All posts filed under: Book Reviews

The Apple Grower: A Guide for the Organic Orchardist (Michael Phillips)

“The Apple Grower” is an excellent book, but not one for the casual apple grower. That doesn’t mean that another, simpler book would be better for the casual apple grower. Rather, it appears to me (very much a non-expert) that apple growing isn’t possible to do casually, so “casual apple grower” is a very small group, consisting of those who pick a few apples of varying quality from their trees and let the rest drop. So, if you’re like me, and planning on planting and maintaining ten or twenty apple trees for my family’s own personal use, this book shows you very well how to do that. But it doesn’t make it sound easy.

Hypatia of Alexandria (Maria Dzielska)

In today’s popular culture, Hypatia, the woman philosopher/mathematician of the Fifth Century A.D., is a caricature with little or no grounding in reality. For example, in the 2009 film “Agora,” she is portrayed as the youthful originator of heliocentrism, killed by ignorant Christians opposed to science, who for good measure burn down the famous Library of Alexandria, of which Hypatia was Librarian. None of this is true in any way, of course, although it fits the modern liberal desire to contemptuously dismiss Christians and Christianity and to assign historical importance based on identity, rather than accomplishment.

The Small-Scale Poultry Flock (Harvey Ussery)

This may be the best “how to” book I have ever read, at least for manual work. Yes, I haven’t even started raising chickens (yet), so my base of knowledge for that praise is small. And yes, the book I read before this was the not-good “Keeping Chickens With Ashley English,” so after that, anything would seem good. But for a combination of clarity, useful information, complete coverage, and a coherent but rational philosophy, I don’t think you can beat this book.

A Year In Provence (Peter Mayle)

“A Year In Provence” is the meringue of books. It is cloyingly sweet, airily light, and totally insubstantial. I have no idea if it is “accurate,” with respect to the facts of the Provence of today, or of 25 years ago. It might be total fiction, for all I know. That doesn’t make it bad, though. It’s a reasonable way to spend an hour or two. It’s like watching a rom-com: sure, you won’t remember it, but at the time, it’s perfectly enjoyable. Same here.

Liberal Fascism (Jonah Goldberg)

“Liberal Fascism” is really a history book, not the book of political analysis I expected it to be. I didn’t love this book (written in 2007—apparently a 2009 version is updated to include talk about Obama), even though it’s famous among conservatives. I’m not sure why I didn’t love this book. Maybe it’s because despite the book’s aggressive thesis, it is over-careful not to give offense. Maybe I think its thesis is overstated. Maybe it’s because the strain of combining a complete history, intellectual analysis, and polemic regarding the American Left for the past century shows, in lacunae in the book. Or maybe it’s because the style of writing, which I would call “unflashy expository,” just isn’t compelling to me. Nonetheless, I still think the book is very much worth reading, because the history it relates is valuable to know.

The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism (Yuval Levin)

“The Fractured Republic” is a fantastically original book. It is very optimistic, yet clear-eyed, which is a rare combination. Most optimistic books about modern politics are also simplistic. They typically consist of vague and belligerent paeans demanding the recapture of America’s past. Yuval Levin’s book, on the other hand, is the very opposite. It is precise and even-handed. And far from demanding recapture of the past, Levin explicitly rejects any such attempt. At the same time, Levin believes that we as Americans, liberal and conservative, can jointly renew our society without retreading the past, and in this age, such optimism is no small thing.

The Three-Body Problem (Cixin Liu)

“The Three-Body Problem” is a science fiction novel, of the “hard” subgenre, that has received a great deal of attention. Much of that attention is due to a political tussle among science fiction fans, where some believe that various unworthy writings have been exalted by the establishment merely to make a political point about supposed under-representation by authors of certain types, including non-American authors. This book was nominated for the top awards in science fiction, and won the Hugo Award. Whether it “deserved” the Hugo I can’t say, having little basis for comparison in my own reading. But I can say the book is very good—with some non-trivial shortcomings.

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (Mary Beard)

“SPQR” is proof that it’s possible to write something interesting where thousands of books have gone before. The author, Mary Beard, an English classicist, has managed to write a compelling book covering most of Roman history, with enough detail to give the reader, whether new to Roman history or already well-versed, a complete picture, and enough color to give the reader reason to remember that detail.

The Turmoil (Booth Tarkington)

“The Turmoil” is a book little read nowadays, and would probably be a book never read except for Orson Welles. Its author, Booth Tarkington, was a famous Indiana writer of the early 20th Century. Nowadays, when literary life is dominated by coastal authors, or those who want to move to the coasts, and the ecosystem around them, and the Midwest is merely “flyover country,” to be ignored or denigrated, this seems odd. But it wasn’t that long ago that in all aspects of life, from literature to politics, the United States had much more diversity—that is, diversity in its real, non-bastardized, sense, of an organic system of differing people making different actual contributions to society. And in “The Turmoil,” the geographic and philosophical diversity of the author and the novel’s setting adds greatly to its interest to the modern reader.