Jul 26

Puyallup-A Pioneer Paradise, by Lori Price and Ruth Anderson ★★★★

Now that I have lived in Puyallup for over 25 years, I decided that it would be nice to read a history of our town. This book became available at the local Costco, and at a most reasonable price. The book is organized mostly in a chronological fashion, starting from the early 1800’s and going up to the end of the 20th century. The focus is nearly entirely aimed at the central town itself, and the settlers who built the town. Many details are missing, which I presume are facts which might never be known. The book does provide brief sketches explaining why Puyallup was built the way it is.

My greatest complaint with the book is its brevity. The authors will use flowery language to explain town struggles during the war years and hardship times, such as with the hops aphid crisis. Reading past the flowery language, one wonders about the true nature of the settlers of the Puyallup valley. My second gripe relates to the focus entirely on Puyallup. In a way, it is good that Price and Anderson held to their stated topic, so, I can’t complain. Yet, Puyallup was developed in a much larger context. An explanation of the development of Sumner, Orting, Eatonville, and the (now ghost) towns that dot the banks of the Carbon River and Puyallup River are all of intense interest to me, and provide a greater understanding of the town of Puyallup. What about the Indian wars, and other relations with the Indians. Satulik? Other famous Indians of the area? Where were they? What about the railroads? Puyallup and the surrounding towns were bustling railroad towns, and how where they developed? Even details such as when the Puyallup River was given a straight course are left out.

The book is a fascinating read, and I was delighted in reading about my town history. It has piqued interest in further exploration of the Puyallup valley and its history.

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Jul 01

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The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, A History of Nazi Germany, by William Shirer ★★★

This book was read on my iPad. It is a fairly large book, taking me a while to complete it, thus, the absence of many other book reviews on my blogsite. Shirer was a journalist in Berlin, leaving Berlin approximately 1940-1941 (he doesn’t say exactly when), and then observing from the sidelines. The book is fairly well researched, and heavily referenced. After the end of the book, a 1990 afterthought is included by the author. He had noted that the book was on the best sellers list for a number of years, and purchased in many countries except for Germany itself. This Shirer felt was a sign that the German people still remained clueless as to the nature of their goose-stepping militaristic nature, and he expressed fears that the re-unification of Germany was going to lead to yet another rise to power and German world war. Perhaps the person the most clueless is Shirer himself. Throughout the book, Shirer writes not as an objective historian, but as an opinionated, biased journalist. Shirer seems to let his thinking and emotions get in the way of solid historical reporting. As an example, he shows his bitter disdain for the personality of Von Ribbentrop, rather than seeking to describe his personality and then letting the facts speak from there. He describes many episodes of secret meetings where he seems to be cognizant precisely what transpired. He makes warrantless broad assumptions about the German people that don’t serve his commentary. Here is an example, quoting the book, ” One gets the impression that … many … “Good Germans” fell too easily into the trap of blaming the outside world for their own failures, as some of them had done for Germany’s misfortunes after the first lost war…”. Excuse me, but the blame does spread around to all the European nations as well as the US. Or, of speaking of Mussolini, “…as dictator, he had made the fatal mistake of seeking to make a martial, imperial Great Power of a country which lacked the industrial resources to become one and whose people, unlike the Germans, were too civilized, too sophisticated, too down to earth to be attracted by … false ambitions. The Italian people, at heart, had never, like the Germans, embraced fascism.” Such comments leaves one feeling whether they could take anything that Shirer says seriously. He truly couldn’t be serious in implying that the mass of German people were uncivilized, unsophisticated, not down to earth?  There are many more examples throughout the book.

Shirer provides a nice flow through the book and it is very readable. There is a wealth a facts that need to be selected out in writing any historical account, and the fact that huge numbers of texts have analyzed the Nazi phenomenon attest to the fact that even 60 years after the fact, we are still grappling with the problem of made Germany do what it did. Shirer provides a completely wrong explanation, but feeds western, and especially US arrogance in the matter. To divorce himself from the reality of Germany, Shirer had to paint the Germans as a different creature, perhaps even a different species or genus. To this date, political situations are so often compared to that of Hitler and Nazi Germany. The left and right of politics continually hurtles the accusation at the other of being just like the Nazis. Why isn’t Stalin and the Communists equally brought up as a examples?Or Mao Tse Tung? Or the Japanese emporer? Or Napoleon? The list could go on at length. Germany is used as the example because sub-consciously, they are a people the most like us. They, more than any other modern country, developed the ideas of ethics that shape our world. They developed our philosophy, our music, our culture, etc. They, more than even England, gave us our work ethic, and our sense of obedience to authority. The rise of Nazi Germany seems to be a great puzzle, yet it isn’t. We see ideas in politics today reinforce that the events of the rise of the Nazi state happen on a smaller scale every year in Washington, D.C. We claim that the German people should have known and risen up, yet we don’t rise up, as our freedoms are constantly eroded, and our government increasing behaves in a dictatorial fashion that we have no control of. We claim a moral superiority to the Germans of the first half of the twentieth century, yet truthful soul-searching suggests that we aren’t much different than they.

To end it, Shirer ends with the execution at Nuremberg of the main Nazi officials. Specifically, Ribbentrop, who Shirer completely despised,  is reported as to have flippantly blurted out to the American Military pastor, “See you later” as though he was making a colossal terminal joke. Actually, the full quote is as follows… “I place all my confidence in the Lamb who made atonement for my sins. May God have mercy on my soul”. Then he turned to Gerecke (the Lutheran pastor) and said “I’ll see YOU again”. In the book “War and Grace”, Don Stevens recounts the story of Henry Gerecke, a Lutheran Pastor in the military from Missouri, who was assigned to be the chaplain to the Nazi war criminals. In the process of his encounters with Goering, Rosenberg, Ribbentrop, etc., he noted that not a few felt genuine remorse for their actions, and found faith in Christ, including Keitel, Fritzsche, von Schirach, Speer, Raeder, and after much struggle, Ribbentrop. Many Americans sent Gerecke hate mail, detesting the fact that he would minister to the Nazi war criminals. Yet, the additional story from Stevens only strengthens the impression that the Nazis are us. We might have done exactly what they did in the circumstances. The story of the Nazis is a sobering story that should make all of us weep, and not arrogantly state that “they” are a breed of another kind. For that end, a book like this is worth reading.

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Jun 10

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For All the Tea in China, by Sarah Rose ★★★

Sarah Rose provides a most interesting story of the adventures of a Mr. Robert Fortune of the British East India Company in China during the 1840’s and 1850’s, stealing prized tea plants from China and exporting them to the Himalayas, under the immediate control of Great Britain, to permit them to compete with China in the tea industry. Also taken was the technology for growing and processing the tea leaves into great tea. It is a most fascinating story that is not often told. Fortune had several very unfortunate attempts, in part from bungling up the tea plants and leaves in the process of shipping them to the Himalayas, as well as incompetence and ineptitude on the part of arrogant British horticulturists, even when told by Chinese coolies what they were doing wrong with the plants.  Sarah’s writing style attempts a mix of pure historical reporting and historical fiction, leaving one certain that the tales of Fortune’s adventures were probably just approximately recounted in this book. Sarah maintains a heavy pro-British bent in her reporting, going very light on the evils of the British empire in their dealings with China (such as with the Opium Wars), as well as the Indians. This poor historical accounting even goes to British competitors in the west. When she speaks of the development of porcelain in the west to compete with fine “china” from China, she drools over Wedgewood and British porcelain manufactors, she blindly forgets the role of the Germans (especially the town of Meissen) in re-discovering and developing the European porcelain industry). A perfect example her Western blindness can be quoted from near the end of the book…

” By the time the Chinese realized that Fortune had stolen an inestimable treasure from them [the Chinese], it was many years too late to remediate their loss. His theft helped spread tea to a wider world at lower prices. He democratized a luxury, and the world has been enjoying it ever since”

That quote sounds warm and fuzzy except for a few glaring details. Now that China is reportedly “stealing” technology from the West, I suppose that they can use the same justification, since they are simply spreading Western technology at a much lower price. It is hard for me to have a sympathetic ear toward the west when they rail on China being an aggressive competitor in the markets. We are simply getting our own medicine back on us 150 years later. Most of the world has a better memory than Amerikans.

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Apr 28

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Cambridge Illustrated History of China, by Patricia Buckley Ebrey ★★★

I purchased this text from Amazon.com as a used book to read before and during my trip to China with Betsy and Dr. Liao. It arrived very heavily marked up with multiple pages folded over, not exactly what the seller suggested. This text is fairly comprehensive of all aspects of history,  and includes many  beautiful illustrations and helpful maps, unlike many Chinese history texts. The author attempts a newer style of history taking, focusing on “the man/woman in the street”, and de-focusing on the rulers and leadership. Unfortunately, it leaves the history of China seriously poorly explored, since the actions of the emporers had an immediate effect of the man in the street. Ebrey spends much time discussing the development of Chinese art and poetry, yet even that is poorly explored. I was left with a very poor impression of having learned much from this text about Chinese history.

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Jan 06

ChronicleChinEmpChronicle of the Chinese Emperors, by Ann Paludan ★★★

I’m trying to fill myself in with a little Chinese history in anticipation of a trip to China in April. This book was written more as a reference text. It is not  a very comprehensive text. The focus is entirely on the emperors of China, with occasion call-outs for special interest topics, examples being the pottery in China,  the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, various movements in China, etc. The book, if read from cover to cover, reads quite erratically with many gaps, such as a description of the warring states period. This text would be best used in conjunction with a formal history text to learn the most about Chinese history.

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