Uneven. Some portions of this book are utterly hilarious and pitch-perfect: his descriptions of his sister's sun-tanning regime, the interaction of hiUneven. Some portions of this book are utterly hilarious and pitch-perfect: his descriptions of his sister's sun-tanning regime, the interaction of his parents with family dogs, and the relationship of his brother "The Rooster" and his father were all incredibly engaging, very funny, and unvarnished without being diminishing of the people involved.
The stories of narcotic dissipation and personal development (more or less) were less interesting, and painful to read. Perhaps that says something about Sedaris and his view of himself vice his family, but perhaps not. His tales of attempting to learn French were the exception to this; anyone who has wrestled with learning something that for whatever reason their brain cannot or will not absorb (musical notation in my case) should laugh with him. ...more
I rated this a little lower than other books by Bryson because it shows the constraints of being a collection of newspaper columns, written to a lengtI rated this a little lower than other books by Bryson because it shows the constraints of being a collection of newspaper columns, written to a length limit and a deadline. That said, there were some real gems in the mix. The column about re-learning an adult vernacular (spackle? Polyfiller?) was good for a laugh - at the time, I was struggling with the same thing over infants' paraphernalia (diaper? nappy?) because despite having lived in the US for years, I hadn't had to use those words since I was a child... and hadn't updated accordingly.
The columns about the post office and the skunk were also good for a laugh.
However, my favorite was probably the column about his son's departure for university. Bryson walked up to the edge of maudlin but didn't cross it, leaving instead a very affecting snapshot of a man facing the first of several abrupt transitions in life. ...more
I'm not entirely sure how to encapsulate this book. It's an interesting mix of not-entirely-linear narrative, casual asides, the occasional whiff of 1I'm not entirely sure how to encapsulate this book. It's an interesting mix of not-entirely-linear narrative, casual asides, the occasional whiff of 12-step thinking, and a message that's hard to argue with: help others.
The most barbed satire of the book is directed at the entertainment industry, which makes sense given that Ferguson was on the Drew Carey show and now has his own evening interview show. Yet in some regards it's less entertaining because there's genuine anger behind it, as opposed to the more sentimental satire of Scottish life from the earlier stages of the book. Having started out life in Scotland and spent 10 years in southern California, that could just be my prejudices speaking.
In any case, it's a book with some truly funny passages, an unvarnished view of human frailty, a note of hope for the capacity of humans to look beyond themselves, and some truly entertaining asides. ...more
If I could provide a 2.5 star rating I would. There's nothing inherently wrong with this book, but Lyall touches on part of the problem when she talksIf I could provide a 2.5 star rating I would. There's nothing inherently wrong with this book, but Lyall touches on part of the problem when she talks about the challenges for the Engish in identifying an identify for themselves, collectively, that's somehow different from being British... not least because the combination of being the majority of Britons and parochialism means that for many English people, the two descriptors are interchangeable. She's really talking about the English, not that there's anything wrong with that.
In fact, if it weren't for the discussion of anti-hedgehog efforts in the Outer Hebrides, the Scots would barely have appeared at all; since the Welsh and Northern Irish didn't fight over small animals while she's lived in England, they don't get much of a look in at all.
Lyall writes well enough, although the joins of memoir and what are plainly segments of work completed for the New York Times can be a little jarring. I certainly would recommend the book to anyone looking for a reasonably chatty guide to a certain kind of English person, but don't take the sub-title "A Field Guide to the British" to be as expansive as the individual words would suggest. ...more
I've been going to New Orleans ~ once a month for the last 8 months for work, and picked up this book for a flight home... aside from the occasional pI've been going to New Orleans ~ once a month for the last 8 months for work, and picked up this book for a flight home... aside from the occasional pause when it got a bit much and the drive back to the house, I read it in one go.
It's an incredibly vivid book, and while reading it isn't an act of witness like the writing of it, the city and the people deserve that much of your time at least. You don't have to go too far into east New Orleans or for that matter just skirt the perimeter of the Lower Ninth to see that much has not been rebuilt, and will not be. Rose's pain - probably stronger for being a convert to New Orleans - comes through on each page.
Before I read this book, I was appalled about the after-effects of Katrina on a largely philosophical basis. The people I work with by and large waited some time before moving back if their houses were damaged. This book filled in the gap at a very personal and visceral level. ...more
Brilliantly captures the utter hideousness of a caste-bound society attempting to cope with the mechanized slaughter of World War I. The appalling imaBrilliantly captures the utter hideousness of a caste-bound society attempting to cope with the mechanized slaughter of World War I. The appalling imagery of the events that drove soldiers to madness make concrete the principled objections of Sassoon. This book made me angry, not at the author, but at the appalling hypocrisy and willful ignorance that made the first world war possible and sustainable for those who weren't dying in their thousands....more
This is an interesting book - Foer is a genuine fan of the game, as demonstrated by the excellent blog that he had running on The New Republic duringThis is an interesting book - Foer is a genuine fan of the game, as demonstrated by the excellent blog that he had running on The New Republic during the 2006 World Cup.
There's a lot of interesting material in this book, overall, though I was surprised that he was surprised that "local colour" doesn't just survive and thrive in an era of increased globalization... this was something that was becoming obvious 15 years ago.
There were portions of the book where his treatment was superficial, but that's a risk anyone takes in writing such a broad survey.
My main complaint, and the reason that this book didn't get a 4 star review, was his treatment of the Rangers - Celtic rivalry in Glasgow and the sectarian prejudice that it reflects.
I'll preface this with the obligatory disclaimer that I don't in any way condone the pervasive anti-Catholicism that you find in the West of Scotland... but the chapter felt like it was written through the lens of someone who was looking at it from the standpoint of American civil rights and issues of race equality. That's a continuing sore point in the DC area, where Foer is from - not least because of the continued informal segregation of the city.
But it has its failings as a way of making sense of Glasgow. There are long-standing ethnic, nationalist, and economic components to the problem, and they are not all of the Protestants' making. But since they are 1) the majority and 2) provide Rangers with some truly awful fans, Foer I think takes an easy swing because he looks at them and sees Jim Crow.
If it isn't obvious already, my family is from Glasgow, so it's hard for me not to react strongly to Foer's chapter. It was a reaction exacerbated by the fact that he managed to muster more criticism and anger directed at Rangers supporters (many of whom deserve it) than he managed when interviewing Serbian soccer thugs who had been involved in ethnic cleansing and mass murder. Priorities?...more
[I'm going to cheat and just paste in a review I wrote elsewhere...:]
The key to getting the most out of this book is to understand that it further dev[I'm going to cheat and just paste in a review I wrote elsewhere...:]
The key to getting the most out of this book is to understand that it further develops the themes identified in the first book. Kershaw is by training an institutionalist, which as an academic approach focuses on the workings of organizations (political parties, government bureaucracies) rather than the great man approach to history. Yet, Kershaw acknowledges, one cannot understand the Third Reich absent Hitler. The point of the book, then, is understanding how the use and abuse of institutions accompanied the rise of the Nazis and the utter defeat of Germany in 1945.
The primary themes developed in the first book were that the rise of the Nazis was based on their growing appeal in the collapse of the Weimar Republic, based within broader Volkische and elite attitudes that were anti-democratic. Once Hitler became Reichs Chancellor, he was able to use the Reichstag and the governments of the Lander to consolidate social control. Kershaw makes a compelling case that consistently in both domestic and diplomatic issues, manufactured crises presented "unavoidable" choices, and that once organizations were under control, they were essentially abandoned to their own devices under the control of party loyalists that wanted to "work towards the Fuhrer."
With that basis, the second book details how ongoing crises and the inability of Hitler and party leadership to set a centrally controlled agenda, but rather depend on ad hoc solutions from multiple actors with overlapping responsibilities and ambitions, meant that all behavior was planned only to the point where it failed. At that point, all reactions became ad hoc. So, this leads Kershaw to identify the existence of genocidal anti-Semitism from the early days in Munich and the institutionalization of anti-Semitism in the first book, and then to demonstrate that the death camps of the Final Solution were an evolution based on the failure of relocation plans to remove Jews from Germany and crises of Jewish deportees arriving in Poland faster than they could be accommodated or conventionally massacred. Similarly, military collapses on the eastern front were attributable by leadership through instinct and reaction to crises -- precisely the wrong way to deal with a defensive war.
In essence, the book is an explanation of the following: how Hitler, having achieved control of the German state, managed to use it to completely destroy itself. Crisis based leadership and limited abilities to plan, combined with ideological filth that had nothing to do with observable conditions, meant that Germany's ascendance and decline were tied together by Hitler and his failings as a leader (rather than as a demagogue).
As a closing thought, I'd propose that reviewers who carp on about detail issues with the conduct of the war, make accusations of editorial bias, or who somehow read this volume as an apologia for Nazi-led genocide, fundamentally miss the point of the book. This book demonstrates that Hitler could achieve his goals when circumstances matched his skills, but that his inability to meaningfully direct organizations and deal with adverse outcomes were the basis of his (and by extension Germany's) downfall. Further, Hitler set in motion forces that translated his atrocious policies into action, in accordance with and inseparable from his conduct of war and repression. There is a normative overlay to the intellectual discussion, and there should be. (Refer to the introduction of "The Black Book of Communism" for an excellent and concise view of the role of normative sentiment in academic analysis.) One may not agree with the institutionalist perspective with which Kershaw tackled his analysis, but it is, within itself, masterful. ...more