The first word that comes to mind when thinking about Alaska is "big." The second is "adventure" (Ok, "cold" might be one, but just bear with me). PutThe first word that comes to mind when thinking about Alaska is "big." The second is "adventure" (Ok, "cold" might be one, but just bear with me). Put them together and you get the essence of this book: a big adventurous saga. In typical Michener fashion, he crafts a 1,000+ page series of stories that revolve around the cultural history of Alaska, starting from its geological formation to the time the book was published (1988).
It begins with stories about mastodons, woolly mammoths, and the Asiatic migrators who crossed the Bering Land Bridge during the last Ice Age. Then it goes far ahead in time to the Age of Exploration, when Vitus Bering and Georg Stellar became the first Europeans to land on those cold shores. The many clashes between natives and Europeans- particularly the Russians- entail a large portion of the first half of the book. Trofim's fate as a redeemer against animal cruelty was a touching story, as was Cidaq's struggle against an abusive husband and the Christianization of her native land.
Stories about the Gold Rush occupy a huge chunk of the book. No character makes more appearances than Missy Peckham, a vagabond gold-digger turned staunch feminist. Her resilience for fair regulation in Alaska really drives the long march to statehood forward. I'd say of all the social issues addressed in the novel, none are more prominent than the lack of government regulations in light of such a vast territory being purchased. The period from 1867-1959 was one of quasi-anarchy, in which a great number of swindlers took advantage of a lacking judicial system in the territory.
Scenic descriptions abound in the book, including the Aurora Borealis; the icy rivers and extensive glaciers that flank the high mountains; the many waterways that carve the southern coast; and the frozen tundra of the far north, but none of them compare to the first sighting of (arguably) the most imposing mountain in all of North America: Denali. Of all the memorable moments in the book, and there were many, none are greater than LeRoy Flatch seeing this masterpiece of sculpted Earth from the air for the first time. Remarkably, Michener leaves no section of the state untouched. The Aleutians, the Panhandle, the craggy interior, and the northern tundras are all covered in these stories. Being that Alaska's so enormous, it's a wonder that he was able to touch on all the right historical events and locations and still find a decent pace to the stories.
I even recall a delightful story about a salmon! Who knew?...more
Wow, reading this was absolutely mortifying. Anyone interested should be warned; it’s an intense psychological examination of Jude St. Francis, the viWow, reading this was absolutely mortifying. Anyone interested should be warned; it’s an intense psychological examination of Jude St. Francis, the victim of extreme childhood abuse who struggles with suicide and self injury his whole life. Author Hanya Yanaghira is so talented at streamlining the inner thoughts of a deeply troubled mind that one wonders if she struggled with similar issues, or knew someone very closely who did. At times it even felt like I was reading my own thoughts, back when I had such little self-worth that the world became unbearable.
The book has been a rewarding challenge for thousands of brave readers who aren’t bothered by such dark details. It’s one of the few books I’ve rated 5 stars that I wouldn’t recommend anyone reading. Nonetheless, it will stand among the giants of literature for quite some time, as a prime example of the horrible things people are capable of doing to each another. We can only hope that books like this won’t be used to judge the defects of our culture hundreds of years from now, though it wouldn’t surprise me if they are....more
Matt Ridley does an excellent job telling the story of our Genome by selecting one characteristic from each chromosome and exploring in depth what itMatt Ridley does an excellent job telling the story of our Genome by selecting one characteristic from each chromosome and exploring in depth what it may imply about our genes. Granted this was written 17 years ago, but I still managed to gain a lot of insights into the cutting-edge applications of gene therapy. The book serves as a great introduction for those not familiar with the field and would like to take a stab at it. And though I didn't agree with all of his viewpoints, I had to give him credit for providing strong arguments on the positions he held. Some of the more shocking chapters, such as the "battle of the sexes" between genes and the history of eugenics, are things that really stand out in my mind, elevating this book from being a simple outline stuck in its time, to a classic of scientific writing....more
The flaw in Nietzsche's idea of the "Superman" is that greatness is relative. We can't all be figures of excellence like Napoleon and Julius Ceasar. AThe flaw in Nietzsche's idea of the "Superman" is that greatness is relative. We can't all be figures of excellence like Napoleon and Julius Ceasar. A great many underprivileged people are required to elevate the status of someone and make them great. In order for everyone to be great- or what this thought experiment about the next step in our evolution would detail- ambition must yield to equality so we can all progress together. This is pretty obvious to me, so maybe I have missed the point....more
I tried really hard to get into this. The first chapter was extraordinary, but the next few didn't come close to matching it. I skipped ahead and readI tried really hard to get into this. The first chapter was extraordinary, but the next few didn't come close to matching it. I skipped ahead and read a couple other breathtaking chapters, including The Warp on the Loom and The Meat Ax. I'm sorry, but Robert Moses was just too much of an ass for me to dedicate over a thousand pages of reading. The extra stars are for Caro's ambition and the quality of his writing....more
Though Seneca was an old man’s philosopher, young readers can benefit a lot from his letters. While I disagreed with some of his views on conservativeThough Seneca was an old man’s philosopher, young readers can benefit a lot from his letters. While I disagreed with some of his views on conservative living, many others would have helped me mature faster when I was young and restless. Particularly the letters about moderation, patience, and friendship:
“Enjoy present pleasures in such a way as not to injure future ones.”
“All this hurrying from place to place won’t bring you any relief, for you’re traveling in the company of your own emotions, followed by your troubles all the way.”
“But when you are looking on anyone as a friend when you do not trust him as you trust yourself, you are making a grave mistake, and have failed to grasp sufficiently the full force of true friendship.”
Insights like these are in great abundance through the book, and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who disagrees with them. Others, however, were more questionable. I found his insights on exercise and limiting ones reading material detrimental to personal growth. Personally, nothing changed my life for the better more than exercise did. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made. However, I’m not 60+ years old like Seneca was, living in opulence under the influence of a crazed emperor like Nero. Things would sure be different walking in his shoes!
Secondly, while I do feel that some books should be returned to from time to time, reading only a select few over the course of one’s life would become stale and dogmatic. In another letter he says, “The more a mind takes in the more it expands”. Well, what better way to do this than by reading a variety of materials? He seems to contradict himself there, but to be fair it’s the only time he does so among the hoards of his healthy axioms. (Side note- as a testament to its greatness, this is probably one of the books I'll be re-reading in the future.)
Many of these axioms have relationships with eastern thought, such as the ones seen in Buddhist teachings. He writes about the release of desire as a means of achieving wholeness in a world that causes imbalance with all its temptations. I don’t know if the Buddhists and Stoics ever came into contact during ancient times, but if they did they might have thrown quite a, um, *subdued* toga party....more