This month I traveled the world, learned why we need religious instruction in public high schools, and got inside Celtic culture in order to understand the Scots-Irish people that make up so much of my own region. All through books, of course.
One Year Off by David Elliot Cohen -- Have you ever wished you could quit your job and just take off around the world for a few months? Well, that's what this man and his family did after selling most of their possessions including their house. The family left their California home and traveled to a variety of places in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia after one or two stops in the Americas. The chapters are a series of informative, entertaining e-mail updates Mr. Cohen sent to family and friends back home who wanted to hear of their adventures. I enjoyed learning about the family's experiences in a variety of places such as Paris, Sardinia, Zimbabwe, Capetown, Istanbul, Zurich, Mumbai, Phnon Penh, Perth and many other cities around the world. Who knew hippos were the most dangerous creature in Africa? Well, read about the family's experience with one of them. Wow, the African safari chapters were exciting! Great book!
Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America by James Webb -- The author discusses the Celtic culture of the Scots-Irish going all the way back to Roman times with brief mentions of various factors that shaped those who make up a sizable number of those who settled and live in the United States. One chapter focuses on Braveheart and the fight for Scottish independence while others focus on Andrew Jackson and later still the author discusses some of his own life as a son of a career military man.
I enjoyed learning about this culture and could identify with much of what the author says since I live in an area with a huge Scots-Irish presence.
The Cruelest Journey: Six Hundred Miles to Timbuktu by Kira Salak -- This book told the adventure of the author as she paddled a kayak along the Niger River and across Lake Débo to Timbuktu. Along the way, she stopped at villages and told of her experiences with the various people. She met some very friendly tribes while others were hostile. Many (most?) wanted money as they saw "tubab" (white woman) as rich. The author told of various practices amongst these West Africans -such as men marrying more than one wife, female genital mutilation, sorcery, even slavery. In fact she bought two women's freedoms when she reached Timbuktu. Yes, they say slavery has been made illegal, but still the Tuaregs own the Bellas despite the governmental decree. A few times the author wanted to see inside one of the mud mosques only to be refused because she was "Christian." (She's actually Buddhist.) I really enjoyed this book. I felt I was paddling along experiencing the African sun and cultures.
Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - And Doesn't by Stephen Prothero -- In this book the author makes a case for religious studies within high schools and colleges because so much of world and national events come from people's religious beliefs. Think of the American support for the State of Israel. Much of that comes from religious people who believe from the Bible that Israel has the right to this land because God gave it to them for all time. Without knowing this about the Bible, you may be perplexed why a number of Americans would care about the fate of some piece of land half way across the world. Happenings in Iran and Iraq and with al Qaeda have a religious reason. If you strip public life from all study of religion, you are ignorant of much of what makes the world tick.
It cannot be taught as literature alone, but "students must understand the historical force of the Bible - how its words have beckoned adventurers to new lands and motivated politicians to create new governments." (pg. 134)
A Ride Along the Great Wall by Robin Hanbury-Tenison -- An English couple rides along the Great Wall of China by horseback and tells of their adventures, sights they see, people they met and their overall impressions. I found this at the library and enjoyed reading this book about China. I was particularly interested in the section on when they met Muslims. They were the friendliest and most helpful Chinese this British couple met. Also their bathrooms were clean unlike the putrid pits they found elsewhere along the way.
Sleeping With The Devil by Robert Baer -- The subtitle is "How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude"; this book was written by a former CIA agent and it touches on the US's relationship with Saudi's royal family, the bribes, the corruption...ugh! He speaks of the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda as well as the Alawaites in Syria which I find extremely interesting to read in light of this year's events there. I actually thought it would be interesting to read an updated version since this book was published 7 years ago and he speaks of the cost of oil anywhere from $20 to $40 a barrel. Ha! Also the Syria thing...I'd like to read his thoughts on what has happened there in recent months and really in Egypt and Libya as well. As for the US and Saudi, did you know Saudi was our biggest customer in weapons? This book was rather painful.
From the epilogue: "Washington abetted the whole thing, even encouraged the Al Sa'ud to run a kleptocracy. The result is a kingdom built on thievery, one that nurtures terrorism, destroys any possibility of a middle class based on property rights, and promotes slavery and prostitution. We can't get around the fact that the House of Sa'ud underwrites the mosque schools that turn out the jihadists, just as it administers the charities that fund the jihadists. It channels the anger of the jihadists against the West to distract it from the rot in the House of Sa'ud." (pg. 205)
The House on Dream Street by Dana Sachs -- This is a memoir of an American woman during her extended stays in Vietnam. What began as a backpacking adventure with a friend to see Asia grew to a love for Vietnam. The author tells of her experiences learning the language (which is very tonal), interacting with locals, trying to cook an American meal (hamburgers and fries) for her landlords and other aspects of the culture. I found this a good way to learn more about Vietnam's people and their attitudes towards Americans and war and destiny in general.
I thought this statement worth pondering: "You only realize how heavily you depend upon the customs of your own culture when you live somewhere that doesn't follow them." -- She said this in the context of the Vietnamese rarely saying "please" and "thank you" which is something she grew up learning.
The Miss Stone Affair: America's First Modern Hostage Crisis by Teresa Carpenter -- I found this book in the library and although it wasn't the most exciting book I've read, I did learn a few things about separatist groups in the Balkans. A missionary lady was kidnapped by men who were opposing the Ottoman rule in order to get money for their cause. They also kidnapped a Bulgarian woman who was 6 months pregnant. Oddly, they kidnapped the latter for the sake of Miss Stone's honor. Propriety amongst kidnappers? Weird! These kidnappers for the most part were portrayed as rather kind although they had their moments of roughness. When Katerina's baby was born, the men each took turns holding her and vowing to put her name on their guns for good luck. This book was an interesting way to learn more about the Balkans and the roles western powers had in creating some of the borders and discord there.
Wuhu Diary by Emily Prager -- The author takes her adopted daughter back for a visit to Wuhu, China to see where LuLu was found and lived her first seven months. They stay for several weeks and LuLu gets to attend preschool and meet many Chinese people all of whom seem to adore the little Chinese girl who speaks perfect English. see previous post for information on Individualism