Interesting, but I felt ended a little weakly, at the chapters on China and the USA, where tourism-to and tourism-from were mixed together haphazardlyInteresting, but I felt ended a little weakly, at the chapters on China and the USA, where tourism-to and tourism-from were mixed together haphazardly. Becker seems to have arrived at a conclusion about the list of pros and cons of global travel by then and everything was just being balanced against that list. Particularly there, it felt far too journalistic, boiling down to a few interviews, sometimes a little too fawning, with a few boutique hotel owners and tour guides and missing the questions and nuances of the way 1 billion border crossings per year are shaping the world, that the book seemed initially to set out to answer.
Then, choosing to have the side of the tourist, so to speak, represented almost entirely by her own (and her husband's) experiences also made it feel a bit underbaked. There's a lot more to be said about the motivations, experiences and types of travel from the side of the traveller. Her slightly cliched, captivated travel writing counters oddly with the somewhat more hard-headed, critical assessment of the impacts of tourism from the side of the destination and leave the whole thing awkward. As always - less descriptions of elephants, please. More economics. ...more
I think I like this a little better than it might deserve. Maybe because it's the first Hemingway i've read. That writing style - it wears itself outI think I like this a little better than it might deserve. Maybe because it's the first Hemingway i've read. That writing style - it wears itself out by the end, but for a while, I found it genuinely pleasurable just to read. Kind of fleshy and very nearly, well, erotic in a certain way. Not even the contents in particular - just the style itself. (Does that make any sense?)
It so jumps out as so very and particularly masculine, that there was something very physical in reading it, inhabiting that not-my-own skin. But, also in being aware of men, of ideas of manliness - and in how fragile and constructed they sometimes are - and appreciating wading around those ideas and anti-ideas for a while, in the sense that, well, I like men, you know?
Of course, I have no idea if that idea of men, (writing for men? Writing as men?) is something Hemmingway really tapped into, or just troped up, but it was still fun before it got kind of boring.
Well, that was one of the weirder reviews I've ever written, but there it is. The story, as such, is not much to write home about, but in dialect with the style, there was something there for me. ...more
I had a lot of fun with this. The final essay is slightly impenetrable but awfully tantalizing, and the collection of analytic viginettes are insghtfuI had a lot of fun with this. The final essay is slightly impenetrable but awfully tantalizing, and the collection of analytic viginettes are insghtful and often downright hilarious. Some of them have dated - though often in illuminating ways that don't suggest much progress, really - and others remain totally spot-on for today. Barthes doesn't exactly take apart the world around him, rather he tries to understand what its actually communicating, what the moral of the message is, and how this normalizes a (bourgeouise) status quo. ...more
This is a delightfully eclectic book, with piles and piles of surprising information about just-pre-modern daily life. The way distance shifted betweeThis is a delightfully eclectic book, with piles and piles of surprising information about just-pre-modern daily life. The way distance shifted between eras and technologies, the way food and work and money functioned or didn't in this vast landscape before the state came along to make sense of them, the oddness and diversity of the way people moved and lived before, well, more practical universal solutions became available. It's a bit meandering and tended to lose my attention for weeks at a time, but overall perfectly fascinating. ...more
This is pretty good - well written, structured, no noticeable weird ideological quirks, good balance of anecdotes and data, etc, etc. On the other hanThis is pretty good - well written, structured, no noticeable weird ideological quirks, good balance of anecdotes and data, etc, etc. On the other hand, the book seems to be more concerned with what's important than what is interesting, at least for my particular interests. There's a great deal about the, well, really big important decisions and failures and successes, focusing on Poland, Austro-Hungary, Ottomans, Germany, etc, and some about the League of Nations and all that.
I think the point is to follow through the diplomatic and political wrangling behind the decisions, but often there's also a great deal of general information which is already staggeringly well known, in a general sort of way. (Germany was made to sign a treaty it was unhappy with. The Ottoman empire got dismembered, etc, etc.) So sometimes I had the sense of the book being more of a collection of essays about "stuff that happened after WW1", (albeit a lively and interesting one) with the conference itself being more of a common touchstone than about the conference.
This seems like a bit of a shame, because there seems to have been a ton of weirdness going on around the edges that is only mentioned in passing, for the sake of colorful scene setting. There were dozens of countries and delegations there, trying to achieve any number of things. Most of them, presumably, failed (or history would bother to remember them,) but I still would have liked to know a lot more about it. It's not just because I like knowing about the weird stuff (c'mon, who doesn't like the weird stuff?) but because it seems like it would give more of an insight into the context and praxis of that point in history. From here, those decisions all seem so ephemeral, that what I really wanted from the book was more of an understanding ot the logic of the moment, what people(s) seemed to have thought was achievable, or at least worth making a noise about, because I already know how it ended. ...more
So these were like the Olympics, but even bigger, (several early Olympics were actually sideshows in World Fairs. So was the Second Internationale, atSo these were like the Olympics, but even bigger, (several early Olympics were actually sideshows in World Fairs. So was the Second Internationale, at one point.) But instead of showing off just their athletes, countries would come on down and show ALL OF THEIR STUFF. ALL of it. Cheese, chairs, art, technology, 'whistles made out of pig's tails', New Zealand, New Zealanders...whatever. To me is sounds like a completely mad pileup of random stuff, like the garage sale of the universe, but evidently it kind of made sense to them? Not just made sense, but was a concerted effort to shape the image of the world (in their own imperialist image, naturally.) The most interesting bits are the way this image would get subverted, the street finding it's own uses for, er, streets - like the "Cairo Souk" bit, which should have been a model staffed by obesquieous natives, but took on an actual seedy, commercial life of it's own. ...more
Do I need a tag for Satanism, or can I just file that safely under Christianity? *Ponders.*
So, ok, this didn't really work for me. It really should haDo I need a tag for Satanism, or can I just file that safely under Christianity? *Ponders.*
So, ok, this didn't really work for me. It really should have, it's got so much of the stuff I like - bizarre, multi layered frame story, twisty plot, farce, history, politics and an incredibly unreliable, doomed, obsessed narrator. And yet I was basically bored throughout. I don't know if it was the writing, or the need to keep track of the characters who I honestly couldn't tell apart or the way it takes on history I don't know enough about (Italian unification, for example) to see what he's trying to say there, but I struggled to finish it. The ending too was a particular letdown, since I did want to know the resolution to one central mystery and turned out as a bit of a cop-out, to my tastes. Theres was also a sudden flip into an expectation that we slightly pity the incredibly odious narrator - which i'm fine with, really, only why did it come at the very end? I think I would have enjoyed the book a lot more if the preceeding four hundred pages had been written with the same eye, instead of him just being repetitively slimy.
And, oh, yeah - everything is about the holocaust again. ...more
An analysis of the role of what we think of as "special ops" in Medieval warfare. That is, the use of variously sneaky and underhanded tactics to achiAn analysis of the role of what we think of as "special ops" in Medieval warfare. That is, the use of variously sneaky and underhanded tactics to achieve military (or political) aims, without having two armies politely show up and fight each other. Of course, I say sneaky, but really this kind of thing actually usually got things done with less bloodshed, and usually only the blood of the noble jerkwads involved, so theres something to that.
Anyway, theres a thesis bit with like academic theorizing and stuff, which is kind of interesting but not particularly memorable (that is, I read it last year and I don't remember it.) The meat of the book is an analysis of seven special-ops campaigns, from the Crusades and France. These pretty much rock.
Harari is just not above spinning a good yarn then way sheep are not above being woolly. It's all wacky cloack-and-dagger, buckle-and-swash, derring-do with a touch of stupidity so magnificent it still shines after all the centuries. Assassinations, betrayals, disguises, divorces, marriages, lies, princesses put in towers, princesses rescued from towers, (one instance of a princess rescuing herself from tower,) midnight rides, many gates and walls climbed over, etc, etc. It's great.
If anything, theres a little too much political and historical context some times - who cares why they were doing it, just tell me how. Harari is also pretty good about analyzing the sources and mentioning their likely biases and contradictions (which are pretty interesting themselves.) Mostly, it's just a bunch of the kind of weird detail and personal stories I wish dry history books (then the king did this. Then the duke did that. NO THEY DIDN'T. They didn't do anything. Some soldier did that. What was it like?) had more of, that give some a sense of the day-to-day way wars were conducted.
The Middle-East chapters were slightly more interesting then all the French stuff, but I really just think the material there is better - bickering Crusaders who can't swim and Assassins and sun-worshiping Armenians and things. The French and the Burgundians are positively reasonable by comparison, as the entire Levant in the 12th century comes off like a giant collection of sociopathically violent frat boys playing murderous pranks on each other.
Modernity, or post-modernity, or the difference, or whatever that thing we're in now is. Very precisely, very elegantly, theres an evocation of a stylModernity, or post-modernity, or the difference, or whatever that thing we're in now is. Very precisely, very elegantly, theres an evocation of a stylized, graceful past, though the setting is nominally the present. A world of phone booths and opium dens, fedoras, travel agents, zippo lighters, Parisian cafes and London pubs populated by beautiful, sad eyed prostitutes where smoking indoors is always allowed. Cons where people still read mimeographed fanzines. Our world intrudes as a crude, pointless, painful, violent place, above all unbearably stupid. It's terrorism and the war thereon, but it's also seemingly ipods, porn and reality tv. The ambience is pre war, interwar, something, a distilled ambience of a place that still bears some dignity in the western collective imagination of the past, finally explicitely made so much fiction. Noir, detective stories, Casablanca. Fever dreams of trauma. Nice. ...more
So that was...interesting if eventually tedious. Great effect with the endless layered - and, well, duh, ultimately 4th wall - analysis of life recordSo that was...interesting if eventually tedious. Great effect with the endless layered - and, well, duh, ultimately 4th wall - analysis of life recorded as text, devolving to the attempt to live life as text. I am displeased by the book's ultimate forgiveness of the...inadequacy of it's male characters. All that torment skimmed away into neat endings. ...more
Not so much this-and-then-than happened, as an attempt to get at the zeitgeist. I don't know enough to say whether its a good attempt, but it was certNot so much this-and-then-than happened, as an attempt to get at the zeitgeist. I don't know enough to say whether its a good attempt, but it was certainly an interesting read. Culture, politics, morals, women, technology, health, race, art and a very great deal of sex. The world was moving too fast, capitalism was destroying identity, the right sort of people were having too few children and everyone else was having too many, the traditions of earlier ages were being shattered, technology was changing the nature of society and no one knew what to do about it, sex wasn't what it was supposed to be, morality was in crisis, women were too manly and men weren't manly enough, etc, etc. Conservatives keep being afraid of the same things, in an endless unprogressing loop, it seems. ...more
Not as strong as the first book. Too many sub plots and minor characters get introduced but never go anywhere or get extremely short shrift, so theresNot as strong as the first book. Too many sub plots and minor characters get introduced but never go anywhere or get extremely short shrift, so theres never any sense of tension with anything involving them. The main characters seem to have character developed backwards, and are shallower ad less layered than in the Cardinals Blades too. Still a fun adventure read, (Plots! Schemes! Treachery! Swordfights! Rooftop chases!) but feels rather distant and unengaging in terms of plot and character. ...more
For a rather twisted book, all about necromancy (and often graphic necrophilia) its also rather funny and ultimately life affirming, even happy. A fewFor a rather twisted book, all about necromancy (and often graphic necrophilia) its also rather funny and ultimately life affirming, even happy. A few of the minor characters could have stood to get a bit more development, and some rather important elements seemed to come out of nowhere, but those are somewhat minor quibbles for a largely fun book with some interesting, disquieting currents running through it. ...more