Good Lord, is it ever hot!! But what a great excuse to stay in the cool, or find an exceptionally generous shade tree to park yourself under, during the extreme heat. And what better friend to bring along than a book? Here’s what I’ve been reading…
The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States by Gordon S. Wood
The Gist: Putltzer Prize Winner Brown takes a page from both the traditionalist view (An Idea drove us toward Revolution) and the early twentieth-century progressive view (Ideas don’t create revolutions; cultural, social and economic conditions do) to plot a middle ground in these essays exploring the birth and early years of the Republic. Yet, in doing so, he reveals how the “idea” and “ideals” of a self-governing country remain America’s strongest suit. Indeed, in much of the world, America is an idea to adopt, and an ideal to strive for.
Status: Read intro, conclusions and selected essays.
Summer Escapism: C (This is not a bad thing. You can’t help but reflect on our current government and economic woes while reading this book. You’re learning and thinking. You’re not really escaping. And that’s a good thing.)
Strength of Writing: A
Stimulation of the Little Grey Cells: A
Social Relevance: A+ (In the Post-Great Recession, as in so many other times of crisis in our country, Americans often turn to America’s beginnings for renewal. Would that they also were inclined to turn to our country’s historians and read more to enlighten themselves about our great land before shooting their mouths off.)
General Reaction: For Brown, the beginning and early formation of America remain the most important events in our country’s history, and he presents a convincing case for this through his essays. The intellectual and ideological values we hold dear, the creation of both a public and private sphere of rights (which our courts must traverse), and our feelings about America’s place and role in the world, have all been influenced (and continue to be) by the Idea of America. Brown’s specialty is the American Revolution, and you know you are in the company of a great mind when reading this book.
Embassytown by China Miéville
The Gist: Humanity has colonized space. Embassytown is a human settlement on the planet of the native Ariekei, sentient beings with a language unique in the known universe. The problems of communication between Ariekei and humans lead to catastrophe and, ultimately, revelation and transcendence for the Ariekei.
Status: Gobbled it up!
Summer Escapism: A (For sci-fi fans, that is.)
Strength of Writing: A
Stimulation of the Little Grey Cells: A (Interesting take on language and its impact on culture and progress. Plus, you’ll never look at lying the same way again!)
Social Relevance: B (It’s always relevant to explore differences, and the importance of finding common ground.)
General Reaction: I have to tell you, I wasn’t sure that Miéville was going to be able to pull this off. But he does, and it’s a wonder to read. The book has mystery (why are the Arikei trying to make “figures of speech” out of neighboring humans?), excellent characters (especially human protagonist Avice Benner Cho), adventure, conspiracy, war, and an intriguing and satisfying conclusion. He just bats it out of the park!
OK, it’s your turn. What have you been reading during this hellish summer?