A new Borders book shop opened in MK on Friday and is very conveniently just 10 minutes walk from where I work. So yesterday, after work and before my aforementioned journey home, I had a look round. Wow! I love Borders. Its a huge shop, feels like walking into the Central Library, with its row upon row of shelving, massive selection of magazines and a decent sci-fi section. I didn't even venture upstairs to the Starbucks, music and DVD section!
Needless to say being in Borders and a lover of books, I couldn't leave empty-handed especially as they were offering a 15% discount on everything. So I came away with two magazines and three books.
Keeping up with my interest in all things American, my two main purchases were American Empire: Blood and Iron by Harry Turtledove and The Clash of Civilisations & The Remaking of the World Order by Samuel P Huntington. American Empire is a counter-factual novel set in the aftermath of the Great War. I feel it would have been an advantage if I had read Turtledove's previous Great War books but it does have a handy precis at the beginning to set the scene and introduce the main characters. Essentially, Turtledove writes 'what if?' alternate histories and American Empire starts with a radically different America divided into the USA (which has annexed Canada) and the Confederate States of America (CSA), occupying the southern states, and recently defeated in the Great War. Meanwhile in Europe, it appears that Britain and her allies have been defeated by Germany! Its a huge canvas and one of the first part of a cycle of these novels and I am fascinated by how things will pan out. What shape will the world be in by the end of it?
The second book, by Samuel Huntington is described as the 'classic study of international relations' and a work that was quoted by both Francis Fukuyama and in my OU course on the United States. Having recently finished Fukuyama's After the Neocons, I have a hunger for books on international relations and politics. It joins my brief (although expanding section) of books on America including a detailed history of the Presidency, biographies of FDR, Johnson and Nixon and some more general studies of American history and contemporary politics.
I finished Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land last week and was somewhat perturbed to discover when I was in the Library this week that there is another, unexpurgated version of this novel now available. The version I had read (published in the 1960s) was censored as Heinlein's work was considered too controversial at the time. I found it somewhat impenetrable and the coarseness of some of Heinlein's language oddly outdated. However, if I took anything from it, there were two underlying messages. The first appeared to me to be that all religion is fake, corrupt and offers false hope for the weak. The point seemed to be that we are all God, that it is within us and is us. It reminds me of something that has stuck with me from my school days - the idea that we are all the centre of our own universe. In other words everything revolves around us. We make our destiny and create our own distinction of right from wrong. We have the power within to change and to do good and to atone for sin. We should not look beyond ourselves for the answers to our failings. The other point that struck me was the needlessness of sexual jealousy and that sex is something that should be shared as means of growing closer together. Rather than being something that is seen as being private and generally only between a man and a woman, sex should be open and should be shared freely, even between those of the same sex.
Currently, apart from Turtledove's American Empire, I am reading Frederick Taylor's Dresden, the definitive account of the Allied bombing of the German city of Dresden on 13 February 1945. This is a very well written account, aiming to bring balance and truth to the events of that fateful night.