Monthly ArchiveMay 2005

Non-fiction 19 May 2005 15:33

Down Under

coverDown Under
Bill Bryson

An excelent guide to the “off the beaten path” parts of Australia, this book is not your regular travel diary. Bill Bryson visits all state capitals of Australia (except Hobart), but where he really shines is in his descriptions of “small town Australia”. He takes us to obscure attractions all over the country (like the Big Red Lobster somewhere in Western Australia, and the Giant Worm Museum in regional Victoria) and describes in amusing details what is extraordinary (or not) about them.

The book is filled with snippets about Australian history and folklore, with a fair amount of the curious events that seem to be so common in this dry continent. The author seemed, however, overly interested in the many ways one can get killed by the local fauna. Not a chapter goes by without repeated mentions of the poisonous and/or sharp-toothed animals that seemingly infest Australia: box jellyfishes, crocodiles, funnel-web spiders, blue-ringed octopusses, various snakes (of the ten most dangerous snakes in the world, ten are Australian, according to him), sharks and so on.

He also goes at lenght on the dangers of the country itself: dryness, heat, large unpopulated spaces, dangerous sea currents… But, despite the fact that the local fauna, flora and geography seem to be interested mostly in killing everyone they can, he thinks this is a great country, and his descriptions of the places he saw, people he met and things he did help you see Australia through his eyes. It is a very funny book (laugh-out-loud funny), and a great read. I’ve added several locations to my list of “places to visit” based on this book.

And, yes, this is a great country.

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Fiction 07 May 2005 13:33

Atlas Shrugged

coverAtlas Shrugged
Ayn Rand

It was not my first time reading this book and, honestly, there’s not I can say much about that hasn’t been said millions of times already.

This (quite long) story is set in a fictional America, apparently at some time in the 40s. The United States are a strong industrial nation that is crumbling to pieces, following the path of most other countries in the globe. The main character, Dagny Taggart, is the driving force behind the most important railroad of the country, Taggart Transcontinental. We follow her struggle against everything that tries to take her railroad, and the country as a whole, apart: mindless bureaucrats, corrupt politicians, intellectuals with not a shred of intellect, brainwashed workers. And an unknown force that is putting out every single valuable mind in the country.

We watch as oil producers, car manufacturers, steel foundries and other industries are taken out, one by one, until the mystery of what is stopping the motor of the country is revealed.

More than simply a fictional book, this is a philosophical one. Ayn Rand uses (and abuses) monologues to present her ideas and how they relate to the events that unfold in the book. You may feel tempted to skim through some of the longer “speeches” (one of them is over 50 pages long), but that would take out much of the value of this book.

It’s not light reading, in any sense of the expression: this book has over 1,000 pages of frequently dense material. Well worth a read, even if you don’t agree with everything (or even anything) the author believes in. After some chapters, you will start to find parallels between events in the book and events in the daily news.

For people who don’t feel like tackling such a hard book, Anthem, by the same author, has a much lighter introduction to the same philosophical ideas, and might show whether you’d be interested in the longer work.

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