Saturday, December 29, 2012

Best Books of 2012

Adam C. Zern shares his selections of the two best books he read in 2012:

"As I have mentioned in years past, the following two books, and the honorable mentions, are not the most perfect books I read in 2012.  They are the books that intrigued, educated, entertained, or enlightened me the most.  If I were forced to examine and evaluate all of the books I read in 2012 and could only recommend two books, these would be the two.

Non-fiction - Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty by Randy Barnett

I knew going into Randy Barnett's Restoring the Lost Constitution that I was in for a treat.  I had listened to several of his lectures and they were excellent.  I have been extremely impressed by Professor Barnett's intellectual prowess and compelling logic.  Restoring the Lost Constitution is all of his libertarian genius on paper.  It is extremely compelling, sometimes challenging, but never unreasonably esoteric.  True, the reader will certainly need a relatively strong background in Constitutional law and legal theory to appreciate this book, but once the reader has reached that level of understanding this is a must-read.  Randy Barnett's ideas are worth investigation for individuals from all sides of the ideological scale.

 Honorable Mentions:
A People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture by Terryl Givens
Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis

Fiction - Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

What could I possibly say to convince readers that Ray Bradbury is one of the finest authors of the 20th century?  Dandelion Wine is probably the book I would recommend to convince other readers of that fact.  As his most 'mainstream' (for lack of a better word) book, Dandelion Wine is a great entry-point for readers who haven't read Bradbury before.  Many of his books and short stories can be a little off-center for many readers and may even put some off.  (I love them all).  This book, however, is a story about childhood, summer afternoons, and the magic that permeates our lives, whether we notice it or not.  It's a beautiful book and one that I would enthusiastically recommend to anyone.

Honorable Mentions:
A Lost Lady by Willa Cather
The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Reflections: Gods and Generals

Sarah J. Zern opines on Jeff Shaara's Gods and Generals:

"The Civil War was always a topic that my father took great pride in teaching to his children.  One of our ancestors, General Joseph E. Johnston, played a fairly important role in the Confederacy, and so discussing the war has a very special place in my family’s hearts.  Because of my family’s roots in the Confederate Army and growing up in the South, I was always taught about the “real” reasons that the Southern States went to war against the North.  As I started to read Gods and Generals, I found that these reasons were very fairly voiced, and so I instantly became very intrigued with how the author would treat the historical events of the bloodiest war that America has ever seen.

This book follows four main characters, two of which join the Union Army, and two of which join the Confederacy.  The author did an excellent job of giving a detailed and very humanistic background of each of these men.  I was emotionally attached to each the more I read about them, and had a greater understanding about why each of them decided to join the side of the war that they did.  All were men who did not believe in slavery, the topic that is most credited with beginning the Civil War, yet they were divided as to which cause they supported due to so many factors.  I thought that the author was extremely fair and respectful as he discussed each of these great men.  I never felt any bias one way or another from the author, which was incredibly refreshing.

This book takes the reader from the days leading up to the Civil War all the way to the Battle of Gettysburg, which is covered in the next book of the trilogy The Killer Angels.  Because I so enjoyed the accurate and emotional way in which the author writes about history, I immediately picked up the next book in the trilogy so that I could see what happens to the men so reverently spoken of in Gods and Generals.  This is undoubtedly one of the best books I have read this year."

Reflections: Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography

Adam C. Zern shares his thoughts on Ezra Taft Benson's biography by Sheri L. Dew:

"Ezra Taft Benson is my most admired statesmen.  I have read dozens of his speeches, one of his books (An Enemy Hath Done This), as well as reading books he endorsed, such as The American Tradition by Clarence B. Carson.  In fact, I have gone so far as to read a biography of a personality, Robert A. Taft, because Ezra Taft Benson listed him as one of his most admired statesmen.  After reading his official biography by Sheri Dew, I am as impressed and endeared to him as I have ever been.  I just wish he could have gotten a more talented author to have written about his life.

Sheri Dew does an adequate job, but that's the most that could be said.  Her writing is dull, sometimes boring, and focuses on providing a travelogue rather than truly revealing a personality.  Sheri Dew does mention in the preface to her book that she purposely avoided controversy that at times swirled around Ezra Taft Benson, but it sometimes left the book feeling overly sanitized.  The reason Ezra Taft Benson is such a fascinating and admirable personality is because regardless of the controversy created by his convictions he held impressively firm.  His feelings on freedom, the U.S. Constitution, as well as mothers working outside of the home, and his subsequent outspoken quality make him the statesmen and spiritual leader I admire.  I could only hope I would be as devoted to truth as he was, and I wish the author would have elaborated in greater detail on what the consequences can sometimes be when one stands for truth and won't budge.

Latter-day Saints will no doubt be the most interested to read this book.  Ezra Taft Benson eventually became the 13th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  What makes him unique, however, was his extensive work in the public arena, which included being the Secretary of Agriculture for all eight years of Dwight Eisenhower's administration.  His devotion to his own convictions can be appreciated by any, even if you find yourself disagreeing with him.  I hope that he would be remembered in a positive light, even by his critics, because of the integrity that he exhibited.

In the final analysis, an interesting life makes for an interesting book, even if the writing isn't all that interesting."

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Reflections: Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

Adam C. Zern offers a few thoughts on Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl:

"I like reading books that end up on a list of 'classics.'  I am forever curious as to why certain books become so much a part of our cultural and academic experiences while others are buried in obscurity.  Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl is ubiquitous on most lists of classics.  After reading it for myself, I believe it deserves a spot on that list.

The Diary of a Young Girl is special because it's so unique in origins.  Who would have thought, Anne Frank certainly had no idea, that a 15 year old girl's journal would come to influence so many others in such a profound way?  This impact partly comes from the circumstances in which the diary is written.  The situation, like most events associated with the Holocaust, is so shocking it leaves one staggered and stunned that such realities ever existed, especially when considering the devastating consequences on humanity.  Anne Frank's diary is a window into a very human experience, one which leaves the reader pondering well after the book is finished.

The situation in which the diary was written is not the only reason the diary has reached such a vast audience.  Anne Frank's writing, even though it's very conversational and sometimes quite scattered, is excellent.  It feels as if she knew millions would eventually read what she had to say, but she certainly had no idea.  Her experiences, as recorded in her diary, reveals a family dynamic that is not unlike your own.  Perhaps that's one reason why the book's content linger for so long.  Anne Frank belonged to an ordinary family who were suddenly thrust into a extraordinary and terrifying new situation, but families are still families, and teenage girls are still teenage girls.  Anne's constant musings and misgivings regarding her parents, her young love,  her insecurities, and sometimes confidence and arrogance, didn't annoy but enlighten me.  She has plenty to say, and due to her writing ability and sincerity, I enjoyed every last word.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl belongs on a 'classics' list.  It's a powerful testament of how we are all so very much like one another.  Considering her final fate along with most of her family and friends, the book is implicitly sad.  However, it's many revelations regarding the human family are encouraging in a world of hate and fear.   I will remember it for many years to come."