Funny and arrestingly descriptive of a time and place in Africa that was anything but romantic. Gut wrenching and honest as she recounts its racism, brutality and poverty. Family dysfunction nevertheless includes real warmth from the perspective of her childhood and adolescence. Innocent but not entirely so as the narrator's reflection hints at a considered, wiser approach to who she was at that time.
Nobody would expect my mother to recommend or even read any book about war. But she did recommend this one to me and as many others have found, this "war" book is different. Through fictional means, Shaara deftly elaborates on his knowlege and interpretations of the actors' biographical details to help the reader appreciate the subtleties of their experiences and personalities. He does so unusually well, in a way that makes the men come to life for the reader (yes, even my mom). He helps you to understand the immensity of Gettysburg both as a battle and as a turning point in American history.
Sides presents an often heartwrenching and difficult story with respect, seriousness and (where appropriate) humor. In many ways this book tells two stories. The interspersed timelines or threads of these two stories seemed confusing to me at first. The first presents the US retreat and surrender at Bataan, followed by the POWs experiences over several years in the camp. The second thread covers the much shorter period after the US reinvasion during which the prison rescue took place. Ultimately he brought both together well, focusing on the stories of imprisonment in the first and on the adventure of the rescue in the second. Military history buffs may not appreciate the lack of attention to units and other military details, but for me this was the right approach. He clearly respects the veterans and spent a great deal of time with them, bringing out many details that ring true.
My favorite thing about it may be his multiple references to Taylor's "Haven finding art..." which, though decades old and quite scarce, is one of my favorite books of all time. It isn't as compelling a story as Sobel's Longitude but was a quick and enjoyable read in the same vein.
I could write a book about the author's failings, but his archival research provides great material on the social connections and personal side of the man. There was no need for the repetitive, unconvincing psychoanalysis, handwriting analysis, or defenses against claims of his homosexuality. His personal involvement in the narrative is frequently distracting. I was never sure if the organization was chronological or thematic either. Not a good source for understanding the science, inventions or engineering (my impression was the author didn't understand himself but perhaps he didn't want to explain things from later knowledge?). A quick Wikipedia search with links to the patents and web page discussions was much better at helping me to understand the inventions themselves.
While the authors don't convince on the historical case, the book reads like a mystery novel or a thriller. I enjoyed it on that basis alone. That Magdalen's womb was literally the vessel of Jesus' blood(line), represented symbolically by the Holy Grail, is as charged (and heretical) a metaphor as there could be for the Christian church. But heresies and conspiracy theories are exciting material for thrillers; the authors might have done better by calling it a novel, as Dan Brown did: then they could have hired him instead of suing him over it--but maybe that's just good marketing at this point.
It may be a gimmick to other readers, but for me his digressions on the contents of his ship's library (why he keeps what he does in an extremely limited space) is the most fascinating aspect of the book. He muses on how the water, despite its real dangers, would have been the most familiar and comfortable part of the "landscape" to the Northwest Coast Indians, and elaborates on their religion and their stories. He highlights aspects of the diaries of Vancouver and other European explorers as he passes important landmarks they named for the West.Hashing through his family troubles was far less interesting to me (why wouldn't his wife leave him, given the amount of consideration he seems to afford to her and their kid?). I just loved learning what was important and relevant in his library. Maybe that's why we're all here, after all? No wonder I'm a librarian...
He leaves in October, heading north towards Glacier Bay in an open canoe...wearing a three-piece wool suit with a burlap sack for his few supplies (matches, a candle, some coffee). Native Americans provide him with a great deal of help, but it is hard to imagine his sheer gumption. He encounters a cruise ship full of tourists, even in 1879 or 1880!
While an inherently interesting topic deserving of greater attention and full of fascinating bits of everyday familial history and some very good stories, I'm somewhat disappointed in reading this since Island of the Lost is a truly great story told masterfully while this feels more like reading someone's diary or letters (which it is, essentially, though quite well edited).