"The art of life is to deal with problems as they arise, rather than destroy one's spirit by worrying about them too far in advance."

--From Imperium by Robert Harris

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The One with A Man in Full

325. Title & Author: A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe (742 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Novel
Completed: 28 June 2015

Summary & Review: 
Charlie Crocker is seeing the destruction of his real estate development empire. His grand vision of a great outer-Atlanta development put him too far in the hole to the bank and now the bank has come knocking to recoup its money. Conrad Henley, a young man with a small family, has just been imprisoned unjustly after being fired from his miserable frozen foods warehouse job. Roger “Too White” White, a black Atlanta lawyer, is proud of his station in life but often feels isolated from the black community. These men, and more, get swept up into the controversy when a star black athlete at Georgia Tech is accused of raping the daughter of a prominent white family. As tensions swell across the city, these men will all be defined by their actions in the coming storm.

This was the second novel of Tom Wolfe’s that I’ve read. I first read The Bonfire of the Vanities (#274), which is a modern classic and I loved it. This book started out just as strong, but as Steve Sailer noted, the ending sputters. I hear Wolfe was in poor health and couldn’t do the ending justice. While the wrap-up was rushed and slightly unsatisfying, reading to that point was very enjoyable so I will still look back on reading this book fondly. Wolfe is a keen observe of American culture and humanity at large and his books are always worth the time.

Rating: 7.5

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The One with Escape from Camp 14

324. Title & Author: Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden (199 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Memoir
Completed: 30 May 2015

Summary & Review:
Shin Dong-hyuk never even wanted to escape the North Korean political prisoner camp he was born into. He never knew that a world existed beyond his fenced-in camp or that there was any other way of life besides the constant near-starvation, endless labor, and cutthroat survival of his life in the notorious Camp 14. After enduring years of beatings, witnessing numerous executions including those of his own mother and brother, and doing anything to survive, Shin meets a new prisoner who had once traveled widely and mesmerizes him with tales of China and the West. Spurred on, largely by his desire to eat meat and rice, he and his new friend make a break for freedom.

This book was horribly fascinating. Whenever I read anything about North Korea my brain almost can’t accept that such a place exists. But, it does, and the reality is horrendous. The stark contrast between North and South Korea, two countries made up of the same genetic stock but following two wildly different political paths, is incredible. South Korea’s economy is over 30 times that of North Korea and the living standards between the two can’t even be compared. Yet, the North Korean government’s hold over their people is so strong that many do not even know what the world outside North Korea is like and, therefore, they have no will or desire to affect change.

I was unaware of many of the efforts South Koreans, including their government and churches, put into getting people out of North Korea and helping them once they arrive in the South. I wish them luck in their efforts.

As for the book, Harden had an incredibly interesting story at his disposal which I think covered a multitude of weaknesses in pacing and prose.

Rating: 7.5

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The One with The Husband's Secret

323. Title & Author: The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty (445 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Novel
Completed: 21 May 2015

Summary & Review:
Cecilia is blessed with a picture perfect life: handsome husband, three wonderful daughters, and a successful business. All of that is upended, however, when she finds a letter addressed to her from her husband with instructions only to open it in the event of his death. When the weight of not knowing becomes too heavy, she opens the letter and her life will never be the same.

After my wife read and loved Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies (#319), she bought this one and “made” me read it when she was finished. Moriarty definitely has subjects she likes to write about: school moms (or “mums” in her Australian English), marriage, secrets within marriage, suburbia, murder in said suburbia, etc. So, there were a lot of similarities between the two novels of hers that I have read. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, because I had really enjoyed Big Little Lies, too. This was another entertaining novel and Moriarty has a light prose that is easy to read. While I didn’t like this one quite as much, it was still fun to read.

Rating: 7.0

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The One with Trickle Down Theory and Tax Cuts for the Rich

322. Title & Author: “Trickle Down” Theory and “Tax Cuts for the Rich” by Thomas Sowell (13 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Economics
Completed: 14 May 2015

Summary & Review:
Economist Thomas Sowell examines the oft-ridiculed (by the left) "Trickle Down" theory of economics along with the tax cuts that supposedly are justified by such a theory. As Sowell succinctly explains, no free-market economist has ever advocated a “trickle down” model nor have they used such logic to justify tax cuts. Rather, tax cuts have been shown—repeatedly—to result in increased tax revenues while simultaneously spurring economic growth.

Sowell has a talent for simplifying arguments so that laymen like me can understand them. However, he doesn’t dumb it down or condescend to his audience. Rather, he explains things clearly as only someone who truly understands his subject can. As a Millennial, I’ve had numerous arguments with classmates, colleagues, and friends about “trickle down economics.” It is amazing how pervasive that myth has become. I think I’ll just buy thirty copies of this little book and pass them out to people as the subject comes up. 1,000 words by Tom Sowell are worth about 100,000 of my words.

Rating: 8.0

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The One with Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them

321. Title & Author: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander by J.K. Rowling (88 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Fantasy
Completed: 10 May 2014

Summary & Review:
The oft mentioned and cited book from the Harry Potter Series is finally available for the Muggle world. Now in its fifty-second edition, Newt Scamander’s classic text details all the magical creatures from Acromantula to Yeti.

Like Quidditch Through the Ages (#314), this book is included in a nice boxed set that J.K Rowling wrote for charity. It was another short volume but had some entertaining bits. However, Quidditch Through the Ages was a more enjoyable read.

Rating: 4.5

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The One with Keukenhof Holland Park Guide

320. Title & Author: Keukenhof Holland Park Guide 2015 by Bart Siemerink (75 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Travel
Completed: 14 April 2015

Summary & Review:
The spring gardens at Keukenhof, Holland, have been called the most beautiful gardens in the world. This guide for the 2015 season, a season running only eight weeks, explains the history of the park as well as the techniques the gardeners employ to ensure maximum flowering. This year the theme was a tribute to Van Gogh.

We had the chance to visit here this spring and it was gorgeous. While only about 30% of the tulips in the huge fields were blooming, around the gardens themselves there were tons of flowers. This guide was short and not as in depth as I would have hoped. But, it did include some cool details such as the “lasagna” method they use to plant the bulbs so that the gardens are in bloom for as long as possible.

Rating: 5.0

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The One with Big Little Lies

319. Title & Author: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (460 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Black Comedy
Completed: 31 March 2015

Summary & Review:
Jane and her son Ziggy move to the idyllic Piriwee Peninsula for a fresh start. After years of closing herself off due to the sexual assault that resulted in her son’s conception, Jane is slowly beginning to live again—finding new friends, moving to a new location, and maybe even encountering a new romantic interest. Her friends Madeline and Celeste take her under her wing and welcome her to the town. However, after Ziggy is accused of bullying a classmate at the local school, tensions run high among the parents and when everything finally comes to a head at the alcohol fueled parents' night fund-raiser, secrets are exposed, fights are had, and someone winds up dead.

Paige read this book as part of her online book club that she and a friend host. She really enjoyed it and flew through the pages. That was good enough recommendation for me, so I picked it up. This is definitely a woman’s book, but, it was a really enjoyable woman’s book. It was filled with the drama and fashion and relationships and squabbles that seem to appeal to modern women, but it was interesting enough to hold my attention. The writing was light and brisk, taking a very lighthearted hand at some serious subjects, such as domestic abuse and sexual assault. That was a nice way to address those issues without coming off sanctimonious or just plain boring the reader. It was good enough that I wouldn’t mind reading something else by the author.

Rating: 8.0