Gulag Archipelago, Vol 2 ★★★★☆


This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Gulag Archipelago, Vol 2
Series: Gulag Archipelago
Author: Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-fiction
Pages: 648
Words: 276.5K



Synopsis:

Containing Parts III & IV of Solzhenitsyn’s book, The Gulag Archipelago.

From Wikipedia.com

Structurally, the text comprises seven sections divided (in most printed editions) into three volumes: parts 1–2, parts 3–4, and parts 5–7. At one level, the Gulag Archipelago traces the history of the system of forced labor camps that existed in the Soviet Union from 1918 to 1956. Solzhenitsyn begins with V. I. Lenin’s original decrees which were made shortly after the October Revolution; they established the legal and practical framework for a series of camps where political prisoners and ordinary criminals would be sentenced to forced labor. The book then describes and discusses the waves of purges and the assembling of show trials in the context of the development of the greater Gulag system; Solzhenitsyn gives particular attention to its purposive legal and bureaucratic development.

The narrative ends in 1956 at the time of Nikita Khrushchev’s Secret Speech (“On the Personality Cult and its Consequences”). Khrushchev gave the speech at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, denouncing Stalin’s personality cult, his autocratic power, and the surveillance that pervaded the Stalin era. Although Khrushchev’s speech was not published in the Soviet Union for a long time, it was a break with the most atrocious practices of the Gulag system.

Despite the efforts by Solzhenitsyn and others to confront the legacy of the Gulag, the realities of the camps remained a taboo subject until the 1980s. Solzhenitsyn was also aware that although many practices had been stopped, the basic structure of the system had survived and it could be revived and expanded by future leaders. While Khrushchev, the Communist Party, and the Soviet Union’s supporters in the West viewed the Gulag as a deviation of Stalin, Solzhenitsyn and many among the opposition tended to view it as a systemic fault of Soviet political culture – an inevitable outcome of the Bolshevik political project.

Parallel to this historical and legal narrative, Solzhenitsyn follows the typical course of a zek (a slang term for an inmate), derived from the widely used abbreviation “z/k” for “zakliuchennyi” (prisoner) through the Gulag, starting with arrest, show trial, and initial internment; transport to the “archipelago”; the treatment of prisoners and their general living conditions; slave labor gangs and the technical prison camp system; camp rebellions and strikes (see Kengir uprising); the practice of internal exile following the completion of the original prison sentence; and the ultimate (but not guaranteed) release of the prisoner. Along the way, Solzhenitsyn’s examination details the trivial and commonplace events of an average prisoner’s life, as well as specific and noteworthy events during the history of the Gulag system, including revolts and uprisings.

Solzhenitsyn also states:

Macbeth’s self-justifications were feeble – and his conscience devoured him. Yes, even Iago was a little lamb, too. The imagination and spiritual strength of Shakespeare’s evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology. Ideology – that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others’ eyes…. That was how the agents of the Inquisition fortified their wills: by invoking Christianity; the conquerors of foreign lands, by extolling the grandeur of their Motherland; the colonizers, by civilization; the Nazis, by race; and the Jacobins (early and late), by equality, brotherhood, and the happiness of future generations… Without evildoers there would have been no Archipelago.

— The Gulag Archipelago, Chapter 4, p. 173

There had been works about the Soviet prison/camp system before, and its existence had been known to the Western public since the 1930s. However, never before had the general reading public been brought face to face with the horrors of the Gulag in this way. The controversy surrounding this text, in particular, was largely due to the way Solzhenitsyn definitively and painstakingly laid the theoretical, legal, and practical origins of the Gulag system at Lenin’s feet, not Stalin’s. According to Solzhenitsyn’s testimony, Stalin merely amplified a concentration camp system that was already in place. This is significant, as many Western intellectuals viewed the Soviet concentration camp system as a “Stalinist aberration”

My Thoughts:

Where Volume 1 seemed mainly to be about the process of how the (fictional) legalities came into being that led to arrests and about the arrests and early detainment, this volume was all about the camps and the various kinds of people in the Gulag. The first 65% dealt exclusively with the camps, what went on in them, how the prisoners existed, how they lived (and died) what uses the camps were put too.

This was grueling. I started this particular volume back in August of last year and am just now finishing it up. So 5 months?

I wish I had profound things to write here but I don’t. Solzhenitsyn simply chronicles what has gone on and shows how some of it happened (people turning a blind eye, people letting it happen because it was happening to someone else, people letting it happen because they were afraid of it happening to them, people letting it happen because it was happening to a group they didn’t like) and the absolutely horrific costs of the camps. Make no mistake, the Gulags were death camps as sure as the Nazi camps were.

Solzhenitsyn also lets his own personality and biases show through quite a bit when he talks about the various kinds of people in the last part of the book. Any time a “thief” is mentioned (ie, a non-political offender for some actual crime), he really goes off against them. He makes no bones about how he survived his time (becoming an informer in the camps) and describes the very few kind of people who would refuse that (Christians being the main group).

Besides the weighty content, what also slowed me down was the references to things or people that I simply had no idea about or anyway to put them into context. Many times whole passages held almost no meaning for me because I didn’t know the people being talked about or the brand of Russian humor went winging its way over my head. Solzhenitsyn did have a dry, sarcastic kind of humor and I appreciated what I could understand. Whenever he talked about the language and how particular words grew out of the Gulag, he lost me there too.

I won’t go into the politics beyond to say that what we are seeing now in terms of our media organizations in lockstep with the current administration will be very familiar to anyone who has read this.

I am going to be taking an extended break before attempting Volume 3. I’ve got a bunch of other non-fiction books that have been just sitting on my kindle so it’s time to pay them some attention. And I can’t face another volume like this for awhile, it’s just too much.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Anxiety (A Very Short Introduction) ★★★★☆


This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Anxiety
Series: A Very Short Introduction
Author: Daniel & Jason Freeman
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 142
Words: 44K



Synopsis:

From Kobo.com

Are we born with our fears or do we learn them? Why do our fears persist? What purpose does anxiety serve? How common are anxiety disorders, and which treatments are most effective? What’s happening in our brain when we feel fear? And what are Colombian worry dolls? This Very Short Introduction draws on the best scientific research to offer a highly accessible explanation of what anxiety is, why it is such a normal and vital part of our emotional life, and the key factors that cause it. Insights are drawn from psychology, neuroscience, genetics, epidemiology, and clinical trials. Providing a fascinating illustration of the discussion are two interviews conducted specifically for the book, with the actor, writer, director, and television presenter Michael Palin and former England football manager Graham Taylor. The book covers in detail the six major anxiety disorders: phobias; panic disorder and agoraphobia; social anxiety; generalised anxiety disorder; obsessive compulsive disorder; and post-traumatic stress disorder. With a chapter devoted to each disorder, Daniel and Jason Freeman take you through the symptoms, prevalence, and causes of each one. A final chapter describes the treatments available for dealing with anxiety problems.

My Thoughts:

THIS was how this series should have been. THIS was everything that I could have asked for in a series entitled A Very Short Introduction. Oh, it is almost worse that this was this good because now all the sucky ones are going to suck even worse in comparison.

Daniel and Jason Freeman write to lay people. They explain technical terms and try not to use them. For example, one of the definitions for a medical term is a word that nobody but crazy doctors would use and these guys write “and that means ‘clinically insane’”. How hard is it to do that? Not very.

I was also impressed with how on target they stayed in regards to looking at the big picture of Anxiety. While they wrote about various forms of Anxiety and everything, they never lost sight of the fact they WERE writing about anxiety and they always tied the subject firmly back.

Basically, they did a fantastic job of giving an overview with just enough specifics to satisfy me. I don’t know if these 2 are medical doctors, but they definitely know how to talk to people who are not at their level, like me (unlike some of the other scumbag authors in this series). This was a weird read because I loved so much how the authors did things and it was totally mixed with hatred for all the other writers who were abject, abysmal and complete failures at their attempts to communicate their subjects.

Now I’m going to go have a good cry and feel anxious about the other books in the series 😉

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Light (A Very Short Introduction) ★★✬☆☆


This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Light
Series: A Very Short Introduction
Author: Ian Walmsley
Rating: 2.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 119
Words: 38.5K



Synopsis:

From Kobo.com

Light enables us to see the world around us. Our sense of sight provides us with direct information about space and time, the physical arrangement of the world, and how it changes. This almost universal shared sensation of vision has led to a fascination with the nature and properties of light across the ages. But the light we see is just a small part of the whole spectrum of electromagnetic radiation, ranging from radio waves to gamma rays. In this Very Short Introduction Ian Walmsley discusses early attempts to explain light, and the development of apparently opposing particulate and wave theories by scientists such as Isaac Newton and Christiaan Huygens. He shows how light was recognized as an electromagnetic wave in the 19th century, and the development of the quantum mechanics view of wave-particle duality in the 20th century. He also describes the many applications of light, domestic and scientific, such as microwaves, DVDs, and lasers. We now use the whole range of electromagnetic radiation to peer both into the human body and deep into space. Turning to the future of optics, Walmsley concludes by looking at some of the most exciting new developments using quantum light sources in communications and computing.

My Thoughts:

Ahhhh, this started out SO good. Good old Ian was blabbing about Light and used an obviously technical term. He immediately went on to define that term in layman’s terms and I was sure this book was going to be great. He then proceeds to continue using the technical term and said terms increase more and more, just like in the other VSI books, and with no layman interpretation.

Then he spends the rest of the book talking about information technology and how it is using light. He does spend a chapter talking about Light as waves and particles but the tech side of things seemed to be his passion and so that is what he wrote about.

This series is produced by the Oxford University Press. As I was making my way through the book, I had to just stop for a minute and wonder what OUP was trying to accomplish with these. The only sane thing I could come up with was to soak the luckless jomokes who would shell out money for excrement like this. I was going to add to help puff up the publishing numbers of their more useless professors, but I don’t think most of these authors are professors at Oxford.

Insults aside, these do really border on the useless. The problem I have is that these are perfect, in terms of size and time, for what I want to commit to in terms of a non-fiction relationship. I’m that weak boyfriend who keeps crawling back even though I know Candy is out turning tricks once she knows she has me again. The OUP know they’re onto a good thing, so they’re not going to stop pimping out these books or trying to find new authors to degrade.

It really sounds horrible when I put it that way, doesn’t it? If I knew of some other “Introduction” type of series, I’d jump at it in a heartbeat because this series is crap.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Freemasonry ★★☆☆½


This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Freemasonry
Series: A Very Short Introduction
Author: Andreas Onnerfors
Rating: 2.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 143
Words: 42.5K



Synopsis:

From Kobo.com

Freemasonry is one of the oldest and most widespread voluntary organisations in the world. Over the course of three centuries men (and women) have organized themselves socially and voluntarily under its name. With a strong sense of liberation, moral enlightenment, cosmopolitan openness and forward-looking philanthropy, freemasonry has attracted some of the sharpest minds in history and has created a strong platform for nascent civil societies across the globe. With the secrecy of internally communicated knowledge, the clandestine character of organization, and the enactment of rituals and the elaborate use of symbols, freemasonry has also opened up feelings of distrust, as well as allegations of secretiveness and conspiracy. This Very Short Introduction introduces the inner activities of freemasonry, and the rituals, symbols and practices. Looking at the development of the organizational structure of masonry from the local to the global level, Andreas Önnerfors considers perceptions of freemasonry from the outside world, and navigates through the prevalent fictions and conspiracy theories. He also discusses how freemasonry has from its outset struggled with issues of exclusion based upon gender, race and religion, despite promoting tolerant openness and inclusion. Finally Önnerfors shines a light on the rarely discussed but highly compelling history of female agency in masonic and para-masonic orders.

My Thoughts:

Sigh. Another egghead who isn’t writing to the layman but to fellow academians already familiar with terminology that is regularly used instead of plain english. For feth’s sake, why is the word “sacerdotal” used? You know who uses words likes “sacerdotal”? People who write papers for a living that only other people who ALSO write papers for a living read. Custard. This is seriously annoying. And the narrow minded UK-centric focus simply highlights the Ivory Tower Parasitism of the people who are writing these.

Other than the usual rant and complaint, this was actually pretty good. I think it helped that this was a concrete subject and so Onnerfors couldn’t weasel out of doing his job. He actually wrote about Freemasonry. Of course, he bitched and moaned the entire time because certain Lodges were explicitly Men Only and had that in their rules, but considering that mixed gender and Women Only Lodges (the name for a local club of freemasons) were started only 50 years after the official founding of freemasonry, well, Onnerfors comes across more as a pissant whiner about gender issues than any sort of “expert” on Freemasonry. For some random reason I keep wanting to call the author Onnersford.

So despite Onnerfors doing his best to obfuscate the subject and talk about gender roles, I was able to learn a smidgeon. That qualifies this particular book as a smashing success in the VSI line up.

Freemasonry doesn’t have a central worldwide committee running things. Of course, that is what they want you to believe. But after watching the movie National Treasure, I learned the truth. Free Masons run the world behind the scenes and use people like Onnerfors to blow smoke for them. /sarcasm.

And yes, I am going to keep on reading these books.

★★☆☆½

Passion and Purity ★★★★★


This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Passion and Purity
Series: ———-
Author: Elisabeth Elliot
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Counsel
Pages: 192
Words: 40K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

Published in 1984 and written by Elisabeth Elliot, is an evangelical Protestant book, part manifesto and part autobiography, on the subject of romantic relationships. The book recounts Elliot’s friendship and romance with missionary Jim Elliot, beginning in the 1940s and ending with his death in 1956. Elliot uses anecdotes from her relationship with Jim to expound on her views concerning “pure, Christian relationships” and the practice of “waiting on God” for romantic timing and direction.

The late Ruth Bell Graham, wife of popular evangelist Billy Graham, wrote the preface.

My Thoughts:

I read this for the first time back in 2000 when I was single and desperately trying to not be single. That was a very different time in my life from now and I read this now to see how things had changed more than because I thought I needed to read this book.

I will say, besides being saved by Jesus Christ, getting married was the best thing that ever happened to me. Books like this helped me stay the course during those tumultuous hormone years when all I wanted was to give way to my baser desires.

So this time around, it was like looking back down a mountain side. This book is written to single people who are dealing with keeping their purity and walk with God while navigating the world of courting/dating. It was a fantastic reminder that I have not always been where I currently am. That in turn gave me hope because it means that I am not always going to be where I currently am either. God has plans for each stage of our lives.

It has spurred me on to go look at some marriage counsel books by Dr. James Dobson to see what advice is given to married couples. While we’re doing just fine, heading off things before they happen is the best way to keep things going just fine.

★★★★★

Slang (A Very Short Introduction) ★★★☆☆

slang (Custom)

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Slang
Series: A Very Short Introduction
Author: Jonathon Green
Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 135
Words: 40K

Synopsis:

From Kobo.com

Slang, however one judges it, shows us at our most human. It is used widely and often, typically associated with the writers of noir fiction, teenagers, and rappers, but also found in the works of Shakespeare and Dickens. It has been recorded since at least 1500 AD, and today’s vocabulary, taken from every major English-speaking country, runs to over 125,000 slang words and phrases. This Very Short Introduction takes readers on a wide-ranging tour of this fascinating sub-set of the English language. It considers the meaning and origins of the word ‘slang’ itself, the ideas that a make a word ‘slang’, the long-running themes that run through slang, and the history of slang’s many dictionaries.

My Thoughts:

This book was totally bogus, esteemed dudes and dudettes. And if I was a stoner I could probably write this whole review in some sort of slang, but sadly, being somewhat educated and not a complete idiot, I choose to use proper grammar and form.

Green is a lexicographer. For those who don’t know what a lexicographer is, like me before I was enlightened with this book, it is, simply put, someone who puts dictionaries together. I must say, I have NEVER seen so many uses of the word lexicographer, lexi or lexis in a book before. Because of this fact, Green’s focus on Slang is more about documenting it rather than defining it. Nailing down when a slang word was first used is more important to him than anything.

While he does claim to not exactly define what Slang is, he sure does a lot of defining what it isn’t. Did you know that jargon is business oriented terms that only apply within certain fields? A lot of the terms in surveying, for instance, would be considered jargon. Then you have cant, which is what criminals use to baffle the police. Neither of these instances are slang though, so don’t even THINK about calling them that or Green will call you mean names.

I usually like to include a quote that stood out to me from these VSI books. So here is this one’s contribution to the cause:

If ‘slang’ embodies our innate rebelliousness (the undying, if not always expressed, desire to say ‘no’) then how can it not reject the strait-jacket. We are moving away from top-down diktats—in language as elsewhere. If we must define then I suggest that the words we term slang are seen simply as representatives of that subset of English spoken in the context of certain themes, by certain people, in certain circumstances.
` page 154

Talk about really nailing down specifics, eh? I noticed this passage because of the philosophical nature of it, the more so because I totally agree with the broken nature of man and his contrariness and saying “no” even when it can harm him.

Overall, this was a bit hard to get through, as Green used a lot of words, terms and ideas that are not readily known by the lay person. Just like previous VSI books, this was barely an introduction to the uninformed but an introduction by someone who doesn’t know how to communicate knowledge very well.

★★★☆☆

The Screwtape Letters ★★★★½

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Title: The Screwtape Letters
Series: ———-
Author: C.S. Lewis
Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-fiction/Theology
Pages: 138
Words: 37K

Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis imagines a series of lessons in the importance of taking a deliberate role in Christian faith by portraying a typical human life, with all its temptations and failings, seen from devils’ viewpoints. Screwtape holds an administrative post in the bureaucracy (“Lowerarchy”) of Hell, and acts as a mentor to his nephew Wormwood, an inexperienced (and incompetent) tempter.

In the 31 letters which constitute the book, Screwtape gives Wormwood detailed advice on various methods of undermining God’s words and of promoting abandonment of God in “the Patient”, interspersed with observations on human nature and on the Bible. In Screwtape’s advice, selfish gain and power are seen as the only good, and neither demon can comprehend God’s love for man or acknowledge human virtue.

My Thoughts:

This is a very short book at only 138 pages. With there being 31 chapters, it is easy to read one here, read one there and go from there. I read this in one sitting, as I hadn’t read this since my teen or Bibleschool days, and I wanted to eat the thing in one go.

I found this easy to assimilate. The ideas behind what Screwtape was talking about are easy to reverse to get the correct message. Lewis does an admirable job of presenting the wrong view to showcase just what the right view should be. I don’t envy him though, trying to write a book by a demon.

One thing that did stick out to me was Screwtape saying how they wished all humans were either atheists or magicians (occultists in my terminology). To either not believe in the devil at all or to believe in him so much that one becomes entrapped. I wonder if Lewis put that in there so that anyone reading this wouldn’t be tempted to dig deeper into the occult to “learn” about demons and such. Lewis didn’t write this so people could learn about demons, but so that they could learn about Jesus. In that regards I simply disregarded everything whenever Screwtape started talking about hell and anything related to that subject. I differ enough from Lewis anyway in how we think of hell so it wasn’t a problem for me.

This would be a great study book, as each chapter is so short. Read one chapter, take notes and then discuss with others. Next time I read this, I certainly won’t be rushing through it in one sitting. As I’m sitting here, I’m actively considering reading it again next year and making it a Project.

★★★★½

The Gothic (A Very Short Introduction) ★★★☆½

thegothic (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: The Gothic
Series: A Very Short Introduction
Author: Nick Groom
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 167
Words: 46.5K

 

Synopsis:

From Libraything.com

The Gothic is wildly diverse. It can refer to ecclesiastical architecture, supernatural fiction, cult horror films, and a distinctive style of rock music. It has influenced political theorists and social reformers, as well as Victorian home décor and contemporary fashion. Nick Groom shows how the Gothic has come to encompass so many meanings by telling the story of the Gothic from the ancient tribe who sacked Rome to the alternative subculture of the present day.

This unique Very Short Introduction reveals that the Gothic has predominantly been a way of understanding and responding to the past. Time after time, the Gothic has been invoked in order to reveal what lies behind conventional history. It is a way of disclosing secrets, whether in the constitutional politics of seventeenth-century England or the racial politics of the United States. While contexts change, the Gothic perpetually regards the past with fascination, both yearning and horrified. It reminds us that neither societies nor individuals can escape the consequences of their actions.

The anatomy of the Gothic is richly complex and perversely contradictory, and so the thirteen chapters here range deliberately widely. This is the first time that the entire story of the Gothic has been written as a continuous history: from the historians of late antiquity to the gardens of Georgian England, from the mediaeval cult of the macabre to German Expressionist cinema, from Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy to American consumer society, from folk ballads to vampires, from the past to the present.

 

My Thoughts:

This book gives me hope for this series. Of course, it may just be that the author thinks in the same patterns I do and that that is what I found engaging about this book. Whatever it was, this is the VSI book that I’ll be comparing the rest of the series to until I find a better one.

I was fascinated with how Groom connects the dots from the Goth tribes (and gives us a glimpse into the fight among historians about what that even means) to the Gothic arctitecture to how that falling out of favor led to the gothic novel and how the ideas behind those novels leads to the music bands of today. I don’t know how solidly his workmanship would stand up if I had doctorates of one sort or another, but as an Introduction, this was everything I could have asked for.

I used the word “fascinating” and I think that pretty much describes my reaction to the whole book. Groom explores the ideas and philosophies behind each phase of The Gothic (and you know how weird it sounds to add the capital “The” every time? Makes me feel that I need to sound a trumpet and shout “The Gothic” has entered the room!”) and how one slowly melded into the next. The whole cause and effect is what I liked about this book.

In short, a top notch entry in the VSI series and a great read even if you have no interest in …. (wait for it…. * trumpets *) The Gothic!

★★★☆½

 

bookstooge (Custom)

 

Gulag Archipelago, Vol. 1 ★★★★☆

gulagarchipelago (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Gulag Archipelago, Vol. 1
Series: Gulag Archipelago
Author: Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 626
Words: 265.5K

 

Synopsis:

Containing Parts I & II of Solzhenitsyn’s book, The Gulag Archipelago.

From Wikipedia.com

Structurally, the text comprises seven sections divided (in most printed editions) into three volumes: parts 1–2, parts 3–4, and parts 5–7. At one level, the Gulag Archipelago traces the history of the system of forced labor camps that existed in the Soviet Union from 1918 to 1956. Solzhenitsyn begins with V. I. Lenin’s original decrees which were made shortly after the October Revolution; they established the legal and practical framework for a series of camps where political prisoners and ordinary criminals would be sentenced to forced labor. The book then describes and discusses the waves of purges and the assembling of show trials in the context of the development of the greater Gulag system; Solzhenitsyn gives particular attention to its purposive legal and bureaucratic development.

The narrative ends in 1956 at the time of Nikita Khrushchev’s Secret Speech (“On the Personality Cult and its Consequences”). Khrushchev gave the speech at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, denouncing Stalin’s personality cult, his autocratic power, and the surveillance that pervaded the Stalin era. Although Khrushchev’s speech was not published in the Soviet Union for a long time, it was a break with the most atrocious practices of the Gulag system.

Despite the efforts by Solzhenitsyn and others to confront the legacy of the Gulag, the realities of the camps remained a taboo subject until the 1980s. Solzhenitsyn was also aware that although many practices had been stopped, the basic structure of the system had survived and it could be revived and expanded by future leaders. While Khrushchev, the Communist Party, and the Soviet Union’s supporters in the West viewed the Gulag as a deviation of Stalin, Solzhenitsyn and many among the opposition tended to view it as a systemic fault of Soviet political culture – an inevitable outcome of the Bolshevik political project.

Parallel to this historical and legal narrative, Solzhenitsyn follows the typical course of a zek (a slang term for an inmate), derived from the widely used abbreviation “z/k” for “zakliuchennyi” (prisoner) through the Gulag, starting with arrest, show trial, and initial internment; transport to the “archipelago”; the treatment of prisoners and their general living conditions; slave labor gangs and the technical prison camp system; camp rebellions and strikes (see Kengir uprising); the practice of internal exile following the completion of the original prison sentence; and the ultimate (but not guaranteed) release of the prisoner. Along the way, Solzhenitsyn’s examination details the trivial and commonplace events of an average prisoner’s life, as well as specific and noteworthy events during the history of the Gulag system, including revolts and uprisings.

Solzhenitsyn also states:

Macbeth’s self-justifications were feeble – and his conscience devoured him. Yes, even Iago was a little lamb, too. The imagination and spiritual strength of Shakespeare’s evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology. Ideology – that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others’ eyes…. That was how the agents of the Inquisition fortified their wills: by invoking Christianity; the conquerors of foreign lands, by extolling the grandeur of their Motherland; the colonizers, by civilization; the Nazis, by race; and the Jacobins (early and late), by equality, brotherhood, and the happiness of future generations… Without evildoers there would have been no Archipelago.

— The Gulag Archipelago, Chapter 4, p. 173

There had been works about the Soviet prison/camp system before, and its existence had been known to the Western public since the 1930s. However, never before had the general reading public been brought face to face with the horrors of the Gulag in this way. The controversy surrounding this text, in particular, was largely due to the way Solzhenitsyn definitively and painstakingly laid the theoretical, legal, and practical origins of the Gulag system at Lenin’s feet, not Stalin’s. According to Solzhenitsyn’s testimony, Stalin merely amplified a concentration camp system that was already in place. This is significant, as many Western intellectuals viewed the Soviet concentration camp system as a “Stalinist aberration”

 

My Thoughts:

I started reading this book on March 13th. It took me until June 5th to finish. At under 700 pages I figured I could easily knock this out in a month, even if I only read it on the weekends. “Ha” and agains I say “ha!”

This was a dense book and mind you, it is the first of three. It is also dealing with very heavy material (not literally, it’s paper after all) but my spirit was weighed down after reading it, every single time. By the time I got to the end I could only read 5 or 6 percent each weekend. While nothing is graphic, if you’ve been reading any of my Quote posts from the last couple of months, you’ll know just how horrifying some of the stuff discussed in this book is.

Solzhenitsyn, thankfully, writes in a very dry, sardonic and sarcastic manner, which allowed me to distance myself from the words I was reading. That being said, he also writes in the most rambling form I have ever run across. I eventually just stopped trying to connect the dots and let him tell the tale in his own way.

He tells of his own arrest, his time in the sorting prisons and the time getting to the official Gulag camps. He also tells a lot of other peoples’ stories as well. It is horrible, sad and disheartening that people today want a form of government that leads to Communism that inevitably leads to places like the Gulag.

I am going to take a break of 2 months and read some other non-fiction, preferably of the theological bent, before I dive back into Vol. 2.

★★★★☆

 

bookstooge (Custom)

 

Ageing (A Very Short Introduction) ★★★☆☆

ageing (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Ageing
Series: A Very Short Introduction
Author: Nancy Pachana
Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-fiction
Pages: 144
Words: 38K

 

Synopsis:

Official Blurb

Ageing is an activity we are familiar with from an early age. In our younger years upcoming birthdays are anticipated with an excitement that somewhat diminishes as the years progress. As we grow older we are bombarded with advice on ways to overcome, thwart, resist, and, on the rare occasion, embrace, one’s ageing. Have all human beings from the various historical epochs and cultures viewed aging with this same ambivalence? In this Very Short Introduction Nancy A. Pachana discusses the lifelong dynamic changes in biological, psychological, and social functioning involved in ageing. Increased lifespans in the developed and the developing world have created an urgent need to find ways to enhance our functioning and well-being in the later decades of life, and this need is reflected in policies and action plans addressing our ageing populations from the World Health Organization and the United Nations. Looking to the future, Pachana considers advancements in the provision for our ageing populations, including revolutionary models of nursing home care such as Green House nursing homes in the USA and Small Group Living homes in the Netherlands. She shows that understanding the process of ageing is not only important for individuals, but also for societies and nations, if the full potential of those entering later life is to be realised.

 

My Thoughts:

This was so much better than that execrable Entrepreneurship. This was a literal snapshot about aging. Speaking of “Aging”, I could tell immediately that this was published in England, what with the “AgEing”. My goodness, they might as well be French, throwing in all those extra letters into words 😉

I do wish that the author had touched a bit more on Aging throughout history and from various cultures. Beyond a cursory acknowledgment that such things existed, it was never touched on again. I guess that is what this series is going to do, make you want to explore a particular area of the subject in more detail. I, however, wasn’t interested ENOUGH to go find other books.

She did spend a lot of time on dementia. More than I thought necessary, especially as she specifically stated that alzheimers/dementia only affects about 6-10% of the aging population. Regular memory loss is something quite different. If half the words she spent on dementia had been spent on Aging in the Past, I would have been a much happier camper.

I was satisfied with this read. I highly doubt any book in this series is going to go above 3 stars and honestly, I’m ok with that. I feel like I’m picking “healthy” chocolates from the box and never know what I’ll get. Forest Gump’s Momma would be proud of me.

★★★☆☆

 

bookstooge (Custom)