Go Ahead — Read A Book!
Borders is gone, and Barnes & Noble is teetering. Publishers perish weekly. Even more troubling, the percentage of people in society who read books at all is falling dramatically. Readers today are throwbacks, relics of a lost age. I guess you know where I stand on that. Relics UNITE! Here’s some fuel for your fire, my fellow pariahs!
Gates Of Fire
By Steven Pressfield
During the 1st Marine Division’s march up to Baghdad in 2003, it seemed every platoon had a dog-eared, beaten up, jealously-guarded copy of this book. While it’s perfectly natural that modern Marines would find inspiration in a novel about the epic battle of Thermopylae, at which 300 selected Spartans and their allies stood against a million-man Persian army, the effect went far beyond being a simple “moto-booster.”
Lance corporals discussed the Lacedaemonian martial culture with lieutenant colonels; grunt sergeants hashed over Spartan tactics and physical training; staff officers studied the logistics of the 300 chosen to stand and die between the Gates of Fire.
And there were the questions which so puzzled the Persian emperor Xerxes: What was the source of the Spartans’ iron discipline? Why, faced with certain death and offered their lives if they would only lay down their arms, would they respond “Molon labe!” – Come and take them! In this book you’ll find the answer.
Bolstered by exhaustive research, Pressfield tells the story of the Spartans and their definitive stand through the fictional character of Xeones, a helot “support troop” who is, miraculously, the lone Greek survivor of the battle. Though the battle scenes are detailed and horrific, they’re only part of this brilliantly written book. The accuracy of Pressfield’s research is such that Gates of Fire is a teaching resource at Annapolis, West Point, Quantico and the Virginia Military Institute.
The Story Of The Malakand Field Force
By Winston Churchill
Reading the first 50 pages of this book you will gain a better understanding of life, warfare and society in the Afghan-Pakistani frontier area than you might from studying any 10 textbooks on those subjects printed in the past decade. That may seem like a rash statement, but I’ll stand by it, and you can be the judges. Though it was written over a century ago, you’ll find the core dynamics—now called “socio-political factors”—are virtually unchanged in that region. And if you’ve never read the earliest works of Britain’s 2-time Prime Minister, you’re in for a rare treat.
Just remember as you read Malakand, that it was penned by Churchill as a 23-year-old cavalry subaltern of the 4th Hussars, and not after decades of analysis and reflection. He wrote it literally while fighting in a mountain campaign against raiding rebellious Pathan tribes in the form of letters to the London Daily Telegraph, quickly editing them into book form at the cavalry barracks in Bangalore before dashing off to fight as a lancer leftenant in the Sudan.
Beyond his accounts of battles and skirmishes, I think you’ll delight in Churchill’s sharp, analytical observations of the flora and fauna, folkways, geology and topography, reflecting his classical education and extraordinary literary skills. Who? That portly old cigar smokin’ dude in the funny round hat? Yeah, that Winston Churchill; the lion of the Battle of Britain.
The World Without Us
By Alan Weisman
This might be the strangest—and most interesting—non-fiction book you’ve ever read. If you’ve ever wondered how hardy little weeds can shatter slabs of concrete, you’ll be quoting passages to your pals and looking at your entire industrialized world in a completely different light.
After reading Weisman’s study on the amazing and almost inexplicable resurgence of nature in the depopulated, contaminated area of the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster, an editor called him and asked, “What would happen if humans disappeared everywhere?”
Weisman explains in detail what you can expect when man takes his hand off the throttle of civilization. Seen from a multi-disciplinary scientific viewpoint, well written in layman’s language, it’s fascinating stuff.
How long would our skyscrapers, subway systems, plastic bags and swimming pools last, and how would they disintegrate? In many ways, man’s presence keeps animals from interacting normally with plant life, and forms of plant life from competing with each other. Without us, who wins and who loses, and how?
Some people can’t imagine a world without Starbucks. Weisman knows what happens in a world without us.
Seabiscuit: American Legend
By Lauren Hillenbrand
Why review a book about a horse? Because it’s not about a horse; it’s about Americans; about fighting on when the ref has counted you out; being beaten up but unbeaten. In 1938, as Americans were pulling their muddied boots out of the Great Depression and war clouds gathered over Europe, three names dominated US newspapers. Adolf Hitler came in third in total mentions. Franklin Delano Roosevelt came in second. A runty, wheezing, written-off horse named Seabiscuit was number one.
The Biscuit came from good stock, but experts concluded his genetic line had obviously bled out. His gait was so bad it was described “like he’s swatting flies as he gallops.” He was sold cheap. The Biscuit developed a bad temper to go with his low-class looks.
Seabiscuit was rescued from death by a ragged old cowboy-turned-trainer whose world had been destroyed by barbed wire. He convinced a Depression-busted businessman to take a chance, and hired a losing jockey who had been abandoned at a racetrack at 15. After a miserable time-trial, the cowboy decided “They got him so screwed up running around in a circle that he’s forgot what he was born to do.” He was taken off the track, given his head—and the runt remembered.
Always coming from behind, Seabiscuit blew those “better horses” into the weeds, and America’s working-class discovered their hero. The “penniless” pooled their pennies and came to watch Seabiscuit run. Poor folks crowded the tracks, lined the fences and climbed trees. When a quarter of Americans lived in their vehicles and in migrant camps, thousands came to see—hope.
On Nov. 1, 1938, half the businesses in America closed for a half day. Over 40 million people—one-third of all Americans—huddled around radios. Seabiscuit and War Admiral, “the world’s finest racehorse,” faced off at Pimlico.
The Biscuit just didn’t have the legs to run against War Admiral—so instead, he ran with his heart. He won by four lengths. The nation recovered.
Read the book and see the movie. It’s available for rent. And remember what you were born for. Connor OUT.
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