BOOK REVIEWS

BOOK REVIEW NO. 1

TITLE:  Robinson Crusoe
AUTHOR: Daniel Defoe
PUBLICATION DATE: 1719

This might appear to be a strange choice for a brief book review, but I chose it for the reason that this book is considered to be the first “novel” ever written. Think about that word: novel. It means something “new” or a “novelty”, and that’s how the telling of the story ROBINSON CRUSOE got the genre started, it really was a “new” thing.

Everyone has read condensed or expurgated versions of this book over the years, and many movies have been based on the story, including the Tom Hanks movie, “Castaway”. But reading the whole novel is much more satisfying, and exciting, than reading the shorter versions. It tells much of the emotional state one would face, and of what physical necessities it would take to survive in isolated conditions.

It is also a profoundly religious book, showing historically how religiosity affected the times Daniel Defoe lived in. It makes the case that the Bible and belief in God must lead a man in his search for meaning at all times, but especially in harrowing circumstances.

The characters, including Crusoe, and Friday and the other natives, are surprisingly more fully realized than one would expect from such an early book, but Defoe’s writing abilities show why “novels” became so popular.

 

BOOK REVIEW NO. 2

TITLE: Alas, Babylon
AUTHOR: Pat Frank
PUBLICATION DATE: 1959
ELECTRONIC EDITION: November, 2012

I had read this apocalyptic novel when it was first published and found it compelling then in the midst of the Cold War. I decided to read it again recently and thought I would find it dated. It is surprisingly so relevant in our world that I was pleasantly surprised. For instance, the following news broadcast heard two days before the nuclear war begins would be at home quite easily today:

“. . . Turkey had approached the UN for an investigation of border penetration by Syria. Syria charged Israel with planning a preventive war. Israel accused Egypt of sending snooper planes over its defenses. Egypt claimed its ships, bound from the Black Sea to Alexandria, were being delayed in the Straits, and charged Turkey with a breach of the Montreaux Convention.
“Russia accused Turkey and the United States of plotting to crush Syria, and warned France, Italy, Greece and Spain that any nations harboring American bases would be involved in a general war, and erased from the earth.”

Some things never change.

This novel is a refreshing break from the formulaic thrillers we are inundated with today. Pat Frank’s writing and characterizations are excellent. The people seem real. The hero, Randy, is a man, both strong and weak, prepared and unprepared, flawed as are we all, who has to change and grow in a hurry. That growth does not turn him into a superman, just into a MAN equipping himself to do the job that needs doing. A man you’d want on your side. The people who live around him could be your own crazy neighbors, whom you both laugh at and love.

The breakdown of society following a nuclear war is both graphic and thought provoking as you see what it takes to survive. There are some folks who blind themselves to what is happening around them, they are inept and unable to cope or offer any aid to anyone else. A few of these people commit suicide and some die because they simply stop living. Others help only themselves at the expense of those near them. And there are some who turn into primal animals in their need to get what they want and so harm anyone and everyone.

As Randy grows and learns to be the leader his town needs in order to help everyone live and succeed, it is interesting to note how his leadership makes others discover and become more sure of their own skills.

This is a story of PEOPLE, male and female, black and white, once rich and poor, educated and not, suddenly reduced to equality of need, relying on and trusting each other in order to survive. Some of the bad guys live and some of the good guys don’t, just as in real life. It’s a story that could become real tomorrow.

Could you be a survivor without losing your humanity? Are you even minimally prepared with the REAL necessities to give your family and neighbors a chance for survival? Are your children being taught the mindset they need to be strong and helpful in such a situation?

This book makes many of the questions of living in a broken society clear. The answers differ from place to place, and from person to person.

Read the book. Maybe it will make you think and help you prepare before times get terribly tough.

 

BOOK REVIEW NO. 3 

TITLE: THE CURMUDGEON’S GUIDE TO GETTING AHEAD.The Do’s and Don’ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life
AUTHOR: Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve
Copyright 2014 by Cox & Murray, Inc., Crown Publishing
Kindle Edition available

As soon as I saw the title of this book I knew I had to read it, so I sent for a Kindle sample. Just a note here about being able to get samples. It’s one of the best deals going. I can usually tell by immersing myself in the first part of a book whether I want to spend money or time on it. This sample was an “I’ve GOT to get this book” one.

And I was not disappointed one whit. I was so excited I called all my friends and relatives and told them to go and get it, AND give it to all their children. I have several family members who can share my Kindle books, so they get the good advice and knowledge for free.

Dr. Murray claims to be a libertarian, but I find that to be a misnomer, at least as far as his writings in this book indicate. He has too many thoughts on right behavior and the consequences of bad behavior to be uninvolved in what his neighbors might choose to do. He even takes time in his discourse to defend the Constitution, and puts in a plea for religious training, at least a little. I also found him to be more amusing in his curmudgeonliness (I kind of like that word) than I had expected from his earlier writings. This book is much more personal than his academic tomes.

The book is divided into named chapters, and then into numbered snippets of thought or advice within each chapter heading.

ON THE PRESENTATION OF SELF IN THE WORKPLACE.
Numbers 1-13.
My favorite here is definitely No. 3:
Excise the word like from your spoken language.
Do you use the word like as a verbal tic? I mean, like, do you insert it in, like, random points in your, like, spoken conversation? If the answer is yes, this is the most important point in the entire book: STOP IT.

ON THINKING AND WRITING WELL.
Numbers 14-19
“The process of writing is the dominant source of intellectual creative activity.”Ah, yes.
Number 19. Learn to love rigor.
He expects rigor in study, history, thought and preparation. Rigor in editing, syntax, spelling, choosing the perfect words. I found this to be an utterly fascinating section. Murray covers the tools required for writing well, when to write, how to edit yourself, how to have an informed opinion, and so much more. Instruction I sorely need.

ON THE FORMATION OF WHO YOU ARE
Numbers 20 through 28.
One of the best pieces of advice he has to give is to move away from your parents; go out into the real world and get a real job; live on what you earn with no help from mom and dad; discover the needs and aspirations of ordinary people who may live outside your previously insulated existence, people who are not like you. You should discover that you are not the center of the universe and that you can GROW UP AND GET TOUGH.

And so it goes. Learn what you really want to do; determine what you have the ability to do; how to get along (or not) with a boss; what is expected of you as an employee; should you cheat if your boss says to; should you get married and why; whom should you marry and when; choosing a spouse you can be happy with. Whew!

Which takes us to Number 34. WATCH Groundhog Day repeatedly.
He says this will be a good substitute for not reading and pondering The Nicomachean Ethics. Aren’t you glad?

His finale is Number 35. The book is not too long, so you’ll get there quickly.

Dr. Murray says he wrote this book to clarify life for the generation just beginning their careers, but his wisdom applies to all.

As you can tell, I loved this book. But I must be more of a curmudgeon than Charles Murray, because I have one more piece of advice:

SPIT OUT THE GUM.

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