Reluctant Fundamentalist, On Chesil Beach, Evolution for Everyone, Watchmen and The Way of the World.

On the way to and from Allentown, PA in early March, Ramona and I listened to the unabridged recording of The Reluctant Fundamentalist. I was glad we listened to it, because I enjoyed hearing the frustration in the narrator’s voice. The title is a play on words, or at least a play on expectations. This becomes apparent only after a major part of the story has been told. In general, the novel concerns a young Pakistani who does well in New York City, then has to return home to Pakistan in disgrace. The story is told as a series of memories as the first person narrator visits with a mysterious, voice-less American in Pakistan. If you read this and have theories about the ending, let me know.

While driving from D.C. to Hot Springs back in mid-March, I listened to On Chesil Beach: A Novel by Ian McEwan. This novella is about the terrible beginning of a marriage. The plot can be told briefly and may not seem like much. The fun, as with some of McEwan’s other shorter works, is seeing how believable he can make the characters and the psychological setting. The story is sad, but the writing is very entertaining.

Since arriving in Ciudad Juarez, I’ve continued to plug away at Daniel Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, but I’ve been reading at this for over a year now. It’s great stuff, but a lot of stuff. I took a break from Dennett and sped through David Sloan Wilson’s Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives. Glad I read a library copy. I’ve been reading about Wilson’s group selection argument on and off for a few years, so I wanted to see what he was talking about. This title was written in a conversational style without endnotes or footnotes. Many, many of the pages were what might have been engaging stories at a dinner or cocktail party, but had nothing to do with teaching the reader more about evolution and/or Charles Darwin. I appreciated Dr. Wilson’s attempt at making folks understand how they can incorporate the theory of evolution into their lives, but he fell far short of his goal. Plus, albeit based on reading just this one work of his, I don’t buy his group selection theory or his argument against gene-level selection. I read some more of Dennett to try to cleanse my mental palate, but ending up freezing my brain (like when you eat too much ice cream too fast).

So I punted and picked up Alan Moore’s Watchmen. I first read this back in 1993 or so, re-read it in 2003 and wanted to refresh myself on the story before the movie version is released. Still not a very uplifting story. Oh well, it was fun to read and the political discussions in it were more interesting this time around.

In early June I was looking for a good, short, world history summary for plane and hotel room reading purposes and I chose Daivd Fromkin’s The Way of the World: From the Dawn of Civilizations to the Eve of the Twenty-first Century. This was an easy-to-read, enjoyable story about humans in the world so far. I am still trying to build up my general historical knowledge base, so this was a great refresher. This book is very short and very broad of scope. Nothing like his Peace To End All Peace, except that I really enjoyed reading both of them. In The Way of the World, Fromkin identifies eight major turning points in the history of humans to date and then discusses four more turning points that may come up soon. As someone continuing to try to get his arms around the general time lines of history and its main phases, I found this short history very pleasing. The last twenty pages or so are not-so-interesting speculations about the future of the United States. Although it didn’t bother me through most of the rest of the book, his even-sidedness and politeness is a bit much in the last few pages. Since I was interested in his view on our history, not our future (right now), not a big problem.

In late June, I am starting a small monthly book club to discuss work on diplomacy, politics and history. I will note when a reviewed title was not chosen by me.

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