An intriguing premise ably realized. Ecotopia explores what would happen if the American Northwest seceded from the United States to form a liberal, eAn intriguing premise ably realized. Ecotopia explores what would happen if the American Northwest seceded from the United States to form a liberal, environmentally conscious country. Many of the specific ideas proposed are quite innovative, and the society as a whole is thought out well enough that this country seems to be not only an ideal, but a real possibility.
The technique of portraying the new community through the eyes of an American reporter is a good choice, as it allows the author to switch between fact-heavy, topically focused news articles, and the reporter's diary, which relates day-to-day activities and personal experiences.
One criticism of the book that many readers will likely advance is that the portrayal United States in contrast to Ecotopia feels rather one-sided, even in passages where the main character seems to criticize the latter. It seems like the author is setting up a straw man, and then tearing him down. That being said, this technique is meant to put forth his viewpoint, and it works effectively. Despite the lack of a more balanced back-and-forth of perspectives, I was stirred by some of the ideas, to the point of developing a sort of bittersweet hope that a world like this may some time in our future come to exist.
A must-read for those interested in the current 'go green' movement, and an interesting study from a unique voice on the subject....more
Though this book is not for everyone, I have to describe it as a collection of unusually inspired writing. Barthelme's unique style and approach are aThough this book is not for everyone, I have to describe it as a collection of unusually inspired writing. Barthelme's unique style and approach are a refreshing break from run-of-the-mill fiction, and this collection of short pieces (which I would recommend reading as related works) are packed densely with meaning -- one can easily wring more significance from them with each rereading (especially the free-form piece Bubble Bones)....more
This is not a bad book. That being said, after reading Fuentes's Crystal Frontier and being powerfully moved, The Old Gringo fell a bit short. I was eThis is not a bad book. That being said, after reading Fuentes's Crystal Frontier and being powerfully moved, The Old Gringo fell a bit short. I was excited to read this modern classic, especially as it was inspired by the mysterious disappearance of Ambrose Bierce, an author whose life and work I find compelling.
While the hypothetical circumstances and characters Fuentes creates are believable, and there is some great symbolism here (particularly his comparison of the United States and Mexico to the opposing emotional forces within the individual), I found there was an unnecessary banal tone to a number of passages. I am surprised to find myself offering this criticism, as normally offensive language, violence, etc. are not of themselves problematic for me. Perhaps my issue was that these particular passages felt a bit forced.
The largest problem I had was that Fuentes seemed to concentrate much more on several other characters than the old gringo himself (the character that led me to read the story in the first place). In fact, the last third or so of the book doesn't deal with him at all. I expected some more insight into his character, his rationale, and his identity as a writer. On the whole, it felt anti-climactic....more
Vonnegut explores a lot of deep issues in this one, most notably the struggle of human beings to impart their lives with purpose. Vonnegut was a masteVonnegut explores a lot of deep issues in this one, most notably the struggle of human beings to impart their lives with purpose. Vonnegut was a master of simultaneously discussing something seriously and satirizing it. There are poignant moments of realization interwoven with passages laced with sarcasm, and even a few sections where one can draw both from the same event. As always, Vonnegut is innovative and fresh. A must for fans, and definitely worth recommending to those unfamiliar with Vonnegut (though, in my opinion, one should start with Slaughterhouse-Five)....more
I admire the fact that Knowles was able to explore a lot of the difficulties of adolescence without this novel becoming a downer. Despite the fact thaI admire the fact that Knowles was able to explore a lot of the difficulties of adolescence without this novel becoming a downer. Despite the fact that there are sad moments, the general tone is one of promise, which I think is exactly what it feels like to be caught between childhood and adulthood.
There is an excellent summation of each character's symbolic significance in the last section that ties things together well. This helps avoid what I think is a common problem in novels where a great deal of the action is internal -- it doesn't feel like the book simply ends, despite the absence of an action-packed climax.
I can understand this book being a choice for many high school reading lists, though I hope this won't pigeon-hole the book into a narrower category than it deserves. Worth the read whatever your age....more
This is the sort of book that one initially dislikes (Camus's The Stranger immediately comes to mind). After letting it digest, though, one realizes tThis is the sort of book that one initially dislikes (Camus's The Stranger immediately comes to mind). After letting it digest, though, one realizes that the story is designed to make the reader feel, in as immediate a sense as possible, uneasy, anxious about the possibility that our world could turn out this way. I have to admit, I finished this book mostly in one gulp on the morning of my day off, and it put me in a bit of a funk. Difficult problems will do that. Bravo to Huxley for taking a look at a bleak future, and refusing to shy away from the bleak consequences. Certainly not beach reading, but everyone concerned with the future of our society should put this on their 'to read' list....more
This book made me rethink the purpose of poetry. It is clear that Berman uses his poetic voice as a lens through which he looks at the world. His versThis book made me rethink the purpose of poetry. It is clear that Berman uses his poetic voice as a lens through which he looks at the world. His verse is full of unique observations and interesting perspectives on life, and even on seemingly ordinary objects. And as is the case with most good poetry, these poems bear (and encourage) rereading....more
It is difficult to explain the force and complexity of feeling with which I enjoyed this book. It is the kind of novel that reaffirms one's love of boIt is difficult to explain the force and complexity of feeling with which I enjoyed this book. It is the kind of novel that reaffirms one's love of books in general. The power with which Orwell delivers his message is undeniable, and its importance is difficult to question.
I would normally elaborate to some degree on interpretations of the text, cultural relevance, etc., but instead I offer my recommendation to find an edition with Erich Fromm's afterword, which handles these considerations quite ably. I am eager to read two other titles mentioned in the afterword (both also negative utopias): Zamyatin's 'We', London's 'Iron Heel', and Huxley's 'Brave New World'....more
Another solid performance by Eco, though I don't think this book delivers what it advertises. What is supposed to tie together the five essays is a thAnother solid performance by Eco, though I don't think this book delivers what it advertises. What is supposed to tie together the five essays is a theme of mistakes that led to success, or ill-founded projects that facilitated great progress. I would say the first three essays are more successful than the final two in this regard, and also more enjoyable to read. They seem to have more of Eco's trademark flare for humor, and they seem to say what they intend to say more effectively.
I understand that this is one of Eco's more academic works, but I couldn't help but expect something more like his How to Travel with a Salmon, which I devoured eagerly and still recommend. If you are deeply interested in linguistics, this book will certainly find a place on your shelf eventually, but for those who enjoy his unique writing style and themes, there are several of his that you should add to your library before this one....more
This book features a particularly brilliant extended metaphor, and for that alone I have to give it the nod. In addition to this, though, we are alsoThis book features a particularly brilliant extended metaphor, and for that alone I have to give it the nod. In addition to this, though, we are also given another volume of Eco's wonderful prose. Few authors have the combination of knowledge, writing skill, and sense of humor that Eco possesses, and none integrate these elements so effortlessly into fiction. His view of the world, of the human condition, and his approach to our shared predicaments are profound and enlightening.
I always feel better off, smarter, more at ease with things, after having read Eco, and I think everyone should read his work. My particular favorite is Foucault's Pendulum....more
Kay Redfield Jamison is in the unique position of being a clinical psychologist, and someone affected by bipolar disorder (previously known as manic dKay Redfield Jamison is in the unique position of being a clinical psychologist, and someone affected by bipolar disorder (previously known as manic depression). An Unquiet Mind is the story of her life as each, and the struggle of being both.
With this preamble, one might think this is something to read if you are bipolar, or know someone who is. While this is true, I would heartily recommend it even if this were not the case. Kay Jamison is a rare individual: she has quick and incisive intellect, a kind heart, and an undeniable gift with language.
What makes this book enjoyable is the strength of the author, and her willingness to set aside pride in the name of telling her story. Some of the events she recounts must have been devastating to relive (indeed, devastating to go through the first time), and yet the story is one of triumph, of acceptance, and of hope.
Though Jamison's mood disorder affected her life in significant and painful ways, the ultimate message is that she, a sufferer of a disease that bears a dark stigma even today, is a successful psychologist, intellectual, poet, and musician... a well-rounded, happy, thriving member of society.
While many will avoid this book because it "isn't about them", it is a treasure, and a big step in the right direction for an important group of people within our society....more
This is THE biography of Emerson. Not only does it cover the complete expanse of Emerson's life and work, it accurately and unapologetically follows tThis is THE biography of Emerson. Not only does it cover the complete expanse of Emerson's life and work, it accurately and unapologetically follows the development of Emerson's skills as a writer and thinker.
Many biographies adopt a perspective of adulation towards their subject, which in some cases can cloud the reality of things. Richardson maintains an objectivity that allows him to paint an accurate portrait.
In addition, Richardson's decision to approach Emerson in this way highlights how effective was Emerson's famous work ethic in honing his talents and progressing towards new ideas.
For the scholar, this book also provides an extensive bibliography of works read by Emerson throughout his life, as well as a chronology of when he read them, which lends important insight, and gives readers an opportunity to walk in Emerson's footsteps....more
A briefer and more accessible look at Kant's famous Critique of Pure Reason, this work has become a standard in undergraduate philosophy programs. ForA briefer and more accessible look at Kant's famous Critique of Pure Reason, this work has become a standard in undergraduate philosophy programs. For those who have not read any of Kant's work, this is the one to start with. It will help the reader grow accustomed to Kant's method of analysis. It also establishes the importance of Kant's thought within the history of philosophy. Much of Kant's work was a reaction to large problems he saw in the philosophical system of his time, and he is well-known for many of the innovative ways he was able to address these problems, most notably his 'Copernican revolution' of philosophy. This is a must-read for anyone interested in philosophical thought....more
While I respect Aristotle's contributions to philosophy, his work is not my favorite. He approaches philosophical thought in an extremely scientific wWhile I respect Aristotle's contributions to philosophy, his work is not my favorite. He approaches philosophical thought in an extremely scientific way, providing precise definitions and following these through to their logical conclusions.
There are two reasons this does not work for me: 1) It is boring, and makes it difficult to reference the text because all the sections sound the same; 2) The definitions from which everything follows are seemingly picked out of thin air. They are stated as if they are already fact, when often (at least to me), they seem debatable, or even misguided.
I think the mistaken assumption Aristotle makes is that philosophy IS the logical system that underpins it. Because of this, he often does not allow the possibility of gray areas, but instead imposes an exactitude that is simply unrealistic.
To me, philosophy is a discipline that employs logical rules, but cannot be defined by them. It requires a level of inspiration and creativity that I do not find in Aristotle.
For me, his ethics are not poorly contrived or wrong; on the other hand, he does not shoulder the burden of proof sufficiently, but rather states his ideas as fact. If you are looking for good Aristotle, read his work about organic unity in dramatic works -- I believe these are his most unique, creative, and helpful ideas....more
Plato's Republic still stands as the most important work on political philosophy to date. This does not necessarily mean it is the best, but it is cerPlato's Republic still stands as the most important work on political philosophy to date. This does not necessarily mean it is the best, but it is certainly the work that everything else references. As Alfred North Whitehead put it, "The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato."
Many important ideas are introduced here -- enough that I can't address them all here. Luckily, as philosophical works go, this is a fairly quick and easy read. Most interesting to me was Plato's comparison of the structure of the human soul to the structure of the city. He says the city is the 'soul writ large', an idea which is a great jumping off point for some great philosophical discussion.
Plato has here provided an excellent groundwork for analysis of government, social interaction, classes and occupations, the structure of the mind, the relation between the mind and the body as it mirrors the relation of government and the people... all in the classic style for which he is famous. Read it at least a half dozen times....more
This is the work that includes Sartre's famous cafe example, in which he is conscious of the absence of his friend, wiAn important and enjoyable work.
This is the work that includes Sartre's famous cafe example, in which he is conscious of the absence of his friend, with whom he was to meet for coffee. Not only is this a great illustration of what Sartre is attempting to convey in this passage, it is an example that can completely redefine our world perspective. As Sartre points out, nearly all the stimuli we receive from the world are interpreted by the mind in terms of relationships, and often this involves acknowledging that something is missing.
Sartre explains that what is not defines our view of the world as much as what is. While it seems simple when written down, this is a revolutionary idea, and is an important pillar of several different philosophical progressions of thought.
I enjoy Sartre a great deal. His writing style is precise, but at the same time almost conversational at times. Reading his work is almost like having a discussion with him. Read this book, and then move on to his plays and fiction....more