Top 100 Non-Fiction Book: #36 – The History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides (431BCE)

Too Much To Sift Through.

Even for a philhellene, the copious list of places long gone became too much. 
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The Greatest Book’s Ranking: #36/100
My Rating: cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586

During the last summer off for the rest of my working life, I consumed about thirty books, more than half of which were about Ancient Greece. Just like previous descendants of western civilization, I became enamored with the mythology, culture, and philosophy from the peninsula that changed everything. These books were mostly interpretations and commentaries, so reading the actual source code was quite the change.

Within the first chapter, it is clear to see why this book is so important. Thucydides leads with several big ideas, the most important one being that history can actually be accounted for and objective. The rest of the book is his personal attempt at doing this. I don’t care about whether he actually succeeded — it’s more his aim and scope that I applaud.

The big ideas stop early, however, and the book is mostly a long list of people and places long gone from existence. Running to Wikipedia every other sentence soon grows tiresome. Past his bold opening proclamations, historical accounts based on his work narrate a much more focused and interesting story.

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Top 100 Non-Fiction Book: #98 – The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith (1776)

Capitalism 101.

Adam Smith is to economics as Isaac Newton is to physics, but there are problems.

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The Greatest Book’s Ranking: #98/100
My Rating: cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586

I made a deal with myself: when reading a book, it was okay not to finish and acceptable to skip less intriguing parts. I’m a drill master with much of my life as I timely complete things, seeing them through till the end. I was worried if I would feel satisfied taking this nonchalant attitude towards reading and whether it would effect what I could imbibe from it.

Consider me converted! Maybe I should be more shiftless with the other parts of my life (except my social life — I got that down).

The Wealth of Nations is one of those seminal books that as you read it, images of others pop into your head: founding fathers, economic professors, entrepreneurs. This book is endless, edifying prose explaining the basics of capitalism.  It lays out the foundations for many principles that, just through observation, Adam Smith was able to uncover. With that said, he was someone writing in 1700s; I think he got a few things “wrong,” and he occasionally speaks out of both sides of his mouth.

And yes, you can skip many of the 700 pages and still be alright.

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Top 100 Non-Fiction Book: #4 – The Prince, Nicollo Machiavelli (1532)

Bone Crushingly Rational.

Machiavelli does not care about the virtue of actions but the rewards from outcomes. 
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The Greatest Book’s Ranking: #4/100
My Rating: cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586

This short treatise on bad acts within the royal court reads more like the rules of engagement from a political intrigue novel. Backstabbing is permissible. Cruelties okay if justified. Fear is a better tool than love.

The measuring stick for Machiavelli is whether it works. It promotes egalitarian rights only in so far that it helps The Prince stay in power, not whether it is the “right” thing to do. What it leaves out is more deafening than what’s available: no talk about virtues, ethics, or morals. While it is never so clearly stated, the colloquial summary of this book is correct… “The Ends Justify The Means.”

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Top 100 Novel: A Passage to India, E.M. Forester (1924)

The Logical vs. the Abstract.

The cultures and characters are stereotypical, but the false dichotomy does allow for things to be explored. 

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Click here for TIME Magazine’s list. 
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Funny how time affects views. Originally, people didn’t like this book because it showcased inappropriate relationships between conquerer and colonized. Forester made India too knowable and too relatable. Now, those “relatable” details are viewed with scorn as every -ism gets piled on this book: sexism, racism, imperialism. Somehow the firebrand that was disliked for showing the humanity of India is now denigrated because he didn’t show the humanity of India. You just can’t win.

Yes, the book has the air of a western, ego-centric flair from a writer in imperialistic 1920s. There is a silly division of labor: the British are always logical to a fault while the Indians are willy-nilly mystical. However, there is some insight to how this view still lives with us today, and how as a westerner myself I yearn for the mystical viewpoint Forster puts in the mouth of his Indian characters.

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Top 100 Novel Review: The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

High School Summer Reading Complete

Millions are coerced to read Fitzgerald’s novel to graduate. Thankfully, it’s a decent and precise book. Gatsby.jpg

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I might have set myself up for failure.

I read and watched a total of six things over Fall Break: The Deer Hunter, Pulp Fiction, Network, To Kill a Mockingbird, I Cladius, and The Great Gatsby. The problem is Fall Break was 5 months ago (!), and this is the only outstanding item. Normally, I leave little notes to myself so if there is a gap in time I can pick up what I was thinking. Not so here. If the measure of a book is its lasting impact, I guess I will soon find out the power of “The Great Gatsby.”

So what do I remember most? That Fitzgerald was struggling to figure out how to live a good life in a world of changing social norms.

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Top 100 Novel Review: To Kill A Mockingbird (1960)

So. Much. To. Like.

An endless recess of things to discuss, turtles all the way down. 

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My Rating: cropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-star

There is something just perfect about “To Kill a Mockingbird.” No matter the specific element, it dually can augment the whole or brightly stand alone. This gives meaning to every point in the novel, leaving no page to waste.

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Top 100 Novel Review: I, Claudius – Robert Graves (1934)

Duller Than A Text Book

Graves’ novel is worse than a milk-toast, disinterested-historian narrative.

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My Rating: cropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-star

This book was supposed to be made for me.

One Summer, I read 30 books with many of them being about Greek and Roman history. I never made it past Augustus, so how excited was I to learn that there was a novel about the Roman Emperors from the perspective of Claudius. Not only that, it was historical fiction and should have all those cool thing you can do within the genre: dialogue, themes, story arcs!

Graves pulls off an impossible: I’ve read dull, straight historical accounts that had more pop than this book.

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