I read this in a single day at the airport and on the plane. It was one of those novels I could not put down. However, it felt as if I were reading twI read this in a single day at the airport and on the plane. It was one of those novels I could not put down. However, it felt as if I were reading two different novels. To the first I give five stars, to the second only one or two. The first novel was a Shakespearean-style tragedy: profound and insightful. Despite a small note of optimism, it was a grim piece, yet somehow comforting in its examination of human frailty; it brought me to tears many times, and the language was simple and beautiful. The second novel was a clichéd, contrived, unreal, Hollywoodesque creation, complete with a politically correct (because Aryan!) villain and an unlikely "show-down." The narrator had to redeem himself somehow, but surely there could have been a less far fetched way to do it?...more
I finally read the Vonnegut book that is considered a contemporary classic. I'm not sure what pushes it over into the classic category--probably the sI finally read the Vonnegut book that is considered a contemporary classic. I'm not sure what pushes it over into the classic category--probably the simple fact that it is an anti-war book. Vonnegut's wit is the same as ever. As usual, outlandish things happen--the main character is kidnapped and displayed in a zoo on Tralfamagador, where he is expected to mate with the model Montana Wildhack. Even the infamous Kilgoure Trout plays a part. I suppose you could interpret it as a serious novel if you assume Billy Pilgrim is experiencing some psychological problem relating to the war, instead of really being abducted by aliens. Vonnegut's classic cynicism is apparent--after any death, whether a million Jews or a million lice, he concludes, "So it goes." But the indifference and cynicism is meant to be ironic, the overarching point being that we should at least try to improve life on this earth, instead of believing, or acting like we believe, as do the Tralfamagordians, that every moment is "structured that way," that there is nothing we can do to change any event. As the narrator says, "If what Billy Pilgrim learned from the Tralfamagordians is true, I am not overjoyed." ...more
At first, the narrative style was a bit jarring: first person narration of events and feelings about which the author could not have known, switchingAt first, the narrative style was a bit jarring: first person narration of events and feelings about which the author could not have known, switching suddenly to present tense, even while narrating past events, for no apparent reason. After awhile, the style became natural. He narrates events as if describing the actions on a movie scene, which at times makes them exciting and immediate, but at times it also becomes obtrusive, strained. Some of the content was a little too V.C. Andrewesque for me, the historical manipulation a little Forest Gumpesque. But, on the whole, a very good novel - - one that seized my attention from the very first paragraph and (largely) held it through the massive length of the book. The characters were alive, well-developed, unique, quirky, although I cared far more about that narrator's family than the narrator himself. This is the story of a hermaphrodite born to an inbred Greek Orthodox American family, but, ultimately, it is the story of America itself, weaving history in at every turn. However, like most modern stories of "America itself", it dispense with a rather large sector of America, those who live and labor and die in normalcy. ...more
In Brave New World, first published in 1932, Huxley paints the picture of a world that is willing to surrender true joy for a bland happiness free ofIn Brave New World, first published in 1932, Huxley paints the picture of a world that is willing to surrender true joy for a bland happiness free of suffering, that is willing to abandon truth for comfort, that is willing to eschew heights in order to avoid depths, and that is quick to surrender human ambition and individual personality for the sake of societal harmony. It is a frightening presentation, precisely because it does not seem too improbable. Even in the United States, which is one of the freest societies, people have come to rely increasingly upon the state. "Only a large-scale popular movement toward decentralization and self-help can arrest the present tendency toward statism," writes Huxley in his foreword to Brave New World. "A really efficient totalitarian state," continues Huxley, "would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude. To make them love it is the task assigned . . . to ministries of propaganda, newspaper editors, and schoolteachers." This is a picture that sounds all to familiar to the modern day libertarian.
Huxley's writing is not particularly impressive in and of itself; he has no special flowery gift when it comes to use of the English language, but he tells a mesmerizing story. Brave New World is a quick read, and it has a strong impact. ...more
The Fountainhead is a tale of both defeat and triumph. It is depressing and exalting, inviting and repugnant. And its philosophy, like all great lies,The Fountainhead is a tale of both defeat and triumph. It is depressing and exalting, inviting and repugnant. And its philosophy, like all great lies, is more than three-quarters true.
In this lengthy novel, Ayn Rand presents her ideal man and her philosophy of objectivism. The philosophy rejects mercy, altruism, charity, sacrifice, and service. These proclaimed virtues are portrayed as either weaknesses or as tools of subjugation. Her philosophy is a sort of extreme capitalism applied to every aspect of life; as with Adam Smith’s invisible hand, if men pursue their own selfish interests, mankind will ultimately benefit. Altruism, Rand argues, forces men to keep others subservient, so that they may make themselves righteous; it has been the root of the greatest evils in the world (Communism, Nazism, etc.); but egoism has resulted in creations that have alleviated the sufferings of man for generations to come.
Her philosophy is most succinctly expressed by her architect hero Howard Roark, who says, “All that which proceeds form man’s independent ego is good. All that which proceeds from man’s dependence upon men is evil.” Rand's philosophy stands in stark contrast to the collectivism which was then sweeping the world in an ocean of blood. Collectivism "has reached,” says Roark, “a scale of horror without precedent. It has poisoned every mind. It has swallowed most of Europe. It is engulfing our country.”
Roark aruges that “only by living for himself” can man “achieve the things which are the glory of mankind” and that “no man can live for another . . . The man who attempts to live for others is a dependent. He is a parasite in motive and makes parasites of those he serves.” And yet Roark is himself the quintessential intellectual, who shares the same failing of the intellectuals who created Communism, Nazism, and the other “altruistic evils”; that is, he is capable of loving man in the abstract but incapable of loving him in the particular: “One can’t love man without hating most of the creatures who pretend to bear his name.”
The Fountainhead expresses an individualism that is uniquely American, and it is therefore surprising that The Fountainhead, as far as I know, has never been in the running for the title of “The Great American Novel.” Of course, although it emphasizes that individualism has made our nation great (and it has), it must of necessity ignore and dismisses another progressive force in our nation’s history: American Christianity.
So what about the story? Despite the copious philosophical dialogue, the story is not sacrificed to create an ethical treatise. The characters are fascinating, very well-developed, and the story is at times gripping. However, the relationship between our hero and heroine is never fully convincing to me, and I find it highly disturbing that Rand felt it necessary to make rape an essential and even positive element of their union. The story drew me in at first, and then began to lose me for several chapters, as Rand breaks one of the rules of good structure and does not begin developing a main character until over half way through the novel.
I give it such a high rating because I like novels that truly make me think and reconsider my assumptions, whether I maintain or reject them as a consquence. I am glad I did not read Rand when I was a teenager and not yet a Christian, as I'm afraid her Objectivism might have taken a cultish hold of me; she has a way of speaking to (and perhaps luring?) the independent-minded student who feels the pressure of intellectual conformity. I give it four stars also because I read it at a time when I found fiction difficult, and it brought back my love of reading. ...more
I went through a Kurt Vonnegut phase in high school. I think he is too cynical for me now, but I loved him at the time. This was one of his more bizarI went through a Kurt Vonnegut phase in high school. I think he is too cynical for me now, but I loved him at the time. This was one of his more bizarre books. Forever entertaining, occasionally offensive, and sometimes just plain weird, Breakfast of Champions was quickly read and even more quickly forgotten. I recall, however, that Kilgoure Trout makes an appearance, touting some of his best plots ever. Vonnegut does a good job ridiculing abstract art and realistic literature, but he is rather serious in his introduction, where he laments the changing of Armisitce Day to Veteran's Day. This seems to be a very sore point with Vonnegut, as he has mentioned it in at least one other book. The quote, however, was striking, and I wrote down in my notebook (back when I was collecting quotes by hand): "It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one and another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind. Armistice Day has become Veterans' Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans' day is not. So I will throw Veterans' Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don't want to throw away any sacred things."
This was an interesting collection of sayings that have been attributed to Jesus in Islamic literature and tradition. The introduction was a bit dry,This was an interesting collection of sayings that have been attributed to Jesus in Islamic literature and tradition. The introduction was a bit dry, but I did learn a few interesting points from it. The notes following the sayings were helpful. It was especially interesting for me to see the parallels with and differences between the New Testament Gospel's version of some of these sayings. It would have been useful if the "sayings" had also included all portions of the Koran about Jesus; as is, it only referenced Islamic literature, much of which is probably not even particularly well known among Muslims. Of course, the sayings of Jesus in the Koran can be read separately in the Koran itself, so he probably saw no need to include them, but it would have made the book a better holistic reference on the Muslim Jesus....more
I re-read this book about once every two years because it so amuses me. It's admitedly a bit out of date now. A lot changes in ten years. For one, itI re-read this book about once every two years because it so amuses me. It's admitedly a bit out of date now. A lot changes in ten years. For one, it was written at the height of the stock market in the late 90's, but nevertheless his reflections remain basically true. (It was fun to read in the chapter on "Good Capitalism: Wall Street" his caveat "An investigation of money might as well begin where lots of money is being made -- for the moment, anyway...")
This is a very funny book, but it's also an excellent layman's introduction to basic economics and basic economic systems. In Eat the Rich, O'Rourke explores the one fundamental question of economics: "Why do some places prosper and thrive while others just suck?" He dismisses many of the typical explanations given for economic prosperity: brains (nope, "In Russia, where chess is a spectator sport, they're boiling stones for soup"); civilization (nope, the Chinese had civilization when O'Rourke's relatives were "hunkering naked in trees"); government (nope, "citizens of totalitarian countries have plenty of government and nothing of anything else" and with "no government at all" everyone's "naked in the trees."). So "why are some places wealthy and some places poor"? To find out, O'Rourke travels to Wall Street, Albania, Sweden, Cuba, Russia, Tanzania, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. His observations are sometimes enlightening and always amusing.
As I'm re-reading it now, I'll note a few of my favorite observations:
"We all know how 'modern democracies take loaves from the wealthy.' It's the slipups in the 'pass them out to the poor' department that inspire a study of Econ."
"We artsy types would have been shocked if anyone had told us (and none had the nerve) that making money was creative. And we would have been truly shocked to learn that a fundamental principle of economics--'Wealth is created when assets are moved from lower- to higher-valued uses'--is the root of all creativity, be it artsy, IBMsy, or whatever."
"[The textbook:] continues: 'Marx was wrong about many things...but that does not diminish his stature as an important economist.' Well, what would? If Marx was wrong about many things AND screwed the baby-sitter?"
"Think of the stock market as an endless Gallup poll with 207 billion things that people can't make up their minds about."
In this collection of essays, O'Rourke recounts his travels to such places as Iraq, Israel, and Egypt. As usual, he writes with a smirk and makes moreIn this collection of essays, O'Rourke recounts his travels to such places as Iraq, Israel, and Egypt. As usual, he writes with a smirk and makes more than a few political jabs, but overall, this book is not as funny as most of O'Rourke's works. Probably the most entertaining essay is on the eclectic and often unintentionally ironic Washington, D.C. demonstrations. Overall, however, the book did not deliver the kind of high quality satire I have come to expect from O'Rourke. It was a quick and amusing read, to be sure, but it was one of his lesser books. ...more
Political humorist P.J. O'Rourke was once a knee jerk, card-carrying, pot smoking, hippie liberal. Now he's more of a libertarian, but he re-lives thoPolitical humorist P.J. O'Rourke was once a knee jerk, card-carrying, pot smoking, hippie liberal. Now he's more of a libertarian, but he re-lives those former days in this book. Some of the book is a little unpalatable, like all of those (often sexually explicit) excerpts from his fictional writings produced in those liberal days. But some of the book is funny, particularly his commentary on those very writings. The articles selected from numerous automobile magazines, however, grew a little dull for me, even if they are occasionally interspersed with some clever, cutting humor. Overall it's a pretty good work because O'Rourke is a very good writer, but it doesn't hold a candle to his other books, and in that respect, Age and Guile is a disappointment. I will say, however, that his spoof of modern poetry (or what might possibly be his serious past attempts at it) is absolutely hilarious. I especially enjoyed his "poem on nothing at all."
This is certainly not P.J. O'Rourke at his funniest, although it does have flashes of laugh out loud humor. That's because On the Wealth of Nations isThis is certainly not P.J. O'Rourke at his funniest, although it does have flashes of laugh out loud humor. That's because On the Wealth of Nations is an actual introduction to and overview of The Wealth of Nations. It is vastly preferable to reading Adam Smith's tome....more