So the Goodreads consensus on this is that Franzen is a crank, and I suppose that's true. But he's MY kind of crank, and his musings on differing aspeSo the Goodreads consensus on this is that Franzen is a crank, and I suppose that's true. But he's MY kind of crank, and his musings on differing aspects of our alienation from one another - be they caused by mental deterioration, consumer society, politics, or self-imposition - resonated deeply with me. I'm sure to many this seems like self-indulgent whining, but to me, it reads (and quite eloquently, at that) as an author coming to terms with the world as it really is while trying to remain true to the vision of a world he wishes existed....more
It's hard for me to really pin down what I think of this book. To be sure, the history of how Christianity went from being a charismatic cult to the oIt's hard for me to really pin down what I think of this book. To be sure, the history of how Christianity went from being a charismatic cult to the official state religion of empires is an interesting and important story. Chadwick relates that story through the prism of the evolution and institutionalization of theological doctrine. Now, the atheist in me finds this all to be silly, and the inner sociologist hankers for more political, economic, and social context (well, more than was included) outside of the realm of theological debate. But as a relative layperson when it comes to this period of history, it's hard to imagine a different prism, given the availability of primary texts and the centrality of these theological debates. All of this is to say that it's hard for me to judge this book on its own terms.
That said, I've had enough theological education to be able to follow the debates through the book, although I can see the level of discourse being a turn-off to the casual reader. All said, it's a well-written history which provides a valuable summary of the evolution of one of the pillars of moral and religious thought in the West....more
This could've been a good book and an interesting fictional treatment of the lines between citizenship, activism, and journalism. Instead, it's an embThis could've been a good book and an interesting fictional treatment of the lines between citizenship, activism, and journalism. Instead, it's an embarrassment, especially coming from someone who actually covers politics. For this book to be even remotely plausible (SPOILER ALERT), you have to buy the premise that a presidential candidate from a major party could make it to eight days before an election without allegations of being a violent, abusive sack of shit coming out. It's not plausible now, and it wasn't plausible when the book was written. On top of that, the writing is hackneyed, and the affirmative action sub-plot is handled with such a tin-ear that the eye-rolling made it near impossible to read. This novel honestly made me re-evaluate my view of Lehrer as a journalist, and not for the better....more
Clearly an ambitious book, with a compelling story, but it hasn't aged well to me, which is the double-edged sword of writing a techno-thriller at a tClearly an ambitious book, with a compelling story, but it hasn't aged well to me, which is the double-edged sword of writing a techno-thriller at a time when technology is so rapidly changing. But it's a fun read, focusing on a secret cryptoanalytical agency in Bolivia during a time of political upheaval. Aside from the dated feel, the chapter-to-chapter shifting of perspective (especially the use of the second-person protagonist) was a distraction for me. It won't blow your mind, but it's a fun summer read that tends toward the literary....more
Remnick's "end-of-history" triumphalism can be a little distracting at times, but it doesn't obscure that this is a first-rate account of the end of tRemnick's "end-of-history" triumphalism can be a little distracting at times, but it doesn't obscure that this is a first-rate account of the end of the Soviet Union. The access that Remnick had to the secretive world of Kremlin politics is second-to-none, but the emotional heart of the book lies in what happens when historical memory - an especially painful memory - is returned to the people to whom it belongs....more
Don't let the fact that this is a non-fiction account of a price-fixing investigation against ADM fool you into thinking this is a dry account of corpDon't let the fact that this is a non-fiction account of a price-fixing investigation against ADM fool you into thinking this is a dry account of corporate wrong-doing. True life is indeed stranger than fiction, this book reads better than just about any legal thriller, and the antics of the protagonist are LOL funny....more
After reading Hobsbawm's excellent trilogy on political-economic history of the "long 19th Century" (1789-1914), this volume - the logical coda to thaAfter reading Hobsbawm's excellent trilogy on political-economic history of the "long 19th Century" (1789-1914), this volume - the logical coda to that trilogy - is an obvious letdown. To be clear, it has nothing to do with the arguments presented in this book. That the early 20th Century was a catastrophic breakdown of the Western European (and increasingly North American) bourgeois order; that the "Golden Age" (1945-early 70s) of worldwide growth under a relatively stable (if, from the public point of view, incredibly terrifying) bi-polar Cold War order came as the result of post-war governments trying to prevent the catastrophes of the previous decades but only papering over the fissures which caused them; and that after 1970, these fissures reappeared and were increasingly globalized are theses that students of the 20th Century should take seriously.
Where the book falls down is the intimacy Hobsbawm has with these events - this is the history of his times. He, of course, acknowledges this up front, but it does not mitigate the problem. The subtext throughout this tome is Hobsbawm desperately wanting the catastrophic early part of the century to have been worth something, that the tens of millions of people who lost their lives for communism, for anti-fascism, for colonial liberation didn't die in vain - an understandable reaction to anyone of the generation who lived through these traumas. But the way this manifests itself in the text is a major distraction. It clouds Hobsbawm's historical judgement, and he posits historical openings or counterfactuals that didn't really exist, that, in fact, run counter to the rest of the historical evidence he musters. A case in point: Hobsbawm is rightly dismissive of the (consistently inconsistent) theoretical and political arguments used by Stalin to justify his brutality in the 1930s; pages later, however, he takes at face value Stalin's claim to wanting to continue the United Front policies of WWII (with closer cooperation and integration with the West and a reformed communism in the East) into the post-war era. He repeats this assessment of a tyrannical domestic realpolitik but naively idealistic international policy with Mao. Hobsbawm's claims that a better, more cooperative world was possible because of opportunities missed flies in the face of the brutality he acknowledges, and it grates every single time.
The distractions aside, this isn't a bad overview of the 20th Century. But the arguments presented in these book could've been better made, I think, by someone who doesn't carry Hobsbawm's historical baggage. If you're going to invest the time in Hobsbawm, stick with the writings in his wheelhouse on the 19th Century....more
To be clear, I read the English translation, Fear, which is the second installment in Rybakov's Arbat trilogy. It's much darker than the first installTo be clear, I read the English translation, Fear, which is the second installment in Rybakov's Arbat trilogy. It's much darker than the first installment, as the early 30s slide into the heart of the purges and uncertainty of the years right before WWII. As with the first installment, the getting inside of Stalin's head was a distraction for me, and the characters seem thinner and more archetypal than in the first novel (even knowing their backgrounds). Still, however, a Russian novel in the highest tradition, and one of the best accounts of the Stalinist era I've read....more
If you're looking for a critical history of the Communist Party in China before WWII, look elsewhere. This, however, is a first-rate journalistic accoIf you're looking for a critical history of the Communist Party in China before WWII, look elsewhere. This, however, is a first-rate journalistic account of what Red China looked like in 1936 and of the formation of the CCP according to the people who founded it. Yes, it's difficult to know if what Snow reports on is "real" or a show put on by the Communists (something Snow himself acknowledges), but it does not detract from an excellent travelogue written by a person (who, incidentally, was the first Western journalist to visit Red China and meet with Mao) who is clearly excited about witnessing revolutionary change and the possibilities it may bring....more
I find the theories of revolution to be the least useful branch of Marxist theory, and as such, this slim volume really doesn't add much to Marxist thI find the theories of revolution to be the least useful branch of Marxist theory, and as such, this slim volume really doesn't add much to Marxist theory in general. Her essay on the Russian Revolution won't break any new ground for contemporary readers (and I'm doubtful that it was that incisive when it was initially written). Her essay "Leninism or Marxism?" (not the original title) is worth the read if only for the necessary reminder that there was another path for revolutionary socialism to follow, one that is far more organic and democratic than the mechanistic and centralized schematics proferred by the Bolsheviks....more