- Author: L. Wood
- Title: Walking the Nile
- Published: 2015 – 17 chapters, 320 pages
- Trivia: #WorldFromMyArmChair Challenge
- Trivia: #20BooksOfSummer
- The expedition to walk the length of the Nile was inspired by
- …explorers J. Speke, R. Burton, D. Livingston and H. Stanley.
- Wood was accompanied by guides (Ndoole Boston), journalists and friends along the way.
- The expedition was commissioned into a UK TV Channel 4 that aired in January 2015.
- Wood detailed the trip in his book Walking the Nile.
- Wood was forced to abandon a 450 mile section in South Sudan. (civil war)
- He hired new guides, Moez and Turbo…together they finished the epic walk.
Milestone: (ch 13)
- …after a 5 month walk
- a symbolic moment
- …when Blue Nile and White Nile meet.
- Wood dips his hands into the water….finally he has reached The Nile.
Obstacle: Meroe Dam in Sudan…importance cannot be overestimated
- Wood will never get near this place in Sudan….he would be shot.
- Wood would have to make a 1 week detour through the desert with 3 camels.
Pyramids of Meroe:
- As Wood gazes on the Pyramids of Meroe
- …built between 2,700 and 2,300 years ago
- …Wood he feels very small and humbled.
- The book is not what I expected….
- This was my own fault.
- The title is clear Walking the Nile and
- I envisaged a trip on The Nile with more attention to the river itself.
- There is a pattern at times in the writing:
- Walk, enter town, recap past history about the village or river, Wood’s guide,
- Ndoole Boston adds his views, travelers meet the locals, eat, drink
- ….leave town and try to avoid phython snakes,
- ….croc’s an hippo’s, red mites, insects and feral dogs.
- I found chapters 10-17 to be the best.
- The writing came imbued with Wood’s doubts, his emotions
- …after the death of a friend in Sudan from extreme heatstroke, Matt Power,
- …and Wood’s longing to finish what he had started.
- Day 271 of a ninth month journey
- I felt skin shivers…when I read Levison Wood finally
- plunged into the foaming surf of the the Mediterranean.
- Europe felt close and, with it, home.
- Well-done, Levinson, bravo!
- PS: if you can try to read the book and look at the Google images
- …so you can follow Wood’s journey in color!
Levison Wood, ex-British Army officer (1982)
- Author R.C. White
- Title: American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant
- Published: 2016
- Trivia: #20BooksOfSummer
- Trivia: New York Times best seller
- The book is a biography so the structure is what you would expect.
- What you don’t expect is White’s ability to show Grant in 3- dimensions.
- Husband – military strategic genius – pragmatic president.
- Family life in Ohio
- Military study at West Point
- Love affair with ‘my dear Julia’ Dent
- Mexican-American War
- Civil War
- 18th president of United States
- Retirement (30 month trip around the world)
- Writing memoirs in collaboration with Mark Twain.
Why did I read this book?
My main purpose was to learn why Grant was so successful in the Civil War?
- I followed the chapters about the battles at Belmont, Fort Henry, Fort Donelson
- Shiloh, Iuka, Vicksburg, Chattanooga and Richmond.
- I used google maps and wikipedia to form an image of the battlefield.
- It was a fascinating read.
- Grant would scout the landscape to discover IF he could use it to his advantage.
- His emphasis was on:
- strategy: siege – classic…surround and just wait.
- (broke out of siege in Chattanooga; set up 12 mi siege line around Vicksburg)
- speed: delay only accrues credit for the defender (regroup/resupply)
- break the cracker line: (supply lines food and ammunitions)
- create diversions, cut telegraph lines, smash RR tracks and bridges
- Be alert: scurrying rabbits and squirrels indicated to the ‘pickets’ that
- enemy infantry were creeping closer through the brush.
- broad battlefield: keep enemy guessing where Grant would strike (Vicksburg)
What were some dangers that Grant tried to avoid?
- Over confidence of troops after newspapers predict an easy victory at Shiloh.
- Miscommunication and mud:
- …terrain can delay messages and arrival of reserve troops.
- …danger of believing all deserters who bring news of enemy positions and size.
- Inflated egos of commanders (McClernand was Grant’s nemesis)
- Don’t ever leave HQ without assigning a second in command.
- Teach soldiers to live off land and stretch 2 days rations over 7 days!
Why was Grant such a great Civil War general?
- He was always calm and decisive.
- He molded army and navy forces into one team.
- He listened and asked questions.
- He did not micromanage (trusted commanders).
- He seldom engaged in criticism after a battle.
- He avoid unnecessary insult to brave soldiers (surrender Gen Lee Appomattox)
- Whenever playing defense
- ……Grant always planned to go on offense, plan B.
- When I finished this book last night
- …and read about Grant’s final campaign (death)
- I felt I lost a friend.
- This was the most moving biography I’ve read in a long time.
- Personally, parts 1-3 were the best (youth, West Point, Civil War).
- Parts 4-6 (Reconstruction, 18th President, World tour) were less interesting.
- What a great general
- …. he won the Civil War and impressed us with his humility.
- Author: J. Lahr
- Title: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh
- Published: 2014
- Genre: non-fiction
1. Explain the title. In what way is it suitable to the story?
The title refers to Williams’s frequent trips to the artsy enclave of Provincetown Massachusetts. The Pilgrims first landed near the site of modern Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod in November 1620 before moving to Plymouth. They made a pilgrimage for religious freedom, Williams made his his pilgrimage for the the animated Greek male marble sashaying around the P-town dinner party circuit.
2. What sort of conflict confronts Tennessee Williams?
a.external – Williams is forever battling between the destructive (pills, alcohol ) and creative (plays).
b.internal – He tires to free himself from his mother’s puritan repression, while trying to win the affection of distant, dismissive and combustible father.
3. How is the conflict resolved?
As soon as Williams started his writing (won 1000,— Rockefeller Scholarship) he left home.
He had to leave the unsayable secrets (sister Rose slowly sinking into madness), the sense of masquerade (parents toxic marriage) and the palpable emptiness.
4. How does the author reveal Williams to the reader?
Conversations with partners (Frank Merlo), producers (Elia Kazan) and parasites ( other riff raft that hung on to Williams’s coat tails especially Maria Britneva). Lahr has made an extensive use of the notes and personal diaries of Tennessee Williams.
5. Did you identify with any of the characters in William’s plays?
No, I couldn’t identify with the characters. Luckily I did not have a father “who fell in love with distance (pg 36) or a prim and proper mother who suffocated him in her ‘haunted household (pg 33).
6. Does this story contain any symbolism?
Glass Menagerie: The title represents the ‘famlly’s fragility’ (William’s family). The decor on stage, the fire escape, alley and secondhand furniture represented Tennessee’s existence in St. Louis Missouri.
Street Car Named Desire.: But I found the most profound symbolism in SCND:
Blanche DuBois asks for directions to her sister’s apartment. She must take two streetcars one named ‘Desire’ the other ‘Cemeteries’ and she will be at her sister’s address ‘Elysian Fields’ ( mythological land of the dead).
Blanche is literally and figuratively at the end of the line. (pg 121)
Blanche DuBois is Tennessee Williams who longs for the safety of embrace for the release of unhappiness ( last line as she falls into the arms of a doctor who takes her to a mental institution) “ “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
7. Was there a villain in the story?
Tennessee William’s mother: She boasted “ the only psychiatrist in whom I believe is our Lord” (pg 55). She lodged a paranoia and terror in her children. She changed Tennessee’s behaviour and drove Rose her daughter into madness.
8. Can you find any examples of figurative language?
The plays are the literary works that Williams will be remembered for, but I could his poems are capable of arousing deep emotion. When Williams felt he was living on “borrowed creativy” he wrote this poem to shape his lack of inspiration.
“Old men go mad at night, but are not Lears
There is no kingly howling of their rage, their grief, their fears dementedly, […]
No title of dignity, now, no height of old estate, give stature to the drama
Ungrateful heirs, indeed! Tier treacherous seed
turns them away from more than tall gold-hammered doors:
Exiles them into such enormous night
skies have no room for it
And old men have no Fools except themselves.
9. What do you think the purpose of the Tennessee Williams was by writing his most famous plays (Glass Menagerie, Streetcar named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird of Youth) ?
Williams used his plays to enter an imaginary world: “ Suddenly I found that I had a stage inside me: actors appeared out of nowhere…and too the stage over.” ( pg 34).
The driving force, impulse and impetus for writing was to break free from his dysfunctional family.
The comparison between his plays and his childhood was the BEST part of the book.
Mother’s monolithic puritanism was the most damaging element in Tennessee’s life
In in my opinion. his mother was more damaging than the pills (when TW died they found 13 bottles of prescription drugs, Aldomet, Zyloprin, Reglan, Seconal etc) and alcohol.
10. Does the story contain a single effect or impression on me?
Of course the brilliant rise and tragic fall of Tennessee Williams is the first impression I experienced. He used sex as ‘spiritual champagne’ and Rx prescription pills for his blues. By being desired he was empty of need. (pg 88).
The second impression and one of the most important reasons to read this book is my new understanding of how a play is written, painstakingly re-written several times and masterly staged in collaboration with the director.
I was deeply impressed by the life of Tennessee Williams.
Of all the characters he created it I think
Alma in Summer and Smoke is the best representation of the playwright.
Once she casts off her parents and the rectory, the serenity she finds is not the peace of heaven but the bliss of pickups and pills. (pg 99)
What is the line in his plays that made a lasting effect of me?
Summer and Smoke:
“The prescription number is 96814” she says in the finale.
“I think of it as the telephone number of God!”
What is The Republic?
This is one of the books that changed the world.
I refer you to the link on wikipedia for an overview.
This subject matter demands reflection
Be prepared to think..and make up your own mind.
The metaphors, allegories and explanations stay the same
…but the interpretation is different now than 2400 years ago.
Times have changed.
Each person will have their own reaction to the book.
Estimated reading time:3 hours per book!
Read summary then listen audio book while reading.
I could only read 1 or 2 books a day.
Conversation between Socrates and a group if his friends
#MustKnowWord: Dialectic = exchange of logical arguments
What do I think was Socrates’ most interesting arguments?
Books 1 -5 Justice
Socrates defines justice in books 1-5
These were exhausting reads because Socrates goes into so much detail.
Three types of justice were mentioned by Socrates’s friends:
— is paying back debts — is fulfilling obligations — is helping friends fight their enemies.
Justice: in which category do you put it?
Good for its own sake: like chocolate…a harmless pleasure.
Good for its own sake + its consequences: like health…good now and in the future.
Good ONLY for consequences: like physical training….unpleasant – but good in due course.
Socrates defines justice otherwise:
Justice is a virtue…not just the adherence to a rule (…like paying our taxes!)
Justice is the result of a state or soul that is in order.
State: when rulers make laws – police carry out laws – people obey authority = justice
Soul: when reason + spirit work together to keep desire in check = justice
Books 6 – 7 Philosopher is the best leader
Socrates makes one of the most important claims of the book:
Only the philosopher has knowledge…the rest have opinions!
Knowledge is: ‘what is’
Ignorance is: ‘what is not’
Opinion is: (in the middle) = ‘what is + what is not’….thus nothing!
Socrates relates a most beautiful and famous metaphor in Western philosophy:
Allegory of the cave.
Allegory illustrates a philosophers transition
..from theory to practical involvement in the state.
Philosopher has been outside the cave – in the light of external world.
Philosopher must go in to the cave and converse with those living in the shadows.
Philosopher struggles to work in practical politics.
Philosopher struggles to explain his points to people
…who have no understanding of philosophical concepts.
Books 8-10 Democracy vs rule by experts
Socrates lists forms of government from most just to unjust
DEMOCRACY is the worst form of government!
Plato distrusts the majority.
Each person does what they like with no concern for others.
There is no unity.
A proper system of government must exclude the general public from decision making.
A government should be undertaken by an elite who are trained to govern.
The key to building a good society is a trained class of people
who will carry out the government functions.
Well, if this book doesn’t make your head spin nothing will!
But don’t let that discourage you….keep reading
…the book gets easier to understand!
Socrates makes use of clever words then suddenly his
conclusions will baffle you!
Socrates’ argument formula: A=B – B=C – thus… A=C.
Next example: sounds like a paradox…but Socrates convinces otherwise!
A man who is corrupt….who WE THINK to be honest = model citizen who exploits others.
A man who is honest … who WE THINK to be corrupt = unfairly punished
Good men (appear to be honest) …are our enemy
Bad men (appear to be dishonest)… are our friends.
It is not justice that is beneficial to a man….
but the appearance of justice!
I learned from Socrates that the happiest life is just one.
To achieve a happy life….reason must rule one’s soul.
Aristotle will take it one step further in Ethics.
He will explain the difference between theoretical reason (philosophy)
…and practical reason.
This book was a challenge.
…and I need to take a break from philosophy for a awhile.
The book was not entertaining….but enlightening.
Republic is a classic.
I couldn’t grasp or agree with everything.
I would recommend it…but be prepared to feel exhausted after each chapter!
- Author: H. Janssen
- Title: Mondriaan
- Published: 2008
- Table of contents: 285 pages
- It has taken me many years but I finally have learned
- about Piet Mondriaan’s paintings.
- Mondriaan was convinced that art is
- not instinctive – continuing evolution in art
- but intuitive where the artist leads art to its purest form.
- All the paintings and drawings by Piet Mondiraan (1872-1944)
- in the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag (The Hague) are discussed.
- Mondriaan was a firm believer that
- ….everything evolves towards the positive, the good.
- His art progressed from beautiful landscapes
- to combinations of curved, vertical and
- ….horizontal lines to capture images of nature.
- Mondriaan’s greatest work of art is the jewel in the crown of
- the museum in The Hague: Victory Boogie Woogie (1942-1944)
- I learned by reading about Mondriaan’s art the each work
- had an objective side, the beauty of the painted object
- and a subjective side, the expression of Mondriaan’s emotions.
- Mondriaan was a complex man.
- He loved jazz, the tango and cafés
- ….but struggled with his Dutch puritan backround.
- He suffered from everything that he thought was beautiful.
- He loved the sun
- …but wanted a house built without windows.
- Here are some of my favorites….
- Borderij bij Duivendrecht (farm)
- Duin (Dune)
- Victory Boogie Woogie
Piet Mondriaan (1872-1944)
- Author: G. Geoffry
- Title: Claude Monet, Sa Vie, Son Oeuvre (1840-1889)
- Published: 1920
- présence de la nature vivante
- souffles de ciel
- chansons apaisées des criques roze
- frissionant des feuillages
- fuite de mer changeante
- Monet ai inventé la mer,
- …les rthymes, les reflets infinis et son mouvement.
- Last thoughts:
- Art gives us what we are missing…
- L’art nous apport ce qui nous manquait !
- The book serves its purpose…depending on
- what you are looking for.
- 50% of the book is filled with 195 reproductions. = beautiful
- The rest of the book is more about the reception (art critics, Salons)
- of Monet’s chef d’oeuvres.
- If you are looking for a book about ‘the man’ Monet
- this is not the one you should read.
- I keep searching for a good biography…of Monet.
- Author: M. Eltchaninoff
- Title: Dan la tête de Marine Le Pen
- Published: 2017
- Table of contents: 194 pages
- Marine Le Pen retains the 4 pillars of Front National:
- land, people, life and myth.
- But FN is not the party formed by father Jean Le Penn years ago.
- Marine has morphed Front National
- …into a movement that is adapted to the 21st C.
- Strategie FN:
- Avoid all direct mention of xenophobia.
- Le Pen always speaks in code.
- Le Pen is understandable [gets her message out]
- But Le Pen is not attackable!
- Watch the next French presidential debate and
- …try to listen and “find her coded message”!
- Last thoughts:
- M. Eltchaninoff does an excellent job explaining in brief
- ‘la politique de la France’ with the emphasis
- on the rise of ‘la droite’ (extreme) 18th- 21th C.
- Will Marine Le Pen be the next leader of France?
- ‘..la voix de la France résonne dans le monde quand
- …elle ne suit pas docilement les Étas-Unis.”
- Qui sait?
Author: K. Madigan
Title: Medieval Christianity: A New History
Table of contents: 21 chapters
Timeline: 600 – 1500 AD
The Middle Ages formed a bridge between the Dark Ages
– the powerful ruled, while the powerless looked only to survive –
and the future
– filled with knowledge starting from one monastery to another… –
We think of the Middle Ages as brutal filled with superstition and strange relics.
But it produced much of what we have in the world today:
universities – appreciation of Roman architecture – Gothic style – pilgrimages
Who is Kevin Madigan?
Kevin J. Madigan is a historian of Christianity at Harvard University.
Ch 1-7: I thought the book would be very easy read
but I was challenged from the beginning.
Gnostics, Donatists and Pelagianism are movements I have heard about but
never understood. Now I do!
I push on to monks, bishops, kings and popes.
These are endless pages of history about the rise of Christianity in
Spain, Ireland, UK, France and Germany.
I had to pace myself. (1-3 chapters per sitting)
Often I thought “ I’ve had enough for today….”
You can’t rush history.
Ch 8: Suddenly a ‘lightbulb’ lit up in my head.
The similarities between Trump and Pope Gregory VII are astonishing!
“…he was capable of imagining new rules, new laws,
if ancient ones did not suit or could not be located…”
I had to make a connection to the present to keep myself
engaged with the book.
Ch 9: Adage ‘What doesn’t kill you, can only make you stronger…is not valid
… when it comes to St. Norbert of Xanten (1080-1134).
He adopted an asceticism so fierce that it killed his first three disciples.
Ch 11-12 Madigan delves into the lives of some famous saints:
St Dominic and his followers who were know as the ‘hounds of the Lord.
They were inquisitors who were the
most dedicated and ruthless.
We learn about St Francis of Assisi (birth name: John).
Dante imagined Francis in Paradiso as a rising sun.
Ch 13-21: I began to falter during the last few chapters.
They were filled with anecdotal material
about heretics (Wycliffe, Hus) mystics, anchoresses and
some saints we have long forgotten.
The Great Schism (Papal Schism) 1378-1417…. 3 different popes!
Most belligerent figures:
Boniface VIII en Koning Philip IV France.
They refused to compromise….so one of them had to die!
Most misunderstood thinker: Peter Abelard (1079-1142)
He clashed with St. Bernard and his view of monastic theology.
All you need is faith.
Abelard’s view of scholastic theology
brought light into the dark ages!
He believed we needed to use our common sense and reason to
come closer to God.
Would I recommend the book?
Yes, without any reservations
….it will inform any interested reader.
Caveat: The book is long.
What was my impression of the book?
This book gives us a picture of Medieval Christianity
well-informed carefully balanced.
The title mentioned ‘A New History’.
But I felt is just repeated the
…basics about the Middle Ages.
I had hoped for information that has been
discovered in the last 40 years by scholars.
I wanted more and got less.