Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A More Elite Soldier by Chuck Holton

book cover

A More Elite Soldier
by Chuck Holton

Trade Paperback: 200 pages
Publisher: Multnomah
First Released: 2003

Source: Bought from Half.com

Book Description from Publisher Website (slightly modified):
The rigor of becoming an Airborne Ranger is exceeded only by the challenge of being one - but those who join their ranks find fulfillment in something bigger than themselves. In the same way, pursuing God's objectives energizes our everyday lives. Former U.S. Army Ranger Chuck Holton gives powerful vignettes that offer potent spiritual ammunition for the battles of every Christian serving in God's army. Find out what it takes to be a more elite soldier.


From the instant the alarm clock signals the beginning of your day, you’re jumping into a zone of uncertainty. Your survival depends on having a clear focus.


Get on mission as an elite soldier. Become part of something bigger than yourself.

Your Commanding Officer will oversee your training, honing your skills to a razor-sharp edge. God will lead you through the danger zone of today’s insecurity, equipping you to make a difference.


In A More Elite Soldier, Chuck Holton described in vivid detail his military training and missions. Interspersed in these accounts, he related the various spiritual lessons he learned on how his training reflected things in the Bible on how we are called to follow Christ. I found the descriptions of his training very interesting and enjoyed his insights on how God trains us for His missions.

I don't recall any bad language. A few parts of the book were written in present tense ('I see' vs 'I saw'), but most was in past tense. I'd recommend this book to Christians who are in the military, who are interested in learning more about the training that Army Rangers go through, or who want to become a "more elite soldier" for God (or at least see a Ranger's perspective on it).

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from pages 29-31
[He's just started Ranger training, and the instructors are trying to get rid of anyone not totally committed to becoming a Ranger.]

I knew they couldn't leave us in this position forever, but I was equally unsure that I could outlast the roughly twenty or so men who would have to quit before we could move on to the next ordeal. I had no intention of quitting, but I didn't know how long my body would hold out. The mental anguish of that prospect was almost more painful than the physical torture of the dying cockroach [position].


Twenty minutes.

I closed my eyes and tried to forget the intense pain in the muscles of my neck and abs. My hands and feet were numb from lack of blood and the cold, but the rest of my body was drenched in the sweet of exertion.

I thought back to a conversation with my mother as I was leaving for basic training. "I only want to know what you had for breakfast, Son," she had said with a pained smile. She was always worried about the difficulties I'd be facing on active duty. To her it was simply easier not to know. "I know that if this is in God's plan for you, you will be safe. But just remember what your grandmother always says, 'Thou shall not tempt the Lord thy God.'"

I grinned imperceptibly at the memory. Strangely enough, I did feel like this was where I was supposed to be. Why God wanted me here wasn't entirely clear to me a present. I had mused in my journal that perhaps He needed a hit man. More likely, I figured, the skills I was learning in the Army would be used in some far-flung mission field. Maybe He would call me to smuggle Bibles or undertake some other dangerous adventure for His purposes. Sounded like fun to me.

How did I know that God wanted me here? Since I was in the sixth grade, joining the military had been a passion. Our pastor had once said something that hit me like a stun gun: "God doesn't contradict Himself. If He wants you to go to Africa, then you won't find peace doing anything else. He will put a passion in you that corresponds with the plan that He has for you." The way I saw things, finding God's will for my life was simply a matter of pursuing the things that made me passionate, then looking for God to open and close doors along the way. So far, this plan seemed to be working.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Book Quotes: Differences in Israeli Jews

From When I Was a Soldier by Valerie Zenatti on pages 185-186:

In Israel all the extremes of society live side by side, though not always easily. There are some people who are too rich and others who are shamefully poor; shadows who rock as they pray to God, and silhouettes in miniskirts who dance, thinking of their own pleasure and living for the moment; militants who want peace now, and who know that to achieve that we would have to give the Palestinians the right to live as they want to; and others who swear their loyalty to the Land and to the Bible, who block their ears and cover their eyes to the fact that 3,000,000 Palestinians live--not especially well-in Gaza, in the hills of Judea and Samaria. The tensions also grow worse every day between the religious fanatics who insist on closing a particular cinema in Jerusalem on Saturdays and the laymen who criticize them for not doing military service; between the unemployed who demonstrate their despair outside Parliament and the high-tech engineers; between the Moroccan Jews and the Russian Jews; between the left-wing militants and the right-wing militants who hurl abuse and hatred at each other: 'Assassins!' cry the ones, 'Traitors!' reply the others.

And the blood flows, flows in the territories and in Jerusalem--where every now and then a Palestinian labourer throws an axe or a hand knife at Israelis, crying 'Allah Akhbar!', God is great. Some even say that we could do with a good war to wash away all this tension. But what exactly is a 'good' war?

In the country where I live, there are a thousand revolutions to be fought.

And from pages 108-109:

Yesterday evening after supper we had a really moving conversation with Kineret. Subject: what exactly is the link that connects us to Israel, this country which has only been going since 1948 and which is full of Jews from all over the world? Some said it was the land of our ancestors: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. Others felt that the extermination of the European Jews during the Second World War had proved that there was a need for a Jewish state where they could take refuge if they were threatened. A few girls whose reasoning was basically pretty sound said that they'd been born here and that usually people were attached to their native country.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Louisa May Alcott by Harriet Reisen

Louisa May Alcott cover

Louisa May Alcott:
The Woman Behind Little Women
by Harriet Reisen

Hardback: 384 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt
First Released: 2009

Book at Publisher Website

Source: Review copy from publisher.

Book Description from Publisher Website:
A vivid, energetic account of the life of Louisa May Alcott, whose work has delighted millions of readers.

Louisa May Alcott portrays a writer as worthy of interest in her own right as her most famous character, Jo March, and addresses all aspects of Alcott’s life: the effect of her father’s self-indulgent utopian schemes; her family’s chronic economic difficulties and frequent uprootings; her experience as a nurse in the Civil War; the loss of her health and frequent recourse to opiates in search of relief from migraines, insomnia, and symptomatic pain. Stories and details culled from Alcott’s journals; her equally rich letters to family, friends, publishers, and admiring readers; and the correspondence, journals, and recollections of her family, friends, and famous contemporaries provide the basis for this lively account of the author’s classic rags-to-riches tale.

Alcott would become the equivalent of a multimillionaire in her lifetime based on the astounding sales of her books, leaving contemporaries like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Henry James in the dust. This biography explores Alcott’s life in the context of her works, all of which are to some extent autobiographical. A fresh, modern take on this remarkable and prolific writer, who secretly authored pulp fiction, harbored radical abolitionist views, and completed heroic service as a Civil War nurse, Louisa May Alcott is in the end also the story of how the all-time beloved American classic Little Women came to be. This revelatory portrait will present the popular author as she was and as she has never been seen before.

This biography of Louisa May Alcott was a well-written, enjoyable read. Harriet Reisen gave a chronological account of the Alcott's lives while relating how the national events of the time effected them and how they influenced history (through their Transcendental movement, abolition movement, etc.). She also worked in many quotes taken from letters and the personal journals kept by each member of the family.

The first 87 pages were mainly about Louisa's parents (Abby and Bronson) and their friends. If you're interested in Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, and other famous Transcendentalists, you'll probably enjoy this section more than I did. I was continually exasperated with her parents and, while I saw the value of showing the influences Louisa grew up with and how they affected her writing, I didn't like her parents and wanted to get on to focusing on Louisa.

From page 88 to 302, Harriet Reisen focused on Louisa and, to a lesser degree, her sisters. This section was lively and very fun to read though Louisa didn't have a very easy life. I liked how Harriet Reisen tied Louisa's experiences to her books: Louisa would often take real life events and work them into fictional accounts.

The rest of the book was references and notes about the quotes and information. There were no pictures. I would have at least enjoyed a picture of Louisa.

There was no bad language. Overall, I'd recommend this enjoyable biography to anyone who loves Louisa May Alcott's novels and wants to know more about her.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter Four (page 54)
[Note: Abby is Louisa's mother.]

The Alcotts were slipping out of genteel poverty and into the grueling variety. When Abby's cousin Hannah Robie came at Thanksgiving in 1841, she brought a bundle of old clothes for Abby to use to make dresses for her girls. Abby could rip them apart, turn the pieces inside out, and resew them so the unfaded side of the fabric showed.

During the visit, Abby took Hannah to see an abandoned woman with four children. To help them, the Alcotts had reduced their own meals to two a day. Now the "sweetness of self-denial" was about starvation, not plumcakes. The urgency of the situation became clear: Abby entrusted Hannah with the sale of her silver teapot and spoons. Hannah Robie returned to Boston carrying the tale of Abby's troubles all over town.

Louisa, observing the adults from a corner of the kitchen while stitching a hem or playing with her doll, missed very little. At almost nine, hunger told her how dire things were; as an adult, she would give more of her money to feed children than to any other cause. Her raw hands reminded her that she and Anna performed dirty chores their playmates never thought about; in Little Women, she would give the March family a servant, and she herself would have ten when she died.

Friday, December 18, 2009

And the winner is...

It's time to announce the winner of A Woman's Civil War: A Diary with Reminiscences of the War, from March 1862 by Cornelia Peake McDonald. Using a random number generator and numbering the entrants in the order I received them, the winner is:


from Twitter. Congratulations! I'll be contacting you for your address.

For those who didn't win, you can always join in the fun by buying a copy of this book from your favorite bookstore.

Book Quotes: Life Through an Eternal Perspective

From A Passion for the Impossible by Miriam Huffman Rockness (preface, page 22):

Stamped on every page of [Lilia's] journals and diaries is a woman fully immersed in the practical realities of everyday living even as she is totally engaged in assimilating those realities through an eternal perspective.

It is from the tension of these two realities--temporal and eternal--that hard spiritual truths are hammered out which later appear in Lilias's devotional books, elegant and reasoned. Light-giving lessons are harvested through her common daily rounds, tested through crises, and sustained through a lifetime of change and growth.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

When I Was a Soldier by Valerie Zenatti

When I Was a Soldier cover

When I Was a Soldier
by Valerie Zenatti

Hardback: 240 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
First Released: 2005

Source: Won from Color Online.

Back Cover Description:
Like all young Israelis, Valerie Zenatti ceased to be a private citizen on her eighteenth birthday. As is the law, she then enlisted in the national defense service, where for the next two years she endured rigorous training, harsh living conditions, and, eventually, top secret missions with the elite secret service.

Between target practice and sentry duty, Valerie is an ordinary teenage girl. She wonders how her friends and family back home are coping with her absence. She can't stop thinking about her ex-boyfriend in Jerusalem. And, torn between her French heritage and her adopted homeland, she also begins to question how much she really believes in the nation she now defends with her life.

Here, in the arresting voice of a woman who has borne witness, is a thoughtful, compelling memoir of a young soldier--and a country--in turmoil.

When I Was a Soldier was an interesting memoir. Valerie was born in France in 1970, immigrated to Israel with her family when she was thirteen, and joined the Israeli army five years later when she turned eighteen. The memoir focused as much on her personal life as on her training.

The first fourth of the memoir was about the pressure of taking her bac exams...especially since her boyfriend had just broken up with her. The next part--about half of the book--was about her training. Most of this section described her basic training which occurred on an all-girls base. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences between the Israeli basic training and what I've read about American basic training. She also briefly described her training in intelligence work and the stress she was under to learn, learn, learn without mistake! The final section described some of what she did in her intelligence work. She mainly focused on the first year of her two years of military service.

What I found most interesting was her descriptions of the discussions she had with her fellow soldiers and other citizens about the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. A wide variety of views were briefly covered, giving a feel for the complexity of the situation. She also talked about the diversity among the Israeli Jews--their different cultural backgrounds, political views, and level of religious devotion. Valerie's French background was apparently a bit unique in Israel, but her secular view (she didn't believe in God) didn't seem uncommon.

The memoir was written in first person present tense ("I go" instead of "I went"), but this didn't bother me and I usually didn't even notice. There was a minor amount of bad language and some swearing. There was no explicit sex (though she and her friends were sexually active). Overall, I'd recommend this memoir to those interested in what life is like for Israeli eighteen-to-twenty-year-old girls.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
'We're three losers in a land of losers,' Yulia says, spitting her words out and raising her eyebrows in an expression no one would dare argue with. 'This is the arsehole of the world,' she goes on, 'and nothing special ever came out of the arsehole of the world.'

I look into those big blue eyes she's so proud of, especially since she got her contacts. She used to have horrible plastic glasses, with really thick lenses, and she squinted. Long-sighted, astigmatic and with a twinkle in her eyes, as my aunt would say. She carried the burden of it all through her childhood. Since she swapped her glasses for two tiny lenses, it's as if she wants to make the whole world pay for her past humiliations. She's getting her revenge. Sometimes all you can see in her eyes is anger and contempt, or--worse than that--she's lying and her eyes are dressed up in this immeasurable innocence, all blue and transparent, as she talks to one of her teachers, or to a boy. I hate her big blue eyes. I hate my best friend's eyes with a sneaky, furious, impotent sort of hate. And I feel just as much loathing for the way she sometimes speaks, deliberately foul-mouthed and hard, as if she's saying, 'I'm free now. I'm no longer my parents' nice little girl.'

She's my best friend, all the same...I have to admit it and she seems to agree. At school we've been classified as inseparable, no one could imagine bumping into one of us without the other. We've been sitting next to each other systematically for four years, and we phone each other on average eight times a day. When I'm not with her I'm with Rahel, my other best friend.

They were both born in what was once the USSR. Yulia's from Tashkent in Uzbekistan. She likes saying those names in front of me - Tashkent, Samarkand - as if there were treasure sparkling on every street corner back there. In front of other people from Russia she emphasises the fact that her father's of German origin and her mother Romanian; I can tell she's ashamed of Uzbekistan. Everyone else seems to think that that's where the arsehole of the world is. Personally, I haven't got very fixed ideas about the anatomy of our planet.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Book Quotes: Searching for Art

From The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel & Bret Witter (page 422):

...first impressions carry lasting significance....For example, several years ago I spoke with one of the key officers in charge of tracking down some of the 15,000 works of art looted from the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad during and following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. He acknowledged that he had never heard of the Monuments Men.

Today, dedicated Civil Affairs officers and soldiers along with civilian experts, including Colonel Mathew Bogdanis (ret.), Major Corine Wegener (ret.), and Professor John Russell, have gallantly and tirelessly attempted to repair the damage to this great museum, including finding and returning about half of the missing items to date. They also conduct training seminars for troops serving in the Civil Affairs section. But despite their efforts the first impressions of the United States' experience with handling the aftermath of the looting of the National Museum of Iraq remain indelibly etched in the minds of the public worldwide.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Giveaway: A Woman's Civil War

A Woman's Civil War cover


I really enjoyed this book and thought it would make a great Christmas gift, so I've decided to do a Christmas Giveaway for my copy of A Woman's Civil War: A Diary with Reminiscences of the War, from March 1862 by Cornelia Peake McDonald. The book is used, but looks like new.

To learn more about the book, you can read my review.

One copy is being given away. This giveaway is for USA residents only.

To enter the giveaway:

1) you can twitter me saying "Hi @genrereviewer Please enter me to win A WOMAN'S CIVIL WAR. I'd like to win because_______." Include the reason you're interested in this book. (You don't have to use the exact "I'd like to win because" wording.)


2) You can leave a comment to this post asking to be entered and leave some way for me to contact you if you win. Also share the reason you're interested in winning this book.

The winner will be randomly selected. I'll announce the winner at 9:00 AM (Central Time) on December 18, 2009 on this blog. (Yes, I'm sorry, but this does mean you'll likely not get the book by Christmas.)

If you entered using twitter, I'll send you a @ or DM telling you of your win and asking where to send the book. If you entered using the blog comments, you'll need to leave your e-mail address or check back to see if you won so you can e-mail me your shipping address.

I hope everyone has fun with this!

A Woman's Civil War by Cornelia Peake McDonald

A Woman's Civil War cover

A Woman's Civil War:
A Diary with Reminiscences of the War,
from March 1862
by Cornelia Peake McDonald

Hardback: 314 pages
Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
First Released: 1992

Source: Bought from Half.com

Back Cover Description:
On the night of March 11, 1862, as the heavy tramp of marching Confederate troops died away in the distance--her husband's regiment among them--Cornelia Peake McDonald began her diary of events in war-torn Winchester, Virginia.

McDonald's story of the American Civil War records a personal and distinctly female battle of her own--a southern woman's lonely struggle in the midst of chaos to provide safety and shelter for herself and her nine children. She relates the trauma that occurs when the safety of the home is disrupted and destroyed by the forces of war; when women and children are put out of their houses and have nowhere to go.

Whether she is describing a Union soldier's theft of her Christmas cakes, the discovery of a human foot in her garden, or the heart-wrenching death of her baby daughter, McDonald's story of the Civil War at home is compelling and disturbing. Her tremendous determination and unyielding spirit in the face of the final collapse of her world is testimony to this woman's will to preserve her family.

In the midst of the horror, she still conveys the delight of watching her children grow up, the joy and comfort of going to church, and even amusing moments. A Woman's Civil War is a captivating and moving story of a personal life lived through a great crossroads in history.

A Woman's Civil War was a fascinating view of the American Civil War through the eyes of a Confederate civilian. Cornelia lived in a town that was captured by the Union, then freed by the Confederates, then captured again by the Union, and then freed again. She described the events with vivid details that made me feel as if I were watching the events unfold.

There was a lot of suspense due to the constant uncertainty of what would happen in the next day, or even in the next minute. Would the Union soldiers take all of her food? Her house? How would she get more supplies when she refused to swear a loyalty oath to the Union general making his headquarters in town? How would they get firewood when their trees and all of their out-buildings were demolished for Union fires? Would the battle rolling over their front yard end in tragedy for the family or freedom from occupation?

Her diary showed what life was like near the battle fields and under occupation for a well-to-do gentlewoman with nine children and a husband who was a Confederate officer. Her expectations in how she would be treated by friend and foe alike showed the differences in manners back then...and how those manners changed over the course of the war. Her comments also showed how people at the time viewed the war and how the "why we're fighting" changed somewhat over time. Some of her remarks reminded me of things still being said today.

In the Reminiscences section (which picks up were the diary ends), she lived for a time in an area relatively untouched by war. It was interesting to see the contrasts with what she'd become used to.

Since she wrote this diary for her husband and later for her children, she sometimes didn't include information that they would have known. She also sometimes related news as she heard it that was incorrect. However, there were endnotes at the back that gave the correct or needed information on battles, events, who various people were, and information about them.

Cornelia did refer to God and think over Christian theology as it related to her dead child and events around her. I think most readers--unless dead-set again Christianity--would find her thoughts as an interesting part of the overall book.

I'd highly recommend this well-written and fascinating book to history buffs, those interested in the Civil War, and to anyone who thinks it sounds interesting.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

March, 1862--On the night of March 11th, 1862, the pickets were in the town; part of the army had already gone, and there were hurried preparations and hasty farewells, and sorrowful faces turning away from those they loved best, and were leaving, perhaps, forever. At one o'clock the long roll beat, and soon the heavy tramp of the marching columns died away in the distance.

The rest of the night was spent in violent fits of weeping at the thought of being left, and of what might happen to that army before we should see it again. I felt a terrible fear of the coming morning, for I knew that with it would come the much dreaded enemy.

I laid down when the night was almost gone, to sleep, after securing all the doors, and seeing that the children were all asleep. I took care to have my dressing gown convenient in case of an alarm, but the night passed away quietly, and when the morning came and all was peaceful I felt reassured, dressed and went down.

The servants were up and breakfast was ready. The children assembled and we had prayers.

I felt so thankful that we were still free, and a hope dawned that our men would come back, as no enemy had appeared. We were all cheerfully dispatching our breakfasts, I feeling happy in proportion to my former depression; the children were chatting gaily, Harry and Allen rather sulky at not having been permitted to leave with the army, as they considered it degradation for men of their years and dimensions to be left behind with women and children. Suddenly a strain of music! Every knife and fork was laid down and every ear strained to catch the faint sounds. The boys clap their hands and jump up from the table shouting. "Our men have come back!" and rushed to the door; I stopped them, telling them it must be the Yankees. Every face looked blank and disappointed.

I tried to be calm and quiet, but could not, and so got up and went outside the door. Sure enough that music could not be mistaken, it was the "Star Spangled Banner" that was played. A servant came in. "They are all marching the town, and some have come over the hill into our orchard."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Book Quote: Surgery in War Times

From Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq by Dr. Chris Coppola:

From the forward by Guy Raz (p. X):

The history of warfare has not been generous to soldiers wounded on the battlefield. In the First World War, a wounded infantryman faced an 80 percent chance of dying. By World War Two, that number reached 60 percent. In Vietnam, one out of three wounded never made it. But in Iraq, nearly 97 percent of troops injured in the field have survived. It's an unprecedented rate of survival and a statistic that owes much to the work of military doctors like Christopher Coppola.

And from page 178:

A sad fact is that nothing is better for the rapid advancement of surgical care than the severe and numerous injuries of wartime. With every war, the science of surgery has progressed by leaps and bounds. The Civil War demonstrated how amputation could save lives in the face of devastating tissue destruction caused by the high-velocity Minie ball bullet. In World War I, as the machine gun came into prominence, surgeons realized the importance of aseptic technique and began washing out wounds and debriding dead tissue. World War II brought the revolutionary results of penicillin for wounds infected by the fertile French soil, and prompted public health measures to reduce the lethal effects of malaria in the South Pacific. With Korea came the Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals made famous in Hooker's book MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors and helicopter evacuation to aid in the treatment of wounded troops who would have died on the battlefield in previous wars. In Vietnam, surgeons advanced the treatment of orthopedic and vascular injuries and developed the capability for effective trauma thoracotomy.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Longitude by Dava Sobel


by Dava Sobel

Hardback: 208 pages
Publisher: Walker & Company
First Released: 1995

Source: Bought from library book sale

Back Cover Description:
Anyone alive in the eighteenth century would have known that "the longitude problem" was the thorniest scientific dilemma of the day--and had been for centuries. Lacking the ability to measure their longitude, sailors throughout the great ages of exploration had been literally lost at sea as soon as they lost sight of land. Thousands of lives, and the increasing fortunes of nations, hung on a resolution.

The quest for a solution had occupied scientists and their patrons for the better part of two centuries when, in 1714, England's Parliament upped the ante by offering a king's ransom (£20,000, or approximately $12 million in today's currency) to anyone whose method or device proved successful. Countless quacks weighed in with preposterous suggestions. The scientific establishment of Europe--from Galileo to Sir Issac Newton--had mapped the heavens in both hemispheres in its certain pursuit of a celestial answer. In stark contrast, one man, John Harrison, dared to imagine a mechanical solution--a clock that would keep precise time at sea, something no clock had ever been able to do on land.

Longitude is a dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest and Harrison's forty-year obsession with building his perfect timekeeper, known today as the chronometer. Full of heroism and chicanery, brilliance and the absurd, it is also a fascinating brief history of astronomy, navigation, and clockmaking. Through Dava Sobel's consummate skill, Longitude will open a new window on our world for all who read it.

Longitude is an enjoyable, easy-to-read and understand overview of the events surrounding "the longitude problem," including the various solutions proposed, the political and scientific rivalry involved in the quest for the prize, and the scientific advances that occurred in pursuit of the solution.

The book doesn't really go into depth on how the clock was created. Apparently no one really knows how John Harrison solved each challenge in keeping perfect time while at sea. But we're told the solution found in his finished products even if we don't learn the process of how he got there.

I found very interesting the overview of sea navigation at that time and the scientific advances that came about while in pursuit of the longitude prize money. I also enjoyed learning why Greenwich became the 0 degree longitude line and time-setter for the world.

While I thought the author did a wonderful job describing what the various clocks looked like, I'm glad that pictures of John Harrison and several of his clocks were shown on the front cover of the book. The book doesn't contain pictures or diagrams beyond this. (I didn't mind, though, since the clock innards were apparently confusingly complex so pictures of that wouldn't have been enlightening.)

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I'd recommend this quick read to anyone interested in an overview of the longitude problem, the solutions proposed, and how Harrison's clock eventually came to 'rule the seas.'

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
As a child, I learned the trick for remembering the difference between latitude and longitude. The latitude lines, the parallels, really do stay parallel to each other as they girdle the globe from the Equator to the poles in a series of shrinking concentric rings. The meridians of longitude go the other way: They loop from the North Pole to the South and back again in great circles of the same size, so they all converge at the ends of the Earth.

Lines of latitude and longitude began crisscrossing our worldview in ancient times, at least three centuries before the birth of Christ. By A.D. 150, the cartographer and astronomer Ptolemy had plotted them on the twenty-seven maps of his first world atlas. Also for this landmark volume, Ptolemy listed all the place names in an index, in alphabetical order, with the latitude and longitude of each--as well as he could gauge them from travelers' reports. Ptolemy himself had only an armchair appreciation of the wider world. A common misconception of his day held that anyone living below the Equator would melt into deformity from the horrible heat.

The Equator marked the zero-degree parallel of latitude for Ptolemy. He did not choose it arbitrarily but took it on higher authority from his predecessors, who had derived it from nature while observing the motions of the heavenly bodies. The sun, moon, and planets pass almost directly overhead at the Equator. Likewise the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, two other famous parallels, assume their positions at the sun's command. They mark the northern and southern boundaries of the sun's apparent motion over the course of the year.

Ptolemy was free, however, to lay his prime meridian, the zero-degree longitude line, wherever he liked. He chose to run it through the Fortunate Islands (now called the Canary & Madeira Islands) off the northwest coast of Africa. Later mapmakers moved the prime meridian to the Azores and to the Cape Verde Islands, as well as to Rome, Copenhagen, Jerusalem, St. Petersburg, Pisa, Paris, and Philadelphia, among other places, before it settled down at last in London.