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The Rock of Anzio

The Rock Of Anzio: From Sicily To Dachau, A History Of The U.S. 45th Infantry DivisionThe Rock Of Anzio: From Sicily To Dachau, A History Of The U.S. 45th Infantry Division by Flint Whitlock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While on vacation in July, my son and I visited the 45th Infantry Museum in Oklahoma City. I'd like known about it but had never stopped there. It's an excellent little museum.

My mother's father was in the 45th and seriously wounded at the Battle of Anzio, spending six months in the hospital and carrying shrapnel in his body near his spine the rest of his life. After touring the museum, I realized I wanted to know more details, so I bought this book in the gift shop.

While often harrowing in its details about combat, the book inspires with the stories of courage from ordinary fellows who are pushed to human extremes.

If you enjoy WWII or military history, I recommend it.

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Freedom in the Making of Western Culture

Freedom: Freedom In The Making Of Western CultureFreedom: Freedom In The Making Of Western Culture by Orlando Patterson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a remarkable achievement.

One is impressed by the sheer breadth of this work. The number of disciplines in which Patterson is well read, evidences understanding, and is able to synthesize--sociology, history, philosophy, classics, literature, theology, biblical studies. His chapters on Saint Paul demonstrate that he had read some of what at the time were the leading scholars on Paul and scholarship that was then new and paradigm shifting, but before the paradigm had fully shifted. One would expect someone not an expert in a field to only know the conventional understanding not the latest groundbreaking ideas.

One is also impressed by his analytical abilities, the way he structures an argument, and the eloquence he musters.

And there is the power and originality of his theses, the core one of which is that freedom, the central value of the Western world, is intimately tied to the history of slavery. And that the dark side of freedom has been carried into contemporary debates.

Other of this theses are also original and compelling, such as that it was women who first prioritized freedom and women who elevated personal freedom again at the close of the Middle Ages and the dawning of modernity.

A truly remarkable book.

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The Ornament of the World

The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval SpainThe Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain by MarĂ­a Rosa Menocal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An enjoyable read about Medieval Spain and the ways in which the three monotheistic faiths interacted with one another and created one of the world's great and most influential cultures. The approach may be a bit romanticized, but who cares. We need to highlight those positive moments in world history that give us glimpses of what is possible.

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Music: A Subversive History

Music: A Subversive HistoryMusic: A Subversive History by Ted Gioia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A really fun read. Gioia advances a few key theses in this history of music--that music is deeply connected to magic, that music is deeply connected to violence, that musical innovations are created by outsiders and eventually mainstreamed by the power structure. The latter means that he doesn't accept some of the standard histories that claim some prominent political or church leader introduced some innovation and he goes looking for where the ideas really came from. He's got a thesis as to why drums were not prominent in early country music, and it ties back to the prehistoric move from hunting to herding cultures. He defends universal aspects of music (arguing with ethnomusicologists) and often the common thread that connects geographically diverse cultures with similar music is the animals they kept. This is full of fun, provocative ideas and stories.

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The International LGBT Rights Movement

The International LGBT Rights Movement: A HistoryThe International LGBT Rights Movement: A History by Laura A. Belmonte
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I met Laura Belmonte when we were both LGBT rights activists on the front lines in Oklahoma in the Aughts. She was a professor at Oklahoma State University who helped organize advocacy organizations in Tulsa and statewide, while I was a pastor and activist in Oklahoma City. She's now the Dean of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech.

This book is the first international history of the LGBT rights movement. And Laura does a marvelous job of covering all the major movements, turning points, and trends. I can imagine she had material for a much larger book than the editors and publishers provided, and that would have been engaging as well.

I've always been very focused on local activism wherever I've lived, rarely engaging much in larger national efforts. So it was insightful to see how the work I've done has participated in and been influenced by these global efforts.

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Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own

Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our OwnBegin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This books is two things at once and does it well, since the one thing is in service of the other. It is a presentation of the thought of James Baldwin in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement. Baldwin's earlier books are his most popular and often read. His later work after the assassinations, the rise of Black Power, and then the conservative backlash has been less examined and has generally been criticized from all sides. Glaude sets about to right these wrongs and demonstrates that Baldwins ideas are rich and fertile.

The second thing the book is is a commentary on our own times and what we need to do to begin again with a more just society. In this goal, the book is one of many books from the last few years attempting to do this work. Glaude achieves this goal through the first goal of the book. Baldwin's later ideas are fertile for helping us to understand America in 2020 and for guiding us in how to begin again.

A worthy read combining literary criticism, historical analysis, social critique, and insights on contemporary public policy.

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Istanbul: Memories and the City

Istanbul: Memories and the CityIstanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have this sense that Istanbul ought to be the great city of the world, based upon its long history and grand location. Pamuk, the great Turkish novelist and Nobel prize winner, instead writes about the melancholy of the city almost two centuries into its decline from being one of the great cosmopolitan capitals of the world.

His tale of the city is highly personal, this book functioning both as a memoir of childhood and adolescence and something of his Ulysses--doing for Istanbul what Joyce's novel did for Dublin. One does feel as is if one has walked along and boated along many of the streets and shorelines after reading this book.

There is also an interesting engagement with the European gaze upon Istanbul, with much attention to 19th century writers and painters who visited the city. Unlike Edward Said's critique of orientalism, Pamuk has a more nuanced and complex interaction with the European gaze, particularly discussing the ways it has shaped him and shaped the city itself, but not fully rejecting it. These chapters form a rather lengthy section at the center of the book.

I delighted in the book at first, but grew weary of it as it continued. I do think it is rather too long, deserving of some substantial editing and condensing. Again toward the end there are some marvelous chapters, such as "First Love."

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Time of the Magicians

Time of the Magicians: Wittgenstein, Benjamin, Cassirer, Heidegger, and the Decade That Reinvented PhilosophyTime of the Magicians: Wittgenstein, Benjamin, Cassirer, Heidegger, and the Decade That Reinvented Philosophy by Wolfram Eilenberger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A look at German philosophy in the decade of the 1920's, focusing on Ludwig Wittgenstein, Walter Benjamin, Ernst Cassirer, and Martin Heidegger. A well told tale. Eilenberger combines story with acute analysis of these complex philosophers and their ideas. These are some of the most easy comprehended introductions to their thought I've encountered.

Opening in the aftermath of the First World War with its traumatizing scars upon these thinkers, their families, and cultures, and concluding as the horizon begins to darken with the clouds of National Socialism, Germany in the 1920's is fertile ground for new philosophical visions. One wonders what impact our current global pandemic might have in seeding new thoughtforms in the 2020's?

While the stories are enjoyable and the discussions of their philosophies are lucid, I completed the volume unsure of the actual point. What larger lessons was I supposed to draw from the book? Why these four particular thinkers? It didn't seem that the focus on these four and their limited interactions (though much is made of a public debate between Cassirer and Heidegger) generated any overarching takeaways.

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Of Plymouth Plantation

Of Plymouth PlantationOf Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read my first excerpt of Bradford's book in tenth grade American Literature class. It was sitting in Mrs. Douthitt's classroom that I first heard the story of my ancestor John Howland falling off the boat and catching a halyard by which he was pulled back in. I experienced an existential moment, realizing that this story from "literature" affected whether or not I even existed.

So it is odd that I had never ventured to read Bradford's book until now. I've read a handful of other historian's books on the Mayflower and the Plymouth colony. But with this being the 400th anniversary year, I thought I should correct my lack.

But little of Bradford's account contains the vivid story like Howland falling off of the Mayflower. Huge sections of the book go into details about controversies over the later business dealings of the colony. Clearly Bradford was trying to defend the colony to the wider English reading audience, but doesn't make for riveting reading four centuries later. Other than to remind you of how much this was also a business enterprise.

There are vivid moments. like the description of how smallpox ravished Native tribes. And the book is a strong reminder of how harrowing and traumatizing the whole experience was on those original pilgrims.

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Framed: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO, and the Omaha Two Story

FRAMED: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO & the Omaha Two storyFRAMED: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO & the Omaha Two story by Michael Richardson


One of Omaha's most notorious cases. Richardson argues, obviously from the title, that Poindexter and Rice were framed by the FBI for the murder of officer Minard.

This book is not an easy read because the other piles on the facts and long quotes from documents and testimony with little narrative structure. One wishes for this exhaustive research to be shaped with better skill into a story.

I did like learning more about my congregation's role in this story, as First Central had hosted a forum on police brutality directly before the murder and received much criticism for it.

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