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When I first received The Count of Monte Christo I was concerned that I'd never be able to finish it because it was so long. However, I soon realised that putting the book down would be more of a problem.
The book tells the story of Edmond Dantes as he tries to get vengeance for the wrongs done to him as a young man but also tells of how love can last even through the most difficult times.
I normally read modern crime novels, and so this is not a book that I would usually be drawn to. I soon found this to be as good as, if not better than, many of the crime novels that I have read. While reading I found myself guessing how Dantes would exact his vengeance and found that there was always a clever twist.
I found the notes very useful while reading the book - they gave enough detail to understand the environment in which the story occurred without giving so much information that you had to break from the plot, yet the book was also easy to read if the notes were ignored.
Since reading The Count of Monte Christo I have read The Three Musketeers and now intend to read more of Dumas' books.
(full review: http://wwhyte.livejournal.com/111384.html)
This is a compilation of Schopenhauer's philosophical writings, selected by an uncredited editor and unfortunately published without any notes. Schopenhauer believes life is essentially one long round of suffering, ultimately disappointing; that ideas Platonically represent Things; that "human desires [that bring about suffering] ? must be originally and in their essence sinful and reprehensible"; that women are "? [kind of rubbish]"; and that thinking for yourself, rather than just reading, is very important.
Of these assertions, I disagree with varying degrees of passion to all but the last one. The central quote supporting the first assertion, attractively presented on the cover, is:
A quick test of the assertion that enjoyment outweighs pain in this world, or that they are at any rate balanced, would be to compare the feelings of an animal engaged in eating another with those of the animal being eaten.
But this is just wrong. The animal being eaten is more miserable than the animal eating is happy; but there are many animals that are neither eating others nor being eaten. If there are a lot of them, they don't have to be very happy each to result in an overall balance of pain and enjoyment. The statement is simply wrong. One could excuse Schopenhauer by saying the statement is meant to be a rhetorical flourish, not a proof. But the problem is that all the book is like this; and either all the book has to be excused in this way, which leaves no actual argument in the sense of a statement supported by evidence, or at some point it has to be held to some standards of rigor which I don't think it lives up to.
I can see how it might have inspired later literature, up to and including the existentialists. It's stylishly written and with great energy. But essentially it's a series of justifications for Schopenhauer's existing prejudices, not an examination of them.
Compiled in 1901 from a series of lectures its author gave at the University of Edinburgh, The Varieties of Religious Experience is a seminal book in the study of comparative religions. It may have been a classic in its time, but it has not aged well, ironically due in part to the advances in the study of comparative religions that it helped to shepherd in.
Whether it be his belief in the superiority of Christianity over non-Christian belief systems (of which even the author admits he knows little), the superiority of Protestantism over Roman Catholicism, or his adherence to the socioeconomic, political, and gender biases of the early 20th century, James's prejudices shine like beacons throughout the text. The technical aspects of his writing (noting of sources, research methods, and the like) are also antiquated. James relies heavily on personal conjecture to build his case, often using select quotations and anecdotes to shore up his arguments instead first examining the evidence and then drawing appropriate conclusions from it.
That said, there are some true gems of insight in this volume, which are made more stunning in light of the fact that James was so obviously not working from a position of rigorous scholarly objectivity. A good volume on comparative religions this sure ain't, but it is certainly still of interest as a relic of contemporary religious thought and interpretation.