Friday, July 28, 2017

Review: 1984

1984 1984 by George Orwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the saddest books I’ve ever read. Okay, I didn’t openly weep like I did in Where the Red Fern Grows , but it made me very sad. Does one need spoiler alerts for a nearly 70-year-old book? Just in case…spoilers ahead.

Winston’s welcomed acceptance and outright love of his defeat is what is so sad. In the end, he utterly betrays himself and all his values – and is glad to do so. If he was just defeated, it would be merely tragic; the hero fallen. In mere defeat, there can at least be a kind of grace or honor of having fought the good fight. But his almost ecstatic joy at being finally and fully defeated makes it so much worse. There is no dignity, no hope, no self, no human being left. And, of course, that’s the point.

Orwell’s insight into the psychology of totalitarian control as well as the motivations of those in control and those subjugated goes deep. O’Brien and Winston’s conversations in the last third of the book are worth much reflection.

1984 is heralded as a prescient and cautionary book about the dangers of the surveillance state. And it is, and the surveillance state is a real concern. However, I think most miss the real and more important warning of 1984: the dangers of the renunciation of individualism and reason. As much as Orwell was a socialist, he decried the evils of collectivism in much of his work (never mind how he squares the circle of an individualistic socialism—doublethink?). He was a fierce and early critic of both the Soviets and the Nazis: recognizing that the danger they posed was the same: collectivism. Both devoured the individual and subjected the mind to the state. Reason was their greatest enemy; hence the constant resort to violence, often random. This was not merely to get rid of explicit enemies, but to stultify the reasoning mind. 1984 takes these “ideals” to their full logical consequence. It is terrifying and depressing: it is a book without hope. And that’s what makes it so sad.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Review: House of Spies

House of Spies House of Spies by Daniel Silva
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This picks up the story from The Black Widow, but it has a very different feel and tone. Silva was certainly having fun with this one: the settings are more exotic: from Saint-Tropez in Southern France to the edges of the Sahara desert in Morocco; from London to Casablanca. Whereas The Black Widow was intriguing and thrilling because it takes us into heart and mind of ISIS, The House of Spies is intriguing and thrilling because of the glamour and glitz of the long con that Gabriel and his team are engaged into to catch Saladin. It has all the elements that make Gabriel Allon such a great series: the characters we fans love are all here doing their thing.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Review: How You Play the Game: A Philosopher Plays Minecraft

How You Play the Game: A Philosopher Plays Minecraft How You Play the Game: A Philosopher Plays Minecraft by Charlie Huenemann
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As both a father of die-hard Minecrafter and a player myself, there was much to enjoy about this little book. It was at its best when Huenemann used Steve’s perspective to explore some of the philosophic ideas and questions inherent in the game and in playing it. Steve, as a narrator in the book, engages in his own philosophic musings and meditations much like a Minecraftian Descartes. It was in these passages that book was the most intriguing and innovating; giving a new perspective on the game. The book was weaker (note: not bad, just less interesting for me) when Huenemann takes over the narration. Partly this is because of my own training as a philosopher. It’s less novel for me when he draws out, for the example, the Humean ideas in Steve’s musing. I think for a non-philosopher interested in learning more about philosophy these parts might be helpful and interesting. But for me, they were kind of old hat. I wanted more of Socratic Steve.

It’s a quick, fun read. It raises some interesting questions and does a nice job of covering many of the traditional and conventional questions and thinkers in philosophy. It could even be a nice supplement to an intro course.

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Sunday, July 09, 2017

Review: Killer Instinct

Killer Instinct Killer Instinct by Zoƫ Sharp
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I found a new series! Zoe Sharp's Charlie Fox is smart and tough. She is a throwback to classic protagonists of the genre. She's got a sharp tongue, kicks butt, and solves the crime without much help from the police. She is self-contained and competent without being superheroish.

Sharp weaves a thrill ride of story--though a bit gruesome at times. It isn't all that unpredictable, but there are enough twists and turns to keep you on your toes. I enjoy her style and the way she uses the language. She took cliches and made them fresh. There is a lot of British slang that add to the tone and setting. I could almost hear the text in British accent.

Definitely recommend this for fans of the genre and the likes of Lee Child, Robert Parker, etc.,

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Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Review: The Black Widow

The Black Widow The Black Widow by Daniel Silva
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Silva is at his disturbing and prescient best here. Allon is preparing to take over the Office but first he has to send an agent to infiltrate ISIS and prevent a major attack. Allon and his team (with an interesting new member) are back in action from Syria and Iraq to Paris and Washington. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I won’t say more. Although I will say that I am thankful (and hopeful) that ISIS is not as capable as Silva presents them here.

Given the way this ended, the story line in Black Widow continues into the next one. I can’t wait for the next volume (out this summer).

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Saturday, July 01, 2017

Review: John Adams

John Adams John Adams by David McCullough
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m in the minority here, I know, but I was quite underwhelmed by McCullough’s biography of John Adams. Now maybe it was the audio version, but I had trouble getting through it. I’ve listened to Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton biographies and they all captured the spirit, intensity, and drama of the age far more than McCullough’s book. McCullough seemed much more intent on capturing the daily ebb and flow of Adams’ day-to-day life. There were tedious sections of back and forth correspondence, filled with the likes of the minutiae of his daily walks or the shopping necessary to outfit the house in France. Some of this is to good end: his relationship with Abigail, for example, comes out in their correspondence quite clearly.

When McCullough does get to the more historical elements, the book picks up pace and can be quite good. McCullough shows the reader the tremendously important impact that Adams had on the birth of this nation: his role in the early revolution, the drafting of the Declaration, the securing of financing for the revolution, and his presidency (which was not nearly as successful as the former items).

McCullough does a good job of balancing the pros and cons of Adams’ character. His pride and vanity is clear as day, but so too is his honesty and integrity. He could be overbearing and pedantic, but he is a man of deep principle and commitment to the liberty of the republic and it citizens.

One of the interesting things about reading the biographies of the Founders is getting the different points of view of the other Founders. In McCullough’s Adams, the main antagonist, so to speak, is Jefferson. Jefferson comes off, as he does in other places, as incredibly intelligent but hypocritical. His relationship with Adams is complex and helps to draw out the character of each man. Hamilton makes some brief appearances and predictably is dismissed as a dangerous power-hunger intriguer. Washington is distant: his presence is felt, but he doesn’t seem to be much of a direct player here.

Adams is an important figure who helped shape his age and ours, largely for the better. It is worth knowing more about him and I’m glad I slogged my way through until the end. McCullough’s style might be more suited to the eye than the eye, so this might have been a book I should have read, rather than listened to.

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