A powerful personal memoir detailing the extraordinary and gruesome Rwandan genocide and one survivor’s heroic 76 day stand against it. What a juxtapo...moreA powerful personal memoir detailing the extraordinary and gruesome Rwandan genocide and one survivor’s heroic 76 day stand against it. What a juxtaposition, to describe pure evil on earth with such beautiful and clean prose. Ruseisabagina tells a noble and smart story about his successful attempt to shelter and shield thousands of Tutsis and Hutus within his hotel. By a sense of duty and justice, he boldly fended off a homicidal mob of machete wielding Hutus. He did it mostly with words, diplomacy and guts... plus a lot of luck! Ruseisabagina’s memoir is transporting and unforgettable. This could have easily been three separate books. A touching memoir of his childhood and his father (a tribal leader). A philosophical and sociological history lesson on war and the two wild extremes it generates, good vs. evil. And of course, a sweeping action thriller with a climactic and heroic ending. Two of my favorite quotes. The first is an African proverb, “If a man does not know his Father, he has lost the opportunity to learn from his Grandfather.” Another is an old quote from Lincoln, that Ruseisabagina uses to defend his “do anything” selflessness. “If I need to free all the slaves to keep the nation whole, I will. If I need to free no slaves to keep the nation whole, I will. If I need to free some slaves and not others, I will. I will keep this nation whole at all cost.” (less)
Cherry’s 1912 classic adventure memoir combines and edits several other surviving diaries and does a wonderful job detailing Scott’s ill fated South P...moreCherry’s 1912 classic adventure memoir combines and edits several other surviving diaries and does a wonderful job detailing Scott’s ill fated South Pole Terra Nova Expedition. A long line of excellent reviews have already detailed this epic adventure and tragedy... So, I’ll skip a formal review and just outline a few of my own observations.
Cherry spent months attempting to traverse Antarctica in a perpetual sunless winter. Striking out in pitch black, often in snow storms, he tells of the countless times he and or members of his party (and dog teams) fell blindly into invisible crevasses. The potential disaster is mentioned so often, that the reader becomes numb to the incredible terror that this must have triggered, not to mention the physical exhaustion of pulling, dragging and picking one’s way back to apparent safety. Cherry must have recognized the redundancy, so in the middle of his book he goes into detail about the wild free fall, the back-breaking lurch at the end of the tethered harness and the exhausting recovery. Back at camp the danger would be dismissed with typical 1912 British bravado -- after each near tragedy, their comradeship would skyrocket.
My only real criticism (beyond the book’s heft) is Cherry's whitewashing and glory-writing while describing his teammates. No group of men, thrown into desperate circumstances are THAT good together! I blame three circumstances on Cherry’s hero worship; first, their close dependency on each other; second, Cherry’s impressionable age (he was in his 20’s); and finally, he knew his diary was likely his public legacy. He gets away with this near fatal flaw because his story does not need a antagonist. The natural villain is not a person, it’s Mother Nature and she’s a real killer!
He also personally survives a crazy sperm whale attack, as they worked in unison to crack and then explode through the ice field in an effort to snatch their running dog team from the solid ice shelf. Sounds like a scene from an old B-Sci-Fi called “Tremors!”
Other wild subplots include a month long death march to capture Emperor Penguin eggs (really!?... 4 guys, for weeks, in a -70º hurricane, for eggs!?... really!). Within that side story, Cherry chillingly describes his own temporary resolve to die.
A long story has some stretch room for nuance. As a fine example, Cherry takes his time describing the beauty and oddity of such a sparse landscape. He details the dramatic tricks in perspective caused by the absence of landmarks on such a grand scale. In his telling, one day he marched toward a strange shadowed mound on a distant horizon only to arrive at a discarded wrapper some 100 yards away. He didn’t discover and adjust his error in perspective until he was within a couple feet. That has to freak you out a bit! I first discovered this book because it’s title showed up on a National Geographic list of Top 100 Adventure Stories. Since then, I’ve made it a practice to read one or two a year. How does this South Pole survival story fair against the other classics? I would rank it well above the line, but just below a couple awesome stories. The short list below are all from the same cut and cloth, the British glory days of exploration. Strong competitors include; “The Endurance,” “The Forgotten Men,” “We Die Alone,” maybe even “The Long Walk” (note: The Long Walk has long been rumored to be heavily fictionalized).
Overall, very well done! However, modern readers beware; Cherry's turn of the century British verse is both charming and stiff.(less)
1/3 lecture, 1/3 commentary, 1/3 personal history; all told in a fresh, airy writing style. Amazing insight and reflection from a truly original 70 yr...more1/3 lecture, 1/3 commentary, 1/3 personal history; all told in a fresh, airy writing style. Amazing insight and reflection from a truly original 70 yr old actor. This is a careful and thoughtful book. He preaches of family values; upbringing, poverty, black prejudices, integrity and the film industry. Sydney does not put it all out there, but he puts enough and he is a damn fine writer. I need to see his films again while his writing is still fresh. (02)
I know he has a second memoir and I'd be very interested in hearing reviews of his current effort. Thanks, Dave(less)
Bragg’s incredible gift for delivering flesh and blood southern authenticity is on generous display within this collection. He has assembled a series...moreBragg’s incredible gift for delivering flesh and blood southern authenticity is on generous display within this collection. He has assembled a series of profiles from the grizzled poverty of a notorious Alabama mill town (his own hometown). The stories are at turns tragic, noble, soulful and throbbing. Bragg supplies a rich full first-person account that indirectly answers the obvious question, “Why would whole families choose to stay in an industry that literally, slowly, stole away their very breath?” The bottom line; just like most of us, they did it for their families. In addition, social norms, ignorance and fear bent their will. In ranking Bragg’s book within the context of his past efforts, I’d say it comes in a close third (Ava’s Man is still number #1, All Over But The Shouting is #2). Please don’t that dissuade you, each of Bragg’s books has few rivals within the category of contemporary southern memoirs. This is a great book.(less)
Dispatches is a superb collection with a flashes of brilliance. Herr is a gifted writer and a measured study of the motivations behind man’s actions....moreDispatches is a superb collection with a flashes of brilliance. Herr is a gifted writer and a measured study of the motivations behind man’s actions. I loved it. One way to adequately critique Herr is to put his flame next to O’Brien’s excellent collection, “The Things They Carried.” In suggesting a comparison, I’ve immediately placed Herr next to the very best in War Short Stories. O’Brien’s disturbing gift was his use of unbelievably beautiful and poetic prose... while describing... some of the most horoific war crimes imaginable. Michael Herr’s, “Dispatches” does not present such a garish clash between style and content. In comparison, Herr keeps Dispatches style true to journalistic excellence in expose’; it is fast, blunt and punchy. His writing seems less effected and less imagined then O’Brien’s work. Regardless, both books serve up a flashing glimpse at the emotional range and rage of war. The contrast between man’s capacity for compassion and insane-evil is both jarring and riveting. (less)
A horse book that takes you to the rail and wins (sorry for the pun). A rags to riches tale of the unlikely media sensation during the depths of the d...moreA horse book that takes you to the rail and wins (sorry for the pun). A rags to riches tale of the unlikely media sensation during the depths of the depression. I now know a bit of the inside scoop on horse racing and the tragic heroes that scrape their living from the spoils of the game. Like all sports, this is a passionate obsession as much as it is a pursuit of excellence. There is no balance in a winner-take-all long shot. Hillenbrand knows how to write. This is a crisp, action packed history of one of the world's legendary horses. (less)
A revealing and surprisingly well written memoir. Agasi is painfully honest in his chosen reflections on and off the court. Like the athlete, this boo...moreA revealing and surprisingly well written memoir. Agasi is painfully honest in his chosen reflections on and off the court. Like the athlete, this book is tennis obsessed. Sadly for Agasi, his father had preprogrammed his second son’s destiny. We get a torrid taste of his very warped childhood. Popa Agasi’s emotional and physical abuse is a sensational dark shadowed theme that casts across his entire life. As we march through Agasi’s hard fought life, we are also treated to a rare, behind-the-scene glimpse of the international circuit; taudy bits about the player’s private personalities, their coaches, and the relentless press. Agassi's writing is blunt and captivating, describing the ups and downs of a physical and emotional blood sport. He details a mind game and an endurance sport; truly mano a mano. There are wide streaks of introspection throughout, still this is an action man’s book and most of the emotions are found between the lines. Love it for what it is and who he is, a wildly flawed champion. And is there any other kind? (less)
Please don't let the cover art, the title and subtitle fool you. I shuffled past this book on my nightstand for 2 years running. Despite it's appearan...morePlease don't let the cover art, the title and subtitle fool you. I shuffled past this book on my nightstand for 2 years running. Despite it's appearance, this is not a passive book. Before Greg builds schools, he builds physical bridges across perilous mountains in exchange for bonds of trust with local warlords (ie. the title, three cups of tea). Mortenson’s selfless vocation and rugged journey makes an outstanding story. Three Cups of Tea is also well written. The narrative is descriptive, accessible and often gripping. Sometimes the writing steps over the descriptive requirements and borders on “Got it Greg!...enough already!”... but his story sticks with you. Mortenson’s quirky integrity and his naive, charitable vigor is well worth the overarching lesson in humility, humanity and the value of education. 4/22/08(less)