Tag Archives: book review

The autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

22 Apr

51HVp1aHbQL__BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX240_SY320_CR,0,0,240,320_SH20_OU01_”Franklin’s is one of the greatest autobiographies in literature, and towers over other autobiographies as Franklin towered over other men.” –William Dean Howells

”The most widely read autobiography ever written by an American. It has served many Americans as it may have served Franklin – to define what it meant, what it had meant, and what it ought to mean to be an American.” –Edmund S. Morgan, emeritus professor of history, Yale University

These are two editorial reviews, and high as they may sound, it was definitely hard sailing for me to finish this book. First, 18th century American English is not one of my strong points, and neither do I have appreciation for American history, as yet. Second, it is coupled with the author’s observations about literature, philosophy, religion, civil life and what not.

The author begins by describing his life in Boston, then he moves on to Philadelphia where he works for a printer, one Samuel Keimer. He then goes to England after befriending some prominent political figures, and works for yet another printer.

After his return, he started his own printing-house, and a debating club called the Junto. He basically was a pioneer in many projects: fire brigade, police force, the University of Pennsylvania etc. By the way, he also found time to conduct scientific experiments on lightning and at some point was the postmaster general of the USA.

A truly outstanding man, to say the least.

The Autobiography itself was written in three different times: 1771 in England, 1783-83 in France, and 1788 in America. If Franklin meant to complete it, he died before he got the chance.

Follow your heart by Susanna Tamaro

17 Jun

 

This is what appears on the book jacket:

An elderly Italian woman, driven by fear of her encroaching death, decides to write a long letter to her grand-daughter in America. In some ways it is a love letter; in others, a confession. Above all it is a bequest of advice for life from an old woman at last brave enough to acknowledge that she has too long submitted to convention and kept hidden her feelings. She relives everything that has happened to her, teaching her grand-daughter that the one important journey in life is to the centre of ourselves to that point where we can gather the courage to follow our hearts.

Before reading it, I asked around if any of my friends had read it. A few had started reading it, but stopped. That made me determined to find out what was wrong with it. As I was reading, everything was OK; I just had to cast away the feeling that the lady’s letters are the typical things that old women would like to say to their grand daughters. I concentrated instead on the events of her life and her decisions, and how these shaped her life afterwards.

In the end, I didn’t really enjoy it. I would skip over the advice parts  and read  what she really did. Which is not much: sad childhood, cold parents, uneventful marriage, housewifery and all that, her daughter and their bizarre relationship.  Instead of doing, things just happened to her. Then she tells her grand-daughter: I messed up three lives with a lie, don’t you follow in my footsteps. Pretty hollow, I think and unconvincing. Besides, it has a pessimistic tone that I don’t like.

If I were to say something positive about it, this would be it: remember the popular saying that life is not a rehearsal and that other people’s mistakes are our lessons too (at least they would tell us in primary school).

I hope that other books in my summer 2012 reading list will be better, if not,  I could change my list!

Now to The Woman in White…

Cicero: that strong pillar of iron

8 Jun

Time: 50 B.C

Place: Rome

The Republic is long gone, at least practically. Theoretically, the republic lasts until 27 B.C. Now dictators rule, Cinna today, Surda tomorrow, Carbo the day after. Each one is murdered by their successor. They offer free games for the populace, and food. The mobs are kept content. They love their leaders, but their bellies more. They do not work for a living, aren’t they Romans, who are free to not take up work that could be demeaning to them? Aren’t they entitled to free food, by virtue of their citizenship?

Law. What is that? Somebody sneers. More games! More grain! They shout.

Julius Caeser is scheming endlessly. His loyalties shift with the wind, a more sly man never did exist. He keeps friends for his own ambitious purposes, though he treats them as real friends. Cicero is important to him, because he is a man of honour. He has him under his protection.

Cicero is a virtuous man, an “old” Roman, whose yea is yea. He is also prosperous from his law practice, although his wife Terentia thinks that he could be more prosperous if he hanged out with the powerful people. Like Julius Caesar, or Pompey, Crassus etc.

Somebody once said that a nation deserves the leaders it gets. The roman people and their vices are reflected in their leaders. Scheming, ravenous, lustful, deep in the pit of debauchery; their lives is a litany of vices. Today they adore Caesar, the vivacious, flamboyant and fashionable Caesar, tomorrow Catilina, whose beauty makes them go mad and cry. When he dies, they forget him within a week, and sing praise to Clodius, who now provides free grain and sport.

Marcus Tullius Cicero calls attention. He is like the conscience of the people and of the Senate, that august body whose members have long ceased to think they have one. As a young man, he studied hard. He is upright, even chaste. His law tutor, the famous Scaevola is stupefied, calls him naïve. When he takes up law cases, people flock to the Forum and the Basilica of Justice to hear his trumpet voice. As Consul, his four orations against Catiline, accused of treason, are world-famous. Here is how the first oration begins:

Cicero denounces Catiline. Fresco by Cesare Maccari 1882-1888

“How long, Catiline, will you carry your abuse of our forbearance? How much longer will your reckless temper baffle our restraint? What bounds will you set to this display of your uncontrolled audacity? Have you not being impressed by the nightly guards upon the Palatine, by the watching of the city by sentinels? Are you not affected by the alarm of the people, by the rallying of the loyal citizens, by the convening of this Senate in this safely guarded spot, by the looks and the expressions of all assembled here? Do you not perceive that your designs are exposed…?”

Cicero is like a white spot in a black background. The people drink in his words and fancy that their leaders are virtuous men, because Cicero is seen with them. But in the end, Cicero speaks out and none pay attention. Rome eventually falls. Only posterity hails him as a pillar of iron.