Q4 Reading Roundup (2 of 2)

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure | This book starts with a completely absurd fictional account of the authors hiking up to some Zen master’s retreat and being granted some advice that is completely wrong. The long, unnecessary anecdote sets the stage for the rest of the book. The rest of it is good, and sad. I am glad I graduated from college over a decade ago, I am sure I’d be disgusted by campus society these days. My main issue with a book like this is that I’m not sure what good it does, other than provide confirmation of a problem will remain unresolved because the people causing the problem will not accept the book’s key points. I would happily pass along copies of this to people who could benefit greatly from its content, but those people have long un-followed me on Facebook and haven’t read much if anything I’ve passed along to them. You could build much more upon this idea, as this learned fragility flows into corporations and government from the university system, and the consequences are already frightening. Review here.

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined |While this 100-chapter book took me forever to get through; I really enjoyed it, I will never write a review (of anything) as complete or thoughtful as Aschwin’s, so I will link to his.

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America | I’m still really unsure how I feel about this very lengthy and bitter-sounding history of poor whites in America. Further, while some explanation of inequality make sense to me (property ownership value compounds over generations, so if you start later you can have less inherited wealth), this tirade against a country that allegedly oppresses opportunities for the poorest whites, who are generationally poor, fails to account for the fact that millions of poor immigrants with even fewer opportunities landed in this country, dispersed and flourished. The book has no real topic order; some of her reflections on people like Bill Clinton and Sarah Palin are interesting, and her cultural critique is worth considering. Overall I was not a fan: the disjointed style and the wildly resentful tone were not particularly persuasive. Two completely different reviews, one from the Washington Post here and one from the National Review here. There is a false comparison to Hillbilly Elegy: the two books are nothing alike.

The Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in Bosnia (Comparative Studies in Religion and Society Book 11) | I will never forget the way this book opens, with the shelling of the National Library in Sarajevo. I consider myself a fairly rational and often unemotional person; the Bosnian War has always evoked very deep horror in me, and absent geography, I can’t think of a worse building to go up in flames than a library, though I attribute this partially to my own culture, in which burning books is taboo.

This book is similar in tone to The Serbs: it is highly critical of Serb politicians and nationalists. It is rightfully critical of the West and the UN. Its primary focus is Christoslavism, which is integral to explaining the history of the Balkans. The extent of cruelty and dehumanization and groupthink leading up to and during this war is staggering. That it dragged on for years before anyone intervened is sickening. The book details the rapid destruction of tolerance and history, and the way Serb and Bosnian Serb politicians fanned the flames of hatred. It is not unbiased, but it is very good. I wish I could say that September’s trip to BiH was fulfilling enough to stop reading books about the Balkans. It was not, and I have quite a few others I will read in 2019 before heading back to Sarajevo in June.

The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives |Not sure why or how I came across this book, it but’s a pretty diverse collection of stories by refugees in America. No real opinion, it’s always interesting to read about how other people live. Pretty good read. SF Gate review here.

The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border |This book was pretty well-received for offering a different perspective on border patrol, though I’m not sure in the end it lacks any sympathy. It’s tragic and torn; also really well-written. NY Times review here.

Balkans pResearch

I’m sort of taking the trip of a lifetime next month. I am pretty sure I don’t know anyone else who would pick Bosnia as their ‘trip of a lifetime’ destination, but that’s neither here nor there, as the old folks say.

I’ve read a ton of books over the past months about the Western Balkans. I’ve always had an affinity for what Anna Politkovskaya might have called ‘a medium sized corner of hell’ (Chechnya was the small one), but I have been cruising through books for the past few months.

I don’t do this with every place I go, because I don’t exhale more time in the day, but I do it with many. I did this before a few weeks in Newfoundland, I have read hundreds of books at this point in my life on the Arctic. This nerdy habit of mine has deepened my learning and sense of experiential quality when traveling, especially to off-the-beaten-path destinations.  Additionally, I hope that someday someone will wander across this and be wondering what books are a must for their forthcoming Balkan adventure. They will more likely than not be blessed with the same  comments I have been:

“(awkward silence)”
“Watch out for landmines!”
“Is there anything left to see there?”
“I don’t think I ever thought I’d tell someone to ‘have fun in Bosnia!”

As they say in millennial slang, haters gon’ hate.

Not in this list: my winter jackpot find, a €29,95 copy of Sarajevo: A study in the origins of the Great War by RW Seton-Watson:

sarajevo

Must Reads:
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia
The Bridge on the Drina
Balkan Ghosts: A Journey through History
Fortunes of War: The Balkan Trilogy

Must Peruse, at the very least:
The Mountain Wreath

Bonus Reads:
S., A Novel about the Balkans (everything by Slavenka Drakulić is wonderful)
They Would Never Hurt A Fly: War Criminals on Trial at the Hague
Sarajevo Daily
The Serbs
My War Gone By, I Miss It So