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review 2017-03-05 11:39
Made for Goodness (And Why This Makes All The Difference) by Desmond Tutu & Mpho Tutu
Made for Goodness: And Why This Makes All the Difference - Desmond Tutu,Mpho Tutu

In Made for Goodness, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner and international icon of peace and reconciliation, shares his vision on why we can find hope and joy in the world’s darkest moments by realizing that we were made for goodness, that we are wired so that goodness will win in the end. Archbishop Tutu is a spiritual leader and symbol of love and forgiveness on the level of Gandi, Mother Teresa, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela. Made for Goodness, written with his daughter Mpho, is one of the most personal and inspirational books he's ever written.

Amazon.com

 

 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a Nobel Prize winner (1984) and a survivor of not only an abusive childhood at the hands of an alcoholic father, but also of the apartheid era in Africa. In this book, which he writes with his daughter Mpho (pronounced mm-POH, btw) who is also an archbishop, finally addresses the topic he's been asked about most over the years --- how does he manage to stay happy, given what he's been through? How does he continue to see good in the world and not lose faith in humanity? In under 300 pages of illustrative stories of hope and faith, he gives you your answer. 

 

Desmond's path has not been an easy one. Remember the alcoholic, abusive father I mentioned? He was actually principal of Desmond's elementary school in Johannesburg, South Africa when Desmond was a child. No escape for the poor kid! But he endured, survived and went on to become educated and highly respected within a career of service. By the time apartheid in Africa reared its ugly head, Desmond was a father himself. One of the quietest actions to signal the fight to come was when the lunch program was canceled for all black children in South African schools, though white students were still served. Then Prime Minster Hendrik Verwoerd's official statement on the decision? "We can't provide for all the children, so we won't provide for any." That moment was cruel enough but ohh if only the fight had stopped there! If you've read up on your history regarding this time, you're aware of the bloodshed that was to follow all across the country. 

 

Desmond takes up the position of archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa. During apartheid, he serves as president of All Africa Conference of Churches. In the apartheid's aftermath, he becomes chairman of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Committee, dedicated to helping shattered families emotionally and physically rebuild their lives. His daughter Mpho worked alongside Desmond as a counselor to emotionally, physically or sexually abused women & children, rape victims and / or drug addicts. So you can guess, they were in the thick of it, seeing humans at their darkest, lowest emotional states. There must have been days where Desmond and Mpho had to have lost heart! This whole book is Desmond describing how they were able to stay strong in a world full of cruelty and depravity, dedicating themselves anew each day to building up rather than tearing down. 

 

Your whole life is holy ground.

~ Desmond Tutu

 

Desmond's work in South Africa, as well as time spent working in a refugee camp in Darfur, drove him to develop the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation. In 2009, President Barack Obama awarded Tutu the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

 

Archbishop Tutu ends each chapter of the book with a prayer poem, giving the reader something to contemplate on, regarding struggles within their own life. If you wish to pray on something troubling you but don't know how to go about wording it, these can be a useful tool to help guide your mind to a peaceful place. Tutu hits upon some solid truths on the subjects of truth, faith and general perseverance through life. While his message did get a little repetitive in parts for me, I can't argue with the message itself. The man's been put through the fire and came out the other side an intact happy man. His words have been field-tested, you could say! 

 

One thing that Tutu stresses in these chapters that did really resonate with me is the need to be realistic with oneself. We should all be striving for everyday kindness for humanity, but also keep in mind you don't have to be a perfect saint. You will have days where you get angry, where you break down, where you feel like you're not doing enough or that your efforts are pointless because the world is just too damaged. To this line of thinking he gives the reader this in return:

 

There is a relief worker who resides in our soul. In each of us, there is a dignified Darfuri, one who can find occasion for gratitude and joyful laughter in almost any circumstance. To whatever extent we recognize and act on those traits, they are there and want to be expressed. We can always aspire to be more compassionate and more generous, not out of some dogged need to be good or to be lovable, but because to give love is our greatest joy.

 

I was also moved by Tutu's words on "ubuntu", the South African way of describing everything and everyone in the world being interconnected. 

 

Some of the hardest truth to take (though the guy is right!) is when he breaks down the idea of freedom of choice. Admittedly, an amazing gift, but as he points out... it comes with a caveat. Freedom of choice also means potential for people to choose wrongly or poorly, which will likely affect a great many people. Could be you, could be someone else. So then he says, if your life has been negatively affected by the poor choices of others, you THEN have the choice to CHOOSE to forgive them or carry the weight of that anger / sadness / disappointment etc within yourself for however long you choose. Freedom of choice doesn't always mean everyone wins, but it gives you the freedom to choose how you react to the options provided.

 

I did really love Mpho's stone exercise for releasing hurt feelings, so I thought I would share it here: Mpho says to take a small stone that can fit in a pocket (but some with noticeable weight to it), put it in your pocket and throughout the day tell the rock what is troubling you. Whenever you feel that hurt or anger bubbling back up, voice it to the rock. At the end of the day, find someplace to set the rock down and mentally set down your weighted mind with it. Then walk away. Leave the rock there and walk away with a lightened spirit. 

 

Worth a shot! 

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review 2017-02-04 18:03
After The Cheering Stops (memoir) by Cyndy Feasel
After the Cheering Stops: An NFL Wife's Story of Concussions, Loss, and the Faith that Saw Her Through - Cyndy Feasel,Mike Yorkey

Former NFL wife Cyndy Feasel tells the tragic story of her family’s journey into chaos and darkness resulting from the damage her husband suffered due to football-related concussions and head trauma—and the faith that saved her. 

Grant Feasel spent ten years in the NFL, playing 117 games as a center and a long snapper mostly for the Seattle Seahawks. The skull-battering, jaw-shaking collisions he absorbed during those years ultimately destroyed his marriage and fractured his family. Grant died on July 15, 2012, at the age of 52, the victim of alcohol abuse and a degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

Cyndy Feasel watched their life together become a living hell as alcohol became Grant’s medication for a disease rooted in the scores of concussions he suffered on the football field. Helmet-to-helmet collisions opened the door to CTE and transformed him from a sunny, strong, and loving man into a dark shadow of his former self. In this raw and emotional memoir that takes a closer look at the destruction wrought by a game millions love, Cyndy describes in painful and excruciating detail what can happen to an NFL player and his family when the stadium empties and the lights go down.

Amazon.com

 

 

Grant Feasel was a 6' 7" lineman for the Seattle Seahawks throughout the 1980s-early 1990s, playing center and long snapper positions. In this memoir, Grant's ex-wife, Cyndy Feasel, recounts all the years of football trauma she witnessed her husband take and how deeply that affected him and their family up until the day he died.

 

 

Cyndy and Grant met while students at Abilene Christian College, where Grant played on the school's football team while studying to be a dentist. Even in those early days, Cyndy would attend his games, watching him get hit or knocked flat out at nearly every game. But coaches would simply wave some smelling salts under his nose and send him back onto the field. Things didn't get any easier when the NFL came calling in 1984. After being offered a position with the Baltimore Colts (who became the Indianapolis Colts shortly after Feasel signed on), Feasel jumped at the opportunity, figuring he could take up his medical degree again later on if the football gig didn't work out. He only got to play for them a short time before the coaches decided he was one of the expendables on the roster. Much to his relief, he was quickly picked up by the Minnesota Vikings. 

 

Minnesota was where I heard, for the first time, Grant saying things like "I got my bell rung" after a game or "I suffered a stinger" in practice. His body took a lot more abuse and I noticed that he was staying longer after practice to get iced and sit in whirlpool baths...Muscles were bruised, and ligaments were stretched and sometimes torn. 

 

Keep in mind that Grant played much of his career on unforgiving artificial surfaces that were like patio carpet rolled onto a concrete slab. The first generation of artificial turf wasn't very sophisticated and lacked the "give" of a traditional dirt-and-grass playing field or today's softer FieldTurf...Grant often complained of "stingers" on Sunday nights. A stinger was an injury to a nerve in the upper arm, either at the neck or shoulder. A stinging or burning pain spread from his neck to one of his hands and felt like an electric shock down the arm. Many times I heard him say, "My neck is on fire."

 

I'm sure he was hurting. He'd always say to me, "I can barely turn my head," and I believed him every time I watched him drive and switch lanes; his neck barely swiveled. 

 

During the 1985 Vikings training camp, Grant suffered a major collision with a teammate from the defensive line. That hit caused Grant's left knee to have a major blowout -- his ACL, MCL and meniscus all shredded, immediately bumping him to the team's IR (injured reserve) roster. That is, until around Thanksgiving 1986, when he was dropped yet again. But again, luck was on his side -- the Seattle Seahawks snatched him up for their 1987 season and he stayed with them until his retirement in the early 1990s. The Seahawks coaches were aware of his injury record but were also impressed by his formidable size, his hard-working blue collar mentality and his high intelligence that allowed him to quickly and easily learn plays. By this time, Grant and Cyndy had children to support. Fearing that he could lose his spot on the team and thus his income, Grant dedicated himself to finding any means to bulk up, hoping it would prevent or at least soften further injury... even if that meant turning to steroid usage. 

 

The detrimental hits didn't stop though, no matter what measures Feasel chased. Instead, the norm became him being sent home with first one baggie full of prescription grade pain killers, then multiple baggies. He also turned to his own remedies, mainly a Sunday & Monday night ritual of downing an entire 6 pack of Coors Light with a Vicodin chaser. As Grant approached his last years in the NFL and then retirement, Cyndy saw the gentle, hard-working family man she fell in love with transition into a man of barely bottled rage. Grant's moods spiraled into a dangerous blend of anger, paranoia, and uncharacteristic profane behavior / language. Though he would seek the help of psychiatrists, more often than not he'd simply be sent home with yet more prescriptions for pain killers or mood enhancers / suppressants. In time, Cyndy discovered her husband's secret: abuse of prescription medications. An alarmed and terrified Cyndy watched her once happy marriage descend into a living nightmare of emotional (and later, physical) abuse. 

 

Though Grant's official cause of death was listed as ESLD or End Stage Liver Disease (aka cirrhosis of the liver), Cyndy lays out why she believes her husband essentially committed suicide slowly over the course of nearly 20 years, thanks to his then-undiagnosed CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) disease. Grant's brain was donated for study to the "Brain Bank" at Boston University, where the brain matter of numerous deceased NFL players have been sent to be tested for CTE. To date, CTE is a condition that can only be determined postmortem (after death). 

 

CTE can only be tested for postmortem, when scientists study the brain's tissues for a buildup of an abnormal protein known as tau, which was becoming associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgement, impulse control problems, aggression, depression and progressive dementia...concussions and "dings" on the football field that aren't allowed to heal thoroughly activate the tau protein, which then moves throughout healthy brain cells. When the frontal lobe -- the seat of socialization, emotional intelligence, and rational thinking -- become affected, the brain deteriorates over time. Memory loss and confusion become more prevalent. 

 

Having recently read the non-fiction work League of Denial, which takes a lengthy look at the topic of the NFL and the CTE epidemic in general, I thoroughly appreciated the opportunity to read Cyndy Feasel's personal account of trying to live with someone who battled the condition (though they weren't aware of it at the time). Reading the two works together really cemented in my mind the truth that though the NFL has made progress in better caring for their players, the scourge of CTE is still very much a topic that requires persistent discussion. Near the end of Cyndy Feasel's book, there is a definite lean towards pushing parents to keep their kids away from team sports. While I understand the stance, I personally find it a drastic one.

 

While I am sympathetic of Cyndy's struggles, I was a little put off by how watered down and somewhat bland the writing is here. Though the story is Cyndy's, the writing is actually done by Mike Yorkey. His author blurb gives him credit for writing or co-writing some 100 books to date. Why then was the writing so simplistic? That's what stumped me. For example, did the reader really need an explanation of what Advil is... seriously?! I was also surprised that while Feasel talks of immersively educating herself on the topic of CTE after Grant's death, I didn't see one mention of Dr. Bennett Omalu, though he was instrumental in the discovery of the disease in the first place! (Will Smith portrayed Omalu in the film Concussion).

 

Again, I would recommend checking out League of Denial for an in-depth look at the topic of CTE, but I appreciate Feasel's memoir as a personalized, supplemental offering on the subject. 

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: BookLookBloggers & Thomas Nelson Publishers kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book & requested that I check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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review 2017-01-14 07:17
You Carried Me (memoir) by Melissa Ohden
You Carried Me: A Daughter's Memoir - Melissa Ohden

Melissa Ohden is fourteen when she learns she is the survivor of a botched abortion. In this intimate memoir she details for the first time her search for her biological parents, and her own journey from anger and shame to faith and empowerment. After a decade-long search Melissa finally locates her birth father and writes to extend forgiveness, only to learn soon thereafter that he has died―without answering her burning questions. Then her birth mother’s parents say they are unable to pass along Melissa’s letter. Years later, when she finally hears from the woman who carried her and gave her life, she finds out why. But the shocking truth is more than she can bear. Yet even the most startling family secrets are eclipsed by the triumphant moment when Melissa becomes a mother herself in the very hospital where she was aborted. And she reveals how―through the miscarriage of her only son, the birth of a second daughter with complex health issues, and her own birth mother’s story―she gained a deep empathy for every woman who has had an abortion. Like none other, this intensely personal story of love and redemption cuts through the debates surrounding a divisive contemporary issue to touch our common humanity.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

In this certainly unique memoir, author Melissa Ohden tells the story of how she came to be... the kind of story one just doesn't hear every day! In 1977, Ohden's teenage mother became pregnant with her. An appointment for an abortion procedure is made, the appointment is kept, but the procedure itself doesn't really go as planned. Against all odds, after 5 DAYS worth of being pumped full of toxic saline solution Baby Melissa (or Katie Rose as the nurses called her, Melissa was the name her adoptive parents ending up choosing) survives. She is born prematurely, weighing in at just two pounds. After one nurse hears a faint noise coming from the child, a flurry of nurses rush to save her life.

 

{Sidenote: Ohden explains how the saline is made toxic for a fetus in her book -- she notes that a standard abortion procedure from start to finish is typically completed within 48 hours so that gives you an idea of just how much extra solution her little body had to take, making her story all the more miraculous.}

 

Once the newborn is deemed stable, the search for prospective adoptive parents begins. Doesn't take long for a suitable and interested couple to be found but the decision is made to keep Melissa at the hospital until her weight is at least five pounds. When the time comes, Melissa's new parents take her to a farm 100 miles away from where she was born. There she is raised in a loving, nurturing environment out in the farmlands of Iowa. At the age of seven, when her adoptive parents welcome a biological son, it sets off the first sparks of curiosity in Melissa about her own biological parents. But her search for the truth doesn't really begin until a few short years later when during a fight with her sister (also adopted), her sister makes the remark, "At least my mom wanted me." When Melissa presses for an explanation, she's simply told to ask their adoptive mother.

 

Having avoiding talking much about the day of Melissa's birth previously, her adoptive mother comes clean and lays out all the details. Melissa then launches into what will be a decade long search for any information about her birth family. In that time, Ohden battles depression, anorexia, bulimia, as well as a bout of teenage alcoholism and promiscuity, mostly with older men in town. She explains that with the sensation of everything else in her life feeling as if it were running completely off the rails, the eating disorders, drinking and sexual exploration -- though admittedly unhealthy and dangerous -- did seem to be one aspect she could control.

 

Bulimia, alcohol, sex -- these were my unholy trinity of coping mechanisms. They dulled, but didn’t deaden, my torment. That all this suffering was hidden from everyone who knew me seemed to be the point -- I was singularly chosen for misery; I was different, broken, unworthy. Alone.

 

As Melissa embarked on her college journey, she started seeing more and more eerie ties between her own life choices thus far and the little bit she had been able to learn about her birth mother. First off, the college she chooses to attend: shortly after she starts classes, Melissa discovers her school is the very same her birth mother attended (and her maternal grandmother taught at as well!) -- what are the odds, considering she was raised 100 miles away and could've just as easily chosen a school closer to home! The link ends up being too much for her. That, combined with other stressors -- a large part of that being her constantly being silenced whenever she tries to share her abortion-birth story, being shushed part way in or being called a liar later on -- pushes Melissa to make the choice to drop out and re-enroll in courses closer to her hometown. Her college experiences (after the school switch) lead her to take up social work, mostly with domestic violence support groups. A second powerful tie to her birth mother comes during Melissa's own experiences with pregnancy. Ohden has her first delivery in the very same hospital where her mother tried to have her aborted! After having a stillborn son and a daughter with developmental disabilities, Ohden's search for her birth mother begins to feel all the more important. She needs to hear her mother's story, needs to know the why of it all and attempt to make sense of her traumatic origins once and for all. 

 

Melissa's story is a powerful one, no question there. In all honesty though, while I found this book incredibly moving and well-written from start to finish, I struggled with the second half (approx). I will say here and now my issues with this book are for the most part tied up in the fact that Ohden and I do not see entirely eye to eye on the topic of abortion. While this book did help me to understand why she feels the way she feels -- and I can respect her views -- I struggle to put a full stamp of agreement on her opinions. About halfway through this book, it went from being a memoir on her personal journey to a full-on, hardcore pro-life soapbox fest. I myself am very pro-choice but never try to shut down pro-lifers who want their voice heard. I'll hear them out... I think we're on the same page... up to a point. 

 

Here's my thing: I say I am pro-choice because while I could never see myself choosing abortion, I can't speak on the life situations of anyone but myself. I figure the people who choose that path could very well have quite valid reasons for deciding that's the way for them. Ohden here goes on a pretty hard attack of Planned Parenthood. She talks of how she went once for a general check up because they offered services she would've otherwise struggled to afford. But there were abortion protestors out and about one day as she was leaving who got her thinking. She then seemed to feel dirty being anywhere near a PP office. In fact, later on in the book she states that one of the biggest honors of her life was being asked to testify on Capitol Hill in a hearing to consider ending federal funding for Planned Parenthood programs. Again, my stance: I figure there will always be a least a small number of women who will feel the need to choose abortion. If so, at least PP is there to have it done in a clinical setting with medically trained staff, rather than some back alley sitch. Furthermore, so many people these days act like PP is ONLY for abortions when, in fact, I myself have gotten literally life-saving help from the doctors at my local office back when I was too poor to go anywhere else. It was at a PP office that a serious medical condition was found within my heart that is now being regulated... thanks to a PP doctor. So it bugs me when protestors want to so quickly say everything about PP should be shut down. 

 

It's not just the PP story. Throughout the whole second half of the book she keeps bringing up instances where she continues to almost vilify anyone who does chooses "the evil of abortion" as she repeatedly describes it. Near the very end of her story though, she does admit that being the mother of a special needs child did teach her to have more empathy towards those who feel the need to choose abortion (so she says). Being a woman who is unable to have children myself, I also cringed at lines like (describing her first experiences with motherhood), "We were no longer JUST a couple, we were a family." I truly struggle with books that perpetuate this idea that without children a woman's existence is not complete. It just brings out the involuntary eye roll in me. 

 

So that's it. That's why I'm torn. I struggle with my own personal beliefs clashing with Ohden's. Enough to where it makes me uncomfortable as the reader, enough to where I may even feel her views are naive or misguided at times (hey, I'm allowed to have my opinions too -- I AM a blogger after all), but not so much that I shut my ears / mind off to her. In fact, I quite enjoyed hearing her story. As I said, the writing style is impressive, the flow is nice, and while I might not always be on same page with her, I do think she handles a tricky subject with impressive grace, bringing a conversational tone to a topic that very much needs regular discussion. I was even surprised to learn that Ohden and I share a very similar recurring nightmare -- Wild! 

 

I'd recommend this read for anyone interested in the topics of medical education (specifically abortion, obviously), feminism, women's health, women's issues or adoption stories. Differing beliefs or opinions aside, there's always an education to be had in hearing someone else's story. 

 

FTC Disclaimer: Handlebar (Plough) Publishing kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book with a request that I might check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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review 2016-12-19 22:46
A Month & A Day: A Detention Diary (memoir) by Ken Saro-Wiwa
A Month and a Day: A Detention Diary - Ken Saro-Wiwa

In May 1994, Ken Saro-Wiwa, together with eight others, was arrested in Nigeria for the murder of four men who had been killed during a riot following a political rally. Though there was overwhelming evidence of his innocence, Saro-Wiwa was imprisoned for eighteen months. He and his co-defendants were eventually found guilty in a show trial and sentenced to be hanged. Despite massive international publicity and outcries against the mockery of justice these acts represented, on November 10, 1995, the executions were carried out. A Month & A Day is the moving last memoir of the man who gave voice to the campaign for the basic rights of the Ogoni people of Nigeria. Saro-Wiwa was an outspoken critic of the despotic Nigerian military regime and of the international oil companies, notably Shell, which he held responsible for the destruction of his homeland. Yet, despite the brutal government campaign against the Ogoni, he always advocated peaceful and non-violent protest. The book is framed by Saro-Wiwa's account of an earlier effort to silence him, when he was arrested in mid-1993. He lays out both the experience of detention and the story of his involvement with the Ogoni cause. He was eventually released as a result of intense international pressure, only to be arrested again the next year, shortly after finishing this book; he remained in prison until his death.

~from back cover

 

 

 

Ken Saro-Wiwa, a member himself of the Ogoni community he dedicated his life to defending, was a Nigerian activist, author, college professor, successful tv writer / producer. Additionally, he held various Nigerian government positions at one time or another, such as Commissioner of the Land / Transport / Education Departments. He turned to writing professionally in the 1980s.

 

Regarding his activism, Saro-Wiwa was outspoken critic of the Nigerian military (at least of those in charge of it anyway). He also protested the foreign oil companies, primarily Shell, whose search for oil across Ogoni lands ended up ruining the lush landscape that once was -- waterways polluted, acid rain polluted crops, oil spills not being cleaned up. Saro-Wiwa states that since 1958, when the first oil companies started drilling on Ogoni lands, an estimated 30 BILLION dollars in oil has been pulled from the ground, yet Ogoni people were given NOTHING in return. At the time of Saro-Wiwa writing this, much of the area was still without electricity or modern plumbing. The Ogoni people were given no representation in Nigerian government, little to no job opportunities or government assistance, no educational opportunities or health coverage, and even Shell was declining to hire locals! The Ogoni people were suffering food and land shortages because the oil companies were snatching it all up for oil drilling, so the community struggled to find ways to keep their families fed. Desperate for help, the Ogoni people attempted to get outside assistance. The response? Greenpeace flat out told them no, basically saying that what they needed didn't fall under Greenpeace's wheelhouse...  and Amnesty International said they could only help if someone was in prison or citizens were being massacred. 

 

Wiwa served as president of the organization MOSOP (Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People). When four men were killed during a political rally Saro-Wiwa was known to be against, he along with eight others were charged with the crime. Though there was a mountain of evidence proclaiming his innocence, he was still sentenced to death and hanged in 1995. 


Saro-Wiwa mentions in his foreword, dated July 1994 (he would be executed the following November), that he had completed the manuscript for this book shortly before being arrested the final time (he later points out in the diary's pages that between 1993-94, he was arrested a total of four times in three months). He had someone sneak the manuscript into him while he was imprisoned, working feverishly to complete the final edit. In these pages you read what his activism work entailed and why he believed he was being targeted. Describing the arrest he opens his story with, he mentions that it didn't take him long to suspect that something fishy was going on, but he feared that if he attempted an escape his actions might bring down more unnecessary violence onto the Ogoni people, what it might mean for the people who relied on his protection... so for their safety, he chose to go along with it all and allow himself to be placed in prison. 

 

I have to put my hat in with the other reviews I've read that say the strength in this book lies in the message / topic, not so much in the writing style itself. While I feel like I learned a lot about this time period and at times definitely felt incensed over what the Ogoni people were put through, Saro-Wiwa's writing itself left something to be desired. Admittedly, he was under some hardcore duress, so I don't want to rate him too harshly... yet I'm not going to pad my rating simply due to circumstance. I'm sticking with my honest opinion here -- his story is an important one but the writing itself is just okay. The early pages of the diary read like a police incident report more than anything, but I will say as the story goes on, I noticed the tone got a little more relaxed and I started to get a bit better sense of Saro-Wiwa as an individual and the passion for his work began to shine through a bit better. 

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review 2016-10-15 00:15
Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel
Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love - Dava Sobel

Inspired by a long fascination with Galileo, and by the remarkable surviving letters of his daughter Maria Celeste, a cloistered nun, Dava Sobel has crafted a biography that dramatically recolors the personality and accomplishments of a mythic figure whose early-seventeenth-century clash with Catholic doctrine continues to define the schism between science and religion-the man Albert Einstein called "the father of modern physics-indeed of modern science altogether." It is also a stunning portrait of Galileo's daughter, a person hitherto lost to history, described by her father as "a woman of exquisite mind, singular goodness, and most tenderly attached to me." Moving between Galileo's grand public life and Maria Celeste's sequestered world, Sobel illuminates the Florence of the Medicis and the papal court in Rome during the pivotal era when humanity's perception of its place in the cosmos was about to be overturned. During that same time, while the bubonic plague wreaked its terrible devastation and the Thirty Years' War tipped fortunes across Europe, Galileo sought to reconcile the Heaven he revered as a good Catholic with the heavens he revealed through his telescope. Filled with human drama and scientific adventure, Galileo's Daughter is an unforgettable story.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Likely you're already pretty familiar with the name Galileo Galilei, but if not, here's a rundown for you. Galileo is now known as being one of the most famous (possibly THE most famous?) astronomers and mathematicians of the 17th century. His work and studies also earned him the titles of physicist, inventor, and professor (teaching courses in mathematics and military architecture at various Italian universities, even teaching some of the Medici children for a time).

 

 

What Galileo might be more well known for now is him being placed under indefinite house arrest after being so bold as to come out and proclaim that the universe might, in fact, NOT revolve around Earth. He goes on to say that not only Earth but all the other planets rotate around the sun! GASP! We can laugh now, having centuries to benefit from being privy to astounding advancements in the field of astronomy, but back in Galileo's day, his statement was considered full on heresy. Funny thing though, he wasn't even the first guy to put forth the idea! In the year 1600, just a year before Galileo's first daughter, Virginia (the daughter referenced in Sobel's title), was born, Friar Giordano Bruno posed the same idea. Know what happened to him? BURNED AT THE STAKE. Church was not having your new fangled scientific theories back then.

 

In Galileo's case, he was a deeply devout Catholic, but he was also a firm supporter of the ideas of Copernicus, one example being when Galileo took on Monsignor Francesco Ignoli, Secretary of the Congregation of Propogation Of The Faith (imagine trying to order letterhead for that office!). In a letter addressed to Galileo, Ignoli relentlessly bashed all of Copernicus' major points. At first Galileo chose to not respond. Not wanting to "feed the trolls" as us in the online crowd commonly like to call it, he initially didn't see much point in offering a comeback. But when he started to notice that his silence was being interpreted as acceptance of Ignoli's views, THEN Galileo felt compelled to set the record straight. 

 

from Galileo's response letter to Monsignor Ignoli

 

Galileo sent off his 50 page "Reply to Ignoli" to friends and family in Rome in October of 1624. Curiously, because of lengthy delays caused by changes Prince Cesi and other Roman colleagues wished to insert for prudence's sake, the "Reply to Ignoli" never reached Ignoli himself. A few manuscript copies circulated cautiously around Rome, however, and the pope was treated to at least a partial private reading in December. No explosion erupted from Urban in reaction to the "Reply". Indeed, His Holiness remarked on the aptness of its examples and experiments. And therefore, no apparent obstacle stood in the way of Galileo's expressing the same ideas in a book, which he now envisioned as a playlike discussion among a group of fictional friends, with the working title "Dialogue on the Tides"

~ from Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel

 

By June 1630, Dialogue on the Tides was approved for publication, but with stipulations. Galileo was informed that the pope disliked the working title, and the preface and ending must be altered to reflect the pope's philosophy on science which meant that Galileo's text needed to have a more obvious lean toward "the mysterious omnipotence of God", as Sobel phrases it. Didn't matter what Galileo was proving or disproving with scientific fact. The back and forth on the stipulations caused the actual publication of Galileo's book to be delayed until February 1632. Nearly 2 years of haggling! Even with negotiations, being approved for publication, all of that... the Vatican was not pleased with the final product. In fact, they were so upset, by September of 1632 an order was sent out for the book to cease being sold and Galileo got summons from his local Inquisition panel. Galileo's health was extremely frail during this time, his doctors even advising that he not be moved from his home, but the Vatican's response to the news was that either Galileo show his face willingly or prepare to come in in shackles. Seeing no other choice but to submit, Galileo made his travel arrangements but not without first making sure his will was up to date!

 

During his Inquisition interviews, Galileo admitted that he went back and read over the text after publication and found holes in some of his reasonings, areas that lacked sufficient scientific proof. (BTW, Sobel's book here includes a transcript of Galileo's actual testimony during those interviews). Even so, the then 70 year old and sickly Galileo was still charged with heresy and given indefinite house arrest. Interestingly though, even with this verdict, there were three men on the deciding panel who REFUSED to sign their names to the written verdict! It is rumored that Galileo muttered "but it still moves" under his breath after signing his own name to the affidavit, but Sobel argues that Galileo wouldn't have been so stupid as to say such a thing in front of a group of men who held such power over his life at that moment (though I have to admit, if it DID happen, that would've been pretty badass of the guy!).

 

As for the book itself, Dialogue of the Tides (the "working" title stayed put through all this) was placed on the Index of Prohibited Books in 1664 and remained there for nearly 200 years. Still, copies of the work traveled through various black markets across Europe (an English translation was even printed up in 1661). Though under house arrest, Galileo continued to offer tutoring / mentorship services within his home and went on to write more books on theories of motion and mechanics. The Two New Sciences was published in 1638. It was weeks before he was sent his own copy but by then his struggles with cataracts & glaucoma had become too much of a problem for him to be able to read much of anything. It's been speculated by some historians (going by the scientist's surviving correspondence where he describes struggles with constant pain) that in his later years he may also struggled with gout, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney stones, hernia issues, chronic eye infections and insomnia (probably as a result from all the physical pain!) before finally succumbing to death in January 1642.

 

All this on Galileo, why haven't I mentioned the daughter yet? Well, truthfully I have a bit of an issue with this book having the title Galileo's Daughter because in actuality much of what I read was just about the man himself; scenes of the daughter being interjected here and there but not as strongly as one might presume judging from this title. In fact, Sobel barely references the daughter in this title  -- except to mention her birth and taking her convent vows -- until about 100 pages in. We get to know her a bit and then she frequently pops back out of the spotlight except through excerpts of her letters to her father from time to time. But here is what I gathered about this woman largely lost to history (but less so than her siblings!): Galileo's eldest daughter, born Virginia, was the eldest of three illegitimate children Galileo fathered. Because Galileo never married Virginia's mother, Virginia herself was deemed "unmarriageable", so it was decided she would join convent life. Thanks dad!

 

  

 

It's all good though. Virginia actually took quite well to the nunnery, being placed with the Florentine order of the Poor Clares at the age of 13; the Poor Clares being a sisterhood of voluntary extreme poverty. Extreme even by "took an oath of poverty" standards. Not only were their habits made of the roughest material, but their meager pantries were kept to only what was absolutely necessary for survival. It was not uncommon for sisters to be bordering on starvation in order to feel closer to God. In the days of Sister Clare herself, the Vatican actually feared the woman WOULD starve herself to death!

 

Virginia took the name Sister Celeste as a nod to her father's work and general love of stars, which she greatly admired. The strong bond between Galileo and his eldest was largely due to Celeste being the most curious and intelligent (in his opinion) of his children. Another of Galileo's daughters, Livia, also joined the same convent shortly after her sister, taking the wickedly cool name Sister Arcangela, but had much more of a struggle acclimating to the environment. Many of Celeste's letters in this book make brief mention of Livia's somewhat morose attitude most days, one letter plainly stating "Livia is already displaying a morbid tendency to melancholy and withdrawal that would shade her adult personality." Livia's struggles made me feel for her and also made me more curious about her in general but sadly Sobel doesn't go into much detail about this daughter, perhaps just because there's even less about her than Celeste.

 

While I found Celeste's letters interesting, I was surprised at how few were actually included in this book, seeing as how the synopsis references how Sobel "crafts a narrative from 124 surviving letters between father and daughter." Sister Celeste seemed like a woman with a good bit of depth too her but I also felt like she was sometimes WAY too hard on herself, in some letters referring to herself as someone of "meager intelligence" or writing to her father to profusely apologize for things that struck me as insubstantial errors or wrongdoings. Humility is admirable, but not when it starts to border on self abuse. 

 

Overall, for the amount of information Sobel covers in this dual biography of sorts, while I didn't find the writing style itself consistently, 100% engaging, the approach I would say is definitely accessible to the average reader. It's a solidly entertaining and educational read for those interested in Galileo or the time in which he lived. There is also an element to Galileo's life story that can inspire thinkers and dreamers of today's world. Think about it -- the guy was willing to challenge not only his own religious upbringing and beliefs that went against his research, but also fellow scientists who were comfortably stuck in their ways, in order to unlock the mysteries of the natural world. His life's work is proof that the naysaying of "haters" as we label them today is based in fear and discomfort with the unknown. Was he always in the right? No, not always, but at least he was brave enough to branch out and challenge himself and others! 

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