Wednesday, April 30, 2008

LIBERAL FASCISM by Jonah Goldberg

Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, by super-conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg, is part history of fascism, part liberal roast.

Liberals, Goldberg says, have a tendency to unfairly use the word “fascist” to describe conservatives. “Fascism” and “fascist” are terms that carry a great deal of social stigma, yet as Goldberg so freely admits, they are also very difficult to define concretely. And here Goldberg is, throwing “fascist” back the other way.

These liberal fascists, he says, are “friendly fascists,” not evil, but still bad. To the liberals, he says, every aspect of life is politically significant. On this point, Goldberg notes similarities in ideology and policy between these “liberal fascists” and the old-time fascists. But so what? Fascism, as he’s said, is hard to define, and is not inherently good or evil (and can in fact be used for good or evil), so who cares?

Here’s the list of fascists Goldberg discusses: Mussolini, Hitler, Woodrow Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Hillary Clinton. While he gives a lot of factual information, Goldberg tends to overstate and over-simplify things to make his points more dramatic, and so we get some bad propaganda, along with some smears. He makes some legitimate arguments having to do with how the extreme left is trying to take the morality out of issues, but ultimately he’s so unabashedly biased as to be untrustworthy.

All of this continues to beg the question, “so what?” The ultra-left liberals certainly do crazy things and make crazy allegations, but so do the ultra-right conservatives. Why do we need a 400 page rebuttal to a ridiculous, silly position? Goldberg realizes that “so what?” is a legitimate question, and he addresses it at the beginning and the end, but never does a convincing job, and ultimately the book devolves into a slam on current liberals (Hillary) and a Bush apology. Don’t waste your time.


Sunday, April 27, 2008


Genghis Khan: Emperor of All Men is Harold Lamb’s biography of the great Mongol conqueror. In the West, Genghis Khan doesn’t seem to get half the attention that European conquerors like Napoleon and Alexander the Great did, even though Khan’s accomplishments are much more impressive, both in the sheer area conquered as well as the duration of the empire.

Lamb does an excellent job painting Genghis Khan, the thirteenth century warlord, as a survivor, charismatic leader, and brilliant military strategist. The amount of land he took with the number of troops he had is virtually unbelievable. More impressive is that he left something of a dynasty: his sons and grandsons ruled after him without squabbling amongst themselves. Alexander the Great, by contrast, was scarcely in his grave before there was factional conflict.

Lamb’s style is a bit dated (the book was originally published in the 1920s). His writing is lacking in punctuation. Many sentence fragments. And he doesn’t always have a good flow to his narrative. He jumps around at times and doesn’t satisfactorily flesh out certain things. More context would have been nice, as would have more and earlier background on the Mongol religion. But this is a short work, and on the whole, it’s is a great introduction to a massive historical figure that is being forgotten by the West.


Monday, April 21, 2008

HANNIBAL by Harold Lamb

Hannibal is Harold Lamb's biography of the Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca. Hannibal is an enigmatic figure. Most of what we know about him was recorded by his enemies, and Lamb has taken innumerable accounts into consideration.

This book chiefly covers the Second Punic War (218-201 B.C.). Hannibal crossed the Alps, a feat which became legend, and ran amok in Italy years, defeating all comers (and many Roman commanders tried and failed to defeat him). Lamb gives great attention to Hannibal versus Scipio Africanus. This book also covers Hannibal's return to Carthage and later exile to the Eastern Mediterranean.

Lamb's writing is dry at times, and Hannibal can seem like a textbook. But Lamb does a fantastic job of providing historical context, and he is excellent in his description of battles and strategy. He also does a solid job of showing the personalities of Hannibal and the various Roman commanders.

On the whole this is an excellent biography of Hannibal, an excellent history in general, and a good treatise on warfare of the day.


Friday, April 18, 2008

THE DARK TOWER by Stephen King

The Dark Tower is the seventh and final novel in Stephen King’s eponymous series. This is the longest book in the series by far, and it needs to be, after a bunch of nothing happened in Song of Susannah. After something of a slow start, the book picks up nicely, with a pace and urgency this series hasn’t seen in quite a long time. For the first time in a long time, the Dark Tower is suspenseful.

The Dark Tower also marks the expected appearances of a cavalcade of characters from King’s other works, as King (as he has stated) tries to tie practically his entire writing career together under the Dark Tower umbrella, and in that respect he does a fairly good job.

But The Dark Tower is far from perfect. This book is over the top in many ways – gruesome deaths and dismemberments, disgusting eating habits described in detail, and so forth. The “climaxes” at the end of the book are rather anticlimactic, as the resolution of the fates of three villains (Flagg, Mordred, and the Crimson King) are varying degrees of underwhelming. Many inexplicable and convenient developments occur, including but not limited to the handy teleportation seemingly available whenever needed. Deus ex machina is through the roof. King at one point even references his own use of it – and no, Mr. King, you don’t “hide it well.”

For the first time in the series, King shifts into first person narration here and there, and it’s extremely jarring. He mostly uses it to comment on or excuse what’s happening in the story: “Okay, someone’s about to die, it’s really sad, get ready, no, I don’t really want them to die either, but it’s out of my control, see?” In his author’s note, he again refuses to take responsibility, saying the story goes where it wants to. This is true to an extent, but King has always run down the field with it.

Many readers were no doubt upset by the fates of many long-running characters. But the fate of a character always remains completely within the author’s purview. If King says that’s what happened to Character A, then that’s what happened, and that’s the breaks. How a character meets his or her fate (and how it is portrayed) has a lot more to do with whether the writer did a good job than whether or not the author killed such-and-such a character.

As King himself says of this series in his author’s note: “I know that not been entirely successful.” This is quite true. But it has been successful more often than not, but not down the stretch, and not always when it counted.

All in all, The Dark Tower marks the end of an uneven, long-winded but worthwhile series that does not in any way compare to the classic epics like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (which King the character compares the Dark Tower series to at one point).


Saturday, April 12, 2008

SONG OF SUSANNAH by Stephen King

Song of Susannah is the sixth and penultimate novel in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. This is the shortest book we’ve had in this series for quite a while. And, as the characters are split up into three groups, we get less than 200 pages for each. Since King likes to move things along at a rather glacial pace, not a whole lot happens here.

Picking up where Wolves of the Calla left off, the characters disperse back to different times and places in twentieth-century America. Here they all mostly wander around for a while until they get to convenient stopping points that will (one hopes) give the last book an exciting beginning. The “cliffhanger” here is anything but. Like the entire Susannah-is-pregnant story arc, it’s hardly compelling (and it’s grown rather tiresome).

In Wolves of the Calla, King inserted himself into the Dark Tower world. Now he shows up as a character. While the reader’s initial impression of this is likely something along the lines of “Wow, how stupid,” like most things in this novel, it doesn’t matter one way or the other to the story, really, although King tries to tie together his writing career, life, the universe and everything with it. The book ends with a crypto-biographical diary from King the character which is, again, not particularly compelling.

This makes two poor entries in a row into the Dark Tower series. Song of Susannah is practically nothing but setup for the last book. On its own, it wouldn’t be worth bothering with.