I was struck by how little of this book was not familiar. I'm 38 years old, and I read a lot. The fact that I've heard almost all the arguments contained in this book, even though it's now 27 years since it was written, tells me that it has been very influential. Everything in it has been amplified by repetition.
So, it was not a book that "made me think," because I've heard it all before- from Bloom's description of conviction-less Gen X students to the influence of the Frankfurt School on American intellectuals. If you've glanced at National Review sometime in the last two decades you've seen it all.
That's not a hit on Bloom, because he's the original compiler. These ideas were all floating around, but he put them all in one place.
Honestly, the best part for me was early on. There's a good discussion of rock music, which will seem quaint to readers who've lived their entire lives in the era since the 1950s. Bloom is still right- the influence of music on the lives of the young is underrated. Much attention remains focused on other external influences such as video games or movies when it is music that matters. I think this part of the book has the deepest bite. People seem very defensive about their music, and music has an undue influence on their thinking. My coworkers spend hundreds of dollars on car stereos. I buy new tires instead. I get Bloom's point.
Overall, if you want to understand the intellectual side of the conservative movement this is a very good place to start. If you have a background in the liberal arts, especially in 19th and 20th century philosophy, that will help a lot. Otherwise it can be very hard going.
This isn't an anti-liberal screed so much as a Platonic defense of absolute truth, and the pursuit of the good. The extent to which this criticism falls on liberals is a result of their own abdication of the responsibility that they once took seriously- to educate the young in the service of building a better society. They don't even know what that is anymore, to their cost. Creating a blasted nihilistic world of the mind for our best and brightest is not a plan designed to produce an elite with the common good foremost in their minds.
The education of our elite is the subject of this book. Looking around, it's obvious that whatever education our current elite received it was sorely lacking in moral direction. If that's a conservative message, what happened to the liberals?
I like this series enough to keep reading it, but it's not the best thing I've ever read. It's strongest when it focuses on naval operations and the particularities of the far future setting. I enjoy the "Napoleonic Wars In Space," schtick. The political infighting within all the big nations is completely believable. The way the space technology works is extremely detailed, which is fine, and the way the setting re-creates an interesting historical period in the far future is a treat.
This book was a partial return to what made the first book successful. Honor Harrington does "Navy Stuff,"- she commands a starship, fights space pirates, makes life or death decisions, and suffers the consequences. The subplots are all set up well and all pay off. I particularly enjoyed the plight of the People's Navy officers who were too decent for their own good. The theme that civilized states, even when they fight one another, are all superior to barbarians resonates with me.
The series is weakest when it wallows in the protagonist's emotional life (for someone who has killed thousands of people in space battles she sure has a lot of angst about relatively minor problems), with the absolute low point in every book being when the space cats appear. Cats don't belong on naval vessels, ever, and should be thrown over the side, or out the airlock, whenever an infestation appears. These animals gain more intelligence, telepathic powers, and page space in each successive book of the series and are obviously not ever going to be killed, by anything, ever, despite how ridiculous they are. To me, they are the Jar-Jar Binks of the whole fictional universe. Maybe David Weber likes cats?
When Honor Harrington becomes an action hero, able to defeat anyone at their own game, I roll my eyes. This is the stuff of B-grade action movies. Since the tone of these books is light, perhaps I shouldn't complain about it. "Honor Among Enemies," only has one scene like this, but it's set up before hand (unfortunately that setup is a big clunker, having to do with a madman, a nuclear trigger, and an over-involved negotiation that I mostly skipped through.) The resolution was a surprise, using a "Chekov's Gun" that I'd mostly forgotten about.
The "Navy Stuff," is very well done. I served four years in the the US Navy, and the books have a good grasp of what it's like to be in the service. The "lower decks" subplot with Petty Officer Wunderman is sadly a very common experience. My understanding is that David Weber is a naval historian, and it shows.
All in all, this is a much better book than the previous entry of the series, which spent far too little time in space.
The narration is good. I don't know why so many people are annoyed by it, but with the main character being female dictates that a female narrator should be reading the book. The narrator does a much better job with the male voices than almost any male reader would do with female voices, and since Honor Harrington is doing most of the talking it makes complete sense. The one character that, to me, sounded silly died in book four. I can always tell the characters apart, and the foreign accents make sense given that this is the "Napoleonic Wars In Space."
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