In childhood I was reading a lot and for a while my mum tried not to allow me to do that because according to her I was supposed to do more important things. Of course she didnt succeed. My school did a little but not much better by enforcing on me a long list of boring obligate literature. But despite my literature teachers efforts to bore me I still find some books enjoying.
So Ill write reviews on these books I have read during the last half a year, which I liked very much. This list includes only non-Latvian ones. Maybe someone finds something from here interesting. Ill list also other books I have read during the last few years and liked very much (only with no long descriptions for these). Most of these books are available for downloading in Internet, so its not necessary to buy them in order to read these.
DYSTOPIAN NOVELS Ray Bradbury Fahrenheit 451
A dystopian novel. It describes a society in which reading books is forbidden and all the books which a group of police alike organization manage to find in peoples homes are burned. In this state books are forbidden for peoples own benefit - thinking there is discouraged, because more than one identical opinion causes problems and makes people confused/unhappy. Needless to say that with all this countrys effort to keep people distracted and entertained they dont seem to be happy, their minds were simply switched off.
One of the main themes in this book is the necessity to keep the huge knowledge books hold. A group of rebelling people is trying to do that by memorizing books, which are destroyed by countrys officials.
There are also some important human relationship related points in this book like what happens if people living together stop talking to each other (husband and wife who only watch TV together but never talk), how TV influences them and their ability to think. Also many people in this society were unhappy so they were rushing (the increasing speed of cars as an example) in order to not feel, also seeking for pleasures, trying hard to avoid reality (the coming war), no one cared about each other (wives whose husbands were sent to war), Also the immense distraction in TV/advertisements, which became louder with each year. Author shows what it all does with human mind and his emotions.
For me of course the most interesting part was comparing life in 21st century with what this book showed and unfortunately I managed to find some similarities.George Orwell 1984
Its classics. A dystopian novel. A must read in my opinion.
One think Id like to point out from this novel is language. People in this totalitarian country know only English. But its a modified version of it called newspeak. The number of words is decreased till minimum. All synonyms are removed. Also words like freedom are removed from the dictionary and language. What they did with this was making people unable to have complex thoughts (with such primitive language), and also unable to realize that any freedom can exist (if theres no word for this). George Orwell Animal Farm
Its a novel about the building of communism in USSR and also about peoples fading memory, which lets dictator to tell them anything he wants.Aldous Huxley Brave New World
Its also classics. Its a dystopian novel, which focuses on many important issues. Theres a totalitarian one world state with command economy in which everyone is supposed to be happy. To make this possible people are divided into 5 castes and raised specially for the type of job they will have to do when theyll be adult. Since early childhood they are programmed to think that the life they will have to live is the best. People in this novel are shallow, conditioned on mass consumerism, encouraged to fulfill every desire they may have, too hedonistic. Their lives are trivial, theres a group living to eliminate any individuality. Also drug use is widespread. Whenever anything goes wrong and you arent happy you are supposed to take drugs which will make you such.
Also a must read.
By the way a side note about dystopian and utopian novels. Utopias and dystopias are very similar. The only difference is in the point of view, from which you look at this described society. Take this one for example. Pick a character who is satisfied with a life in such society as described here (for example Johns mother Linda), write a novel from her point of view and you get an utopia.
It would be a little harder with Orwells 1984, because there you would also need a reader whos living in poverty and for whom such level of living would seem high. But its still possible. Then take a character, which doesnt see anything wrong with the given society and describes it as amazing and you get an utopia.
Its the same with utopias. For example Huxleys Island, Platos Country and Campanellas City of the Sun
Lets analyze Campanellas City of the Sun this time. In it people have very little personal freedom. One of the problems there is that eugenicists pick the person with whom you will have to make children based on your physical appearance (for example if you are fat, you will have to mate with someone whos skinny to have balance in children). Also theres very little privacy (no private houses or apartments - instead you have to live together with many people). And children are taken away from their parents - they live and are educated in large groups by old teachers.
Now lets take an artistically minded man who likes spending some time alone every now and then and who falls in love with a beautiful girl, who also loves him. Yet eugenicists decide that they arent fit for each other and both of them are forced to have sex with someone else. They cant accept this and secretly make a baby. But the evil city leaders take their child away from them and punish them both, as a result now they cant see each other anymore. Now you get a real Shakespeares tragedy and an awful dystopia!
BOOKS, DEALING WITH PHILOSOPHY AND MORALS Ayn Rand Atlas Shrugged
A philosophical novel. It is set in a dystopian United States at an unspecified time of future. At the beginning of the novel United States is the only wealthy country left, as is the rest of the world there are only extremely poor so called Peoples States (totalitarian countries, where no private property is allowed and people have no technology at all) but as the novel goes on United States experience a social and industrial collapse as the government increasingly asserts control over all industry. Doing that politicians talk about the needs of society, equality and their altruistic purposes and their wish to help people while all they do in reality is making factories go bankrupting, as a result ordinary workers lose their jobs and income. At the end it leads even till a mass starvation and complete chaos.
As for people in this novel... Characters could be divided in two groups the man of ability who work and produce wealth and the ones who have no interest in working at all yet they demand others to make wealth for them since they consider their needs to be sacred.
The book explores a number of philosophical themes that Rand would subsequently develop into the philosophy of Objectivism. I agree with many of Ayn Rands ideas. That each man should strive towards greatness and make himself such... That all ideas of creating forced collectivism are rotten... That men must learn and think, because peoples mind is the source of achievements... That people who produce wealth are the ones who should own it... That people must live for their own happiness... That people must take responsibility for their own life instead of demanding someone else to do that and blaming others when they arent happy
I also appreciate in people the same characteristics she did (great personality, strong will, independent thought, willingness to do great works). The novel also showed the disgusting part of bureaucracy and government institutions, places where favors are traded among looters.
Besides for me this book was just in time, because it made me to rethink some of the things I do myself.
As for objectivism philosophy
According to Ayn Rand, altruism denies an individuals value and is therefore destructive to people, viewing life merely as a thing to be sacrificed. If a man accepts the ethics of altruism, his first concern is not how to live his life but how to sacrifice it. The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification for his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty or virtue. While according to her the purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.
Our commonly-accepted moral duties, from doing no harm unto others to speaking always the truth to keeping promises, are rooted in the one fundamental principle of self-interest. For example even friendship can be called selfish. If you choose as your friends people you like with whom its interesting for you to talk and spend time with, then its in your own interest not to treat them badly thus loosing these friends you have.
Of course there were also few points where I disagreed with the author. Firstly I consider characters in this book workaholics of course it is important to do your job well, but there is a limit when it goes too far. Also the utopian society model she proposed was absurd, because in real life it would be impossible to make such without getting rid of huge part of population, who dont have certain characteristics. Also people in this novel turned everything into a deal, but you cant trade everything (for example you do not pay for friendship or love, and human relations cant be reduced to that). She praised free market but it cant solve everything as she claimed (no one of the industrialists in this novel seemed to be willing to engage in businesses where the chances of income are poor, for example caring for poor peoples health, so either government or self-organised people have to do these things). Ayn Rand The Fountainhead
My favorite from Ayn Rands novels. The main protagonist Howard Roark in it is an architect. Hes an artist in the best sense of this word. He loves his job, wants to make beautiful buildings, for him his job is about doing it well not about making money. He followed his goal and succeded at the end. Very inspiring for an artist like me.
And what made the book even more interesting were the other characters who acted opposite the main protagonist. There was one other young architect, who actually wanted to be an artist and paint, yet still chose this profession. For him being the best in architecture was all about fame and money. He didnt do what he himself wanted for all his life and as a result ended up being very unhappy. There was also a talented newspaper owner who gave up his dreams when he saw that world isnt a place for idealists and as a result he didnt fulfill his full potential.
The main antagonist was Elsworth Toohey. He was an excellent orator and perfectly understood people and enjoyed playing with their minds with them not even noticing that. His motif for such actions was a wish to get power. His niece Catherine started living with him when she was about 20. She looked up on him and considered him very smart and also kind towards her. Yet Ellworth made her not to study in a college (what she wanted), instead she became a social worker and lived according to how he wanted her to live. That included not searching for personal happiness, being completely altruistic, giving up her own person and personality. He stated that this is the highest virtue and the only way of reaching true happiness. Basically he forced some ridiculous and stupid moral views on her. He used this morality of his to make people dependent from him, make them think that he is their friend. In addition to that he could be called a secret socialist. It was sad to read what was left of this nice (but not emotionally strong enough) girl more than 10 years later when she was after 30.
Another theme this book dealt with was what can be considered art and which art is good and worth admiring and enjoying. There was one writer who wrote an awfully bad play. Other writers knew it was bad, yet they decided to make it a success. It was advertised in all newspapers as being wonderful as a result it gained amazing success in theatre. And of course these people who understood nothing about theatre and plays yet wanted to sound smart talked about it being amazing.Anton LaVey The Satanic Bible
A philosophy book. Last summer I accidentally noticed this book in a book shop while searching for another philosophy book which of course wasnt there. The pretty cover caught my attention (being a designer I do pay attention to book covers). I didnt buy it, but at home I googled for it to see what it was about. I skimmed wikipedia article and wasnt impressed then so I forgot about it for many months.
Then I December my English teacher announced that I had to make a presentation for a mark. Theme was up to me. Previous year my English teacher once decreased my mark for a presentation because of an inappropriate theme choice. So this time I wanted to come up with the most inappropriate theme I can possibly think about and throw it in her face. I was curious to see how much shell dare to diminish my mark this time. At this point I remembered this book. So my presentation was The Philosophy of LaVeyan Satanism. In other words, I read the book only so that I could make a presentation about it in spite of my teacher and school in general.
I wasnt expecting much from this book but it turned out to be really good. The way how the founder of Church of Satan looked at life not only made some sense, but in some points I actually could agree with him.
For example the Nine Satanic Sins who make much more sense than Christian ones:
5. Herd Conformity.
6. Lack of Perspective.
7. Forgetfulness of Past Orthodoxies.
8. Counterproductive Pride.
9. Lack of Aesthetics.
And heres some more quotes from the book.
Satan represents kindness to those who deserve it, instead of love wasted on ingrates.
With that its meant also that people who use a victim status as a means to induce guilt in others should be dealt with mercilessly and discarded before they are permitted to take control of the lives of vital individuals. LaVey defines psychic vampire as one who attempts to psychologically manipulate others by systematically playing the victim and is psychologically draining hence the term "psychic vampire".
Also although Satanism is an uncompromisingly selfish religion, he defines selfishness according to what an individual truly wants. Therefore, if a person should honestly care for another person and wishes to express love, then he should do so wholeheartedly. LaVey suggests that loving select individuals is very natural, but he does claim that to love all people is not only a philosophical mistake but is in fact impossible and even damaging to the ability to truly love those few individuals who deserve it.
Satan represents vengeance instead of turning the other cheek.
(Thats what I usually do.)
Satan represents all of the so-called sins, as they all lead to physical, mental, or emotional gratification. (Judging from my experience thats very true.)
Do not give opinions or advice unless you are asked. (Some people really should learn this.)
Do not take that which does not belong to you, unless it is a burden to the other person and they cry out to be relieved. (Hehehe, the same as Christian no stealing law.
Do not harm little children.
Do not kill non-human animals unless you are attacked or for your food. (Hunting for fun or as a sport is something I deeply hate.)
When walking in open territory, bother no one. If someone bothers you, ask them to stop. If they do not stop, destroy them.
The Satanist, realizing that anything he gets is of his own doing, takes command of the situation instead of praying to God for it to happen.
For LaVey Satan is
* a symbol of carnality and earthly values, of man's inherent nature;
* represents a person's own inner personality and desires;
* opposition to all religions, which condemn man for his natural instincts;
* motivating and balancing dark force in nature.
And I definitely liked that author wasnt a freak trying to proclaim that there really is such a creature as Satan living somewhere underground to whom one must pray similarly to how people pray God.
So to sum up in this book teachings are based on individualism, self-control, and "eye for an eye" morality. Satanistic philosophy suggests living here and now, taking most of what life can offer and doing whatever makes you happy as long as it harms no one else. Satanism accepts man as he is.
By the way another fact that surprised me was that Satanists were strictly against drug use and crime. According to them a satanist loves life so he wont do anything that can end it by ruining his health (drugs) or make him to lose his freedom (crime).
Another important point is that this book published in 1969 was quite good with predicting where society will go in future. If you look around now in 21st century many of these thoughts LaVey once suggested as new are widely accepted and considered normal.
As for Satanic rituals described in this book I skipped reading them. I dont believe that any such magical stuff really works. But there really was one good point about rituals. You do them for yourself rather than to make some magic. If you put a curse on someone you hate and believe that it will work, you can more easily get over it and stop thinking about this person by knowing that now the curse will do its job. Same about rituals supposed to bring you fortune - after doing one you believe that youll be lucky and feel better.Friedrich Nietzsche The will to power: An attempted transvaluation of all values
A philosophy book. As the title says this book deals with peoples values. Nietzsche criticizes some of the old ones and proposes different view towards life. Nietzsche is one of those philosophers whose writings I really enjoy. And so far this one was my favourite from his books I have read. (OK, in fact there arent many, which I have read). Somehow I liked it better than his Thus Spoke Zarathustra. In some way its written more clearly. Or maybe I got such impression because now my ability to understand what he intended to say is better than two years ago.
Anyway, found this book interesting.Friedrich Nietzsche "Antichrist"
A philosophy book, which tries to criticize Christianity. The main point is that Christianity is a religion which proclaims weakness and suffering instead of strength and happiness as the highest virtues.
And by the way its still the same nowadays. Have you noticed that theres a culture of victimhood in our society? For example autobiographical books written by people who have suffered a lot (especially those abused in childhood) become bestsellers. And in addition to that people also strive for the status of victim. After all for some demanding pity is easier than taking responsibility for their own lives.Friedrich Nietzsche "Thus Spoke Zaratustra"
A philosophy book. Worth reading.Michael Eric Dyson The Seven Deadly Sins Pride
This book is a part of a series of books in which each one of them is about one of the seven deadly sins. These books, published by Oxford University Press look at these deadly sins (which are just characteristics of people not sins in my opinion) from different angles, give some historical facts, mentions situations when these sinful characteristics are actually good for people, who have them.
I havent read all of them and dont consider them worth reading from first page till the last either but there are some interesting ideas/facts in these. In this one about pride I was mostly interested by historical facts given there (how pride became a sin for Christians) and also about situation in U.S. where black people had to fight for their rights to be proud for being black.
Reading this book didnt influence my attitude towards pride in any way though, Im not a Christian so for me anything is fine as long as its good for you. And Id say that its OK to be proud if you have done something to earn your rights to be such. Im against counterproductive and unearned pride only.
My opinion about other deadly sins is similar too as long as they make you happy/dont hurt people around you they are fine. Here I agree with Anton LaVey.
PSYCHOLOGY RELATED BOOKS Ted Kaczynski The Unabomber Manifesto
About 50 pages long essay. An amazing writing. I totally love authors style of writing, organizing his thoughts and manner of explaining. Also useful for improving your English knowledge.
In this essay author tried to show and prove the devastating effect technology has on human beings. He proposed getting rid of it. About this point I disagree with the author technology itself isnt good or evil. It can be used so that it helps people and also so that people become servants of their machines and the quality of their life decreases. In my opinion not letting your computer to make your life worse (for example by becoming game/Internet addict) is each persons task.
But the reason why this essay is so good is because it deals with many important aspects of psychology. The most important one in this essay is how to avoid having an unfulfilling life, which makes you to search for surrogate activities.
Other aspects are:
Leftism as a form of identifying yourself with a group of people for whose rights you fight in order to numb your own emotional problems.
Reasons why many people have a feeling of inferiority and how they try to deal with it.
Oversocialization. Socialization is a process by which children are trained to think and act as society demands by believing and accepting its moral code. Since the moral code of our society is too demanding for people to follow it completely, those who feel guilty because of not being able to fully follow it are characterized as oversocialized.
The need for people to have a goal, which they can achieve by some effort.
The lack of autonomy, which makes people to identify themselves with a group of people whose successes they use to compensate the fact that they havent succeeded themselves. For example, people are happy when the football team from their country/city wins even though they havent taken any part in this football game, all they did was simply watching it in TV.
Social problems we have in modern world and how people try to adjust to it.
Aspects of freedom people used to have a century ago but not anymore.
Technology as a social force.
Control of human behavior.
In my opinion its definitely worth reading.
By the way, another point about people, who choose to belong and identify themselves with some groups, who sometimes are opposing each other
Theres a wonderful method of controlling people called divide and conquer. While for example gay/lesbian people, straight ones, feminists, people of different races, different religious groups will be fighting against each other, politicians will have no need to talk about real issues like countrys economics to get votes from these people.Wilhelm Schmid Happiness - Everything you need to know about it and why it is not the most important thing in life
A short book with a couple of good ideas about happiness.Eric Fromm The Art of Loving
There were some good ideas in this book. The part that seemed most interesting for me was about why people long for someone to be with them in the first place.
HISTORICAL NOVELS Jaroslav Haek The Good Soldier vejk
A sathirical novel. It is set during World War I in Austria-Hungary, a multi-national empire. The main protagonist is a Czech soldier veik, who is forced to join the Austria-Hungary army. Novel illustrates the incompetence of army generals, their disgusting attitude towards Czech (and other minorities) soldiers, the meaningless of soldiers deaths in war (they simply were sent to the battlefield to die there), also social problems of this empire.
In fact reading this book was quite hard... Because I was laughing all the time, but reading and laughting at the same time doesnt work.
I totally loved humorous situations, vejks jokes and funny stories. His attitude towards life and Austria-Hungarys army generals and bureaucrat-alike employees was just awesome.Ayn rand We the Living
An historical novel. One of the best anti-totalitarian novels I have ever read. The story takes place from 1922 to 1925, in post- revolutionary Russia (quite bad place for living there).
I liked very much what author said about socialism and collectivism in it. That these ideas are wrong in their core and that not only the means with which communists tried building communism are wrong but also the idea itself is rotten, because:
No man has rights to demand others to sacrifice their own happiness to try making him happy (what by the way is impossible anyway, because grumps are never happy no matter what others do for them). And no country has rights to demand individuals to sacrifice their own life for the sake of an abstraction called society. Making yourself happy and providing yourself a good, wealthy life is each individuals personal (and not his countrys) duty which mustnt be done at the cost of someones elses unhappiness or misery.
That wealth belongs to those who have produced it or those who have fairly bought it from them by giving the seller something in exchange. Country has no moral rights to take it by force and declare it the property of the society. Besides this can only lead to a system where this weath stoler from producer is taken and used by these people who are distributing it amoung the society (in USSR these were party members, who lived well, while everybody else were living in awfull poverty).
But of course the books deals also with many other questions, for example how it is to be an artists in such society, what happens with people who are different and dont fit well in such society (for example all strong-willed, silent, non-talkative people), also about what motivated people there to speak all these communism praising speeches, even if they were against it, etc.
It also showed another important problem USSR had. In this country people were morally free to do whatever they pleased (stealing from country, using other people, hating communism, etc.) but each of them knew that they must speak correctly (that was talk about how altruistic they are, praise communism, talk about the needs of society). In other words such system encouraged people to speak one but do exactly opposite (thats a thing I really hate in these people who do that).Mikhail Bulgakov The Master and Margarita
Well, its classics. And its interesting. And also worth reading.
I wont be writing much about this one, because for a change I found it interesting not because of any new ideas it holds, but simply because it was interesting.
By the way, if you happen to know Russian, its better to read it in original instead of translated version. Im not sure about translations in other languages but I definitely liked Russian text better than Latvian translation.
BOOKS WITH INTERESTING IDEAS IN THEM Genrich Altshuller And Suddenly the Inventor Appeared: TRIZ, the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving
In this book author shows how to find creative solutions by using logic. There are some invention related problems (some are physics related, but some also deals with cooking, moving objects etc) and he tells different methods with which you can solve them.Kurt Vonnegut Catss Cradle
A satire, science fiction novel. I usually dont like science fiction. But I do like Vonneguts books. This one explores issues of science, technology, and religion, satirizing the arms race and many other targets along the way.
The main theme which caught my interest in this book was authors views towards religion. There was one island with very dense population, yet it had no natural resources, so it wasnt possible to improve the really bad level of living for its poor inhabitants by using technology. And here religion stepped in. All people in this island practiced a prohibited religion called Bokononism, which made them happy. This religions inventor, who was condemned to death, was hiding somewhere in the forests and was a living prophet for all the believers. So for people living in this island practicing this prohibited religion gave a meaning for their life. And thats exactly what this prophet said that a religion founded on lies can be extremely useful. And it was.
One major point of Bokononism was that human happiness is more important than truth, even scientific truth. Also Bokononism freely acknowledged that all its tenets are false. So this book kind of does the same as parody religions like the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster by satirizing religions.Kurt Vonnegut Slaughterhouse-Five, or the Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death
A satirical science fiction/war novel.Hermann Hesse Steppenwolf
A novel. The main protagonist is a middle-aged man named Harry Haller, who believes himself to be of two natures: one high, the spiritual nature of man; while the other is low, animalistic; a "wolf of the steppes". This man is entangled in an irresolvable struggle, never content with either nature because he cannot see beyond this self-made concept. He is very smart, well-educated intellectual who dislikes the frivolous and shallow bourgeois society (the modern music, their entertainment, moder books), so he seeks solace in classical music, old books and poetry etc. All this makes him extremely unhappy and hes suffering very much.
He decides to commit a suicide but cant do that so instead he tries to learn to live in this modern world (finally learns to dance, tries learning to appreciate modern art and music, goes to parties).
The reason why I found this book interesting is because in some way Im similar to him. I have never suffered his griefs or known his pain (and thats good because I sure dont want to get into such a depression), but just like he I never go to parties, dont dance, read old books and my favorite poetry is written about 100 years ago, even most of the music I listen was written before I was born. I never saw this as an issue but this book really made me to rethink some of my opinions about life and what Im missing. Ken Kesey One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest
Someone in deviantart suggested me reading this book about 2 years ago. I read it 2 months ago. And it was good.
The story takes place in a hospital for mentally ill people. The story focuses on the antics of the rebellious Randle Patrick McMurphy, who faked insanity to serve out his prison sentence in the hospital. The hospital is run by a tyrannical nurse, who uses her power and intimidation tactics to degrade all these mentally ill patients (who actually were quite sane) to the lowest form of existence ruled by fear. She used them to satisfy her need for power. McMurphy constantly antagonizes her and upsets the routines, leading to constant power struggles between them. At the end he succeeds (but with the price of his own life) and all the nurses patients regain their confidence and courage and stop being weaklings who allow her to manipulate with and slowly destroy their lives.
Another aspect of this novel was about how it is to be unseen and unheard when people around you simply ignore you by acting like you would be too stupid to understand them while in reality you hear and understand everything.
As for book suggestions for me... They are very welcome.
If you have in mind a good book you could recommend me then Im interested in hearing.
As you maybe have noticed from this list then I dont chose books according to genres. The only common thing for all of the books in this list is that their writers had something to say. In these books they proposed things or issues worth thinking about and gave their opinions about them. And thats exactly what Im searching for in books, in my opinion thats what gives them value.
I dont like books with interesting plots intended to keep readers entertained or distracted, I dont like easily readable books either because they usually turn out to be quite shallow. Same goes for bestsellers good books usually dont happen to be also the most famous.