This is a list of the books I read in 2014. All the reviews were written in 2014 and are archived on this site in (roughly) the order I read them in.

Book Reviews 2014
September 25, 20192014 / Book Reviews1984 is a book about a near-future dystopian world where nothing is secret from the government. The theme of book is an illustration of what can happen in a totalitarian system of government, much like North Korea today. My impressions from this book are numerous so I will shed some insight onto a few areas that impacted me most. A large part of the book is dedicated to the travails of censorship. Winston Smith, the main protagonist, works in the “Ministry of Truth” which edits newspaper articles whenever the government changes it’s mind. For example, the nation Oceania has been at war with Eurasia for years, until the government decided that it was at war with Eastasia. Winston’s job is to go through all the previous articles written about the war with Eurasia and change it to Eastasia. I particularly enjoyed the ending (so if you haven’t read the book and would not like a spoiler.. stop reading!). Winston gets captured by the thought police and gets taken in for “retraining.” Here, the antagonist of the story tells Winston that in previous generations, the way to deal with people who did not conform to the government were just imprisoned. Ideologically, this did not correct the thinking of those people, but rather made it fester for years. Under the government in 1984, those who think counter to the government are subjected to torture until they relinquish to thinking that is aligned with the reigning powers. So Winston under goes a torture experience that is an allegory for the Soviet methods. One popular one was the phrase “2+2=5.” Apparently, the Soviets used this tactic to convince people that if the government said that 2+2=5, then that is how it is. Orwell also discusses the importance of the “war” efforts that were inherently fictitious. This is interesting because nationalism is a large theme in 1984. The purpose of the war efforts were to convince subjects to rally around an opposing force and thus propagate the reputation of the government. Lastly, the turning point at the end of the book was the denunciation of his love for Julia, an intimate mate whom he met. He was faced with a torture of facing his worst fear (rats) and betrayed her. This was the final straw in his re-education, showing that the one thing that he believed in was no longer important. Overall, Orwell’s book brings about several topics that are applicable in our society today: that of censorship, nationalism, etc. These reappear throughout history and will continue to impact our thoughts into the future. [...]
September 25, 20192014 / Book ReviewsMark Owen, a pseudonym for former Navy Seal Matt Bissonnette, has recently come under heavy fire from the Pentagon for releasing classified information about his time as a part of Seal Team 6 and their raid to kill Osama Bin Laden. This story is even more intriguing when former Seal Team 6 teammate, Robert O’Neil, claimed that he shot Osama Bin Laden, miring a controversial situation in more uncertainty. In any case, after his participation in this secret operation, Owen wrote a book about his experience in Seal Team 6, and most notably the story behind bagging America’s most wanted criminal: Osama Bin Laden. The story begins on the night of Operation Neptune Spear, which had gathered intelligence that Osama Bin Laden was hiding out in a home in Pakistan. Owen details the helicopter ride in and how things started to go very awry as the copter he was on has to make an emergency landing. He then goes back and details a bit of backround of his own story: how he joined the Seals, the evolution of his thought post 9/11, how he joined the elite Seal Team 6, some of the training they did etc. The whole book seems anticipatory to the last three chapters which actually details the day of Operation Neptune. The reader is informed on the secrecy that shrouded everything from their training to the classified information they were receiving. Finally, Owen writes a detailed account of that day in it’s entirety, that we have already mentioned, isn’t without controversy. For those of you who have seen the movie, “Zero Dark-Thirty,” the book reads much like this film in terms of the actual raid. For more details, I would recommend picking up a copy of the book. As I have mentioned in another book of the same genre, one thing that bothers me is how artificial this book reads. Obviously Mark Owen did not write the entire book, and while it reads more intelligently than “American Sniper,” it still has a hollow feel that seems surreal. It is obvious that Kevin Maurer had a heavy hand in writing the book. Unlike “American Sniper,” it is also apparent that some liberties were taken such as dialogue. How Owen remembers specifically what people said years and years ago is beyond me. Yet it is played off as non-fiction. That seems a little farfetched if you ask me. It seems that the writers sacrifice historicity and scholarship for entertainment at times. In all, if you are curious as to the dubious nature of Operation Neptune and don’t have big problems with the aforementioned controversies and inconsistencies but are looking for an exciting and interesting book to pick up, I would recommend this book for purchase. And to help give you an extra perspective, also see “Zero Dark Thirty.” [...]
September 25, 20192014 / Book ReviewsJames Webb is a retired: Marine Captain, journalist, producer, Secretary of the Navy, and most recently, United States Senator from Virginia. He is also a prospective United States Presidential Canidate for the Democratic Party. From this brief list of his accolades, James Webb has a lot to say about his interesting life. From the many moves of his early childhood as a military brat to the rice paddies of Vietnam, this was certainly an entertaining reflection of a life well spent. For my readers who follow this blog, you all know that I am pretty into military history and, more importantly, Marines. Webb had a lifelong passion to join the military in the footsteps of his father who retired as an Air Force Colonel and who also served in the last days of WWII. Webb details his life with unrelenting detail, illustrating his childhood and the conditions that led up to his decision to join the Naval Academy. He was a semi-professional boxer, excellent student, an avid reader, and really an intellectual from an early age. During his time at the academy, he details the harsh realities of “Pleb” year and how that benefitted him during his combat tours in Vietnam. Webb joined the Marine Corps as a 2nd Lieutenant and shortly after “the Basic School” in Quantico, Virginia, the Marine Corps training school for fresh Lieutenants to become a platoon commander, he was shipped out to Vietnam. He received two purple hearts during his time there and wrote a famous book entitled, “Fields of Fire,” which I plan to read soon. After his time in Vietnam, he ceases to be as detailed about his life. Perhaps he thought his book was running too long to carefully notate everything as he did earlier. I would have loved to hear about his experience as Secretary of the Navy and about his time in the Senate. Instead, he leaves us with a moving passage about being true to the people he represented instead of following money on Capitol Hill. This is a very well-written account by James Webb and his life. What I find a little annoying is all the political jargon amidst the careful anecdotes of his life. Early on he dictates the conditions his mother lived through during the Great Depression, but sidesteps the facts to detail a long diatribe on how the South has always been more poor and more taken advantage of then the North. While this may be true, it really is irrelevant to the story. All the detail in this several-page rant could be boiled down to something that would have been more significant than a politically driven agenda. But I suppose what can we expect from someone who just retired from the Senate? He has another sort of rant that speaks about the change in our military (which I found more interesting). Back in the day, he explains, the military was a single man’s game. After the Korean War, money was diverted to programs that are geared more towards families such as base housing and food chains on base. He mentions Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, where I just came from, and says that one could live their entire deployment on the base without having to leave. This is largely true and a by-product of these innovations in the 1950’s and 60’s. Overall, James Webb is an incredibly interesting man, and although I may disagree with some of his politics, he chose to lay his life on the line for his country as a servant, from the many moves that comes with being in a military family, to being a platoon commander in Vietnam, to eventually becoming a United States Senator. I believe that this, not politics, is the heart of the book. [...]
September 25, 20192014 / Book ReviewsI want to preface this entry with a thank you: Over the past 11 months, I’ve had over 800 views on this blog. Wow! Thanks to everyone for reading as I finish up my first 52 book challenge. To give you an update: I am about 12 books out on the year but almost all of those are partially completed. So I’m hoping I’ll make it to 52. The real struggle has been this entries because it takes time and energy to complete them. I have been really busy in the last month trying to get caught up, so here’s to that as well! I returned to fiction for about two weeks as I read through the largest book of the year. At 1008 pages, Tom Clancy’s thriller was a satisfying book to complete. Because of it’s length however, it was all entertaining. The essence of plot revolves around a Japanese business man who begins to buy up large chunks of land in Saipan. A lot of the book revolves around economics, so the first half is pretty dry. Essentially, he wants to throw American Economy into turmoil, and does so by manipulating the stock market by secretly installing a program that destroys all evidence of every trade made after 1200 PM on a Friday. Our protagonist, Jack Ryan, works to undo all of the chaos that enthralls him, including the threat of nuclear weapons that Japanese placed strategically in Russia. Of course, this is about as much information I can tell without ruining the story. for a 1008 page book, there is a lot more that goes unsaid. As far as I can tell, most Clancy novels start very slow. He has to set up all the intricate details that make his novels entertaining. But this one takes the cake: I would rather not read about all the ways a criminal businessman sets up American economy for a fall while his rises. But I suppose it’s a give and take. Tom Clancy had come under fire from various organizations (mostly federal entities like the CIA and the FBI) for seemingly being able to “predict the future,” most importantly, the post-9/11 policies of American. Without giving too much away here, you can read this article from Time, which depicts four scenarios that Clancy wrote about that came true. For a while, many thought that Clancy had to submit his books to the FBI before they were published, but I have not found any concrete evidence that this is true. After his death, the FBI released Clancy’s file that showed he was sought after as a private consultant, which you can read more about here. In any case, if you’re looking for a thriller, any novel by Tom Clancy is definitely my recommendation. [...]
September 24, 20192014 / Book ReviewsThe opening sentence of this book on the 20th Century Chinese communist leader says, “Mao Tse Tung, who for decades held absolute power over the lives of one-quarter of the world’s population, was responsible for well over 70 million deaths in peacetime, more than any other twentieth-century leader.” Chang and Halliday spent over 10 years of research demythologizing the reputation of Mao and casts him in a severe light; one that rivals the atrocities of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin as the most-killingest man of the 20th Century, mostly ignorant to Western society. Even as of this week, a portrait of Mao’s was sold for 12 million dollars (http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/a-triumph-for-capitalism-warhols-canvas-of-mao-tse-tung-fetches-76m.1392275521). We hear a lot about the demons of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, but we are less inclined to hear about the magnanimous losses in China. We are even fed that Mao was a good ruler and misunderstand or muckraked to a poor reputation. I will propose that neither of these is true after reading this book. Mao had a lust for power that would never be quenched until he conquered the world. Examples of this can be seen from “the Long March,” where Mao led over 80,000 communist troops all over China, most without shoes or clothing to shelter them from the elements (Mao either rode a horse, mule, or was carried the whole way while the Nationalists pursued and bombed/ambushed them), killing about 70,000 (only 10,000 survived). After he came to power in the 1940’s, he desired an un-rivaled power, using the Soviet Union to help him get weapons technology and produce China’s first atom bomb. In the process, of what now is called, “the Great Leap Forward,” he starved to death over 30 million (some estimate as high as 45 million) Chinese, making them eat leafs and dirt while he exported most of China’s produce to the Soviet union for money to 1) pay back the Soviet Union and 2) develop more militaristic weapons including a navy, air force, and guns. He enacted a policy that created the “backyard furnaces,” where pots, pans, jewelry and anything metal was confiscated and made into a sort of “pig metal” to be used for such endeavors. Of the steel made that year, only 40% of it was able to be made into anything worthwhile. He led numerous purges in order to castigate those who were deemed as “counter-revolutionaries” into a conservative light, giving them the green to be executed or sent away to a work camp in inner Mongolia where few returned from. He was a womanizer, lazy, power hungry among other things and did not care about the people he ruled or how many he would have to kill to become a superpower. On the Great Leap, he said, “Half of China may well have to die.” Finally, in the 1960’s-70’s, he led a campaign called the “Cultural Revolution” where actors, actresses, opera, music, books, writers and the educated elite were all purged in favor of “Maoist” propaganda in the form of what was called “The Red Book:” a series of Mao quotes that nearly everyone was issued. Millions died as a result of these purges as well. As I surveyed this book, something struck me that is applicable to our modern day. Many Americans have been critical of such conflicts as the Korean War, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan etc. But when half of the Korean Penisula was liberated from the communist North in the 1950’s, that became a beacon of freedom and capitalism that prevented the deaths of probably millions of people. When we come to view Vietnam as a huge failure, I think we fail to realize the “good” that such interventions may achieve. While we did not liberate Vietnam as we did South Korea, I think there is a moral responsibility for those who are more fortunate to help those who are unable to speak for themselves. In the same vein, there has been an enormously negative reaction to the intervention in Iraq. But if a killer and a poor leader was ousted to make the lives of millions of people better, was it worth it? In my eyes it is. This is a thought-provoking book: it gives clarity to what freedoms we have in America and how fortunate we are. This is a great read. [...]

 

Black Hawk Down

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Daniel Commentary

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 

A Christmas Carol 

The Aviators: Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle, Charles Lindbergh, and the Epic Age of Flight

The Hobbit 

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning

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