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Welcome to The catholic reader!


Adjective: (esp. of a person's tastes) Including a wide variety of things; all-embracing.
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which has created words and worlds that border on the eternal.

I read promiscuously with catholic tastes-—biography, history, classic fiction, mysteries, general science, travel, philosophy, theology, sports, humor, politics. I thrive on the odd juxtapositions of ideas and words that such an eclectic mix brings to my thinking and writing.

I find that I tend to be less generous (I prefer to think more realistic) in my star ratings than most reviewers. In my reviews I have my own fixed scale that I use:

5          stars - What a classic!
3 or 4   stars - Worth my time
1 or 2   stars - Well, OK, I guess
0 to -3  stars - Waste of time
-5         stars - Waste of paper

Classics are timeless and universal; very few books deserve this rank.

Worth my time are books that I thoroughly enjoyed, including the writing, the style, the setting, the topic, and I would recommend to any reader. Sometimes, these books lack only the timelessness (too new) or universality (narrower subject) that defines a classic.

Books rated "Well, OK, I guess" while otherwise good have some flaw in one area (writing, topic, style, or other characteristic) that hinders the reader's enjoyment of an otherwise fine book.

Waste of time are books that are discernibly less well written than the first three categories but still have some redeeming qualities ("Guilty pleasures" fall in this category)

Wastes of paper are relentlessly awful and would be unlikable by any reader; very few books deserve this rank.
Rate Some Topics
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millenium Bob Dylan The Girl Who Played With Fire (book) Schindler's Ark John Adams
The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia (Kodansha Globe)
Unfortunately Hopkirk talks a good game about the Great Game but doesn't deliver.  The Great Game is the name Rudyard Kipling immortalized in his classic novel Kim about the imperial cold war between England and Russia over the high mountains and deserts between British India and Russia.  This blood drenched ground is now parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the other Stans freed from …
reviewed The Quantum moment: How Planck, Bohr,.... December 31, 2014
The formulas and theories of quantum mechanics explain how light in fact acts like both a wave and a particle, and this book documents how the bizarre side effects of the explanation have unsettled the world.      As physicists looked closer at atomic structure early in the 20th century they found that describing atoms revealed very specific constants controlling rotation and …
reviewed To the edge of the world: The Story o.... December 29, 2014
To the edge of the world: The Story of the Trans-Siberian Express, the world's greatest railroad
Railroads in history have always driven economic, technical, and cultural change, but only one has both created a country and contributed to its downfall less than a century later.  It takes a big railroad to carry that claim and the Trans-Siberian lives up to it, stretching over 5,500 miles from West to East (three times the length of the longest American continental railroad, and more than …
reviewed Kim. December 26, 2014
I had never Kipled before now (punch line to the old joke that starts "Do you like Kipling?") and picked this up at a used book sale as a bolster to my library of reading and thought on the period between the American Civil War and World War I which I have long considered the most fertile period in recent history.  I am of course familiar with the criticism of Kipling as a defender …
reviewed Rebel yell: The Violence, passion, an.... December 24, 2014
Rebel yell: The Violence, passion, and redemption of Stonewall Jackson
Thomas Jackson was the rarest of men who performed best under extreme conditions.  Despite his dyspeptic health, his misfit personality in civilian life, and his odd and hated approach to teaching in his peace time occupation as artillery instructor at the Virginia Military Institute, he earned, lived up to, and became universally known by his nickname.      Gwynne's biography …
reviewed The Long shadow: The Legacies of the .... December 06, 2014
The Long shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth CenturyThe Long Shadow
With the assassination of a mid level royalty in a mid level city in Eastern Europe, entangling alliances and inept political decision making sent the world spiraling into the first major 20th Century conflict.  Known then as the Great War, it would prove to be just the first and not even the largest of the wars to come.  Reynolds seeks to trace the outline of the shadow of this Great War …
reviewed The Invention of Air. December 05, 2014
The Invention of Air
After reading Johnson's latest, How we got to now,  I found this book from 2008 on the shelf in my excellent local public library, and discovered that it contains a tightly argued statement of Johnson's cultural ecosystem approach to science and history.  How....now applies the approach to six key innovations, but The Invention of air gives the approach a solid logical foundation.  …
reviewed How we got to now: Six innovations th.... November 26, 2014
How we got to now: Six innovations that made the modern world
Johnson is a master of popular science writing (see The Ghost map and Everything bad is good for you as examples) and hits this minor classic with the perfect blend of science, history, and and the "intercrossing" (a term coined by Darwin) between the two.    The six innovations Johnson documents are so common (glass? time?) that describing their invention is deceptively simple.  …
reviewed Fields of blood: Religion and the his.... November 24, 2014
Fields of blood: Religion and the history of violence
Armstrong traces the relationship of the spiritual to the justification and use of violence through the history of human patterns of civilization from nomadic to agrarian to the modern nation-state.  The journey involves some heavy lifting, but some readers may find it worth the trip.      I use the term "spiritual" intentionally, as Armstrong identifies "religion" …
reviewed The Humor code: A Global search for w.... November 17, 2014
The Humor code: A Global search for what makes things funny
Comedy, like pornography, is notoriously hard to define, but you know it when you see (or read, hear, or watch) it.  McGraw, a psychology professor,and Warner, a journalist, wrote this book to try to put the basis of comedy on firmer ground.  It took over a year long odyssey across the US and around the world to do their research, and based on the results documented here we may be no closer …
reviewed The Map thief: The gripping story of .... November 15, 2014
The Map thief: The gripping story of an esteemed rare-map dealer who made millions stealing priceless maps
E. Forbes Smiley is the subject of Blanding's true-crime tale of missing maps.  While he was once a big-time dealer in rare early maps of North America, and widely respected for his scholarship in the field, he lost his way when money troubles (of his own making) and easy opportunities presented themselves and he started stealing and reselling the artifacts he was studying.  Arrested …
reviewed Smoke gets in your eyes & other lesso.... November 13, 2014
Smoke gets in your eyes & other lessons from the crematory
Death means the end of life.  It means separation from loved ones, the end of life's work, entrance into eternity.  It is universal, it is inevitable, it is all of these things so central to life.  So why do we shove it off the margins, refuse to talk about it,  distance ourselves from it, relegate it to a process that industrializes it then scapegoat the industry that manages …
reviewed A Laodicean (Penguin Classics). November 12, 2014
A Laodicean (Penguin Classics)
In a retrospective edition of his collected works near the end of his life Hardy classed A Laodicean as one of his "Novels of Ingenuity" and not one of the "Novels of Character and Environment."  Without condemning Laodicean too harshly, Hardy certainly categorized it correctly for it is precisely in the areas of character and environment that this effort falls short of his …
reviewed The Transformation of the world: A Gl.... November 09, 2014
The Transformation of the world: A Global history of the Nineteenth Century
Historians sometimes talk about the "long" 19th Century, marking its start with the bang of the Age of Revolution in America and France in the late 1700s and staggering to a bitter end in the trenches of the Great War in the last years of the 1910s.  Osterhammel takes both the long and the broad view of the century as he attempts a global view of the period.    To do the …
posted a Quick Tip about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. November 05, 2014
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millenium
I really enjoyed this one as it reminded me of the intrigue of the Collins family in the old Dark Shadows series.  The two follow-ups, though necessary, were not nearly as good.
reviewed Sketches of young gentleman and young.... October 13, 2014
Sketches of young gentleman and young couples with Sketches of young ladies by Edward Caswell
This slim volume is nearly as interesting for its history as for its literary value.  Published under the pen name Quiz, Sketches of young ladies was written and published first by the now nearly unknown Edward Caswell.  Dickens, flush with his first publishing successes, followed up with Sketches of Young Men and Sketches of Young Couples, published anonymously.  All three Sketches …
reviewed Money: The Unauthorized biography. October 12, 2014
Money: The Unauthorized biography
Martin's expose of money may take readers by surprise.  It isn't about coins and bills and inflation, although those are elements of the story.  And it isn't a dry recounting of economic or fiscal theory, although the history of the theory is an element of the story.    In fact, money isn't what--or who, if we accept the conceit of Martin's subtitle--we think …
I have seen the future: A Life of Lincoln Steffens
A well-turned phrase often repeated can become the word picture representing a person's life.  Unfortunately for Lincoln Steffins his phrase was one of the most wrongheaded and easily ridiculed of all time.  But the full story of Steffins's full life as told by biographer Hartshorn provides a worthy counterweight against The Future.      Long before his myopic …
reviewed The Trumpet-Major. October 04, 2014
The Trumpet-Major
Combining the powerful writing style of a great author with the explosive ingredients of the French Revolution (Dickens's Two Cities) and its Napoleonic aftermath (Hardy's Major) is apparently a recipe for classic fiction.  The key is creating great characters and putting them in recognizable historical settings.  The history isn't the focus but the background against which heroes …
posted a Quick Tip about The Fifties. October 02, 2014
The Fifties
My favorite time and the best rock and roll music. Elvis, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, need I say more?
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