Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Mao: the unknown story - Jung Chang

We have already met Jung Chang when we talked about her “Wild Swans: three daughters of China”. She had already introduced us to the hardships the Chinese population had to endure under Mao Zedong’s rule.
This book, as the title suggests, features the dictator himself as the main character. Jung Chang tells us how this son of a farmer, born in a remote rural province, managed to take over the Chinese communist party first and the whole country after that. It also tells us how dozens of millions Chinese had to suffer and die because of the ambitions of a single man.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Moth Smoke - Mohsin Hamid

I had already read and reviewed another book by Mohsin Hamid: “The reluctant fundamentalist”. That was a pleasant surprise, as I had never heard of this author before. “Moth smoke” confirmed my first impression. Hamid's stories always feature some young, well educated, smart Pakistani who migrated to the USA or is friend with someone who went there. I suspect that this is an autobiographical touch.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Out of Africa, Shadows on the grass - Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen)

Made super-famous by the Sydney Pollack’s movie of the same name featuring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, “Out of Africa” contains Karen Blixen’s memories about her stay in Africa and has inspired millions of people around the globe.
Blixen moved to British East Africa (current Kenya) with her husband just before the beginning of WWI and remained there until the early thirties. She owned a coffee plantation where, for almost two decades, she lived and worked surrounded by various groups of locals, belonging to a multitude of ethnic groups, speaking different languages and adhering to several faiths.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

The World Until Yesterday - Jared Diamond

I’ve already said that Jared Diamond is one of my favorite authors and popular science writers. I don’t need to say it again, and by doing that I’ve basically said that again. No problem: he deserves it.
Diamond’s works are the ones I would have liked to read when I was at school. I think he also writes young readers editions. Some of his lessons would do great as schoolbook chapters.
He’s particularly skilled at explaining why, over the course of aeons, the world, the environment, living organisms and human societies have become (as opposed to have always been) what they are today.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

The rape of Nanking - Iris Chang

Nowadays what happened in Nanking (current name: Nanjing) on the eve of WWII, when the Japanese army invaded the city, looted it, killed and raped hundreds of thousands - children and elderly alike - is a very well established, known and discussed fact. But up until the mid ’90s it had been swept under the carpet of history, quite unbelievably, given the prominence of the sides involved and the magnitude/typology of the tragedy.
Iris Chang’s book is one of the main sources of the limelight that was suddenly and belatedly shed on the event.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

The most beautiful woman in town - Charles Bukowski

I used to read Bukowski - translated into Italian - when I was a college student. Bukowski depicted a world of decadence, problems, poverty, alcohol addiction and free sex that could make the clean and standardized life in the province, at university, in the family, with ordinary people, among conventional ideas, a little less standardized. It was a comparison term, a paradoxical mix of a threat to avoid and a goal to achieve. I found it so fascinating. I stopped reading it but I guess that it never left me. I’ve always tried to peek (in a safe way) at that dark side of modern and developed societies, at least to remind myself that the life I was living was a privilege and that good can be found also where we’re taught only the bad thrives.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

SuperFreakonomics - Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

I’ve already talked about the the first book of the series (Freakonomics) a few months back. In this new non fiction work the authors keep analyzing situations that apparently don’t have anything to do with economics, by using tools that are normally handled by economists.
The theme is still the same, only this time it is expanded, explained more in detail and displayed with new examples: humans beings behave in response to incentives (positive or negative). Basically when we do or say something we are always trying to get some gain or avoid some loss, not necessarily tangible ones.