Recently Read


Fathers and Sons - Ivan Turgenev



The Tyranny of Merit - Michael Sandel



A Time Of Gifts - Patrick Leigh Fermor



King Lear - William Shakespeare



Trial - Franz Kafka (trans. Mitchell)

Read as part of Hum10, a survey course of literature.



Communist Manifesto - Karl Marx (trans. Simon)

Read as part of Hum10, a survey course of literature.



Frankenstein - Mary Shelley

Read as part of Hum10, a survey course of literature.



Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man - Friedrich Schiller (trans. Wilkinson & Willoughby)

Read as part of Hum10, a survey course of literature.



Hamlet - William Shakespeare

Read as part of Hum10, a survey course of literature.



Inferno - Dante (trans. Hollander & Hollander)

Read as part of Hum10, a survey course of literature.



Symposium - Plato (trans. Nehamas & Woodruff)

Read as part of Hum10, a survey course of literature.



Medea - Euripides (trans. Svarlien)

Read as part of Hum10, a survey course of literature.



The Odyssey - Homer (trans. Wilson)

Read as part of Hum10, a survey course of literature.



The Awful German Language - Mark Twain



Capitalism and Freedom - Milton Friedman



Fighting Liberal - George W. Norris



De Legibus - Marcus Tullius Cicero



Hillbilly Elegy - J.D. Vance



From Cold War to Hot Peace - Michael McFaul



Destined For War - Graham Allison



Not All Dead White Men - Donna Zuckerberg

This was a really uncomfortable read—but it was a necessary one. Over the summer, I met with Dr. Alfonso Moreno, a Classics tutor at Magdalen College, and he noted his belief that Classics ought to be studied on its own merits and kept outside of the public sphere. I've written to the contrary in the past (See this blog post on why I study Classics), but Zuckerberg reveals a dirty underside to modern uses of the Classics. Dr. Moreno argued that, by justifying our own actions through the Classics and using it to support our modern narratives, we open the door for others to twist it for their own purposes, thus forcing debate about the Classics to grow politicized. He certainly has a point.



The Uses and Abuses of History - Margaret MacMillan

I read The Uses and Abuses of History before I read Not All Dead White Men, but I'm writing this review as a continuation. Macmillan argues a point similar to that of Dr. Moreno—that history can be damaging when brought into the political sphere. I am interested in the study of both history and the Classics, and these have challenged my understanding of historical and Classical study—both have been really important reads.



Preaching Power - Charles Witschorik

Before reading this, I knew nothing about the Catholic Church's discursive use of gender ideas, and I knew nothing about Mexican history. In fact, I'm not sure that I even knew that I wanted to learn more about these topics. Dr. Witschorik is my history teacher, so I must admit to some bias, but I found Preaching Power an engaging and fascinating read. Despite my meager background knowledge, I was able to follow along and gain a (in my opinion) reasonably detailed understanding of "Gender, Politics, and Official Catholic Church discourses in Mexico City, 1720-1875." At the same time, Preaching Power revealed more gaps in my knowledge, and presented further paths for possible exploration. Who knew that the development of discursive methods in the Church could be such a fascinating topic?



Mere Christianity - C.S. Lewis

I have not read very much (any) theology, but C.S. Lewis seemed like a fairly good place to start. His perspective as a convert is especially interesting as a method of understanding the logical progression of someone becoming interested in Christianity. I agreed with parts of his writing, but found other arguments on much shakier ground—I don't know much about pop theology, but would be interested in reading more (are there any responses to Lewis?).



De Re Publica - Marcus Tullius Cicero

I began reading De Re Publica in January, after attending a fascinating talk by Professor Margaret Graver at the 2022 Society for Classical Studies conference. This was the first Classical work which I read as a Loeb edition, and so I had to experiment with reading methods (indeed, I did not find very much guidance on how to read a Loeb online). At first, I read the book as normal, tackling the Latin text before testing my understanding by reading the English. After about three months of slow progress, however, I realized that this strategy of in-depth testing, though tremendous for my Latin skills, was detrminental to my understanding of the book as a whole. Thereafter, I began quickly reading the Latin text without untangling every gramattical structure, but aiming for a general and superficial understanding which I enriched through the English. This method is, I imagine, most similar to the process by which a native Latin speaker would read Cicero—though I am not certain that it will lead me to similar familiarity with the language.

Rambling aside, De Re Publica combines my interest in the Classics with my interest in philosophy and I am fascinated by it.



The Man in the High Castle - Philip Dick

I have to be honest, this wasn't the book that I was expecting when I picked up The Man in the High Castle. That's not necessarily a bad thing—but with the setup and background of the novel that I knew beforehand, I was picturing an action-packed, science-fiction-y story. The Man in the High Castle is not an action-packed, science-fiction-y book. Perhaps I should have read the back cover better: the novel is described as "breaking the barrier between science fiction and the serious novel of ideas."

It was a good book! I enjoyed Dick's focus on mostly ordinary characters, navigating a new and unfarmiliar world just as we are. I appreciate how he made me think about the fragile nature of time and how so much could go so differently. I just wish that I knew what to expect a bit better: a thought-provoking novel that just happens to be set in an alternate history.



Women & Power - Mary Beard

This was one of the best books I've read in a while. Beard presents a fascinating analysis of the historical ideas and literary depictions of misogyny. A month ago, I thought hard about why to study classics, concluding that we must ultimately use our knowledge of the classics to reform society. This book is exactly the sort of thing I had in mind: Beard examines our culture's pervasive sexism and traces its roots back to Ancient Greece and Rome in order to explain how to overcome and end it.



The Escape Artists - Neal Bascomb

There is something about the very particular genre of POW escape stories that is quite engaging. Perhaps it is the reminder that life could always be worse, perhaps the charm of the prisoners' wit, or maybe my amazement at their singular desire to escape and the incredible endurance required in their flights. Whatever it is, I devour this sort of book like a dessert. I used to read books like this fairly often, tales from Colditz or The Great Escape for the umpteenth time, but have tried to avoid them in favour of more impactful messages. But sometimes, it's nice to return to a predictable story and just enjoy the journey, and enjoy the boundless creativity and shocking ideas that these stories share. So maybe this book didn't leave me with a new lens on life, but I enjoyed Bascomb's writing (I was surprised to learn that he had written both The Perfect Mile and The Winter Fortress, two other books I have enjoyed which I hadn't before associated with each other).

This is not necessarily a comment on the writing, but moreso a comment on the entire genre of war stories: there is something bittersweet about how circumstances can separate people just as quickly as they were thrown together, and I'm always saddened by the thought that time moves on without a care for those living it, and that a group of escapers that I follow on paper may never have reunited all together again. I want to take the lesson from this that our relationships are transient and ephemeral, and we cannot take them for granted. But I suppose this may also be my personal emotions shining through, as I near the end of high school and as the class of which I've been a part for seven years prepares to disband.


2021 Reading in Review


The Screwtape Letters - C.S. Lewis

I was deeply affected by The Screwtape Letters. In Screwtape's letters, Lewis presents a novel perspective and creates a lens through which to view life and its tribulations. Especially thought-provoking to me was the techniques that Screwtape lays out by which he is able to pervert good intentions and sincere care and subtly instill negative ideas. This book is going on my repeat-read list—I think that there is still much to learn.



The Secret Rooms - Catherine Bailey

This is no doubt a well written peek into the world of early 20th century England. Bailey masterfully sets up the mystery of the missing letters of John, 9th Duke of Rutland. However, ultimately, the resolution of the mystery is of no importance. Bailey's findings did nothing to deepen my understanding of history—they simply cast light on the quibbling of a flawed family. I kept waiting for the startling revelation that the book seemed to promise—a revelation that never came.



Shakespeare in a Divided America - James Shapiro

I've always been fascinated by Shakespeare. I've had a deep-seated interest in American History. In Shakespeare in a Divided America, these two are combined. But this isn't just a history book: Shapiro applies Shakespeare to learn more about society in the present day, and to uncover issues that we may face.



Nebraska POW Camps - Melissa Marsh

This book is probably best used as a reference source—it was structured as a catalogue of various POW camps in Nebraska. Still, although the various camps ran together a bit when I read it straight through, I enjoyed this picture into the experiences of Axis POWs in America in the Second World War.



Bonnie Prince Charlie - Susan Maclean Kybett

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing

I play the bagpipes (along with the cello). Many of our popular tunes concern the Jacobite rebellions (the lyrics above come from Skye Boat Song, about Prince Charlie's escape from Skye after the Battle of Culloden). However, I've never studied Scottish history in depth, and the Jacobite rebellions are a complex topic. Thus, I was very excited to come across this biography of Prince Charlie in a local second-hand bookstore. Kybett claims to bring to light an updated understanding of Charles from her extensive study of the Stuart Papers. She certainly challenged many of the preconceptions that I had when beginning my reading (such as my considering Charles a heroic figure), and was quite convincing. That said, this is a contentious topic, and so I'm reserving full judgement until after I read other interpretations of the scanty evidence. Still, I enjoyed the novel way Kybett framed the Jacobite cause, and her analysis of the possible political motivations of the Stuarts (particularly James).



On the Clock - Emily Guendelsberger

I enjoyed Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, so I was very excited to read On the Clock, as an updated investigation into the conditions of today's low-wage workplace. Guendelsberger surpassed my expectations. Her narrative was accompanied by history, analysis, and humor (it's clear that she's a millenial).



Nightfall and Other Stories - Isaac Asimov

Asimov does not fail to provoke thought with this collection of stories. Short stories have an advantage over novels in sci-fi, in that they do not need to be of novel length—they can simply set up a unique idea and leave the reader thinking, without the requiremment for extraneous content. This collection serves as a demonstration of that: many stories would not fill a book, but are still valuable to read. Still, if the foundation of the story is lacking, then the story cannot adjust for that in narrative. Thus, there are (in my opinion) some duds in the book. However, I'd still highly recommend it.



The Rhetoric of Reaction - Albert Hirschman

Read my review in the "Most Influential" section



Circe - Madeline Miller

This was really a whirlwind. It's been several years since I read Song of Achilles, but I think Circe was better. Miller weaves together myths masterfully, driving home their interconnectedness, even across eras (something that never felt very real to me while studying). However, their interconnectedness highlights the divides between them—unstopping time. Hopefully I emotionally recover soon.



2001: A Space Odyssey - Arthur C. Clarke

This is a movie that has been on my to-watch list for a long time—but I never knew that there was a book as well. Indeed, my family was a bit flummoxed by the relationship between the two. Usually, the movie or book adaptation that follows the original is less good, so it's better to enjoy the original first. In the case of 2001, it would seem that the book is not the original, as the movie is the more popular of the two, but in reality the creation of the two occured synchronously. As Clarke elucidated in the introduction, the idea for the movie came first but the book was written before the screenplay in order to iron out the plot. Having not seen the movie, I cannot compare the two—but the book was certainly quite good. It reminded me a lot of Andy Weir's Project Hail Mary, which I also recently read (and loved). 2001 is a classic, so I should probably prepare to recognize more influences on modern sci-fi!



I, Robot - Isaac Asimov

I, Robot has been on my reading list for a long time—it was not only written by (one of?) my favorite sci-fi writers, but also it is a foundational book in artificial intelligence. Not until I began reading it, however, did I realize that it contains prominent philosophical themes (as the Philosophy Club president, I approve). Moreover, it is written mostly from the perspective of someone debugging a faulty robot—the coder in me had a lot of fun trying to solve the almost-puzzles presented in its chapters. I, Robot did seem like a bit of a departure from Asimov's style in Foundation and other short stories of his that I've read, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it.



The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis

"Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it."
- Dedication from Lewis to his Goddaughter Lucy

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe was the first book I ever read—on a day-long drive from New York to my family in Toronto, with no other entertainment. In the intervening decade and change, I've read a lot—but I have never reread it.

The book has an entirely different meaning to me, now. The fantastical land of Narnia remains, but there was so much more to discover, in hindsight. I see myself in the growing-up children and feel the bittersweet loss of leaving.

As a side note, my edition adds a lot to my reading experience. I don't know why my parents decided to allow each of my siblings to read it, but the book is a well-loved edition from 1970 with a cracked cover, a peeling spine, frail yellow pages, and an amazing smell. My sister has another version, required for school, which I found first—and it means so much less in its gloss and smooth shine.

In my initial search last night (after midnight), I found only this and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader from the version of the series that I originally read. I sincerely hope to find the others in the future. According to a shortlived experiment of cataloging my books (perhaps I'll post about that in the future), the others were in my room in November of 2018—other than The Horse and His Boy, which my brother informs me was left in a hotel years ago while he was reading it. Since then, my sister has also read the books, though, and there's no telling where they might be.

48 hours later note
I am instituting and writing a "48 hours later" note for this book because my mood has changed dramatically. That was the most severe case of post-book emotional turmoil that I've had in a really long time. It was the most important thing for me that night to find those original books, and I felt so hurt that The Horse and His Boy was lost. I no longer feel like that, but I really appreciate the skill with which Lewis is able to make his books appeal to a first-time reader and to a more experienced one. I also believe that the effect is doubled—for me—by the setting in wartime Britain. As a child, I loved the Enid Blyton series Famous Five. Though it has no specific time setting, it is also set roughly around that time. That series, though meant to be realistic, always seemed to me as if in a different universe—life has changed so much since their publication. Similarly, with Narnia, both "reality" and "fantasy" are worlds to create, imagine, build, and ultimately loose.



Project Hail Mary - Andy Weir

Two things: 1—so much for my science fiction break; and 2—wow, this was really good. I last read his other books several years ago, so this may not be the most fair comparison—but this book was my favourite. As is characteristic for Weir, the scientific basis was well thought out, making his writing more believable and tangible. The characters seemed a bit shallow at some times, but the plot was engaging and entertaining.



The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde

Wilde's tale of moral corruption seems especially relevant in the age of social media and the reveration of beauty.



The Three-Body Problem - Cixin Liu

Like so many other sci-fi books that I've read recently, The Three-Body Problem started out slow and somewhat confusingly—but it did not disappoint. About halfway through the book, all of the narratives fell together and many of the small, seemingly throwaway comments from earlier made sense applied to the newly revealed story. I'm sure that there's still more to discover, though, and I'm sure I'll enjoy rereading it and fitting more together in future readings.

Some of the prose, though, seemed a little clunky and off in some way to me. That said, it did not detract from the book overall. Still, I wish I could have read the book in Chinese! I think there were several references I missed due to my lack of language ability/background cultural knowledge. I look forward to reading the other books in the series (probably after a short break from sci-fi)!



Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

Brave New World has been on my reading list for several years, and my recent sci-fi streak seemed like a perfect time to read it. I enjoyed Huxley's premise and (most) of his writing. Early on, Huxley intertwined three different conversations and narratives, which, though I appreciated the effect of demonstrating the mental chaos and turmoil of one of the characters, also meant that I read it four times just to understand superficially.

I was planning to read Brave New World after 1984, so I'll compare the two. Ultimately, I prefer 1984. Each creates a full and thought-provoking society, but 1984 feels much more real to me than Brave New World. Perhaps that's a reflection on society, on our smart and connected devices in every room.



Foundation Trilogy - Isaac Asimov

After working through the original Dune trilogy, I just had to return to Foundation! I had forgotten some of the details of the twists, which I appreciated encountering (I often remembered the existence of such twists, just not their nature, which raised my anticipation and had me racking my brain for the answer—I would say this made the reveals even more satisfying). Though the first Dune book rivals any of the Foundation trilogy books, I preferred the Foundation trilogy as a whole to the Dune trilogy. As I write in my comments for the latter two Dune books, they each required me to become attached to learn about and become attached to a new universe with (pretty much) new characters, and thus felt very different from each other. Foundation, on the other hand, had a clear progression between books.



Children of Dune - Frank Herbert

After reading Dune Messiah, I saw some reviews claiming that Children of Dune pulled the series together. I would not say that that was the case. None of the latter two books were bad, per se, but they seemed to shift genres and, although they followed many of the same people, those people were not the same characters. That is, of course, intentional, but it required buy-in to appreciate. Had I been enthralled by the universe, these books would have been great. But I had not, and rather was attached to the characters.

These three books are not the entire Dune series (there are three more books by Frank Herbert and many more by his son, Brian Herbert), but Children of Dune was followed by a five-year-long gap before the publication of God Emperor of Dune. Thus, this represents the end of the original trilogy and so also of the Paul Arrakis trilogy. I probably will read the other books later, but I've decided not to continue with the series at this time.



Dune Messiah - Frank Herbert

I did not find Dune Messiah to be as good as the original Dune. I disliked the politicing and the sense of some Deus ex Machina elements. I also disliked how much the characters and setting changed (see my Children of Dune review for more thoughts on that.



Masquerade - Tivadar Soros

I've been very interested in Esperanto lately, so I decided to reread the book that introduced it to me in the first place: Masquerade. I enjoyed reading Soros's account of his experiences under Nazi occupation, though I felt at some points as if he trivialized the horror of occupation.



Dune - Frank Herbert

I loved Dune's exquisite worldbuilding, though it slowed the first 50 or so pages (a theme with Herbert in the later books as well). Dune didn't feel particularly original to me (due to its great influence on sci-fi works that I've been exposed to before it), yet it was still a great read.



Yeager - Chuck Yeager and Leo Janos

I used to be very interested in the space race—reading books such as We Seven and Moon Shot. But, despite his importance in the advancement of flight, I never read much about Chuck Yeager beyond his record-breaking flight. I didn't actually know that he had an autobiography until it was recommended to be shortly after his passing. Yeager's autobiography reads like the books I used to read about World War II flying. His writing was very direct and easy to read, and allowed me to learn more about Yeager as a person. I recommend it to anyone who, like me, did not know that an autobiography existed.



A Promised Land - Barack Obama

A Promised Land has been on my to-read list for about a month now (since I got it as part of a Secret Santa gift exchange). It's a pretty dense book—it took me a little over a week to get through—detailing Barack Obama's political career and first term as president (I wonder if there will be another incoming about the second term). I was too young at the time of his presidency to understand politics, so I really enjoyed both his explanations of the issues and his steps towards solving them. In some ways, the book also served as a way for Obama to justify hard decisions that he made, and, while I didn't love how his explanations sometimes seemed like political moves, I enjoyed reading about the different factors that he had to weigh. His writing made me understand the complexity of the different factors that come into play in politics, and his descriptions of the party relationships revealed to me a new dimension of strategy of which he needed to be mindful.



The Death of Caesar - Barry Strauss

In painstaking detail, Strauss shines light on the political climate of 44 B.C., focusing on the motivations, tensions, and people involved in Caesar's assassination on the Ides of March. In vivid prose, he brings to life the complex networking of Roman politics—a dramatic departure from the dry and factual tone of the textbooks which I am accustomed to reading in conjunction with the JCL.

Indeed, Strauss adeptly balances intellectual rigor with broad accessibility, managing to make pages fly by without diluting their substance. I particularly enjoyed his blend of Livian day-by-day analysis in the immediate aftermath of the assassination with more episodic construction, a technique that allows him to paint broad strokes and highlight trends while still focusing deeply on pivotal moments.

Although a solid 4.5 for me, I recognize that the book satisfies a certain niche, and so I've given it a 3 overall. However, if you're still reading this review, I urge you to read the book! With this book (the first of his that I’ve read), Strauss has earned a place among my go-to classical historians such as Mary Beard and Patrick Hunt. I look forward to reading his other works!
Review also published on the Harker Book Blog.



Thinking With Type - Ellen Lupton

When I was creating the design for this site, my sister told me that it was lacking something. Perhaps add some colour, she suggested. It turns out that what it was lacking was a good font—something that I hit upon with some trial and error, several late nights, and a good portion of luck. Reading Thinking With Type has given me the tools to better understand why.



A Pilgrimage to Eternity - Timothy Egan

The summer after eight grade, I went on a thousand kilometer bike trip (from the Alps to Rome) with my mom. We followed the Via Francigena, a medieval pilgrimage route from Canterbury. That fall, Timothy Egan released his newest book, A Pilgrimage to Eternity, about his experiences walking the path. I've read some of Egan's other books, The Worst Hard Time and The Big Burn, and I really enjoy his profound but exoteric style of making prose intellectual and enjoyable (similar to Malcolm Gladwell and Michael Lewis).

Most Influential


A Time Of Gifts - Patrick Leigh Fermor



The Rhetoric of Reaction - Albert Hirschman

This book, I believe, merits a place in my most influential books—the first addition in several years. I picked up the book on a whim, but was quickly engaged in the timely and relevant analysis (yet it was published thirty years ago, in 1991!). Still, Hirschman's discussion on the debate concerning the Welfare State is still absolutely relevant today—along with such gems as, explaining what he hopes the book will obviate: "it can easily happen then that [political parties] become walled off from each other—in this sense democracy continuously generates its own walls." Hirschman engaged my interest in history, philosophy, and political science in his exploration of political rhetoric from the 18th century, in the process teaching me much. I hoped to learn about the stratagems of conservative messaging—and that I did—but Hirschman's application of his analytical techniques and his identification of similar themes in progressive thought, too, added more depth and nuance to my political views. Hirschman has significantly changed the way I see government and politics.

Along with The Swerve, I highly recommend this book to anyone reading this!



The Swerve - Stephen Greenblatt

I don't have any one favourite book—how could I ever choose a book above all the others that I've read and loved? However, the most influential book to me is The Swerve, by Stephen Greenblatt. I first read The Swerve in 5th grade, en route to a hockey tournament. I had previously been interested in American history (particularly the Revolution and World War II), but The Swerve sparked my interest in philosophy and convinced me to take Latin the next year. I've loved Latin and have studied Roman History in depth, and a large part of that was set into motion by reading this book.



The Codebreakers - David Kahn

I have two copies of The Codebreakers. One torn and beat up, the other pristine. I first read The Codebreakers over the course of a month or two in third grade, voraciously devouring it each morning on the subway to school and at night when I was supposed to be asleep (I would sit on a box in my cupboard and dangle a small light from the hanger). That was the first copy. My second copy was signed by David Kahn himself, who happened to be around on the day my family visited the NSA cryptology museum. It's fascinating to me how I can trace my interests evolving through history—from the Revolutionary War, to the World Wars, to cryptology and the Enigma (with a branch off to the Cold War), to computing history. Each step was somewhat serendipitous—I originally picked up books on cryptology to understand the inner workings of the Enigma as a part of my World War II reading, but left with much more knowledge and an increased interest.

In Progress

A Mathematician's Lament - Paul Lockhart

Next Up

Ebony and Ivy - Craig Steven Wilder
Britain After Rome - Robin Fleming
Texts, Editors, and Readers - Richard Tarrant
La Hobito - J.R.R. Tolkien
Imagined Communities - Benedict Anderson

To-Get (Eventually)

Caste - Isabel Wilkerson
A Promised Land - Barack Obama

Classics
Anabasis - Xenophon
Encheiridion - Epictetus
Epistles - Seneca the Younger
Meditations - Marcus Aurelius

Classics in Translation
If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho - Anne Carson

History
Schliemann of Troy - David Traill
On Writing History from Herodotus to Herodian - John Marincola
Cannae: Hannibal's Greatest Victory - Adrian Goldsworthy
Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland - G. W. S. Barrow
The Myth of the Jacobite Clans - Murray Pittock
First Principles - Thomas Ricks
The Folly and The Glory - Tim Weiner
The Library Book - Susan Orlean
Chronicles: Volume One - Bob Dylan
Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen
Dreaming the Beatles - Rob Sheffield

Speculative Fiction
Lest Darkness Fall - L. Sprague de Camp
Das Marsprojekt - Wernher von Braun
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress - Robert Heinlein
The Caves of Steel - Isaac Asimov

Tech
Permanent Record - Edward Snowden
IF THEN - Jill Lepore
Thinkpad: A Different Shade of Blue - Deborah A. Dell
How the ThinkPad Changed the World—and Is Shaping the Future - Arimasa Naitoh
Rethinking Consciousness - Michael Graziano

Misc
Climbing Parnassus - Tracy Lee Simmons