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.

51si0tsTe7L.jpg 
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.

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

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. 

41GpHh-5KFL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg 
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.

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

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. 
51GVw2TJelL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg
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.

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

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. 
518oe2WjJtL._SX384_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg
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.”

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