Harmon Killebrew

Harmon Killebrew
Photo: Harmon Killebrew
Harmon Killebrew at bat

I was so sad to hear that Harmon Killebrew is entering hospice care after losing his fight to esophageal cancer. A good friend of mine died of it; it’s nasty.

My first memory of Harmon Killebrew is my first iconic boyhood memory: It was my first ballgame with my father at the old Met Stadium. The Twins were hosting the Baltimore Orioles. We went with a neighbor and our seats were along the third base line, so our neighbor kept telling me to keep an eye on the great Orioles third baseman of the time, Brooks Robinson.

I remember fat men standing around on the concourse drinking beer and the smell of their thick cigar smoke. I remember Tony Oliva breaking a bat by pounding it on home plate after disagreeing with the umpire’s called third strike.

In the bottom of the ninth the Twins were behind by a run. Harmon, in his last years as a Twin and relegated to DH duty, stepped up to bat to the thundering feet of the crowd, stomping in expectation.

Crack. The ball arched high across the sky down the third base line and settled into the upper-deck stands…just foul. Harmon ended up striking out and the Twins lost but I was astonished that a human being could hit the ball so hard and so far.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Harmon Killebrew but from afar he always came off as a kind and gentle man. Thank you, Harmon.

4 Books I Just Bought, Can’t Wait To Read, But Probably Won’t Get Around To For Another Year

I just bought four books (actual, real books…not eBooks) and I’m pretty excited about diving into them but who the hell am I kidding? I’ve got seven books I’m currently reading, so it’s probably going to be next March by the time I get around to these four.

Anyway, these are the books that have just struck my fancy:

This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science Of A Human Obsession

I’ve been fascinated with the effect music has on us not just emotionally but physically as well since reading Music, The Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain, so it’s no surprise that This Is Your Brain On Music caught my eye.

From Publishers Weekly: Think of a song that resonates deep down in your being. Now imagine sitting down with someone who was there when the song was recorded and can tell you how that series of sounds was committed to tape, and who can also explain why that particular combination of rhythms, timbres and pitches has lodged in your memory, making your pulse race and your heart swell every time you hear it.

Remarkably, Levitin does all this and more, interrogating the basic nature of hearing and of music making, without losing an affectionate appreciation for the songs he’s reducing to neural impulses. Levitin is the ideal guide to this material: he enjoyed a successful career as a rock musician and studio producer before turning to cognitive neuroscience, earning a Ph.D. and becoming a top researcher into how our brains interpret music. Though the book starts off a little dryly (the first chapter is a crash course in music theory), Levitin’s snappy prose and relaxed style quickly win one over and will leave readers thinking about the contents of their iPods in an entirely new way.

The Artist, The Philosopher, and The Warrior

Now to the history books, starting with Italy, one of my favorite places. The top of the cover of The Artist, The Philosopher, and The Warrior cites “Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the world they shaped.” That was enough to sell me this book.

If you subscribe to the theory that great individuals shape history, the Leonardo Da Vinci, Niccolo Machiavelli and Cesare Borgia are certainly three prime candidates for the shaping of the Italy of the Renaissance period and of Western civilization.

Amazon’s book description: The Renaissance was a child of many fathers–none more important than the three iconic figures whose intersecting lives provide the basis for this astonishing work of narrative history: Leonardo Da Vinci, Niccolo Machiavelli and Cesar Borgia. Each could not have been more different. They would meet only for a short time in 1502 but the events that transpired, would significantly alter their perceptions–and the course of Western history.

In 1502, Italy was riven by conflict, with the city of Florence as the ultimate prize. Machiavelli, the consummate political manipulator, attempted to placate the savage Borgia by volunteering the services of Da Vinci as Borgia’s chief military engineer. That autumn, the three men embarked together on a brief, perilous, and fateful journey through the mountains, remote villages and hill towns of the Italian Romagna–the details of which were revealed in Machiavelli’s often-daily dispatches and Da Vinci’s meticulous notebooks.

In a book that is at once a gripping adventure story and a trenchant analysis of how men make history, The Artist, the Philosopher and the Warrior limns each man’s personality, their interactions, and the forces that shaped their world. Superbly written, meticulously researched, here is a work of narrative genius–whose subject is the very nature of genius itself.

The American Civil War: A Military History

I’ve been looking for a concise history of the American Civil War for years so when I saw The American Civil War with John Keegan, one of the foremost military historians, as the author, I had to buy it.

From Publishers Weekly: American scholars tend to write the Civil War as a great national epic, but Keegan, an Englishman with a matchless knowledge of comparative military history, approaches it as a choice specimen with fascinating oddities. His more thematic treatment has its shortcomings—his campaign and battle narratives can be cursory and ill-paced—but it pays off in far-ranging discussions of broader features: the North’s strategic challenge in trying to subdue a vast Confederacy ringed by formidable natural obstacles and lacking in significant military targets; the importance of generalship; the unusual frequency of bloody yet indecisive battles; and the fierceness with which soldiers fought their countrymen for largely ideological motives.

Keegan soars above the conflict to delineate its contours, occasionally swooping low to expand on a telling detail or a moment of valor or pathos. Some of his thoughts, as on the unique femininity of Southern women and how the Civil War stymied socialism in America, are less than cogent. Still, Keegan’s elegant prose and breadth of learning make this a stimulating, if idiosyncratic, interpretation of the war.

Revolutionary Deists: Early America’s Rational Infidels

The title Revolutionary Deists simply struck me as ammunition against the rewriting of our history as embodied in the belligerent idiocy of the Tea Party.

Amazon description: For some eighty-five years–between, roughly, 1725 and 1810–the American colonies were agitated by what can only be described as a revolutionary movement. This was not the well-known political revolution that culminated in the War of Independence, but a revolution in religious and ethical thought. Its proponents called their radical viewpoint “deism.” They challenged Christian orthodoxy and instead endorsed a belief system that celebrated the power of human reason and saw nature as God’s handiwork and the only revelation of divine will.

In this illuminating discussion of American deism, philosopher Kerry Walters presents an overview of the main tenets of deism, showing how its influence rose swiftly and for a time became a highly controversial subject of debate in the colonies.

The deists were students of the Enlightenment and took a keen interest in the scientific study of nature. They were thus critical of orthodox Christianity for its superstitious belief in miracles, persecution of dissent, and suppression of independent thought and expression.

At the heart of his book are profiles of six “rational infidels,” most of whom are quite familiar to Americans as founding fathers or colonial patriots: Benjamin Franklin (the ambivalent deist), Thomas Jefferson (a critic of Christian supernaturalism but an admirer of its ethics), Ethan Allen (the rough-edged “frontier deist”), Thomas Paine (the arch iconoclast and author of The Age of Reason), Elihu Palmer (the tireless crusader for deism and perhaps its most influential proponent), and Philip Freneau (a poet whose popular verses combined deism with early romanticism).

This is a fascinating study of America’s first culture war, one that in many ways has continued to this day.

King Tut Exhibit

King Tut Exhibit

The Science Museum of Minnesota is currently showing a King Tut exhibit, entitled Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs. The exhibit takes you back in time 3,000 years to one of the most remarkable periods in history. King Tut features 100 authentic artifacts. Walk among the history of some of ancient Egypt’s most significant rulers, including Tut’s relatives, with artifacts immersing you in the daily life, religion, and funeral practices that took place under the rule of the pharaohs. The exhibit runs through September 5, 2011. Found at YouTube from sciencemuseummn.

Here’s two more King Tut videos for you:

Found at YouTube from NationalGeographic.

Found at YouTube from AncientDez.

The Real George Washington Exhibit

The Real George Washington Exhibit

Starting tomorrow, the Minnesota History Center is featuring an exhibit on George Washington that will run through May 29. Learn about George Washington as a young surveyor, dauntless warrior, entrepreneur and presidential first. This new, traveling exhibit from Mount Vernon features forensic models of Washington at various ages; short films by the History Channel and computer interactives; portraits and decorative arts; period weapons; and personal artifacts, including the only surviving full set of Washington’s dentures. Found at YouTube from NationalGeographic. Happy Presidents Day!

The History Of Prohibition

I was catching up on some podcasts and just finished listening to a Fresh Air program from May that I thought was fascinating. Terry Gross interviews author Daniel Okrent about his book Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. It’s a great interview, so I wanted to share.

Between the years of 1920, when the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was passed, and 1933, when the 21st Amendment repealed the restriction, it was illegal to sell, transport or manufacture “intoxicating” beverages for consumption in the United States.

But Prohibition didn’t stop drinking; it simply pushed the consumption of booze underground. By 1925, there were thousands of speakeasy clubs operating out of New York City, and bootlegging operations sprang up around the country to supply thirsty citizens with alcoholic drinks.

Fresh Air: Prohibition Life: Politics, Loopholes And Bathtub Gin [MP3]