Really, a layman commenting on a Tolstoy is pretty lame, but I can say that a good way to read some 19th century Russian literature by way of introduc...moreReally, a layman commenting on a Tolstoy is pretty lame, but I can say that a good way to read some 19th century Russian literature by way of introduction are short stories, because War and Peace, to be honest, is intimidating.
This short story is partly a crime novel as well as clinical examination of the state of marriage as Tolstoy perceives it in his time. Although, it is not exactly a murder mystery, as we know the murder and victime before hand, as he identifies himself by the second chapter. Yet, Tolstoy does a good job ratcheting up the tension as the story unfolds. The reader knows he's gonna do it, but how and what causes him to finally snap, is the question.
The other part of the novel centers around Tolstoy's ideas on marriage, which are downright enlightenment: they are ahead of their times by a hundred years and still, somehow mired in 15th century perceptions of what women should be like. Yet, for those of us who think there is more to marriage then wedding bells, parties, and over priced outfits, The Kreutzer Sonata has a lot of fodder still relevant in our times to put little miss Bridezilla in her place. Although, sometimes you have to wonder if Tolstoy's cure all for the ills of our lives is "We all have to become GREAT Christians." The writing is in a minimalist narrative format, which moves the reader quickly through the action and the philosophy of the tale without being verbose.
In conclusion, the Kreutzer Sonata is an average crime novel and an average screed on marriage, which turns into a fantastic short story.(less)
For people reading this review, I believe it is safe to assume that you hold similar beliefs to myself: you think the tenements of the Enlightenment a...moreFor people reading this review, I believe it is safe to assume that you hold similar beliefs to myself: you think the tenements of the Enlightenment are generally good, there is something called progress, and tolerance of people who are different then you is a virtue. You believe that slavery, sexism, fascism and fundamentalism are generally bad. Really, 'nuff said. Yet, like most people on both sides of the spectrum, you probably, also hold many belief with only a vague underlying set of assumptions, mixed with a few facts, held up by a skeleton of apparently solid logic. Often, too late, you realize that your set of facts is, at best, weak, or at worst, completely wrong, and some fundamental ideals are quickly challenged by someone who has done a tad more homework then you. This situation is when it is good to have read a book like Guns, Germs, and Steel.
Guns, Germs, and Steel is a well reasoned discussion about the history of humankind and the cause of material inequality in the world. Essentially most of its thesis is in the title, that European whites managed to take possession of most of the world's resources not by any particular superiority of its skin color, but by virtue of certain environmental factors which gave them better access to guns (military competition), germs (antiquity's a-bomb) and steel (an obvious prerequisite for many other technological developments eventually used to conquer and subjugate other populations). The author makes great pains to point out most of these developments occurred in many other places throughout the world, before they did in Europe, and due to peculiar quirks of the environment, culture and timing, did not pass out of their infancy, or were lost or abandoned. The book gives a basic narrative of the different areas of the world and very brief descriptions of what the author believes held them back from achieving their civilization's full potential. He also never idealizes any particular civilization, sometimes even using their own subjugation and destruction of similar groups as examples of how the Europeans would do it to them later. To the author, material inequality arises mostly from environmental factors, completely free from ideas of race.
This book is dense and fairly academic. More akin to a college text book then light beach reading. Like most college level reads, there's a fair amount of repetition, and a few chapters you will find yourself slogging through. Yet, for many of us who believe the great white superiority myth is a hoax, and can use some solid research writing to help give meat to the theory, Guns, Germs, and Steel will lend powerful ammunition to their armory. (less)
I would be a total rube to say something like "J.K. Rowling stole all her ideas for the Harry Potter series from Ursala Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea...moreI would be a total rube to say something like "J.K. Rowling stole all her ideas for the Harry Potter series from Ursala Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea." She didn't steal everything from Le Guin. Just select parts. Ok, ok, nothing was stolen, just, appropriated. Appropriated well, but very much appropriated. And mostly just for the first book.
There's something about a fantasy book which manages to be accessible without being cliche. Sometimes a fantasy book is just so far out there, the reader, unable to connect to anything easily, fails to enjoy the story, but then there are the Tolkien rewrites which put the average fantasy reader to sleep. Ursala Le Guin succeeds in creating a fantastic world, populated by humans to whom magic is as common as feats of engineering are to us. These people live on a world in which the "Island setting" was chosen and seem to have adapted to their largely near-aquatic environment by all being sailors, pirates, or something in between, like wizards.
Ursala Le Guin does a great job in bringing Earthsea to life, yet, at the same time, the brevity of the tale tends to create a great deal of questions, like how does a medieval iron age world of kings and queens, and subsequent kingdoms, arise from such an alien environment as Earthsea? While she does not completely ignore the sociological and historic aspects of the universe in which she places her tale, I still she will delve into the details of her world in later books (in fact, its a testimony to her creative talents that I am even made curious for more info at all).
The story of this first book is apparently a prologue, giving the background and early history of a major historical figure of Earthsea and his first important trials, including one in which he summons a great evil into the world and is forced to confront it. The narrative carries the read along like a strong current, and almost never lulls or lapses into long wordy descriptions of natural scenes, clothing, or other some-suches so common to fantasy novels, and is, in fact, so succinct, as to be almost prose.
I recommend this book to anyone who wants a light fantasy, both physically and metaphorically. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series and will probably update this review as I do.(less)
A simplified overview on how the brain functions infused into 12 rules which dictate how best to learn and teach using the new (and old research) desc...moreA simplified overview on how the brain functions infused into 12 rules which dictate how best to learn and teach using the new (and old research) described in the book.
I like books on the brain, and while I enjoyed the simplicity of this book, I found it lacking in a few areas. The research was well described, so the theory behind his ideas were solid, but it lacked better exercises to instituting the 12 rules laid out in the book. Still, there's enough advice to make it worth the read, especially in the areas of sleep deprivation and stress (guess what? if you feel like you need a mid-afternoon nap, its because you probably do, not because you are lazy). If you want a really good exploration on developments in neuroscience and how to take advantage of them, I would look elsewhere, though.(less)
One of the few books which I will describe with the phrase "changed my life" and actually mean it, V for Vendetta is one of Alan Moore's seminal work...moreOne of the few books which I will describe with the phrase "changed my life" and actually mean it, V for Vendetta is one of Alan Moore's seminal works. As in Watchmen Alan Moore takes the superhero concept and distorts to tell a story above and beyond the average adolescent messiah complex tale prevalent in the genre. Yet, unlike Watchmen, V for Vendetta is not a dissection of the superhero genre, exploring the psychology of someone who dresses up in costumes and beats up criminals. Although, similar to Watchmen, V changes the dynamic. Instead of beating street criminals, this hero, declares war against the corrupt, fascist government of post-apocalyptic England.
In V, Moore presents us with a character who sits somewhere between a freedom fighter and a terrorist. An almost superhuman one man army, with a flare for theater (he dresses up in a 16th century outfit and wears a Guy Fawke's mask, quotes Shakespeare, all the while beating up government thugs and blowing up public property), he calls himself V. Much like a bizarro version of Batman, V takes on a 16 year old girl, Evey, as his protege and begins to school her in the ins and outs of the fight for liberty and freedom (although, not always in the most kindest way). V is no perfect hero, and depending on the perspective of what character Moore gives us, is a down right villain at times.
So why did this book change my life? Moore tells a tale of fighting against an authoritarian system, created in a time of fear and confusion, to offer the masses a veneer of stability and safety. His description of fascism and authoritarianism was frightening, not in its ugliness, but in its attraction to people as a panacea from responsibility and change. There are lines in the comic which still resonate with my today and ideas I find myself referring to after reading some particularly scary piece of news. V for Vendetta still ranks as one of the top political book I have ever read. Couple that with some really awesome fight scenes, interesting character development, and a pretty cool superhero, like no other, and well, what else was going to change my life? Plato's Republic or something?(less)
A narrative history of the CIA, told through a great deal of stories, personal statements, and interviews. Not very heavy with numbers, statistics, or...moreA narrative history of the CIA, told through a great deal of stories, personal statements, and interviews. Not very heavy with numbers, statistics, or data, although the notes are extensive, which is important, since the book is controversial. The author's bias is strongly against the CIA, and he makes a well argued case for why the institution has generally failed in the past, and will do so in the future. Also, if you had any myths about the invincibility of the CIA, the book will shatter those myths, succinctly. Read this in conjunction with the movie "The Good Shepherd" for a surreal, 'hey... I know these guys' moment.(less)
One of the least asked questions about the events leading up to the one of the worst terrorist attacks on U.S. soil was "who the hell are these guys?"...moreOne of the least asked questions about the events leading up to the one of the worst terrorist attacks on U.S. soil was "who the hell are these guys?" A great deal of us took for granted our assumptions on what a terrorist was and who were the people which made up their ranks. We were immersed in a G.I. like fantasy of costumed super villains striking out at us with elaborate plots, like blowing up the world's oceans or unleashing zombie paratroopers from zeppelins, that we failed to take the time to do any research on the backgrounds on those who had declared war on the United States for the past 20 years. The Looming Tower does much to demystify the personalities and people on the other side of the war on terror. The author (a journalist who had spent several years writing and traveling the Middle East and had helped write the screen play for the movie "The Siege") explores the history of violent extremist Islam and its roots in Egypt, starting with the Muslim Brotherhood, which would act as the midwife to what would become Al-Qaeda. He examines the history of its founder and his influence on Osama bin Laden and bin Laden's experience in Afghanistan. While following the rise, fall and rebirth of the terrorist organization responsible for 9/11, the author also examines the lives of the men and women attempting against all hope, to possibly stop them.
What I learned from the book was two major things:
1) The events of 9/11 were preventable and pretty much were able to happen due to the incompetency and entrenched culture of the bureaucracy of the intelligence communities of the United States government.
2) The more you learn about the other side of this war, the more surprised you are that ANYONE of them managed to kill a person. Anywhere.
At its core, The Looming Towers is a well researched narrative of not only the events leading up to the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and the following war on terror, but the personalities behind the event. Somehow, making the whole thing more human, made me significantly less afraid, which for any other reason, I can recommend this book.(less)
One of the most influential books in the genre, I am Legend tells the tale of the last man on an Earth, in a world ravaged by a disease which turns pe...moreOne of the most influential books in the genre, I am Legend tells the tale of the last man on an Earth, in a world ravaged by a disease which turns people into blood thirsty zombies, and has helped inspire movies such as Night of the Living Dead and The Omega Man. The book is a compact narrative following the day to day life of the only survivor of the vampire plague, with a host of memorable "oh crap, he's screwed" moments. The book also does a good job of exploring the psyche of being the last man on earth, which would appear to be a mix of disciplined determination and suicidal contempt for one's supposed lucky position of surviving the end of the world. Served up with a twist ending, the story is exciting and well worth the read, and may just inspire you to reevaluate the artistic value of those zombie films you have been subject to in the past few years.(less)
The book works like many historical stratagem guides, listing its advice, broken down into easy to memorize epigrams, with a short explanation followe...moreThe book works like many historical stratagem guides, listing its advice, broken down into easy to memorize epigrams, with a short explanation followed by a historical example which exemplifies the thesis of the chapter. Similar books are Lure the Tiger out of the Mountain or The Book of Five Rings, although the author is much less myopic and takes his examples from every era of history, using case subjects as varied as kings, presidents, con artists, and even movie directors to back up his assertions. The range of examples makes the book far more interesting then other books of its type, and while I do question his interpretations of historical facts, I find his descriptions fun to read. The author seems to subscribe to Nietzsche's will to power vision of human relationships, and the suggestions in the book are at best, amoral, yet, considering the title, no one should mistake this book for treatise on how to be a fluffy bunny. How effective have The 48 Laws of Power been for me? Reading the book has given me a better grip on what is going on in my own little niche in the world in terms of personal power struggles, although I can not say that I have used it to achieve the heights of status and prestige of great leaders. Still, there is great advice in here, and if studiously applied, an individual could easily inoculate themselves from the power plays of others (often practiced unconsciously) and develop a personal strategy to deal with the real world and perhaps excel. If anything, a student of history will enjoy the brief biographies of famous individuals, many of whom I was unaware of their personal battles, to make this book a worthwhile read. (less)
The author continues with the themes started in The 48 Laws of Power, this time exploring the realms of seduction, both on a personal and mass scale....moreThe author continues with the themes started in The 48 Laws of Power, this time exploring the realms of seduction, both on a personal and mass scale. Using more examples from con artists, cult leaders, and past Don Juans, the author expands his historical overview using much the same format as 48 Laws, yet, by reducing the sections to 28 chapters, he gives himself more room to explain his views and lay out his examples better. Arguably more of the same, the author has found his voice in this one, making it a much better read. Also, the focus on seduction leaves the reader feeling more like a guru, then a Machiavelli. (less)
The latest in what has shaped up to be a trilogy of strategy books, this one is a straight up remake on the Art of War by the Chinese philosopher, Sun...moreThe latest in what has shaped up to be a trilogy of strategy books, this one is a straight up remake on the Art of War by the Chinese philosopher, Sun Tsu. It tackles the subject of war both as a national struggle of one nation versus another, but also as a individual's struggle of ideology or vision. It is more myopic then the previous books, and perhaps, because of its narrower focus, actually has more to offer in terms of historical narrative. Yet, the author has moved further away from the normal human's daily struggles and into the realm of the great person's position, which makes this book a bit less applicable. Still, there are many anecdotes in the book which are worth the read, and if you ever doubted Napoleon's great strategic genius (at least in the first half of his career), this book will change your mind.
The end of the book is an interesting plea for change which uses the USSR's defeat in Afghanistan as a clear metaphor for the United State's current position in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He sums it up with the phrase "Always have an exit strategy." I think the Robert Greene should follow his own advice and develop an exit strategy from writing these kinds of books. I would like to read a more focused historical study on his part, or perhaps historical fiction. I say this stuff, not because I think he has failed in this book in anyway, just that he has explored this genre as far as it will go, and will do well for himself and the readers, to take up a new literary quest.(less)
Yawnsville. Perhaps maybe there's some sorta great plot and character development later in the series, but I don't want to find out cause I really cou...moreYawnsville. Perhaps maybe there's some sorta great plot and character development later in the series, but I don't want to find out cause I really could not bring myself to care about ANYONE presented to me in the book, or the story itself. While I may at times plow through a mediocre first few chapters, when it comes to comic collections, its an expensive trip. This trip doesn't seem worth it.(less)
A good start to a great series, The Sandman, was one of the first collected comic series I ever read, and changed my mind on what the genre can do. A...moreA good start to a great series, The Sandman, was one of the first collected comic series I ever read, and changed my mind on what the genre can do. A blend of contemporary and ancient mythology, the author spins a tale that takes the reader from settings from the mundane to the magical from panel to panel. The themes are mature and intelligent, while not being about subjects too pedantic for everyone to enjoy. The comic also has a diverse cast of characters, many from the DC universe, including the Martian Manhunter and Doctor Destiny, well integrated into the unique storyline. My only complaint is the art work would have done better with a better inker and sometimes a few scenes lose their impact. Still, considering how good the plot and dialogue are, the reader will won't be disappointed.(less)
I like the original Dracula a lot. I like it so much, I sometimes think I like it more then I actually like it. The reason I say that is sometimes we...moreI like the original Dracula a lot. I like it so much, I sometimes think I like it more then I actually like it. The reason I say that is sometimes we are not the best judge of our own tastes, so take my 5 stars with a grain of salt, for the most part.
Much like I am Legend, this book is a historical lynch pin. You may not know it, but whether you have actually read Dracula or not, you know the plot, the theme, the setting, and almost everything else about the book. It pervades our culture that much. If you are a fan of HP Lovecraft or Edgar Allen Poe, when you read Dracula you are reading a good part of their inspiration. The book has inspired the themes and ideas for hundreds of comics, movies, cartoons, and games. Also, it has given Western culture one of its most powerful archetypes: Count Dracula.
Sure, over the years, Count Dracula has been reduced to a cliche, but, in our media saturated culture, what has not? Yet, in his time, he was more then just some villain, or monster, he was a metaphor for everything the people of the Victorian era feared. Think about it for a moment: many monsters in tales can kill you in many nasty ways, and Dracula is no different. Dracula can conquer an person on more levels then one: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, he can get you. If he does not break your neck with his incredible strength, he can drive you insane using his powers, then seduce your girl friend and make out with her while you sleep, and finally, if he kills you, death is no escape, you become his slave. Still, even with Dracula as a beast, there is a certain amount of mystique for the character, he is attractive and repulsive at the same time. He one of the best representative of the dark side, until Darth Vader comes along 100 years or so later.
Some readers may have difficulty with the style of writing, since the whole story is told in journal entries of the various characters, yet this is not so strange, when you think about how many movies are done as video diaries to lend a sense of realism to ths action. I think Bram Stoker was aiming for the same thing, and the video diaries of his day were, well, actual diaries. Also, common to much horror today, giving us only one character's perspective at a time, increases the tension and fear. Finally, the voices change dramatically between the characters, to great effect.
Dracula can be read in its historical perspective, yet, I also think its a scary novel in of itself. Perhaps our exposure to the characters of the supernatural has made us jaded, and only slow dismemberment from psycho paths, is the only thing that will get our fear rocks off. Yet, if we take the time to use our imagination and put ourselves into poor Mina's shoes, watching her friend die from an unknown assailant from another time, battling the forces of evil embodied in a mesmerizing Eastern European aristocrat, we could do what we always do with horror stories: scare ourselves.(less)
I have never met a language textbook I really thought was great, and this was no exception. Although, I am glad to see a better updated cultural appro...moreI have never met a language textbook I really thought was great, and this was no exception. Although, I am glad to see a better updated cultural approach, exploring Russia as a modernizing country, dealing with hold overs from its Soviet past, that does not make it all that useful. Most textbooks are only supplemental to the classroom, and as a supplement, I would probably give an extra star. Don't pick this up, though expecting to learn anything useful in approaching the actual use of the language, or even as a grammar reference. There are better ways to learn a language through a book, this is not one of them.(less)
Most language instruction books are pretty dry, grammar focused, and tend to have weird, somewhat unintuitive learning curves. You use them to learn t...moreMost language instruction books are pretty dry, grammar focused, and tend to have weird, somewhat unintuitive learning curves. You use them to learn the grammatical foundations of the language and little else. The Living Language series focuses mostly on learning how to speak a language. I have read reviews on it saying flat out that these books will not help you learn Russian, and to some degree, they may be correct. You will not learn Russian from this book. Or any book. But, if you are going to go travel to Russia, or some Russian speaking country, and you need to learn to communicate verbally in Russian, this book is how you will do it. Trust me. I've been through a lot of Russian textbooks, and this one is probably the only one that taught conversational language skills. True, you won't get your BA in Russian literature or be able to read Dostoevsky in its original language with this textbook, but you will be able to ask for directions to the 'pochta' or order a tea and biscuits without sounding like a total tool(less)
My friend J gave me this book before I went to Kazakhstan working with the United States Peace Corps, so, at the time, I found it a more interesting r...moreMy friend J gave me this book before I went to Kazakhstan working with the United States Peace Corps, so, at the time, I found it a more interesting read then I probably would have, had I been traveling to, let's say, the Western Congo or Oceania. To date, not many books about Central Asia exist, at least, not all that many good ones. There is Lost Heart of Asia by Colin Thubronand Tom Bissell's books (of which I will discuss in later reviews), yet few others. Since 9/11, the world's attention was drawn to Afghanistan, and therefore, its neighbors in Central Asia, and hence this book, examining the current politics of these former Soviet Republics. Most of the focus on the book is on Uzbekistan, although, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan are briefly mentioned as well.
The author, Ahmed Rashid, while not sympathetic to the ideologies of militant Islam, he does explore the conditions which lend weight to their cause and drive otherwise disinterested people to their ranks. His argument is a simple one, and one which has been put forth again and again, is that militant Islam gains power in unstable, poor countries with oppressive regimes and a large populations of young men who's only access to education is the local madrases. Ahmed Rashid then explores to what extent these particular conditions exist in Central Asia. He discusses Uzbekistan at length largely because Uzbekistan has most of these conditions, and has become a boiler point for resistance and conflict. In contrast, Rashid then describes the activities in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, just reviving itself after a nasty civil war, and describes why militant Islam has not gained a foothold there (largely because its government allowed the militants to run for office, and they all were handily defeated at the polls) and then explains what the world needs to do to insure that militant Islam does not spread.
The book is for academics, or anyone else, looking for an alternative explanation for the cause of militant Islamic extremism past 'they hate our freedoms' as well as anyone traveling or working in Central Asia who needs to allay their fears about the Muslim Brotherhood's activities there (mostly centered in the isolated Fergana Valley). Otherwise, the text could be too dry and the subject matter too myopic for casual reading.
Oh, and I left my copy in Almaty, so sorry J. Thanks for giving it to me anyway.(less)