Author: Paul Russell Cutright
Title: Theodore Roosevelt: The Naturalist
Rating: 5

Summary: Another book about my hero, Teddy! Just when I think I’ve finished reading about him another book pops up waiting to be read. This book is in the science section because it is not about Roosevelt as President, military hero, Canal planner, or naval scholar. This book is about Roosevelt, the experienced natural history buff.

TR was an amazing man because of his wide and varied interests and because he could not be mediocre at anything. Anything TR put his hand and mind to he mastered. So, when he became interested in natural history at a young age (about 7), he began a life long quest to master the natural world. His passion started with birds. He could identify most North American birds by their song. Many have said that his ear was much better than his eye. There is one humorous tale in this book about a trip TR took to Colorado during his presidency, in the spring of 1905. During that trip, he reported hearing the song of the Bullock Oriole. When his guide told him that the Bullocks would not arrive for another 4–6 weeks TR said, “No, it cannot be; I heard him, I know the note well.” Very shortly thereafter, the early Bullock appeared and stunned the guide. Of course TR was not surprised, because he knew the song!

I enjoyed this book because it talked about TR’s passion as a naturalist, a conservationist and an adventure traveler. Two summers ago I read a book by Candice Millard called River of Doubt that told the story of TR’s big trip into the Amazon rain forest charting the Rio de Duvida, an unknown tributary of the Amazon. He went with his son and nearly lost his life to a leg injury and malaria. I now recognize where Millard got much of her information. Cutright did a marvelous job of researching original documents to tell the story of TR the naturalist. This book was written in 1956 and relies heavily on the Roosevelt collection at Harvard University. There are some wonderful pictures of TR’s bird collection (he was quite an accomplished taxidermist) and many great adventure tales that make this a perfect summer read!

Author: Maya Angelou
Title: I know why the caged bird sings
Rating: 4

Summary: Maybe I’m nosy or maybe I just like to meet new people, but I love to read about people’s lives. So, it will come as no surprise that I love biography and memoir. I particularly love memoir as it is colored with the author’s perceptions of events in their lives.

Maya Angelou’s book about her early life has been on my “To be Read” list for longer than I’d like to admit. Some of you who know me know that I have a very large list indeed! I must say that I really enjoyed this book! I have always enjoyed her poetry – her use of words is so amazing to me! I was not disappointed in this memoir. She used words to paint a picture of her life that was at once haunting, incomprehensibly sad, victorious and hopeful. If this sounds like a big bill to fill, it is...but she does it in less than 300 pages and paints an amazing picture with her words.

She was born to parents who loved her but were absent due to the drama in both their lives. Her stability came from her grandmother who lived in Arkansas and from her older brother with whom she shared everything. When the children were sent to live with their mother in Kansas City, things got very rocky for 7 year old Maya – she was raped by her mother’s live–in boyfriend. This tragedy is poignantly and vividly described and I could see the author attempting to deal with fall–out of this trauma through the rest of her adolescence and early adulthood.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! I want to read the rest of her story – she has five other books about her life so I will not want for reading for awhile.

Author: Madeleine L’Engle
Title: A Wrinkle in Time
Rating: 5

Summary: I loved this book! I’m re–reading it with my daughter now who is also enthralled. There is something for every age. This is a great fantasy book that really highlights the battle between good and evil. I’ve borrowed the remaining books in this 5 part series from a friend!

Author: Jonathan Alter

Title: The Defining Moment

Call: E807 .A784 2006

Rating: 4

Summary: Since last summer, I have been roundly criticized for reading so many books about Theodore Roosevelt! So, in an effort to change it up a bit, I read a book about Franklin Roosevelt. This is a very timely book about FDR’s first hundred days in office during an incredibly difficult economic period. I first heard about this book when I read several articles about what President Obama has been reading. He apparently read this book and it was widely reported that he was quite impressed with what he read there. Given the current economic situation the country finds itself in, I thought it would not be a bad idea to take a look myself.

Roosevelt, much like Obama, came in at a time when the economy was already on the skids. The country was looking to FDR to handle the economic issues and there was a pervasive feeling that Hoover had not done much to address the steadily worsening unemployment problems or the wildly fluctuating markets. Alter does spend some time refuting that Hoover “did nothing” to ease the crisis. However, the focus of the book is on Roosevelt’s first hundred days and not as much on Hoover’s action or inaction. If you want to read about what Hoover did there is a new book called The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes that takes up that topic.

Alter’s main point in this book is that FDR was a master at creating perceptions and that the work he did during the economic woes of the ’30’s had as much to do with making people feel better about their circumstances as it did in remedying the problems. Another thing I thought was important about this book was that it provided some perspective on the situation the economy is in today. In the ’30’s unemployment was in the 20% range versus our single digit numbers today.

I thought Jonathan Alter did a fine job of focusing on the first hundred days of FDR’s presidency when it would have been easy to stray into other times in his administration. I must admit at times I would have liked him to stray just a little. This is a very chronological account of what happened during that brief three month period with only brief context sections to acquaint readers with important facts about FDR. Reading a more comprehensive biography of the man before this book would probably be wise to fill in some gaps.

Author: David McCullough
Title: Brave Companions
Call: CT 214 M34 1992
Rating: 4

Summary: If you have followed these reviews at all over the last few summers, you may know that I have an interest in reading history, particularly biographies of presidents. Last summer I read two biographies of Theodore Roosevelt. One of those books, Mornings on Horseback, was by David McCullough, a two time Pulitzer Prize winner who has written several presidential biographies. When I was looking for a good book to read in the C’s and D’s I came across his book of mini biographies called Brave Companions. In it, I found stories of leading Americans that were instrumental in affecting change in their disciplines and in their country.

I was fascinated to read about Alexander von Humboldt, a scientist who was a contemporary of Thomas Jefferson and his groundbreaking work on mapping South America. His work inspired men nearly a century later to build the Panama Canal.

McCullough includes stories about Louis Agassiz from Harvard University who championed a creationist view of our origins in the face of challenge from Charles Darwin. There is an excellent story about Harriet Beecher Stowe and her book about the horrors of slavery in the mid-nineteenth century.

Each of the people in this book shows extraordinary bravery facing circumstances that seemed overwhelming. Each of these brave companions faced fear with resolve and with intellectual curiosity. Out of their curiosity and tenacity came important change.

This book really helped me get acquainted with a number of characters that I knew very little about. Each mini biography is short but packed with information about their quest to know. In some ways it is more intellectual biography than traditional biography. McCullough’s writing style is clear and flows with the ease of a novel. I really enjoyed this one!

Author: Ari Goldman
Title: The Search for God at Harvard
Rating: 5

Summary: I have, for many years, been fascinated by all things Jewish. When I was in college I read all of Chaim Potok’s novels and was interested to learn about Orthodox Judaism. I think part of my fascination came from the similarities in the Adventist lifestyle I had grown up with and the Orthodox Jew’s way of life.

In Goldman’s book, I was re-introduced to the Orthodox lifestyle and read with renewed appreciation about traditional Shabbat observance as well as about kashrut eating. Ari Goldman was a religion reporter for the New York Times in the 1980’s and was an observant Orthodox Jew. This is the story of his quest to become more familiar with other religious traditions by taking a year’s sabbatical from the Times to pursue an education in world religious traditions from Harvard’s Divinity School. He was interested in learning about Muslims and Christians as well as Hindus and Buddhists.