Apr 12 2009

Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves

As a self-serving memoir, I am sure this book was more interesting for Graves to write than it was for me to read. Ostensibly it is a personal account of the Great War, but the author is clearly more interested in himself than in the war. Yet the book is not altogether without interest in other respects. Graves agrees with C.S. Lewis that the purpose of the British boarding school is to turn boys into homosexuals. He had personal acquaintance with Siegfried Sassoon, Thomas Hardy, T.E. Lawrence, and Bertrand Russell…there is quite a bit of conspicuous name-dropping toward the end. He seems to find English country life pleasant and charming; though I have only experienced it vicariously, it seems to me dreary, dull, shabby, and provincial, even for relatively well off people like him. It is his experiences after the war that I find most interesting; his account of life in pre-Nasser Egypt is humorous and rather fascinating. In spite of the title, Graves is incurably English.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2009/04/12/goodbye-to-all-that-by-robert-graves/

Apr 12 2009

A History of Ethiopia by Harold Marcus

African history usually depresses me, but the history of Ethiopia is encouraging and inspiring. A lot of people in the West don’t know this, but Ethiopia is a mostly Christian country and has been for most of its history. It is, in fact, one of the oldest continuously Christian countries in the world. Furthermore, even in ancient times Ethiopia was one of the few sub-Saharan African countries that can truly be said to have had a civilization, at least, as Western scholars understand the term. Blessed with a sense of nationalism that transcends ethnic differences and with a series of

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2009/04/12/a-history-of-ethiopia-by-harold-marcus/

Mar 20 2009

Genghis Khan: Life, Death, and Resurrection by John Man

The Mongol conquests are certainly impressive, but the Mongols contributed nothing to civilization and in fact destroyed civilization wherever they found it. The author reveals that Europe was spared a Mongol invasion only because the Mongols saw nothing to gain from such a venture, but they did overrun Hungary and Poland to give Europeans a taste of what might be in store for them if they didn’t get their acts together. Genghis Khan was a force of nature, but a wholly negative one, like an earthquake or tsunami leaving death and destruction in its wake and forcing people to pick up the pieces and start over again. His legacy is not nearly as impressive as many historians seem to think it is, this one included.

This was a pretty good book, but unfortunately the author intersperses Mongol history with accounts of his own experiences in modern Mongolia, which he seems to think are fascinating but which I found boring and irrelevant.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2009/03/20/genghis-khan-life-death-and-resurrection-by-john-man/

Mar 14 2009

Post Office by Charles Bukowski

This is a memoir of the soul-killing job that sucked nearly twelve years out of Bukowski’s life, with a lot of booze and women thrown in for good measure. I had read it before, but it was actually funnier the second time around. It does have a certain serious social relevance: what do people with no skills and no education do to survive in a capitalist society? All of his co-workers thought he was finished when he finally quit his job, but strangely enough when he quit working at shit jobs and began to write his luck turned completely around. Let’s all raise a glass to the man who was fucked by the system and then turned around and gave it a good hard fuck himself. Truly an inspiration to the working man.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2009/03/14/post-office-by-charles-bukowski/

Mar 14 2009

Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare

I found this play strangely moving and thought-provoking. The legally enforced sexual morality that the plot hinges on seems incomprehensible to us today, but more interesting was the way in which Shakespeare pushes the issue of justice vs. mercy. Mercy wins in the end, but only after some improbable twists that suggest that justice in this world cannot be practiced at all without some measure of hypocrisy. A fine and underrated drama, one that makes me examine my innermost convictions.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2009/03/14/measure-for-measure-by-william-shakespeare/

Mar 01 2009

Sentence of the Day

For a small break from Brussels and the economic crisis:

Nothing fades so quickly or so tackily as a Soviet resort.

One of the lighter observations (on p. 139) from The Spirit-Wrestlers by Philip Marsden, a journey across southern Russia and the Caucasus in search of various religious non-conformists who fell afoul of both Russian and Soviet states.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2009/03/01/sentence-of-the-day/

Feb 19 2009

Aid Worker Shashlik

From Geert Mak’s visit to Sarajevo in 1999:

Batinic leans over and looks me straight in the eye. ‘Tell me, Geert, honestly: what kind of people are you sending us anyway? The ones at the top are usually fine. But otherwise, with only a few exceptions, the people I have to deal with are third-class adventurers who would probably have trouble finding a job in their own country.’ It makes him furious. ‘To them, we’re some kind of aboriginals. They think they have to explain what a toilet it, what a television is, and how we should organise a school. The arrogance! They say Bosnians are lazy people, but it takes them a week to do a day’s work. And you should hear them chattering away about it! At the same time, everyone sees how much money they spend on themselves and their position. They put three quarters of all their energy into that.’

Not a new complaint, but pungently put. The classic retort, of course, is that if the local people hadn’t made such a terrible mess of their own country, they wouldn’t need the international aid. Mak’s companion does not spare his fellow Bosnians either.

We order another drink, and Batinic starts complaining about the corruption in Bosnia, the rise of religious leaders in the city, the enthusiastic discussions at the university about ‘the Iranian model’. ‘Sarajevo isn’t Sarajevo any more. The city has filled with runaway farmers…’
Batinic’s pessimism has had the upper hand again for some time now.

In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century by Geert Mak, p. 806

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2009/02/19/aid-worker-shashlik/

Feb 16 2009

Sentence of the Day

Describing some events in the last months of 1989:

Meanwhile, an unknown KGB agent in Dresden, Vladimir Putin, had tried to pile so many documents into a burning stove that the thing exploded

In Europe, by Geert Mak, p.718

I’m nearing the end of the book, and it’s living up to my initial impression. More, perhaps, when I’m all the way through.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2009/02/16/sentence-of-the-day-2/

Feb 03 2009

The Korean War 1950-1953 by Carter Malkasian

This was a more or less conventional history of the Korean War, focusing on Cold War strategies and policies. It notes that the Korean Was the first and only war in which the major powers…the Soviet Union, China, the United States, and its allies…actually engaged in direct armed conflict with each other. MacArthur is given more favorable treatment than he deserves, but the author argues that Matthew Ridgeway was the greater military leader. This book has a rather official military tone, understandable given that the author is a former soldier and professional military historian, but it is still a fairly good, concise treatment of a subject that more Americans should make an effort to understand.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2009/02/03/the-korean-war-1950-1953-by-carter-malkasian/

Jan 13 2009

Death on the Installment Plan by Louis-Ferdinand Celine

Celine has a way of writing about perfectly horrible experiences in a way that makes you laugh out loud. This book is a work of genius, although not quite as good as *Journey to the End of Night*. It’s too bad he didn’t write more. He has an uncanny way of finding humor in all the petty miseries of life, and humor is possibly the best antidote for such misery.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2009/01/13/death-on-the-installment-plan-by-louis-ferdinand-celine/