Book Review: Earning the Rockies: How Geography Shapes America's Role in the World

Earning the Rockies: How Geography Shapes America's Role in the World by Robert D. Kaplan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book sure comes away with a lot of quotable one liners.

I liked the concept that Kaplan was going for here, the idea of chronicling America's geography and influence upon its place in the world. The final execution though seems to be all over the place.

The first third of the book comes across as an almost "Ken Burns style" historical discussion on the history of the country. I found this early section the most interesting, with its invocation of the "Great American Frontier". Bernard DeVoto was mentioned several times (which makes me want to go read his books) and there is an almost romanticized portray of America's growth.

The tone shifts, almost suddenly, to a modern day narrative of Kaplan then driving across America from east to west to describe the importance of the rivers, natural resources and the trade impacts of the interstate highway system. The sudden shift was a bit jarring as was the change from a historical narrative to a more modern one.

The final leg of the book then shifts once again to discuss geopolitical conflicts and the U.S. military and U.S. Imperialism. At times Kaplan infers to the impacts of geography on other nations and I think he was trying to illustrate how their geography has influenced their growth compared to the United States'. He doesn't go into enough detail on other nations' geography to bring the message home though. China, India and Russia are only briefly mentioned, their rivers specifically, but there is no deeper discussion about their natural resources, political divides or varying climates to counter against what he states for the U.S.

The final section also comes across with a pro-imperialist message, describing that the world economy, culture, etc, are the way they are because of America's military might and geopolitics. I don't believe his insights are incorrect, but he doesn't take much time to explore any of the counter points on the imperialist agenda. The message again comes across as a bit altruistic.

Each of these three sections were fairly interesting on their own, and should probably be expanded to their own books. I just felt that they didn't quite come together with cohesion as a single unit very effectively.

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Book Review: Ode to Kirihito

Ode to Kirihito by Osamu Tezuka
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interesting...

That is how I would describe this work. This is a strange story about a doctor who is researching a disease. The story then unfolds with betrayal and corruption in the medical world of Japan. At the same time our main character is taken on an emotional and physically brutal trip through several countries enduring the bigotry of the disease he has caught.

The cultural sentimentalities come across strange at times, dated even. There was a passage early on in the book where a female lead character is raped and no one seems to care. The perpetrator, whom she knew, just walked away and she gave into it as if she was supposed to. It was odd to me and actually unbelievable.

The artwork was extremely well done though and at 800 pages has to be one of the longest graphic novels I have ever read. I won't put myself in the camp of "masterpiece" as others state, but it was a good book.

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Book Review: The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, I don't know quite how to rate this book. There were a lot of things I liked but there were also a number of things that pulled me out of the story.

Audiobook
Let's start off with the audiobook itself. The audiobook was really well produced. It was read by Philip Pullman and fully cast with actors, resulting in a pretty immersive listening experience. Some of the characters in the book came across better than others, but most were quite good.

Philip Pullman also did an excellent job as the narrator and he has quite a good reading voice.

The Story
The story left me a bit mixed. I felt that there were too many instances of the narrative had to be resolved by a "deus ex machina", where Lyra just happened to have the right tool, or set of words to get her out of a situation. The alethiometer was a really cool device in the story, but often times was just too powerful of a plot device for Lyra.

Lyra's character also really left me mixed at times. I liked that she was portrayed as a strong female protagonist, but she sometimes swung from a helpless child less than her age, to someone who had the intelligence to outwit most of the adults around her. I was able to believe the latter, but the former felt out of place for the character that Pullman developed.

Most of the supporting cast I truly enjoyed. They were well developed and people you could love our hate truly based upon their character. Lyra's parents we come to find out are absolutely crazy. I enjoyed their insanity, but I did have a bit of trouble trying to understand how they fell in love to begin with. Their personalities seemed so far apart and they were insane for different reasons.

This was a pretty solid book, but I wasn't quite "wowed" by the hype that has proceeded it. I am not sure if I am going to go onto the second book in the series.

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