Friday, June 24, 2011

Reflections: All the President's Men

Adam C. Zern shares a few thoughts on Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's All the President's Men:

"I, like most people, have heard of Watergate.  I've heard the sound bites of Richard Nixon announcing his resignation as President of the United States - a sadly historic event.  It was all because of Watergate, but what was Watergate all about?  What exactly happened and who was involved?  All the President's Men is the detailed journalistic story of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and their Pulitzer Prize winning efforts to investigate the Watergate controversy and its complicated cover-up.

All the President's Men is surprisingly entertaining.  Many times it feels like a genuine crime/spy/thriller with all of the inrigue that accompanied the Watergate cover-up.  It was quite shocking to learn how many people were involved in the Watergate controversy and cover-up, which really was the manifestation of the worst part of Nixon's ethically questionable and sometimes illegal political activities.  Literally dozens and dozens of people knew something at some point and the main thrust of the book is the quest of figuring out who knew what and when.  Similar to watching a movie like Apollo 13, you know how the story ends, but the story is strangely suspenseful in spite of what the reader already knows.

The single greatest insight that the book gave to me was of the journalistic creation of a story.  Woodward and Bernstein chase down lead after lead after lead.  Some are helpful.  Some are not.  Some are misleading. Sources don't want to be named - including the famous 'Deep Throat.'  The two journalists argue with each other, with their editors, make mistakes, misjudge when to run a story, among other things.  At one particular tense part in the book, Woodward and Bernstein become desperate for information and start to track down jurors who have been sworn to secrecy and try to get them to talk.  Judge "Maximum John" Sirica founds out about it and no one is quite sure, including the reader, if Woodward and Berstein will be sent to jail.  I think the pressures, setbacks, and rewards of investigative reporting all came into focus while reading the book.  For that reason alone I think the book is worth reading.

I enjoyed All the President's Men far more than I thought I would.  It is a fascinating glimpse into the world of Beltway politics and the free press, investigative journalism, and of course into a very sad moment in our Nation's history.  It's worth reading."

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Reflections: Shadow of the Hegemon

Adam C. Zern opines on the sixth book in the 'Ender' series Shadow of the Hegemon by Orson Scott Card:

"Several years ago I read Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game.  I really, really enjoyed the book and became more acquainted with its main character—Andrew (Ender) Wiggin—by reading Card’s follow-up novels—Speaker for theDead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind.  The fifth book in the series—Ender’s Shadow—doesn’t continue down the timeline of the last three, which take place thousands of years after the events of the first book (science fiction allows interesting ways to mess with time in such a drastic way).  Ender’s Shadow might very well be my favorite ‘Ender’ book and is also the first book that changes the narrative focus away from Ender, although he is always hugely important and affects, directly and indirectly, just about everything.  The narrative focus turns to Bean, one of Ender’s most trusted friends.  Shadow of the Hegemon continues the narrative path that readers are introduced to in Ender’s Shadow.  Unlike all of the 5 previous books, Shadow of the Hegemon takes place on earth and focuses on Earth’s political and military upheavals after the dreaded ‘Bugger’ threat is eliminated by Ender and his loyal team of genius children. 

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As is expected, a reader won't enjoy Shadow of the Hegemon without reading some of the previous Ender books.  However, a reader would be able to enjoy Shadow of the Hegemon after reading Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow and won't need to read the other three I've already mentioned.  The story in Shadow of the Hegemon is very compelling, but the characters were slightly underwhelming.  It was difficult to not feel more annoyed with Card's characters than actually have empathy or sympathy or even interest at times.  They're children geniuses, yes, but sometimes they act too much like petty and bickering children - Peter Wiggin, Ender's infamous brother, was especially disappointing.

Having said that, the story of the book saves it from some of its characters' adolescent annoyances.  I was completely enthralled in the geo-political difficulties that were at the core of the book's story.  What would happen if mankind's existential threat and therefore its greatest unifier was suddenly eradicated?  Which countries and for what reasons would try to gain dominance over other countries?  Furthermore, if a gaggle of military geniuses who happened to be children were returning to Earth from their universal conflict, to what lengths would countries go to ensure their cooperation and loyalty?  One of Card's greatest strengths as a writer is to present extremely interesting and sometimes brutally difficult ethical, moral, and now with Shadow of the Hegemon, international questions and complications.

Shadow of the Hegemon is definitely not the best book in the 'Ender' canon.  However, it's not a bad read.  If you have liked previous 'Ender' books, then Shadow of the Hegemon is more than worth reading to once again be absorbed in Card's fascinating universe."