Wednesday, August 12, 2009

This Week at the Library (12/8)

Books this Update:
  • Gold, Isaac Asimov
  • Aristotle's Children, Richard Rubenstein
  • Footprints of God, Greg Iles
  • Anthropology for Dummies, Cameron Smith
  • Securing Democracy, ed. Gary Gregg III
  • Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
This was a well-rounded week, I think: history, politics, essays, short stories, intelligently-written novels, and a guide to anthropology. Isaac Asimov's Gold was first, consisting of essays relating to and stories with the theme of science fiction. I've not seen the essays or short stories in any other collection, and they were classic Asimov: funny, charming, and intelligent. In a few of the stories he pushes his creative envelope: one in particular sees a robot named Cal realize that there is something driving him that may override the Three Laws: the yearning to create.

Aristotle's Children is a work of medieval and church history that focuses on the effect of Aristotelian thinking in the Catholic church's ever-evolving theology. It's a very readable narrative featuring characters like Thomas Aquinas and Peter Abelard prominently. Its success may be limited by its topic: the intellectual life of the Catholic church isn't a topic that enjoys a wide readership.

Greg Iles' Footprints of God is a gripping science fiction and fantasy thriller that builds off of the US Government's attempts to create a superintelligent computer -- one that combines the processing speed of a supercomputer with the creativity and reasoning abilities of the human brain. When main character David Tennant and his friend Dr. Fielding attempt to suspend the project so that side-effects of the projects' human testing can be investigated, Dr. Fielding suddenly dies of a stroke -- and Tennant is given a strong impression by his coworkers that if he doesn't play nice, he will be next. In no time at all, Tennant is running through the woods being chased by government helicopters while having dreams that he is Jesus or God. Iles combines science fiction with metaphysical speculation while doing both well. I enjoyed more than most of Iles' works to date.

Anthropology for Dummies is an introduction to the obvious field. Like most for Dummies books, it is heavily organized and written informally, introducing the reader to the field itself as well as to its areas of interest: biology, language, history, sociology, and a litany of other fields relating to the study of humanity. The book was very helpful and nicely written: I may purchase it in the future for my personal library.

In order to determine how the Electoral College functioned, I checked out a book of essays intended to explain its function to Americans like myself who have very little idea of what it was meant to do or how it works. I was particularly interested in the role of delegates. The book was very informative -- a feat easily done considering how little I knew on the subject. The essays do their job well, explaining both the College's function as it was meant at its inception and now after reforms have made the United States more democratic than it was in its beginnings.

Lastly, I read Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, a science fiction novel set in a dystopian world where human happiness is pursued at the expense of human culture. Although it does have a story, there's no strongly developed plot that I saw and I suspect the book functions more as a peek into a world meant to raise questions about our own than it does as an entertaining story.

Pick of the Week: Gold, Isaac Asimov.

Next Week:
  • The Essential Koran, the heart of Islam : An introductory selection of readings from the Qur’an; Thomas Cleary. I'm reading this for cultural literacy purposes.
  • History of the Arab Peoples, Albert Hourani. This will give me context for the above read, although I had planned on checking it out for itself.
  • Dolphins, Jacques Yves-Cousteau. Back in 2007 I read his Whales.
  • The Venus Throw, Steven Saylor. You may remember me reading a number of Saylor's historical fiction mystery novels set in republican Rome: it's been a while, but I'm returning to them.
  • The Force Unleashed, Sean Miller. A novelization of a video game, although not one I've played.

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