Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

 The Prologue sets out (partly) why this book needed to be written:

"Yet many distinguished commentators have echoed Eliza Hamilton's lament that justice has not been done to her Hamilton. He has tended to lack the glittering multivolumed biographies that have burnished the fame of other founders. The British statesman Lord Bryce singled out Hamilton as the one founding father who had not received his due from posterity.

From Goodreads:

"In the first full-length biography of Alexander Hamilton in decades, Ron Chernow tells the riveting story of a man who overcame all odds to shape, inspire, and scandalize the newborn America. According to historian Joseph Ellis, Alexander Hamilton is “a robust full-length portrait, in my view the best ever written, of the most brilliant, charismatic and dangerous founder of them all.”

Few figures in American history have been more hotly debated or more grossly misunderstood than Alexander Hamilton. Chernow’s biography gives Hamilton his due and sets the record straight, deftly illustrating that the political and economic greatness of today’s America is the result of Hamilton’s countless sacrifices to champion ideas that were often wildly disputed during his time."

This is a well-written, detailed and factual account of the man - Alexander Hamilton. As one who has not had much exposure to American history, I found the contextualisation of his story fascinating. The debates, the views, the arguments, the scandals - from the Federalist papers through each contested election to the duels and disagreements - published in (often pseudonymous) articles in the public domain, were all so entertaining. I'm not qualified to comment on whether Eliza and Lord Bryce were correct in their assessment that Hamilton hadn't received sufficient acclaim relative to other founding fathers, but this book - certainly in length - attempts to provide some redress.

Listening on Audible to all 39 or so hours though, was gruelling. It made fairly laborious work of the story. And there is so much reference material here, that I think that it would be better to have a paper/electronic version. I loved the prose - some memorable quotes show what I mean.

"It was all very pleasant and balmy, supremely beautiful and languid, if you were white, were rich, and turned a blind eye to the black population expiring in the canebrakes."

"If we must have an enemy at the head of the government, let it be one whom we can oppose and for whom we are not responsible."

"Both Hamilton and Jefferson believed in democracy, but Hamilton tended to be more suspicious of the governed, and Jefferson of the governors."

"If forced to choose, Hamilton preferred a man with wrong principles to one devoid of any."

"If Washington was the father of the country and Madison the father of the Constitution, then Alexander Hamilton was surely the father of the American government."

I don't want any of that time I spent reading it back, I just hope that I do justice to the experience by recalling more than I usually do of this type of book. It also casts into stark and unflattering light the level of the debate on social media today - oh for the eloquence and subtlety of those brilliant founding fathers, flawed, but honest and with aspirations for growth and progress in all aspects  - moral, economic and political.

An authoritative and brilliant book, inspirational and enlightening.

5 stars

ISBN: 9780143034759

Sunday, 19 August 2018

What we need

This hymn - which is deeply personal, came from the mind and heart of Annie S Hawks (1835-1918) who was a busy housewife and mother who wrote over 400 hymns during her 83 years - this one being the only one churches still sing today.

Annie wrote later "One day as a young wife and mother of 37 years of age, I was busy with my regular household tasks. Suddenly I became soiled with the sense of nearness to the Master that, wondering how one could live without Him, either in joy or pain, these words "I Need Thee Every Hour' were ushered into my mind, the thought at once taking full possession of me."

When Annie's husband died sixteen years later, she found that this hymn was amongst her greatest comforts. "I did not understand at first why this hymn had touched the great throbbing heart of humanity," Annie wrote. "It was not until long after, when the shadow fell over my way, the shadow of a great loss, that I understood something of the comforting power in the words I had been permitted to give out to others in my hour of sweet serenity and peace."

How beautiful is this version?

1. I need thee ev’ry hour,
Most gracious Lord.
No tender voice like thine
Can peace afford.
I need thee, oh, I need thee;
Ev’ry hour I need thee!
Oh, bless me now, my Savior;
I come to thee!

2. I need thee ev’ry hour;
Stay thou nearby.
Temptations lose their pow’r
When thou art nigh.
I need thee, oh, I need thee;
Ev’ry hour I need thee!
Oh, bless me now, my Savior;
I come to thee!

3. I need thee ev’ry hour,
In joy or pain.
Come quickly and abide,
Or life is vain.
I need thee, oh, I need thee;
Ev’ry hour I need thee!
Oh, bless me now, my Savior;
I come to thee!

4. I need thee ev’ry hour,
Most holy One.
Oh, make me thine indeed,
Thou blessed Son!
I need thee, oh, I need thee;
Ev’ry hour I need thee!
Oh, bless me now, my Savior;
I come to thee!

It made me think of a song on a soundtrack I listened to during the week. When listening, I thought - no, why did she even record this song, such silly little words, however imagine my surprise to be singing those little words for the next few days - Standing in the need of prayer by Carolyn Arends.

Hope you've enjoyed this - I had fun posting it.

Happy rest of the weekend.

Last Sunday Inspiration - The Lord and His Prayer

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Ten of the Best #130

It's been an awesome week, so much to see and hear - most of which we didn't have time for, what with our busy schedules and all. Don't worry, this is your catch-up place. Grab your brew and maybe some breakfast, settle in, and enjoy the links.

A closer look at the Omarosa tapes, just to get us all updated.

And the newspapers hit back. So does James with a little musical impression of Mueller. Is it true that you can get away with saying the worst things if you set them to music? Maybe so - listen to the words, and you tell me.

Friday, 17 August 2018

Friday Books - Pieces of Her

Happy weekend everybody. I love Fridays, because we share books on our favourite linkups.

At Book Beginningshosted by Rose City Reader, you share the first line, and  a few thoughts about the book.

 Here's the beginning of the book I'm featuring today.

What if the person you thought you knew best turns out to be someone you never knew at all . . . ?
Andrea Cooper knows everything about her mother Laura. She’s knows she’s spent her whole life in the small beachside town of Gullaway Island; she knows she’s never wanted anything more than to live a quiet life as a pillar of the community; she knows she’s never kept a secret in her life. Because we all know our mothers, don’t we?
I'm a BIG Karin Slaughter fan, so I can't wait to read this one.

At Freda's Voice, you'll find the Friday56, where the excerpt comes from page 56 or 56% in your Kindle.

Here's page 56 of Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter.

How different are those covers? I can't decide which I prefer. My book looks like the first one, which usually biases me - but this second one is also really good?

What are you reading this weekend? I'd love to visit your blog and check it out.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Big Data by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, Kenneth Cukier

A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think

Written in 2013/4, this was the first major book about the topic, with two authors explaining what big data is, how it will change our lives, and what we can do to protect ourselves from its hazards.

As is usual with predictions, some are eerie in their accuracy, others we laugh at for the "obvious" errors, but all were brave, and most were fascinating.

The book posed questions about choices consumers make -relating to colours and preferences that didn't appeal to me that much. Also the fears and concerns around the 'Minority Report' methods of using data (i.e. predicting crimes that haven't yet occurred and making arrests based on that data) seem a bit silly and far-fetched now.

Some of the hype around what the big thing around big data is has dated. Calling it a 'revolution', for example,

But it's also interesting to see the kind of comments that have stood the test of time - time only being 4 or so short years in this case.

Getting our heads around the concept of usefulness and application - "The technical tools for handling data have already changed dramatically, but our methods and mindsets have been slower to adapt.” 

Some of the usefulnesses of the data sources available - “Amazon monitors our shopping preferences and Google our browsing habits, while Twitter knows what’s on our minds.”

Skills necessary to utilize the power of the 'revolution' - “the “data scientist,” which combines the skills of the statistician, software programmer, infographics designer, and storyteller.”

There were also many historical comparisons - how statisticians used data in the past, based on theory, probability and assumptions around distributions, and how this changes when the scope of sampling is so much larger. This quote captures it best.

“In some ways, we haven’t yet fully appreciated our new freedom to collect and use larger pools of data. Most of our experience and the design of our institutions have presumed that the availability of information is limited. We reckoned we could only collect a little information, and so that’s usually what we did. It became self-fulfilling. We even developed elaborate techniques to use as little data as possible. One aim of statistics, after all, is to confirm the richest finding using the smallest amount of data. In effect, we codified our practice of stunting the quantity of information we used in our norms, processes, and incentive structures.”

An enjoyable lesson from the first game-changers that I found fascinating.

4 stars


You may also enjoy Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

All the Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson

Harry Ackerson is just about to graduate. After losing his mother to cancer as a teenager, he is hopeful that is father and stepmother will make it to the ceremony. Alice calls - they're not going to make it. Bill Ackerson has had an accident and died - can Harry come to Maine instead?

So it begins. Harry realises that he hardly knows Alice at all, but now they must be family to one another - or must they. In parallel, we jump back to Alice's past and find out more about her mother, her strange childhood and unique past. In alternate chapters, Harry is wondering if his father's death was an accident, and just who Grace McGowan is after she showed up at the funeral.

Peter Swanson is a master of the twist, and there are some good ones here. He also loves to pose interesting questions (like "ever thought of killing your spouse?" in The Kind Worth Killing) to his readers. Here the questions are "how much do you lie?" "to others?" and worse - "to yourself?"

It's dark, and won't be everyone's cup of tea. There are some sexual encounters that readers may be uncomfortable with, and towards the end, the body count escalates, but I enjoyed the intensity and tension, which was well crafted, and in my binge of unputdownable and twisty crime novels, this one ticked more than one box for me. 

Thoroughly enjoyed it.

5 stars

ISBN: 9780571327188

You may also enjoy The Kind Worth Killing or Her Every Fear by the same author, or what about The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham?

More books.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron

 Julia Cameron has a reputation for "unblocking"artists - writers, painters, and the creative soul.  This book has been republished for its 25th anniversary. And you know what? She is really very encouraging and even inspiring. Each chapter sets out to embrace some creative aspect of your personality and to defeat the bogeymen that threaten to overwhelm you - from your inner critic to those parents who told you you'd never make a living doing what you love. It's all good stuff.

But, I have to confess. I'm never going to do the exercises in this book. Ever. There are about 15 at the end of every chapter, and in theory, if you read a chapter a week, that's do-able. But you know what, I think I've memorised them now, but still not done them. It's not that they're difficult, and I think they're also kind of the point of the whole book, but no, probably only ever going to think about doing them.

Another interesting way of reading this book was to listen on Audible. Narrated by the author (which I always appreciate), this is a great way to up your motivation - and it's way better than some of the podcasts I've downloaded for the same purpose. A chapter a day, or a week. But if any of you have done the exercises - even a few, please do let me know - I'll be in awe.

Very encouraging and highly enthusiastic. As another reviewer put it - "A book to cheer you on when you feel like you can only look longingly at your passion (writing, painting, drawing...) because the dog needs a walk and the kids need a bath, and you've bills to pay so you've just come home from a job that took you from the house and back to it without a glimpse of the sun."

ISBN: 9781585421466

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Ten of the Best #129

Good morning all the peoples. It's been a week full of stuff. And here's the best of it from your timelines - all together in one place for you to enjoy.

This from the NYT - SA needs to end corruption, but are SA's leaders part of the problem. Yup. Read and weep.

It's Woman's Day in SA, meaning there's a great ranty blog from Helen Moffett. This one's a letter, to Cyril.

Evita on the march too.

Friday, 10 August 2018

Friday Books - Fools and Mortals

I'm so glad it's nearly the weekend. More time for reading, and sharing books.

At Book Beginningshosted by Rose City Reader, you share the first line, and  a few thoughts about the book.

 Here's the beginning of the book I'm featuring today.

It's 1590, London, and the players are playing for the Queen. The story is told from the perspective of Richard Shakespeare, William's younger (and more handsome) brother. I loved this foray into the Elizabethan era in Bernard Cornwall's Fools and Mortals.

At Freda's Voice, you'll find the Friday56, where the excerpt comes from page 56 or 56% in your Kindle.

Here's page 56 of Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwall.

Since ladies weren't given parts - they were the seamstresses mainly, the men played the women, which led to some interesting comments.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

The Punishment She Deserves by Elizabeth George

A small town with a university - Ludlow - so no surprises that the first significant scene is some students in a pub, discussing life, sneaking upstairs for a tumble in the hay and drinking too much. But we are drawn in quickly to the goings on, especially the tensions and the angst between them.

Enter Detective Chief Superintendent Isabelle Ardery and Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, after a reported suicide in a police holding cell. The body belongs to Ian Druitt, a deacon in the C of E, loved by all, and with no apparent reason for taking his life. So why send DCS Ardery (who is drinking her way through this) and DS Havers (who is always in trouble) to conclude the investigation in as short a time as possible? Why indeed? And what does the whole thing have to do with the MP who asked Scotland yard to be involved?

This is book number 20 in the Inspector Lynley series, but if you haven't got the energy to read 1 through 19, dive right in, like I did. That's not completely true, I have read a few of the earlier ones, but not all, and I would recommend starting with A Great Deliverance, the very first. It sets the scene and is a work of art.

As is this. Elizabeth George deftly weaves a modern tale into an old-fashioned environment. She gets humanity - how and why we lie to each other, our brokenness and attempts at noble emotions like love and trust, and the secrets we would die (or kill others) to keep. And to relieve the tension, there are moments of laugh out loud at DS Havers' comments and antics, and some pure joy in moments.

It is a tome at nearly 700 pages, so difficult to hold in bed, but I thought it worth the weight - as it turns out, we need every bit of that detail for this intricate tale.

ISBN: 9781444786620 

5 stars

You may also enjoy A Great Deliverance or Payment in Blood by Elizabeth George,or what about Jo Spain's With Our Blessing?