This is surely the companion piece to 1984 and is just as prescient and timeless.
Besides having an uncanny foreknowledge of flat screen televisions, e...more This is surely the companion piece to 1984 and is just as prescient and timeless.
Besides having an uncanny foreknowledge of flat screen televisions, earbuds and Bluetooth devices and the ability to converse with others through electronic media, Skype and instant messaging, Bradbury warns against censorship, political correctness and the 'dumbing down' of society through superficial consumerism.
"But most of all," she said, "I like to watch people... Sometimes I sneak around and listen in subways. Or I listen at soda fountains, and do you know what?" "What?" "People don't talk about anything." "Oh, they must!" "No, not anything. They name a lot of cars or clothes or swimming-pools mostly and say how swell! But they all say the same things and nobody says anything different from anyone else. "
"Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of 'facts' they feel stuffed, but absolutely 'brilliant' with information. Then they'll feel they're thinking, they'll get a sense of motion without moving. And they'll be happy, because facts of that sort don't change. Don't give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy."
Ray Bradbury's writing isn't what I'd qualify as elegant. He is simplistic and sometimes terse and somewhat rigid.
"He lay far across the room from her, on a winter island separated by an empty sea."
It doesn't get much more elegant than that. Or this one:
"The books leapt and danced like roasted birds, their wings ablaze with red and yellow feathers."
Quite a stunning visual of burning books.
And books are the central theme here. After a reading of F451, anyone with an appreciation for reading will go home and figuratively hug their book collection a little tighter.
"The books are to remind us what asses and fools we are. They're Caesar's praetorian guard, whispering as the parade roars down the avenue, 'Remember, Caesar, thou art mortal.' Most of us can't rush around, talk to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven't time, money or that many friends. The things you're looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book."
But this book was simply persuasive... until I came to the following portion, and then persuasion turned to power and I was overcome with goose bumps. This is my take away:
[After Montag falls in with the exiled intellectuals and Granger learns that Montag has committed Ecclesiastes to memory] “'Montag.' Granger took Montag’s shoulder firmly. 'Walk carefully. Guard your health. If anything should happen to Harris, you are the Book of Ecclesiastes. See how important you’ve become in the last minute!' ... 'Would you like, someday, Montag, to read Plato's Republic?' 'Of course!' 'I am Plato's Republic.' (emphasis added) ... 'Mr. Simmons is Marcus...I want you to meet Jonathan Swift, the author of that evil political book, Gulliver's Travels! And this other fellow is Charles Darwin, and-this one is Schopenhauer, and this one is Einstein, and this one here at my elbow is Mr. Albert Schweitzer, a very kind philosopher indeed. Here we all are, Montag. Aristophanes and Mahatma Gandhi and Gautama Buddha and Confucius and Thomas Love Peacock and Thomas Jefferson and Mr. Lincoln, if you please. We are also Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.'”
... "'We’re nothing more than dust jackets for books, of no significance otherwise.'”
I read this in preparation for seeing it performed at the Utah Shakepeare Festival.
I'm still not sure where I land in this one-sided debate regarding methods of taking in a book, but decided, in the case of Richard II, to use the text AND follow along with the PBS version (part of "The Hollow Crown" series of the three - four if you divide the two Henry IVs - Shakespearean Histories). I marked the parts that were excluded from the broadcast and went back later to read them.
I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Having had no previous experience with Richard II, I wasn't expecting to be overly enthralled. It is, after all, one of the lesser loved histories. The plot does lack substance... not much happens. (And that Richard is a fruitcake!)
But I found several passages that were incredibly elegant (I know. It IS Shakespeare, after all. I shouldn't act as if I'm grading a high school paper and making comments in the margins like, "Hey! That's pretty good! Nice work, Billy!") I truly enjoyed both the writing and the story. Here are a few of my favorites:
This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands,-- This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England. (Act 2, scene 1)
O, how that name befits my composition! Old Gaunt indeed, and gaunt in being old. Within me Grief hath kept a tedious fast, And who abstains from meat that is not gaunt? For sleeping England long time have I watch'd; Watching breeds leanness, leanness is all gaunt: The pleasure that some fathers feed upon Is my strict fast; I mean, my children's looks; And therein fasting, hast thou made me gaunt. (Act 2, scene 1)
My crown I am; but still my griefs are mine: You may my glories and my state depose, But not my griefs; still am I king of those. ... Your cares set up do not pluck my cares down. My care is loss of care, by old care done; Your care is gain of care, by new care won: The cares I give I have, though given away; They tend the crown, yet still with me they stay. (Act 4, scene 1)
Thoughts tending to ambition, they do plot Unlikely wonders; how these vain weak nails May tear a passage through the flinty ribs Of this hard world, my ragged prison walls, And, for they cannot, die in their own pride. Thoughts tending to content flatter themselves That they are not the first of fortune's slaves, Nor shall not be the last; like silly beggars Who sitting in the stocks refuge their shame, That many have and others must sit there; And in this thought they find a kind of ease, Bearing their own misfortunes on the back Of such as have before endured the like. Thus play I in one person many people, And none contented: sometimes am I king; Then treasons make me wish myself a beggar, And so I am: then crushing penury Persuades me I was better when a king; Then am I king'd again: and by and by Think that I am unking'd by Bolingbroke, And straight am nothing: but whate'er I be, Nor I nor any man that but man is With nothing shall be pleased, till he be eased With being nothing. (Act 5, scene 5) (less)
To call this biography of the Theodore Roosevelt Sr. family comprehensive would be an understatement. Master Storyteller David McCul...moreProbably 3.5 stars
To call this biography of the Theodore Roosevelt Sr. family comprehensive would be an understatement. Master Storyteller David McCullough relates more than a chronological history of this family. To help us understand who Teddy Roosevelt was and what made him this way, McCullough goes into detail about any myriad of things that had an influence on him or his siblings (including an in-depth analysis of asthma).
After all, we are more than just our own story. Lives overlap. Culture and experiences help to define us.
But, because of this everything-but-the-kitchen-sink expository, there were a few times when the story dragged. (That said, the worst of McCullough is still better than the best of most authors.)
*Among my favorite sections were the descriptions of their European Tour and his time spent in the New York state legislature (especially his work with the Cigar Bill).
*And, throughout the biography, McCullough doesn't forget to nuance the reason we have the Teddy Bear:
"There is an obvious interest in nature, but of the birds and animals that figure in the running chronicle, it is the bear that has the strongest fascination - a dancing bear at Lake Windermere, a game of 'wild bears and hunting' with Conie and Ellie in the park at London and again at the Tuileries in Paris, a bear clock that he sees in a shop at Bern. In Florence he takes pad and pencil to the zoo to do a drawing of a bear (p. 88)."
I used various study guides, then watched the play performed.
This leads me to theorize about what exactly con...moreSo, technically, I didn't read this play.
I used various study guides, then watched the play performed.
This leads me to theorize about what exactly constitutes fairness when determining if one has actually read a book.
Bear with me a moment.
If I read a book in my mind, then I have read that book. If I read a book out loud, then I have read that book. If I am reading with someone else (say a child), and we take turns reading passages out loud, then I have read that book. If I look at the words while someone else reads it out loud, then I have read that book. If I am painting a room, and someone else reads the book out loud to me (because they know how tempted I am to peek ahead in the book and they don't want me to uncover an important plot twist in a book like, say, Life of Pi), then I have read that book. If I listen to a book on CD, then I have read that book.
But. Let's say that the book is a made-for-TV-special and they haven't changed one single line. I would say that WOULDN'T count, because you'd be missing all the details of the story that weren't dialogue. UNLESS, the show is narrated, and all those details are SPOKEN (which would probably become pretty irritating after some time... Unless it was done in a Stranger Than Fiction style... and then you turn on the subtitles and READ them all. THAT should count as having read the book. Right?
What about a play? Where everything (except the stage directions) is dialogue? If I follow along with the script, then I would say that I have read the play. But what if I'm watching the play and following along with the script, but get so caught up that I forget to look down for a few pages? Or miss an entire scene? I would STILL say, in this case, that I have read the play.
But what about just buying the tickets, showing up, taking a playbill from the usher, and finding your seat? If this were the case, then I could add every play (quality or not) I have ever seen to my Goodreads list (and I'm not willing to go that far). (Don't even get me started about someone who falls asleep during the Second Act!)
So, technically, I didn't read this play. But I'm going to count it as having been read.
King John is the first of Shakespeare's Histories; the less appealing genre for the general public. There are portions of King John that are messy (like the initial claims of Robert Falconbridge and his half-brother, Philip, to their lands and then the quick abandonment of such by Philip, whose part throughout the play feels contrived and hollow). There are less memorable "one-liners" and in my search for such found very little over which to swoon until Acts 4 and 5, and even then, the choices are slim. The only strong characters are Constance and King John (and calling his character 'strong' is a poor designation for one who is so tossed about in whims) and none are well-developed nor self-reflective.
It seems unfair to give a Shakespeare (or whoever wrote his works - see Shakespeare Conspiracy) work three stars, when there are far lesser novels I have rated higher, but he is being judged against himself in this case; a high standard.
The genius of this novel rises from the cast of characters who, though they fit easily into their respective stereotypes, deny the 19th Ce...morePhenomenal.
The genius of this novel rises from the cast of characters who, though they fit easily into their respective stereotypes, deny the 19th Century reader the opportunity to classify themselves into a certain group. This isn't a story of North versus South nor Black versus White. It isn't even Good versus Evil (though this could be argued). Harriet Beecher Stowe presents us with a spectrum of individuals on a Hero Scale that crests with Tom (Oh, Tom! How I love and admire thee!) and bottoms out with Simon Legree. Between these is a mixture of good-doers, apathetic well-wishers and wanna-be lackeys. The contemporary reader, therefore, wasn't immediately put on the defensive about their political leanings. All were partly at fault and the slavery issue needed to be addressed as more than just an economic issue. It was a moral issue.
In this way, HBS not only made a successful argument against slavery, but she made an argument for Christianity. She had an exceptionally enlightened understanding of true Christian religion.
I am a better person because I have read this book.
** My favorite chapters: Chapter VII The Mother's Struggle Chapter XVI Tom's Mistress and Her Opinions Chapter XXXVIII The Victory.(less)
I kept alternating between intense fascination and utter loathing of this story. The ending sealed it for me. It was beautifully unnerving.
This book s...moreI kept alternating between intense fascination and utter loathing of this story. The ending sealed it for me. It was beautifully unnerving.
This book shouts the alarm against authoritarian, totalitarian, tyrannical and despotic rule. While I was annoyed that religion takes the bashing for this atrocious turn, the possibility that this kind of extremism could take control is legitimate (and forms of it have appeared often in history).
The writing style is well suited to the telling of this story, and the expansive symbolism allows for greater interpretation and meaning.
The book probably deserves a higher rating, but there were times I was so disturbed by what was happening, I just couldn't enjoy reading it. I'm sure this was the point.
(One star here reflects more the fact that I "didn't like" it rather than it lacked in substance. There was some merit, but I was truly glad when it w...more(One star here reflects more the fact that I "didn't like" it rather than it lacked in substance. There was some merit, but I was truly glad when it was finished.)
I read portions of this and multiple study guides in preparation for the Utah Shakespeare Festival theatrical version. This was icky, disturbing and depressing in addition to lacking in anything moral. If nothing else, I learned that if I ever take over a warring country or peoples (don't worry, I'm not that ambitious), I'll be sure to kill the leader and the family rather than bringing them back as part of the spoils.
Sure, Andronicus has it hard, but Lavinia is truly the loser in this morbid account. (less)
Even for the modern reader, de Tocqueville’s message is germane and enlightening, and at times feels prophetic. Though one may not agree with every fa...moreEven for the modern reader, de Tocqueville’s message is germane and enlightening, and at times feels prophetic. Though one may not agree with every facet, his arguments are consistent and fair glimpses of his perspective of the unique American culture (I say “American” instead of United Statesian - not because I don’t understand the vast topography of the Americas, and that the United States is but a portion of the Americas – but because Statesian isn’t a word. I choose culture instead of democracy, because we all know we’re a Democratic Republic. Right? Good.) I loved the clarity of his discourse, and found it flowed gracefully.
There were many quotes which stuck out for me, including:
"The settlers … possessed, in proportion to their number, a greater mass of intelligence than is to be found in any European nation of our own time … Nor did they cross the Atlantic to improve their situation or to increase their wealth; it was a purely intellectual craving that called them from the comforts of their former homes; and in facing the inevitable sufferings of exile their object was the triumph of an idea."
"Centralization easily succeeds, indeed, in subjecting the external actions of men to a certain uniformity, which we come at last to love for its own sake, independently of the objects to which it is applied, like those devotees who worship the statue and forget the deity it represents."
But my greatest delight was Chapter XI, "Of The Spirit In Which The Americans Cultivate The Arts." If I could, I would have included the entire section in this review. I thought de Tocqueville’s observations regarding the creation of arts and the ethos of New World artisans most fascinating!
"Democratic nations… will therefore cultivate the arts which serve to render life easy, in preference to those whose object is to adorn it. They will habitually prefer the useful to the beautiful, and they will require that the beautiful should be useful."
"When, on the contrary, every profession is open to all—when a multitude of persons are constantly embracing and abandoning it—and when its several members are strangers to each other, indifferent, and from their numbers hardly seen amongst themselves; the social tie is destroyed, and each workman, standing alone, endeavors simply to gain the greatest possible quantity of money at the least possible cost. The will of the customer is then his only limit."
"… In democracies there are always a multitude of individuals whose wants are above their means, and who are very willing to take up with imperfect satisfaction rather than abandon the object of their desires."
"When none but the wealthy had watches, they were almost all very good ones: few are now made which are worth much, but everybody has one in his pocket. Thus the democratic principle not only tends to direct the human mind to the useful arts, but it induces the artisan to produce with greater rapidity a quantity of imperfect commodities, and the consumer to content himself with these commodities."
"When I arrived for the first time at New York, by that part of the Atlantic Ocean which is called the East River, I was surprised to perceive along the shore, at some distance from the city, a considerable number of little palaces of white marble, several of which were built after the models of ancient architecture. When I went the next day to inspect more closely one which had particularly attracted my notice, I found that its walls were of whitewashed brick, and its columns of painted wood. All the edifices which I had admired the night before were of the same kind."
By no means is this difficult or dry reading. For the student of political science, it is a must. (less)
The short version of my review: Mr. Haidt's book at times reads like a thesis paper, with phrasing such as, "In this chapter, I'll develop the analogy...more The short version of my review: Mr. Haidt's book at times reads like a thesis paper, with phrasing such as, "In this chapter, I'll develop the analogy..." and with "In Sum" summations at the end of each chapter, but his message is anything but dry. This isn't just a political theory book. It is a blend of political theory, biological evolution, psychological evaluation, chemical physiology, social experimentation, anthropological investigation and macroeconomics with a dash of pop culture, street-wise, trash talk, "Can't we all just get along?" in an effort to help the reader understand why some at the dinner party get angry when one person wants to discuss a hot topic.
(Oh, you're still here?) Here is my longer version:
"If there is any one secret of success it lies in the ability to get the other person's point of view and see things from their angle as well as your own." - Henry Ford (p. 49)
My husband and I have long had discussions based on this idea alone. If you can't argue the other side's position, you don't understand the issue.
This book may be the first of its kind. Jonathan Haidt does an excellent job of reaching beyond his own viewpoints (and he clearly states that he is a liberal atheist) and coming to the crux of the matter:
"I had escaped from my partisan mind-set (reject first, ask rhetorical questions later) and began to think about liberal and conservative policies as manifestations of deeply conflicting but equally heartfelt visions of the good society (p. 109)."
He theorizes how difficult it is for us to look beyond our political and religious beliefs in order to understand another point of view.
"... Each individual reasoner is really good at one thing: finding evidence to support the position he or she already holds, usually for intuitive reasons. We should not expect individuals to produce good, open-minded, truth-seeking reasoning, particularly when self-interest or reputational concerns are in play. But if you put individuals together in the right way, such that some individuals can use their reasoning powers to disconfirm the claims of others, and all individuals feel some common bond or shared fate that allows them to interact civilly, you create a group that ends up producing good reasoning as an emergent property of the social system (p. 90)."
...And how the situation (if it isn't changed) could become more polarizing:
"Before this realignment [changes of political parties after the Civil War] there had been liberals and conservatives in both parties, which made it easy to form bipartisan teams who could work together on legislative projects ... Nowadays the most liberal Republican is typically more conservative than the most conservative Democrat (p. 310)."
"Nonetheless, if you are trying to change an organization or a society and you do not consider the effects of your changes on moral capital, you're asking for trouble. This, I believe is the fundamental blind spot of the left. It explains why liberal reforms so often backfire, and why communist revolutions usually end up in despotism. It is the reason I believe that liberalism - which has done so much to bring about freedom and equal opportunity - is not sufficient as a governing philosophy. It tends to overreach, change too many things too quickly, and reduce the stock of moral capital inadvertently. Conversely, while conservatives do a better job of preserving moral capital, they often fail to notice certain classes of victims, fail to limit the predations of certain powerful interests, and fail to see the need to change or update institutions as times change (p. 294)."
Mr. Haidt places great emphasis on the need for both parties... but with both sides working together in a system of cooperation as well as in a watchdog, checks-and-balances relationship.
"Creating a nation of multiple competing groups and parties was, in fact, seen by America's founding fathers as a way of preventing tyranny(p. 243)."
"We need both, often in a shifting or alternating balance. John Stuart Mill said that liberals and conservatives are like this: 'A party of order or stability, and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life' (p. 294)."
In his path to direct us to the realization that all viewpoints are needed and should work together, Haidt uses nearly every field of scientific study to underscore his points. Besides simple political philosophy, like this:
[In the 'Moral Foundations Theory,' with the categories of Care, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity,] "Liberals value Care and Fairness far more than the other three foundations; conservatives endorse all five foundations more or less equally (p. 161)."
... he weaves in biology, psychology, chemistry, physiology, and anthropology. Haidt theorizes our political proclivities down to our individual cells! Here are a few of my favorite examples of this:
"...Around 2 billion years ago, two bacteria somehow joined together inside a single membrane, which explains why mitochondria have their own DNA, unrelated to the DNA in the nucleus... Cells that had internal organelles could reap the benefits of cooperation and the division of labor (see Adam Smith)... Whenever a way is found to suppress free riding so that individual units can cooperate, work as a team, and divide labor, selection at the lower level becomes less important, selection at the higher level becomes more powerful, and that higher-level selection favors the most cohesive superorganisms (p. 200-201)."
"After analyzing the DNA of 13,000 Australians, scientists recently found several genes that differed between liberals and conservatives. Most of them related to neurotransmitter functioning, particularly glutamate and serotonin, both of which are involved in the brain's response to threat and fear. This finding fits well with many studies showing that conservatives react more strongly than liberals to signs of danger, including the threat of germs and contamination, and even low-level threats such as a sudden blasts of white noise. Other studies have implicated genes related to receptors for the neurotransmitter dopamine, which has long been tied to sensation-seeking and openness to experience, which are among the best-established correlates of liberalism (p. 279)."
Omnivores therefore go through life with two competing motives: neophilia (an attraction to new things) and neophobia (a fear of new things)... Liberals score higher on measures of neophilia ... not just for new foods but also for new people, music, and ideas. Conservatives are higher on neophobia; they prefer to stick with what's tried and true, and they care a lot more about guarding borders, boundaries, and traditions (p. 148)."
While I didn't agree with every argument of Haidt's (his atheism really shows through), I found his intention and efforts most sincere and honorable. In a country in the midst of a War of Words, this book is the peace treaty.
How does one rate the pamphlet that inspired the motivations of George Washington and the other founders when severing the ties to England? It must be...moreHow does one rate the pamphlet that inspired the motivations of George Washington and the other founders when severing the ties to England? It must be good.
While not necessarily fun reading, Mr. Paine's work is informative and insightful, especially when you try to imagine the brouhaha it caused before anyone knew what the outcome would be. This is the stuff we've heard over and over again, but from the original source.
Just because you've heard the phrases "Free At Last" or "I Have A Dream" doesn't mean you don't need to read the original MLK speech in it's entirety. Of course you should! So you should also read this. (I suppose.)(less)
In my opinion, Alice is just a spoiled little girl who doesn't know how to hold her tongue and can't keep her hands off other people's belongings. But as short as it is, there was plenty of room for the author to continue and make me dislike her even more! Wouldn't it have been wonderful to have more insight and information about the drugged-out caterpillar (see my review of The Very Hungry Caterpillar) the Cheshire Cat and The Mad Hatter? This book could have expanded on every individual encounter and made for a terrific imaginative account of Alice's invented world (and still made a scathing satire of political Victorian England) interweaving relationships and giving substance to the croquet game and the trial and the need for little bottles of beverages that say "Drink Me."
As a ten-year-old, I knew the theatrical version of this story front and back as I played "Tweedle-Dum" (watch it!) in a community play. I still can recite the majority of "The Walrus and The Carpenter". But the study for the characters doesn't come from the book (as there is very little to go by), it comes from the movie version.
There IS a Tim Burton adaption coming out, which will hopefully improve on the Disney Monopoly of this story and perhaps resolve some of my issues with this book. (less)
To call this book “comprehensive” would be an understatement. There were moments when I debated my five-star rating based on the betimes redundant and...moreTo call this book “comprehensive” would be an understatement. There were moments when I debated my five-star rating based on the betimes redundant and eventually exhausting nature of this book. It is long and thorough. But it is masterful. It flows like fiction. Chernow does little to gloss over anything. He doesn’t make excuses for Washington’s weaknesses, and gives us greater insight into the man often thought of as “composed of too much marble to be quite human.” The author makes it possible for us to despise and adore him at once.
As a Revolutionary War leader, the depiction of Washington rallying his troops despite insurmountable odds frequently reminded me of Aragorn from The Return of the King and I couldn’t help but surmise that Tolkien had emulated his protagonist from the pages of history. But then, these must be characteristics common to war heroes as I also found corollaries with Captain Moroni from The Book of Mormon as well.
History has long shown the capricious nature of the army Washington had to mobilize. That the riff-raff American troops could conquer the expert British is nothing short of miraculous. But I was struck with the poignant and touching comment which gives insight into early patriotism: “For one woman in the crowd, the contrast between the splendidly uniformed British troops who had just left and the unkempt American troops in homespun dress who now straggled in conveyed a telling message: We had been accustomed for a long time to military display in all the finish and finery of garrison life; the troops just leaving us were as if equipped for show, and, with their scarlet uniforms and burnished arms, made a brilliant display. The troops that marched in, on the contrary, were ill-clad and weatherbeaten and made a forlorn appearance. But then they were our troops, and as I looked at them and thought upon all they had done and suffered for us, my heart and my eyes were full and I admired and gloried in them the more, because they were weatherbeaten and forlorn (p. 450).”
Because of Washington’s coolness and perhaps unbending nature, I thought this quote to amplify a more tender and gracious side: “He seemed to know implicitly that no loyalty surpassed that of a man forgiven for his faults who vowed never to make them again (p. 263).”
Chernow has produced an exceptional memorial to the man Washington while providing the American people with a better hero – one who is fallible but unwavering.
Also of note: *I loved that Washington allowed himself to sit for the five painters in the Peale family - at the same time! *The sections relating L’Enfant’s plans for Washington, D.C. have special significance to me. (less)
This book was a gift from one of the heads of the American School of Paris (a friend of a dear friend) who associates with the author. Perhaps this is...moreThis book was a gift from one of the heads of the American School of Paris (a friend of a dear friend) who associates with the author. Perhaps this isn't a book I would have normally picked out for myself, but I found that it was right up my alley.
At times the message was jarring, but I found all explanations and anecdotes accentuated the author's message and allowed greater comprehension to the French consciousness. This book has enlightened my understanding to so many other works of French literature, to the French culture and to French politics.
I have learned that there are many "French" characteristics which I have, several which I wish I had, and a few that I'm most grateful I don't possess.
Poor Napoleon. Though you may protest, you were not the cause of political instability in Europe during the early years of the 19th Century. According...morePoor Napoleon. Though you may protest, you were not the cause of political instability in Europe during the early years of the 19th Century. According to Leo Tolstoy you were merely a puppet in the wars which bear your name. He even made you a minor character in this, his magnum opus.
“Napoleon ordered an army to be raised and to go to war. This idea is so familiar to us, and we have grown so accustomed to such a view, that the question why six hundred thousand men go to war when Napoleon utters certain words seems senseless to us. He had the power and so what he ordered was done. This answer is quite satisfactory if we believe that the power was given him by God. But as soon as we do not admit that, it becomes essential to determine what this power is that one man has over others.(p. 1423)”
If I were to rate War and Peace against some of my other favorites, it would probably only receive 4 stars. The writing is superb and the character development is complete (what don’t we know about these characters after 1400 pages?!), but there were moments when it felt like a glorified soap opera (albeit with a better script).
I ran into my college Russian professor at the ballet a few nights previous to my finishing this book and I made the mistake of commenting that Tolstoy was a bit “fluffy” compared to Dostoevsky. I’m sure in all his teaching profession he has never heard anyone refer to Tolstoy as “fluffy.” He didn’t correct me (except to mention that in the fifteen or so of his readings of Anna Karenina he never fails to learn something new), but as soon as it came out of my mouth, I regretted the term used in conjunction with this master. What Dostoevsky is to the psychological, Tolstoy is to the emotional.
Yes, we follow the musings, romances, mistakes and evolutions of these families for what feels like generations, but Tolstoy is not merely writing a novel. He uses his characters to direct the reader to the overreaching themes of the book: Morality, Freedom and Power. As Pierre asks himself, “...What is bad? What is good? What should one love and what hate? What does one live for, and what am I? What is life, and what is death? What power governs it all? (p. 424)” These characters are not one-sided. They are not shallow. They are, most of them, with time improving and refining their moral character.
Tolstoy asks the reader many times to rethink who is ultimately in control. While he doesn’t force the existence of God (though one begins to see that Tolstoy believes it himself), he questions the ability of one person to lead and direct an entire population. He would lead us to ask if we are acting or being acted upon. Napoleon didn’t wage war on Russia by his own will and the peasant working in the fields is more than a servant to his master. Are we in control of ourselves? Are we fated to the will of something/someone else?
The sections where Tolstoy breaks away from the characters and elucidates on his definition and theory of power are some of the most brilliant. (I especially enjoyed the entirety of the Epilogue, but specifically, Part One, Section 1; and Part Two, Sections 1 and 28!) Yes, I was charmed by Natasha, adored Marya, esteemed Pierre, deplored Anatole, pitied Prince Andrei, etc. etc.; but I found myself most riveted by the political and sociological theory embedded between the chapters of this epic drama.
Below are a plethora (would you say I have a plethora?) of my favorite quotes which fall into the varied themes of this book. They are written mostly for my own benefit, but you may sort through them if you have the stamina/interest to do so.
Goodness and Morality
Pierre’s early reflections: “He [Pierre] recalled his promise to Prince Andrei not to go there again, and immediately, as happens with people who, as they say, lack strength of character, he felt such a passionate desire to indulge once more in the debauchery to which he was now quite accustomed, that he decided to go. And it occurred to him that his promise to Prince Andrei was of no consequence because he had earlier promised Prince Anatol that he would come; and for that matter, he thought, all these words of honor are mere conventions, having no definite meaning, especially if one considers that one may be dead by tomorrow, or something so extraordinary might happen that there would no longer be any question of honor or dishonor. This sort of reasoning, which nullified all intentions and decisions, was not infrequent with Pierre. He went to Kuragin's. (p. 59)”
Pierre’s evolution as he discusses God with the Mason: “If He [God] were not,” he [Alekseyevich] said softly, “you and I would not be speaking of Him, my dear sir. Of what, of whom, have we been speaking? Whom hast thou denied?” he suddenly asked, with an exultant, rigorous authority in his voice. “Who invented Him if he does not exist? Whence came your hypothesis of such an incomprehensible Being, a Being omnipotent, eternal, and infinite in all His attributes? … He exists, but to understand Him is hard,” the Mason resumed, not looking into Pierre’s face but straight before him, while his old hands, which in his state of inner excitation he could not keep still, kept riffling the leaves of his book. “If it were a man whose existence though didst doubt, I could bring him to thee, could take him by the hand and show him to thee. But how can I, an insignificant mortal, show His omnipotence, His infinity, all His mercy, to one who is blind, or to one who shuts his eyes that he may not see, may not understand Him, and may not see and understand his own vileness and depravity?” (p. 428)
…Look at your life, my dear sir. How have you spent it? In taking everything from society and giving nothing in return. You have been given wealth. How have you used it? What have you done for your neighbor? ... You have spent your life in idleness... (p. 430)
Further, Alekseyevich spells out for him to what aim a moral man should reach: “The principal duty of a Mason, as I have told you, lies in perfecting himself. But we often think that by removing all the difficulties of our life we shall more quickly reach our aim; on the contrary, my dear sir,” he said to me, “ it is only in the midst of worldly perturbation that we can attain our three chief aims: (1) self-knowledge – for man can only know himself by comparison; (2) self-perfection, attainable only through conflict, and (3) the chief virtue, love of death. Only the vicissitudes of life can show us its vanity and can quicken our innate love of death or of rebirth to a new life.” (p. 530)
Natasha watching the opera: “After her life in the country, and in her present serious mood, all this seemed fantastic and amazing to Natasha. she could not follow the opera, could not even listen to the music: she saw only the painted cardboard and the oddly dressed men and women who moved, spoke, and sang so strangely in that brilliant light. She knew what it was all meant to represent, but it was so blatantly false and unnatural that she felt alternately ashamed for the actors and amused by them. She looked about her at the faces of the audience, seeking in them the same bewilderment and sense of the ridiculous that she herself felt, but they all seemed absorbed in what was happening on the stage and expressed what appeared to Natasha to be a feigned rapture. (p. 678)”
Anatol’s Vanity: “Anatol was always content with his position, with himself, and with others. He was instinctively and thoroughly convinced that it was impossible for him to live otherwise than the way he lived, and that he had never in his life done anything base, but he was quite incapable of considering how his actions might affect others, or what the consequences of this or that action might be. He believed that just as a duck had been created to live in water, so God had created him to spend thirty thousand a year and always to occupy a prominent position in society. (p. 686)”
Tolstoy: “Pfühl was one of those inordinately, unshakably self-assured men – self-assured to the point of martyrdom, as only a German can be, because only a German bases his self-assurance on an abstract idea: science, that is, the supposed knowledge of absolute truth. A Frenchman’s self-assurance stems from his belief that he is mentally and physically irresistibly fascinating to both men and women. An Englishman’s self-assurance is founded on his being a citizen of the best organized state in the world and on the fact that, as an Englishman, he always knows what to do, and that whatever he does as an Englishman is unquestionably correct. An Italian is self-assured because he is excitable and easily forgets himself and others. A Russian is self-assured simply because he knows nothing and does not want to know anything, since he does not believe in the possibility of knowing anything fully… (p. 770)"
“For Russian historians – strange and terrible to say – Napoleon, that most insignificant tool of history, who never anywhere, even in exile, showed human dignity – Napoleon is the object of adulation and enthusiasm; he is grand. But Kutuzov, the man who from the beginning to the end of his activity in 1812, from Borodino to Vilna, was never once by word or deed false to himself, who presents an example rare in history of self-sacrifice and of present insight into the future significance of events – Kutuzov seems to them something indeterminate and pitiful, and when speaking of him and of the year 1812 they always seem rather ashamed. (p. 1297)”
Freedom to Act vs. Fate
Natasha’s inability to resist Anatol: “She did not know how it was that within five minutes she had come to feel terribly close to this man. When she turned away she feared he might seize her from behind by her bare arm, or kiss her on the neck. They spoke of the most ordinary things, yet she felt that they were more intimate than she had ever been with any man. (p. 683)”
“Every man lives for himself, using his freedom to attain his own ends, and feels in his whole being that he can at any moment perform or abstain from performing this or that action, but as soon as he has performed it, that action executed at a given moment in time becomes irrevocable and belongs to history, in which it has not a free but a predetermined significance. There are two sides to the life of every man: the personal life, which is free to the degree that its interests are abstract, and the elemental life of the swarm, in which he ineluctably follows the laws decreed for him (p. 732)”
“When an apple has ripened and falls – why does it fall? Is it because of the force of gravity, because its stem withers, because it is dried by the sun, because it grows heavier, because the wind shakes it, or because the boy standing under the tree wants to eat it? None of these is the cause. All this is only the conjunction of conditions in which every vital, organic, elemental event occurs. And the botanist who finds that the apple falls because the cellular tissue decomposes, and so forth, is just as right and as wrong as the child who stands under the tree and says the apple fell because he wanted to eat it and prayed for it to fall. (p. 733)”
“The peasants say that a cold wind blows in late spring because the oaks are budding; and, in fact, a cold wind does blow every spring when the oaks are budding. But though I do not know why a cold wind blows when the oaks come out, I cannot agree with the peasants that the budding of the oaks is the cause of the wind, for the force of the wind is beyond the influence of buds. I see only a coincidence of occurrences such as happens with all the phenomena of life, and I see that however long and however carefully I study … oak buds, I shall not discover the cause of … cold winds blowing in spring. To do this I must entirely change my point of view and study the laws of the movement of … the wind. History must do the same. (p. 988)”
Enlightenment through Love
Prince Andrei to Pierre: “I should never have believed it if anyone had told me I could love like this,” he said. “It is not like anything I ever felt before. The whole world is divided into two halves for me now: one is she, and there all is joy, hope, light; the other is where she is not, and there all is gloom and darkness…” (p. 574)
“Prince Andrei held her hands and looked into her eyes, but he failed to find in his heart his former love for her. Some sudden change seemed to have taken place in him: there was no longer the former poetic and mysterious charm of desire; instead he felt pity for her feminine and childish weakness, fear before her devotion and truthfulness, and an oppressive yet sweet sense of duty binding him to her forever. The present feeling, though not so bright and poetic as the former, was stronger and more serious.” (p. 579)
Pierre, after having spoken of his love to Natasha: “It was clear and frosty. Above the dirty, ill-lit streets, above the black roofs, stretched the dark, starry sky. Only as he gazed up at the sky did Pierre feel the humiliating pettiness of all early things compared with the heights to which his soul has just been raised. At the entrance to the Arbat Square an immense expanse of dark, starry sky appeared before his eyes. Almost in the center of it, above the Prechistensky Boulevard, surrounded and spangled on all sides by stars, but distinct form them by its nearness to the earth, with its white light and its long upturned tail, shone the huge, brilliant comet of the year 1812 – the comet that was said to portend all kinds of horrors and the end of the world. In Pierre, however, that bright star with its long, luminous tail aroused no feeling of dread. On the contrary, he gazed joyously, his eyes moist with tears, at that radiant star which, having traveled in its orbit with inconceivable velocity though infinite space, seemed suddenly, like an arrow piercing the earth, to remain fixed in its chosen spot in the black firmament, tail firmly poised, shining and disporting itself with its white light amid countless other scintillating stars. It seemed to Pierre that this comet fully harmonized with what was in his own mollified and uplifted soul, now blossoming into a new life. (p. 726)”
“Natasha did not follow the golden rule preached by clever people, and especially the French, which says that a girl should not let herself go after marriage, should not neglect her accomplishments, should be even more careful of her appearance than when she was single, and should be as alluring to her husband as she had been before he became her husband… The subject that wholly absorbed Natasha’s attention was her family, that is, her husband, who she had to keep so that he should belong entirely to her and to the home, and the children, whom she had to bear, give birth to, nurse, and rear. And the deeper she penetrated, not with her mind, but with her whole soul, her whole being, into the subject that absorbed her, the larger did that subject grow under her attention, and the weaker and more inadequate her own powers seemed, so that she concentrated them all on that one thing and yet was not able to accomplish all that she considered necessary. (pp. 1382 – 83)”
“With a swift but cautious movement Natasha drew nearer to him, still on her knees, and carefully taking his hand, bent her face over it and began kissing it, barely touching it with her lips. “Forgive me!” she said in a whisper, lifting her head and glancing at him. “Forgive me!” “I love you,” said Prince Andrei. “Forgive…” “Forgive what?” asked Prince Andrei. “Forgive me for – for what I have d-done!” Natasha faltered in a scarcely audible whisper, and began quickly cover his hand with kisses, lightly brushing it with her lips. “I love you more – better than before,” said Prince Andrei, lifting her face with his hand so as to look into her eyes. (p. 1103)”
“She [Natasha] did not know and would not have believed it, but underneath what seemed to her an impenetrable layer of slime that covered her soul, tender, delicate young shoots of grass were already thrusting up, which, taking root, would so cover with their living verdure the grief that weighed her down that soon it would be unseen and forgotten. The wound had begun to heal from within. (p. 1293)”
Power and Puppets
“Many historians say that the French failed to win the battle of Borodino because Napoleon had a cold… If it had depended on Napoleon’s will whether or not to give battle at Borodino, and if it had depended on his will whether or not to issue this or that order, then it is obvious that a cold which influenced the manifestation of his will might have determined Russia’s salvation, and, consequently, the valet who forgot to bring Napoleon his waterproof boots on the twenty-fourth would have been Russia’s savior. reviewer's sidenote: I love this one!(p. 942)
"The storm of nations begins to subside. The waves of the great sea recede, leaving a calm surface on which are formed eddies of diplomats who imagine that it is they who have produced this lull. (p. 1360)"
"Power is the collective will of the masses, vested by expressed or tacit consent in their chosen leader (p. 1423)
"What is the cause of historical events? Power. What is power? Power is the collective will vested in one person. On what condition is the people’s will vested in one person? On the condition that the person expresses the will of the whole people. that is, power is power. In other words, power is a word the meaning of which we do not know. (p. 1429)"
"Having reached this conclusion we can give a direct and positive answer to those two essential questions of history. (1) What is power? (2) What force produces the movement of nations? (1) Power is the relation of a given person to other persons, in which the more that person expresses opinions, suppositions, and justifications of the collective action the less is his participation in the action (2) The movement of nations is caused not by power, not by any intellectual activity, nor even by a combination of the two, as historians have supposed, but by the activity of all the people participating in the event, who always combine in such a way that those who take the largest direct share in the event take the least responsibility, and vice versa. (p. 1437)"
Brilliant! While I don’t agree with every thought of Thoreau’s (an original Libertarian?), how grand it is to read from someone who has a real thought...moreBrilliant! While I don’t agree with every thought of Thoreau’s (an original Libertarian?), how grand it is to read from someone who has a real thought! Every sentence could stand as an individual idea, a great quote. Each lecture is beautifully constructed and well argued.
He does seem, at times, slightly smug, but in the topics I found most convincing, I would rather call his smugness “righteous indignation.” Most telling, though, is the fact that his arguments are germane today.
As I read, I continually thought of a band of immigration bills debated and passed through the Utah Legislature this year which clearly went against the laws of our nation, but the intent of which was to solve a problem that the federal government has failed to do.
“Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and do better than it would have them? Why does it always crucify Christ, and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?” (from On the Duty of Civil Disobedience)
Having seen first-hand the abuses and exploitation used by The Fourth Branch of Government, I especially appreciated his censure of the press. With my religious background, I thoroughly enjoyed this particular statement:
“Among measures to be adopted, I would suggest to make as earnest and vigorous an assault on the Press as has already been made, and with effect, on the Church. The Church has much improved within a few years; but the Press is almost, without exception, corrupt. I believe that, in this country, the press exerts a greater and a more pernicious influence than the Church did in its worst period. We are not a religious people, but we are a nation of politicians. We do not care for the Bible, but we do care for the newspaper. At any meeting of politicians,--like that at Concord the other evening, for instance,--how impertinent it would be to quote from the Bible! How pertinent to quote from a newspaper or from the Constitution! The newspaper is a Bible which we read every morning and every afternoon, standing and sitting, riding and walking. It is a Bible which every man carries in his pocket, which lies on every table and counter, and which the mail, and thousands of missionaries, are continually dispensing. It is, in short, the only book which America has printed, and which America reads. So wide is its influence. The editor is a preacher whom you voluntarily support. Your tax is commonly one cent daily, and it costs nothing for pew hire. But how many of these preachers preach the truth? I repeat the testimony of many an intelligent foreigner as well as my own convictions, when I say, that probably no country was ever ruled by so mean a class of tyrants as, with a few noble exceptions, are the editors of the periodical press in this country. And as they live and rule only by their servility, and appealing to the worst, and not the better nature of man, the people who read them are in the condition of the dog that returns to his vomit (from Slavery in Massachusetts).”
Thoreau, in all his critiques of government, speaks not merely to government, for in fact, I’m sure he would argue that government cannot listen for it does not exist. Thoreau is actually calling to us, to the individual, to be on guard and cleanse the inner vessel.
“The law will never make men free; it is men who have got to make the law free (from Slavery in Massachusetts).”
Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward (from On the Duty of Civil Disobedience).
I found a correlation with a beloved sermon from Elder D. Todd Christofferson called Moral Discipline. Note the message around 4:08: "Self-discipline has eroded, and societies are left to try to maintain order and civility by compulsion. The lack of internal control by individuals breeds external control by governments."
Additionally, on a completely different vein, I found great peace and inspiration from his lecture Walking, especially with this introductory excerpt:
“I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering; which word is beautifully derived "from idle people who roved about the country, in the middle ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going à la Sainte Terre"—to the holy land, till the children exclaimed, "There goes a Sainte-Terrer", a saunterer—a holy-lander. They who never go to the holy land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds, but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all, but the Saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea.” (from Walking). (less)