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  • Retired Reader - Grit and GloryAs Ralph Peters notes, there are scores of both non-fiction and fictional accounts concerning the battle of Gettysburg. He might have added that there also hundreds of genuine amateur and professional experts on the battle who have written hundreds of papers, studies, and appreciations of this most famous battle. So the obvious question is what a value does this fictional book add to the general understanding of those terrible three days.

    Well the answer is quite a bit. Peters juxtaposes an in depth discussion of the decisions and operations that affected both Union and Confederate Armies with fascinating accounts of the effect they had on individual fighting men. He more or less follows the fortunes of two regiments in particular: the 26th North Carolina and the 26th Wisconsin Volunteers through the three days of the battle. As clearly someone who knows a good deal of combat he strips the glamour and glory of battle away to show its real cost in blood and effort. His descriptions of the battle ring true and are horrific.

    Peters also provides a brilliant and no doubt accurate description of the importance of command and control, staff work, and decision making at all levels in battle. He understands the three day battle as consisting of three phases:
    1) The meeting engagement on 1 July when the Confederate Forces fatally failed to capture key ground around Gettysburg.
    2) The unsuccessful efforts to break through the Union flanks on 2 July.
    3) And finally the ill-conceived frontal attacks on the Union center on 3 July.

    Peters is even handed in his treatment of both sides and makes sure the courage and endurance shown by soldiers on both sides is accurately depicted. His description of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is perhaps the most interesting. General Lee's personal and professional pride along with sub-standard staff work were behind the Confederate defeat. Throughout the book Lee is depicted as cold and aloof yet loved by his troops. Only after the defeats of the third day does it become obvious that Lee loves and trusts his troops and they in turn reflect that love and trust. Find an American General today who would have the moral courage and respect for his troops that Lee had when he rode to the broken bloodied men struggling from the battlefield on that third day and confessed to them that it was all "his fault".
  • Anonymous Reader - The Intriguing Trip (on Many Levels) of an Unlikely Spiritual SeekerDaniel Pinchbeck is a rather unlikely spiritual seeker. In 2012, Pinchbeck's memoir of his investigation of the forthcoming end of the Mayan calendar, the quest for alternative realities and higher levels of meaning is joined with Pinchbeck's ongoing search for drugs and illicit sex. So as Pinchbeck travels to metaphysical venues, he manages healthy doses of iboga (a psychedelic used by the Bwiti cult in Gabon) and ayahuasca (a hallucinogen used in Amazon Basin rituals) and consummates affairs with or lusts after a variety of women, despite the fact that his committed partner has recently borne a daughter.

    The joke's on the disapproving reader though, myself included. Despite his many shortcomings, Pinchbeck offers an excellent and intriguing narrative and delivers himself of many a well-honed spiritual principle. His efforts to find a balance between male and female energies mirrors the ageless effort to master the classic yin-yang dichotomy. Similarly, Pinchbeck provides a fascinating take on the possibility that the coming of 2012 will integrate the spiritual beliefs that underpin many indigenous cultures with the advanced techologies of the developed world. (For a very different analysis of 2012 that reaches similar conclusions, read futurologist John Petersen's outstanding A Vision of 2012.)

    In service of his narrative, Pinchbeck takes the reader on a global tour of New Age and tribal sites, ranging from the Bwiti lands in Gabon; to England's Glastonbury, Avebury and Stonehenge; to a "priestess" retreat in Hawaii; to the Burning Man festival in Nevada; to the Amazon Basin; and, finally, to Arizona's Hopi mesa. Pinchbeck's accounts of his visits to these venues are themselves fascinating, as are the metaphysical conclusions that Pinchbeck derives therefrom. Granted, Pinchbeck's conduct is maddening-- his desire for drugs, promiscuous sex, and general bad behavior never abates-- but he is an acute observer and never dull.

    Can one learn from a highly imperfect teacher? To recognize the perfection embodied in imperfection is itself an important spiritual lesson. Daniel Pinchbeck is indeed an unlikely spiritual teacher whose merits and shortcomings should be weighed carefully, but he has written a lively work with many important observations. Weeks after finishing 2012, I still find myself mulling over Pinchbeck's experiences and conclusions, and I look forward to a second reading of this book.

    Bottom line: If you are intrigued by the meaning of the Mayan calendar and you are open to exploring a fascinating-- albeit maddening-- travelogue with a metaphysical bent, make time for 2012.