Suzanne Collins’s “The Hunger Games” mixes “The Gladiator,” Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s “1984” into a surprisingly updated and compelling story. Of course the allegorical speculations abound: The Capitol - Imperial Rome, or a future world government: The tributes - gladiators: The districts - third world countries, suppressed and seething: The reaping - a mandatory draft; and the games themselves, the ultimate debasement of innocents giving their lives as entertainment for the totalitarian rich and powerful. Something for everyone!Whatever your political or literary bent, you will find justification of your own world view, all while spending a few delightful hours immersed in a frighteningly believable future world. A very good read.
John Updike’s “Widows of Eastwick” was a less than fulfilling sequel to his spectacular “Witches of Eastwick.” This is largely due to the deleterious effects of “famous writer’s syndrome,” a condition typified by editors lacking the hutzpah to cut the literary fat and gristle from the afflicted author’s manuscript.His plot line was weak; his descriptions; verbose and self-aggrandizing; his conclusion; less than satisfying. It amounted to pages of boredom interrupted by paragraphs of spectacularly well-written pornography. A must read if you’re a fan of “The Witches of Eastwick” but otherwise it’s a stand-alone dud: a great use of language with nowhere to go, like driving a Ferrari on a quarter mile track.
“The Screwtape Letters” was my first foray into the mind of C. S. Lewis and I found it interesting and timeless. Written at the height of WWII in 1942, Lewis’s warnings about the false hope and change of “social justice” and “self-esteem” (then referred to as parity of esteem) have unfortunately become fulfilled predictions. In “Screwtape Proposes a Toast” (added twenty years later) Lewis again points to the then (1962) disturbing trend of everyone being equal, this despite obvious and significant differences. No one can be – or at least can be thought of as being – better than another, and he goes on to reinforce the notion that salvation of Democracies (free people) lies in the salvation of the individual – not the collective. A very refreshing, enlightening and timeless read.
Ambrose at his best in recreating the dramatic events surrounding the 101st Airborne’s 506 PIR (parachute infantry regiment) from the Normandy landings to Hitler’s “Eagles Nest.” A story written from eyewitness accounts from those who survived to tell their story, of which there weren’t many.So concise and straightforward is Ambrose’s storytelling and prose that the book literally formed the chapter-by-chapter foundation of the HBO mini-series of the same name. More amazing still is my personal encounter with a few members of the 506 PIR and having them tell me that everything in the book is true as well as 85-90% of the series - unheard of in this day and age. Another must read and possession for all WWII buffs and serious students.
Killing Lincoln is a terrific read, providing a driving narrative that transports the reader to the late stages of the U. S. Civil War. From Ulysses S. Grant’s pursuit of Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House, to Lincoln’s carriage ride from the White House to a performance of the light-hearted play “Our American Cousin”, “Killing Lincoln” accompanies the President during his last days to his last breaths in Petersen’s boarding house on Tenth Street across from Ford’s Theater on the evening of April 14th, 1865.Refreshing in the conspicuous absence of the ponderous and seemingly meaningless minutia and personal speculation so common in run-of-the-mill, self-aggrandizing history texts, “Killing Lincoln” provides rich detail in a coherent narrative, detailing Booth’s plan from the precise timing of his shot to coincide with a laugh-line in the play to his desperate, ill-fated escape and ignominious death in Richard Garrett’s barn. It is a gripping account of a great president’s tragic end rendered in the style of a contemporary action/thriller, something history teachers, writers and majors should take serious note of. For history buffs, the Afterward is nearly as interesting as the body of the text itself with details linking the 20th Century with the events of the late19th.For instance, Robert Todd Lincoln, Lincoln’s only surviving son, served as both the Secretary of War for the Garfield and Arthur administrations and then became the U.S. Minister to Great Britain under Benjamin Harrison. He died in 1926 at the age of 83 (the book claims 82) but not before seeing the dedication of his father’s Memorial in Washington D. C. in 1922.Booth’s lover, Lucy Lambert Hale, remained friends with Robert Todd Lincoln throughout their lives. She married William Chandler, and their grandson, Theodore Chandler, became a decorated World War II navy admiral who died in the Pacific during a kamikaze attack on his ship.If more history books were written like this, there would be far more interest in the study of history. The readability and personal involvement engendered by Killing Lincoln is reminiscent of the time-traveling immersion of David Macullough’s “1776” and “John Adams.” My only complaint with the book is the co-authorship because you don’t really know who did what: Did O’Reilly write while Dugard researched or vise-versa? Or did Dugard do the lion’s share while O’Reilly lent name recognition? I don’t know, but in any event, a great job all around and an entertaining and enjoyable read.
Suzanne Collins’s “Mockingjay,” the third and final book in the “Hunger Games” series, is the weakest of the three and failed as a worthy finale. Had Ms Collins combined it with “Catching Fire” as the conclusion to “The Hunger Games,” the pulp and redundancies could have been reduced or eliminated, distilling two relatively weak episodes into a reasonably potent finale. But that didn’t happen. I simply lost interest in Miss Everdeen much in the way I lost interest in “Harry Potter” in the “Harry Potter and the (fill-in-the-blank)” series where my interest cratered with the endless stream of wand induced, “Deus ex Machina” resolutions to otherwise impossible situations. Good for Ms. Collins for hitting the big time and pumping out yet another tome, but she didn’t seem to know how to end “Catching Fire” and really floundered with “Mockingjay.”
Reread the book after at least a thirty-year hiatus and while I enjoyed it, I didn’t find it a fascinating as I did the first time around. A good fantasy tale to be sure, but not quite what I remembered reading when I was younger – much younger. A good read nonetheless and worthy of a recommendation
A reasonable follow-up to “The Hunger Games” but a bit of a disappointment when Ms. Collins resorted to the time tested “Deus ex machine” ploy to end her episode, falling into the trap set by a first person narrative when your protagonist passes out: What to do? I know, “And Biff came down from the sky…” Still, all-in-all, a good, entertaining read and well worth the price of admission. (3.5)
Mark Levin’s “Ameritopia” is a difficult and sobering read but deeply informative. More than a political rant, which Mr. Levin is known for, “Ameritopia” is a tour-de-force of comparative political and philosophical theories and systems and their influences on the founding fathers as they struggled to write the U. S. Constitution.In the manner of a Master’s thesis, Mr. Levin compares and contrasts the collective utopian dreams of Plato’s “Republic,” Hobbes’s “Leviathan, and More’s “Utopia” - and their inevitable nightmares – with John Locke’s “Nature of Man” arguments and Montesquieu’s notions on republican government. He does it in such a way that it becomes apparent that the American founders literally assembled the Constitution from Locke’s and Montesquieu’s writings, almost word-for-word at times, wholly rejecting the notion of governmental collectivism and radical egalitarianism, concentrating instead on the rights and freedom of the individual. He goes on to compare the newly formed American Democracy with the tenets of Marx’s “Communist Manifesto” and ends with Alexis de Tocqueville’s observations of America’s character, its success and its likely pitfalls.Again, not an easy read but one that serious students of Americanism and individual freedom will keep as a reference and reread, in part or in toto, to fully grasp the intellectual scope of Levin’s arguments, positions, and conclusions.
“Tea Party Patriots: The Second America Revolution” was, to my surprise, much better and more informative than I had expected. The introductory bios were weak but relatively short and did not interfere with the intent of the book which was to introduce the Tea Party and explain their Constitutional inspirations and actionsMark Meckler and Jenny Beth Martin effectively dispel the “major media” notion that Tea Partiers are some sort of fringe, right-wing group reacting to specific, transient government policies. Instead they demonstrate issues with both major political parties going back nearly one hundred years, and that their members are from every walk of life, joined by the common love of country and Constitutionality. Democrats, Republicans, independents and everything in between are active members. But most importantly, “Tea Party Patriots” not only explains what they don’t like, it goes on to propose numerous alternative solutions and suggests – indeed implores – the reader to get active and do the same. Agree or disagree you will learn that the Tea Party Patriots are indeed your friends, neighbors, and family, their ultimate goals being to restore the American culture and return sovereignty to the people where it righty and Constitutionally belongs.