Roger's Book Reviews

Short book reviews by Roger Edwards

NOTE:Reviews are arranged by TITLE, in alphabetical order. I graded each book by stars, * * * * * (5 stars) representing the best, and provided a headline for each review. I have also posted many of these these book reviews to Amazon (dot com), where you can examine them (and my wishlist!) if you're terribly interested. If they help you decide on whether to buy a book, great. If not, no loss here. [HINT: I tend to review books I like, and not even finish those I don't!] Last updated 2 Feb 9 (yes, I finally added another review and hope to fill in some of the many I've neglected the past several years)

TITLE

AUTHOR

Blue Ridge Range : The Gentle Mountains
Ron Fisher
Bootlegger's Boy
Barry Switzer and Bud Shrake
Caught in the Path: A Tornado's Fury, a Community's Rebirth
Carolyn Glenn Brewer
Dereliction of Duty
Lt. Col. Robert "Buzz" Patterson
Flying America's Weather: How to Fly in America's Weather Regions
Thomas A. Horne
Galleon Hunt
Robert 'Frogfoot' Weller
The Geology of Florida
Anthony F. Randazzo and Douglas S. Jones (Editors)
Heir to the Sooner Legacy: The Championship Story of Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops
the Daily Oklahoman sports staff
How to Forgive When You Can't Forget : Healing Our Personal Relationships
Charles Klein
J.C. Watts
Norma Jean Lutz
The Lake Superior Images
Craig Blacklock
Lake Superior Shipwrecks
Julius F. Wolff, Jr.
Landry: The Legend and the Legacy
Bob St. John
McClane's Field Guide to Saltwater Fishes of North America
A.J. McClane
North Carolina's Hurricane History
Jay Barnes
PrairyErth
William Least Heat-Moon
Pros and Cons : The Criminals Who Play in the NFL
Jeff Benedict and Don Yeager
The Roads of Texas
Texas A&M University Cartographics
Roadside Geology of Northern and Central California
David Alt and Donald W. Hyndman
Roadside Geology of Texas
Darwin Spearing
The Servant
James C. Hunter
A Strong Delusion: Confronting the "Gay Christian" Movement
Joe Dallas
The Things that Matter Most
Cal Thomas
The Tornado: Nature's Ultimate Windstorm
Thomas P. Grazulis
Trailways Buses: 1936-2001 Photo Archive
William A. Luke
Under the Whirlwind: Everything You Need to Know about Tornadoes
Arjen and Jerrine Verkaik

Blue Ridge Range : The Gentle Mountains (National Geographic Park Profiles)

by Ron Fisher, et al.

      RATING: * * * *
An easy look at Blue Ridge flora, fauna and folk life

Ron Fisher wrote this "bookazine" in a very plain, homespun style which causes one to learn tons of information about people and places of the Blue Ridge without realizing it. There was too-scant mention of the region's physiography and natural history; however, once I got far enough inside to notice that, I was already sufficiently captivated by the tales of human history and folklore that the book was well worth finishing. Like Fisher, I cruised the Blue Ridge Parkway on a cool, misty weekday; and he captured the peaceful mood perfectly in his description of that jaunt. Whether from watching a Salem Buccaneers minor league game, interviewing Foxfire writers, or recording the tales of an elderly wood whittler, the hundreds of micro-stories of Blue Ridge folk life come out well done.

Of course, as is the Geographic's gold standard, the photography is splendid. Any high school or college student writing about the Appalachian way of life must have this work in his reference list. And I strongly recommend this book for anyone planning a driving trip (off the interstates!) through western Virginia, western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee or far northern Georgia.

Bootlegger's Boy

by Barry Switzer, with Bud Shrake

      RATING: * * * * *
Switzer rips the cloak off bigtime college football

As a Sooner alumnus and rabidly devoted Dallas Cowboys fan, I have seen many good and bad sides of "Uncle Barry" (as he is known affectionately in these parts) for a couple of decades. Granted, it was written before he coached in Dallas. But it is because I had already read this book -- and as a result, felt a strong understanding of him -- that I was able to hold Switzer largely blameless for many of the problems which befell the Cowboys during their late-90s fade. [Perhaps most other Cowboys fans should read this before they mindlessly ridicule him, too. It is enlightening!]

Switzer is funny, smart and refreshingly devoted to his kids, as he shows here; but as an animated and sometimes overbearingly profane public person, he makes a much easier target for media ridicule than he deserves. Read this book and understand why he astutely asserts that the NCAA is an archaic clique of aging Great White Fathers (my term, not his) who are clueless about the realities of today's athletes' lives. Read and understand why Switzer can make some of the dumb mistakes he has, but nonetheless possesses a keen intellect and sense of fairness. And finally, read it for its shocking tales of the wild life of this surprisingly complex man.

Caught in the Path: A Tornado's Fury, a Community's Rebirth

by Carolyn Glenn Brewer

      RATING: * * * *
The raw human side of a violent tornado

Smudging our national fabric are stains of disaster like the one smeared across the southern suburbs of Kansas City one muggy night in 1957. Through her own experiences as a child survivor, and those of dozens of living witnesses, Brewer has compiled a rich and true tale of the impact, recovery, and lingering torment from a multiple-vortex, F5 tornado. Warnings weren't too accurate or timely then; the weather bulletin advised residents only of the threat of high winds and hail. When the vortex struck, 44 people died, over 500 others lay injured, and thousands of families' lives were torn loose from the security of bustling, post-war, Levittown-style suburbia. As the stories unfold, one can almost see the smoldering rubble, and smell the aroma of electrical ozone and shredded trees.

Concurrent parts of the survivors' inverviews are excerpted together in each chronological chapter, from the tornado's first sightings to recollection from the 1990s. The book could have used another diligent proofreader or two. Its organization is rather choppy; and there are too many misspellings. The research, however, was resoundingly thorough, rendering a richly endowed anthology of personal tales from a single evening of terror long ago.

Tornado survivors, disaster historians and Kansas City residents alike will appreciate Caught in the Path; however, its most needed audience may be severe weather aficionados: storm chasers, storm spotters and professional meteorologists. To them (and me, a former NSSFC forecaster), Brewer shows the side of severe weather we too often fail to appreciate when we research, forecast, or observe storms. Through these pages, the survivors of Kansas City's last violent tornado teach us lessons about what happens beneath those radar echoes and dark clouds. Their tales of survival show us why we do what we do -- to minimize such carnage and horror whenever the big one hits again, anywhere, anytime.

Dereliction of Duty

by Lt. Col. Robert "Buzz" Patterson

      RATING: * * * * 1/2
Rapidly paced insider memoir of Bill Clinton's (mis)management of our military and our national security

Dereliction of Duty is a first-hand witness' account of the inner workings of Bill Clinton's presidency, specifically concerning those matters which involve security and military command. The witness is credible and uniquely insightful too: formerly the military officer in charge of the president's "nuclear football" -- the satchel containing U.S. launch codes. This satchel must accompany the president everywhere he goes; therefore, so does the officer responsible for it. This person sees almost everything the president does and hears almost everything he says, especially in outdoor functions and trips outside Washington, but often inside the White House as well. [Even when the doors are closed between he and the President, the "football" is but feet away, on the other side of a wall or door.] Buzz Patterson had that role in the Clinton administration.

Commendably, this is not a "kiss and tell" tome, despite the rantings of some detractors (many of whom actually have not read the book). Instead, Patterson's tone is very plain spoken and strongly informational, letting the scandalous events speak for themselves and only occasionally allowing his own feelings of frustration blink through. This is not a creative writing exercise. Patterson instead writes militarily but still compellingly. Crisply candid and matter of fact in style, Patterson concisely packs several years of experience into just 148 pages, not counting a couple of surprisingly interesting appendices. Sharply focused, unencumbered by tangents and irrelevant wanderings, wonderfully devoid of fluff and useless banter, this book is stuffed with details only someone in the inner circle would know. The pace marches along, steadily, surehandedly and rapid-fire, as one would expect from a high military officer sworn above all to uphold this country's honor. Every page clips along quickly with new pieces of information and insight into a president who quite clearly was not only ignorant of the military, but often ambivalent about it and sometimes downright loathsome of our armed services.

As one may expect, given who was Commander in Chief, there are some shocking revelations: the time Clinton forgot the card containing the nuclear launch codes and left them who-knows-where, never to be found; the time Hillary dispatched a military mission (at taxpayer expense) to fetch Chelsea's school books from South Carolina to their Virgin Islands vacation suite; and how Osama bin Laden got away from sure capture while Clinton was at first inaccessible to the commanders, then indecisively deliberating the matter for hours and hours. Osama was known even then to be behind numerous American deaths resulting from bombings he financed and/or arranged. Patterson doesn't say this, but he doesn't need to: If Clinton simply gives the go-ahead anytime while "studying the issue," bin Laden is captured, and the September 11 attacks probably don't happen. Patterson explains succinctly how, under Clinton, our military forces were slashed -- in numbers, pay, equipment and morale -- driving many of them away, leaving many of the rest on welfare assistance, and the armed forces as a whole poorly prepared as possible for the war on terror we now face. First-hand accounts of Hillary's viciousness, arrogance and elitism are a minor sideshow here, but vivid enough still to scream loudly against any sentiment that she should someday have the power of the presidency.

Fair warning: This book is frightening at times, deeply disturbing in many ways, perhaps even disillusioning, and definitely arouses anger. This is precisely why it should be read! Unless Patterson was dreaming his experience (not likely!), this conclusion should be crystal clear: Bill Clinton and his entourage of passive "progressives" damaged our national security and our military preparedness in dangerous and numerous ways, at the expense of 3,000 American lives one horrible September morning, and at huge extended costs to be paid for decades to come.

Flying America's Weather : How to Fly in America's Weather Regions

by Thomas A. Horne

      RATING: * * * *
Handy regional weather guide for general aviators

This well-organized volume breaks down the U.S. into 17 distinct regions, including states whose weather is characteristic enough to justify their own chapters (Alaska, Hawaii, California, Texas and Florida). Horne, an experienced pilot, accomplishes something unusual for anyone, scientist or aviator: He explains meteorological terms and weather events in straightforward, example-laden ways which should be easy for any worthy pilot to comprehend, and cites scientific references for further reading. In the regions where they are most common, various weather phenomena (e.g., downbursts, hurricanes, derechoes, tornadoes, rotors, fog, icing, squall lines, snowstorms, extreme heat and cold, and more) are made relevant to the pilot through plainly written explanations, combined with historic examples of their roles in aviation incidents.

While memorizing definitions to pass the FAA knowledge exam may be enough to get one's license; this book takes the pilot an important step beyond by allowing him to *understand* the weather behind those terms on the test. The only significant flaw is the liberal use of website addresses, many of which will change during the several years this book resides on library shelves. Still, Horne's book should be in every general aviator's library.

Galleon Hunt

by Robert 'Frogfoot' Weller

      RATING: * *
Captivating treasure hunting tales, mediocre writing, terrible editing

As one who pursues and photographs violent storms, I can relate in many ways to the salvage diver. Despite many logistical and time-scale differences, underwater treasure seeking has many parallels to storm chasing that should be rather obvious to veterans of either endeavor. Both share nontrivial risk to health, life and equipment, a strong dependence on both skill and luck, increasing rates of success thanks to technological advancement, and still, extensive stretches of toil and tedium punctuated by the brief but amazing moments where the elusive quarry is found. Both also are burdened by a disproportionately shrill minority of Johnny-come-lately posers and/or egomaniacal, showboating daredevils who never met a microphone they didn't like, interspersed with the honest, careful and appreciative majority. And so... When a fellow storm observer living in Florida lent me her copy of Galleon Hunt, it stoked in this former Keys fisherman a strong desire to learn more about the pioneer era (some would say golden age) of treasure diving.

In this age of high-tech, big-budget, corporate treasure salvaging and accompanying publicity overkill, it's insightful to roll back the clock a few decades before the Internet, when GPS was unimaginable, to a time when typewriters and handwritten notepads were the writer's tools of choice, ship captains still navigated by radio, sun, stars and a compass, and a handful of individuals and dive teams plied the reefs of the Caribbean in search of elusive, treasure laden sailing vessels of the Spanish colonial fleet. That is the era of salvaging from which Bob "Frogfoot" Weller penned a fascinating history of still earlier days of treasure hunting, in the form of a biography of pioneer diver Art "Silver Bar" McKee. Galleon Hunt takes the reader back to McKee's youthful days in New Jersey and his early interest in diving, through his failed relationships in Jersey and his escape to Florida for physical healing and a new life, and his many subsequent decades as a salvage diver of wrecked Spanish galleons. McKee is depicted as an adventuresome, crafty, versatile, somewhat swashbuckling sort for whom the search was nearly as much a part of discovery as the find itself. The tales themselves are gripping, especially those of his many brushes with death, and his ultimately successful 26-year quest for the richly loaded wreck of the Genovesa off Jamaica. The facts revealed are themselves treasures of adventure storytelling, making the effort to read the book worthwhile.

Reading Galleon Hunt, unfortunately, does require effort -- much more than it should. Bless his heart, the author (by all accounts) was a genuine good guy in the salvaging trade, widely respected for his talent, and obviously was a deep well of knowledge about the history of treasure diving. [Frogfoot Weller died just a few months ago as I write this.] He was a fine storyteller, but that doesn't translate likewise to writing ability, which appears only fair. The wild tales contained in the pages of Galleon Hunt were not penned with a befitting richness of prose, and that's a shame. The manuscript needed thorough, highly skilled, professional editorial oversight and didn't receive it.

Galleon Hunt appears to be self-published, and guess what -- it shows. The prose suffers from many characteristic compositional afflictions of books produced on the cheap that, in the process, circumnavigate skilled proofreading. Errors of grammar and usage abound, as do needless redundancies of verbiage, and internal inconsistencies of spelling and capitalization. Some of the page numbers in the Index are wrong. The manuscript suffers from distracting episodes of arcane lingo, along with occasional stylistic choppiness to rival that of the stormy seas described therein. Why, for example, isn't the quaint distance term "league" defined somewhere before the final chapter (creatively titled, "The Final Chapter"), despite its frequent prior use? In my paperback version, it is not apparent in any way that Galleon Hunt is a biography of Art McKee until five paragraphs into the Foreword -- not on the outside, where such clues typically may be found in the form of either a front-cover subtitle or gushing platitudes of selectively excerpted book reviews on the back. Individually, such minor blunders and omissions are mere irritants, bits of stale black olives to be picked off the otherwise tasty pizza beneath. As a sufficiently interested reader, I can skip over the many minor nuisances, but why should I have to? Even half-passable editing expunges the preventable detritus before the pizza is baked.

Most troubling are some lurching gaps in the story itself, and questions left unanswered unnecessarily. For example, only at the end do we find out that McKee wasn't a big fan of SCUBA gear. How, when and why, during all those decades of going underwater, did the great Silver Bar McKee, the man who invented treasure diving as we know it, make the transition from bottom-walking with helmet and weight belt to SCUBA? Why didn't his (by then) 21 year old daughter Karen, who apparently was interested, dive with him on his last expedition to Pedro Banks? How did Gay McKee handle raising kids with Art gone so much on this expedition and that, and how did she brace for the distinct possibility that he might not return alive from any given sojourn at sea? So much more of her story should have been woven into the tapestry of his life than was depicted in Galleon Hunt. How did the family deal with his death, especially Art and Gay's kids, who seemed to be destined for treasure salvaging endeavors of their own? Weller easily could have told much more in about the same space, by culling tangential wanderings and frivolous minutiae in favor of more robust substance. I finished the book wanting to know much more about the subject and his family than the author managed to convey. Silver Bar McKee was a most fascinating adventurer, and his life story deserved a richer examination.

The Geology of Florida

by Anthony F. Randazzo and Douglas S. Jones (Editors)

      RATING: * * * * *
Comprehensive overview of Sunshine State geology

Florida isn't merely a drab slab of limestone; instead, it is a surprisingly complex and interesting geological lab. For example, most of what we now call Florida was once a part of Africa! In this book, the many chapter authors (edited by Randazzo and Jones) cover the evolution of the Florida platform from the origin of its crystalline basement in paleo-Africa, through its docking with the North American plate, innumerable sea level changes, and the reef building, barrier island migration and mining impacts of the past few thousand years. This text is stuffed with information! The Keys even merit their own chapter -- a wise choice.

This is a university level text; and as such, it contains some of the typically academic dryness of writing and technical terminology which probably wouldn't appeal to the mildly curious reader. But for anyone who is seriously interested in either Florida geology or in carbonate platforms in general, there can probably be no better resource. Because of its thorough coverage of the processes which have built Florida, and its rich scientific bibliography, geology students and librarians will find this book to be a solid reference.

Heir to the Sooner Legacy: The Championship Story of Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops

by the Daily Oklahoman sports staff

      RATING: * * *
Chronicle of newspaper stories for the die-hard Oklahoma Sooner fan

This book is a colorful keepsake for any devoted OU football fan, and an interesting chronicle of the 2000 national championship football season sure to keep the memories alive. However, it was disappointing to find that this book really is no original work at all -- but instead, a collection of sports-news stories published by the Daily Oklahoman before and during the first championship season of the Stoops era. The volume seems to have been thrown together quickly for the purpose of selling the first season chronicle to tens of thousands of souvenir-smitten Sonner fans as fast as possible. In that shallow, greedy sense, it was successful.

Some of the sportswriting in individual articles, particularly those by Berry Tramel, is top-notch. The photography section is well-organized and colorful but too short, featuring Stoops family photos, football action shots and a few too many images from press conferences and awards ceremonies. Why not more spontaneity from on the field instead? One glaring omission, for example, is that genuinely joyous, ad-lib, team picture following the Sooner's 63-14 demolition of the Texas Longhorns in Dallas. With more care, and more time, "Heir" could have been something special -- a true chronologue of the Sooner's almost magical resurgence to the top of college football, as opposed to a mere anthology. For OU football fans and historians of the game, go ahead and buy it -- not as a literary or biographical work (at which it fails miserably), but as a nostalgic memento. Otherwise, don't waste the money.

J.C. Watts

by Norma Jean Lutz

(Black Americans of Achievement series)

      RATING: * * * *
Well-organized biography for older kids and teens

This is part of a series of short profiles of successful black Americans, intended to inspire success in young people of all backgrounds. Lutz chronicles J.C.'s childhood, poor in money but rich in love, with a Baptist minister dad and devoted mom who instilled in him solid family and civic values. He made mistakes, including fathering a child out of wedlock while in high school (a child adopted and lovingly raised by relatives), and as a teenager, valued sports above all else. After reaching the University of Oklahoma on a football scholarship, he was redshirted, taking the opportunity to become more devoted to his academic studies. Then he earned the starting quarterback position for two Big Eight champion Sooners teams before a stint in the Canadian Football League. Very intelligent with a natural talent for leadership and public speaking, he carried the values of teamwork, patience and delayed gratification learned in football into life after sports. Lutz details J.C.'s accomplishments as an ordained Baptist minister, Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner, U.S. Congressman, and most importantly, devoted husband and dad for his wife Frankie and their seven kids. The book tells of adulthood hardships which J.C. overcame too, such as near bankruptcy in the oil industry, the unexpected death of a beloved head minister and mentor at his church in Oklahoma City, and unfair, race-baiting political attacks against him by a Democrat in a campaign.

Watts is a strong, independent thinker, not anyone's tool or puppet; and that is very well portrayed in this biography. He became a Republican because of his strong sense of traditional family values and right versus wrong, inciting vitriol from Democrats who mindlessly take for granted the "birthright" that blacks join their party. In Congress, he pushed for more careful examination of alternatives to "affirmative action" before eliminating it altogether, angering (but ultimately winning respect from) many fellow Republicans.

This book is organized in a straightforward, chronological manner, and is written in a plain but pleasant style. As such, it is ideally suited for junior high and high school age readers; but adults wanting to learn more about J.C. will find this an interesting, fact-filled little summary of his life (through 1999). The volume is a great resource for book reports and biographical school assignments in either literature or political science classes. There are a few factual errors in the book, primarily related to football. For example, Lutz refers to the Florida State "Gators" (actually, Seminoles), who lost to J.C.'s OU teams in consecutive Orange Bowls in the early 1980s. That sort of sloppiness is not very common in this book, but will annoy readers who are sports fans. However, they don't detract from the overwhelming message of J.C.'s life as told through these pages: A poor black kid from Eufaula, Oklahoma, overcomes a harsh series of economic, racial, athletic and political obstacles to success, through his devotion to God, family, hard work and personal responsibility. It is an inspirational story of a winner in sports and life, one coveyed very clearly and fairly by the writer.

How to Forgive When You Can't Forget : Healing Our Personal Relationships

by Charles Klein

      RATING: * * * *
Inspiring, calming and reassuring

Klein's book is basically a smoothly integrated anthology of stories from his rabbinical counseling of people anguished by their inability to forgive. I read it at a time when God had just inspired me to forgive someone for a terrible betrayal; and it seemed as if God was again speaking to me through the book to reassure me that I had done the right thing. Klein teaches that forgiveness is about breaking down walls of bitterness, resentment and silence which can last for years, poisoning our hearts. By example, he shows how we can forgive family divisions, money arguments, abuse, emotional neglect, hateful words and other common misdeeds which rip apart relationships.

The only weakness is that it fails to address in more than passing tones several unique kinds of powerfully bad actions for which we can find or offer forgiveness: rape, other violent crime, adultery and religious persecution (the latter being ironic, considering the religious overtones). Still, I strongly recommend this for anyone who has been wronged by another, and who needs to get past the hurt. It *will* help.

The Lake Superior Images

by Craig Blacklock

      RATING: * * * * *
Unmatched natural splendor portrayed through peerless technique

In a roughly 8 year period, the author made several kayak trips along various parts of the Superior shoreline, hauling photographic equipment along and immersing himself in those wild, unspoiled scenes so spectacularly portrayed in the 154 plates that appear in this book. The results are well worth every penny of the 40-odd bucks this book costs, and then some. As a fellow photographer of nature, I can attest to the way one can use ground glass and film to convey his deep appreciation -- yes, even a spiritual bond -- with the outdoors as God made it. Blacklock's collection of 4x5 format images (with one 35 mm slide thrown in) of the Big Lake is not only visually vivid, but spiritually moving in a way few other published photo collections can perform.

Nowhere have I seen water, rock, ice, forest, fog and sun so splendidly blended and starkly contrasted at the same time, across an entire plate set. [Plate 33 is the most stunning portrayal of ice and sky together which I have ever seen -- National Geographic's Arctic photos included -- and easily in my top 5 favorite photographs of all time.] Most admirably, nowhere in any of the photos appears a man-made object that I could see. The author takes his efforts a step further by fully revealing his techniques -- right down to the camera, film and tripod brands, and his CMYK post-processing in Photoshop (not to alter, but instead to clean up, the imagery).

Having been all around Lake Superior, its rugged vastness revealed to my eyes but only feebly captured on film by comparison, I am in awe of the job Blacklock has done. The sky, rocks and waves there have such a rich story to tell; and this book masterfully allows that story to begin. It makes me determined to return someday, camera again in hand and Blackock's methods in mind, to get far removed from the tracks of people, and to experience Superior at its raw, unrestrained best.

(Web note: The photo at the top of this page is a moonrise over Superior near Two Harbors MN).

Lake Superior Shipwrecks

by Julius F. Wolff, Jr.

      RATING: * * * *
Valuable reference for the maritime disaster enthusiast

Wolff's book is a chronological documentary and listing of every shipping accident and disaster known to have happened on Lake Superior between 1816 and 1989. [Since then, the advent of both precise, digital navigation technology and better storm forecasting by the National Weather Service have probably made major disasters like the Edmund Fitzgerald a thing of the past, the possible exceptions still being sabotage or devastating mechanical malfunction.] Wolff's book is, as advertised, a "complete reference," with roughly 12 pages of thorough Fitzgerald event coverage dwarfed by the remaining 270 pages of material.

Yes, the cold, dark waters of Superior have entombed many a fine vessel before 1975! The reading got rather dry at times, since the writer takes a rather formulaic approach to documenting each incident. This didn't bother me enough to quit reading; and in a way such consistency does aid in looking for specific details common to more than one shipping accident. But I recommend that you not buy this book unless you are:

    1) Very interested in the maritime history of Lake Superior or shipwrecks in general, or

    2) Seeking well-organized descriptive information on Superior shipping disasters other than the Fitzgerald (about which so much has been written in other forums).

If either, then this book is very well worth the cost.

Landry: The Legend and the Legacy

by Bob St. John

      RATING: * * * *
The best all-around portrayal of Landry

Tom Landry was the first, longest-tenured and most winning coach of the Dallas Cowboys, having guided them to 5 Super Bowls, 9 straight playoff appearances and 20 straight winning seasons -- pro football feats that were unprecedented at the time, and which may never be matched again by a single coach. His tactical innovations on offense and defense changed the strategies and techniques of football as no others have. Landry, arguably the greatest coach in NFL history, was also a great person -- beloved father and husband, decorated war combat veteran, powerhouse in charitable fundraising, unflappable in the face of pressure, and universally respected for his devotion to God and family (without being sanctimonious). In short, Landry was a rare man of rock-solid honor, class, self-discipline and dignity. Landry was also a human with human frailties over which he stumbled at times, a surprisingly sharp sense of humor, and a measure of professional stubbornness which may have undermined his final years with the Cowboys. St. John vividly depicts all these facets of America's Coach in a strong (but not fawning) style.

This is the best and most thorough Landry biography around, despite a few minor flaws. It reveals the many sides of Landry that the fans never saw, including an assortment of interesting personal milestones and events from childhood, college, and the years after his coaching career ended. St. John's presentation engenders a new level of respect and admiration of Landry, even for the fan already familiar with the coach's many accomplishments in football and in life. I finished this book in awe of Landry's personal character, inspired and determined through his example to be a better Christian, husband, father and worker. That is how powerful St. John's portrayal of Landry is.

The broken chronology seemed a little jarring at first -- with the final part of Landry's life depicted in reverse followed by a switch to childhood. In retrospect, though, it yielded a more sweeping perspective of his roots and life than would a strict chronology. The text is blemished slightly by poor editing: for example, a few incorrect scores, several typos and spelling mistakes (mainly with a few players' names). [Otherwise, this would be a solid 5-star assessment.] That aside, St. John's book is mandatory material for any Cowboys fan, and for any aficionado of sports biographies.

McClane's Field Guide to Saltwater Fishes of North America

by Albert Jules McClane

      RATING: * * * *
No saltwater tacklebox is complete without it

McClane's saltwater fish identification guide is a must for every angler -- sunburned beginner or salty old pro -- who casts a line into our bays and oceans. The most outstanding among this guide's many strengths are its clear, concise writing in the description of each fish, and the strikingly life-like, full-color artistic renditions of most of the fish. The fish are organized by family; so where there are related species on the Atlantic and Pacific sides (e.g., among sea bass), the book does jump somewhat to and fro. However, with its thorough index and vivid illustrations, any saltwater angler should be able to locate that "mystery fish" in McClane's within less than a minute. This book accompanied me on every fishing trip in my years of angling in South Florida and the Keys; and many an unknown fish was revealed through McClane's pages. With this book, the difference between sheepshead and spadefish (for example) is obvious -- in feeding habits, location, water preferences and any characteristic of appearance. Whether you catch a Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, jack crevalle or even the ugly (but tasty!) guitarfish, McClane's can teach you all the important information about it, quickly. It's the perfect size for the tacklebox; but be sure to put it in a freezer bag to keep it dry.

North Carolina's Hurricane History

by Jay Barnes

      RATING: * * * *
Rich Reference on the Tarheel State's Hurricanes

The author, an aquarium director in coastal North Carolina, does a remarkable job (especially for a non-meteorologist) of documenting the impact of every hurricane which affected North Carolina since 1875. Each storm -- including some hurricanes that made landfall elsewhere but passed across the state -- gets its own narrative which variews in length according to the storm's impact. Fran (1996), the costliest and fifth deadliest hurricane in state history, gets big coverage with 32 pages. The chronological stories of each storm are spread across several chapters covering most of the book, which are in turn sandwiched between a general introduction to hurricanes and a chapter on Nor'easters. The final few chapters -- on Nor'easters (cold core winter cyclones), hurricane effects on fauna, potential for future danger, and hurricane safety -- appear roughly cobbled together as if there were no logical order for them. Still, the collection of stories of animals' life and death in North Carolina hurricanes is quite interesting, and unique among books dealing with the impact of weather phenomena.

For a historical volume, the writing style is engaging, vividly descriptive and occasionally humorous. Nowhere else in weather related literature have I read about local speech patterns ("Hoigh toide on the sound soide") together with graphic descriptions of mayhem's aftermath, like "...battered caskets and bones lay scattered, unearthed by the hurricane's menacing storm surge." Some of the stories of human survival, heroism and death in hurricanes are more bizarre and ghastly than fiction could conjure. These tales, together with an accurate factual record of the storms and a rich collection of black and white photos, show the tremendous effort and attention to detail by Barnes in his historical research.

The book does suffer aesthetically from its drab printing, with only cover colr, by UNC Press. Such obvious parsimony, unfortunately, exemplifies the policies of many university-affiliated presses. But since substance trumps form; I deem this to be a fine non-technical addition to the literature of any hurricane enthusiast.

PrairyErth

by William Least Heat-Moon

      RATING: * * * * *
A deep, thorough mapping indeed!

In the heart of the Flint Hills of east-central Kansas lies Chase County, where the green grass waves across all horizons, and where a natural and human history of unbelievable richness belies the wide-open remoteness of the landscape. This history, except for one nationally noteworthy event (Knute Rockne's demise in a plane crash), had become largely obscured by time and scattered to the prairie winds until reassembled masterfully by the author (WHLM).

A voluminous beast of a book at over 600 pages, PrairyErth is a true "deep map" as advertised, but much less imposing than its cumulative immensity would threaten. It is best read in no particular order, easily compartmentalized by chapters that have distinct identities. One readily can read the section on Bazaar, then Cottonwood Falls, then Matfield, and so forth, irrespective of their relative positions either in the book or on the map. WLHM fittingly divides this rectangular county into quadrangles, adeptly mixing autobiographical sketches of his sojourns by road and trail with all manner of compelling tales of the area's people and structures, from native tribes through European settlement to the early 1990s (press time). A historical treasure chest erupts from every chunk of PrairyErth, pouring forth tales of family feuds, western outlaws, railroad and cattle barons, Civil War partisans, raging prairie fires both natural and deliberate, governmental skullduggery and intrigue, the Rockne crash, buildings built and buildings burned, changes in flora and fauna over the centuries, and even the cherty limestone itself which gives the area its name.

I read this book after several trips through Chase County, and the attention to detail of WLHM was captivating. He described tallgrass and sky scenes just as I had photographed, and even found some of the same graffiti-laden stone fenceposts I had perused off of Highway 177. It makes one wonder what will be lost forever without similar "deep mapping" of any and every other county across the American plains, each of which must have a similarly complex and flavorful story. The only detraction or annoyance -- a minor one -- was WLHM's unabashed leftist slant to his occasional political commentary; but this will bother only a small fraction of readers. I recommend PrairyErth enthusiastically to anyone interested in the American prairie or Western history.

Pros and Cons : The Criminals Who Play in the NFL

by Jeff Benedict and Don Yeager

      RATING: * * * *
Bruising but imbalanced tale from NFL athletes' dossiers

Benedict and Yeager describe a vast array of criminal patterns of dozens of current and former NFL players -- including some hideous and barbaric acts for which certain players suffered far too little (if any!) jail time. Because of the variety and brutality of the crimes described, more than the quality of the writing itself, the book is riveting reading; although there is a strongly sensationalistic, tabloid-style undercurrent to the whole piece which may repulse more careful readers. I finished this book with three outstanding impressions:

    1) Far too little attention is given to the successful redemption of specific players who have stopped their criminal ways and become solid, admirable citizens (e.g., "Hollywood" Henderson or Cris Carter);

    2) The writes make a convincing argument that the pampering which star players recieve in late childhood immunizes them (in their minds) from consequences for their actions; and

    3) The authors clearly intended to be shocking at least as much for their own fame and fortune as for any noble social reform. After all, these criminal records are public, and were already well documented in the popular sports media.

Serious football fans and sociologists alike should read this book to learn of a surprisingly sinister element that is liberally sprinkled among Sunday's heroes. But while reading, cast a healthy dose of skepticism at the intent of the writers.

The Roads of Texas (atlas)

by Texas A&M University Cartographics

      RATING: * * * *
Mandatory carrying for anyone exploring the Lone Star State

As a long-time storm chaser and native Texan, I have travelled thousands of different miles across Texas roads; and I can attest to this atlas' accuracy and usefulness. Even if using GPS software, please buy this book if you intend to go off the interstates or U.S. highways. The Roads of Texas has all the county and farm roads -- I mean every single one -- and in much greater precision and detail than what is shown on any GPS software display. I have used these maps to find welcome back-roads solitude in the increasingly crowded hobby of storm chasing. Having worn out two copies already (in 11+ years of publication), I will soon be purchasing a third!

The atlas format does have its encumberances -- mainly, tiny typefaces on some labelling and the awkwardness of crossing northern or southern page boundaries into a different portion of the atlas. However, these are minor and common problems with *all* road atlases. Some faint topographic contours would be a nice addition, if they can be laid into the background in a way that would not distract from the roads and their labels. However, this is much easier to use overall than DeLorme's atlas, and far perferable to fold-out maps!

Roadside Geology of Northern and Central California

by David Alt and Donald W. Hyndman

      RATING: * * * *
Vastly improved update and handy field reference

In 1975, the original "Roadside Geology of Northern California," with the same authors, presented a new way for the amateur rock enthusiast to learn about the complicated geology of northern California. Unfortunately, it was painfully vague, missing important information found in other books of the series, such as significant insight into how formations developed and their ages (e.g., Cretaceous, Devonian, etc.). By in large, this Y2K update solves the problem, and expands the original's spatial coverage southward to San Luis Obispo and the San Joaquin Valley. The improvement in information is phenomenal -- partly because of the increased knowledge gained in 25 years as alluded in the preface, but mostly because of better writing and attention to detail. For example, the Chapter 4 (Coast Range) discussion on how different rock types develop from different areas of ocean sediments may be the best I have ever seen in any forum -- concise (4 pages) and non-technical, yet stuffed with information. Like several other areas of the book, it includes interesting insight into how geologists have handled the difficulties in classifying and sorting California's wild assemblage of rocks; for example: "During the late 1960s, geologists finally accepted that large parts of the Franciscan complex are almost hopelessly scrambled. They agreed to call these chaotic jumbles melanges....Recognition of melanges was, in a way, an admission of defeat." Other chapters contain similar nuggets of "inside" information into the processes of rocks and the way they are studied.

Of course, the foundation of this book, as in the whole series, is in its sequential descriptions and explanations of the rocks one encouters while driving various roadways. The improvement in detail here is vast as well. There are still a few ambiguities in rock age (e.g., Paleozoic/Mesozoic schists of the northern Klamath region...aren't the actual ages more precisely known?). A few typos or fragmented sentences appear to have escaped the proofreaders. But overall, this is a well-composed and thorough look at northern and central California geology for the layman. Residents and vacationers who want to know about the rocks they see must have this book. It has greatly helped me to understand the processes behind rocks I have gathered there.

Roadside Geology of Texas

by Darwin Spearing

      RATING: * * * * *
A must for roadcut rockhounds!

This is the best book of the Roadside Geology series. Spearing explains not just the location and character of the rock formations one encounters on TX roadways, but the processes which made them. Best of all, he specifically provides the name and formative time period of almost every formation mentioned (e.g., "Triassic Trujillo sandstone") -- avoiding the overgeneralized naming (e.g., "Mesozoic sediment layer") of a few other Roadside Geology volumes. This is certainly a time saver for the rock collector who catalogs his specimens! This book is a must-get for all rock enthusiasts -- even those who have never been to Texas. Now if someone would just write a Roadside Geology of Oklahoma volume...

The Servant

by James C. Hunter

      RATING: * *
Important messages within a moribund story

The Servant follows a burned-out businessman at the end of his rope, John Daily, who has alienated his colleagues, underlings, and family through his selfishness, laziness and lack of tact at work and at home. He goes to a monastery to reinvigorate himself personally and to acquire leadership skills under the tutelage of a formerly famous giant of industrial accomplishment, turned into a monk. Our hero participates in this effort with several other characters, including a loudmouthed, militaristic sergeant who is the book's only source of humor.

Many of the leadership principles espoused here are matters of plain common sense, reminding us about how to be leaders by essentially following the Golden Rule. It's that simple, really. This book's message about servant leadership should not be necessary; however, sadly enough, it is. My professional experiences are in a government bureaucracy in which the good leader-manager exists but is an isolated atoll amidst a sea of sewage. By in large it is an agency whose thickly layered management corps is riddled with incompetent technocrats and yes-men promoted for their ability to mindlessly tout the company line. The Servant wisely counsels independent thinking within the framework of team cooperation. It might benefit a good many managers in my agency and many others, despite its considerable flaws of character and story development.

Therein lies my problem with this book -- not in the concepts advocated, but in its delivery. The characters are oversimplified, shallow, stereotypical, one-dimensional, and poorly developed, with all the spice and complexity of a glass of water. Daily's simpering hero-worship of the monk, about whom he heard great things in business circles, pervades the storyline. The tale is so predictable, unimaginative and moribund that it tarnishes the intended messages. If one is seeking a compelling storyline with depth and unexpected turns, this book should be avoided at all costs. I read it in under two hours on a plane; and it wasn't worth that time.

A Strong Delusion: Confronting the "Gay Christian" Movement

by Joe Dallas

      RATING: * * * * *
Ex-gay Minister Turns the Tables and Debunks "Gay Christian" Theology

The author, formerly homosexual and now happily married with children, lends powerful doses of credibility and authority to the issue -- both through his own story of torment, temptation and ultimate salvation, and through his considerable scriptural research. Combining that with a keen media awareness and his inside experience in a major "gay" church, he lists and then convincingly demolishes all the common arguments by which some Christians excuse homosexual behaviors as unsinful and even God-given. He reveals holes in Mel White's and other liberal theological interpretations that are big enough to fly a 747 through, by using his own exegeses of original-language text and those of other Biblical scholars, whose references are duly cited. In a clear, well-organized and persuasive writing style, the author

  1. Strips away the facade of popular slogans, catchy rhetoric and selective Biblical interpretations used by "gay Christian" activists;
  2. Strongly emphasizes the innate nature of same-sex attraction -- it is not a choice, any more than an innate predisposition to any other condition;
  3. Encourages compassion and love toward for those with same-sex attraction;
  4. Properly denounces hateful acts and thoughts as unworthy of Jesus' loving legacy;
  5. Offers hope, advice, spiritual resources and encouragement for those who are struggling with their religious identities and same sex attractions, and for parents, family and friends of those in that position.

A lot of hatred and resentment exists for no good reason on both sides of this issue; and those on both extremes who carry that hatred will never read this book in full. However, anyone who cares about this issue with an open mind -- no matter their orientation or opinion -- should read it word for word, start to finish. Even those deeply entrenched in the "gay Christian" ideology should read this, in the name of tolerance and respect for others' ideas. One may even come away with a healthy measure of skepticism about the beliefs he or she has developed.

The Things that Matter Most

by Cal Thomas

      RATING: * * * *
A conservative stalwart unabashedly fires away

One would imagine a heavy dose of rightward-leaning reasoning from Cal Thomas; and this definitely meets or exceeds expectations! Thomas' writing style is engaging, sensible, combative and logical all at once. This book as a whole is best described as an intelligent pep rally for conservative readers. Thomas tends to brandish common sense as a big, blunt hammer, as he covers topics ranging from divorce to free speech to promiscuity to abortion. I found this style refreshing; but its occasionally polemic tone is sure to anger the left-leaning reader. His humor is also much more prevalent in his columns than in this book. Some of the authors' views (e.g., on evolution and flag burning) are too far to the right even for me; and I am a card-carrying Republican National Committee member. Still, liberals can appreciate this book, as evident in the back cover quote from left-wing icon Edward Kennedy: "Cal Thomas usually says the far right thing instead of the right thing, but I like reading him anyway."

The book could have benefited greatly from more logical organization. Its chapter subjects appear randomly scattered, giving the reader good break-off points but little or no transition from one to another. However, almost every chapter topic can be used to illustrate one of these two themes: 1) the left's tendency to try to solve problems by throwing money at them, and 2) a massive ethical tranformation in popular society from individual responsibility to self-indulgence -- the true core of almost every problem we face. Though the book is several years old and out of print by now, its opinions and laments still ring familiar, for so many of his ideological targets remain disturbingly prominent.

The Tornado: Nature's Ultimate Windstorm

by Thomas P. Grazulis

      RATING: * * * *
Compact but thorough reference on tornadoes

In 1953, the University of Oklahoma Press launched its biggest seller to date with Tornadoes of the United States by Snowden D. Flora. For its era, it was unique -- a thorough, multifaceted but concise (194 pages) treatment of tornadoes, liberally sprinkled with photographs. Tom Grazulis, a friend, colleague in science and fellow tornado enthusiast, has created the same with a modern flavor: the first worthy successor to Flora's tome in 48 years.

Strongly reminiscent of Flora's framework, Grazulis effectively blends powerful personal anecdotes from tornado survivors with sharp graphics, summaries of the most recent scientific thinking on tornado development, and short synopses of tornado events through history. Grazulis explains and debunks tornado myths, including safety misconceptions like the suicidal tendency for people to hide beneath bridges in advance of a tornado. This work pays due attention and respect to the immense contributions of Ted Fujita without the undertone of hero worship in the author's previous book, Significant Tornadoes. The text is quite straightforward -- rightfully so -- about the inconsistencies, varying methods, and flat-out-wrongs in the "official" tornado database -- such as a deadly November 1989 New York downburst (as surveyed by Fujita) which remains on the records as a tornado. Without confusion, Grazulis covers tornado risk in several ways, thanks to his enormous database of significant (deadly and/or F2 or greater) tornadoes. Also, commendably, there is an entire chapter devoted to tornadoes outside the United States, which (from personal communication with author) played a big role in scuttling his original plans to adopt Flora's title for this book as well.

The major problem with this work is in its blatantly first-person writing style. While not a fatal flaw, the appearance of the word "I" in hundreds of places lends a striking, if unintended, aura of self-importance detracting from the abundance of solid science behind the information. Why must an author talk about himself so much, unless this is supposed to be an autobiography? Also, many of the photos in Tornadoes of the United States were reprinted here, in lieu of many more recent, higher-quality tornado pictures from the 1980s and 90s which better illustrate the concepts written by Grazulis. Without these encumbrances, Grazulis' book gets 5 stars, easily. Still, all severe weather enthusiasts should have a copy at the core of their libraries. It will be stunning if this volume doesn't become OU Press' biggest seller, as did its forebear.

Trailways Buses: 1936-2001 Photo Archive

by William A. Luke

      RATING: * * * * *
Nostalgic tour through the history of intercity bus travel

This is far more than a picture book of Trailways buses; it is a gold mine for anyone fond of intercity bus travel or yearning to learn more about the history of the bus industry. The photo collection itself is superb -- prized as much for the historical value of background scenery as for the buses themselves. Through the captions, Luke delivers a remarkably detailed summary of how Trailways evolved from a collection of small regional companies, to a national powerhouse (Trailways, Inc.), then back again. At the end are some reprinted Trailways schedules and promotional brochures from days of yore, further enriching the experience.

I was raised the son of a Trailways baggage handler, and spent many days viewing America from the rear of Silver Eagles emblazoned with "Go Big Red, Go Trailways," rolling out of Dallas to destinations from Denver to Destin, Omaha to San Antonio. But it wasn't until I finished this book that I had any clue of the rich and complex history of the Trailways organization, or that so many bus companies besides Continental (later, Trailways, Inc.) carried the Trailways banner -- and still do. The photos themselves brought back floods of memories of the diesel smell, the pay TVs in the terminals, sunrises along Gulf coast causeways, the red tail lights turning slowly across the gravel in some nameless Mississippi town at 2 a.m. -- all those images and and more for a kid travelling Trailways in its 70s and early 80s heyday. Anyone else who fondly recalls youthful Trailways trips will love this little book.

Under the Whirlwind: Everything You Need to Know about Tornadoes

by Arjen and Jerrine Verkaik

      RATING: * * * * *
Pleasantly written, diverse and well-illustrated tornado tome

Although the authors are Canadian, and aim the book at an audience north of the U.S., American weather enthusiasts and anyone wondering about tornadoes will soak this up. "Under the Whirlwind" is a solid work overall; and for a self-published book, it is amazingly informative and accurate. Readers may be as surprised at the Verkaiks' insight into severe storms issues, since they are not meteorologists. However, their devotion to learning scientific concepts, combined with their extensive storm observing experience and conversational writing style, allows them to succeed with this book. Although the reading is light in a purely technical sense, I found only a few typos and insignificant errors. More important are the clear messages of practicality, realism, education and compassion in the book -- which includes numerous suvivors' tales as well as segments on insurance coverage and helping children to deal with storm-related tragedy. The authors convey a wise message of safety and responsibility as well, for example: "After damaging tornadoes strike there are usually calls for better alert systems -- more bells and whistles.... But the best warning you can have comes from keeping your eye on the sky."

The illustrations are numerous and excellent, without peer in popular severe weather literature. Their deep artistic and educational appreciation for the wonders of a stormy sky pours forth in the form of dozens of full-color photos -- many consisting of spectacular storm structure scenes taken on their forays to the American Great Plains. These aren't presented just to show off the Verkaiks' mastery of storm photography, but to aid in interpreting cloud features. There are also several interesting, high-quality, contributed photos of Canadian tornadoes which never have been published before. The Verkaiks richly endow the volume with drawings, tables and color graphs as well, including numerous inset trivia boxes scattered throughout the book related to debunked tornado myths and tornado oddities. Because this hasn't been a widely advertised book or peddled by a major publishing house since its 1997 debut, it may go under the radar, so to speak. But it is well worth the cost for students and general audiences curious about the mysteries of tornadoes.

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