Five Reviews in Five(ish) Minutes (11/17 #3)

This’ll get me caught up with my book reviews . . . for now, at any rate. 

Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West by Tom Holland

img_2870I’ve been a fan of Tom Holland since picking up Rubicon. I enjoyed Dyansty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar and was delighted to find this volume Persian Fire at my local bookseller (which often doesn’t have anything I’m looking for).

Persian Fire chronicles the simultaneous rise of the Persian Empire and the Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta. When East meets West, it’s a battle not just for land, but to alter the course of human history.

This is narrative history, and while some may argue Holland is “Eurocentric” and grossly generalized Persian culture . . . well, Holland isn’t exactly wrong. To focus on Greece is to focus on our own history, since – like it or not – we are the inheritors of their culture and not of Persia. Other reviewers lament Holland’s lack of “scholarly” writing, as if good history can’t be written for the “popular audience”. As this academic elitism attacks Holland’s style and not his substance, such reviews can be safely ignored.

Persian Fire proves a fine introduction to the pivotal moments in the creation of Western culture.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Gentleman in Moscow goodreads coverI’d heard good things about this novel from everyone that read it, including more than a few English a literature teachers. So, I naturally wanted to see what all the fuss is about. When I saw that my library holds only one copy and there were more than 43 holds on it, I determined that my best bet to read the book was to purchase my own copy. A colleague of mine actually split the cost and is letting me keep the book. 🙂

Just how good was this book? Well . . . I read it in two days! It may well be one of the best new books I’ve read this year, and definitely one of the best that’s ever been recommended to me.

I know some have criticized the book for not being an *accurate* representation of a “Former Person” in Soviet Russia. Such criticisms miss the point that this is (a) a work of fiction and (b) the author goes out of his was to explain these abnormalities. I’m definitely glad I made this purchase.

Al Franken: Giant of the Senate by Al Franken

Al Franken Giant of the Senate coverI chose to read this book after hearing about it on NPR. Then, when I saw it on my library’s “New Release” shelf, I couldn’t pass it up.

Now, I’m neither a Democrat nor a Liberal, but I am a sucker for humorous memoirs. The humor and the serious bits were well-mixed for an enjoyable read.

However, this book contains the usual Democratic filler: all Republicans are liars, all Democrats want the best for the country, the Democratic party isn’t socialism, the Democratic party is the only party on the side of the “little guy”. The usual Capitol Hill hogwash that flows from both sides of the aisles (just replace “Democrat” with “Republican” were applicable).

Recounting his years on the comedy circuit and at SNL, Franken took great pains to say things along the lines of “all these other guys were doing terrible things, but not me”. Then the scandal came out when I was just over halfway through. This lessened my enjoyment of the book somewhat.

I still think Franken is funny, and he might be a good Senator despite his faults, but it’s genuinely hard to give an unbiased review of the book when his name’s in the news all the time.

The Poem of the Cid: Dual Language Edition by Anonymous and W.S. Merwin (Translator)

poem of the cid coverIt’s taken me far too long to actually read the poem on which the Charlton Heston film is based. The dual language edition has Spanish on the facing page, effectively cutting the pages in half as I don’t read Spanish.

I enjoyed the poem greatly; in fact, I dare say the poem was much more epic than the movie (shocker there). I was surprised, thought, that the famous “strap a dead man to a horse” wasn’t in the original. Instead, it ends with the Cid getting legal revenge on those who brought him pain and dishonor.

I think it’s time for another film version, don’t you?

Artemis by Andy Weir

artemis coverWait. Didn’t I just tease this book for Teaser Tuesday? Yep. But, remember it’s a 7-day loaner?

Whereas I found The Martian exciting and thrilling, Artemis was something of a letdown. as far as I can tell the science is correct, But therein lies the problem. I can understand the science behind the major plot points. In fact, most anyone with a rudimentary understanding of high school chemistry can see where things are headed. That said, the story is compelling enough – especially given the nature of the protagonist – and I wouldn’t say no to reading more about Artemis, the first (and so far only) city on the moon.


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