William Henry Harrison by Gail Collins (Presidential Bio Series)

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William Henry Harrison is the president who never had a chance to building a legacy as he died one month into office. We at best can guess what he might have done. Believe it or not, he is still part of only four families (Adams, Roosevelt, and Bush being the others) to have two occupants in the White House as his grandson Benjamin would later be president.

His real claim to fame was the Battle of Tippencanoe and the War of 1812. In fact, he was an older man whose career seemed over when the presidency came calling. He seemed a devoted family man and was father to many children.

Gail Collins outlined the bare facts of his life, and was a fine writer, but she was totally out of sympathy with him. As with most in his generation, he walked a tightrope on the issue of slavery and that was enough for Collins to completely write him off. Her boorish portrait was not substantiated by facts.

I have looked deeply to trace out the religion of each president on my journey to read a biography on each president. She never once mentioned his religion and I checked the index when I finished just in case I missed something–nothing!

Though this book is part of the reputable American Presidents Series, I wish I had chosen a different volume. While he may not have been one of our outstanding presidents, I feel he was far more a decent man than presented here.

Pearl Harbor by Craig Nelson

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This book is a great read. Besides being a great retelling of a pivotal event in the history of our nation, this volume succeeds in putting Pearl Harbor in its proper context.  It clarified what I knew and taught me much that I did not. 

Nelson divides his book into three main parts. Part 1 discusses the roads to war in five informative chapters. Since you know what is coming, bad judgments jump off the page. Still, it makes for fascinating reading. That the politicians and military brass could be taken that by surprise is shocking and would be unforgivable were it not for the incredible war effort put together every day after December 7, 1941 until victory.

The heart of the book is in Part 2 that describes December 7th itself. I loved his taking a chapter for the attack from the air against everything except the ships.  It was gripping and you could so visualize the events. When he turned to the battleships it only became more intense and powerful. What many sailors faced is simply beyond description. I loved too how he explained the fear that raged for days after the attack. I felt I got inside the minds of those who lived it on these pages.

The last part cherry picked history from the rest of the war and beyond flawlessly to conclude the story of Pearl Harbor. It was the perfect length to make sense of a senseless event.

This book is a winner for anyone who loves reading history in a style worthy of a novel with careful reconstruction of events. I imagine you’ll love it. 

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

 

Introduction to World Christian History by Derek Cooper

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This book serves as a short introduction to Christian history and actually covers that territory in 250 pages. It’s other unique feature is the extent it goes to prove that Christianity has a global rather than a western history.

The volume was successful in proving what we often forget–Christianity has had peak periods all over the world. I personally wasn’t aware how some areas, like, for example, the Far East, had periods of flourishing in Christianity. The history is presented in broad sweeps, but you could easily get the big picture and know where to pursue other studies.

Reading a broad introduction also made it easy to notice trends. I was amazed how getting close to any government often spelled a sudden destruction of Christianity. There was proof given too of how European countries that once were highly Christian are now  mostly secular.

The downside of the book is that it makes no distinction of anything ever called Christian. It passes no judgment except where western excesses were presented, or so it seemed to me. In an effort to make a global case, it was too threadbare in presenting American Christianity.

Still, it is a great book for a broad perspective and a global emphasis.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Bush by Jean Edward Smith (Presidential Bio Series)

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Here’s the first stab at a definitive biography of George W. Bush by a major biographer. I don’t think it will hold that title long if another famous biographer tries his hand, but it is first in that sense. It’s hard for me to classify this biography. On the one hand, the skilled hand of Mr. Smith is ever present, yet he makes blunders as well. I could hardly put the book down, yet I disagreed often and picked up on clear bias.

There is plenty of research, no character discussed is ever wooden, and you learn much about Mr. Bush’s personality. Still, Smith paints in broad strokes. He equates Bush’s distinct Christianity with a lack of sophistication, his penchant for “deciding” as reckless and brash, and his outlook, particularly on Iraq, a general naivety that continually led him astray.

Smith failed to see that perhaps that Christianity gave him a moral grounding that is often tragically missing in Washington. Right or wrong, he really meant well. His “deciding” was surely better than indecisiveness in horrific events. ( 911, Katrina, the Great Recession–Bush wasn’t a lucky man).When Smith outlined what Bush should have done, he at times looked like the naive one when he seemed to feel that his ideas would have flawlessly followed the script. No matter the plan, the players in Iraq and surrounding areas were the equivalent to having a tiger by the tail. We all learned that together.

When he suggests that Bush overreacted to 911, he doesn’t connect the dots to what he told us in this book–we all wanted to go fight somebody! The Democrats were ready too. A few started disagreeing when Iraq was brought up, but very few at the beginning.Even in this harsh assessment too, there is no doubt that Bush believed there were weapons of mass destruction. If you sincerely believed that to be true, what else could you have done? He writes as if 20/20 hindsight was at Bush’s disposal beforehand.

There’s criticism of his managing of his staff. What president didn’t have staff issues, or been guilty of listening too much to the most agreeable staff members. That’s the human element that always complicates management.

Bush had some failures for sure. Like most of us, often our greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses come from the same component of our personality. It was likely true for Bush too. Amazingly, he quotes Bush admitting, to some degree, many of the very things Smith perhaps overemphasizes. I actually grew to appreciate Bush in places I had not before, especially in things like his handling of the mortgage crisis. We teetered on the edge of a crisis to rival the Great Depression and it called for measures that we might most of the time strongly disagree with. It’s almost 8 years later and Bush clearly got that one right.

As for the book, Smith tells us he thinks Bush is a horrible disaster in the first paragraph. (Was the editor asleep?) Forget building a case and convincing the audience over the course of the book. That crazy method put him on trial as much as Bush page by page.

So is this a great book? I closed it at the end more confident that Bush was a genuinely good man who gave it his all. I was further convinced that Bush would be a guy quite enjoyable to spend a day with. He’d defend his overall approach as it was a matter of principle to him, yet he would readily admit his mistakes, and he’d be a gracious host whether you agreed with him or not. I found that refreshing here in July 2016 as this book hits the shelves and we are in more danger than in Bush’s days and miss his magnanimous ways.

So I reached those conclusions and grew in appreciation of Bush while this book I couldn’t put down tried to convince me that he was a failure. Does that make it a five-star wonder or a one-star dud? I have no idea. I’ll be gracious like George W. Bush and give it 4 stars.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Josephus–Carta’s Illustrated The Jewish War

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Carta Jerusalem keeps finding ways to put their treasured maps into the hands of Bible students. This book is especially creative in that regard. Most of us are very familiar with Josephus and here we have the popular translation by William Whiston of Josephus’ The Jewish War.  What makes this classic new and vibrant is the Carta maps profusely interspersed at appropriate places in the text. 

An added jewel in an introduction by noted New Testament scholar R. Steven Notley that really helps us get hold of the life, writings, and importance of Josephus.

Pictures of places add even more as does a users’ guide for The Carta Bible Atlas and The Sacred Bridge, which are the best in the field and are loved by many of us.

This is a publishing event and a real asset to have!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Andrew Jackson by Jon Meacham (Presidential Bio Series)

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“American Lion” could hardly be more accurate. Jackson had personality and to spare. He strikes me as the first populist President, and was far more loved by the people than his colleagues in Washington. Meacham brought him to life in this Pulitzer-winning volume, making me feel I know Jackson so much better.

Perhaps Jackson is the quintessential enigma. A man who could be tender at one moment and a raging torrent the next, Jackson is hard to fully explain. He was involved in much violence in his life. He was happy to duel no matter how small the disagreement, yet he was an accomplished general. He was bitter over what people said of his Rachel, yet he appears not to be innocent of adultery in the matter. He fought hard over issues he believed in, yet got totally sidetracked in his first term over the Eaton mess.

This dichotomy shows up in the big picture of his presidency too. He accomplished many of the things he sought to do, yet it included his horrible treatment of Indians. He could be shamefully petty, yet marvelously bold. He weathered nullification and held the Union together against some strong opponents in the South, yet he had slaves.

The most fascinating thing about him was his Christianity. He had the questionable marriage, an outrageous temper, and a penchant for violence, yet he said some of the strongest Christian statements I’ve seen from a President. He had a better record of church attendance than most too. Note the statement recorded on page 343 by Meacham about Jesus his Savior “who died upon the cross for me”.

Meacham succeeds in presenting Jackson. Critics point out that his focus on Jackson’s presidential days left the other parts of his life too bare. He got a little carried away on the Eatons to the point that he may have exaggerated their importance in Jackson’s first term. Still, he gave us Jackson the man, and I for one, was glad to read it.

 

Other Presidential biographies

The Baptist Story–A Great New Book

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Here we have an up-to-date Baptist History textbook. They are harder to come by than you might imagine and this one boasts careful historical analysis, nice pictures, and good writing–the very things so often missing in a text book. Respected scholars Anthony L. Chute, Nathan A. Finn, ans Michael A. G. Haykin join forces to deliver the definitive textbook on Baptists for this generation.

Successionists, or Landmarkers, will be disappointed as Baptists are traced to the 1600s as an English sect. Though there are some similarities to Anabapists and other groups, they followed the evidence and cannot a historically verifiable succession. Even if you are a follower of Landmark thought, you will still find a wonderful historical record from the 17th Century to today.

Though you find a love for all things Baptists here, there is no hiding our less seemly features. We have had a penchant for arguing over the years and that is respectfully handled. Since the Southern Baptists have grown to be the biggest of the Baptist world, they get the most coverage. Still, a fair handling of how other Baptists groups emerged, what issues divided, and how it worked out over time is given. Independent Baptists are treated fairly and the issues why they left the Convention are accurately reported.

This is a fine resource and I highly recommend it.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion by Wilsey

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Have you ever read about a subject that you have known for a long time that you needed to have deeply thought about, but had not? That is the experience I have had in this unique volume. I am a Christian and consider myself first and foremost a follower of Jesus Christ. At the same time, I am one of those old-fashioned patriotic types who can get a lump in my throat in a whole variety of patriotic settings. Mr. Wilsey forced me to reconcile some things where I had never done so before.

He clearly had a Bible first and patriotism second attitude of which I agree. I even saw the traces of that same patriotic background in his life. I could show you several sentences and paragraphs in this volume, and even some historical assessments where I could not agree, but he gave me the tools to evaluate this issue. My final conclusions were not far from his when I finished.

He distinguishes throughout the book a helpful “open exceptionalism” and a “closed exceptionalism” that conflicts with Christianity. His categories may not always divide as neatly as they do in his mind, but his point is well made.

I intend to use what I learned in this volume going forward. It’s scholarly and helpful throughout.  I know of no other book quite like it and I highly recommend it.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Churchill’s Trial by Larry Arnn

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Here is a book designed to take history and teach today vital lessons. Winston Churchill and his nuanced life is the fodder for those lessons. Larry Arnn, one of the most informed scholars on Churchill, writes from the reservoir of his deep understanding of Churchill.

The book is divided in three parts: war, empire, and peace. The idea is to take what Churchill said, and to a lesser extent, did, and apply it to free government. That approach entails Churchill facing Nazism, communism, and finally socialism in his own country. Arnn views Churchill as statesmen and guide for us in these troubling days for freedom.

Churchill truly was a once-in-a-generation statesman. What he has to say is so worth listening to, is unique and enjoyable, and so Arnn often lets Churchill do the talking. Arnn succeeds in making the case for free government through the lens of Churchill’s life. He believes that Churchill was a success because we would be much worse off were it not for the contribution he made. My miss is that we a statesman like Churchill today who could as effectively make the case–it’s sorely needed.
I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Last Act: The Final Years And Emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan by Shirley

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What a book! If you admire Ronald Reagan, you will find this book fascinating. If you, as I did, watched for every story about him after he announced his Alzheimer’s and watched every part of his funeral with several tears along the way, this book will fill in all those questions you probably had.

Craig Shirley writes the story in a way that is gripping. When I began reading his method of jumping between the first days of President Reagan leaving office and the days just before he died, I thought it would undermine the book, but it simply did not.

So many insights into the fine character and honest makeup that defined Reagan are here. Actually, I must warn you–you will have waves of deeply missing him again as you read. You will more deeply opine the lack of people like him today too. I believe you will see that Mrs. Reagan is far better than the witch the media unfairly made her to be as well.

Those who served under him, for the most part, adored him. He forced no cynicism on those who served him as many do. Even burly Secret Service men were reduced to heavy tears when he died. Even after Alzheimer’s did its ugly work on him, he was still the man who wanted to stop and help a who man had a flat.

For the most incredible contrast, a story of Nixon ignoring his ailing wife one day and Clinton making a pass at one of Reagan’s young interns and making himself a nuisance by relentlessly begging to speak at Reagan’s funeral were told. Thanks Nancy for holding a firm “no” on that point!

There’s so much more. I love this book. I can’t think of anyone who has lived in my lifetime for whom I would want this kind of information, but Ronald Reagan was for me just such a man. This book is a treasure for those who love the Gipper and would be a great help to those who don’t, but should.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Other Presidential Biographies