Let’s Talk Dinos!

tyrannosaurus-dinosaurLast night I talked poor Sarabeth’s ear off about all the exciting dinosaur movies coming out next year.

The world of movies as we knew it changed forever in 1993 when Steven Spielberg released Jurassic Park. 

I’ll never forget the first time I heard the words “Jurassic Park.”

I was in the third grade, and my teacher, Mrs. Smart, I believe, must have read the book and must have heard about it being filmed from an evening news clip. She had just read us a story and proceeded to tell the class about the movie centered around a theme park with dinosaurs.

Collectively, I don’t think we were very bright, or we were all just deaf, because we didn’t hear her say the word “movie.” So we ambushed her with a load of questions like,

“When does it open?”jurassic park logo

“Will the dinosaurs move?

“Will it be next to Disneyland?”

And for about ten minutes, Mrs. Smart did her best to explain to us that it was a movie about a theme park.

In our seven- and eight-year-old minds, we couldn’t comprehend why anyone would watch a movie about a theme park when we could just go. 

Well, the next summer, I lost count the amount of times I went to see Jurassic Park with my buddies. And each time, I prayed the dinosaurs wouldn’t escape, but deeper still, I prayed that they would so I could experience that spine-tingling chill the movie still gives us all to this day.

man in boxYou’ll even see where Jurassic Park played a role in inspiring certain scenes in my book The Man in the Box. 

There’s no further agenda to this post except to express my excitement for all the dino fun we’re in for in the next 11 months, starting with a Toy Story television special about dinosaurs airing sometimes this holiday season.

 

And then next Father’s Day, we’ll be graced with Jurassic World, the fourth installment in the sharp-toothed franchise.

And later next year, Pixar is giving us an all new animated feature about …dinosaurs, calledRossGellerFriends413 The Good Dinosaur. 

I think I missed my calling as a paleontologist.

 

 

The-Good-Dinosaur-Logo

 

 

Book Rec: The Presidents Club

61iyNBdczoLI’ve been reading through the biographies of our presidents and so far have been enjoying getting to know them. It’s interesting to learn about their accomplishments, what drove them toward their failures, and how history has decided to label them.

But there’s one thing that their biographies tend to overlook.

We may learn about each man’s upbringing, his habits, his fierce run for the top job, what made him tick, etc. But even the most in-depth biography touches very little on the behind the scenes story of how each president interacted with one another before and after their arduous campaign battles against one another.

The Presidents Club by Nany Gibbs and Michael Duffy undertakes this task, with every post-WWII president (beginning with Truman and Hoover).

The wonder of this book is in the telling of how unlikely friendships – and rivalries – formed because of stark differences of ideology and running the White House.

Perhaps my favorite part of the book is toward the end when we learn about the unforeseen friendship between Clinton and both Bushes, the iconic polar opposites in the political arena.

A colleague of mine a few years back became one of my very good friends, even though we had completely different political views – he a Carter supporter, and me a Bush man. Thing is, we never had a fight or argument. We explained our views and we listened to the other with respect and understanding – understanding that we each want what’s best for our families and the country. But, as he often said, we just have different ways of getting there.

Here is an eye-opening excerpt from The Presidents Club that I think every American can learn from.

“…George W. Bush did me one of the great favors of my life,” Clinton [said]. “He asked me not once, but twice, to work with his father. We took 7 trips together. This man who’d I’d always liked and respected and run against … I literally came to love … and I realize all over again how much energy we waste fighting with each other over things that don’t matter … He can virtually do no wrong in my eyes …” 

The Bush family paid Clinton back at this particular gathering, “conferring on him the highest possible honor: a family nickname … Laura Bush asked all twenty-seven Bushes in attendance to gather for a family picture … Clinton [was] standing quietly off to the side backstage, watching the big family take its places for a photographer when the call came from Neil Bush rang out: “Bill, Bill! Brother of Another Mother! Get in here!” 

And so he did, taking his place in the back row, near some grandchildren. “Yeah,” Clinton mused, recalling the moment a few months later, “the family’s black sheep. Every family’s got one.”

Even in this party-split nation we can still live as one country, in unity and love for one another.

US-POLITICS-PRESIDENTS

A Hero Has Died

WK-AV921_COVER__DV_20101110182743Louis Zamperini has died. He is the subject of the international bestseller Unbroken by Seabiscuit’s biographer Laura Hillenbrand.

The only reason I didn’t put this book on yesterday’s post, “Reading List for Patriots” was because I was saving it for when the movie comes out this December.

Louis Zamperini died of pneumonia yesterday in Los Angeles at the age of 97. And what a life he led. Unbroken details his life as a Olympic distance runner who so impressed Adolf Hitler that the Fuhrer insisted on meeting the young runner.

Later he enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces and earned a commission as a second lieutenant in the Pacific. He was shot down and survived 47 days at sea in a raft with two other men.

And that is only the beginning.

Unbroken is quite possibly the greatest World War II book (or nonfiction subject) I have ever read, and there is no better time for you to read it than now, in honor of a great American hero.

Unbroken will be Angelina Jolie’s third directorial project. Watch the three minute trailer here.

Unbroken

A Hero Was Born

Schindler,_OskarOn this day in 1908 a hero was born – a man who would ultimately save 1,200 lives during the Holocaust.

Oskar Schindler was anything but a moral man as the 1993 movie, Schindler’s List suggests, and which Thomas Keneally’s book emphasizes. He was a womanizer and adulterer. He drank excessively, but never showed signs of drunkenness.

But one wonders if, at least in the eyes of mortals, if those sins can be overruled by his achievements to thwart Hitler’s war efforts and provide a safe haven for hundreds of Jews who would have otherwise been slaughtered in the camps.

Today there are 7,000 descendants of Schindler’s Jews living in the U.S. and Europe, and many in Israel. 

They are all alive because of Herr Schindler’s courageous acts of rebellion against The Party and his ingenious maneuvers to woo himself into the SS men’s good graces (if, indeed, they had any).

The most interesting thing about Herr Schindler is that, though he harbored utter contempt and justified hatred toward the Nazis, he never once showed it. He bestowed upon them grace and gifts and humored them with his charming presence and quick wit.

He was the life of their parties, many of which he threw for them.

And even to their deaths, they claimed that Herr Schindler would vouch for their “humane treatment” of the Jews once the the Soviets took over. This, he did not do.

Despite his personal weaknesses, Herr Schindler is a man worth honoring and remembering.

And for ourselves, let us not allow our shortcomings to get in the way of us doing good for others.

It very well may be that our compassion could “save the world entire.”

 

Weighing Two Lives

I love biographies. And to me, the thicker, the better.

Probably because I want to know every juicy piece of information on the subject I’m studying.

I recently read two very different biographies.

You’ve heard of both men.

Both were great, their names are immortal, left lasting legacies, were geniuses in their own rights.

One was all-American, while the other was favored throughout all of England, and eventually the world.

One as born in the 18th century, the other in the following century.

One helped found a country, the other entertained audiences the world over.

John_Adams_bookJohn Adams, the brains behind the Constitution and advocate of secession from Britain, and second president of the United States, lived a moral, upright life. Though he was criticized and stabbed in the back nearly all his professional life, he loved life, loved his family, and kept his friends close.

Charles Dickens, many may be surprised to hear (as I was), was quite the opposite. Yet, he lived the life every artist dreams, while Adams felt his duty was in some way a curse, yet he stood firm, carrying his tasks faithfully and uncomplainingly.

Dickens was celebrated as the world’s greatest author and storyteller during his lifetime, yet he was unhappy with his life. He hated his wife, despised his children, disowned his father, and was ashamed of his siblings. He was an unhappy man with a short temper, and loose with women who caught his attention.

Claire-Tomalin-Charles-Dickens-A-Life-195x300

Adams, the weight of a new and shaky country placed on his shoulders, yet happy, loving, joyful, grateful, loved, and honored.

Dickens, blessed with fame and talent, yet discontent, angry, full of hatred and an unforgiving spirit.

There is sufficient evidence that John Adams was a believer and lover of God. While Dickens gives no such claim or shows no devotion outside his works. Dickens showed interest in merely himself and his wallet, while Adams spent himself fully on his fellow man and for the good of others, yet still found time to give his love and devotion to his family.

It’s an interesting study of comparison.

It’s funny, because I’ve been a fan of Charles Dickens for several years, but now, I’m not so sure I respect his memory much. However, my esteem and love for our Federalist president and founder has gone through the roof. Truly a man worth modeling one’s life and values after.

Truly a great man, and definitely a wonderful read which I’ll be returning to several more times.

Got John Adams’s biography by David McCullough here.

Get Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin here.

America: The Last Best Hope

banner_about

Many of you know Dr. William J. Bennett from his radio talk show “Morning in America.” Others know him as a frequent political commentator on various networks. And others know him as an author.

I know him best by the latter. I have read several books of his, most recently America: The Last Best Hope trilogy. Volume I of the collection, and arguably the best of the set, takes readers from the age of discovery in 1492 to the brink of the first wold war.

Volume II walks readers through the two world wars, the golden 50′s, Vietnam, all the way up to Reagan’s stirring speech delivered in front of the Berlin Wall.

And of course, the third volume exploits the collapse of Communism and lands us in the historic election of 2008.

I had a love/hate relationship with these books. Being a fan of history, I expected smooth sailing and an enjoyable experience. I ate volume I up as quickly as I could – and loved it, being a Revolutionary War enthusiast. And I could never grow tired of learning about colonial life and adventures on the frontier. I don’t know. Maybe I just revel in the magic and fantasy-like atmosphere our nation witnessed in its first century of life.

The second book, Volume II: From a World at War to the Triumph of Freedom, surprised me. I love the history of World War II as much as the next guy, and the politics of Nixon vs. McGovern are fun to recount, but the book as a whole bored me into a stupor. The problem I had with it was that Bennett didn’t necessarily tell history so much as he narrated the minute by minute accounts of presidential campaigns and dedicating way too many pages to those that lost and whom history has already forgotten. Maybe they deserve to be remembered, and I’m just cynical. But I wanted to hear more stories and accounts of those people just like us who lived history as it unfolded all around them. I don’t care about how many popular votes so-and-so received and why they might have lost the election of 19-something-or-other.

The third book (America: The Last Best Hope Vol. 3 or A Century Turns), the shortest of the trilogy, luckily only oversaw three presidents (Bush 41, Clinton, and Bush 43), thus it left a lot more room for the events that helped shaped modern-day America, such as the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, the Clinton scandals, and 9/11.

Bennett is surprisingly bipartisan in his careful narration of America’s last two decades. That to say, even Democrats who oppose Bennett can rest at ease and enjoy this walk through memory lane.

The books offer frequent antidotes throughout, some interesting, others relevant but unneeded. I felt like a lot of major events weren’t given enough attention, and little-known events (mostly backstage politics) were given too much attention.

All in all, if you want to brush up on your American history as a big-picture-story, I would highly recommend these books. If you’d rather study certain eras at a more intimate and precise level, then these books are not going to be your cup of tea. History is a tarp that has covered the nation – Bennett studies the tarp from the perspective of Capital Hill, not so much the nation that the tarp covers.

Please feel free to list your own favorite history books below in the comments section. We’re all about book recommendations here!

For more information about America: The Last Best Hope and affiliated programs, click here.

Highly recommended reading from William J. Bennet: The American Patriot’s Almanac: Daily Readings on America.

Like my book, The Man in the Box, on Facebook for a chance to win a free autographed copy! (“I urge you: Relax in your favorite chair, pull up a footstool, and read The Man in the Box. Be prepared for the peaks and valleys of adventure, fantasy, real life, and war.” -Sam Williamson, Founding Director, Beliefsoftheheart.comClick here for more details.

Book Rec.: Rawhide Down

RAWHIDE-IMAGE

I love nonfiction books that point you to a specific point in time that may have lasted from several minutes to an entire day, and every facet of that event is digested and rolled over and over again, analyzing that particularly momentous moment in history. In the case of Rawhide Down, the event on display lasted merely 1.6 seconds.

Del Quentin Wilber captures the near-assassination of former President Ronald Reagan as though the book stood as a telling photograph of that entire day. Not a beat is missed as all hell breaks loose and the players on the stage of this dramatic occurrence freeze, Matrix-style, as the author walks his readers around the commotion, pointing out the structure of the armored limousine that would provide safety to the president and his body guard, Jerry Parr. The would-be assassin goes unnoticed hiding behind a noisy heckler as he steadily fingers his $45 RG 14 revolver, loaded with explosive bullets. Wilber goes into the history of the Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy who was hoping to avoid duty that day so that he wouldn’t get his new suit wet in the rain, and that he never would have known he would become a human shield for the president, taking a bullet to the chest.

Acts of heroism from others such as officer Thomas Delahanty, press secretary James Brady, and Drs. Benjamin Aaron and Joseph Giordano are put on display for us to give our thanks to and honor, for saving the president’s life that day in March 1981.

Here is an excerpt from the book, which I highly recommend anyone to read.

President Reagan has just been informed that he will be undergoing surgery at the George Washington Memorial Hospital in D.C.:

Looking up from the gurney, Reagan spotted Jerry Parr, one of the few familiar faces within view. “I hope they are all Republicans,” he said through his mask. Parr smiled, but he was too anxious to laugh. Reagan would repeat the line later, to better effect.

One nurse monitoring the president’s vital signs was startled by his attempt at humor; given his condition, she didn’t think it was a good time to be joking around. Another nurse was amazed at how calm Reagan seemed. And everyone working around the gurney was impressed by his courtesy. 

“I don’t mean to trouble you,” the president said to one of his doctors, “but I am still having trouble breathing.”

Get it here on Amazon.