I've been reading a lot of good books lately. Thought I'd try my hand at reviewing them. :) (Warning: plot spoilers)
"The World is Flat" by Thomas Freidman:
Although a few years old, this book is an important contribution to scholarship on globalization and its effects, especially since it is written in an entertaining and not too scholarly way. It is accessable to almost any English speaker, and contains important arguments and explanations about the effect of free trade and outsourcing, on both America and the world. To me, the most important point Freidman makes is that outsourcing can and should be beneficial to America. Instead of protecting "American" jobs, outsourcing frees up companies to be more efficient, and therefore hire more people in more skilled and mentally-stimulating jobs. The challenge globalization poses for America is to step up and innovate, work hard and be creative in the new fields. Freidman points out that America has, throughout its history, led the world in innovation, but the recent trend to protectionism and the dertermination to protect traditional industry is stifling the economy. That, and the insufficient education system. Protectionism in the form of tariffs will cause companies to go out of business, and the jobs will be lost anyway. What is needed instead, Freidman says, is an investment in worker re-training, social safety nets, and better education. And national leadership to spark the creativity and innovation of the country. Everyone should read this book, to understand the forces shaping today's world and to see past political rhetoric.
"The Sun Also Rises" by Ernest Hemingway
This novel, based in Paris and Spain in the early 1900s, follows wealthy friends who spend their nights partying and having affairs. During the summer, the narrator Jake Barnes heads to Spain to watch the bullfights and running of the bulls in Pamplona, joined by his former lover Brett Ashley, her fiance Mike, Barnes' friend Bill and Robert Coen, who is hopelessly in love with Ashley. During the bullfight, much immorality ensues, ending with the group's amused dismissal of a man's death in the bullfight and Ashley's affair with a bullfighter. In the end, it is clear that no one in this group has any morals, even Barnes, who seems sympathetic at the beginning. Hemingway's commentary on the so-called Lost Generation of the early 1900s is beautifully written and compelling.
"Mansfield Park" by Jane Austin
I didn't think I would like this book. I mean, I thought I might enjoy the story, but thought it would be hard to wade through the style. This was not the case. It read like a smart soap opera, with scandal, love interests and moral commentary, with a background of cozy ambiance that made me want to travel to England and spend some time on a country estate. The main character, Fanny Price, is the daughter of a poor family who is sent to live with her wealthy Uncle Bertram, aunt and cousins. She is treated as inferior, and not deserving of the education and social privileges afforded her female cousins, but her cousin Edmund treats her as an equal and contributes to her education by lending her books and discussing them with her. The Bertram family and friends, including 5 people of marrying age, experience scandal, intrigues and adventures, against the backdrop of an English estate.
"The Old Man and the Sea," Ernest Hemingway
This novella takes place in Cuba in the early 1900s, and follows an old fisherman who, desperate to change his run of bad luck, rows out much farther than usual. He eventually hooks a huge swordfish, and stays out for days waiting for the fish to tire and come close enough to the surface for the man to kill him. The man comes to respect the fish as a great creature, noble and majestic, and begins to feel mixed feelings about killing it. After days of heat exhaustion, very little food and little water, and muscular exhaustion, the man finally kills the fish. However, the fish is bigger than his boat, so he had to tie it to the side and row in. By the time he reaches the harbor, sharks have eaten almost all of the meat, and all that remains is the skeleton and some shreds of flesh. This is a fascinating story of determination, poverty and communion with nature.