“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, August 27, 2014

The One with Treason

303. Title & Author: Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism by Ann Coulter (292 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Politics
Completed: 20 August 2014

Summary & Review:
Columnist and pundit Ann Coulter examines the uncanny pattern of Liberals choosing dictators, terrorists, and despots over American interests time and time again. From the days of their support of Stalin and the Soviet Union through their lack of support for the war of terrorism, liberals always support barbarism over civilization and freedom.

While I’ve never read one of Ann Coulter’s books before, I am pretty familiar with her positions through columns and television appearances. She often says things in a manner that are purposefully outrageous to garner attention, but if you understand that is her schtick it’s no problem. What I’ve always appreciated about Coulter is that she is no wimp on immigration and realizes what a danger unchecked illegal and massive legal immigration is to our country. While she didn’t touch on that here, I still thought the book was very interesting. The pattern she points out—that of liberals always essentially rooting against America and her traditional values, culture, and the historic American nation—is obvious once you see it.

Also, nearly the entire first half of the book was examining “McCarthyism.” This section was particularly interesting to me since in school and in the current culture you are taught that McCarthy was hunting phantom Commies and was a paranoid, hate-filled bully. As Coulter ask, but was McCarthy right? Were there Soviet spies in the government? The answer is a resounding “yes.” Hundreds of Soviet spies filled all levels of the Federal government up to the highest levels as proved by recently de-classified Soviet cables. Liberals often say something “smacks of McCarthyism” when they are accusing someone of being paranoid about a threat that isn’t there, or that they claim isn’t there. However, McCarthy had every right to be paranoid.

Rating: 7.5

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The One with In Sunlight and in Shadow

302. Title & Author: In Sunlight and in Shadow by Mark Helprin (705 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Novel
Completed: 1 August 2014

Summary & Review:
After returning from fighting with the 82nd Airborne in World War II, Harry Copeland takes over his father’s esteemed luxury leather goods company. Despite making a wonderful project, the company will soon be forced out of business due to increasing pressure from the mob. Yet, even during these trying times, Harry is able to find unheard of happiness as he meets and falls in love with Catherine. As the two fall deeper in love and marry, the battle for Harry’s business escalates. Soon, Harry realizes there is but one solution to save the company his father spent a lifetime building—he must return to the battlefield and fight the organized crime syndicate responsible.

This was a hard to define novel. It was long, over seven hundred pages, and contained numerous elements and sub-plots. The main thread of the story, though, was the relationship between Harry and Catherine. But, other storylines, which I felt were a little less than critical to the main story, were dwelled upon at length. This also made the pacing strange. After hundreds of pages dissecting odd places or scenes, the author then rushed the climax and resolution. The quality of Helprin’s writing, however, allowed me to enjoy this book despite those shortcomings in plotting and pacing.

Rating: 7.0

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The One with A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity

301. Title & Author: A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity by Bill O’Reilly (256 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Memior
Completed: 21 July 2014

Summary & Review:
Fox News television host Bill O’Reilly recounts the events in his life that have led him to his current place as cable television’s top-rated news anchor. Raised in a blue color neighborhood on Long Island, O’Reilly was steeped in the values of America and Catholicism allowing him to see the problems with the “progressive” values that have been taking over the country since the 1960s.

Back in the States I used to watch O’Reilly quite a bit. Even though I disagree with a lot of his opinions—no, I’m not to the left of him, I have disagreements with him from the libertarian right—I still thought his show was entertaining. But, this book wasn’t so much. His life just hasn’t included really that many exciting events worth reading 250 pages about. That is not a bad thing, for a normal person to have a normal life, and I certainly respect his work ethic and achievements, but maybe he didn’t need to write a memoir.

Rating: 5.0

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The One with The Zombie Survival Guide

300. Title & Author: The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead by Max Brooks (270 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Other
Completed: 21 July 2014

Summary & Review:
Unprepared for the coming Zombie Apocalypse? Have no fear! This guide has everything you need to know to get ready for a battle to the death, well, your first death or their second one. This guide includes priceless information on weapons, escape, defense, and survival so that you can outlast your undead foe. At the end of the guide, all known zombie attacks from throughout history are recorded and analyzed so that you can recognize it when the next outbreak occurs.

I had no idea what this book would be like. When I purchased Max Brooks’ excellent novel World War Z  (#290) I saw it included in a box set with this book and figured, why not? I assumed this guide would be a spoof, full of satire and humor. That was not the case. It was presented as if it were a real guidebook to surviving a zombie outbreak. All the advice seemed thoroughly thought out and serious, so I’m not sure what this book is. Humor? Not really. Horror? Nope. Even the accounts of the attacks at the end were presented in a "scholarly" manner, rather than in a way to elicit fear. Finally, I just had to classify it as “other.”

Rating: 6.0

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The One with Europe 101

299. Title & Author: Rick Steves’ Europe 101: History & Art for the Traveler by Rick Steves and Gene Openshaw (505 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—History, Art History, & Travel
Completed: 30 June 2014

Summary & Review:
Television host and travel guide Rick Steves offers an overview of Europe’s history, art, and major sights all presented to help travelers in Europe understand what they are seeing, enjoy more of the sights, and not miss the highlights. Beginning with the roots of European culture in ancient Egypt, the history of European culture is traced through ancient Greece, Rome, the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and finally the wars of the 20th Century. Along the way, Steves introduces key figures in art, music, science, and religion.

I really enjoyed the beginning of this book, at least the first 350 pages or so. Here, Steves does what he does best. He guides the reader through Europe ensuring the all the best sights, paintings, and experiences are covered and offers tips to experience those yourself on your travels. Near the end of the book, however, the authors included a chapter on Europe today which was obnoxiously preachy and progressively political. Even in the very last section of the book, an art appreciation chapter, they couldn’t let go of their ridiculous politics. While writing about color theory they were listing things associated with the color red, including “passion, action, intensity, states that hate gay marriage…” (emphasis added). This, and many other comments like it, were completely unnecessary, immature, and unprofessional. To so obviously not understand the viewpoint of those who disagree with gay marriage and to demonize those who disagree with it as “hating” it is pathetic. Personally, I don’t understand their need to so repeatedly assault the reader with their personal politics in a book about history, art, and culture. It took away immensely from what began as a quality, fun book.

While this likely will be the only book authored by Rick Steves on this list, that doesn’t reflect how many of his books I have been reading the past year. Since we moved to Bavaria last summer, a large chunk of my reading time has been taken up studying Rick Steves guidebooks to France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Croatia & Slovenia, Austria, Eastern Europe, etc.

Rating: 5.0

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Arguments Summed Up: The Law

Title & Author: The Law by Frédéric Bastiat
Genre: Nonfiction--Philosophy & Politics
My Rating: 9.5

Summed Up:
Frédéric Bastiat, nineteenth-century French philosopher lays out the proper place of the law and government in a free society. Rather than staying within the proper bounds, Bastiat saw that the law had been perverted. “The law, I say, not only turned from its proper purpose but made to follow an entirely contrary purpose! The law becomes the weapon of every kind of greed! Instead of checking crime, the law itself guild of the evils it is supposed to punish!”

The natural rights of man—i.e. life, faculties or the freedom to use your abilities, and property—exist outside of all laws, government, and society. Because these exist and man desires to protect them, he organizes to do so. Thus, proper law is the collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense. The use of force is given to us to defend our individual rights, not to destroy the rights of other. Just because this individual force has been organized to a collective force does not change this fact and does not give the laws and those who make it the latitude to destroy individuals rights.

Just governments should allow individuals to freely labor and protect the fruits of their labor from attach. If government stayed to this role, then no one would have any argument with it. No one would blame the government if they were unsuccessful. Rather, all would appreciate the invaluable safety provided by such a government. This type of government, however, rarely exists because of the tendency common among people that, when they can, “they wish to live and prosper at the expense of others. This fatal desire has its origin in the very nature of man—in that primitive, universal, and insuppressible instinct that impels him to satisfy his desires with the least possible pain.”

As Bastiat explains, “man can live and satisfy his wants only by ceaseless labor,” but, “since man is naturally inclined to avoid pain—and since labor is pain itself—it follows that men will resort to plunder whenever plunder is easier than work.”  When does this theft by one group from another cease? Only when it becomes more dangerous and more painful than labor, i.e. when all the measures of the law are there to protect property from such plunder. Unfortunately, laws are often made that make such plunder legal. Such perversion of the law has occurred due to two reasons: “stupid greed and false philanthropy.”

People naturally rebel against laws that allow legal plunder of their life, liberty, or property. But, if laws were “restricted to protecting all persons, all liberties, and all properties,” not favoring one group or another, “if law were nothing more than the organized combination of the individual’s right to self defense; if law were the obstacle, the check, the punisher of all oppression and plunder—is it likely that we citizens would then argue much about the extent?” In short, “if the law were confined to its proper functions, everyone’s interest in the law would be the same” and no one would attempt to use it to restrict the rights or steal the property from others.

You can read my review of The Law here.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The One with Vermeer

298. Title & Author: Vermeer: The Complete Paintings by Norbert Schneider (93 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Art History
Completed: 26 June 2014

Summary & Review:
While not much is known about the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, he left behind a powerful artistic legacy. His works are largely interiors domestic scenes, but behind the simply compositions often hides a deeper meaning of instruction and morality. Along with Norbert Schneider’s commentary are full-color reproductions of all of Vermeer’s surviving paintings.

This is another from the Taschen series that I have read several of. Like most of these, the commentary isn’t the best. This perhaps could be due to poor translation from the author’s original language. Whatever it was, Vermeer’s paintings need no explanation for someone to know they are masterpieces. I recently had the privilege of seeing The Art of Painting in the Kunsthistorisches museum in Vienna. It was captivating.

Rating: 6.0 due to the writing, not the paintings