Tag Archives: book review

Book Review: America, the Last Best Hope

 

If your child attends an American public school that teaches them a U.S. history course, take a look some time at their text book.

Assuming you are someone who actually believes that the teaching of this subject matters, you just might be shocked.

For decades now, many American educational systems have been moving away from teaching a genuine history of the United States. Instead, a politically correct and sanitized version is often taught, highlighting episodes within that history that are important to so-called progressives.

In a January 2017 article for the New York Post titled “Why schools have stopped teaching American history“, Karol Markowicz included the following:

A 2014 report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that an abysmal 18 percent of American high school kids were proficient in US history.

The NAEP is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas. Their goal is to help students, parents, teachers, and principals “inform decisions about how to improve the education system in our country.”

If any educational system in the country truly wants to present American history to high school students, even any college or university, they would do well to use  “America: The Last Best Hope” by Bill Bennett.

Bennett released the title in a first volume back in 2006. That book covered the period from Columbus in 1492 through the lead-up to World War I in 1914.

The 573 pages in the original volume are packed with 525 of actual history. It also includes a five-page introduction from the author and a comprehensive notes and index at the back.

Volume I includes topics such as the settlement of the New World, the revolution of the colonies, the founding and early years of the American republic, westward expansion, the Civil War, post-war reconstruction, and the emergence of American industrialism.

In 2007, Bennett released “Volume 2”, which picked up where the first book left off and covered most of the 20th century, right through the 1989 end of Ronald Reagan’s second presidential term.

With “Volume 2”, the topics included World Wars I and II, with the roaring 20’s, stock market crash, the Great Depression, the rise of worldwide fascism, and FDR’s ‘New Deal’ in between.

It then moves through the post-war era, the rise of American political and economic might during the 1950’s, the social turmoil of the 1960’s, the politically turbulent 1970’s, and finally into the Reagan revival.

In it’s 592 pages there can be found another 533 pages of history, with just a short introduction, but with the same comprehensive notes and index provided with the first volume.

In 2011, Bennett returned to the series, including American history from “the collapse of communism to the rise of radical Islam” in a more brief 352 page continuation.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Bill Bennett turned 76 years of age on July 31, 2019. He is a graduate of Williams College in Massachusetts, with a Ph.D. from the University of Texas, and a J.D. from Harvard University.

One of the most respected political theorists and pundits of the last three decades, Bennett was chairman for the National Endowment of the Humanities from 1981-85. He then served in President Reagan’s cabinet as the U.S. Secretary of Education from 1985-88, and held the position of Director of the Office of National Drug Policy under the first President Bush.

The author of more than two dozen books, Bennett is currently a senior advisor to Project Lead the Way, which is considered to be one of the leading providers of training and curriculum to improve STEM education in American schools. He is involved in numerous other educational causes as well.

Due to be released in October of this year is a massive new edition of “America: The Last Best Hope“, which will integrate all three of the original volumes into one book.

All three volumes were not only informative, but each was genuinely enjoyable to read. This new, fully integrated edition would make an outstanding text book for any legitimate class on United States history.

However, this is not to be considered as only that – a text book for intellectual pursuits. Bennett has put together a tremendous history of America from its very beginnings right up through recent years that is readable and enjoyable for everyone.

I highly recommend “America: The Last Best Hope” for anyone who loves our nation, and for anyone who truly wants a well-written, all-encompassing history of the United States.

Buy it in the three original volumes and enjoy one at a time, as I did, or wait for the new concatenated version to be released in October. That version will be available in hard cover, paperback, or for your device, and can be pre-ordered now at Amazon and many other outlets.

And if you are a fan of Bennett who would like something a bit more collector-worthy (not to mention expensive), well, there is a beautiful leather-bound version of the first two volumes available from The Easton Press at that link, autographed by the author.

Book Review: Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates

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I recently returned to my first love in reading topics: history and biography. While fiction can be extremely enjoyable, especially when done well, I have always found the true, non-fiction stories of real people and events much more interesting.

That return to true history results here in my latest book review. For the first time in nearly four years, it does not involve the topic of baseball.
Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates” was published in 2015 by Penguin Random House’s ‘Sentinel’ imprint.
This joint effort of Fox News host Brian Kilmeade and author Don Yeager tells the story of “the forgotten war that changed American history.
That war is what many students of U.S. history know as the ‘First Barbary War‘, which, as the book jacket explains, “is the little known story of how a newly independent nation was challenged by four Muslim powers and what happened when America’s third president decided to stand up to intimidation.
America’s first four Presidents played key roles in the events leading up to and during the conflict. But George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison are largely secondary figures to the real military and diplomatic heroes and villains who took part in the action.
Following the War for Independence, the newly formed United States of America was saddled with enormous debt and had largely disbanded its military. This was particularly true in the area of naval force.
America was protected from more established world powers of that time primarily by distance and trade agreements. It had little or no influence on the high seas.
In trying to further those trade efforts, American merchant ships would frequently come under attack in the Mediterranean Sea by the Muslim powers of North Africa. These ‘Barbary States’ nations practiced state-supported piracy in order to exact tribute from weaker Atlantic powers.
American ships would be raided, and their goods stolen by Muslim crews. At times, the ships and their crews would be taken and held hostage for large ransoms.
The fledgling United States had no response other than to pay those ransoms. But this only further added to the national debt. Also, the problem wasn’t being dealt with in any meaningful way. It just kept happening, with no end in sight.
The United States wasn’t the only nation facing these issues. Wealthier countries with an actual naval presence in the region simply paid tribute to the Muslim leaders in order to ensure free passage of their ships.
Adams, a Federalist, and Jefferson, a Democratic-Republican, were political adversaries. Those differences extended to their views on dealing with the Barbary powers.
The second President of the United States, Adams thought it possible to continue to buy peace, as was done by other nations. Jefferson, America’s third President, wanted to end that system permanently. He preferred a strong military response.
As Kilmeade and Yeager write:
In response to events on the Barbary Coast, Jefferson, in 1801, had dispatched a small U.S. Navy squadron to the Mediterranean. For the next four years, he responded to circumstances, expanding the fleet to a much larger naval presence. In the end, thanks to the bold leadership of men like Edward Preble, James and Stephen Decatur, and William Eaton, and Presley Neville O’Bannon, military force had helped regain national honor. Even the Federalists, who liked little that Jefferson did, came to accept that the United States needed to play a military role in overseas affairs.
The book is the story of those men: Preble, the Decatur’s, Eaton, and O’Bannon and many more as they battled on land and sea to help a new nation stand up for itself on the world stage.
The United States Marine Corps played a key role in the ultimate victory. This was the war from which came the USMC hymn line “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli, we fight our country’s battles in the air, on land and sea.
As the authors state, this war against radical Muslim powers was one which we still, in many ways, are fighting today. It is a pivotal story of the immediate post-Revolutionary War, post-U.S. Constitution period. It is a story that all Americans should know.
Kilmeade and Yeager tell that story in just over 200 easy to read pages chock full of historic drama. Their book includes maps, notes, and a complete rundown of the cast of characters involved in that drama. It will make an enjoyable and educational read for any fan of history, especially of American history.
 

Book Review: “So You Think You’re A Philadelphia Phillies Fan?”

Like everyone else in Philadelphia during the year 2008, Scott Butler was completely caught up in the exploits of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball club.

The Fightin’ Phils were on their way to the club’s second of five consecutive NL East Division crowns that summer. The season would culminate in the Phillies capturing just the second World Series championship in franchise history.

 

With all that fanfare as a backdrop, the Penn State grad decided to get in on the blogging game. He founded the “Phils Baseball” blog at philsbaseball.com that year.

Those were heady times for a Phillies fan, and it was a joy to keep up the blog for the first few seasons. The last few? Well, as every Phillies fan knows, things have become much more of a chore.
Undeterred by the recent losing seasons, Butler has published his first book through Sports Publishing. “So You Think You’re a Philadelphia Phillies Fan?” comes along with a subtitle advertising it as “stars, stats, records, and memories for true diehards.” In its 213 easy to read pages, Butler’s book delivers what it promises.
Every summer, I look for a couple of baseball themed books that I can read on the beach, or in my backyard. I love it when I can find one relating to my hometown Phillies. This one is perfect.
Butler breaks his book down into four sections. At the start of each, he poses a set of trivia questions. With each section, the questions get increasingly more difficult.
But then during the ensuing chapter he doesn’t simply answer each of the questions. Instead, Butler gives you the stories behind those answers.

FROM ROOKIE TO VETERAN

The first section title “Early Innings – Rookie Level” has a total of 30 questions. He prefaces the chapter in this way: “There are plenty of difficult questions in this book, but you won’t find them in this chapter. Here are a few easy ones to get you started.
Do you know the Phillies all-time career leaders in Home Runs, Wins, Strikeouts, and Saves? The team nicknames of the 1950 and 1983 Phillies NL champions? You’ll find these Phillies basics here.
Even though many of you will know the answers for the first section, reliving these great players, teams, and moments makes for light-hearted fun reading.
The second section titled “Middle Innings – Veteran Level” also has 20 questions. Here things get a bit more difficult for the youngest fans. A number of the questions here are on the great Phillies teams of the past, including the 1915, 1950, and 1964 clubs.

FROM ALL-STAR TO HALL OF FAMER

Section three is “Late Innings – All-Star Level” is filled to the brim with 50 questions, and gets into some deeper trivia.
Which player had more RBI in one game than any player in Phillies history? Who turned the last Phillies triple play? Who was the last Phillies batter to hit for a “Cycle”? The only two Phillies to ever hit 30 or more home runs and steal 40 or more bases in a single season?
The last section is “Extra Innings – Hall of Fame Level” and finishes up with 20 final questions. For instance, do you know the player received by the Phillies as a throw-in for an 1896 trade, and who would go on to become a Hall of Famer? Do you know the two Phillies players who each hit two home runs in a single inning?
Grab this one up and enjoy some of that light summer reading. No matter your personal level of expertise on the team, you’re guaranteed to learn something new. “So You Think You’re a Philadelphia Phillies Fan?” would also make the perfect gift for your own favorite Phillies fan.

Book Review: The Impossible Dream 1967 Red Sox

For younger fans of the Boston Red Sox, and Major League Baseball in general for that matter, this might be hard to believe. But for a long stretch of my lifetime, those Bosox were considered to be jinxed at best, chokers at worst.

The Red Sox have captured three recent World Series crowns in 2004, 2007, and in 2013. They have reached the postseason four other times as well in this century. They are considered one of the leading AL contenders once again this season.

But from 1908 until 2004, just short of a full century, the Red Sox could not manage to win a single World Series championship. In fact, during that stretch, the Sox captured just two American League Pennants.

The first of those came in 1946, when Ted Williams and company were edged out by the Saint Louis Cardinals thanks famously to the “Mad Dash” of Enos Slaughter in Game Seven.

I began following baseball in 1971, and distinctly recall rooting for Boston in the 1975 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. One of the attractions for me to the Red Sox cause was that lengthy frustration, attributed to the “Curse of the Bambino” by more superstitious fans.

Famed Boston baseball historian Herb Crehan has a fairly new book out, published by Summer Game Books last year. The book is based on the other AL Pennant won by the Red Sox during that 95-year stretch.

The Impossible Dream 1967 Red Sox: Birth of Red Sox Nation“, was released in 2016, written by Crehan. His bostonbaseballhistory.com website is the definitive stop for all things Red Sox. The book includes a forward by pitcher Jim Lonborg, who played a pivotal role for Boston in that 1967 season.

HISTORY LESSON

This well-written, easy to read, 267-page effort from Crehan covers that season with a central theme in mind. Crehan opines that those 1967 Red Sox lit the fire for what has become known as “Red Sox Nation.” This is the term for the rabid multi-generational fan base of the team reaching well outside of the New England region.

Before even beginning the 1967 team story, Crehan sets the stage for the reader with an intro titled “A Brief History of the Boston Red Sox” presented as a prologue.

In these 13 pages covering 1871 through 1966, Crehan rolls through one of my favorite subjects, real baseball history. He takes you from the early Boston Beaneaters (now the Atlanta Braves) to the Boston Americans (now the Red Sox), discussing the Boston baseball evolution.
In the 1966 season, Boston finished in ninth place with a 72-90 record in the American League. It was the club’s second consecutive season finishing ninth out of the 10 AL teams playing at that time.

THE 1967 RED SOX: LITTLE HOPE

Crehan opens the story of the 1967 team by setting the scene. The opening of the baseball season provided a respite to the escalating war in Vietnam: “In most minds, the boys of summer promptly took precedence over the boys of battle.”
Crehan quickly explains that the positive feeling regarding the game was not necessarily translating to the Boston area.
“But in Boston, as on so many recent Opening Days, there was little joy, less to shout about and lots of lethargy. It is hard for fans under the age of 55 to appreciate the depth of cynicism surrounding the 1967 Red Sox. It had been 21 years since the team’s last appearance in a World Series and the Red Sox hadn’t finished in the first division since 1958.”
The previous seven-year stretch had been particularly horrendous for fans of the team. The Red Sox finished no higher than sixth place in any season between 1960-66. Fans stayed away in droves.
From that 1946 World Series winner through today, the Red Sox have drawn more than a million fans to Fenway Park in 44 of the 52 seasons. A half-dozen of those eight poorly drawing years came during the 1961-66 seasons.

BOSOX START SLOW

Bottom line, there was no talk in Boston or anywhere else in baseball of the 1967 Boston Red Sox emerging as contenders. In fact, the season started out much as most believed it would, with consistent losing.
On May 20, a loss at Fenway to the Cleveland Indians left the Red Sox with a 14-17 record and in seventh place. At that point, the Bosox were a full seven games behind the front-running Chicago White Sox in the American League standings.
In fact, as late as July 13, the Red Sox continued to struggle. The club split a doubleheader with the Baltimore Orioles that day. They had lost six of eight games. Despite a 42-40 mark they were in fifth place, still a half-dozen games out of first. And then it all suddenly began to turn around.

TURNAROUND TO SURPRISE CONTENTION

It began with a 10-game winning streak in mid-July. By the end of that month, the Red Sox were in second place, just two games behind the White Sox.
It would take three more weeks, but Boston would finally catch the Chisox by sweeping a doubleheader from the Washington Senators on August 22.
One key player, 22-year old right fielder Tony Conigliaro, was not around for all of the drama. A budding star, ‘Tony C’ was hit in the face by California Angels pitcher Jack Hamilton on August 18, and was lost for the season.
The finishing stretch to that 1967 regular season would test the cardiac conditioning of fans all across New England. Over the final six weeks, Boston was never more than a game off the pace, or a game in front.

FINAL DAY MADNESS

Heading into the final day of the season, the Red Sox were tied at the top of the American League with the Minnesota Twins at 91-70. Tthe Detroit Tigers were just a half-game behind.
Remember, this was still two years before the divisional era would begin. All 10 teams were lined up in the league. Whoever finished in first place was the Pennant winner, advancing immediately into the World Series.
On that final day, October 1, Boston skipper Dick Williams sent his ace Lonborg to the hill in a head-to-head showdown with Minnesota for the pennant. Crehan writes of the buildup to that game:
“Lonborg, a native of San Luis Obispo, California, and a pre-med graduate of Stanford University, was the undisputed ace of the Red Sox staff with twenty-one wins already to his credit. However, the big right-hander entered the game winless against the powerful Twins, a team that had always given him trouble. Lonborg couldn’t have known it as the sun came up over Boston Harbor that morning, but he was about to achieve the most important victory of a distinguished career that would span fifteen seasons in the major leagues.”
The Red Sox would thrill the Fenway faithful with a 5-3 victory over the Twins on that final Sunday. Lonborg went the distance, allowing seven hits and walking four batters.

RED SOX VS TWINS

The Twins had broken to an early 2-0 lead, and that scored carried into the bottom of the sixth. Then the Bosox erupted for all five of the runs that they would score on the day against Twins 26-year old ace Dean Chance.
Lonborg incredibly began the big inning with a bunt base hit. It was the first of four straight singles to start the frame. The last of those was a game-tying, two-run single off the bat of future Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski to score Lonborg and Jerry Adair.
Ken Harrelson then hit into a fielder’s choice, with Dalton Jones racing home with the run that put Boston on top for the first time. After that, Chance and the Twins fell apart. A pair of wild pitches, a walk, and an error combined to push two more Red Sox runs across. Those runs would provide Boston’s ultimate margin of victory.
With two outs in the top of the 8th, the Twins tried to rally. Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva registered back to back singles. Then Bob Allison‘s base hit to left field scored Killebrew to cut the Boston lead down to a 5-3 margin.
However, Allison committed the final boner of the day for the Twins. Trying to put himself into scoring position, he went for second base on his clutch hit. Yaz came up firing, and gunned to second baseman Mike Andrews. Andrews’ tag nailed Allison for the final out of the inning and killed the Minnesota rally.

CAPTURING THE PENNANT

In the top of the 9th, the Twins had one final shot when Ted Uhlaender led off with a base hit. At that point in today’s game, had he somehow lasted that long, Lonborg would be lifted. The great lefty bat of Rod Carew was stepping to the plate.
But Williams stuck with his starter, and Lonborg rewarded his skipper. First he coaxed Carew into an easy 4-3 double play. Then he retired pinch-hitter Rich Rollins on a pop out to shortstop Rico Petrocelli to end the game.
The Red Sox and their fans exploded in a frenzied celebration. Yet there was still a potential fly in the ointment. Remember, Detroit had entered that final day just a half-game out. Should the Tigers sweep their doubleheader with the California Angels, they would finish tied with Boston. This would force a playoff for the AL Pennant.
The Boston locker room would eventually settle down, and the team would follow the Tigers-Angels action on a radio broadcast. Detroit had captured the opener 6-4, and moved to an early 3-1 lead in the second game.
But the Angels were no pushover, they roared back with three runs in both the third and fourth innings, coasting home with an 8-5 victory. The Tigers were eliminated, and the Red Sox were officially champions of the American League.

THE 1967 WORLD SERIES

In the World Series, the Red Sox would find the Saint Louis Cardinals waiting as representatives of the National League. Just as had happened 21 years earlier, the Cards would capture a seven-game victory.
The Red Sox beat one future Hall of Famer in that series. Lonborg edged his future Philadelphia Phillies rotation mate Steve Carlton by a 3-1 score in Game Five.
However, Boston simply could not solve the other Hall of Famer in the Cardinals rotation. Bob Gibson went 3-0, allowing just 14 hits over 27 innings with a 26/5 K:BB to earn the Most Valuable Player honors.
Crehan takes you through each game of that World Series, including Williams dice roll in Game Seven, where he started Lonborg on just two days rest.
“Lonborg managed to hold the Cardinals at bay during the first two innings of Game Seven. “I felt pretty good warming up,” Lonborg remembered. “I had pitched on two days rest several times that year…felt a little tired, but in a big game like that you are most interested in pitching command than power.””
Lonborg’s efforts that season were truly heroic. He would be rewarded for a 22-7 season by winning the AL Cy Young Award. But in Game Seven, he just didn’t have it. The Cardinals tagged him for six earned runs on 10 hits. Against the dominance of Gibson, that ineffectiveness proved the difference.

RED SOX NATION

Despite the Fall Classic defeat, the 1967 season was the beginning of major success for the Boston Red Sox. The club would reel off 16 consecutive winning seasons, returning to the World Series again just eight years later.
From that 1967 season through last year, a total of 50 seasons, the Red Sox and their fans have experienced just eight losing campaigns. They have been to the World Series five times, winning the last three.
Fenway Park has become a genuine “place to be” in Boston. The Red Sox have drawn more than three million fans on five occasions, and since 1986 have drawn over two million in every full season.
Just last month, Forbes estimated that the Boston Red Sox were worth $2.7 billion. That makes the club the third most valuable in all of Major League Baseball, behind only the arch-rival New York Yankees and the NL’s Los Angeles Dodgers, two teams playing in much larger home markets.
Crehan doesn’t simply take you chronologically through that 1967 season. The fourteen full chapters each highlight a specific player and their contributions to that Red Sox team. In addition to the players already mentioned here previously, those players include Reggie SmithRuss GibsonGeorge ScottJoe FoyGary Bell, and Jose Santiago.
When you examine the record of the team on the field, the response of the fan base, and the growth in value for the franchise in the last fifty years, it’s hard to argue with Crehan’s ultimate argument.
Those “Impossible Dream 1967 Red Sox” truly did give birth to the “Red Sox Nation”, just as his book title proclaims. This is an outstanding read, particularly for Boston fans, but also for all baseball fans.

Book Review: "Ahead of the Curve" by Brian Kenny

 

There is no book that I have read in recent years that I can more highly recommend than Ahead of the Curve” by Brian Kenny.

Kenny is a 2003 Emmy Award winner who was named as the 2004 Media Personality of the Year by Sports Illustrated. He is now well-known by baseball fans as a studio host for the MLB Network. In addition, Kenny is respected as a boxing analyst and broadcaster.
A longtime ESPN anchor and analyst, Kenny left in 2011 for the television stint with the then two-year old MLB Network. He also hosts ‘The Brian Kenny” show weekdays on NBC Sports Radio.
With his new TV gig, Kenny also joined former player Harold Reynolds on the ‘MLB Now‘ program. The show is highlighted by Kenny espousing modern “Sabermetric” statistical analysis of America’s Pastime.
Those Sabermetric views make up the centerpiece of “Ahead of the Curve“, which comes with an “Inside the Baseball Revolution” sub-title.

JAMES AND SABR REVOLUTIONIZE THE GAME

Sabermetrics principles were introduced decades ago by stats guru and writer Bill James, a hero of Kenny’s. This study and analysis of baseball via a statistical approach draws its name from SABR, the Society for Baseball Research, which itself was founded in 1971.
Kenny writes in chapter four titled “The Epiphany” of his own introduction to James’ questioning of previously long-accepted baseball dogma:
“Reading James unrelenting questioning gave me a vivid illustration of scientific inquiry. Like most everyone else, I had somehow glazed over all of that in Chemistry and Biology. Apply it to baseball? Now it all made sense. And nothing would ever be the same. Other baseball writing, by comparison, would seem like a gossip column.”
But readers of this book review shouldn’t allow the idea of statistics to intimidate you. Any baseball fan with any level of education will easily understand and appreciate the vast majority of Kenny’s brilliant work.

KENNY MAKES STATS ANALYSIS ACCESSIBLE

That is the true genius of this book. Kenny explains things in layman’s terms. He highlights the explanations and arguments with famous baseball events and personalities. As a result, he makes statistical analysis accessible to the common fan.
In comparing Joe DiMaggio to Ted Williams, or Mike Trout to Miguel Cabrera, both of which Kenny does in the book, he supports all of his points. Furthermore, Kenny does so in a language that fans of the game will find both easy and enjoyable to follow.
In the book, Kenny explains some of his favorite principles, such as the “bullpenning” concept. This was an idea touched on in the 2016 World Series.
“If professional baseball were starting now, there’s no way we would use the current model. We would “bullpen” most days. It will take a certain amount of reconditioning, no doubt, but the benefits of doing this would be enormous. No more ‘starters’, no more ‘relievers’, no more ‘wins.’ Another useful habit from the nineteenth century will be broken, giving the first to get there a huge advantage.”

TRADITIONAL STATS UNDER SCRUTINY

Kenny also goes after a number of traditional baseball statistics and theories that he finds to be mostly hogwash. Things like the sacrifice bunt, ‘Errors’ tracking for fielders, the ‘Win’ and ‘Save’ statistics for pitchers, and ‘Batting Average’ as a primary tool to evaluate hitters all come under Kenny scrutiny.
In conclusion, if you haven’t yet read this book, what are you waiting for? The final judgment of my book review of “Ahead of the Curve” is that it is a must-read for every true baseball fan. Therefore, this is one of those rare books that will earn a lasting place in your personal baseball library.