Saturday, August 31, 2013

Reflections: Reflections on the Revolution in France

Adam C. Zern opines on Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France:

"Yet another political science book to stash away in my ever-growing collection.  Reflections on the Revolution in France is a perfect example of why I love political science and why there is such a large barrier for the average reader to embrace it, especially the historical treatises like Burke's.  Reflections is both insightful and incoherent.  It's not incoherent because of the author's writing; rather, it's due the reader's, in this case me, lack of knowledge of the historical context and lack of understanding of certain ideas. 

There are some wonderfully pithy remarks made by Burke throughout the course of Reflections.  His opinions are fascinating and were something new to me.  As a British legislator, Burke places an extremely high premium on stability and order and spends a great deal of time defending monarchy because it provides the aforementioned qualities for a society.  Burke is, in my opinion, the ultimate Conservative.  He defends the status quo and it's hard not to see his points, especially when viewed within the context of the revolution in France.  However, history and experience has obviously shown mankind a different viewpoint and Burke's apologies of monarchy are now intellectually interesting but not actually viable.

Reflections, like so many other books, treatises, and political tracts of the time loses its audience the farther and farther away we get from the time period.  The writing is dense and complicated, albeit excellent.  There are multiple and varied complex ideas even in one sentence and the onus is entirely on the reader to keep up.  Therefore, many modern readers would no doubt become frustrated and abandon Reflections before completion.  For my part, Burke's discussions on government financing and monetary policy was almost entirely lost on me.  I wouldn't blame someone for not reading Burke, even though I believe there is plenty of good to be found.

In conclusion, Reflections on the Revolution in France is an exhibition of astute and rigorous political thought and writing.  I admire Burke for his skill but am somewhat left behind by him because of his prose and my lacking contextual knowledge.  It's a fine addition to my political science collection and one I hope to learn more about as I read other works and gain more historical knowledge."

Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: Democracy in America
Reflections: Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty
Reflections:What Every American Should Read

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What Every American Should Read

Adam C. Zern sounds off on a book that every American should read at least once:

"America is the most powerful nation on earth.  Its economy, its military, its constitution, its government, and its people are a force to be reckoned with around the globe.  So what makes it tick?  And which book would give an insight into America that every American should have?  I've read a fair share of books dealing with American history, especially the revolutionary and constitutional debate epochs, but I think I've settled on one book, a political tract really, that every American should read to understand a little bit better the country they live in.

Thomas Paine's Common Sense is short, blunt, and focused.  Whereas other books, something like Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, are incredibly detailed—nearing the realm of exhaustive—in their efforts to explain American life, Common Sense delineates the beating heart of American longing and desire through the wonderful art of brevity.  Paine boils it all down and makes a compelling case for why the early Americans did what they did. 

I think reading such a book is worthwhile because I think many of the reasons Paine details are still present in our American legacy.  Americans, generally speaking, still have a distrust of government; they still respond to the call for liberty, even if they disagree as to the degrees in which it should be enjoyed; they still feel a certain unity in a common cause.  Although, I think some of these unifying features are dissipating and we are indeed becoming more fragmented.  Perhaps that's another valuable reason to read Common Sense to remind ourselves of a legacy that doesn't necessarily have to become only history.

It doesn't really matter if you agree with Thomas Paine's ideological or historical outlook.  Common Sense is a must-read for every American.  The United States of America has gone through several transitions and societal iterations and could arguably be farther away from Paine's ideals than ever before, but understanding the foundational ideas of the American experience are important to know. I think Common Sense by Thomas Paine is just the book to provide an indispensable insight into a few of those foundational ideas."

Other Topics of Interest:
What Every High School Student Should Read but Probably Doesn't
Reflections: Democracy in America
Reflections: Revolutionary Brothers

Book of the Month: September Survey

Vote for The Thousander Club's Book of the Month in September, which is dedicated to non-fiction books.  Make your choice below:

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See the full list of Books of the Month Here.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Books to Movies: Jurassic Park

Adam C. Zern comments on the film adaptation of Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park:

"Michael Crichton must love Steven Spielberg.  Of all of the film adaptations of Crichton's books, at least that I have seen, none even come close to Spielberg's brilliantly entertaining Jurassic ParkJurassic Park the film strips down much of the book—omitting characters, dinosaurs, and details—in favor of streamlining the experience into a few key moments and a few key ideas.  The result is one of the best summer films ever made, and it immortalizes the book that inspired it.  (Does anyone really remember Sphere?). 

I remember really enjoying the book; in fact, even after all of these years (it's been probably over ten years since I've read it), I remember loving it.  It was exciting and interesting.  It was also very full—lots of dialogue and lots of exposition.  Crichton wasn't bound by budgets or technology and he takes full advantage of that freedom.  The book also made sure to conclude as much as possible the mystery of what would happen to the dinosaurs after their untimely escapes.  It provided all of the detail one would want from a science-fiction adventure.  The film, however, takes a different tactic.

The film's purpose is clear.  It is meant to awe and inspire with sights never before seen.  What must it be like to actually see a real-live dinosaur?  Watching Jurassic Park is perhaps the closest any of us will come.  We're meant to live vicariously through the film's characters who are thrown amidst pre-historic monsters, and our reaction is essentially the same as theirs.  At first we're giddy with childish wonderment, and then we're paralyzed in horror when the objects of our admiration turn into the harbingers of our deepest fears.  Yet, Jurassic Park the film doesn't entirely abandon interesting ideas in favor of being just a monster movie.  In one masterfully crafted scene, Spielberg is able to introduce the greatest moral dilemmas presented by the book and give the film a new level of value and importance.  The exploration of moral and ethical issues doesn’t last long, though; there are dinosaurs to be seen and humans to frighten.

Jurassic Park the film is one of the best film adaptations I have ever seen.  As I have said before, a good film adaptation is always a good film first and then an adaptationJurassic Park the film is not a pure translation of the book that inspired it, and that's one reason it's fantastic.  Like Jaws before it, Spielberg knew he was making a film and not a book on screen.  Jurassic Park the book is a lot of fun and well worth the read, but the film provides some of the best entertainment of its medium.  It did that by honoring its inspiration but also by not being bound too tightly by it."

Other Topics of Interest:
Books to Movies: Jaws
Books to Movies: The Prestige
Adaptation, Please: The Candy Bombers

Friday, August 16, 2013

Conversations with Adam & Scout - Picky or Observant?

Adam C. Zern opines on being "picky" as opposed to being "observant" and comments on the subjective nature of artistic criticism.  Scout doesn't have much to say.

Other Topics of Interest:
Bedtime Stories with Adam & Sarah - Young Adult Fiction
Page-turners: Black Hawk Down

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

On eBooks

Adam C. Zern shares a few thoughts on reading his first eBook:

"My book reading habits are not trendy.  I very, very rarely read new releases and am usually unmoved by the 'hottest' new books or authors in the public eye.  I don't do this intentionally.  In fact, I've been pondering as of late about making myself more aware of the new releases and the more popular books being published.  One trend in particular, the eBook, is one in which I am coming extremely late to the party; I bought my first eBook around two weeks ago.  However, I have some very important reasons for delaying my adoption of the eBook. 

To begin with, I am a highlight and reference kind of reader.  If I come across a passage, a statement, some powerful prose, etc., I highlight it with a blue pen (always a blue pen!) and have come back to it later—usually to use it in my writing.  Can you do this with eBooks?  Of course.  In fact, the 'Find' feature is an added and extremely powerful tool that doesn't exist in a physical book.  But there is something so much more real, in my mind, with physically picking up a pen and deliberately underlining certain passages rather than swiping and pinching in an electronic form.  That kinesthetic act of hand, pen, and paper has a tendency to place the passage in my memory in such a way that I'm usually able to recall it. 

Secondly, I simply love feeling the book in my hand.  I love placing a bookmark in its pages and flipping from one page to another.  Above all, turning that last page of a book is always such a satisfying experience.  When I was reading Divergent by Veronica Roth I didn't really have any tangible indication of when the book was about to end—this is especially true since I bounced back and forth between reading it on my iPhone and reading it on my iPad and the page numbers vary based on which device you're using.  When the last page of the book came and went it kind of caught me off guard and left me feeling a little crestfallen.  I absolutely love, love, love the experience of turning that last page of a book.  I usually flip back through its pages and turn the book over in my hands a few times, pondering upon its contents and the accomplishment of moving one book closer to my lifetime reading goal.

Having said all of that, my experience with my first eBook truly showed me how convenient they are.  I knew it would be easier and quicker to read a book in an eBook form, but I didn't appreciate just how much.  I read the vast majority of my first eBook on my iPhone, which allowed me to sneak in a few pages standing at the microwave at work, waiting for an appointment, and especially while sitting in traffic (only trained reading professionals should attempt the latter!).  I loved that feature of having an eBook, and recognize it simply cannot be duplicated with reading a physical book. 

Which is better?  Physical book or eBook?  Physical book, of course.  However, there are benefits of both forms.  Since there are advantages and disadvantages of both, the decision to buy an eBook or not I think will come down to one of the most basic economic concerns we know: cost.  I see many more eBooks in my future, but I'll never abandon completely the old-school way."

Other Topics of Interest:
3 Reasons Why You Should Read
What You Don't Know is the Reason
3 Rules of Book Etiquette

Monday, August 12, 2013

Reflections: Divergent

Adam C. Zern sounds off on Veronica Roth's Divergent:

"To begin with, I cannot think of a single compelling reason to read Divergent.  Essentially every element I can think of in the book has been presented in other books and in a better way.  True, there are no truly unique stories, but that's not Divergent's issue.  Divergent's issue is that it is not only painfully derivative but it also doesn't do anything better than the books that inspired it.

Set in a post-apocalyptic backdrop of sorts, the reader will immediately see similarities to the incredibly popular Young Adult series The Hunger Games.  Again, this is not an inherently bad thing.  The problem is that The Hunger Games does everything better than Divergent.  In fact, I found myself laughing out loud at elements of Divergent that were most definitely not supposed to be funny.  Divergent presents a society fragmented into separate factions which fulfill separate but equally important roles.  The Dauntless faction are the warrior/defender class, the Abnegation are the selfless servants and political rulers, the Erudite (one of The Thousander Club's levels of accomplishment!) are the intellectual class, and the Candor faction are the straight-talking truth-bound class.  (There is also group of factionless individuals, but they matter so little to the story they’re not really worth mentioning).  Veronica Roth obviously had to find ways to present the attributes of each of these factions but the ways in which she does is so superficial it's somewhat comical. (The Dauntless faction, for example, jump off of a moving train as they travel from place to place to show bravery.  Nonsense).  The subsequent conflicts and struggles presented in the book become very generic and strangely predictable.  There was literally not a single moment of shock or surprise while I was reading Divergent

Divergent comes fully loaded with a love-story sub-plot that is full of teenage angst and longing.  Gratefully, Divergent does spare the audience the seemingly ubiquitous love-triangle conflict of many other Young Adult stories, which was one of The Hunger Games trilogy's more irritating attributes.  Yet, Divergent doesn't present a love-story that is unique or interesting in any kind of way.  It's just there because, apparently, it's a pre-requisite of writing a Young Adult fiction book. 

Divergent is not a good book.  It's extremely derivative and totally forgettable.  It's currently being adapted into a film, but that must be because it mirrors in so many ways the incredibly popular The Hunger Games trilogy; I have no idea why they would adapt it based on its merits.  I have read and largely enjoyed The Hunger Games trilogy, but I will most definitely not be reading the rest of the Divergent series.  One was definitely enough."

Other Topics of Interest:
Bedtime Stories with Adam & Sarah - Young Adult Fiction
Reflections: The Hunger Games

Monday, August 5, 2013

Reflections: Capitalism and Freedom

Adam C. Zern opines on Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom:

"Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman is my kind of a book.  Ideological, libertarian (or what Friedman would call 'liberal' in a classical sense), liberty-oriented economic analysis, it has all the right ingredients for being a book I would love.  And I didn't really love it.

I've read several books similar to Capitalism and Freedom, such as The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek, which I really, really enjoyed, and The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, which, despite its exceptional length and complexity, I also very much enjoyed, and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal by Ayn Rand.  Capitalism and Freedom, on the other hand, just didn't stand-out enough.  It had good things to say (or bad things to say depending on where you are on the ideological scale), but it doesn't say much of it very well.  A lot of the book felt a little too esoteric.  It seemed to waver back and forth between being a book written for the non-economists among us and then for the highly trained and pedagogical class of economists; therefore, in my mind, it felt very inconsistent in its presentation.

The book is not all bad.  Friedman has some fascinating things to say and overall the book is a valuable addition to liberty-oriented literature.  The book is short—especially when compared to other books like it, including The Road to Serfdom and obviously The Wealth of Nations.  Because of the book's brevity I think more people would be willing to read it than some other heftier economic books.  In the end, though, I just wish the book had been a little more accessible.

I have yet another book to add to my ever-growing political science collection.  I hope to one day teach political science at a university level and Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom is one more arrow in my teaching quiver.  I didn't love the book, but I didn't hate it.  It had some good things to say and just kind of said some other things that I'll likely forget.  If pressed, this probably is not the book I would recommend for others to read if they wanted to learn more about capitalism, freedom, and the value of both."

Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: The Road to Serfdom
Reflections: An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States of America

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Memorable Moments: The Illustrated Man - 'Make a wish! Make a wish!'

Adam C. Zern sounds off on an unforgettable moment in Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man:

"Ray Bradbury's collection of short stories, cleverly organized as The Illustrated Man, has one story—Kaleidoscope—and one scene in particular I will never forget.  After beginning with an accident in space, several astronauts are hurled in various directions through the cold expanse of space.  Some scream in terror, others lash out in anger, others timidly fade away.  The striking visual of helpless human beings floating through the gravity-less vacuum of space was brought back to my attention recently when I watched the trailer for the film Gravity.  

During the course of the short story, the reader follows one character in particular, Hollis.  As he is flung toward earth he reflects upon his life and wonders to himself: 'What can I do?  Is there anything I can do now to make up for a terrible and empty life?  If only I could do one good thing to make up for the meanness I collected all these years and didn't even know was in me!'

The reader understands the space traveler's inevitable destination, to be burned alive in the earth's atmosphere.  As Hollis nears the atmosphere he has a final hope and wishes 'he could do a good thing now that everything was gone, a good thing for just himself to know about.'  The narrative shifts perspective and the reader hears a conversation between a parent and child in which the child shouts in delight: 'Look, Mom, look!  A falling star!'  The parent gives the obvious and most appropriate advice to a believing child.  'Make a wish,' said his mother, 'Make a wish.'  And perhaps the astronaut has done some good after all.

 This short story and that moment specifically is one of the most touching narrative moments I've ever read.  It has stayed with me for years, and I'll never look at a shooting start the same way again."

Other Topics of Interest:
Memorable Moments: Ender's Game - Terrible Reality
Ray Bradbury and Me
Reflections: Dandelion Wine