Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Reflections: The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court

Adam C. Zern offers his thoughts on Jeffrey Toobin's The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court:

"It probably is true that average citizens know the least about the Supreme Court than any other branch of the federal government, and most probably do not understand the far-reaching impact the Supreme Court's decisions can have on individual liberty, the scope and power of government, and subsequently on everyday life.  Jeffrey Toobin's The Nine does an adequate job in providing enlightening evidence regarding how much the Supreme Court can affect our lives, the flawed people who make up the Court, and the political and ideological conflicts that surround the Court.  However, the book also has some significant faults that make it more mediocre than I hoped.

To begin with, the subtext of the book—'Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court'—is partly true.  You are given an internal glance at how the Court functions, how individuals are nominated for the Court, confirmed, and how they interact on the Court; yet, the book's true focus is on what the author classifies as the Conservative ‘counter-revolution' as well as what the author has determined as being Conservative's machinations to control the Court.  He also spends a great deal of time expounding on the Conservative justices' supposed judicial activism.  I wanted a more hardline historical account of the Court, even if it only dealt with the last several decades, instead of the somewhat shrouded commentary provided by Toobin.  He quite flippantly throws around terms like extremism, nativism, liberal, and the all-important term of moderate to explain the views of various justices, and I believe those terms are painfully deficient to express the many nuances of a justice's opinion.

Having said that, the book is cleanly written.  Rarely does the writing feel clunky or difficult.  Also, I was very eager to continue to read the book and found the historical anecdotes (hopefully accurate) regarding the personalities and relationships connected with the Court as interesting as any other historical accounts I've read. 

I do feel I received a greater understanding of the Supreme Court, but I also feel compelled to find less commentary-driven books on the subject.  In the final analysis, I liked The Nine.  It will more than likely serve as a springboard for a greater personal exploration of the 'secret world' of the Supreme Court."

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Reflections: The Lost World

Adam C. Zern opines on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World:

"Among all of the classic adventure tales I've read so far, which includes Treasure Island, Around the World in 80 Days, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Time Machine, among others, I have liked The Lost World the most.  I think its charm lies in its themes, even if they're somewhat subtle.  Doyle's interesting insights into the subjects of science, faith, love, and truth make the book meaningful when the moments of grandeur, awe, and danger come.  It's not too heavy, however, so the book can be enjoyed even with a somewhat distracted reading.

Luckily, The Lost World doesn't fall into the same trap that 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea did by needlessly cataloging a myriad of plant and animal life, although the potential for it was there.  The film version of Jurassic Park gives me the same feeling as Doyle's book.  The new world, the lost world, is full of wonderful creatures and things, but it's also incredibly dangerous.  You feel a sense of reverence for these new discoveries, and then something tries to eat you.  I could have done without the conflict between the Indians and the ape-men, but that is a minor complaint.

Among all the adventure books I've read, I would recommend The Lost World first.  It's a quick read but still meaningful.  It, thankfully, avoids some of the common weaknesses of other 'classic' adventure stories, like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and its incessant and obnoxious cataloging.  The Lost World has also given me an impetus to read some of Doyle's other works, such as his Sherlock Holmes stories, and that's the best compliment I could give."

Friday, July 6, 2012

Reflections: Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

 Adam C. Zern shares his thoughts on Joseph J. Ellis's Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation:

"Reading a book like Founding Brothers reminds me why I love American History so much.  Although I also enjoy more hardline, fact-filled, and focused historical accounts, I thoroughly enjoyed Founding Brothers because of its greater focus on individual personalities (although there was no shortage of historical facts).  Founding Brothers provides wonderful insights into some of our most revered founder fathers, including George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison.  After reading the book, I feel more convinced than ever that the founding fathers were both as flawed as any other human being but were also exceptionally special and important people.

It's quite staggering to realize that so many talented and remarkable people were all so intimately involved in such singular events as the American revolution and the subsequent drafting of the Constitution and the literal building of a new nation.  Ellis's book highlights some of the consequential moments during those events, but more especially highlights the personalities that were involved.  You get a glimpse of how they agreed with each other and especially how they disagree—sometimes resulting in decades long feuds.  Ellis provides numerous interpretations into why certain founders did or said certain things, most of which seem perfectly valid.  There is, of course, a great deal that goes unrecorded, but what is recorded provides the basis for Ellis's excellent book.

I would strongly recommend Founding Brothers.  It's well-written and coming in at only 304 pages (that includes all of the notes and bibliography) it's not an overly taxing book, whereas many history-based books can be.  I feel much more aware of some of the founding fathers' personalities and their personal interactions with each other.  And when it comes to the founding fathers, that subject will always interest me."