Author: Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger
Publisher: SENTINEL, Penguin Random House LLC
Copyright: 2015, ISBN: 1591848066
Cover: Jim Tierney
Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, September 16, 2016
Summary: “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli . .”: stanza in the Marine Corp hymn. This book explains the part about Tripoli. In the infancy of its existence, America faced the prospect of going along with the rest of the world and paying tribute to extortionists on the northern coast of Africa, or taking a stand. President Jefferson opted to take a stand. This book is an overview of how it happened.
I had a professor in college who warned me to be careful of history books published in South America. Just that. A warning to be careful.
Unless you have been living under the proverbial rock, you are aware that the news media is not always impartial and objective. Sometimes, the news media is not even about news. This may have something to do with attempting to be “balanced”. For the news media, presenting a balanced perspective may mean comparing the effects of a cavity to a frontal lobotomy. It is called the false-equivalency syndrome. With any information coming out of the media, I take my professors advice. Be careful.
Brian Kilmeade, one of the authors of THOMAS JEFFERSON AND THE TRIPOLI PIRATES, is a co-host on the Fox News network show, Fox & Friends. Along with Don Yaeger, the duo have managed to write an informative snippet of history that has striking parallels to current events. This obviously is no accident. That they have managed to present a superficial treatment of an incident in American history as a taut, action-filled and exciting adventure is amazing.
Author: Simon Winchester
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers, 195 Broadway, NY, NY
Copyright: 2015, ISBN: 0062315410
Cover: Gregg Kulick, Getty Images
Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, July 24, 2016
Summary: Extraordinary little book (492 pages) that is not what is expected. An innovative approach to exploring the history of East and Southeast Asia. Focus on the sixty four million square miles of water, forty-six percent of water covering the earth.
We read books to learn something new. Knowing what we don’t already know is an attitude, not a condition.
The enjoyment of reading and weaving through the labyrinth of old and new vistas of thought is when a novel idea pops up unexpectedly. PACIFIC is one of those reads. You discover the Pacific Ocean. You discover the people who ushered the Pacific Ocean into the commercial and political considerations of Europe and America. Since Magellan the Pacific region has been on a steady upward spiral in its importance to the 18th century industrial revolution. The region is reaching a zenith in the era of the electronic digital revolution. Comparative to the twelfth century monasteries of Ireland, the populations of Asia are a potential culture changing force in the world. To boot, it is also an enormous market place. This is the backdrop for the history Winchester presents in PACIFIC.
Author: Gavin Menzies
Publisher: William Morrow HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 10 East 53rd Street, NY, NY 10022
Cover: Richard L. Aquan, Burstein Collection/CORBIS
Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, January 7, 2016
Summary: An information filled, fun journey through fifteenth century maybe world history focusing on a two year period in China. An extraordinarily good book that balances facts with speculation.
In reading the title of this book you might well ask who didn’t discover America. After reading Gavin Menzies’ 553 page, 1421, you realize that discovery is not the issue. After all, there were countless native Indian tribes who discovered America every day for thousands of years before Europeans ever set foot on the place. If nothing else, Menzies’ book conclusively demonstrates that much of what passes as common-knowledge history is so full of gapping holes that you can drive an alien spacecraft through it with very little fear of hitting a fact. Eric Von Daniken and like minded “history researchers” have been doing just that.
Author: Evan Thomas
Publisher: Random House, www.randomhousebooks.com
Copyright: 2015 ISBN: 0812995367
Cover: Victoria Wong
reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, December 31, 2015
Summary: A portrait history of Richard Milhous Nixon expertly done. It focuses on the man and not the issues of his time which leads to a feeling of not getting the entire story. But the Nixon story itself is so intricate and involved that this book is well worth the journey. It is laser focused on its subject.
Before there was Barrack Hussein Obama and pick-your-pseudo-scandal; before there was George W. Bush and weapons of mass destruction; before there was William Jefferson Clinton and the dress; before there was George H. Bush and read-my-lips; before there was Ronald Reagan and Iran-Contra; before there was Jimmy Carter and a certain “crisis of confidence” taken as a malaise in the body politic; before there was Gerald R. Ford and the pardon, there was Richard Milhous Nixon. The country has never been the same since. Maybe never will.
Author: Erik Larson
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group, Division of Random House LLC
Copyright: 2015, ISBN: 0307408860
Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, May 28, 2015
Summary: The unusual circumstances surrounding the sinking of the British passenger liner, Lusitania in 1915, or everything you thought you did not know about the sinking of the Lusitania and the entrance of America into World War I.
Read enough history and history really does seem cyclical. A sobering and somewhat discouraging thought. Even more discouraging and disheartening is the realization that the mistakes, missed opportunities, and sheer ignorance are as repetitive as the deaths and births giving rise to the perception of change.
Fifty or sixty years from the deed, will some historian look at September 11, 2001 and say, “Yes, it could have been prevented”. More than three thousand people lost their lives on American soil because the country was attacked by a known enemy. Such an assault was unthinkable on September 10th. Not that the event was a complete surprise. There were portents. Terror was in the atmosphere. Was there a government official or some government group like the NSA, CIA or FBI who could have prevented or mitigated the devastation? Fifty or so years after Pearl Harbor similar questions were raised about that event. It is too “early” for clear answers for both events—too many possible embarrassments.
Rebel Yell – Book Review
Author: S. C. Gwynne
Publisher: Scribner, Simon & Schuster Inc.
Copyright: 2014, ISBN: 1451673289
Cover: Marlyn Dantes, Encyclopedia Britannica
Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, 1/31/2015
Summary: Excellent biography of Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson with snippets of period history that is often overlooked in our predilection to look at “the big picture.”
If people engaged in discussions about Great Men of History, the name of Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson would come up somewhere between Napoleon Bonaparte and Dwight W. Eisenhower. Of course, no one engages in such discussions today. We like the big picture–bristle makers, ore miners, color-mixers, canvas makers—the little people in other words. However, when examining the life of those engaged in the art of war, looking at the big picture is likely to obscure more than illuminate. This is certainly the case for the life of Jackson. The “little” people were there, but it was Jackson who orchestrated and executed his rather extraordinary life.
Author: Alfredo Corchado
Publisher: The Penguin Press, Penguin Group, 375 Hudson Street, NY, NY 10014
Copyright: 2013, ISBN: 1594204395
Cover: Keith Hayes
Summary: Reporter Alfredo Corchado, born in Mexico, returns to Mexico as a U. S. newspaper foreign correspondent covering the drug war. An extraordinarily thought-provoking look at Mexico’s past and present with implications for its future neatly concealed between the lines. The book also goes a long way in explaining why “illegal” immigration may be more a clash of cultures than a clash over territorial boundaries.
It is impossible to read MIDNIGHT IN MEXICO without thinking of Andrew Pham’s 1999 CATFISH AND MANDALA. Both, in their own way, are travelogues through cultures juxtaposed against American beliefs and values. The difference between the two exploring perspectives is glaring and you cannot help but be conscious of those differences as you read. For me as a reviewer, I was very much aware of my 1969-1970 experiences in Vietnam as I read CATFISH AND MANDALA. I was also aware of the Vietnamese refugees and immigrants I have met since. Nothing I read in the book altered my attitude toward the Vietnamese people. They are, as a people, closer to the land than someone living in cosmopolitan New York or Chicago. They were and are closer to the land than someone removed some ten years from the red-dirt of Georgia where I spent my early years. Regardless of one’s locale in America, identification and empathy are easily extended to peoples of agrarian cultures because American beliefs and values are agrarian at to their roots.
Author: Frank Joseph
Publisher: Bear & Company, One Park Street, Rochester, Vermont, www.BearandCompanyBooks.com
Copyright: 2010, ISBN: 1591431077
Cover: Peri Swan, Corbis Images and Superstock
Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, October 7, 2014
Summary: Before Columbus discovered the American continent, there was the American continent filled with some rather extraordinary civilizations. Joseph takes us through the facts and adds some informed speculation that discreetly places the extraterrestrial hypothesis of human history in a less than flattering light.
This book would normally be a highly recommended read simply based on its erudite and meticulous detailed content. The problem is that it jumps willy-nilly through two thousand years of American archaeological history. It does this fact-continuous-fact exploration while attempting to advance a couple of speculative themes. That is the negative stuff. The positive stuff is much more.
Frank Joseph says in the introduction to PREHISTORIC AMERICA that he spent his student days at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Unknown to him at the time was an archaeological site called Cahokia. He points out that Cahokia was the largest settlement north of the Rio Grande River before Philadelphia achieved a comparable population some eight hundred years later.
While there were a couple of directions Joseph could have taken this book, he chose to examine the influence of immigrant Keltic populations and migrant established populations. The possible influence of Kelts upon early American civilizations has been recognized for a long time (see http://www.oodegr.com/english/brit_celt_orthodoxy/celts_america.htm ). According to Joseph, the Kelts entered recorded history around 1200 BC. He also makes the very important statement that those who we call the Kelts and Greek Historian Hecataeus of Miletus called “ the Keltoi, after ‘barbarians’ . . . How they referred to themselves in a pan-tribal sense, if they ever did, is not known.” Observations such as this come under the heading of erudite.
Author: Sergei Kostin and Eric Raynaud (trans. Catherine Cauvin-Higgins)
Publisher: AmazonCrossing, P.O. Box 400818, Las Vegas, NV 89140, Editions Robert Laffont, S.A., Paris
Copyright: 2009, [ISBN: 1611090261]
Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, June 30, 2014
Summary: The man who undermined the corner-stones of the Soviet Union and allowed America to proclaim victory over an atavistic form of government. The familiar traitor versus patriot dilemma of history from the perspective of an individual life in the modern super-state. Edward Snowden anyone?
Prelude to the Decline
Since the end of World War II, American political discussion has been titillated by talk of America’s decline. Endemic of such discussions was the 1960’s presidential race in which the “missile gap” was the yardstick by which American power was measured—the superiority of the Soviet Union’s ballistic missiles versus the ballistic missiles of America. There was no missile gap. Even if there were, it only takes one to make a couple of square miles of any part of the terra firma a desert. Hitting the same area twice or thrice does not make it more of a desert. It would still be a radioactive desert. Politicians have always conflated power with force. As if power and force were equal. (For us non-physicists, power is all about potential, force is the application of power).
Before the “missile gap” yardstick it was the more generalized “weak on communism” canard bellied about with impunity by any politician lacking anything constructive to say on more pressing issues. The net result of using this particular indicator of potential American decline is that it forced otherwise rational men and women to make thoroughly irrational decisions. By the time America jumped into the Korean War and slid into the Vietnam War, the trajectory of American history was following the same path of every other “superpower” in recorded history. Hence, more fuel for discussion of America’s decline. In essence, what was once a world of opportunity for America has now become a world fraught with danger. When confronted with danger, as any politician will tell you, you must be cautious and circumspect. Hence, discussions of America’s decline.
Author: Andrew X. Pham
Publisher: Picador, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York
Copyright: 1999, ISBN: 
Cover: David Tran, Abby Kagan
Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, 2 December 2013
Summary: In memory of the suicide-death of his sister, a Vietnamese American takes a journey back to Vietnam to find answers.
In a prelude to his bicycle journey through post-war Vietnam, the author recounts his initial bicycle trip to the “Mexican desert” where he encounters a Vietnam era veteran he calls Tyle. This little episode sets the tone for the affect of what follows in CATFISH AND MANDALA.
After confessing to author Andrew Pham that he was “in Nam”, Tyle apologizes for “what I have done to your people.” It a very small but very powerful scene. There are a lot of seemingly minor yet powerful scenes in this book. Each carries more weight than the story as a whole. It is this that makes CATFISH AND MANDALA enjoyable reading. What makes it thought provoking is ex-warrior Tyle, his apology and the Vietnamese people we meet during Pham’s journey. In the final chapters, we encounter more Vietnam era veterans.
In reflection, it is worth noting that all the books reviewed here relating to the American part in the Vietnam war were recommended by others. Karl Malantes’ excellent novel, MATTERHORN (reviewed in September 2010) was recommended by a co-worker. NOT BY THE BOOK by Eric McAllister Smith was a rather matter-of-fact recounting of an intelligence officer operating in Vietnam. It was recommended by a friend. Some non-specific Vietnam books, like T. J. English’s BORN TO KILL: THE RISE AND FALL OF AMERICA’S BLOODIEST ASIAN GANG, which deals primarily with Vietnamese American gangs, was selected for subject matter. I have never selected a book to read about the Vietnam war. In retrospect and in light of reading CATFISH AND MANDALA, I wonder, as a Vietnam era veteran, whether I have avoided the subject because of something like Tyle’s apology.