Friday, June 24, 2011

Book Review - Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History

My father knew more about Native American culture and history than anyone I've known and he gave me a deep appreciation for the history of this nation's native culture.  In my younger days, my dad took the family on a few journeys tracing the history of various tribes.  He had a particular fascination with the tribes of the Plains.  He became deeply involved in the classic Native American book, "Black Elk Speaks."  As a voracious reader, I've read many books on the history of America's tribes. 

Several years ago, I read T. R. Fehrenbach's "The Comanches: The Destruction of a People" and got hit in the head by the brutal trials of the Comanche tribe; and the American military that would ultimately hunt them down.

That book and the more recent "Empire of the Summer Moon" are superb looks at the past with no revisionist history involved.  One of the dangers of Native American history in recent decades has been the false portrait that they were angelic lovers of the land and that's where many writers started with them and ended up leaving them that way.  Yes, they were lovers of the land, but history is much more than that. 

The average American of the 18th and 19th centuries wanted to move westward and they wanted the land for that movement. In order to get that land, they needed to have the Indians out. There were some sensitive souls, but most didn't give the proverbial rat's ass about Indians. The government played into the desires of its citizens and once the Civil War ended, the emphasis was put back on the "relocation plans."  Of course, they were lying and the way things ended up proved to be one of the two most appalling aspects of our country's long and often wonderful history.  Slavery and the treatment of the native tribes.  These are two of the greatest sins of America. By the way, I love my country, but we certainly have to fess up to our flaws as well. Look around now.  America has become a modern day Sodom and Gomorah.   

The most significant aspect of the strength of the tribes was the horse, which was brought over by the Spanish via the Mexican border.  The horse changed the tribes of the Plains. The Cheyenne, Arapaho, Sioux, Crow and mostly the Comanche had life altering balance shifts with the introduction of the horse. The single most significant tribe from the period of 1700 through 1875 was the Comanche tribe. They were also the most violent of all of the American tribes (even though the Tonkawa tribe practiced cannibalism).  They committed torture killings, gang rapes and painful mutilations. They weren't taking prisoners for the sake of it.  They were going to decimate every inch of your body. They ripped through the lower section of the American plains like hell's demons.   

This is not to say that the American army didn't commit their share of atrocities since they did.  S. C. Gwyne explains the pain inflicted on both sides. 

General George Armstrong Custer became the most famous of the American Indian hunters, but Colonel Ranald Slidell MacKenzie in many ways was far more infamous on the Plains. MacKenzie was a Civil War hero, but he found his life niche tracking down the Comanches. He eventually would literally go insane, but today he is largely forgotten.

The book seques from the overall Comanche history to a study of the Parker family.  In 1836, an eight year old Cynthia Ann Parker was captured by the Comanches after a brutal assault on the fort she lived in with her family. Her relatives would spend the next 20 plus years searching for her. By the time she was captured she was so deeply embedded in Comanche culture that she didn't want to be part of the white culture she was born into.  Of course, all she knew at this point was her life on the plains. A rough life, but it was her known life. She had children with an important chief in the tribe. That relationship would provide the last historical notation for the Comanches.  Her son, Quanah Parker would become the last of the Comanche chiefs.  His reign would be short, but the Comanches would become the most dominant and influential tribe in American history. When it was all over, Quanah Parker and his fellow Comanches would be the last free Indians as they entered Fort Sill in Indian Territory in Oklahoma with a white flag. Quanah Parker would remain the tribe's leader until his death in 1911. He acclimated more easily into the white man's culture than any other tribe member in all of Native American history. 

One of America's most gifted filmmakers, John Ford created one of the finest films in American history with "The Searchers."  The film is loosely based on the Parker family's situation.  

Shortly before Quanah Parker died he spoke before a large crowd and these were among the last words he ever spoke.  "I used to be a bad man, but now I am a citizen of the United States. I pay taxes same as  you.  We are the same people now." 

This is a superbly crafted book.  It is breathtaking in its scope and the historical truth on all sides is mesmerizing as history and as art.  "Empire of the Summer Moon" is beautifully told.  It is written with the deliberate pace of a novel. It's a non-stop interesting narrative and you will read it quickly.  Even if you know a great deal about this time period you will be enthralled with the vivid portraits of the characters long lost to history. 

This is a fascinating read.  Highly recommended for all readers.

Copyright 2011 Read On Read Now

Book Review - Last Dog on the Hill - The Best Dog Book of All-Time!

The Cover of the Hard Back Version of the Book - Lou, the Mighty Lou

I love to read and I love dogs, so the bonus in life of reading a good book about a dog is just one of life's big pleasures. I’ve been volunteering at animal shelters for the last ten years. Some of my best moments are when I’m cleaning out cages, walking the dogs or just giving them a good shoulder hug! 

I’ve read many books on dogs and the dog’s life.  I’m a sucker for a dog biography and if it happens to be well written then that is an added bonus.  Some “dog” books are good, some are just okay and some are downright magnificent.  I loved “Marley and Me” and “Rescuing Sprite.”  Of course, “Old Yeller” can still get me to that moment of teary-eyed bliss and that’s just when I'm thinking about it.  I haven’t read it since childhood, but it did an amazing thing on my emotional shelf life. 

“Marley and Me” and “Rescuing Sprite” are two of the more recent books on our glorious canine friends. One looked at the life of a mischievous dog and the other was the bio of a rescued dog. They were both beautiful non-fiction tales (with tails) that were written so wonderfully that they could have passed for some version of poetic fiction. Of course, the real reason why I loved them – I cried.  Dog books always make me cry. If I don’t cry in a dog book, then there is something wrong with the book. 

Not to get overly generous here, but the single best dog book I have ever read is “The Last Dog on the Hill.”   Steve Duno’s 16 year biographical journey of his life with the Rottweiler/Shepherd mix is stunningly beautiful.  First and foremost, Steve Duno is a gifted writer. He’s witty, giving and loving. I say this having never met the man and as much as I love dogs I have never read one of his other “dog” books.  It turns out he has written several of them.

Duno clearly had one of those wake up and smell the coffee moments when he realized that the greatest dog story he had in him was his very own personal story.  Duno met the puppy on a hill in Northern California when Lou was a part of a dog pack watching over a criminal landscape (literally), but the pup was being feasted on by fleas and ticks and he was smothered in infections that would have killed him had it not been for a young couple driving through the area.  The dog was smart enough to look down that hill and he spotted them. He wanted a home. He wanted to be loved. 

The overused term for a good read has usually been the go to line of “I couldn’t put it down.”  In this case, that is true. I literally couldn’t put it down. I felt if I left the book I’d be missing out on a moment in my own life.  Lou became my buddy. My friend. My companion. 

Lou was a working dog.  He managed to accomplish more in his 16 years of dog life than many humans accomplish in five dog lives.  He built a huge vocabulary. He was heroic on more than one occasion. How often are we heroic?   It’s the story of redemption for a dog and a man. This relationship is what relationships are about. Trust, loyalty, friendship, admiration, respect, honor. 

Lou, would become one of the mighty dogs of all time. I don’t want to spoil the moments since each chapter gives the reader not just a good doggie tale, but it reaches deep into our hearts, minds and souls and delivers a story filled with purpose, meaning and love. Eventually, the lovable Louie tackles a rapist, befriends a homeless man, catches armed robbers, assists other dogs in becoming better dogs.  He knows the meaning of words and hand signals. He comforts senior citizens and children.  He is capable of great love and he was fortunate to receive great love.

We live in a world where more and more animals are being abused, neglected and treated in such cruel ways that I can’t even imagine what evil is lurking. Lou was blessed when he encountered Steve, but for everything Lou got, Steve got much more.  He met his best friend and he was fortunate to share 16 beautiful years with his buddy. 

Randy Alcorn wrote one of the definitive books on heaven and he lays out a couple of chapters on what the Bible says about animals and their existence in God’s eternal glory. Lou will be there. I never had the opportunity to meet Lou on this earth, but I have no doubt that I will meet him in the new earth which is where heaven will be located. The Bible says we will recognize those we encountered on earth.  Well, I encountered Lou in a magnificent book and I look forward to our meet and greet.

Whether you like dogs or not, you must read this book. Seriously, go to Barnes & Noble, log onto Amazon, support the small book stores, visit your public library. You will not want to miss this book and I hope after you read it you will post your comment and then thank me for pushing this book on you.  It’s a superb bio on the life of a gallant and dignified dog named Lou. 

A part of you dies with Lou, but life does indeed go on.  We all have a purpose.

Copyright 2011 Read On Read Now

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Book Review - One Minute After You Die

The old adage of you only have to do two things in life – die and pay taxes doesn’t define truth.  The only thing you will have to do, is die.  You don’t have to pay taxes.  If you refuse, you will end up in prison or face a penalty and/or a fine, but there is no escaping death.  Each one of us will conclude our earthly lives with a death. Death is a part of life.

For all intents and purposes most people rarely think about death.  I mean seriously ponder the concept of death.  What will death be like?  When will I die?  How will I die? Will I suffer?  Where will I go after I die?  Heaven or hell?  This certainly can’t be it.  If this is it, then justice doesn’t exist and Plato defined the concept of justice so profoundly that clearly there must be justice for all.

Thinking about death is often depressing, but it is amazing that so few of us think of death even though we are surrounded by it.  We live in a culture of death.  Look at the news. Read a paper, listen to the radio, catch the headlines on any news site. We do indeed live in a culture of death. 

Just in my lifetime alone, I have witnessed the deaths of three grandparents, one father, one brother, 13 aunts/uncles, three cousins and numerous associates, friends and various other extended family members; and a whole host of other people I’ve known during my life. They are gone.  I will never see them again on this earth.  I will never hear their voices.  I will never see their faces.  I will never get to enjoy a summer barbeque, play a round of gin rummy or take a long walk with any of them on planet earth ever again.   However, some of them I will see again, since scripture states that we will recognize those we knew on earth once we are in heaven.

18 months ago I was diagnosed with a severe internal carotid artery occlusion and quite frankly I thought I was going to die.  I was prepared for death and in some ways I looked forward to it. I had become a Christian at the age of 17 and as flawed as I was I knew the concept of saved by grace through my faith would secure me a spot in eternal glory.  Not that I deserved a spot in eternal glory, since none of us do, but I had honestly and sincerely repented of my sins and humbled myself at the cross of Christ. 

After my near death experience I needed and wanted to know more.  I proceeded to read two books about the concept of death and heaven.  One of the books I read was “One Minute After You Die” by Erwin Lutzer.  Lutzer is the Senior Pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.  He is also a relatively prolific author.  I’ve read most of his books, but this one quite literally embraced and then comforted my soul.  Lutzer is a Biblically sound teacher who bases everything he puts on the page on scripture. 

Lutzer takes on tough situations regarding heaven and hell and uses theologically sound doctrine to do it. Dr. Lutzer clearly and eloquently articulates what the Bible says about our eternal destination.  We will all have an eternal home and eternal life, but depending on where you go will depend on what your eternal life will be like. Lutzer lays out the glories of heaven and the horrors of hell and he does it all with a determined, authoritative and biblical approach.

Depending on your perspective, you will either be comforted or troubled by the book.  It will certainly make you ask the question – what if I died today.

I was calmed knowing that my father and brother were going to spend eternal life in the arms of their Lord and that one day I would join them. 

Lutzer is a powerful writer.  He packs more into 100 pages than most authors can slide into 1000 pages.  He is not only a knowledgeable and wise sage from a scriptural perspective; he is also a gifted writer.  The book is short and if you read quickly you can accomplish the goal of reading the book in a couple of nights.

It is a thorough and satisfying read and it shows that everything in your life is under the providential hand of God.  Your illnesses, accidents, trials and tribulations are not necessarily God’s perfect will for your life, but they are God’s permissive will for your life.

“One Minute After You Die” is one of the best books you could possibly read in your lifetime.  It is one of the essentials.  Every Christian should read it; and for that matter every non-Christian should read it.  It is powerful, thought provoking and scripturally on-target.

Copyright 2011 Read On Read Now