Posts

Showing posts from July 2, 2003
Sterling, Bruce. Tomorrow Now: Envisioning the Next Fifty Years. Random House, 2002, index, 320 p.

Meyer, Karl E. The Dust of Empires: The Race for Mastery in the Asian Heartland. The Century Foundation, 2003, index, bibliography, endnotes, 252 p.

Reading these two books in succession lent provided an unexpected synchronicity. In many ways they complement each other and offer a the strengths and weaknesses of the American perspective in the early 21st century.

Late one Sunday night while channel-surfing I happened across Bruce Sterling speaking at the New Jersey Library Association annual conference. He was the keynote speaker at the conference and was reading from his new book Tomorrow Now. He began his talk by offering the usual peaen to librarians that most speakers do when they address librarians. Then he began his reading, which turned out to be from Chapter 4. I must confess that I’m not a big fan of Sterling’s fiction. I read Islands in the Net a few years after it was publishe…
Judis, John B. and Ruy Teixeira. The Emerging Democratic Majority. Scribner, 2002, index, 213 p.

In 1969, Kevin Phillips wrote "The Emerging Republican Majority." His thesis was that the elecorate was changing and would soon be electing a Republican majority in the Congress and that the presidency would be ruled by Republicans. His thesis was borne out throughout the 70s and 80s. If Watergate hadn't intervened, it is highly likely that the U.S. would have had an unbroken string of Republican presidents from Richard Nixon through George Bush Sr. As it was, even with Watergate, Gerald Ford came within a whisker of beating Jimmy Carter. The Senate went Republican in 1980 and again in 1994. The House has been in Republican hands since 1994. In this new book, Judis and Teixeira argue that the Democrats are in much the same position that Republicans found themselves in 1969. By 2010, at the latest, they expect Democrats to be in control of the political agenda.

The authors mak…
Das, Gurcharan. India Unbound, Anchor Books, 2002, index, 412 p. (pb)

Das is an Indian who was born into a post-independence India. The story he tells is a personal retelling of India as it shook off its British colonial rulers and began to look at independence and what it means. As Das sees it, the story is "soft drama. It is taking place quietly and profoundly in the heart of Indian society." It is a story of vibrant entrepreneurs fighting entrenched bureaucracy and it is a story of the world's second most populous country struggling to come to grips with what it means to be a player in the global economy. He compares India, where the vast majority of people live in poverty and where the economy was stagnant for the first 50 years of independence, with the Asian Tigers, where governments encouraged economic growth. It's not always a favorable comparison. Although the Tigers showed astounding economic growth for a couple decades, they have suffered for the last seve…
Burdett, John. Bangkok 8. Knopf, 2003, 318 p.

Ostensibly a mystery novel, Burdett uses the mystery as a mechanism for ruminations on the nature of life in southeast Asia versus life in the West. He treats us to a hard-edged, fascinating view of Bangkok in the early 21st century and seems to say, "Hey, you hyper-rational guys in the West, take a look at us and learn."

Burdett's detective is policeman Sonchai Jitpleecheep, an inconsistent Buddhist, and a rarity among Bangkok police officers, an honest public servant. Sonchai navigates the muddy ethical and moral thickets posed by the murder of a black Army sergent. Carried out in an imaginative way involving pythons and cobras, Sonchai's job is not only to figure out who and why but how the snakes were made to act as if on cue. It's a fascinating journey and an odyssey into a culture and philosophy only slightly known to Westerners. Take a ride with Burdett. It's worth the time and effort.
Swami Bhaskarananda. The Essentials of Hinduism: A Comprehensive Overview of the World's Oldest Religion. Viveka Press, 2nd edition, 2002, index, glossary, 234 p. (pb)

In this short book, Bhaskarananda reviews the highpoints of Hinduism. No 234 page paperback can do more than scratch the very surface of the complexities of this fascinating religion. But Bhaskarananda does a good job. He uses everyday, modern examples to illustrate many Hindu concepts. Along the way he covers karma, reincarnation, predestination, and Hindu social customs. There are many facets to Hinduism and Bhaskarananda covers yoga philosophy as well as Sankhya and Vedanta. He attempts to answer many of the criticisms often leveled at Hindu and other eastern philosophies. For those looking for a beginning book about Hinduism this is a great place to start. An appendix offers suggested reading.