Books that I read in 2015

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(Bolded below are books that I ‘pleasure read’. The rest were assigned for school).

  1. The Prince– Machiavelli
  2. A Gentle Madness– Nicholas A. Basbanes
  3. On Writing– Stephen King
  4. As I Lay Dying– William Faulkner
  5. Lying about Hitler- Richard J. Evans
  6. Catch 22– Joseph Heller
  7. How Hitler could have won world war two– Bevin Alexander
  8. The origins of the first world war- Mulligan
  9. Pride and Prejudice– Jane Austen
  10. The Tempest– William Shakespeare
  11. The firm,  The Inside Story of the Stasi- Gary Bruce
  12. The opposite of loneliness– Marina Keegan
  13. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer- Mark Twain
  14. Tom Sawyer Abroad– Mark Twain
  15. Genghis Khan; Emperor of all Men– Harold Lamb
  16. Don Quixote– Cervantes
  17. The Swerve– Stephen Greenblatt
  18. The Idiot– Dostoevsky
  19. Twilight– Elie Wiesel
  20. Silver Star– Jeannette Walls
  21. Democracy Matters– Cornel West
  22. Baddawi-Leila Abdelrazaq
  23. The Bridge at Remagen– Hechler
  24. Detroit city is the place to be– Mark Binelli
  25. In the Garden of Beasts– Erik Larson
  26. The Scarlet Pimpernel-Emmuska Orcey
  27. Anna Karenina– Tolstoy
  28. The richest man in Babylon– Clason
  29. The Time Machine– H.G. Wells
  30. The snows of Kilimanjaro– Hemingway
  31. Travels with Charley– John Steinbeck
  32. A Sand County Almanac– Aldo Leopold
  33. Call of the Wild– Jack London
  34. Sherlock, a scandal in bohemia– Doyle
  35. Alice in Wonderland– Lewis Carroll
  36. Meditations– Marcus Aurelius
  37. The Metamorphosis– Kafka
  38. Sherlock, the red headed league– Doyle
  39. Sherlock, a case of identity– Doyle
  40. Sherlock, the Boscombe valley mystery– Doyle
  41. History of Julius Caesar– Abbot
  42. 2bro2b– Vonnegut
  43. Heart of Darkness– Conrad
  44. Faust– Goethe
  45. The Jungle Book– Kipling
  46. Orientalism– Edward Said
  47. De Profundis– Oscar Wilde
  48. The Million Pound Bank Note– Mark Twain
  49. Nikola Tesla: Imagination and the Man That Invented the 20th Century– Sean Patrick
  50. The Importance of Being Earnest– Oscar Wilde
  51. On the Decay of the Art of Lying– Mark Twain
  52. The Crusades: A Very Short Introduction- Tyerman
  53. Creating a Class: College Admissions and the Education of Elites- Mitchell Stevens
  54. Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids—and What We Can Do About It- Hacker & Dreifus
  55. Troilus and Criseyde– Chaucer
  56. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Volume I– Gibbon
  57. The Fall of the House of Usher– Poe
  58. The Pit and the Pendulum– Poe
  59. Richard III– Shakespeare
  60. Dracula– Bram Stoker
  61. Thinking fast and slow- Kahneman
  62. Historians in trouble- Wiener
  63. Woman on the edge of time- Marge Piercy
  64. God on the quad- Naomi Riley
  65. The masque of the red death– Poe
  66. Crusader castles and modern histories- Ellenbloom
  67. Missoula- Krakauer
  68. Excellent sheep- William Deresiewicz
  69. Why are professors liberal and why do conservatives care?- Neil Gross
  70. Oliver twist– Charles Dickens
  71. Moon and sixpence– W. Somerset Maugham
  72. Robinson Crusoe– Daniel Defoe
  73. The Hanging Stranger– Philip K Dick
  74. The skull– Philip K Dick
  75. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn– Mark Twain

 

Five favorite books that I read this year.

Anna Karenina– if you can get past the hours and hours that it will take to digest the content of this romantic and emotional drama, you’re in for one of the greatest pieces of storytelling known to human history. It’s simply incredible how a human can paint such a full and detailed portrait of fictional characters. I had a hard time leaving the universe that Tolstoy created for us. Highly recommended.

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Volume I– this is unquestionably lauded as one of the finest accounts of the Roman Empire, and arguably one of the most thorough pieces of historical literature ever devised. I’ve never stumbled across a book that made me feel this close to the exploits of men such as Caesar, Nero, and Aurelius. Highly recommended.

Travels with Charley– being a huge fan of Steinbeck’s style helped me out with this, but there’s something here for everyone. It weaves around the American scenic and cultural landscape in a way that goes to show us why the writer made his mark in middle century America. It’s a fun read.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn– There’s no real need to review this one, since most of you likely read this sometime during your early educational careers (or didn’t read, for that matter). It’s a masterpiece, plain and simple. Flawed, cracked, revealing in nearly every dialogue the fractured state of 19th century America. Read.

Missoula– I read the majority of this in a public setting and nearly instantly regretted it. It’s chalk full of gut-wrenching, disgusting yet incredibly thought-provoking scenes of sexual assault and the way in which institutions of higher authority often silence victims. I nearly barfed during some descriptions. Read, please.

Naomi Riley’s ‘God on the Quad’

In God on the Quad, Naomi Schaefer Riley attempts to paint a picture of a changing trend in American higher education, a trend that is drawing a new contingent of religious young students to highlight their spiritual beliefs in a public way. According to Riley, these religious beliefs, stemming from a religious higher academic curriculum, highlight a positive aspect of American youth that has often been protested throughout secularized versions of American higher education. For Naomi Riley, these religiously-based institutions of higher learning provide a educational and moralistic mindset that cannot be adequately accomplished at secular schools, a claim that manifests itself throughout the various discussions of the religious schools and how they have evolved on important contemporary issues in politics such as racial equality, feminism, and the role of religion as it relates to matters of the state.

Riley constructs for the reader a contemporary student thrown out into a wide world with very little spiritual direction. She coins students of our generation as ‘souls of longing’, young people who lack some essential spiritual or moral connection within the framework of the traditional public or secular American University (3). However, she goes on to describe the ‘Missionary Generation’, a group of nearly 1.3 million young Christians and religious youth who are attempting to not only live their lives in a scholarly way through their faith but to also bring their beliefs into the ‘mainstream’. Among this group, Riley attempts to answer four overarching questions; why have students chosen these specific schools, how is the curriculum different than that of secular schools, what is life outside of the classroom like, and how will these colleges affect students’ post-graduation success?

Naomi Riley, rightly or not, makes the case that this sect of American youth are perfectly poised to tackle many of the issues that bog down the political system and our cultural institutions at large. She espouses the highest of civic and moral virtues and traits to these specific students, that of integrity, loyalty, courage, charity, and self-restraint (262). She credits this to a variety of factors, including the strong moralistic codes of the various universities mentioned and the spiritual direction that a curriculum steeped in religious under and overtones can provide for students. Riley goes through a variety of both controversial and standard religious institutions, including Bob Jones University, Notre Dame, Brigham Young, Yeshiva University, and more. The author consistently uses interviews with faculty students as the primary ‘meat’ of the book, attempting to show an individualistic analysis of these institutions that would otherwise not be available. She touts the ‘calm pragmatism’ of this young generation of religious advocates, attempting to show the ability of religious students to seek meaning and answers in a world that is often muddled by problematic methods and belief systems within traditional secular institutions of higher learning. She concludes her book by asserting that these religious students, though commonly viewed as ‘intellectual backward’ by the ‘left’, have something vital to offer that could not only benefit the realm of higher education but also American society as a whole.

As the readers make their way through the beginning parts of the book, one could be led to assume that this is a thoughtful, methodological, and insightful look into the intersection of religion and higher education. We’re left grappling, however, with a thin-layered piece of anecdotal comments and biased and pedantic takes on the state of contemporary American politics.

One of the biggest and earliest flaws within the book is the categorization and construction of subsections that Riley consistently employs. She separates the various religious institutions among their respective religious camps, attempting to give the reader a basic understanding of the variety of religions and separate sects as they relate to the development of higher education. However, this construction of the ‘facts’ is flawed in that it relies so heavily on anecdotal evidence that quantitative data, which could be very beneficial in this overall study, is lacking. These anecdotal interviews with students, though maybe eye-opening at first, give the reader a biased look at the religious institution of higher academics as Naomi Riley wants us to see it. Another deep flaw within the methodology and construction of this book is the usage of verifiable sources and footnotes, which are almost invisible throughout this work. This is incredibly problematic regarding some of the claims made by Naomi Riley, claims that rely almost unilaterally on verifiable sources to back them up. This leads her to make large and problematic claims such as the one that religious students had a more profound and meaningful response to the 9/11 attacks than the secular left (249) and that religious students are somehow harder-working than secular students. The latter claim is made on the basis of ‘discussions of professors at religious schools’, a ridiculous way to come to a conclusion that highlights the absurdity of Riley’s methodology and academic prowess.

The anecdotal evidence aims to show the ‘good’ nature of these religious students, but what happens when these interviews show the ‘bad’ instead? To put it bluntly, they’re almost entirely ignored in the conclusion-based discussion made by Riley. On the issue of race on campus, she quotes a student saying that they wish not to get involved in race politics primarily because “… we should look forward to how it will be in heaven… no biases or racism.” (163). Such a terrifying comment, completely removing the responsibility of action and political agency away from the living to an afterlife, an afterlife that may or may not exist, doesn’t visually trouble the author when she’s writing and critiquing these schools. That’s because, save for a few brief mentions of the most absurd dynamics of these institutions, there is almost virtually no critical analysis of these schools or their students. Even in the case of Bob Jones University, a University known for banning interracial dating and other punitive measures, she draws away attention to the University’s blossoming art museum and discussions of the religiosity of the students in order to diminish the impact of the institution’s absurdity. She even uses comments from African American students claiming that they have no problem not being able to date white people, a claim that is not even remotely put under the lens of scrutiny. Naomi Riley allows the words of the students to fly, yet only allows the ones that she likes to pervade through the wrapping-up of her thesis during the conclusion. This, once again, highlights the severe lack of credibility that we’re faced with when reading this piece.

All of this aside, the most blatant disregard for the original aim of the book and this project has to be the author’s continual seeping of her own political bias into the crevices of this work. She binds up any gray areas with her varied views, halting any ‘challenge’ of the material and instead defining this work as merely a political ‘hit piece’ that is aimed at taking barbs with what she describes as the secular left. Her ultimately beneficial values of integrity, loyalty, courage, charity, and self-restraint are consistently touted as the ultimate ‘vanguards’ of the American civil system, but any fairly keen student of politics can recognize right away that these are universally verifiable traits only for political Conservatives. The field of political psychology, though young and blooming, would highlight many other desirable traits for ‘liberals’: open-mindedness, empathy, and individualism to name a few. When we analyze the thesis of the book in this lens, it runs counter to the entire proposition that Riley makes; that rigidly conservative religious students, many unwilling to hear dissenting views even within their own religious sects, lead a new kind of ‘pragmatism’ that she says is needed in American politics. While she touts this younger generation as ‘emphatic’, she shows the hypocrisy of this empathy, saying that “…while still regard homosexual behavior as sinful, this does not entail personal contempt for gays (among religious students)’ (261). So, basically, we’re left with a generation of political leaders who believe that the opposition is ‘destined for hellfire’, yet they’re, as persons, ‘not all that bad’. And her own political biases, backwards and blatantly old-age in their own right, continue to highlight this divide that Riley has with reality. She mentions at the end her failure to highlight a Muslim college in the work, a failure that is a huge loss to the book and further highlights her ineptitude. However, she frames the rationale behind the belief that Muslim colleges are specifically prone for radicalization, and that Christian fundamentalists, though unique in their own way, are not nearly as dangerous as fundamentalist Muslims (258). Yet this pedantic and biased claim ignores centuries of American racism, terror, and violence that has existed among all various religious majorities and minorities throughout American history.

This malpractice of analysis and blatant disregard of history highlights another crucial flaw with Naomi Riley; she simply is not cut out for this work. As she wades into the discussion of Catholicism, she quietly admits that she had had no prior notion of the broad conflicts between Catholicism and Evangelism (she made a crucial historical error in not describing it as a conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism). How can anyone who wishes to write about religion in America not have any conception about the centuries’ long conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism? Such a basic baseline of knowledge is required to understand even a fraction of broad Western history, so such a failure to combine the big-picture aspects of that history hurts the book. Riley fails to even take a step back into American history, instead painting the American religious college as merely a modern phenomenon when it is clearly not. How can studies of modern day religious students hold-up without some analysis of American religious students in the past? And how can an analysis on the civic worth of these religious institutions be held up without a similar analysis of ‘secular’ colleges and their impact upon the cultural and political nature of the United States? Such an omission leads the author to think that Riley is positing to us a secular or public school system that is entirely void of moral or spiritual meaning, a void that is blatantly false and a disservice to the merits of this overall study.

There is no gentle way to say this. Naomi Riley’s work, though potentially well meaning, doesn’t come close to a well-balanced and insightful look into religious America and its contribution to American life. Riley digs the reader a big ditch at the beginning; a ditch claiming that America is in trouble, and that a new generation is going to be required to pull it out. But this colossal ditch is only dug deeper, filled in with terrible writing, repetitive arguments, bad sources, and a blatant disregard for American and religious history. This book was the perfect Conservative hit-piece for post 9/11 America, but it no longer holds up in a country that is growing more diverse and accepting of different people, belief systems, and ways of living life in America. Riley’s work will probably be lost in the annals of irrelevant literature, save for the history students and professors who want to look at a work, a work that should serve as the baseline of what a scholar ‘ought not to do’.