There are times when I think of the process of reading as a way to find happiness by leaving the nuisances of my own life and getting lost into someon...moreThere are times when I think of the process of reading as a way to find happiness by leaving the nuisances of my own life and getting lost into someone else’s problems and reflections. In this scenario books are like spaceships that allow me to fly far away from my own planet, with the advantage of delivering me safe in my bedroom at any time.
At other times though, reading turns my spaceship into a microscope through which I gain greater insight into all the different things that make my life the way it is. When this happens, I come out from the experience with a new sense of wonder and respect for things I previously didn’t really care for that much. In the case of “The Greatest Show on Earth”, the aspect of reality I now find completely fascinating is evolution, and while I don’t claim (I don’t think I ever could) to understand everything there is to know about it, I’m now way more interested in the process than I was before finishing this book.
What I like the most of TGSOE is how it breaks down the science and the very, very complicated biology processes in ways that allow those of us with a scientific background that pretty much stopped in high school to understand them, without going to the other side and sounding condescending. (Unless you’re a proponent for young earth creationism or intelligent design, in which case prepare to be challenged on very chapter) I especially liked the section devoted to embryology and the explanation about the tree of life, along with the introductory chapters where Dawkins explains the relevance of theories, and their meaning in a scientific context. There’s also a lot to be said in favor of a book that doesn’t pretend to completely satisfy your curiosity on a given subject, but instead tries to leave you with more questions and a newfound respect for all the people that have dedicated their lives to answer them.
A lot of people might find Dawkins’ intolerant stance on creationism and intelligent design off-putting, (especially those who feel that religious beliefs are above criticism) but I found it amusing, informative, and justified. The fact that in some countries as much as 42% of the population believe that humans and dinosaurs coexisted (and I’m not talking about birds) paints a worrying picture of our current state of affairs in terms of basic scientific knowledge, and gives merit to the idea that we as a society are not doing right by kids when it comes to education.
I’m not going to use this space to talk about my opinion of religion in relation to science and evolution, because in my very personal opinion the idea that religion has to do with everything and needs to be involved in every discussion is part of the reason why things are the way they are today (that is, fucked up), so I’m going to end this review on a positive note: Nature is terrifying, sadistic, and even outright mean when it wants to be, but most of the time it’s simply awesome.
After months of being immersed in the life of a man thought of by many as the purest example of evil, today I can finally say: IT’S OVER!!!! But don’t...moreAfter months of being immersed in the life of a man thought of by many as the purest example of evil, today I can finally say: IT’S OVER!!!! But don’t get the wrong impression: My sense of release comes not from closing a horrible book, but from ending a fantastic biography about a terrible subject. If you ever want to read a thoroughly researched account of Hitler’s life and not feel like you’ve just found the perfect cure for insomnia, this is the book for you. This is the edited version of the author’s original two-volume biography, which I expect to own sometime in the future. (and read, perhaps)
The biggest accomplishment of this book, apart from the exhaustive research done to write it, is the presentation of Hitler as a real human being. Unlike popular opinion and several dubious History Channel documentaries, Hitler wasn’t the antichrist or a heartless monster set on invoking demons from other dimensions, nor did he fantasize daily with the destruction of the human race like a real-life Dr. Doom. No. He was a man who loved his mother dearly, liked animals, was a vegetarian, and felt in every cell of his being that Germany deserved better. Of course, “better” in his vocabulary meant complete domination over Europe and the eradication of what he saw as the agents of Germany’s defeat on World War I (that is, Jews and bolshevism), but better all the same. The man liked music, had a true passion for architecture, and was nice to children.
Hitler was also lazy and narcissistic. His pride made him think of himself as entitled to the best life could offer, and was devastated when the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna didn’t accept him in his drawing class. He had little talent or patience for daily work, and spent much of his time as Fuhrer before the war watching movies, attending to concerts, and sleeping. Not the first picture that comes to mind when talking about the “prince of darkness” huh?
That attempt to humanize a man that so many of us are accustomed to seeing as the devil incarnated made me feel even worse about the insensitivity he displayed to millions of victims, (foreign and German) and reminded me of many other leaders that, in order to fulfill their goals, sacrifice the lives of many without blinking an eye (Stalin, anyone?). It also allowed Kershaw to examine the role of many other Nazi members (like Himmler, Goebbels, Eichmann, Ribbentrop, and many more) in what ended up being Germany´s ultimate defeat. In their drive to increase their power and influence and “work towards the Fuhrer” they had a heavy hand in plenty of the horrors committed by the Third Reich, even if later most of the survivors tried to attribute to Hitler superpowers and think of themselves as mindless (and blameless) drones.
That’s other important point made by Kershaw: Even if without Hitler there would have been no war, or at least not one like the world was witness to, he wasn’t alone or the only responsible party in this whole business. Anti-Semitism wasn’t Hitler’s invention, nor was he the only one who blamed every German misery on the Jewish people. He was a powerful orator, but that alone didn’t put him at the top. His position as Fuhrer required the help of a lot of people, and even the silence of millions of citizens that, tired of being humiliated and maintained in a permanent state of poverty, didn’t see anything wrong with Hitler’s ideas or actions until bombs started to fall on their own houses.
And speaking about bombs, Kershaw doesn’t ignore the fact that allied troops bombed indiscriminately many German cities, killing thousands of civilians in the process. The many violations committed by soviet soldiers to women and children are also mentioned, contributing to a construction of the war that puts blame on all sides for many injustices and unnecessary deaths, although it only dwells on those long enough to present their impact (or lack of) on Hitler. I think my heart broke a little every time I read about a new death, specially knowing that they were the consequence of a leader’s pride and unlimited ambition.
There is so much more in this biography that I would like to write about, (like Hitler’s mounting paranoia, his relationship to women and with Jews before his involvement in politics, the “final solution” development, from shipment to Madagascar to total annihilation, etc.) but it’s better if you do the deed and read the book. Even knowing how everything ends, the part of this biography that deals with the war reads like a thriller, and it’s everything but boring. That’s a really good point when referring to a subject that could be as dry as sandpaper right?(less)
As you all probably now, Maus tells two different stories: In one, we are transported to World War II, and witness Vladek Spiegelman's attempts to sur...moreAs you all probably now, Maus tells two different stories: In one, we are transported to World War II, and witness Vladek Spiegelman's attempts to survive the holocaust. In the other we meet his son Art, who struggles to mantain a relationship with a holocaust survivor while trying to do justice to the story his father has to tell. The result is a book that everyone should read, regardless of their opinion of comics.
I love how Spiegelman takes different animals to represent each nationality: jews are mouses, nazis are cats, frenchmen are frogs, polish are pigs, and north americans are dogs. That transports you to a time where your place of birth determined your worth and your right to live, and puts jews at the bottom of the scale; their mere existence was an insult to many people back then.
Maus is also an example of the power of comics. I've read a lot about WW II because my father has a lot of books on the subject, but almost none of them gave a truly personal account of what it meant to be there. We see statistics, we know that a lot of people died, but we don't feel the anguish, nor we cry for the fallen. That's why at least here (in Colombia) human rights organizations do their best to put a face to our private war: So we can empathize and put ourselves in the victim's shoes. In terms of empathy, Maus did this for me, and not just regarding the holocaust. I can't even begin to imagine what it feels to live your life depending on a couple of people that haven't learned to live with themselves, behind the shadow of a brother that didn't make it past the war and whose perfect picture mocks your entire childhood. This conflict puts Maus way beyond any other account of the holocaust, and beyond any other comic (for me).
I end this review asking teachers to add this novel to their "required reading" list, and anyone who comes across this review, to buy this novel and read it cover to cover. It's worth it. (less)
Amazing story. And the graphics... I wanted to tear the comic apart and put the pages on my wall. This is by far the best batman comic I've come acros...moreAmazing story. And the graphics... I wanted to tear the comic apart and put the pages on my wall. This is by far the best batman comic I've come across. (less)
I want to write a review that does justice to this AMAZING book, but I can't. It has too much goodness in it, too many memorable lines, interesting ch...moreI want to write a review that does justice to this AMAZING book, but I can't. It has too much goodness in it, too many memorable lines, interesting characters and important things to say about the human condition, so I’m going to give it a rest, read it again in a couple of months (where I’m not recuperating from any stupid surgery or illness) and try again. Hopefully I’ll manage to come up with something half decent by then. (less)
“Slaughterhouse-5” came to my attention a while ago after reading an article about a Missouri school board that banned the book for his profanity (app...more“Slaughterhouse-5” came to my attention a while ago after reading an article about a Missouri school board that banned the book for his profanity (apparently “it would make a sailor blush”), and for practically everything else. Coming from a family where the notion of banning books is as foreign as the currency and political history of tralfamadorians (except from my grandma, but that’s another story entirely), the rash accusations made against this story awoke my interest in it. Would it be more demeaning towards humanity as a whole than Jersey Shore? Be more violent than a Tarantino movie? Would I find in its pages a recipe for homemade bombs, or (don’t raise your eyebrows, that was actually the underlying message of a popular TV show I know) would it teach girls that the easiest way to escape poverty is to get a boob job and become mistress to the local drug lord?
Of course not.
Instead, I found “Slaughterhouse-5” to be a brilliant and moving account of how war messes you up, sprinkled with dark humor and aliens. It was also a condemnation of the decisions that lead to massacres like the Dresden bombing, but also a justification of war on the basis that, sometimes, it is necessary to prevent a bigger evil. Here’s the plot: Through disorganized vignettes we come to meet Bill Pilgrim, World War II veteran, who believes he’s unstuck in time and is forced to go back and forth through it reliving the most important moments of his life. In case you’re wondering, one of those moments deals with the complete obliteration of Dresden at the hands of allied forces, and another describes his kidnapping by a tralfamadorian spaceship, which then made him live in a zoo with a young movie star.
Unlike the Missouri School Board, I happen to think that “Slaughterhouse-5” has some valuable lessons in it that made it worthy of a place in a library shelf. For starters, it reminds the reader of how there are no winners in war. You’re either in the losing side, watching everything you know and love disappear from the face of the earth because a man you’ve never seen decided that bombing your city and killing you would be the perfect move to force an enemy to surrender, or you can be on the side that wins, condemned to spend the rest of your life reliving a tragedy and questioning the point of your own existence. Either way you’re fucked, and if you don’t believe me ask some of the thousands of war veterans all over the world that have suffered from Post-traumatic stress disorder as a direct consequence of their involvement in a conflict.
The reader might also remember that there’s hope in any situation, if you’re brave or crazy enough to look for it. Bill Pilgrim finds comfort in the idea that time is not linear, and that gives his life a purpose it lacked before. As someone who is still battling with the desperation that inevitably comes with the certainty that there is nothing out there, and no real reason to go on, I could sympathize with Pilgrim (although the origin of out despair is completely different) and in that sense, I was touched by the message of hope that in my view is the ultimate message of “Slaughterhouse-5”. If we want to keep our sanity in this day and age we better remember the good times and live for them, or risk losing our sanity. And now I have something new to talk to my therapist about! (less)
What would you do if reading and keeping books were suddenly considered terrible crimes? Would you use what little time yo...more“It was a pleasure to burn”.
What would you do if reading and keeping books were suddenly considered terrible crimes? Would you use what little time you had left before they were destroyed to memorizing your favorite lines? Would you hide them? Would you surrender willingly, and turn to the next form of entertainment without remorse?
A while ago I had the opportunity to think about these questions while trying to save what I could of my grandfather’s library. He was a great man, fond of reading, and during his life he had managed to build a collection of books that went from Buddhism to the holocaust, with comics and all sorts of genres in between. After his death my grandmother decided to turn to Christianity for answers, and was convinced that books that didn’t explicitly worshiped god were tools of the devil and needed to be destroyed. So one day, with the help of a couple of relatives, she lit a bonfire and threw away most of what my grandfather treasured and loved, along with everything in her house that was considered “evil”. That included my uncle’s collection of Harry Potter books, works of fiction that my mother was saving for me to read one day, and even novels of Gabriel García Márquez, once admired and now detested for his profanity.
I felt comforted when I came home and saw my own little library, each book a pleasant memory, and thanked the heavens for the fact that my grandma’s fire could never reach them. But what if it could? That’s what scares me about “Fahrenheit 451”: The notion that the objects I love the most in the entire world could suddenly disappear because others don’t like them. Because they could make me unhappy, and nobody wants to feel sad, right? It’s so much easier to sit in front of a screen that tells you what to think, how to feel, what to do and buy…
That being said, I don’t entirely agree with the notion that all television is inherently bad. Most of it? Sure, especially when shows like “Jersey Shore” are at the top of the charts, right along with a deliberate attempt to misinform the public and manipulate news. But there is also good stuff, and an attempt to spread knowledge even for those who can’t read. I’ve seen documentaries that have expanded my views on a variety of subjects, from Alzheimer’s to euthanasia, and plenty enjoyable shows that heavily critic our society and our paradigms. I would hate to see them disappear, just as much as I hated to see the empty spaces in a once full library shelf.
That’s why I believe that “Fahrenheit 451” is important: You can agree or disagree, but it still makes you think, and that’s the best kind of book to keep around. It also helped to see characters I could relate to and that I found interesting (like Clarisse and Faber). Beatty was terrifying, more so because he used quotes from books to promote the destruction of any worthy piece of written word, and Montag was a fantastic protagonist. This is a great book, and it should be read by everyone.
(Oh! I also strongly disagree with comics being considered "safe": “Maus”, for example, is one of the most powerful books I’ve read about the holocaust, along with other graphic novels that address topics in a way that most books would fail to do. So if you're going to destroy anything that promotes individual thought, comics should definitely go too.) (less)