I'm not normally attracted to books without a strong narrative, but this proved to be a very interesting book, with a lot to say about people. While iI'm not normally attracted to books without a strong narrative, but this proved to be a very interesting book, with a lot to say about people. While it is not clear with a message, that's kind of the point: life is only rarely clear, and real relationships (and emotions) are confusing, flexible creations. The author succeeds in pointing this fact out very well; nothing, even the end (to my view) is neatly wrapped up or settled. ...more
A rather interesting look at how war changed the lives of a number of people from the same occupational field (film director). Of particular interestA rather interesting look at how war changed the lives of a number of people from the same occupational field (film director). Of particular interest to me was the parallels between the public relations struggles of WWII veterans in the immediate post-war era, as they dealt with issues of psychological trauma, and the way that the veteran community today tries to correct the popular beliefs of PTSD (which at least one of the directors profiled here clearly suffered from).
All in all, a rather thought-provoking book, showing how a great shared experience is shared differently by different people, based upon the idiosyncrasies of their own adventures. ...more
This is a cute book. It manages to avoid being too pithy or too kitschy. It is, hah, in the goldilocks zone. The "teachings" attempt to explain why soThis is a cute book. It manages to avoid being too pithy or too kitschy. It is, hah, in the goldilocks zone. The "teachings" attempt to explain why some movies, books, et cetera are meaningful to "nerds" (defining that group broadly). I generally didn't disagree with any of their conclusions, and found a number of them to be quite thoughtful.
The collection is not developed sufficiently to be of much value in explaining nerds to non-nerds; it's no replacement for, say, the film "Revenge of the Nerds" (which is not mentioned in the volume), but it hits a lot of things, and raises a lot of points, which can be relied upon to entertain, even if you already knew them. ...more
From the late '50s to the mid '60s a group of scientists and engineers, never numbering more than 50, and spending barely $10 million over seven yearsFrom the late '50s to the mid '60s a group of scientists and engineers, never numbering more than 50, and spending barely $10 million over seven years, developed what remains the only efficient method of putting large cargoes into space or of sending large scale missions to explore other planets. Their method? Explode nuclear bombs a short distance from the spacecraft and ride the shockwave like a surfboard.
The science & engineering behind it were never shot down, and in fact consistently cited as sound.
The fact that it used nuclear explosions, however, meant that it was both highly classified and politically impractical to use.
The author of this book, George Dyson, is the son of one of the group's founding minds, physicist Freeman Dyson, and some 40 years after his father left the project, George Dyson went about systematically reconstructing how the project began, developed, and died, conducting hundreds of interviews of the surviving scientists & engineers, as well as combing archives and journals for those details which have been declassified (with the amusing result that when NASA reopened studies on the concept in 1999, they asked the younger Dyson for nearly 1,800 pages of Project Orion reports which they could not find in Government vaults).
Project Orion was founded by many of the scientists who were heavily involved in the nuclear arms race following WWII, the big brains at Los Alamos & Livermore who tried to create ever more powerful, efficient, and smaller nuclear warheads. Eventually, they wanted to use them for something other than destruction, and quickly realized that they would make an extremely efficient propulsion source for a spacecraft. A 4,000-ton Orion-style spacecraft was expected to place well over 1,000 tons of payload into Earth Orbit.
These giants of science were no doubt naive in their idealism and optimism, but nevertheless managed to hit upon a vastly more efficient means of leaving Earth's gravity well than all the billions spent leading up to Apollo -- which they correctly prophesied would become a technological dead-end where space development was concerned. If ideas of sending a manned mission to Saturn in the mid-60s or even mid-70s seem far-fetched today, at the time many people were riding the post-WWII high when anything imaginable seemed possible...a state of mind which seems quite foreign to people today.
This book is not terribly technical; no major math is required, and only a very basic understanding of science. It is much more about the power of a few bright individuals left to develop an idea in a nurturing environment and then about the unthinking power of a bureaucracy to stifle something for which it has no immediate use...even if there may be a use for it in the future....more
Re-read this recently, in large part to see what I thought of it on the second read-through. As one would expect, I picked up a lot more symbolism, anRe-read this recently, in large part to see what I thought of it on the second read-through. As one would expect, I picked up a lot more symbolism, and a few other less-than-obvious things.
On the other hand, I'm a little more annoyed at the ending. While I agree that, narratively, my favorite character had to die. What I find less easy to accept is who killed him. Seemed quite unmotivated, second time around, where I paid a little more attention to the worldview of the various characters.
I enjoy the Comedian a lot more, now. He may be a complete ass, but I can understand why he is the way he is. Nite Owl II, on the other hand, I have much less respect for -- because he doesn't have a worldview. He's a wishy-washy dilettante, fighting crime out of boredom. I find even poor Laurie Juspeczyk more sympathetic than Daniel Dreiberg. And I don't like Laurie.
In the end, while I'm not sure I consider it as accomplished as I did after the first reading a number of years ago, I am still willing to say it, unlike many in the genre, deserves the "novel" in graphic-novel. And is a good philosophical teaching aid, whatever you think of its conclusions (and, in particular, ending)....more
One of the few books which deals with the Holocaust and leaves the reader with a positive feeling about humanity. This was the highpoint of my collegeOne of the few books which deals with the Holocaust and leaves the reader with a positive feeling about humanity. This was the highpoint of my college class about the Holocaust, and gave me yet another reason to admire the way the Danish conducted themselves during WWII. ...more
As a student of Japanese history, this is a fascinating book. Nakae Chomin wrote it around the time the Meiji Constitution was promulgated (a fuzzy meAs a student of Japanese history, this is a fascinating book. Nakae Chomin wrote it around the time the Meiji Constitution was promulgated (a fuzzy memory says the book came out a few years after the constitution, about 1893).
The book is really a forum to explore the general political pathways Japan could follow at that important time in the nation's development. One character, the Champion, argues stridently that Japan should use its growing education and economy to seize territory in "a certain Asian nation nearby" (obviously China), which was at that time very weak, while Japanese strength was growing (indeed, the book was published only a few years before the Sino-Japanese War, a lopsided victory for the Japanese). Champion is clearly a conservative samurai, well aware that the Meiji Restoration was a revolt of some samurai against others, and while not exactly opposed to the samurai using the new national situation to educate the commoners, nevertheless Champion does not want the samurai to lose their traditional place as the leaders of the nation, or their proud warrior heritage.
The Gentleman takes the exact opposite position, wanting to pour all effort into increasing Japan's economy, standard of living, average education, and generally become more and more like the highly-developed nations of Europe -- but without the violent conflict with neighbors or wasting money on the military. The Gentleman in fact argues for a complete lack of a military and a dedication to pacifism, on the grounds that other countries (specifically Europe) would never allow such a noble idealistic nation to be invaded or attacked. Science, education, democracy, and economic progress were to be emphasized under the Gentleman's program, leading to greater prosperity for all.
Master Nankai, the fictional host of this drinking party, favors moderation, but without specifics. His is the shortest section, and the least developed.
What makes the book interesting is that over the subsequent sixty years, Japan would move from one course of action to the next, eventually hitting all three. While the Meiji Oligarchs (the Japanese equivalents to the US Founding Fathers) were still alive, the nation plotted Master Nankai's middle ground, building up an extremely well-respected military, which it used against China and Russia between 1894 and 1905 (during which this military received rave reviews on the international scene for its professionalism, magnanimity, and the humane way they treated civilians and prisoners), while also creating the most modern and comprehensive education system in the world.
Within a decade of the death of the last Meiji Oligarch, however, the military had seized control of the government due to the ambiguities written into the Meiji Constitution, leading to the ultra-militaristic 1930s and 1940s and the tragedies in Manchuria, China, and throughout the Pacific. The Champion at work.
Following the conclusion of WWII, however, the Gentleman got his way, aided and abetted (probably unintentionally) by MacArthur and his staff at SCAP. Article IX of the Showa Constitution provided Gentleman's wish for an official policy of pacifism, and other sections provided for all the educational and social reforms the Gentleman dreamed about, leading to the Japan of the modern day.
As the Japanese economy has been in a slump since the late '80s/early '90s, one might have expected the Gentleman's ideas for a peaceful, highly educated economic powerhouse to have been dashed, and certainly since the early '80s Japan has been proceeding with a very quiet military buildup (so quiet you have to look to notice it, but it's there). Additionally, Japan has been willing, for the first time since WWII, to deploy its military overseas -- though so far only for humanitarian purposes, even though even such admirable reasons are considered by many to be in violation of the Showa Constitution.
Is Master Nankai's ideology of "A little from column A, a little from column B" returning to Japan? Only time will tell. But this gem from the late 19th century has been a remarkable blueprint for the following hundred years of Japanese government policies. ...more
In this book, Luttwack proposes that the Roman Empire went through three distinct phases in the way it used military power, and argues that these phasIn this book, Luttwack proposes that the Roman Empire went through three distinct phases in the way it used military power, and argues that these phases were a considered and reasoned position of the Caesars.
Some people agree, some people disagree. I tend to think it doesn't matter whether someone sat down and reasoned it out at the time, the facts of how the Legions were used and how Rome conducted diplomacy. Whether this happened as a rational decision by a central authority in Rome or not is really beside to the point to me. Instead, we're shown three different manners of viewing the outside world in the time of the Roman Empire, how troops and political/diplomatic policy were handled as a result, and the consequences of how things were arranged. It's a fascinating study on different ways to handle what was roughly the same problem. Almost a geopolitical view of ancient Rome....more
For a novel published in 1900-1901 by an author frequently claimed to be a jingoistic Imperialist, Kim spends a lot of time displaying a great love foFor a novel published in 1900-1901 by an author frequently claimed to be a jingoistic Imperialist, Kim spends a lot of time displaying a great love for the Indian parts of India and decrying the idiocy of the ignorant Imperalists. Few authors know how to use language as well as Kipling, and he is in top form in this novel. The characters are drawn with great depth -- someone may only appear for 10-20 pages but will still be presented as a well-rounded individual. One of my favorites doesn't even have a name -- he's only known as the retired Risalder Major (the Indian Sepoy equivalent of a senior Army Captain). This novel isn't the oldest one I've read, but at 115 years it's no spring chicken. But it's still a good adventure -- part travelogue, part adolescent adventure, part spy thriller, part spiritual discourse. Kim has a lot of things going for it. ...more