Soldiers of Misfortune: The Somervell and Mier Expeditions by Sam W. Haynes

Filed under:Favorites,History — posted by Randolph on June 16, 2013 @ 8:19 pm

Soldiers of Misfortune: The Somervell and Mier Expeditions by Sam W. Haynes

This book tells the history of the Republic of Texas as seen through the backdrop of the Mier Expedition. There is much to this story that we aren’t taught and never learn. It was a time full of turmoil with a lot of politics that molded the Republic’s history.

The book starts just prior to the Somervell expedition to explain why the Mier expedition happened. The story continues to the return of all but one of the Mier prisoners, at a time when the Republic’s joining the US was all but certain.

Sam Houston played a dominant roll in the book, and is portrayed as a level-headed, although very political player. He was restrained, and tried to avoid conflict with Mexico, a fight he felt Texas could not afford nor could win. Texas was in debt, and did not have a standing in the world that enabled her to borrow. Fortunately, Mexico was not in better shape, trying to keep many rebellious states in line and having its own monetary shortfall, and a Congress that did not support the military as Santa Anna desired.

Untold events that played major roles in the history include Thomas Jefferson Green, who captured Santa Anna for his own prestige and violated the peace treaty won at San Jacinto. This lead to Santa Anna’s authorized raids on San Antonio, trying to provoke Texas.

Sam Houston tried to keep Texas out of the war in spite of a vast majority of Texans wanting to invade Mexico. He assigned an inexperienced politician to lead the army, then tied it up sitting, or moving in unproductive manners to encourage defections.

Texas was full of individuals and adventurers. These people could not train effectively, they could not follow orders, and were prone to acting on impulse. Sam Houston was fighting an uphill battle to keep Texas out of a war, and treated the Mier soldiers as independent, he would not work to have the prisoners released. This provided fodder to his political enemies.

Sam Houston played England, the US, and Mexico against each other, each wanted Texas as part of its territory. He skillfully manipulated each to achieve his goal of Texas becoming part of the US.

In the end, the prisoners were released, with help from an English ambassador. Although forgotten by most Texans, they were eventually rewarded with back pay as soldiers of Texas, thus being officially recognized.

This is a great book for anyone even slightly interested in Texas history or politics. The turmoil and politics of the time are portrayed well.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Filed under:Favorites,Science — posted by Randolph on February 7, 2013 @ 2:55 pm

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Daniel Kahneman is a psychologist who earned the 2002 Nobel Prize in economics. He has done research into our decision-making processes uncovering a wealth of information about how we make bad decisions and why. This book delves into that research.

The book explores our brain in two different aspects, we have an intuitive mind that makes quick decisions based on generalizations, and an analytical mind that tries to analyze information. Each of these methods works very well in many cases, but both fail extraordinarily in many specific cases. Daniel Kahneman explores these, uncovering many ways we make bad decisions and revealing why.

The book is full of interesting anecdotes that really drive the points home. He discusses a lot of research and the conclusions that can be drawn from them. The hope is that with an understanding of why we make bad decisions and recognizing them in others will help us recognize them in ourselves.

Overall, the book is very informative and easy to read. Everyone should consider reading this to improve your own decision-making abilities.

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

Filed under:Chief Inspector Armand Gamache,Favorites,Mystery,Series — posted by Randolph on December 3, 2010 @ 9:35 pm

This is the sixth mystery in theThree Pines series involving Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.  It is set in the bitter winter of Quebec.  This story involves four intertwined mysteries that Gamache has to unravel, one of which played out in Quebec’s distant past.

This book continues from the last book, The Brutal Telling , following Oliver’s conviction.  Gamache is convinced Oliver is innocent, but there is no proof.  Nor does Gabri, who sends Gamache daily letters: “Why would Oliver move the body?

Now there are further events, a murder in a library, a mysterious archaeologist, and an officer is shot.  Louise Penny drops clues of events to come starting with page one: with a police raid, [Gamache] had made a mistake.

Louis Penny has an extraordinary ability to tell a story, and in this book she takes the art to a new level.  The stories interweave very naturally as Gamache works on all the issues and works his resources.

As usual, her characters are rich with histories, interests, and deep interactions with each other.  She brings the town to life with its English-speaking culture within the Francophones of Quebec.  She researches her information well and it shows in her details.

Gamache is exposed to us a little more with a chink in his armor.  His relationship with is fellow officers and the community of Three Pines grows.  There are some questions that still need answering.  I’m looking forward to book 7.

April 1865 by Jay Winik

Filed under:Favorites,History — posted by Randolph on October 22, 2010 @ 4:11 pm

April 1865: The Month That Saved America by Jay WinikApril 1865 is about the end of the Civil War. It describes the history that lead to the particular events that occurred, starting with the constitution and continuing through the final surrender. At every step, the lecturer discusses what it means to the nation, as a whole.

Jay Winik, the author and lecturer, is a professor of history and has served in national security. His work has involved him in numerous civil wars around the globe.

I wasn’t sure what to make of this, I picked it up at Barnes and Noble during one of their 75%-off sales. My first impression wasn’t strong, the lecturer was almost monotonic and the content seemed weak. But that impression was quickly replaced when he provided, not just the historical facts, but full background and motivations; then he made it all sound interesting!

Jay Winik builds the story mostly chronologically, discussing each of a large number of major characters. For each, he provides a background, discusses strengths and weaknesses, and his position in the power and political pictures of the period. He made the people come to life, they were no longer names in a book, but real people. He brought the struggles, defined the relationships between the different people, and build their personalities.

There is so much information that we never learned, I strongly recommend this lecture series for anyone interested in history. For any US Civil War buffs, it is a must.

The Spellmans Strike Again: A Novel by Lisa Lutz

Filed under:Favorites,Humor,Mystery,Series,The Spellmans — posted by Randolph on May 19, 2010 @ 3:58 pm

The Spellmans Strike Again by Lisa LutzThis is book four in Lisa Lutz’es series of The Spellmans. The books is a humorous look at a family of instigators, only they are dysfunctional.

In this book, Izzy deals with ex-boyfriend #12, the doorknobs are disappearing from the family home, Izzy pays an actor friend to be a spying butler, Rae blackmails a school drug dealer into giving her free rides, Izzy is going on blind dates with lawyers because her mother is blackmailing her, Rae kidnaps her sister Izzy, Rae has everyone wearing “Free Schmidt” t-shirts, and Izzy is still trying to get the dope on their competitor, Harkey. So, it’s just typical stuff.

This is a great read and lives up to the previous volumes.

How Fiction Works by James Wood

Filed under:Art,Favorites — posted by Randolph on March 2, 2010 @ 3:49 pm

How Fiction Works by James WoodThis book provides discusses fiction and provides an analysis of the tools to make it effective.

James Wood talks primarily about the point of view and voice. He does a comparative analysis of different styles and makes frequent and effective use of examples. Throughout the book, he talks about the tension between the narrator and the characters, how the author can use time, character development and conversation, and on. He never completely leaves a topic, as he will remind us in later sections of those earlier elements and how they are being used in conjunction with the current topics.

The book provides a great deal of information, more than can easily be absorbed in its reading. I feel to book had given me new tools for the analysis of literature, and whetted my appetite for more information.

Revenge of the Spellmans: A Novel by Lisa Lutz

Filed under:Favorites,Humor,Mystery — posted by Randolph on August 20, 2009 @ 12:00 am

Revenge of the Spellmans by Lisa LutzThe third installment of the Spellman saga. Izzy has her usual life, nowhere to live so she sneaks in her brother’s place, and she has to spy on him to figure out his secret. Her therapy isn’t going so well, she needs two doctors. Someone is blackmailing her to go to the museum and wash her father’s car. And she doesn’t know why! Meanwhile, Rae cheated on the Psssats, so her parents cancel their disappearance. Did I mention she has a job to spy on a man’s wife? And someone is tailing her. Then she was offered a big bribe, but for what?? Its all explained in the third book [now available in hardback.

Ties That Bind by Phillip Margolin

Filed under:Favorites,Mystery — posted by Randolph on April 24, 2009 @ 3:09 pm

Ties That Bind by Philip MargolinThis is the first Amanda Jaffe novel.

I found it an enjoyable read and one to recommend. The elements all tied together well and there are some good surprises.

Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Uncovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence–and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process by Irene Pepperberg

Filed under:Favorites,History,Science — posted by Randolph on March 24, 2009 @ 3:10 pm

Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Uncovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence--and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process by Irene M. PepperbergThis is the story of Irene Pepperberg, the woman who trained a parrot, Alex, to speak English. It talks about the training, risks, and successes of the project. The story is well told and entertaining, it is easy to get drawn in. I am curious if the research has been continued and with what successes.

The Assault on Reason by Al Gore

Filed under:Favorites,Uncategorized — posted by Randolph on March 23, 2009 @ 4:30 pm

The Assault on Reason by Al Gore


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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace