Book Review: Ask

Ask, by Ryan Levesque

This is the sort of book that could most easily be seen as a mixture of memoir and sales pitch, and if that sounds appealing to you, this is a book that is certainly interesting. I must admit, at the outset, that this book is clearly not aimed at me, but is rather aimed more at those who are seeking to sell and who are entrepreneurs who need to be able better sell to their prospects. This book is therefore not immediately relevant to me and is designed to be extremely relevant to its readers. Even so, this book is of use because of its approach to asking people questions in a way that is both immensely practical and indirect. The author notes ways to effectively use surveys to place people into buckets for focused and targeted attention and also to focus attention on what people do not like and have a high motivation to resolve. And this is a worthwhile approach to deal with questions, by asking people what they are most bothered or irritated by.

This book is a relatively short one at less than 200 pages, divided into 22 short chapters. The book begins with a foreword and an introduction on how to use the book. After that the first part of the book gives the story of how it is that the author developed his insight into asking the right questions (I), where the author talks about people (1) and strange questions and answers (2), before giving a narrative account of his life that includes his discovery of the questioning technique (3), his crisis (4), his hard work to fulfill his dream (5), an unexpected twist (6), a letter he wrote to his mother (7), his recognition of the people who inspired him as a young entrepreneur (8), his bold leap (9), and how things finally came together for him (10). The second part of the book covers the methodology of the author’s approach (II), including how to read it (11), the author’s process (12), the deep dive survey (13), persuading through self-discovery by the customer (14), segment through a bucket survey (15), prescribe after the survey (16), profit through upselling (17), pivoting through following up (18), as well as case studies in a tennis training (19) and a water ionizer market (20). The book then ends with chapters on his reasons for writing the book (21), an altar call for the reader to respond (22), as well as a glossary, acknowledgements, and information about the author.

One of the elements of this book that is particularly striking is the way that the author seeks to use himself and his own life as a model for his approach, discussing his education, his passion for Chinese, and his decision to go out on his own rather than remain working for a large company. It is not enough that the author is trying to appeal to fellow entrepreneurs but that he feels it necessary to demonstrate his own bona fides as one himself. One can easily suspect that the author’s target reader is likely to be someone who is a bit suspicious of the sorts of claims that are common in this book–how could one not be in a world where we are continually bombarded with inflated claims that appeal to the basest elements of our nature–but it does make it harder for an author to feel comfortable that his ideas and approaches are being taken seriously. One of the fringe benefits of the author’s personal approach is that one gets to see how it is that a copywriter makes some kind of money through marketing, and why it is that people are so willing to write guides to people as a way of making money rather than making money through doing things themselves. And any book which provides insight into why it is that contemporary marketers behave as they do is well worth considering.

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Book Review: Ask: Building Consent Culture

Ask: Building Consent Culture, edited by Kitty Stryker

This is a book full of asymmetries, and they exist in a way that does not reflect well on the editor or the various contributors to the book. And in many ways, these asymmetries point to some of the larger asymmetries that exist when it comes to matters of morality and understanding. For example, one of the writers in this book speaks somewhat contemptuously about the way that the late Rush Limbaugh understood that for the contemporary left, all that is necessary to please the moral sensibilities of such people is to say that something was done consensually. Unfortunately, the authors do not understand nor wish to understand that neither this view or its opposite is what is held by others. This points to the larger and more profound asymmetry in this book, and that is the fact that while no intimacy apart from consent is acceptable, that does not mean that everything that one might consent to happens to be good or morally acceptable. The authors of this book (and presumably its target audience) labor under the delusion that we are autonomous people who can decide what is right and wrong for ourselves and that no authority exists that can hold us accountable for our choices or that can enforce standards of morality upon us. Alas, that is not the case.

This book is a bit less than 200 pages and consists of a variety of short writings by a variety of authors who represent various whiny constituencies of the contemporary left. The book begins with a foreword and an introduction. After that comes three essays that deal with the bedroom, including an essay on sex for people who are not in good mental health, arguments about the legal framework of consent, the a critique of what popular culture tells us about consent. This is followed by essays about consent in school that include a proposal for radical and corrupting playtime, thoughts about men teaching men, and hostility to Green Eggs and Ham. This is followed by three essays on jail, including one on sexual harms, one on Miranda rights, and another on dealing with stealth as a transsexual. There are three essays on the workplace, including an essay on ethical porn, a lack of a rulebook, and the question of service with a smile. This is followed by consent in the home, including teaching consent to kids, bodily autonomy for children, and dealing with the standards of disapproving parents. After this comes questions of health, including giving birth, the issue of being overweight (labeled irresponsibly as fatphobia here), and dealing with wrestling. The last section of the book then discusses consent in the community, including role playing, largely imaginary white fragility, sex parties, and sex ed for the neurotypical, after which there is an afterword.

Indeed, a great part of this book consists of writing that does not make the writers of the book appear as good as they think they are looking. For example, one of the essays in the book consists of a sex worker who argues that ethical porn must be paid for, not addressing the question of the morality of the content to begin with. Similarly, another one of the essays in the book consists of someone who discusses her longing for sexual intimacy despite the fact that she realizes she is a basket case without a firm grasp on sanity. Another essay dodges the health concerns for being overweight by attributing a great deal of negativity to fat shaming. By and large, this book is filled with the writings of people who are in an active flight away from reality. The refusal to deal with aspects of reality–including morality and health–leads these people to rage against the natural consequences of their unwise and immoral decisions. The end result is that while they labor under the illusion that things are simple, they cannot help but complicate things with self-serving double standards that demonstrate the absence of soundness within their worldview, all of which they persistently and consistently refuse to realize. This makes reading this book something that will be a tiresome chore for someone who does not already agree with the authors.

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Book Review: Doesn’t Hurt To Ask

Doesn’t Hurt To Ask: Using The Power Of Questions To Communicate, Connect, And Persuade, by Trey Gowdy

This book made me think less of the person writing it. This was probably not the intention of the author, but the author’s willingness to think well of people with terrible worldviews, his sharing of the over-optimism about human nature and the power and worth of government with his statist and socialist political opponents, and his demonstration of his susceptibility to bogus emotional reasoning demonstrate that he is not remotely strong enough as a conservative to support as a political leader. That is not to say that this is a worthless book–it does indeed have some content that is well worth reading and applying, not least a reminder to check our own ability to be persuaded and a reminder to avoid double standards when it comes to standards of evidence in politics. The author also shows some awareness of the double standards that exist in contemporary journalism, so it’s not as if he is hopelessly naive, but his knowledge of proper theology is dangerously limited and it presents him with a false basis for many of his beliefs about people, including a belief that most people are good, which is, alas, not the case.

This book is about 250 pages and three parts and seventeen questions. The introduction of the book discusses the author’s path from the courtroom to Congress. The first part of the book then discusses six chapters on what someone would need before opening their mouth (I), including the fact that there are stupid questions (1), the subtle art of persuasion (2), knowing the objectives, facts, and oneself (3), knowing one’s jury (4), the burden of proof (5), and the importance of sincerity (6). The next eight chapters after this deal with the act and art of persuasion (II), including corroborating as opposed to contradicting (7), leading and non-leading questions (8), impeaching others (9), hitch-hiking (10), repetition (11), choosing the right words (12), concise packaging of one’s points (13), and turning the tables on others (14). The book then ends with three chapters on using questions on others (III), including expectations (15), how to know if one has the knack of asking good questions (16), and the author’s closing argument (17), after which the book ends with acknowledgements.

There is a certain degree of power in asking questions, but that power can be used for good or for evil. It is not always clear that the author understands the difference between the two. Let us not forget, after all, that Eve was deceived with leading questions that persuaded her to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Given that, the use of questions must be viewed as a tactical decision as a means of finding a way around the temptation to try to argue or debate someone into agreement, and is not in any way a statement as to the morality of one’s approach. And it is in questions of morality that the author appears to be least sound, which is greatly unfortunate. The author’s unwillingness to recognize the wickedness that lies within the hearts of people leads him to trust his own heart in reasoning and the hearts of others to too high a degree, and also leads him to think too highly of the power of laws to regulate the conduct of lawless and rebellious mankind, thus making creeping tyranny both likely and ineffective. And when it comes to some things, it definitely does hurt to ask.

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Beauty Is In The Gaze

It is a common truism that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It is similarly easily recognized that what we create tells on us. One of the issues with solipsism is that we create our understanding of reality based on how we see and interpret what is around us. Because our reality is tied up so inextricably with our worldview, it is easy for us to collapse the space between the world outside us and the world inside us. The knowledge of our subjectivity can all too quickly lead to a belief that there is no objective reality at all, rather than the humbling understanding that there is such a reality and that without outside aid we will be unable to understand it because our own filters and our own interpretations will get in the way. It is hard for humanity deal with the knowledge that there exists something that is beyond our grasp. Likewise, it appears to be a nearly universal human habit to create patterns out of what we see, and the combination of the pattern-making habits of the human mind and our lack of humility about our own capacity for reasoning and understanding blinds us to what is going on around us.

Our age tends to look with a certain degree of hostility at the gaze. To be sure, there are certainly problematic aspects about the lust of the eyes, which is sometimes so obvious that it can be recognized simply through body language. But the gaze is not always a matter of attraction. Often, speaking personally at least, one gazes in order to understand. One tries to read expressions, to see how people act, and it is undoubtedly true that people behave differently under known observation than they do when they are unaware that they are being seen. Whether people love attention and act out in order to get it or are shy and timid and self-conscious, we do not always see the way that people are, and even if people did show themselves as they are, we would often only be able to recognize those aspects that our mind can understand and grasp. And even if we were to ask other people what they were, they might not know what they were feeling or be able to put it into words, and if they did, there is no great chance that we would be able to understand what they meant.

In light of our limited capacity both to communicate and to understand, it is remarkable how well things end up working, all things considered. How is it that things end up working much better than we would expect if it depended on perfect understanding and perfect communication, given that neither is within our power to any remote degree. It appears that a great deal of our ability to relate well to others depends on on the fact that we can usually guess what others want to see and the fact that we usually see what we want to see unless someone forcefully wishes to make things unpleasant. Most of the time we do not want unpleasantness, and so we do not find it. We put up with what we would not prefer but do not think it is worth complaining about, and we choose not to be offended at the gentle remonstrances and irritation of those around us, and we are able to live more or less in peace as a result. It is only when we force the issue that things tend to go wrong. And one of the reasons why things go wrong more often now than before is that we demand more perfection from others and have less graciousness in communicating about ourselves.

That a graceless age such as our own would make it harder to communicate the beauty inside of ourselves and to relate to the beauty inside of others and to honestly and openly appreciate such things. It is striking, though, that an age that claims to focus on honesty and truth should be so lacking in such matters. It is as if we simply want to deceive ourselves that we are interested in truth, when we are more interested in a pleasant narrative that makes us feel better about ourselves, or wallow in our favorite sins without the inconvenient feelings of guilt. This may be convenient, but it makes it impossible to appreciate others and difficult for us to be ourselves. It would make sense that we as human beings would be objectively worse when we recognized our subjectivity, at least as much sense as anything else.

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Book Review: Red Nile: A Biography Of The World’s Greatest River

Red Nile: A Biography Of The World’s Greatest River, by Robert Twigger

This book is one that has a difficult aim, and that is writing a biography of a river. What this means in practice is that the author tells a lot of interesting and somewhat sordid stories of the behavior of those who sought to control the river and its people and its water. While this book is by no means perfect, it is certainly interesting in the material that it covers, and the focus on exciting events as well as somewhat bloodthirsty stories provides a context that like many books on the subject of Egypt seeks to paint the Egyptian role in the Arab Spring as being a decisive historical event. This appears, alas, to be all too inaccurate when we look at these events with a bit of hindsight, it must be admitted. Yet although this is a bit of a shame, it may be readily admitted that the author does a good job at presenting the history of the Nile as being a long chain of violence that somewhat undercuts the author’s claims that there was anything historical decisive about the events of 2011, which is more than can be said for many such accounts.

This book is somewhat strikingly organized, with about 450 pages of written material that is divided into only six chapters, each of which is divided into numerous smaller essays. The author begins with a list of illustrations, maps, and an introduction. After this the author talks about the natural Nile (1), looking at the animals and natural history of the river and its origin. This is followed by a look at the ancient Nile (2), including a look at famine and pestilence and less savory matters. A discussion of the Nile as the river of believers (3) includes a look at heathens, Copts, and Muslims. After this comes a discussion of the extension of the Nile through histories of raw steak and the efforts of Napoleon and other Westerners (4). Then the author explores the damming of the Nile (5) as well as the more recent history of the Nile from assassination to revolution (6). As might be imagined the author tends to view the Arab Spring as being a more decisive change in Arab affairs than actually has ended up being the case, a common mistake for failed prophets. The book ends with an epilogue, bibliography, acknowledgements, and an index.

It is striking that an attempt to make a biography of a river means in practice that this work spends a lot of time focusing on human beings in less than ideal circumstances. For example, to give a short summary of the book’s interests would include a discussion of the assassination of Ramses III at the end of the New Kingdom, the assassination of Anwar Sadat, about whose half-Nubian ancestry much is made, and the love life of Napoleon in Egypt. Egypt’s history is certainly deeply interesting, and the economic wealth that could be drawn from controlling both trade routes as well as the produce of peasants and their labor for monumental projects all combined to make Egypt a desirable area to rule over and an area that has never developed a great deal of political freedom. The Red Nile as a theme of this book makes for a look at some dark history that is generally obscure to the Western reader and that offers a great deal of interesting material to reflect upon. Whether or not the reader chooses to appreciate this is up to the individual person, but most people should find at least a bit to ponder about the effect of history on the culture and mindset of a place.

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Book Review: Nile: A Journey Downriver Through Egypt’s Past And Present

Nile: A Journey Downriver Through Egypt’s Past And Present, by Toby Wilkinson

One of the hazards of writing books with an agenda in mind is sometimes things change to make that agenda ring more than a little bit hollow. Like all too many other writers, the author makes a great deal of hay out of the Arab Spring protests that overthrew the existing Egyptian government and that led to an election that chose a president from the Muslim Brotherhood who was all too quickly overthrown by a return to military rule, and though the author acknowledges this in an afterword, he did not change his book to reflect the fact that history did not follow the tendency he thought it was going to. Writing with progress in mind is tough to do in light of humanity and it certainly shapes this book in negative ways. What could have been seen as a deeply interesting book about the importance of the Nile to Egyptian history down to the present day is harmed a bit by the author’s desire to shoehorn this theme into a mistaken idea of the course of politics. Such matters as who rules in the present day and whether Egypt is on a path towards representative democracy as the author might wish to hope are best left for false prophets and not for historians.

This book is between 250 and 300 pages long and is divided into ten chapters. The book begins with a map of the Nile River and a preface. After that the author talks about the Nile as Egypt’s Eternal River (1), however much that might be threatened at present. This is followed by a look at Aswan (2) and the question of the river’s source. After that the author looks at the deep south where Egypt begins, mostly in obscure towns and villages (3). This is followed by a chapter on Luxor as a city of wonders (4) and then on Western Thebes’ realm of the dead (5). After that there is a look at Qift and Qena as the center of Egypt as well as important provinces (6) that have always remained provincial. Then come chapters on Abydos (7), as a place of religious mysteries, as well as a look at Memphis as a cradle of religion (8). The book then contains two chapters about the Fayum (9) and its role as a lake in Egypt’s desert as well as Cairo (10) as Egypt’s capital. The book ends with a postscript, timeline, notes, suggestions for further reading, acknowledgements, and an index.

It is a shame that the author finds it necessary to talk so much about politics, because at the heart of this book is an account of the author’s interest in the Nile and in its complex history. The author chronicles a mixture of generally obscure places along the course of the Nile downstream from Aswan to the delta, including small villages that have never had a great deal of political power but whose importance to Egyptian economics has always been high. This is a reminder that there has often been a disconnected between people of power and the places that provide the resources for those in power. Those areas which hold political power have often been fought over and thus have often have had periods without population due to their being fought over. The author explores famous and obscure people and places, pointing out places that are worth seeing that tourists seldom see, and thus doing service to the hipster intended audience who like to go off the beaten path and see what glorious of ancient Egypt remain largely unknown despite many who go there.

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Roads To Glory For The Political General

In reading a couple of books about Nathaniel Banks, and having previously read books about other Civil War political generals like Benjamin Butler, I was struck by the thought of how it was that political generals ended up receiving a great deal of fame, as there were a lot of political generals in the Civil War, some of whom have achieved lasting fame for a wide variety of reasons. While it is popular to mock political generals, there is a certain degree of importance in obtaining civilian support for war, and if that requires indulging the desire for military glory on the part of political leaders who can help to obtain that necessary political support, then one can at least hope that the desire for military glory can lead to a certain degree of study in military affairs on the part of those leaders who are now responsible for the lives of others. It must be remembered that most political generals were not particularly successful as generals, but a surprisingly large amount have been remembered fondly.

Some generals were so successful as generals that it can be forgotten that they were in fact political generals. Let us consider the example of Samuel Ryan Curtis, the adopted Iowan who is best remembered as the hero of Pea Ridge, where he led an outnumbered army deep in enemy territory to victory through attention to logistics even though his opponent with superior numbers had turned both of his flanks and attacked him behind his prepared lines. Later on he was victorious at Westport, turning away yet another major attack against Missouri and leading Union troops to victory. Indeed, Curtis is so notable as a general in the Civil War–and lamentably, he died soon after the end of the war [1], that it is not remembered that he was in fact a notable Iowa politician in the period before the Civil War and was as much a political general as many other people.

Most political generals, alas, were not as well known as generals. Still, some political generals with a modest degree of success as generals have still endured as important historical figures for various reasons. For example, James Shields was not a very successful Union General, best known for being one of several generals who were defeated by Stonewall Jackson in the 1862 Shenandoah Valley campaign. If his military glory had been the ticket being remembered, he would have fared no better in that than he did for being a U.S. Senator in both Illinois and Missouri (where he went after the war). Lew Wallace did two interesting things in the Civil War, getting lost thanks to ambiguous directions from Grant, which prompted him to make appeals for years to try to avoid being blamed for the issue, and his delaying action at Monocacy in 1864 to delay Early’s raid on Washington, DC, which helped prompt the victorious 1864-1865 campaign by Sheridan to eventually destroy Early’s army. Shields is remembered mostly for his abortive duel with Abraham Lincoln over some particularly fierce political satire and Lew Wallace is remembered mostly as the author of Ben Hur. Still, it is good to be remembered at all.

It is worthwhile to consider a third way in which political generals can be easily remembered. One of these ways is for a victorious general to turn the glory into political success, something that has repeatedly happened in American history. Not only have leading generals sought to turn military victories into political campaigns, including both successful (Andrew Jackson, Ulysses Grant, Dwight Eisenhower) and unsuccessful (Winfield Scott) campaigns, but military service has been an important aspect of numerous campaigns. Unsurprisingly, quite a few successful Civil War generals and even lesser officers parlayed their service into political office. This is going about being a political general in a backwards way, but it makes sense that someone could use their success in leading men in war as a means of gaining political power in peace, since successful leadership and heroism are viewed as qualities that carry over from one field to another. Whether or not this has always been the case, it is certainly something that has happened throughout American history.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/09/24/civil-war-fantasy-roster-samuel-curtis/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2020/05/22/book-review-in-memoriam-maj-gen-samuel-ryan-curtis/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2020/05/28/book-review-the-battle-of-westport/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2020/05/22/book-review-pea-ridge-civil-war-campaign-in-the-west/

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Book Review: Fighting Politician: Major General N.P. Banks

Fighting Politician: Major General N.P. Banks, by Fred Harvey Harrington

This book is an interesting and not particularly sympathetic biography of Nathaniel Prentice Banks, who is largely remembered only by students of Civil War history, although Banks had a lengthy career as a successful professional politician in the Bay State besides his memorable turn as a political general during the Civil War. The author makes an interesting point about Banks and his career that helps us to better contrast his own career with that of someone like Abraham Lincoln or Ulysses Grant, who are the two figures who are implicitly compared to the subject by the author. In both comparisons, Banks falls short, and this leads the author to reflect upon what it is that allows someone to make a powerful mark in history. Lincoln was only a single-term member of the US House of Representatives, while Banks served ten terms, yet Lincoln’s character and principles allowed him to rise to the challenge of his times with genuine moral courage. Similarly, if Grant was by no means a skilled politician, he has reached immortality both for his capacity for growth as well as his profound military skill and sense of humanity. Banks was a successful enough politician to win and hold office, but he failed to reach the highest level of achievement because his focus was on staying in office rather than maintaining a consistent approach or character.

This book is a bit more than 200 pages of written material divided into eighteen chapters. About half of the chapters cover Banks’ Civil War career and about half of them cover his prewar and postwar career. The first few chapters of the book cover Banks’ life as a bobbin bow whose focus on self-education and self-improvement allowed him first to become a state politician in Massachusetts and then a free soil populist who stayed in power through adroit and opportunistic political maneuvers to appeal to a variety of different constituencies, including the Know-Nothings. The middle chapters then look at Banks’ efforts at recruiting troops, leading him to an early promotion to major general that led him to outrank notable generals like Grant for most of the war and Sherman, Thomas, Sheridan, and others for the entire conflict. This military service, including his service in Louisiana and his abortive efforts to take Sabine Pass and Galveston and the Red River at Shreveport, and his efforts to attain cotton and deal with the French as well as with southerners. The rest of the book then looks at the postwar career of Banks, which included more time spent in the House of Representatives.

Whether or not the reader will appreciate this book depends on their feelings about Banks. The author spends a lot of time talking about Banks’ political shenanigans both as a politician as well as a general. If the author has much to say about Banks’ efforts in the Shenandoah Valley as well as Louisiana, he has even more to say about Banks’ efforts to rise above his humble origins and serve as a populist leader first among the Democrats, then among the coalition between Democrats and Free-Soilers, then as a moderate Republican with strong imperialist interests. Throughout this period he sought to find winning issues that would allow him to stay in power, because he did not have the money to keep himself in suitable style apart from political power, which eventually included a certain amount of bribery from lobbyists during the Gilded Age. Banks ends up looking like an unsavory politician of the modern mold of grifters and corrupt officeholders, and not the sort of moral hero that one would expect. And if Banks reminds the reader of politicians of the present day who like things named after them and who seek high office without containing noble and high character, for that reason the author finds enough fault that the reader might be inclined to agree with his severe judgment.

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Book Review: Campaigning With Banks In Louisiana, ’63 And ’64, And With Sheridan In The Shenandoah Valley In ’64 And ’65

Campaigning With Banks In Louisiana, ’63 And ’64, And With Sheridan In The Shenandoah Valley In ’64 And ’65, by Frank M. Flinn

One of the more interesting aspects of this book to me as a reader is that the author proves to be a fan of the leadership of Nathaniel Banks, who is one of the less well-regarded political generals of the Civil War. During the Civil War, both the Confederacy and especially the Union had politically important generals it was necessary to placate and to place in responsible positions despite the fact that these people were not very successful generals in a strictly military sense. Nathaniel Banks is known as one of these generals (along with Benjamin Butler), and this book covers one of the more lamentable failures of Banks as a military leader, and that is his effort to seize Texas through an invasion of the Red River valley. While this campaign did not cover Banks with glory, the author does make a compelling case that the real difficulties of the campaign in terms of logistics, the collapse of levels of the Red River that endangered the necessary Union flotilla under Porter, and the squabbles between subordinates were not entirely Banks’ fault, thus creating an account that is a compelling eyewitness account and also one that speaks in favor of someone who has gotten a rough verdict from military historians as a whole.

This book is a bit more than 200 pages long and it is divided into thirty chapters and two parts. The first part, talking about the author’s campaigns with Banks in the Red River, takes up twenty chapters, and the account of the Shenandoah Campaign of 1864 with Sheridan takes up the remaining ten chapters. The author begins with a discussion of the Louisiana campaign as a forgotten one, his own travel from Massachusetts to Baltimore, and his experience of Butler’s Napoleonic farewell address when he was transferred out of Louisiana thanks to political complaints. The author comments that Banks sought to be gentle but found himself having to be harsh because of the disloyalty and disrespect of many people in Louisiana to the Union. A great deal of time is spent talking about the marching and fighting of the Red River campaign, as well as the poisoned atmosphere of the Union army, which managed to preserve itself despite its logistical difficulties in terrible country. After that the author moves to talk about his transfer with the 19th corps to Washington and his fighting and marching in the Shenandoah, including attention being paid to subordinate officers as well as especially the fighting at Cedar Creek.

Besides the author’s pro-Banks perspective, one of the notable aspects of this book is the fact that the author was able to move from his time in Louisiana to fighting in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864. It is sometimes hard to understand the flexibility of the Union in moving troops all around from one area to another, and those soldiers who fought on peripheral fronts of the war do not often appear to be discussed in any great detail. In this book we have a very interesting account of very worthwhile war experience to detail. If the writer himself is not famous in history, his account tells a perspective that allows the reader to see how it is that soldiers from less glorious fronts of the war could find themselves influencing the Civil War in notable and positive ways. One can say that Flinn’s unit must have been at least somewhat worthwhile to be brought from an area of low priority in the Gulf to a higher priority in Virginia. This is lucky for the author, as it gives him something glorious to report on in victories that helped to win the war, rather than service in forgotten sideshows remembered for their futility.

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It’s Headcanon For A Reason

One of the phenomena that I find particularly interesting is the way that people create canons in their head that are based on existing intellectual properties but are not official and confirmed by those who create those properties. It is common these days for creative people to combine their creativity into the same universe. So it is, for example, that we have a Marvel Cinematic Universe that contains a huge number of films, whose popularity is helped by the fact that the movies have built in fans who want to see how each individual character fits into the larger universe and in films with other characters. When it is done well, it offers a compelling example of worldbuilding. It is not always done well. When someone does the extended universe in their head, it is called headcanon, and it can often lead to interesting results.

Let us take, for example, the television shows of one Dan Schneider. Dan Schneider was, for many years, a successful showrunner for Nickelodeon, and in that role he produced numerous successful shows for the network, many of which that featured a small group of actors and actresses who played in show after show. As one might imagine when someone was responsible to making numerous shows for the same network, there were crossover episodes that combined some of those shows together. So, for example, an episode of iCarly featured the cast of Victorious as part of it, and a later show paired one of the characters from each of those shows, and still other shows made reference to or shared a universe with other shows of his, even though some actors played multiple roles within different shows, all of which leads to questions about the role that some shows play in others and that some characters play to their obvious dopplegangers.

Sometimes, as is the case in the example I just mentioned, headcanon helps us sort out some of the inconsistencies that exist in universes that have been sloppily put together by others. So, for example, some people think that the show Drake & Josh is in fact a reality television show, even though the show itself contains numerous actors and at least one character who appear on other shows within the Schneiderverse. At other times, though, headcanon can help create new works by putting together the independent works of an author together. So, for example, one may assume in one’s headcanon that all of the Jane Austen novels are part of the same shared universe even though this indication is not given, all of which allows the possibility, for example, that some of the characters might be able to interact with each other and perhaps even be friends with each other. One could ponder, for example, on the thoughts of the naval party of the Crawfords with the naval party of the Crofts and Wentworths, with their very different moral standards despite their similar profession, or one might ponder what it was like when Sir Thomas Bertram discuss matters in Parliament with Mr. Darcy, or to see Mr. Gardiner engage in trade with the Mr. Coles of the world.

This too may be headcanon, and a great many stories may be created through the imagination of the interaction of other characters who have already been well-described and plotted out by another. Whether Jane Austen would have created novels where previously written characters interacted with each other or whether further events in the lives of her popularity characters would have been delineated is, unfortunately, not something we have the chance to know for sure, for Jane Austen’s novels were only released over a period of a few years while she was in her late 30’s and early 40’s, with two novels being published after her death, with at least two more substantial novels never being finished at all in the Watsons and Sanditon, both of which and numerous other stories which would have further showed her growth as a writer and her sensitivity to the changing conditions of her time. In the two centuries since her death, though, Austen’s own novels have been combined together as part of a shared universe in the headcanon of a great many readers, myself included. Who would not rejoice in an Elinor Ferrars being friends with an Anne Wentworth, or Elizabeth Darcy being a guide to many a future generation of young woman whether in London or at Pemberley? Let such pleasant thoughts animate us in adding to the greatness of works by placing them together in a shared universe where they may interact with each other.

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