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Posts tagged book review

“Eco Living Japan” review

@TuttleBooks

I mentioned a while ago that I began reading this book. Although I finished reading Eco Living Japan: Sustainable Ideas for Living Green by Deanna MacDonald months ago, I never got around to writing a review–until now.

Once upon a time I was going to be an architect so design, buildings, etc. have always interested me since. In addition, I’ve always appreciated the clean look of some Japanese and Danish architecture and design. Someone not interested in Japan and/or these items probably won’t be very interested in this book.

The text wasn’t usually riveting for me, and the prose was fairly repetitive and unenlightening, but I still enjoyed the book–mostly because of the photos. The good news is the book is mostly photos.

Another critique I had with the book is the subtitle of “sustainable ideas for living green” should have the words “if you are extremely rich” added. Most of the projects examined are for relatively large, custom properties in Japan using materials that would cost several times the amount of more common construction. A very minor segment of the Japan’s population could afford these “sustainable ideas for living green”.

That said, the properties explored are fun to consider if you, like me, enjoy dreaming big.

Tokyo on Foot: Travels in the City’s Most Colorful Neighborhoods

tokyo on foot

@TuttleBooks

Tokyo on Foot is not what I expected. And that’s not a bad thing. I was expecting something like Foot Loose in Tokyo or A Flower Lover’s Guide to Tokyo in which the reader is given guidance on various walks in Tokyo. While Tokyo on Foot could potentially be used in this way, I look at it more as art/manga appreciation than a guide book. Florent Chavouet’s art is fantastic. The attention to detail and capturing of Tokyo scenes is captivating and the type of work that you can frequently revisit without becoming bored.

If you’ve visited or lived in Tokyo I think you’ll like it more than someone who hasn’t (not that a future visitor won’t want to take a look at this book to get an idea of where to go and what to see in Tokyo). Remembering views that are slumbering just beneath the surface of your memory can be lots of fun.

Eco Living Japan

eco living japan

I began reading Eco Living Japan: Sustainable Ideas for Living Green by Deanna MacDonald last night. First impressions are good. The book is beautiful. More than half of it is full-color, high-quality photographs. I’ll provide a more detailed review once I have finished reading.

Samurai Revolution

samurai revolution awa katsu book recommendation meiji jidai edo

I finished this book by Romulus Hillsborough today. I thought I knew a lot about the end of feudalism in Japan and the beginnings of the Meiji Era, but most of the contents of this book were new to me. I highly recommend reading it.

Some of my favorite parts dealt with places I have visited in Japan. For instance, the story of Katsu Kaishu (勝海舟) having to make a large donation to Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社) before they would take his sword, a symbol of the historic peace accord he had just negotiated on Miyajima, brought back fond memories of my time there (as well as memories of how shrines ask for money for just about everything, including offerings required for the shrine to burn the object that you had to pay the shrine for to use as a good luck charm the prior year).

You will also learn about the entire back story that ultimately resulted in this statue in Ueno (and why it is in Ueno).

I’ve spent many hours in Akasaka in Tokyo so hearing about what it was like in the 19th Century was fascinating.

Happy Declaration of Independence Day

samuel adams beer grave stone 4th of july

Samuel Adams grave stone in Granary Burial Ground (aka The Old Granary)

My view of American history has changed over the past month. First, I read David G. McCullough’s 1776 which seriously altered my take on the revolution. The year 1776 was actually a very dark period in American history (until the last week) as independence seemed very difficult to come by in July and nearly impossible by mid-December with numerous defeats and retreats.

Seeing the actual places in New York and Boston where some of the events of 1776 occurred after reading 1776 also gave me a new perspective.

July 4 is celebrated as Independence Day even though independence didn’t actually come until the war ended in 1783, and the legal separation from America’s point of view came on July 2. But the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4 so that is the day that stuck.

Today’s photo is of the tombstone of one of the signers of that document, Samuel Adams. His father started the brewery that many know the name Samuel Adams by today. However, the modern Samuel Adams beer of the Boston Beer Company didn’t get started until 1984, despite the commercials which make it look like it has been brewed since the 18th Century.

Unbroken

I received this book as a Christmas gift. When I first saw the description of it being about WW2 and sharks I thought it may be the same story as In Harm’s Way, which I read about 10 years ago. It turns out this is a totally different story. Apparently, there were lots of GIs in WW2 who had to deal with being stuck in the Pacific Ocean with the sharks.

Unbroken is currently the #1 bestseller for nonfiction. It reads like fiction, and I have a hard time believing much of it is nonfiction. Considering that the current top ten books for nonfiction also include memoirs of George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and a book about how heaven is real, I guess they use the term “nonfiction” very loosely these days.

Hillenbrand is a talented author, no doubt about it. However, anyone with even the smallest degree of skepticism or critical reading skills will be able to see how improbable her account is of the whole truth. Everything happens just right. She, as the author, is omniscient, telling us what people were thinking (or when they sweat or how they felt) in the 1940s, even shortly before their deaths. The level of detail is amazing, especially since her primary sources of information are interviews conducted about 60 years after the events took place. Many conversations from the mid-20th Century are given as if word for word, in quotation marks even.

Finally, the primary character in the book, Louis Zamperini, became a born again Christian after the bulk of the events portrayed in Unbroken took place. Why is that a problem? There are two reasons in my opinion. Looking back on history with his born-again mindset colors the past whether he intends to or not. The prior hardships suddenly become harder, the prior victories more victorious, the prior descent into wickedness much more wicked, and the ascent into Jesus’s arms all the more glorious. The other reason the past history can become distorted is that Zamperini made his living from telling his WW2 story and his subsequent conversion to Christ. Whether intentional or not, it becomes impossible not to embellish. Zamperini probably even came to believe his subsequent stories. The mind is funny that way. There are many others who have done the same. See, for instance, the Paul H. Dunn story.

Criticisms aside, Unbroken is still an amazing read. I can certainly see why it is a best seller. You will probably enjoy it more if you leave your skepticism at the door, and read it like you would read fiction. The book reads like a Hollywood movie. Personally, I would have preferred a PBS documentary instead, but more people seem to prefer the former.

If you are interested in the Pacific War and/or Japan then there is much to find here. I have been to many of the places described in the book (Omori, Ofuna, Kofu, Sugamo). They are completely different now (and I was completely unaware of the POW camps in Omori and Ofuna) than they were during the war, but it is fascinating to reflect on the vast changes. I was aware that Sugamo Prison became Sunshine 60, something I reflected on nearly every time I gazed at Sunshine 60.

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