Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses by Bess Lovejoy

Courtesy of Texas Public Radio

Courtesy of Texas Public Radio

I am not one to take reading suggestion from a radio show, but when I heard an interview of this book’s author, Bess Lovejoy on the nationally syndicated Coast to Coast AM with George Noory this book sounded not only quite silly, but also rather interesting. This book tells of the fates of the mortal remains of many of Humanity’s most famous people, often in a light-hearted way.

The book is a very easy read, but still maintains a high level of entertainment. I greatly enjoyed the story of Admiral Nelson’s corpse. After his death at Trafalgar, his body was pickled in rum for its trip back to England, rum that the sailor on his ship often drank from…. Another silly tail is about the numerous attempts by counterfeiters to steal and hold the corpse of Abraham Lincoln hostage. A serious tail is about the burning and dumping in the river if the ashes of Adolf Hitler and his wife Eva Braun. The book covers the fates of people from all walks of life from Galileo to Elvis. This book is a wonderful argument for the idea that in death every man is equal.

The book is very well researched as well as wonderfully written. It’s a treasure trove of arcane and creepy facts about the people who are buried as well as many of the burial practices of the times the people mentioned in this book lived in. I eagerly suggest this book to anyone who is interested in the macabre or for a good dark comedy.

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Columbine by Dave Cullen

credit to wikkipedia

credit to wikkipedia

Spoilers

The Columbine Tragedy, which occurred on 20 April, 1999, has left a scar on the American Imagination which is continually ripped open again and again every time a school shooting strikes the nation. Just the word “Columbine” is enough to bring images of news clips filmed from a helicopter above a school showing streams of students running from a building which is surrounded by police with guns drawn. The worst part of this is that despite the infamy on that name and the events that occurred at the school that bares that name is that the public a large doesn’t know much that happened there. There are many myths and misconceptions that surround the tragedy as well as the perpetrators that carried the crime out.

In the book Columbine, Dave Cullen, one of the many journalists that covered the event, attempts (and in my opinion largely succeeded) in dispelling the many rumors and myths that surrounded the perpetrators, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, as well as the events that occurred inside the school on that April day. One myth that Mr. Cullen quickly proved false is that a group of “goth students” known as the Trenchcoat Mafia was in some way linked to the event. Another more controversial myth is that one student, Cassie Bernall, affirmed her belief in God after she was asked whether she believed in God by Eric Harris before she was shot. As a result of this belief many Christians as well as her family view her as a Christian Martyr. In Columbine Mr. Cullen proves through witness testimony that while Cassie Bernall was praying at the time of her death Eric Harris never posed this question to her, but to another student, Valeen Schnurr, who survived the shooting.

The narrative tells the story in five parts which attempts to explain the events that led up to, during, and after the event. The book is written to seem almost like a fictional story. The author attempts to get into the minds of the killers through the writings and videos they left behind as well as through discussions with psychological experts. He presents evidence that the first perpetrator, Eric Harris was in fact a psychopath and that the second shooter, Dylan Klebold was suicidally depressed and was just following Harris’s lead. The author also goes on to describe the legal and religious implication that occurred on the local community around Columbine. He also profiles many of the victims as well as their families.

This is one of the few crime books that I have actually enjoyed. The book is beautifully written as well as well researched. The author obviously has sympathy for all those involved including those who perpetrated the event, but while his sympathy is obvious he goes to great lengths to keep the work impartial. This book is a hallmark of the true-crime genre and I believe that it is comparable to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

The Private Life of Chairman Mao by Dr. Li Zhisui

Credit to wikipedia

Credit to wikipedia

Spoilers!!!

To start off, this is one of the more troubling books I have ever read. I did not realize this until after I had finished it and had time to contemplate what I had read. This book is the memoir of Chairman Mao’s private physician, Doctor Li Zhisui. Chairman Mao Zedong, as you all may know was the supreme leader of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from its founding in 1949 till his death in 1976. Dr. Li describes the personal vices of Mao as well as the horrific court intrigues that took place around him. His story paints a picture of decadence and hypocrisy that has become the hallmark of not only Communist Regimes, but of any dictatorship.

Of course this book is not without its own controversy. Many claims have been made to the effect that some of the events portrayed in the story are exaggerated or outright lies. These claims have been leveled more at the publisher of the book rather than the Dr. Li as it is believed that they wanted a more sensationalized story to attract buyers. For the most part I don’t think much was lied about. I think the only instance of exaggeration was a description that towards the end of Mao’s life he liked to get full body massages from soldiers that ended in a very undignified capacity. Everything else mentioned I’m inclined to believe as they have precedent in other Communist countries.For example, it is described how mao has villa’s constructed for him all across China. At these villas nightly parties are held and “dancers” would retire with Mao at the end of the night. The villas are luxuriously appointed. Mao was not living the egalitarian life style that he often preached. I believe this was true. This is because the official residence of much the Communist Leadership continues to be an area of Beijing known as Zhongnanhai (wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhongnanhai). During the long dead Chinese Monarchy, Zhongnanhai was a branch of the Forbidden City Palace Complex and contains many palatial buildings as well as a major artificial lake. How can you still be a communist while still living in a Palace? If you can answer that question you may wish to tell Nicolae CeauČ™escu.

The book begins with Dr. Li’s return to China after a period of time working as a doctor in Oceania. He falls in with the upper Communist Party through a family member who holds a mid-level position in the party. Eventually the upper echelons of the Party take notice of Dr. Li and he eventually comes to be Mao’s personal physician. At first Dr. Li is a great admirer of Mao and his beliefs, but as the years go by and Dr. Li sees how decadent Mao and his compatriots are as well as the numerous power struggles that lead to both the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, along with Mao’s cult of personality, he becomes disillusioned with with not only Mao, but the entire system. OVer his years with Mao, Dr. Li also witness many people around Mao be exiled to prison camps are well as to live in the countryside with Chinese peasants. Reasons for exile or worse were often for overblown charges of treason or revisionist thought. Other’s disappeared because of minor disagreements with Mao or his wife, Jiang Qing. For exceptional periods of time Dr. Li is forced to travel the country with Mao or to live with him in private complexes which results in him missing much of his family life.

Much infom was also given on Jiang Qing. This is because she had numerous mental problems. For example she was a hypochondriac and would often claim extreme sensitivity to both low and bright light as well as loud noise. It is also mentioned how she had extreme abandonment issues and constantly worried about Mao leaving her. While this may make her seem to be a person who deserves sympathy, she is one of the more terrible villains in the memoir. She would often start fights with and cause trouble for her staff. Towards the end of the memoir it is shown that she becomes a major player in the PRC government and is one of the main catalysts for the Cultural Revolution which resulted in the deaths of many and the destruction of many priceless historical treasures.

The end of the memoir concludes just after Mao’s death from Lou Gehrig’s Disease. His wife makes a play for power which fails and results in the famous Gang of Four Incident. After this for a time Dr. Li is sent into exile to live as a peasant for a year and a half. After this he becomes the president of a major medical hospital in Beijing. Eventually he immigrates to the US shortly before his wife’s death in the late 80s.

The last few paragraphs in the story are the hardest to read. Dr. Li discusses about how all his beliefs as a young communist were slowly crushed by Mao and his cohorts. He also remarks on how he wasted his life and any chance as a real doctor helping others was ruined by the politics that kept him in the company of Mao. Dr. Li concludes his story with the following statement about his life and story: “I want it to serve as a reminder of the terrible human consequences of Mao’s dictatorship and of how good and talented people living under his regime were forced to violate their consciences and sacrifice their ideals in order to survive.”

This statement left me with an overwhelming sense of pity and sadness for Dr. Li.

The Ender’s Game Saga and Ender’s Shadow Saga by Orson Scott Card

photo credit to wikipedia

photo credit to wikipedia

Spoilers!!!

Why I usually only profile one book on this blog, today I am going to be ambitious and not only profile an entire series, but two. I started reading the first Ender Series book, Ender’s Game, with what can only be described as apprehension. I knew what the plot was and it seemed rather cheap to me. After two hours in, I am proud to say that I was gravely mistaken. The plot is not only very memorable, but the characters just stick out in your mind. The world Mr. Card builds through the story is also very thought provoking.

The premise of the main story in the first and most famous book Ender’s Game, is that in the future the world has been twice attacked by an alien enemy known as the Formics, better known through the derogatory term “Buggers”. The Formics are an insect race which are controlled by “Queens” much in the same way ants are. The Formic’s second attack was only just overcome by the combined force of Earth’s many nations. However, despite Earth’s victory the Formics have never been truly defeated outside the Sol Galaxy. To combat this overarching threat the nations of Earth operate a military force known as the International Fleet (IF). The IF institutes a program where extremely gifted children from around the world are collected and sent to the IF’s Battle School to be trained to be the planet’s most gifted military geniuses to lead the Fleet against the Formic threat. The Battle School is located in an orbiting space station far above the Earth. Enter Andrew “Ender” Wiggen, the youngest child of an American Family. The IF takes a peculiar interest in Ender and soon Ender is on his way to the Battle School. Once there he makes many friends and enemies. The students at the Battle School are broken into 41 teams which battle each other in a null gravity room. In this null gravity room the teams act as armies in mock wars and use various tactics to beat one another. After being passed among several teams, Ender is eventually given a team of his own to command. He quickly conquers the other teams to become the battle station’s top commander. Eventually he and his top commanders are taken from the Battle School to Eros were the fight against computer controlled enemies with mock fleets of ships. Eventually Ender beats the simulated enemy and eradicates the enemy’s home planet. At this point it is revealed that the mock war wasn’t a simulation. It was a real war against the Formics that Ender won by completely destroying the Formic Homeworld. Due to the stress from the pressure put on him as well as the guilt at having committed Xenocide (the complete destruction of an entire alien race), Ender temporarily snaps. After the war, he goes of to help build humanity’s first off world colony. Once there he find the last surviving Formic Queen, through her, Ender learns that the Formics didn’t mean to ever interfere in human affairs ever again and regretted the first two wars they started. The third war was started and ended by the Humans. To help redeem himself, Ender agrees to help find the Formic Queen a new home to restart her race. This sets the stage for the rest of the Ender’s Game Saga.

The Ender’s Shadow series deals with the world Ender Leaves behind and how his fellow students from the Battle School deal with their return to Earth. Their return causes many political intrigues to be played out which often result in all out war between countries who use the Battle School students to plan ingenious military plans in an attempt for global Hegemony. Where the Ender’s Game Saga is very spiritual in nature the Ender’s Shadow Saga is much more political in nature.

Throughout both series, Card creates a world that is exceptionally similar to our own, while at the same time very different. For example, while the countries are unofficially united against the alien threat, much bickering still happens between nations. Also the technology, past the spaceships and interstellar travel doesn’t seem to be so different from our own. Tablets seem to be much more commonplace in this world than our own, however.

What really get’s me about these two series are the themes that Card manages to explore with his characters. Besides the usual war and politics of most sci-fi stories, Card also manages to explore such themes as Sibling Rivalry, Collective Guilt, Child Labor, as well as the Concept of Necessary Evil. What get to me most about these stories is how Card manages to get you genuinely love each and every character. When A character achieves joy, the reader experiences it with them, when a character feel pain, the reader feels that as well. The events in every story also keeps the reader in a constant state of wonder and an eagerness to figure out how the characters will solve the problems they will encounter.

On a special note, what I found especially interesting in this novel was the many instances that Catholicism plays a part in the stories. Many of the characters are either practicing Catholics or have a Catholic past. Now to many this may not be an issue, but I find this interesting as Orson Scott Card is a Mormon, and high in the Church at that. Now please don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Mormons or their faith. I am, however, almost certain that Catholicism is a major symbol in the stories, but for the life of me I cannot figure out what the symbol is. I find this to be one of the most intriguing aspects of the novels. I would love to hear any and all ideas on this as well.

Needless to say that I am very excited for the Movie verions of Ender’s Game to premier later this year (trailer shown here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vP0cUBi4hwE) and I will post a review of it whenI finally get to see it. I suggest these novels to anyone and everyone who can read them. They have something for everyone and they will genuinly make you think.

photo credit to wikipedia

photo credit to wikipedia