This was the first of two books I'm currently reading about George Washington. As part of my 2-year quest to read the top two biographies of each of oThis was the first of two books I'm currently reading about George Washington. As part of my 2-year quest to read the top two biographies of each of our 43 U.S. Presidents, I began with this and Ron Chernow's behemoth "Washington: A Life," a far more comprehensive treatment.
Initially I preferred Chernow's book, but as I started to compare the two for interpretation, Ellis's gorgeous narrative writing quickly won me over. While no where near the depth of Chernow's tome, Ellis covers all the main themes of Washington's life from youth, to bumbling but ambitious officer in the French and Indians wars, to much-maligned, beleaguered Revolutionary war hero, to his service as President -- and truly father of his new nation -- for the first two terms of the new federal government (whose survival was by no means guaranteed).
It's impossible to not be in awe of Washington, who, unlike many great men throughout history, failed to control ambition and its interaction with the achievement of great power. He truly was a man of disciplined self-control who understood throughout his life that his place in history would be solely judged by how he responded to guiding the post-British new nation. It is quite obvious that had Washington chosen to serve as an enlightened King (of which many understood there was no such thing), he could have with widespread support. The new nation had no tradition of democracy and would have gladly welcomed their war hero -- our first true national celebrity -- as a welcomed benign sovereign chastened by a revolutionary re-definition of the relationship of power between ruler and ruled.
Yet Washington understood the historic moment and his place in it and seized it for the better, much to our nation's historic benefit. He also understood the blot of human bondage and was determined to free his slaves upon his death, much to the chagrin of his family and fellow Virginia planters. (In fact, even the liberty obsessed Jefferson failed to match Washington's intellectual acknowledgement of the fundamental contradiction of slavery and democracy.)
A highly pleasurable read and the perfect introduction to the life and times of George Washington. Highly recommend it....more
Bourdain's a foul-mouthed, heavy drinking smoker who doesn't suffer fools lightly. And damned if he can't write too. Bourdain tells a great story abouBourdain's a foul-mouthed, heavy drinking smoker who doesn't suffer fools lightly. And damned if he can't write too. Bourdain tells a great story about his life in restaurants and kitchens. He's funny, surprising, and thoroughly enjoyable. If you're a foodie, or just someone interested in the business of cooking, you need to read this book....more
I surrendered to my boredom and retired this book unfinished, something I rarely do. Slow moving, surprisingly lacking in drama, and a bizarre and tirI surrendered to my boredom and retired this book unfinished, something I rarely do. Slow moving, surprisingly lacking in drama, and a bizarre and tiresome focus on the minutia surrounding Lincoln's assasination, I gave this up.
There are too many books on my to-read shelf to plod through a mediocre book. 'Tis a shame....more
Davies is my favorite author and Canadian. He's an accomplished journalist, editor, stage actor, academic, and ultimately, highly accomplished novelisDavies is my favorite author and Canadian. He's an accomplished journalist, editor, stage actor, academic, and ultimately, highly accomplished novelist. (If you haven't read his "Deptford Triology," you must! Go buy it NOW! You will thank me later.) Davies sees humans, life and the world in a completely unique, wickedly funny manner. He's a big believer in the power of magic and awe, and it bleeds through his stories and writing. I love the guy and hope to own all first editions of his books some day. ...more
If you’ve perused my “books to read” section, you’ll immediately notice I'm a foodie. Lately I've been gobbling up any and all books about chefs and cIf you’ve perused my “books to read” section, you’ll immediately notice I'm a foodie. Lately I've been gobbling up any and all books about chefs and cooking (with Anthony Bourdain emerging as my favorite – believe it or not, the guy writes really well and he's funny as hell). This book chronicles the life of one of France’s most famous and decorated chefs who dreamed since childhood of creating and owning a 3-star Michelin guide restaurant – the very pinnacle of success in France, who, as well all know (or should know), is obsessed with haute cuisine in the way we are obsessed about professional football. The book follows his fanatical quest to achieve this life-long dream and sadly shows how the pressures and stresses associated with gaining and holding onto such achievements, ultimately leads to tragedy. Chelminski is a fine writer, and often very witty, but I have a serious complaint about its length and windiness. This book easily could have been reduced by a third, and should have been. However, if you like professional cooking, and want to get into the head and obsessions of one of the world's finest chefs, I recommend this book. If you're not into any of those things, I don’t think you’d make it past the first few pages....more
This is a novel for those who've ever dreamed of being a famous (i.e. celebrity) writer, and who claim they'd do anything to make it happen. A wickedlThis is a novel for those who've ever dreamed of being a famous (i.e. celebrity) writer, and who claim they'd do anything to make it happen. A wickedly paced, hilarious yet suspenseful first novel, you'll have difficultly setting this book down once you start.
Also, and I don't feel this way often, I hope this book is made into a film. It lends itself perfectly to a movie treatment, and I do NOT mean that as an insult.
The first half of the book was quite fun...if you are interested in Mario Batelli, it's a must read. But when Buford follows in Mario's steps to studyThe first half of the book was quite fun...if you are interested in Mario Batelli, it's a must read. But when Buford follows in Mario's steps to study cooking in Italy, the book slows to a crawl. I forced myself to finish, but ended up feeling "feh."...more
Although I found the writing poetic, with some truly haunting imagery, SWAY's story line is jumpy and uneven. I like the author's intention: to tie toAlthough I found the writing poetic, with some truly haunting imagery, SWAY's story line is jumpy and uneven. I like the author's intention: to tie together the darkest elements of the late '60s through the real-world characters of the Rolling Stones, Charles Manson, and bizarro underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger (of the "Hollywood Babylon" series infamy).
The book is most compelling when it focuses on the Rolling Stones, which it mostly does. The evolution of the band from a Brian Jones-led entity to Mick and Keith's sole possession is beautifully laid out. In fact, at times you have to remind yourself that you're reading a novel, and not an official rock and roll history. I'm not sure if that was the author's intention or not.
Where it unfortunately fails is weaving in the Manson story. It feels half thought out and contrived. And because that story is perhaps the darkest chapter of the late 60s, you find yourself wanting to know more about that element of the plot. It's amazing that, even after all these years, Manson and his followers' brutal and random murders of eight people continue to haunt our collective cultural imagination.
Anger's fringe involvement with both the Stones and a certain Manson family member is also interesting, and the author does a fine job explaining his truly weird short films that were admired by Cocteau and later by Lynch and Scorcese.
Still, the book effectively captures the depressing collapse of the hopeful 60s. The Vietnam war, the Kennedy and King murders, the dark turn of the counterculture fueled by drugs and false prophets, all conspired to crush the optimistic tone of the early part of the 1960s which ushered in so much social change and questioning of authority.
I did, however, enjoy the book enough to seek our and read the author's first novel, "Aaron Approximately."...more
Have you ever wondered what would happen to if you did something completely out of character but that resulted in horrible consequences? Our main charHave you ever wondered what would happen to if you did something completely out of character but that resulted in horrible consequences? Our main character, a young, sophisticate who returns to his native, Argentina after years of studying in Paris, lets his preordained life as a respected academic unravel in merely three hours as he succumbs to uncontrollable lust and criminal passion. Under the influence of a full (sultry) moon, and in the height of political repression by the military government in Argentina, the main character falsely perceives himself merely a normal person who mad some terrible, but explainable decisions. But, as the police and others begin to suspect he is not what he appears, he increasingly demonstrates a psychotic criminal mind that perhaps was always there. A huge sensation in South America when it first appeared, “Sultry Moon” is powerfully written, haunting, and brief enough to be read in a single sitting. Recommended....more
DeLillo's books always read like poetry, and this novella is no different. While gorgeously written, I was not engaged by the story. It flutters arounDeLillo's books always read like poetry, and this novella is no different. While gorgeously written, I was not engaged by the story. It flutters around too much and, while the basic story line is haunting--a woman in a strange house with a mysterious occupant trying to cope with the suicide of her formerly famous husband--it never leads any where. The book almost had the feel of an experimental writing exercise. Not a total failure, but not my favorite DeLillo book either....more
A fierce moral accounting of the murder of millions by Stalin. Amis takes to task those apologists of Soviet communism and its leaders, including hisA fierce moral accounting of the murder of millions by Stalin. Amis takes to task those apologists of Soviet communism and its leaders, including his novelist father (Kingsley) and best friend, the infamously cantankerous and former lefty Christopher Hitchens.
Amis argues that Hitler's supreme evil doubly victimized humanity by marginalizing Stalin's own "satanic arrogance" and blood-lust. It didn't help that Stalin also became a necessary evil to defeat the Nazis, even though his already monstrous crimes in the '30s were known by intelligence agencies in England and the U.S. Allied propaganda burnished the "Uncle Joe" falsity which undoubtedly also explains what led so many intellectuals, artists and political leaders to overlook, or worse, ignore, the frequent whispers, if not direct testimony and evidence, of Stalin's enormous crimes against humanity.
Amis will have none of it, though, and sets out to set the record straight. He brilliantly examines the irony of how the pursuit of a farcical utopia by monsters and mad men produced the precise opposite effect: absolute tyranny, terror, and the death of 20 million or more dead.
Stalin, who infamously noted that one death was tragic, but a million only a statistic, sadistically tortured and massacred his own countrymen while managing to enjoy the bizarre adulation of his victims, as well as the respect and admiration of Allied populaces (though, this was well before the public understood the power of propaganda). As one Soviet writer succinctly summarized the Stalin enigma, "No other man in the world has ever accomplished so fantastic a success as he to exterminate millions of his own countrymen and receive in exchange the whole country's blind adulation."
As it turns out Stalin was en epic failure as a military leader (who later shot all the competent military men who, against the greatest of odds, managed to save the country from Hitlerism), a brutal unthinking sadist, and a physically and mentally deformed man-child with deep insecurities. He was such an appalling and detestable beast his beloved wife shot herself. His precious daughter grew up to conclude he was a deeply horrible man and wrote a widely praised book saying so. His two son were drunken terrorist rapists who, not surprisingly, stunningly mirror the lives of Saddam Hussein's demon sons.
The fall of communism and the opening of Soviet archives in the late 80s finally revealed the true nature and depth of Stalin's atrocities (such as his order to senselessly murder 20,000 Polish military officers, which the Soviets blamed on the Nazis, even going so far as to plant evidence on corpses to make it appear so.) It's particularly tragic when considering that Hitler's madness reigned relatively briefly while Stalin presided nearly three decades of death, terror and destruction.
A compassionate and profoundly powerful case for never turning an intellectually lazy or blind eye to evil, no matter what form it may take....more
A thoroughly damning indictment of the Bush administration's foolish, ideologically fueled rush to war and the terrible consequences suffered by the IA thoroughly damning indictment of the Bush administration's foolish, ideologically fueled rush to war and the terrible consequences suffered by the Iraqi people and our military forces. Absolutely enraging....more
I loved "The Lovely Bones," Alice Sebold's first novel about a horrifying murder of a young girl by a trusted neighbor and her afterlife handling theI loved "The Lovely Bones," Alice Sebold's first novel about a horrifying murder of a young girl by a trusted neighbor and her afterlife handling the senseless, violent death while attempting to shield her family from further harm. I was truly amazed at the author's ability to so authentically and movingly capture the profound sadness of a young victim of a brutal crime and her resilient courageousness in the heavenly aftermath.
After reading Sebold's memoir, "Lucky," I realized she had much to personally draw upon for her first novel's power and grace.
"Lucky" is not an easy, comfortable read. It graphically details the author's horrifically violent rape while a freshman at Syracuse University. In many deeply haunting ways, the experience continues to victimize her years afterward. Never mind the predictably cruel treatment of the supremely ignorant and terminally insensitive (including members of her own odd, unemotional family), but even the well-intentioned manage to draw blood. Yet, Sebold's super human will and determination to find, punish and survive her rapist, whom she admits is forever and unpleasantly bonded to her, is the heart and redeeming journey of the book.
The slight fault I have with the book is its end. Her plummet into drug and alcohol-fueled despair is rushed and out of context, especially after so many pages of beautifully rendered passages about her pain and eventual growth as a victim of violent crime. It is her deep well of personal strength explained throughout the book that clashes with the sudden, never fully explained, appearance of heroin, booze and dangerous, reckless living she experiences after college and into adulthood.
While a harrowing, often painfully difficult read, "Lucky" is also a deeply inspiring story about a perpetually frightened young woman who regains her life after a crime that by its nature nature robs a woman of her self. The inner strength she finds evolves into an art of expression that results in one of the loveliest, most moving novels about life, death, meaning, redemption and revenge ever written....more
Using newspaper clippings, memoirs, diplomatic cables, letters and all other manner of original historical material, Baker weaves a haunting chronologUsing newspaper clippings, memoirs, diplomatic cables, letters and all other manner of original historical material, Baker weaves a haunting chronological march to war. It illuminates many historical shadows, such as Churchill's many costly military blunders, his blood-lust and extreme drunkenness; how the Nazi's intention to forcibly expel Jews from the European continent horrifically evolved into death camps; the near universal sentiment of antisemitism (including, shockingly, by Eleanor Roosevelt, but less surprisingly by avowed racists Charles Lindburgh and Henry Ford); the passionate (if highly naive) commitment of pacifists around the world to prevent the war, such as Ghandi; and FDR's efforts to force Japan into a corner, thus forcing them to attack the US. A powerful book that chronicles the world's tragic step-by-step march toward a terribly destructive war that resulted in the deaths of millions of soldiers and civilians. Highly recommend....more