This is a very well-researched, very well-written history book about a period and culture I knew very little about: the Spanish conquest of the Inca EThis is a very well-researched, very well-written history book about a period and culture I knew very little about: the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire in South America. Though I would not go so far as to say it read like a novel, certain parts did, especially when the author was creating a “hook” to introduce the next series of events. I understand he’s an Emmy award-winning documentarian, so he knows how to tell a story.
If the author ever decides to adapt this book into film, the protagonist will be Manco Inca. He was just a teenager when Francisco Pizarro and his crew arrived in what is now Peru, and after treacherous dealings that ended in the execution of Manco’s older brother, the ruling emperor, the Spaniards appointed Manco successor, thinking he would make a good puppet. But their treachery continued and when Pizarro’s youngest brother made a demand that went way too far, Manco Inca turned into a real ruler of his people, leading an all-out rebellion.
The Incas’ war against the Spaniards and the in-fighting on both sides makes up the bulk of this book, but it’s sandwiched in between the first and last chapters about the 20th century explorers and historians who discovered the Incan ruins. Their story is not as brutal or violent, but there’s plenty of underhandedness in it. After all, what was at stake for them was pretty much the same thing as what the conquistadors were after: glory and fortune.
This is not a book that will renew your faith in humanity. The conquistadors were absolutely hateful, but the Incas weren’t “noble savages” either. They were imperialists, too, having conquered much of the South American continent before the Spanish arrived. And though the Incan emperors did not let their peasants starve, it was still a feudalistic society where the peasants had to pay tribute and provide free labor. Ironically, Pizarro himself had been a peasant in Spain. He left Europe to seek his fortune because he had nothing to lose.
One of the early chapters of the book quotes Thucydides as saying, “Conquer or be conquered.” What I got out of this book is the converse: all conquerors end up conquered themselves. Nobody stays on top forever, and if you become too arrogant while on top, you end up inviting the rebellion that will ultimately lead to your downfall. ...more
For pure page-turning entertainment, this book deserves a 5, but it’s more than just a hard-boiled detective story. Cormoran Strike gets philosophicalFor pure page-turning entertainment, this book deserves a 5, but it’s more than just a hard-boiled detective story. Cormoran Strike gets philosophical in spots – once about marriage and once about what it takes to kill – and since the murdered man is an author, books, writing, and ambition are front and center, too. But the main source of character development comes from the deepening relationship between Cormoran and his assistant, Robin. I strongly identify with Robin, an office worker who wants so much more in a career. I cheered her on in this book because she’s learning to assert herself. The book gives us a whiff of her back story too.
As for the murder itself, it’s much more grisly than the one in The Cuckoo's Calling, and the plot is more complex because there are more suspects to consider. JKR also threw in a few Potter-related jokes, which were fun to spot. So all in all, I liked this book even better than The Cuckoo's Calling, but I still recommend reading The Cuckoo's Calling before starting this one. It works as a stand-alone, but it’s worth getting to know Cormoran and Robin in their first caper so you can root for them even harder as they become a stronger team. ...more
But even if Matilda does resonate with feminist messages, the book is too much fun to be looked at so seriously. My only complaint about it was that it was too short. After I’d grown to love Matilda and Miss Honey, I was ready for more adventures with them, and not just a “happily ever after.” Does anyone know if there’s a sequel? ...more
I'm giving this 5 stars because it's a literary masterpiece, but I must also add that Professor Yaffa Eliach refused to teach it in her Literature ofI'm giving this 5 stars because it's a literary masterpiece, but I must also add that Professor Yaffa Eliach refused to teach it in her Literature of the Holocaust course because of the anti-Semitic portrayals of all the Jewish characters....more
The closest parallel I know to this book is the movie “Julie/Julia,” except while that was one-half Julia Child biography and one-half fan story, thisThe closest parallel I know to this book is the movie “Julie/Julia,” except while that was one-half Julia Child biography and one-half fan story, this book is mostly a George Eliot biography with fan story at the beginning and end, and excerpts from Middlemarch itself sprinkled throughout. Reading each has its own pleasures, but grateful as I was to learn more about George Eliot/Marian Evans without wading through the intimidating George Eliot a Biography by Gordon S. Haight, I would have enjoyed more fan story, which was the most emotional part of the book. I suppose it was just like the pleasure of Goodreads – reading someone else’s reaction to a book you’ve already read.
My favorite insight into George Eliot was her correspondence with her fan, Alexander Main. I also liked the corroboration that she was indeed influenced by Jane Austen, something most readers of both authors will suspect. But Rebecca Mead could not have said it better: Dorothea and Celia may have started off as Austenesque heroines, but Eliot soon turned the marriage plot right on its head and went in her own direction. As I said in my own review of Middlemarch, younger readers dreaming of Mr. Darcy can benefit from Eliot’s take. Only the lucky minority get “happily-ever-after.” The hidden lives of quiet nobility that we do get, though, can be satisfying compensation. ...more
I always feel some inner resistance to reading these career self-help books. While they usually pinpoint my mistakes with dead-on accuracy, they alsoI always feel some inner resistance to reading these career self-help books. While they usually pinpoint my mistakes with dead-on accuracy, they also leave me feeling inadequate when it comes to applying their advice. The best example of that was with Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office, whose advice was, “Quit being a girl; start being a woman.” It made perfect sense to me, but it’s hard to change a lifetime of ingrained habits.
I heard of this book through an author interview on the radio and concluded that the book would probably be good for me so I should push through my usual inner resistance. I expected the book to be similar to Nice Girls, and in fact, it cited Nice Girls in the Introduction, but mostly to distinguish itself. The book argues that for all the girl vs. woman distinctions in Nice Girls, it’s still telling women to “man up.” This book warns that while women do have to change their girlish habits, they should also be aware that a backlash usually follows. In other words, it’s not all on us, nor is it all our fault. It’s not even mostly our fault. The fault is in people’s biases. Competence is seen as a masculine trait, and submissiveness/compliance as a feminine trait, and it’s a hard balance to strike.
The book goes on to describe in great detail the four patterns of bias working women have to overcome. First, there’s the “Prove It Again” bias: women have to work twice as hard to be thought of as half as good. Then there’s “the Tightrope:” women who get respect are often simultaneously disliked, and women who are liked are often not respected. The “Maternal Wall” is the belief that mothers must give 100% to their kids, and employees must give 100% to the company. How can any working mother possibly do both? Finally, there’s “the Tug of War,” which is fighting amongst women. The book also contains a chapter on how these biases play out for African American, Latina, and Asian women. There’s nothing about Hasidic women, but the author can always use my input to her on that. I’ve already written her a letter for career advice.
Though the book got repetitive in spots (how many more illustrations of Bias X do I need?), I absolutely related to it. Not only did the author come across as an expert, her tone was so warm, inviting, and helpful that, as I said, I wrote to her for career advice. She proved her competence and balanced herself firmly on the tightrope of likability and respectability. I want to learn more from her, and I trust her to have the answers. That’s the highest compliment I can pay to any self-help book. 5 stars. ...more
If you’ve paid any attention to the publicity for the star-studded movie adaptation of this book, then you already know a little about the mission ofIf you’ve paid any attention to the publicity for the star-studded movie adaptation of this book, then you already know a little about the mission of the Monuments Men. They were a group of artists, curators, and scholars commissioned by the Allies to save great works of art from Nazi looting. Going in to the book, I had mixed feelings about the mission. I understand art is important, but not as important as human lives. Six million Jews were being gassed, burnt, starved and worked to death in the concentration camps, and though Allied bombing of the train tracks to the camps could have slowed down the genocide, it wasn’t done. Meanwhile, there was a special commission of people to recover art. That sounds like skewed priorities to me.
Though the book didn’t entirely change my mind on that point, it certainly made me admire the Monuments Men and their mission much more. For one thing, the Nazis’ looting of art was a war crime on almost as massive a scale as the Holocaust itself. Just as there was mass murder, there was mass theft. Perhaps you’ve seen the pictures of the piles of Holocaust victims’ shoes and glasses taken from them just before they were murdered. Well, just as the Nazis were interested in appropriating objects of ordinary value, you’d better believe they were interested in treasured works of art. Remember: Hitler fancied himself an artist. He’d applied and been rejected from art school as a young man.
The book itself is fast-paced and exciting. The author draws from the personal stories of the Monuments Men (and one Monuments Woman, Rose Valland), including some letters home from the front. That puts the people front and center, which is how history comes to life. My favorite anecdote, which I’m sure won’t be included in the movie, is a Jewish one. After the liberation of a forced labor camp, the survivors wanted to daaven (pray). Monuments Man Walker Hancock, played by John Goodman in the movie, was able to provide them with a rescued Torah scroll.
The introduction of this book promises it will be a story about World War II you don’t already know, and for me, that was absolutely true. All my mixed feelings aside, it’s an excellent book that showcases the dedication and bravery of a group of unsung. . . dare I call them heroes? The Monuments Men will never match Raoul Wallenberg, Irena Sandler, or Oskar Schindler for me. But the world is better off for what they did, and I’m glad they’re getting (mostly) posthumous recognition. I can hardly wait to see the movie!
After reading Cloud Atlas, I was fascinated to learn that author David Mitchell is the parent of an autistic child, and that along with his wife, he tAfter reading Cloud Atlas, I was fascinated to learn that author David Mitchell is the parent of an autistic child, and that along with his wife, he translated into English this memoir of an autistic boy from Japan. The boy's name is Naoki Higashida, and he is now in his 20’s but wrote the book at age 13. It’s written mostly in Q&A form with questions like, “Why do you jump?” (hence the title) and “Why do you repeat things?”
Like many introverts, I’ve occasionally wondered if I’m on the autistic spectrum, and while I was leaning toward “no” before I read the book, I’m firmly convinced now. The way Naoki describes it, autism seems like a combination of ADHD and OCD. But he seems to know enough about how “normals” experience the world to make comparisons.
I really have no way of knowing whether Naoki’s descriptions are accurate for all autistics, though I have no reason to doubt him. It would be interesting to compare his book to other “insiders’” memoirs. The only other one I have read is Nobody Nowhere. This one is better.
Perhaps it’s insensitive of me to say, given Naoki’s handicaps, but short as his book is, I found parts of it repetitive. The best parts of the book are where he diverges from the Q&A form into fiction and parable. But my favorite part of all was David Mitchell’s introduction. Again, it probably reflects poorly on me to say so, but I could relate to his experiences much better because he was writing as a parent.
The book is a short and fast read and for that reason it’s worth it. Perhaps if I were close to an autistic, I would think as highly of it as David Mitchell does. But the main thing I can say at the end of it is, “Thank G-d, my kids have been spared.” May He bring healing to all of us for whatever we need and success to Naoki Higashida in his advocacy for other autistics.
This book is very similar to Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking; it's an artistically crafted, emotionally raw grief memoir. If anything, it iThis book is very similar to Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking; it's an artistically crafted, emotionally raw grief memoir. If anything, it is even more gut-wrenching than Didion’s because this author lost her entire family in one fell swoop; she’s a survivor of the 2004 Asian tsunami.
The hardest part for any parent will be reading about her grief for her sons. I can’t imagine any loss more painful than that. It’s no wonder she became unhinged for a time, a phase she describes with as much meticulous clarity as the tsunami itself.
But like with Didion’s book, the grief does subside, or at least it takes on a new form. In the immediate aftermath, Sonali (the author) was almost an emotional automaton, blocking out reminders so she wouldn’t have to feel too much. After five years, she began welcoming the memories because they’re all she has left.
In my last book review, I paraphrased a statement that when thousands of people drown in a flood, it’s a news item, but when one child drowns in a swimming pool, it’s a tragedy. The tsunami killed a quarter of a million people, and this story of its impact on one family personalizes all of the victims. For that reason, it’s an important book, even though it’s not a particularly enjoyable one. ...more