Apr 14 2013

The House of Medici by Christopher Hibbert

Could the Italian Renaissance have flourished without the Medici to finance it? This book supports Will Durant’s argument that art may be the flower of civilization, but money is the root. Yet apart from a few shining stars in the Medici family, the story is mostly one of decline that illustrates how utterly useless Europe’s ruling aristocracy was. The early Medici did some fine things, but their name outlived their glory. Still, as many of my bohemian friends are fond of pointing out, it would be nice if the Medici were around today to sponsor us creative types. Where there are no Medici, there can be no Michelangelos.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2013/04/14/the-house-of-medici-by-christopher-hibbert/

Apr 13 2013

A Republic, Not an Empire by Patrick Buchanan

Whatever the merits of Buchanan’s arguments may be, and I believe they are considerable, this book is a refreshing trip through American history. His arguments for non-interventionism seem particularly wise and prescient in light of the fact that this book was written before the Iraq War. And he has caused me to think of World War II in a different way and to reappraise the judgments of Roosevelt and Churchill, who are almost universally regarded by historians as heroes. I agree with him that globalism is leeching away America’s economic strength and sovereignty, but I wonder if it is really possible to turn back the clock and put the genie back in the bottle. This is the third political manifesto by Buchanan I have read, and together his books have had a profound impact on my political thinking, particularly as regards foreign and economic policy. I hope other thoughtful conservatives are reading him as well.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2013/04/13/a-republic-not-an-empire-by-patrick-buchanan/

Mar 22 2013

Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?

Pat Buchanan makes a lot of sense, and on many points I am in agreement with him. But on one point I disagree with him profoundly. Christianity is not the sole property of white people of European descent; the Kingdom of God is open to people of all nations. Like Buchanan, I am concerned that Christianity in this country is waning as Christians become crowded out by non-Christians, but if that is the case then it is up to us Christians to convert the non-Christians, and that can only be done with love, not with racism, bigotry, and xenophobia. I am a patriotic American, but I am a Christian first and an American second, and I cannot accept Buchanan’s view that Christianity is tied to ethnicity. America will eventually perish anyway along with the rest of the world, but the Kingdom of God is forever. That is the nation that has my first allegiance.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2013/03/22/suicide-of-a-superpower-will-america-survive-to-2025/

Mar 22 2013

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Judaism by Rabbi Benjamin Blech

Like most Christians, I think I understand Judaism; this book showed me how much there remains to learn about this ancient and important religion. Jews believe in the Fall, but they do not believe in original sin. They believe in an afterlife, but they do not believe in a bodily resurrection. They believe in hell, but they believe no one spends more than twelve months there. They believe celibacy is a sin; it is the duty of all people, but especially Jews, to procreate. There is Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism, Reform Judaism, and Reconstructionist Judaism. There was a lot more in the way of the various Jewish traditions, and there was a lot of what I would call Jewish philosophy that isn’t strictly biblical. Judaism strikes me as a very optimistic and life-embracing religion, hardly a religion of renunciation as Christianity is supposed to be but seldom is. I sometimes wish I had had the good fortune to be born a Jew; at the very least I can be a Judeophile.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2013/03/22/the-complete-idiots-guide-to-understanding-judaism-by-rabbi-benjamin-blech/

Mar 19 2013

A History of the Middle East by Peter Mansfield

The best written and most informative book I have read on the modern Middle East. A recurring theme is the way outside powers have shaped and interfered in the destiny of the region. The book is ambivalent about America’s role in the Middle East, arguing that the post-9/11 approach has abandoned the goal of democracy and human rights in favor of “stability,” which is music to every autocrat’s ears. And the author dismisses the much touted success of “the surge,” arguing that in fact what happened was a “purge” of Sunnis in Iraq by the Shiite majority in revenge for a series of Sunni terrorist acts directed against them. The book ends in 2013, acknowledging that the Arab Spring has had mixed results. A theme that the author fails to hit on but that constantly baffles me is the way in which Muslims all over the world believe in the superiority of their culture, while all they have to show for it is backward and failed societies. A pro-Eastern book that reinforced my Orientalism.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2013/03/19/a-history-of-the-middle-east-by-peter-mansfield/

Mar 11 2013

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

This book is quite simply the most enthralling work of fiction that I have read in the last twenty years. The building of a cathedral in itself is not terribly interesting; what is interesting is the way in which individuals thrown upon their own resources struggle to survive in a harsh medieval world. And the plot has so many twists and turns and moments of suspense that there is hardly ever a convenient time to put the book down. A friend recommended this book at a time when I wasn’t reading much fiction, but I am glad now that she did. This was an extraordinary story, told in remarkably simple prose but with masterful narrative craftsmanship, and my life has been greatly enriched by it.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2013/03/11/the-pillars-of-the-earth-by-ken-follett/

Feb 20 2013

The Dark Half by Stephen King

This one of the better books from the period that I tend to think of as the Decline of the Master. Naturally, the bad guy is the most interesting character; the other characters are quite bland and uninteresting. King employs his usual device of supernatural phenomenon without a shred of explanation or plausibility, but we know by now that he is usually able to make this work. It occurred to me while reading this book that the life of a psychopath must be one that is very comfortable and self-satisfied, a life that is untroubled by the thoughts and feelings of other people. Other than this, this was not a book to inspire any deep thoughts or reflections, but it is a reasonably good yarn. As I grow older, more sophisticated, and perhaps more jaded, I grow more conscious of King’s limits as a writer, but he seldom fails to entertain, and this book is as entertaining as one can expect from a writer who self-deprecatingly classifies himself as a “fast food writer.”

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2013/02/20/the-dark-half-by-stephen-king/

Jan 05 2013

Taking Stock of 2012

Retconning, so as to have a copy of these online as well. This was the year of moving to Moscow and out of Moscow. Most of my books were in storage the full year.

Thirty-nine in total; none in German; ten in electronic form after receiving a Kindle for Christmas in 2011.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
Londongrad by Mark Hollingsworth and Stewart Lansley
Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi
The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia
Armageddon Averted by Stephen Kotkin
One of our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde
A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin
From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury
The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
Ha’Penny by Jo Walton
He Lover of Death by Boris Akunin
Distrust that Particular Flavor by William Gibson
The Possessed by Elif Batuman
The Diamond Chariot by Boris Akunin
The Double Comfort Safari Club by Alexander McCall Smith
The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party by Alexander McCall Smith
Vanished Kingdoms by Norman Davies
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell
Country Driving by Peter Hassell
Kraken by China Mieville
The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
Nothing but the Truth by Anna Politikovskaya
The Future History of the Arctic by Charles Emmerson
Yello Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
Red Plenty by Francis Spofford
Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Before the Storm by Rick Perlstein
More Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh
Among Others by Jo Walton

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2013/01/05/taking-stock-of-2012/

Dec 10 2012

Burmese Days by George Orwell

This book deals with many important and socially relevant issues, such as racism, imperialism, colonialism, and the White Man’s Burden. Unfortunately, these important issues fail to compensate for the fact that this is an exceedingly dull story. There were parts of this book that made me feel profoundly disgusted, but other than that it left me cold. A disappointing effort from a normally brilliant author.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2012/12/10/burmese-days-by-george-orwell/

Oct 26 2012

Bag of Bones by Stephen King

This is the WORST Stephen King novel I have ever read. No zombies, no vampires, no demons, just a writer dealing with writer’s block. No doubt this is Stephen King’s worst nightmare, but it hardly makes for an interesting story for the general reader. There are some ghosts and haunting going on, but most of this story revolves around a child custody case, which is hardly the kind of high stakes conflict that we have come to expect from King. I didn’t think it was possible for a Stephen King novel to be boring, but this book was a 500 page snooze. Is the Thrillmaster losing his touch? Say it ain’t so; I’m willing to give him another try, but he had better not disappoint me again.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2012/10/26/bag-of-bones-by-stephen-king/