“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, 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

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The One with The Law

297. Title & Author: The Law by Frédéric Bastiat (105 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Philosophy & Politics
Completed: 1 June 2014

Summary & Review:
French classical liberal philosopher Frédéric Bastiat presents his views on the proper role of the law and government in society. Man is the sum of his life, faculties, and production, or in others words, his individuality, liberty, and property. In Bastiat’s view, these aspects of man precede and are superior to all human society. Thus, proper laws exist to safeguard these aspects. The law is a collective organization of the individual innate right to the lawful defense of life, liberty, and property.

I plan on posting an “Arguments Summed Up” entry soon to more fully explain this incredible essay. Why was this not mandatory reading in high school? Ideas like these are what America was founded on, yet no one seems to think it is important that students study these in middle and high school. I don’t get it.

While fairly short, this thoroughly explains the proper role of government and law in society. I loved Bastiat’s emphasis that human rights to life, freedom, and personal property do not exist because the law says they do, but that laws and governments exist because those rights do. This essay was on par with John Stuart Mill’s seminal On Liberty.

Rating: 9.5

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The One with The Royal Palace of Herrenchiemsee

296. Title & Author: Royal Palace of Herrenchiemsee by Detta Petzet (58 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—History & Travel
Completed: 29 May 2014

Summary & Review:
This short guidebook walks the reader through the island palace of King Ludwig II of Bavaria, Herrenchiemsee. After a visit to King Louis XIV’s palace of Versailles, Ludwig wanted to recreate that same majesty in southern Germany so he commissioned this palace on an island in Lake Chiemsee he had recently purchased. Featuring copies of some of the most famous rooms from Versailles, Herrenchiemsee brought French baroque majesty to Bavaria.

The best thing about this guide was the inclusion of full color photos of all the completed rooms at the palace, especially the Great Hall of Mirrors and the State Bedchamber. The commentary was light on history, however, and a little heavy on lists of materials used making it a tad dry. The palace itself was a 10 on my rating scale, this guide is somewhat lower.

Rating: 5.0

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The One with By the Sword

295. Title & Author: By the Sword (A Repairman Jack Novel Book 12) by F. Paul Wilson (350 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Thriller & Science Fiction
Completed: 27 May 2014

Summary & Review:
After receiving a routine request for help in recovering a stolen object, Repairman Jack discovers that the missing katana sword that the owner seeks is no ordinary blade—and that those who are after it will stop at nothing to get it back. Navigating a world of ancient cults, modern day “Kickers,” and Japanese yakuza gangsters, Jack must recover the stolen sword and prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. As the imminent battle with the Adversary approaches, Jack will need every advantage he can get and this ancient katana may be one such help.

In the author’s note at the beginning of this book, Wilson notes that for the remainder of the Repairman Jack series, the books will not be stand alone novels with neat, tidy endings, but rather they will be a series of continuing stories that lead to an ultimate conclusion. This is reflected in the ever-increasing importance of the Otherness, Adversary, etc in the plots. Books such as Crisscross (#13) are fairly standard thrillers with hints of the supernatural in them. But, the more recent entries in the series such as this and Bloodline are heavy with the currents that have lurked behind the whole Repairman Jack cycle. I really liked this entry in the series. Wilson has created an awesome character in Repairman Jack and I am anxious to see how the tale concludes.

This book put me over 100,000 pages read since I started tracking and reviewing all my books!

Rating: 8.0