Mesa, AZ, United States
'David Copperfield' contains more saints per capita than any beatified book by Butler. Dickens is amazing in his ability to be both grand and personal. 'David Copperfield' is sprawling, with dozens of threads that weave around David Copperfield's youth and adulthood. IT is amazing not only how he can transform a character through time, but also show that our perceptions of those same characters are drawn often from imperfect information and overly simple assumptions. Yes, there are parts of 'David Copperfield' that float between the melodramatic and the grotesque, but one doesn't read Dickens for the unmoving, normal or embellished. There are a handful of novels that I would consider to be the literary equivalent of scripture: 'Les Miserables', 'the Idiot', 'Anna Karenina', and for sure 'David Copperfield'.
There are several moments in 'David Copperfield' when, as a reader, you recognize you will never be half the writer Dickens was (on deadline). He might just be second to Shakespeare in my book, or at least be among a small cadre of writers that belong on the silver pedestal below the Bard.
This isn't as technically perfect as 'Great Expectations', but it is top tier Dickens for sure. A massive novel that floats with the weight of a beach read half its size. If you are going to read a Dickens, this might not be your first stop, but it shouldn't be far from your second.
Hecht's historical survey of doubt is a lot of things and seems to do them all very well. It is a defense of doubt, a survey of doubt, a biography of doubters, a family tree of doubt's relatives. It looks at doubt both from within and external to belief. It examines the motives and believers and gives each its appropriate due.
I found the book to be highly readable. Strange to say, it was almost TOO readable. I felt myself slipping through the pages/listening to the narration* almost too fast. It has given me a whole new group of thinkers and philosophers to examine. I was very familiar with many of the doubters in Western and Classical traditions, but Hecht gave me a whole new group of Eastern, Jewish and Muslim doubters to get to know. Plus, even with those nonbelievers & skeptics I was familiar with (Lucretius, Montaigne, Spinoza, Cicero, Epicurus, Pliny, Gibbon, Paine, Jefferson, Bruno, etc.) she gave me whole new approaches and windows to see them through.
Finally, Hecht also found an appropriate way to thread the Book of Job writer, Jesus, Buddha, Qohelet (wrote Ecclesiastes), etc., into the framework of doubt. I think the book would have been crippled without it. Finally, she didn't avoid the negative, state-sponsored doubt period (Fascism, Communism) of the 20th century. Not all doubters do good things. Anyway, it was worth the money and the time for sure and will be re-read in the future.
* If you listen, I'd still get a hard copy. It is worth it just for the bibliography. You are going to want to be able to dig deeper on at least half a dozen of the men, women, skeptics and doubters she mentions.
“A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the "why" for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any "how".”
- Viktor E Frankl
I read an interesting article in the NYTImes a couple weeks ago that lead me to finally pick this book up. Actually, a couple good articles. The first was titled 'Love People, Not Pleasure' and it was about how "this search for fame, the lust for material things and the objectification of others — that is, the cycle of grasping and craving — follows a formula that is elegant, simple and deadly: Love things, use people." The author uses an inversion of this formula that DOES lead to happiness: Use things, Love People (also quoted by Spencer W. Kimball). This article + another recent one from the Atlantic titled 'There's More to Life Than Being Happy' made it clearly evident to me that I needed to finally dust of my yellowed, Goodwill copy of Man's Search for Meaning, plug in my earbuds and experience this book that the Universe clearly wanted me to read this week.
So, imagine a renowned Jewish therapist writes in 1946 (in 9 days) about his experiences at and survival in Auschwitz, and then adds his own psychotherapeutic method (Logotherapy), finding happiness by finding a meaning, a responsibility, a love, and ultimately self-determining. Perhaps it is a consequence of Frankl's work surrounding me in other writings, in popular psychotherapy, in various internet Memes and articles OR perhaps it is just a consequence of my own resilience to my own suffering that this book wasn't much of a revelation. I was like ... yup, makes a lot of sense. Good job. I think it is a great book for what it is. I just don't always get super-excited by self-help psychology books. This one is on the better end of the bell curve for this type, but I guess my problem is with the type. Other than that (minus 1-star for my type bias) it was a great book.
I know. I know. I both loved and hated this book. I definitely should never have read this book, cut the pages, opened the box, etc.. Somehow Stephen Hawking has written a book that gently fluffs the tail on Schrödinger's cat (or perhaps Schrödinger's cat is fluffing Dr. Hawking).
Look, no doubt the guy is a genius and has a fantastic story (ALS, computer voice, nurses, Black Holes, strippers, movies, etc). My problem is the wussification of a large scientific narrative by one of Big “P” Physics primary scientists. Let someone else write a pop-GUT/Blackhole/Big Bang story. Let another writer do the pop-up Children's book with the scratch-n-sniff singularity, the rotating black hole, the pull-out universe.
I want Dr. Hawking doing smart stuff. Let Bill Bryson write the summary science. But it is too late for me. I already crossed the damn event horizon. I've just become entangled with his book, so my "observer state" now corresponds to the damn book and the damn book review being both five stars and 1 stars is no longer a possibility; my reader state is entangled or linked now with my own review so that the "observation of the book review's state" and the "review's state" correspond with each other. I am finished.
Hey, now to go see some movies about blackholes and wormholes and a-holes.
Bryson uses his own family's Victorian parsonage to map out the history (mainly focused on the 18th - 20th Century) of the private life. His discussion of specific rooms ends up allowing Bryson to tangent off onto related topics as wide and varied as sex, family, sh!t, medicine, architecture, makeup, rope-making, etc.
This book is a movement through a house that allows Bryson to riff on people and ideas that are funny, iconic, and always peculiar. Bryson is amazing at flipping over a stone and telling three different stories about the stone, the flip, and the bugs hiding underneath the stone. He will also examine the shoe that flipped the stone and occasionally inserts his own experience with stones and shoes. This book follows his the model of his other expansive history: A Short History of Nearly Everything.
Reading McPhee is like watching a brilliant tennis player you've followed for years. I know his moves. I can even predict most of his methods, but I keep coming back to watch him put it all together. He is masterful. He makes the incredibly difficult work of narrative nonfiction seem effortless. Beautiful prose swims right up to McPhee and jumps into his net or flops right into the pages of his book.
Once again McPhee matches a microhistory (the American Shad) with great characters (biologists, fishermen, sportsmen, presidents, even his wife) present and past, amazing locations and takes you completely through the subject. You emerge from tail of the book knowing the history, the biology, the life, the death, the taste and the debate surrounding America's founding fish. He shows you every single bone in a boney fish. Read and released.
This is a book that is nearly impossible to review, absolutely impossible to summarize, and simultaneously amazing and frustrating. Bolaño created a novel and a narrative that (IMHO) attempted to capture the energy, the personalities, the youth and the mortar that held together Mexican and Latin American poets during the mid-1970s. It feels like he took every poetic image, idea, stray hair and paper from every Mexican poet during the past forty years and laid them all down on black velvet to be examined. He found poetry in the "visceral realists" excesses and his semi-autobiographical confessions. Bolaño jumps from chapter-to-chapter, from scene-to-scene, from sunset-to-sunset and keeps reinventing his PoMo novel as he writes it.
I have to be fair. It wasn't my favorite novel, but it seems the most likely (of all the novels I've read these last two or three years) to suddenly become animated. If any novel is going to jump off my lap, and wander off into the wilderness -- this is the one. It seems to be written not just in ink, but in blood, tears, seed, and fire.
It someways it reminds me of the beginning of Yeat's poem 'Second Coming':
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
With Roberto Bolaño the center of this gyre is Mexico City and with each page he writes (forward and back in time) Bolaño seems to be adding potential energy to the explosion that will loose his mad, Mexican poets, these thieves and dealers, these visceral realists, around the world. As I chew on this image, I think the idea of vortexes and gyres is equally applicable to ALL poets. It captures the way creativity often explodes, demands to be exposed, and drives before its flood chariots of innocence, creativity and youth.
Good enough that my major complaint is I wish it were just longer. Professor Greenberg with his wit, knowledge, and charisma is able to draw a nice narrative arc through the life of Gustav Mahler. This course is broken into 8 lectures:
1. Introduction & Childhood
2. Mahler the Conductor
3. Early Songs and Symphony 1
4. The Wunderhorn Symphonies
5. Alma and Vienna
6. Family Life and Symphony 5
7. Symphony 7 & Das Lied von de Erde
8. Das Lied, Final Symphonies, & the End.
It all felt a bit too compressed for me. Perhaps I'm just spoiled because I've been listening also to his 30 Greatest Orchestral Works and each piece in that recording is given a whole lecture (45 minutes). I would have liked to see more time on each of his major symphonies and works AND not lose any of the actual history.
But really, that is my only major complaint. I would recommend for the serious listener to also go buy the major symphonies (from major labels and great conductors) and listen to them a couple times while listening to this course. I fell in love with Mahler's 5th & 9th before this course, but this course gave me a lot more of Mahler to love.
What an amazing piece of historical writing. Tuchman shows how August, 2014 was impacted by two failed plans (Plan 17 & the Schlieffen Plan), Generals and politicos who were either overly optimistic at the wrong time or overly pessimistic at the wrong time. She detailed how inadvertent acts by disgraced Generals might have saved France, how the politics and the national moods of France, Germany, Russia, and Great Britain may have contributed to the length of the Great War.
After the Civil War and the War of Franco-Prussian War of 1870, war had morphed into a whole new beast. Few leaders grasped this at the beginning of August but by September 1914 there were very few living on the European continent who could avoid recognizing that war would never be the same again. The vitality and the drama of Tuchman's narrative made this book seemed delivered by 420-millimetre siege howitzers. Chapter after chapter would absolutely devastate me as I listened (and read for the maps and pacing). I am very glad I wasn't in the French (or Belgian or German or Russian) military in August of 1914.
Lee is such a solid narrator. It wasn't a standout, but I have absolutely no complaints. He read well. It was easily listened to at 2.5+ speed.
Edgar Rice Burrough's popular John Carter/Barsoom novels started with 'A Princess of Mars'. I can only imagine reading this cowboy in space novel when it was first published. It was absolute pulp (violent fights, naked women), but like all of Edgar Rice Burroughs' novels it can't be contained by any simple labels. Burroughs is able to explore ideas of eugenics and race, war and peace, love and family, all layered into a fast-paced, violent Martian travelogue. Burroughs loves supermen. The idea of John Carter having amazing strength because of the different gravities of Earth and Mars allows an everyman Virginian Civil Warrior to become a singular Martian Hercules.
Obviously, this is an extraordinarily influential sic-fi novel. It influenced everybody from Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon) to George Lucas (Star Wars) to James Cameron (Avatar). It is hard to watch Han Solo walk without thinking of John Carter's swagger or dream about Princess Leah in chains without my subconscious somehow floating back into visions of Princess Dejah Thoris in -- yes -- chains. It is a shame that Disney's John Carter movie didn't do better. I would love to see further efforts to make films out of the Barsoom series. It is a strange world where a movie that makes $200M+ globally and is still judged a failure.
Tarzan is one of those characters who came out of the post-Victorian, pre-WWI age that seem almost to exhibit a place larger than the actual book(s) he was born in. Like Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan is both a type and a rejection of type. It is amazing to see the arc this character has taken over the last century. From the actual books written by Burroughs to the various movies, comics, cartoons, and the eventual Disneyfication of the story.
I read this book shortly after getting LOA's 100 year anniversary edition of both Tarzan and Princess of Mars. It was classic pulp. Like other magazine stories told during this time (the Most Dangerous Game, etc) it points to a certain level of supple, straight, superman that exists beneath the clothes of civilization. There must be some base-level appeal for us modern men where we feel compelled to dream we could, with only a knife and a rope, if put in the right situation, conquer the wilderness. There is a king of the jungle/nobel savage in all of us. It is the same impulse that drives viewers to watch 'Man Vs. Wild' and 'Naked and Afraid', etc. Civilization provides us with many comforts, but it also robs us of something. Burroughs recognized this missing treasure. His Tarzan novels (and to a degree his Mars novels) exploits and explores this missing link to our past. He is able to illustrate that underneath our jackets and ties there might be a bit of the savage inside this actuary and a beast inside that accountant, just waiting an opportunity to break free.
This recording's narration was good, but the recording's overall quality was poor.
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