This book is unique. In it, Mr. Leamy weaves a didactic narrative with an intelligent, humane glimpse into the mind of a man at the lowest point in hi...moreThis book is unique. In it, Mr. Leamy weaves a didactic narrative with an intelligent, humane glimpse into the mind of a man at the lowest point in his life. It's one part dialogue in the vein of The Republic, one part social commentary, and one part character study.
It's provocative and marvelously written. A great read and a solid addition to the shelf of anyone concerned with social issues.(less)
This book is 5x thicker than it needed to be. If it didn't make a very few fine observations I would have thrown it against the wall, which would have...moreThis book is 5x thicker than it needed to be. If it didn't make a very few fine observations I would have thrown it against the wall, which would have left a considerable hole.
Repetition aside, its greatest weakness is Booker's inability to disentangle his personal prejudices from what makes a story work in the general sense. For example, according to Booker, if the hero doesn't vanquish the villain and run off with the (victimized) female who, he maintains, is nothing more than a projection of the anima, it's because the culture that spawned the story has run off the rails. He also makes sweeping assertions on the immaturity of a culture by citing various examples of stories that ended in ways that he doesn't personally like. There are numerous counter-examples that don't fit with his theory, of course, but he ignored them.
It's not a worthless read, but don't cling to every word.
I've upgraded this book by one star. The more I think about his insistence on archetypes and the logical ends to which they should arrive re: the story arc, the more I think he may be right. His arguments on the cult of sensationalism through the lens of the Marquis de Sade's snuff porn (Justine in particular) and the lack of closure in such narratives makes sense to me.(less)
Hedges doesn’t present many new ideas in this book, but the synopsis doesn’t promise any. Rather, he gathers otherwise disparate data points, anecdota...moreHedges doesn’t present many new ideas in this book, but the synopsis doesn’t promise any. Rather, he gathers otherwise disparate data points, anecdotal observations, and events into an argument that most of what passes for American culture has devolved into an oblivious form of aggressive stupidity. I gave it 2 stars for being accurate, at least according to my own understanding; 1 star for a passionate delivery --that Hedges believes what he says isn’t in doubt-- and a fourth star for accomplishing what it set out to do.
Numerous posts here describe the book’s structure in detail, so I’ll skim that and break it down into the main ideas presented in each section:
1) Mass Culture as collective catharsis (Illusion of Literacy) 2) Pornography as an expression of misogyny and violence (Illusion of Love) 3) Education as a war on the humanities and the stifling of creativity (Illusion of Wisdom) 4) Corporate and religious sponsored programs that promote magic thinking (Illusion of Happiness) 5) Hijacking of the political and economic processes by the Military/Industrial, Energy and Financial sectors (Illusion of America)
Some of these sections make broad sweeps and gather some pretty convincing data for Hedges' arguments, while others focus on narrower bands of information, anecdote, opinion and even modest doses of hyperbole; but, really, a complete lack of hyperbole makes for a dull screed.
In my opinion, he could have axed much of the first four sections, though his observations on so-called ‘reality TV’ and a culture that embraces it have merit. Yes, we know that people love the Coliseum. Always have. That’s what escapism and false empowerment are about. I also suspect that most adults have an inkling of the facts around pornography, with the split being between those who are bothered by them and those who aren’t.
His assertions on modern post-secondary education are certainly true; that corporate money has infiltrated those institutions is beyond a doubt. His other assertion, that colleges and universities are geared to crank out systems managers rather than sensible, imaginative thinkers may be true, but intelligent people will always be intelligent, by definition, regardless of their education or indoctrination. Still, it’s an indisputable fact that dullards can navigate the system and, with those degrees in hand, take their roles in the corporate and governmental world.
By way of example, he notes that Literature programs regularly pass students who can list the plot points in Conrad’s HEART OF DARKNESS, but who can’t say exactly what the book is actually about (the evils spawned by imperialism) because a corporatist, imperialist culture isn’t terribly keen on introspection, a trait which manifests itself in the educational system.
The final section, the Illusion of America, should be required reading for every high school senior and promoted to every adult, as this section illuminates just how deep the corporatist rot in government has gone.
Of course, even if this chapter were turned into a tract and handed out to every household, too many wouldn’t or couldn’t read it, understand it, or care, but that’s pretty much what he’s driving at in this book.
If you’re uncertain why things are as they are, or if you have an idea and simply need clarification, this book is for you.
If you’re a dedicated right wing fanatic, you’ll have no use for it.
Maybe 3 1/2 stars is what I’m feeling, but even if that’s so I’ll keep it at 4 if only because Hedges has the courage of his convictions.
Full Disclosure: I was given a copy of this memoir by the author's daughter, who is a personal acquaintance. I have not, however, personally met the a...moreFull Disclosure: I was given a copy of this memoir by the author's daughter, who is a personal acquaintance. I have not, however, personally met the author.
I've put off writing this review for a long time. The reasons are entirely personal, mainly that it struck a little close to home. While the author found his way out of a worldview that was fully immersed in the Catholic faith, I reasoned my way out of evangelical fundamentalism. The result, for me, was instant empathy with the author. (view spoiler)[
For him, the crisis came as a clash between a literal interpretation of Genesis and interpretation-as-allegory following the Second Vatican Council. The scholarly conclusion, that there was no talking snake, that there was no magic fruit, and that there is no original sin cast Mr. Shields' understanding of his calling into a humanist's light. When the powers entrenched in the Church refused to act on the findings, he found himself at odds with the institution. Because of that, he could not in good conscience retain his office and he left the church.
So, this guy is fresh out of the priesthood. He's down in the mouth, he has no experience as an independent adult in the outside world, and he's a virgin. So what does he do? Well, he asks a lady friend to marry him and they take off to Canada.
Most stories would probably end there, but not this one. Mr. Shields' tale is one of painful growth, of infidelity and of love lost to cancer. It's a story of spiritual progress in a universe without a jealous god and a path that leads him into the light of a greater, more profound marvel.
Robert Anton Wilson often spoke of the Chapel Perilous, a time in a life when the symbols at one's disposal no longer make sense and the map becomes useless. It's then that events seemingly 'from beyond' intervene, and a person can easily spend a lifetime trying to decipher exactly what happened and what it means. That's a long, difficult, (but fulfilling) road and this man has walked it.
What comes through in the narrative, from his early roots as a young devotee to an adult activist (civil rights, poverty) and eventually a labor leader, is the author's respect for and sense of duty to his fellow human beings. In my estimation, he's a true humanitarian. (hide spoiler)]
If you enjoy inspiring accounts by admirable people, you will certainly enjoy this book.
I want to avoid addressing issues of plot in this review, primarily because Alexios is a logic-puzzle without a solution.
This is one of the more lite...moreI want to avoid addressing issues of plot in this review, primarily because Alexios is a logic-puzzle without a solution.
This is one of the more literary novels I’ve read, and to be 100% honest it’s one of the very few non-genre works that I’ve actually enjoyed. I’m aware that some will think me shallow for saying so, but I don’t particularly mind. In truth, my stabs at post-modern literature have been largely abortive (Come Thou, Tortoise was the most recent) because the books either struck me as pretentious fluff or as a load of precious self-indulgence on the part of the author. I was beyond pleased to discover that Alexios was neither.
As I dove into the first section, what first struck me was the prose; it was lovely. Not overblown, not jackhammer-artsy, but just plain lovely. It flowed. It was rich with metaphor. The dialogue was utterly convincing and conveyed character. I’d just finished reading The Process Server by LH Thomson, so the bar was already high, and Ms. Maree surpassed my expectations.
So, Point One: If you enjoy excellent writing, I highly recommend this book. I refuse to gush or burble, so that’s all I’ll say about that.
As to the content of the novel, this is really a story about context. There are no genre-style antagonists, per se. Oh, sure, characters dressed as antagonists appear from time to time. They march onto the stage, expectations are established but, as with real life, the situations that cast them into these roles evolve and the demons pass like faces aboard an oncoming train. The real antagonists are the protagonists themselves; their perceptions, their expectations, their own personalities and situations.
Point Two: If you go into this novel with expectations insofar as story pattern or plot, set them aside. You’ll just gnaw your lip for nothing. The narrative wound its way through plenty of time-warping and head-jumping, but all of it is skillfully and artfully done. As I transitioned from the first section to the second, I had the impression that I’d stumbled into a collection of short stories, but this is not the case. Be patient and trust the author. You’re in good hands.
At the heart of the novel, there are some ideas that students of philosophy or world religions will recognize. I thought of the Hindu ideas concerning the fragmentation of deity, I thought of Kabbala, and I even thought of the Allegory of the Cave. There are images and ideas drawn from Sufism (now, I have an urge to read Rumi) as well as animism.
One thing I’ve learned during my time on Goodreads is that when different readers dive into a novel, they see it from different angles. They take away different ideas about what was inside, sometimes emerging with contradictory perceptions of what they've read. Life itself is like that, as any cop will tell you that when a group of people observe an event, many of them see slightly different (or completely different) things.
Point Three: This novel is wide, and this novel is deep. What you find, should you choose to enter, is going to depend largely on what you carry with you.
I don’t typically assign 5 star ratings. In my view, those belong to books with a potential to be important in the long term, or at least to a generation. I’m downright stingy with stars, really, and if I give a book 4 stars it means I thought it was excellent on several levels, but I’ve thought about it for days and I have to give this one 5.
Good writing insofar as piecing words together for fluidity and communication, but it's dampened by middling-to-bad storytelling. Predictable in some...moreGood writing insofar as piecing words together for fluidity and communication, but it's dampened by middling-to-bad storytelling. Predictable in some places, a complete snore in others.
Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction used a common plot device, called a ‘MacGuffin’, which is a like a little plot football: it’s an object of desire; a characte...moreTarantino’s Pulp Fiction used a common plot device, called a ‘MacGuffin’, which is a like a little plot football: it’s an object of desire; a character magnet; a device to keep the story’s players in motion when the natural tendency would be to go to ground until the shooting stops. What the object actually is, in most stories, isn’t very important. In Pulp Fiction the MacGuffin was a briefcase with unknown contents. It didn’t matter so much what was in that case; what mattered was that everyone wanted it.
Well, Thomson uses a MacGuffin also, but he’ll do you two better than Tarantino did. He’ll tell you what it is that the characters want, and he’ll tell you why they want it. He’ll even throw you a juicy bone: you and the protagonist get to share a special connection around this MacGuffin, a conviction (unless you’re one of those pro-slavery types) that’s unique in a galaxy where power is the raison d’etre for sentient life, though Thomson makes no bones about showing that everyone is enslaved to something.
The story is engaging, though tension is low. He pulls that off though detailed world-building and good characterization. The character arcs aren’t what I’d call ‘sweeping’, but the main personalities are unique, quirky, and each has their own, strong, voice.
Speaking of world-building, that’s an area where Thomson shines. Stories like this, wherein an entire galaxy with a history and a variety of sentient races is the setting, require the author to mix a lot of info with the narrative. In this case I rarely noticed that I was being spoon fed. Only a couple of times did I clamp my mouth shut and shake my head vigorously, but Thomson’s instincts are good and he understands people. Whenever I felt like protesting, he reached into his bag and produced a rubber chicken; he’d slap me with this chicken, I’d open my mouth to laugh, and he’d spoon in the last bit of info that I needed to grasp the complexities of the situation, all while keeping the story humming along without much disruption.
This story also poses ethical and moral quandaries, but there are no soap boxes to be seen. That’s not easy to do, but Thomson manages well: he respects the reader (too many authors need to learn this) enough to present a dilemma without presuming to tell you what to think about it.
This is a clever book. I found the conclusion a bit muddy, but plausible (just so you know, author, the end was the only point in the whole story where I narrowed my eyes at you) and the very good outweighs the not so good. I may add more to this review at a later date. For now, I give it 4 stars. (less)
I was suspicious of Friedman’s argument for being able to foresee the future because it essentially boiled down to “highly competent people have very...moreI was suspicious of Friedman’s argument for being able to foresee the future because it essentially boiled down to “highly competent people have very few options to choose from”. That is to say that the more competent they are, the narrower their potential band of action and the easier to guess at what they’ll do.
To make his point, he invoked chess on the grandmaster level: a world-class player has few winning moves open to him, but many losing ones, and his logic is that the grandmaster will select from among those very few winning options.
My first problem was that his logic on that point --a point which supports his entire analysis-- begs a few questions and makes a few assumptions, the first and most important being that policy makers are guaranteed to be grandmasters, or even sane. They aren’t even guaranteed to be competent and, in countries dominated by special interests, history provides more than a few examples of governments working against the general welfare.
So, Friedman’s first assertion, that governments won’t take wildly idiotic actions, I rejected out of hand. Maybe they won’t tend to do stupid things, but they do them and those actions change the rest of the game all the way down the line.
At this point, I was running cold.
Then he did what he does do well, which is to explain the geopolitics of the post USSR world. He lays his explanation along the following foundations and, as I got into them, he started to win me back: ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- *The US enjoys its current position in the world because it has large, powerful navies in the Pacific and Atlantic (as it surpassed and replaced the formal center of economic power, Atlantic Europe, after WWII)
*The dissolution of the USSR set off quakes along a geopolitical fault line in Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Baltics, particularly Georgia, the Ukraine, the middle east and the Balkans. We’ve been watching the reverberations around that for two decades.
* Post USSR Russia has shifted strategies and has become an energy exporter; it dominates its neighbors (to include European states like Germany and Poland) with oil and natural gas because they need it and Russian hands are on the spigot.
* China is cash poor, but its energy demands are rising. It also lacks a coherent ideology to keep the poor, interior population loyal to the state party. It has remained afloat (and is losing wealth) because the party makes the loans and dictates monetary policy. This has served China well in many ways, but has caused large losses since who one knows is more important than the profitability of an industry. He asserts that this causes a disconnect between the interior and the coastal, industrial areas (a historical problem in China) and may lead to fragmentation in the next couple of decades due to divergent interests in the country coupled with a weakening central ideology. Because of that, he sees a shifting appeal to nationalism, which goes hand in hand with xenophobia.
*population growth will stabilize during this century, then begin to fall. This will cause an increase in demand for labor, and increased worker migration (invited and encouraged, even into the US)
*An ascendant Turkey will play a greater role in Eurasia, eventually becoming a force to be reckoned with. As this happens and Turkey comes closer to reclaiming the historical economic and military power of the old Ottoman Empire, it will shift away from the US sphere of influence while most countries in the Middle East will set aside their antipathy for the Turks and will begin to align with it.
From here, he explains the context of the Osettian war with Russia, as well as Russian security concerns (the plain running through northern Europe to St. Petersburg, the historical avenue of attack for European invaders) and their interests in Eastern Europe.
From here, it starts to go downhill.
He explains why he thinks Germany and France will leave NATO, why Russia is concerned about US intentions in Asia and Europe, and why he believes Japan and Turkey will form an alliance: that Turkey will want to neutralize Poland and expand to the north while Japan will want to chase the US out of their sea zone. Sound crazy?
When he talked history, I was right there. Man, I liked it. When he began making predictions, I wavered. I could follow and nod along with his projections for the next ten years, but after 2020 or so I considered the material to be poorly narrated speculative fiction. If one of his major players (and he acknowledges this fact) does something wildly tangential and alters the dynamic, everything else falls apart down the line.
I recommend this book for the historical background and for its current appraisal of what’s making the major players around the world tick. Those two points, by themselves, make it worth a read. Even if you start to skim after the year 2020 or just throw the book away when he starts talking about war between a US/Polish alliance vs. Turkey and Japan (via a surprise attack on US space platforms with a Pearl Harbor style attack, launched from Japanese bases on the dark side of the moon) it will still be worth it --unless you’re already well informed in geopolitics.
It's good. It's not Chomsky but it's good, which testifies to his skill considering the subject matter.