History, Moody-Ralph, Non-Fiction

#906 Riders of the Pony Express by Ralph Moody

Riders of the Pony Express by Ralph MoodyRiders of the Pony Express by Ralph Moody

The Pony Express was how people in the West used to get and send letters from people in other parts of the country. The territory could be dangerous. There were outlaws and sometimes there were still pockets of hostile Native Americans. A rider had to be fast and he had to be able to depend on his horse. He carried mail in a bag, riding for long periods of time, sometimes as fast as he could. There were races between riders sometimes. Some riders went down in history.

When the United States finally got a more regular mail system, the Pony Express riders weren’t needed as much, but for a while, they were the communication lifeline between people who lived out in the western frontier and their families and friends.

What I liked

The Pony Express is actually something I would like to know more about. My family lived out west for a while, but it’s not the frontier anymore. I first expected this book to be a short western novel about the Pony Express riders, but it’s actually a more factual story about what the Pony Express was.

It put things in perspective a bit. We can get communication almost anytime we like. We have phones. We have the internet. People who lived out west back in the 1800s, probably didn’t have phones and they definitely didn’t have the internet. The mail system hadn’t exactly expanded out west yet. The best that could be done were the riders of the Pony Express. One man would ride across hundreds of miles to deliver that letter from your aunt who was telling you about her new grandbaby and the garden she put in. The Pony Express was the sole communication line for a lot of people for a while. It’s a scary thought and an impressive thought. It’s scary because that one rider could die or be captured and that important document someone was trying to send to you is just gone. It’s impressive because one person took it upon themselves to make sure your mail got to you. This makes mail carriers a little more bad***, not that any of my mail people have ever ridden around on a pony to deliver mail, although, it would be kind of neat.

What I didn’t like

Like I said, I would have liked to have known more. Sometimes, some of the best non-fiction books follow one historical figure around and retell their life and the world around them at the time. I think this book could have been something like that at one point.

Overall

Get on your horse and go deliver the mail. People are waiting on their Amazon boxes.

Weigh In

Wouldn’t it be so much cooler if mail people delivered the mail on horses?

What if Amazon had a fleet of horses that delivered mail instead of UPS and FedEx?

#906 Riders of the Pony Express by Ralph Moody was originally published on One-elevenbooks

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Bazaldua-Barbara, History, Memoir, Non-Fiction

#888 A Boy of Heart Mountain by Barbara Bazaldua

A Boy of Heart Mountain by Barbara BazalduaA Boy of Heart Mountain by Barbara Bazaldua

Shigeru and his family lived in California, but then the war came. Some people treated Shigeru differently, even though he was an American. His parents had to put signs up in their laundry shop window saying they were loyal Americans. Soon people told Shigeru’s family that they had to leave their home and go to the middle of the United States. People even came into their house and took their radio. They had to sell their things, which people offered them very little money for. Shigeru even had to give away his dog, Skippy.

The family got on a train and left. Where they arrived was nowhere. There was nothing around. They had to live in a small room, which was nothing more than a shack. The room was shared with strangers. The food was awful.

After a time, the family was moved to Heart Mountain which was marginally better. There was a school and Shigeru made some friends. He even got a pet bird that learned to talk. The camp became a new life to Shigeru. One day, it came time to leave and return to a normal life; the war was over.

What I liked

I’ve read books about the Japanese concentration camps before. It’s a sad thing, but ultimately very important. We have to remember what we did so it doesn’t happen again.

Shigeru was a real person, which makes this book much more real. These things happened to a real person.

It seems Shigeru did not let the experience of living in a concentration camp taint his life or his experience of America. That’s a very optimistic view of the whole thing.

What I didn’t like

Why did this happen? Why were innocent Americans imprisoned for no reason? It all seems like an overreaction. We don’t have any right to treat an entire people with suspicion because one person did something bad. Granted, we are talking about more than one somebody doing something bad, but it was still a very small percentage of an entire people.

The good thing about American concentration camps, if you can ever say there are good things about concentration camps, was that they weren’t like the German camps. People can say they were imprisoned by the American government, but they mostly can’t say that they were murdered or exterminated. It’s a wonder Japanese-Americans who were in these camps found it in their hearts not to hate the United States for what happened.

I hate that anybody had to go through something like this just because of their ancestry.

Overall

Let’s be glad this is over.

Weigh in

Do you think these concentration camps prevented any war?

If you were imprisoned by a government because of your ancestry, do you think you could look favorably on that government afterwards?

#888 A Boy of Heart Mountain by Barbara Bazaldua was originally published on One-elevenbooks

History, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Stewart-Ellinore Pruitt

#767 Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Ellinore Pruitt Stewart

 Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Ellinore Pruitt StewartLetters of a Woman Homesteader by Ellinore Pruitt Stewart

Ellinore left her life as a washing woman and decided to go homesteading in the West. It never struck her that she couldn’t do it because she was a woman. She just went. The traveling was not easy.

Ellinore got herself work on a homestead and then ultimately go her own homestead. The claim office man thought she was there selling books; she had to kick over a chair to get him to take her seriously.

Time went on and Ellinore even got married and started her own family. She helped plan weddings and she buried babies. She was never afraid to go out on an adventure into the mountains.

The whole time Ellinore was a faithful correspondent to her former employer.

What I liked

Ellinore sounds like she was a very interesting person. She’s one of those people in the past that would be fun to meet. Her writing is impressive for someone who didn’t really get a formal education.

Ellinore apparently had a very difficult life. Her parents died when she was young. She had to help raise five of her eight younger siblings. She worked for a railroad.  She married a much older man and then he died. She trained as a nurse and she worked as a washer woman. It’s impressive that she did so well for herself.

What I didn’t like

The stories about the Mormon settlers are sad. I think polygamy is just awful. At this point in history, the church had left polygamy behind, but those who had been practicing it, continued to practice it. There just weren’t additional marriages arranged that were polygamous.

Ellinore saw, first hand, how these marriages were awful when she found fellow settlers who were Mormon. These were not happy circumstances, nor did they make sense to anyone on the outside. If these marriages make people so unhappy, I don’t understand why anyone would follow through with it. I know they think their eternal salvation depends on it, but the whole situation is lopsided in the first place. The whole thing reeks of someone just wanting the ability to have sex with more than one person and say that God was OK with it.

Overall

I think Ellinore is great.

Weigh in

Would you marry a man if he already had a wife?

Could you have gone out west by yourself and homesteaded? Regardless of gender.

#767 Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Ellinore Pruitt Stewart was originally published on One-elevenbooks

History, Non-Fiction, Wenborn-Neil

#716 The French Revolution in a Nutshell by Neil Wenborn

 The French Revolution in a Nutshell by Neil Wenborn The French Revolution in a Nutshell by Neil Wenborn

If you’ve ever wondered what all this business about people getting their heads chopped off and eating cake in France, but you don’t have time to take an entire class on the French Revolution, this might be the book for you.

It all started with some unhappy people. Things were changing in the world. Governments were changing. The crops were bad. Nobody had any money, except some of the nobles, and even then, a lot of the nobles didn’t have much money either. Countries around the world were ditching their monarchies, America being the foremost, and other countries wanted the common man to have more of a say in the government. They wanted republics.

Louis came along and married Marie Antoinette, who supposedly said, “Let them eat cake,” in reference to the people saying they wanted bread, which actually didn’t happen. The French people stormed the Bastille, a prison. They cornered the royal family. They started chopping heads off with a Guillotine, including the heads of their kind and queen.

With all of this said and done, France didn’t quite get the government it wanted for a while. There were political dissenters and Napoleon to deal with.

What I liked

I know quite a bit about the French Revolution, so I’m not sure why I read this. It’s still interesting though. Really, if you don’t know a whole lot about the French Revolution, this is a good place to start.

What I didn’t like

I think this book is fine for what it intends to do.

Overall

“Off with their heads!” … you thought this was just an Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland reference.

Weigh in

Are short books that condense historical events interesting?

Would you have eaten some cake?

History, Koppel-Lily, Memoir, Non-Fiction

#713 The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel

The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily KoppelThe Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel

The united States wanted to beat Russia into space. It was after WWII and into an entirely new decade. Some of the finest fighter pilots would be chosen to start the United States’ space program. There were originally seven men and seven wives. The Astronaut life lacked the structure of military life, so the wives decided to become friends. They had monthly coffees and when each man went up into space, the women surrounded the wives left on the ground.

The US was not the first country to put a man in space, Russia beat them to it, but it was the first country to put a man on the moon, which came years after the first man went into space. Meanwhile, Americans were fascinated with the astronauts and their wives, so much so that the government had to get involved with an official publicity deal with Life magazine. The press was granted an all-access pass to the lives of the wives, even in very personal moments.

After the first men went into space, the wives got to meet presidents and first ladies. At home, the Astronaut wives had typical, and atypical, home problems to deal with, all while being in the public eye.

To the additional astronauts was added many more. There came to be conflict between newer astronauts and older astronauts. Death also came to the astronauts. Several deaths happened in practice exercises and the wives were often left without official support and what support there was came from the wives.

Many of the astronauts and their wives ended up divorced. There was a lot of time away from home for the astronauts, but there were also a lot of Astronaut groupies that hung onto the men, which apparently made it difficult to resist, even though there were wives and children at home.

Some of the wives went on the become very prominent people in US society, while some never recovered from the experience of being an astronaut wife.

What I liked

I never really wondered about the astronauts or their wives. I know that the whole thing was this big power contest between Russia and the United States, but I never really thought About the people involved. Their lives were certainly interesting, but I don’t hold the astronauts up to the same shining standard that I once did.

I never knew about the media deal that was made in regards to the astronauts and their families. Who would have thought that astronauts were that big of a deal, but in the 1960s, I guess it was; they were rockstars in their time.

What I didn’t like

It really seemed as if infidelity was condoned by the government and NASA in regards to the astronauts. I am already if the opinion that the military complex in the US asks and takes too much from its military members and their families, without giving enough back in return.

It’s hard to comprehend that these men we hold as American heroes, couldn’t keep it in their pants with the entire country watching.

The book got to be a bit difficult to follow. There ended up being so many women that the whole thing wasn’t as personal. I feel bad for these women, being in the public eye through such emotionally fraught moments.

Overall

You’ll never look at the moon the same again.

Weigh in

Would you go into space?

Do you consider the first men in space heroes?

History, Non-Fiction, Ronson-Jon, social commentary, True strange Happenings

#681 The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson

The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon RonsonThe Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson

Jon has heard that there is a man who stared at a goat and killed it. The whole thing was a very hush-hush military experiment. Somewhere, the goats have been debleated and now they’re experimented on. No one would guess that there is a building full of goats on a military base.

The men who did stare at goats are a combination of new age and karate master, well, most of the time anyway. Jon tries to find out who actually stared at the goat. It may have been this one guy, but he died, but maybe it was this other guy. Jon finally finds out exactly who stared at the goat and it turns out that the guy still stares at small animals every once in a while, and they subsequently drop over dead.

As the book progresses, Jon moves on to other fringe military experiments, like MK Ultra and sound frequencies that make a person have diarrhea. Jon speaks with the son of a man who was killed in relation to MK Ultra and LSD, but his entire family was always told it was an accident. The idea of psychic warfare seems crazy, but the military certainly doesn’t think so.

What I liked

If you didn’t know anything about MK Ultra or experimentation with certain sound frequencies, this might be a good book to read.

What I didn’t like

I hate these fringe things. Look, fringe is interesting, but I have heard enough conspiracy theories to last me a lifetime, a lifetime; I’m serious. I don’t know about the goat thing, but all the other stuff in this book–real. The military actually did and experimented with everything mentioned in this book, except for the part about the goats, which I’m not entirely sure of in my personal knowledge of strange military experiments. The military spends some money on some weird stuff and some of it works, some of it doesn’t. Along the way, the military happily destroys lives. Yes, people have actually been killed and scapegoated for the things Jon mentions in this book. Do people care?

No, honestly, not really. The public hears that the government experimented with LSD and they’re like, “Whatever.” It’s not a concern for most people that this stuff goes on. Should it be? Maybe.

The thing about the frequencies was tested and disproven on Mythbusters, but who knows, maybe the government knows something that the Mythbusters don’t.

I don’t like all this fringe conspiracy stuff. This stuff isn’t actually conspiracy, because it actually happened, but “conspiracy theory” is how most people tend to define the particular things mentioned in this book. The thing about weird government experimentation, which does happen, in any government, is that you can’t really do anything about it. It’s upsetting to hear about. They say knowledge is power, but if knowledge doesn’t get you anywhere, why know? You can’t march up to the government and be like, “Hey, stop experimenting with weird fringe science stuff, like giving people LSD.”

Part of the reason all of this stuff is still defined in the realm of “conspiracy theory” is that it sounds silly. Like, you mean, the government actually experimented with certain audio frequencies that would make people poop their pants? Absurd! It can’t be real! It can’t be a thing the actual government did! You, sir, are crazy!

Look, the government is weird. Just accept it. They’ve probably funded research and experimentation about whether or not the pink goo from Ghostbusters could actually animate toasters.

You might read this book and have a good laugh because some of this sounds so absurd, but the government really did think that some LSD and code words could make an ultimate soldier.

Overall

Well, if you ever see a goat drop dead, maybe it was just a government experiment.

Weigh In

Does it get us anywhere to know about these experiments?

Will people ever accept some of the government’s weird experimentation as things that actually happened?

History, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Schneider-Helga, WWII

#665 Let Me Go by Helga Schneider

Let Me Go by Helga SchneiderLet Me Go by Helga Schneider

Helga is an older woman now and an envelope finds its way into her hands. It’s about her mother, the same mother that Helga assumed died years ago. Helga has not seen her mother for many years because her mother abandoned her and her brother when they were children to be a Nazi. Helga grew up without her mother and didn’t have an easy go of things, but ended up with a somewhat normal life.

Helga has a chance to talk to her mother one last time. She takes a cousin and makes the journey to Germany, where her mother still lives. Helga knows which woman is her mother when she sees her and it takes a little bit to convince the woman that Helga is her daughter, but she finally accepts it.

Helga asks her about life. She wants to know why her mother left her and her brother. Helga’s mother was devoted to the party and to the solution. She was trained to be desensitized. She sent people to their deaths. She thought some of the death methods were ingenious. Her daughter wonders how a woman could be immune to feelings. Helga’s mother did feel, just not as Helga expects. Helga goes to see her mother, hoping to find something a little different than she did in the past, but ultimately, Helga’s mother is who she is.

What I liked

WWII memoirs are always interesting. It’s an interesting, and terrible, period of history. It’s a period of history we don’t ever want to repeat again. As such, it’s important to remember what went on during this period of history.

What I didn’t like

I don’t agree with the entire idea of Nazism. I don’t agree with Aryan nations being superior. I don’t agree with genocide. I don’t agree with people being taken prisoner because of their religion or skin color. Here’s the thing though, Helga’s mother was kind of an awful person, but she didn’t deserve to be hounded by Helga in an old person’s home at such an old age. Both Helga and her mother were rude and manipulative to one another during this conversation.

I don’t agree with what Helga’s mother did at all, in the slightest, but she’s an old woman, leave her the heck alone. Old people deserve rest and respect, even if they don’t necessarily deserve respect for other reasons, simply because they’re so old. There comes a time in life when you just kind have to let old people be themselves and do their own thing. There’s no changing them and yelling at them and being rude to them isn’t going to change anything that happened in the past. You might get an apology for something done in the past and you might not.

I don’t like Helga’s mother, but I also don’t like how Helga treated her mother on a supposed visit. She demanded to know things about the camps and how they worked. She demanded details about things. Horrors from the past. She wanted to hear her mother speak of these awful things. There comes a point where a person likes to put things like that behind them, even if it doesn’t make them sad. That was an old life. It’s not their life anymore.

If a person makes it to ninety, or whatever, and they’re still the same old person they always were and that’s a bad person, you just kind of have to let it go. Get over it. They’re not going to magically change because you showed up to talk to them.

There are a lot of people who have a right to be mad at Helga’s mother, not just Helga. Helga’s mother divorced herself from the family and Helga doesn’t particularly have a whole lot of right over her mother as a family member as a result. Sure, things Helga’s mother did affected her life negatively. Things my mother did affected my life negatively too, but I don’t go and harass my mother about bad things she did in her past, that weren’t even done directly to me.

The whole story is like a woman showing up at an old person’s home and interrogating a forgetful old woman about something from sixty-seventy years before. There are just some periods in your life that aren’t going to be tied up in neat little bows.

Also, this book would wander from one scene to another without any warning. At one point it would be modern-day and at another it would be WWII and there wouldn’t be any warning that it would happen.

Overall

Old Nazis are not nice people, but just leave them alone. Unless you encounter some elderly Nazi plot to destroy the world, let the old people watch their Maury and go to their activities.

Weigh In

Knowing what you know about Helga’s mother, do you think there was any way she would have ever been more repentant during this time in her life?

What good do you think Helga expected to accomplish by visiting her mother?