Boone: A Biography

A true woodsman, a pioneer and a reluctant icon is Daniel Boone in this informative biography.

Here is the legendary man, who wanted nothing more than to venture into the woods and hunt, fish and find his own peace.

Amid it all, he became a leader, helped set up several towns, made the Cumberland Gap to the West better known, and helped push the western boundary of the United States further west, all before the 1800s.

He paradoxically respected the natives (and was captured and lived as one of them for one stretch), but his actions helped push them out of their own land.

This book offers up a good look at the natives also, not as proto-hippies living at one with the land, but as they really were – sometimes brutal, sometimes big-hearted, sometimes cannibalistic. These were real people, not idealized tree-huggers. Humans, not angels.

But that’s the truth of each side – neither entirely pure nor entirely evil. Atrocities on both sides, and sometimes Boone is caught up between two groups.

Through it all, he just wants to live his life and settle his continuing, massive debts. As he finally reaches the end, he finds peace and leaves a tremendous legacy.

Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography

Melancholy.

That seems to sum up Charles Schulz’s life in one word. For a man known as “Sparky” who created so much joy for millions through Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Woodstock, Lucy, Linus and the gang, he himself was never very happy.

This book covers the cartoonist’s whole life, loves (yes, including an unattainable little red-haired girl), highs, lows and all.

There really is a sadness to his life that comes through this book. It grounds him and gives the reader sympathy for him, but it’s an unrelenting sadness that makes sometimes makes for difficult reading. I guess that means it was true to his life – although some of Schulz’s kids apparently have taken issue with his portrayal in the book.

But back to Peanuts – you’ll learn how he encountered not one but three Charlie Browns in his life, one Linus, and a dog named Snupi. And a little person at his work that seems to be the inspiration for the iconic look of his characters.

Toward the end, Sparky may have found if not happiness at least some measure of contentment. But it didn’t last as cancer quickly took his life.

Peppered with comic strips (some duplicates too, oddly), this is an enlightening read.

The Day of the Barbarians: The Battle That Led to the Fall of the Roman Empire

Here’s a book that held some promise, and for me came up short.

It’s about the slow fall of the Roman Empire, and seemed it would be predicated upon the loss of one decisive battle with Barbarian hordes … but upon reading, that’s not what happened at all.

So why does this title portray it as such?

This is much more the account of how the Romans allowed the Barbarians to take them over slowly – hiring them as soldiers when the Roman people wouldn’t fight, etc.

Conflict rose, the hired soldiers fought, joined with their brethren entering the empire (who were allowed in to farm), and then they won some key battles.

So was it all over for the empire then? No. The slide began (and had already begun), but it was hundreds of years before the Empire was done.

So why is it portrayed as a decisive, empire-ending battle? Maybe to get you to read the book!

It was short, and made me want to learn more about the Roman Empire. But this isn’t a great starting point if you want a deep dive into history.

The Dallas Cowboys: The Outrageous History of the Biggest, Loudest, Most Hated, Best Loved Football

So I thought I’d read about the Dallas Cowboys upon the occasion of their 60th anniversary, hoping to celebrate a good season to come.

The team at this moment is 1-3 and we’re heading for another mediocre year … again.

But it weren’t always this way, as this book shows.

This book follows the team from its creation until the glory years of the ’70s, the slide of the ’80s, the return to glory of the ’90s, and the fair-to-middlin’ years since. The book, published around the 50th anniversary, ends with the coming of Bill Parcells and Tony Romo, and was filled with hope.

Sounds an awful lot like today, with Mike McCarthy and Dak Prescott. I hope it ends better.

This book presents warts and all, which is a fair way to present the team. Along with the highs of Staubach and Lilly and Dorsett and Smith and Aikman, there are the lows of Bob Hayes’ drug arrests, Michael Irvin and Pete Gent and Lance Rentzel and Rafael Septien … read up if you don’t know.

It’s a good look at a legendary team with millions of fans and millions more of haters. A good read.

How the Post Office Created America: A History

Amid all the wrangling over the fate of the USPS, here’s a look at the post office, how it came to be, and, frankly, where it went wrong.

Until 1966, it was an agency of the federal government, even a part of the Cabinet. And since then, it’s run a massive deficit.

How the Post Office Created America: A History

Actually, it pretty much has ALWAYS run a deficit, because of what its mission was: carry mail to every corner of the country, no matter what. And it was spectacularly successful, despite all the challenges, of distance, prices and aging equipment.

Another constant challenge was the spoils system, whereby winning political parties handed out postmaster jobs all over the nation, to people that had no idea how to do the job.

It’s all here, from postal roads and development of highways in the country, how the railroads helped, the coming of the telegraph, and even the side story of the Pony Express. But it started sliding backward, falling behind on technology.

Finally, it was cut loose, and tried to catch up, but “mistakes were made.” The government-run corporation shed its spoils jobs, but was stuck in old buildings with old equipment. The rising cost of the workforce hurt – when this was written, 80% of the USPS budget went to worker salaries and benefits – and those responsible for oversight lacked political will to fix it.

And even with years of warnings, the USPS got caught flatfooted by email, instead of leading the charge.

As it stands, the future of the USPS is up in the air, due to more than just politics. But its history is rich and gives insight to the growth of the U.S.

NFL Century: The One-Hundred-Year Rise of America’s Greatest Sports League

As the NFL enters it second century, this is a look back at its first, from the pros just before 1920, to the organization of the league, and all the stories after.

It’s a look at some of the familiar stories (if you’re a football fan), told from a new angle, along with some new stories.

It’s here from the 1958 Championship Game (“The Greatest Game Every Played”), to the formation of the AFL, to the glory years of the ’70s, this is a fun look at the game. Plus, there are chapters about the first black quarterback to start in the NFL (James Harris), to how the Cowboys were built in the ’90s, to the expansion of the game, both number of teams and breadth of reach.

One thing that bugged me about this book, though, are a couple of mistakes that I found. For example, the New York Jets signed Joe Namath, beating out the St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL – but this books says it was the Chicago Cardinals (they had already moved). It also had the wrong score of SBII. Not major things, but it just makes me wonder what other errors are in here that I trust the author – the former executive director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame – to have gotten right.

Not the worst book on the NFL I’ve read, but maybe not the best.

Three Days in January: Dwight Eisenhower’s Final Mission

For the final three days of Dwight Eisenhower’s administration, he hosted president-elect John Kennedy at what was to be called Camp David (at the time, Shangri-La). The president was trying to prepare the president-elect for the road ahead.

Kennedy didn’t really listen.

What followed was a rash of Cold War mistakes including an unsuccessful meeting with Khrushchev and the standoff that led to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Kennedy, fresh off a razor-thin victory over Eisenhower’s VP, Nixon, felt he could handle whatever came his way, and was brash and young enough to believe it. He would fill his administration with pointy heads from Ivy League schools, and many were unprepared to meet the Soviets across the table.

This book also touches on the reality that had Eisenhower backed Nixon only a little, Nixon would have won, and the Cold War (and probably the Cuban Missile Crisis) would have gone differently.

Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

A hit from the past, I read this in January 2019.

This is one of a couple of books on candy out there, and I think it’s a good one because it doesn’t condemn people for liking candy! A few other books out there are pretty nasty about our candy obsession, but this one is a fun, non-judgmental look at sweet treats.

One review I read says it’s about how candy became food and how food has become candy, and that’s a pretty fair assessment. It’s about the slow development of our sweet tooths (teeth?) and how changes in the manufacture of sugar helped that along.

From candy as a luxury good to an everyday snack, from an energy food to a lazy treat, from heavenly goodness to a sinful addiction, this book looks at how this all developed.

Her final assessment: Enjoy candy, but be reasonable about it. Recommended.

Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat

Here’s one I just finished, Sept. 2020. It’s a look at the ways we’ve developed our cooking and eating habits.

This covers the gamut, from the first time people tried something other than roasting food (boiling, they think), and the ways we did it – starting from pits to pots.

This history also looks at cookware, the development of ovens and stoves, cookbooks, measuring and even how we started manufacturing ice (a very American obsession).

And of course, a look at spoons, knives and forks.

It’s better than I was expecting, right up there with anything Mark Kurlansky would write, like Salt and Cod.

Totally worthy, and a recommended one from me.

 

… And we’re back.

So I’ve decided to start up again for various reasons, not least of which being because I’ve been reading like crazy this year in Our Time Of COVID.

You can see I left off at the tippy-top of 2019, so I have a lot to catch up with. Plus, I want to add reviews for my current reads. So until I catch up, it’ll be a mix of books a read up to 2 years ago to books I’ve just finished.

One of the incentives to read has been my discovery of BookOutlet. Click on that link and you can get remainder books cheap, sometimes as much as 20% off their low prices. And if you do, I get some points to save on books.

So watch this space and I’ll start reviewing again soon.

-Ralph