Petaluma, CA, United States | Member Since 2006
I know some people have said they really loved this book. I could never figure out why he chose to focus on these two stories in one book without ever being able to combine them. The murder story is interesting enough in its own way, especially if you're unfamiliar with this particular chapter of American history. The story of the Chicago World's Fair is more interesting. I had never appreciated how much world's fairs transformed the cities where they occurred or how much competition there was to outdo the last one. All the same, both stories come across as though they were written for the newspapers. That is, it's a kind of a dry reporting style, not likely to either excite or outrage. Unless, of course, you're one of those other people who really loved this book.
I have a number of quibbles with this book, which may lead some to consider this a negative review. Therefore, let me say right at the start that I love this series and I do not regret one minute of the many hours it has taken to listen to the first 5 books.
Book 5 covers the same time frame as book 4 only focusing on different characters. That puts a solid limit on how much the story can advance. As always in this series, Martin relies on the dialog to move the story forward. He's really good at it, but sometimes I wish he would resort to some old-fashioned exposition and just jump ahead. The problem is that we already know most of the facts the characters are going to consider. If you love the characters and like to hear them talk, then it's no big deal. If you are conscious of the fact that we have a long wait ahead of us before book 6 comes out (and who knows how long till book 7 and possibly book 8), then you'll have to forgive me for being a bit impatient.
Another reason for my impatience is that some of the questionable details of Martin's imaginary world are starting to wear thin: bodyguards appointed for life, an ice wall that lasts 1000s of years without maintenance, multi-year weather patterns that are a big deal in one continent but not in the other, the absence of technological advances in a world that seems to have all the resources ours does, medieval empires of a scope unimaginable in our own world, royal families with almost no members after centuries of unbroken dynasties.
Martin has gotten much better about overusing certain vocabulary since he started this series. Unavoidably, he still gets attached to certain words and phrases. 'Much and more' and 'little and less' are two that stood out in this latest volume. And even though he never strays from the emotional truth of his characters, I couldn't help but feel he made some missteps in this book as far as certain dialogs between characters of different ranks or classes.
Yet for all that, this series is still an amazing exploration into human nature. It is fascinating to watch the main characters discover the perils of leadership and agonizing over the right decision. Just as it is fascinating to watch other characters discover the result of their own hubris. It is hard to think of a single character in this series, whose future we are not interested in discovering, regardless of how we may feel about them. Just the fact that Martin has us rooting for multiple characters, even knowing that they will eventually be in conflict with each other, puts this series in a class by itself.
Reading a book like this makes you appreciate how little the world has changed in the last 100 years. And if people bought into the same weird fads 100 years ago, why not 200? Or 1000? Or all the way back to the beginning of civilization?
I thought I knew Elmer Gantry by reputation but I was mistaken. Whether Elmer does or doesn't believe in religion, he works really hard at it. And therein lies a deep and probing search into any of the professions like preaching, politics, activism, where success is measured by how much support and attention you can get. There is a kind of moral hazard created by that phenomenon.
Sinclair Lewis does a brilliant job of showing how Gantry gradually brainwashes himself, and how his hypocrisy arises, not from some deliberate choice on his own part, but from a lack of self-reflection and an absence of self-awareness. Gantry is terrifying, not because he is a hypocrit, but because he ultimately truly believes he is doing the right thing.
Lewis also paints a depressing picture of what happens to people in the ministry who are truly sincere and honest about their faith. It seems they will always lose out to people like Gantry who profess to harbor no doubts. Those who wrestle with their doubts--and even consider that struggle to be essential to their own faith--will never have the popular appeal of a charismatic personality like Gantry. What that says about the general public I leave to your imagination.
This series just gets better and better. Things that were annoying in the earlier books (like the overuse of certain vocabulary terms) have been fixed or at least mitigated in this latest installment. We will forgive him for falling prey to a new batch of overused terms towards the end.
Unlike book 3, book 4 starts off in a way that seems to deliberately ignore where the previous book left off. Rather than remind his readers of recent critical events, Martin simply goes on with selected storylines, trusting that eventually there will be enough clues to fill in the gaps. His opening scene doesn't appear to fit in anywhere and we will wait an agonizingly long time to find out what it relates to. Likewise, we are forced to wait an agonizingly long time to pick up the story lines for the most intriguing loose ends of book 3.
The result is a book that is always entertaining yet vaguely unsatisfying. While we get to watch the aftermath of the recent war play out, and while there is clearly a lot of background preparation for what must ultimately happen, there isn't a feeling of making much progress toward a final conclusion. I am not wishing for Mr. Martin to telegraph the ending, but book 5 had better do more than simply mark time.
I have recently been subjected to other imaginary worlds of inferior quality and it has me pondering why this particular world holds my interest. Martin has taken the time to construct a back story with unstable forces in play. And then he has taken the trouble to create a host of very individualized characters each with his or her own agenda. But the real magic comes when Martin lets those characters collide with each other and with the sociopolitical forces of their time. At that he is a real master. And all the specific trappings of the imaginary universe assume their proper role as background matter.
I guess I'm glad I finally got around to reading this. I can't help feeling I would have enjoyed it more if I had read it when I was younger.
There are some genuinely interesting ideas here. The key one being how to construct a vastly larger world than Earth on which we could still function. The parts where Niven explores how this world would differ from our own show some serious thought. We can ignore the technical difficulties such as how to keep it in a stable orbit.
The characters were marginally interesting, although in fairness I do have to note that recent sci-fi shows all seem to have similar conglomerations of personalities so maybe Niven deserves credit for being so influential. All the same I couldn't get especially invested in any of their supposed agendas. Why is it that alien races all have to be so simplistically monolithic in their interests, personalities, and outlooks?
There seems to be a recurring interest in granting human beings increased longevity while maintaining the physical bodies of the young. I suppose this is very appealing to the core audience for this kind of book. What is baffling is that these very old humans seem to have no acquired wisdom, judgment, skill set, or cultural depth that would correspond to this increase in lifespan.
Where the book really let me down was in the absence of any kind of compelling story. I kept waiting for a plot to develop, but it was just a basic adventure story pasted onto a very thin excuse to motivate the action. Niven fans will no doubt take me to task for overlooking the very compelling reasons these alien races had for undertaking this mission, but as I said the imaginary forces working on imaginary races using imaginary technology just doesn't excite me.
Still, this is an acknowledged sci-fi classic and spawned a series of other books exploring the premise, so it must be appealing to someone out there.
There are a number of harsh reviews here regarding Heinlein's depiction of women. I wish I could give a hearty rebuttal, but this is not a book I got deeply attached to. On the other hand, I think the critics are forgetting that the attitudes shown accurately depict a significant segment of liberated women in the 1960s, and that we really haven't moved that far beyond that as you can tell from just a glance at TMZ. Moreover, I don’t think Heinlein was writing for posterity. As far as extrapolating from the time of writing, I think the book was fairly prescient in describing what the 1970s would be like.
On a side note, his fake news stories of the future are dead on accurate in describing the current events of our own time. I don't know if that is hilarious or just intensely sad.
At this distance, it's hard not to wish that Heinlein had been interested in exploring different questions. However, the issues he focused on (gender relations, overpopulation, class privilege, environmental pollution) were the issues of that time. And as far as the depiction of human relationships is concerned, he does an excellent job of capturing the hypocrisies and inconsistencies of his time. It's never clear whether the author perceives them as such. Too bad. Would that we all could perceive the hypocrisies of our own time as clearly.
There is a hint near the beginning of the book that the whole story could merely be a fantasy constructed by a brain cut off from contact with the outside world. But this isn't supported by any further exposition within the text itself. Still, it's interesting to note that every book is essentially a fantasy constructed within the mind of the author.
I can't help wondering how the book would have come across if read by a female narrator. So much of the book takes place within the mind of a woman, and the dated expressions seem especially incongruous being spoken by a man.
The central theme that Heinlein seems to have been interested in was how to get a totally frank conversation between genders without any of the masks or defenses that customarily get in the way. To that end, he created a rather unique scenario. Sadly, I think his solution was of more interest to him and his readers at the time than it will be to readers of our own time.
The first segment is very rich in depth of scholarship. It is a reminder of just how superficial the education system is in terms of touching on the vast range of intellectual thought in human history. If the entire series was like this, it would be daunting. Fortunately, the other 11 segments slow down and focus on smaller topics of interest. That isn't to say they are less intense. These are all carefully crafted essays. You may not agree with everything they have to say, but they make a compelling case in every instance.
The common theme through all the units is exploring the philosophical, political, economic, moral and ethical underpinnings behind the idea of liberty. Not so long ago, I wouldn't have thought such a course was necessary. I thought everyone appreciated liberty as the number one priority of society. But liberty is under assault by a number of other interests. People who, with the best of intentions, think that society would be better off if we could control people better. People who think other people can't be entrusted to make important decisions about their own lives. People who think they can reduce the amount of unfairness in the world by curtailing some liberties. People who think there are higher priorities than liberty. And people who are just outright opposed to the idea of liberty.
Learning about Liberty may not convince everyone that liberty should be the number one priority of society, but I hope it will at least convince anyone who listens to it that there is a good case for that.
I was sorry when it ended. I am hoping Cato will add more things like this to their library.
Just one comment about production values. The overall narration is very good, although there were times when it felt like one of those high school documentary films. The producers made the decision to have actors read the direct quotes from the authors cited. This adds some variety to the material, but sometimes it seems like the actors went a little over the top. For a couple of people, like Ludwig von Mises, the text was nearly lost in the thick accent. Overall though, I think this was a good choice.
I had to take a detour into Japanese YA fiction because of the terrific trailer for Edge of Tomorrow, which appears to be (loosely) based on this book. The book is a well-paced, tightly plotted genre novella. It has two things going for it that make it stand out: an incredibly great premise, and one carefully prepared exchange between the two main characters about 3/4 of the way through.
Apart from that, there isn't much in the way of character development, or even the exploration of the possibilities inherent in this rather original alien invasion story. Anime and manga fans will be in familiar territory with how things play out. Sakurazaka is focused on his protagonist only, and he provides as little context as he can get away with. That said, he does cheat a little. When the first person narrative gets in his way, he switches to third person, giving the reader information that our hero can't know, and even some stuff that the human race is not allowed to know. He even takes the cute tactic of having his hero comment on how time travel stories generally don't quite make sense, unlike this one which is "real life". Having disarmed the reader this way, he blithely goes on to spew out his own set of inconsistent time travel conundrums. Once again, anime and manga fans will be unfazed.
As for the coffee… Well, there is a sense in which the book strongly suggests that coffee is the most important thing on the planet. Or then again, it might just be a metaphor. I'm still a little confused by the title. Is that a literal translation of the Japanese? Or am I missing the grammatical intention? All the same, a very enjoyable quick read. Don't let the 3 star rating deceive you.
I pestered Audible so long about this book, having heard nothing but glowing things about it for so many years (and no time to read the paper version). So I rushed to put it in my queue as soon as it came out. Garcia Marquez has said that you have to be very careful not to fall into his trap. I wish I knew what he thought his trap was. Is it about love in old age? Is it about immorality disguised as faithfulness? Is it about the unreliability of the characters' appraisal of people and events? Is it about something else entirely? I will probably never know.
First of all, the prose is beautiful. Even in translation, you get the sense of an author with a gift for finding the right word and the felicitous phrase. The book is simply littered with insightful observations about life and humanity. Second, the characters are solidly created. We are interested in them, even as we sense that they may not be people we personally would like to know. And therein lies my uneasiness with this book. The more we get to know these characters, the more ordinary they seem, and--especially with Florentino--the more troubling their moral outlook on life becomes. Garcia Marquez leads us step by step down the proverbial primrose path, and I can follow as long as I suspend disbelief. I have more of a problem with it in the cold light of day.
I wish I could say I liked any of these characters. It would make it so much easier to give a heartfelt endorsement to this book. It is without question a great book. Tolstoy has learned a lot in the 8 years since he wrote War and Peace. Instead of shifting back and forth between the story and historical analysis, he has figured out how to integrate everything into the story. Not only does the historical exposition fit naturally into the dialog between the characters, but his observations of the characters and their feelings is spot on perfect. And by cluing us in to their feelings, we understand why they react in a particular way to the next person they encounter, and how those internal processes contribute to hampering and undermining the oral communication we all depend upon.
This was a hard book to listen to because I kept wanting to stop and consider all the ideas Tolstoy introduced. I suppose the key question for the reader is to decide what you think this book is about. I don't think it's about Anna Karenina anymore than War and Peace is about war and peace. I think Tolstoy's central concern is about how to live one's life, and how to satisfy one's soul. From that perspective, Anna serves as an example of how seemingly justifiable choices lead inexorably to disaster. Levin is more truly the protagonist of the book. Everyone else is illustrating to one degree or another the thesis Tolstoy is exploring.
I picked this version of the book because I like Wanda McCaddon as a narrator. I suppose I should have given more thought to which translation I wanted to hear. This one (as best I can determine) is the one by Louise and Aylmer Maude. Both Maude's and Bennett's translations have served generations of Tolstoy readers, but I guess those of us who haven't learned Russian will have to wait awhile to hear a more updated translation.
One thing that really surprised me is that Karenin, for all his faults, is hardly the monster he is generally regarded to be. In fact, it is impossible to point to a true villain in this book. Nearly every character in inwardly pursuing what he or she believes to be a good end, even if they are misguided in one way or another.
I was a little nervous starting book 3. It had been a while since I finished book 2, and there is the further confusion of where the TV series left off, so it's hard to keep track of what has happened. However, Martin has the confidence of a storyteller who knows he has a good story to tell. He manages to entwine the recap of the last book with the plot threads of the new book in a way that feels totally natural. In fact, he takes such a long time getting his multiple story lines back in motion that I had forgotten I had ever taken a break in between books by the time all the characters were back in place.
I think Martin has improved as a writer. The first two books suffered from having too much exposition inserted under the pretence of interior monologue. Here in the third book the exposition is much better integrated and used to drive the story, not just as background filler. He often sets up certain vocabulary to foreshadow or bleed across in the transition to the next segment of one of his multiple storylines. And somehow he pulls off the amazing trick of making the ending incredibly satisfying and simultaneously leaving you craving the next book.
And now the list of words I would be happy never to hear again: garron, boiled leather, small clothes, milk of the poppy, dream wine, flagon.
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