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History shows Churchill to be one of the greatest orators of war since Abraham Lincoln. He is also a fine writer. “…The Grand Alliance” is a fascinating first-hand account of an English Prime Minister/First Lord of the Admiralty’s perception of the great events of World War II. During the war years, Winston Churchill became the equivalent of a U. S. President and Secretary of Defense rolled into one. Winston Churchill, like Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt join a list of extraordinary men.
This is an extraordinary history of WWII because it is written by a principal participant. Subsequent historians have clarified and expanded Churchill’s observations. The perspective of time seems to have been kind to Churchill’s memory of events.
"Midnight’s Children" is about God and the snake. Written by Salman Rushdie, it is a story about religion and knowledge. It raises issues about God, Allah, Shiva, Buddha and many fundamental religious beliefs. In "Midnight’s Children", Rushdie uses a satiric pen to tell the story of India’s independence and the role of religion in Indian/Pakistani society.
"Midnight’s Children" is a “coming of age” saga about one child born at the strike-of-midnight August 15, 1947, the day India became an independent nation-state. Rushdie demythologizes religion and promotes humanism by telling a story of India and Pakistan’s history. He infers the prime mover of life is human nature; not God.
Rushdie uses the snake as a symbol of knowledge; knowledge that contains both good and evil. Rushdie writes that snake venom kills and heals; i.e. it kills when there is too much; heals when used in correct proportion. Saleem, as a young boy, survives early death with administration of the right proportion of venom; i.e. the right amount of knowledge.
Prominence of a nose is a recurrent theme in Rusdie’s story. At times, Rushdie’s writing is laugh-out-loud funny, like when he describes the prominence of a big nose. Though the clairvoyant quality of Saleem’s life is lost when his nose is operated on, the nose offers other extraordinary powers. A listener is inclined to believe, as Saleem matures, that a nose knows about life and living in the Middle East and other regions of a troubled world.
Without vilifying any one religion, Scientology, like all organized religions, is a belief system manufactured by man. Lawrence Wright, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist, writes an informative, titillating. and believable book about Scientology. After listening to “Going Clear”, the human failings of Scientology are stripped bare with a force as explosive as the abuse of parish children by Catholic’ priests. The many testimonials of Scientologists that say Scientology “improved their lives” infers some value in its teachings; however, like all organized religions, it is subject to human failings. No organized religion in recorded history has been without human failure.
Wright names the names of the most famous Scientologists with Tom Cruise and John Travolta at the top of the list. But, he also explains why lesser lights, like Kirstie Alley, Anne Archer, Greta Van Susteren, continue to follow the religion. What makes the story more interesting is why some of the early members are leaving; i.e. Paul Haggis, Bruce Hines, and possibly, Tommy Davis, a wealthy follower and former spokesman for Scientology.
Wright amplifies interest by revealing secrets of the religion, some of its leader’s alleged violence, and mysteries of disappearing members.
Where will Scientology be 100 years from now? Will Hubbard’s myths become a gospel of truth or will Scientology fall into the dustbin of history’s failed cults?
“Bring Up the Bodies” fictionally recreates the history of King Henry the VIII’s schism with the Roman Catholic Church. Hilary Mantel writes the story of Anne Boleyn’s demise and Thomas Cromwell’s role as the King’s henchman in separating Boleyn’s head from her body. Mantel’s “Bring Up the Bodies” reminds one of Hamlet’s “The play’s the thing!” which will out the truth.
Anne Boleyn is never characterized as a weak, simpering woman but as a passionate, calculating, and forceful female that refuses to be cowed by the King, Cromwell, or her lascivious and narcissistic family. She hates like a man but uses her feminine allure to seduce a King and transfix a multitude of suitors.
Mantel shows that Henry the VIII is the dominant force in decisions made in England but the instrument of execution for the King’s decisions is the brilliant, irreligious pragmatist and tactician, Thomas Cromwell. Mantel’s first book, “Wolf Hall”, sets the stage for Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power; Mantel’s second book “Bring Up the Bodies” is the play, with Cromwell as the main actor, the Queens as supporting actresses, and noblemen as bit-players; with the King as producer and director.
Lisa Randall believes the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is one of the wonders of the world, competing with the pyramids of Egypt in its colossal achievement. Located near the border of France and Switzerland, it is the largest construction project ever built.
“Knocking on Heaven’s Door” is the story of the Collider’s creation, inner workings, and scientific objectives. It is also a story of America’s loss of leadership in science.
A quibble one may have with Randall’s book is that she digresses into derivative finance to suggest that more scientific analysis would obviate the kind of financial disaster that occurred in 2007. She suggests that proper analysis of real estate derivatives would have stopped the madness. The naiveté of that argument is that there were a few that saw the collapse coming but their scientific analysis only convinced a small number of people. Few financial “geniuses” chose to believe real estate derivatives were a financial instrument of destruction. How different is that from the scientific community’s position on global warming?
Scientific analysis misses part of what makes human’s human; i.e. minds can know something and still act irrationally; not to mention, rationality is often in the mind of the beholder. Randal admits as much in writing about beauty and truth and clearly notes that they are not necessarily equivalent because of human subjectivity. If one can make millions of dollars off a quant’s mistaken calculations, what incentive does that person have to ignore the opportunity?
Randall convinces one of the formidable reality of the LHC and its potential contribution to science. America may have missed a chance to be a leader rather than follower of one of the 21st century’s great contributions to science, the Large Hadron Collider.
By writing–women are human beings first–, Betty Friedan speaks truth to power. Friedan’s theme in The Feminine Mystique attempts to enlighten thick-headed males and doubting women about the equality of human beings. It is sad to realize that such a banal and obvious statement as “women are human beings first” so perfectly exposes the ignorance of prejudice.
Every rational human being has a brain that functions in the same way. This is not to suggest that genetics do not matter. It is not to suggest that environment does not matter. It suggests that sexual function, color of one’s skin, and culture are outside influences that create prejudice while the brain is an infinitely malleable organ that carries the potential for genius as well as stupidity.
Freidan’s concern is that women are not treated as equals even though women are approximately equal-in-number to men. Things have changed since 1963 but equality remains a work-in-process. Of the fortune 500 companies in the United States, only 25 have female CEOs. Women doing the same job as men in 2010 receive $.81 for every $1 paid to men, a 19% difference. Though house work is shared more now than in the 1960s, women work 18 hours a week homemaking while men work 10 hours a week (according to a PEW Research Study in 2011); i.e. the greatest burden remains with women. Without meaning to argue that the glass is half empty rather than half full, the revolution exemplified by Freidan’s book is incomplete. Many people continue to fight for equality of all human beings but many men and women continue to resist; to the detriment of society.
Noah Charney wrote an article in “The Daily Beast” titled “Fact-Checking Dan Brown’s ‘Inferno’: 10 Mistakes, False Statements, and Oversimplifications”. The truth is there are more than 10. But Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and now Inferno are terrifically entertaining fictions. Charney’s petty criticism misses the point of reading a novel for sheer entertainment. If one reads Alexandre Dumas (The Count of Monte Christo or The Three Musketeers), the same criticism is applicable, but great tales are told by both Dumas and Brown.
There are many twists and turns in Brown’s story that will draw its audience into the tale. The cleverness of Brown’s writing is enhanced by some knowledge of Dante’s poem but the story rests on its own merit. Inferno, like The Three Musketeers, is a highly entertaining story.
"The Way of Kings" is a guilty pleasure: i.e. guilty for listening to 45 hours of an audio book; pleasure from a writer’s imagination that vivifies human strength and weakness. Brandon Sanderson teaches creative writing at BYU. Judging from Wikipedia’s bio of Sanderson, he uses three laws when teaching or writing creative fiction. Each of these laws helps explain why "The Way of Kings" is a pleasure worth its 45 hour length.
Sentient beings are not perfect; i.e. they are good and evil. "The Way of Kings" shows that some beings believe there is no God but God; others believe there is no God but science. "The Way of Kings" suggests there is a middle way. One might conclude from "The Way of Kings" that sentient beings live life by their own rules and suffer their own consequences.
"The Way of Kings" audio book will have different meanings to its listeners but the skill of Brandon Sanderson and the expert narration of Reading and Kramer will entertain all who listen to its 45 hour adventure.
This novel about “Watergate” will offend and entertain. It will offend those who believe Nixon was a great political leader. It will entertain those who believe Nixon was simply a man with strengths and weaknesses, overblown by great power. Mallon cleverly weaves a story of the Watergate break-in that magnifies its stupidity by revealing known facts and improbable speculations.
Aside from a fictional side story of an extramarital affair for Mrs. Nixon, Mallon gives his audience an entertaining story. He successfully reveals how momentous the Watergate’ cover-up became.
Nixon did not lose the Presidency from the petty Watergate’ burglary; he lost it from the cover-up. Just as LaRue is not found guilty of murdering his father, Nixon is not convicted for a petty crime. However, both are punished for the remainder of their lives. As Forest Gump said, “stupid is as stupid does”.
Those born after 1945 take anti-bacterial medicine for granted. Before 1932, approximately 100,000 people died from pneumonia in the United States; an estimated 2,000 mothers died from “child birth” fever. There were no effective treatments for syphilis or malaria. Sore throats, commonly referred to as “strep throat”, were notorious killers. The spread of germs from poor hygiene and contaminated surgical procedures killed as many surgery patients as it saved. With the advance of WWI, wound infection became as great a danger to survival as combat.
Thomas Hager tells a terrific story that resonates with today’s complex societal relationship with the drug manufacturing industry. On the one hand, huge investment is needed to discover patent-able new drugs; on the other hand, millions of people cannot afford new medicines that are manufactured and controlled by drug companies that seek better return on their investment. The opportunity for a manufacturer to hide behind patent law to unreasonably dominate a critically important drug is as possible today as it was in the early 1900s. One wonders how much rising medical costs are a function of greed.
Ken Follett, in “Pillars of the Earth” reminds one of Alexander Dumas; in part because of John Lee’s narration (who is the speaking actor of “The Three Musketeers” and “The Count of Monte Christo”) but, more particularly, because of the thrilling adventure of his story. Ken Follett successfully captures the balance point of life where life turns either up toward constructive fulfillment or down through despair.
One can easily fall in love with a Dumas’ adventure but Follett surpasses Dumas because he reaches beyond adventure to civilization-building with a credible story of how cities form, expand, prosper, and die. Follett creates a brutal world of an imagined 12th century town in England, called Kingsbridge. The heart of the town is a church and monastery.
Follett ties every characters’ story into an ending that touches history in a satisfying denouement that pleases one’s sense of justice; i.e. each of Follett’s characters bare the consequence of life’s joys and sorrows with an end and balance point that only comes with death.
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