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Nexus Nextbooks Review by Diane Wheeler and Kolbi HuntNexus Nextbooks
Jesse Bryant Wilder and other authors
5017 Archmere Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44144
Nexus is a unique blend of literature, history, science, art, theater and music. Defined as the interdisciplinary magazine for students, each volume focuses on a particular historical time period as well as a piece of literature that reflects that period. Written in a magazine format, the articles are fairly short, offering a blend of historical information and modern examples to help students relate to foreign ideas or customs.
The layout is beautiful, using art work, photography and fonts that are well-designed and very pleasing. The style of writing is clear and easy to understand, defining terms that might not be readily understood by students.
I have three different magazines to review: Romeo and Juliet and the Renaissance, which is thirty pages long; The Grapes of Wrath and The American Dream, also thirty pages long; and Macbeth and the Dark Ages, thirty-four pages long.
Romeo and Juliet and the Renaissance includes an article about the structure of an Elizabethan Theater, on Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo, mythology in art and literature, the use of perspective in art, and the music of the Renaissance. The themes, characters and story line of the play is woven through the different articles, allowing students to learn about the time in history and the Shakespeare play. The art work includes prints of da Vinci and Botticelli.
The Grapes of Wrath and The American Dream includes articles on Steinbeck, Charlie Chaplin, the Dust Bowl, FDR and the New Deal, the science of observation and big band music. With photos from the Grapes of Wrath film starring Henry Fonda, and the photography of Dorothea Lange, students are able to see the Great Depression as well as read about it.
Macbeth and the Dark Ages includes information about Edward the Confessor, the Battle of Hastings, the Bayeaux tapestry, illuminating manuscripts, the trebuchet, and witchcraft. Art work is from Goya, Boccaccio, and there are several pictures showing details from the Bayeaux tapestry and examples of illuminated manuscripts.
These magazines include articles on a wide array of subjects, allowing you to introduce many aspects of an historical time period without having to research the introductory information; it has all been done for you. The disadvantage of that is that you are getting the viewpoint of the authors, and that may or may not reflect your family's viewpoint. These three pieces of literature offer very mature subject matter: young love, family feuds, the role of the conscience in decision making, witchcraft, and mythology for example. These topics are approached with a secular, open-minded perspective. Also, the Renaissance art in Romeo and Juliet includes nudity, and the description of Primavera by Botticelli describes, ?the first flush of tender desire? and sex.
There is much to recommend these magazines to a homeschool family. They include a tremendous amount of information. They are beautifully designed, and offer interviews, pictures, and other details that would take hours and hours of research to compile. It is important that parents understand that the time periods and the literature include many subjects that are sensitive. Within the Nexus volumes, these issues may be treated in a way that would be distasteful to your family. Make sure that you preview each one; I would not recommend this as a resource to hand over to a student for studying.
You can find Nexus on the internet at www.nexusbooks.org. Purchased as a homeschooler (through this special link: http://www.nexusbooks.org/index.php'special=homeschool) each issue is $8.50 plus $1.50 for shipping, which is $10.00 each. Purchased as a school, the magazine is only available in 25-issue lots and approaches $213.00.
--Product Review by Diane Wheeler, Contributing Writer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, November, 2005
And another reviewer's perspective:
Jesse Bryant Wilder and other authors
5017 Archmere Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44144
The Basics: Nextbooks, created by the company Nexus, are published works that look just like magazines (glossy and soft, with lots of pictures or illustrations), but that have the content of textbooks (scholarly articles from one to four pages in length).
Each issue, if purchased by homeschoolers, is $10.00, which includes shipping. There are seven Nextbooks, and each is devoted to a specific historical period as follows: Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Dark Ages, Middle Ages, Renaissance, The American Dream, and Harlem Renaissance.
This review will cover specifics relating to only the Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and Middle Ages issues. Further, according to the company's website, each customer purchase will include teacher support materials, which were not available to this reviewer. Thus, they are not included in the review. In short, each Nextbook contains several interdisciplinary articles relating to the issue's applicable time period such as articles about art, music, science, theater, or government from that era.
All articles seem to be presented in such a way as to be used to garner further interest in the era in general or each article's topic in particular. It seems that the publisher's aim is to present enough information from the time period in order to entice each student based upon his or her interests; from there, other articles will interrelate and draw the student further into the period.
Julius Caesar & Ancient Rome from Republic to Empire - Published in 2001, this issue opens with a four-paged biographical article about Julius Caesar; his lifetime achievements, vanity, and motivations are discussed. The next article addresses Shakespeare's play "Julius Caesar" and is followed by a three-page biographical article on Brutus and Cassius. A two-page article giving an overview of the Battle of Phillipi (the biggest battle in Roman history, featuring armies led by Brutus, Octavius, Antony and Cassius) follows with an emphasis on the fall of the Republic with the death of Brutus. Historical articles now give way to a passage about Roman art, including wall paintings, mosaics and intricate urns, and an article about Roman love poetry by poets Ovid, Horace and Catullus.
Next, there is a discussion on the aftermath of Caesar's assassination and short foray into the future roles of Octavius, the future emperor, and Cicero, orator and Senator.
The issue closes with a bloody five-page article about gladiators and the brutal games seen in Rome, including a few paragraphs about Christian martyrs, and an incredibly sophisticated, highly scientific article about catapults (heavy on the physics and mathematics of the machines).
Antigone & The Greek World - "Imagine if a small American city like Ithaca, New York or Athens, Ohio accomplished more in a century than the rest of civilization had ever achieved. Imagine that their accomplishments were so great that 2,500 years from now the world still looked to them for inspiration. This is the case with fifth-century Athens." - Excerpt from page one
Published in 1992, this issue opens with an introductory article briefly explaining the Greeks and the Greek gods and goddesses. An overview of ancient Greek festivals, theater, drama and tragedies follows. Another article discussing "Antigone" and Sohpocles comes next and introduces the idea of democracy, which is further addressed a second time at the end of the magazine.
The Greek tragedy "Oedipus Rex" is given three pages, Greek art such as vases and pottery encompass four, classical Greek sculptures are set forth on one page, and there's a three-page discussion of the Greek games, including women being forbidden from them, follows.
The magazine's heavily scientific and mathematical offering addresses Archimedes, triremes and Pi; a discussion of music (including classical instruments) rounds out this ancient Greek Nextbook.
"The Lion in Winter" and the Middle Ages - "We'll take you on the Second Crusade, on pilgrimages to Canterbury and Jerusalem, and to castles and courts of love. We'll be on hand for the christening of the first Gothic cathedral and the building of the Chartres. We'll examine the physics of the crossbow, Gregorian chant, the poetry of the troubadours, medieval medicine and the stars. Figuratively our tour guides are the characters in James Goldman's play "The Lion in Winter." Richard the Lionhearted, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II and the rest of the cast. With their help, this trek through the past will seem as real as if you boarded a time-machine." - Excerpt from page one.
Published in 1995, this Nextbook opens with a discussion on the play "The Lion in Winter" specifically and drama in general. It is followed by gothic architecture, including stained glass windows, and the Chartres cathedral. A rapid succession of smaller articles is offered next, which address Pilgrimages and Crusades, Feudalism, the Magna Carta, Gregorian Chants, Thomas Becket and falconry.
The falconry article was fascinating to me. It introduced me to the methods used to train a hunting bird. Young birds were trained by feeding them out of the eye sockets of a skull, which taught them to attack the eyes of a target as well as other facts about the birds. Ownership of different species of bird was determined by social rank.
The magazine's next article covers the courting of women. If a young lady accepted gifts from a man, social code demanded that she accept him as her beau. The next article is devoted to love poetry.
An article on relics and reliquaries discussed the medieval Christian belief that "some of a saint's virtue remained in his or her bones, clothing or possessions after death" and that these items could bring about miraculous happenings, such as healings or the forgiveness of sins. On a related note, an interesting (well, in a gory way) article continued in the same vein by discussing medieval medicine, medieval healing practices and the consequences thereof.
The scientific and musical offerings of this issue occur in the following final articles: Arab astronomy (such as comet sightings during the period), physics of the crossbow and Leonardo da Vinci's contributions, and troubadours and their music, comparing their music to modern music, such as that of Sheryl Crow or Bob Dylan.
Strengths: Since all three reviewed Nextbooks are similar in style, their strengths and weaknesses are similar. First, they offer a large range of information and it seems that out of all of the different topics, there will be at least a smattering of articles that will initially draw a student in and capture his or her attention. For example, I will wholeheartedly confess to finding the falconry, courtship, medieval medicine, and reliquary articles interesting in the Middle Ages issue. I would be able to use the information provided in order to springboard into researching those topics more in depth and also in order to become interested in topics I otherwise may not have been attracted to such as the play "The Lion in Winter".
The issues are small enough (roughly 30 pages) and colorful enough not to seem too daunting to a student upon first glance, though once you are inside them, you will find them to be very academic in wording and topic.
The Nextbooks only discuss one time period per issue, so it is easy to select which one is needed for your class. If used as a supplement, which in my estimation is their proper use, they could be helpful if one is seeking supplementation with the sorts of information provided by the articles. Further, another area of strength is the Nextbook's ability to cross over into many disciplines and address not just normal history topics, the Crusades or historical biographies, but also mathematics, science, physics, music, arts, medicine, architecture, etc. It is rare for academic supplementary resources to be able to pull this off with style, but the Nextbooks succeed.
Possible Weaknesses: In my opinion, these magazines could only be used well in the hands of an instructor or student who is otherwise very familiar with the time period and topics discussed. There is no way that the Nextbook could be used to teach otherwise wholly unknown material; the articles are much too scholarly and presuppose that a great deal of background information or the whole story is already known to the student. Self-teaching with these is completely out of the question, at least for a student below college level, and in that case, only if other detailed, explanatory information is available from secondary sources.
For example, I will confess to being nearly ignorant of most of the information contained in the "Julius Caesar & Ancient Rome" issue. Armed only with a basic understanding of the history of the Caesar/ Brutus/ Cassius/ Antony/ Octavius interactions, I was nearly hopelessly lost while reading many of the articles. In order to truly appreciate the issue, I would need a complete understanding of the whole story: the background, the happenings, the outcome, the history, etc., and at that point I'm sure I would be able to find the information helpful and rich.
Put simply, the Nextbooks are for enrichment, not for big-picture instruction. As such, I was able to approach the Middle Ages issue as a wonderful enrichment tool, for I have more knowledge of those historical happenings and found it quite interesting and very entertaining indeed. Furthermore, the issues themselves may be seen as expensive.
Purchased as a homeschooler (through this special link: http://www.nexusbooks.org/index.php'special=homeschool ) each issue is $8.50 plus $1.50 for shipping, which is $10.00 each. Purchased as a school, the magazine is only available in 25-issue lots and approaches $213.00. I feel that the writing is such that the only applicable ages for this material are very late highschool, if coupled with an instructor that wholly understands the material, or college.
So, Reviewer, What do you think? If you have an older student, if there is a Nextbook that matches the time period that you are studying, and if the articles inside the Nexbook closely match the topics you will cover in depth, then a Nextbook is a fabulous choice for a supplementary resource. The articles are rife with interesting information and the multidisciplinary offerings are well worth the price of the magazine in that they give period information across a variety of subjects, which is difficult to find elsewhere.
Really... where else will you find a historical period's main characters discussed alongside scientific, artistic, mathematical, astronomical, architectural or medicinal (to name a few) innovations specific to that era?