This book presents a futuristic dystopia of an unusual kind. Unlike in Orwell's 1984, Huxley's dystopia is one in which everyone is happy. However, th...moreThis book presents a futuristic dystopia of an unusual kind. Unlike in Orwell's 1984, Huxley's dystopia is one in which everyone is happy. However, they are happy in only the most trivial sense: they lead lives of simple pleasures, but lives without science, art, philosophy or religion. In short, lives without deeper meaning. Although people are expected to work hard and efficiently during working hours, during off hours people live in an infantile way, never engaging their minds, and satisfying themselves with sex and drugs.
The premise of the book I find quite interesting. However, the execution is lacking. The characters are not particularly endearing, and indeed they are quite flat. Worse, Huxley fails to explain why this future of controlled contentment is wrong. The reader will intuit that the this indeed a dystopia posing as a utopia, but Huxley's reliance on this feeling is a philosophical failure. It is the burden of the author to present us not with an account of something we know is bad, but to explain the source of the knowledge.
Huxley attempts something akin to an explanation in the second-to-last chapter, a discussion between "the Savage" who grew up outside civilization and Mustalpha Mond, a World Controller. However, the attempt falls short, as Mond has concise answers to all of the Savage's questions, and the Savage lacks the education and/or intellectual power to find reason behind his feelings.
During the conversation, Mond refers to philosopher Francis Bradley and credits him with the idea that philosophy is "the finding of bad reason for what one believes by instinct." Perhaps this inclusion is intended to convey that Huxley agrees and will make no attempt to manufacture a "bad reason" why the world he created is evil. However, I find this deeply unsatisfying. Why write a book to tell people what they already know? Moreover, a single reference to Bradley is not sufficient to convince me that this definition of philosophy is correct. If Huxley's novel relies heavily on this idea, he should have supported it with more than a solitary statement of Mond. Indeed, Mond promptly refutes the statement by denying instinct as separate from conditioning, and as the civilized population of the world seems to be controlled largely by conditioning, it would seem that in Huxley's world, Mond is correct!
In summary, Huxley crafts an interesting future world where people are blithely content without knowing passion or pain. Unfortunately, he fails both to craft an interesting story to set in this world and to write a strong philosophical argument why such a world would be harmful for mankind. He relies on the obvious faults of the world and the intuitive reaction of the reader, and thus provides no deeper insights.
As a social message, as a novel, and as a statement on the way in which mankind should behave, I find Brave New World inferior in almost every way to 1984. The one word of praise I will give to Huxley's novel is that his dystopia is more unusual and more intriguing than Orwell's. If only he had dome something more with it.(less)
This is the story of a Hasidic Jewish boy, Asher, who has a gift for painting. He grows up to be a great artist, but his art is a source of anger and...moreThis is the story of a Hasidic Jewish boy, Asher, who has a gift for painting. He grows up to be a great artist, but his art is a source of anger and embarrassment for his family and people. Many artistic subjects, most notably nudes and crucifixions, are deemed inappropriate for an orthodox Jew. The struggle between art and faith, and art and religious society, are the central themes and plot points of this book.
This book would have been far less inspiring had Asher's family and Hasidic sect been depicted as oppressive zealots. However, Chaim Potok does justice to Asher's people (and indeed to his own people) by portraying them in a generally positive light. Asher's parents both make great sacrifices for the good of the Jews suffering in Europe. They care deeply for one another and for their son. They try, but ultimately fail, to understand their son's art. This is a not book ]about bad people oppressing a good person, but rather a book about good people trying to reconcile their differences and love each other in spite of them. This makes for a much more interesting story, as well as a beautiful picture of Hasidism. (less)
Kafka on the Shore is reminiscent of Wind-Up Bird: it has a lot of the same whimsy that makes the latter such a beautiful novel. However, I found Kafk...moreKafka on the Shore is reminiscent of Wind-Up Bird: it has a lot of the same whimsy that makes the latter such a beautiful novel. However, I found Kafka on the whole to be less satisfying. The mythology in Kafka is less interesting and far less integrated. It is more of a hodgepodge of various cultural symbols that fail to come together to form anything resembling a theme. It's a novel of self-exploration, but at the end, I am left wondering what Kafka learned, about himself or the world in which he lives. Although a wonderful storyteller, Murakami seems afraid to establish a clear thesis of any kind, which was particularly disappointing in a novel of this kind. As a side issue, I was also put off by some of the needless vulgarity.
Despite its problems, KotS is an enchanting story that I basically enjoyed. I don't think it will endure as a good work of literature, as Wind-Up Bird may, but I would still recommend it to somebody who enjoys surreal realism and wants to read a "fluffy" novel.(less)
This is the book for nonlinear dynamics. Strogatz's writing is not only easy to follow, but is also pleasant, conversational, and at times even a bit...moreThis is the book for nonlinear dynamics. Strogatz's writing is not only easy to follow, but is also pleasant, conversational, and at times even a bit whimsical. The book opens with very simple material, and while it eventually touches on some fairly advanced ideas (eg renormalization), it builds up to that point very carefully, so the student should never feel overwhelmed. The examples and problems are drawn from a wide range of fields, so students from disciplines besides math and physics should see some connection to their own interests.
Some people criticize the book's scope, claiming that it is too limited, but specialized topics such as pattern formation and network dynamics are better reserved for a more advanced course.
An excellent complement to the book is the set of lecture notes written by Michael Cross and available on his website: Chaos on the Web.(less)
This is a coming-of-age book about a troubled teen in New York, although one couldn't say that James Sveck actually comes of age: he's in pretty much...moreThis is a coming-of-age book about a troubled teen in New York, although one couldn't say that James Sveck actually comes of age: he's in pretty much the same state at the end of the book as he is at the beginning.
For reasons unclear to me, I sometimes enjoy reading books that remind me of my own melancholy teenage years. James is indeed melancholy, maybe depressed, and definitely confused. He doesn't understand other people, he doesn't know how to develop meaningful relationships, and he seeks to escape — rather than fix — this problem. I'm not sure if he even acknowledges that it is a problem.
The real joy of reading this book is in the language, which is simple but graceful. James is well educated and literate, but he's also a product of the modern world, so all the language is very contemporary. His vocabulary is broad but not so expansive that you'll need a dictionary. He takes joy in finding just the right way to say something, and I appreciated the concise and precise, yet still artful prose.
Cameron gives James a few conventional sources of frustration: James is gay, his parents are divorced, and he witnessed the attacks of 9/11, all of which contribute to his confusion and anger. I was concerned that this would detract from the focus on James' underlying issues, but Cameron doesn't overplay these elements of James' life. James' inability to talk about 9/11 or to develop any kind of romance — he states that he is gay only in the abstract because he wouldn't know how to begin a romance even if he wanted to — serve more as windows for observing his emotional problems rather than as sources of them. For many readers, this probably is a good thing: you don't have to suffer exactly the same concrete problems as James to be able identify with him. (But, if you're looking for a book about a kid wrestling with his grief or sexuality, this probably isn't it.)
This is a short book: I read it on a single cross-country flight. Given the subject matter, brevity was a good choice. I may like to reminisce about my melancholy years, but I definitely don't want to relive them.(less)