Saturday, January 19, 2008

Belated book reviews

I'm falling way, way behind with the book reviews I intended to do. I don't think I've done one since last November or something and I've read quite a few new books since then.

So, with no further ado, book reviews in brief.

The Philosophy of Tolkien by Peter Kreeft was pretty good. It was less about formal philosophy than a look at how Tolkien's Catholicism informed his writing of The Lord of the Rings. It was a good book because Kreeft is an engaging writer and was able to make some good points about how the basic philosophy of Christianity was present throughout the work even if it isn't obvious to the casual reader.

The Mother of the Mountains
is the 21st collection of Stan Sakai's comic Usagi Yojimbo. Honestly, I wasn't enthralled. Sakai added another recurring villain (or two, if you count the evil advisor who appeared in the previous book as well as this one) who survived an enormous explosion against improbably odds and was last seen swearing revenge against our heroes. I dunno, I guess I was happy with the number of unresolved plots and persistent villains already and I don't think adding another one makes it better. I understand that it's a comic book and most comics are predicated around stories that never get resolved, but shouldn't it be possible to have stories that get resolved and just have new ones?

Modern Times by Paul Johnson was probably the best book I read in all of 2007. He did an excellent job of giving a brief history of the world for the past 70 or 80 years. He showed how the various incarnations of totalitarianism that have cropped up around the world got started, and I found it very informative about the rise of Islamic extremism and why the Third World got the way it did. Like all his books it was very clearly written and avoided the dullness that often comes with treating such a topic.

I also read Paul Johnson's Heroes. I had high expectations since I liked the first two books in the "series": Intellectuals and Creators as well as the rest of the books I've read by him. Sadly, this was not nearly up to snuff. He spends the introduction redefining the meaning of "hero" so that he can fit in a bunch of people that wouldn't otherwise qualify. I mean, Marilyn Monroe as a heroine? Hostesses as heroes? Maybe it's just me, but a greater degree of physical or moral courage is necessary to qualify, I think.

The Japanese Navy in World War II is a collection of essays about various battles and aspects of the war written by Japanese naval officers who were involved. It was interesting to read the stories of the war from their perspective and to see the reasons they adduce for why the war was lost. Probably only of interest to the serious history buff, but since I am one, I thought it was great.

I read Fathers and Sons by Turgenev on something of a whim. It was okay. The book was very well-written, but I didn't find it very interesting. Most of the characters weren't amiable though the ending wasn't predictable. It was a short read and I think I might like some of his short stories better. I've always been partial to short stories and Paul Johnson spoke well of them in Intellectuals.