I have never read any of Ken Follett's books but I decided to give this one a try. It is my understanding that this genre of book is not typical of th...moreI have never read any of Ken Follett's books but I decided to give this one a try. It is my understanding that this genre of book is not typical of the spy thriller writer. This is a historical novel with multiple characters and several plots.
The Pillars of the Earth is set in the early 1100's and spans around fifty years. It centers around a Cathedral constructed in the fictional town of Kingsbridge England. Some of the major characters include Phillip, Prior of the Kingsbridge Monastery, Tom Builder and his step-son Jack Sherburg who are the Master-Builders that oversee the Cathedral's construction over nearly five decades. The story is filled with intrigue, violence, ambition, religiosity, rape, pillaging and even token sex.
I liked the book however, some of the tempocentric references transferred to the twelvth century don't seem to carry over convincingly - at least for me anyway. The gratuitous sex descriptions seemed awkward, somewhat brutish and even pornographic. I suppose they weren't altogether repulsive taken as a whole - although I found the rape descriptions to be particularly disturbing.
Follett was trained as a journalist and it showed up by the way this entire book was painstakingly written. However, its end seemed anticlimactic as the author wrapped up the loose ends kind of the way he wrote about sex; big build-up, short fuse and BAM!
Considering how much detail and effort was put into developing the story and its characters, the end seemed rushed, tidy and contrived. It lacked the same continuity with the tapestry woven through out the story. I understand the book was long nearly 1000 pages. nevertheless, this epic deserved a more detailed end to finish off the body of work so meticulously put together. I found myself frustrated with the disappointingly clunky end.
Nevertheless, I did find the book intriguing enough that I made time for the book - so much so that I read it in four days. I found myself thinking about the characters during the day and eagerly looked forward to reading what was happening to them as the story progressed. Having finished the book, I've found myself missing the characters.
I particularly enjoyed the story because of the extensive research associated with middle-ages cathedral construction. Additionally, the detailed descriptions of medieval culture and lifestyle were as entertaining as they were enlightening.
Ken Follett thoroughly researched his material - I read he took nearly ten years to develop the story. Perhaps that explains why he wrapped up the story in less than 100 pages. Ten years is a long time to invest into writing a book - maybe he just got tired of it when he reached the end.
Nearly 15 years have passed since Follett wrote "The Pillars of the Earth" and he has recently completed another book of the same genre, centering around 14th Century at Kingsbridge Cathedral. I 'm looking forward to reading "World Without End" soon.(less)
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien is a collection of vignettes about the war experience in Vietnam. The book details life of the foot soldier.
O'...moreThe Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien is a collection of vignettes about the war experience in Vietnam. The book details life of the foot soldier.
O'Brien has an incredible ability for communicating about what motivates him to write. In doing so, he provides some powerful insights into the inner motivations for writing as well.
I mused on this book when I first read it back in June of 2005. Here's what I had to say at the time:
O’Brien’s book, near as I can tell, is about Vietnam. This author is quite accomplished in that he has drawn me into the story completely. In 18 short pages, I have already established a connection with Lieutenant Cross, a twenty-four year old kid from New Jersey whose love-struck musings about a girl he is profoundly attracted to have him in danger. She doesn’t feel the same for him but that doesn’t matter. He is obsessed with her to the point of distraction. Frankly, I am scared for the kid and I can relate to his angst over a woman who is so far and yet feels so close.
Bummer - quite often, we feel closer when we are farthest apart. Why is that? Is it the absence? Is it the reality? I wonder, how must it be to miss someone from afar knowing you may never see her again - especially in war time? I can fathom such a thought because, to know death awaits is incredibly sobering. I am familiar with that thought. It definitely clears the mind of everything but what is important. It puts you right here, right now. What does surprise me quite often is how most of us rarely think about our own mortality. Back to the story: So, what is important to the young Lieutenant is this woman he has fantasized – not the real woman – someone more powerful. Someone unavailable, inaccessible and distant but, not by miles - by emotion. She doesn’t feel the same for him. Why should she?"
That is what this book did for me. It continually stimulated a stream of consciousness and thoroughly engaged me from the beginning. It is the kind of book that stays with you . It is equally troubling as it is thought provoking. Very few writers have this ability to get into my head the way O'Brien has. So many people can grab our attention but few can keep it. I thank him for challenging me to get involved in his trek.
This disturbing book explores the implications behind killing a Human Being. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman delves into historical documents and references va...moreThis disturbing book explores the implications behind killing a Human Being. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman delves into historical documents and references various psychological treatises to develop an understand how and why people resolve actively taking of a life.
Contrary to what one might think, reference the topic matter of this book, "On Killing" is hardly anything about celebrating or justification to be sought when killing another Human Being. Rather, it intelligently deals with the implications and consequences for the taking of a life.
This is not a 'blood & guts' kind of book that glorifies killing. It is none the less fascinating because I don't think most people really think about what it means to take a life and have to live with the consequences once that has occurred.
As someone whose past vocation once called upon me to be prepared to take a life, I appreciate Grossman's thoughtful approach to such a difficult topic. (less)
I approached this book with some reservation because I was already aware of President Jackson's history regarding treatment of Native Americans and hi...more I approached this book with some reservation because I was already aware of President Jackson's history regarding treatment of Native Americans and his stand on slavery. I did however come away with a few realizations - from a perspective that I had not previously known.
Jon Meacham detailed the changes that Jackson implemented regarding the Executive branch - his examples include;
1] Jackson's usage of the veto as a political tool coupled with his expansion of executive powers and establishment of the presidency as political force which did not exist prior to Jackson's tenure as President of the United States [POTUS:],
2] being the first to completely replace his presidential cabinet thereby establishing that those members served at the pleasure of the president.
3] his introduction of legislation (Force Act) to affect change and to forecast his preparedness to act in the event someone intended to break up the union. In other words, threatening something extreme in order to get something generally perceived to be less benign.
4] his usage of executive branch to force policy change (Banks)
5] his usage of the media for fomenting his ideas and for advancing his agenda.
6] his reference to the voting populace as a mandate to implement his populist ideas - or perhaps, appealing to the masses in order to implement his agenda.
7] invoking the spoils system he was the first to dismiss federal office holders en masse.
Allowing for tempo-centric considerations regarding his bigotry, his fervent nationalism and passionate voice for the common (white) man, Meacham painted a fairly accurate picture of a man who, judged according to the prevailing sentiments of his times - and by people who shared a common Northern European heritage - he would have been a great man. His willful, obstinate, fiercely loyal nature served him well.
The Roman philosopher Herodotus said, "Soft lands breed soft men." Andrew Jackson is a good example for that axiom; he was, to be certain a tough man and the genteel world of the Washington of his time certainly proved to be a place where he could push his way around without much appreciable resistance. Perhaps the greatest nuance of his time was that he could get his way regardless of the opposition. It appears the opposition soon learned the value of having a medium (the printed press) in order to mount an effective opposition.
If any of this sounds at all familiar, I suspect it is because the author is looking back at the nineteenth century with his feet firmly planted in the 21st. Andrew Jackson's presidency seems to be quite familiar with the administration of President George W. Bush.
In short, it smacks of Rovian politics and, - to me - this is where Meacham fell short; he did not detail how such powerful nuanced re-interpretation of presidential power could have come from such an uneducated man. The constitutional law behind Jackson's vision is powerful and highly academic and yet, it seems he just had a great head for constitutional law. It makes me wonder whether it was in fact Martin VanBuren who was the brains behind the operation. We will never know from this book.
Unfortunately, the aberrant leanings president Jackson held, even during his time, were already proving to be distasteful in nineteenth century America. His deathbed statements regarding Heaven not being exclusively a realm for whites only indicates he was cognizant of the inherent injustice for slaves in the world he was living and preparing to leave shortly. Also, once the crisis of nullification had been averted the first time, President Jackson wrote about the potential role that slavery was certain to play in the future (six days before he would appoint an obscure country lawyer - Abraham Lincoln - to a low Federal Postal position in Illinois.)
Old Hickory predicted that slavery would eventually lead to a civil war. Unfortunately the president's prescient nature was accurate but he did not see himself as the instrument that would bring such an abomination to an end. While the book is an interesting read, I did not find it too cumbersome as others have alluded to. I also have a difficult time dismissing this account of his life as a 'white-wash' as other readers have contended. There are many accounts in the story which address the unfair treatment of Native Americans and his stand on slavery. For anyone to ignore that Andrew Jackson was an example of and a product of his time is to fall into the same tempo-centric trap that he fell into. Consequently, while slavery and Jackson's forbearance of long-standing treaties with the sovereign Indian nations were the order of his day - application of 2009 standards in retrospect are just as unmerited as the sins his modern-day critics are frowning upon.
To me there is a greater lesson to be garnered in looking back upon history; the wrongs can be reflected upon with an eye toward ensuring that such similar errors may be more easily understood and even avoided in the future. And, there are plenty of lessons to be learned. I could not help but notice the similarities of nationalism and invocation of populist themes in order to affect change as evidenced in our past presidential administration. It strikes me that the themes which resonated so strongly during the popular Jackson Administration were recently echoed by the Bush II reign as well. So too were the voices of opposition. This not to imply that bigotry exists towards at the same level today as in 19th century America however, there is no denying that similar shadows persist toward Latin American immigrants and Muslims in the paranoiac, post-9/11 America we live in today. The ultimate question in this or any democracy is whether majority rule trumps minority rights.
For my part, this was decent book and, while I would recommend it, it will not rank among the best books I have read. It is nonetheless, a pointed study about what happens when strong-minded personalities enter the office of president. It also demonstrates how fluid the description of the office can be and moreover, how mercurial personalities can effect the outcome of history - but, owing to contemporary experiences with our own presidencies of late, we already knew that. (less)
I've always had a tentative relationship with my religion. Like many, I take comfort in established, ritualized practices. On the other hand, I have a...moreI've always had a tentative relationship with my religion. Like many, I take comfort in established, ritualized practices. On the other hand, I have a tough time with some of what I consider to be loopy mandates outlined by the Catholic Catechism.
One aspect about, A Prayer for Owen Meany definitely touched on Faith; how I reconcile the difference between knowing that G_d exists; and believing that his word is what has been faithfully communicated through the Bible.
Couple that with my mistrust for 'the government' and my love for the Constitution and I have the perfect setting for an exploration of what happens when the two mix.
Owen Meany is a Christ-like figure - the reluctant messiah who, for whatever reason - is tapped to make the supreme sacrifice; he is to die. It causes me to ponder how Jesus must have felt as he knew what was going to happen and how he dealt with that impending eventuality of his demise for a 'greater good.'
And what of altruism? How can one reconcile voluntary termination of one's very life when to do so involves an act so selfless that it means termination of life as we know it to exist in this dimension. It begs the question, is altruism really voluntary at all and moreover, does it make any sense?
What about those left behind? John Wheelright's retrospective recounts the life of his enigmatic friend and the events that precipitated his death. He is preoccupied with whether the senseless act of violence that killed Owen could have been avoided - whether the collision course was one of divine providence or merely the product of a self-directed destiny. In the process, John's story reveals the struggle between faith and reality; for John it was one of knowing the end result and looking back; for Owen, it was one of knowing the end result and moving toward it. While both took a lifetime to complete, I am not sure who suffered more in the end.
If this is a parallel story of Jesus of Nazareth and there are/were other people with whom he shared his earthly existence then, their spin on the chain of events that led to his death and how they perceived it opens a whole new story. I can easily surmise that their personal interpretations might vary and the depth of their grief drives them to revisit the 'greatest story ever told' for the rest of their lives.
There are also many symbolic parallels throughout the story as well. For instance, Owen Meany's initials might be related to the letter Omega - as in the Christ's declaration of being the 'alpha and the omega.' His relationship to 'John' - might this be a reference to the beloved apostle alluded to in the New Testament? How about the Mary Magdalene, perhaps an alliterative parallel to Hester - 'the Molester'; maybe an allusion to the Scarlet Letter's Hester Prynne and the attendant consequences for having dared to love a man she could never have. How about her ability to evoke emotion and enjoy adulation of her fans. Yet despite her rock-star appeal, she was powerless to save the man she loved from with his date with destiny?
So many other questions arise like;
1] Is it easier to bitch about my government when I really have problems with my G_d? Civil disobedience beats the shit out of apostasy right? My government can jail me however, according to Pascal's gambit regarding the existence of G_d; violating the treatises of my faith can doom me for eternity.
2] Is this why fundamentalists work so hard at setting a status quo in their ever-changing world?
3] What do you do when your messiah - whom you never realized to be your messiah - is now your messiah and he is gone? You no longer can see him in the flesh. Is this the point of embarkation for the trip we call 'faith'?
4] How about the irony involved in being killed by someone else whose practiced religion calls for your destruction - even if you are the messiah?
I think about mistrust of my government which also played a role in Owen's death, the zealots and the existence of evil.
Like John Wheelright, I am a religious outsider. The struggle with my faith, striving to make sense of the religion of my birth. I take in my countryman's sacrosanct professions of faith and come away unconvinced.
Among my fellow Christian believers, there is a sea of difference where one set of perspectives takes precedence over another. Those who currently hold sway doggedly embrace the notion of a vengeful G_d that endorses 'an eye for an eye.' By convention, these practitioners of faith invoke the notion of self reliance as their excuse for turning a blind eye to the plight of a poor. Since G_d only helps those who help themselves, poverty must be an indication that such individuals are sinners - abandoned by the creator and therefore - of no consequence. The G_d of Abraham - whose eye is on the sparrow - is unmoved at the growling stomach of starving child.
Only in America do we protect an impoverished unborn human's right to be born into a mean world where they are guaranteed denial of equal access to education, food and a decent quality of life. We abandon them to the mean streets of what so proudly we hail as the greatest country on earth only to hunt them down years later. They are perfect fodder for the alter of object lessons because we prosecute them and even execute them in far greater numbers than members of the middle and upper class. We conveniently deny along the way that offenses committed by the poor had anything to do with the crimes perpetrated by religious approbation of avarice, wholesale exclusion and pin-pointed bigotry. It does make me wonder just what a messiah might make of it all and that is another reason why Owen Meany's character moves me.
I freely admit my bias; I am a John Irving fan and this is the book that did it for me.
I know Irving thoroughly studied the work of Charles Dickens so his story-telling utilizes techniques invoking craftsmanship reminiscent of that prolific storyteller. Irving's writing skill is second to none. He delivers a thought provoking, haunting narrative that leaves me continually revisiting this story.
A Prayer for Owen Meany is a meaning-of-life book of the highest order. It doesn't give us answers. It gives us questions to ponder - something infinitely more valuable. It informs. It frustrates. It entertains. It evokes a broad range of emotions. It has the potential for commuting what seems at first blush a life so common into a glimpse of the divine. It is the story of one man's epiphany and his ongoing struggle to reconcile faith with reality. It is a book of revelation - all at once apocalyptic and painfully redemptive.
Any book that can communicate on so many different levels is a book that will stand the test of time. This is why I consider this story among the top three books penned by any living writer I have read to date.
This is only part of why I love Owen Meany and why, - like the opening line,
"I am doomed to remember a small boy with a wrecked voice..."(less)
I originally thought Goleman's Emotional Intelligence was his best work. Now I am not so certain. Comparing the two books, the most notable difference...moreI originally thought Goleman's Emotional Intelligence was his best work. Now I am not so certain. Comparing the two books, the most notable difference between the two has to do with the first book's style as being more authoritative. I think this is because Goleman was on new ground. He was explaining the emergent science of emotional intelligence.
Social Intelligence offers a more relaxed delivery regarding how the brain works in social interactions. It also offers insight regarding group think. I have found it useful in dealing with my students, coworkers, and as a resource for some of my writing material. (less)