This was a great, fun book. It had great photographs, paintings, drawings, anecdotes, and actually quite a lot of information for a relatively short b...moreThis was a great, fun book. It had great photographs, paintings, drawings, anecdotes, and actually quite a lot of information for a relatively short book. I've been reading about WWI aviation since I was a child, yet still I learned quite a bit from this book, particularly about the personalities of some of the aces. The book also does a good job of portraying the deteriorating effects of the war upon its famous aces, how many of them suffered from what we would now call PTSD and either flew recklessly and/or had to take time away from the war to recuperate. The stories of chivalry among some of the pilots (such as letting an enemy with a jammed gun fly away with nothing more than a wave) provide a striking contrast to the brutality of the war on the ground (and, increasingly, in the air).(less)
This book was a fascinating look at a sickening time. Applebaum does a nice job of describing the chaos that ensued after WWII and how it wasn't a hap...moreThis book was a fascinating look at a sickening time. Applebaum does a nice job of describing the chaos that ensued after WWII and how it wasn't a happy time of liberation. She also makes it clear how the Communists worked in the midst of the chaos from multiple angles in order to cinch down, degree by degree, upon the countries of Eastern Europe.
Perhaps most disturbing is the rhetoric--all was accomplished in the name of "democracy" and "the rights of the worker". These are all ideas I support, yet they were put to horrible use. You wonder how many people truly believed the propaganda and the lies, whether even those uttering it did? The worst word was "reactionary," which soon became a cipher devoid of content, except to name someone opposing the totalitarian regime. What is a "reactionary" anyway, besides one who "reacts" against what is happening?
The introductory chapter about the meaning of totalitarianism, where the state is everything, was quite fascinating. Applebaum's apparent right-leanings come through when she seems to paint all socialists with the brush of totalitarianist Marxism and to highlight capitalism (in Western Europe, for instance) with naively idealistic tones. I wish there was some acknowledgement of those socialists who did not support totalitarian interpretations of the state. As a libertarian socialist myself (i.e., an 'anarchist') this book showed me all the more the damning influence of trying to keep the State machinery intact--it completely ruined any of the ideals of socialism in these countries, as well as showing the horror and futility of trying to control every aspect of people's behaviors and thought. As Applebaum points out, when you do that, you turn everything into an opportunity for resistance, from fashion choice, to taste in music, etc. When the State grips too tightly, everything about human culture comes oozing out between the fingers of control.
I appreciated her final chapters about people who resisted the regime, in ways small and large. Some aspects were too brief, such as her description of the Hungarian Revolt of 1956. It was going well for the revolters, then next thing you know in her narrative the Soviets have regained control and are executing the leaders of the revolt! How did the Soviets regain control, when so much of the population and army of Hungary supported the revolution?
Overall, a very fascinating work and a reminder of all the harm that (Marxist) Communism has done to the name of socialism.(less)
This book is a fascinating look at humans' complex interactions with animals, from our deep desire to connect with them, to our fear and abuse of them...moreThis book is a fascinating look at humans' complex interactions with animals, from our deep desire to connect with them, to our fear and abuse of them. Our mythological tales about animals show the deep structure of these relations, a subconscious understanding that we are connected to the rest of the animal kingdom.
It's a brief consideration of the subject, but it is an (advanced) youth book. It has many interesting sidebars discussing the capacities of animals, our ambiguous feelings about zoos, horrific stories such as the exploitation and execution of an elephant named "Chunee."
Some beautiful photographs and thoughtful, if brief, consideration of important issues. Definitely recommended!(less)
As others have said, this is a fascinating book. In a general sense, the pictures all show how the world has changed, and the text gives details about...moreAs others have said, this is a fascinating book. In a general sense, the pictures all show how the world has changed, and the text gives details about those changes. Specifically, this book focuses upon the many negative effects that humans have had upon the environment through urbanization, pollution, resource-mining, warfare, etc. It's a sobering wake-up call about the devastating effects we can have upon the natural environment. This book is easily absorbed in bite-sized chunks, and it made fascinating reading over my lunches for a period of time.(less)
This book has an intriguing premise, and I quite enjoyed the philosophical musings of Huck in Norman Lock's hands. There's lots here on the nature of...moreThis book has an intriguing premise, and I quite enjoyed the philosophical musings of Huck in Norman Lock's hands. There's lots here on the nature of memory, mortality, etc. But, like a raft on the Mississippi, the story is meandering and listless. Huck barely skirts Hurricane Katrina (never making it into New Orleans proper), and then the story is off in other, inexplicable directions. I found some details of the story to be interesting and funny, but it lacked an overall trajectory and impact.(less)
As others have indicated, the title of this book is a little deceptive. Though the author does give some general background on samurai and their cultu...moreAs others have indicated, the title of this book is a little deceptive. Though the author does give some general background on samurai and their culture, the book is mostly about Saigo and his role in a period of rapid change in Japan in the late 1800's. The author does a good job of explaining the complex politics and interplay of the daimyos, samurai, shogun, foreigners, and emperor. I've been interested in the medieval period of the daimyos and shoguns, and this book showed me the denouement of that time period. The author also does a good job characterizing Saigo's personal traits of loyalty and honor and how that led him to his final resistance to the new centralized government. The last chapters of the book are the best, as they describe Saigo's final military actions.
Still, if you're looking for a history and detailed description of the samurai, this isn't the book for you. Also, the style of the book is a little jumpy, moving confusedly from descriptions of episodes in Saigo's life, to general details about samurai culture, to modern-day scenes as the author travels Japan.(less)
This is a book of heart-stopping beauty and simplicity! I have not been this moved in a long time.
First, a potential reader should be warned that this...moreThis is a book of heart-stopping beauty and simplicity! I have not been this moved in a long time.
First, a potential reader should be warned that this is not really science fiction. The premise is sci-fi--namely that the narrator suddenly and mysteriously finds herself as the only person living, surrounded by a inexplicable invisible wall. The people she can glimpse through the wall seem frozen stiff. Second, be warned that this is not a fast-moving, plot-driven book. Instead, it is a subtle, lyrical meditation on living alone, in nature, with one's emotions and struggles, trying to survive, and it is a beautifully written chronicle of what it's like to live with animals, to come to an understanding with them, the companionship and enigmas they provide. The book can be philosophically profound and heart-wrenching.
Here are a few of my favorite passages:
"I don't know why I do that [cling to remnants of her human routines], it's as if I'm driven by an inner compulsion. Maybe I'm afraid that if I could do otherwise I would gradually cease to be a human being, and would soon be creeping about, dirty and stinking, emitting incomprehensible noises. Not that I'm afraid of becoming an animal. That wouldn't be too bad, but a human being can never become just an animal; he plunges beyond, into the abyss..." [p. 34]
"Lynx [the dog] was very cheerful, in very high spirits, but an outsider probably wouldn't have noticed the difference. He was, after all, cheerful almost all the time. I never saw him stay sulky for more than three minutes. He simply couldn't resist the urge to be cheerful. And life in the forest was a constant temptation to him. Sun, snow, wind, rain--everything was a cause for enthusiasm. With Lynx nearby I could never stay sad for long. It was almost shaming that being with me made him so happy. I don't think that grown animals living wild are happy or even content. Living with people must have awoken this capacity in the dog. I'd like to know why we have this narcotic effect on dogs. Perhaps man's megalomania comes from dogs." [p. 99]
"Loving and looking after another creature is a very troublesome business, and much harder than killing and destruction. It takes twenty years to bring up a child, and ten seconds to kill it." [p. 140](less)
This was an easy read about an important subject. Little did I realize how close the "Battle of the Atlantic" came to the U.S. coast during WWII. It w...moreThis was an easy read about an important subject. Little did I realize how close the "Battle of the Atlantic" came to the U.S. coast during WWII. It was absolutely fascinating (and unsettling) to learn that German U-boats had laid mines in U.S. harbors and landed saboteurs on the shore during the war.
Offley nicely balances his focus on one particular U-boat captain and one particular anti-submarine warfare pilot with a discussion of the overall happenings of this stage of the Battle of the Atlantic. Mostly you get the personal view, but with a good sense of the overall context of what was happening, the tactics and strategies involved, etc. For the first time, I really understood what a difference the convoy system made when it was instituted. I also appreciated his detailed discussion of the German Enigma coding system... I now understand that better than I have before.
The afterword is interesting for its discussion of the growing correspondence and even friendship between the U-boat captain and the pilot who sunk him. It would've been fascinating to hear more about this!(less)