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“Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” by Eric Metaxas

Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas is a deeply thought-provoking look into the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But it’s also more than that, because it tells the story of how Bonhoeffer’s entire family was effected by the tumultuous years between World War I and World War II. His father, Karl Bonhoeffer, was a famous psychiatrist and outspoken opponent of Freud. Dietrich’s twin sister, Sabine, married a man of Jewish decent and fled Germany to escape persecution. The Bonhoeffers were elite intellectuals, but neither money nor power was able to protect them from Hitler.

The heart of this book is how so many Germans risked and sometimes forfeited their lives to speak up against evil. Before I read Bonhoeffer Abridged, I did not know about the German Confessional Church which broke away from the National Church and objected to the Nazi regime. Bonhoeffer was a leader in this movement. As a spiritual thinker he was very ecumenical in nature. Bonhoeffer believed that Christians could benefit from spiritual practices from many denominations, including the Catholic church. I feel like he could preach at my United Methodist Church tomorrow, and fit right in.

As Hitler consolidated his power, the Bonhoeffer family was privy to information about SS atrocities that was still hidden from the rest of the world because there were so many Bonhoeffer relatives in high places. Dietrich was a committed pacifist, but as time wore on he joined the anti-Hitler resistance movement.

Tragically, Dietrich was killed at Flossenburg concentration camp, which my grandfather helped liberate two weeks later as part of the 741st Tank Battalion. So for me, this book had personal significance because I knew my grandpa was coming to help, but would not get there in time to save Dietrch’s life.

If you are at all interested in World War I or World War II history, you will love Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. I received a free copy from BookLook in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

I review for BookSneeze®





American Phoneix, by Jane Hampton Cook

American Phonenix, John Quincy and Louisa Adams, the War of 1812, and the Exile that Saved American Independence by Jane Hampton Cook is a weighty look at a first lady and president who are often forgotten.  It is meticulously researched, includes a lot of interesting detail, and really fills you in on what it was like to live and travel abroad in the 1800s.

The part about this book that really bogged me down however, was the writing style.  Cook seems to be emulating the flowery diction of the 19th century.  I felt like I should play a drinking game every time she used the word “recreate”.

The author also put in a lot of unnecessary wondering.  “Perhaps Louis was wearing….  She might have been thinking…  She was probably familiar with….”  Those aren’t direct quotes, but rather indications of the general gist of how the book goes.

There are a lot of history books that I love and then pass on to my father in law.  This book isn’t one of them.  Mainly because of the flowery style, but also because I kept wishing the author would get to the point.

But on the plus side, I 100% believe the author knows her stuff.  Kudos to Jane Hampton Cook for the tremendous amount of research she put into this book.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

I review for BookSneeze®

Madame Tussaud by Michellel Moran

Madame T


I feel like a wreck today because I stayed up late last night reading Michelle Moran’s Madame Tussaud which I picked up from the library. Oh my gosh! I had no idea it was going to be so good!!!

I’ve studied European history, been to France, and read other fictional and nonfictional accounts of the French Revolution, but I’ve never felt like I had such a clear grasp of the timeline and major players of Reign of Terror until now. I wouldn’t say that Michelle Moran has made learning about the French Revolution fun, because that sounds horrible, but she has my attention hooked and I can’t wait to finish the last 100 pages.

Madame Tussaud was friends with people like Maximilien Robespierre, the Duc d’Orleans, Jean-Paul Marat, the Marquis de Lafayette, and Jacques-Louis David. She was also a wax tutor to Princesse Elisabeth, sister of King Louis XVI. This meant that she traveled in both circles, and somehow survived. She was known for being able to look at a face and make remarkable wax models of all of the famous people of her time.

After the French Revolution, she traveled around England for 30 years before establishing her museum on Baker Street. It must have been especially horrible for the English aristocracy who paid to see her exhibit, because they would have personally known many of the executed aristocrats she had portrayed in her collection.

I’ve had the opportunity to go to Madame Tussaud’s wax museum in various cities that I have visited, but never chose to go because I have zero interest in seeing wax models of famous celebrities. But after reading this book, I’m really kicking myself. I did not know that these museums also contain historical figures, some of which Madame Tussaud herself created off the actual corpses. There is also a figure called Sleeping Beauty that was a replica of Madame du Barry.

I think this book could definitely help a highschooler prepare for the AP European history test, because it so clearly explains the issues and major events of the French Revolution. But parents would need to use their own judgment as to whether or not they considered it acceptable reading for teenagers. There is a scene for example, where Marie goes to the Bastille and meets the Marquis de Sade. Nothing bad happens to her of course, but it does explain the horrible reasons he is there.

On Moran’s website it says that Madame Tussaud is going to be made into a mini-series on Showtime. Here’s hoping they don’t ruin it!

Story of the World III

We are now on disc 8 out of the 9 disc audio version of Story of the World Volume III by Susan Wise Bauer.  Bruce(6.5) and I continue to love this series.  Jenna(2) alternates between yelling “No Story of the World!  Music CD!” from the back seat, or paradoxically, sometimes asking for it.  I’m not deluding myself into thinking my two year old has learned anything from thirty plus hours of listening to SOTW volumes 1-3, but I think it hasn’t hurt her language development at all to listen to speaking, stories, and big vocabulary words.

For his part, Bruce told me recently:

“Mom, I’ll tell you what history is about.  It’s about Christians fighting Muslims, Muslims fighting Christians, Catholics fighting Protestants, and Protestants fighting Catholics.  Every once in a while a real powerful guy comes along and builds up a great empire.  But then after a while the empire gets all messed up.”

I found this reflection to be both wise and poignant, especially since it was coming from my six year old.  This is not to say that I found SOTW III very dark or depressing, because it was not.  There were a lot of wonderful stories of historical heroes, heroines, brave explorers, and noble defenders. 

SOTW III is also the only book for children that I have been able to find that discusses John Locke specifically.  There is a good, five minute section about Locke and his theory that in a natural state all men are equal and have the right to pursue life, liberty and possessions.  I mention this because Bruce and I are currently plugging through my SLE Inspired Reading List Part 2, which by design, needed to include a child’s introduction to John Locke.

The theories created by John Locke of course flow straight into the creation of America, and so SOTW III also includes some early American history.  In fact, it goes into more detail about certain parts of American history than the AP US History text I had in 11th grade.  The history of Manhattan for example, was all new to me and very intriguing. 

In fact, I was shocked at how much history I learned from Volume III myself.  I had never studied the liberation of South America, nor the Mongol empire in India.  These are the hardest parts for me to learn, because I don’t have any tracks laid down in my brain from childhood for the information to stick to.  This won’t be a problem for Bruce or Jenna!

Cabeza de Vaca for Kids

Bruce(6.5) and I recently read We Asked for Nothing, The Remarkable Journey of Cabeza de Vaca by Stuart Waldman, as part of my Inspired by SLE Reading List Part 2. It is an adaption for children of Cabeza de Vaca’s memoir: Adventures in Unknown Interior of America. I’m not sure if this was on the SLE reading list back when I was in college or not. I don’t remember any of this story at all, but I do have a visceral memory of hearing and saying “Cabeza de Vaca” over and over again. So perhaps I did read this almost fifteen years ago, and none of it sank in.

We Asked for Nothing is a picture book written at a fifth grade reading level or above. It deals with serious issues such as racism, prejudice, slavery, starvation, religious faith and survival. I felt very comfortable reading it side by side with my first grade son in a Guided Reading context, but it wouldn’t be appropriate to just hand this book over to an advanced six year old and say “Have at it.” Discussing the material is key. A nice feature of the book is that quotes from Cabeza de Vaca’s original text are inserted throughout the story, so that children get a chance to experience the primary source.

The illustrations in this book are beautiful, and I can’t help but wonder if I would have remembered what I read back in college better if I had also had access to the children’s version of Cabeza de Vaca’s story!

If you are from Texas or the Gulf Coast We Asked for Nothing would be even more meaningful for you because it talks extensively about the Native American tribes who lived in that area. All of those peoples were unfamiliar to me: the Karankawa, the Queuene, the Chorruco, the Deaguane, the Mendica etc., I had never learning anything about them before. Neither had the Spanish Conquistadors, until Cabeza de Vaca had the courage to find out.

Unfortunately, I believe that We Asked for Nothing is now out of print. I had to order my copy as a discarded library book. It’s worth taking the effort to acquire this book either through borrowing it from your own library or ordering it used if you are at all interested in the history of Explorers or Native Americans. We Asked for Nothing really solidified a lot Bruce learned from listening to Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World series.

Here are my Learning Goals for my SLE Inspired Reading List Part 2:

  • We are all capable of thinking our own thoughts and forming our own ideas. We do not need to be slaves to the thinking of others.
  • We are responsible for our own actions, and are accountable for our actions to our own conscious, our families, and our community. Many people in the world believe we are also accountable to God.

Pershing, Commander of the Great War


I did not expect Pershing, Commander of the Great War by John Perry to be a tear-jerker, but half way through reading it I could not stop sobbing.  Without giving away any spoilers, something very tragic befell Pershing midlife, and it is the type of story that makes you want to kiss every member in your family and tell them that you love them.  I know that something that happened over a hundred years ago should not affect me so much, but I cannot get the image of General Pershing crying on the shoulder of his friend on the train ride from Bakersfield to San Francisco out of my mind.

It is impossible not to have a great deal of respect for General Pershing, not just because of his leadership during World War I, but also because of the type of man he was in general.  His first job was as a teacher in an African American school, teaching the children of former slaves how to read.  He went on to lead the Buffalo Soldiers, the famous all Black Tenth Calvary Regiment.  When the army short-supplied them during the Spanish American War, Pershing took matters into his own hands and “requisitioned” food and supplies off of a train even though this made him face potential disciplinary action later on. 

Pershing’s humanity was also evident in his successful use of diplomacy and compassion to find a peaceful resolution to conflict with the Muslim Moro people of the Philippines.  He treated all people with dignity in an era when racism was the norm. 

I additionally enjoyed reading about Pershing’s first wife, Helen Frances Warren, who was a pioneer of modern thinking in her own right.  Mrs. Pershing was an educated Wellesley grad, and an early proponent of Montessori education.

Perishing had a well know reputation for being a stickler for details.  This really made me think about how I run my own household, and evaluate how I could make things better.  Proper nutrition, clean pots and pans, the right supplies… Pershing knew that little details could make a big difference for soldiers.  Reading this book made me want to give my whole house a good scrubbing!  But I’ll think twice about varnishing my wood floors. 😦

P.S.  I received a complimentary copy of this book from Booksneeze in exchange for my review.

Abraham Lincoln and the Heart of America

Having just read Sherman the Ruthless Victor, I decided to get out one of our family’s all-time favorite Jim Weiss recordings: “Abraham Lincoln and the Heart of America” to listen to in the car this weekend.  Bruce has been listening to this CD since he was four years old and is the background for one of our family’s all time funniest stories about Bruce.

When Bruce was four years old he was spending the night at Grammy and Papa’s house.  Papa was watching a PBS documentary on Andrew Jackson, and Bruce had crept into the room and was watching with him.  Then Grammy came into the room and remarked, “Oh, you’re watching something on the Civil War.”  Papa said that this wasn’t the case, and they started arguing the point.  Finally, Bruce broke into the conversation to settle the issue.  “Grammy,” he said.  “You’re thinking of Stonewall Jackson.  This show is about Andrew Jackson.”

How did my preschooler know who Stonewall Jackson was?  “Abraham Lincoln and the Heart of America”!  We have listened to this CD about twenty times now, and unfortunately it is now scratched in places from overuse.  It keeps skipping in the middle of the Gettysburg Address, which is really annoying.  I might have to buy a new copy for Jenna when she turns four.  🙂