Tim at Lake Louise, March 2016If you follow this blog you may be wondering, “where are the book reviews?”

I’ve taken a three month break from reviewing books.  Traditionally the first three months of the year are the busiest for our travel business.  And I have been blogging, just about other topics in other places.  Here are some of my recent entries on our travel blog:

A Look at the Canadian Rockies Fairmont Resorts

Wildlife Viewing in Canada

Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies

Edmonton – Capital City of Alberta

Calgary – Gateway to the Canadian Rockies

My Super Bowl 50 Experience (with pictures)

I have been reading books, though, and I have three or four in the queue ready for review.  I’ll resume my book reviews soon!

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Jan
01

My top 5 books of 2015

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timfrance2015 was a year in transition for this blog.  I got my start reviewing books through Hay House’s Book Nook program, and I will always be grateful to Hay House for all the free books they sent my way to review the past few years.  But the Book Nook program went away early in 2015, so what was I do to?  I found two other sources for books to review – Overdrive (where you can get digital books on loan from the library) and NetGalley (a book reviewer site with far more variety than Hay House’s).  In addition I am often approached by authors to review their books, and I read a few of those this year, too.  Occasionally I will throw in posts on other topics, like stories from my travels (the picture to the left is from my trip to France in the summer of 2015).

Because I had more sources to review books from, I was more selective in the titles I read.  Consequently I consider 2015 my best year yet in the number of quality books I read.  It was tough to choose a top 5.  Here’s my list with a link to my original review for each book:

5.  PTCSPost Traumatic Church Syndrome by Reba Riley

The story of a woman who walked away from Evangelical Christianity, but she did not give up on God or spirituality.  It wasn’t easy for Reba as she is very open in this book about her doubts along the way as she samples 30 religious groups before the age of 30.  Eventually she finds a more loving and inclusive spiritual orientation that works for her.  I enjoyed her humor in the book. “Like Reba, I’ve moved from following the religion of my youth to creating a spirituality that does work, and I feel reading Post Traumatic Church Syndrome will encourage you to do the same,” I wrote in my review.

The Wright Brothers4,  The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

In past years I primarily read self help and spiritual types of books.  In 2015 I felt like something different – reading biographies.  The amazing story of the Wright Brothers, told in wonderful detail by David McCullough, was one of the best.  “Modern day dreamers would do well to learn from the Wright brothers’ story, to persist despite setbacks and criticism to achieve their own lofty goals,” I wrote in my review.

 

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 4.03.55 PM3. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

The second biography on my list – the story of war hero Louis Zamperini and all the struggles he endured, only to emerge as one of the most loving, caring, and spiritual persons you could ever imagine.  From my review: “What made his life transcendent, what made it resonate in millions of hearts, was not the hardship he encountered, but the way in which he greeted it, how he turned it to joy, and what that told the rest of us about the potential that sleeps within ourselves,” Hillenbrand wrote in her eulogy to Zamperini.  Zamperini passed away in July 2014, but his story lives on to inspire us all.

Big Magic2. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

A must read for aspiring writers (like me) or any creative person, Gilbert gives wonderful suggestions from her own life in overcoming fear and allowing her creativity to emerge.  From my review: Gilbert tells the reader in response to fear to “please calm down now and get back to work, okay?  The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.”  Her words inspired me to revive a stalled book project I’ve been working on, and I feel she’ll encourage you to pursue your creative dreams, too.

Rising Strong1. Rising Strong by Brené Brown

I read lots of books that emphasize positive thinking.  But what happens when life doesn’t turn out like you hoped, despite your best intentions?  Rising Strong addresses that.  From my review: While reading Rising Strong one of my favorite quotes from came to mind: “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”  (William Arthur Ward).  Rising Strong is a book for realists..  Rather than denying hurts Brown encouraged me to work my way through failures, to adjust my own sails.  “The truth is that falling hurts. The dare is to keep being brave and feel your way through it,” she says.

 

Honorable mention:

hell in the hallwayHell in the Hallway, Light at the Door by Ellen Debenport

From Unity minister Ellen Debenport, this book has a similar theme to Rising Strong.   From my review: Chances are you have experienced an unexpected trial at sometime during your life.  A loss of a job, a major illness, a divorce, or something else.  Just when life seems to be going great you are thrown a curve.  Are you able to work through this struggle to emerge stronger on the other side?  For help in doing that I recommend reading Ellen Debenport’s new book.

 

Grammar of GodThe Grammar of God: a Journey Into the Words and Worlds of the Bible by Aviya Kushner

I am not fond of fundamentalists who think their interpretation of the Bible is the only “right” way.  What if there is another way to interpret the Bible (specifically the Old Testament)?  From my review: The English Old Testament is a source of inspiration for millions of people.  But what if the English translation deviates from the original Hebrew meaning throughout the text?  That’s the premise of Aviya Kushner’s new book.

Occasionally I get an email from an author thanking me for a review.  I was warmed by Kushner’s email to me where she wrote, “Thank you for your thoughtful review of The Grammar of God. I feel you truly understood what I was trying to do!”

Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 2.00.19 PMDo The Clearing by John Benz

An excellent book for getting rid of the junk in our lives that hold us back – both physical and emotional clutter.  This is the only entry in my top 2015 review where the author asked me to evaluate his book, and I’m glad I did.  From my review: “Never let any one person or thing blind you to the awesomeness you possess,” Benz writes in the book’s concluding pages.  “and if some of the events in your life don’t turn out the way you planned, keep going, create new endings, and never stop making this the life you want.”  I liked this positive recap.  Do The Clearing motivated me to let go of some unpleasant things and thoughts from my past, and I think it will do the same for you, too.

 

I write these reviews as much for me as for anyone.  Months after I have read a book I can go back to my review and remember what influenced me most from the author’s words.  Thank you for following my blog, and more reviews to come in 2016!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Big Magic“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them,” writes Elizabeth Gilbert, “The hunt to uncover those jewels—that’s creative living.”  The author of the megahit “Eat, Pray, Love” and other best sellers, Gilbert knows a thing or two about creativity.  She shares her insights in her new book “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear”.

As in Eat, Pray, Love, Big Magic is written in a conversational style that makes the reader feel he/she is discussing creativity with a best friend – your best friend Liz.  “Please understand that the only reason I can speak so authoritatively about fear is that I know it so intimately. I know every inch of fear, from head to toe,” Gilbert writes.  I liked the author’s openness as she tells of her own challenges.  She gives numerous examples of blocks she overcame in writing Eat, Pray, Love and other books.  “Your fear will always be triggered by your creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcome,” she counsels.

Gilbert has a way of anticipating any objections the reader may have.  “This idea I have has already been explored in other books, why should I write mine?” is one I have told myself.  Liz won’t let me get away with that.  “Aspiring writers will often tell me, ‘I have an idea, but I’m afraid it’s already been done.’ Well, yes, it probably has already been done.  Most things have already been done—but they have not yet been done by you.”  Touche!

In another section Gilbert deals with the sensitive topic of money.  “I have watched so many other people murder their creativity by demanding that their art pay the bills … You must be smart about providing for yourself. To claim that you are too creative to think about financial questions is to infantilize yourself—and I beg you not to infantilize yourself, because it’s demeaning to your soul.”  She tells how she had a day job while authoring her first three books – only after she hit the big time with Eat, Pray, Love could she live on her writing income alone.  I found her advice to be very practical.

While Big Magic contains loads of suggestions for us creative types, it’s not all lecture.  Gilbert includes many personal stories throughout, like the time she asked her partner Felipe if he felt comfortable with her writing about him in Eat, Pray, Love.  “Well, it depends, What’s at stake?” he asks.  “Nothing,” she replied, “Trust me – nobody reads my books.” (Eat, Pray, Love went on to be read by over 12 million people!)  In this way Big Magic is a fun book to read, too.

In conclusion Gilbert tells the reader in response to fear to “please calm down now and get back to work, okay?  The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.”  Her words inspired me to revive a stalled book project I’ve been working on, and I feel she’ll encourage you to pursue your creative dreams, too.

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(Here’s a book review I posted on my sports blog.  Since it is a book review, a feature of this blog, I wanted to post it here, too! – Tim)

As a long time fan of the Denver Broncos I was excited to read Mike Klis’ new book “Mile High Magic: The 25 Greatest Moments in Denver Broncos History”.  Klis’ anthology of the team’s history did not disappoint – it’s the best book I’ve read on the Broncos to date.

Klis has covered the Broncos as a reporter first for the Denver Post (2005-2014) and this year for Channel 9 television in Denver.  I liked that Mile High Magic was more than a rehash of old newspaper stories – Klis interviewed many Bronco stars of the past to get their current take on memorable events in the team’s history.  “The Drive was kind of my coming out party,” John Elway relates when thinking back to the #1 moment in the book – the 98 yard touchdown drive in the waning minutes of the 1987 AFC Championship game in Cleveland.  “That legitimized me in big games.”  I enjoyed reliving the great moments of the Broncos past through the eyes of the players that made them happen.

The book is beautifully illustrated, with classic color photos from past game action.  This is your ultimate coffee table Broncos book.  I would buy it just for the pictures alone.

In addition Mile High Magic is packed with interesting little facts about the team that even the most ardent Bronco fans may not be aware of. Moment #18 is John Elway’s 43 yard pass to a leaping Rod Smith in a September 1995 game to beat the Washington Redskins as time expired.  “It was the only football game Elway had ever played in – high school, college, or pro – that he threw a touchdown pass on the final play to win the game,” Klis writes.  I did not know that!

A minor beef I had with the book:  Klis has too much Manning in the book, and too little “Little”.  Peyton Manning has five of the team’s great moments, while Hall of Famer Floyd Little only has one.  Some notable Floyd Little games that did not make the Klis top 25:

1.  The Broncos 21-19 victory over the defending Super Bowl Champion NY Jets in 1969.  I talked to another long time fan recently and we rated this game, and last month’s amazing victory over the undefeated New England Patriots, as the two best Bronco regular season home games ever.  Why was this game great?  Read my previous post about it here.

2.  The Broncos 27-0 win over Art Modell’s Cleveland Browns in 1971 after Modell had said during the NFL/AFL wars that the Denver Broncos would never play in his stadium  Starting with this game the Broncos would be the Browns’ nemesis for decades.

3.  The Broncos first Monday Night Football appearance ever –  a 23-23 tie against the hated Raiders in 1973.

While Floyd’s Bronco teams were not nearly as successful on the field as Peyton’s, these games from the late 60’s and early 70’s were important in establishing the Broncos’ franchise identity on a national level.  Why not condense the five Manning moments into two or three, and bump the number of Floyd Little moments in the list to match Peyton’s?  Manning, after all, is going into the Hall of Fame as an Indianapolis Colt, and not as a Denver Bronco.

But every long time fan will no doubt have their own top 25 moments that won’t necessarily match the author’s choices. This does not detract from the book.  Mile High Magic is a wonderful walk down Denver Broncos memory lane.  A must read for fans who have lived through many of the team’s great moments like I have.

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hell in the hallwayChances are you have experienced an unexpected trial at sometime during your life.  A loss of a job, a major illness, a divorce, or something else.  Just when life seems to be going great you are thrown a curve.  Are you able to work through this struggle to emerge stronger on the other side?  For help in doing that I recommend reading Ellen Debenport’s new book, “Hell in the Hallway, Light at the Door: How to Move Gracefully Through Change into Renewed and Abundant Life”.

“When one door closes, another one opens, but it can be hell in the hallway,” Debenport writes.  “Some events in our lives hurt like hell and irrevocably change the landscape of our world. This book is designed to guide you through those times.”

Hell in the Hallway is divided into three parts:

  • Welcome to the Hallway (with many examples of different types of hallways people encounter – you are sure to identify with one or more of these).
  • The Work of the Hallway (recommended practices as you work through your own dark night of the soul)
  • Opening the Door (exiting the hallway to a new beginning)

Debenport, a minister at Unity of Wimberley, includes examples from her congregation and others throughout the book.  I liked the organization of each chapter: real life accounts of people who have dealt with their own hallways, followed by Debenport’s insights in “Bits of Wisdom” and “This Prayer is for You”.  The author gently leads us through a variety of trials, drawing the reader to see positives in life’s unfortunate events.  “The work of the hallway is to shift our thinking from victim to volunteer,” she writes, “from ‘Why did this happen to me,’ to ‘Why did this happen for me?'”

Hell in the Hallway is not a preachy book.  When visiting a young woman from her church in the hospital with heart problems, the minister is greeted with “Don’t tell me I created this.”  Debenport’s response, “I shut my mouth.”  While questions such as “why me?” may arise it’s not an opportunity for others “to speculate about someone else’s spiritual condition,”  she feels.  Debenport also writes about working through one of her hallways – leaving a secure job as a newspaper reporter to become a minister.  I appreciated Debenport being open about her own doubts during this transition.

As you come out of a personal hallway Debenport concludes “you are emerging from a period of darkness in your life, never for a moment having been alone or abandoned, but always loved.”  I liked her emphasis on God’s unconditional love.  “Everything will be okay in the end,” she writes, repeating a phrase she lives by.  “If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

Hear from the author herself talk about her book in this short video:

 

 

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One of my favorite musical artists is Peter Mayer.  My wife and I recently had the pleasure of attending one of Peter’s concerts in Colorado Springs.  He opened with this song –  The Beauty of the World.  Love it! And very appropriate for Thanksgiving week.

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Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 9.52.01 PMI received a complementary copy of this book for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.

It’s been over 15 years since Charles Schulz published his last Peanuts comic strip.  The popular series, which ran for almost 50 years, has enjoyed a resurgence this year thanks to the recently released Peanuts Movie, featuring Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the gang in 3-D.  Now a new book explores the motives of the creator of Peanuts: A Charlie Brown Religion: Exploring the Spiritual Life and Work of Charles M. Schulz by Stephen Lind.

I always thought of Peanuts as a cute kids comic strip.  A Charlie Brown Religion reveals that Peanuts was more than that.  In his comic strip Charles Schulz, a deeply religious man, often revealed his current spiritual state.  It all started with the popular 1965 television program: A Charlie Brown Christmas.  The special featured the Peanuts character Linus reading a Bible passage to tell Charlie Brown the real meaning of Christmas.  TV executives weren’t sure how the special would be received. “Whether or not the enterprise survived would be left to the American public – a public that studio executives, like most in their industry, feared would reject the explicit religious message,” writes Lind.

It would appear that Charles Schulz was destined to be a hero to the nation’s fundamentalist Christians after the high ratings A Charlie Brown Christmas earned. Not so fast.  I liked how Lind shows the conflicts Schulz struggled with in his own faith, and how that was reflected in Peanuts.  Lind reveals the spiritual bent of the comic in this exchange:  “Santa Claus is twice the man the Great Pumpkin is!” Lucy shouts at Linus in a daily strip.  “You’re crazy!” Linus says.  As they continue back and forth a helpless Charlie Brown comments, “I’m always disturbed by denominational squabbling.”  This strip reflected Schulz’s own aversion to theological arguments within the church. “Schulz felt strongly about such divisions in churches, lamenting that competition and exclusion were taking way from the call to love one’s neighbor,” Lind writes.

In another Great Pumpkin strip, the Peanuts character Peppermint Patty is distraught over being told they were in the last days.  This was consistent with Schulz’s own distaste for those churches that emphasized prophesy. “I think this is irresponsible preaching and very dangerous,” Lind quotes Schulz, “and especially when it is slanted towards children.  I think it is totally irresponsible, because I see nothing biblical that points up to our being in the last days, and I just think it’s an outrageous thing do do, and a lot of people are making a living – they’ve been making a living for 2000 years – preaching that we’re in the last days.”

I liked how Lind used writings and speeches of Schulz, and examples of numerous Peanuts comic strips, to show the changing spiritual perspective of this popular cartoonist.  “Charles Schulz has been labeled a fundamentalist Christian and an atheist. Such explanations are not only incorrect, they are too simple,” Lind writes.  “Charles Schulz’s life was rich, and his faith in the mysteries of God was personal.  He, like any artist (like any human), was a multifaceted, complex person.  His spiritual beliefs were no different.”

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synchronicityI received a complementary copy of this book for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.

“Have you ever been astonished by a striking coincidence? Indeed, so awestruck that you can’t help wondering whether there’s some kind of hidden order or organizing force at large in the universe?” writes Chris Mackey early in his new book Synchronicity: Empower Your Life with the Gift of Coincidence. “You might be a very rational-minded person, but this thought strikes you nonetheless. I’d call that kind of coincidence ‘synchronicity’.”

Well, I am a very rational type of person.  Yet I’ve noticed synchronicity in my own life so I was intrigued by what Mackey, a psychologist with 35 years of experience, had to say about the subject.  I was impressed with the detail in which Mackey explains this phenomena.  After you are done reading Synchronicity I feel you’ll believe in it, too.

“I believe there’s more to (synchronicity) than coincidence. In my view, it is a gift from the universe: a most valuable one,” Mackey writes.  I think back to when I was dating my future wife.  We lived 30 miles apart, the engineer (me) and the social worker (her) who met by a personal ad. By chance we happened to work 1/2 block away from each other, which gave us the opportunity for frequent lunch dates.  Coincidence?  Or Synchronicity?  27 years later I’d say synchronicity!

Mackey says if you tune into synchronicity you can tell if you are on the right track in life.  “If you face a challenge or an opportunity that seems to call for immediate action, and if around the same time you experience a markedly uncanny coincidence, that amounts to an affirmation, a ‘tick from the universe’ –a cue to forge ahead with your chosen action,” he writes.  I liked how Mackey points out the other side of synchronicity, too.  “If we’re struggling with what we’re doing and finding it difficult to become focused and motivated, this might be a pointer that we could be better off following a different path.,” he says.

At times I felt Synchonicity was too detailed for me, written more for those in the counseling profession than the average Joe.  Yet I still found value in Synchronicity;  I find myself paying more attention to synchronous events (and conversely when things don’t seem to be working) since reading Mackey’s book.

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The Wright Brothers“They had had no college education, no formal technical training, no experience working with anyone other than themselves, no friends in high places, no financial backers, no government subsidies, and little money of their own,” David McCullough writes in his new book about Orville and Wilbur Wright.  And there was an “entirely real possibility that at some point … they could be killed.”  Yet despite these long odds the Wright brothers made history – becoming the first men to fly.

I liked McCullough’s detailed account of the Wright brothers’ lives.  The author astutely quotes from the Wrights’ original letters and diaries to tell their story.  I learned that the Wright brothers never married, and that their sister Katherine and “Bishop Wright” (their minister father) played large roles in their success.   McCullough takes the reader step by step from the solitude of their first glider trials at Kitty Hawk to Wilbur’s successful motorized flight in front of thousands in France.   “We couldn’t help thinking they were just a pair of poor nuts. They’d stand on the beach for hours at a time just looking at the gulls flying, soaring, dipping,” McCullough quotes a Kitty Hawk resident of those early days.  In contrast, after Wilbur’s European flight, the Paris Herald reported “There were shouts of ‘C’est l’homme qui a conquis l’air!’ This man has conquered the air!”

The Wrights come across as a very ordinary American family who accomplished extraordinary things.  Before Kitty Hawk, before any of the fame that would come their way, McCullough shares interesting little vignettes on the brothers’ growing up years.  “Orville’s first teacher in grade school, Ida Palmer, would remember him at his desk tinkering with bits of wood,” the author writes.   “Asked what he was up to, he told her he was making a machine of a kind that he and his brother were going to fly someday.”  In another chapter we are told of Wilbur as a high school senior being smashed in the face while playing hockey on a frozen pond (“they played hockey in the 1880’s??” I wondered).  The hockey incident derailed Wilbur’s plans to enroll at Yale. causing him to become a recluse at the Wright home for three years – a period in which he read extensively and spent more time with Orville.  Had the hockey fight not happened, perhaps Wilbur would have gone on to Yale, there would be no partnership with his brother, and manned flight would have been discovered by someone else.

I was fascinated by the ups and downs Orville and Wilbur endured along their journey.  “Probably not one person in a hundred believed the brothers had actually flown in their machine, or if they had, it could only have been a fluke,” McCullough writes about the initial reaction in the Wrights’ home town of Dayton.   In another chapter the author tells of Orville Wright’s near fatal crash on a test flight that killed the sole passenger – the first fatality in aviation history.  Even with fame the Wrights had their challenges, winning numerous law suits from others trying to steal their ideas.  And I found compelling what Orville Wright said in his later years, after the horrors of World War II, of what had become of their airplane invention and its use in warfare.

The spirit of the Wrights was captured best by their father Bishop Wright, who in the last years of his life finally flew with his internationally acclaimed son Orville.  Not letting fear stop him from enjoying the ride at the ripe old age of 82, the Bishop reportedly yelled to his son, “Higher, Orville, higher!”  Modern day dreamers would do well to learn from the Wright brothers’ story, to persist despite setbacks and criticism to achieve their own lofty goals.

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Oct
12

Unbroken (book review)

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Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 4.03.55 PMI first became aware of Louis Zamperini’s story through the movie Unbroken, released last Christmas.  After seeing the movie, I wanted to read Laura Hillenbrand’s book on which the movie is based: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.  The book did not disappoint – it is even better than the movie!  Zamperini’s troubled growing up years, his experience as a runner at the 1936 Olympics, details of his WWII combat missions, his 47 days stranded on a raft in a remote part of the Pacific ocean, his capture and torture by the Japanese, his post war life, and more are all described in rich detail by Hillenbrand.

Unbroken is one of the best researched books I have ever read.  I liked how the author backs up her story with revealing facts about World War II life.  “World War II, 35,933 AAF (Army Air Force) planes were lost in combat and accidents,” she writes in one section, giving us a picture of how dangerous Zamperini’s missions were.  “Of the 34,648 Americans held by Japan, 12,935—more than 37 percent—died,” she writes in another chapter, revealing how brutal the Japanese WWII prisoner of war camps must have been.  “By comparison, only 1 percent of Americans held by the Nazis and Italians died.”

More than statistics, Hillenbrand as a skilled wordsmith describes incidents in Zamperini’s life as though we were there with him.  In the movie Zamperini’s Olympic experience is only touched on briefly.  In the book Hillenbrand tells us what it was like for Zamperini to be a visiting American athlete in 1936 Nazi Germany.  “Louie was led into the führer’s section,” she writes.  “Hitler bent from his box, smiled, and offered his hand. Louie, standing below, had to reach far up. Their fingers barely touched. Hitler said something in German. An interpreter translated. ‘Ah, you’re the boy with the fast finish.'”  The author does a wonderful job of condensing her many hours of interviews with Zamperini to the printed page.

What I liked best about Unbroken was the telling of Zamperini’s post war struggle with bitterness, his conversion to Christianity, and the power of forgiveness in his life.   “What made his life transcendent, what made it resonate in millions of hearts, was not the hardship he encountered, but the way in which he greeted it, how he turned it to joy, and what that told the rest of us about the potential that sleeps within ourselves,” Hillenbrand wrote in her eulogy to Zamperini.  Zamperini passed away in July 2014, but his story lives on to inspire us all.

 

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