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Narrative Of The Operations by Giovanni Belzoni

Narrative Of The Operations

Narrative Of The Operations; co-written by Sarah Belzoni.

My sister enjoyed Egypt on Netflix and knew I would like it. I was fascinated by the two episodes on Giovanni Belzoni. I wanted to follow up with his book. It was long out of print, but also out of copyright ; so it is available on Archive.org.

Giovanni Battista Belzoni had an interesting life. He was a circus ‘strong man’ performing as The Great Belzoni. His fame was sealed after meeting with Henry Salt, the British consul in Egypt. He was hired to move the 7-ton bust of Ramesses II up the Nile and on to the British Museum, in London. This success put Belzoni on the path of a pioneer explorer and accidental archaeologist of Egyptian antiquities .

The full title of the book is, “Narrative of the operations and recent discoveries within the pyramids, temples, tombs, and excavations, in Egypt and Nubia; and of a journey to the coast of the Red Sea, in search of the ancient Berenice, and of another to the oasis of Jupiter Ammon.” Each section of the book deals with his adventures in a different part of the country. And adventures they were. I’m surprised he got out of Egypt alive. The country was in turmoil. The English, the French, the Turks, the Arabs, and various native tribes were all trying to survive in this wild land. The natives were sure he was stealing ‘treasures’ because only a madman would go into the dessert to dig up rocks.
Often his money was worthless and he had to rely on his strength, wits, and guns. His frustrations were felt on almost every page. No one could be trusted. I wasn’t sure Giovanni could be trusted in his accounts either, but they were certainly entertaining. As an archeologist he left a lot to be desired, but the field was in its infancy. Belzoni wasn’t the first nor the last grave robber. At least his artifacts went directly to the British Museum instead of being recycled into other local structures or melted down for profit.

Belzoni isn’t the best writer. English is his second language. But Belzoni is a good observer and his portraits of the people and the land are interesting. Belzoni comes across as a very clever man. He was able to use his intellect to discover hidden tombs and hidden entrances. He used his knowledge of hydraulics and engineering to open and move antiquities using very primitive tools.

The final chapters of the book were written by Sarah (Banne) Belzoni. Although she accompanied Giovanni on many of his operations, there were times were it was too dangerous.. especially going deep into the desert where water was more valuable than gold. On those trips she stayed put in Cairo or went on a trip Jerusalem and had adventures of her own. Sarah wrote about the women and how they were treated: poorly.

The dangers were endless. The Europeans were often very sick. In 1823 Giovanni set out for West Africa, but died of dysentery in the Kingdom of Benin. Who knows what else he might have found if he went to Egypt instead.

B-
512 pages

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Spider From Mars by Woody Woodmansey

Spider From Mars

Spider From Mars: My Life with Bowie is one of the better written Rock Biographies.

Michael ‘Woody’ Woodmanssey was the drummer for David Bowie during his Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars era. As such, Woody played on the four seminal albums that broke Bowie in the UK and the US:

  • The Man Who Sold the World (1970)
  • Hunky Dory (1971)
  • The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)
  • Aladdin Sane (1973)

Woodmansey also lived with David and his wife Angela Bowie along with Mick Ronson (guitar) and Trevor Bolder (bass). The songs were written by Bowie, arranged by Ronson, and finalized by the band in basement of Bowie’s home. These songs took off in a big way. Bowie went from playing coffee houses with an acoustic guitar to selling out the biggest venues for multiple dates. It happen almost overnight. Woody brings the reader into this world and we share his excitement. Not only is Woody a good writer, but he learned faster than most the dangers of drugs and the Rock ‘n’ Roll lifestyle. It’s such a common rock story that when Woody starts turning down drugs and sex it’s almost shocking. It’s a shame David Bowie couldn’t have seen these dangers, but Bowie was under enormous pressure that a mere drummer wasn’t.
It was a short fall for Woodmansey, once David fires the band.

The Bowie story is book-ended by Woodmansey’s early upbringing and post Bowie career. He was good in school until he discovered music, namely drumming. He played in a couple local bands until a guitarist from nearby Hull, Mick Ronson, asked him to join his band. When Woody was asked by Ronson and Bowie to join the Spiders.. it was a difficult decision. Woody had just been given an opportunity for a big promotion at the factory he was working at to a management level job.. a job he enjoyed. Meanwhile, David Bowie was a one-hit wonder, who’s prospects after 8 years in the business were not that great. And once in London, Woody was making less money than he did in his cover band. But he stuck with it, and rest is history.

After Bowie, Woody toured with a number of bands. Woody recounts those highlights in this book. He also tours in a Bowie Tribute band with Tony Visconti (Bowie’s producer and bass player).

If you want to know about David Bowie and the Ziggy period of his history, this is the book for you.

B
336 pages

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North Dakota Tough by Jeff Kolpack

North Dakota Tough

North Dakota Tough: Unknown And Forgotten Stories From A Rural State is not a follow up to “Horns Up” but instead is a collection of sport stories. It’s a eclectic collection. The only thing they have in common is some tie to North Dakota. The stories are interesting. Kolpack’s introduction and epilogue discuss the ‘toughness’ of North Dakota farm kids and whether some of that ‘hard-edge’ has worn off over the years. Kolpack also compares North Dakota ‘Nice’ to Minnesota ‘Nice’. Jeff would rather have North Dakota keep it’s uniqueness. I’m not sure the two states are that different. I agree, that it might be better if ND could stay the way it was but the future waits for no man, not even Jeff Kolpak. Speaking of unique flavor, Kolpak has an odd style of writing, that I find jarring at times, but it also makes me laugh. So I look forward to his next book and his next sports column.

C+
208 pages

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Churchill by Andrew Roberts

Churchill

Is there anyone, ever, who has lived such a complete life as Winston Churchill? The closest I can come up with is Theodore Roosevelt. Churchill lived 90 years, and every decade of his life would fill the biography of a lesser man. At 1151 pages Churchill: Walking with Destiny feels like you just skimmed over his life.

I heard Roberts on a podcast and wanted to read this biography. There was new source material: The wartime diaries of King George VI, the recently-discovered diaries of Ivan Maisky (the UK Soviet Ambassador), and papers from Winston’s children. This new material is interesting but doesn’t change the biography very much.

Andrew Roberts likes his subject, but shows him warts and all. There were plenty of mis-steps in Churchill’s life and they’re recounted here. But it’s interesting how every disaster becomes a blessing in disguise. I found it amusing to see how disliked Churchill was by his own political party and that of the opposition. Churchill was a big self promoter and was an entertaining speaker. (I was reminded often of President Trump.) Churchill stood firm when everyone was sure he was wrong. Churchill was proven right time after time.

Churchill’s partnership with Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin is told in some detail. Churchill hated Stalin only slightly less than Hitler and yet had to deal with Stalin as an ally or lose WW-II. Roosevelt was much easier to work with. I didn’t realize Churchill was a big crier. No wonder he said, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” He seemed to have an endless supply of tears.

I didn’t have any issues with Roberts’ biography, other than it was too short. But there are multi-volume biographies available including Churchill’s books on WW-I and WW-II (which I’ve read, and loved).
A-
1151 pages

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Adventures In The Screen Trade by William Goldman

Adventures In The Screen Trade

The stories are good, especially if you’re old enough to remember the movies Goldman worked on. In Adventures In The Screen Trade he explains why some scripts worked and some didn’t, and the behind-the-scenes politics that determine which movies get made and who makes them. Even in the early 1970s the ‘movie stars’ had more power than one would imagine.
Goldman has one piece of advice that repeats a couple times, “Nobody knows anything.” One that applies in many industries. One that he illustrates with a number of funny stories about Hollywood.
Starting with Chapter 18, Goldman uses one of his short stories to illustrate how he creates a script and then invites other professions to give notes on how it might be shot. I found these chapters to be dull. But then I’m not planning to write a screenplay any time soon. I did enjoy his original short story: “DaVinci”. It sparked a memory of playing marbles in 4th grade.
I look forward to reading his sequel.

B-
436 pages

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Petty by Warren Zanes

Petty

I enjoyed reading Petty: The Biography.
I wish I had read this book before Tom Petty died. Every chapter was bittersweet. As a huge fan of Petty, every chapter brought back dozens of memories from my own life.

The book is short but complete. As I neared the end I assumed the book would end before the final album. But Zane mentions Mudcrutch’s “2” which was the last Tom Petty album.
The book is full of first hand interviews with all the primary people in Petty’s life: family, friends, fellow musicians, his long time manager, band members, crew members, and enough ‘star power’ so you know Zanes was not shut out from anyone with the possible exception of Jane Benyo, Tom’s first wife.
Because Zanes was a musician (Del Fuegos) he has better insights into his subject. He’s critical at times but understanding too. Zane shows Petty as a band leader; a good band leader. A talent I’m sure Zanes appreciates.
The book spends a lot of time on Petty’s childhood, and Tom’s poor relationship with his father. Much is made of Mudcrutch, Petty’s pre-Heartbreakers band. Petty’s friendship with Stevie Nicks was interesting and might explain what happened with Fleetwood Mac recently.

I’m very interested in songwriting, but other than a few tidbits not much is said on the subject. More is made of his relationships, which makes this biography more enjoyable to the general reader. Like many of these rock biographies the story accelerates towards the end. If the album didn’t affect Petty or the Heartbreakers in some major way  then it was simply glossed over.
The book is a good companion piece to “Running Down A Dream” the Heartbreakers documentary by Peter Bogdonavitch. I wonder if Zanes will write a revised version with Petty’s final days and a look at where the Heartbreakers and others ended up.

B+
336 pages

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