Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Half a Review and Some Other Stuff: Who Hates Whom by Bob Harris

I'm feeling sort of obligated to post, on account of it's been nearly a week. And yet.

I have no books to review because I spent the past week re-reading World Without End, that big, fat medieval Ken Follett book, which I checked out from the library because I thought I'd be on jury duty (alas, summoned, but not called to serve).

On a second read, I noticed one annoying little thing. Follett has this habit of describing minor characters with a single distinctive trait (e.g. strapping arms, a rat-like face, a jolly bosom), and then mentioning that trait every single time the character appears in the book. In a 1000-page book, this begins to grate.

I'm currently reading Who Hate Whom: Well-Armed Fanatics, Intractable Conflicts, and Various Things Blowing Up: A Woefully Incomplete Guide by Bob Harris, author of a book much-loved on the blog, Prisoner of Trebekistan.

Harris admits from the get-go that this is not the book he intended to write. He'd had something in mind along the lines of odd sports and recreation of the world, but his editor nixed it. Then he casually mentioned how useful he would find a book that explained "which parts of the planet are currently explosive and why," to which his editor said, "That's not a bad idea, actually."

And while the fact that this was not Harris's first choice for a book does come across a bit in the writing, it is proving to be an exceptionally handy little book. Harris is a smart dude, and very good at explaining complex things in succinct, funny, and brain-sticky ways without grossly oversimplifying things (and when he does, he's the first to announce "by the way, I'm grossly oversimplifying things here"... as the title of the book itself might suggest).

Between it and Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea, I now understand the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan with far more sophistication than what was provided to me by the news I read and watched. And I haven't even gotten to the regions of the world that aren't in the news every day. What's going on in Liberia?

Soon, I will know.


Lisa said...

your half a review is enough to make me go look for the book, good job! That's the kind of stuff that I want to know more about but can't stand to read newspaper articles about.

Gwen said...

If I recall, Liberia is a cesspit of despair, but I might be confusing that with my hometown.

mary_m said...

I was catching up with my college roommate last night, and she recently spent some time in Africa. She says that when she was in South Africa, everyone told her to be careful in Zimbabwe, and when she was in Zimbabwe, everyone told her to be careful in South Africa. I guess the cesspit is in the eye of the beholder.