Posts By Seth Simmons

The Emergence of Liberty in the Modern World by Douglas F. Kelly

The Emergence of Liberty in the Modern World by Douglas F. KellyReviewed by Contributor Seth Simmons

The basic premise of The Emergency of Liberty in the Modern World is that the philosophical and theological seeds of a doctrine of religious liberty and its relationship with state power were developed first by John Calvin, and that his ideas so saturated and infiltrated the climate of Western thought that many today don’t even recognize his influence.
After discussing Calvin’s theological developments, the author describes how the French Huguenots in the late sixteenth century took Calvin’s ideas and expanded on them, recasting them in the language of natural secular rights. Running in parallel, Scotsman theologian John Knox expanded Calvin’s ideas further and developed a theology that practically obligated Christians to defy a government that oversteps its boundaries. Next, the history of medieval-to-modern England is a story of theological factions warring over the source and development of political authority and its relationship to the church. Eventually, the Puritans abandoned Europe (to a degree) and brought to a young America their views about state power.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

I am reposting this 2014 review by Contributor Seth Simmons because the Audiobook is on sale today only for $3.95.
This is a fantastic book for anyone who’s a fan of The Princess Bride. Carey Elwes takes you behind the scenes of one of the most beloved movies in modern times. Apparently William Goldman’s famous fairy tale was incredibly difficult to get greenlit, let alone actually produced, and I shudder to think how different the film would have been had Rob Reiner not directed and the perfect cast not been obtained.

We get a close look at all elements of the film from Elwes’ perspective, but with lots of extra insight and commentary from a host of others: Reiner, Goldman, Christopher Guest, Chris Sarandon, Robin Wright, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patinkin, and more.

This book is chock full of fascinating and hilarious details that will delight and entertain fans of the film. I listened to the audiobook, read by Elwes himself (most other contributors read their own parts as well), which was great fun. Elwes can get a bit overly sentimental, and his upbeat British jocular tone occasionally grated, but it wasn’t a significant problem. I’m still going to browse the physical book when it comes from the library so I can see the photos. Highly recommended!

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes Purchase Links: Hardcover, Kindle Edition, Audiobook

This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon by Nancy Plain

A guest post from regular contributor Seth Simmons.
This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James AudubonA brief and very readable biography of America’s best known naturalist and ornithologist. John James Audubon traipsed all across a young United States as she was still expanding west, documenting birds and churning out hundreds of drawings. He was self-taught and derided by professionals in his early years, but some of his discoveries that contradicted popular wisdom were ultimately vindicated. Audubon had to take his work to Europe first to attract financial support for his book, but eventually America came to know and love him.

I cannot for the life of me remember how this book came across my path. It’s unlike anything I typically read. But it showed up on my holds list at the library, and I’m very glad I read it.

This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon by Nancy Plain Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition

How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy

A guest post from regular contributor Seth Simmons.
How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy by Stephen Richard WittHow Music Got Free is a totally fascinating account of the mp3 and how it almost destroyed the music industry.

The story begins with a history of the invention of the mp3 by a handful of German scientists. Through trial and error and years of research, they pursued and eventually perfected an algorithm for compressing music into a file 1/12 the size of standard digital audio. In an unexpected twist, the inventors’ original conception was to support streaming of music across the web–30 years before Spotify–but that idea was too far ahead of its time.

After the mp3 lost music technology’s first “format war” to a similar but inferior encoding method (the mp2)–it was designed by a competing group that outmaneuvered them politically–the nascent format staged a comeback through a number of steps (and mis-steps) that would both solidify its dominance and drastically reduce its money-making potential. The inventors licensed the technology to the NHL for use in broadcasting compressed audio of game commentary; they released encoding software to the web for free; they declined to register for a patent on the first mp3 player, thinking of it as simply a hard drive; they convinced Microsoft to license the mp3 for their media player, and thus got a small cut every time somebody bought a copy of Windows.

The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist by Larry Alex Taunton

A guest post from regular contributor Seth Simmons.
The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World's Most Notorious Atheist by Larry Alex TauntonEverybody knows Christopher Hitchens by the prominent and public role he played in the culture as the bold and loquacious, unapologetic and often vicious defender of atheism and assailant of all forms of religion. But as Hitchens admitted a number of times in his own memoirs, he very consciously maintained two separate and distinct “sets of books” in his life. In documenting their unique friendship, Larry Taunton reveals and explores a heretofore unknown side of the famous polemicist.

After writing his famous book “god Is Not Great: Why Religion Poisons Everything,” Hitchens gave an open invitation to debate anyone, anywhere. Many evangelicals took him up on the offer, sparking a few years’ worth of lively events all across the United States. Hitchens later wrote about being pleasantly surprised and impressed by his experience with the evangelical community–both in terms of their genuine likability and respectfulness, but also their intellectual power. Taunton is an evangelical Christian apologist who both debated Hitchens directly and also served as moderator for other debates. Hitchens and Taunton became good friends and, after the former’s diagnosis of cancer, went on two road trips together and studied the Gospel of John.

The Clockwork Three by Matthew J Kirby

The Clockwork Three by Matthew J KirbyThe Clockwork Three is one of the best middle grade children’s books I’ve read in a long time. It’s charming, the characters are genuine and realistic, the prose is poetic and creatively descriptive, and the plotting is tight without seeming unlikely.

The story takes place in a steampunk version of New York City (although it’s never named as such) in the late 18th century, and involves three kids whose stories intersect and overlap:

Giuseppe is an “employee” of a low level thug who provides minimal food and shelter for street urchins in exchange for all their money earned playing instruments on the streets; he’s effectively a slave. When a magical green violin washes up on shore, the music that Giuseppe pulls from it literally stops listeners in their tracks, and he earns more money in one song than he does in a week with his old violin. He quickly realizes it’s his ticket out, back to Italy where his family is from. But his patrone discovers the new violin and Giuseppe barely escapes with his life. Now he’s on the run from ruffians, but unable to get out of the city or buy a boat fare home.

The Comic Book Story of Beer: The World’s Favorite Beverage from 7000 BC to Today’s Craft Brewing Revolution

The Comic Book Story of Beer: The World's Favorite Beverage from 7000 BC to Today's Craft Brewing RevolutionPerhaps it depends on the topic and the artist depicting it, but I’ve become convinced that the graphic novel as a medium for narrating history–at a high level, at least–is a large well of untapped potential. Jonathan Hennessey’s contributions in this vein are simply fantastic, and although I give this third entry one fewer star than the others, it’s only because the first two (on the Constitution and the Gettysburg Address, respectively) are top-notch and hard to beat.
The Comic Book Story of Beer starts with pre-historic man and the fermented drinks they consumed, and then touches on the many ways beer has been a sidekick to most of world history. Long before science came along to articulate what was actually happening with the drying of grain, the fermenting process, the discovery of yeast, and more, people interacted with beer in ways varying from mysticism and superstition to economic exploitation. Along the way, as the book covers the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and European peoples, we get “profiles” of different styles of brew: Lambic, Trappist Dubbel, Bock, Porter, India Pale Ale, Pilsner, American L ager, American Pale Ale, and Belgian Wit. The reader will learn about international bitter units (IBUs) and other qualitative measurements of beer that have only been developed in the twentieth century.

The Legend of Sam Miracle by ND Wilson

The Legend of Sam Miracle by ND WilsonThe Legend of Sam Miracle is an exciting and intense story. I read this to my 8 year old, and he loved it. I’m not sure he fully understood all of the concepts–the plot involves multiple deaths of the mean characters across many different timelines, including the ability of the main villain to slow down time and avoid injury during attacks–but it’s a non-stop thrill ride of excitement.

The creative storyline is fresh and imaginative: after getting shot up, Sam Miracle wakes up to find snakes grafted into his arms–the only way to save them from being amputated. One snake wants to kill everything it sees, so Sam must be wary on when he chooses to wield his pistol, while the snake in the other hand is sort of a goofball who will always hit what he’s aiming at but refuses to shoot to kill.

Tricked by Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles #4)

Tricked by Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles #4) Tricked (Book 4 of The Iron Druid Chronicles) is a chance for the reader to catch his breath. Book 3 ended with an epic battle up in Asgard against the Norse gods, with Atticus barely escaping with his life. Now that he’s proven he is capable of killing a god, and bringing the battle to multiple planes of reality, he’s at the top of the magical most wanted list. And so, he fakes his death (twice, actually) in order to keep the gods off his trail. But before Atticus can settle down in obscurity to train his new apprentice, he must take care of a bunch of loose ends. One of those is to return a favor owed to a trickster Navajo god, and naturally he gets far more than he bargained for.

Hammered by Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles #3)

Hammered (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #3) by Kevin Hearne

The mythical backdrop completely shifts in Hammered (the third book of the Iron Druid Chronicles). In order to secure the assistance of a powerful Hindi witch, which he needed to destroy a powerful enemy in the previous book, Atticus O’Sullivan agreed to steal one of Idun’s golden apples, which bestow immortality. He manages to sneak into Asgard but encounters more than he bargained for, and barely escapes with his life. Now the Norse pantheon is after him, including Odin and the Valkyries.
But there’s more. Atticus is maneuvered into leading a band of vengeful supernatural beings into Asgard again–this time to kill an enemy they hold in common, a Norse deity whom it turns out is universally hated: Thor. An epic battle ensues on the plains of the Norse realm. I won’t give the ending away, but the book closes on a cliffhanger.