Monday, December 29, 2003

My Bookshelf

Brink, Andre, A Dry White Season, New York: Penguin Books, 1979. (.5, August 2002)

A story of a white man seeing the apartheid system for what it was.


Ayittey, George B. N., Africa in Chaos, New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1999. (August 2002)

A stark and angry, though at times repetitive and polemical, case against post-independence African leaders and elites, focusing particularly on Ghana. A must read for those wishing to see the continent rise out of the ashes.


Jacoby, Russell, The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe, New York: The Noonday Press, 1987. (.25, July 2002)

"That it is difficult for an educated adult American to name a single political scientist or sociologist or philosopher is not wholly his or her fault; the professionals have abandoned the public arena. The influx of left scholars has not changed the picture."
A solid critique of the "academization" and "professionalization" of American intelligentsia, and the academy's retraction from the public, reality, and meritocracy.


Rand, Ayn, Atlas Shrugged, New York: Signet, 1957. (.5, July 2002)

A heroic, inspiring, and simply fantastic, though thick, book. Along with 1984, one of 20th century classics. Unabashedly celebrating capitalism and indicting socialism, Rand explores what happens when "looters" take over the world and its "movers" go on strike.


Duong, Thu Huong, Paradise of the Blind, New York: Perennial, 2002. (July 2002)

The story of a young woman growing up in post-war Vietnam with all its misery and contradiction. A bit reminiscent of La Mala Hora in its pace and style.


Brock, David, Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative, New York: Crown Publishers, 2002. (.5, March 2002)

For David Brock, journalism and politics always went hand-in-hand. What's interesting is that he went from writing for the Student Press Service of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Foundation, to Berkeley's Daily Cal, to the Washington Times. As a right-wing scandal reporter, Brock forever destroyed the reputations of Anita Hill and the Clintons. Then, he turned around again and called on his old friends in the conservative revolution. The result: a bitter inside look into the workings of the conservative movement that captured America and the Republican Party.


Brudnoy, David, Life Is Not a Rehearsal, New York: Doubleday, 1997. (January 2002)

"In this no-holds-barred memoir, Boston's outspoken, conservative, libertarian, living-with-AIDS, college professor and media icon proves once and for all the inadequacy of labels when it comes to defining life. Life Is Not a Rehearsal is the story of David Brudnoy as only he could tell it, with characteristic candor, humor, and the self-awareness of one who has teetered on the edge, gone over the cliff, and lived to tell. And tell he does!" -- Former Massachusetts Governor William F. Weld

A soft-spoken, poignant, yet immensely self-critical story of coming of age, coming out, and coming to grips with HIV.


Kors, Alan Charles and Silverglate, Harvey A., The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America's Campuses, New York: HarperPerennial, 1998. (December 2001, April 2002)

"A provocative and chilling account of political correctness run amok across America's campuses." -- Harvard Law Record

Four decades after Joseph McCarthy, three decades after the Chinese Cultural Revolution, a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, brainwashing is back, this time in America.


Wilson, George, This War Really Matters: Inside the Fight for Defense Dollars, CQPress. (Fall 2001)

Though the style is a bit more academic than that of Maraniss and Weisskopf in "Tell Newt to Shut Up!", it's another excellent dissection by a Washington Post writer of the workings of Congress. An excellent insight into how defense money was spent, and misspent, in the last half of the 1990's.


White, Pepper, The Idea Factory: Learning to Think at MIT, New York: PLUME, 1991. (August-December 2001)

Grades, grants, soccer, and grind of an engineering grad student at MIT. Somewhat technical. Breathtaking accounts of stellar MIT profs and graduates towards the beginning, but rather depressing by the end when Pepper recalls the three or four suicides or near-suicides of close schoolmates.


Sharansky, Natan, Fear No Evil: The Uplifting and Historic Account of a Single Man Who Triumphed Over a Police State--and in the Process Changed It Forever, New York: Vintage Books, 1989. (.33, August 2001)

A Zionist, a refusenik, a prisoner of conscience in the Soviet gulag for nine years, Natan Sharansky became the Israeli Minister of National Defense and now of Labor.


Marquez, Gabriel Garcia, In Evil Hour, New York: HarperPerennial, 1979. (.75, Summer 2001)

[La mala hora in Spanish.] An intricate, though slow tale of a run-down, cheerless town somewhere in South America.


Maraniss, David and Wisskopf, Michael, "Tell Newt to Shut Up!", New York: Touchstone, 1996. (Summer 2001)

Two award-winning Washington Post journalists present a fly-on-the wall look at the rise and fall of the 1994 Gingrich revolution. A wonderful read, but an extraordinarily cynical take on the American political system and it's leaders.


Barry, Dave, Dave Barry Turns 40, New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1990. (Summer 2001)

Bitter an hilarious observations on aging from the "funniest man in America".


Khanga, Elena, Soul to Soul: The Story of a Black Russian American Family, 1994. (Fall 2000-Summer 2001)

A surprising story of four generations of a family spanning three religions, a century, and three continents and five countries, from Mississippi at end of the Civil War, to Uzbekistan under Stalin, to revolutionary Zanzibar of the 60's, to Moscow during Perestroika.


Rushdie, Salman, Midnight's Children, 1981. (.5, Summer 2000)

An epic of magical realism about a man born in the second of India's independence and whose life is somehow intimately intertwined with that of the country. Surprisingly, it starts off with the full life and adventures of his grandfather.


Liang, Heng and Shapiro, Judith, Son of the Revolution, New York: Vintage Books, 1984. (Spring 2000)

An excellent autobiography of growing up in China during the heady days of the Cultural Revolution. Liang's parents were purged as they were struggling to achieve Party membership and spent years in prison camps. Then, came Red Guard campaigns against the Four Olds--old thought, customs, culture, and morals--and bloody factionalism among the student revolutionaries. By the time Liang reached his 20's, it all calmed down and universities reopened. And, as has often been the case before, none of these things were told to have happened among "revolutionary comrades." [Chinese names are pronounced last name first. In English, they are sometimes transliterated the same way, or first name first. Liang is the family name.]


Wong, Jan. Red China Blues: From Mao to Now, New York: Doubleday/Anchor Books, 1996. (Spring 2000)

In 1972, Jan Wong, a third generation Chinese-Canadian, became the first Western student since the Cultural Revolution to enroll as an exchange student into the University of Beijing. By this time, most Chinese have already become disillusioned with Communism, while Jan--as many of her peers during the Vietnam War--lionized Mao and the Communist "alternative". She ended up spending a good part of the next twenty-five years there as a student and a correspondent for the Toronto Globe and Mail covering life and politics in China, including Tiananmen Square protests, and changing her view of the country, of life, and of herself.


King, David, The Commissar Vanishes, 1997. (Spring 2000)

A book documenting Soviet alteration of official photographs for political purposes. Former friends and national heroes simply disappeared from history.


Elster, C.H. and Elliot, J., Tooth and Nail: A Novel Approach to the New SAT, New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1994. (1998-1999)

The best SAT prep there is! Except for the chapter on Shakespeare, a wicked good, fast-paced detective story, too.


Kennedy, Robert & al., Thirteen Days, New York: Signet, 1993. (Fall 1999)

A gripping, optimistic, and inspiring account of the Cuban Missile crisis from inside the Kennedy White House. Published posthumously.


Brown, Claude, Manchild in the Promised Land, New York: Signet, 1965. (Fall 1999)

"The children of these disillusioned colored pioneers inherited the total lot of their parents--the disappointments, the anger. To add to their misery, they had little hope of deliverance. For where does one run to when he's already in the promised land?"

Manchild is my favorite book and the best autobiography I've read. It is a story of a kid who fought, stole, pimped, pushed dope, played jazz, and dreamt through and weathered it all in 50's Harlem.


Seo, Danny, Generation React: activism for beginners, Ballantine Books, 1997.

Danny may be a veggie, but advice that he has for beginning activists is invaluable. And, considering that he started a 20,000 person organization at the tender age of 12, much of what he suggests can be used best by more seasoned, college-level activists.


Golding, William, Lord of the Flies, 1954.

The tale of a group of English schoolboys left stranded on their own on a desert island. One of the most influential books of the 20th century and one of the strongest indictments of human nature, anarchy, and anarchism.


Morrison, Toni, Song of Solomon, 1977. (Spring 1999)

A visual treat by one of America's best modern writers. A story in the style of magical realism of a lost middle-class black man on an uncertain search for his family history.


Miller, Arthur, Death of a Salesman, 1949. (Spring 1999)

Wilson, August, Fences, 1985. (Spring 1999)

A spotlight on the flip side of the American Dream by two of the best American playwrights after the second World War. Willy Loman and Troy Maxson are America's classical, and classic, tragic heroes.


Kesey, Ken, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, 1962. (1998-1999)

One of the most amazing books I have read. An in-your-face subversive takes on "the system" at a mental hospital, and challenges us to look critically at the way we are--consciously or unconsciously--controlled in our daily lives. The Academy Award-winning movie with Jack Nicholson falls flat in comparison.


Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, "The Yellow Wallpaper", 1891. (Fall 1998)

A short story of a woman gone mad from idleness prescribed for women in Victorian times.


Orwell, George, 1984, New York: Signet, 1949.

My second favorite book. A classic of the terror police state.


Heller, Joseph, Good as Gold, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1976.

An absurdist look at American domestic politics during the Cold War through the eyes of Dr. Bruce Gold, "forty-eight-year-old professor (Jewish) of literature (English) and author of many seminal articles in small journals (unread)," who is poised to become "the country's (very first Jewish) Secretary of State."


Simenon, Georges, Maigret Hesitates, New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1969. (1998?)

Probably the first really serious book I've read on my own. A detective story much unlike the ones about about Sherlock Holmes, it's is more philosophical than plot-driven.


Achebe, Chinua, Things Fall Apart, 1958. (1997-1998)

A story of Okonkwo, an Ibo whose life breaks to pieces as English colonization rips through traditional fabric of life in what will become Nigeria.


Remarque, Erich Maria, All Quiet on the Western Front, 1929. (Fall 1997)

This book was banned in Nazi Germany for a reason--it is a classic and devastating look at World War I through the eyes of a German grunt whose whole platoon is wiped out during this first and terrible 20th-century war.


Esquivel, Laura, Like Water for Chocolate, 1990. (Fall 1997)

An enormously gratifying book for all the senses. A captivating ode to food, passion, and sex in the style of magical realism. The movie is very good, but doesn't do the book justice.


London, Jack.

Greatest stories of adventure, Klondike wilderness, and the human spirit.


Defoe, Daniel, Robinson Crusoe, 1719.

Shipwrecked English sailor survives on a desert island using the remains of his ship, his ingenuity, and the friendship of Friday, a young native whom he saves from the cannibals.

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