Category Archives: Book Review

Vacances Permanentes

I am still reading but have gotten to the point where all my mandatory reviews have been completed and I am not taking on any new material.  I will still be posting short reviews and comments on my GoodReads page  and  Twitter

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Poetry Review — Opposite: Poems, Philosophy and Coffee

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British poet Helen Mort set out to write something about poetry that many do not see or haven’t seen since the times of the ancient Greeks — the connection between poetry and philosophy. Poetry explains and examines with rhythm, rhyme, emotion, and imagery. Philosophy speaks in complex thoughts and in a language that one needs to learn much like a mathematician or a physicist. In ancient times, philosophy, theatre, and poetry shared a common root in a pantheon of gods. Today, philosophy, using the same theme, can be compared to a seminary lecture and poetry to a cathedral’s ornate stained glass windows. They both tell the same story but in a different manner.

Mort and editor Aaron Meskin exchanged philosophy papers for poetry. Mort would read an article by or from Meskin and then would try and capture its meaning in a poem. It was not always easy, and I imagine, at times unsuccessful. In this edition, Mort writes a poem and has a philosopher interpret and define it in a philosophical manner. Luckily for the reader, the philosophers keep it light enough and readable for the layman to understand. The subjects vary from motherhood to tattoos and everything between. Mort even approaches the subject of rape with the song “Chalet Lines” and how the word was made glassy and elegant and rolled smoothly like a marble. A.W. Eaton of the University of Chicago follows up Mort’s poem with art history and that a large number of paintings portraying sexual violence that are made glossy and elegant in their own way.

For lovers of poetry and philosophy, Opposite is an enjoyable read that shows there is still connectivity between the two disciplines. Mort earned her Ph.D. from Sheffield University and is the author of a novel, two poetry collections, and the editor and contributor to several poetry and literature projects. Meskin is the Professor of Philosophical Aesthetics at the University of Leeds. Biographies of the other contributors are included in the book. Coffee, well, coffee is the lubricant that keeps poets and philosophers talking, thinking, and writing.

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Book Review — Crucible: The Long End of the Great War and the Birth of a New World, 1917-1924

Crucible: The Long End of the Great War and the Birth of a New World, 1917-1924 by Charles Emmerson is an extensive history about the close of World War I and its early aftermath.  Emmerson is a Senior Research Fellow at Chatham House working on resource security, foreign policy, and global geopolitics. He is the author of The Future History of the Arctic and 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War. He was formerly a writer for the Financial Times and continues to publish regularly on international affairs.

The First World War changed the entire world dynamic.  Empire waned as the British Empire began to lose control in India, leaving thousands dead.  Physics changed when a German-born scientist received the Nobel Prize for the photoelectric effect (not relativity).  Sigmund Freud changed the field of psychology with psychoanalysis.  A Russian exile living in Zurich would make an almost unbelievable train trip back to Russia and lead a revolution.  He would work with Leon Trotsky and meet with a Georgian bank robber who would become the General Secretary of the Communist Party and create a different revolution.  The US and Woodrow Wilson would rise and quickly fall from prominence in European matters.  The US had its own problems at home, including violent racism.  Democracy spread in some countries and retracted in others. In defeated Germany, the army fought communists in riots, and a young Austrian immigrant and WWI veteran began his to power. In Italy, another war veteran would lead 30,000 Blackshirts to the March on Rome.  With the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire, a young leader would become the namesake of his country. The map of Europe was redrawn moving borders and creating and destroying countries.  In the Middle East, England and France divided the land and spread their influence.  It was not the same world as it was in 1914.

In most basic histories, readers are led to believe that the Treaty of Versailles was the cause of the unsuccessful peace in Europe. In reality, it was much more than that.  It was the start of a different era in many aspects — Industrialization, mechanization, nationalism, science, and worker’s rights.  Even in art, modernism rose in literature and art. To many, this was as great of a shock as the political upheavals.

Emmerson explores the complexities of the tail end of WWI and the beginning of the Interwar years.  Dividing the book’s chapters by year, the reader will see a timeline that switches between countries and people in a coherent manner. This division is practical because it shows the flow of history on the whole instead of individual nations.  This is the beginning of the interconnectedness of all countries rather than just the influence of regional powers. It was the beginning of a new world, new ideas, modern science, and unfortunately the beginning of a darker side of the future.  A well done, extensive history, of a significant but little-studied period.

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Poetry Review — [Dis]Connected: Poems and Stories of Connection and Otherwise

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[Dis]Connected is an experiment in writing. Have a poet write a poem then have another poet read it and write a short fiction inspired in some way by that poem. That inspiration can be on a theme or even a single line of the poem. Then that poet starts another cycle for someone else. In the second Volume of [Dis]Connected Michelle Halket chooses ten young poets for the project. The “dis” and the “connected” come into play as poets base their prose on a poem. There can be a strong connection to the poem’s theme or a disconnection by going in another direction. Themes of love, loss, and dating run strong through the collection. Tyler Knott Gregson establishes the trend with the opening lines of the first poem:

Sometimes I can see the fibers between things,
The threads that connect us,
Tie us all together. I can see the light
As it passes over them, as it moves,
The fibers link the verse and prose throughout. The prose is excellent and Wilder’s “What The Wild Game Me” is superb and inspired by N. L. Shompole’s prose poem “Notes on How to Take Flight.” There is a wide range of emotions flowing through both the poems and the prose.  The emotions run deep in the collection from overwhelming loss in Alicia Cook’s “The Fourth Saturday”  to being found in “Stay With Me” by Courtney Peppernell.  Another excellent collection showing the magic poets can create.

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Poetry Review — Surrender to Night

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Austrian poet Georg Trakl was trained as a pharmacist in Vienna where his friends helped him get his first poetry published. His service as a medical officer on the Eastern Front during WWI led to depression and attempted suicide. Trakl did succeed in ending his life with a cocaine overdose in November of 1914. Will Stone provides the translation. Stone holds a degree in Literary Translation from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, and has produced prose and poetry translations of the works of several writers.

Trakl is an impressionist poet and captures the world in symbolism, shades expressed in words, and disconnection. Much like an impressionist painter captures the world in light and colors while blurring the boundaries reality, Trakl accomplishes the same with words:

Black skies of metal
Crossing in the red storms at evening Hunger crazed crows drift
Over the parks mournful and pale.

He carries several themes through his work, most notably, Fall, Winter, and silence.  In many poems, there is a youthful feeling balancing with the lateness of the year.  Although he only served in the opening months of the First World War, there is a noticeable darkness in many of his works from this period.  The horrors of the war are clearly evident.  The earlier works are meant to be read and examined in much the same way one would experience a painting by Monet.  A remarkable poetic experience.  This is also a collection of poetry where one cannot overlook the translator. Stone’s work is seamless and unnoticeable in the reading. He is able to preserve the poet’s original intent. Masterfully done.

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Book Review — When Reagan Sent In The Marines

If we are there to fight, we are far too few.  If we are there to die, we are far too many.
Congressman Sam Gibbons, D-Day veteran

I was a young Marine when the barracks in Lebanon was destroyed, and two hundred twenty Marines (241 American service personnel) died in a terrorist attack. I remember the outrage. I was still serving when Reagan went on national television and said that, yes, there was a plan to trade arms for hostages, after denying it. I remember the outrage as a fellow Marine got up and left the room, shaking his head. “Our president lied to us.” is all he said. Older now I know politicians lie, but then we felt that we were fighting the good fight and had a President who was one of us and held the values we held as Marines.

Sloyan digs deeper into the Middle East that was handed to Reagan and what he and his advisors did to complicated the problem. Haig, a Nixon holdover, has come to light as a power-hungry individual with his own agenda, served under Nixon, Ford, And Reagan. Nixon, who was betrayed by Haig, pushed Reagan to appoint him as Secretary of State. Reagan listened and later regretted. Later Schultz as Secretary of State and Wineberger as Defense Secretary could not agree on a Lebanon policy. Reagan, on the other hand, had visions of US airstrikes knocking out the Soviet-backed Palestinians and Syrians. For Reagan, it was always about the communists. The US also backed a puppet as Lebanese president who was an Israeli patsy. It seems no one had a clear idea of what was going on.

In the confusion, Reagan decided to send in the Marines as peacekeepers. The Marines fulfilled this role in 1958, entering the country as a far superior force. This time a small group numbering 1,200 entered the country and tried to separate the belligerents with little more than their reputation of being Marines. Weapons were not loaded, and the rules of engagement prevented any meaningful deterrent. The Marines were headquartered at the Beruit airport — flat terrain and an easy target from the surrounding hills. Marines also protected the barracks. In fact, the truck drove through the barbwire between two Lance Corporals on duty with empty magazines (as ordered). Properly armed, the Marines could have stopped the attack. The Marines effectively had their hands tied, and blame was unfairly laid at the feet of the commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Larry Gerlach.

When Reagan Sent In The Marines is a history of the US in the Middle East and the story of how misguided and ineffective our policy in the region was in the 1980s. Sloyan examines the hows and whys of the US in Lebanon and shows what went wrong and how Reagan managed to turn disaster into political gain. The barracks bombing was the single greatest loss of Marines since Iwo Jima, and it is essential that all the details of the event are made public.

Available December 3, 2019

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Book Review — How to Think Politically Sages, Scholars, and Statesmen Whose Ideas Have Shaped the World

How to Think Politically is an excellent introduction to political philosophers and philosophy. The book is made up of many small chapters, each describing an influential thinker. Not only is the philosopher’s ideas discussed, but he is also put into historical context. The book runs chronologically and, with few exceptions covers Western thinkers. This gives the reader a sense of the evolution of political thought. The thinkers cover a wide range of beliefs from peaceful God based governments and rules for leaders to the much more practical thinkers like the often misunderstood, Machiavelli, whose thinking on government puts him with some unexpected allies. Revolutionary thinkers from Mill to Marx, to Mao and Gandhi, provide a mix of an ideology some excepted in the West and others rejected. This is an excellent starting place for the future political scientist or philosophy student.

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