How to Achieve True Boredom

July 6, 2014 at 9:21 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , )

CastiglioneTitle: How to Achieve True Greatness

Author: Baldesar Castiglione

Publisher: Penguin (Great Ideas)

The Penguin Great Ideas Books are usually my go to source of reading something in one sitting.  If not that, I toss them in my bag or back pocket for a walk in the woods or for waiting room entertainment.

How to Achieve True Greatness did not live up to my expectations.

This was 93 pages of pure boredom.

I picked it up – read some pages – put it down.  I took it to the bathtub with me only to find myself wanting to get out of the tub faster to pick a different book.

There were some bits about twenty pages in that interested me long enough for the book to start redeeming itself, but then I later lost interest again.

Not your best, world history masters, not  your best.

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Great Journeys – Marco Polo

October 7, 2012 at 8:02 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Title: The Customs of the Kingdoms of India

Author: Marco Polo

Publisher: Penguin Books

Length: 86 pages

Inspired by the Great Ideas series, Penguin Books printed a Great Journeys companion series as well.  From Herodotus to George Orwell, the series chronicles twenty of the most famous and intriguing adventurers in history.  Third in this series is Marco Polo’s journey to South Asia, where he discusses the culture, the economy, the industry, religious practices and more.

I picked this book up for two simples facts: 1. I am collecting all of Penguin Books Great Ideas publications and 2. There are elephants on the front cover.  I adore elephants.  They are powerful, dignified, trustworthy, humorous, and endearing.  Marco Polo’s The Customs of the Kingdoms of India has little do with elephants.  Actually, I’m pretty sure it has absolutely nothing to do with elephants.  Of course, that’s not the point, elephants are broadly recognized as a symbol of India/ South Asia, so naturally they would be an image of choice for the front cover of an Indian travel book.

Marco Polo does not go into great detail about how the elephants are used as means of transportation, status symbols, work beasts, and more.  He mentions them in passing, but says in the places he visits, they are not indigenous to the area but imported from other islands.  He does, however, discuss the art of physiognomy, which immediately made me think of the science fiction piece by Jeffrey Ford called The Physiognomy, a weird but interesting read.  Marco Polo talks about the tarantulas, infestations of lizards, mentions the giraffes and lions, and talks very highly of their hens which he considers “the prettiest hens to be seen anywhere.”

Did Marco Polo’s “prettiest hens” look like these?

Apparently, in South Asia, hens represent prosperity, and today you can buy ‘prosperity hens,’ little talismans similar to a rabbit’s foot. Of course, Marco Polo again does not go into detail regarding this, he merely mentions their beauty and moves on. Marco Polo’s writing is that of traveling merchant. He chronicles quick and simple descriptions that would be useful for a businessman, but avoids the great detail of a philosopher or anthropologist. The things that strike his fancy for elaboration are the rituals that would intrigue a vendor, rather than those that would fascinate a theology student. Where he does talk about religion, it seems to be in a political and historically informative way to help you understand a province as a whole, moving quickly to the supplies they live on because of their past. Like a professional trader, he wishes to dwell on the rice, the wheat, and the growth of cotton.  Respect for various people groups and villages he encounters is highly dependant on how much they function on industry and marketplaces.

I don’t believe Marco Polo to be much of a writer, and I think his accounts would have benefited from being written while on his voyage.  But according to historians, he dictated these adventures of sailing the Indian Ocean later to a fellow inmate in prison.  This practice of dictation could have played a role in his style of often informing his reader “I will tell you how” and “I will describe to you,” as well as “let me tell you why” and so on; repetitive and unnecessary phrases that, quite frankly, annoyed me.

Still, this concise 86 page piece is interesting, and a great addition to any young scholar’s library.  It would be a wonderful supplement to a world geography study on South Asia for a middle grade student and could open up a lot of dialogue between teachers and students regarding history, religious practices, other cultures, world economies, and more.

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A Natural English Journey for Earth Day

April 21, 2012 at 7:50 pm (Events, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , )

Title: Birds of Selborne

Author: Gilbert White

Publisher: Penguin Classics

Length: 96 pgs.

This pocket sized series of letters from naturalist Gilbert White about the village of Selborne should be a part of every environmentalist’s collection.  White studied at Oriel College in Oxford and then spent years travelling around England.  Birds of Selborne is a segment of The Natural History of Selborne, a work he published after he returned home from his travels.

I love these little books, its a branch off of the Penguin Great Ideas series, an “English Journeys” collection of which this is number 19.  Much of this particular edition is filled with White’s bird watching adventures, but also covers things about the trees and weather as well.  If you’ve ever enjoyed the work of Darwin’s Origin of Species or Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Gilbert White is worth your while.

Tomorrow is Earth Day, don’t forget to check out your local bookstore and pick something up from the nature or gardening section to kick off your Sunday (after church, if you go).  Find a spot under some trees or in the sun to celebrate your Earth while you read.  Half Price Books in Humble will have Eco-friendly goodie bags to hand out to 50 customers, if you’re in the Humble area you should check it out.  If you’re in the Dallas area, there’s a tree planting event on April 28th: http://www.hpb.com/treeweek/

http://www.hpb.com/treeweek/

Read More About Earth Day.

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The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx

November 30, 2009 at 6:01 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , )

communist_manifesto-large1The Communist Manifesto changed the face of the twentieth century beyond recognition, inspiring millions to revolution, forming the basis of political systems that still dominate countless lives and continuing to ignite violent debate about class and capitalism today.” – Penguin

For that reason, I think everyone should read this book and grasp a greater understanding of the world around them. At the risk of ‘igniting violent debate’ I’ll let it be known that I disagree with the concept. I am especially opposed to the idea of the abolition of a right to inheritance, as I would love to pass my library down to the future generations of my family. Perhaps some things should be a little more equal, but I like the individuality we have in being able to select what we purchase and accumulate. I enjoy the right to educate our own children, having the privilege to opt out of public education in order to give our children more – more knowledge, more quality time, more love.

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