Monday, December 27, 2010
Here we see Bird and Magic pushing each other throughout their careers. Win or lose in their NBA Finals match-ups, each of them was driven to always work harder, to be a more complete player, knowing that, across the country, the other was pushing himself just as hard. In candid interviews both Bird and Magic explain their almost single-minded focus on one-upping each other throughout their careers. Knowing that, if the Celtics could beat the Lakers, or vice-versa, surely either team could dispatch with the rest of the NBA.
At its best the book captures the essence of the era in which the NBA became a global brand. Without Larry and Magic, without the Celtics versus Lakers rivalry the landscape of professional basketball the world over would be drastically different. It is a lament for a lost era, but one certainly worth reliving and retelling.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
It is at this juncture of science, natural history, grace and wonder that Dawkins is at his best; one cannot help but marvel along with him as the reader is brought across time and space to see the intricacies of the life of cells, or the great arms race between predator and prey. The process of natural selection and its impacts on absolutely every aspect of life on this planet are the star of the show and Dawkins makes them quite an attraction indeed. The book is most valuable in the scope and scale of its explanatory power and if Dawkins' work has a greater utility it is to allow the reader to draw together the seemingly disparate strands of organisms, environment, genetics and natural selection.
That evolution needs a defense at all may strike the reader as strange, however Dawkins is livid at the notion that , so he claims, 40% of Americans believe in creationism in some form. That Dawkins is so bent out of shape over this is wonderful for the community of readers, if, for no other reason, then that it means he will continue to provide works of this seamless integration and nuance. However, one cannot help but think that the work is so much preaching to the choir. The writing slows down greatly as Dawkins attacks creationism and, by certain extension, anything but the most scientific of epistemologies to viewing the world around us. What remains unclear at the end (though this is supposedly the realm of his recent bestseller The God Delusion) is why it is so important that everyone view the world as Dawkins does? Besides the intangible benefit of seeing our universe as it "truly is", what measurable impact does a defense of evolution hope to achieve? We are no closer to being able to answer these thorny questions at the end of his work.
All of this is not to diminish the results Dawkins has achieved here. One can argue with his motives and positions concerning social betterment, what is unimpeachable are his prose and ability to view the multiplicity of life on this planet and bring accounts, studies, research, and various disciplines to bear upon one another. In this realm he is perhaps the most free-thinking and far-seeing advocate for the scientific view of the world since Darwin, and that is no mean feat.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Frequently Khumalo wrestles with his identity as a South African and how that impacts his views of people he meets along his travels. All-too-frequently he is concerned for his own safety and the safety of his belongings. This is far less a comment on the location of his travels then on his experiences living and working South Africa. Though it is an easy dig at South Africa to complain of the country's crime problems, coming from the perspective of a South African the true pervasiveness of the problem is hard to escape; concerns for his safety have clearly affected Khumalo to the point that he has trouble feeling safe in crowds or trusting strangers. It is to his unending credit that Khumalo is first, willing to undertake this journey anyway and, second, examine his assumptions and see that they do not fit with the countries he is moving through. It is this willingness to examine the circumstances around him and the manner in which he responds to them that makes Khumalo's work so insightful.
If the book has any drawback it is that too much time is spent focusing on the logistics and not enough on how Khumalo's understanding of the world he is seeing and experiencing is changing and growing throughout his journey. As a reader one cannot hope for any meaningful hard and fast conclusions from Khumalo that would not read as temporal and trite, however, given that we have come along with him on this very enjoyable trip, you are left hoping for a little more insight surrounding his relationship to himself and how that has grown and changed throughout the adventure. Khumalo writes, "I hate it when life happens to me... I want, at all time to happen to life." At its core, travel is often about letting life happen to you and understanding what that means for the person you are. Khumalo has written a nice narrative about his travel, but we cannot hope but wish for a little more critical examination of his role in them.
Friday, December 10, 2010
The prose sparkles most where we are given insights into Adams' impressions of politics, diplomacy and the great men of his time. Witness the awkwardness and inward-focus of President Lincoln, the frustration of the American embassy in England or the stern presence of his grandfather President John Quincy Adams. In his life Henry Adams serves as a bridge between the bygone days of the revolution and its characters, through the Civil War and into the twentieth century.
A constant theme of the work is Adams lamentations and confusions over the coming world of industry and technology. One cannot help but identify with a man who feels the world passing him by; as speed, industry and global industrialization run-away with the future Adams wistfully wonders whether he isn't a man born to a time that has no place in the modern world. In many ways he is the model for the modern American. Striving, torn, in search of ideals perhaps forever out of reach - a model of what he would call the American character.
"The American thought of himself as a restless, pushing, energetic, ingenious person, always awake and trying to get ahead of his neighbors... [also, he is] a quiet, peaceful, shy figure, rather in the mold of Abraham Lincoln, somewhat sad, sometimes pathetic, once tragic; or like Grant, inarticulate, uncertain, distrustful of himself, still more distrustful of others, awed by money." p. 297
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Though at times rambling and overburdened with redundancies Krech does provide a more fulsome understanding of Indians situated within their specific historical context. The important take away from this work is that we have much to learn about Indians as people and dynamic cultures and would be well-suited to asses their worldviews and reactions to change in light of our own dynamic culture and natural world.