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April 2019

Communism: A Very Short Introduction (Leslie Homes, Oxford University Press, 2009, 144 pages)

The Very Short Introduction series is one of my favorites.  Always well written, and, as advertised, brief and to the point. 

Seems that words like capitalism, socialism, communism, and every other kind of -ism are being thrown around more and more these days, rather indiscriminately too.  I felt it was a time for a brief refresher on communism.  Well worth reading. 

 


Duty: A Father, His Son, and the Man Who Won the War (Bob Greene, William Morrow, 2000, 304 pages)

A gift from a colleague, and a good gift it was.  

At the time of publication, Duty was Bob Greene's heartfelt tribute to his father's generation. Called back to his hometown (Columbus, Ohio) to say good-bye to his dying father, Greene decides to seek out his father's longtime hero, an 83-year-old fellow WWII vet and Ohioan named Paul Tibbets.  Tibbets was the man who, as a 29-year-old lieutenant colonel, piloted the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Combining excerpts from his father's wartime journals, interviews with Tibbets and his own personal recollections, Greene pays homage to the ideals of his father and conveys successfully what WWII meant to men of that generation. Meanwhile, through his conversations with Tibbets, Greene comes to better understand his late father.  Like the aging pilot, Greene realizes, his father felt that the freedoms these men had fought for in the war are unappreciated by today's younger generations, and, like Tibbets, his father was angry about postwar cultural changes. 

 


Brief Answers to the Big Questions (Stephen Hawking, Bantam, 2018, 256 pages)

Deep water, and most of it flowed right over my head.  But that says more about me than Hawking.  Well worth reading and much food for thought. 

Hawking considers ten questions: Is there a God?  How did it all begin? What is inside a black hole?  Can we predict the future?  Is time travel possible?  Will we survive on earth?  Is there other intelligent life in the universe?  Should we colonize space?  Will artificial intelligence outsmart us?  How do we shape the future?

Rightly or wrongly, it was Hawking's final, unequivocal answer to the first question--Is there a God?--that generated the most chatter when Brief Answers to the Big Questions was published.  Hawking's answer?  No.  At least in the sense that Christians, Jews, Muslims and others might think of God.  To Hawking, "God" was useful shorthand for the laws of nature and science but the term otherwise held no meaning for him.  He predicted a time in the not-too-distant future when our understanding of the laws of nature would render any notion of God obsolete.

 


Century (Bruce Bernard, Phaidon Press, 1999, 1120 pages)

Well worth owning.  A terrific photographic history of the twentieth century. 

Divided into six sections--1899-1914, High Hopes and Recklessness; 1914-33, Self-Inflicted Wounds Remain Infected; 1933-45, Rise and Fall of the Unspeakable; 1945-65, Atomic Truce Walks a Tightrope; 1965-85, Vietnam to the Moon to Soviet Collapse; and 1985-99, Chaos and Hope on a Burdened Planet--with accompanying text and quotations, Century presents an average of 10 images for each year, from the banal to the brilliant. In 1921 readers witness Claude Monet overseeing his glorious water-lily gardens. Next to that is an image of starving children in the Russian famine that followed the end of World War I. The young Princess Elizabeth walks her corgi in London's Hyde Park in 1934, while the facing page shows the moment of King Alexander I's assassination in Marseilles. American GIs laugh with girls on a German beach in 1946--a couple of pages on from the then recently revealed horrors of the concentration camp at Auschwitz. Three decades later, sees the Sex Pistols inaugurating the era of punk rock, while anti-apartheid leader Steve Biko lies murdered by police in his South African jail cell. By turns harrowing and humorous, Century is a magnificent photographic testament to 100 years of human advancement, futility, acts of heroism, and episodes of unspeakable cruelty. The book ends on a note of hope with a still from a 1999 German production of Beethoven's opera Fidelio, a triumph of goodness over evil.