in 1800.  One observer remarked of Victor, "there is something extraordinary in his behavior, which makes him seem close to the state of wild animals".  This is true of the people born inside Camp 14, too.  Like Victor, they too lived lives with no notion or affirmation of their humanity.  I am glad Shin escaped, and I am glad that he is maybe getting to know the nobility of his humanity.  And that is hard to wrap my head around, too.  What must it take to find value in yourself when your whole life you've been trained to believe none exists there?




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review 2015-09-23 05:24
The Secret History of Wonder Woman / written and narrated by Jill Lepore
The Secret History of Wonder Woman - Jill Lepore

The Secret History of Wonder Woman is a history of Wonder Woman, but it's so much more than that. It is a history of the social movements that birthed her, a biography of the people who created her, an analysis of the scientific, legal, business, and political realms which alternately tried to chain and unchain her. This was clearly a labor of love on Jill Lepore's part, and she did her research, to be sure!  Not only did I learn a lot about Wonder Woman, but I learned a lot about how it came about that I, as a woman, have the freedoms that I do.


Now that I've written that, I have to say that I just got done putting in a full day at work (where I am in a leadership position; oh, and I'm also the breadwinner in my household), came home from an hour-and-a-half commute, did the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen (after my husband cooked dinner), took the dog and the husband for an hour long walk, came home (again) and spent another hour cleaning the house.  I haven't taken off my work clothes, or even my shoes yet!  I can't imagine what my day would be if I also had children.  Am I still chained, or am I free?  Because not only do I now still run a house, but I have a career, too, with all of the additional responsibilities that brings.  My husband's shoes are off, and have been for hours.  He's had his shower, and is in his pajamas.  Just sayin'.  And these very themes are central to The Secret History of Wonder Woman.  She was born out of multiple women's rights movements, struggles by women to win the right to birth control, questions about whether or not a woman could or should have a career and a family at the same time, questions about whether or not women really wanted equality, and indeed, whether they would ever really have it.  Why do modern women identify with Wonder Woman?  Because she, like we, were born out of the same history.  The Secret History of Wonder Woman is the secret history of every woman.    

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review 2014-12-12 20:25
Tiger / by Jeff Stone ; narrated by Kiki Barrera
Tiger - Jeff Stone

I adore martial arts. I am a martial artist, and it is just something that has been in my blood from a very young age. My niece and nephew have recently taken up martial arts as well, so I wanted to give this book a listen/read to see if it's something that my niece might enjoy, since it's aimed at her reading level.

There is a lot in here that I think my niece would be able to identify with. We love our Master just as much as the monks in this story love theirs. We would both be able to identify with the idea of doing anything for him, and we'd both identify with the idea of trying to live our lives in accordance with the principles that we learn through our art and through the lessons our Master teaches us. On a mechanical level, we'd both be able to envision the action in this book, because we are martial artists and know some of the moves described.

That said, I found this story to be a tiny bit too, well, Ninjago for my taste. The dialogue is at that level, I think, and there's just a little too much... I don't know the word... Too much "GAAHHH!!! I WILL DEFEAT YOU, YOU EVIL SLIME," going on. Melodrama? Maybe that's the right word.

Sorry to all the males out there who are offended by a female being offended, but I also didn't really like the way in which girls were used in this story. Paraphrasing here, "We shouldn't be hiding in this water barrel like a bunch of scared girls," or "The boys in the village didn't want the girls in the village learning Kung Fu, too," or, "Commander Wu, get down out of that palanquin--do you think you're a princess?!" I realize that this story is supposed to take place in ancient China, and that girls and women were not exactly well regarded at that time. But still--this is a book aimed at kids growing up today. I'm not asking that girls be written into the story (and they weren't in this one), I'm asking that using the female gender in a derogatory way just not be done when it really doesn't serve a purpose to the story. I can deal with it when there is a point to it. And frankly, as a female martial artist, let me just say, that I have knocked a 240 pound man out cold, and more than one large male has felt my blows. I routinely excel in my art, and I've won so many competitions against male competitors that I've lost count. I don't mean to brag, I really don't. My point is, all things considered, in the world of martial arts there is nothing derogatory about the feminine. Martial arts is an equalizer, and the monks in this story would know and respect that, because martial artists are taught to *never* underestimate an opponent. So, this idea of weak, scared, princess-y females is something my niece and I would not identify with, and would not appreciate about this book.

Would I recommend this book to her? Meh. I would certainly have done so if the portrayal of the feminine had been positive, or even completely left out. Will I recommend it to my nephew? Yeah. After he's lost a sparring match to a girl or two. :-)

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review 2014-06-30 00:04
Zealot : The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth / by Reza Aslan
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth - Reza Aslan

Boy, how to begin this review?  


On my maternal side I come from a family steeped in Christianity.  I have traced my family tree on that side back to the 1500s, and the absolute common thread running from my earliest traceable ancestor to my grandmother who just passed away a month before I started this book is an absolutely rock solid, full hearted belief in God and Jesus Christ.  My ancestor's lives were devoted to Jesus.


My paternal side, though, was far, far more ambivalent about God and Jesus.  I have never seen my father or grandparents even near a church except for weddings and funerals.  I certainly have never seen them pray.  My religiously brought up mother married my not so believing father, and this union produced a child (me) constantly trying to square Jesus Christ, the Son of God with the historical Jesus.  I simply couldn't take Jesus on faith, but at the same time, I could feel Jesus around me, particularly when with my mother's family.  In church, my soul finds Jesus to the point that I come close to tears, and I hold my participation in Ash Wednesday a few years ago as one of the most special personal moments of my life.


So yeah, Jesus puzzles me.


Reading Zealot :  the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth has given me some footholds into trying to understand who Jesus was as a person, and how this man came to be the central figure in Christianity.    This book helped me to understand what on Earth made Jesus run around claiming to be the Son of God (turns out, not exactly what he said), claiming himself to be The Messiah, and creating a huge ruckus all over Jerusalem and Galilee.  The book further illustrated for me how this zealot's (not used in the sense we use it today) rather very much Jewish and very much political mission came to be modern Christianity.  This book put the historical Jesus into historical context for me, and that is the most helpful information I could have as I continue to reconcile my two halves on this matter.


The book does not try to challenge the idea of Jesus as divine.  It doesn't try to minimize him in any way.  All this book does is try to illustrate how Jesus of Nazareth (read, Jesus as a historical, not religious figure) was motivated by the world he lived in, how and why people came to follow him, and how others preached and practiced his teachings once he had been crucified.  It explains how Jesus of Nazareth came to be Jesus Christ, center of the world's largest religion.  The author leaves it to you to examine your own beliefs.

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