Sorry for the blog silence, life and work have me loaded down. I hope to get out from under things soon. In the meantime here are some books to check out.
Irreverent, effervescent reexamination of early exploration in the Americas by peripatetic, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Horwitz (The Devil May Care: 50 Intrepid Americans and Their Quest for the Unknown, 2003, etc.). What do Americans really know about the discovery of their continent? Visiting the sadly puny Plymouth Rock prompted this energetic, likable author to delve into the historic record and sniff out the real story behind America’s creation myth, from one section of the country to the other. The Vikings arrived first around 1000 CE, when Leif Eiriksson settled for a spell in Newfoundland, enjoying the grapes and mild weather before being run off by the native Skraelings. Horwitz sought out the probable descendants of these natives, the Micmac, who invited him to a cleansing ceremony in their sweat lodge. Next, the author studied the mixed-up voyages of Columbus, whose ignorance of the globe led him to believe that the eastern Bahamas, where he first landed, was the Orient.
While the Spanish were claiming the Caribbean, Mexico and Peru, Ponce de Le-n, a veteran of Columbus’s second voyage, struck Daytona Beach in 1513 and named the land La Florida. Alvar Nu-ez Cabeza de Vaca made inroads through Florida and Texas between 1528 and 1536, while ruthless Hernando de Soto cut throughout the South a pitiless swath of destruction and slaughter of natives. These voyages came long before Sir Walter Raleigh sent English colonists to settle on Roanoke Island, Va., in 1585. By 1540, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado penetrated the Southwest from Mexico in search of fabled cities, and in Florida, a little-known Huguenot settlement established in 1564 at La Caroline was wiped out by Spanishinvaders. The author revisited all of these sites to speak to the locals, who are often as colorful as the forgotten history he was tracking. Accessible to all ages, hands-on and immensely readable, this book invites readers to search out America’s story for themselves.
Casting the 66th attorney general and Watergate felon as the most upright man in the Nixon administration is faint praise indeed, to judge by this biography. Fox News correspondent Rosen applauds Mitchell for his tough law-and-order policies, school-desegregation efforts and hard line against leftist radicals, and for enduring wife Martha’s alcoholic breakdowns and raving late-night phone calls to reporters. The book’s heart is Rosen’s meticulous, exhaustively researched study of Mitchell’s Watergate role, absolving him of ordering the break-in and most other charges leveled against him. Instead, Mitchell is painted as a force for propriety who was framed by othersâ€”especially White House counsel John Dean, who comes off as Watergate’s evil genius. (Rosen also claims Watergate burglar James McCord was secretly working for the CIA and deliberately sabotaged the break-in.) Unfortunately, Rosen’s salutes to Mitchell’s integrity and reverence for the law clash with his accounts of the man’s misdeeds: undermining the Paris peace talks, suborning and committing perjury, tolerating the criminal scheming in Nixon’s White House and re-election campaign. Mitchell may have blanched at the Nixon administration’s sleazy intrigues, as Rosen insists, but he seems not to have risen above them.
That environmental factors affect our daily lives is disputed by no one. But can environment, climate and topology play a part in the development of a religious community? Hillel, professor emeritus of environmental studies at the University of Massachusetts and senior research scientist at Columbia University’s Center for Climate Systems Research, says yes. He comes to the subject immersed in the lore of ancient Israel, from his grandfather’s instruction to his own years living in modern Israel. He sees the Jewish belief system as an amalgam of ideas emerging from an interplay of human beings with both the land and its peoples, “absorb[ing] all the cultural strands… from all the ecological domains of the ancient Near East… and assimilat[ing] them into their own culture.” He divides sacred history into seven “domains,” dispensations based not on some theological construct but rather on the terrain in which the Israelites lived. What emerges is a largely naturalistic explanation of Israel’s beliefs and laws, with a strong emphasis on the impact of culture and environment on the evolving Jewish religion. Hillel recounts, in a richly detailed and beautifully told manner, the origins of the Hebrew Bible in a new and satisfying way.