Top 100 Non-Fiction Book Review: Democracy in America, Alexis De Tocqueville (1835-1840)

Awfully Boring.

Damn this book is boring.

democracy-in-america-96The Greatest Book’s Ranking: #4/100
My Rating: Star

Sweet Jesus.

A book written in the 1800s on civics might be fundamental to the profession but it only worked as NyQuil for me. After a long day of work, comparing the responsibilities of the county judges in America to Britain and France wasn’t enough to overcome my quickly rising melatonin levels.

Now its supporters will say there are timeless nuggets found within that are crucial to our understanding of the present. I’d say please give me those in a bulleted list format. Reading through chapters such as “Life in the Township” and “Other Powers Given to American Judges” is a reminder that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword as this book quickly disemboweled me spiritually.

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Top 100 Non-Fiction Book Review: #70 – Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton (1948)

Weird Weighting of Topics.

A book ostensibly about monastery spends very little time on it, but still a relatable and good book.

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The Greatest Book’s Ranking: #70/100
My Rating: cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586

I struggle with the idea of faith about every week or so. I yearn for a more mystical aspect of my life, but my rational mind can’t open up to stories that are literally false even if they may contain metaphorical truth.  Every few months, I open a bible and read some of the lines imbibing the feelings of meaning and purpose only an ancient text can satisfy. It starts to crumble soon, however, when I start realizing I’m trying to find solace in a 2000 year old book fraught with contradictions and inconsistencies authored by illiterate people who could not pass elementary science class.

Seven Story Mountain is a retelling of Thomas Merton’s spiritual journey which starts much like my own: yearning for that mystical meaning and direction, he tries to figure out himself. He tries a few different sources (politics, hedonism, intellectualism) but still finds an empty hole in his heart. He eventually fills it with Catholicism. My favorite quotes of the book echo my own sentiments about meaning in the modern world even if our solutions diverge quite drastically. There is much more to bring us together than separate us, though I’m not sure he would agree.

What I don’t understand is why this book is pegged as a look into Monastery life. This is a misleading focal point of the book cover, preface, and online commentary. Merton’s book is really one puff of air on being a monk and a full exhale on his life before hand. This did disappoint: his quotidian life as a youth overstayed its welcome while the exotic life of the monastery was never fully explored.

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Top 100 Novel Review: The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, John Le Carré (1963)

Basic But Solid Spy Thriller.

The perfect rebound book after my last reading failure.

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Click here for TIME Magazine’s list. 
My Rating: cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586

The last fiction novel I read? Infinite Jest, an opaque dithering post-modern nightmare. I needed something wholesome to regain my confidence. My mind wasn’t ready to take on a challenge or the avant-garde, so I flipped through TIME’s Top 100 novels trying to find the best book for my palate. The Spy Who Came in form the Cold is a meat and potatoes book — exactly what I needed.

Mind you, this book isn’t exceptionally stellar. I’m not sure why it’s a top 100 novel; there is nothing that separates it from any other entry in the spy thriller genre. Maybe it’s because it was one of the firsts. Either way, it does succeed in completing the checklist you expect from fiction. Sometimes it is nice to read something that just does the basics and does them well.

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Top 100 Novel Review: Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace (1996)

The Jokes On Us.

People proudly wear a masochistic badge of honor when they successfully complete this book. Unfortunately, I will not be eligible. 

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Click here for TIME Magazine’s list. 
My Rating: cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586

I have some bad news for all of you: one day, your body will begin to fail and you will reflect on how you spent your time. All the day-to-day trifling matters that soaked up our energy will be revisited with regret as this new found perspective will rightfully quarantine them as meaningless distractions. The things that made our spirits soar, people we knew, things we felt, the experience of life, will come gushing forth in a bittersweet nostalgia.

This book was destined to be a trifling matter, and I refuse to spend anymore time with this meaningless distraction. If reading is permissible in an infinite afterlife, Infinite Jest still doesn’t make the list.

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Top 100 Non-Fiction Book: #51 – In Cold Blood, Truman Capote (1966)

A Superb Non-Fiction Novel.

The mostly true account with occasional machination is high-level storytelling. 

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The Greatest Book’s Ranking: #51/100
My Rating: cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586

I tend to enjoy works that have multiple different angles. It allows you to soak up a little bit of everything with a discursive interest, never being bored. When the whole is made greater by the intertwining, distinct parts is when things become a work of art; In Cold Blood is that kind of book.

Capote is a masterful story teller when describing the abstract human psyche. He finds such concrete and relatable descriptions that the ineffable becomes intelligible. The setting of Kansas, with its isolation and bucolic life, bursts forth from the pages. The horrendous crime captivates even though we know the killers and the outcome. A switching narrative, between victims, perpetrators, and community, creates a complete 360 of immersion.

This is as close as you can get to a lived experience from a book.

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Top 100 Non-Fiction Book – #99 – Up From Slavery, Booker T. Washington (1901)

Absolutely Fascinating.

The perspective of a slave turned influential spokesman is ripe with thoughts on identity, labor, and education. 
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The Greatest Book’s Ranking: #99/100
My Rating: cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586

I read this book during a slight downslope of life. I am finishing up my final clinical rotation with my hand in several side projects wondering — what’s the point? This bit of nihilism is due to the amount of sacrifice with the reward being only a cloudy possibility in the future. I want to create a better way to do clinical education for physical therapy, but thoughts of self-doubt have crept in.

Enter Booker Taliaferro Washington, a name he gave himself upon freedom.

Reading his journey begin with absolutely nothing but his inexorable desire to do better, it reignited some old-fashion values in me: the joy of work should not be in the reward, but in knowing that you did it to the best of your ability. The dignity of labor is an intrinsic sense of satisfaction. This, and other lessons, I heeded during this opaque time in my life.

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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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