I had seen a couple of episodes of Brad Meltzer's Decoded by accident before I read this book (another from the Gina and Patrick reading list), so I kI had seen a couple of episodes of Brad Meltzer's Decoded by accident before I read this book (another from the Gina and Patrick reading list), so I knew kind of what I would be getting: a story featuring a political conspiracy. That is what Meltzer delivers.
Beecher White is an archivist in DC's National Archives. One morning as he gives a long ago crush a look into a SCIF, a secure room for reviewing classified documents, a SCIF President Orson Wallace will soon be visiting, a hidden book--a book that is not supposed to be there--falls out of a compartment in a chair. A book meant to go to the President. Only one conclusion can be entertained: the President is involved in some sort of conspiracy regarding government secrets. And the story is off and doesn't slow down. Who can Beecher trust? Who knows more than they are saying? What is the President and his aides covering up? As Beecher tries to figure out the secrets of the book, he tires to just keep his head down.
Any good thriller must present characters who are suspicious, and those suspicions must be denied or confirmed. Meltzer provides many such opportunities and handles them deftly. The story will keep you guessing, make you question your suppositions, and then turn them on their head. What a good thriller should do....more
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is the novel that propelled John le Carre into bestseller-dom. After reading the book, it's easy to see why.
Le CarrThe Spy Who Came in from the Cold is the novel that propelled John le Carre into bestseller-dom. After reading the book, it's easy to see why.
Le Carre provides a tautly written thriller with excellent characterization. Alec Leamas, station chief for the UK Berlin intelligence office, appears in the novel awaiting the arrival of Karl Riemeck, an agent of Leamas's to arrive from East Berlin. Leamas has had a hard time recently. His agents have been picked off one-by-one, and Riemeck is his last. A car arrives carrying Riemeck's girlfriend, who knows the truth. Leamas realizes that Riemeck has been reckless, which is born out when Riemeck is shot dead before crossing the border.
The rest of the novel is about Leamas and Circus's plan to exact vengeance on Hans-Dieter Mundt, the head of East German intelligence, who Leamas holds responsible for the death of his agents. The method to achieve this revenge is pretty straightforward: Leamas will act the part of a fired and disgraced intelligence officer descending into alcoholism, providing a target for turning against the UK. Leamas and Circus has set up a series of transactions to implicate Mundt and get the East Germans to take care of Mundt. As Leamas acts his part, he falls for a co-worker in a library, Liz Gold. (view spoiler)[In the end, Circus was actually protecting Mundt and bringing down Mundt's rivals in the East German service, for Mundt is the UK's man on the inside. Gold was brought over to help destroy Mundt's rival, but in hers and Leamas's attempted escape back to the West, both are killed. Leamas turned back for Gold and the circle of the novel is complete: Riemeck dies at the Berlin Wall for trusting his girlfriend. Leamas dies at the Wall for falling in love.
Control throughout the novel remains mysterious, and his larger plan to protect Mundt is hidden from Leamas and the reader, revealing a cold-blooded calculation that Leamas admires even as he realizes his has been used. The novel is not filled with extraneous description, keeping close to Leamas's and Gold's points of view. As in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, I admire the way le Carre writes Control, an enigma even to his direct subordinates. The Circus seems enigmatic as well, a mystery to itself and its employees, which is probably the nature of spy agencies. Leamas, in contrast, is clear: He wants revenge on Mundt and is willing to go very far to do so. Gold is his weakness. Fatality, as it turns out. (hide spoiler)]
Le Carre is a master. Read the book.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Sam Harris is nothing if not interesting. He is someone whose ideas I can disagree with substantially, but I still hunt out his thoughts, I still readSam Harris is nothing if not interesting. He is someone whose ideas I can disagree with substantially, but I still hunt out his thoughts, I still read his writings. Free Will is a brief book about a complex subject. The thesis it seeks to prove is that free will is an illusion. The book is short and clearly written, so I do not want to get into a lot of detail here. Suffice it to say, Harris claims that we cannot know why we choose to watch something, why you are reading this now, etc. That if we took the time to really reflect on our experience, our thoughts, we would not be able to answer the question: Why am I reading this blog right now? At least not without a constructed narrative in hindsight. All our decisions, all our choices, all the reasons we choose why we choose something remain impenetrable to a final answer. Genetics. The fortune or misfortune of where, how, and to whom I was born. And so on. How is one free to choose if we cannot know why we choose and why there is good scientific evidence to indicate that our choices are acted upon prior to our knowledge of that choice.
I'm not sure I buy Harris's argument, but I have not yet formulated a potential reason why. Regardless, it is worth reading. ...more
I have long had an interest in Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman history, and I also enjoy vertical histories (those books that cover a narrow subject butI have long had an interest in Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman history, and I also enjoy vertical histories (those books that cover a narrow subject but in depth). Sailing from Byzantium by Colin Wells is a vertical history that in its three parts attempts to describe the legacy of Byzantine culture. The importance of Byzantium, or the Eastern Roman Empire, lies beyond its territorial acquisitions or military prowess (or the loss of both as the centuries bore on until 1453).
Part I focuses on western Europe, primarily Italy, and the role of humanism that led to the Renaissance. As Catholic and Orthodox worked to re-unite, as the Crusades sent large numbers of westerners east, or as the Fourth Crusades captured Constantinople, both east and west interacted ever more frequently. For the west, this meant rediscovering classical Greek texts and Greek itself. Petrarch, Boccaccio, and Florence all felt the influence, which began the process of lifting the Dark Ages from western Europe.
Part II, the shortest part, explores the Byzantine influence on the Islamic world, particularly on effects of Aristotle on the development of a rationalistic philosophy epitomized by Averroes in Moorish Spain.
Part III returns to Europe but investigates the Slavic and, more importantly, Russian embracing of Orthodoxy, the battles between Catholic and Orthodox for supremacy in various regions, and Orthodoxy's Hesychasm movement on the development of Russian Orthodoxy.
Wells does a good job of describing the influences, how the Byzantium influenced the rest of its neighbors, and how Byzantium itself was influenced. Wells remains at a high level, and we only really get glimpses and quick overviews. And that is my main criticism of this book. At only 368 pages, I do not think it went in detail enough, did not take the various alleys and side stories it could have. Perhaps I have now read too much of this history and much of it seemed familiar to me. So my caution is that this is a good introduction, but for those well versed in Byzantium, the Renaissance, and so on, the book may seem light....more
This is the second book in the Succession series, and it lives up to the promise of the first, The Risen Empire. I recall seeing someplace that ScottThis is the second book in the Succession series, and it lives up to the promise of the first, The Risen Empire. I recall seeing someplace that Scott Westerfeld only made this a series at the behest of the US publisher, which probably explains how thoroughly tied together the two novels are.
In The Killing of Worlds, we start immediately where The Risen Empire ended. Captain Laurent Zai and his crew aboard the Lynx are engaging with a Rix battlecruiser in the Legis system, and the expectation of not only the Zai and the crew but also the Emperor and the War Council back on the planet Home is that it is a suicide mission.
Westerfeld has a delightful way of writing quite technical descriptions while maintaining a sense of movement forward, and he does this time and again. The novel itself shifts from view point to view point. Sometimes you are with Zai. Others with Executive Officer Katherie Hobbes. Or Rix commando Herd. The Rix compound mind Alexander. And so on.
The novel's ultimate plot line is simple: Battle, results. Another battle. Results. Secret revealed. But the simplicity of the plot in no way minimizes the success the novel. In fact, it probably assisted it, for the characters are wonderfully constructed, even the machine characters of the drones that fight the first wave of the battle. We get to bask in a richly constructed world whose full depths lay behind and as foundations to the novel. I consider this a good thing in a science fiction book when the history, the cultures, etc., live off the page and we, the reader, get only partial information. Westerfeld has definitely done that.
And while the secret is revealed and proves cataclysmic, a theme of love emerges across the story. In all the science fiction, in all the wonderfully described scenes of technology and action and politics, much of the motivation of Zai and Senator Oxham is driven by love. And we got that in the first novel, but this is then given fresh life by the development of another love story that works against the expectations set in The Risen Empire.
My one complaint (spoiler in this paragraph) is that the ships heading towards the Lynx at the end seemed unwrapped up. Granted, they are two years out and much about this story remains open at the end, I felt, for some reason, that those ships needed some "closing." But this is but a minor complain.
To get the most out of The Killing of Worlds, one must read The Risen Empire. Westerfeld wrote these two books as one, and readers should approach it that way.
When one speaks of magisterial works, Richard Holmes's two-volume biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge is what I think of. I just completed volume II,When one speaks of magisterial works, Richard Holmes's two-volume biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge is what I think of. I just completed volume II, Darker Reflections, and it is amazing. Just amazing.
The second volume begins as Coleridge leaves England for Malta. Coleridge's opium addiction is well documented, and Holmes is able to move Coleridge's addiction beyond the sparkling creativity of "Kubla Khan" to the often desperate, agonizing, embarrassing, and hellish addiction it was. All the signs we think of regarding modern addiction are there: the dissembling, the hiding, the borrowing, the broken promises, the desire to escape the addiction but caught in its throes. Holmes makes no case that the addiction hindered Coleridge's later career, but one can infer that.
We learn a great deal about Coleridge's lectures, about the break with Wordsworth (who comes off as cold and holier-than-thou), and his generosity despite his own hardships. Holmes gives us all the familiar stories (the meeting with John Keats) and much else. Holmes is also a careful reader of the notes, letters, fragments, and lectures. He never pushes their interpretation, but he skillfully quotes them to be a part of the narrative.
What does this all amount to though? A good biography gives the reader a good narrative with excellent detail. We see the subject of the biography from the perspective of a movie. Roderick Beaton's George Seferis: Waiting for the Angel is such a biography. This is not a criticism of Beaton's biography, which I found expertly done, well written, and with valuable insights to Seferis (one of my favorite poets). Additionally, Beaton's biography places Seferis in context to his time, his culture, his world. But I said earlier that Holme's biography of Coleridge is not just amazing but magisterial. What sets it apart from nearly every biography I have read is that we don't see Coleridge from the perspective of a movie, but we feel as if we're next to him, eavesdropping on conversations.
Coleridge is one of those that if you could go back in time and have dinner with would be on my list. I knew he was a great talker, but Holmes makes him into an amazing talker and able to enchant us in a paradoxically fluid but disjointed tale that touches on German metaphyics, elucidations of Shakespeare, the politics of power, and so on.