In the forward to the book I'm currently reading now, The Last Full Measure, the author Jeff Shaara describes his works of historical fiction by sayin...moreIn the forward to the book I'm currently reading now, The Last Full Measure, the author Jeff Shaara describes his works of historical fiction by saying, "it is the job of the historian to tell us what happened, to provide the dates and places and numbers, all the necessary ingredients of textbooks. It is the job of the storyteller to bring out the thoughts, the words, the souls of these fascinating characters, to tell us why they should be remembered and even enjoyed." What makes this book, and of his entire Liberation Trilogy, so sublime is that the books not only do a masterful job of providing a detailed account of the order of battle, of dates and units and battles, but reveals the thoughts of the individuals fighting the war, from Eisenhower and the high command all the way down to the lowly private in the front lines. Atkinson provides historical information of locations to place the conflict into a historical context and compare it to the epic wars and campaigns of history, and adds letters and anecdotes to put a human face on the conflict, to show that conflicts are fought by individuals, that behind every number in a casualty list is a soldier with a story, and in the case of those killed, one whose story has ended fighting this great struggle.
"Everybody shares the same universals-hope, love, humor, faith," Private First Class Richard E. Cowan of the 2nd Infantry Division had written his family in Kansas on December 5, his twenty-second birthday. Two weeks later, he was dead killed near Krinkelt after holding off German attackers with a machine gun long enough to cover his comrades' escape. "It is such a bitter dose to take," his mother confessed after hearing the news, "and I am not a bit brave about it." Cowan would be awarded the Medal of Honor, one of thirty-two recognizing heroics in the Bulge. Like so many thousands of others, he would be interred in one of those two-by-five-by-six-and-a-half-foot graves, along with his last full measure of hope, love, humor, and faith. The marching world marched on.
Affixed to a wall in Montgomery's caravan, amid the photos of Rommel and Rundstedt and the field Marshall himself, was a copy of Sir Francis Drake's meditation before his attack on Cadiz in 1587. "There must be a beginning of any great matter," Drake had written, "but the continuing unto the end until it is thoroughly finished yields the true glory." So too in this great matter, this struggle for civilization itself. The moment had come to seize the glory.
It's hard to not compare it with his other books, especially The Remains of the Day, since they both rely on memory and reflection so much to move the...moreIt's hard to not compare it with his other books, especially The Remains of the Day, since they both rely on memory and reflection so much to move the story. Since the book focuses on the recollections of Ono, it's hard to tell what "really" happened, he would mention something to one of his daughters and she would not recall the event, and he sometimes comes as a humble artist doing his patriotic duty, and then tells stories where he is influential to people high up in the imperial government. Sometimes it's hard to reconcile everything going on, and I feel the clearest indication was when Ono visited Matsuda and discussed what they did during the war:
Matsuda: "But there’s no need to blame ourselves unduly. We at least acted on what we believed and did our utmost. It’s just that in the end we turned out to be ordinary men. Ordinary men with no special gifts of insight. It was simply our misfortune to have been ordinary men during such times.” pp 199-200
It was a good read, but I just think that The Remains of the Day was so much better. (less)
There's a part of me that wants to tell her to calm down and get a hold of herself. Every tragedy is this unique snowflake that is experienced differ...moreThere's a part of me that wants to tell her to calm down and get a hold of herself. Every tragedy is this unique snowflake that is experienced differently by everyone, and I wonder how this would have played out if it only was a mundane awful event like a car accident. But then I think about the magnitude of her loss and... yikes. I have no idea how I'd react to something like that, but I'm a moper so I imagine I'd probably act similarly. Some pretty funny parts when she harasses the Dutch family or puts on blast the guy who assumed her husband left her and assured her that this wouldn't have happened if she found a nice Jewish guy.(less)
As a food memoir, I liked it, the barbecue section made my mouth water and the bread section made me want to move back to San Francisco and eat Tartin...moreAs a food memoir, I liked it, the barbecue section made my mouth water and the bread section made me want to move back to San Francisco and eat Tartine and their bread (and morning buns) all day. But as a look at our food culture, there's something about his writing that I find grating.* I can't identify it, but maybe this paragraph can give a clue:
Given what a classicist once called "the Homeric horror of formlessness," it's not wonder that roasting is the only kind of cooking ever described in Homer. The pot dish, lidded and turbid, has none of the Apollonian clarity of the recognizable animal on a spit; it trades that brightly lit, hard-edged object and its legible world for something darker, more fluid and inchoate. What emerges from this or any other pot is not food for the eye so much as for the nose, a primordial Dionysian soup, but evolving in reverse, decomposing forms rather than creating them. To eat from the pot always involves at least a little leap into unknown waters. (p 159)
In all his books, Michael Pollan really drives home the point that food is a universal experience shared by all cultures, but it really feels like he's really writing to a very elite subset, and to me it gives him this breezy let them eat cake attitude. Gee, was there any doubt that the bread made at the Hostess plant is not going to compare to the artisanal bread meticulously made by a master of the craft? But there's the reality that the Hostess plant makes 155,000 loaves a day while Dave Miller bakes 400 loaves a week (p 266), so we'd need ~2,800 bakers (will they all be adept as Dave Miller at making bread? Probably not) to match the production of just one of the Hostess plants, plus the distribution needed to get the fresh bread to the 150k-odd households (yes, preservatives suck, but they do serve a purpose), plus those Austrian and Swiss artisans probably have to work overtime to make those stone wheels in handsome cabinets and old-timey pink-painted contraptions (p 272) to supply those 2,800 said bakers. Yes, modern life sucks because we have no time, and because of that we have to take shortcuts, and our eating habits especially suffer for it. But it's still ridiculously better than what life was like before, when eating meat was still considered a luxury and famine still loomed large as one of the four horseman of the apocalypse. The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific Discovery That Fed the World but Fueled the Rise of Hitler was a good look at how a simple chemical process allowed us to escape the Malthusian trap by massively increasing yields and ushering the Green Revolution-but led to problems of it own, including some that Michael Pollan rails against.
If Michael Pollan can write a book with practical tips for single mothers working multiple jobs, I think it'd be a spectacular book that I would give five stars and all the accolades it deserves, but as it were I really don't think they have the time or energy to cultivate their own live cultures for bread or to sit around for hours making the perfect braise.
*I studied chemical engineering, so I'm probably less receptive to his ideas. One of my professors had a picture of a Kix Cereal ad with the caption "no chemical engineering," and below, a letter from AIChE, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, saying that Kix, as well as the entire food system is nothing but chemical engineering. (less)
There's always a touch of fascination in revulsion: Could that happen to me? The less likely the terrible
...moreReally makes me think about mental illness:
There's always a touch of fascination in revulsion: Could that happen to me? The less likely the terrible thing is to happen, the less frightening it is to look at or imagine. A person who doesn't talk to herself or stare off into nothingness is therefore more alarming than a person who does. Someone who 'acts' normal raises the uncomfortable question, What's the difference between that person and me? which leads to the question, What's keeping me out of the loony bin? This explains why a general taint is useful.
Some people are more frightened than others.
'You spend nearly two years in a loony bin! Why in the world were you there?' Translation: If you're crazy, then I'm crazy, and I'm not, so the whole thing must have been a mistake.
'You spend nearly two years in a loony bin? What was wrong with you?' Translation: I need to know the particulars of craziness so I can assure myself that I'm not crazy.
'You spend nearly two years in a loony bin? Hmmm. When was that, exactly?' Translation: Are you still contagious?
L Ron Hubbard is a weird dude, but can't say that he did not have an uninteresting life. The book doesn't really explain where all this money is comin...moreL Ron Hubbard is a weird dude, but can't say that he did not have an uninteresting life. The book doesn't really explain where all this money is coming from, especially before they were really involved in Hollywood and celebrities. Hubbard doesn't seem like he has the organizational skills to assemble the real estate empire and business side of Scientology, but still had the means to buy boats and sail around for years with hundreds of people and fund campaigns to harass people with private investigators and endless lawsuits. And while he was very charismatic to his inner circle, it doesn't seem like the Sea org people who sign billion years contracts and do all the menial labor were the ones donating the money. It's crazy the accounts of what goes on, how much absolute control the leaders have over their lives and how they let him control them like that. (less)
Felt more like the author was trying to impress me with his knowledge of luxury brands and cool things to do in Singapore than have an actual story. I...moreFelt more like the author was trying to impress me with his knowledge of luxury brands and cool things to do in Singapore than have an actual story. It would be better if any of the characters felt like real human beings, everyone felt like a caricature or someone straight out of central casting of the cattiest reality shows around. Of course the soap opera star is *spoiler alert* a gold digging hoebag and in general an awful person because of course, that's what they do. Anyone that can write an actress to be as cool and nonconventional as Jennifer Lawrence deserves a Nobel Prize for literature. I guess the book is like looking at a picture from People magazine with a caption with the person's name and the designer she is wearing, but if you want to know a single thing about that person, you'd have to look elsewhere(less)
Love listening to Wait, wait don't tell me on NPR and Roy Blount is one of the panelists. Maybe not as funny as the show, but really entertaining, and...moreLove listening to Wait, wait don't tell me on NPR and Roy Blount is one of the panelists. Maybe not as funny as the show, but really entertaining, and the chapter on food in New Orleans, especially the part on fried chicken, made me really hungry. It's eerie that he wrote this in 2005, a year before Katrina, and talks about "the big one" that everyone knows is coming. I wonder how much has changes since then.(less)
It's a book that my 11th grade teacher, Mr Reimer, would have loved, the book had so many themes to explore: the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Cultur...moreIt's a book that my 11th grade teacher, Mr Reimer, would have loved, the book had so many themes to explore: the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Cultural Revolution and its lingering scars on the intellectuals who lived through it, the personal motivations and actions of a few individuals coalescing into tumultuous political events, nefarious party politics, etc. The impact of the book was blunted because the book started off slow, all the poetry slowed down the book (maybe knowing the source material would add another layer of depth, but as it were, it got annoying like in the Lord of the Rings), and the ending was very unsatisfying. I think the author did a great job integrating the mundane daily life of the characters while incorporating them in the context of historical events (it's one of the books that after I read it, I feel like I understand the Chinese culture better, even if I really don't), but I got a B- in that class so books like this with so many different layers to unravel just go over my head.(less)
Really thought provoking and makes me think about our society and it's relationship to water a lot more. It's obviously hubris to create Las Vegas wit...moreReally thought provoking and makes me think about our society and it's relationship to water a lot more. It's obviously hubris to create Las Vegas with fountains and golf courses in the middle of the desert, but never thought that since California takes 4 times more water from the Colorado River, it's that much more conceited to think that we can grow alfalfa and rice and walnuts in whatnot in California's Central Valley. The book makes me very pessimistic, if we can't find solutions to local water problems that have immediate effects on the community, I have no idea how we can find solutions to global problems whose impact may not be immediately felt.(less)
More zany David Sedaris stories, I think his earlier books were better (the stories about his family growing up are my favorite, and there were less o...moreMore zany David Sedaris stories, I think his earlier books were better (the stories about his family growing up are my favorite, and there were less of them in this book), but still an entertaining read(less)
Fun stories to read, but the whole theme of the book boils down to the fact that that in certain contexts some weaknesses are actually strengths and v...moreFun stories to read, but the whole theme of the book boils down to the fact that that in certain contexts some weaknesses are actually strengths and vice versa, which when I think about it, is generic to the point that it really doesn't say much at all. After all, most of the time, strengths are strengths (if David's victory wasn't so improbable and miraculous, why did people continue to fight like Goliaths for a thousand years afterwards instead of adopting to David's new mode of warfare? If Malcolm Gladwell lived 2,500 years ago, he could have ruled the world!), for every Nazi defying underdog story, we get the White Rose and Tiananmen Square. (less)
It's like the anti-The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, both discuss an emerging concept in football (the emergence of the left tackle in The Blind Si...moreIt's like the anti-The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, both discuss an emerging concept in football (the emergence of the left tackle in The Blind Side, the growing awareness of concussions is this book) and relate it to a personal story, except that the stories iin this book are awful. Reading the stories of Iron Mike Webster and Dave Duerson, who shot himself in the chest, leaving a suicide note that begged for his brain to be donated for study, are just heartbreaking:
"My mind slips. Thoughts get crossed. Cannot find my words. Major growth on the back of skull on lower left side. Feel really alone. Thinking of other NFL players with brain injuries. Sometimes, simple spelling becomes a chore, and my eyesite goes blurry ... I think something is seriously damaged in my brain, too. I cannot tell you how many times I saw stars in games, but I know there were many times that I would 'wake up' well after a game, and we were all at dinner."
And then on the last page, it's almost as if he had remembered something that he had forgotten: "Please, see that my brain is given to the NFL's brain bank."
No surprises here, anyone who knows basic economics can guess what happens when enormous companies try to maximize profits - pricing drugs based on ab...moreNo surprises here, anyone who knows basic economics can guess what happens when enormous companies try to maximize profits - pricing drugs based on ability to pay instead of efficacy (anticancer drugs costing >$40k/yr), patient marketing (in 1999, Merck spent more than $160 million to promote Vioxx, more than what PepsiCo spent to promote Pepsi or Budweiser spent to advertise its beer), hiding data on clinical trials (Vioxx), lobbying the government for enormous concessions (medicare Part D), etc. Just another day in the office in Milton Friedman land. I wish I read a book was written later (so much has happened since 2004) and one focused on the US instead of the UK, but was still interesting to read.
In Jurassic Park, the genetics company, InGen, in deciding to build the park, asked the question, "what is the biological equivalent to the Sony Walkman?" Sadly, pharmaceutical companies discovered that the answer lies in lifestyle drugs to treat chronic conditions like cholesterol or depression, with drugs like Lipitor making ~10 billion a year with >80% profit margins. So no dinosaurs. :( (less)