A new book review from The Movie Snob.
Back to Blood, by Tom Wolfe (2012). This was Wolfe’s last novel, and I liked it better than his penultimate effort (I Am Charlotte Simmons) but probably not as much as A Man in Full, and certainly not as much as his first novel, Bonfire of the Vanities. This is mainly the story of Nestor Camacho, a young Cuban cop on the Miami police force who finds himself at the center of large, significant events three times in the course of the story. I found him a little hard to empathize with (because he’s kind of a self-pitying sap), but he does give us a window into various aspects of Miami’s unique culture(s). We also spend quite a bit of time with his ex-girlfriend Magdalena, who dumps him for her boss, a sex-addiction-treating psychiatrist who likes to appear on TV. We see some of Miami’s upper crust through her escapades and through her eyes. The tale, which also involves Russian oligarchs and art forgery, seems a bit implausible, and it’s a smidge over 700 pages long. But Wolfe’s writing is pretty entertaining, and I enjoyed the book enough to finish it.
Happy Leap Day from The Movie Snob!
1776, by David McCullough (2005). I think this the first book that I’ve read by the prolific McCullough. I must have found it on sale somewhere, because I’m not a big Revolutionary War buff. (Quick, in what year did the British surrender at Yorktown? 1781. Thanks, Wikipedia!) Anyway, this is a brisk and engaging tale of George Washington’s Continental Army in 1776. (I got the impression that some significant events were happening down in the Carolinas, but we don’t hear about them.) It was pretty much all news to me. First, Washington’s army drove the British out of Boston. Then he moved his army to New York, where the British soundly defeated him. They chased Washington’s ragtag army into New Jersey and then Pennsylvania. All might have been lost, but for Washington’s inspired sneak attack on Trenton, followed by another successfully sally at Princeton. I was surprised to see how inept a commander Washington was in the early going of the war, but apparently he always learned from his mistakes. The book is good, but it could have been MUCH improved by a few battlefield maps to show us exactly what was going on at each of the critical points.
New book review from The Movie Snob.
Considerations of the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and Their Decline, by Montesquieu (translated by David Lowenthal). I learned about this book the same way I learned about Memoirs of Hadrian—from Joseph Epstein’s book The Ideal of Culture. This one didn’t impress me like Memoirs did. The book is only about 200 pages long and purports to sweep from Rome’s humble beginnings to the fall of the Byzantine Empire some 2000 years later. As a result, it moves quickly and lightly over events, and it made little impression on me. Epstein calls it a work of genius, but if it is it went over my head.
A new book review from The Movie Snob.
Memoirs of Hadrian, by Marguerite Yourcenar (1951). I learned of the existence of this novel from Joseph Epstein’s The Ideal of Culture, and it did not disappoint. It is a fictional memoir of the Roman emperor Hadrian (reigned 117 to 138) in the form of a long letter to his adopted grandson and heir, Marcus Aurelius. Hadrian’s death is near, and he sums up his life and tries to offer some advice to his successor. I get the impression a ton of historical research went into this work, so I assume it sticks pretty closely to the facts as we know them. I really liked it, but then I’m a sucker for the swords-and-sandals genre. So your mileage may vary.
Book review from The Movie Snob
From Fire by Water: My Journey to the Catholic Faith, by Sohrab Ahmari (2019). The subtitle tells you most of what you need to know about this book. It’s an autobiographical conversion story. That may not be your cup of tea. But if you give it a chance, I think you’ll find it interesting, because Ahmari is a good writer and has an interesting background. He was born in Iran, and his childhood years there coincided with the early years of the Khomeini regime. Then his mother moved to America (Utah!) and took young Sohrab with her. His stories about growing up in America and trying out various left-wing ideologies are interesting. At 207 pages, it’s a quick read. I would have liked to learn more about Ahmari’s wife and what she thought of his becoming Catholic less than three years after they got hitched.
A book review from The Movie Snob.
The Ideal of Culture: Essays, by Joseph Epstein (2018). More great essays by the great essayist. I have sung his praises before, and you can read some of them here, here, and here. The down side of this volume, if it has one, is that Epstein includes several essays about lesser-known masterpieces of literature, and he’s such a good salesman that I ordered two of them online before even finishing this book.
Book review from The Movie Snob.
Longbourn, by Jo Baker (2013). In the Jane Austen novel Pride and Prejudice, Longbourn is the name of the estate where the Bennets—the family at the center of the story—live. Longbourn is a novel about the servants of those very same Bennets, before, during, and after the events of Pride and Prejudice. I liked it well enough. The main character is Sarah, a young servant whom the Bennets took in after she was orphaned as a child. Two interesting men come into her life at the same time—a new servant working down at the Bingleys’ house and a mysterious stranger the Bennets take on as a footman. It’s kind of fun to watch little snippets of Pride and Prejudice take place in the background, and to see the Bennets from a different (and not very flattering) angle.