Jim Henson: The Biography ★☆☆☆☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Jim Henson: The Biography
Series: ———-
Authors: Brian Jones
Rating: 1 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-fiction
Pages: 591
Words: 215K


From the Publisher

For the first time ever—a comprehensive biography of one of the twentieth century’s most innovative creative artists: the incomparable, irreplaceable Jim Henson

He was a gentle dreamer whose genial bearded visage was recognized around the world, but most people got to know him only through the iconic characters born of his fertile imagination: Kermit the Frog, Bert and Ernie, Miss Piggy, Big Bird. The Muppets made Jim Henson a household name, but they were just part of his remarkable story.

This extraordinary biography—written with the generous cooperation of the Henson family—covers the full arc of Henson’s all-too-brief life: from his childhood in Leland, Mississippi, through the years of burgeoning fame in America, to the decade of international celebrity that preceded his untimely death at age fifty-three. Drawing on hundreds of hours of new interviews with Henson’s family, friends, and closest collaborators, as well as unprecedented access to private family and company archives, Brian Jay Jones explores the creation of the Muppets, Henson’s contributions to Sesame Street and Saturday Night Live, and his nearly ten-year campaign to bring The Muppet Show to television. Jones provides the imaginative context for Henson’s non-Muppet projects, including the richly imagined worlds of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth—as well as fascinating misfires like Henson’s dream of opening an inflatable psychedelic nightclub.

An uncommonly intimate portrait, Jim Henson captures all the facets of this American original: the master craftsman who revolutionized the presentation of puppets on television, the savvy businessman whose dealmaking prowess won him a reputation as “the new Walt Disney,” and the creative team leader whose collaborative ethos earned him the undying loyalty of everyone who worked for him. Here also is insight into Henson’s intensely private personal life: his Christian Science upbringing, his love of fast cars and expensive art, and his weakness for women. Though an optimist by nature, Henson was haunted by the notion that he would not have time to do all the things he wanted to do in life—a fear that his heartbreaking final hours would prove all too well founded.

An up-close look at the charmed life of a legend, Jim Henson gives the full measure to a man whose joyful genius transcended age, language, geography, and culture—and continues to beguile audiences worldwide.

My Thoughts:

This is getting a 1star instead of the dreaded 1/2star & the tag “worst book of the year” simply because I learned a LOT about Jim Henson. Having seen what I have of Muppets, Fraggle Rock, etc, I can clearly see Henson’s fingerprints now that I know what to look for. That part was quite interesting and I think it will make my viewing of future movies and shows that much richer.

However, my main problem with this book wasn’t about or with Jim Henson, per se, but more with the author, Brian Jones. This was technically a biography but more than that, it was a puff piece, a love letter, a psalm of worship from an acolyte to his god. When somebody tells the life story of someone else, they have a duty to tell ALL of that life story, not just the good parts.

Any bad parts of Henson’s life was mentioned in one sentence when it occurred and then glossed over or ignored for the rest of the book. When interviewing people about Henson, only the most positive things were included, even from his wife, who he had separated from and was sleeping with other women. Every statement about Henson was positive and every statement by other people was positive. While I could have accepted that Henson led a charmed life and was charismatic and talented enough to draw everyone into his wake, people are people and have bad things to say. I’m not saying Jones should have been a muckraker or that I was looking for a smear campaign, but what I read wasn’t real in the sense that it simply didn’t present reality as we know it. Henson’s brother died. It got maybe 2 sentences then and maybe 4 out of the entire book and Jones never showed it affecting Henson.

Jones was given access to the Henson life in terms of private journals, etc and I suspect part of the deal was that he would only write good things. It was like reading cotton candy by the end of the book. Even Henson’s swift death by a virulent strain of pneumonia shows him as a giant teddy bear having his back rubbed by his ex-wife (technically not ex as they never divorced) and his death being some big “oopsie”. The tone of the entire book is fluff. While I learned a lot about Henson, and like I said before I think it will make my watching of his works that much more informed, I did not like being “handled” by the author as I was.

To end, if you want to learn about Henson, you can read this book and you’ll learn a lot. If you don’t mind literary cotton candy, this will work perfectly for you. If you want a full picture of Henson, try some other book because this author point blank refuses to give you that picture. I am very disappointed with how this turned out.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

The Rise and Fall of Bookshevikism – A Tale of Intrigue and Mystery

What many of you might have never known is that the world is ruled from the shadows by a powerful Cabal. No, not the Illuminati, you silly, those guys are old hat but by a small and venerable group simply known as the WP4. What this mysterious name stands for no government, no security agency, no corporate assassin, no invisible internet hacker, has ever figured out. Long thought invulnerable due to their inscrutability, the WP4 were nearly torn apart by a mastermind the likes the world has never seen.

Sir Otsy, redubbed as Comrade Otsky, began by recruiting the most powerful of the WP4. How he figured out who this was is anyone’s guess but that is why Comrade Otsky was the founder of Bookshevikism. Once he’d brought a member of the WP4 on board, all was going according to plan. The world would look on in awe as the new philosophy of Bookshevikism became the dominant philosophy by which peoples of all races, nations and languages would live out their lives. Governments would topple, corporations would collapse but nobody would notice under the Iron Rule of Comrade Otsky and the Law of Bookshevikism.

The remaining members of the WP4 were in turmoil. Bereft of their fearless leader and his infamous Love/War Boat, beset by sodding selfies, blue bottoms and impossible movie quizzes, they were stymied. Comrade Otsky gloated, knowing he was unstoppable. Until the mysterious Leader revealed it had been a clever ruse all along. Unleashing the power of the Candyman, Agent X fought like no other force in history. Even still, Comrade Otsky was so powerful that if it hadn’t been for the remaining members of the WP4 uniting together with their Wonder Rings, Bookshevikism would still dominate the world today.

Yes, September was a month to go down in the Secret Annals of History. You can thank your lucky stars that the WP4 rule once again with a benevolent hand, guiding you into the course that is best for you and the world. You are welcome!

While certain details have been omitted to keep the world as stable as possible, the above is as true as any story you see in the newspapers today. Honest.

New Evidence That Demands A Verdict ★★★★★

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: New Evidence That Demands A Verdict
Series: ———-
Authors: Josh McDowell
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-fiction, Christian Apologetics
Pages: 800
Words: 400K


Table of Contents

Table of Contents



User’s Guide

Explanation of General Format


He Changed My Life



1. The Uniqueness of the Bible

An intelligent person seeking truth would certainly read and consider a book that has the historical qualifications of the Bible. Unique qualifications that set the Scriptures apart from every other book ever written.

2. How We Got the Bible

Materials used. Bible divisions. Why just thirty-nine Old Testament books and twenty-seven New Testament books? What about the Apocrypha? Why not other books?

3. Is the New Testament Historically Reliable?

The tests applied to all ancient literature to determine reliability. How does the New Testament compare? Archaeological finds confirming the New Testament.

4. Is the Old Testament Historically Reliable?

Bibliographical test. Internal evidence test. Archaeological evidence demonstrating the trustworthiness of the Old Testament.


5. Jesus, A Man of History

Documented sources of extrabiblical historical references to Jesus of Nazareth.

6. If Jesus Wasn’t God, He Deserves an Oscar

The character of Christ and His claims to deity, with emphasis on secular and Jewish sources.

7. Significance of Deity: The Trilemma–Lord, Liar, or Lunatic?

If the New Testament records about Jesus are historically accurate, there remain only three logical choices concerning His identity.

8. Support of Deity: Old Testament Prophecies Fulfilled in Jesus Christ

Illustrations of the probabilities that all prophecies could be fulfilled in one man, in response to the critic who says, “It is all just a coincidence.” Emphasis on Jewish sources to answer the accusation, “That’s the way you Christians look at them, but what about the Jews?”

9. Support of Deity: The Resurrection–Hoax or History?

This heavily documented section of evidence for Christ’s resurrection refutes theories set forth to disclaim this miracle.

10. Support of Deity: The Great Proposition

The “if…then” argument applied to Christ: “If God became man, then what would He be like?” Quotations and observations of great Christians and non-Christians about the person, character, life, and death of Jesus of Nazareth, and His impact on the world for two thousand years.


Section I. Introduction

This section deals with inspiration of the Bible, anti-supernaturalism, and archaeology. All three topics relate to the documentary hypothesis and form criticism. There they are treated at the beginning rather than under each of the following two sections.

11. Is the Bible from God?

Part 1 presents the case that the Bible is historically accurate. Here the case is made that the Bible is trustworthy in that it is inspired by a perfect God.

12. The Presupposition of Anti-supernaturalism

A presentation of the presuppositions of both documentarians and form critics. Often the alleged objective historical conclusions are molded by a subjective worldview.

Section II. Documentary Hypothesis

The discipline of literary criticism applied to the Pentateuch is examined along with evidence for Mosaic authorship.

14. Introduction to the Documentary Hypothesis

What is the documentary hypothesis? What are the JEDP documents?

15. Introduction to Biblical Criticism

Biblical criticism defined and the different critical schools explained.

16. Introduction to the Pentateuch

The purpose and importance of the first five biblical books.

17. Development of the Documentary Hypothesis

A description of the various documentary theories and their modern revisions.

18. Ground Rules

The ancient oriental environment provides various principles to apply to the Old Testament.

19. Documentary Presuppositions

An investigation of the four basic documentary assumptions: (1) The priority of source analysis over archaeology; (2) a natural view of Israel’s religion and history; (3) the theory that there was no writing in Israel at Moses’ time; and (4) the legendary view of the patriarchal narratives.

20. Consequences of Radical High Criticism

A discussion of the results of Israel’s history being viewed as unhistorical, fraudulent, and naturalistic.

21. Evidence for Mosaic Authorship

The internal and external testimony for Moses’ authorship of the Pentateuch.

22. The Phenomenon of Divine Names

The various uses of the divine names (Elohim, Yahweh, and others) are put in perspective.

23. The Repetition of Accounts and Alleged Contradictions

Certain stories in the Pentateuch are said to be repeated, and others to have contradictory details.

24. Incongruities

The writing in the third person and the record of Moses’ death are factors said to be incongruous with Mosaic authorship.

25. Internal Diversity

A discussion of the assumed difference of subject matter, style and diction.

26. Conclusion to the Documentary Hypothesis

Section III. Biblical Criticism and the New Testament

Basic tenets of form criticism examined. Practical answers to basic assumptions and conclusions. The modern quest for the historical Jesus.

27. Introduction to New Testament Form Criticism

Form criticism is defined and its purpose and proponents discussed.

28. Historical Skepticism

The reliability of the record of the historical Jesus is examined.

29. Jesus Under Fire

An examination of the historical quests for Jesus and their culmination in the Jesus Seminar.

30. Conclusion to Form Criticism

A look at the contribution and limitations of the form critical approach.

31. Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism

by C. S. Lewis


Personal Note from the Author

32. The Nature of Truth

33. The Knowability of Truth

34. Answering Postmodernism

35. Answering Skepticism

36. Answering Agnosticism

37. Answering Mysticism

38. Certainty vs. Certitude

39. Defending Miracles

40. Is History Knowable?


Biographical Sketches of Selected Authors

Author Index

Subject Index

The Four Spiritual Laws

My Thoughts:

This version of “Evidences” was published in 1999 and consisted of McDowell’s previous Evidences I & II with updates for a changing culture. Since this version there has been another version, updated by McDowell and his son Sean as our culture continues to change and the questions asked are different from even 20 years ago.

I read this mainly for the first part about whether we can trust the Bible or not. I feel that Part 2 and Part 3 flow from that answer and so am not nearly as concerned about that. The final and fourth part is for people who sit up at night worrying about whether there is a God and the consequences of deciding either way. Somebody needs to address those, but I’m not concerned with them.

McDowell himself recommends not reading this straight through but simply choosing an area that interests you or that you have questions about and diving in. This is setup in the way a scholarly paper would be, with main points and then sub-points drillling down so a chapter might look like 1, A, A1,A2,B,B1, 2,A, A1, A1a etc. Because of this, there is a lot of repetition as many of the same answers apply to different questions and challenges.

I started reading this in October of last year and used this for my work read. I’d read 5 or 10 minutes a day at work and have finally wrapped this up. The final part was hard for me to get through because it wasn’t what I was looking into, but as I knew that going in, it wasn’t a frustrating experience.

Thinking about this, I’d recommend it to Christians who feel a need to bolster their knowledge about how what they believe is based on more than Airy Fairy Nonsense. For non-Christians, I’d say it would help someone who is genuinely seeking an answer to “What is Truth?”. McDowell does address the fact that there are a lot of people who are asking questions but who either don’t want a genuine answer or who simply want what they already think confirmed. You can’t MAKE someone believe something, no matter how much evidence is presented to them.

Overall, this was a very strengthening read for me, a shot in the old arm, as it were. I am sure I will be revisiting various parts of this book as the years pass.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Irony of American History DNF (Unrated)

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: The Irony of American History
Series: ———-
Author: Reinhold Niebuhr
Rating: Unrated
Genre: Non-fiction
Pages: DNF
Words: DNF


DNF during the intro by Andrew Bacevich.

My Thoughts:

I am not rating this book because I couldn’t even get past the introduction by a scumbag named Andrew Bacevich who appears to be a damned communist and someone I’d gladly kill. Thus, since I didn’t even make it to Niebuhr’s own words it isn’t fair to judge his book.

Maybe someday I’ll read this book but from what was in the introduction, I am extremely hesitant and doubtful. The fact that a lying scumsucking twatwad like Bacevich wrote what he did in the intro doesn’t bode well for the book itself. I hope Bacevich burns. I am sorry that Niebuhr’s book was saddled with an introduction like that. Nobody deserves that, not even if what is in the intro is indicative of the writing itself.

Because of this, I won’t be including this in my ratings score for the month.

Isotopes (A Very Short Introduction) ★☆☆☆☆ DNF@20%

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Isotopes
Series: A Very Short Introduction
Author: Rob Ellam
Rating: 1 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 25 / 126
Words: 7.5K / 37K



My Thoughts:

This was the straw that broke the Bookstooge’s back. I just couldn’t take this series and it’s pointlessness any more. It was not horrible, it was not any worse than some of the other fething pieces of excrement from this series but I had reached my limit and this pushed me that one fatal step beyond that limit.

In regards to the series overall, I HIGHLY DO NOT RECOMMEND IT. The premise it is based on is a false one, it is misleading and the writers involved, for the most part, are not authors by any stretch of the imagination. Overall I am very unhappy with my experience with this series and if there was a poll or something, I’d be giving Oxford Press a big fat negative score. If they worked at Target, they’d be getting the lowest scores possible and then get in trouble with their bosses for doing such a poor job.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Decadence (A Very Short Introduction) ★✬☆☆☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Decadence
Series: A Very Short Introduction
Author: David Weir
Rating: 1.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 142
Words: 44K


From the Publisher

The history of decadent culture runs from ancient Rome to nineteenth-century Paris, Victorian London, fin de siècle Vienna, Weimar Berlin, and beyond. The decline of Rome provides the pattern for both aesthetic and social decadence, a pattern that artists and writers in the nineteenth century imitated, emulated, parodied, and otherwise manipulated for aesthetic gain. What begins as the moral condemnation of modernity in mid-nineteenth century France on the part of decadent authors such as Charles Baudelaire ends up as the perverse celebration of the pessimism that accompanies imperial decline. This delight in decline informs the rich canon of decadence that runs from Joris-Karl Huysmans’s À Rebours to Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Aubrey Beardsley’s drawings, Gustav Klimt’s paintings, and numerous other works. In this Very Short Introduction, David Weir explores the conflicting attitudes towards modernity present in decadent culture by examining the difference between aesthetic decadence–the excess of artifice–and social decadence, which involves excess in a variety of forms, whether perversely pleasurable or gratuitously cruel. Such contrariness between aesthetic and social decadence led some of its practitioners to substitute art for life and to stress the importance of taste over morality, a maneuver with far-reaching consequences, especially as decadence enters the realm of popular culture today.

My Thoughts:

I was talking with a friend of mine about higher education and we ended up discussing how it seems that those who are the most informed on a subject are often the worst at actually conveying information about said subject. Which led me to talk about this series and that lead to some interesting info for me.

Zac, my friend (and no, he’s not just in my head), was saying that a lot of higher education is about finding the right books on a subject tangential to the one you’re actually studying. So an Introductory book like this is meant for someone who is already experienced in some aspect of the subject and wants a bibliography to expand their knowledge. It went a LONG way towards explaining my issues with this series. It’s not an Introduction for the Layperson, but an Introduction for People Already into the Subject. While it doesn’t solve my problems with the series, it radically adjusts my perspective and that will help alleviate some of the frustration caused by idiots who aren’t idiots but are idiots. With that out of the way, let’s proceed.

I was hoping the author would take a factual look at Decadence and keep his opinions to himself. In fact, I wasn’t just hoping that, I was expecting that. Instead, I am treated to an author glorifying and almost wallowing in the perverse and disgusting. The author doesn’t appear to just be interested in the subject of Decadence itself but to have dived into the very essence of Decadence and come out praising it. Metaphorically, he doesn’t just talk about pig poop but he dives in and then proceeds to throw it at the reader while shouting how wonderful, how liberating, how brave anyone is who can swim in pig poop.

I’m adding a couple of quotes now.

But above all perverse, almost everything perverse interests, fascinates me.”
~chapter 3

those decadents and degenerates of the 1920s now appear almost heroic in their hedonism”
chapter 4

but such attraction to degradation is by no means a criticism”

Now, none of those are in context and many are not the authors words but quotes he is using to support his own ideas. However, the context IS clear that he supports each and every statement. It made me sick.

To end, this book made me sick and I’m sorry that I read it. Talking about a subject is far different from praising a subject 😦

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Periodic Table (A Very Short Introduction) ★★★☆☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Periodic Table
Series: A Very Short Introduction
Author: Eric Scerri
Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 145
Words: 41.5K


From the Publisher

The periodic table of elements, first encountered by many of us at school, provides an arrangement of the chemical elements, ordered by their atomic number, electron configuration, and recurring chemical properties, and divided into periodic trends. In this Very Short Introduction Eric R. Scerri looks at the trends in properties of elements that led to the construction of the table, and shows how the deeper meaning of the table’s structure gradually became apparent with the development of atomic theory and, in particular, quantum mechanics, which underlies the behaviour of all of the elements and their compounds. This new edition, publishing in the International Year of the Periodic Table, celebrates the completion of the seventh period of the table, with the ratification and naming of elements 113, 115, 117, and 118 as nihonium, moscovium, tennessine, and oganesson. Eric R. Scerri also incorporates new material on recent advances in our understanding of the origin of the elements, as well as developments concerning group three of the periodic table.

My Thoughts:

Sigh. Another mediocre at best book in this extremely topsy turvy series. After that little quote I posted in the CR&Q Post, which was from chapter one, my expectations were at about zero, maybe a one.

While things didn’t stay at the level of the fanboyishness exhibited in that quote post, it definitely stayed in the “written by someone who is fascinated by the Periodic Table”. Scerri started out with a history of the table and how it came into being, how it has been refined and even how today there is question about the best way to present it. Knowledgeable, engaging and interesting. I’m talking 4 star material here.

Then he starts talking about the elements themselves. Oh my goodness. He uses mathematical equations and chemical notations. Here’s a pro-tip from me to any of you thinking about writing an Introduction book on any subject: if you have to include equations and notations, you are doing it wrong. Period. What part of “Introduction” does this series simply not understand? I know I rail against this thing for every single book but it really bothers me for every single book. Not enough to quit reading these (for free after all) but if the library runs out of these (which they will) I’ll not be buying any of these.

Now, learning about how the periodic table came into being and how even today it is still up in the air was totally worth reading this book for. Learning bits and pieces is always worth it, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a frustrating experience.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Early Music (A Very Short Introduction) ★★★✬☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Early Music
Series: A Very Short Introduction
Author: Thomas Kelly
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 112
Words: 38.5K


From Kobo.com

From Gregorian chant to Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti, the music of the Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque periods is both beautiful and intriguing, expanding our horizons as it nourishes our souls. In this Very Short Introduction, Thomas Forrest Kelly provides not only a compact overview of the music itself, but also a lively look at the many attempts over the last two centuries to revive it. Kelly shows that the early-music revival has long been grounded in the idea of spontaneity, of excitement, and of recapturing experiences otherwise lost to us–either the rediscovery of little-known repertories or the recovery of lost performing styles, with the conviction that, with the right performance, the music will come to life anew. Blending musical and social history, he shows how the Early Music movement in the 1960s took on political overtones, fueled by a rebellion against received wisdom and enforced conformity. Kelly also discusses ongoing debates about authenticity, the desirability of period instruments, and the relationship of mainstream opera companies and symphony orchestras to music that they often ignore, or play in modern fashion.

My Thoughts:

While not quite as “for the layman” as Anxiety was, this was still a cut above some of the other VSI books I’ve read. This book was full of musical terms, but Kelly made a valiant effort to define them (sometimes seeming at random though) and to write like he was trying to get me interested in the subject. I highly applaud his effort because even though I have zero interest in the subject of music (it is as interesting to me as “art”, that is, not at all) he did a great job of keeping me reading and giving me some little bits and bobs of info that should stick in my brain.

Reading this book made me think about my own history with music from elementary school up to the present day. I was going to do a detour and talk about that here in this review, but the more I think of it, the more it seems appropriate for it to have it’s own post in my A History of ….. series. While I claim to have no interest in music, that doesn’t mean I’m ignorant about it or think it is unimportant. I’ll go so far as to say that outside of preaching of theology, music is one of the greatest shapers of philosophy.

I get whiplash every time I read this series. I never know if I’m going to get a good book or a real stinker. I mentioned Anxiety above, as a great one. I was looking over all the VSI books I’ve read and Entrepreneurship came across as the worst so far. I don’t understand how the Oxford University Press came to publish both of these. It’s almost like there is no oversite committee or general editor to keep them all uniform. It is very frustrating to my “ordered” soul. But books like this one keep me going in this series. It is worth digging through the midden to get gems like this.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Gulag Archipelago, Vol 2 ★★★★☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Gulag Archipelago, Vol 2
Series: Gulag Archipelago
Author: Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-fiction
Pages: 648
Words: 276.5K


Containing Parts III & IV of Solzhenitsyn’s book, The Gulag Archipelago.

From Wikipedia.com

Structurally, the text comprises seven sections divided (in most printed editions) into three volumes: parts 1–2, parts 3–4, and parts 5–7. At one level, the Gulag Archipelago traces the history of the system of forced labor camps that existed in the Soviet Union from 1918 to 1956. Solzhenitsyn begins with V. I. Lenin’s original decrees which were made shortly after the October Revolution; they established the legal and practical framework for a series of camps where political prisoners and ordinary criminals would be sentenced to forced labor. The book then describes and discusses the waves of purges and the assembling of show trials in the context of the development of the greater Gulag system; Solzhenitsyn gives particular attention to its purposive legal and bureaucratic development.

The narrative ends in 1956 at the time of Nikita Khrushchev’s Secret Speech (“On the Personality Cult and its Consequences”). Khrushchev gave the speech at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, denouncing Stalin’s personality cult, his autocratic power, and the surveillance that pervaded the Stalin era. Although Khrushchev’s speech was not published in the Soviet Union for a long time, it was a break with the most atrocious practices of the Gulag system.

Despite the efforts by Solzhenitsyn and others to confront the legacy of the Gulag, the realities of the camps remained a taboo subject until the 1980s. Solzhenitsyn was also aware that although many practices had been stopped, the basic structure of the system had survived and it could be revived and expanded by future leaders. While Khrushchev, the Communist Party, and the Soviet Union’s supporters in the West viewed the Gulag as a deviation of Stalin, Solzhenitsyn and many among the opposition tended to view it as a systemic fault of Soviet political culture – an inevitable outcome of the Bolshevik political project.

Parallel to this historical and legal narrative, Solzhenitsyn follows the typical course of a zek (a slang term for an inmate), derived from the widely used abbreviation “z/k” for “zakliuchennyi” (prisoner) through the Gulag, starting with arrest, show trial, and initial internment; transport to the “archipelago”; the treatment of prisoners and their general living conditions; slave labor gangs and the technical prison camp system; camp rebellions and strikes (see Kengir uprising); the practice of internal exile following the completion of the original prison sentence; and the ultimate (but not guaranteed) release of the prisoner. Along the way, Solzhenitsyn’s examination details the trivial and commonplace events of an average prisoner’s life, as well as specific and noteworthy events during the history of the Gulag system, including revolts and uprisings.

Solzhenitsyn also states:

Macbeth’s self-justifications were feeble – and his conscience devoured him. Yes, even Iago was a little lamb, too. The imagination and spiritual strength of Shakespeare’s evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology. Ideology – that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others’ eyes…. That was how the agents of the Inquisition fortified their wills: by invoking Christianity; the conquerors of foreign lands, by extolling the grandeur of their Motherland; the colonizers, by civilization; the Nazis, by race; and the Jacobins (early and late), by equality, brotherhood, and the happiness of future generations… Without evildoers there would have been no Archipelago.

— The Gulag Archipelago, Chapter 4, p. 173

There had been works about the Soviet prison/camp system before, and its existence had been known to the Western public since the 1930s. However, never before had the general reading public been brought face to face with the horrors of the Gulag in this way. The controversy surrounding this text, in particular, was largely due to the way Solzhenitsyn definitively and painstakingly laid the theoretical, legal, and practical origins of the Gulag system at Lenin’s feet, not Stalin’s. According to Solzhenitsyn’s testimony, Stalin merely amplified a concentration camp system that was already in place. This is significant, as many Western intellectuals viewed the Soviet concentration camp system as a “Stalinist aberration”

My Thoughts:

Where Volume 1 seemed mainly to be about the process of how the (fictional) legalities came into being that led to arrests and about the arrests and early detainment, this volume was all about the camps and the various kinds of people in the Gulag. The first 65% dealt exclusively with the camps, what went on in them, how the prisoners existed, how they lived (and died) what uses the camps were put too.

This was grueling. I started this particular volume back in August of last year and am just now finishing it up. So 5 months?

I wish I had profound things to write here but I don’t. Solzhenitsyn simply chronicles what has gone on and shows how some of it happened (people turning a blind eye, people letting it happen because it was happening to someone else, people letting it happen because they were afraid of it happening to them, people letting it happen because it was happening to a group they didn’t like) and the absolutely horrific costs of the camps. Make no mistake, the Gulags were death camps as sure as the Nazi camps were.

Solzhenitsyn also lets his own personality and biases show through quite a bit when he talks about the various kinds of people in the last part of the book. Any time a “thief” is mentioned (ie, a non-political offender for some actual crime), he really goes off against them. He makes no bones about how he survived his time (becoming an informer in the camps) and describes the very few kind of people who would refuse that (Christians being the main group).

Besides the weighty content, what also slowed me down was the references to things or people that I simply had no idea about or anyway to put them into context. Many times whole passages held almost no meaning for me because I didn’t know the people being talked about or the brand of Russian humor went winging its way over my head. Solzhenitsyn did have a dry, sarcastic kind of humor and I appreciated what I could understand. Whenever he talked about the language and how particular words grew out of the Gulag, he lost me there too.

I won’t go into the politics beyond to say that what we are seeing now in terms of our media organizations in lockstep with the current administration will be very familiar to anyone who has read this.

I am going to be taking an extended break before attempting Volume 3. I’ve got a bunch of other non-fiction books that have been just sitting on my kindle so it’s time to pay them some attention. And I can’t face another volume like this for awhile, it’s just too much.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Anxiety (A Very Short Introduction) ★★★★☆

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Title: Anxiety
Series: A Very Short Introduction
Author: Daniel & Jason Freeman
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 142
Words: 44K


From Kobo.com

Are we born with our fears or do we learn them? Why do our fears persist? What purpose does anxiety serve? How common are anxiety disorders, and which treatments are most effective? What’s happening in our brain when we feel fear? And what are Colombian worry dolls? This Very Short Introduction draws on the best scientific research to offer a highly accessible explanation of what anxiety is, why it is such a normal and vital part of our emotional life, and the key factors that cause it. Insights are drawn from psychology, neuroscience, genetics, epidemiology, and clinical trials. Providing a fascinating illustration of the discussion are two interviews conducted specifically for the book, with the actor, writer, director, and television presenter Michael Palin and former England football manager Graham Taylor. The book covers in detail the six major anxiety disorders: phobias; panic disorder and agoraphobia; social anxiety; generalised anxiety disorder; obsessive compulsive disorder; and post-traumatic stress disorder. With a chapter devoted to each disorder, Daniel and Jason Freeman take you through the symptoms, prevalence, and causes of each one. A final chapter describes the treatments available for dealing with anxiety problems.

My Thoughts:

THIS was how this series should have been. THIS was everything that I could have asked for in a series entitled A Very Short Introduction. Oh, it is almost worse that this was this good because now all the sucky ones are going to suck even worse in comparison.

Daniel and Jason Freeman write to lay people. They explain technical terms and try not to use them. For example, one of the definitions for a medical term is a word that nobody but crazy doctors would use and these guys write “and that means ‘clinically insane’”. How hard is it to do that? Not very.

I was also impressed with how on target they stayed in regards to looking at the big picture of Anxiety. While they wrote about various forms of Anxiety and everything, they never lost sight of the fact they WERE writing about anxiety and they always tied the subject firmly back.

Basically, they did a fantastic job of giving an overview with just enough specifics to satisfy me. I don’t know if these 2 are medical doctors, but they definitely know how to talk to people who are not at their level, like me (unlike some of the other scumbag authors in this series). This was a weird read because I loved so much how the authors did things and it was totally mixed with hatred for all the other writers who were abject, abysmal and complete failures at their attempts to communicate their subjects.

Now I’m going to go have a good cry and feel anxious about the other books in the series 😉

Rating: 4 out of 5.