MY FIRST BOOK!

6 months ago I started a project to read 12 books on the French Revolution. From the beginning, I wanted to write a book from this experience, but I didn’t know what it would look like. After a lot of help from friends and family, I decided to take the top 5 books on the French Revolution and write a nonfiction narrative which was approachable and informative to a broad audience. I wrote it with my natural love for humor, biography, and modern-day relevancy. The end result was my first ever book: Tackle the Library – The French Revolution. It’s about 80 mini-pages and the perfect amount of French Revolution for people who love to learn but don’t have the time or full interest to read a behemoth text. Today is Bastille Day, the equivalent of the 4th of July in France. The French Revolution brought us Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, Maximilien Robespierre, modern warfare, nationalism, classic works of literature, and the general shape of our world today. Do you want to go your whole life not knowing about this crucial time period? How has the knowledge of the past shaped your present? Would you sacrifice your knowledge of WWII or the Civil Rights Movement? I don’t think so. Not exploring the French Revolution is like buying a house and not exploring the kitchen. In honor of Bastille Day, please read my book and join me in advancing this knowledge to friends and loved ones. 

Thank you, everyone, for supporting me in this journey, and I couldn’t have done it without my regular readers – the pursuit of wisdom is not a solitary endeavor. My goal, with your support, is to write 50 more “Tackle the Library” books. The next book in the series will cover Plato. Below is the link to find my author page and my works on Amazon. Again, this would not be possible without your regular visits to the blog and your virtual pats on the back 🙂

A Tale of Two Cities

Most of my readers know that I love nonfiction. Nonfiction to me has more utility compared to fiction. You want to learn some interesting fact? Nonfiction. You want to have informed conversations? Nonfiction. You want to seem like a jerk and voice all the answers during Jeopardy? Nonfiction. Fiction was always the red-headed-step-child of my reading repertoire. I knew there were great stories in text but honestly I felt that TV series were just as good. I never could get into the clumsy stage of learning characters and how they connected with each other – to put it another way, I didn’t like the foreplay; get me to the climax already for goodness sake! But, with greater knowledge and maturity, I found that I was missing the foreplay in many of my nonfiction choices. This was especially apparent when reading about the French Revolution. I knew that life was hard for the poor but it felt empty – I wanted more of the buildup. I got this buildup from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Dickens is the master of text for the sake of text. While reading the book I kept going back to my 13 year old self, “come on and get to the fricking point!” At last I reached the end and it was like my brain exploded with pleasure. All of the crap at the beginning actually mattered – I took away so much from the end because of the formidable journey. It’s the difference between climbing a mountain and getting to the top – sweating, crying, despairing, rejoicing – compared to driving to the top of the mountain – rushing, distracting, yawning, appreciating.

It is this change of heart that has led me to yet another over-arching goal for this blog: I will read all 1,300 Penguin Classics by the age of 60. This is a quintessential component in my search for wisdom and it will push me to read books that are arguably the best in human history. For each book, I will write a blog post explaining what wisdom I gained from the experience. The posts will not summarize the books because you can easily Wikipedia that information. I want to look into myself and at the world in a deeper manner; I believe this journey will greatly help these aims. In the end, I hope to create a book with all my posts that I can reminisce on.  A Tale of Two Cities inspired this venture and hence it is my first post. The love story in this book is one of selflessness and sacrifice. Unlike the love triangles in the Hunger Games and Twilight, the one Dickens constructs makes you question the true meaning of love. If two men are fighting for a girl can they truly love her equally? When is failure both a blessing and a curse? Is it worth getting what you want at the expense of others? Read A Tale of Two Cities and let me know. Let the journey begin.

Click here for a complete list of the classics. You can also visit the Penguin Classics Website.

Winter Sucks, but…

Are you sick of winter yet? Females, have your legs gotten to Chewbacca levels? Males, have your hands dried up to Walking Dead levels? Has your dog finally said enough is enough and now uses your whole house as a “potty?” Are your Vitamin D levels so low that you randomly have cravings for whole milk? Yeah…winter sucks. Before you put that third layer on, read this – winter is almost half way over. I am not fooling you, this coming Sunday will mark the point in which everything goes downhill in terms of seasonal suffering. Before you know it, it will be March and the prospects of summer heat will be wafting through your defrosting imagination.

Being that winter is nearly half way over, I am half way done with my 14 books on the French Revolution. Surprisingly I am not sick of the subject and I am actually enjoying my topical experiment. It is nice to focus on one thing and dig deep into the material. To celebrate this journey, I listed five quirky facts about the French Revolution for your enjoyment.

  1. During the Reign of Terror, the government got rid of the Christian Calendar and replaced it with the French Republic Calendar: 12 months named after weather events, 3 weeks per month known as “decades”, 10 days per week, 5 or 6 days at the end for non-stop celebration. The first date was September 22, 1792 when the monarchy was abolished by the Convention. Today’s date would be written as 10 Pluviôse CCXXV (10 “Rain” 225).
  2. King Louis XVI was 15 years old when he married a 14-year-old Marie Antoinette. It took them eight years before they had their first child because Louis was shy and couldn’t do the dirty.
  3. Charlotte Corday stabbed Jean-Paul Marat, a radical Jacobin leader, in the chest while he was in the bathtub. Marat’s friend subdued Corday by holding her chest while laying on top of her. She was eventually sentenced to death and guillotined.
  4. Christianity was deemed pointless and dechristianization efforts included vandalizing churches, killing priests, and dressing up donkeys as cardinals.
  5. In certain areas, men avoided being drafted into the Revolutionary Armies by drinking poison, dismembering limbs, and marrying elderly women.

Hopefully, those facts piqued your interest and helped you appreciate our modern world. Stay strong and be thankful that you don’t fear the guillotine after a Facebook post or have to sleep with a 15-year-old version of King Louis.

A Confession: Reading Fiction Hurts

Labor Day represents the end of summer and the beginning of the new school year for millions of children. Kids are going back to school with their freshly purchased school supplies and a whirling set of emotions-ranging from excitement to dread. I always hated the first day of school. Summer was the best time in my life because I got to sleep in, watch TV all day, and eat carbs whenever I wanted. I always felt a tinge of PTSD whenever “Back to School” commercials began to inundate the airways. Why did I hate school so much? I always loathed the pointless homework and the assignments that supposedly stimulated our creativity. “Alright class, we are going to learn about George Washington…everyone go home and make a poster-board collage with magazine cutouts that remind you of our first president.” These types of assignments are present in every grade and I even see tinges of them in my wife’s doctorate program. In addition to pointless busy work, we had to read famous literature like Mark Twain, Of Mice and Men, A Tale of Two Cities, The Old Man and the Sea, etc. I was good at reading but I struggled to see the appeal in these books. Sure, I did enjoy some parts of these works but the process of reading fiction was usually tedious. Fiction for me made books unappealing and I saw no point in reading during my free time because movies and TV were so much more entertaining. It wasn’t until I was 24 that I realized nonfiction books were interesting and I could read over 50 of them a year without a ounce of misery.

Fast forward a couple years and I have read close to 100 nonfiction books that have taught me more information than my entire K-12 experience. With my newfound love for reading, I figured I should give fiction another shot. My old roommate loves John Steinbeck so I picked up some of his books-these were doable. My friend from high school loves Ernest Hemingway so I borrowed For Whom the Bell Tolls. I labored through this book like a fat guy running his first mile. In the end, I had to SparkNote the last chapters (sorry Megan) because the overall story line was driving me crazy. This experience has taught me an important lesson about myself and about people in general. Everyone is stimulated differently and likes to learn in their own unique way. It’s okay if you never pick up a 700 page book about George Washington and instead make a collage from magazine cutouts. It’s okay if you haven’t read Charles Dickens and instead you prefer to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol. It’s okay if you love classic literature but can’t stand to pick up a National Geographic magazine. In today’s world there is way too much information out there for us to absorb everything. Read and watch the things that you enjoy because life is too short; with that said, Breaking Bad can be just as academic as classic literature. The only thing I think is important is that you stimulate your brain by discussing things with others. Whether it is a book, TV show, movie, or magazine discuss it with someone else. This way we all learn from each other even though we all have very different tastes. Are my days of fiction over? Not completely. I think with a little more effort and discussion, I will find the books that make that fat-man mile a little easier.

Want to win a 25 dollar Amazon Gift Card?

I am starting a virtual book club and for your reading pleasure I created a page called “Book Club” that goes into all the details. The quick summary of the club is that we will read one book a month that is nonfiction. Each week there will be a question (or two) and if you respond each week to the discussion you will be put into a drawing to win a 25 dollar Amazon gift card. Yeah I know it’s kinda like bribing you to be my friend but in a real book club I would have to spend at least that much on wine and soup mix. Below is the poll to vote for August’s book of the month.

 

The Coldest Journey on Earth

This weekend I started to work on my newly purchased home in Flint, MI. My house is by no means move in ready and is in such disrepair that it has no furnace. Ironically, we needed to do this on a day with a record setting -30 degree windchill. Suffice to say, I was freezing my butt crack off; my hands lost feeling in the first few minutes of work and my feet were so numb that I kept tripping and stumbling over myself. This short experience of cold discomfort is nothing compared to the true story I recently read, In The Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides. This book details the unbelievable journey a group of men took to try to reach the North Pole. The year was 1879 and the popular belief at the time was that the North Pole actually was an open ocean with marine life, navigable waters, and lost civilizations. The theory was that an ice ring surrounded this open body of water and that a boat just had to get through this barrier to access the polar ocean and hence quickly navigate to the other end of the world. Scientists believed that their was an open ocean on the North Pole and not ice because of the constant seasonal sunlight, deep water salinity, magnetic prowess, etc. With this theory in mind, manifest destiny in full force, and the male desire to conquer, Lieutenant Commander George Washington DeLong lead a crew of 30 men aboard the USS Jeannette to the North Pole.

DeLong, through extensive research, thought that going past Alaska through the Bering Straight would be the easiest way to get to the North Pole ocean. All was going well with the voyage until it got stuck in the ice just north of Siberia (click here for map). The crew of 30 were stuck in that ice pack for 21 months!!! The ice pack was drifting to the northwest towards the North Pole but to the men it was a boring, miserable, extremely cold, and very dark period of time. Imagine how these men felt stuck in a small ship with minimal light (the arctic gets no light during the winter months) and extremely cold temperatures for over 638 days. Eventually, the ship broke free from the ice only to be recaptured by an ice pack that punctured its hull and caused it to sink. Now the men were left with minimal supplies and no easy way out of their cold predicament. The crew began to journey south towards Siberia in the hopes that they would find a native tribe that could take them in. The arduousness of this journey was so much that each day the men said that it was the hardest day’s labor they had ever experienced. Moving supplies over ragged ice meant that the process was slow, very cold, and very dangerous. The trek finally culminated with a last ditch effort to cross an open expanse of water with the Siberian coast in site. Three small boats set out in a gale force storm: one boat sank killing 6 men, the other two were separated and landed at different points on the coast. In the end, the boat with DeLong sent out two survivors to find help, they did, but the men who held back all died of starvation. The other boat that landed found a native tribe and were able to survive the indomitable conditions of Siberia (they did get back to America as soon as they could).

I highly recommend picking up this book and would say it is one of the top 5 books I have ever read. My short post is the tip of the iceberg in terms of explaining this truly remarkable journey. These men experienced so much pain and discomfort it makes me feel ridiculous when I complain about trivial things. Even though the crew didn’t reach the North Pole they did discover several islands and scientific information that would help future parties eventually reach the North Pole by land. Our desire to learn and discovery is one of the most defining traits of our sentience. In honor of these men, I implore you to seek out what our planet has to offer and rummage through all the corners of its being. If you bought a house you would know all of its nooks and crannies because of the innate desire of exploration. This earth, in its past and present self, is everyone’s house to explore. Let’s go!

The Wealth of Poverty

Have you ever sat outside and taken a deep breath…observing the beauty and subtleties of nature? In our nonstop-technology-filled world this simple practice is rarely performed and given little respect. I love nature and have sat in a quiet meadow listening to the wind sweep across the grasses. I have hiked up mountains where the texture of stone beneath my feet makes me think of the weight of the world. I have seen the stars over the ocean and thought of my place in this big universe. My experiences in nature are some of my most coveted and life shaping moments. My love for the outdoors and what it can teach us led me to read Walden by Henry David Thoreau. I respect Thoreau immensely and think his insights on life are more pertinent today than when he was alive. Thoreau is about simplifying life to its core so that life can be better understood-removing the white noise of the superfluous. The essentials of man include food and heat. Simple food, lodging, and clothing were tenets to Thoreau’s life when he lived at Walden Pond. He is a philosopher and I really like his definition of what that means…”To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust.” Living the simplest way possible frees man from the bind of arduous labors in the pursuit money. The pursuit of excess is not the ultimate goal but rather the pursuit of exploring the mind, nature, and the world we live in. A key point of Thoreau is that garnering true wisdom internally is the greatest wealth a person can obtain. No matter how fancy a person dresses or what size house they live in, if you stripped that all away what would you be left with? The result would be a person that has built a foundation of virtue or a person that has a foundation of vice. 

Thoreau released himself from the comforts of society and put himself into nature to better understand his place in the world. I think that in today’s society we put so much effort on being comfortable that we miss the benefits of simplicity and nature. To live like the world is to live with an unending desire for more; that relentless pursuit is the opposite of simplicity and creates the effect of people rarely ever living in the present. Shed all the fat of societal comforts and find what brings true happiness: pursuing knowledge for knowledge sake, understanding your strengths, feeling the raw contrast of pain and pleasure. So how can you apply this thinking to your own life? I think a career is commendable and certain people fit best into that environment of structure and purpose. However, I believe that most people if released from the chains of money would live lives which entailed more time spent on personal/social enrichment and less time at work. Simplifying your life as much as possible decreases your reliance on money exponentially. All you need money for is food, security, heat, and friendship-everything else is just waste. Once you are free from the ideology of “MORE” then you can begin to appreciate the ideology of “less.” It is my goal to spend more time outside through camping and to appreciate the beautiful world that God created. My ultimate goal is to simplify my life to that of Thoreau while making compromises with my wife so she doesn’t leave me :). Go outside, take a breath, and live.

“Give me the poverty that enjoys true wealth”

-Henry David Thoreau

Bringing a Gun to a Fist Fight

Last year marked the 100th anniversary of World War I. This war is looked over in history class and most people only know about it after seeing the movie War Horse. I finished an extremely arduous book, The Fourth Horsemen: One Man’s Secret Campaign to Fight the Great War in America by Robert Koenig, which details the German sabotage that took place during WWI. More specifically, it follows the life of Anton Dilger, a German physician originally born in America, who took up biological warfare against horses during the war. He was hired by Germany to grow anthrax and other bacteria to infect horses being bred in America for use by the Allies. This was quite an undertaking because he set up his own germ factory in the basement of a Washington D.C. house. The germs were bottled and given to paid saboteurs who spread them among war horses. They did this by putting germs in the food, water, noses, or blood stream (through injection) of the innocent animals. The hope was that the germs would spread throughout the congregated horses and cause mass death. The success of this sabotage is not completely understood but it is known that thousands on horses did die from disease during the war. Anton would eventually move to Spain to continue his sabotage but died ironically in 1918 from the Spanish Flu.

WWI is a war that stood at the intersection of 19th and 20th century technology. At the beginning of the war, horse cavalries were still used and many were massacred by the newly invented machine gun. I think every little boy has watched a movie of the American Revolution and thought, “…man if only I could go back in time and give them a machine gun or a plane!” That is pretty much how WWI was fought in its very first months. Additionally, animals like horses, mules, pigeons, elephants, and dogs were used regularly in battles to move clunky machinery or relay messages. The tank, airplane, and automobile were relatively new in 1914, so animals were still valuable because they provided more reliability and functionality. Chemical warfare was also in its infancy and many times allies would release toxic gas only to have the wind blow it right back in their faces. Germ theory only came about in the mid 1800’s and WWI was the first time that germs were grown for biological warfare. We should study WWI for its insights on how to prevent the misuse of technology. What technology will the wars of the future hold? We are in yet another transition of technology from human-controlled weapons to robotic-controlled weapons. Will artificial intelligence read up on WWI and see the advantages it has over us-think Terminator? I will continue to learn more about WWI because it was a war that not only helps me understand the 20th century but also the future of this century.  

What do you know about WWI? What can we learn from war that can prevent future wars? What is your favorite war to learn about?

The Birth of Chicago-Wilderness and Whiskey

Imagine the now great city of Chicago as just a patch of forest, sand, and swamps that was host to several indian villages. I read about the birth of Chicago in the book Rising Up From Indian Country: The Battle of Fort Dearborn and The Birth Of Chicago by Ann Durkin Keating. The word “Chicago” is believed to be derived from the Miami-Illinois word “Shikaakwa” which means smelly onion or striped skunk. In 1768, there were 30,000 indians living in the western great lakes area-still a very wild and unsettled terrain only known to a few fur trading Europeans. The French were the most pronounced Europeans during this time and they often married indian women to form better trading bonds with the various tribes. These interracial parings produced cute “métis” babies which would be the first people to settle in Chicago-having an established trade outpost by 1788. With the passing of the Northwest Ordinance in 1787 and thus the establishment of the Northwest Territory (today’s Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin), the door slowly creaked open for settlement of the far western reaches of the young empire. These first settlers were entering a world that was unforgiving in terms of nature and natives. European’s desires for land were met with indian’s desire for trading goods-ammunition, steel, and especially whiskey. Treaties began to arise that ceded native land to Americans in exchange for annual annuities payments and offerings of peace. The Fort Wayne Treaty of 1803 led to the construction of Fort Dearborn near the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. This fort legitimized Chicago as a far western trade post but there was still only a few hundred people living in the settlement.

Fast forward to August 15th, 1812. The War of 1812 is underway and for the past two decades anger has been growing among indian tribes because of the relentless pursuit of land by the US. Britain harnessed this anger and used indians to assist in the capture of Mackinaw Island and Detroit early in the war. Fort Dearborn was now under pressure of attack and American military personal were ordered to evacuate. As the party of 148 left the fort they were soon ambushed by 500 Potawatomi indians-killing 86 men, women, and children. This was known as the “Fort Dearborn Massacre” but the word “Massacre” was erroneously used to rally US citizens against indians in general. Interestingly, some of the indian warriors took the hearts of the slain and ate them to gain strength and courage. Fort Dearborn was burned and the whole settlement of Chicago was abandoned by the Americans. The War of 1812 would end in 1815 and this would mark a new era in Americas quest for territory. Between 1816-1833, Potawatomies ceded nearly 18 million acres of land. This cession of land was accomplished through month long negotiations between whites and Indians. Unfortunately, indians did not have centralized leadership and many of the land agreements were signed by those with no authority. In return for their land, indians were given annuities and the promise that they could keep some land to continue living in the area (this would turn out to be a lie). The indians really had no choice but to negotiate with the Americans because the trade of alcohol would cease until an agreement came about; the spread of alcoholism among natives was a serious issue.

With the land secured, a new Fort Dearborn was constructed in 1816. This fort would soon thrive especially with the completion of the Erie Canal in 1826-speeding travel from the east from 6 weeks to 2 weeks. By 1833 the last treaty of land cession was signed by the Potawatomies and Chicago began its rise to the major city we know today. This story is fascinating when you put in the context of a lifetime. Imagine someone who was born in 1812 when Fort Dearborn burned down to 1893 when the population of Chicago surpassed 1 million people and it hosted the World’s Fair! The courage of the early settlers is admirable but the exploitation of indians is quite sad. The negotiations for land were not fair because indians would speak for tribes that were not represented and the concept of land ownership to indians was far different then European ideology. In the end, the story of Chicago is the story of American conquest, ambition, and the relentless desire for resources.

How could the early American’s gained land in a manner more befitting to the indians? What cities history are you interested in learning about?

Feminism Inc: Specializing in Sperm and Egg Separation since 1970

At current, there is a tidal wave of Generation X females who are trying to have children but are realizing that they waited too long and are now infertile. This issue is addressed in the book The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock by Tanya Selvaratnam; I picked this book up because I wanted to broaden my masculine outlook on the world. Tanya is a vagina-wielding feminist who waited till she was in her late 30’s to try to have kids and subsequently had 3 miscarriages and an unsuccessful in vitro fertilization (IVF). She pursued her career through her 20’s and 30’s and didn’t want to sacrifice her professional status for the necessities of raising a family. The feminist movement of the 1960’s/70’s made her, and many of her fellow friends, look at their mother’s domesticity as a prison sentence and men as the guards who got to leave for the freedom of the office.

Now, in 2015, there are a myriad of women trying to have babies in their 30’s and 40’s who are confronted with the fact that their uterus’ are dried up and not working. The chance of conceiving a child at age 15 is between 40-50%, at age 35 between 15-20%, and at age 45 between 3-5%. Additionally, a female has a finite number of eggs with 300,000-400,000 at the first period, 39,000-52,000 by age 30 and 9,000-12,000 by age 40; along with the decreased number of eggs there is an increased number that have chromosomal abnormalities which increase the risks for miscarriages and genetic disorders. So the big lie that Tanya writes about is that women can do what they want on their own time tables. This lie was made popular by procedures like IVF which created the allusion that having children later in life was a realistic possibility. The unfortunate truth is that IVF has a very low success rate; the averages fall below that of the natural conception averages which were listed above. Assisted Reproductive Technology, in general, is usually not covered by insurance (unless you live in select states), creates a huge strain on relationships (women were cited saying IVF was more stressful then their divorces), and can result in unnatural frequency of twins, triplets, or octomoms. 

IVF has allowed countless families to have children but the author’s point is that it shouldn’t be used as a realistic family-planning option. Women need to ask themselves if they want children, and if they do, then they need to seriously think about their biological clocks. I believe that family and relationships should come before a career. Women and men in their 20’s should not preoccupy themselves with the pursuit of money and status but rather the pursuit of finding someone to share their lives with. My beef with feminism is that it created (not on purpose) a negative image of the house wife and of women who chose to have a kid instead of pursuing a career. Taking care of a child or fostering the love of a family is the greatest undertaking a human being can pursue. I believe that both men and women should make their top priority the harboring of relationships-having a child is the great example of this. There are compromises to be had, and I think that you can have a career and a family. A man can stay home and raise the kids, a woman can work remotely from home, a couple can downsize expenses and both work part time, etc. If you are in your 20’s, and you know you want a baby one day, get your finances in place; the latest I would wait is 30 to start trying to conceive. If you are older or do not have a spouse, look into freezing your eggs as early as possible. Go on eHarmony or match.com and stop waiting for someone to fall out of the sky. Put the pursuit of relationships first and foremost in your life because you will never find satisfaction in the pursuit of power, money, or status.

What are your thoughts on feminism? How should people plan for their future family? What values should we put as our top priorities?