“Freedom of choice is more to be treasured than any possession earth can give. It is inherent in the spirit of man. It is a divine gift…everyone has this most precious of all life’s endowments—the gift of free agency; man’s inherited and inalienable right.”

--David O. McKay

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The One with World War Z

290. Title & Author: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks (342 pages)
Genre:  Fiction—Horror
Completed: 5 April 2014

Summary & Review:
As humanity attempts to regain everything that was lost during the Zombie War, many struggle to come to terms with what happened and are at a loss as to how to move on. Presented as a collection of vignettes from around the globe covering all stages of the outbreak, panic, war, and victory, the survivors recount their individual experiences of World War Z detailing the horror, heartbreak, and eventual triumph.

I was surprised by how much I liked this book. The format the story was told in was really engaging. As you read each “account” from the various “survivors,” more and more of the story was revealed showing how various nations, groups, and individuals dealt with the zombie outbreak. It was a cleaver narrative ploy. Plus, Brooks was deftly able to write in dozens of voices giving each character their own personality and each tale its own atmosphere. Apparently the movie adaptation is nothing like the book, which is too bad because the book was excellent. Maybe HBO will do a miniseries of it someday. One can always hope…

Rating: 9.0

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The One with An Officer and a Spy

289. Title & Author: An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris (429 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Historical Fiction
Completed: 23 March 2014

Summary & Review:
In 1894, the French army was rocked with the revelation that a spy had been working in their midst passing information to the Germans. The man convicted was young Jewish captain, Alfred Dreyfus, and he was sentenced to exile and imprisonment on a deserted tropical island off the coast of South America. After taking over as chief of the secret intelligence section of the army, Colonel Georges Picquart discovers the case against Dreyfus was little more than rumor, hearsay, and anti-Semitism. Even after Piquart discovers the identity of the real spy, the top Generals in the army refuse to reopen the case and shut down anyone who dares question the “Dreyfus affair.”

This book is a novelization of actual events and I thought it was fascinating. Robert Harris often writes historical fiction, and his talent at doing so is what has made him my favorite contemporary author. He is able to transport the reader to worlds and scenarios far outside the reader's realm of familiarity—e.g. ancient Rome, and in this case nineteenth century France—with ease. This book was no exception. Harris deftly dramatized the actual invents using Picquart as the narrator allowing the reader to uncover the truth behind the Dreyfus affair in much the same way Picquart did, in bits and pieces until the whole of the terrible conspiracy was made plain.

It was also fun to read about locations I am increasingly familiar with such as Bayreuth, which is only a forty-five minute drive away.

Rating: 8.5

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The One with Shadow Puppets

288. Title & Author: Shadow Puppets by Orson Scott Card (375 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Science Fiction
Completed: 22 February 2014

Summary & Review:
The power struggles on a newly divided Earth continue as Peter Wiggin, Ender’s older brother, continues to try and consolidate power under the office of the Hegemon. However, his most dangerous adversary, Achilles, continues to be one step ahead. When Peter sees the opportunity to capture Achilles and try to bring him under his command, he takes it despite the protests of Bean and Petra. Knowing the danger Achilles brings wherever he goes, Bean and Petra flee to start a life together. Their travels eventually take them to Damascus where their old battle school friend Alai has been made Caliph under a united Muslim world. With the help of Alai, they can effectively challenge the growing Chinese empire that Achilles catalyzed.

This was another enjoyable entry in the Enderverse. Many people who read Ender’s Game complained that the subsequent books in the series were radically different. While this is true, I still liked the rest of the original Ender’s Quartet. However, it seems to me that those that liked Ender’s Game but weren’t too fond of the rest would like all of the Shadow Series. These books continue in an uninterrupted timeline from Ender’s Game and are much less philosophical. Personally, I like them all.

I started this book the day before we took a trip to Barcelona, Spain for our four-day weekend. During the trip I didn’t have too much time to read, but finally got some time on the flight back to Munich. As I’m sitting on the plane, the book is talking about Bean and Petra spending time in Catalonia, Barcelona being their favorite city, and getting married in the cathedral of La Sagrada Família! It’s funny how that works sometimes. I had just been there and now here I was reading about it in an Enderverse book!

Rating: 7.5

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The One with The Basilica of the Sagrada Família

287. Title & Author: The Basilica of the Sagrada Família by Josep Maria Carandell (239 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Art & Architecture
Completed: 22 February 2014

Summary & Review:
In 1883, architect Antoni Gaudi took over the construction of a new basilica in Barcelona dedicated to the Holy Family. Over one hundred and thirty years later, Gaudi’s groundbreaking vision of La Sagrada Família is being carried on by the dedicated residents of the city. This guide to the church examines the history and construction of the church and includes dozens of high quality and eye-catching photographs of the structure and its interior.

La Sagrada Família is a fascinating story. Despite having had multiple architects, artists, sculptors, and craftsmen working on the project, it carries on united by Gaudi’s vision. It really is unlike any other Catholic church I have been in or seen. One of the coolest pictures in the book, which had a lot of incredibly beautiful photos, was a rendering of how the church will look when it’s finished. Supposedly the construction will be completed around 2030. I would love to go back to see it then!

Rating: 8.0

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The One with Freedomnomics

286. Title & Author: Freedomnomics: Why the Free Market Works and Other Half-Baked Theories Don’t by John R. Lott, Jr. (196 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Economics
Completed: 12 February 2014

Summary & Review:
Economist John R. Lott offers his rebuttal to the wildly popular Freakonomics and other pop-economic theories. Using some of the arguments presented in that book as starting point, such as abortions lowering crime or realtors ripping off the sellers they represent, Lott examines how despite the waxing and waning popularity of other economic theories, only free-market capitalism offers consistent personal freedom and prosperity.  Lott succinctly lays out the basics of free-market economics by examining the importance of public reputations, small-government, and incentives.

While this book was partially in response to Freakonomics, it also serves as a suitable introduction to free-market economics in general. What I like about the way Lott presented his arguments is that he would often present the opposing view point and explain why the authors thought that way. Then, he would show how that theory was incomplete or incorrect and explain clearly how the free-market and limited government solve those problems more effectively and at less cost. I wish that the free-market was explained this clearly to all students, since many seem not to properly understand what it really is and why it is so important.

Rating: 7.5

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The One with Gates of Fire

285. Title & Author: Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae by Steven Pressfield (386 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Historical Fiction
Completed: 2 February 2014

Summary & Review:
In the year 480 B.C., the mighty army of the Persian Empire was bearing down on the free Greek city states. While vastly outnumbered, the officers of the Spartan army found one location where the numerical advantage of their foes would be diminished: a small pass between the mountains and seaside cliffs known as Thermopylae, or traslanted, the “hot gates.” Here, three hundred Spartan warriors would lead a tiny force of allied Greeks against the full might of the Persian forces. While they would all give their lives in an epic defeat, their bravery, tenacity, and example would motivate all of Hellas to resist the yoke of Persian conquest.

Wow. This really was an “epic novel” as the subtitle claims. Reading it, I was in awe of the Spartan way of life, especially their bravery and selflessness. Pressfield did an outstanding job of exploring the mind of these warriors, examining the sheer terror of war that all experienced and explaining what values and virtues they were taught from birth that allowed them to go into battle anyway.

Only about the last third of the book was the actual battle. Pressfield used the majority to examine Spartan culture and training. This section was not only fascinating and entertaining, but also served to set up the final battle expertly. The ready was able to more fully understand why these men would so willingly give their lives.

I recommend this book.

Rating: 9.0

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The One with The System

284. Title & Author: The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian (402 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Sports
Completed: 22 January 2014

Summary & Review:
In recent years, the popularity of college football has exploded. Bigger TV audience, bigger stakes, bigger risks, and of course, bigger payoffs. Reporters Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian delve behind the high-definition Saturday glamour of college football to explore what makes this multi-billion dollar industry tick. They find tales of triumph and tragedy, scandal and redemption, and of dreams lost and found.

I really enjoyed this book. Each chapter was its own vignette about an aspect of college football: the tumultuous world of coaching a big-time program, walking in the cleats of a blue-chip recruit, examining the sometimes shady role of boosters, and more. Several chapters were devoted to tales that centered on my alma mater, Brigham Young University.  The first examined the fall of former head coach Gary Crowton following a rape scandal that implicated several of his players. Other chapters told the incredibly inspiring stories of Kyle Van Noy and Ezekial “Ziggy” Ansah. If I were a BYU coach or recruiter, I would give this book to the parents of all the high school players I was recruiting.

Another couple chapters of the book were devoted to Mike Leach and his controversial firing at Texas Tech and the story behind his selection as the new coach at Wazzu. I thought these were great chapters, too. Interesting, well-written, and insightful. While those sections and the BYU stuff were my favorite, the entire book held my attention and did a great job of giving the reader a behind-the-scenes look at college football. If you’re a fan, I’d recommend this book.

Rating: 8.0