**spoiler alert** While reading this novel, I often found myself somewhat bored with the content even though I recognized the exceptional character st...more**spoiler alert** While reading this novel, I often found myself somewhat bored with the content even though I recognized the exceptional character study that was being constructed. However, in the course of the final 200 or so pages, all of the previous development became coherent, proving that the end does in fact justify the means. When taken as a whole, the society that Tolstoy presents his reader is built on a foundation of false propriety and empty, largely meaningless, relationships. Individually, each of the characters has a different view of life. Some of them, like Oblonsky, live for carnal delights and social promotion. Likewise, Karenin, Anna's cuckolded husband, becomes wrapped up in a form of "holier than thou" Christianity, which ironically leads him into an affair of his own and an inability to forgive his cheating wife. Levin, with whom I (and perhaps Tolstoy) most identified, and who is probably the true protagonist of the novel, sees through all of the social moors, distancing himself from high society and politics while attempting to live honestly as a rural landowner and champion of the peasants. He is a learned man, constantly studying philosophy and science, who prides himself on his reason. The book that he writes, about a new system of agriculture that should maximize yields by giving the laborers a share of the profit, is evidence of his reason triumphing over the social conditioning of the aristocracy. He marries Kitty, his dream girl, and even has a son. However, he finds himself extremely unhappy, like a man who has "exchanged his warm fur coat for a muslin garment and realizes that he is as good as naked and must inevitably parish." Although he has always lived selflessly, and thus happily, his intellect will not save him from this fate. He must either find a reason behind life or die.
Anna, the antagonist and foil to Levin's character, runs the gamut of human emotions. Anna is often fleetingly happy, yet even in moments of bliss, her suffering seems to shine through. This is because her character is selfish, always choosing to provide for herself without much thought about the fate of others. She chooses Vronsky over Karenin and her son, then even takes her own life to spite Vronsky without much thought about the other repercussions. In the beginning she is saving Dolly's marriage with her reasoning, but by the end, that same reasoning has led her to the conclusion that "the struggle for existence and hate are the only things that hold men together...that we are all created in order to suffer, and that we all know this and try to invent means for deceiving ourselves." Anna's insight in these moments right before her suicide is depressingly honest. Her morbid views of both societal and individual motives are erudite in a novel where nearly all of the other characters never even consider the meaning of their lives. This point of view reminds me of "The Death of Ivan Ilyich," in which Tolstoy volubly explores death, and thus the meaning of life.
After toiling through most of the novel unsatisfactorily, the grand edifice that Tolstoy had constructed, which illustrates humanity in all of its disturbing and doomed glory, is suddenly apparent. Each character's ruminations on the meaning of life and of death are our own or those of someone we know. Of particular note is the final juxtaposition of Levin and Anna. Both take their own path to arrive in a position of utter misery - Anna eventually isolates herself by means of her egocentric decisions and jealousy, while Levin struggles to justify life with no rational reason for existence. Anna finishes her downward spiral with a typically self-absorbed suicide and Levin embraces Christianity, defying his own rationale. Both decisions left me feeling cheated, as if each had taken the easy way out. In typical Russian fashion, the answer that Tolstoy seems to suggest is that there isn't one...only death will save us. (less)
Since I myself am moving into a career in medicine, the idea of this book was intriguing to me - the honest thoughts and doubts of a surgery resident....moreSince I myself am moving into a career in medicine, the idea of this book was intriguing to me - the honest thoughts and doubts of a surgery resident. In fact, the first part of the book, entitled "Fallibility," was just that. In his first chapter, "Education of a Knife," Gawande writes about the paradoxical endeavor of utilizing calculated violence in the OR to benefit a patient and the mental hurdles that must be overcome as a surgeon in order to do so. The description he provides of his first incision is particularly poignant, and leads me to wonder if I am capable of pressing a scalpel through skin that apparently does not give as easily as one would imagine. He discusses many other issues that doctors must deal with and patients prefer not to think about, such as how a doctor must practice in order to achieve perfection in his craft (any volunteers?), using clinical cases from his own experience. We expect our physicians to have all of the answers, to act with grace under pressure and to use scientific knowledge and a calculating rationale to solve both our simple and complex medical problems. What is too often overlooked is that doctors are in fact just humans who face the same, if not greater, levels of uncertainty as the rest of us. Gawande's book provides a glimpse inside of a doctor's psyche, which is rare in a profession that has historically barracaded itself off in order to retain a sense or erudite authority. My only complaint is that while his anecdotes allow for a level of personal connection, they are too often superficial and leave me desiring more commentary at a greater depth. (less)
"One can't love humanity. One can only love people." In "Ministry of Fear" Graham Greene describes the development and deterioration of Arthur Rowe, f...more"One can't love humanity. One can only love people." In "Ministry of Fear" Graham Greene describes the development and deterioration of Arthur Rowe, from a shell of a man, to an unconscionably happy man, to finally a whole man, miserably in love. The plot of the novel is filled with exciting twists and turns - something that I could easily picture being adapted into a blockbuster film. However, the questions that Greene probes his reader with are the real meat of the story. Why do we define morality the way that we do? Why do we allow ourselves to be constrained by propriety and decorum? Greene challenges our idea of what it means to be human...to age, to suffer, and to love. Brilliant read.(less)
This book is a serious of essays in which Russell lays out the reasons that he is not a Christian (or otherwise religious at all). Since it is written...moreThis book is a serious of essays in which Russell lays out the reasons that he is not a Christian (or otherwise religious at all). Since it is written in the early 19th century, socio-cultural context has to be put into a more modern perspective by the reader; however, it manages to be as poignant today as when it was written. The first essay, entitled "Why I Am Not a Christian," is particularly concise and far-reaching. I gave the book four stars largely because of this first essay, but not five stars because some of the other essays are lack luster. Russell frequently takes extreme views that I feel he is much to smart to actually believe. Worth reading...(less)
I love Barak Obama. He is my choice for the Democratic nomination because I believe that he is the person most likely to change the direction of our c...moreI love Barak Obama. He is my choice for the Democratic nomination because I believe that he is the person most likely to change the direction of our country and mend our international reputation. I found this book to be somewhat predictable - the requisite "I'm running for President autobiography." As a whole, it is infused with his hope-laden enthusiasm and novel ideas to solve chronic problems. However, its inescapable categorization as a political stepping stone leaves something to be desired. Although I have not yet read it myself, I understand that "Dreams from My Father" provides a more intimate, complete view of Obama as a person.(less)
This book coined not only a word that we are all familiar with, but a whole idea of what life could be. More's ideas have been used as inspiration by...moreThis book coined not only a word that we are all familiar with, but a whole idea of what life could be. More's ideas have been used as inspiration by numerous groups of people attempting to found their own Utopian societies, like the Shakers or Karl Marx. However, More seems less to advocate such fantastic, unrealistic dreams than to warn his readers of the potential catastrophes that could result in their realization. This is necessary reading not just due to the breadth of its influence (everything from Communism to Huxley and Orwell's futuristic ruminations on the same subject), but of its own right.(less)
I read this one while living in Valencia and was enchanted by this tale of the Spanish Civil War. It deals with big concepts like war, death, and hono...moreI read this one while living in Valencia and was enchanted by this tale of the Spanish Civil War. It deals with big concepts like war, death, and honor. Although the novel is written in English, all of the dialogue has Spanish syntax, which I found very appealing. I definitely feel that I read this book in the right place at the right time in my life, but sentimental feelings aside, I feel that this is the best of Hemingway.(less)
this tale of a shepherd discovering the meaning of life while traveling the world is sappy, dramatic, and really pretty silly. while traveling I saw t...morethis tale of a shepherd discovering the meaning of life while traveling the world is sappy, dramatic, and really pretty silly. while traveling I saw this book everywhere for sale and in fellow travelers hands. One afternoon it was just sitting outside my hotel room, so i read it. Complete waste of time, don't bother.(less)