Book Review: The Art of War by Sun Tzu

The Art of War: Sun Tzu: 0800759832941: Amazon.com: Books

Written over two thousand years ago in China, The Art of War consists of 13 chapters on “military calculus” written by the famed military strategist of ancient China, Sun Tzu. Within each section, Sun Tzu elaborates on key concepts regarding military strategy that he claims will allow any army to ensure victory if his guidelines are followed. Some examples are the importance of creativity when devising stratagems, the idea of incorporating deception in warfare, the different factors needed while fighting against the enemy, and more. 

While the work is quite old, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War continues to be relevant in contemporary times, not just on the battlefield, but also as it relates to ordinary civilian life. For example, throughout the book, Sun Tzu emphasizes the importance of relying “not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him.” Though the average reader will most likely never face a situation where an actual opposing army is attacking them, the idea of an “enemy” can easily be broadened to refer to any challenge faced in life. In this case, Sun Tzu urges the reader to not overly depend on luck, but instead on their own skills and abilities, to achieve their goals through proper planning of every possible scenario.

In addition, the concise language employed by Sun Tzu hints at other truths about life. Although this may not have been Sun Tzu’s original intention, and could possibly have arisen through the multitude of translations of the work, the simplistic structure of the novel itself is undeniable. Rather than pushing the information in large blocks of text, Sun Tzu breaks up his main points into easily digestible statements that serve to stress their importance to the reader. This avoidance of overly convoluted sentence structures also lends itself to the implication that simplicity should be prioritized over complexity, both on the battlefield and in life.

Overall, despite the fact that most of today’s readers of The Art of War are not actually at war, it is an undeniably fascinating look into the thoughts, actions, and habits that can lead to success in any endeavour that one pursues.

-Mahak M.

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Book Review: Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

Gulliver's Travels eBook by Jonathan Swift | Rakuten Kobo

After setting sail from England to the East, sailor and surgeon Lemuel Gulliver finds himself shipwrecked on an undiscovered island to the east of Australia. To his surprise, the inhabitants of the island nation are humanoid – but they barely reach 6 inches in height! Taken prisoner by the suspicious Lilliputians, Gulliver quickly makes himself useful to his new hosts, all the while commenting on the strangeness of his life in Lilliput, both physically and socially.

Unfortunately for Gulliver (but fortunately for the reader), this unusual encounter is far from the only one. Throughout his travels, Gulliver has the dubious pleasure of meeting curious creatures such as the crude Brobdingnagian giants who keep him for their entertainment and the slightly insane Laputians with their flying island.

During all of these adventures, Swift skillfully fulfills his main purpose – to expose the truth of humanity behind the façade of reason and rationality. To do this, Swift structures the satire sections of his novels as series of conversations between Gulliver and his hosts, from the little Lilliputians to the intelligent Houyhnhnms, using the reactions of the latter to present the reader with an uncompromising reflection of mankind.

The best example of this can be seen in the latter section of the book, when Gulliver attempts to convince his Houyhnhnm host that he is not a Yahoo, but rational like the horses. As Gulliver explains what human society is like, both for good and for worse, it gradually becomes clear that the Houyhnhnms are unable to comprehend the difference between him, a supposedly “rational” creature, and the stupidly violent Yahoos that resemble him, especially when discussing about the human propensity to lie as well as the devastating advancements in weapon technology at the time.

In this way, although Gulliver himself comes to no emotional realization or character development, Swift encourages the reader to alter their own perspectives on both themselves and the world around them, and to consider the state of humanity before proceeding to place it on a pedestal above all other creatures. Despite having been written in the eighteenth century, Gulliver’s Travels is still a beloved classic because of Swift’s masterful combination of fantastical elements and bitter reality in a way that is sure to stick with the reader long after Gulliver’s travels are concluded.

-Mahak M.

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Authors We Love: Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy's Wessex - Wyntersea Productions Inc Wyntersea Productions Inc

“Happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain.” 

    ― Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge

Thomas Hardy was born on 2 June, 1840, in Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, England. While his father, Thomas Sr., was content with poverty and rural life, Hardy’s mother Jemima, who was well-read herself, encouraged her young son’s education. At 22 years old, Hardy entered the architecture field by studying the same at King’s College in London, winning prizes from the Royal Institute of British Architects as well as the Architectural Association. Despite this, Hardy despised London and its climate, and, having fallen to poor health, moved to Bockhampton to recover after five years of urban living. 

It was in this picturesque village that Hardy first tried his hand at published writing. While his first few works were not major successes, if published at all, he finally struck gold, so to speak, with Far From the Madding Crowd in 1874. Hardy’s subsequent wealth allowed him to finally marry and give up his architectural practice. While living with his wife in a cottage at Sturminster Newton, Hardy published the five major novels collectively of the theme of “Character and Environment”: The Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895), and enjoyed what he himself called the happiest years of his life. 

While Hardy had always dabbled in poetry, the public’s hostile reaction to the scandalous events chronicled in Jude the Obscure motivated him to become more involved in the poetic universe. The horrors of the First World War greatly influenced the dark, hopeless themes of his late works, including the epic drama in verse, The Dynasts, and a second verse play, The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall. Because of these incredible works as well as others, Hardy was awarded the Order of Merit by King Edward. 

Sadly, in December of 1927, Hardy became ill with pleurisy and died on 11 January 1928. After some controversy over his burial site, it was eventually decided that his heart would be buried with his first wife in Dorset, while the rest of his body would be laid to rest in the distinguished Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. Thomas Hardy left a lasting impact on the literary world, through both his award-winning novels and his stunning poetry, which inspired and continues to inspire many writers all around the world.

-Mahak M.

The works of Thomas Hardy are available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

Image result for the big sleep book

In the post-Prohibition era, America was left reeling from the terrible reign of crime, and the 1930s saw a severe uptick in acts of violence and drug usage across the country. The violence and fear of this time bled into the literature published during that time, and no work serves as a greater example of this than Raymond Chandler’s debut novel, The Big Sleep, featuring one of literature’s most famous private investigators: Philip Marlowe.

After receiving a call from General Sternwood, a elderly man with two wayward daughters in their twenties, Philip Marlowe expects the hire to be a simple open-and-shut blackmail case. However, as Marlowe digs deeper into what a bookseller named Arthur Geiger has on Sternwood’s wild younger daughter Carmen, he discovers that all is not what it seems. Between meeting Joe Brody, a man who had blackmailed the Sternwoods before; Agnes, a dangerous blonde who manages to escape murder scenes on three separate occasions, and Vivian Regan, Sternwood’s eldest daughter, it is the latter that ends up becoming the focus of Marlowe’s case.

As it turns out, all roads lead to Rusty Regan, the missing husband of Vivian Regan. Rumour has it that he ran away with the wife of a powerful crime leader, Eddie Mars, but Marlowe’s investigation into the people involved reveals that there actually may be more to the story. Despite vehemently informing all who ask that he is not looking for Rusty Regan, Marlowe’s most interesting detective sequences spawn from him being in the right place at the right time, and so unearthing more secrets, lies, and blackmail-worthy tales than one might suspect at the surface.

With its likeable protagonist and complex plot, The Big Sleep definitely is an interesting read. Although it was markedly different from novels I’ve read in the past, the fascinating mystery within a mystery structure as well as the unique prose and slang certainly lended the novel a time-machine air, allowing the reader to, in effect, travel back in time to the 1930s, to see what life was like in the time period it was set. Because of this, I would absolutely recommend this novel to any fans of mystery novels, historical or otherwise.

-Mahak M.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Nineteen Eighty-Four - Wikipedia

The year is 1984. The world has been divided into three parts: East Asia, Eurasia, and Oceania. Though they are three distinct regimes, each rules with the same iron fisted totalitarianism. There is constant war between the three countries, and at any given time two nations are fighting against the other; as a result, food and other supplies are low, and the people are deprived of basic necessities. Speak (or even think) out, however, and you will be suppressed instantly, facing certain torture and death. This is the world crafted by George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Winston Smith, a citizen of Airstrip One of Oceania (formerly known as London), is a member of the super-state’s Outer Party, working at the ironically named Ministry of Truth, where he and his colleagues tamper with historical records to reflect the current stance of the government. Despite the nature of his work, Winston dreams of the end of the Party and expresses his thoughts in a journal, putting him in danger of being arrested for “thoughtcrime.”

However, when he meets and falls in love with Julia, one of his co-workers, his acts of rebellion become more tangible, as the two of them begin a secret love affair that would cause both of their deaths should they be found out. Throughout this, Winston and Julia learn of a secret underground resistance force only known as “The Brotherhood,” which they hope to join in order to escape the suffocating rule of the Party’s nebulous leader, Big Brother.

Unfortunately, Winston and Julia are betrayed, and their struggle to find love and hope in the midst of a totalitarian regime ultimately comes to naught. Although the novel was published in 1949, the scarily accurate depiction of absolute state control has continued to haunt modern times with regimes displaying the same kind of totalitarianism as Orwell predicted in his groundbreaking novel. Few governments have reached the height that Nineteen Eighty-Four predicted, but if the world continues on its current path, that kind of totalitarian future may be much closer than one might imagine.

-Mahak M.

1984 by George Orwell is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Renowned for its masterful portrayal of a Hobbes-inspired misanthropic view of human nature, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies serves as one of the greatest novels to come out of World War II, despite being published nearly a decade after it. It chronicles the tale of a group of young boys stranded on a remote island, and depicts their struggle to maintain peace and civility without any authority, which eventually culminates in the creation of two radically different tribes – one for violence, one for rationality.

Lord of the Flies opens with the crash of an airplane containing a class full of British schoolboys. Ralph and Piggy, two of these unfortunates, use a conch to summon the rest of the boys who have crashed on the island, who have ranging ages and needs. Initially, Ralph and Jack, the power-hungry leader of the school choir boys, get along with each other in order to be rescued, but as the time drags on with no sign of civilization, the boys begin to crack, and turn to the darkness for salvation.

Over the course of the novel, the bright light of civilization begins to flicker and die in the face of the overwhelming darkness brought about by the boys’ belief that there is a “Beastie” watching over them, waiting to kill them all. Using the fear to his advantage, Jack turns the group against Ralph, Piggy, and those allied with them, and the majority of the boys become savage hunters, and violence becomes their only means of communication.

Overall, Lord of the Flies is a classic read, and definitely raises some interesting points. It reveals that despite humanity appearing to be a civilized group, beneath that mask lies violence and savagery, which is only uncovered when people are distanced from established civilization. In a way, even in a civilized environment, the beast in man continues to rear its ugly head, and unless humans are able to control their violent urges, humanity will end up exactly as Hobbes predicted in Leviathan, living lives that are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

-Mahak M.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Extract | The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - Penguin Books Australia

The land that was once the United States of America has been taken over by a totalitarian theocracy known as Gilead. In this new government, society is divided into rigid castes, ranging from the powerful Commanders to the lowly Handmaids, with other classes like the Commanders’ Wives and the working Marthas and Econopeople in between.

With the laws of Gilead being based on select passages from the Bible, women are reduced to almost nothing, and have little to no freedom. For instance, they are not allowed to read or write, they must cover their hair and bodies in order to avoid tempting men to sin, and they cannot even choose who they associate with or marry.

The unfortunate women who are “chosen” to become Handmaids, however, lose even more – their basic right to their own bodies. Because of dangerously low reproduction rates, fertile Handmaids are assigned to bear children for elite couples that have trouble conceiving. Despite their importance, the Handmaids are treated as their Commander’s property, only to be seen and not heard.

The narrator, Offred, is among the class of the Handmaids, and she belongs to the man named Commander Fred, as well as his Wife, Serena Joy. Stripped of her name, her body, and her past life, all Offred has left is her voice, which she uses to describe the horrors of Gilead in a way that drives even the most hard-hearted audience to pity. 

Margaret Atwood’s writing skills are brilliant, and she weaves the world of Gilead in a gripping masterpiece that will occasionally cause the reader to be lost inside the dystopian hellscape that is The Handmaid’s Tale. However, the epilogue (which I will not spoil here) leaves a last bit of hope for the reader that will leave them feeling both bitter and optimistic about the future.

-Mahak M.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive

Lord Edgware Dies by Agatha Christie

Lord Edgware dies by Agatha Christie

When beautiful actress Jane Wilkinson asks the great detective Hercule Poirot for advice, a reader may expect the usual Agatha Christie repertoire – blackmail, threats, perhaps multiple near-death encounters. The real reason, though, is relatively innocent: divorce from Janees eccentric husband, Lord Edgware. Mysteriously, when Poirot confronts Lord Edgware, he remarks that he has already agreed to the divorce, arousing Poirot’s suspicions regarding the true nature of the request.

Things come to a head when Lord Edgware is found murdered shortly thereafter and all signs point to his estranged wife. While it initially appears to be a cut-and-dry case, Jane is revealed to have an airtight alibi – she was attending a dinner party that same evening, leading the search for suspects to branch out for people who not only wanted Lord Edgware dead, but Lady Edgware hanged too.

As Poirot sets out to prove Jane Wilkinson’s innocence, it becomes immediately clear that suspects abound, considering that everyone who knew Lord Edgware despised him. Among the most prominent people are his daughter Geraldine, who hated him; his nephew Ronald, who Lord Edgware cut off from his inheritance; the talented mimic Carlotta Adams, who is shown to have an interest in the Edgware fortune; and Bryan Martin, a lover-turned-hater of Jane Wilkinson.

Red herrings and suspicious acts abound in this stunning example of Agatha Christie at her finest. Even experienced readers may find themselves unable to determine who really killed Lord Edgware until the final, startling conclusion expertly delivered by the always brilliant Hercule Poirot. 

-Mahak M.

Lord Edgeware Dies by Agatha Christie is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa: 9781101911815 | PenguinRandomHouse.com:  Books

Consider an ordinary object lying around your house – for example, a marker. Now, imagine that object being completely erased from your life and the lives of every single person you know. Not only that, all memories of using a marker vanish from your consciousness. You haven’t a clue what a “marker” is, what it’s used for, how to pronounce it – “marker” has been completely eradicated from your vocabulary. Repeat this harrowing process ad infinitum, and you have the premise of The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa.

On an unnamed island, every inhabitant fears the brutal Memory Police, a secret task force committed to ensuring that objects that have disappeared remain forgotten by the population. However, there are those who are gifted (or cursed) with the ability to recall the disappeared items, and they are in danger of being “disappeared” themselves by the Memory Police.

When a young novelist who lives in this nightmarish world realizes that her editor, only referred to as “R,” is one of the few people who are able to recall vanished items, she makes a plan to hide him in a secret room beneath her floorboards. As time goes on, and more essential items begin to vanish, the inhabitants of the island begin to lose their sense of self, and the novelist and R cling to her writing as one last way to preserve the past. 

A hauntingly surreal portrayal of the importance of memory and the terrors of state surveillance, The Memory Police is a powerful dystopian novel involving the terrifying erasure of the past, the inability to distinguish an individual from the collective, and an overall feeling of horror that slowly descends upon both the island people and the reader. 

For fans of chilling Orwellian novels that make one consider the significance of the past as well as the present and future, The Memory Police is a fantastic novel that checks all of those boxes and more, and I would definitely recommend it to all.

-Mahak M.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World: Aldous Huxley: 9780060850524: Amazon.com: Books

One of the most prominent dystopian novels of all time, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World explores a horrifyingly relevant potential society in which all individuals are in a perpetual state of bliss and “innocence,” and are unaware of pain or unhappiness. However, like all seemingly utopian worlds, there is a dark side.

In the World State, people are no longer born – they are “decanted” and treated according to their predetermined place in the extremely rigid caste system, from the intelligent Alpha Pluses to the Epsilon Semi Morons who have their development stunted.

Rather than contemplate the morality of this, the citizens are brainwashed to not care through sleep hypnosis techniques, which convince each class that they are best suited for said caste, and that they should not challenge it, completely eliminating free will from a young age.

Additionally, to keep the citizens complacent with the control of the World State, they are encouraged to participate in activities that bring pleasure, while at the same time discouraged from getting pregnant or becoming parents (a slur in the World State). The people continue to be submissive through an excessive consumption of soma, a drug that induces feelings of happiness and bliss.

When Alpha Plus Bernard Marx and his date, Beta Plus Lenina Crowne, travel to a Native American reservation and meet John, a “savage” with connections to the World State, their lives are changed forever. John’s inability to reconcile his idealistic notions of love and life, obtained from old copies of Shakespearean works, and the reality of the World State causes conflict between himself and Lenina, who he loves.

All in all, Brave New World is a fascinating read, not only for those who enjoy dystopian fiction, but also as a warning for an overly mechanized future, in which individuals are not treated as such, and are instead manipulated into becoming perfect cogs in a reproductive machine.

-Mahak M.

A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.