Benedict Arnold: From American Hero to British Traitor by in60Learning: A compelling and tragic story of America’s Traitor

Benedict ArnoldBenedict Arnold: From American Hero to British Traitor

by in60learning
Series: in60Learning

Kindle Edition, 40 pg.
in60Learning, 2018
Read: May 4, 2018

If someone knows just two names from the US War for Independence, they’re George Washington and Benedict Arnold. We should all probably know a few more, but most of us have those two in our mental arsenal. He’s easily the most famous traitor since Judas Iscariot — his name is synonymous with the act.

But how many of us know just how he betrayed the American forces? How’d he get to that position? What happened to him afterwards? This book answers those questions — and a few others you hadn’t thought to ask.

The story is just tragic, really. That’s not an apologetic for the guy — don’t make misunderstand me. But there’s just something about his floundering for significance and success that just strikes you as sad — he’s like Forrest Gump, but without engendering any good will anywhere.

I want to read more about Arnold after reading about this — something I never expected.

As they have every time I see them interact with Christianity, these authors just don’t get it. They seem to misunderstand the New Light/Old Light controversy and American Puritanism. It’s a very minor point in this narrative, but as trends go, it’s pretty annoying.

This is a pretty compelling story and the book seems longer than it is — that’s not long as in boring, but long as in it covers a lot and you’d think it’d take at least 20 more pages to fit it all in. This brief biography of Arnold is this series at its best — a brief introduction of something most of us should know about told in a way that you can digest easily, that will drive you to read more.

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3.5 Stars

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The Roaring Twenties: A Time of Movies, Mass Production, and Moonshine by in60Learning: A lackluster look at the decade of excess

The Roaring TwentiesThe Roaring Twenties: A Time of Movies, Mass Production, and Moonshine

by in60learning
Series: in60Learning

Kindle Edition, 45 pg.
in60Learning, 2018
Read: May 4, 2018

The Roaring Twenties are frequently considered one of the more exciting periods of American history — it’s right there in the name after all. The cultural, economic and political changes that characterize this decade are the fodder for all sorts of reflection and analysis. This volume in the series attempts to be an introduction and a survey to this. And it is — just an uninspired and very surface-level one.

Something that most people forget — or misunderstand — is that Prohibition came from Progressive roots — sadly, this volume repeatedly attributes it to others. I’m not sure why — the moral/political battles of yesteryear don’t have to look like those of today.

Finally! There’s a Bibliography! I’ve lamented the lack of one of these in every installment in this series. Now we finally get one — it’s not long, but it’s robust enough to equip someone to start looking into the topic in more depth on their own. Bravo!

This isn’t the series at its best — I’m not sure what it was I didn’t like. It was . . . just dull? Lifeless is a better description. It covered the basics, but didn’t seem to want to do anything else — this series, when at it’s best seems like it’s a compression of something longer and more detailed. But This one almost seemed like it was stretching to fill the pages. Still, that Bibliography is worth at least a half start.

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3 Stars

The Founding of Los Angeles: Before the Birth of Hollywood by in60Learning

The Founding of Los Angeles: Before the Birth of HollywoodThe Founding of Los Angeles: Before the Birth of Hollywood

by in60learning
Series: in60Learning

Kindle Edition, 37 pg.
in60Learning, 2018
Read: April 28, 2018

“The final story, the final chapter of western man, I believe, lies in Los Angeles.” – Phil Ochs

This chapter epigraph reflects the obsession that so many have with Los Angeles, which is why we have a book about its founding, and not the founding of Seattle or Topeka.

When this book says “Before the Birth of Hollywood,” it means it — it starts as far back as 8000 B.C. with the Chumash people, tracing the various Native American groups to control the area, before eventually getting to the Spanish explorers and their descendants. From there they trace the various phases of Spanish rule of the area, followed by the Mexican rule and then eventually the transition to U. S. rule.

Through each era, the authors explore the cultural, religious, and economic lives of those in the greater L.A. area. I was vaguely aware of the Spanish and Mexican rule, but it didn’t take much reading in this book to realize how vague my awareness really was. This is truly interesting information, and I’d probably enjoy reading longer works on it.

I do have one quibble with the book — when discussing the ways the Spanish brought their own culture to the region, the book states: ” Spanish settlers, who had arrived in America to claim the land for themselves, converted the aboriginal people to Christianity and put them to work. There is some debate over whether they were forced into being baptized or impressed by the skills possessed by the Europeans and lured into doing so with the promise of knowledge and protection.” That bothers me. Why are those the only two options? Why couldn’t the converts be converted because they were convinced of the truth of Christianity? Or because they realized their own understanding of religion was deficient in comparison?

Quick read, that gives (at least) the impression of some sort of depth to the very focused topic. An easy read that offers a good deal of information that’s easily digested in a few minutes. Again, footnotes/endnotes and/or a bibliography/suggested reading list would be welcome additions to this book so the reader can follow up with something more in depth. Another good entry in a very helpful series.

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3 Stars

Greek Mythology: Beyond Mount Olympus by in60learning

Greek Mythology: Beyond Mount OlympusGreek Mythology: Beyond Mount Olympus

by in60learning
Series: in60Learning
</brKindle Edition, 38 pg.
in60Learning, 2018

Read: March 10, 2018

“It’s not by chance what Americans say when in need of a specialized or precise term, that ‘the Greeks have the word for it’.” -Aikaterini Spanakaki-Kapetanopoulos

Let me start by saying that I still think that the in60Learning project is a great idea and I hope it puts out a lot of material. I just hope that in their rush for quantity, they don’t skimp on quality. From the typographical errors to the way this was written, I think that’s a real danger.

Still, let’s focus on this volume — they really did go beyond Mount Olympus in their coverage of Greek Mythology, let’s look at the contents of this book:
An Overview of Greek Mythology
The Creation
The Gods of Mount Olympus
Other Gods, Spirits and the Stars
The Underworld and Other Beings in Greek Mythology
The Human Race and the Gods
Greek Mythology in Today’s World
That’s a lot for anyone to tackle in a book much longer than this — it’s a Herculean effort to get that much into a book this small (pun fully intended). But they go for more than an overview of Greek Mythology, they try to suggest some deeper meanings, to tie their topic into philosophical discussions and the like. Some of that worked, some of that seemed like a stretch — and some fell flat (that last paragraph, in particular, was a complete mess). You’ve got to admire the effort, though.

Not only did they cover a wide range of topics, but they worked in a lot of detail — maybe too much in some instances (including the Roman equivalent names at some points felt like they were striving for word count rather than being thorough).

One of the main theses of the book is the impact that Greek Myth had on Western Culture/the English Language, as is seen in the quotation I borrowed above and they utilized to drive home the point. Not only did they prove this point (in case anyone thought it worthy of debating), but they overdid it. At a certain point, the sections along these lines just became lists:

From the Greek god of sleep, Hypnos, is derived the word hypnosis.
From the Greek legend of the King Tantalus, is derived the word tantalize. He was condemned for eternity to stand up to his chin in the middle of a river with a fruit tree above him. Whenever he tried to drink the water, it receded from him, or grab a fruit, it pulled away from him.
From the Greek god of love, Eros, is derived the word erotic.
From the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, is derived the word aphrodisiac. . . .
From the god of fire and blacksmithing, Vulcan (Greek: Hephaestus), is derived the words volcano and vulcanizing.
From the Roman goddess of grain and farming, Ceres (Greek: Demeter), is derived the word cereal.

That goes on for pages (depending how you have your text size set). The facts are good, they’re on point, but it’s not good reading.

The basic overview of the Olympian myths, the origin of the universe, the war with the Titans, etc. was pretty solid. Nothing remarkable, but decently executed. The writing as a whole, however, didn’t impress me — frequently, but particularly as the authors tried to wrap up each chapter, the writing felt like it was lifted from High School term papers. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, but I got the impression that this series was supposed to be better than that.

This one didn’t work for me, but I bet there are people out there who will be helped by it. These people didn’t check out D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths so many times from 3rd to 6th grade that the library might as well have given me a copy (not counting the other books on the subject I read, reread, bought, etc. at that age) or haven’t had kids during the Riordan-era of publishing. Basically, I should’ve skipped this one, I think. This slim volume took some big swings — amount of material, range of material, a couple of the “Big Ideas” running through the book, and whiffed on them all (to stick with the metaphor, I do think it caught a piece of a couple of the pitches). A strong effort, but not one that worked for me.

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2 1/2 Stars

Illinois Native Americans: A 9,000 Year Civilization by in60Learning

Illinois Native Americans: A 9,000 Year CivilizationIllinois Native Americans: A 9,000 Year Civilization

by in60learning
Series: in60Learning

ARC, 36 pg.
in60Learning, 2018

Read: February 27, 2018


Man, it’s hard to write about a book this short in a meaningful way. So I’m going to talk a little bit about this project as a whole — there’s this group, in60learning, who write very concise non-fiction (text and audiobooks) on historical topics/events or biographies (other topics are coming, apparently), so they can be read and digested in a brief matter of time. Great idea — I’m on board with this. I found the selection a little overwhelming, honestly, since I was going to try just one — I’m not sure I’d have been any more decisive if I’d had 6 to choose from. So I just told them to send me one at random. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first, if you’re interested in this idea and want to get more information about the group and their releases, get yourself added to their LearningList.

Now, the title I got was Illinois Native Americans: A 9,000 Year Civilization. I know nothing about the Illinois, nada. You ask me about Native American tribes from the Idaho area, and I’m good; I know a little about the Delaware thanks to David Brainerd; and a bit about the Cheyenne thanks to Craig Johnson. I’m not sure how reliable a source Henry Standing Bear really is, though. So the Illinois? Fuhgeddaboudit. Making me a prime candidate for this book. The idea that this people group existed as a discernible culture for 9,000 years is mind-boggling.

The book covers all sorts of aspects of the Illinois — the politics, the religion, the familial roles, hunting, interaction with other Native American groups — and present state. It talked about changes that happened when Europeans showed up and altered the way of life for everyone in North America.

I appreciated the matter-of-fact way the book addressed cultural changes when the Illinois came into extended contact with Europeans — apparently, primarily the French. The book didn’t vilify the French (or English, etc.) for the changes they brought to the culture — nor did they act like this was the greatest thing for them. Instead, it took more of a “so this changed” approach, letting the readers draw their own conclusions.

The writing is crisp, clear, and (seemingly) comprehensive. It achieves this great balance of being brief and yet covering 9,000 years of history. Even better, it does this history in a few paragraphs in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re missing a lot.

A couple of short-comings that may or may not be addressed in actual editions of the books, not just the ARC version I received — footnotes/endnotes would be great, or at least a bibliography. Just so a reader could look into some of what’s covered a little more.

I really liked this book and plan on picking up more in the series soon. I think it’s just the kind of thing that could help my kids with some things in school, and yet it could also appeal to they busy adult who just feels like they should get better grounded in some part of history or just wants to read something quick. I don’t see why anyone from 12 on up couldn’t benefit from (or understand) this book, and assume the same is true for the rest of the series. Dive into these, folks, you’ll be glad you did.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion — thanks for this!

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3 Stars