Book Review – The First Family: Abigail and John Adams

First Family: Abigail and John AdamsFirst Family: Abigail and John Adams by Joseph J. Ellis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Were I to sum up Joseph J. Ellis’ ‘First Family’ in two words, they would be “nothing new”. Any student of or expert on American history, amateur or otherwise, will have heard the vast majority of this story. The John and Abigail Adams story has already been told, much more thoroughly, by David McCullough.

The introduction of First Family sets the goal of telling major stories of the Revolutionary era through the eyes of the first power couple in American history. The events highlighted in this book are generally the same that would be included in any book covering the same era. The reaction of the Adams family and consequences of the events on the family are, in better detail, described in McCullough’s ‘John Adams’

For any newcomer to the Revolutionary era or the Adams family, this book would be an outstanding introduction. But with other weighty books like McCullough’s out there covering the same topics and family, this book just doesn’t measure up.

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Book Review – Pillars of the Earth

The Pillars of the EarthThe Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cause and effect can sometimes be a very strange partners. What caused me to read this book may sound very, very strange. Actually it is who caused me to read this book, none other than Ian McShane. I had been a huge Deadwood fan and loved Ian McShane’s performance in it. Then I saw a trailer for a new series called Pillars of the Earth and when he showed up I knew I had to watch. While watching the first episode I learned that it was based on this book by Ken Follet, it was then that I decided to read it.

As I started reading I immediately thought I was going to hate it. It seemed as though Follett was going to turn Philip into the hero of the story and suffering through his proselytizing was not appealing to me. Luckily Follett jumps around between all of his characters. The point of view is changed from the protagonists to antagonists very well and it always seemed that the right person was being focused on in that particular time in the story.

Follett does a very good job of getting you to fall in love with his characters, my favorites at the start were Aliena and Tom Builder. He also seemed to go out of his way to make sure that you absolutely hated others like Waleran Bigod and William Hamleigh.

The story surrounds the building of a cathedral, is very easy to understand, and was not as foreign as I thought it would be. The only jarring aspect was the random fast forwarding though time that the book takes. I don’t think I’ve read a single book that covers as large a time period as Pillars of the Earth does. Follett does try to catch you up on the missing parts with a paragraph or so but sometimes the jump ahead is so great that you can’t help but feel as if you missed out.

Towards the end of the book I felt as though Ken Follett was just trying to write a longer book. During the book the main protagonists encounter problems, mainly caused by Waleran and William, trying to complete their Cathedral and then a solution is found. Then another problem, again a solution. Another problem, later a solution. Over and over again. Follett seemed to despise his main characters for all the things he did to them. He couldn’t stop punishing them, or as I wrote earlier, he just wanted to write a longer book.

I ended up loving this book. The story and its characters would be appealing to any fan of the time period. The most shocking thing that came from reading this book was that I ended up liking the Philip character despite my disagreement of his religious beliefs. I think this was the result of the Follett’s talent to root this book in reality. While none of can ever truly know what life then was like, Follett certainly does a good job of painting a very realistic picture. Some parts seem very doom and gloom in comparison to its lighter parts, but such is life.

I would recommend this book to just about anyone. Especially history buffs and fantasy fans. While the book is still fiction, history fans will enjoy its realism. There is nothing fantastical in this story, fantasy fans however will recognize the political dealings of royal and lordly life that is so often existent in fantasy stories. I can understand why there is some very polarized hatred of this book but I think the majority of people who read it will enjoy it.

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Quick Review – Empire of Liberty

Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 by Gordon S. Wood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For anyone going through United States history, this should be the first book they pick up after reading their choice of books covering the time leading up to and including the Revolutionary War. Empire of Liberty is the most comprehensive book covering this time period that I have come across. My interest leans towards the political history of the United States but Mr. Wood touches on every part if the time period’s society and to my surprise I thoroughly enjoyed it. Like many of David McCullough’s and Joseph J. Ellis’ book on the Revolutionary time period, I will be listening or reading this book over and over.

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