spoiler alert: The Founding Fathers hated each other…

So… “Hamilton” is a thing. You can’t get much more all-American than George Washington. Jefferson created the basis for the laws we still follow today. And there are a handful of other Founding Fathers we learn about in elementary school, and then probably forget unless somebody asks us “who is on the $1 bill?” or their birthday means we get a day off from work or school.

But do you know what we don’t learn about the Founding Fathers in elementary school?

That they kinda hated each other with an awesome sort of passion.

I sort of knew this, especially since Alexander Hamilton was the sort of guy who would duel and be killed by Aaron Burr, the Vice President!

There is so much more to the feuds of the Founding Fathers, though. So very much more. And Paul Aron lays it all out brilliantly in FOUNDING FEUDS.

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If you ever need a good, old-timey insult to fling at somebody during a political debate (and who doesn’t need an insult in a political debate?), look no further than the Founding Fathers. After all, Aron cites William Cobbett saying of Thomas Paine (English and European, but also greatly influencing the creation of America was we know it):

How Tom gets a living now, or what brothel he inhabits, I know not. Whether his carcass is at last to be suffered to rot on the earth, or to be dried in the air, is of very little consequence… Like Judas he will be remembered by posterity; men will learn to express all that is base, malignant, treacherous, unnatural and blasphemous, by the singly monosyllable, Paine.

And they were friends! (Sometimes.)

But that’s just a taste.

It’s really not surprising that they showed and shared such a deep-rooted dislike for and distrust of one another. Their egos and senses of self had to be huge to think they could start a revolution and found a country. No way they could all peacefully co-exist without proverbial, and sometimes literal, bloodshed.

So if you need a break from the political bickering that’s currently and always ongoing, I could not recommend something more than I can recommend this book. The vaunted Founding Fathers argued in a much classier way, and they weren’t afraid to mince their words. It’s great!

(I received a copy of FOUNDING FEUDS through NetGalley and SOURCEBOOKS in exchange for an honest & original review. All thoughts are my own.)

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“Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History” by Bill Schutt


I don’t remember exactly why seeing Bill Schutt’s CANNIBALISM: A PERFECTLY NATURAL HISTORY on NetGalley made me think “ooh, I need to read that book” but I requested it. I got it. I added it to my To Be Read list. And I didn’t read it. But then… I decided to do a reading challenge for 2017 (and by “do a reading challenge” I do mean “attempt and probably fail a reading challenge”) and events went sort of like this…

I scanned the list of categories to assign books, because when you feel overwhelmed by something you chose to do you should always make it more complicated. I saw the category “A Book About Food.” I remembered that I had an ARC of Bill Schutt’s book on cannibalism. I stopped looking for other books on food.

It was a good match.

And it became a perfect match after I read the book.

Truth be told, I liked this book so much family and friends got tired of me telling them about it. I have no regrets about continuing to tell them about it, even as and partly because they proved some of Schutt’s points about cannibalism being a taboo that still brings out strong opinions – like my pregnant sister being very defensive over the idea that breastfeeding might be a form of cannibalism.

But talking about books is what makes them worth reading, in my humble opinion. And I refused to be swayed from that.

One of the odder things about the book, however, is that I found the first half, the half about cannibalism in the animal kingdom far more interesting than the part of the book about human and human related cannibalism. I think that may be because the human part focused so heavily on BSE (Mad Cow Disease) and the kuru that affected the Fore tribe of New Guinea. That was an awful lot of science for the non-science mind that I possess. Chromosomes and genetics and adapted virus are just… 

I like history so the explanations, more in depth than I’ve read before, of Christopher Columbus and how he maybe turned the larger part of the Caribbean and Central America into would-be cannibals because he found no gold to speak of and needed to make money on heathen cannibal slaves were perfect for my history mind.

And the story about how former President George H.W. Bush narrowly escaped being food… I did not know that!

What made the still science-y part of animal kingdom cannibalism readable and enjoyable to a lay person like me was Schutt’s jokes, self-deprecating humor, and editorial asides on everything. it made a book that could be required reading for a college biology course fun. And it made me kind of, whatever that says about me, obsessed with the topic. 

Not that I’m about to start cooking up my neighbors. I like the history of it, the clear and logical explanations for it as survival, and the way it was presented.

I am so glad I requested this book and I think it fits perfectly a a “Book About Food”!

(I received an advance copy of this book through NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.)

Reviewed: “A Common Struggle” by Patrick J. Kennedy & Stephen Fried

53I have read a lot of books on the Kennedy family, probably too many. Few Kennedys have written books so there was an immediate appeal with A Common Struggle when it was released and Patrick Kennedy did interviews for it on “60 Minutes” and in other places. I can admit I wanted to read it more for the biography slash family history specifics for the mental illness and addiction aspect, which may be part of the reason Kennedy included the personal stories that certain members of the family were reportedly upset with. Perhaps he was trying to reach a wider audience about mental health and addiction by bringing in the celebrity obsessed culture that still wants to know about his family.

It seemed that way in what he wrote. as the chapters contained a balanced mix of family life, Kennedy’s personal struggles with mental illness and addiction, and the wider fight for help for those suffering.

The high point of the book is that I learned many things that I did not know about how treatment for mental illness and addiction moved away from asylums and other horrors of the 19th and early 20th century and into the hope for better lives for those suffering. Hope, of course, is not always self-fulfilling and Kennedy makes it obvious that just because we don’t lock people away out of shame and lack of other options does not mean the system is “fixed.”

The good point of the book is that Kennedy’s ability to and method of relating much of how mental illness and addiction are seen to his own personal experiences makes an uninformed reader, who maybe does not have either of those things in their family – though everyone probably does to some degree, want to learn to more about and maybe, I am sure it is his hope, join the movement to do something about it.

The low point of the book is the Congress-speak. CSPAN can be boring if they’re not talking about something you’re passionate about and Kennedy’s very intense and close looks at what is essentially the old cartoon of “How a Bill Becomes a Law” tend to bog down the whole thing. Once I realized I’d forgotten what half the alphabet soup acronyms stood for, it was hard to care and I found myself skimming. That’s not to say there would be a better way to write it, because I don’t know that there would, it just didn’t help keep my interest.

It is an important book, because it tells an important message even though Kennedy often seems to get wrapped up in his own narrow worldview. Then again, who in the same situation, or in any situation, would not get wrapped up in his or her own worldview? The only difference is that he’s a Kennedy and people want to read about Kennedy secrets.

I received a copy of A Common Struggle through NetGalley and Blue Rider Press in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.

Reviewed: “Harem: The World Behind the Veil” by Alev Lytle Croutier

50.jpgI think everybody is a little bit fascinated by harems. Hollywood and the arts have made it so.

That’s why I wanted to read Alev Lytle Croutier’s HAREM: THE WORLD BEHIND THE VEIL. I wanted to know some truth about it and Croutier’s work was advertised to tell me just that. Not being well-versed in Turkish history and Islam, the key points of the book, I have no choice but to take Croutier at her word until I find more information on the subject. And it is fairly easy to do since her own grandmother had been part of a harem and there is really no better first source than the oral traditions of generations.

That being said, HAREM is a fascinating look at the minutiae of life in Turkish harems between the 1500s and the 1900s, primarily the harems of the Sultans at Topkapi Palace and the Seraglio. Croutier seems as knowledgeable about the fabrics used to keep the harem women protected from the eyes of men to the methods by which their guards, servants, and staff became eunuchs. The research she does for the book shows on every page. I can’t count the number of times I put the book down to go and tell someone a fact I learned that I should have known before or to Google some topic (the most interesting being the Skoptsy cult in Tsarist Russia) for more information. That, for me, is the sign of an excellent non-fiction book.

I want to read biographies of Roxalena, Nakshidil, Kosem, and all the other harem women Croutier sites as women who stepped out of the harem, at least figuratively, and asserted themselves to the point even of ruling Turkey with the sultans. I want to read more about the slave women, known as odalisques, who served in the harem and sometimes rose to great favor with sultans. This book, HAREM, has made me want more.

The only fault I find with the book is that Croutier sometimes spends paragraphs explaining what some artist did to portray the harem and then a different picture by a different artist is shown. It was a little confusing and vaguely disappointing, though I do realize it would be hard to get permission for the most famous things to be reprinted in the book. But really, I want a fully illustrated version of this book. What’s there is fine, I’m greedy enough to want more.

(I received a copy of HAREM: THE WORLD BEHIND THE VEIL through NetGalley and Abbeville Press in exchange for an honest and original review.)

Reviewed: “Rain: A Natural and Cultural History” by Cynthia Barnett

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I think I wanted to ead Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett because of the news coverage of the California droughts. Rain was, is a contemporary and current topic. Then I got the book and it slipped a little low on my to-read list because it seemed so much more… relaxing to read fiction because fiction is much more of a “maybe” than non-fiction.

But I review books and I feel guilty about my to-read list so I cracked open this book.

And it was honestly hard to put it down.

I honestly never expected a book about rain to be so relatable. In hindsight, a slightly closer examination of the extended title would have clued me in. Barnett’s book isn’t just the science of meteorology. Her book is meterology, science, warfare, history, literature, music, perfumes, the development of culture, and so very much more. And I love half of those thing and like the other half.

I haven’t highlighted and written in margins this much since I was in college. Which reminds me that college students should have to read this book, regardless of their majors. I underlined things I wanted to Google, places I’d visit based on Barnett’s descriptions. I told friends and family the facts I learned from the book; Seattle isn’t close to the rainiest city in America, Emily Dickinson probably had Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), windshield wipers were invented and patented by women before Henry Ford stole the idea, the earliest raincoats (mackintosh) involved human urine – just to name a few things.

My favorite moment with the book, though, is probably when fate found me sitting on a blanket in my yard while I read Barnett’s history of how clouds were named; cumulus, nimbus, etc., and I tried to name the clouds in the sky above me.

More than college students should read this book. Everyone should.

(I received an advanced reader’s edtion of Rain: A Natural and Cultural History through Read It Forward in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.)

Reviewed: “Interrogating Ellie” by Julian Gray

Interrogating EllieInterrogating Ellie is Julian Gray’s fictionalized account of the real life of Ellie Maurer – who becomes Ellie Bauer for the book, a British woman who lived in Austria for the duration of World War II. Gray combines Ellie’s real life and the people she knew, based on her interrogation files, with other colorful characters who are drawn and adapted from other stories of Austria during the 1940s.

The fictionalization of reality in Interrogating Ellie does not make the reality of horrors in World War II any less.

Ellie Bauer is a woman who can’t be classified, literally and figuratively. Growing up without her mother and not having any idea who her father was, she comes to adulthood searching for a family. This would seem to be why she agrees to move from Jersey to Austria with her Austrian husband and their daughter just as the Nazis come to power. To say it is a mistake would be putting it lightly.

But this is an area we don’t often read about in World War II – average Austrian families and how they dealt with national pride warring with National Socialism. And Gray handles it beautifully. Ellie goes through the things during her time with the Bauer family that many women have gone through, but it’s made more daunting by the Nazis.

When she’s cut off from her family, she’s forced to survive the war on her own in Austria. She alternates between following the rules – registering with the work and housing authorities – and breaking the rules – hosting clandestine resistance meetings while not being registered to work. It’s about survival for Ellie, nothing else. She has no firm political alliances and even as she learns more about what the swastika and the men behind it mean, she carries on for herself most of all.

And it doesn’t end after the war.

Ellie is forced to fight her way out of Austria to get home to some sort of life in England. She has to fight Austrians, Americans, and British for the right to keep searching for her place in the world. And she never really finds it, even when she wins – or what passes for winning.

Gray’s book on World War II isn’t cloak and dagger resistance movements and it isn’t focused on the concentration camps. It’s more like reality, reality that probably was for a lot of women in that time and in that place. That is what makes it beautiful.

Interrogating Ellie is available for purchase now.

I received a copy of Interrogating Ellie through NetGalley and cloiff books in exchange for an honest & original review.

Reviewed: “Dressed for War: Uniform, Civilian Clothing & Trappings, 1914-1918” by Nina Edwards

Dressed for WarNina Edwards’ “Dressed for War” is a fascinating look at the fashion that defined the years of the First World War. Anyone with an equal interest in fashion and history will see this book as enlightening and important.

As someone more interested in history than fashion, someone who wants visuals when it comes to art – and fashion is art, I thought the book could have used more photographs or illustrations but it doesn’t take away from the overall importance of the book.

(I received a copy of “Dressed for War” through NetGalley in exchange for a review. This review will be posted on NetGalley, Goodreads, and on my blog.)