September 28, 2008 @ 6:49 pm · Filed under Culture

I’ve read this book every year of my life since I was ten, and I just read it again. It’s still good.

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Winner Takes All: Steve Wynn, Kirk Kerkorian, Gary Loveman, and the Race to own Las Vegas

May 3, 2008 @ 11:32 am · Filed under Culture

I Just finished reading Winner Takes All, a highly engrossing account of the last 30 years of the casino business in Las Vegas. Perhaps the best parts of the book are the sections in which the people running Harrah’s (a casino company) try and convince themselves that they are not preying on addicted gamblers. Unfortunately, when you look at the revenue figures, you see that ninety percent of Harrah’s profits come from about ten percent of the gamblers. That’s a pretty good indication that it’s not people looking for a little excitement who are funding all these casinos. This reduces their CEO to arguing that they are still better than tobacco companies. Whatever helps you sleep, I guess.

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The Peacock Throne Revisited

February 20, 2008 @ 9:34 am · Filed under Culture

I ran across Waldemar Hansens’s The Peacock Throne: The Drama of Mogul India in the Palo Alto library, and decided to re-read it. The majority of the book is about the later years of Shah Jahan’s reign. I think that’s the right emphasis, because it was the failure of the tolerant Dara Shikoh to succeed Shah Jahan that led to the destruction of the Moguls. It’s amazing how quickly Aurangzeb was able to bankrupt and destroy the richest empire in the world. There’s a lesson there for everyone who believes in the “too big to fail” theory of world politics.

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Taj Mahal: Passion and Genius at the Heart of the Moghul Empire

February 3, 2008 @ 7:43 pm · Filed under Culture

I finished reading Taj Mahal: Passion and Genius at the Heart of the Moghul Empire last night. It’s a engrossing look at the building of the Taj Mahal and the events that led to it. The description of how the Taj and the gardens around it were built is the best part of the book. The account of Moghul history that surrounds it, though, is a bit superficial. If you are really interested in the history of the Moghuls, I would still recommend Waldemar Hansens’s The Peacock Throne: The Drama of Mogul India. Although an older work (it was published in 1972), it is still the most approachable general history of the empire.

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Vacation Reading

January 2, 2008 @ 3:26 pm · Filed under Culture

Here’s a list of the books, I read over vacation. I may do longer reviews of some them later.

The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 – by Antony Beevor. A good account of the Spanish Civil War, although biased against the Nationalists.

The Tenth Man – By Graham Greene. Not as good as The Comedians, but still good.

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh. The sequel to Decline and Fall. Like the earlier book, not so witty after 80 years.

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin. Trash, but good trash.

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Let Us Go Up To Jerusalem And Die With Him – The Comedians

December 24, 2007 @ 12:12 pm · Filed under Culture

On my recent trip to Huntsville, I borrowed the Graham Greene book The Comedians from my parents. I had seen it on several visits before, but I had never picked it up, mainly due to it’s rather garish cover promoting the 1967 film version. This time, more from lack of alternatives than anything else, I started reading it and quickly became hooked.

Set in the Haiti of Papa Doc Duvalier, the main character of the story is a hotel owner who gradually becomes involved in Haitian politics despite his almost desperate cynicism. He and his compatriots are the comedians of the title: those who stand aside when commitment is required. The main theme that indifference is worse than a mistaken zealotry is only finally made clear near the end of the book:

The priest was a young man … He preached a very short sermon on some words of Saint Thomas the Apostle: “Let us go up to Jerusalem and die with him.” He said, “The Church is in the world, it is part of the suffering of the workld, and though, Christ condemned the disciple who struck off the ear of the high priest’s servant, our hearts go out in symphathy to all who are moved to violence by the suffering of others. The Church condemns violence, but it condemns indifference more harshly . … In the days of fear, doubt, and confusion, the simplicity and loyalty of one apostle advocated a political solution. He was wrong, but I would rather be wrong with Saint Thomas than right with the cold and craven. Let us go up to Jerusalem and die with him.”

Here’s the Amazon link.

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No Country For Old Men

December 9, 2007 @ 12:43 pm · Filed under Culture

I read No Country for Old Men on the plane ride(s) to Huntsville. Cormac McCarthy can write, but since when did it become a requirement that all books have no ending? The book just peters out. Add to that the ridiculous “can’t make a mistake or be killed” nature of the anti-hero of the book, and it just gets worse. This book is thoroughly unsatisfying. I was going to go see the movie, but I hear it is faithful to the book. Usually, that speaks well of a movie. In this case, it speaks ill. Should you want to waste your time reading it, here’s the Amazon link. I wish I had gone there and seen the review that began “Another McCarthy novel, another overstylized pretentiousness,” before I wasted my money on this book.

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Finished Reading Collapse Of An Empire

December 2, 2007 @ 5:36 pm · Filed under Culture

I finished reading Collapse of an Empire: Lessons for Modern Russia last night. It’s a fascinating look at the economic and budgetary problems that destroyed the USSR. Essentially, Gaidar blames the eventual collapse on Stalin’s decision to collectivize agriculture in 1929. The most striking thing, though, is how quickly the USSR unraveled once it’s economic underpinnings collapsed. There’s a lesson here for the USA. Once things start going bad, the end can come quickly. A reversal of foreign investment in the US could be just as dangerous for our future.

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Collapse Of An Empire: Lessons For Modern Russia

November 30, 2007 @ 8:28 pm · Filed under Culture

I just started reading Collapse of an Empire: Lessons for Modern Russia. I first read about the book on Marc Andreesen’s blog in June, and I immediately ordered it. It finally arrived today after months of waiting. So far, it’s great.

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Year of Living Biblically

November 25, 2007 @ 11:25 am · Filed under Culture

Just finished reading The Year of Living Biblically. It’s a mildly amusing, superficial look at the difficulties inherent in actually following all the biblical commandments. Can’t really recommend it, but here’s the Amazon link.

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