The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain 1649 – 1815
By: R.A.M. Rodger
First of all, if you see this book in the bookshelves of the British History section, do not be alarmed. It’s a thick book, granted, but a lot of that stuff is actually maps, portraits, appendicies filled with rates and statistics and so forth. I saw this book for the first time a few months ago and I was immediately enthralled; it certainly looked like a comprehensive book about the British Navy, even though it only covered around two centuries (this is the second book in his series; the first book is entitled Safeguard of the Sea, which I have yet to get). And after slowly getting through my reading list and finally getting around to it, it is definitely a comprehensive history of the British Navy. Each chapter focuses on a particular aspect of the Navy: Operations (the hardcore, traditional bit that talks about what the navy did when, the battles it faced, etc.), Administration (the organizational aspects of it, often linked with what was going on politically in Britain), Social History (later subdivided to the seamen and the officers; discusses where these navy officers were coming from, their lives aboard these shipsm etc.) and Ships (the actual ships themselves, the design and engineering of them). It reads like a textbook essentially but it’s not boring to go through. Rodger has really done an amazing job in researching and bringing together all these strands to present a clear and concise history of the navy and its impact on British History and its success in the world. He is correct to say that you can’t study British History without understanding the navy’s role in contributing to this rich history, just as you can’t study navy history by itself; both are intwined in this case and the stories and the events he brings forward in this book prove that this premise is certainly the case. What is also amazing about this book is that he not only discusses British History but he also brings in Russian, French, Dutch and other histories into the book, comparing Navy Admiralty systems and ship designs, which is certainly useful to draw an idea of how the British Navy was in the late 17th century and into the beginning of the 19th century. If you’re interested in the British Navy (as I am), then this book is an essential read.
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The Bourne Ultimatum
By: Robert Ludlum
In keeping with the fact that the movie is coming out in a week, I finally got around to reading the book (I have this thing for making sure my book covers match; hence I couldn’t simply get the paperback edition, it had to be the one with the movie covers). From all the three original books about the assassin named Jason Bourne, this is by far the most exciting and the most intriguing. Simply put, I found it to be the best of the three. The stakes are higher this time around: Carlos is still out to get Jason Bourne, the man who rivals his title as the best of the best. This time Jason Bourne/David Webb must go out there and end the cat-and-mouse game one and for all, for the sake of his wife and his two children. This is constantly on his mind, no matter how hard the entity known as Jason Bourne tries to push David Webb and all his concerns down to his subconscious (again). And not only that, but Jason’s not exactly young and hale as before, which was much to my surprise…kind of; we’re used to seeing Matt Damon as Jason Bourne and in the books we forget that time has passed between major events. By this book, Bourne/Webb is actually fifty years old, and he’s constantly reminded about it throughout the book, which sort of adds to some level of comedy to it. But he’s still deadly and his trail to catch Carlos has him jumping throughout countries. This entire book is just a thrill-ride; Bourne is constantly hindered by the politics going on back in the US, especially when his friend and colleague Alex Conklin discovers there’s something fishy going on in the clandestine operations department and you don’t know who you could really trust. But there’s also some lighter moments to relieve you from the constant suspense, which is always welcome and in a way, I don’t remember it being there in the previous books. Also, at this point, we don’t see a lot of borderline-melodramatic exchanges that go on in Bourne/Webb’s head, which we saw a lot of in the past, particularly with The Bourne Supremacy. I suppose that has a lot to do with the fact that Webb acknowledges the need to have Bourne around to stop Carlos and he knows the divide between Bourne and Webb now. It’s a great read with a fantastic cast of secondary characters, a lot of intricate politiking and mind games, and the end is just insane. Definitely recommended, especially if you’re into this genre.
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The Devil and Miss Prym
By: Paulo Coelho
It’s funny that this is the second novel in a row I’ve read dealing with the devil in some way, shape or form. In any case, this novel follows the tradition Paulo Coelho has made in previous books about undergoing a journey of sorts to self-discovery about some aspect of the human condition. This novel is no different, perhaps devling a bit more into the morality of humanity. I was surprised to learn that this book was the final book in this “Seventh Day trilogy”, which comprised also of “Veronika Decides to Die” and “By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept” (books I have—had I known they were a trilogy, I would’ve re-read the other two mentioned, even though they are not connected by any particular character). If “Veronika Decides to Die” had a lot to do with the person dealing with herself in the world and “By the River Piedra…” had to do with the person dealing with their significant other, then this book has a lot to do with the person dealing with the community they are connected to. The story is simple but the questions it raises are profound and quite relevant. If there’s anything that’s somewhat different, it’s the absense of a strong dialogue between an individual and the other spirit so-to-speak—that is to say, it’s there, and the stranger and Miss Prym do have discussions with this menacing voice inside of them, but it’s not as strong as in “By the River Piedra…” with Pilar and the Other where it almost takes over. Here it’s more subtle, which is nice because it allows the exchanges between the community members to take a more prominent role. This novel also shows the contradictions that exist within human beings and the choices that we are often confronted with. All in all, a quick but fascinating and introspective read in the manner of Paulo Coelho.
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The Master and Margarita
By: Mikhail Bulgakov
I’ve been trying to figure out how to go about this review because this is a fairly complex novel. Why? Simply because it’s crazy, it’s insane, there’s a lot going on, at times it’s chaotic and there’s obviously a lot of social commentary underpinning the entire plot. My understanding of Soviet society during the Stalinist period (in which this novel was written) is minimal at best (I’m only studying it in-depth this coming school year) so I can’t really comment on that portion of the novel, but the fact that he was able to do it amidst such an intricate storyline is astounding. There are perhaps, from my understanding, three different plots going on throughout the novel: the first one, which becomes evident a few pages into the novel is the backdrop of Moscow and the Soviet people and their experiences with the devil lurking all over town. All these characters weave in and out that it’s hard to keep track at times but they all are affected somehow by the devil’s presence. The second plot has to do with the story of Pontius Pilate and his role in the death of a rabbi, Yeshua in the novel. This story is closely linked to the final plot that is tied to the title of the novel, the Master and Margarita, and their relationship amidst the chaos initiated by the devil’s presence and their struggle to remain together. I wondered throughout Book Two was whether or not the writer, Bulgakov, had infused some parts of his personality as a writer observing the tyranny of the Stalinist period, into their the poet, Ivan Homeless, or in the Master. The Master would make more sense, burdened by his novel that he believes brought him into his current state, wanting to burn the manuscript and all. Nonetheless, it is an interesting novel so long as you keep up…I was terribly amused by the devil’s tom cat, Behemoth. I will have to revist this novel sometime next year after I gain more understanding of the period to draw whatever criticisms or observations Bulgakov inserted into this novel.
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