Monthly book roundup – 2015 January

Books finished in January:
(Warning: reviews are unpolished and quickly written.)

Augustus (1972) by John Williams. The story of Gaius Octavius, the founder of the Roman Empire and the First Roman Emperor Augustus, told through (fictional) letters between Augustus and his friends, enemies and acquaintances. From when his maternal great-uncle Julius Caesar was assasinated and Octavius made his heir only 18 years old, through his 41 year reign, until he died an old man. The history comes alive through Williams’ fiction. Recommended. (On Christopher Blattman’s suggestion.)

Station Eleven: A novel (2014) by Emily St. John Mandel. Ok. Living before and after a deadly global flu.

Infinite Jest (1996) by David Foster Wallace. Some great passages, particularly about drug use, but overall way too long and sprawling. Maybe that is a postmodernist point, but that in any case makes me lose interest. Quit after about 1/6.

The History of White People (2011) by Nell Irwin Painter. Interesting parts, like about how there used to be hard within-European white fronts that are now much less pronounced, and president Theodore Roosevelt’s worries about racial decay and writings about positive eugenics (boosting fertility), but overall I found the book too long and slow.

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China (2014) by Evan Osnos.
Good book about how times are changing in China, well told through various characters. But I am not that interested so stopped midway through.
Beijing changed very much.
Incredible story of Justin Yifu Lin from Taiwan, who defected and swam to China, left family, became economist, got Chicago phd, and became Chief Economist of the World Bank.
Ref to Norwegian sinologist Mette Hansgård Hansen who saw teachers imparting individualism.
Story of girl Gung who went to school. Created dating site.
Funny about Chinese tourists in Europe.
Truth chapter-about the propaganda department. Propaganda important for Mao. We hear about the judgement of Mao having been 77% correct and 30% wrong. Under Deng: Studied western PR and spin policies to improve propaganda. Censorship, no mention of Tiananmen e.g. Freedom of speech and the press guaranteed in the constitution, “but regulations gave government broad powers to imprison editors and writers for “harming national interests” and other offenses (p. 122)”. Parallel realities-public and real.
Recommended for those interested in China.

Ratings and old books are in the library.

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