9.27.2010

TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT - Graham Greene


My parents, thus proving how cool they are, read this book to me when I was a child. I can't remember exactly how old I was, but since I was still young enough to be read to, I'm guessing I was barely into double digits. So reading this book always makes me feel as if I am back in my flannel pyjamas, drinking hot cocoa in front of the fireplace.

Travels with My Aunt is the highly amusing story of a retired bank manager, Henry Pulling, whose greatest joy in life is tending to his dahlias. His life takes a sudden turn towards excitement, however, when he encounters his Aunt Augusta at his mother's funeral. Aunt Augusta is something of a black sheep in the family, and Henry has never had much chance to get to know her. But when she uses his mother's urn as a hiding place for drugs, he gets unwittingly drawn into her world of excitement and adventure. He is coerced into traveling with her, first to Brighton but eventually further and further afield. He discovers that although she may be in her seventies, Aunt Augusta has a rich history full of love, shady characters and globe-trotting that bleeds into her present in surprising and often frankly alarming ways.

Henry eventually extricates himself from her, only to find that the quiet life he had been longing for no longer holds the same appeal as it once did. When he receives a letter from his aunt he doesn't have to think twice. He abandons his boring life once and for all and takes off to Latin America where he..... well you'll just have to read it yourself to find out.

9.15.2010

WHAT IS AMERICA?: A SHORT HISTORY OF THE NEW WORLD ORDER - Ronald Wright

What is America: A Short History of the New World Order is Ronald Wright's third historical text, following in the footsteps of Stolen Continents, a historical account of the conquest of the Americas and A Short History of Progress, the book based on Wright's 2005 Massey Lectures series. Both of these texts have been not only widely acclaimed, but used as textbooks for university courses on anthropology and political science. Wright's newest endeavour seems destined to attain similar academic and popular acclaim.

With his trademark ability to take an overwhelming amount of historical data and draw out the most salient and entertaining passages, Wright takes us chronologically through the "founding" of the Americas, not only from the viewpoint of the new occupants, but also from the perspective of the original occupants (as much as possible given the oral nature of First Nations historical accounts).

In doing so, Wright debunks some stereotypes and myths about Europe's first encounter with the new world and of the people who were already here. One of these myths, that the current North America was populated by unruly savages who were easily tamed by the more civilized European invaders, is thoroughly and unequivocally taken apart and revealed in a very different light. Wright's version of historic events shows the European conquerors to be simply the unwitting agents of a series of unfortunate (or fortunate, depending on how you look at it) accidents. These mainly took the form of European diseases that decimated the populations of the original inhabitants of this continent, thus clearing the way for Europeans to wipe out, enslave or drive off those who remained. Rather than the stoic heroes of primary school social studies books, Wright introduces us to a cast of characters who stumbled upon a new land by chance and proceeded to take advantage of its populace.

If history is doomed to repeat itself and we can't truly understand where we're going until we understand where we've been, Wright's newest book is a primer for the future of the Western world. Impeccably researched and written with Wright's trademark gift for free-flowing narrative, What is America is as readable as it is informative.

It has been said that history is written by the winners. This book shows us what history might have looked like if had it been recorded by the other side. This is a book that everyone should read to fill in the gaps in most social studies curriculums. What most North Americans don't know about their own nation's history could fill a book. This is that book.

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