Friday, October 31, 2014

Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East

In Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East Scott Anderson takes a look at the enduring legend of T.E. Lawrence, probably one of the few authentic heroes to come out of the First World War.  For a conflict known for its mass anonymous slaughter, Lawrence appeared to be a figure from another age.  Riding with Arab horsemen or on camels, his myth harkened back to an earlier age of warfare.

But Anderson quickly disabuses us of this notion. Lawrence was a complex man, by turns kind and cruel, affectionate and aloof,  he committed treason and war crimes.  Far from being a fully commanding figure, he was guided by the events of the time as much as he guided them.  Anderson does an excellent job portraying a complex man in a complex manner.

Anderson also investigates three other adventurers in the Middle East at this time to give Lawrence some context: a German spy, an American oilman, and a Jewish agronomist. With the exception of the agronomist, all are in their twenties.  They are young men in the Middle East because of the call to adventure, but also because they fail to fit in to the upper levels of their respective societies.  In the Middle East they can remake themselves.  They were not as successful as Lawrence, but he paid a very heavy price for his transformation.

All in all, Anderson provides a gripping account of the time and the place.  Perhaps he spreads the material too thin at times, and the narrative thrust of the book falls flat.  But these times and places are few.  Overall this is a compelling read, giving an excellent sense of the time and place and people.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


MINUTES FROM A DIFFICULT..... (in Hebrew & English)
…. you’ve had it for two months what are you going to do in two days
…. You wrote a nasty email to ____ when he asked for help and now you’re here.  Where were you two months ago?
LATER:  I’m sorry I was so nasty.  Thank you for taking over a job we could not do.

דקות קשה הפגישה (בשפה העברית & האנגלית). יש לך את זה במשך חודשיים? מה אתה הולך לעשות בעוד יומיים... כתבת דואר אלקטרוני מגעיל _ כאשר הוא ביקש עזרה, עכשיו אתה פה.  איפה היית לפני חודשיים? מאוחר יותר: אני מצטערת שהייתי. כל כך מגעיל.  תודה על עבודה. אתה יכול.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Big Frog in Little Pond

Bloated old gut
Ripe, horny, round
Old beyond your penis
Open like herpes sores
Kindred spurts in your boles like        
Evil seeps from your bile

Horned, like a pricked barb
Open, like a cow’s ganglion
Licked clean by your tongue
Licked dry to your under-dermis
Inbred little pox, you
Sliced across your belly

Friday, October 24, 2014

Tolstoy: The Greatest Short Stories

Tolstoy: The Greatest Short Stories has just what it claims to have, some of his finer short works of fiction in one place.  The stories are arranged in a novel way.  There are Tales for Children, Popular Stories, Fairy Tales, Stories Written to Pictures, and Folk Tales retold, to name a few.

This collection shows Tolstoy’s immense talent.  Even when re-working an old fairy tale, he at once makes it timeless and very much his own.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Leonardo and The Last Supper

Leonardo and The Last Supper by Ross King is just what it purports to be, a detailed history of Leonardo da Vinci and his most famous painting.

In the process, King gets into the politics of the day, the details of the renaissance as a movement, a set of ideals, a frame of mind.  There is a great deal of discussion of The Last Supper, but this book definitely contextualizes the work in the time and in Leonardo’s life.

Actual time spent on the painting is fleeting, but fascinating.  The long history of its decline, catastrophic “restorations,” its near destruction by a bomb in the Second World War, and its final, definitive and controversial restoration are treated, but only briskly.

This book is much more about Leonardo and his world than The Last Supper.  But it presents a fascinating painting and a fascinating world.