My other literary experience with the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel's Night, was so disturbing and depressing that I could only stand to read it when I was i...moreMy other literary experience with the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel's Night, was so disturbing and depressing that I could only stand to read it when I was in a warm, sunny place. Maus is far less bleak, (though not at all sparing of the real horrors visited on the Jews of Poland).
Spiegelman has masterfully blended a story almost too big for the human imagination, the Holocaust, with the universal theme of a child struggling to understand his parents. The two volumes of Maus prove that graphic novels can have as much depth as classic literature.(less)
I'll start this by saying I'm prone to a bit of hero-worship where Bill Moyers is concerned, so if this degenerates into fawning admiration, feel free...moreI'll start this by saying I'm prone to a bit of hero-worship where Bill Moyers is concerned, so if this degenerates into fawning admiration, feel free to shake your head and move on.
Moyers has, in this collection of essays and lectures, tackled so many of the big questions I've asked myself recently: concern for the increasing influence of corporate America in government; the complicit role increasingly consolidated media are playing in allowing that to happen; the co-opting of religion by ultra-conservative zealots; the reluctance of our society to responsibly deal with death.
Knowing that someone I so highly respect is struggling with the same issues I am is enormously inspiring (and rather daunting!).(less)
This book is likely to be a varied experience depending on whether you have already read -- or at least perused -- Samuel Johnson's dictionary. If you...moreThis book is likely to be a varied experience depending on whether you have already read -- or at least perused -- Samuel Johnson's dictionary. If you have, I imagine this book will feel like a guided tour through a hall you have already wandered through. If you haven't, it will be more like someone pointing through a large window to various interesting objects in a room you cannot enter.
I fall into the latter category, and the chief effect of this book was to make me want to pick up the dictionary for myself and seek out more of the creative and unexpected definitions that pepper Hitchings' chapters (and which serve as the chapter headings -- a very creative and engaging technique). I found Hitchings' history of Johnson's life and work far less interesting than the definitions themselves.
Also, this book is clearly written with a British audience in mind. That's neither a good nor a bad thing, but unless you've spent much time in Britain or studying British history (and I have not), some of the references might be lost on you.
But for lovers of words and their meanings and groupies of Samuel Johnson (there have to be a few out there), this book will be worth reading.(less)
I've had discussions with co-workers in design about how there's a distinction between an image that documents and one that illustrates. Both can be v...moreI've had discussions with co-workers in design about how there's a distinction between an image that documents and one that illustrates. Both can be valuable, but it's important never to confuse the two or to try to pass one as the other. There's a correlation to Thompson's style of journalism. It's not so much documenting events as illustrating them. He's telling you, "This is not exactly what you would have witnessed if you had been there, but this is how it felt to me."
I'm not a political junkie, but this book fascinated me. And quite a lot of Thompson's analysis of the nature of presidential campaigns applies every bit as much today as it did nearly 40 years ago. Consider this quote: "The whole framework of the presidency is getting out of hand. It's come to the point where you almost can't run unless you can cause people to salivate and whip on each other with big sticks. You almost have to be a rock star to get the kind of fever you need to survive in American politics." Sounds like he's pegged Barack Obama and Sarah Palin at the same time.
But it's not all prescient insight. In the aftermath of McGovern's loss, Thompson seems ready to declare the Democratic Party on the verge of collapse. I've heard the same thing said of both the GOP and the Democrats several times in the past decade, but the two-party stranglehold never seems to loosen.
It's also fascinating to watch the vague references to the Watergate break-in before it mushroomed into the scandal that brought down Nixon, and to hear Thompson lay out a prediction for the sort of campaign that did in fact bring a Democrat to the White House in '76, even as it's clear that the author would never have picked Jimmy Carter as the man to accomplish it.
At the very least, this should be required reading for anyone thinking seriously about a presidential run: McGovern's race is the perfect cautionary tale.
I once had a history professor who said "History is not just a series of dates and famous names, but the stories of those who lived in the past." Alth...moreI once had a history professor who said "History is not just a series of dates and famous names, but the stories of those who lived in the past." Although this book's greatest fault is that Watkins repeatedly reminds us that he is not writing an official history, that very fact is what makes his work so valuable.
The Civil War, an event so massive in the American psyche that nearly 150 years later we still appear unable to deal with it unless we oversimplify it, relegate it to cliches, or wallow in its pathos. So here is that event, presented not from an analytical perspective, not by a 20th century historian attempting to explain why it happened and who was right and why the North won and the South lost, but by a man who was there from nearly the beginning to nearly the end, who experienced the war with all five senses and, miraculously, emerged with sense and sanity enough to tell the tale.
There are accounts in this book of physical, emotional and spiritual brutality that one wishes were fictitious, but there is also humor, and humanity. Anyone who deludes himself that war is noble could learn a great deal here. Anyone who finds the price of our current wars too dear and the reports too brutal will not likely make it through the opening chapters.(less)
Here we have a crash-course in Thompson from the 1960s and '70s, including: --The first "Gonzo Journalism" article, a piece on the Kentucky Derby that...moreHere we have a crash-course in Thompson from the 1960s and '70s, including: --The first "Gonzo Journalism" article, a piece on the Kentucky Derby that introduces the collaboration with Ralph Steadman and seems to hold the origins of the "Fear and Loathing" moniker. --Excerpts from his famous books "Hell's Angels," "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," and "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72." --The article recounting the events leading up to "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," explaining Thompson's relationship with Oscar Acosta --A "tribute" to the vanished Acosta some years later. --A post-mortem on Thompson's run for sheriff. --The Doc's exhaustive take on Watergate (including the prescient comment that all political scandals after Nixon's would have the suffix "-gate" appended to them. --An early profile of the hippie culture in San Francisco. --Even earlier articles that are remarkable for being largely unremarkable. --Thompson's perspective on Jimmy Carter, and Carter's "Law Day" speech.
In short, if you're a fan of Thompson or are at all interested in the sociopolitical climate of the late 1960s and 1970s, you'll probably find the book fascinating. (less)
Although there is an interesting story within this book, it's a story that would have been better suited to a lengthy chapter in a larger history of t...moreAlthough there is an interesting story within this book, it's a story that would have been better suited to a lengthy chapter in a larger history of the OED. Stretching that story into its own book has made Winchester guilty of no small amount of padding. Here is a brief list of its sins:
The early chapters are rife with clunky transitions that attempt to draw out the story by winding through various threads, rather than simply giving us a straightforward history of the characters involved. A few of these transitions, placed judiciously between chapters, would have sufficed. Finding them at section breaks every few pages quickly becomes frustrating.
Chapter 4, which provides a brief history of lexicography, is at turns fascinating and annoying. The point about Shakespeare having no dictionary to draw on as a reference for his vast and varied usage is especially belabored. What should have been adequately covered in one paragraph is stretched into 3 pages.
Winchester frequently speculates on the state of Minor's mind, and sometimes on the emotions of Murray and other characters. This does draw out the story, but it also greatly increases the likelihood that these men have been mischaracterized.
Though I wasn't looking for it, I spotted one factual contradiction. Early in Chapter 11, Winchester says Murray finished work on the letter "T" in 1913. On the very next page, he writes that Murray was working on the words "trink" and "turndown" in midsummer 1915, just before his death. The rigor of the scholarship comes into question.
This is a worthwhile read for those who enjoy books on lexicography, but I wish it, like the OED itself, came in a "Shorter" edition. (less)