Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Some Great Reads

The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean.  What a delightful exploration of science, biography, history and the Universe.  Using the “map” or “chart” of the Periodic Table of Elements, Kean reconstructs what we know of nearly every element - with a history of how the elements were discovered, charted, and “placed” into the Table, which is itself a map of meaning.  Not only did I love this book, I read it a 2nd time in audio with my dad, a retired Science Teacher as we drove up and down the California & Oregon coasts.  Not only was the book great, the memories with my dad were stupendous. With his science knowledge, he often knew what the author would articulate about a particular element before the author spoke - and yet, Dad and I still learned so much.  Fascinating.  A great read.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.  Having taught and studied the Shoah/Holocaust for more than 20 years, there was nothing “new” in this book’s articulation of pain and turmoil for me to discern, though the book was still a good read.  It follows the journey of one who experienced the holocaust, and love, and turmoil - from deportation through to the other side of being a displaced person. The book has very good reviews and is narrated well.  

Amish Peace by Suzanne Woods Fisher. The author took a sabbatical from her normal life to live among the Amish.  In this series of short chapters she recollects the “wisdom tradition” of the Amish as she discerned it.  The book includes narratives of Amish life and wisdom to be discerned from how they live, as persons, as family, as workers, as Christians.  It would not be a book I would describe as transformative, though, given my own life of too busy, too connected, too active, too non-sabbatical, I may come back to read this book again.  It has wisdom that I need to learn, know and live out.

Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America's Heartland by Jonathan Metzl.  The past many years I’ve read a number of books on the dislocation of indigenous persons in the Americas - and the influx of many others (primarily Africans) through forced deportations and enforced enslavement.  This book picks up on the current culture(s) that have emerged in the established patterns of “whiteness” that have become embedded in The United States of America’s way of living.  So many reminders and aspects of learning about how entrenched we whites are in our privilege that emerged from taking the privileges of others.  ***** Amazon review here.

The Last Days of the Incas by Kim Macquarrie.   While listening to a BBC podcast I’ve come to appreciate this year, I heard about the history of the Incas from “In Our Time” (podcast.)  This inspired me to read more.  The Last Days provided the data I needed to know more - so much more.  This is one of so many books I’ve read in the past years, for which I have used a certain phrase after finishing the book, “I didn’t realize how little I knew until I read this book.”  The books detail covers the names and history of Spanish Conquistadors, and several generations of Inca leaders (and their history which created their empire).  How these people developed life in the highlands, their ability to travel and pass on communication, their ritual - and - their defeat by such a small group of Conquistadors was intriguing and I learned a vast amount of data.  A few take-aways:  (1)  So many persons in their own time have had their own WELL-developed theologies and ways of discerning the world . . . and each has been “wrong” as evidenced by the fact that their god(s) and ways of being/thinking did not prove their way of life to be superior to those who defeated them.  (2) Persons will kill, maim, destroy for wealth/gold.  And the appetite for this, for some, is indomitable.  No matter how much gold the conquistadors received, it was never enough.  As long as such way of thinking exists in the world, and is permeated, without equitable distribution of goods and resources, there will always be another group/person/power that emerges to conquer.  (3) The Conquistadors, though hugely overwhelmed by the Incan majority, defeated due to superior technology in horses and steel (swords, armour).  Technology is incredibly influential in various forms of conquest.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer.  Though I viewed the movie many years ago - this was my first read of the book.  The book included as much about the authors life, as it did about the boy ABCDEFG who left the States to head into Alaska. Having seen the movie, of course, I “knew” the plot though, as with “every book” - the book told more than the movie.  My wife believes about me - and I think it may be true - that one day, too I’ll disappear into the wild.  ha!  It won’t happen, I don’t think I could do the fishing/trapping/hunting necessary to survive . . . though the thought of escaping the “rat race(s)” of so many peoples acquisitiveness and “stuff” would be delightful.  I’m not a good city person.  The only major note would be that the boy almost made it . . . he was not uniformed about what he was doing *precisely* in Alaska . . . but the weather and lack of map finally got to him when he had become sick and needed aid.

Missoula:  Rape & the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer.  I read this book.  I did not like it.  I do not like reading (or hearing or seeing on the news) stories of persons being made victim, and specifically not persons being victim to rape.  I do believe America and too much of the world exhibits a “rape culture” - and I think “the Media” does not help with sexual violence, I think persons in power use their power to make victims, the rapes of women and children in war is deeply, deeply, deeply troubling to me.  While the stories here were “just” about the rapes of women in Montana - it exposed rape culture there (in Montana), in Universities, among young people - and tells the stories of rape culture being allowed/permitted in our world/America.  

Prophet’s Prey:  My seven year investigation into Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints by Sam Brower.  Another book I did not like reading, though, from which I learned much.  As told by the Private Investigator who “hunted” down and exposed Warren Jeffs and the FLDS movement, this book narrates the history of the FLDS, their practices in many categories and specifically their abuse and mistreatment of boys and girls, and their malformed and ingrown “family” systems - and the abuse and depraved practice(s) of Warren Jeffs and those in his inner circle.  I read a quote a few years ago that comes back to me often in the review of many past decades/centuries of narcissistic megalomaniacal world leaders and leaders of movements who are “cult leaders” - and it’s about how essentially “every one of these” so called prophets/mouthpieces for God are men, who exploit women.  It’s disturbing. Disturbing.  Disturbing.  A good book though, disturbing.  I’m thankful for persons like Brower who exposed this cult and cult leader, this false prophet who preyed on too many.

The Naturalist: Theodore Roosevelt a lifetime of exploration and the triumph of American Natural History by Darrin Lunde.  There is so much more to *any* American President than what could have been covered in my High School and University history classes (even if I took the A.P. course! ha!)  I wouldn’t rack this up as one of the best books I’ve read, nor is Theodore Roosevelt my “hero.”  I am, though, VERY thankful that he served as the President in the time that he did for many reasons, not least of which is his “conservationist” bent toward preserving land and areas for “parks” and federal “non-use.”  The only thing particularly interesting to me in this book was how much time Teddy took to hunt/fish/travel as President.  He may have done this as much as some more recent Presidents took time to golf - and for my part - I wish more leaders were in Nature, helping us better discern our responsibilities to ecosystems, the earth and all living beings in Creation, of which we have usurped our caring responsibility and acted with disdain toward the Creation.

A Lion Called Christian by Anthony Bourke.  A “fun” and “cute” story of how two young men fell into the responsibility of buying, and then caring for, a lion cub . . . toward her maturity.  Nothing remarkable in this short tale, though a fun and insignificant read.

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover.  I don’t like reading books about abuse.  Therefore, this book was deeply problematic for me.  I learned much from Westover’s life, and I’m sorry she, too, was the victim of male-centered, religiously fueled egocentric and likely the mental health problems of her dad.  Raised to be a “second-class” citizen with no education, Westover broke free from her family system, ending up a scholar at Cambridge.  A curious story of her family’s existence - including their homeopathic oil tinctures and wealth that emerged from it.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz.    This “life-like” narrative, reconstructed from the plausible family history of the author, narrates a young girls emigration from pending family exploitation in Latin America and her journey to the United States.  While technically not factual, the narrative emerges from a possible reconstruction of events that took place in the family system of the author and, even as fiction, the story helps “humanize” the life and choices and experience(s) of some who immigrate from Latin America to the United States in the past decades.  While aimed at a “teen” audience, the book was still a compelling read and one I could easily recommend to many who need to better discern the complex processes and perspectives that shape immigration decisions and ramifications in the Americas.

Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City by Russell Shorto.  It’s been too long since I read this book for me to remember it fully, though, I know I enjoyed it as I immediately recommended it to two of my most esteemed colleagues who teach Philosophy.  I shared with them that this book taught me so much about the history of idea, and liberty and philosophical issues that emerged in the “permissive” liberty based systems of the past 600+ years in what has become Amsterdam.  In the opening chapters I learned that a very curious perception of the Eucharistic Host being in a deceased body led to persons solemnizing a place in the Netherlands, now Amsterdam.  Various important philosophical persons and systems emerged in the thinking of Dutch persons - which have contributed to ideas shaping Western Democracies and Western Principles.  This is  book I need to re-read for it’s detail.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.  I had the opportunity to engage this book while on a road trip in 2019.  It narrates the life of two primary characters, girls, growing up in a “constant” “struggle” of mimesis one with another, narrating a lifetime of events from childhood through teen years and family and into old age.   Nothing fantastic, though it helped pass the miles, and for that, I am thankful.

Change Anything:The New Science of Personal Success by Kerry Patterson.  This is one of so many “self-help” books that exist in our world today.  It begins to be harder for me to distinguish books like this as “urgent” or “important” as they are like so many I have read, that I may bypass their significance.  That is, I would recommend this book to persons - as it has solid insight into what it claims to offer, changing one’s life and one’s habits.  At the same time, I can’t honestly say that I “learned something distinctly new” that was “transformative” or “urgently new” to what I have known from other social/personal psychological studies I’ve engaged for years.  I don’t mean to say “nothing new here” - and yet, for me, there was little gained.  Honestly - this means I should perhaps read the book again and insure I did not miss some significant insight.

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