A World Overturned, as the title suggests, tells the story of the author’s childhood in Burma, including during the Japanese occupation of Burma durin...moreA World Overturned, as the title suggests, tells the story of the author’s childhood in Burma, including during the Japanese occupation of Burma during WWII. If it is an ordinary story, it’s an ordinary story about an extraordinary time. It is simply and smoothly told. It is just a narrow window into a particular time in Burmese history, but the British colonial history and the Japanese occupation are key, I think, to understanding modern Burma. A World Overturned is also much more accessible to a neophyte than a more ambitious book like The River of Lost Footsteps.(less)
“No other intellectual movement, no other period in history, has attracted so much disagreement, so much intransigence, so much simple anger.”
Pagden a...more“No other intellectual movement, no other period in history, has attracted so much disagreement, so much intransigence, so much simple anger.”
Pagden avoids the common practice of focusing on the Scottish Enlightenment and French Enlightenment to the derogation of the broader Enlightenment and thinkers who were neither Scottish nor French (nor Kant). The Enlightenment was “most closely linked to France, the German-speaking lands, Britain and her American colonies.” That is, it in many ways sprung from Protestant roots (although I doubt Pagden would put it quite that way). It was in many ways a product of the Wars of Religion and the discovery of the New World.
He hits pre-Enlightenment thinkers like Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, major Enlightenment thinkers like Hobbes, and a number of lesser known (to me, if no one else) Enlightenment thinkers like Pufendorf, Hutcheson, Shaftesbury, and Genovesi.
Regarding Christianity, Pagden starts out hyperbolic, dealing out invective. Nothing good, as Pagden tells it, could possibly come from religion. Any Enlightenment thinker who professed to faith was, in Pagden’s thinking, obviously only doing so to avoid censorship and persecution (or prosecution) for heresy (some, yes, but certainly not all).
The change comes rather abruptly. Pagden does admit that “the Enlightenment was an exclusively European phenomenon, shared only with Europe’s overseas settler populations, and it could never have arisen except in a broadly Christian world. It was, in a sense, a form of secularized Christianity.” But he shortly follows it with something more resembling a rant than philosophy or intellectual history (the words “simpled-minded” and “willfully deceptive” come up).
His position is curious and here, again, we see the problem with his failure to clearly delineate between his own thinking and that of Enlightenment thinkers. Sure, Voltaire could count up nine and a half million dead at the hands of “Christian barbarities” by his (surely generous) count, but the modern reader has the advantage of knowing that self-avowedly post-Christian isms would be responsible for the deaths of tens and hundreds of millions in a few short decades. Christianity now looks much better, if only relatively. His statement that “it was not generally atheists who committed the worst atrocities against their fellow men but, as the Wars of Religion had amply demonstrated, devout religious believers of one persuasion or another” well demonstrates the issue. One could make such an argument with only 18th century information (albeit susceptible to a charge of more than a little navel-gazing). No one can seriously make such an argument after the events of the mid-20th century.
For whatever reason, though, Pagden’s rantings lose steam in the latter part of the book and religion comes up less and when it does is discussed more sensibly. Pagden recognizes that modern racism is “largely the product of the development of the biological sciences in the nineteenth century” but is unafraid to criticize Enlightenment thinkers on their views on other races (most of which are depressingly retrograde). Perhaps his best contribution is the reaction to the Enlightenment. He covers the conservative reaction to the French Revolution (Burke and the less well known Rehberg), as well as nationalism, collectivism, and multiculturalism.
Disclosure: I received a complementary e-copy of this book through NetGalley.(less)
“Sydney Pearl” is a bearded college dropout who somehow lucked into a position with Southwest where her union contract would ensure a willingness to c...more“Sydney Pearl” is a bearded college dropout who somehow lucked into a position with Southwest where her union contract would ensure a willingness to continue to show up for work would trump any incompetence. Inexplicably, this left her pissed off, and she has written this book to let you. Let me be very clear, this book is not intended for your entertainment. Ms. Pearl thinks you are rude and disgusting—you can tell, because she uses these words over and over and OVER again—and she expects you to sit there and take it. Despite generous pay she is more than happy to brag about, Pearl is somehow under the impression that her customers exist to serve her and not the other way around. Not that I have any desire to defend travelers. A frequent traveler myself, Lord knows there are plenty of opportunities for complaint. And Pearl hits on many of these. Unfortunately, she has a rare ability to make the reader hate her, even when she should be in the right. The only thing positive I can think to say about this book is that I didn’t have to pay for it because I got a free copy to review. I still the worse for the exchange, though.(less)
A Plunder of Souls is D.B. Jackson’s third book in the Thieftaker Chronicles (three and counting and no sign of slowing). The Thieftaker Chronicles ch...moreA Plunder of Souls is D.B. Jackson’s third book in the Thieftaker Chronicles (three and counting and no sign of slowing). The Thieftaker Chronicles chronicle the adventures of Ethan Kaille, a thieftaker in 1760s Boston and a conjurer. D.B. Jackson has a PhD in American History and is an accomplished fantasy author (as David B. Coe): both show. In A Plunder of Souls, Kaille has been hired as by a local church to investigate a series of grave desecrations. It’s soon clear that something more sinister than mere grave robbing is afoot and that Kaille is in over his head.
A Plunder of Souls gets off to an unfortunate start. By book three, my default is the less Sephira Pryce, the better. Ethan and Sephira’s relationship begins to change during the book, though, and she winds up playing a different, more interesting, role here than in the first two books. We also continue to see a more assertive Kaille, a welcome bit of character progression in the second book.
Unfortunately, American history takes a back seat in book three. The main historical event of note is a minor influenza epidemic. Samuel Adams makes a cameo, but otherwise the Sons of Liberty are silent. This is particularly disappointing after the second book.
I do have one particular complaint about the ending. Jackson makes a decision that I think is about future books, not this one and this one suffers for it. It isn’t going to stop me from waiting with anticipation for the next book, though.(less)
The Weed Agency, a satire of a federal bureaucracy that grows like, well, weeds, tells the story of an obscure (and fake) federal agency tasks with mo...moreThe Weed Agency, a satire of a federal bureaucracy that grows like, well, weeds, tells the story of an obscure (and fake) federal agency tasks with monitoring, well, weeds and the people that populate it over the course of a few decades. The agency: The Agency of Invasive Species, an agency within the Department of Agriculture. The characters: Jack Wilkins, assistant administrative director, our straight man and cypher. Adam Humphrey, administrative director and bureaucratic in-fighter extraordinaire. Ava Summers, IT pro and wearer of fishnets. Lisa Bloom and Jaime Caro, PR and event coordinators, respectively. Nicholas Bader, Reagan Whitehouse budget hawk turned Congressional representative budget hawk.
The Agency of Invasive Species is charged with combating regular weeds, not the wacky sort (something I didn’t realize until metaphorically opening the book).
Jim Geraghty is a very good conservative political pundit and his book his aimed at that audience. They should love it, but there is something for liberals too. Republicans like Tom Delay and especially Newt Gingrich don’t escape Geraghty’s cutting pen. And the problems of the federal bureaucracy, regulatory capture in particular, are a concern on the left. Geraghty falls victim to the conservative habit of not understanding the merit of the subject of government spending. Invasive species, including weeds, can indeed cause very serious issues. This country, after all, has a great region (and I a yard) damn near choked with a damned dirty weed. It’s not that invasive weeds aren’t a problem. It’s that our leviathan federal government can’t do anything about it. Geraghty well shows why. (And it makes for great imagery.)
The story of an unimportant corner of a very large government over decades threatens to be a dull affair, and unfortunately characters are not Geraghty’s strength. Wilkins is a cypher. A useful one, but a cypher. Lisa and Jamie never amount to much. Humphrey and Bader are good characters but never really pop out of their two-dimensional shell. Ava is the strongest character, perhaps because she solo stars in perhaps the book’s best segment, a break from satirizing the federal government to satirize the dot.com bubble, complete with a bizarre Super Bowl ad (albeit one that tells far more about the product than the average dot.com ad—sometimes truth is stranger than fiction).
The characters don’t do much to hold back the book. Geraghty may rather obviously be a non-fiction writer first and novelist second, but he knows government and where to aim the skewers. Early clunky prose notwithstanding, by the end of the book Geraghty shows an easy hand at the delayed punch line, delivered dry as toast.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of Weed Agency courtesy of NetGalley.(less)
Of all the Powder Mage short stories, Forsword, I think, had the most potential. Repeating the pattern of focusing on female characters (contrary to P...moreOf all the Powder Mage short stories, Forsword, I think, had the most potential. Repeating the pattern of focusing on female characters (contrary to Promise of Blood), Forsworn features Erika, the heir to a Kez duchy and a powder mage. Being a powder mage is usually the sort of thing that gets you executed in Kez, but there are benefits to being rich and powerful. Erika is instead only required to forswear the use of powder and prohibited from handling firearms. It has still earned her the enmity of Duke Nikslaus and means she's willing to put it all on the line when she discovers a child powder mage in the woods.
Like, I said, Forsworn has a lot of potential. It's really our first look at Kez, and the stakes are high. Unfortunately, we don't learn a whole lot about Kez, and the climax doesn't quite work (because, I think, it was a short story and not a longer book).(less)
The Son is less one long book than three ones. The book covers four generations of a Texas family: a frontiersman turned cattle baron captured by the...moreThe Son is less one long book than three ones. The book covers four generations of a Texas family: a frontiersman turned cattle baron captured by the Comanche, his titular son, and his great-granddaughter, an heiress turned oil baroness. The problem is that it is one very, very good book and a couple mediocre ones.
The first story, about the “Colonel” as he’s referred to elsewhere, is the best and can’t be treated as anything other than the main story. His family settled on the frontier of Texas in the 1800s, and he was captured by Comanche is a raid. He starts as a slave and becomes a Comanche warrior. Meyer’s research on the Comanche shows. If only he could have done more research on the rest of the story.
The “Son” storyline shows promise. It provides a window into the Colonel’s life after returning from the Comanche, one that the Son is unfortunately uninterested in, self-absorbed as he is. I choose to be charitable and treat him not as a Mary Sue but intentional. Like Walter Sobchak, he’s not wrong, he’s just an a**hole (and almost unbearably naïve).
The third story is the weakest. It follows the Colonel’s great-granddaughter life as the modern world opens. This story SHOULD be interesting. But Meyer obviously has no interest in it. And as time moves forward with the story and his interest wanes the research wanes with it. And so what could have been a story as interesting as the first becomes strictly paint-by-numbers. Her views could have come out of a book (and not a good one). The rest of the Texans in that storyline are similarly stereotypical.
The writing is extremely strong, hence, along with the Colonel’s story, the good rating despite the weakness of the rest.(less)
Pets are booming. Dog and cat ownership has quadrupled since the mid-60s and more households have dogs or cats than children. How we as a society view...morePets are booming. Dog and cat ownership has quadrupled since the mid-60s and more households have dogs or cats than children. How we as a society view dogs and cats has changed rapidly as well. It’s that change, and the change in how the law views pets, that is Grimm’s focus.
Grimm starts with a short history of domestication. Not much changed in how we viewed pets, and animals in general, until the birth of animal rights in the Nineteenth Century. Even then, “[b]efore 1986, only four states had felony anticruelty laws. . . . Today, forty-nine states have felony anticruelty legislation on their books.”
Grimm’s most powerful and moving chapter is on Katrina. “Nearly half the Gulf Coast residents who didn’t evacuate during Katrina stayed because of their pets.” Story after story is told of residents who refused to get in the boat with rescue workers, who only agreed after promises regarding the pets were made, and who saw their pets tossed overboard. The aftermath forced policymakers to realize that emergency evacuation plans now have to account for pets.
Grimm touches on the dark side of animal rights activism, although he never quite throws the opprobrium at it that it deserves. The very first organized “animal rights” movement led to euthanasia on an industrial scale. The Humane Society of the United States supported the extermination of feral cats until 2006. I’m talking about the sort of people who “love dogs” but “if there were two dogs left in the world” wouldn’t let them breed.
Grimm also all too casually—and without any examination—repeatedly compares animal rights to the Civil Rights Movement. Setting aside the inherent racism, the comparison isn’t apt. Unlike blacks, animals can’t speak for or organize themselves. Children’s rights is a more apt comparison, although most children have some ability to give their own thoughts on the matter. As seen in the preceding paragraph, when animal rights activists take animals’ lives into their own hands they far too often value those lives far too cheaply. A modified traditional, property-based, approach to animal rights makes the most sense because it is owners that have better motivation and information to act in the best interests of their pets than anyone else. Grimm doesn’t seem to see this, though.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of Citizen Canine through NetGalley.(less)
WOW. The Walking Dead has been a little directionless since the characters left the prison. My great concern with the Alexandria Safe-Zone—especially...moreWOW. The Walking Dead has been a little directionless since the characters left the prison. My great concern with the Alexandria Safe-Zone—especially with another arch-nemesis villain—was that it would wind up being too much a redux of the prison story. But it is its own story, with new, compelling characters, a different set-up, and a different plot. And the action—wow, the action—is what carries the volume. Once it gets started there was no chance I would put the book down. The only pause was to jump around in suspense.(less)
Our newest archvillain—Negan—features prominently (and is on the cover). He’s a beautiful villain—easy to hate and fun to read. Kirkman gives us a vil...moreOur newest archvillain—Negan—features prominently (and is on the cover). He’s a beautiful villain—easy to hate and fun to read. Kirkman gives us a villain on the level of the Governor without coming off as retreading over old ground. He avoids treading on old ground without coming off as inserting differences for difference sake. Book Nine is easily the best post-Governor. And things are just getting good!
Chapter 17 – Something to Fear Chapter 18 – What Comes After(less)
Fresh from a successful Knutsen case, and owning a college, film studies professor DeFino sets his sights on HBO, that behemoth of subscriber televisi...moreFresh from a successful Knutsen case, and owning a college, film studies professor DeFino sets his sights on HBO, that behemoth of subscriber television that has so successfully straddled the divide between auteur and 13-year-old boy.
The cover implies something more along the lines of The Revolution was Televised and Difficult Men, but Mad Men is barely mentioned and The Sopranos hardly dominates. This is a book about HBO. It covers a lot of ground on that subject—technical and business, comedy and drama, history and present—and not much otherwise other than to provide context. It also has a distinctly academic cast.
DeFino does almost everything well. The business and technical history of HBO aren’t in his wheelhouse, but his history is as informative as it is succinct. There is a long discussion of comedy and HBO, especially of George Carlin. Its two big shows about women—Sex and the City and Girls—are far from ignored; nor are the gender implications of the sex shows and frequent appeals to purience. Punctiliously fair, he even makes a game attempt at conservatives in regards to HBO’s politically-oriented offerings and fantasy readers in regards to Game of Thrones, although you’re left wondering whether he knows anyone from either group.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary e-copy of The HBO Effect via NetGalley.(less)