Showing posts from August, 2012

Captain Sharkey / Within the Tides

Pirate stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?  Great idea!  So thought I, when I decided to read The Dealings of Captain Sharkey and Other Tales of Pirates.

The first part of this book is called Tales of Pirates.  I guess I wasn't counting on serious tales of pirates. Captain Sharkey only features in four stories, but while his gory deeds are mostly referred to and not shown, I got sick of his character and was glad to be done with him.  On the other hand, I liked "A Pirate of the Land", a non-Sharkey story.

The second part is called Tales of Blue Water.  I had read four of the stories already in a different collection, but they're all good ones.  "The Striped Chest" and "The Captain of the Polestar" are especially excellent, even on second reading.  My new favorite was "The Fiend of the Cooperage"--great atmosphere, great story. 

Overall, I give this one a 5 out of 5 stars

Within the Tides may just be Conrad at his most depressing.  Stylist…

Imperialism and Identity in 'Heart of Darkness'

This has been my second reading of Joseph Conrad's arguably most-famous classic.  The first time, I was mesmerized by it without quite knowing why.  Closer, more careful reading has given me a few more hints as to why it is a bona fide masterpiece, but I know I'll be analyzing Heart of Darkness (5/5 stars) for the rest of my life.  Each layer of the book is magnificent in itself, and together they project an enigmatic picture that changes slightly at every angle.

The book begins on the river Thames.  Marlow, the narrator, suddenly recalls another river, a river that took him through the ivory-trading business in Africa.  Marlow is just the steamboat captain, but he gets caught up in the intrigue of the ivory traders, particularly the famous Mr Kurtz.  But who or what is Kurtz, and why is he adored by so many--or feared?


The "heart of darkness" could be aptly attributed to the Europeans' invasion of Africa, where they exploit (and virtually enslave) the l…

Mackinder's Heartland Theory

Who rules East Europe, commands the Heartland
Who rules the Heartland, commands the World Island
Who rules the World Island, commands the World Though they may be deemed outdated now, Sir Halford Mackinder's Heartland Theory and his writings on geopolitics offer some fascinating--and still relevant--pieces of wisdom on the relations between geography, history, and foreign policy.  My poli-sci class inspired me to do some further reading, so I read "The Geographical Pivot of History" (1904) and its follow-up, Democratic Ideals and Reality (1919).

The "Geographical Pivot" (5/5 stars) is a succinct description of the Heartland Theory, while Democratic Ideals (4/5 stars) is much slower and more intense, focusing heavily on Mackinder's historical basis for the theory.  Most of the history went over my head, but the gist of it--sea power vs. land power--provided a good argument for the eminently strategic location of Eastern Europe.

It's debatable whether the Hea…

South: Antarctica, Endurance, and WWI

Sir Ernest Shackleton's South was my spontaneous "heavy reading" for this spring/summer.  At times, my reaction was "What did I myself get into?"  It is a long first-person narrative, stylistically tedious, and inherently repetitive--but absolutely worth the commitment.

{Note: Be sure to look through photographer Frank Hurley's book South with Endurance while you read South.  You will enjoy South much, much more side-by-side with the pictures.  Which, by the way, are phenomenal.  On top of the discomfort and anxieties of everyday survival, Hurley dedicated himself to photographing the journey, and his photos, like illustrations, truly embody the narrative/journals.  A few are even in color!}
By Finetooth, Like tears in rain, U.S Central Intelligence Agency [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or Public domain]
Autumn 1914.  The Great War is being fought, yet as Sir Ernest Shackleton's volunteering of his expedition and resources is politely refused by the British governmen…