On the whole, I liked the book. I think the book does a great job moving the plot through dialogue. This is a hard task. Except in its broadest outlinOn the whole, I liked the book. I think the book does a great job moving the plot through dialogue. This is a hard task. Except in its broadest outline, dialogue amongst characters, rather than descriptive commentary, is what drives the plot in "The Lost Heir". Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" does this as well - it's frustrating on a certain level, because one has to rely on the insights attributed to characters to drive the story. But on another level, this makes for a more engaging read and helps one appreciate the centrality of personalities in the overall story.
Other reviewers have commented on similarities of this work to J.K. Rowling. I actually feel that the true inspiration of this work comes more from Eiichiro Oda - none other than the author of the hit manga series, "One Piece".
The description of the underground city, the fundamental contradictions (and, hence, in my view, the essence of this drama) faced by the main characters, read much like a "One Piece" narrative arch. It is hard to avoid seeing a Luffy in Isabella, a Zorro in Seth, or a Nami in Micah. The seemingly minor bird character that warns of a deceptively hospitable host, the role of betrayal and the power of the protagonist's convictions in resolving the essential antagonism - sure, these are to some extent also found in, say, Lewis Carroll, but they are perhaps more potently expressed in Oda's manga. I found the main antagonist (who I won't name because - spoilers) to be among the most compelling characters of "The Lost Heir". Oda's nefarious "World Government" is also similarly cryptic, and I love the idea of having to constantly guess about what the villian is up to - too much transparency, and the evilness becomes banal. I thought the "The Lost Heir" did a solid job walking that fine line vis-a-vis the main antagonist. Indeed, this book ably introduces these sorts of themes to an audience that isn't as familiar with Oda's brilliant epic.
To be sure, there are a handful of issues which give the impression that the novel seems to have appeared a bit prematurely. One reviewer commented that it gets off to a slow start. I tend to agree, and the first third of the book is probably not its strongest. A related issue also crept up at the very end of the book, where one passage made me feel like I was reading a video game playthrough. There are also some passages that feel a little forced, as when the heroine asks rhetorical questions that should be addressed organically rather than explicitly (a typical example is her asking, in more than one passage: "Who is this boy name Pythian"?). In essense, I felt this book could have used more discerning editing by an attentive editor.
While cognizant of these issues, overall I think "The Lost Heir" is a book that has a considerable depth to it that is hard to escape. I rarely read these sorts of books (look - I've been working my way through a book titled "The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World"; my view of much of the YA fantasy genre is basically this: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2000...) , I found the plot intriguing and the premise well crafted. I have some stylistic gripes at times, but on the whole I think the authors did a solid job channeling some of the best practices of people like Eiichiro Oda into a sufficiently compelling story. I hope the sequel is stronger stylistically, less afraid of nuance on the part of the protagonists, and more willing to engage the grittier and working-class side that characterizes the lives of a majority of Angelinos. The story and arch have great potential that I think can only work in the authors' favor going forward....more
Good but not great. A story about a slightly post-boomer journalist who nurses a lifelong passion for a hobby that was reviled before it appeared in eGood but not great. A story about a slightly post-boomer journalist who nurses a lifelong passion for a hobby that was reviled before it appeared in every other SUV commercial.
Frankly I have mixed feelings about this book.
On some level it is a story of a California and Hawaii of a different era - right after "Gidget" and the Beach Boys, but still before the line-up at Malibu was packed unsurfable, the bay area was declasse, when one could make a respectable career writing for the New Yorker after bumming around the South Pacific for several years, and when there were still great waves untouched by the glint of the surf documentarian. When good railroad work was available to a college dropout with no credentials and when a class picture of a Los Angeles elementary school could still be full of nothing but white boys. Basically it speaks to a slice of middle-class America that has long since vanished and a career trajectory which I think younger readers cannot help but envy and find, somewhat, well, anachronistic and quaint.
If I sound bitter, well, good luck finding anybody who screwed around as much as this author did ending up with a Manhattan literary elite company. It wasn't particularly common decades ago, but it is rarer still. Also as a long-time longboarder "kook" I found his digs at that approach to surfing a bit gratuitous and, well, pretentious.
Stylistically the book is interesting enough and the author sufficiently competent that it keeps you reading, but I don't think it really needed almost 450 pages to convey the message. This said, the main problem I had with this book, and it is something I am sure the author is well aware of, was the difficulty of using words to convey the action of surfing. On some level I felt a memoir wasn't quite the right or optimal medium for a book that is so much about the actual practice of surfing. The long discussions of the subtleties of the waves, the description of minute oceanographical details, without any sort of visual aids these were frankly recondite. The problem is about 1/2 to 2/3 of the book is full of these sorts of details that I found quite difficult and frankly a chore to read. Arguably I think the author did a good job given that it is the sort of subject matter that does not lend itself well to verbal descriptions (the book briefly mentions "The Endless Summer", and as is alluded to in the book, this and other surf videos and photos do a much, much better job conveying the mechanics of the waves and the challenge of the sport).
For these reasons, I can't help but have mixed feelings for the book. Frankly the author, except maybe when he describes his Jr. High in Hawaii, is rather hard to sympathize with. That's not a big deal since so much of the writing is, I felt somewhat ill-fittingly, devoted to the mechanics of the "Sport of Kings."
Some minor, final notes. The notion that prudish missionaries to Hawaii disapproved of surfing is, as far as I gather, somewhat controversial if not apocryphal. Some scholars have questioned the idea that it was surfing per se that was so objectionable; see for instance: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1... and I was a bit bummed out that the author chose to leave out that the apparent "villian" of the book, Hiram Bingham, was also an ancestor of the discoverer of Machu Picchu, a man who also grew up in Hawaii under the apparent insufferable Calvanism of fin de siecle tropical missionary life. It's a minor point, neither of which necessarily have to be a major part of a memoir, but I found the omission of both these points by an evidently learned and well-read author rather curious....more
What is it about World War II books that utterly fail to focus on the subject matter of their titles?
A relative gave me this book, and I read it out oWhat is it about World War II books that utterly fail to focus on the subject matter of their titles?
A relative gave me this book, and I read it out of filial duty. I more than share Keith Olbermann's assessment of the lead author, and as anything they write is something I'd never personally choose to read I was admittedly prejudiced.
It's an easy book to trash. The writing is corny. As in, really, really dime-novel corny. Phrases like "PFC Robert W. Holmlund from WI drops to the ground. Dead." Imagery of Joseph Stalin the evil cave-dwelling villain plotting world conquest from his sinister dark lair, etc... The tiring invocation of "the man with X days to live" over and over and over again. This sort of thing goes on and on throughout this book. The citation/scholarship is atrocious and sloppy, although presumably was done to keep the book's appeal popular, although I think the authors are under the mistaken impression that they can't have a flushed out sources section that doesn't distract from the book. The presentation of the sources at the end is done very, very poorly. Patton's alleged prayers are quoted at length, and frankly seem to serve the author's rightwing agenda more than anything.
It's hard to get lower than all this, but the book's biggest problem is that about 70-80% of the thing is rehashing middle school WWII history. For a book about the death of Patton, there are maybe 10 pages or so out of 300 some pages devoted to the title. Which is ridiculous. Part of this is due to the scant sources, but a lot of this is book needlessly rehashes what most everyone knows about WWII - the Anne Frank story, the Soviet plunder of Eastern Europe, FDR's philandering, etc... There are a few, slightly lesser known and interesting tidbits here and there (the story of Operation Mickey Mouse, Patton's invasion of Czechoslovakia) but these are for the most part dwarfed by historical presentations that have been presented much better in a gazillion other sources.
It's not a total flop. The book has its moments. First, it's an easy read, which I always like. The imagery could be better, and the photo selection was often suboptimal but the maps were helpful. At the same time the author does a decent enough job interweaving some personal details with broader processes. The description of the siege of Bastogne is well done.
But honestly, save yourself the time. You'll learn at least as much reading the Wikipedia entry on George Patton and the section on his death: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_S... as you would from this book.
Sadly this failure to focus on the topic at hand has been pretty typical of books on WWII I've read. There are occasionally exceptional books that focus on their subject, such as George Lensen's wonderful 1972 treatise on the Soviet-Japanese neutrality during the war. But most other books on WWII I've read do a poor job focusing on what the author says they want to show. Maybe it's the sheer volume of information. Maybe it's the fact that the war attracts pitiful researcher efforts. I don't know....more
Solidly researched, this book wisely keeps the pedestrian details on the engineering problems at a bare minimum to highlight the history, personalitieSolidly researched, this book wisely keeps the pedestrian details on the engineering problems at a bare minimum to highlight the history, personalities, and social milieu that went into making the Panama canal a success for the Americans and a failure for the french. A few more visualizations of how the lock system worked would have helped, and the persistent theme of why the Chagres was so damaging was never quite convincingly explained, or described essentially in passing.
What emerges from this book is the clash of great minds, from the technocrats at the Compagnie Universelle to the American railroad men to the career army Engineers, not to mention the physicians, politicians and propagandists, against raw, untamed and wild earth, literally. Out of this clash was borne not only great insights such as modern vector control, but also great battles fought out in the courtrooms of Paris and the boardrooms of Wall Street, not to mention the barracks of Panama. McCullough exploits the war analogy to its fullest, and the description is apt, not least of which because ultimately it took an infrastructure that can only be described as "para-military" to complete the canal where private investments had failed in an era when capital ruled supreme. It reminds me of the Simpsons character, Troy McClure, who starred in a video entitled "Man versus Nature: The Road to Victory".
This book, though written almost 40 years ago on this centenary of the opening of the canal, is also uniquely timely. Wikipedia tells me that a Chinese company is interested in rekindling the old Nicaragua route, and I read elsewhere that the canal in Panama is already past capacity. Perhaps in this book more than others on the topic one gets a glimpse of the wisdom of just what Santayana hoped to convey....more
Five stars should be reserved for books like this.
A marvelous, beautiful and utterly amazing work by Gabriel, this book is without question the best bFive stars should be reserved for books like this.
A marvelous, beautiful and utterly amazing work by Gabriel, this book is without question the best book I have read in years. Written with wry humor, engaging tone, and incredible suspense that builds up to the magnificent tragedy that was the private life of the Marx family. One would be hard-pressed to find a more fitting reminder of the immense power of nonfiction. The book has all the trappings of a Jane Austen or even Tolstoy - a family, devoted to a single altruistic vision, who ironically struggle to find happiness for themselves. And yet, what makes it even more incredible is that it is all true. The author's impeccable research is evident in the brilliant use of source material to structure this grand epic. Ostensibly initiated as a biography of Marx's wife Jenny, the author traces the Marx family from its early beginnings in Trier between two family friends who become unlikely lovers, to the mysterious and untimely death of the last of Marx's daughters.
There is no shortage of gripping plot in this work. Perhaps most incredible of all is the ordeal that Marx's daughters and grandchildren had to go through in the Pyrenees. Their midnight escape from France to Spain following the fall of the Paris Commune, their attempts to sneak back into France, and how they played a cat and mouse game with the murderous French regime until they reached the safety of England - it is all the more incredible that these were a bunch of young women in their teens and twenties in an era when polite ladies were to be locked up in their gilded cages.
Indeed, as engaging as these incredible adventures are, the most striking aspect of this book is its characters, in all their glorious humanity.
The book is deeply respectful of all the family, but there are heroes with whom the author's admiration cannot escape the reader's attention that really make this book shine. Perhaps more than anyone before or since, Gabriel once and for eternity cements Friedrich Engels as the giant that he was. A towering intellect in his own right and an Atlas, the constant theme throughout the book is Engels' humanity. Where Marx could be self-absorbed and narcissistic, and Jenny Marx stoic as would befit an aristocrat, Engels was a man who wore his emotions on his sleeves. What makes him even more incredible in this book is the fact that unlike Marx he found a job, and never begrudged anyone else for relying on him to be the family breadwinner. His devotion to Marx extended to Jenny and Marx's daughters and knew no bounds. Engels was a revolutionary and a dreamer, but he had his foot firmly planted in the affairs of the world, becoming a skilled businessman. And yet he never lost sight of his ideals, and well into his old age he fought for the dream of his youth.
Yet for all the praise the book subtly bestows on Engels, Engels is ultimately not without his blindspots, which become most apparent with the book's second hero: Eleanor Marx. The author relates how Marx characterized his daughter Jenny as being most like him, but characterized Eleanor as him. Yet Eleanor lacked two important advantages of her father: his gender, and a loving spouse. Eleanor Tussy Marx ultimately broke off an engagement to pursue a life with Edward Aveling, a charlatan and, aside from Bismark and Marx's persecutors, the clear villain of this work. All of Marx's daughters married charlatans, but it was with Aveling that Engels failed his friend most by failing to protect Eleanor from him. A precocious revolutionary who was a rebel to the bone, but who also harbored an immensely compassionate soul, Eleanor emerges as the true heir to the father she so revered throughout her life. It is in one of the final chapters that we see Engels forced to reckon with the damage he had wrought and the disastrous consequences many of Engels' rare shortsightedness had for Eleanor Marx.
This is what makes this book such a delight - Engels is not perfect, and neither were any of the characters of the book. But they all meant incredibly well. Which is why the book is such a painful retelling of an incredible tragedy. People of such incredible compassion, who had their admirers, but yet none appear to have achieved much private happiness. Their lives, beginning with Jenny Marx who gave up her considerable upper-class privileges to marry the man of her dreams, were ultimately sacrificed for the calling of a man who, in the words of George Bernard Shaw, managed to change the world's mind. For this incredible contribution, they were rewarded with contempt, betrayal, poverty, and in the end what shines through is how the only thing that kept them going was each other.
That all this is told so lovingly and respectfully, yet engagingly, is a credit to the author. Easily one of my favorite books of all time, Love and Capital will be a classic that will be admired by many for decades to come....more
Riveting and well-paced. The book is particularly good at being informative about the people of the Baliem Valley, highlighting the heroism of the FilRiveting and well-paced. The book is particularly good at being informative about the people of the Baliem Valley, highlighting the heroism of the Filipino-American paratroopers, the transformation of the heroine's attitude towards the natives, and does not skimp on the medical details. ...more
It's written in a poetic memoir style but the repeated "vignettes" get old very fast.
The narrator character seems mildly inteI found this book dull.
It's written in a poetic memoir style but the repeated "vignettes" get old very fast.
The narrator character seems mildly interesting, but they don't go anywhere with it really. Moreover, the book centers on the narrator's internal state so much that it is actually a bit annoying. The potentially interesting guerrilla war setting gets taken to the background and there is no plot to speak of.
The characters are one-dimensional and uninteresting, with relatively few exceptions. For instance, the adopted peasant daughter, the husband that entered the narrator's life somewhat obliquely are given scant sentences when their back stories appear quite intriguing. Thus, not only is the setting sacrificed in favor of "clever writing", but the ancillary characters are shoved away in the interest of internal monologues of the narrator.
It appears as if the author wanted to write a book that was a cross between an epic poem and a novella that focuses way too much on style and technique at the expense of substance. I am sick of books like this. Ugh....more