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)
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)
read the Adam and Muhammad cycles. It's a simplified Cosmology/description of the origins of various practices in Islam and among human beings. Folk l...moreread the Adam and Muhammad cycles. It's a simplified Cosmology/description of the origins of various practices in Islam and among human beings. Folk lit at its best.(less)
Wow...there's too much to say about this, so I'll save a real review for a day when I feel like writing a lot. Suffice it to say, if you would like a...moreWow...there's too much to say about this, so I'll save a real review for a day when I feel like writing a lot. Suffice it to say, if you would like a small window into the Persophone world (Iranians, Pashtuns/Dari speakers, Tajiks) this offers some interesting glimpses. While, as a 10th century Sunni, Ferdowsi's ideas might be quite different from a modern Shia' Iranian, you will still see similarities in their notions of honor, revenge, martyrdom, respect for authority, defense of the true faith, reverence for heroes, etc.(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)
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)
One of the most influential little pamphlets in U.S. and, for that matter, world history. Published in January 1776, it likely had an important effect...moreOne of the most influential little pamphlets in U.S. and, for that matter, world history. Published in January 1776, it likely had an important effect on the delegates to the Second Continental Congress as they debated whether they should declare their united colonies independent of the British Empire. It's author, Thomas Paine, was a rabidly anti-monarchical Englishman who played an important role in both the American and French (1789) Revolutions. Only recently arrived in the colonies, this failed businessman quickly penned one of the most radical bourgeois documents in history. He used the pamphlet to ridicule the ridiculousness of monarchy--quoting at length from the Old Testament account of Israel's aping of the heathen gentiles in desiring a king rather than judges--and proposed his own scheme for a democratic government. Though his plan, which resembles the current Swiss government system more than that of the U.S., was not adopted, he argued brilliantly against reconciliation with the British crown. He also emphasized the need for the 13 colonies to act immediately, rather than attempt to create their ideal government in some distant day in the foggy future:
"The Continental belt is too loosely buckled. And if something is not done in time, it will be too late to do anything, and we shall fall into a state, in which, neither reconciliation nor independence will be practicable. The king and his worthless adherents are got at their old game of dividing the Continent, and there are not wanting among us, printers, who will be busy spreading specious falsehoods. The artful and hypocritical letter which appeared a few months ago in New York papers, and likewise in two others, is an evidence that there are men who want either judgment or honesty...I ask, as a reasonable question, by what means is such a corrupt and faithless court to be kept to its engagements? Another parliament, nay, even the present, may hereafter repeal the obligation...where is our redress?...cannons are the barristers of crowns; and the sword, not of justice, but of war, decides the suit."
"We ought to reflect, that there are three different ways by which and independancy may hereafter be effected; and that one of those three will one day or other be the fate of America, viz. by the legal voice of the people in Congress; by a military power; or by a mob: it may not always happen that our soldiers are citizens, and the multitude a body of reasonable men; virtue...is not hereditary...we have every opportunity and every encouragement before us, to form the noblest, purest constitution on the face of the Earth. We have it in our power to begin the world over again. A situation, similar to the present, hath not happened since the days of Noah until now. The birth of a new world is at hand, and a race of men perhaps as numerous as all Europe contains, are to receive their portion of freedom from the event of a few months.(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)
According to translator/grand old man of Persian and various other languages Wheeler Thackston, "Babur's memoirs were the first--and until relatively...moreAccording to translator/grand old man of Persian and various other languages Wheeler Thackston, "Babur's memoirs were the first--and until relatively recent times, the only--true autobiography in Islamic literature." No one knows why this Timurid/Chingisid heir from Andijan (in what is now Uzbekistan's portion of the Ferghana Valley) decided to write a candid history of his life. Modern, especially western readers, used to centuries of self-examination in print might not grasp the magnitude of what Babur did. But, it is amazing to read the recollections of a 15th/16th century conqueror and see a frank and nearly complete rendering of the many facets of his life.
Babur relates how he was driven out of Ferghana by the Uzbeks and his squabbling relatives, his conquest and loss of Samarqand, his flight to Afghanistan and conquest of Kabul and Kandahar—after which he assumed the title of Padishah—his forays into Hindustan, his conquest of the Sultanate of Delhi and other Hindustani territories, and his consolidation of these holdings. That story is known to the history books, and can actually be tedious reading as Babur constantly drops names—names of towns, villages, warriors, Begs, Rajas, Khans, relatives—until you're not certain if your still reading about the same place or individual as your were a few moments before. However, it is what he reveals about himself, his worldview, habits, attitudes toward religion, bravery, marriage, penmanship, war, etc. that makes the Baburnama worth reading.
Babur emerges from his memoirs as a real person, not a two-dimensional fictional character. He's a collection of contradictions. He's a pious Muslim, but loves wine. In fact he spends a lot of time describing wine parties—the beautiful garden or river raft they took place on—and the antics of those who attended. Yet he also recounts how he forswore alcohol in later years—only to regret it. In one interesting anecdote on poetry, another of his favorite topics, Babur notes that he and some drinking buddies had made some vulgar/risque verse while inflamed with wine. He then notes that he truly regrets the incident and declares that poetry should be above such crude behavior. Of course, even after swearing off demon-alcohol, Babur still regularly enjoyed the narcotic ma'jun (whatever that is) discoursing on how stoned it made him and how beautiful it made the pomegranate/other trees in one of his many gardens look. He also tells the tale of how he had to take opium to relieve the pain from an abcess...that, and that the beauty of the moonlight induced him to (in another apparent contradiction, Babur regularly lambasts the widespread pederasty of Central Asia, but then cryptically notes his affection for a certain young man).
Babur comes off as a cultured Timurid, constantly laying out gardens, composing verse, chastising his grown son and heir for his poor penmanship and letter writing skills, decribing animals, fruits and flowers. Yet, he also tells gory tales of violence, where rebel villages are decimated and conquered cities are marked with skull pyramids (something more typical of his forefather Amir Timur). In telling the fate of those who plotted to assassinate him, the Padishah seems to relish in the gruesomeness of their demise—I believe someone was flayed alive, while another was trod on by an elephant. Of course, this killing was done under his authority as an heir to the Timurid dynasty, and given his rigid attention to proper decorum regarding the ruling hierarchy—the clothes each rank should wear, how they should genuflect/otherwise show respect to betters, what sort of gifts the lesser should bring to the greater—it should not seem a surprise that he never considers his bloodshed excessive or criminal. To expect him to do so would be to anachronistically impose 21st century values on a 15th/16th century man.