The main reason I decided to buy this book, rather than borrowing it from the library, was because of the inclusion of the beautiful and colorful illuThe main reason I decided to buy this book, rather than borrowing it from the library, was because of the inclusion of the beautiful and colorful illustrations, paintings, and photographs (I even bought it in Barnes and Noble instead of Amazon!). From the aesthetic perspective, this is the type of book you want sitting on your bookshelf, and in many ways, it was a very good book. I enjoyed learning about how science, art, and religion intersected during the Middle Ages and how a secular society morphed into a Christian one. I had never seriously considered how the Romans became the Italians. I thought Cahill’s portraits of Dante, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Hildegard of Bingen were insightful and well-written. I especially enjoyed his analysis of Giotto’s frescos in the Scrovegni chapel. The Middle Ages was a rich time indeed and I feel as though I learned a great deal from reading this book, but overall, it lacked polish.
First, the tone was confusing. Attempts at demonstrating reverence for prayer and other religious rituals were offset by juvenile and often offensive asides that had all the finesse of a clever college frat boy trying desperately to catch people’s attention. Most glaring was Cahill’s reference to Christ on page 315 (I’ll let you look that one up yourself). Certainly, Cahill is appealing to a modern and perhaps a mostly secular audience, but I found he bordered on disrespectful and was unnecessarily crude, even while trying to impress on his reader the profound religiosity of so many in the Middle Ages.
Most obnoxious though was the way Cahill muddied with waters by inserting his own personal diatribes against Bush, nuclear weapons, and current issues of sexual abuse and homosexuality within the Catholic church. I was surprised to find that instead of devoting his final chapter to the so-called mysteries of the Middle Ages, that he used it as a platform in which to decry the Catholic church for what he sees as their inappropriate response to current problems. Cahill may or may not be correct in his assertions, but in no way does this contribute to the thesis of his book. I expected to walk away from this with my head swimming with the wonders and mysteries of the Middle Ages (much like I felt after reading Richard Holmes’ The Age of Wonder). Instead, my final impression of this book was about the current Catholic church and its need for reform. Once again, not something I necessarily disagree with, but certainly not the reason I bought this book.
I feel as though the title and information on the back of this book is intentionally misleading. In his postlude, Cahill states that, “The story this book has had to tell is the story of the (often overlooked and belittled) Catholic contribution to Western civilization. Yet, the back of this book tells me that I’m going to learn about “how medieval thinkers created the origins of modern intellectual movements.” The book jacket makes absolutely NO mention of Catholicism; yet according to Cahill, that’s really what the book is about. Interestingly, I notice that on the Goodreads edition, the full title does indicate that this book will be dealing with "the cults of Catholic Europe," yet the full title of my book is "Mysteries of the Middle Ages and the Beginning of the Modern World." A quick search on Amazon shows me that the first title was from the 2006 edition and the new title (the one that doesn't mention Catholicism) is from 2008. I'm not sure why they decided to edit the title (perhaps referring to Catholicism as a cult was offensive to some), but the former title is more true to the contents of the book. ...more
Yoshiko Uchida tells her story with grace, clarity, and composure. She does not take to flights of fancy in order to make her memoir more interestingYoshiko Uchida tells her story with grace, clarity, and composure. She does not take to flights of fancy in order to make her memoir more interesting or exciting; indeed, it doesn’t really need embellishment, as the simple truth of her family’s exile and internment at Tanforan and then Topaz is haunting enough. What I found most moving were the excerpts of poetry that her mother wrote, particularly this one:
Someone named it Topaz. . . . This land Where neither grass Nor trees Nor wild flowers grow.
Banished to this Desert land, I cherish the Blessing of the sky.
The fury of the Dust storm spent, I gaze through tears At the sunset glow.
Grown old so soon In a foreign land, What do they think, These people Eating in lonely silence?
The story of how Japanese Americans were cruelly uprooted from their homes after the attack on Pearl Harbor and sent to concentration camps within their own country, a country for which many sacrificed their lives, is a story that needs to be remembered. I am glad that memoirs such as this exist. ...more
There are an abundance of fascinating facts to be learned from this book. The "adventure" of the English language is recounted in an easy to follow, cThere are an abundance of fascinating facts to be learned from this book. The "adventure" of the English language is recounted in an easy to follow, chronological manner. The only thing I didn't like about this book was the long list of words that Bragg often included as examples. I especially enjoyed reading about Dr. Samuel Johnson's Dictionary and the comic and often incorrect definitions he came up with. For example: "Oats: a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people" and "Tarantula: an insect whose bit is only cured by musick." I did have to disagree with this statement made by Bragg: "... the burgeoning call centres in India, for instance, are staffed by Indians speaking perfect English" (280). Clearly, he has never had the misfortune of trying to order a new computer over the phone! ...more
This book was chalk full of facts and information, but Coe's writing style left something to be desired. It was too academic; often lacking clarity anThis book was chalk full of facts and information, but Coe's writing style left something to be desired. It was too academic; often lacking clarity and coherence. In his introduction Coe indicates that he wrote this book based on the research and notes of his late wife, Sophia, who passed away unexpectedly from cancer. Thus, he's writing this book as a sort of tribute to his wife. I think that's sweet (no pun intended).
The first two chapters about chocolate in the Mayan and Aztec culture were worthwhile and well-researched, probably because Michael Coe is a Professor of Anthropology at Yale, but when it came to writing about chocolate in Europe and contemporary developments, the book fell flat and the information was often rushed, jumpy, or went off topic.
The most interesting things I learned from this book are that cocoa pods grow from the trunk of the cocoa tree, not from the branches, and that the drink was often used to disguise poison! ...more
Powerful. That's the best word I can find to describe this novel. I borrowed the audio version from the library because I wanted to do something constPowerful. That's the best word I can find to describe this novel. I borrowed the audio version from the library because I wanted to do something constructive with my commute to and from Ogden. The person who read the novel (Mandy Siegfried) did a fantastic job. I don't know if I would have had the same reaction from reading it myself, but when I was listening to the last bit of it on my way down to work today I almost started crying. For the record, I almost never cry over books or movies. While dealing with serious and disturbing subject matter, there was a lot of humor in this novel; mainly due to the narrator's wry observations about the great drama that is high school. I'm not surprised that this book has made it on several Banned Books lists. While I don't think I would want my 10-year-old (if I had one) to pick up this book, the idea of banning it is absolutely ridiculous. It's painful to read at times and yes, the subject of rape is a serious one, but banning it seems like both extreme prudery (it's not graphic) and willful stupidity. It's ironic that the theme of this novel is that it's more dangerous to keep quiet than it is to speak up; yet, there are those who want to silence it. ...more
For the past month I have faithfully gone to the gym every morning as penance for, what I shall term, "The 2011 Chocolate Scandal." Not surprisingly,For the past month I have faithfully gone to the gym every morning as penance for, what I shall term, "The 2011 Chocolate Scandal." Not surprisingly, this past week I became a bit bored with watching the news (can Newt Gingrich just go away?) and reruns of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” Seeking a way to keep myself motivated, I decided to start bringing my Kindle with me. I was afraid I wouldn’t work out as hard if I did (I was right), but at-least it kept me going to the gym. I’m not sure why I chose Edith Wharton as my gym companion - she's really not the type to go to the gym - but I was amply rewarded in my choosing.
Ethan Frome (1911) is a short novel by Edith Wharton. The story is set in Starkfield, Massachusetts and narrates the tale of Ethan Frome, the unfortunate inheritor of a rather decrepit farm, who once dreamed of becoming an engineer and a man of learning. I would like to indulge in some of the details of this tale, but that would ruin it. Let’s just say that Frome is married to a hypochondriac with false teeth and shrunken cheeks who is seven years his senior and about as conniving and manipulative as Mrs. Bates of Downton Abbey. Mattie, Mrs. Frome’s rather more attractive and more enchanting cousin (who is still in possession of a good set of teeth) comes to housekeep for them on their lonely farm. I’ll leave it to your imagination what happens next. Suffice to say, Wharton seems to enjoy cranking the wheels of fate and crushing her characters under their own desires and ambitions. It seems rather heartless, but it’s all so gloriously and magnificently done that I would actually categorize this under an “enjoyable” read. If I ever read a Wharton story that has a happy ending I think I will be extremely disappointed. ...more