Book Review: Heirs of the Founders

Heirs of the Founders: The Epic Rivalry of Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster, the Second Generation of American Giants
by H. W. Brands
Doubleday
(c) 2018 by the author

History is not what you thought,” wrote W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman in the “Compulsory Preface” to their classic 1066 and All That. “It is what you can remember.” Those words are as true on this side of the Atlantic as they are in Great Britain, where they were written.

We tend to remember only those things that are memorable. When it comes to history, for most Americans that means wars and crises, the more recent, the more memorable. The decades between the War of 1812 and the Civil War are one big nothing. Depending on where you were raised, you might remember the Missouri Compromise, the Nullification Crisis, or Texas’ War of Independence. But for most of us? Boredom on parade – especially when the presidents of the era generally served only one term (at most) and were mediocre (at best).

Alternate History buffs: What if William Henry Harrison wore a hat and coat at his inauguration, and didn’t catch pneumonia?

In Heirs of the Founders, Brands dives into those decades with a joint political history of three of the greatest Congressmen ever to walk the halls of the Capitol. Kentucky’s Henry Clay, South Carolina’s John Calhoun, and Massachusetts’ Daniel Webster were all widely known and respected for their powers of oratory, and their abilities to get things done.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Tango War

The Tango War
The Struggle for the Hearts, Minds, and Riches of Latin American During World War II
Mary Jo McConahay
St. Martin’s Press
(c) 2018 by the author

I like to think of myself as something of a WWII buff. I’m not one of those people who can argue the finer points of the various tanks used in the European Theater, but I know enough about the war to be embarrassingly wrong about some aspects. However, I do know that it was a truly World War, with battles raging from Spitzbergen to Madagascar, troops being pulled in from all over the world by their colonial masters, and a vast network of military and transport bases linking everything together.

If one is so inclined, one can take out a world map and mark it with all the places that were somehow affected by combat. One might soon spot a large gap on the map, where nothing much seemed to be happening.

What was going on in South and Central America?

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Movie Review: Seytan (Turkey, 1974)

Back in the 70s and 80s, Turkey – or at least the Turkish film industry – didn’t seem to care much for international copyright law. If a movie was successful in the US, they’d quickly churn out their own version, rights be damned. “Turkish Star Trek” dropped a noted comedian into the Star Trek universe for (presumably) comedic effect. “Turkish Star Wars” is really a movie called The Man Who Saved the World, and is not a knock-off of Star Wars – it just ‘borrows’ a couple of space battle scenes for background footage (and steals music from Raiders of the Lost Ark). Seytan is sometimes called “Turkish Exorcist” – with very good reason. It’s practically a scene-for-scene, if not shot-for-shot, remake.

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An Open Letter to the National Film Preservation Board

The National Film Preservation Board “works to ensure the survival, conservation and increased public availability of America’s film heritage, including: advising the Librarian on its recommendations for annual selections to the National Film Registry…The National Film Registry selects 25 films each year showcasing the range and diversity of American film heritage to increase awareness for its preservation.”

Well, at least according to their website.

For the average movie buff, it’s a list of movies that are deemed sufficiently important for aesthetic, historic, or cultural reasons. They started selecting movies in 1989, but over the years they have somehow managed to avoid selecting one particular film. So once I’m done writing this, I’m going to nominate this movie – and hope someone there actually reads my nomination, and acts favorably.

The Blob (1958)

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Movie Review: The Wages of Fear (France, 1953)

It isn’t an easy matter to take a movie to an international audience. There’s a lot that doesn’t translate across cultures. Comedy is often highly culturally specific. Romance depends a lot on social customs. Drama is a little easier to do, but it still has some problems.

Action and thrills, however, cross all borders. Explosions and monsters speak all languages. Is it any wonder that the biggest international box office successes these days are action & adventure flicks?

But even there, some things may still not translate very well across space and time.

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Book Review: Paradox Bound

Paradox Bound
Peter Clines
Crown Publishing Group
(c) 2017 by the author

If “Doctor Who” was American.

That’s about it.

Teenager Eli Teauge lives in Sanders, MA – basically “The Town That Time Forgot”. The town is stuck in the past. No cell phone towers, an actual video rental store…. After two encounters with a woman in a tricorn hat and a frock coat who is driving a modified Model A Ford, he winds up joining her at their third encounter. And they’re off on a rollicking ride through American history, searching for a magical McGuffin that’s supposed to allow its possessor the ability to change the destiny of the nation.

Yeah, pretty much an American “Doctor Who”. I did spot one direct reference to Doctor Who; there are probably more.

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Book Review: Inseparable

Inseparable: The Original Siamese Twins and Their Rendezvous With American History
by Yunte Huang

Liveright Publishing Corporation
Copyright 2018 by the author

I doubt there are many people who haven’t heard of Chang and Eng Bunker, the “archetype” of Siamese Twins. There have been a few biographies of the pair, but this is the first I’ve come across. They led a fascinating and complex life, that just happened to coincide with a fascinating and complex era of American history.

Huang, who previously wrote a “biography” of Charlie Chan (in which he covered the lives of Werner Oland, the actor who first portrayed the character in film, Earl Biggers, who wrote the novels, and Chang Apana, the Honolulu policeman who was the inspiration for the character), applies his considerable skills to a real person – or is it real people? He barely touches on the conundrum of whether Chang and Eng should be considered one person or two. To be fair, I don’t think that question has an answer….

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Book Review: The Ends of the World

The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth’s Past Mass Extinctions

Peter Brannen
HarperCollins
(c) 2017 by the author

When one reads essays in the right places, one finds mention of how we are in the sixth great “mass extinction”. Humans seem to be wiping out species left and right, through habitat destruction even in cases where we aren’t really trying. Brannen takes a look at the other five, and extracts lessons for today.

For the record, the “Big Five” are the Late Ordovician, Late Devonian, End Permian, Late Triassic, and the Cretaceous-Tertiary Event. In comparatively short time frames, the vast majority of species – both plant and animal, on land and in the water – were erased from the planet.

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Book Review: Eighty Days

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History Making Race Around the World
Matthew Goodman
Ballantine Books, New York
(c) 2013 by the author

You may have heard (at least I hope it’s somewhere in the dustier corners of your memory) that after the publication of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, people started seriously considering the possibility of such a circumnavigation. At the offices of Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, crusading reporter Nellie Bly was put up to the task. She departed from Hoboken NJ on November 14, 1889, heading across the Atlantic.

What I did not know was that later the same day, Elizabeth Bisland, a reporter and columnist for the monthly magazine The Cosmopolitan boarded a train leaving Grand Central heading west, with the same goal in mind.

The two women were not just racing the calendar, hoping that the uncertainties of long-distance travel (weather delays, equipment failures, et al.) would be minimal, but also each other.

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Book Review: How to Invent Everything

How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler
by Ryan North
Riverhead Books
(c) 2018 by the author

It’s a fun conceit. Your rental time travel machine broke down, leaving you stranded in the distant past. And your FC3000(tm) personal time machine has no user serviceable parts. What do you need to know in order to not just survive or thrive, but start things moving towards an advanced technological civilization?

The book assumes you can manage to make a fire and build some sort of shelter (if your time machine has been damaged to the point where it won’t serve in that capacity, that is). As far as food goes, it gives the standard technique for safely determining if a plant is inedible or poisonous, and the helpful information that virtually all mammals and birds are safe to eat once cooked.

But then what?

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