Friday, March 16, 2007

The Human Story

Summary of The Human Story by James C. Davis:
Davis, who taught history at the University of Pennsylvania, has taken on an unusual project—to relate all of human history in the simplest terms possible for the broadest audience possible. The chapter titles illustrate his method of abstracting large themes from a multitude of events—"The richer countries grab the poorer," for example, isn't a bad summary of 19th-century imperialism, but it does risk seeming remedial. At his best, Davis does for human history what Stephen Hawking did for the atom and the universe—take a step back from the details and translate them into common terms. But human history lacks the elegance of subatomic particles, so the book constantly flirts with a kind of riotous overgeneralization, treating immensely complex entities like "England" or "workers" as much as possible like single individuals in psychological terms. The method works better for events that are known widely but not in detail—an example is Stalin's purges—for which Davis can bring the reader a smattering of pungent details and move on. For more familiar subjects, the reader may feel the author is being glib. Davis elevates thinkers above leaders, devoting far more space to Newton and Darwin than to Napoleon and Caesar. It is refreshing to have a treatment of human life at once learned and optimistic, and one that so forcefully focuses on the primacy of ideas in our triumphant story.

I found reading this story of our history very entertaining. I am used to boring, dry non-fiction that is like pulling teeth to read. This was actually enjoyable, easy to read, and even included some humor. It's definitely something the average person can read and enjoy. In fact, I spent 4 hours one night reading it, which for non-fiction is quite a feat. I'd recommend this if you want a good overview of our history.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Summary of Bellwether by Connie Willis:
Pop culture, chaos theory and matters of the heart collide in this unique novella from the Hugo and Nebula winning author of Doomsday Book. Sandra Foster studies fads and their meanings for the HiTek corporation. Bennet O'Reilly works with monkey group behavior and chaos theory for the same company. When the two are thrust together due to a misdelivered package and a run of seemingly bad luck, they find a joint project in a flock of sheep. But a series of setbacks and disappointments arise before they are able to find answers to their questions.

I've read this one several times, and I always enjoy it. Willis deftly combines truth and fiction into a book that seems ultimately plausible. She does a great job with the fad information, including tidbits before each chapter. One can't help sympathize for Sandra and her helplessness against Flip. If you are looking for a good, quick read, with an opportunity for learning thrown in, this is the book to read.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Circuit

Summary of The Circuit by Francisco Jimenez:
Jimenez has created a moving autobiography that some critics have compared to John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. The story begins in Mexico when the author is very young and his parents inform him that they are going on a very long trip to "El Norte." What follows is a series of stories of the family's unending migration from one farm to another as they search for the next harvesting job. Each story is told from the point of view of the author as a young child. The simple and direct narrative stays true to this perspective, never falling into moralistic or cliched patterns. The backbreaking work and the soul-crushing effect of the endless packing and moving are portrayed through a child's dismay at having to leave a school where he has just gotten comfortable or, worse, having to miss several months of a school year in order to work. Panchito's desire to help his family by working in the fields often clashes with his academic yearning. In this case, as in the case of many Mexican migrant farm workers, the American dream never comes to fruition. Lifting the story up from the mundane, Jimenez deftly portrays the strong bonds of love that hold this family together.

This book flies by quickly. It's very short, but the stories are very interesting and give good insight into the life of an immigrant child. I'd like to know more about the author and his life, and how he ended up living. I'd recommend reading it for a view of a life unlike your own.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Phoenix and Ashes

Plot of Phoenix and Ashes by Mercedes Lackey:
In this dark and atmospheric rendition of the Cinderella fairy tale, an intelligent young Englishwoman is made into a virtual slave by her evil stepmother. Her only hope of rescue comes in the shape of a scarred World War I pilot of noble blood, whose own powers over the elements are about to be needed more than ever.

This is the third book in a 4-book series. I was relatively disappointed with the first one, and the second one was good. This one would be in-between the two. There were parts of it that I skimmed because I just didn't want to read about that character, but the story itself was a good retelling of Cinderella. I'd recommend it if you like fantasy books.

It's been a long day, so you're getting a short review. :-p