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D Glover (northern bc, canada)

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Islands in the Stream
Islands in the Stream
by Ernest Hemingway
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.95
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3.0 out of 5 stars The Good, the Bad and the Mediocre..., Aug. 12 2010
This review is from: Islands in the Stream (Paperback)
The Good, the Bad, and the Mediocre... that order. I'd probably give this book 3.5 stars, somewhere between it was good and it was OK, if I could.

The first of the three sections of this novel is truly good. It introduces us to Thomas Hudson, a painter and a thinly veiled Hemingway, and his life on the island of Bimini. Hudson, like Hemingway, is an artist who is serious about his craft and about his work ethic. We learn of his life among the characters of the island, including the locals and his friends. The richest part of all is the visit of his three sons (by his first two wives) and the good times they share. There is good character development of all three boys, each so different from the others and each showing different parts of their father's personality. And there are the friends and servants of Hudson's, whom he loves and who play important parts in his son's lives, often where it is difficult for a father to enter. There is a tense shark attack and an epic battle with a monster marlin by the middle son, and there is a great deal of psychology of boys and men woven richly throughout. Hudson is a father who can't seem to love all-out, whole-heartedly, even though his sons need and want it. The feelings are there but the wiring in Hudson's head and heart shorts out a little and never conducts his deepest, truest self to his boys. Tragically, Hudson learns of the death of his two youngest sons and their mother (his second wife) at the close of the story.

The middle section of the book certainly has some good description and some realistic conversation, but overall it is one running conversation after another, mostly in the context of a bar where Hudson and his companions (who come and go) are drinking heavily, about very little of any importance. Hudson has just gotten wind of his first son's death (a pilot in WWII) and ultimately this accounts for the drinking but probably also for the attempts by Hudson to avoid any topic of significance in his conversations with others. Hudson's first wife and the only woman he ever deeply loved shows up and they have a rendezvous before Hudson can work up the fortitude to tell her of their son's death. They grieve and love together and she has to leave. All in all, a draggy and hopeless section of this story that doesn't live up to the first and last sections.

The last section follows Hudson and his crew as they conduct anti-submarine activities from his small ship (or large boat) in and around Cuba. The story is a game of cat and mouse in which Hudson and his crew is the cat and the surviving crew members from a German U-boat is the mouse. Hemingway builds tension in the hunt and between Hudson's crew members well. There are some really exciting moments and some truly touching interaction between Hudson and his crew, as they must try to overcome their differences and dislikes of each other to band together to find and fight the enemy. After the middle section this is a welcome change...there is actually stuff happening here, a plot. But it does pail in comparison to the richness of the opening section of this book.

All in all, I was glad I read this but the middle section prevents me from liking this book with anything close to whole-heartedness. And if you are someone who enjoys happy endings, none of the three sections of this book end that way. The reader is left thinking that likely, as the sons went, so the father goes. There is much tragedy and hopelessness in this book, which too is a fair reflection of Hemingway's own life.

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
by Naomi Klein
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.33
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Shlock Doctor, Aug. 12 2010
As one reviewer has stated, this is "an important and well researched book". Unfortunately, that is as far as I can go with my praise of this imaginative fiction. That Klein has done a good job of research is clear and that this is an important book is evident from its impressive sales. However, this book is a convoluted mixture of reported historical fact and massive imagination. I am coming from a paleo-conservative, economic libertarian perspective (not finding the neo-cons to be either neo or truly con). I have no trouble admitting the greed, under-handedness and power-mongering of much of the political and military-industrial establishment and have no doubt that Klein's reporting of much of their greasy dealings is spot on. However, I take exception to her demonizing of the free market and its advocates, as though greed and power are vices unique to free market capitalism. If we did historical analysis by total tonnage, those who agree with Klein's socialist/communist/statist bias would be found responsible for far more human, social and economic carnage than the free market, any way you slice it.

I'm not defending the likes of Clinton, Rumsfeld, Bush, Chenney, et al, because Klein is right in saying that they have done much harm. However, none of these men were true sons of free market economics, as Klein's own book shows. Such actors were guilty of one intervention after another, both domestically and abroad. Their brand of intervention was free market in name only. There was nothing free about a market and a populace that was manipulated from the get go under their direction.

Klein has gathered and restated facts to a dizzying degree in The Shock Doctrine and I did learn a lot. However, her slip (slop?) shows when she attempts to draw conclusions from all the data. Thankfully she is not a policy maker. Unfortunately, I fear some policy wonks will be convinced by her elaborate fairy tale (certainly many amazon reviewers have been). What she has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt is that people are greedy and self-interested by nature and that if you give them too much power, they will hurt a lot of people to help themselves. However, we didn't need Naomi Klein to tell us that. The framers of the Constitution of the United States of America knew this far better and believed this far more than any modern day publishing phenom and that is why they advocated a truly free market with a strong governance by law and a very limited, very small government whose purpose was to protect the lives of individuals, their property and their freedom to employ themselves and their property as they so chose. The founding fathers knew people were self-interested and so they recognized that an economic system of individual freedom and ownership would automatically balance out people's competing self-interests, all within the bounds of a law structure that would prevent people from harming each other or stealing each other's property. In Klein's world, a big juicy government that controls everything has become the ultimate self interested party who crushes the enterprising individual by passing laws that repeatedly allow the state to plunder whomever and whenever they like. This is happening in socialist, communist and so-called democratic countries and has been for a long time.

It should be noted that Klein comes from a long line of left wing socialist and communist activists and politicians and is married to an Al Jazeera talk show host. Oddly enough, she seams to hate the free-market, industrialized, globalizing west and yet she chooses to live here rather than in banana republics, militant Islamic states, or Cuba, the nations she champions in her writing. At minimum, this should tell us that Klein comes by her extreme left wing heritage honestly and that she is anything but a dispassionate, balanced and objective reporter...and not a little hypocritical.

Klein obviously believes that Milton Freidman is the devil incarnate and that from his study on the University of Chicago campus, he pre-wrote the economic history of the past 40 years, using his army of demons (graduates) to go forth and do his dirty work. Friedman was not the all-powerful devil she makes him out to be and she reports again and again in her book that nation after nation who followed the Chicago school held back in areas (with some it was the energy or mining sectors, with some it was the infrastructure construction, with some health care, with some it was electricity and other services, with some it was the manufacturing or automotive sectors). This ought to lead any reader to the conclusion that Chicago economics was never really and truly tried. What failed was a sort of statist-Chicago hybrid, which was nothing like a truly free market, but Klein never considers the fact that it might have been the less than whole-hearted commitment to free market principles that caused the problems.

And Freidman was hardly a purist free-market economist, in reality. Any student of the Austrian School of Economics can tell you that the Chicago School is heavy on intervention and just can't resist sticking their fingers into the pie over and over and over...every pie they came across, whether artificially controlling inflation, arbitrarily printing money, or manipulating markets (say, precious metals). True free market economists would see the IMF, the Federal Reserve bank, and other national and global financial manipulation tools disbanded and would advocate a truly free trading climate both domestically and globally, something the Chicago school has yet to really do in theory or in policy.

To summarize, Klein gets enough historical data between the covers to make her meta-narrative sound compelling, but it's too tidy, like Uncle Milt held the strings to the world's politicians, economists and power brokers and made them all dance to his Windy City waltz. And it's naïve. There is very little understanding and differentiation of various economic schools of thought in her assessments and conclusions, no nuance, just huge sloppy brush strokes that paint every non-socialistic economic ideology with the same indiscriminate brush. This is a pretty engrossing read but in much the same way that a convoluted and complex conspiracy theory fiction is: with just enough plausibility to make it believable...almost.

For a clear-headed and concise refutation of Kleinian (and Keynesian) thinking, try Frederic Bastiat's "The Law" The Law by Frederic Bastiat.

The Law by Frederic Bastiat
The Law by Frederic Bastiat
by Frederic Bastiat
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 24.57
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Urgent read for every politician and voter!, Aug. 11 2010
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The Law is a refutation of the systems of socialism, communism and government interventionism written prior to it's publication or since. It is a logical, well-reasoned, effectively argued refutation which, in the opinion of this reader, truly does expose the unjust foundations of these economic systems and show them for the unworkable, freedom-crushing and ultimately counter-productive models that they are. All forms of statist government are based on a naïve understanding of human nature, thinking only (some) individuals are subject to corruption and not understanding that the inherent corruption of human nature only deepens with the power granted at the organized state level. This is a true classic of economics and politics and deserves to be universally read not only by all those in government but by every voter as well.

But more than just a negative refutation, Bastiat makes the positive case that the law has only one purpose: to preserve justice. Bastiat convincingly bases this assertion on self evident natural law. In order to preserve and ensure justice, the law must protect the safety of persons, their property, and their freedom to make choices as they see fit. Therefore the law's purpose is negative, serving as a protection against violence, coercion and theft. The law is not to be a positive force which prescribes behaviors, even if those behaviors are generally agreed to be good things.

In opposition to this limited role of the law, Bastiat shows that in socialist/communist states, the government has expanded the purpose and role of the law to include things it was never intended to. In order to do this, the government passes laws that extend far beyond the goal of justice and the law becomes grossly prescriptive rather than penal; the law legalizes behaviours for the state that, if they were perpetrated by individuals, would be considered theft and coercion. Some examples are things like social healthcare, (for example, health-conscious citizens paying for the medical bills of drug users, smokers, alcoholics and those who drive recklessly and don't wear their seatbelts), social welfare (those gainfully employed, paying with their taxes the living expenses of those who perennially refuse to work), forbidding certain behaviours because those who happen to be in power don't approve of them (certain religious practices, certain businesses because they would put a state sanctioned/owned company out of business, etc.). Basiat calls this legalized plunder. He shows convincingly that socialist and communist nations simply pass laws that make it acceptable to do at the state level what would be clearly seen as an injustice at the individual level. Legalized plunder is the correct term for the practices of wealth transfer payments and redistribution programs. Such policies make the law and the state that enforces it the worst enemy of the individuals who make up a nation. Contra this, Bastiat argues the true purpose of the law is not to enforce charity but simply to protect citizens and to ensure justice. As an aside, Bastiat is not saying there is no place for charity. He is simply saying that for charity to be charity, it must come of the free choice of individuals and not from a state-enforced policy. In the latter case, charity is no longer charity but enforced robbery (what if my state-enforced "charity" is going toward a cause that is diametrically opposed to my religious convictions or personal principles?).

Basiat's thinking penetrates through the jargon used by socialists and interventionists to show that, at its heart, such systems are based on an untenable and irrational belief in human nature. Basiat observes that politicians and policy makers place blind trust in the masses to make a wise choice of who to elect, and then once those politicians are elected, they take the reigns and make decisions on behalf of the people because the people cannot be trusted to know what is best for them. You can't have it both ways...wise enough to elect the right people but too dumb to understand what would make for the best economic and punitive policies. Thus, socialist/communist tendencies are alive and well within all of the world's democracies and so-called republics, where the social elites think they are ordained to be the saviours of the common masses.

Bastiat's book is a clear, concise and effective refutation of the form of government that all western democracies have become and a call to return to an era of small, limited government whose job it is to simply ensure people's physical safety from violence and people's free use of their resources as they see fit, punishing the robber and the thug. Though it was written in the mid-1800s, it is even more crucial today, in our era of huge government debt and deficits, massive bureaucracies, stifling taxation, and greedy and power-hungry politicians who bill themselves as the saviours of society. Sadly the state has become the robbers and thugs, succeeding beyond the wildest imaginations of the most successful criminals because the state can write laws which sanction their evil and greedy behaviours.

The Law can be read in one sitting but really should be pondered for some time afterward with one eye on the media, listening carefully to the news about the latest proposed government program or the cries of the manifold special interest lobby groups, both of whom see it as their purpose to take the hard earned money of and privately held resources of individuals and use it for their own pet projects and to further their own ideologies.

Old Man and the Sea
Old Man and the Sea
by Ernest Hemingway
Edition: Paperback
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hemmingway and the critics, Aug. 5 2010
This review is from: Old Man and the Sea (Paperback)
This is my favourite Hemmingway work. I read it once in school and then again just recently. Some reviewers here have discussed the struggle and the characters, still others have spoken of the book's merits. I will say it is classic Hemmingway, with solid, tangible descriptions without ornament. In this work, Hemmingway simultaneously acheives economy and artistry, something few can do and no one I know of can do better.

But is this a metaphor? I had some fun thinking of a metaphor that might have subconsciously possessed this book while the author was struggling through a difficult time in his vocation...

Of course Hemmingway is Santiago in some part as all writers must put something of themselves into their characters or they aren't real. Perhaps the sea is life, fishing is writing, the marlin is a story, and the sharks are the critics, and money from fishing is, well, money form writing. The writer sometimes has spells of bad luck and unfruitful attempts at creating a story. People say the writer is unlucky or their career is done. But the writer struggles faithfully, attempting to create successfully again, having tasted success and being an adept at his craft, believing it is only a matter of time before things go his way again. And he needs to eat. Then, on a day when one expects only the familiar bad luck, all the while trying to maintain optimism, the author gets a bite and the possibility seems grand. After a long, hard fought battle which brings the writer to the end of himself several times, a great story is completed. The author is exhausted but relieved that his block is over and his luck has changed. He knows in his bones this is a great work. But then, as he is bringing it to market, the critics start to circle and pick his work apart. The author and the work he has struggled so long to create are inseparable. During the writing, at times the manuscript seemed like his enemy, but now it is a part of him, and when the critics attack his work, they attack him. He attempts to defend his work, sacrificing himself for it's sake, but there are more critics than he can handle and he can't deal with them all at once. They shred the work he has fought so hard to produce and in the end, only the few who really knew him in his prime see the prize for what it is and their respect for him is renewed and deepened. But the author knows the work is good, no matter what people might say. He must be able to stand before his own conscience with honesty. And despite all the attacks and the fact that his work is shreaded, he can sleep at night again with the tired satisfaction that he has shaken off his bad luck and he can really create again.

Or perhaps the great fish is the literary work, the fight is the struggle to produce a truly great work, and the sharks are a combination of the personal demons the author fights and his own exacting editing process. He finishes, not with a fat and fleshy prize that will bring good money in the market, but with a bare bones work that maintains the enormity of the scope yet with the economy that results from flogging oneself until every line has nothing left but what is absolutely required to tell the story. In this work is not the triumph of a happy ending but the more mature triumph of survival in the midst of tragedy.

It's a fun exercise, but ultimately, I think the metaphor in this book is there only because all good stories reflect real life. I don't think Hemmingway tried to write about "real life" and needed a vehicle by which to do it. I think he wanted to write about an old man, a boy, a big fish, the sea, and a great struggle, and I think he did it very well. I think he did it so well, we all see ourselves in the old man and our lives in the sea.

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ
by Philip Pullman
Edition: Hardcover
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9 of 29 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A new retelling of an old revision, Aug. 5 2010
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In the interests of full disclosure, I will say from the start that I am a Christian who is committed to the historical veracity and authority of the New Testament account of the life of Jesus, the Christ. I realize that this commitment inherently colours my perspective on both the Bible and the book I am currently reviewing but of course no more than Philip Pullman's admitted and overt anti-theism colours his take on the first four books of the New Testament (and the rest for that matter). There is a popular belief out there that says atheists approach religion and the Bible on a rational, objective, neutral basis where as subscribers to the faith are subjective and irrational. The foolishness of this can be seen on the face of it. I readily admit that Christians don't embrace or examine their faith with pure rationalist logic...far from it. However they are not devoid of logic either and the atheist embraces his or her secular-humanism with every bit as much faith as the most devout saint posses.

Also, right off the start, I want to acknowledge that I am aware that the cover of Pullman's book states loud and clear that, "this is a story" as if that disclaimer preemptively answers any criticisms to his reinvention of the gospel narratives. I realize this is a fiction, Pullman's own version. However, since he is presuming to deconstruct and reinvent something as pivotal and as immense as the life of the historical Jesus, he cannot duck out of criticism simply by saying, "hey, I told you this is a story". the book.

Unlike some of the reviews I've read, I was not wowed by the ingenious originality of this tale, mainly because there was very little originality to be found. In fact, much like my experience of The DaVinci Code, as I was reading I couldn't help thinking at least once a chapter how old and tired this all sounded. Like Dan Brown's shameless robbery of the central premise and many of the details of the authors of The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail, Pullman turns the "de-mythologizing", pseudo-scholarship of Liberal theologians of the past two centuries into a fictional account of the life of Jesus Christ and the origins of the Christian religion. In this project he proceeds along the familiar lines of separating the supposed tiny kernel of historical Jesus (just a good Jewish moral teacher) from the vast and distorted post-Christ mythologizations of those who used Jesus as an opportunity to construct a cult to challenge the existing power structures and replace it with their own. Like a one man Jesus Seminar, Pullman seeks to sift out the probable historical events and teachings from all supposed glosses, inventions, edits, and manifold additions of post-Christ church leadership. The literary device he uses to accomplish this in a narrative work is to divide the historical Jesus into twin brothers: Jesus, a human, red-blooded, honest Jewish teacher of the golden rule with a keen perception of human nature, and Christ, his underhanded, lowlife, back stabbing, power-hungry alter-ego of a brother whom one can nevertheless identify with. I think this is the only original part of this book.

Pullman rewrites his way chronologically through the gospel story, systematically attacking one cardinal orthodoxy after another, from the virgin birth (a naïve Mary consents to sleep with a town boy because he tells her he is an angel messenger from God and she has been chosen for a special honour), to Jesus' miracles (which are just acts of kindness or bold statements that the growing excitement of the crowds turn into rumours and stories of the miraculous), to the death and resurrection (the body was taken by those who wished to perpetuate the stories of Jesus divinity in order to use them to accomplish their own political ends), and many things in between. Again, nothing particularly new here as the gospels were long ago sifted by those wishing to retain the title `Christian' but were embarrassed by all the super-natural baggage and salvation language that such a handle brought with it.

The true center of this book is the prayer of Jesus in the garden just prior to his arrest and trial. Far from the emotional struggle of the biblical account, where Jesus, knowing his vicarious death was hard upon him, desires in his humanity to avoid the pain and separation, but trusts his heavenly Father and famously declares "nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done", here Jesus' last prayer is an angry outburst of frustration at the silence and indifference of a God he has finally lost faith in. To call this a thinly veiled projection of Pullman's own feelings toward the God of the Bible would be gross understatement. It is yet one more example of the two controlling tenets of atheism: 1) there is no God, and 2) I hate him.

I must take exception to another reviewer's opinion as the prose in this book was anything but lyric and I believe Pullman himself would agree with me. Due to the nature of this story the plain, unadorned prose suited the genre better than flowery description which one never typically finds in mythology or in the Bible (but for the poetic books). From my perspective, however, the style was the only strength of this book and if zero stars was an option on Amazon, that is what I would have rated this book. Strictly considered, I found this to be a well written (from a technical perspective, genre constraints considered) fictionalization of some worn-out secularist liberal theological railings against the historicity of the Bible's accounts of Jesus life and works. That is to say, it was like an incorrectly balanced ledger, where all the numbers and totals are nevertheless written with admirable penmanship. But however aesthetically pleasing the handwriting might be, the sums will leave you in trouble with the tax man when he audits you.

This book is the rebellious attempt to remove redemption from the redemption narrative by a man who refuses to admit his own spiritual bankruptcy and need of the Jesus Christ he is trying to rid history of. But one recalls the age old maxim, that the Christian faith is an anvil that has worn out many hammers. For those wishing to read something from an intelligent pen that takes a very different perspective on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, try Malcolm Muggerige's JESUS: THE MAN WHO LIVES., G.K. Chesterton's EVERLASTING MAN, THE, C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity or, N.T. Wright's Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense orThe Original Jesus: The Life and Vision of a Revolutionary.

The Club of Queer Trades
The Club of Queer Trades
by G. K. Chesterton
Edition: Paperback
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4.0 out of 5 stars Truth is stranger than fiction, May 31 2010
In one of the most memorable statements in this collection of half a dozen short detective stories, Basil Grant argues against his detective wannabe brother, Rupert, that truth is stranger than fiction out of necessity since fiction is a creation of the minds of men. Chesterton implies that since truth is a creation of the mind of God, a mind unfathomable to men, it must therefore be stranger to our thinking than the fictions we human beings can create.

I can't help thinking that, of all the people creating fiction, Chesterton was one of the very best and his fictions some of the strangest. This collection of six short stories all relates to the mysterious Club of Queer Trades, where a person must not only invent a brand new trade but must earn their living at the unique occupation. While not as good as his Father Brown stories or "The Man Who Was Thursday" (in my opinion), Chesterton's first attempts at detective fiction are very clever and much fun to read. They are at once a spoof of detective fiction and a brilliant example of it, something probably only Chesterton could have acheived. If you can find an edition with his essay on the justification of detective fiction, it is also a gem.

Knights Of The Cornerstone, The
Knights Of The Cornerstone, The
by James P Blaylock
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 26.50
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad but far from great, May 25 2010
Some of Blaylock's other works came highly recommended to me so when I saw this one on the shelf, I thought I'd introduce myself to his work. "Knights" is a quirky story with quirky characters which is something I like. However, the mood of the story felt superficial, the descriptions of people and places often seemed heavy handed, and the characters were too under developed to feel any true sympathy for. The overall effect for me was that this is a good idea that needs more work. Unfortunately, it was published prior to that work being done.

I confess I wanted to like this book and there was a spark of excitement when on the opening page there were quotes from both George MacDonald and G.K. Chesterton, two of my all time favourites. The teaser on the back cover seemed promising also. However, the combination of the things listed above along with frequently clunky prose made this an overall disappointment for me. If a book is truly good one doesn't usually find oneself thinking things like, "maybe this would make a better movie than a book", or "man, if this got published maybe even I could publish a book". I'm pretty sure no author wants to hear that about their work but that was where my mind went more than a few times. If the main character had been in his adolescent years and the love interest removed or altered, this would have been at about the right level for a teen adventure.

A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four
A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 6.00
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Defense of format..., May 10 2010
I will not recount the general plot of the story nor comment on the importance of this novel as the first of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes tales. Other reviewers here have done a good job of each. What I want to defend is the format of the book. Many reviewers have mentioned that the flashback of the middle section of the book is an odd and unhelpful format including many unnecessary details and messing up the otherwise consistent chronology of the novel in parts 1 and 3. I want to defend this format as ahead of its time and highly appropriate for the particular story being told. I can understand if the format bothered its original reading public, being used, as they were, to mostly chronological stories. However, in the postmodern literary climate of the present day and for some time already, readers surely must appreciate the many fine novelists and short story writers who have successfully employed non-chronological story telling to great and pleasing effect. This is not only an acceptable way of telling a story, it has been widely praised in many post-Doyle writers, both present day and past (think of Umberto Eco and Jorges Luis Borges for example). I believe that Doyle has used it to winning effect in "Study in Scarlet".

As a secondary note, one has only to read non-Mormon accounts of the history of the Mormon religion, either present day or contemporary to Doyle, to appreciate not only the plausibility but the general truth of Doyle's account. It is not widely known to the average person but nearly any historical account will tell you that in the days of the Mormon migration west and of their settling the Great Salt Valley, the Mormons, often in unconvincing guise as Native Americans, slaughtered hundreds of non-Mormon settlers who attempted to pass through their territory peaceably, plundering their provisions and livestock. Also, no good history of the movement is without its account of the Danite tribe or the "avenging angels", whose job it was to discipline errant, wayward and defecting Mormons, many (if not most) of which were killed and which served to instill fear and submission in the rest of the community. There are also several accounts of Brigham Young which tell of his particularly tyrannical reign and messianic self delusions. Before critiquing Doyle's picture of early western Mormonism, readers would do well to educate themselves on this movement which at one time was at war with the government of the United States and killed several American soldiers and some government officials, as well as destroying or plundering much government property.

Far from taking away from the story, I found both the non-chronological format and the picture of the Mormon western migration and early settlement to be assets to the tale, adding significantly to it.

Solomon Among The Postmoderns
Solomon Among The Postmoderns
by Peter Leithart
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 27.00
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Wisdom of Solomon dialogues with Postmodernism, May 6 2010
Peter Leithart's "Solomon Among the Postmoderns" is both timely and important. Timely since postmodernism is the "ism" we find our selves in and scholars and cultural figures of every stripe frequently make sweeping statements about it and about us in light of it. As such, anyone who desires to engage intelligently in the conversations of our times needs to know what postmodernism is and what it isn't, where it came from and where it is likely heading, and most of all, how it affects our thoughts and lives whether or not we realize it. And this book is important. Most attempts to distill postmodernism (whether from a Christian or secular perspective) by authors writing for the average person either sing the unqualified praises of postmodernism and its apostles or they reject and demonize all things postmodern as the cause of all the evils of our time. Leithart's approach is refreshingly balanced and fair and thankfully devoid of rant and over inflated rhetoric.

The book opens with an alternate interpretation of the central thought of Ecclesiastes, believing that we have misunderstood it all this time. Rather than the famous, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity", the author believes Solomon actually to say "Vapour of vapours, all is vapour". I am always skeptical when an author makes such claims but in this case, Leithart's interpretation of Solomon's observations of this life fit far better and more consistently with the wise man's own conclusion of the matter. If all is truly vanity, and by the common understanding, pointless, Solomon's conclusions to simply live and work at one's vocation and embrace the simple things in life with joy, peace and gratitude are at best an empty piety and at worst a cruel joke. But if all is vapour and beyond our control, it makes perfect sense to not fret about and try to direct what things are by nature beyond our control. Such a desire to control is ultimately an attempt to "shepherd wind". Solomon concludes that just because we can't shepherd the wind that is life doesn't mean it is out of control. We can pursue our work on earth with joy and thankfulness of heart because we know the One who can and does shepherd the wind.

Leithart sets out to examine what the postmodern thinkers are telling us about ourselves, about reality, about experience, all within the context of what Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes about ourselves, the world and our interactions within it. Leithart quotes and refers frequently to myriad scholars and philosophers evidencing both a broad and deep engagement with first and secondary sources and yet the prose of the book never gets bogged down by technical language nor do Leithart's distillations ever get shrouded in the mists that so often render other writers on this subject open to innumerable misinterpretations (which perhaps provide an unintended defense of the caricature theories on the postmodern understanding of knowledge, communication and interpretation). There are illustrations from everyday life and culture which serve to emphasize the author's observations and conclusions and keep this work accessible to a broad and contemporary audience.

The author is the first to admit that this is not a comprehensive look at where postmodernism comes from, what it means today or where it is leading. Leithart needs to start somewhere however, and with this book, he starts with the Renaissance. He traces, albeit in summary fashion, the development of postmodernism from the Renaissance to today, and shows how postmodernism is both a reaction against the all consuming experiment and ideals of modernism with its attempts to separate, classify, compartmentalize and control everything as well as an intensification of those desires and attempts but from subtly different angles and, at least to some degree, from different motivations.

The greatest strength of this book is its evenhandedness. Leithart is not a bitter modernist wishing to turn back the clock but neither does he see postmodernism as our messianic deliverer from all that modernism got wrong. Following the wisdom of Solomon, Leithart guides the reader through many of the genuinely wise observations and interpretations of the postmoderns when they show us that, contra the modernism project, there is very little we can truly know in fullness and even less we can really control. At the same time Leithart shows that the postmoderns have not really abandoned all the supposed evils they decry of modernism. Solomon holds a running dialogue with the conclusions of postmoderns throughout the book and where postmodernism has made astute and correct observations on the follies of modernism and man's attempts to control all things, we see that true wisdom already knew this. There is nothing new under the sun. Where post is right, it was not the first to be so...there is something pre. And where post is wrong, it stands in a long tradition of humanity's wrong answers.

Leithart believes postmoderns are not to be feared and reviled, which is the reaction of so many Christians. But neither are they to be embraced uncritically as many others in the church do. In their critiques of modernism, postmoderns are often right, benefiting as they do from retrospect. But they are also wrong on many things, as people who forsake the wisdom of God so often are. Solomon is a reliable guide for the person who wishes to navigate postmodernism because his source of wisdom comes from beyond the temporal and the temporary. Solomon's wisdom comes through one who set out to experience all this life had to offer and found it all vapour. Therefore his wisdom is practical, applicable, earthy, experiential. And yet this wisdom comes from beyond the vapour, from a "time beyond the time that is under the sun". The conclusion of the postmodern matter is for Leithart that one must turn to God's wisdom to understand the vapourous nature of existence and experience since only God is beyond the vapour, only God can shepherd the wind.

End Of Reason
End Of Reason
by Ravi Zacharias
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 14.11
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A reasonable reasponse to Harris's unreasonable book, April 15 2010
This review is from: End Of Reason (Hardcover)
Ravi Zacharias has, as the first reviewer says, done an able job in answering Sam Harris's book length rant against religion (mainly Christianity). Ravi, as always, writes with intelligence, keen logic, grace and aplomb, none of which can be said about the author or book Ravi is refuting. Ravi is perhaps uniquely gifted to apply a sharp slap in the face to the modern hostile atheist authors all the while making it feel like a warning from a concerned wiser, older friend. As Ravi takes Harris's atheistic tenets to their logical conclusion, he shows that atheism always has and always will lead to a world of individualistic license, unrestrained evil, loveless existence and empty despair. Also well done is Ravi's job of showing how whenever Harris makes a morality statement or a pronouncement of the "evils" of religion, he has to import categories (good and evil, right and wrong) that his own worldview has no explanation for and therefore no right to employ. Harris's whole argument against religion has to spend borrowed moral capital from Christianity. Harris can only say and believe the things he does about any Christian beliefs or behaviours being evil because many of his presuppositions are still very Christian. There is no such thing as an objective standard of good and evil in a universe without God; there is only personal preference and the strength to over-power someone else's preferences.

When Ravi systematically unravels Harris's arguments (often merely unfounded assertions), one is left wondering how Harris's book could ever have been taken seriously by a half way intelligent person much less become a best seller. I find it amusing to watch how the "new atheists" argue for a world of pure secular humanism with all the passion of a pack of religious zealots. As the likes of Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens flog their rabid atheism they sound more like wild-eyed desert prophets than anything. It is clear, perhaps to everyone but them, that they are every bit as religious as the most extremist religious practitioner they rail against, and just as dangerous should their views ever receive wide subscription. The only difference is that their god is themselves, all the while it is labeled and masquerading in their writings as "science". All this Zacharias does a masterful job of exposing. Although Ravi admits to this being his most edgy book, one cannot read it without detecting the genuine love and desire on his part to see the new atheists wake up to the bankruptcy of their worldview.

For those interested in another excellent rebuttal of Harris's rant, here is a much punchier contribution that focuses more on exposing the internal inconsistencies of atheism than on positively proving Christianity Letter from a Christian Citizen: A Response to Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris.

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