Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Peter Pan

In case you are not riveted by my endorsements of the WoT, perhaps you will find this classic fantasy story more interesting. J. M. Barrie created Peter Pan back in 1902, and it took me 107 years finally to get around to reading it. It's a quite exciting adventure story, with pirates and mermaids and flying and swashbuckling and wild animals. Peter is an occasionally obnoxious kid, but overall he is pretty awesome. Plus, his supporting cast of the Lost Boys adds a lot of comic delight.

This book goes by quite quickly, so if you want a fun adventure in a hurry, this book is just the ticket. I haven't read anything else by Barrie, but I would imagine that it's worthwhile as well.

Plus, I've got a little actuarial treat for you. So Peter is ostensibly supposed to live forever, which seems a little farfetched. Lest you doubt it is possible, consider the following:

In 2005, American kids aged 5-14 had a death rate of 16.3 per 100,000. Here's one way to think about how incredibly low that is:Suppose a kid could keep that childhood mortality rate forever. What would be his expected lifespan? Answer: 6,135 years!

All he has to do is avoid being skewered by a cutlass.

The Dragon Reborn

So I finished this third book in the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, and it was spectacular. This is the book where Matt begins his 8-book streak of luck and becomes awesome in general. I fully recommend it.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

History of Tom Jones, A Foundling

I read this book by Henry Fielding several months ago, but it merits a spot on this humble blog. It chronicles the adventures of Tom Jones, an infant orphan who is adopted by the local rich guy. As he becomes an adult, he is both part of the upper class (because of his adopted father) and an outsider (because of his shady origins). Tom falls in love with the neighboring local rich guy's daughter, but his being an orphan prevents any easy wedding for them.

Tom eventually gets thrown out of the house, and has various adventures while trying to stay alive and fed. His lady love, Sophia, tries to find him but can't, then he tries to find her but can't, then they all find each other 400 pages later in London. The book was pretty good and quite funny, and even though it dragged in a few parts, I recommend it.

I enjoy reading classics such as this, although it is often difficult to evaluate them properly since I do not know all of the historical context. For example, I read in a review that this book had one of the three best novel plots of all time, but I don't think it's plot was as good as, e.g., The Life of Pi or The Master of Ballantrae. It is basically just a romantic intrigue that could be written by any number of writers these days. But then when I consider that it made "a crucial contribution to the development of the novel as a unified narrative structure held together by a coherent authorial vision," the book becomes much more impressive. It would be handy to have a class or Cliffs Notes to help give me some perspective, both in terms of the book's impact on writing as well as the roots of its biting social commentary.

There are a couple more interesting things to note about this book. 1) The women frequently amused me because of how quickly they forgave the fellas. At one point, Sophia finds out that Tom has been getting overly intimate with the area's most prominent lady of the evening, and is justifiably angry. After about 1.3 minutes of soothing and apologizing, though, she is ready to put it all in the past. 2) The presence of the aforementioned scarlet woman, and frequent depiction of sex and alcohol abuse, evidently caused quite an uproar when this book came out. According to Barnes and Noble, people thought that this book was so evil and inappropriate that it caused earthquakes and other natural disasters.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Road to Serfdom

This book by F. A. Hayek is quite a diverting read, if one gets carried away by abstract political and economic reasoning. Hayek, who is one of the most influential "free-market" economists and political thinkers of the last century, wrote this book during WWII when fascism and socialism seemed like the Next Big Thing(s). Hayek first exposes weaknesses in these systems and why they nevertheless gain prominence, and then lays out a more favorable system. That is to say, the entire book is about why libertarianism is pretty neat and other stuff is not quite as stellar.

Although my gushing previous paragraph makes the book sound rather dry, it was rife with great insights, many of them especially apposite in today's political climate. I marked about a dozen quotations to share with you (because I know that is what you were hoping for!), but I mistakenly returned the book already. So, I will paraphrase a bit: "don't be a socialist."

While I thought the book was excellent, I would not recommend it to anybody who is not seriously examining their political and economic stances. It is a little difficult to keep momentum while reading it, and if one did not have powerful motivations to do so, it would perhaps be difficult to finish.