biography

Review of ‘Alexander Hamilton’

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Alexander Hamilton, born out of wedlock in the West indies, came to the U.S. when it was still a colony. Handsome, intelligent, and possessed of a fiery temper, he quickly became caught up in the dispute between those in the colonies demanding greater freedom and the English crown.

Hamilton kept his brutal childhood walled off from public scrutiny, so most of what we know of it is conjecture based upon the few existing documents. His role in the war for independence, and the subsequent creation of an effective, strong central government has been more extensively documented, as has been his untimely death in his forties after a duel with the fiery vice president, Aaron Burr.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow is an extensively-researched volume that traced Hamilton’s life from his birth to his death, with commentary on his contributions to America, including a central bank and his push for a strong central government. Ever a polarizing figure, he was loved by some, abhorred by many, including Thomas Jefferson, who was a strong proponent of a weak central government, with most of the power vested in the agrarian sectors of the country.

Hamilton was alone among the Founding Fathers in his vocal and public opposition to slavery, due perhaps to having witnessed the evils of the institution on the sugar plantations in the West Indies as he was growing up. This book goes into his duel with Burr in great detail, positing that, despite his fiery temper and support of dueling as a young man, his religious convictions had turned him against it, and he deliberately did not shoot at Burr, allowing his opponent to fire—Burr, as fiery tempered as Hamilton, obviously had no objection to going for a kill shot.

After reading this book, only the most jaded reader and confirmed anti-Hamilton person will fail to appreciate the contributions this man made to the nation we live in today. If you want to enhance your understanding of American history, this book is a must-read.

I received this book as a gift.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Hidden Figures’

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I thought I knew a lot about the history of America’s race against the Soviet Union to dominate the realm of space. Like many of my generation, I followed our forays into the heavens with as avidly as many of my friends tracked sports statistics. After reading Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, though, I realize that I only knew a part of that story.

With men away fighting the Axis during World War II, American women suddenly found themselves able to work in occupations formerly closed to them. One of the places that opened its doors to women was the National Advisory Council on Aeronautics (NACA), forerunner of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The most compelling part of that story, and one that I was completely ignorant of, was the fact that among the women who were allowed to pass through doors was a group of black women, outstanding mathematicians, who had been teachers in segregated schools. Women like Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, ChristineDarden, and Kathaleen Land, who worked as human ‘computers’ in NACA’s segregated West Computer Section at Langley Field in southeastern Virginia.

Hired beginning in 1943 to do manual computations for the program to ensure American flight supremacy in World War II, and working with the nascent space program after the Soviet launch of Sputnik, these women endured segregated working conditions, and discrimination based on both their race and gender, making critical contributions to every element of our eventual victory in the space race, from John Glenn’s first orbital flight to the lunar landing.

Shetterly, a native of the Hampton area of Virginia, offers a straight forward, but compelling, picture of these women and their struggles to prove that they were as capable as any man, in some cases, even more capable, as they encountered and overcome the social and legal barriers placed in their paths.

This is a piece of American history that should be mandatory reading for every American, black or white, male or female. Not only does it bring to light an important part of our history that has remained relatively unseen for decades, but it is a compelling story of the strength of the human will that is a beacon of hope in our current age of political divisiveness and discord.

I received this book as a gift, and it’s one that I will share with my grandchildren. Not just to show them what the past was like, but as a guide to their future.

I give this fascinating book five stars.

Review of ‘Allergic to Life’ by Kathryn Chastain Treat

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Imagine waking up one day and learning that you’re becoming allergic to everything around you. Foods you formerly ate can now make you deathly ill, and your work environment is not just uncomfortable, but potentially fatal.

This is the situation that Kathryn Chastain Treat found herself in, and about which she has written in Allergic to Life. A journal of her battle with a debilitating condition that threatened to break her family apart, and caused her to have to physically separate herself from the things that she had grown up with, it is also a story of courage and persistence. Treat’s battles with an uncomprehending and often uncaring bureaucracy, dealings with doctors who didn’t understand her condition, and with her own frustrations and anxieties, are related almost matter-of-factly. She takes us almost day-by-day through her ordeal, in amazing detail.

What really shines through in this book, though, is the power of human will; the ability to keep going when there is nothing left but the will to ‘go on.’

There are a lot of medical terms, but Treat provides a glossary at the end that explains them. A highly recommended read for those who feel that all hope is gone. Treat shows us well that, as long as there is hope there is life.

I give this book three and a half stars. It’s not a literary masterpiece; but it is well-written, and worth the effort to read.

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