Three books up this time for review, those of you who peeked at the previous entry of the Reading List will no doubt be unsurprised by the titles.
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, by Jack Weatherford
Eric, Terry Pratchett
The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern Worldby Jack Weatherford.
Genghis Khan is a crucial figure in world history. Smashing Braudelian ideas that its only motive forces, rather than Great Men, who change the course of world history, Khan and his descendants transformed Eurasia to an extent still seen today. Long seen as a barbarian butcher, Weatherford’s book puts Genghis Khan and his family in a more realistic light.
Relying heavily on a rarely seen in the West story called Secret History of the Mongols, Genghis Khan is examined from birth through death, and then his successors. The author spent extensive time in the land of his birth, getting a feel for the still mostly pristine landscape which shaped Genghis.
While there are a few somewhat irksome comparisons to some of the enlightened aspects of Genghis Khan’s rule and policies versus what Europe was doing at the time, in the main, there is a balanced, thoughtful account of how a boy from a nothing tribe on the northern edge of the steppe would grow into a world figure. While Khan was merciless to his enemies, ruthless in his ambitions, he was also extremely loyal to those loyal to him, a trait which hindered his plans and life more than once.
The world would not be what it is today, had Genghis Khan not lived. The book illustrates that very well, and many misconceptions I had about Khan and his line were expunged upon reading it.
Eric (Discworld Novel) by Terry Pratchett
The next in my quest to read the Discworld novels, Eric is a retelling of the Faust story, with some changes. Like, making Faust a 13 year old boy. And, making Mephistopheles the most inept wizard in history, Rincewind.
A small enough diversion, while there are some nice bits in the book, I thought Eric was a step backwards from some of the better Discworld novels. It has the feel and lack of polish of Colour of Magic, and the book lacks a really proper ending. However, some of those bits do make up for it. Llama driven chariots are a sight that is too funny not to laugh out loud when they are encountered. Still, though, the book is a trifle truffle, and those who want to get to the meaty Discworld novels can safely skip the book without losing anything.
Recommended for Discworld enthusiasts and completists only.
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.
A classic that, for years, I could not find because I was going under the wrong name, finally re-read in full.
Back in the day when I was small and went to elementary school, one of my teachers read the story of a boy who found himself in a weird and magical kingdom of words and numbers, sounds and silence. The title, as far as I can remember the teacher telling me, was “Milo and the Mathemagician”, or perhaps that’s what she called the excerpt. I could never find any book by that title, and I was too independent, and shy, ever to ask a librarian for help.
Years later, though, I discovered that the book I had remembered actually was called The Phantom Tollbooth, was a classic, and was readily available. Now, finally owning a copy (thanks to Amber and Rich), I read it cover to cover while waiting for and getting on my flight back from The Black Road.
It all came back to me. Incidents in Dictionopolis instantly recalled those days in the classroom. The numbers mine, the stair that lead to infinity, and the demons of ignorance came back to memory as I delved into Milo’s imaginary world. I had forgotten, or not realized when I was young, there is a fair amount of poking at some things in the book, too. The Senses Taker, for example, a demon who annoyingly tries to charm you into giving up endless amounts of data on yourself, is a fiend that, in the age of the internet, is even more of a biting figure than in 1961.
Yes, its a children’s classic and every parent should read it to their children. The power of imagination, the unleashing of creativity, and the fight against ignorance and close mindness are themes of the book that are not hit over the head on the reader, but are gently and wonderfully conveyed. And yes, while its a children’s classic, I know a few adults who need a phantom tollbooth of their own.
Very Highly Recommended