Sherlock Holmes is one of the coolest characters ever created. So much so that he continues to inspire creative interpretations. Laurie King may be the cleverest" re-imaginer" with her Mary Russell series. She preserves much of the original Holmes -- wonderful Mrs. Hudson and Dr. Watson, the Irregulars and "boltholes" in London -- as well as Sherlock in all his confounding insouciance and manic passions. But King introduces an older Holmes -- ostensibly "retired" from London and detecting adventures as he wiles away his time in Sussex with his bees and lab experiments. At 55, he is bored with life -- dangerously so. Then he meets his young neighbor, Mary Russell, in whom he recognizes a mind and wit that rivals his own.
King introduces her re-imagined Holmes and her brilliant creation Mary Russell in The Beekeeper's Apprentice," the first in a series of a dozen mysteries that really should be read in order to appreciate the growth of her characters and their relationship. (And don't look ahead. Let the story unfold!) King is as sharp with her intriguing plots as she is with character development. She uses the volatile post-Great War era to build mysteries embedded in political intrigue set England, the Middle East, India and more. Mycroft has a bit to do with their adventures -- another Sherlockian delight.
When you exhaust the series (The Murder of Mary Russell is coming in April, 2016), enjoy the short stories and novellas King so kindly wrote to satiate her fans. Do read Beekeeping for Beginners (2011) that revisits how Sherlock and Mary Russell met. We know the moment from Mary's point of view in Beekeeper's Apprentice. She was walking across the fields, nose in a book, when she literally bumped into a man sprawled in the grass -- watching bees. She found him rude and worse, condescending. As they traded barbs, he warmed to her, but she held her reservations. In the novella, Beekeeping for Beginners, Holmes recalls this moment and how enchanted he was with this interesting child. He also reveals his mood that brought him to that spot, which makes their meeting all the more poignant.
King is more than Mary Russell's voice (a wonderful conceit she contrives in the first novel. You'll see!) King also writes gritty mysteries featuring a San Francisco detective named Kate Martinelli, who has her own series, as well as the Stuyvesant mysteries -- Touchstone (2007) and The Bones of Paris (2013.) King plays with familiar names and events -- prompting some googling as you go -- as she makes good use of rich settings; for example, The Bones of Paris is set in the fall of 1929 as Paris sizzles with artistic and intellectual debauchery.
King is the recipient of several Edgar Awards (for best in mystery writing) as well as other honors, including Beekeeper's Apprentice being in the top 100 most popular books. On the chance you have not discovered this author, or her intriguing characters, here's a push.
Becoming Men of Some Consequence: Youth and Military Service in the Revolutionary War By John A. Ruddiman
I've long thought about the day I would write a review of my son's first book. I readily admit being a very proud mother, but I can also honestly say that my reaction to Becoming Men of Some Consequence was from the perspective of one who enjoys reading history. It is a good book! Fascinating stories provoke thoughts about what it meant to be a young man caught up in such a turbulent time. I could write a stellar review -- but it still would be just coming from Jake's mom. How much better to have an objective reviewer have his say.
Thanks to fellow history buff John Fabiano for sending the link to this review of Jake's book.
From the Journal of the American Revolution https://allthingsliberty.com/2016/03/becoming-men-of-some-consequence-youth-and-military-service-in-the-revolutionary-war/
By J. BRETT BENNETT BOOK REVIEWS MARCH 15, 2016 BECOMING MEN OF SOME CONSEQUENCE: YOUTH AND MILITARY SERVICE IN THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR
My Rating 9 On a scale of 1 (fie!) to 10 (huzza!)
Book review: Becoming Men of Some Consequence: Youth and Military Service in the Revolutionary War by John A. Ruddiman (University of Virginia Press, 2014).
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Distinct from the many works that focus on the political dynamics, notable figures and military campaigns associated with the American War for Independence, Professor John Ruddiman centers attention on the psyche, motivations, and individual experiences of the young men who came to form the Continental army.
With a title derived from a mostly derogatory comment made by a British officer,Becoming Men of Some Consequence examines the aspirations and myriad factors that drove young males to pursue paths as professional soldiers and is logically organized in a manner that parallels their journeys; from the impetus to enlist, assimilation with other soldiers and transition to manhood, military existence and relationships with civilians, and eventual re-entry into private life as veterans achieving varying levels of success after the war. Readers learn that young Continental soldiers’ rationale for enlistment was very often attributable to an expectation that serving would offer an optimum path toward the self-sustainability necessary to marry, support a family and achieve standing among those in their communities. Further, the author reinforces the notion that soldiers’ individual experiences and drive toward positions of respect and personal independence were a microcosm of the yearning and struggles of the new nation – modestly resourced and uncertain but resolute and principled in seeking its own way.
At its outset the war effort and its promise of steady compensation and bounties appeared to offer disproportionate opportunity to men who were without property, marginalized or “something less than average.” Not unlike the profiles of the young men and women enlisting in the armed forces today, roughly seventy percent of the males who enlisted in the Continental army did so before the age of twenty-six and less than one in five were married. Moreover, the 200,000 who served during the course of the Revolution comprised approximately forty percent of those eligible. Since conscription was irregular and the Patriot cause was not embraced by an overwhelming majority at the time, the substantial volume of enlistments was accomplished not only through economic incentives, but a mix of subtle and even not-so-subtle community pressures as well as an overall rage militaire which prevailed during the early phases of the conflict. For men with the proper social standing, Gen. Nathanael Greene summed his view by commenting that an officer’s commission afforded the “Opportunity of traveling the shortest Road to the greatest heights of Ambition.”
Although students of the Revolution are generally familiar with the many challenges persistently faced by the Continental army, Ruddiman surfaces intimate narratives of soldiers’ hardships that further illustrate and underscore their truly extraordinary commitment. Readers learn that even men who served with opposing forces were confounded by the steadfastness and will of the Americans. For example, after Yorktown a captured Hessian officer rhetorically asked, “With what soldiers in the world could one do what was done by these men, who go about nearly naked and in the greatest privation?” In addition, the author highlights the tension and resentment that existed between troops and inhabitants of the areas where they served, primarily brought about by the neglect of Congress to adequately supply them and their subsequent reliance on locals for food and other resources.
Possibly more enlightening than the explanation of the motivations for enlisting in the Patriot cause is the author’s analysis of soldiers’ decision-making regarding when to escape the army, whether by simply waiting out terms or by desertion. Fueled in large part by steadily depreciating currency and an understanding that extended service often resulted in less favorable or at least delayed prospects at home, men were faced with achieving a delicate balance between retaining the respect they had earned as soldiers and doing what was believed to be in their best personal and financial interests, no matter how murky.
Ruddiman goes on to expose the many obstacles faced by discharged troops who, simply to buy the food and clothing needed just to return home, were exploited by speculators that purchased settlement certificates issued by state governments for fractions of their face value. Similar speculation existed for bounty land certificates, and veterans were beset further with a faltering economy as well as the physical and psychological debilitations common to all warfare regardless of era. To buttress the sketches of the hurdles faced by veterans, the author cites a statistical analysis based on a cohort of New England veterans’ pension applications that, tragically, found a negative correlation between length of military service and post-War prosperity, supporting the notion held by the troops at the time that re-enlistment or extended service was ill-advised.
Exceptionally well-written and meticulously researched through scholarly review of numerous personal accounts as well as dozens of secondary sources, Becoming Men of Some Consequence is of tremendous value in gaining a more complete understanding of the war, the mindset and sacrifices of those who waged it, and their ensuing condition.
Becoming Men of Some ConsequenceJohn Ruddiman
J. Brett BennettJ. Brett Bennett is a Charleston, SC-based healthcare management professional with a lifetime interest in the history of colonial America and the Revolution. He serves on the Old Village Historic District Commission in Mount Pleasant, SC and is a member of the Major General William Moultrie Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution. Bennett earned an undergraduate degree in economics from Wake Forest University and a graduate degree from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University.
PREVIOUS ARTICLERUTGERS V. WADDINGTON: ALEXANDER HAMILTON, THE END OF THE WAR FOR INDEPENDENCE, AND THE ORIGINS OF JUDICIAL REVIEW
Those who know me well might be surprised that a recent fun read was written by a Nobel Laurette in Physics. Just saying — I really don’t speak “math.” However, the book came to me from Jake — who does know me well — and he knew I would get a kick out of the wicked wit of this brilliant mind.
“Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” Adventures of a Curious Character is Richard P. Feynman’s memories of his outrageous adventures driven by his insatiable curiosity. Each chapter is a neatly contained short story, beginning with his childhood in Far Rockaway, Queens where he developed a reputation as a weird kid who could do cool stuff — like fix radios “by thinking!” His wit is delightfully self-deprecating as he relates how is fell into successes just because he was too naïve to know not to try.
He certainly was not consumed with his own brilliance and was rather amazed to wind up at MIT, and delightfully surprised to realize he had landed with his tribe. He had to this point found ways to entertain himself, which meant indulging his intellectual interests. In an early chapter, he shares stories of when he worked in a hotel — alternating his eleven hour days as a desk clerk or busboy in the restaurant. To break the tedium of the work, and to cut corners, he “invented” a new way to handle trays and to cut string beans. One resulted in a spectacular crash, the other with a spurting bloody finger — and a life lesson: “I learned that innovation is a very difficult thing in the real word,” because his bosses had little imagination and no patience.
College introduced a whole world of intellectual stimulation and the hijinks that come from a community of brilliant minds. Even in this rarified world, Feynman was unique. He relates a moment in his freshman year when his roommates — both seniors — “were working pretty hard on something that seemed pretty clear to me.” He explained what he was thinking and how it solved the problem. “…but I had read all this stuff in the encyclopedia without talking to anybody about it, so I didn’t know how to pronounce anything.” Once the roomies got that he was referring to “Bernoulli’s equation” not “Baronallai’s equation,” they “were very excited, and from then on they discussed their physics problems with me.”
I love this guy! He is a version of students I’ve known and have helped negotiate the “must dos” of school. In a chapter titled, “Always Trying to Escape,” Feynman recalls how he played the school game at MIT. He writes, “When I was a student at MIT I was interested only in science; I was not good at anything else. But at MIT there was a rule: You have to take some humanities courses to get more ‘culture.’” What he discovered is that astronomy counts as a humanities course, “So that year I escaped with astronomy.” The next year, the closest thing to science he could find was philosophy.
He relates how he interpreted assigned themes for English papers that caught his fancy, like writing a parody of Huxley’s “On a Piece of Chalk” that he titled “On a Piece of Dust” about how “dust makes the colors of the sunset and precipitates the rain….” For the philosophy class, where he could not understand a word the professor said, he got interested in the idea of stream of consciousness and when does it end --his emphasis.
“So every afternoon for the next four weeks I would work on my theme. I would pull down the shades in my room, turn off the lights and go to sleep. And I’d watch what happened when I went to sleep.” Since he went to sleep each night, “I had two times each day when I could make observations — and it was very good!” And from this, he not only wrote a theme that the professor liked, he developed a fascination for observing his thinking processes that evolved into delving into dream analysis.
And so it goes – his Princeton years where he earned a PhD, his experiences with military and working on the bomb at Los Alamos, his teaching at Cornell and Caltech — each chapter is a synopsis of his scientific work wrapped around life moments that he found funny and enlightening.
Here are two life lessons that I would want my students — and their parents — to understand:
I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.
(I think of all the little kids who are studying their math to take a test to prove that they are smart enough to continue in an advanced math course. They know a lot of math facts, and can do math by rote, but to what end when they don’t really understand — know — math.)
I don’t know what’s the matter with people: They don’t learn by understanding; they learn by some other way — by rote, or something. Their knowledge is so fragile.
Feynman made this observation when he was at Princeton, working on his PhD, surrounded by super brains that too often were consumed with doing school — as in getting the “right” answer — whereas Feynman was playing with ideas and having fun with forging new paths.
One of those paths was in the field of quantum mechanics and electrodynamics. “The Principle of Least Action in Quantum Mechanics” was his 1942 dissertation, which he expanded upon with “Space-Time Approach to Quantum Electrodynamics” and “The Theory of Positrons” in the 1940s. In 1965, he won the Nobel Prize in Physics, sharing it with Julian Schwinger and Shin’ichiro Tomonaga for their independent work in quantum electrodynamics.
Another area of interest was in “tiny machines” – nanotechnology. It seems remarkable that this quintessential 21st century technology came from the mind of a man born in 1918.
From the Feynman website:
Many consider him to be the father of nanotechnology for two prizes he offered in a 1959 talk entitled, “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” where he prompted thinking on a very small scale. He offered a prize for the world’s smallest motor, and another challenge involving very small writing; so small that the text of the Encyclopedia Britannica could be contained on the head of a pin. The prize for the motor was claimed almost immediately, but the challenge of the writing wasn’t met for over 20 years.
In the 1984 — still decades before the concept was widely known — he shared in a video format his talk on “Tiny Machines – Nanotechnology.”
Feynman’s name is most familiar, however, from a series of lectures on physics that were edited and illustrated by Robert B. Leighton and Matthew Sands. These lectures, given at Caltech from 1961 to 1964, are now in three volumes that include The Definitive and Extended Edition of the lectures with Feynman’s Tips on Physics and Four Lectures on Problem Solving Exercises. These books are considered to be the most popular books on physics ever written.
But it is the “popular works” that caught and kept my attention. Even with all the physics talk embedded in everything he does — which I skim over — Feynman is a terrific wit and his books are delightful reads.
In 1985 he compiled the Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman followed by, in 1988, What Do You Care What Other People Think? : Further Adventures of a Curious Character. (Both by W.W. Norton).
Another of his popular works is Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track, (Basic Books, reprinted 2005).
I love that these titles capture his sense of humor and his perspective on life. For my students who are so captivated by physics — oh the number of my middle schoolers who dive into research projects on quantum theory and nanotechnology! — I want them to read this guy. He is the learner that I want them to be — open to ideas, willing to try, fail, and try again! And so frankly unconcerned what other people think, which includes teachers who gave him grades.
And as they mature, I hope they can recognize and emulate the character traits of a truly great man.
Feynman died in 1988 after a long battle with stomach cancer. He was writing Surely You’re Joking and Further Adventures of a Curious Mind through those travails. Moreover at the same time, he was doing some deadly serious work — in1986 he was working on the commission investigating the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle.
What an amazing, multifaceted, truly brilliant man.
One last thought on the idea of “genius” that is so liberally tossed around. This quote by Han Bethe delineates the difference between what is called genius and someone like Richard Feynman:
There are two types of genius. Ordinary geniuses do great things, but they leave you room to believe that you could do the same if only you worked hard enough. Then there are magicians, and you can have no idea how they do it.
Feynman was a magician.
I wrote a column, Book Notes, for many years for local central NJ weeklies. Newspapers are a dying breed, but the desire to share thoughts on books lives on.