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review 2018-05-24 01:56
Agricola and Germany
Agricola and Germany (Oxford World's Classics) - Anthony Richard Birley,Tacitus

Every one of Roman’s greatest historians began their writing career with some piece, for one such man it was a biography of his father-in-law and an ethnographic work about Germanic tribes.  Agricola and Germany are the first written works by Cornelius Tacitus, which are both the shortest and the only complete pieces that he wrote.

 

Tacitus’ first work was a biography of his father-in-law, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, who was the governor of Britain and the man who completed the conquest of the rest of the island before it was abandoned by the emperor Domitian after he recalled Agricola and most likely poisoned him.  The biography not only covered the life of Agricola but also was a history of the Roman conquest of Britain climaxed by the life of the piece’s hero.  While Agricola focused mostly one man’s career, Tacitus did give brief ethnographic descriptions of the tribes of Britain which was just a small precursor of his Germany.  This short work focused on all the Germanic tribes from the east bank of the Rhine to the shores of the North and Baltic Seas in the north to the Danube to the south and as far as rumor took them to the east.  Building upon the work of others and using some of the information he gathered while stationed near the border, Tacitus draws an image of various tribes comparing them to the Romans in unique turn of phrases that shows their barbarianism to Roman civilization but greater freedom compared to Tacitus’ imperial audience.

 

Though there are some issues with Tacitus’ writing, most of the issues I had with this book is with the decisions made in putting this Oxford World’s Classics edition together.  Namely it was the decision to put the Notes section after both pieces of writing.  Because of this, one had to have a figure or bookmark in either Agricola or Germany and another in the Notes section.  It became tiresome to go back and forth, which made keeping things straight hard to do and the main reason why I rate this book as low as I did.

 

Before the Annals and the Histories were written, Tacitus began his writing with a biography of his father-in-law and Roman’s northern barbarian neighbors.  These early works show the style that Tacitus would perfect for his history of the first century Caesars that dramatically changed the culture of Roman.

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review 2018-05-21 11:52
The Virgin Suicides - Jeffrey Eugenides,Nick Landrum

The Virgin Suicides just like Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's pleasantly surprised me. I have seen the film many years ago and I remember the feeling of nostalgia settling in after the film has ended. (I think Josh Hartnett's dreamy eyes played a part in it. ;) ) I found the book does the same. A well-constructed storytelling draws you into the adolescent impressionable world - dealing with growing up, falling in love and dying. The novel doesn't answer questions. Instead, the novel makes you want to cross the street from the boys' spying place to the Lisbons' house, knock on the door and ask, 'What is happening inside?'

 

The story is a reminisce of a grown man and is told from the collective first-person of teen-aged boys (I think there are 7 of them, I tried to count) who are obsessed with the enigmatic Lisbon sisters: Therese, Mary, Bonnie, Lux and Cecilia. Cecilia is the first one to attempt and complete suicide setting in motion series of various responses from neighbours and schoolmates. Her suicide stirs up the sleepy neighbourhood, confronts them and makes them deal with emotions and feelings that are suppressed due to being unacceptable in social circles. While the remaining sisters are attempting to move on with their lives - they too are confronted with social pressure and parental restriction. How do they escape?

 

The novel's narrative is stylistically flowing. This uncomplicated language adds to the emptiness of the beautiful world around when dealing with macabre events. The novel does not claim to be omniscient, but its memories are fragile just like the sisters.

 

One can discuss and draw so many different issues and themes from the novel that I think it would be perfect for any literary essay. One thing did surprise me that at the end, after having walked the reader through the story, the author calls the act of suicide "simple selfishness". My understanding that even as an adult, the narrator is still dealing with personal guilt and consciousness. 

 

Brilliant read. A must.

 

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review 2018-05-17 13:00
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
The Forever War - Joe Haldeman

The first time I read The Forever War was when I was in University. While I was first reading it, it didn't make an impression until after I put it down and I found myself thinking about it for a long time afterwards. I have now read it several times, and each time I get something new from it.

 

The author, Joe Haldeman, uses his experience in Vietnam War, as well as his education in Physics, to craft this tale of a futuristic war between humanity and a vaguely understood enemy named Taurans.

 

Basic plot: Near the end of the twentieth century, humanity discovers the 'Collapsar Jump,' which allows ships to travel vast distances in a fraction of second (from the crew’s perspective). Mankind begin to colonies space- but one day, a ship disappears, with an alien ship in the vicinity. Many old military types are in positions of power, and with Earths economy stagnating, they use this disappearance as justification to start a war with the unknown species. The United Nations (in the book, the U.N. is the unofficial world government) passes the Elite Conscription Act and the protagonist, William Mandella, is conscripted to the U.N.E.F. (the United Nations Exploratory Force). All conscripts are in peak physical health and fitness, highly educated and with IQ’s of 150 and over. They undergo rigorous training on Earth, the Moon and later on a planet called "Charon", which lies beyond Pluto.

 

They are then shipped off to their first battle in 1997- which turns out to be a massacre as the enemy is totally unresisting, has no concept of fighting and is slaughtered by the human forces. This expedition last two years from the soldier’s point of view, but due to time dilation, the soldiers arrive back on Earth in the year 2024. William Mandella, alongside fellow soldier and lover Marygay Potter, leaves the army, but both re-enlists due to how intolerable things have become on Earth, as well as the death of their parents (their only remaining family).

 

William survives four more subjective years of service- with over a millennium passing in ‘real’ time. He attains high rank through solely through seniority (when he argues with his superiors over his promotion, telling them he has only been in four campaigns, he is bluntly told “That is still three and a half more than the average soldier survives.”) William is in essence a pacifist, who continues to be a soldier because he feels he does not have the talent to do anything else in the ‘modern’ world.

 

Promoted to the rank of Major, William is eventually separated from Marygay, and given command of his own company. Commanding them is difficult- they are racially homogenous and uniformly homosexual. The now Major Mandella is despised by the troops under his command because the soldiers have to learn twenty first century English to communicate with him and because heterosexuality is seen as an ‘emotional dysfunction’ and a sign that he is a sexual deviate. After nearly years on the planet they are garrisoning they engage the enemy in battle- which turns out to be another massacre, this time for both sides. The enemy is totally wiped out and the human soldiers suffer an 88% causality rate. Returning to command (after seven hundred years due to time dilation), they find that peace has been reached and that the war has been for nothing. There is some good news for our hero, as Marygay has survived the war and is waiting for him on a planet called MF.

 

Now for the review: An excellent read and social commentary on the nature of the military and how troops can feel isolated from the civilian population upon their return from combat, and this sense of isolation only grows as the war goes on and society changes so drastically- both on earth and on other planets humans have colonized.

 

There is a sense of gender equality in the book- both women and men have to opportunity to be front line troops, with equal access to promotion. Early in the book, there is no bar on a person serving due to sexual orientation- one of the officers is openly gay. I loved the way the author dealt with the changes within society. In the beginning, the population is apathetic towards the war. They dislike that is takes so much tax to support it, but can accept that because the war means work. Later, it is reported that they have revolted against the war, but lost. This patter is cyclical- going from apathy to revolt several times during the course of the thousand year war.

 

Overall, I found The Forever war to be a brilliant read. However, I do have two major complaints about the book.

 

One: The views of homosexuality have not aged well. In the book, homosexuality is seen more as a personal and socially directed ''Choice'' than just been part of who a person is.

 

Two: The way women are treated. Yes they are equal in many ways- they can do the same jobs as men, they are open to the same promotion opportunities etc- but there is one scene which, to me, undermines this. As part of their military training, the original company of soldiers are sent to a plant which will (in time) become the strategic and logistical command center for the entire war and are ordered to help build improvements- the idea being that they will need to know how to build these same structures on the planets they will be fighting on. However, a large part of the company which is already stationed there is male. The woman of the 'new' company are "required by military custom, and law" to be compliant to any potential sexual partner. I don't think I have to elaborate on this topic. The book looses a star because of it.

 

Overall, a five star book that looses a star because of the above. An excellent read for the most part.

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review 2018-05-03 19:42
1984 by George Orwell
Nineteen Eighty-Four - Simon Prebble,George Orwell

This book is quite terrifying. I think most everyone but me has read it or was forced to read it in high school. I was a delinquent student and missed out on this book somehow and decided to read it now. Don’t ask me why. It is perhaps a very bad time to decide to read this book about a world where Big Brother is watching your every move, history is being re-written on the daily and replaced with lies and where most everyone is just another cog in the wheel and basically a Sheeple obliviously going along with things.

 

Anyway, this book was pretty chilling and very readable except for the long winded section where the “hero” is reading the journal/book provided to him about the way of the world. I think that could’ve been tightened up as it repeated much of what the reader already knew but if you need to know all the details you’ll love this part. I wasn’t a fan of the “Newspeak” section at the end where it explains in great detail how language is being slaughtered to control the masses. I also didn’t like the “hero” but I don’t think I was supposed to. In this world no one can be trusted and he is a rather weak and loathsome creature. He’s married, hasn’t a clue where his wife ended up and doesn’t really seem to care, he cheats and he sees a young woman and fears her because she is part of the Thought Police but secretly he wants to hurt and rape her. Ugh, what a loathsome creature. Did I say that already? Despite his distasteful personality and all of my complaints, I think you should read this if you haven’t already because it tackles the absolute absurdity of allowing government complete control over every aspect of your life.

 

The audiobook version I listened to as narrated by Simon Prebble who does an excellent job.

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text 2018-04-25 12:10
Another Audible 2-for-1 Sale: Classic Works
The Virginian - Owen Wister,Jack Garrett
Classic Novels: Meeting the Challenge of Great Literature - Arnold Weinstein,Professor Arnold Weinstein Ph.D. Harvard University
Steppenwolf - Hermann Hesse,Peter Weller
Roughing It - Mark Twain,Grover Gardner

I do enjoy the 2-for-1 sales. Audible never makes its entire inventory available in these sales but selects a couple of hundred titles to offer. Some sales I find nothing and some I walk away with hours worth of listening. 

 

Please don't read anything into my choosing both Roughing It and The Virginian. Slowly but surely, I seem to be consuming more and more Twain, and I especially like his travelogues. Meanwhile, The Virginian (and Steppenwolf, too) are returns to high school reads.

 

Then, to round out my choices, there is a "Great Courses" lecture series on Classic Novels, which will either be very enlightening or just simply pompous beyond bearing. 

 

 

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