Al's Books and Authors

This page used to be my "Book Reviews Page." Now I've moved everything about books and writers from my main page to here. I start with links to my Authors and Quotes, since my reviews go on so long. The editing and organization so far are still a bit ragged.


Orlando: A Biography, a review of the book by Virginia Woolf and the movie starring Tilda Swinton.

Bertrand Russell pages, including 35K of quotes and the complete text of Russell's Political Ideals essay.
A. E. van Vogt page: The science fiction author who, perhaps more than any other, influenced me in my youth toward intellectual mastery.
Henry Thoreau page: The author of Walden. Under construction, little here yet.
Anaïs Nin page: Proud to be a "ninny"! I read the first 3 Early Diaries, stopped reading volume 4, tried a second time on volume 4 and again gave it up (March '03). It's just not as interesting as the first 3 Early Diaries. I may have to skip forward to the unexpurgated diaries to maintain some interest. This link is to my selections from her work, my reviews, and a few links to other Nin web sites. I haven't revised my Nin page for a long time.
Barry Stevens was a likable writer and gestalt therapist. I did a little Barry Stevens page at Wikipedia.
"I have a dream" speech of Martin Luther King, Jr. This important document is too often seen in brief sound bites; here's the whole text.
Jonathan Kozol: Book reviews, urgently recommended.
Kendall Hailey: Teenage autodidact.
Writers: Writers that influenced me, and what that influence was. Another work in progress.

Collected Quotes: A big file [632K] of some great stuff. Quotes I've collected from my reading, and some quickie book reviews, arranged alphabetically by author's name. The focus is mostly on philosophy, religion, and populist politics. Some excerpts are quite lengthy: William James, Derrick Jensen, Bryan Magee, Blaise Pascal, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Lin Yutang, plus interviews from Jerry Brown's book Dialogues. The quotes file is also available in MS Word format [437K], which prints out at about 95 pages.
Quote from Stephen T. Chang: This is the complete (brief) preface from The Great Tao, a wise and profound statement whether one accepts Taoism or not (I don't). It's not included yet in the Collected Quotes file.

Criticism, Articles, Miscellaneous
Camus's Stranger: A lengthy critical discussion and a different interpretation of the closing scene of this great novel. Somewhat unpolished and not as scholarly as I would like, but what they hey, it's free.
Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird: A slightly-edited transcript of the discussion of the (now defunct) Mighty Handful reading group.

My Reviews

I read about five times as much (and maybe more) nonfiction books as fiction. I had been in a reading group, but that has since gone belly-up.

I think the most important book in the world is Grace Llewellyn's Teenage Liberation Handbook. See "Uncollected Book Thoughts," below.

Current Reading (11/23/04)

I have very limited time for reading, so I tend to focus as exclusively as possible on books that I consider relevant to my interests rather than just for escapist entertainment.

Currently I'm embarking on the Britannica Great Books ten-year reading plan. See my Great Books web page for the reading list.

The only reading I plan to do in addition to the Great Books (unless I have more free time than I anticipate) is Carl Sandburg's Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, which I've been reading for several months and won't abandon, and Grimm's Fairy Tales in the original German, as a language practice exercise. The following are some comments on books I read recently, and more on the Sandburg.

Recently Finished

I've read a number of books lately and don't feel like bothering writing reviews. Several were recent psychology books because I was looking into the possibility of becoming an online therapist. Since that didn't pan out, I've quit reading psych books. I also gave a couple of books by Thomas Nagel a try, but I'm afraid he's not a very good writer; I just couldn't plow through The View from Nowhere despite high motivation. After that failure I didn't really give his The Last Word much of a try.

Following are the more noteworthy books I've read lately.

David Horovitz: Still Life with Bombers (2004). A personal examination of the Israeli-Palestinian situation. Pretty interesting, though I didn't quite finish it. The author blames Arafat for the failure of the 2000 Camp David meeting with Barak and the ongoing violence. Read 11/1/04.

Alfie Kohn: The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and 'Tougher Standards' (1999). Our schools are in a hole, and the current (and usual) solution is to dig faster and harder. 'Tougher standards' essentially means teaching to the test, which essentially means more rote learning and a completely fragmented approach. Kohn provides a serious and deep critique of the current educational paradigm ("back to basics" and "higher standards," though this was written before No Child Left Behind, very similar) and backs up his claims with a review of the literature. He offers many alternatives and discusses the barriers to school reform (in the last chapter, which I haven't yet read). I've read probably a hundred books about education, and I'd have to call this one of the very best.

Dan Cohn-Sherbok, Dawoud El-Alami: The Palestine-Israeli Conflict: A Beginner's Guide. The unique feature of this book is that the first half is written by an Israeli and the second half by a Palestinian. The third half [?] is a dialog between the authors. I didn't get much out of the early history of Zionism that's presented; the story gets more interesting around WWI. I thought the Palestinian's section was much more focused and persuasive.

Carl Sandburg: Abraham Lincoln: The War Years. This is sensational reading. I'm about halfway through vol. 1 (of 4). Really, it almost reads like a novel, and somehow he makes the endless detail endlessly fascinating. Typically he gives a character sketch of each major player as they become important. Includes photographs, handbills, cartoons, etc. I previously read David Donald's big one-volume biography of Lincoln. This is at least as good. I read this any evening when I get tired of the current book on the top of the list.

J. R. R. Tolkien: The Hobbit. After finishing the trilogy (see next item) I immediately dove into The Hobbit and finished it fairly quickly. It's repetitive--too many captures and escapes--but still entertaining enough. I think, though, without the trilogy nobody would care about this book. The battle of the five armies seems flat, though Smaug is good. Overall it's slight and just not a great book.

J. R. R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings. I recently finished my second reading of the "trilogy." I first read it about 35 years ago, started rereading it when Peter Jackson's movies started appearing. I'd like to be more enthusiastic, but I think the book seriously needs editing. There is entirely too much unnecessary description; first they climb this hill and look over this valley, then they climb another hill and look over this valley, and on and on. And the poetry is almost always excruciatingly dull. So much for the negatives. The positives are very positive indeed and have been justly praised. The characters are generally vivid and memorable, and the settings and the quest itself are likewise. The prose is excellent. But then, these feeble words of mine don't do it justice and are unlikely to persuade anyone who hasn't already tried it.

Friedrich Nietzsche: Thus Spake Zarathustra. This is the third time (at least) that I've tried to read this book. I like the way it starts, with Zarathustra coming down from the mountain and interacting with this village. But the prose is so obscure, the opinions so contrary, and the incidents described are so thin that, for me, it quickly gets intolerably dull. It's Nietzsche's most popular book, for reasons I cannot fathom. It is somewhat quotable--N. was great at surprising epigrams--but for me makes very poor reading indeed. The only reason I keep going with it is because I plan to use part of it in the science fiction novel I'm writing. I expect this will be on hold for a long while.

Uncollected Book Thoughts:

The Teenage Liberation Handbook: by Grace Llewellyn. I read this wonderful book a couple of years ago and remember it as being not only essential reading for any teenager, but great for adults (that is, me) as well. I read it a second time in March, '04. Really, it's the most important book ever written for Americans alive today; it makes you think about how you're leading your life and shows you many ways to grow. The subtitle goes something like: "How to Leave School and Get a Real Life." This book has its heart and mind firmly in the right place. School is a huge waste of time; find out what kids do when they don't go to school! Give a copy to every bright teenager you know; if every adult did this, it would change the world. I'll write a longer and (hopefully) more polished review real soon now. And here's a link to Llewellyn's "Glorious Generalist" book list. I'm also trying to find time to read her book Real Lives.

My "most recent (longer) review" (4/15/03) is of Kendall Hailey's The Day I Became an Autodidact, which I recommend for all readers. This review is actually pretty short, but it contains several quotes from the book; here's the link.

The most excellent fiction I've read lately includes Elizabeth Kata's A Patch of Blue (original title was Be Ready with Bells and Drums) and Franz Werfel's Song of Bernadette. The most excellent nonfiction I've read lately is Torey Hayden's books about her teaching and loving problem children: One Child and Somebody Else's Kids. Also excellent but very different is Ingrid Bengis's book, Combat in the Erogenous Zone. A personal story of her relationships with men, lesbians, and herself.

Anticipated reading:

Britannica Great Books (see above) for the next ten years! Maybe.

Older Short Reviews by Category

I originally wrote these on 3x5 cards for my own use, so they are all sketchy at best. I have many more not yet typed in. I cannot claim any expertise in anything, but I have done more reading and reviews in education and philosophy than in the other categories. There is also a large number of short reviews in my Recommended Reading link below.

Fiction and Literature 30 reviews.
Flaubert's November deserves special mention.
Philosophy, Religion: Fynn, Bertrand Russell, William James, and Walter Kaufmann, among others. 24 reviews.
Biography, Memoirs: Torey Hayden is a favorite.
Psychology, Family, Culture 7 reviews.
Science and Nature Only 4 reviews so far.
Education: Holt, Kohl, Kozol, Postman, and many others. 40 reviews!
Miscellaneous Nonfiction: Mostly having to do with writing and poetry. 4 reviews.

Longer Reviews

The Brothers Karamazov: This is as much essay as review; it includes a link to my Brothers Karamazov Who's Who, a reminder list of the characters.
Anaïs Nin: I was very impressed by volumes 1 through 3 of her Early Diaries, but have failed twice to get through volume 4. My Nin page has selections, reviews, and a few links.
Agnes de Mille: I read about 5 volumes of her memoirs, all highly recommended.
Jonathan Kozol: Book reviews, urgently recommended.
A Patch of Blue: Yes, the source of the old Sidney Poitier, black-and-white, sentimental(?) movie. I love it, and its moral lessons.
Hyemeyhost Storm's Seven Arrows: This book offers a curious, effective, and moving introduction and tribute to Native American religion. Also, here is the text of a tale that I love from this book: Jumping Mouse.

Recommended Reading: An excerpt from my book-in-progress, Fatherly Advice. It's a number of short reviews, with some overlap of the above short reviews.

My email address is: I welcome your views.

Home You'll find a lot more of my writing here.