Books


So, raising a small child is no small task – as any parent who doesn’t retain the services of a nanny can tell you.  One of the few regrets I have at this point is my reading time is near kaput.  Zip.  Zero.  Non-existent.  I can pretty much only catch time when I’m traveling or in the unlikely combination of sleeping baby and no chores to do (yeah, right!).

What this means is I’m looking forward to an upcoming trip so I can finish a book I started several weeks ago and am only half way through – America’s Constitution: A Biography, by Akhil Reed Amar.  It’s a well written analysis of what the Constitution says/means and provides some great historical perspective.  I mean really, how often have you read the Constitution – NOT the first ten amendments?  Most people, myself included, focus more on those amendments than the meat of the Constitution that formulates the government, voting, etc.  It’s been an interesting read and I can’t wait to finish the last half.

So I’m taking advantage of LOTS of reading time and have started Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. It’s an interesting read so far. I wish it had been required in high school, or at least parts of it. The introduction explains that his writings have been used to support positions all along the political spectrum. While that made me immediately think that he was so vague that he could mean anything, I’ve realized that it’s more because he takes an outsider’s view of the great experiment that was – and is – the United States. His analysis of our system of government points out the strengths and weaknesses, compares it to other existing republics/monarchies, and does not automatically assume much of anything. The flexibility of Democracy in America is similar to how flexible The Art of War or The Prince are – the conclusions are general but they have applications in real life.

I’ve almost tabbed this book more than the regulations / references I’m using for the class I’m in. Many things to ponder later and post about. If you haven’t read this book and have an appreciation of the founding fathers, I suggest you find a copy and get ready to enjoy a timeless piece of literature.

On another note, Fermat’s Enigma was very interesting. I don’t think I could muster the resolve to work on one problem (possibly impossible to prove) for over 7 years in total secrecy without going insane – regardless of whether or not I have the grey matter to combine seemingly dissimilar mathematical processes and create new ones to make up the difference (I’m guessing not). For those who think math is boring, I just want you to know there is drama, tragic deaths, heroic effort, and other good stuff in this book.

I’m down south for a while (the lower-48 for those not familiar with the Alaskan terminology) and find I have more time than usual for reading.  Right now I’m in the middle of Fermat’s Enigma by Simon Singh.  It’s the story of a several hundred year-old theorem that resisted proof by the greatest mathematical minds during that time and has only recently been solved.

I was amused by Pascal’s view of religion,

 Pascal was even convinced that he could use his theories to justify a belief in God.  He stated that “the excitement that a gambler feels when making a bet is equal to the amount he might win multiplied by the probability of winning it.”  He then argued that the possible prize of eternal happiness has an infinite valaue and that the probability of entering heaven be leading a virtuous life, no matter how small, is certainly finite.  Therefore, according to Pascal’s definition, religion was a game of infinite excitement and one worth playing, because multiplying an infinite prize by a finite probability results in infinity.

There are many paths to faith.

That said, I recommend the book.  I’ve been a fan of Singh since discovering The Code Book several years ago.

Margaret tagged me with some book questions, so here it goes:

Fact or fiction? 80% fiction and 20% fact, although I abhor True Crime.
One book that

…changed your life: None. For whatever reason, I’m entertained or educated, but I can’t say any book has changed my life.

…you’ve read more than once: Whoa, I have to pick just one? Well, the first book I saw when I looked up was The Onion Girl, by Charles De Lint. He’s a good story-teller, is creative, and seems to do good research before writing.

…you’d want on a desert island: US Army Survival Manual: FM 21-76 Hey, it’s all about survival.

…made you laugh: Cryptonomicron by Neal Stephenson. It had that dry, self-depreciating humor that always makes me laugh. If you thought The Thomas Crown Affair was funny, you’ll like this book.

…made you cry: Wellll…it was more of a blurring than tearing, but The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay was very moving the first time I read it.

…you wish had never been written: Boo…hiss. This is like asking what book I’d like to ban. Banning books is for losers. I’ll pass on this one.

…you wish had been written: Whew, a hard one. I wish C.S. Lewis had written a story, from Christ’s perspective, about the passion and resurrection.

…that is empowering me: The Millionaire Next Door by Dr. Stanley and Dr. Danko. Capitalist though I am, this is less a book about avarictic consumption, and more about living simply.

…you’re currently reading: Building Harlequin’s Moon by Larry Niven and Brenda Cooper.

…you’ve been meaning to read: I’ll take American History for 2, Alex. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville and The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton.

Being a big party pooper, I’m going to resist any urges to tag others.