I’ve become quite a fan of Roald Dahl’s writing for adults, so I couldn’t resist a book that contained just about all of his short stories (48 in all). It includes tales about war, relationships, seduction, magic substances, crazy bets, and clever men who tried to beat the system. If you have liked his previous books, My Uncle Oswald or Switch Back (the latter of which is included in this compendium), then you’ll enjoy these stories, which all clock in at 762 pages.
Child 44 (strong recommendation)
A fast-paced thriller loosely based on the serial killer Andrei Chikatilo. It tells the story of a state officer during the Stalin era who stumbles upon similar murders across large areas of Soviet Russia. His attempts to investigate the murders are thwarted since officially “there is no crime.” He’s eventually exiled to a remote post after his allegiance to the state is questioned. The author uses the murder as a device to tell you about Russia during Stalin’s rule, something I don’t remember learning much about in school. Child 44 is quite the page turner and I highly recommend it, especially if you’re curious about Russia’s history or are a fan of the book 1984.
Man Is Wolf To Man (strong recommendation)
Are you a whiny bitch? Have you lost perspective on life? Do you complain about the stupidest shit? Then read this book, a memoir of one man’s experience after being sent to the Gulags in Russia during World War 2. Along with his prison-mates, he suffers more hardship than 1,000 modern men. Reading this has made me feel guilty for worrying and getting annoyed at what truly are insignificant matters. This book was very moving, especially since the author allows you to form your own opinions on the events instead of force-feeding you political or social commentary like other memoirists are prone to do.
It was a little eerie reading this book because I already have so many of Tim’s beliefs, and probably could’ve written something similar (as could other guys I know). I’m not saying my version would have been as good or popular, but I am a little jealous that Tim got huge because of this. I’ll give him credit though—he has introduced ideas about productivity and outsourcing to the mainstream, but the book sometimes reads like one of those free ebooks you download after giving up your email address. He only had one successful business before writing it, so a lot of the advice seems untested or otherwise borrowed (in fact he tells you to swipe content from authority sources to develop your own info product).
His advice on how to make money online is painfully basic if you’re already familiar with internet marketing, and some of it is downright harmful, like how you should invent a product and then hire a contract manufacturing company to produce it, perhaps the hardest way to make a buck. Instead of telling you to build a quality product that will withstand the test of time, he tells you to read a couple books, become an instant expert, and then shit something out with the help of Sandip your virtual assistant so you can go to Thailand for a couple months. Nonetheless, the reader stories help you realize what types of lifestyles are possible. If you’re not already familiar with the “lifestyle design” field, this book will give you some fresh ideas.
This book answers the question: “How was it like live in Stalinist Russia up to World War 2?” The author combs through historical records to give us an idea of the day-to-day struggles of bread lines, surveillance, denunciations, exterminations, and difficult living conditions. Sample quote:
“After an elderly photographer told his apprentices that the quality of photographic paper had been better before the revolution, one of them denounced him; he was arrested and, in December 1937, executed.”
After reading a book like this I want to conclude that Russian communism was probably the worst experiment in human history. I then sought out a biography on the man behind it all, Stalin.
A fascinating book where pretty much everyone dies. Seriously, everyone (the ones who don’t die either came late to the book or died shortly after Stalin’s death). What would happen after reading a few dozen pages is that I’d have to go online to dig further about the people and situations involved, to the point where I may now know more about Russian history than American history. Ultimately it gave me even more respect for Orwell’s 1984, which is pretty damn close to being what really happened in Stalinist Russia, even to the point of using someone’s worst fear to torture them. The amazing thing is Orwell wrote the book decades before the extent of Stalin’s atrocities became public. Sample quotes:
Stalin was always fascinated by the conduct of his enemies at the supreme moment, enjoying their humiliation and destruction.
They were killed not because of what they had done because of what they might do.
“Let me have one night [torturing] him and I’ll have him confessing he’s the King of England.” -Beria, head of NKVD secret police.
Stalin was so omnipotent that when he mispronounced a word from the podium, every subsequent speaker repeated the mistake.
On 2 March, Mekhlis launched his “big music” in a fiasco that proved to be the insane apogee of terror applied to military science. He banned the digging of trenches “so that the offensive spirit of the soldiers would not be undermined” and insisted that anyone who took “elementary security measures” was a “panic-monger.” All were “mashed into a bloody porridge.”
Even though it clocks in at over 800 pages, it reads like a fast-paced novel. But beware: this book describes unfathomable evil—a window to the darkest that humanity is capable of.
Griftopia (strong recommendation)
A depressing but hilarious book that describes in great detail how Americans are being butt fucked by the elite, particularly Wall Street. We are being robbed in ways that are so complicated that we don’t even know we’re being robbed.
We live in a complex bureaucratic state with complex laws and complex business practices, and the few organizations with the corporate willpower to master these complexities will inevitably own the political power.
With the $13-plus trillion we are estimated to ultimately spend on the bailouts, we could not only have bought and paid off every single subprime mortgage in the country (that would only have cost $1.4 trillion), we could have paid off every remaining mortgage of any kind in this country—and still have had enough money left over to buy a new hour for every American who does not already have one.
My favorite quote:
The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.
After reading this book I can’t help but conclude that America is completely, utterly, and hopelessly fucked, but hey, the truth will set me free. Or something.
I wanted to learn more about the man so I checked out an unofficial biography. I kind of wish I didn’t because he’s not a savory character—definitely not one I’d hold up to be a role model. People describe him as rude, status-obsessed, and just an all-around unpleasant man to deal with. However, his story was interesting, especially the amount of tragedy his life has seen (he had a daughter die from measles, a son sustain brain damage from a car accident, and a wife become a near-mute after a seizure, all in a couple years’ time). My favorite parts of the book described his womanizing ways, which leaked into many of his stories.
I thought this book was supposed to be something of a modern survival manual, but instead it’s a memoir of an extremely paranoid man. Strauss goes on nonstop about how scared, worried, and anxious he is of a catastrophic attack. The writing is competent, but it feels like I’m reading the work of a total wuss—and this is “Style” we’re talking about, author of The Game. If you consider his current business and lifestyle, raking in the big bucks with game courses and seminars, you’ll see how his intention to move permanently to St. Kitts away from the world’s dangers seems disingenuous (the only thing worse than a crappy memoir is one where you can’t even believe the author’s intentions).
Most chapters contain the same patronizing formula: “To survive a catastrophic attack, I had to learn [X], but when I was a kid I was really bad at [X], so it was especially hard for me,” a similar pattern he used in The Game. We’re supposed to believe his obsesion about surviving stems from some scarred childhood, but I’m just not buying it. I was hoping this book would have some key insights on living abroad, but the guys on my forum have ten times better advice with actual real-world experience.
I read this in a Reykjavik public library six weeks into my Iceland stay. I found myself nodding furiously, pleased that I was getting cultural explanations to what I was observing. If you are curious about Iceland or want to know more about its history and people, this is a quick read you’ll appreciate. Though it doesn’t focus on girls or pickup, it gives you a lot of “insider” knowledge that you can use for fun conversation, like the fact that some Icelanders believe actual trolls live in the mountains. I plan on checking out other Xenophobe guides as well.
Do you want to read more book reviews? Click here for the previous set.