Saturday, March 28, 2009

I just finished The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997 by Piers Brendon. Or, to be honest, I finished as much of it as I could before it had to go back to the library. I only got through 500 or so of the 600+ pages.

Interesting, but pretty dry. It's more of a list of events and people rather than tying together the events into some ideas that led to the decline, but the story of how Britain fell into a some what reluctant empire that spanned the globe is inherently interesting.

The most annoying part of the book is it's focus on the negative parts of the empire. Although there are plenty of them, and they shouldn't be glossed over, reading this book without already knowing somethings about the British would give one the impression it was all incompetence and genocide, which maybe it is from the current post-colonial point of view.

Also, the book sparked some thoughts on the relation between racism and nationalism. There is a lot of reported rhetoric about the British spouting lines about the superiority of their race or "whites", but it feels like their idea of race was pretty limited and what they really meant was the superiority of the British in particular, since they didn't include many groups that would be lumped into the Caucasian race by modern audiences in their idea of "white". In other words, it was really a disguised and extended form of extreme nationalism, rather than what is modernly referred to as racism.

Friday, March 27, 2009

I just finished The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, winner of the 2008 Booker Prize.

The White Tiger is an epistolary novel, told in a long letter from the protagonist to the premier of China. The protagonist is a poor Indian who becomes a driver for some coal magnates from his home town, only to eventually murder one of them as an act of rebellion, and start his own company. The part about his company is really just denouement - the book mainly focuses on his struggles as a child and life as a driver.

It portrays Indian society as designed to exploit the poor, keeping them in their place through familiar and cultural pressures while treating them as garbage. One of the bosses he works for is slightly more sympathetic, but the protagonist eventually sees him as simply weak and, after an internal struggle, decides to kill him and steal a bribe intended for local politicians.

The book is a polemic - condemning most of Indian society, from the way the poor treat each other to the way they are used by the rich, with some sideswipes at westerners and others along the way. It is compellingly written, and the internal growth and struggles of the protagonist are well presented.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A few days ago I finished David Baldacci's The Simple Truth, the latest in the legal thrillers I've been reading.

This book is heavy on the thriller, light on the legal. It involves the US Supreme Court, but only as a background for other events. It mainly focuses on a military prisoner who was wrongfully convicted, his escape and related investigations. It's a compelling page turner, but ultimately a pretty empty read.