Wondefully reserached and written. Comprehensive. A real attempt to comparatively situate the Ghost Dance among other ecstatic and millenarian religio...moreWondefully reserached and written. Comprehensive. A real attempt to comparatively situate the Ghost Dance among other ecstatic and millenarian religious movements, particularly in protestant America. It also has amazing sections of ethnographic info on various plains' tribes. A very modern work, I can hardly believe it was written 120 years ago. The guy even went and interviewed Wovoka! (less)
When the movie "7 Years in Tibet" came out I made my girlfriend get in the car and drive 50 miles with me, to another city, just to see it. Since that...moreWhen the movie "7 Years in Tibet" came out I made my girlfriend get in the car and drive 50 miles with me, to another city, just to see it. Since that time it has been one of my favorite films, despite the fact that I like to quote Brad Pitt's lines in a horrible Austrian accent ("shut up peter!"). However, the movie departs from Heinrich Harrer's account on several key points.
1) He never mentions a troubled marriage or a son he left behind (maybe this is referenced in his other writings), 2) He never becomes a Buddhist, as the movie implies, 3) The chronology is different, as in reality he and Aufschneiter only reached Lhasa when WW2 was over, 4) he and Aufshcneiter were friends from the beginning and were not antagonistic to one another, 5) Harrer does not come off as a loner/egomaniac who becomes human during his stay in Tibet. Still, there are several themes common to both, like his profound respect and love for Tibet, its people, culture, his personal relationship with the Dalai Lama, etc.
His account is closer to "the Long Walk", a tale of endurance, with the added element of learning to live, and thrive, as an exile in an exotic culture. Being a mid-20th century European he also makes some paternalistic, superior-minded comments about Tibetans, but that is to be expected. Also, for those whose knowledge of Tibet stems solely from the publications and cultural festivals that revolve around the "Free Tibet" campaign, Harrer's book will be something of an eye-opener. While reading this I was reminded that until recently, perhaps even now in certain respects, Tibet was a feudal culture, which has its own forms of violence, oppresion, rigid social structure, etc. I don't mean to suggest that Tibet should be under the Chinese yoke. But, even I, who knows something of the history of this region, tends to forget that Tibet was/is not an idyllic, New Age/Hippy paradise. It is a conservative, ancient society, containing all the ills that plague other civilizations.
I really enjoyed reading this. It's a chance to get a good look at an isolated society before it was colonized, once again, by "more civilized" neighbors. I still like the movie a lot, but the book is also a favorite now even though it is messy, unexpected and doesn't seamlessly conform to the dictates of a plotline. (less)
Ragnarok ("The Twilight of the Gods," or "Die Gotterdammerung" for you German speakers) is a bit of a heavy concept for a kiddie book. Then again so i...moreRagnarok ("The Twilight of the Gods," or "Die Gotterdammerung" for you German speakers) is a bit of a heavy concept for a kiddie book. Then again so is an androgynous god (Loki) giving birth to Odin's eight-legged stallion, the fallen heroes of Valhalla alternately downing mead and dismembering each other on a daily basis, etc. But, it's still a heckofalot of fun to read. My son, whose initials are T.H.O.R., loved the stories about the thunderer, his skull-smashing hammer (mjolnir), iron mitt, belt of strength and goat-pulled cart. I did have to do some selective editing while I read, the kid is only 4, but it's great stuff, and I don't recall there being any gods ravishing earth women, which is all their Greek cousins seemed to do. If you like to hear stories of jotuns being smitten to pieces, and then their vanquishers feasting on whole, roasted oxen and drinking barrels of mead, then this is for you! (less)
I read "The Lord of the Rings" in my youth and have ocasionally re-read parts here and there since then. But, for some reason, I have never read "The...moreI read "The Lord of the Rings" in my youth and have ocasionally re-read parts here and there since then. But, for some reason, I have never read "The Hobbit." A couple months ago I got the hankerin' to show the Peter Jackson movies to my son. Of course, he loved them and I decided, never having read "The Hobbit" before, that we should read it together. My son owns the cartoon from the 70s and thinks it's the bee-knees, so we had a good time going through it. It also helps that I do voices for all the characters and sing the songs in the book to the tunes they use in the cartoon. How could you not like "The Hobbit"? Tolkien is the father of high fantasy. However skilled other authors of celto-germanic-based fantasy are, they can only imitate a world he created.(less)
It's almost hard to believe that one man actually did all the things described in this account. He discovered the source of the Indus and Brahmaputra...moreIt's almost hard to believe that one man actually did all the things described in this account. He discovered the source of the Indus and Brahmaputra Rivers, as well as ancient cities in the Taklamakan desert, mapped unexplored regions of Tibet, criss-crossed Tibet, India, Chinese Turkestan (Xinjiang), Russian Turkestan, Iran, Iraq, the Caucasus, Russia, China, and nearly died several times in the process. He was also a pupil of Ferdinand Von Richtofen and wrote more than 50 books on his exploration and travels.(less)
This author's analysis is one of the best pieces of history I have seen in recent years. He asks a simple question--why was it the Europeans who perfe...moreThis author's analysis is one of the best pieces of history I have seen in recent years. He asks a simple question--why was it the Europeans who perfected firearms when it was the Chinese who invented them?--and then proceeds to answer it through no-nonsense discussions of the geographic, cultural, technological, economic and security threat conditions experienced by the main civilizations during the developmental period of firearms. After the Chinese first invented these weapons (probably in the 1100s) and the Mongols, probably, helped diseminate them throughout Eurasia/Europe in the 1200s, it would seem like anybody's game to develop them. But, he argues, that Western European ascendancy in firearms development, which reached the point of no-return in the 1700s, was due to the TYPE of warfare prominent in that part of the world, i.e. infantry warfare. He describes, in great detail, the peculiarities involved when an agrarianate state--like empires/kingdoms in China, India, Russia, the Middle East, etc.--have to fight against nomadic horsemen, or a combination of nomadic horsemen and infantry.
In the beginning, firearms could not compete with bows in terms of rate-of-fire, accuracy, easy maintenance, ability to be used on back of a horse, hence, the author argues, states that had to fight highly-mobile cavalry couldn't rely on firearms for their primary weapons. But, in states where the main thrust of battles were infantry on infantry, usually massed and fairly static, it was natural that firearms became the primary weapon. After all, even if your musket was only accurate up to 50-75 yards, you could still probably hit someone, if he was standing in a group of infantry-men behind a wall of pikes used to fend off cavalry. In addition, Western Europe was densely populated, and had castles. Castles were great for using gunpowder artillery against, b/c even if your cannon was enormously innaccurate, it's pretty hard to miss a castle.
By contrast, though the Chinese themselves had magnificent fortifications, artillery didn't do them much good againts Mongol or Manchu cavalry who could appear, strike, and then melt away at will. Japan, like Western Europe, was densely populated, had castles and made extensive use of firearms, but from the 1600s onward civil war ceased in the country and it was too remote to be attacked from the outside. Hence, there was no real need for firearm development. The Savafids, the Mughals and especially the Ottomans all adopted and used firearms, but they each faced a combination of threats, including neighbors with infantry, and neighbors with cavalry. Hence, their firearms development only reached so far, and then they, as well as Japan, China and all others relied on Western European developments instead of devising the technoloy themselves. Western Europeans also took the idea of drilling/training groups of firearms users and turned it into in artform.
The author, Kenneth Chase, did his Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard...but he also got a J.D. from Stanford Law, and he works as a lawyer. He is either 1) a wicked genius, 2) independently wealthy and able to afford all this education, 3) very patient and willing to live in squalor while obtaining all these degrees, or 4) some combination of these three. I take my hat off to the dude. That said, his writing is a little stilted. This book is by no means a great work of literature. But, it is well-written, i.e. easy to follow and he bundles together and analyzes a pile of sources that staggers the mind--he conducted research in French, Persian, Japanese, Turkish and Chinese(?). Anyway, the guy has done a heck of job. Maybe he'll write more later..though he's probably too busy making money as a big shot lawyer to do more academic stuff. (less)