It is said that everything that has come before will happen again. That’s basically the premise of this book. The theory is that if you pick out the most successful empires over, say, the last thousand years, and examine what led to their downfall, that you might come up with a set of indicators, or patterns, that can predict the fate of current societies. On the face of it, it’s all rather compelling.
Our lives are brief, and periods of prosperity and stability are long, so we have a distorted view of how long empires and societies exist. They aren’t around for long at all, and they all come to a messy end through civil war (common), war (sometimes) or natural disasters (rarely). BUT, good news, civil wars are often short in the grand scheme of things and eventually lead back to peace & prosperity - for a while at least - and the upward trend of human progress, on a macro scale, continues with just a little blip.
America, by all the metrics, is fucked and racing towards civil war. I mean, we can see that with our own eyes, but it’s interesting to see it as part of a grand tale of empires. But, more good news, it doesn’t have to be this way! America is an advanced, reasonably well-educated country. Since we have a good idea of what causes societal instability, they can stop it! It will take a coordinated effort, across the political spectrum, to radically reform government institutions, rapidly (like, right now) reduce wealth inequality and ensure that people can trust government to deliver what they need. But it can be done!
This is a good book, and accessible given the complex subject matter. You might disagree with the conclusions, but the historical overviews are interesting on their own.
100 short essays on the things we’ve lost since the internet took over every aspect of our lives. I enjoyed the nostaligia, but this could have been fifty essays shorter and been a much better book. I mean, who the hell misses the TV Guide, or cheque books?
In some ways, David Sedaris is very relatable. Well, as relatable as someone who works in a garden shed can be to a multi-millionaire, multi-home owning, best-selling author. He says things out loud that I would only say in my head, but it’s nice to know that someone else has these terrible thoughts, too. Enabling, even, in times where people are scared to offend.
Ultimately, this isn’t as enjoyable as the previous diaries. The highlights, as always, are the interactions with his family and his ascerbic observations of the people that he meets. Sadly, he dedicates vast swathes of the book to his talks, plane journeys and hotel stays; which basically makes it a shit travel journal.
It’s David Sedaris. The best bits.
I’ve read most of these before, but David Sedaris is someone that is worth re-reading. There are some laugh-out-loud moments, some touching ones, and many where I put my hand to my mouth, thinking: Did he actually just say that?
This would be the book to give someone who has never read a Sedaris essay before.
This book was just what I needed: cheesy, full of sterotypes and with plot holes that you could fly a jumbo jet through - but it was fun and just rolled along.
Absolute filth. I loved it.
March is such a fickle month. It is the seam between winter and spring—though. [Loc: 160]
She pauses at MEMOIR, studying the titles on the spines, so many I’s and Me’s and My’s, possessive words for possessive lives. What a luxury, to tell one’s story. To be read, remembered. [Loc: 1398]
He runs his hand through Robbie’s hair. Dry, it is the color of burnt sugar, a tawny shade somewhere between brown and red, depending on the light. [Loc: 1554]
I remember seeing that picture and realizing that photographs weren’t real. There’s no context, just the illusion that you’re showing a snapshot of a life, but life isn’t snapshots, it’s fluid. So photos are like fictions. [Loc: 4188]
She has seen maps of course, but ink and paper hold nothing to this. To the salt smell, the murmur of waves, the hypnotic draw of the tide. To the scope and scale of the sea, and the knowledge that somewhere, beyond the horizon, there is more. [Loc: 5408]
Addie was raised to kneel in the little stone chapel in the center of Villon, spent days folded into Paris pews. She has listened to the bells, and the organ, and the calls to prayer. And yet, despite it all, she has never understood the appeal. How does a ceiling bring you closer to heaven? If God is so large, why build walls to hold Him in? [Loc: 5462]
“I hate war,” he says darkly. “I would have thought you fond of conflict.” “The aftermath breeds art,” he says. “But war makes believers out of cynics. Sycophants desperate for salvation, everyone suddenly clinging to their souls, clutching them close like a matron with her finest pearls.” [Loc: 6480]
That kiss, like a piece of long-awaited punctuation. Not the em dash of an interrupted line, or the ellipsis of a quiet escape, but a period, a closed parenthesis, an end. [Loc: 7766]
A cataclysmic event (we never find out what - solar flair? nuclear explosion?) has rendered all technology useless. It’s a subject that many writers have explored before, but if anyone can spin a good yarn out of it, surely highly decorated author Don DeLillo can. No. Instead, we have a book that is boring, pretentious and feels too long at 128 pages.
The book is a collection of his newspaper columns, and so comes across as dated in places, but his cynical observations on the perversity of modern life are, for me, always worth a read. You either like David Mitchell, or you don’t, and will probably fall firmly into one of those camps. Guardian reading lefties will love it. Probably.
I’m not a big fan of books on the writing process, but this is a fun read and one that I’ll keep dipping back into.
I’m a sucker for a good first contact story, but found this one underwhelming. The premise was good, but I didn’t gel with the protagonist at all. The author is not frugal with her words, and some of the descriptive passages had me looking for the telephone number of her editor. It’s listed as the first book in a series, but I can’t see me buying any of the others. It has a good rating on Amazon, though, so your mileage may vary.
A group of people are given the opportunity to live in a pristine wilderness. They must survive while leaving no trace on their surroundings. This is a fantastic book, and beautifully written. At two points it literally moved me to tears.
The salt was the thing that lasted the longest. And after it was gone they discovered that real food tastes like dirt, water, and exertion.
There is a lot going on in this book. A ponzi scheme (that bares a remarkable semblance to the Bernie Madoff scheme), a musically talented addict, a trophy wife adjusting to changed circumstances and a beautiful hotel in the remote Canadian wilderness - but somehow, almost unbelievably, it stays coherent.
But they were citizens of a shadow country that in his previous life he’d only dimly perceived, a country located at the edge of an abyss. He’d been aware of the shadowland forever, of course. He’d seen its more obvious outposts: shelters fashioned from cardboard under overpasses, tents glimpsed in the bushes alongside expressways, houses with boarded-up doors but a light shining in an upstairs window. He’d always been vaguely aware of its citizens, people who’d slipped beneath the surface of society, into a territory without comfort or room for error. [Loc: 3581]