“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, March 25, 2015

The One with Shadow of the Giant

318. Title & Author: Shadow of the Giant by Orson Scott Card (371 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Science Fiction
Completed: 20 March 2015

Summary & Review:
With the threat of Achilles neutralized, the new powers of the Earth begin to tear the world apart. The united Muslim empire under Caliph Alai holds onto a rebellious India being led by Virlomi, while a rejuvenated Chinese empire led by Hot Soup looks to make its mark. More than ever, the need for a united world under the leadership of Peter Wiggin as Hegemon is apparent. Thankfully, he has the brightest mind in the world at his side: Bean. But, the genetic manipulation that has given Bean his superhuman intelligence is also his death-sentence, leaving him with only a few years to live. Will there be time for Bean to help Peter achieve the dream Ender fought for: A peaceful, united Earth?

This is the fourth book in the Shadow Series and I think, overall, this is a stronger group of books than the original Ender Quartet. That is probably due to the more cohesive nature of the storylines. Each book in the series flows naturally from the previous one, unlike in the Ender Quarter where there is a three-freaking-thousand-year-gap(!) between books 1 and 2.

Bean is an excellent character. I liked him in Ender’s Game and loved Ender’s Shadow. It has been very worthwhile for Card to explore and develop this fascinating character.

Rating: 8.0

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The One with American Exceptionalism

317. Title & Author: American Exceptionalism: An Experiment in History by Charles Murray (59 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—History & Politics
Completed: 1 March 2015

Summary & Review:
Libertarian scholar Charles Murray examines the concept of American Exceptionalism: What is it? Has it ever existed? Does it still exist? Is it a good thing or not? In Murray's estimation, yes, American Exceptionalism did exist and it was based on four main components. One, an exceptional setting, i.e. a country separated from the political storms of Europe and Asia with friendly neighbors to the north and south. Not only that, but a large, lightly populated country with incredible natural resources. Two, an exceptional ideology that was based on the famous words Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence wherein all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights. Three, the exceptional traits found in the citizenry that included industriousness, religiosity, a highly level of civic engagement, and a nineteenth century egalitarianism. Four, exceptional politics that were free from the snares that trapped many European nations. On these four principles, American Exceptionalism amazed the world from the time of our founding through the first half of the twentieth century. Murray then examines whether or not those traits are still present in modern America, i.e. is America still exceptional? His conclusion? Yes, but not as much as it once was because we have left behind so many of the virtues that once distinguished us.

Murray is an sound scholar and an excellent writer. While this was a very short volume, his arguments were persuasively presented. It almost hurt to read this book though. As he presented evidence of what once made America exceptional, it just highlighted how much we’ve lost. I think a large part of it is due to the change in national immigration policy that occurred in 1965. Since then, basically unchecked legal immigration and the swell of illegal immigration have completely transformed our nation. This process has almost obliterated any sort of cohesive American culture or set of values. My dream would be a moratorium on all immigration for a period. We need time to assimilate who has come and then relearn what it means to be an American.

Rating: 7.0

I have also read and reviewed Murray's Coming Apart and What it Means to be a Libertarian

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The One with The Rosie Effect

316. Title & Author: The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion (344 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Romantic Comedy
Completed: 18 February 2015

Summary & Review:
In the sequel to the outstanding The Rosie Project (#293), socially awkward scientist Don Tillman and his wife Rosie are enjoying their first year of marriage when something happens that is definitely not in Don’s meticulous plans: Rosie becomes pregnant. With the shock of this development sending him reeling, Don must figure out how to save his relationship and learn how to be a father.

Last year Paige read The Rosie Project and loved it so she recommended I read it as well. Much to my surprise, I loved it, too. It was hilarious and entertaining and engaging. So, when we heard there was going to be a sequel, we were extremely excited. Paige read it first and was, well, disappointed. Thus, I headed into this with tempered expectations. I actually liked the book quite a bit—much more than Paige did. The beginning was funny in the same quirky way the original was, but then the plot became more serious and even sad and distressing at times. I think Paige really wanted another light hearted, fun novel and that is not what this book was. But, like I said, I enjoyed it and would recommend it to those who read The Rosie Project—just be prepared for a more serious book.

Rating: 7.5

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The One with Cowards

315. Title & Author: Cowards: What Politicians, Radicals, and the Media Refuse to Say by Glenn Beck (269 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—History & Politics
Completed: 2 February 2015

Summary & Review:
Media entrepreneur and conservative commentator Glenn Beck examines how the country has been taken off course by politicians, journalists, and educators. Chapters cover the threat of Islamism, the problems with the education system, and the coming knowledge and technological explosion. The solutions to these and other problems is not more government, but less. Beck argues for libertarian solutions to get our country back on track.

At first, I wasn’t really into the book. As Beck was dropping the L word (libertarianism that is) it felt a little johny-come-lately, as if he was just trying to be trendy and leave behind the stuffy world of conservatism. However, as the book progressed I started to enjoy it much more. The last chapter in particular was fascinating. I am not much of a tech guy, I’ve always preferred the arts to sciences (despite my profession) so I am not fully versed on the progress science and technology are making in artificial intelligence. It sounds insane, scary, awesome, and more all wrapped up into one. If I wasn’t religious, I think scary would be the word that fit best the predicted future.

Rating: 8.0

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The One with Quidditch Through the Ages

314. Title & Author: Quidditch Through the Ages by Kennilworthy Whisp by J.K. Rowling (105 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Fantasy
Completed: 4 January 2015

Summary & Review:
The history of the most popular game in the wizarding world is presented from the early days of rowdy kids playing in a peat bog to the era of professional leagues and the World Cup. Included in this short history are examinations of the development of the rules and balls of the game, the teams of Britain and Ireland, and the spread of the sport throughout the world.

This book is included in a nice boxed-set called The Hogwarts Library that J.K. Rowling wrote for charity. It is a very brief book, but still has fun aspects to it. Rowling did a nice job making it humorous and including some Easter eggs for fans of the Harry Potter series.

Rating: 6.0

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Second One with Pompeii

313. Title & Author: Pompeii by Robert Harris (278 pages)
Genre: Fiction—History & Thriller
Completed: 3 January 2015

Summary & Review:
This book tells the tale of the volcanic eruption from Mount Vesuvius by following the life of Marcus Attilius, an engineer for the Roman Aqua Augusta for the two days previous to the eruption and the two days during the terror of it. It is also filled with extremely interesting insights into Roman Engineering and life in the towns near Vesuvius.

I just recycled my summary of this book from its first appearance on this review list (#7). Apparently, back then I didn’t write very long summaries, and reading it I didn’t really do justice to how entertaining the story is. Recently, Paige and I went and saw a movie titled Pompeii, but unfortunately it was not based on this book. The movie was just a gladiator movie followed by a destruction movie. Lame. This book is excellent and would have made a tremendous movie. Half the fun is the fact that you as the reader already know the end so you get to enjoy all the hidden clues of what is about to happen that the characters in the story miss.

This is the first book that I’ve re-read since I started this book review list and has appeared on here twice. Why did I read this one again? Besides the fact that I really like it, I read it in preparation for our upcoming trip to the Bay of Naples and the ruins of Pompeii.

Rating: 9.0

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The One with The Painted Word

312. Title & Author: The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe (106 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Art History & Theory
Completed: 28 December 2014

Summary & Review:
Author and social commentator Tom Wolfe turns his sharp eye--and sharper wit--on modern art, theory, and criticism. As he traces the evolution of art among the culturati during the Twentieth Century he shows the inconsistencies and hypocrisies within the insular art world. As artists and critics attempted to dispose of the millennia of artistic heritage before them they eventually came full circle and became the very thing they were trying to destroy.

This is only the second book I’ve read by Tom Wolfe, but I am already a huge fan (you can read my review of his modern masterpiece The Bonfire of the Vanities here). I especially enjoyed seeing Wolfe deploy his talents to examine Modern Art. I earned my bachelor’s degree in Art History and even wrote my senior thesis on Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, so I was thoroughly exposed to the art of the Twentieth Century and I completely agree with Wolfe’s observations. I can’t say I altogether blame the artists and critics for delving so deeply into the theory behind the art rather than the quality of the art. Where does one go after Michelangelo? Bernini? Caravaggio? Can a modern artist really top the artistic mastery of such geniuses? Probably not. So, instead they try “rejecting” all that and focusing on theory.

One quote I found particularly interesting explains the general public’s dislike of modern art. There was never a demand or market for it. Rather, the self-anointed masters of the art world presented it to the people and told them that this was "good" despite what they, the public, may think. Long quote: “The notion that the public accepts or rejects anything in Modern Art, the notion that the public scorns, ignores, fails to comprehend, allows to wither, crushes the spirit of, or commits any other crime against Art or any individual artist is merely a romantic fiction, a bittersweet Trilby sentiment. The game is completed and the trophies distributed long before the public knows what has happened. The public that buys books in hardcover and paperback by the millions, the public that buys records by the billions and fills stadiums for concerts, the public that spends $100 million on a single movie—this public affects taste, theory, and artistic outlook in literature, music, and drama, even though courtly elites hang on somewhat desperately in each field. The same has never been true in art. The public whose glorious numbers are recorded in the annual reports of the museums, all those students and bus tours and moms and dads and random intellectuals…are merely tourists, autograph seekers, gawkers, parade watchers, so far as the game of Success in Art is concerned. The public is presented with a fait accompli and the aforementioned printed announcement, usually in the form of a story or a spread of color pictures in the back pages of Time. An announcement, as I say. Not even the most powerful organs of the press, including Time, Newsweek, and The New York Times, can discover a new artist or certify his worth and make it stick. They can only bring you the news, tell you which artists the beau hamlet, Cultureberg, has discovered and certified. They can only bring you the scores.” (p. 24-5)

That nails it on the head and explains the widespread scorn for Modern Art. People see a Rothko and think, “That is just a square painted on a canvas. Boring.” Or they see a de Kooning and think, “That’s ugly.” But, the residents of “Cultureberg,” as Wolfe calls it, those few thousand world wide clustered in New York and Paris and Milan and Berlin who tell everyone else what is art, they scoff and laugh at the little people and think, “Oh, they just don’t get it. They’re so dumb.”  Just compare Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel to Franz Kline’s Painting Number Two and ask yourself which is more worthy of acclaim and admiration. So, who’s the dumb one?

Rating: 9.0