Archive for December, 2010

The Clash of Civilizations and Remaking of World Order by Samuel P. Huntington

** Student Review** by Tommy Blank

Genre:  Non-fiction, History

The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order is a book that examines the cultures, viewpoints, and interactions between all cultures and religion in the world. It is a look at the world post cold war and post communism. The book examines prior relationships between cultures and makes predictions for relations in the future.  The author looks a lot at the interaction between Western Cultures and Muslim Eastern cultures.  He says cultures and religious differences will be the new source of conflict.  This book helped me understand more about world conflicts and how different cultures can cause conflict.   He breaks up the entire world into eight different civilizations and looks at how they interact. Samuel P. Huntington wrote this book in 1996 and he attended both the University of Harvard and Columbia.  The book is divided into five parts and the intended audience is those who possess a higher understanding of world politics and cultures.

Overall I found the book to be both boring and interesting. At times it was difficult to understand and comprehend. At times though the book was very interesting and informational.  I feel I have a broader and better understanding of world politics and how civilizations react.  However, this book was written almost 15 years ago before the War on Terror or 9/11 ever happened.  I think the book would have been very different if the author had written it now instead of 1996.  Huntington does do a very good job of explaining his thesis and providing facts to go along with it.  Unless you are looking for a detailed report on the world and cultures interacting, I would not recommend this book.  If you want a good book on world politics and world relations then I encourage you to read this book.  At times this book will be a hard read but if you stick with it, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order is a very interesting and captivating book.

 

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The Republic by Plato, Translated by W.H.D. Rouse

**Student Review** by Caitlin Timmins

Genre:  Nonfiction

Written in 380 BCE by Plato, a forerunner of Western development, The Republic systematically loosens the ties binding man to his preconceived notions of justice and government. In doing so, the protagonist Socrates introduces ideologies that prove to play significant roles in philosophy thereafter. In a ten part chronicle, Socrates questions fellow Athenians on their stances regarding the function of morals, government, and the soul. Plato implements the Socratic Method in his writing, requiring critical thinking of the story’s characters as well as the reader. Readers approaching The Republic should understand that in order to thoroughly comprehend and appreciate the subject matter, they must continuously reassess their own viewpoints throughout the extensive logic-fueled debates.

Even clear wording is clouded by the complex concepts presented by this Socratic dialogue, yet Plato’s attention to detailed analysis manages to believably lead even Socrates’ most adamant opponents to eventually agree with his beliefs. Plato’s carefully conceived maze of logic and underlying bias will undoubtedly impress anyone interested in philosophy, debate, or human manipulation. Throughout the book, Socrates leads his associates through personal and moral evaluations, often arriving at surprising conclusions. Frequently however, such conclusions are not overtly stated or are refuted by seeming contradictions. Regardless, The Republic does an excellent job of appraising traditional institutions long before society began to question their value. Readers not deterred by the book’s considerable length or antiquated language will find themselves drawn into man’s timeless and insatiable quest for clarity.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

**Student Review** by Gabby Bierlein

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

The Jungle is a novel about a Lithuanian family who moves to Chicago to work in the stockyards. It tells about their struggle for survival in this harsh new environment and the hardships that they must endure. Aside from this, The Jungle also gives an accurate description of the meat-packing industry in the early 1900’s and how life was for many new immigrants at that time. The author’s purpose for writing this book was to show the world how terrible an unskilled laborer’s life can be. After reading the book, however, the things that stuck with me the most were the atrocious conditions of the packing plants and how lax health standards were at that time. Thankfully, Upton Sinclair’s novel showed the world that something needed to be changed. Although The Jungle is almost 400 pages long, it does not get boring or old. The author keeps you reading with exciting twists and turns on every page. While some of the events that occur in the book are a little unbelievable, they add to the story and make it more interesting.
Overall, I thought this book was a very good read. Not only was it entertaining and interesting, it also taught me a lot about American history. It opened my eyes to the realization that life in a new country, especially one whose culture and language are unknown to you, can be extremely difficult. I would definitely recommend The Jungle to history fans and anyone who is looking for a good book. Although the book is long, and there are some slow parts, it is well worth the read.

 

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

**Student Review** by Chloe Hlas

Genre:  Historical Fiction

I think one of the main themes of this book was to poke fun at people who during the Renaissance, still believed in Middle Ages chivalry. The author basically murders the concept of knights displaying chivalry through Don Quixote’s hilariously ridiculous adventures. This book really helped me understand the Middle Ages mindset, and how the Renaissance evolved from it. Don Quixote’s incessant belief in all of the chivalrous concepts he’s read about in his old books brilliantly illustrates how people thought at the time, and how they themselves ridiculed anyone who had believed what they had once believed during the late Middle Ages, and on through the Renaissance.  This book was definitely worth reading to me, and significantly helped me in my studies of the late Middle Ages-Renaissance era. This book is designed to be humorous, yet informative at the same time to anyone learning about the mindset shift from late Middle Ages to Renaissance. It showed how people during the Renaissance time period reacted to fellow community members who believed in knights displaying a certain degree of chivalry.

This book was very useful to me, especially when studying the differences between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (particularly the state of mind). It was amusing to read about all of Don Quixote’s adventures as he set out to save others and conquer evil, all in the name of his beloved lady, Dulcinea del Toboso. He devotes all of his actions to her, fighting windmills and saving princesses kidnapped by monks all in her name. I hadn’t expected Sancho to lie to Don Quixote and say that an evil enchanter has transformed his love, Dulcinea, into a peasant girl, which practically drives Don Quixote crazy as he strives to change her back. Sancho had been Don Quixote’s right hand man the whole book, and always tried to keep him out of ridiculous situations, and it shocked me that he would do something like that, which he knew would affect Don Quixote so deeply. However, it was hilarious to read about what the Duke and Duchess tell him would undo the hoax of Dulcinea’s enchantment. This was definitely a good book, and I certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoys books that mock historic time periods. I would’ve read this book on my own time, outside of class.

 

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

**Student Review** by Charlie Schurman

Genre:  Non-fiction

Niccolo Machiavelli wrote The Prince as a dedication to Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici, to gain the favor of the Medici, the ruling family of Florence, in the early 1500s. The Prince is a political treatise written in the style of a Mirror for Princes, detailing the ways a Prince ought to and not ought to act in both political and military matters. Machiavelli forms each chapter around a specific issue that a Prince (ruler) must deal with and provides specific and current (to the pre-Renaissance Italians) examples of other princes and how they dealt with the issues he asserts. Machiavelli goes into detail on these issues and specific examples by pointing out what these true to life princes either did correctly or incorrectly. Machiavelli closes each chapter with a brief summary of these issues and the way a Prince with virtue and skill would handle the situation. At the end of the book Machiavelli points specific current issues with Italy, and proposes a specific plan of how to make the Medici of Florence great, in hopes they would reward him for his genius. Some of Machiavelli’s suggestions, however, at the time seemed quite radical and his efforts to impress the Medici were in vain. The Prince is now renowned as one of the first pieces of modern philosophy, in which the effective truth is taken to be more important than any abstract ideal. Many of Machiavelli’s ideas are now quite common place in today’s political world, such as the ways a ruler must interact with his/her people, it is for these reasons that Niccolo Machiavelli and his work The Prince survive to the present day.

The Prince is a very interesting book, however it is a very dry read. For its purpose, which was to instruct the ruling powers of Italy during the 1500s, it exceeds in all areas, for entertainment value it gets a zero. The Prince reads more like a text book or a self help book more than anything else, outlining specific issues, giving examples, and showing solutions to problems. However, Machiavelli’s command of language and philosophy make it unusually clear and understandable for a five hundred year-old book on war and politics. It is unnaturally clear for a book of its type because Machiavelli spends much time dissecting each problem and providing a plethora of examples that both disprove and prove his theories. Machiavelli carefully weighs each and every solution against each other to find the clearest and most obvious solution to the problems he presents, even if it is not the easiest or most popular solution. Despite his lengthy discussions on certain topics, The Prince is a very quick read, only about one hundred pages long. For me this book was an inside look into the politics and thought of the Renaissance era, and was very intriguing. If you are a politics lover this book is a must, and if you are looking for a quick educational read give it a try, but if all you want is a good story, this book isn’t for you.

 

Discourse on the Methods by Rene Descartes

 

**Student Review by Fielding Montgomery**

Genre: Philosophy

In the book Discourse on the Method by Rene Descartes, Descartes writes about the method through which he claims to have proven the existence of God and make substantial advancements in all fields of study.  He describes his process in which he broke down all preexisting thoughts and biases he had and worked on individually reexamining these “truths” to try to discover what is really the truth.  He does this by sitting alone for long periods of time and conversing with his mind.  He lays out a lot of ground rules as to how you should act while using this method to develop your mind, comparing it a house.  He also mentions how this is something you can only do for yourself, you can’t force others to change their thoughts.  He first applies his method to algebra and geometry and has great success.  He later comes to the conclusion that the only thing he can truly prove is that “I’m thinking, therefore I exist.”  Because of this truth, he then decides that his mind must be separate from his body, helping him to prove the existence of God.  He does this by arguing that a perfect God cannot be imagined by an imperfect mind and through geometry.  He then goes on to discuss how he was going to put his work into a book but didn’t want to have controversy like Galileo did so he breaks it into essays.

This book is a very interesting read if you’re into philosophy.  It brings up interesting reasoning on many human things as well as the existence of God.  The quote “I’m thinking, therefore I exist,” is a very famous quote and very deep.  Decartes’s discussions with his mind provide a new way of thinking.  This book has a large vocabulary and is at times confusing to read.  Those who are not truly interested in philosophy will not appreciate this book.  Also, Descartes comes off as very arrogant in how he talks of himself, this could turn some away from the book.  Even through all this the philosophy and thinking is thought provoking.  This is definitely a suggested, short read.

-Fielding Montgomery

 

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

**Student Review** by Lauren Pyle

Genre: Historical Fiction

Told from five different points of view, The Poisonwood Bible incorporates the cultural arrogance of the United States with the ancient traditions of a Congolese village. During the 1950s, a radical Baptist minister, Nathan Price, brings his family to Africa in order to save the “unenlightened” souls of the Congolese. His four daughters, Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May, narrate the novel in the present tense with varying attitudes towards their new life. His wife, Orleanna, however, tells her side of the story as though grieving over past events, creating foreshadowing for the reader.

The oldest daughter, Rachel, is a materialistic teenager who hates her new life, while her younger sisters are excited, though each for their own reasons. Leah, for example, is overly enthused, like her father, at the prospect of welcoming more souls into their newly established Baptist church, while her twin sister Adah, a cripple and mute, silently observes her new surroundings with interest, though slightly detached from the rest of her family. The youngest Price daughter, Ruth May, quickly becomes friends with the children of the village and spends hours exploring the surrounding area.

The conversion of the villagers to the Baptist faith proves difficult, and Nathan Price faces many challenges in the old traditions and blasphemous (according to Reverent Price) rituals of the Congolese. He and the chief have several disagreements on the incorporation of Jesus into the Congolese faith. Meanwhile, the Price family begins to grow apart due to their varying faith convictions, and the headstrong Leah butts heads with her father over many issues. Amidst all these familial battles, the battle for the independence of the country is taking place, causing anxiety for the whole village. It appears as though the Price family, who hoped to stay in the country for at most a year, will have to stay longer due to tensions between the United States and the Congo. Dry spells, disease, violence, and the death of one of the Price family members threaten to widen the divide between the women of the Price family and Nathan Price.

This story is breathtakingly beautiful in its storytelling, and incorporates the many aspects of light versus dark, religious intolerance, familial relations and love, growing up, the ideas of individuality and true justice, as well as many other universal themes. Kingsolver creates many wonderful and three-dimensional characters for the reader to enjoy, including many villagers, a CIA operative pilot, a foulmouthed parrot, the six-toed religious leader of the village, and a young schoolteacher, with whom Leah falls in love. The story itself is a political allegory that focuses on the point the author wishes to make clear to all: the guilt that all citizens of the United States share when violence is done and they “sit passively by”. The author, Barbara Kingsolver, expertly handled the story’s plot and situation, almost as if she had been there herself (which she hadn’t). Personally, I loved the book, and it seems to be a feel-good story, in its own way. For those who didn’t like Cry, the Beloved Country, trust me, this is completely different (I would know, because I really didn’t like Cry, the Beloved Country). I would give this novel five stars, for sure, because it often made me close the book and think about our society today, and how we must respond to crises similar to the ones in this book. RECOMMENDED.