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Sunday Morning Book Reviews

Actually in the morning! I just devoured Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers -- tell me about it! -- which VastLeft was kind enough to send me. And I've no time to write a review of it, though it's a wonderful, illuminating book, full of analytical tools. I feel like Gladwell has shined a light back down my personal history, explaining both my successes, and my failures.

What are you reading?

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goldberry's picture
Submitted by goldberry on

Couldn't put it down. Er, actually, I listened to it on my iPhone but I digress. Absolutley the best thriller I have read in years. It combines left wing political journalism, feminism, financial bailouts and asocial female hackers into a Scandanavian saga of sadism and the coolest revenge fantasy I have ever read.
highly recommended.

I also read outliers and I have to say that I *did* understand where Malcolm Gladwell was coming from. I was the first in my family from either side who wanted to go to college and I got zero assistance from the familial tree. It made it extremely difficult to navigate the financial aid, admissions, registration, housing minefield. I almost gave up two years in, even though I was admitted to an honor society and made the Dean's list many times. It was just a logistical nightmare. It's amazing I managed to graduate but it was only possible after I transferred to a much smaller school in the middle of east bumfuck. So, scoff at Gladwell if you want. The book does seem a tad incomplete and disjointed. He nevertheless proposes the elements of success in an interesting way.

Submitted by lambert on

of the conservative myth of individualism, that all success is determined only by individual effort. In fact, date of birth, family history, culture all go to set up the opportunities that some individuals seize. (And others should have chosen a different time and place to be born.) That translates to me into the idea that teachers, mentors, other "opportunity makers" are also "shovel ready" and that a "bridge to the future" is not made out of steel and concrete.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

Here was my write-up about it from last week:

I'll defer to Somerby in his critiques of Gladwell's cred on school-reform, but the themes overall are quite eye-opening. And Gladwell's a helluva writer. "Tipping Point" may be the most digestible read I've ever encountered.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

this review by a little night musing, I just finished Jed Rubenfeld's Interpretation of Murder. The historical setting and literary/psychoanalytic discussions are lots of fun, more than making up for what I found rather uninteresting characters. I'm looking forward to his next novel.

gmoke's picture
Submitted by gmoke on

David Golder, The Ball, Snow in Autumn, The Courilof Affair by Irene Nemirovsky
NY: Alfred Knopf, 2007,2008
ISBN: 978-0-307-26708-5

From Irene Nemirovsky's novel The Courilof Affair, about the assassination of the Minister of Education in 1903 Russa:

"Ah! Yes," said the prince, in his inimitable way, "you believe in God..." He let out a weary little laugh. "Well, as for me," he murmured, "I do my best to believe, but I swear I don't know why. I get a certain personal satisfaction out of it, not a feeling of contentment at having fulfilled my obligations, Valerian Alexandrovitch, but the bitter satisfaction of seeing, once again, how very stupid people are. As for posterity and all that nonsense, I'm not interested. Think of how much noise they made over what happened to that anarchist Semenof!"

That anarchist Semenof had tried to assassinate the prince who, on the spot, ordered his soldiers to kick him in the head until he was dead.

"I spared him months of suffering, you know, the anguish and fear of being executed, and, at the same time, avoided a trial that would only have encouraged ideas in people we'd then have to fight. It was the same in Poland."

The Prince ordered troops to fire on a group of protesters, then piled the dead in the square covered with a layer of dirt, and had the cavalry ride over the "buried" corpses.

"Having the horses trample dead bodies couldn't do them any more harm, you have to admit that, and inspiring terror did them good; it stopped the insurrection dead and so saved human lives. The more I see, the more value I place on human life... and less on what they like to call 'ideas,'" he continued as if in a dream. "In a word, I behaved rationally. And that is what people cannot forgive."

"Well, I have faith in posterity," murmured Courilof. "Russia will forget my enemies, but she will not forget me. It's all very hard, very difficult," he kept saying with a sigh. "They say you have to be capable of shedding blood, and it's true."

He stopped for a moment, then added quietly: "For a just cause."

"I don't believe in just causes much either," sighed the prince. "But I'm a good deal older than you, it's true; you still have illusions."

Later, the prince, after enjoying lunch with Minister Courilof, departs for home in his carriage.

"On the road back to St. Petersburg, near the city gates, a woman - the former fiancee of Gregoire Semenof, who had been waiting for this moment for fifteen years - threw a bomb into the prince's carriage. They were all blown to bits: the horses, the driver, the elderly man who was peacefully smelling his roses, along with the assassin herself."

Irene Nemirovsky was a novelist, born in Russia 1903 who emigrated with her family after the Russian Revolution to France. The story is fictional. The narrator of the The Courilof Affair is a second generation political terrorist assigned to kill Courilof and the story is supposed to be his memoir found among his papers after his death. It describes the time leading up to the 1905 revolution, also a time of terrorism.

Here Courilof's wife speaks:

"I live under the constant threat of a terrorist attack," she said to me. "My husband is well respected by the people... but..."
She didn't finish her sentence, just lowered her head and walked quickly away. Later on, every time the minister was late, I would see her lean out the window, undoubtedly expecting to see a stretcher with a dead body on it being carried down the path. The sound of any unfamiliar footsteps or voices in the house made her start in the same way; a deathly pallor would come over her face - the miserable expression of a hunted animal waiting for the deadly blow, but not knowing how or when it would come.

After the minister was assassinated, I can recall with perfect clarity hiding in the room next to where his body was laid out. When she came in, she looked almost at peace; her eyes were dry. She seemed free at last.