April 2013

Make the Break (If You Can)


Author: Reginald Exton

Pages: 64

Publication Date: 2013 – Humanist Press

ISBN: 978-0931779268

make the breakIn Make the Break (If you can), Dr. Reginald J. Exton, a NASA physicist, attempts “to share, clearly and succinctly, the evidence that points to the human origin of religions.” He then goes on to very briefly describe the history of the universe, early man, and the rise of civilization and religion.  He follows with a description of the formation of the major religions, a discussion of how people develop religious faith, more about the history of the universe, and finally a statement the humanism is better than religion.    His argument seems to be that since religions have been shown to have been created by man and science can explain most of what people created religion to understand, religion is no longer needed so everyone should give it up.  Unfortunately, Exton doesn’t really provide much of an argument for this.  Part of the problem with this book is its length and format.  Rather than a traditional book, Exton has written, in relatively large font, a 64-page glossy magazine, filled with large pictures, graphs, and tables. The chapter on the history of the universe, early man, and the rise of civilization, is only ten pages long.  As entire books have been written about each of these topics, clearly covering them in ten pages is seemingly an impossible task.  Perhaps Exton’s arguments suffer from a lack of space.

 I’m not sure who the target audience for Make the Break (If you can) is, I assume it is targeted at either religious believers, in an attempt to convince them of the wrong-headedness of their beliefs, or at atheists in need of further support for their non-beliefs.  Its weak arguments against the validity of religion makes it unlikely to cause religious believers to change their minds about their faiths and its format and writing style make it unlikely they would read it anyway.  Atheists looking for support would be better of looking to Dawkins, Dennett, or Hitchens, who have all made similar arguments to Exton’s, but better done.

Make the Break (If you can) seems more like a book proposal than an actual book.  Perhaps Der. Exton will go back expand this into an actual book; the additional space might allow him to better explain his points and arguments.

I received this book as a part of the Library Thing Early Reviewer program and I would especially like to thank Brian Magee of the Humanist Press for making sure I received it.


Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence

Author: John Ferling

Pages: 704

Release Date: March 2009 – Oxford University Press

ISBN: 978-0195382921

Almost a MiracleJohn Ferling’s book, Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence, is a military history of the war and serves as a companion to Ferling’s earlier A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic, which is a political history of the same period.  Ferling, who has written several books on this period, has written a popular history aimed at the general reader, and while he provides a workable account of events, he does not present any new information or interpretation.  This is to not surprising in a book written for a general audience.  Ferling’s work is based on a wealth of primary and secondary sources, exploring the length of the war in chronological order. Ferling’s story focuses on the strengths and weaknesses of the commanders and leaders on both sides.  Contrary to current trends in historical writing, common people and enlisted soldiers take a back seat to their social and military superiors.

Ferling focuses on how closely contested the war was, stressing the significance of the decisions made by generals on both sides. Ultimately, “the war came much closer to ending short of a great American victory than many now realize.” (xii)  Ferling argues that George Washington’s Fabian strategy was in large part responsible for the eventual Patriot victory.

Approximately a third of the book covers the important time from the beginning of the conflict until the end of 1776.  The remainder of the book addresses the less familiar years that followed and examines how the Patriots handled the major military challenges facing them. While Ferling describes each of the major campaigns and battles, he also puts them into the larger military framework, explaining the evolution of the Continental Army, the significance of naval power, the move to the southern theater, the Franco-American alliance, and the peace negotiations.

Ferling does a good job covering two topics that are often neglected in popular accounts of the war.  The first is the importance of the war’s move south.  Ferling explains the importance of the Southern Campaign and the steady colonial successes in the Carolinas that were essential to the final Patriot victory.

The second oft-overlooked subject is the place of the war in North America within the overall global conflict. I think an understanding of the global situation is essential for understanding how the Patriots were able to defeat the British who possessed what was possibly the best professional army in the world.  Ferling points out that British actions in North America were not conducted in a vacuum, but within a worldwide context.

Ferling also works to rehabilitate the reputation of the colonial militia, which has “often been belittled, but without it the war could not have been won. It secured the home front in nearly every state by suppressing and disarming the Loyalists in the crucial early stage of the war.” He also points out that despite some serious failings, the militia on occasion, such as Bunker Hill, Princeton, and Saratoga “fought extremely well.” (575)

I was not surprised by Ferling’s depiction of Washington as “Madly ambitious and obsessed with recognition and renown,” who was a genius at shifting the blame for defeat on to others and engaging in self-promotion. Ferling covered similar ground in The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon.  (368)  It is good to see Washington returned to the level of mere human from his mythological heights.

Ferling does have an unfortunate habit of repeating phrases and terminology throughout the book, which perhaps is less his fault then the fault of his editor.  One particular issue was his use of the length of a football field as a reference.  He did so on at least four occasions, not only does this leave non-football fans in the dark, it also becomes repetitive.

As mentioned above, Ferling utilized a wealth of sources, both primary and secondary.  His work is well cited with endnotes, I appreciate that his endnotes were primarily utilized for citations and not to provide additional information.  Often authors include another books worth of information in the endnotes, the reading of which tends to break up the narrative flow of the book leaving the reading with the choice of flipping back and forth for each endnote, reading all of the endnotes after reading the text, or skipping them altogether.

Overall, I believe Ferling has written a military history of the American War of Independence that is accessible, comprehensive, and useful for both the general reader and the student.  While Ferling does not provide scholars with any new information or interpretations, he has synthesized the most recent scholarship on the era into a highly readable account.  He has also provided a reminder that nothing in history is guaranteed or foreordained.