Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Let's Pretend This Never Happened" by Jenny Lawson (2012)

When Nico saw the title of this one he asked you the difference between a memoir and a biography. "I honestly don't know," you told him. "But thumbing through this one, I would guess that a memoir is an autobiography where you get to tell actually funny stories and say bad words a lot."

You still don't know the actual difference and you could totally look it up on google, but where is the mystery in that?

The author of this book is Jenny Lawson, but she's much more commonly known as "The Bloggess." She is a blogger who you and Liz have been following on Twitter for years and she is absolutely hilarious. Jenny has a style of writing that seamlessly mixes fragments with run-on sentences in the most disarming way. Her comic timing is impeccable and startling. Her liberal and creative use of paragraph structure and footnotes is surprising enough that you were actually laughing out loud from the first page of the book. Plus she cusses like a thirteen year old boy and has no compunction talking about her vagina, her social awkwardness, or her unique upbringing in rural West Texas.

"Let's Pretend This Never Happened" follows a roughly chronological course, but Jenny does not apologize if she zips forward twenty years in the middle of a paragraph to relate a modern anecdote that reminds her of the story she is telling (even if she is the only one who sees any relation between the two stories). The book is brutally frank about her hilariously traumatizing childhood as the daughter of a taxidermist with one seriously warped sense of humor, her crippling social anxiety disorder, and her... just oddness. If you had to use only one word to describe "Let's Pretend This Never Happened," other than 'hilarious' or 'vagina-rific,' it would be honest.

Like most of us, Jenny uses humor to deal with the difficulties of life. What's more, she has found that comfortable place that many of us are also lucky to have found where she draws strength from her own weirdness. Instead of being ashamed of her refusal to fit into arbitrary social categories, she has embraced her unconventional view of the world and used it to show her few hundred thousand Twitter followers and who knows how many readers of this book that the world is not scripted. To hell with what other people think you should do for a living, or useless gender role expectations, or what is considered acceptable dinner conversation. In refusing to be defeated by her strange childhood, by her social anxiety disorder, by her arthritis, or by multiple miscarriages, Jenny reminded you that you refused to be defeated by an absent father, by other people's ridiculous expectations, by your arthritis, by Lincoln's Down syndrome, or by multiple miscarriages. "Because you are defined not by life's imperfect moments, but by your reaction to them. Because there is joy in embracing -rather than running screaming from- the utter absurdity of life."

Last week, Nico was very excited to tell you that his 2nd grade class has been told that they will be writing their own memoirs this year. You sincerely look forward to reading that, and you can only hope that he can find something like Jenny's honesty and wisdom in how he views the world and his place in it... and that he doesn't say "fuck" as much as she does.

On to the next book!

Friday, September 20, 2013

"Paper Towns" by John Green (2008)

This is the last of John Green's novels that you hadn't read yet. Well... almost. He's got a couple more that he co-wrote with other authors. You'll probably read those pretty soon too, but this is the last one that was all totally him. Remember when you said you would probably read all of his books soon? You've done it now.

The plot of "Paper Towns" is pretty simple. The main character, Quentin, has been in love with his neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman, for as long as he can remember. A few weeks before they graduate high school, Margo enlists Quentin in a daring, all night prank to get back at a cheating boyfriend, the girl he was cheating with, and all of Margo's friends who didn't tell her he was cheating. Margo also convinces Quentin to break into a few buildings and a theme park, just for the hell of it. This comes as a shock to Quentin because he and Margo have not been close friends since they were small children. Even more shocking to Quentin is the realization the next morning that Margo has disappeared.

The remainder of the book sees Quentin and his friends, and eventually Margo's friends searching for her. Margo seems to have left behind some clues and everyone becomes terrified that she has committed suicide. There is much quoting of Walt Whitman, some hilarious comedy scenes, and a road trip (John Green does love his road trips). But, like most books, the plot is merely an engine for a fascinating idea.

We don't imagine other people with enough complexity.

Quentin certainly doesn't imagine Margo with much complexity. To him, she's not even really human. She's an idea, a vessel for his hopes and hormonal desires. But he doesn't imagine his close friends very complexly either. "Paper Towns" makes it pretty clear that you don't either.

As well as you know your family members and your friends, you don't give them nearly enough credit. You stop imagining them after a few easy labels. "Controling." "Sweet." "Tech Nerd." "Book Worm." And then you interact with them using these simple labels as a guide. It robs you of deeper, more meaningful connections. It robs all of us of deeper, more meaningful connections.

The older you get, the more you are convinced that most of the problems in this world stem from humanity's tendency to label other people as exactly that, other people! So many problems could be solved, so many relationships could be mended, and so many tragedies could be avoided if we all began thinking of one another as complex, meaningful, multifaceted, flawed, and forgivable members of one family.

Your mom tried to teach you this when you were little when she would remind you that your mean teacher might be going through some terrible personal tragedy so you should act with patience and understanding. Your wife tries to teach you this when she reminds you that the way you treat your children teaches them how to act toward others. Tolkien tried to teach you this when he had Gandalf remind Frodo that it was pity that kept Bilbo from killing Gollum, ultimately saving the world.  Jesus tried to teach you this when he said "Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

Of course there are jerks out there. Of course there are people who do terrible things. But they are all still people and simplifying them down to labels or categories will never help you understand anything. And what's more is that "Paper Towns" reminded you that working to imagine others more complexly helps you learn more about yourself as well.

What surprised you the most about "Paper Towns" was that it ended up being your favorite of the four John Green novels you've read so far. You thought "The Fault In Our Stars" would keep that honor, but it has been replaced. Not because "Paper Towns" has a better story, it doesn't. But because you liked the lesson you learned from "Paper Towns" more.

As the plot unfolds, Quentin learns to see the people who surround him with a deeper understanding. He and his friends even make a game where they try to create intricate back stories to the anonymous people in the cars that surround them on the Florida highways. Quentin's growth gives you hope that you can embrace this idea too.

"The Fault In Our Stars" is all about how true strength is gained in moments of weakness. And that's a great lesson. But "Paper Towns" is all about finding value in your fellow human beings, validating them as complex and rich characters. That is a lesson you needed to learn.

On to the next book!

P.S. The picture of the cover you used up above is actually two pictures of the two different covers "Paper Towns" was printed with. Your copy had the Margo on the right on it. You thought it was pretty clever to add visual complexity to the cover of a book about imagining people more complexly. Good old John Green.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

"Ender's Shadow" by Orson Scott Card (1999)

This is the sequel to "Ender's Game," but it was written fifteen years and, like twenty books later. But you heard the forthcoming movie is based on both books, so you thought you'd dip your toe back in Ender Wiggin's world once again.


One of Ender's most capable and trusted lieutenants during the war was a small kid named Bean. This book tells Bean's story, which kind of makes it less of a sequel and more of a parallel story, or a co-novel, or something. This one is not quite as good as the first, but pretty close.

Both novels are set in a science fiction future where humans have twice fended off an alien invasion. Instead of being a sci-fi tour de force, however, these stories are much more personal and introspective than you had expected. They follow their characters as each gazes inward and struggles with his own sense of justice and with his own capacity for destruction. Bean gives you an enlightening analysis of the same events you witnessed in the last book, but from a different perspective. These novels are excellent examinations of what qualities define our concepts of leadership and morality.

Unlike Ender, Bean doesn't come from a relatively stable home life. He is an orphan and is forced to fend for himself from a very young age. In fact, it is soon revealed that Bean has had to fend for himself almost from birth. It is hinted at pretty early on in "Ender's Shadow" that Bean might be genetically modified. His escape from the facility where he was born and his struggle to survive on the streets define Bean's existence, but his enhancements may be the very thing that gives him the edge to survive. Soon, Bean is noticed and shipped off to Battle School. He is younger than Ender was when he arrived, younger and smaller. At the book's climax, Bean is no older than Nicholas is today, seven years old.

Despite Ender's growing legend at Battle School, Bean is actually smarter than the boy who would eventually save the world. Bean has perfect recall, photographic memory, the ability to speed-read and to pick up languages with ease. When it comes to thinking strategically, he is an unmatched genius. That "different perspective" Bean brings to the story is a laser like focus on what is vital to goals of the school, putting a commander in place who will be capable of defeating "the Buggers." Nothing gets by Bean. He is almost perfect. But he is still never quite as good as Ender.

Even though all the right switches have been flipped in Bean's brain, he never quite makes the other kids adore him the way they do Ender. "Ender's Shadow" makes a compelling case that leadership has little to do with ability. Sure, everyone wants to be on the winning team, but leadership is a quality that is more ethereal than just raw talent. Ender makes the soldiers who fight in his army want to be better, not just better soldiers... better people. That is what makes Ender such an effective leader. He has an empathy and an honesty that people are drawn to, an ease of making others feel accepted while also reminding them that he has high expectations for them.

You've met people like this. There was one kid back in Boy Scouts named Brian Savage (what a great name, right). He wasn't the best at starting fires, or tying knots, or navigating with compass and map, but you would have walked through fire for him. He was competent enough at all of those things that he made you stay sharp, but that wasn't what made him a natural leader, it was his character. He was such a good guy, a guy who would always stop and take care of the weaker or slower scouts, who would always take the time to show you how to tie that knot one more time to make sure you felt confident about it, that you didn't ever want to let him down. Ender reminds you of Brian (except Brian was never accused of committing genocide).

But leadership is not an inherently valuable quality. Hitler was a great leader, but so was Churchill. George W Bush inspired legions of devoted followers, but so did Barack Obama. What counts in the end is not whether you are a great leader, or an inspiring person. What counts is where you lead those who choose to follow you, what you inspire them to accomplish.

Bean makes damn sure that Ender leads his soldiers in the right direction.

Ender is a great tactician. But tactics only win battles, it's strategy that wins wars. And there is no one who is better at strategy than Bean. Even while he is devising the best way to defeat the Buggers, he is also fully aware of the coming civil war that must break out on Earth as soon as Ender's Game is over (and he even cites Rome's collapse after their defeat of Carthage as historical precedent). Bean proves instrumental in helping the leadership of the International Fleet anticipate and prepare for the war that Ender never sees coming.

It seems a bit off-putting that children in a story would be capable of thinking of such grandiose ideas or would be capable of such violent acts, such long term thinking, such wisdom and such insight. In fact, when "Ender's Game" was first published, Orson Scott Card was denounced for just that reason. "Children don't think like this," his critics insisted. "Kids aren't capable of these profound thoughts," they complained. "The youngest among us," they declared, "Do not possess this kind of wisdom or clarity of thought."

Card's answer was simple, but insightful. "At what point in your development," he asked "Were you... not you?"


You have seen this idea played out before with your own children. Last year, when he was still in the First Grade, Nico started a conversation with you about J. Robert Oppenheimer's existential crisis when he witnessed the first explosion of a nuclear weapon. Nico had watched a video on the history of nuclear weapons in school the day before (and it wasn't even Battle School!) and he couldn't get Oppenheimer's quote upon seeing the destruction his handiwork had wrought out of his head. "Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds," Oppenheimer had said, and even at seven years old Nico could recognize the tragic internal struggle of a man who had worked to accomplish some good only to realize far too late that he had unleashed unimaginable evil in the world. Together, you talked about the confluence of science and ethics, about the wisdom of accomplishing something without ever considering the implications. The two of you together pondered the limits of technology and morality, and you both marveled at the accomplishment of J. Robert Oppenheimer and also lamented his place in history. Your little boy was able  to add to this conversation, engaging you and participating. He was not a mere listener or spectator.

If Nico, who is not a genetically modified super genius, can have that kind of a conversation with you at the age of seven, then it's not completely preposterous for Bean to glean the course of future events from his readings of history. People tend to underestimate children. We sometimes forget that those brains in their heads are still open to novel ideas, to a simple clarity and honesty unfettered by presuppositions, they are not yet set in old ways of thinking. Books like "Ender's Shadow" make you want to learn a lesson from them and work to keep your mind open and fight to try and forge new connections in your own brain.


On to the next book!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Carthage Mvst be Destroyed" by Richard Miles (2010)

Ancient Rome. Cool. Wait? No. Not Rome? Carthage? Where the hell is Carthage?

You thought this book would just be the story of Rome's obsession with defeating their long time enemy, Carthage. You were wrong. Read the subtitle. It's the entire story of the whole Carthaginian civilization. That worked out pretty well, since you didn't know the first thing about Carthage. One good reason for that is the very title of this book... Rome wiped Carthage off the map.

"Carthage Must be Destroyed" is an impressive scholarly work. It was obvious that Miles spent years researching old histories and archeological records to bring this story to you. Despite the fact that the title is a Roman quote, Rome doesn't even appear until a hundred pages in. The first third of the book was dedicated to the history of how Carthage was founded and where it came from. 3,000 years ago, the shores of what we now call the Holy Land (Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt) were dotted with small city states, each with its own unique culture. One of the most powerful of these cultures, referred to collectively as Phoenician, was a city called Tyre. Tyre established itself as an extraordinary trading hub. The people of Tyre were consummate sailors and had built trading posts all along the Mediterranean shores. They had even managed to leave the confines of the Mediterranean Sea, establishing colonies on the Atlantic coasts of Spain and Morocco 800 years before Jesus was born. This civilization was so old, that some of their trading agreements were with kings with names like David (as in "And Goliath") and his son, Solomon. They struggled against such Old Testament characters as the Assyrians and the Babylonians.

In 814 BC, a city was founded by the citizens of Tyre that became much more than a simple colony or a trading post. Located on the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, in what we now call Libya, the new city was named Carthage and it was strategically placed in the middle of the Phoenician trade routes, halfway between the lucrative Spanish silver mines and the parent city of Tyre. The culture of Carthage was very Phoenician in flavor and the religion borrowed heavily from the Greek city states on the other side of the sea. Heracles (also called Melqart) was one of Carthage's chief gods and the people of the city identified themselves, not as Africans, but as Phoenicians with Trojan or Greek heritage. This identity will become important later in the book.

As the generations passed, Carthage spread her influence throughout the Mediterranean. The nearby islands of Sicily and Sardinia were soon dotted with Carthaginian outposts, and before long wars were being fought over who had influence over these areas. Carthage supported small kingdoms and petty rulers against the Greeks and other adversaries vying for influence. By 500 BC, slowly but inexorably, Carthage had established herself as the preeminent force in the western Mediterranean Sea. Following in the footsteps of Tyre, she had established outposts along the Atlantic coasts and a captain from Carthage, Himilco, was even rumored to have reached the shores of Ireland and England centuries before any other European cultures. The Carthage colonies and her people were called Punic, and the wars she would eventually fight against Rome would bear the same name, the Punic Wars.

By 500 BC, Rome was merely a growing Latin power on the Italian peninsula, but nothing for Carthage to fear. The Romans signed a treaty with Carthage in 509 BC and agreed to limit their trade routes (Rome was not much of a sea power then) and to stay out of Carthaginian business interests, while Carthage agreed to leave Roman settlements along the Italian coasts alone and allow Rome to slowly expand its area of influence. That very year had seen Rome depose her king and establish a powerful Senate as the governing body of a new Roman Republic.

 The real concern for everyone in the known world at that time was Alexander the Great. Sure, he had lead his armies far off to the East, but his sacking of the city of Tyre and his desecration of the Tyrian/Carthaginian god, Melqart sent a clear message to Carthage. Soon, it was feared, Alexander would turn his gaze westward and no one could be confident that they would not be conquered by the great general from Macedonia. Alexander made the world feel like a small place.

In response to the fear inspired by Alexander, Carthage redoubled her efforts to secure her influence in the Mediterranean. One thing became clear as you read "Carthage Mvst be Destroyed." Humans kill each other a lot and we have been doing it for a long long time. Some of the battles being fought over who had control of certain settlements in Sicily resulted in up to 100,000 casualties. Those are World War One numbers, but these battles were being fought two and a half thousand years ago!

Eventually these constant wars and skirmishes lead to clashes between Rome and Carthage. The Punic Wars had begun. The Romans eventually invaded North Africa and besieged Carthage before being driven off. But this, the First Punic War, resulted in one huge strategic change in the region. Carthage had been replaced by Rome as the rulers of the Mediterranean Sea.

In 227 BC, a Carthaginian general had founded a Spanish city of New Carthage. It came to be known as Cartagena (a name that would much later be brought to the New World and be established as the capital of Columbia). This new city was more than a trading post, it represented a Carthaginian colony and it's people were named after the founding family, the Barcids. When their ruler/general was assassinated, his son replaced him. Hannibal was his name, and, though Carthage would eventually disappear, his name would be remembered forever. He would bring war to Rome, crossing the Alps with his African elephants and marching to the gates of Rome itself. Hannibal wreaked havoc on the Italian peninsula for fifteen years before returning to his home.

Hannibal's army was an eclectic mix of people and fighters. This was one of his strengths on the battlefield. He was able to confuse his enemies by tailoring his choice of soldiers to suit each tactical situation. The Second Punic War may have been the first time that a commander's tactical awareness and abilities were more important than his number of troops or types of weapons. But maybe more important than that distinction was that Hannibal had taken a page from Alexander the Great. He had brought with him his own propagandists. They were careful to highlight the shared religion between Hannibal and the old Greek and Phoenicians cultures. They pointed out to the Italian peoples that Hannibal's growing armies were following in the storied and holy footsteps of Heracles when the great hero had returned the legendary cattle herds of Geryon. These Carthaginian story tellers and poets, these propagandists made the case that Hannibal was a more legitimate ruler than any Roman Senate. In this way, Hannibal was not simply fighting Roman generals on the field, he was fighting Roman leaders in the hearts and minds of their people. And it worked. Rome labored frantically to bolster its own image as the paragon of piety and as the legitimate cultural heir of the Greek traditions.

Hannibal took war to a new level. He was brilliant on the battlefield, at Cannae he had counter-intuitively weakened his center so that his cavalry could wrap around his enemies' flanks and destroy them even as they believed they were winning the fight. But his true genius lay in the realm of propaganda. As brilliant as this was at the time, it almost ensured that Rome would feel the need to eventually view Carthage not as regional threat, but as an existential one.

After Hannibal was defeated outside the walls of Carthage by the Roman general Scipio (thereafter known as Scipio Africanus) Carthage declined as a military power in the region. But defeat in war lead to prosperity in economics (as would later be true of Germany and Japan in the latter half of the 20th Century). Carthage soon became prosperous enough that she was seen as indispensable to the growing Roman war effort as Rome pushed to expand her own empire. In the decades after the Second Punic War, the north African metropolis, free from the need to maintain an empire or a standing army, became an economic powerhouse.

This could not stand. Again, Rome turned her eyes toward her old enemy, and one hundred and fifty years before the birth of Christ, Carthage was utterly destroyed. Having removed her chief and oldest rival, Rome soon fell into Civil War. Without the foil of Carthage, the Roman people had no enemy by which to compare themselves. Eventually the mythology of Carthage entered Roman culture in a new and nostalgic way. By 20 AD, the Roman poet Vergil had written the Aeneid and Carthage was recast as a beacon of piety and honor, her loss deeply felt across the civilized world. Nothing remained of a once great civilization but stories and ruins.

The story of Carthage reminded you once again why you read history books. There is always more than one side to every story and there are always so many more stories out there. You are fascinated by these stories. Some tales are waiting to be told, but some will never have the chance to be heard again.

It all reminds you of a sonnet by Shelley.


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

On to the next book!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

"Revolution!" series by Various Authors (1995)

So, you got hooked on a kids' series. It's not the first time, and it won't be the last.

To begin with, let's deal with the names of those various authors you mentioned in the title. This is a review of three books by three different authors. "The French Revolution" was written by Adrian Gilbert, "1848: The Year of Revolution" Was by R.G. Grant, and "The Easter Rising" was written by Richard Killeen. Glad that's out of the way. You should always acknowledge the author(s).

This series was incredibly informative. You found these books in the kids' history section of your local library and you already reviewed the one about the Russian Revolution. You went back to the library and picked out a few more books on the revolutions you knew the least about; one on the French Revolution in 1789, one about the insane year of 1848 in Europe, and another about the Irish revolt of 1916.  Let's tackle them in chronological order, shall we?

The French Revolution was fascinating. It was far more complicated than you'd realized (sort of a theme in these reviews, eh?). After King Louis was deposed, the Revolution fractured into competing parties, each seemingly more concerned with their own influence and power than with securing the ideals of the revolution. Things quickly got bloody, with one group even calling it's own push to secure power "The Terror." As bloody as this part of the French Revolution was, the wars being fought to fend off foreign powers sensing weakness and invading France from outside were even bloodier. But after all the bloodshed and the invasions and the power grabs and the guillotines, Napoleon seized control and plunged the entire continent into war. After his defeat at Waterloo in 1815, the European powers restored the French monarchy and the people of France ended up right back where they had been before the Bastille had fallen, with a powerful monarchy in charge and the upper classes having too much power over the poor. The French Revolution was inspired by the American Revolution (both intellectually and by nature of the fact the France's economy was wrecked by the debt she'd accrued supporting the colonies against Britain) but ultimately, it was the French Revolution that changed the world. This was not a colony or even a band of united states throwing off the rule of a distant empire. This was an old, established citizenry doing the unthinkable, throwing down a king and choosing their own form of government. The French Revolution taught the people of the world that they didn't have to suffer under despotism and oppression. The world would never be the same after this.

The year 1848 in Europe was so chaotic that many historians and authors refer to it simply as the "Year of Revolution." It all started in Paris when a crowd was celebrating the French king's decision to replace his government with one that was slightly more democratic. The celebrating crowd was confronted by King Louis Phillipe's soldiers. In the confusion of the moment, someone fired a shot and then so did everyone else. Before anyone could stop the firing, there was a massacre. This single event, an accident, a misunderstanding, an easily avoidable mistake sparked a chain reaction that spread through all of Europe. Soon the people of France, Austria, and what we now call Germany, Italy, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary were in full revolt. It wouldn't be until August of the next year before the last revolt was defeated. Germany and Italy at the time were divided into smaller kingdoms, fiefdoms, princedoms, protectorates, territories, and city states while much of central and eastern Europe was controlled by the Austrian empire. These monarchies cracked down hard on the spreading insurrections in an attempt to hold onto their seats of power. On both sides, heroes were made while others were condemned as butchers. Somehow, France was the only revolution during this time to rid its people of their ruling, hereditary monarchy.

The details of every revolution and invasion, every lofty declaration signed and every glorious battle fought during this tremendous year are too dizzying to relate here. You'll have to read a big kid book about this fascinating time to learn more and keep all the details straight, but here are a few things to remember. 1) Revolutions almost never turn out the way the people who started them wanted them too. What starts off as ideological demands for equality and representation or as practical demands for grater distribution of food and wealth, often ends up in squabbling and infighting. Revolutions are awesome (in the original meaning of the word) and inspiring and powerful, but they are difficult beasts to tame. They are often the breeding grounds for extraordinary unintended consequences. The events of the Year of Revolution are what inspired the philosophy of a man named Karl Marx. Soon after he would join with his colleague, Joseph Engels, to write the Communist Manifesto. 2) Most of the revolutions during this time were put down due to one simple factor. None of them were united with one another. This piecemeal approach to revolution allowed the forces of the European monarchies to treat one huge, popular movement as a series of small inconvenient incidents. This allowed them to use their armies to their advantage and concentrate their forces as was needed every time a new insurrection reared its head. Had the various movements, the disjointed forces of revolution banded together under one banner, they would have overwhelmed the armies of the monarchies. 3) When it comes to controlling or influencing a population, the middle class is the key. In every instance during 1848, the revolutionaries had the support, however fleeting, of the middle class. The moment they lost that support, their uprisings died. To quote the book,

"The middle classes' desire for change led them into an alliance with the workers and the poor, who also wanted to overthrow the system. But in the end the interests of these two groups were completely different. The poor and the hungry had nothing to lose from disorder, whereas the middle classes feared for their property and wanted order restored as soon as possible. The workers wanted social change to give themselves better food and housing and more control over their own lives. But this could only be at the expense of the middle class factory owners and business men who profited from cheap labor. The middle class liberals were happy to exploit popular uprisings to win concessions from the conservative rulers. But later they would support the use of force against the people to restore order."

The Irish Revolt of 1916, called the Easter Rising, was on a much smaller scale than the subjects of the other books in the "Revolution!" series but that doesn't meant that it was without some interesting lessons as well. Fought over the course of five days in April in Dublin, the uprising was hopeless from its first moments. Only a few hundred dedicated Irish fighters fought against British soldiers led by General Maxwell, who had recently returned from successfully defending the Suez Canal from hordes of screaming Turkish soldiers during WWI. The fighting devastated central Dublin and featured bombardment of the city by artillery as well as a British cruiser sailing up the Liffey River. It was also the first time the Irish tricolor flag (green, white, and red) had flown over the capital city of Ireland. Even though their cause was hopeless, and most of the population was not behind them, the sacrifice and the passion of the men who fought (and mostly died) in the Easter Rising inspired most of the rest of the nation to consider independence from English rule (they had managed to get the elusive middle class to support them!). Within four years, the Irish Free State was recognized by the government of Great Britain and to this day, the Irish tricolor still flies over Dublin.

As the Arab Spring (are we still calling it that even though it started in the spring two years ago?) continues to occupy significant headline space in the world's news sites (or newspapers, if you prefer) the republican heart that beats in your chest cheers every new uprising. Soon, this series of books should do an "Arab Spring" edition. The lessons of this series are complicated and far reaching and are still applicable today. There are no easy answers, but you are sure of a two things. Revolutions are messy and rarely go the way they were planned, but, however dangerous it might be, it is almost always a good thing when people rise up and shake off their oppressors. Freedom and Justice will never be reached by conserving the status quo. Changing the world requires bold action. It takes work, it takes sacrifice, and sometimes it takes a revolution!

On to the next book!