Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Book Review: The Weight of Vengeance

Hardcover: 344 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (June 11, 2012)

This year, America has been celebrating the bicentennial of the War of 1812.  Maybe observing is more like it.  I don't know.  In any event, The Weight of Vengeance by Troy Bickham is a nice way of celebrating the war.

History buffs will appreciate the effort that Bickham, an expert on the war, put into it.  It's a well-written book that looks at the behind the scenes of another rejection of Great Britain and the first of many major wars that define American imperialism.

Bickham's account of this "forgotten war" is provocative and places the 1812 war in a global context.  With the Napoleonic Wars going on across the Atlantic Ocean, the United States was able to challenge Great Britain.  This was in spite of the fact that many Americans were opposed to the war and that they were outmanned, outnumbered, and underfunded.  In waging war against Britain, the United States confirmed it's independence and it's right to be recognized by the great powers.

This book truly transforms how people will think of the War of 1812, otherwise known as the second war of independence.  It's no longer just the war that is known for Dolly Madison taking down a Washington portrait or making the careers of Andrew Jackson (elected President in 1828 and 1832), Richard Mentor Johnson (elected Vice President in 1836), and William Henry Harrison (elected President in 1840).

If you are a history buff, make sure to get a hold of this one for a greater understanding.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Book Review: Starting and Closing by John Smoltz

Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (May 8, 2012)

John Smoltz is going into the Hall of Fame with an Atlanta Braves cap.  It doesn't matter that his final season consisted of playing horribly with the Boston Red Sox before turning it around with the St. Louis Cardinals.  Smoltz was given one more chance to make the postseason.  One more chance to get a World Series ring.  That didn't happen.  Matt Holliday dropped the ball in the outfield and the Los Angeles Dodgers would go on and beat the Cardinals and advance to the 2009 NLCS.

In Starting and Closing, John Smoltz starts out talking about his final season before flashing back to other moments in his life.  As Smoltz writes, it's not your typical autobiography that starts out with "I was born in..."  Far from it, actually.

Smoltz writes about what it was like to be a member of one of the best pitching rotation cores in history--including Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Steve Avery.  Together, the formed the core of a rotation that would lead the Braves to the top of their division each year.  But it was between Maddux, Smoltz, and Glavine that it seemed the Braves pitching would rotate the Cy Young Award between 1991-1998.

There are plenty of fun stories about the Braves pitching core, including their golf outings.  It was Smoltz's way to relax.

From 1991-2005, the Atlanta Braves would win their division title each year.  They would win 5 NL pennants between 1991-1999, only winning 1 World Series in 1995.  All John Smoltz wanted to do was win.  And win, he did.  Sure, he didn't take home more than one World Series ring.  And yes, he moved to the Atlanta Braves bullpen if it meant helping his team win.

The numbers speak for themselves but that's not what this book is about.  It's about how John Smoltz recovered from another surgery.  Also, his love of golf but that's beside the point.

One chapter does focus on how Smoltz became a born-again but aside from that, he never goes all-Tebow on those reading the book.

At it's core, this book focuses on Smoltz wanting to win, never being afraid to fail, and accepting fate with regards to his shoulder.  As far as baseball books go, it is a fun read.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Book Review: Fat, Drunk and Stupid by Matty Simmons

Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (April 10, 2012)

Fat, Drunk, and Stupid: The Inside Story Behind the Making of Animal House is written by Matty Simmons from a first hand perspective.  Simmons produced the movie and dedicates the book to Doug Kenney, John Belushi, and John Vernon.

The comedy is one of the most quoted and funniest movies of all time.  Simmons gives us an uncensored look at what went on behind the scenes.

Simmons reflects on how National Lampoon came into being and the experience in just trying to sale a screenplay to Hollywood.  When it did happen though, the script had to be rewritten again and again and again.

Try making a comedy on a budget of $3 million in this era of digital filmmaking and what you would be making is an indie.  To do so in 1977 over the course of four weeks in Oregon?  What Simmons and crew created was an iconic comedy that made them millionaires.  Except for Donald Sutherland as he was only paid a sum of $35,000 for a day and a half of work.  Sutherland turned down the points as he thought a film like this would not have made much.  He would have made $6 million when all was said and done.

What this book is, in earnest, is a romp through one of the most celebrated comedies of all times.

Without Animal House, there would be no Vacation, no Van Wilder, and really, no John Hughes era in Hollywood.  There would not be the raunchy comedy that we love so dearly today.  What they did with that movie was take a chance and risk a huge loss.  If the movie were released in this era and brought in the numbers that it did, the movie would make $500 million!

So thank you, Matty Simmons, for not only the film but a loving look back at the late 1970s.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Book Review: The Kentucky Derby by James Nicholson

Hardcover: 296 pages
Publisher: The University Press of Kentucky (May 5, 2012)

 What James C. Nicholson has done with The Kentucky Derby: How the Run for the Roses Became America's Premier Sporting Event is tremendous.  This is a book that took me at least 8 hours to right, give or take a few.  It's a rather quick read and the 296 pages closer to 220 pages when you take out the index and the footnotes.  As a result, this book is as fast as the track at Churchill Downs.

The Kentucky Derby is the most exciting two minutes in sports and the city of Louisville gets the spotlight for the week.  It didn't always use to be this way as Nicholson explains.

The first running in 1875 was ran in front of only 10,000 spectators.  In 1925, WHAS Radio aired the first national broadcast of the race and it would not be until 1949 when the race would be first aired on TV on WAVE-3.  Soon thereafter, the CBS network would air the first leg of the Triple Crown in a national broadcast on television.

The Derby started as a reflection of Old Kentucky and during World War 2, it became the American Institution that we know it as today--only to become larger.  People would travel to Louisville to experience "southern hospitality," as Nicholson writes, but without having to travel into the Deep South.  It's the best of both worlds, he says.

I've only read a few books about horse racing and this is one of the best.  A must read and a must own if you ask me.

Grade A+